Archive for May 2012

The Twin Lights Half Marathon 2012

May 16, 2012

I find myself shivering this morning, despite the rising temperature.  A thousand runners mill around me.  I stand in the warm embrace of my husband, the best cheerleader and support team anyone could ever hope for.  He lets me wear his fleece sweatshirt over my warm-up jacket, but my legs shake and are covered with goosebumps despite the extra layers.  The ten minute signal has been given and the runners press closer together.  I slip out of the two extra layers, handing them over.  I take a final sip from my water bottle and hand that over, too.  A last hug and kiss and he eases his way to the sidelines.  I stand alone in the crowd, ready.

The emcee chatters away on the microphone, then plays a tape of “The Star Spangled Banner”.  The runners around me put their hands over their hearts.  I watch them and listen to the words, willing it to be over so we can run.  Finally, the music changes.  “I Got a Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas blasts over the loudspeakers.  The announcer tells us to get ready.  There is no countdown, just a “GO!” and we’re off.  Although the we have been standing close together, we are able to run right from the start.  The runners spread apart quickly.  I forget all of my goals and just go.  I pick off one runner after another, passing with ease, seeking out the empty spaces through which I can slip.  The first mile is easy.

By the second mile, I am regretting my breakfast.  I chose to eat before the race, giving myself a good three hour window to start to digest.  The chai oatmeal sits like lead in my belly.  I feel no cramps, but rather a deep, uncomfortable pain that hurts more with each stride.  I suck it up and press on, wishing I had not read any of the advice from Runner’s World about what to eat.  I note my first lesson of the race:  stick with the banana for breakfast. I glance at my wristwatch at the mile three marker and see that I am under 24 minutes, much, much faster than I should be running.  I slow down.

I look for my children as I pass the foot of my street.  Neither one is there to cheer me on, but a couple of my neighbors are on the sidelines and call my name, waving, clapping, shouting encouragements—“Go Elizabeth!  Looking great!  You can do it!”—and I feel better.  Maybe my family will be there on the return loop.

We run through the downtown area of Rockport, up Main Street, and then along Beach Road.  I see a teacher I know from the high school who flashes me a wide smile and gives me the thumbs-up sign.  I wave and keep going.  I see at least six other people I usually pass on my regular morning run and each of them waves to me and calls out.  The support makes this mile easy.

We turn onto Granite Street and I chug up the hill, jumping up onto the sidewalk where no one else has chosen to run.  As I crest the hill, already tired and thirsty, I see my friend Charlene on my side of the road.  She’s waiting for me, standing under a tree, and as I approach, she reaches under the jacket she is holding and passes me a water bottle.  She has even thought to remove the cap and my heart swells with gratitude.  As I take sips and the refreshing water coats my parched lips and throat, I am filled with love—love for my friend who has remembered this day and come to cheer for me and give me exactly what I need, love for running, love for the beauty of the day.  The sun is bright,and the air  is warm and heavy with the scent of lilacs.  I can taste the salt of the sea with every breath.

As I continue along Granite Street, I see the woman who works at our local health food store, waving from her yard.  I wave back.  I see my friend Anthony outside his stonework shop and call to him.  He raises his head, immediately finds me in the group of runners, and calls out to me, “Go, go, go!  You got it!”  Again, I and filled with gratitude for the people in my life who are cheering for me today, and every day.

The route has been changed from last year and instead of turning onto Phillip’s Ave., we continue up the grueling hill on Granite Street.  We finally turn onto Curtis Street and I realize I am more than halfway through the race.  My legs are tired.  I can feel my quads protesting as I force myself up a sharp, short hill. I am lonesome, too.  This is the first long race I have run without a partner runner.  We turn again, then once more and are back on Granite Street.  Again I see Charlene, again on my side of the road.  A strange man calls my name and I see Charlene’s little girl Sarah standing with him and more children.  They wave and cheer.  Charlene’s husband is a few paces beyond them.  He holds his camera, the big lens aimed directly at me.  I give him my best sweaty movie star smile and wave.  I cannot wipe the grin off of my face as I let my legs carry me down the long hill back to Beach Road.

