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Sadly, the frigid weather continues in NYC, with yet more polar vortex temps and another snow storm today. I’m thankful it’s not as bad as Boston, but still – I’m OVER IT! Especially since all I hear about from my family in California is how unseasonably warm and gorgeous it is right now. I mean come on, people swimming in the Pacific in Santa Cruz in February?!

I entered a 4M NYRR race in Prospect Park this morning but couldn’t motivate myself to get out of bed early this morning. It was the first time I’ve not shown up to a race – but to be fair, going all the way to Brooklyn for a 4 miler in this weather just didn’t seem worthwhile. To make up for it, I allowed myself to sleep in (much needed) and then E and went on an enlarged “loop” of Central Park, from Stuy Town to the East 60th street park entrance, around the park (plus an extra reverse Harlem Hill loop), back downtown and ending at TJ’s for our weekly shop. It was COLD – as in my hand warmers and two pairs of gloves felt useless and I thought I was getting frostbite COLD – but fitness wise, I felt strong and it was reassuring to know that I’ve been able to somewhat maintain my endurance since my longer runs this past Fall. My speed is another story…I did my first treadmill run of the year last week with some 1min x 8 intervals at 9mph, and it was surprisingly difficult!

By the time we got home, we were freezing, starving and in need of a filling, hot, delicious meal. We often make eggs post-run, and I had some pizza dough in the fridge, so I decided to do a twist on Florentine pizza (egg, spinach, cheese), which I’ve had in restaurants and LOVE. I make pizza all the time with a wide variety of veggie, meat and/or cheese toppings, but this one was so awesome that I decided to finally do a pizza recipe post! Here are a few other pizza variations I’ve made in the past (chicken sausage/veg/feta, cherry tomato/veg/mozzarella, zucchini/veg/feta).

IMG_5796  Pizza night Fresh out of the oven

This one isn’t so much a recipe as a choose your own adventure type of meal. I always use a rainbow of veggies and some cheese, but the rest varies depending on my mood. The (+) stands for whatever you want to include to make the pizza a bit more exciting (and ideally, to boost the protein content) – for example, chicken sausage, eggs, a different cheese, pesto or tomato sauce as a base, etc. I also like to think of the (+) as standing for extra nutritious – obviously you make this whatever you want it to be, but it has the potential to provide a ton of vitamins, minerals and fiber from all the veggies and whole wheat dough, lean protein and a little fat. I love Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough, as it is fast and easy to use, cheap, nutritious, and freezes nicely, but you can certainly make your own or use another brand.

If you use TJ’s, one ball of dough is enough for 2 thin crust pizzas (1 pizza = 8 slices –> feeds two people), which I recommend if you’re trying to keep the calories under control with all the toppings (and if you’re like me and want to save room for a little wine and dessert). If you’re feeling especially hungry, try pairing with a side salad and make sure you include a protein topping to make it a filling and balanced meal. Here are some before and after shots of today’s pie {cage-free large eggs, goats cheese, zucchini, kale, spinach, light shredded mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, TJ’s quinoa pesto as a base}.

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Ingredients

Whole wheat pizza dough (½ of TJ’s dough ball)
A little flour to work with the dough
Cheese of choice (I like TJ’s shredded fancy light mexican blend, goats cheese, and/or feta)
Sauteed veggies of choice (My favorites: shallots, red onion, spinach, kale, sundried tomato, cherry tomato, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, eggplant)
Olive oil (to cook veggies)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Possible (+)  items: Chicken or regular sausage, eggs, pesto (TJ’s quinoa pesto is amazing as a base), tomato sauce, other meat/soy/other toppings of choice

Directions

  1. Let pizza dough sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
  3. Chop/sautee your toppings of choice (veggies, sausage, etc) – make sure the veggies aren’t too watery to get a nice, crisp pizza (tip – don’t crowd the sauté pan to prevent from steaming and thus getting soggy)
  4. Flour work surface and hands, then stretch the dough outwards into a small circle, place in greased pizza pan and stretch further to fit the pan (I use a metal pan as pictured above – I haven’t found pizza stones to be any better). If the dough shrinks back slightly keep stretching it until it stays (starting to put the toppings on helps too).
  5. If you’re using pesto or tomato sauce as a base, put that on first. Then put a layer of cheese if using (I sprinkle on a thin layer of shredded cheese). Evenly spread veggie toppings (and meat if using) next. Then finish off with another sprinkle of shredded cheese and/or little pieces of other cheese (e.g. feta, goats cheese, ricotta etc). If you’re using eggs, crack 1-3 eggs on top of the pizza (spaced apart evenly if more than 1).
  6. Place in oven for ~12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on the pizza to make sure the edges don’t get burned (they should be crispy and nicely browned) and to check the progress of the eggs. In my oven, 15min was perfect for the eggs – whites cooked but yolk still slightly runny. Sometimes the middle cooks more slowly than the edges (perhaps a downside of the pizza pan vs pizza stone)
  7. Take out of the oven, cut into 8 slices, and enjoy!

Yield: 1 pizza, 8 slices

Serving size: 4 slices

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Hello from London!

I have been back in the UK for a full week now and have been meaning to write for days, so clearly the craziness of my NYC trip has followed me across the pond! In between organizing my things, I’ve been catching up with friends and visiting some of my favorite places before I officially move back to the US.

I love the Fall, particularly on the East Coast and in the UK, so I have been trying to make the most of the lovely crisp weather these past few weeks before it slips away. London hasn’t been *quite* as sunny as NYC – in fact it has mostly been foggy, dark and damp – but that means when the sun does shine it’s particularly glorious and far more appreciated. I’m beginning to wonder how I managed to convince myself for four years that the weather wasn’t actually that bad here!

After several dreary days, the sun finally emerged just in time for my 12 mile run in Richmond Park on Saturday. I finally tried out my new Nike running top, which was my one splurge in Portland after the marathon. The colors and the cut got me to try it on, but the two pockets in the back (and Portland’s amazing no sales tax!) convinced me to buy it. The pockets are like those on a cycling top  – they don’t have zippers, but they’re deep enough to fit gels, snacks or whatever else! Check it out:

I put a gel in one pocket to have during my run and one of my homemade pumpkin muffins (cut in half and wrapped up) in the other pocket so I could have a healthy treat after finishing. It was very comfortable – this top might just become my next marathon tank if I can cram enough gels in the back and ditch my usual gel belt!

E and I decided to head to Richmond Park – I love doing my long runs there and the hilly trails were perfect for my North Face half marathon training, at least compared to running along the Thames. We got a late start – 11am or so – but it was still quite peaceful and the scenery was beautiful.

Let’s do this!

E kept me company for the first 7M loop and then waited for me at a coffee shop. Turns out he ran his second marathon without telling me (or as one of my friends called it, a SNEAKATHON) in Switzerland while I was in NYC!! He was afraid I would put my coaching hat on and lecture him that he wasn’t fully prepared for it (because he wasn’t), but he did quite well, especially considering the challenging course profile and the fact that it was far above sea level. I am very proud of him! He felt fairly recovered but was only just starting to ease back into longer runs.

It’s a good thing we both ran that morning, beacuse later in the day we headed over to our friend’s place for a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving feast! Last year, I celebrated the holiday in the UK with my group of US expat friends, and we had such a good time that we had “Thanksgiving” in July too. Since E and I will be in New Hampshire this year and this is my last London visit for awhile, we thought it would be fun to have one last group dinner together. There was, as you can imagine, tons of amazing food. I made a goats cheese and beet salad as well as a huge bowl of sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot ginger mash, pictured below. I could eat it for dessert it was so tasty!

The next morning we were still so full we could hardly move, but we had Sunday lunch plans up in Hampstead so we hopped out of bed and made our way up north. It was a perfect Fall day – so mild that we were able to eat outside on the pub’s patio and enjoy some cold pear cider. I got the venison – yum!

  

It was a rest day for me but after all that food I was craving a nice long walk in the sunshine. One of the things I love most about London is just how green a city it is – there are so many beautiful parks, both manicured (like Regents Park) and a bit more rustic and wild (like Richmond and Hampstead Heath). The Heath in particular is lovely – you really feel like you have escaped the city, as you are pretty much up on a hill looking down on it in the distance and there are no cars in sight. I wish I had explored it more often while I lived here – the terrain is quite hilly so I will perhaps aim do my 14M run there this Friday!

      

Between the parks and the river, there are so many great running paths in this town. Speaking of which, I have a race pace run to do – off I go to my local park!

Today is my 30th birthday – and what better way to kick off a day (or week) of festivities, filled with amazing food and drink, than with a long run?! Okay, if I’m honest, I would’ve been equally happy sleeping in and running 5M on the beach, but alas, that’s not what my running schedule had in store for me. I suppose it’s good to remind my body that it’s still young and strong – surprisingly, after more than two and a half hours of running this morning, I actually feel that way too!

Originally I had planned to run 17 miles on September 17th to kickstart my celebrations, but then decided to throw an extra mile in there for good luck. Since I decided to scrap my 20 miler next weekend, I figured 18 sounded better than 17 as a final long run distance too!

E arrived a couple days ago, and it was great having him join me for the first half of my run. I wanted to do something relatively flat and partly on road to practice for race day, plus I needed a break from running on the beach and the trails in Nisene Marks, so I decided to take him to West Cliff and Wilder Ranch. I had only explored a couple miles of the coastal path on my 13M run a couple weeks ago, so a good chunk of our run was new to me too! Rather than park on West Cliff, we decided to drive to and start at the trailhead:

Here I am on the first part of the trail (excuse the camera phone photo) – proud to be 30 today!

Turns out that the coastal trail went on for far longer than I had thought – rather than about 8M on trail, we ended up doing nearly 13 and didn’t even go all the way! We had a slight mishap around mile 3 where we lost the path and started to hack our way through what we thought was an “overgrown trail,” but which turned out NOT to be the trail at all – hence the relatively slow pace – but otherwise, it was a very straightforward, lovely trail. The California coastline is truly stunning – a wonderful way to start off my birthday! I left E back at the trailhead and finished my last 6ish miles on road, which felt pretty good in my new purple Sauconys. Check out my Garmin details here, as well as a few post-run photos:

I’m really pleased with how my final long run went – my pacing was on the faster side (8:50 average pace), and although I was a bit sore towards the end, overall I felt strong through the finish. I definitely think two full rest days (tomorrow will make three) helped a lot, as did the gorgeous scenery and weather, E’s company and excitement about today’s festivities! I can honestly say that I feel good about hanging up my Portland marathon long run hat after today. I know race day will still be a struggle, but better to rest up and than force out a 20-miler next weekend.

On our way home, we met up with my parents at my local farmer’s market and got some coffee and acai na tigela (which means acai in the bowl – a favorite of mine from Brazil). The acai wasn’t quite as authentic as the stuff I got down south, but that’s okay – it tasted delicious after burning 2200 calories this morning!!

To top off my long-run success, the tasty post-run snacks and the fact that the sunshine was STILL shining even at my house (often it is foggy where I live) was what I saw as I approached my front door – not one but TWO beautiful flower/balloon deliveries waiting for me!! One from E, and another from my old flatmates in London. I was so surprised and happy – really feeling the birthday love, you guys are the best!!

So now that I’ve taken my ice bath and am all cleaned up, what’s my plan for the rest of the day? I decided to save the partying for next weekend (drinks up in San Francisco) and keep my actual birthday rather low key. With so much going on lately, I really just wanted my birthday to be an intimate affair with the people I love – so I’m having a chilled out afternoon at home with E and my family, including my sister, bro-in-law and little E, and an awesome BBQ later in the day, including my two closest friends from high school. Fingers crossed the weather holds!