We retrace our steps most of the way down Main Street, running against the one-way traffic, then turn right onto School Street, the left onto Broadway.  We turn right onto Mount Pleasant Street and I realize I will have to run up the worst hill in town.  I plow on, wondering if either one of my children with be out looking for me.  I stop thinking about them as my muscles begin to protest the steep angle I am forcing them to overtake.  Although I have been taking advantage of each water stop, guzzling Gatorade, water, and more Gatorade, I know I am dehydrated.  The temperature is rising, rising.  My lips are cracked and I can taste blood.  I keep running, willing myself to take this hill as the biggest challenge of this race.

Sue, my running partner, makes me run this hill with her every time we go out together.  It starts off steep, then takes for damn ever to crest.  Up, up, up.  It’s Rockport’s Heartbreak Hill.  It is not breaking my heart.  Instead, it’s breaking my will.  I press on.  Runner after runner passes me.  I note the lesson here:  there is no conditioning for running other than running.  I cross-trained like crazy during the plantar fasciitis, but although my cardio fitness is excellent, perhaps better than ever, the lack of miles I usually log week after week has made a difference in my ability to easily run distance.  I tell myself I can finish.  I tell myself I am going back to running the way I did before the injury.  I take a careful mental note of this lesson.

I actually stop to drink three cups at the next water station, but jump right back in to the race.  Now, there are runners who are walking.  There are runners who are sitting.  There are runners who are down on the side of the road, medics attending them.  I send good thoughts their way.  I keep running.

And so to the last three miles.  My legs are made of lead.  My mouth is filled with cotton.  From the 13 mile marker to the finish, it is 10 miles to cover that last tenth mile.  I cross the finish line and see my husband standing in the crowd, the video camera in one hand, my warmup jacket in the other.  I go right up to the camera and say, “Do not let me run while recovering from an injury ever again!”  And then I smile into the camera.  “I DID IT!”

Time: 2:00:33.  Best lessons: maintain an excellent cheering squad and support team.  And keep running!

Baked Tofu Ricotta-Stuffed Manicotti

May 11, 2012

Tomorrow is the big day!  I can barely wait to run the Twin Lights Half Marathon.  I am trying my best to rest and relax, which is work for me.  This morning looks perfect for a long run—the sun is out, the temperature hovers around 50 °,  and I am going crazy from resting.  I stick with my plan, though, and make a date for a lunchtime bike ride with my husband. What to do with myself for the morning?  Cook!

Carb-loading has never been a big concern for me, but this time, since I am working from a plan for this race, I figure I should follow some advice from Runner’s World and other runners.  I am also still succumbing to food daydreams.  My visions of roasted tomato sauce lavishly enveloping thick pasta stuffed with creamy ricotta and garlicky vegetables have reached a pinnacle and I must prepare this pre-race feast for dinner tonight.

Baked Tofu Ricotta-Stuffed Manicotti

Ingredients:

1 pkg manicotti pasta

For the tofu ricotta:

1 pkg firm or extra-firm organic tofu*

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp dried marjoram

1/4 c nutritional yeast

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp sea salt

For the vegetables:

3 T olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, diced fine

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 c grated carrot

1 small red bell pepper, diced fine

1 16 oz. pkg frozen spinach (I prefer the loose frozen spinach—that big frozen block just irritates me.  Too hard to defrost!)

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 tsp sea salt

sprinkle/pinch crushed red pepper flakes

10-12 large fresh basil leaves, minced

For the sauce:

8 cups tomato sauce of your choice (I used the final container of last summer’s roasted tomato sauce from my garden. You can use any sauce you like.)