I of course got to plan the menu – excited to have many of my favorite foods that I associate with home, including my Mom’s marinated steak which my Dad grills to perfection and the most delicious cake that I’ve had at nearly every California birthday celebration since I can remember. It’s the princess cake from Gayle’s bakery – if you’re not familiar with princess cake, it’s a dome-shaped cake with three layers of vanilla genoise cake, and pastry cream, raspberry jam and whipped cream inside the layers, covered in whipped cream (mainly on top, to fill the dome) and then encased in a pastel marzipan shell (obviously, I get mine in purple), sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with a fresh rose. Yes, I am turning 30 years old! I will never outgrow this cake…

And tomorrow, banana pancakes from the pancake master chef himself – my Dad! Good thing I ran this morning…

I can’t believe I’m finally 30 – all I know is that if my day so far is any indication of what 30 is like, I think this decade is going to be AWESOME! I feel so loved and am extremely grateful for everyone and everything in my life. This is going to be a big year – and I can’t be more excited for it all!!

Portland Marathon week 12 was a relatively big training week (37.3M), as was week 11 (30.8M). Now that I’m well into week 13, my legs are REALLY feeling it…

Typically, I would never increase my mileage for weeks on end, as I’ve been doing since I started to run again post-injury about six and a half weeks ago. Also, I usually avoid bumping up my mileage from week to week by as much as I have been doing in the last few weeks (7.5 – 10M increases). Instead, I try to build gradually for three to four weeks, and then cut back on my long run to allow my body to recover, and avoid 10M jumps.

So why have I not been following my own advice? Well, with so little time to train for Portland, I didn’t feel that I had time for cut-back weeks. I know that’s dangerous reasoning – the goal is to reach the start line feeling strong and fresh, but in order to feel strong and fresh, I have to both train and rest sufficiently! I’ve been toeing the line between over-training and hitting a healthy maximum (relative to where I’m at with my injury – compared to what I was doing in my last training cycle, my mileage has been low). I’ve been trying to be careful, but I admit that on many days I have purposely overstepped that line because I wanted to complete a run, which isn’t smart. After struggling through several speed sessions recently (for example, my VO2 interval session last Wednesday, my threshold intervals yesterday, and my MP 6-miler this morning), I know my legs just aren’t getting enough recovery time from my usual one or two rest days to give me the high quality sessions I’m demanding of them. Too much overloading, not enough backing off.

This morning, in particular, was tough – I remember killing a MP run on the beach last year, perfectly pacing 5M starting at 8:15 down to just under 8:00. Today, however, for my 3M @ 8:30, 3M @ 8-8:15, I was fighting to hit 8:30 for the first half, and then just barely managed to up the pace on the way back. I was ready to keel over by the end of this run – it was challenging last year too (running MP on sand, even packed, is hard!), but I shouldn’t have been that fatigued. I thought – maybe – since I’ve lost a few pounds in the last couple of weeks, that I should be a bit faster, so running MP wouldn’t be as difficult, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Hopefully once I give myself some proper time off, during the taper and after the race, I will see the benefits (if I can keep off the pounds, that is!).

At least I’m looking more athletic! I’ve tried multiple times to slim down this year, without much success, so I’m really pleased with my (unintentional) progress in that area. It’s often when I finally stop focusing on it that it actually happens! I’ve been eating as I normally do, but not snacking as much since I’ve been so busy running around doing a billion things rather than sitting bored at my desk, and of course I have been training more, so it makes sense. It’s such a pleasant surprise though, since I gained weight (partly muscle of course) when I trained for my last two marathons, and I almost always gain weight when I go home, since I drive more/walk less.

Anyway, I plan to keep my 18 miler in the schedule for this weekend – just going to try to get through it as best as I can, without worrying too much about pace (at least it’s not on crazy trails this time). However, this morning confirmed that unless I miraculously start to feel better, I need to cancel my 20 miler the following weekend. I wanted to try to squeeze one last long run in two weeks from the race, to boost my confidence levels, but I think it will end up doing more harm than good. Better to just do a “short” long run of 10 miles and let my legs rest up for the big day.

It’s not an ideal place to stop, but it’s not like I haven’t done a marathon before! Which brings me to my race day mantra – which when I’m not simply counting to 12 in groups of 3 (matches my MP cadence perfectly), is, “I WILL do this. I CAN do this because I HAVE done this.” I say each part in counts of threes up to 12 (“this because” flows together in one set of three beats). It’s very simple, but is in line with how I feel at this stage – I may not be as fast as I’d like to be, but I know I WILL finish because I’ve completed the distance twice before. Running one more long run isn’t going to change anything dramatically!

So 18 miles will be my stopping point. I happened to plan this run for this Saturday, the morning of my 30th birthday. I know, smart move right? Then again, it makes sense in my schedule, and it certainly will justify all the amazing food (and cake!) that I will be eating throughout the day. I’ll be in so much pain (judging from 15 miler at least) that I’ll even get a head start on feeling what it’s like to be OLD! 🙂 But best of all, I’ll have a running buddy who will most likely be in more pain than me – not only because he is five years older, but also because he’ll be super jet lagged! Haha!

Yep, E is flying into SFO tonight from London for a ten-day visit, and I can’t be more excited. Although I’m keeping my actual birthday fairly low key (an intimate bbq with family and a couple close friends who live locally), I’ll be having a party up in San Francisco the following weekend. Yet another reason to skip that 20 miler – so I can devote more energy to celebrating!

Lastly, I can’t help but mention Boston 2012 – I know my chance of getting a spot with my NYC 2010 qualifying time is extremely slim, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up hope entirely just yet right?!

According to the BAA website calculator, if there are any places left, registration will open to me on September 19th at 7am California time. I know the race will most likely fill up before then, but you know what concerns me more? Even if (when!) I do qualify again with the new time of 3:35, they are maintaining the new registration process which gives priority to faster runners. That doesn’t exactly give me confidence that I’ll ever get to run from qualifying, given that it probably fills up with people who run at least 5 minutes faster than the BQ. I do feel confident that I can get a 3:30 at some stage, but the point is this: so many people run that race year after year, I wish they would give priority to those first time Boston marathoners who have worked their butt off to qualify and are dying to run! Hopefully I’ll get a spot someday…

I love running in the Forest of Nisene Marks! Similar to the sights and smells of the ocean, those of a redwood forest remind me of growing up in Santa Cruz – of camping and hiking in Big Sur and Big Basin, of summers at Camp Kennolyn, of childhood friends whose families lived up in the mountains…That’s the beauty of Santa Cruz – I live a five minute walk from a beautiful beach, and a ten minute drive to this beautiful forest. Nisene is still quite new to me as a runner, but I look forward to getting to know its vast network of trails!

Today’s 15 mile trail run certainly was a start. I have only done one long run here once before, and that was exactly one year ago while training for the NYC marathon. The elevation profile of this run remains a vivid (and painful) memory! I didn’t have this blog at that time, so let me show you what I’m talking about:

Ouch.

For that run, I followed the Fire Road, which begins as the road entering the park, quickly turns into a wide dirt trail and then at the base of that steep climb you see, narrows into a more typical trail (although still fairly wide). After about 8-9M of running, you reach Sand Point Overlook, which on a clear day gives you a great view of the ocean.

The nice thing about this route is that it’s a killer hill workout as you can see, plus if you’re running alone (as I was), there are other runners, hikers and cyclists out and about, so you feel safe. However, for a long run, it’s not exactly ideal to do so many consecutive downhill miles. Also, there are so many trailheads along the main road, I wanted to try something new, or at least get a taste of  some “real” trail running in Nisene Marks!

I had hoped to have a running buddy to keep me company and lead the way, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It wasn’t the best idea to test out the trails on my own, since I started running at 8:15am (and most of the people in the park at that hour were sticking to the main trail), there’s no cell reception in the park, and the trails are relatively dark, tricky in spots and remote. Nevertheless, I decided to try out the Loma Prieta Grade Trail, which leads to Hoffman’s Historic Site and can be part of a much larger loop that I definitely want to try at a later stage. I figured I could run along the main road for three miles and then do an out and back detour along this trail, finishing any remaining miles further along the main road from where I left off. That way, if at any point I felt unsafe or didn’t like the trail, I could simply turn around.

My other goal for today, aside from completing 15 miles partly on new trails, was to test out a different gel belt that I bought at the NYC marathon expo last year. I love SIS gels (sadly not sold yet in the US), but my SIS belt was so annoying yesterday that when I realized I had this one, completely unused, I had to test it out. Here’s the new one (left) as well as the older SIS go gel marathon belt (right) – as you can see, the main difference is that all the gels fit into a pouch in the new one, and the gels fit into separate slots in the older one.

 

The verdict: I carried three gels with me, and the belt was extremely comfy. No bouncing or loose straps! The downside was that I found it harder to remove a gel than with the SIS belt – rather than simply pulling the gel down from its loop, I was fumbling with a zipper and trying to extract one. Perhaps practice will make perfect. On race day, I will carry five gels, so I will also have to try that out too.

Because I wanted to sleep in (well, until 7:30am), I didn’t have time for breakfast this morning, so these gels were essential. I usually try to eat a couple hours before my long run, but once in awhile I practice running on empty, for those late miles on race day. My stomach was grumbling by the time I finished running for two hours and 35 minutes, but I survived.

So, what did I end up doing? I ran three miles to the Loma Prieta trailhead, 6M out and back on the trail, and then another 1.5M along the Fire Road (hitting the first part of the climb) before turning around. As you can see in my Garmin details, it was a fairly slow run – between my injury, post-race soreness, incline and general precaution on tricky trails, I wasn’t worrying about pace today, particularly when I was on Loma Prieta. The trail was beautiful – single track, alongside (and into) ravines, across rivers, so quiet and deserted you could hear a leaf fall or a creek trickling in the distance. I kind of enjoyed it, and I kind of didn’t. I promised myself that if I started to feel really uncomfortable, I would turn around immediately. From the start, I was on the edge of my comfort zone – not so much with regards to creepy men or animals (although my Mom has made me paranoid about mountain lions…), but rather, in terms of twisting an ankle or falling into a ravine. I’d be screwed!

And yet, it was so incredible, I was determined to keep going – I knew I was being a bit stupid, but this was the type of trail I had been seeking! I felt like the world didn’t exist – completely lost in the wilderness, not a soul anywhere for miles. Although it was that feeling that hindered me from really enjoying my run. I was fighting off ridiculous thoughts, jumping at every noise, carefully running/walking over every obstacle (of which there were many – hence my pace).

Finally, as my Garmin clocked six miles, I decided I’d had enough. I must’ve been right around the corner from Hoffman’s, looking at the trail map now that I’m back – but the trail took a steep dive into a ravine and the further out into the middle of nowhere I went without seeing anyone at all, the more paranoid I became, so I cut myself off and went back the way I came. This is the perfect trail to do with E – I thought.

I booked it back to the trail head – I realized just how desperate I was to no longer be alone. Don’t get me wrong – I love to run alone and be alone – but in an unfamiliar place, in the middle of nature where a lovely trail run could turn into something more dangerous, I was over it. About one mile from the trailhead, I finally saw some people – an older man running with poles and shortly thereafter, a male cyclist (I have no idea how he was cycling on that tiny, crazy trail). It got me thinking back to something a guy in my local running shop said to me, about men going out on the trails alone but most women shouldn’t/don’t. If a guy falls and hurts himself, or gets attacked by an animal or whatever else, will he really be any better off than if it happens to a woman? I think not. Best to not run alone in these types of places – man or woman.

As soon as I hit the main road to get in my extra three miles, everything started to hurt. I think I had so much adrenaline rushing through my body as I was running deep in the forest that I didn’t really notice all my aches and pains! I was far more focused on my safety and surroundings. So, the last 4-5 miles weren’t too fun – but I made it through! Here’s my post-run, post-chocolate milk (I had a cold one waiting in the car – delicious recovery!), I’m-still-alive shot:

The elevation definitely didn’t feel as painful as that of last year’s run, although the net gain fell short of last year’s just by 30ft. Check out today’s profile:

Needless to say, I was in much need of an ice bath (and a proper shower) once I got home. My body felt pretty wrecked! We didn’t have any ice on hand, but we did have tons of freezer packs, so my bath looked like this:

As for food, today is my Dad’s birthday, so we got dressed up and headed to Cafe Sparrow, a wonderful restaurant (funny enough, across the street from the Nisene Marks entrance) that my family has been going to since I was little. Brunch was massive and delicious – as were our mimosas!

Happy birthday, Dad!

And happy 100th post to me!! This blog has been so much fun for me to maintain since I created it last December – hopefully you enjoy reading it as well.