Method:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 7 minutes.   Drain, rinse, and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the vegetables and tofu ricotta:

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and red bell pepper.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the spinach, black pepper, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes.  Continue to cook until spinach is no longer frozen.  Turn off heat, stir in the minced basil leaves and set aside.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the tofu ricotta:

In the bowl of a large food processor, combine the tofu, lemon juice, marjoram, nutritional yeast, nutmeg, crushed red pepper flakes and salt.  Pulse to combine, scraping the sides if needed.  Process for 30-60 seconds, or until tofu mixture is mostly smooth.  Taste and correct seasonings.

Combine the tofu ricotta with the vegetable mixture, either in the skillet or in a bowl.

To assemble:

Spoon half of the tomato sauce into a large baking or lasagna pan and spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Fill each of the manicotti pasta tubes with the tofu ricotta and vegetable mixture.  Place each tube in the baking pan on top of the tomato sauce.  Continue filling the tubes until you either run out of pasta or filling.  (I ran out of pasta, so cooked some jumbo shells to use up the rest of the filling.)    Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the manicotti.  Cover the pan loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  Serve as an entree with a leafy salad.  These freeze well, too and heat up nicely in either the oven or the microwave.

*If there is one food to buy organic only, it’s tofu.  Most of our country’s soy is GMO and grown in toxic fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals that do not wash off.  It’s worth paying the extra quarter or so for the organic version.

Ready for Race Day

May 7, 2012

It’s Monday morning and I head out for an easy five mile run.  The sun shines warm and bright on me, and on the tiny new leaves on the trees.   The full moon has pulled the low tide farther out than usual and I can see dozens of seaweed-covered granite boulders poking their heads up on the shore of Back Beach.  As I run, I make my plan for this week.  I will back off on the miles, ice my heel and arch, refrain from any crazy plyometric sessions, and ease up on strength training—in other words, rest a bit so that I can run the Twin Lights Half Marathon this coming Saturday and finish strong.

Today is the third day in a row for running.  There is a part of me that still doesn’t trust myself to run the distance.  While I rest, I plan to spend some time adjusting my attitude.  I am going to get in my own head and boss myself around.  I am going to muzzle  the chattering monkeys.  And then, I am going to let go of everything and be present each minute of the race.  I like the plan.

The monkeys are already backing off this morning.  Each stride is relaxed.  My breath comes easy—I can sing along to Girl Talk, The Black Eyed Peas, and Foster the People.  I run along Granite Street and close my eyes for a moment to fully appreciate the scent of the hedge of flowering lilac bushes along the sidewalk.  The sweet pungent blooms bow gently over my head and I think of my Nana and how she loved lilacs, magnolias, and lilies of the valley.  This feeling of being in the moment, with good memories tagging along, takes me to the place that makes running magical for me.  I am not thinking about the race.  I am not thinking about my foot, whether it is hurting or not.  I am not thinking.   I am just being.

I make sure to cut my loop short so I stay within my self-imposed five mile limit.  I curve around Phillip’s Ave. and turn right instead of left, easing down the steep hill toward the ocean and the old Tool Company.  The water, visible to the left of the building,  glistens and sparkles in the early morning light.  The clean smells of ocean, low tide and flowers are the core of my awareness.  As I turn back onto Granite Street, I run past a few walkers.  A car horn sounds and I see the hand of someone I must know but don’t recognize wave to me from their window.  I raise my hand back, but don’t even look to see who it is.

I take the big hill slowly, not pushing, but when I come to the long, easy slope that heads back to town, I speed up, letting my body go as it wishes.  My legs feel long, long, long today and I can feel myself flying.  My feet barely have time to make contact before they pick up to stride again.  I sprint down Broadway, cross Mount Pleasant, then slow down to a dog-trot as I turn onto Atlantic.  A small sadness sets in, as I know I will be backing off the rest of the week.  That was it, the last real run.  I will take a couple more short jaunts, but otherwise stick to the plan.  I’m ready.