I’m flying to Vietnam tonight – wow, typing that finally makes me feel like it’s actually happening – and after many days of frantic and stressful last minute planning, I think I’m all set and ready to go. I just finished packing – which has to be one of my least favorite activities – and now have an hour or so to catch my breath before I head to the airport.

The excitement of the trip only really started to build yesterday as I left the office, knowing I wouldn’t have to be back for two weeks, thanks to how the Easter/May/Royal Wedding bank holidays lined up this year! Even though Vietnam isn’t exactly going to be a relaxing vacation, it will be so nice to have a long break from work and to finally travel to Asia! I’ve only been once, to Korea, and that was over ten years ago.

I haven’t had a chance to do as much research as I normally would do prior to a big, complicated trip such as this one, but it’s probably better that way – more fun to figure things out once you get there! I’m just relieved that we finally booked hotels (as of two days ago), transportation, and two short tours at the beginning and end of the trip that were a bit of a splurge but will hopefully save us a lot of hassle. It’s comforting knowing that this trip has a solid structure to it, but plenty of flexibility within that framework.

As usual, I’m trying to cram a lot into a short period of time, so our itinerary is a bit crazy, but I think I did a good job balancing things out between active/adventure and beach/other chilled out activities, and between big cities, smaller towns and remote villages. We fly to Hanoi (northern Vietnam) first and spend a couple days there, followed by three days in Sapa (northwest) and the surrounding mountain villages for some trekking, then down to Hoi An and Hue (central), back up to Hanoi for one night and then ending with two nights on a boat in Ha Long Bay before heading back to Hanoi to fly home.

So I’m feeling quite impressed with myself for ticking off most of the items on my to do list, save for a few that I’ll take care of once I’m back. I even managed to squeeze in a “short” long run of 10 miles this morning, at 8:39min/mile average pace, which is great because I will probably be doing very little running while I am away. I’m particularly surprised by the pace, given that I had two challenging runs on Saturday/Monday and hardly slept last night (typical night before travel insomnia – not to be confused with my normal insomnia), but I often find running to be therapeutic and strangely energizing. I’m sure the *GORGEOUS* weather had something to do with it, but I felt calm, alert and focused after my run.

I’m pleased that I’m finally back at a point in my fitness that I can wake up, put on my shoes and run for an hour and a half without really thinking twice about it or feeling sore afterwards. Although I guess I can’t speak too soon about the soreness…sitting on a plane forever surely won’t help!

The long journey ahead will be good for me, however, as I’m feeling myself starting to crash. But first, I might try to whip up a rhubarb ginger crumble – I made an incredible lunch with everything left in the fridge and the rhubarb I bought in the market is the last thing left…it’s too pretty to waste!

I might say hello from the road at some stage, but if not, then I will of course fill you all in on my adventures upon my return!

Be inspired, inspire

This was the message of a lovely card that I received from my sister when I got home on Saturday evening. It made me think of a yoga top that I often wear, purchased many years ago (right before moving to London, in fact) while spending some time in Santa Cruz.

The card (along with the thoughtful note inside) was well-timed, because inspiration pretty much sums up the fantastic weekend that I just had. It’s also something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently – what are my sources of inspiration and happiness, and how I might be able to inspire others?

When I got home on Saturday night, I was buzzing with positive energy (and perhaps some wine) after enjoying a long but incredible day, mostly in the sunshine. I kind of wish I had written this post right then, because I had so many amazing thoughts and feelings swirling inside of me, but sometimes it’s better to simply experience and appreciate those moments rather than document them.

London really comes alive when the sun is out, reminding me of why I put up with so many dreary days throughout the rest of the year! It’s always when I start to get really fed up and threaten to leave that London pulls out all the stops, giving me nearly perfect weather for days, displaying its beautiful flowers everywhere, inviting me to explore many different parts of town and join the throngs of happy (drunk) people in the city’s myriad green spaces, outdoor pubs/cafes etc…Yes, I realize this is also called Spring, but London seems to have a unique vibe in warmer weather compared to other cities, in my opinion at least. Perhaps we just appreciate these days more, since they are so precious!

When these days do occur, I typically sunbathe and picnic in the park or drink Pimm’s with friends on the river, and the bone-chilling, wet weather of yesterday quickly fades in my memory (until it inevitably returns, of course). All I can think about is how beautiful and vibrant London is – and how easy it is to escape when you feel like doing so! I miss California like crazy, but you can’t jet off to Morocco, Italy, Norway etc. from SFO for a couple of nights (well you can, but it’s not exactly recommended).

This is, of course, how many Americans like myself come over here with the intention of staying for a short period of time and then discover that they don’t want to leave. London grabs hold of you with its travel opportunities and extra weeks of vacation time – not to mention its national healthcare system and things like year-long maternity leave – it can be hard to break free! Then, after you’ve lived here for a certain amount of time, you start toying with the thought of becoming a citizen – not because you actually want to be British, but because you’ve already made a significant time investment and that passport opens doors! That said, although being able to work anywhere in the EU and UK is quite appealing to me in theory, staying in London for three more years isn’t appealing at all (okay, maybe just a little bit).

So don’t worry – I’m not feeling inspired after this weekend to stay here forever. All I’m saying is that London can be incredibly seductive, particularly around this time of year, and when the time does come for me to head back to the US, it will be hard to let go of many things that are important to me and that I currently take for granted.

This weekend did inspire me, however, in a number of other ways, including keeping up my relatively new yoga practice after a challenging session on Saturday morning. I had a leisurely 4M run to a gym across town, where my Thursday yoga instructor was leading a 90-minute class in a larger, brighter studio. Everything flowed better than normal (perhaps the later time and warmer weather helped) and I made notable progress in several poses! The second half of the class was tough, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it and felt a particularly potent combination of runner’s high/yoga glow for the rest of the day.

I met up with E after class and we headed to Marylebone High street, which was really fun given our tendency to hang out a bit too much in our own neighborhoods. We lucked out and snagged a prime sunny table at a cute cafe for lunch. Here I am enjoying my long-awaited first Pimm’s of the season – pure bliss!

This was  followed by home-made organic ice cream from La Fromagerie, an exciting discovery that I made while wandering along a side street. I will certainly visit again very soon – everything looked amazing. And their mint-chocolate chip ice cream literally tasted like stracciatella infused with fresh mint leaves, probably because that’s exactly what they did. Mind blowing.

We enjoyed our ice cream while walking to Regents Park, which was of course packed. After admiring all of the gorgeous tulips and other flowers, we managed to find a secluded spot under a tree to chill out for a couple hours. How could I NOT feel inspired – buzzing from a great workout, a delicious meal, my favorite drink and loads of sunshine while cuddling with my boyfriend on the grass, staring up at this view?

In the early evening, E and I parted ways and I decided to walk all the way home (about 4-5 miles) to make the most of the weather. It was awesome, but exhausting after the other activities of the day. As I approached Zucca – a relatively new, small Italian restaurant which is always booked weeks in advance – I sent E a text, jokingly, that I might rest my legs and get a bite to eat there, to help get me all the way home (five minutes away). Next thing I knew, I was sitting at the tiny bar, chatting with the chefs and waiters and eyeing all the incredible dishes they were creating.

I ordered some appetizers, including the carpaccio of sea bass with olive oil and fresh chili that I enjoyed the last time I was there, a mixed salad and a basket of their delicious breads.

Would I like any wine, asked my waiter?

No thank you, I’m fine with water…A few minutes later, I started to peruse the wine list. May as well take a look…

Would I like any wine, asked a different waiter?

Hm…

A massive glass of white wine suddenly appeared in front of me – so refreshing, perfect with my sea bass – as well as a second basket of their addictive foccacia. I was getting full, but was still salivating as I watched the chef prepare a plate of taglierini with spring herbs and fresh ricotta. I started to tell her how much I LOVE fresh ricotta.

Would you like some pasta, the chef asked me?

Um, yes please!

I glanced to my right at the only other person sitting at the bar, another woman on her own enjoying some wine and various plates of food too. We shared a smile. I can’t remember the last time I rocked up to a nice restaurant and had an impromptu meal by myself – it was so lovely!

I completed my journey home slightly drunk, very full and extremely happy, simply thinking – this is what life’s about! Enjoying the colors of a particularly beautiful flower or tree; feeling pride in a certain achievement – big or small; savoring a delicious meal or glass of wine; enjoying the company of a loved one or some quality time alone…

Days like today.

And days like the following day, when I woke up and immediately set off on one of the best long runs I have had in a VERY long time. Maybe it was all that pasta and bread! I had no real target in mind, and nothing in particular that I was training for, so this run was purely for ME. Everything clicked and felt great – the weather was ideal, the tourists on my route mostly stayed out of my way, and the songs I listened to (which was a treat in itself) perfectly suited the exact moments during which they played. I felt strong, relaxed and completely pain-free.

Awesome 11M run in the sunshine: Garmin Connect details

When I got back to my flat, I was literally dancing and singing – it was the highest runner’s high that I have had in months! Fitting too, since exactly one year ago at that time, I was just about to finish my first marathon, in Paris! I couldn’t help but think back to that incredible sense of achievement I felt after crossing the finish line – and how badly I want to run another marathon (my third) in the near future. But first, I’m going to really cherish this period of “anti-training” – running for no purpose other than to make myself feel good!

I felt even better after a delicious brunch of eggs on top of sauteed purple kale, baby eggplant, shitake mushrooms and wholegrain bread…

…after which I headed to my local park to nap under another tree – this one with huge, pink powder puff blossoms. It was slightly less peaceful with all the screaming children, but enjoyable nonetheless. My favorite moment was when I thought to myself, “I would love an ice cream – if only I didn’t have to get up and walk to the store around the corner to get one.” Surely I’m allowed these thoughts after a long run?! Moments later, an ice cream truck drove up right next to me. Boom!

Lounging around was followed by pear ciders (Kopperberg, the best kind) in a local pub with E, and another delicious meal back home. I made a rendition of my quinoa herb pomegranate salad, with slightly different vegetables and grilled marinated ostrich steak on top. Yummy!

It was a bit hard to get back to reality this morning as I walked to the office rather than the park, but at least I got a last taste of my wonderful weekend for lunch as I sat outside in the sun and had my leftover quinoa salad. Much nicer than last week’s oatcakes and hummus (clearly the Bodychef diet has been thrown out the window). And sure enough, the rain came back in full force later in the day, just in time for my walk home – good thing too, because if every weekend were like this last one, then I don’t think I would ever leave…

The half marathon is my favorite distance to race – it’s long enough that I feel like I have conquered something, but not so long that the training takes over my life and running it leaves me hobbling around for days. It requires speed, which I develop through training, but also favors my more inherent strength of endurance.

The first time I ran a half marathon, almost a year and a half ago, I was terrified. The distance seemed so daunting – 13.1 miles?! Really?!

Since running two marathons, however, my mentality has shifted. I seem to think of the half as not really a big deal – not to say that it’s easy to race and get a fast time, because it certainly is not, but somehow I always forget that 13.1M is still a serious distance to run. I think it’s because I only remember the end of my marathon training cycles, when I regularly ran half marathons and any long runs under 14M seemed “short” in the context of my 16 – 20M runs.

It’s one thing, however, when you have conditioned your body to run for hours on a regular basis – 13.1M sounds like a piece of cake, because, well, it kind of is. But when it’s been several months since you’ve conquered and surpassed that distance, running a half marathon or more is actually really challenging! And that is what I was reminded of today…

It was a glorious morning, so I headed to Richmond Park to do the longest long run in my half marathon schedule – two hours or roughly 14 miles off-road. I would normally do this two weeks before race day, but shifted it to today given that I’m racing a 10k next weekend instead. The goal was to run two laps of the park, averaging below 9:00min/mile. I did this by myself without music and am happy to report that it was a great run! The only miles over my upper pace limit were those that included hills, and I averaged an 8:51 pace: 14M Richmond Park Run (Garmin Connect Details). I then jogged another .7M back to the station, bringing my total to about 14.75M for today and my weekly mileage to just over 36M. Not too shabby!

I can’t say that it was easy though, as I watched the miles slowly creep up while thinking to myself towards the end, Oh yeah, this is what 13.1M actually feels like…How did I run a marathon again?! It was a bit of a reality check.

It’s amazing how quickly your body forgets these things – but equally amazing how you can snap it back into shape. I love the moment of a training cycle when you can look back and remember just how much you struggled with something that is now relatively easy! I didn’t quite feel that way today, but I reminded myself of the times that I DID think of 14M as an “easy” run. It was both comforting and unnerving. 🙂

With my last long run under my belt, the countdown until race day has begun. Three weeks to go, and only my longest tempo run, a 10k and one last interval session before things start to wind down. I haven’t raced since early November (which is why the 10k will be good practice), and I haven’t raced a half marathon since September (in a time of 1:39:56), so Fleet should be interesting, particularly after this roller-coaster of a training cycle. I’m not sure how it will go, but I do know that I’ll soon have a new medal and bib number hanging proudly on my race wall – the firsts of 2011, with hopefully many more to follow!

I love the mixture of exhaustion, exhilaration and satisfaction that hits me just after I finish a long run, followed by a steaming cup of coffee, a hot shower and something delicious to eat. But sometimes, for various reasons, my long runs don’t end this way – frustration, pain, disinterest and/or a number of other not-exactly positive feelings replace my post-run high, and I spend the rest of the day feeling a bit disappointed.

This morning, for instance, was a slight disaster. I needed to do 11 miles off-road at an easy pace, and had planned on heading to Richmond park since it’s a lovely path and perfect for a run of that length. Unfortunately, the trains were a mess and it would take ages to get there, and so I suggested to my boyfriend, who was running too, that we go somewhere more convenient like Hampstead Heath or Hyde/Green park. Straightforward and easy, which was what I had in mind after a long week.

E, who is very much into trail running, suggested that we go on an “adventure” instead. An adventure? No thanks, not really up for that today. But then he sent me a link to Epping Forest, along with beautiful images of leafy trails. It’s close, he told me, we just have to go to East London and the entrance is five minutes from the tube.

Trail running in East London? Seriously?!

Yeah, I don’t think so. I’ve been way out on the central line to East London, and there certainly isn’t anything that looks like THAT anywhere close to THERE. But E was really into checking it out and somehow made me believe that we would step off the train and into a trail running oasis. The pictures did look lovely (probably because they were all taken in the summer and of parts of the forest that were way up north, outside of London, which only occurred to me later on…). Plus, the sun was shining and given that I live in southeast London, Epping Forest didn’t seem THAT far away…

So I reluctantly agreed and we headed to London Bridge Station to begin our “adventure.” Too bad there are no “after” photos…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cut to us arriving at Leytonstone station (Mistake number one – Going to Leytonstone) 45 minutes later, with dark clouds looming, a not so friendly wind blowing and definitely no forest in sight. We seemed to have gone to the one part of the city where the sun wasn’t shining – perhaps fitting given our location in the heart of East London??

Hey E, so where is this Epping Forest?

He consulted his trusty iphone to guide us (Mistake number two – Asking E for directions – when will I learn?!).

It’s just this way! [10 minute walk through sketchy neighborhood, 5 minute run on a patch of grass which dead ended into a massive highway]. Oh wait, we just went in the wrong direction, sorry! [Rain starts]. I think it’s over here! [I ask directions from the one random person out and about]. Here we are. [Bleak open field – no trails, or trees, in sight] Hm, this doesn’t look like the photos! [We start running straight ahead, attempting unsuccessfully to navigate around the mud and litter]. I guess we just go to the right? [Another dead end, an abandoned shopping cart half sucked into the mud]. I think we can get around it! [Duck through prickly bushes – ouch! – leap over puddle, hit an even larger sea of mud with another highway in the distance]. Sorry, I’m just going to follow you from now on! Where should we go? [Silence, arms folded.] Maybe we should try running under that highway to see if the forest continues over there?

NO, I’m DONE with this EFFING Forest!

After 20 minutes of stop-and-go miserable muddy running in what was probably the ugliest place I’ve ever seen, it was time to cut our losses, find the nearest tube station and go home. I’m not a quitter – but this wasn’t a run! He felt bad for dragging me out there without having properly researched the area, but it wasn’t entirely his fault – had the weather not been so terrible, perhaps we would have persevered and reached some beautiful parts of Epping Forest, which I’ve been told DO exist. I bet there is some great trail running in these parts, particularly in a different season when the trails are leafy green and a bit more solid, rather than rivers of mud as they were on this Sunday in January! But we should have known better…what were we (was he) thinking?!

We finally found a tube station, waited forever for a train, changed trains, and eventually made it back to my area feeling frustrated, cold and tired. I still had at least 7M left to run, but the will to run had completely passed. It was an awful, empty feeling – I wanted my time and motivation back! I wanted that post-run high, my coffee, my indulgent meal!

I was quite close to giving up and going home, but I decided I wouldn’t let this slight bump defeat me – instead I would run out the frustration, salvage the whole endeavor, log in the miles! And so I forced myself (and E – as punishment!) to finish the run with four extremely tedious laps on the grass around Southwark park – the longest 7 miles ever, but at least when I got home, I didn’t feel like our four-hour fiasco was a total lost cause.

So I didn’t exactly have the leisurely long run that I look forward to on most weekends – but I somehow pieced together an 11 mile run, enjoyed my coffee, hot shower and delicious meal, and then rewarded myself with a nice long nap, a great movie and plenty of chocolate (which E brought over as a peace offering – it worked).

As for Epping Forest – I think I’ll be going back once it looks more like this:

Those were the first words I would hear every weekday morning between the ages of about 6 and 12, when my Dad used to waltz into my room, open all the blinds and try to coax me out of bed to get ready for school. I grew up in Santa Cruz, only a five-minute walk from the beach, so on most days a thick fog greeted me as I unwillingly opened my eyes. But occasionally, sunlight would come streaming in, and I would hop out of bed without my Dad having to yank the covers away.

On Sundays, there was no need for him to come into my room – I would awake naturally to the smell of his delicious pancakes, which permeated every room of the house, and the faint sound of jazz. I can’t really remember a Sunday from my childhood beginning in any other way (except for, occasionally, a guest appearance of my Mom’s waffles)…

Pancakes were the only thing my Dad ever cooked, aside from grilling meat on the BBQ. He was known for his pancakes – my friends would come over on Saturdays, excited that a delicious breakfast awaited them if they spent the night. Even my Dad’s discovery that he was allergic to gluten (the horror!) later in life couldn’t stop our family tradition – he just amended his recipe, and surprisingly, I could hardly tell the difference.

My Dad’s pancakes are thin, not quite as thin as a crepe (particularly with the gluten-free recipe) but pretty close, and he would gradually make a gigantic stack as the rest of us woke up and made our way into the kitchen. He always seemed to make far more than we could ever eat, but somehow we always finished them. They were just too delicious to throw away.

He was a pancake purist, refusing to put anything extra into the batter (nuts, blueberries etc) – just some butter and pure maple syrup on top. I ate them as they were served for many years, but then at some point I started to make him save me some of his batter and would spice it up with a dash of cinnamon and some ripe mashed banana. He didn’t seem to approve, but let me have my way. I finally made him taste of one “my” pancakes and eventually, he admitted that he really liked them. I soon heard reports from my Mom that bananas had become a fixture of their Sunday pancakes, which made me smile!

Now when I go home to visit, I wake up on a Sunday and go for a run on the beach, motivated by the FACT that there will be a big stack of banana pancakes waiting for me upon my return, along with freshly squeezed orange juice and a big cup of steaming coffee. Sometimes my sister will have come down from the East Bay to see me, and we all sit together as a family, just like we used to as kids. Even better, if the fog has already burned off, we eat out on our back deck and soak up the California sunshine. That type of morning is probably one of my favorite things about being home and I really do miss it.

Although my Dad hasn’t served as my personal alarm clock in awhile, either with his cheerful “Rise and shine!” or his pancake prowess, I still can’t help but associate Sundays with pancakes. And given that I’m almost always in training these days, I usually link Sundays to long runs as well. So this morning was particularly special when my alarm went off at 8:45am and I opened my blinds – Good-morning sunshinehaven’t seen you in awhile! Pure blue skies and crisp January air – perfect running weather, or shall I say, gearing up for pancake eating weather?

When I got back from my awesome 10.5M/90min run along the river  (and had already had my cappuccino), only one thing was on my mind – PANCAKES. What better way to reward my efforts and make my Sunday complete?! And I don’t know about you, but everything tastes better when I’ve earned it! Unfortunately, I didn’t have my Dad’s recipe – which now that I think of it, is strange – but it was fine, because I was craving something a bit more wholesome anyway.

I turned to the NY Times Recipes for Health section for inspiration, since I had recently made some delicious pancakes based on this Oatmeal Buttermilk Blueberry Pancake recipe. Last time, I added cinnamon and mashed banana to the batter, and because I didn’t have any blueberries, I instead baked sliced bananas glazed with cinnamon and honey to place on top of the pancakes.

Today, I used fresh blueberries in the batter as well as for on top of the cooked pancakes. I added two small ripe mashed bananas, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts to the batter, and used skim milk rather than low-fat and brown sugar rather than white. Also, like last time, I didn’t use real buttermilk, but instead made an easy substitute: just get a 1 cup measuring cup, put in 1 tablespoon lemon juice, fill the rest with milk and let stand for 5 minutes. This recipe calls for 1.5 cups, so I also took a 1/2 cup measuring cup and put 1 teaspoon lemon juice and filled the rest with milk.

The end-result was incredible – fluffy, wholesome pancakes bursting with juicy blueberries. No butter necessary, I promise. In the words of my Dad, as he always said upon his first bite, “These are delicious, if I may say so myself!”

So if you’re in a Sunday pancake mood but want something healthier than what you’d find in a restaurant, then try my Triple B (banana, blueberry & buttermilk) Pancake Recipe! Please note, however, that this recipe is best if you let the batter stand for one hour (or make the night before and refrigerate). The first time I made these, I was too impatient and they came out fine, but I must say, if you can wait, it’s definitely worth it.

Here are some photos for inspiration:

So rise and shine everyone – it’s pancake time!

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

This morning's breakfast bowl isn't exactly pretty, but really delicious and filling! Two fried eggs in a pan with black beans (I used 1/2 cup = 1 serving), a little feta, a few spoonfuls of ricotta, some pesto (random but had some leftover and tastes great with eggs), and 1/4 avocado. Cooked all together for a high protein tasty breakfast! Awesome @onepeloton endurance ride earlier today with my buddy @mattwilpers before enjoying some family time outdoors on this beautiful day. Arielle came to visit afterwards and clearly is a big Peloton fan too! Speaking of which, check out the latest episode of the Clip Out (a Peloton fan podcast) - had such a great time talking all things nutrition and Peloton with @clipoutcrystal and Tom, who are hilarious btw! (Link in bio - my segment ~20min in). Wishing everyone a very happy first day of Fall! 🍁🍂 It's my favorite time of year to get out into nature and go for a run. L'Shana Tova to those who celebrate! We started the New Year with some apple picking at @wilkloworchards on our way back to NYC yesterday. Was so much fun, and Arielle was a great little helper! We don't have much food in the house after being away so these crisp local apples with almond butter will be our tasty, healthy snacks today. Getting ready for the loooong drive back to NYC after unplugging in Lake Placid for my bday! Fueling with a bowl of 5% plain Greek yogurt, bananas, peaches, and apple cinnamon granola. Not much of a view from our balcony this morning of Mirror Lake - swipe right for our view yesterday! So beautiful and peaceful here - minus screaming baby, of course. 😂 #Tbt to earlier this week, when one of my awesome @nutritionenergy clients surprised me with a @levainbakery cookie after we talked about them at our last session. I had planned to save half for my husband (those cookies are seriously dense!), but it was so delicious, I changed my mind and had the second half later in the day. Did I feel bad about it afterwards? Did I end up skipping dinner or working out more to compensate? Nope! I had already eaten a healthy balanced lunch, and it's not everyday that I enjoy such a decadent treat (although you will find me having smaller treats quite often 😀).

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