Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sous Vide Sunday Chicken - Spicy Orange and Cilantro Brine

Last Tuesday I overhead two clients engaging in food related discussion. Understand that in my line of work, food is the devil. "I ate too much last night".  Or, "I'm going to pay for that buffet on Saturday".  And the ubiquitous, "I can't seem to drop the 5, 8 10, or 35 pounds......too much good food!" Yet the current conversation had the makings of a positive food experience: "the chicken at Flinchy's was the most tender and moist I had ever eaten. I don't know what they do to it. They have got to have some trick up their sleeve that we don't know about. I've never had chicken like that".

I don't know the secrets of a restaurant kitchen. I'm guessing they cook their chicken to the appropriate temperature. Perhaps they place it in a brine for a few hours to enhance it's juicyness. Do they sous vide? I doubt it.

I have never done chicken via sous vide. Usually I toss it into a skillet and roast at 350 degrees until crisp and juicy. This normally works fine.

Could sous vide elevate above the comfortable simplicity of an oven roasted chicken?

Let's find out.

First I brined it in a quick brine modified from  Michael Ruhlman.

Quick Brine

  • 15 oz water
  • 100g salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 orange, quartered
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 15 oz ice
Combine ingredients (except ice) and boil.  Let steep for 10 minutes off heat. Pour brine over ice. Pour over 3-4 pounds worth of chicken parts. Keep at room temp for 2-3 hours.

Then discard the brine and thoroughly rinse the chicken. Seal in plastic bag and vacuum pack. Lower into 147 degree water bath for 2 hours.

I'll be the first to admit that sous vide chicken, (steak, pork, and fish included) looks pale and unappetizing. To remedy, a hot pan and some coconut oil. Sear the outside, make a quick pan gravy, and get ready to plate.

Orange and cilantro brined chicken cooked sous vide and served with a cauliflower and poblano pepper gratin. 

Chewy Gingersnap Cookies

The smell of ginger and molasses wafting from the oven does not remind me of holiday's past. It's not that I am a complete Christmas Scrooge, but I can't recall ever making gingersnaps. We made gingerbread houses. But where did we get the gingerbread? I don't know.

I do remember an orange box full of gingersnap cookies. They were stacked side-by-side on a plastic tray that had a unique crackle to it like only plastic tray's can have. The snap of the cookie between my teeth reveberated through my head and the ginger bit back like novel spices have a tendency to do. That is my memory of the gingersnap:

An orange box. A plastic tray. A cookie with a kick.

My prerequisite for baking gingersnaps is threefold. And by this I mean, three types of ginger. Powdered, fresh grated, and crystallized. If you have three types of ginger you can't help but make a potent cookie.

What is the deal with lots of bold spice in cookies? Why do I, and possibly you, find that the hands are constantly in the cookie jar when the cookies fight back?

Psychologist Paul Rozin from the University of Pennsylvania writes that the human's love of spicy foods including ginger as well as chili, coffee, beer, and tobacco is a case of culture overriding a biological predisposition. We are not born liking spicy food, yet many of us develop an addiction to it.  The exact mechanism of this change is unknown. It could be social pressure, a certain type of endorphin secretion, or even a desire for "benign masochism".  

Some endurance coaches suggest that athletes who are slightly overtrained may experience an increased desire for spicy food, among other things. Perhaps it's the endorphins at work. Or is it just the case that most athletes are addicted to a daily dose of "benign masochism". Two strikes. Add a dose of social pressure (my competitors are probably training today) and you have a simple explanation for our culture's desire for spicy foods.

Or maybe it is simply a positive memory built around an orange box, a plastic tray, and a spicy cookie.

A day of rest could help if you only find crumbs a day after making this recipe. It not for the recovery from your workout than for the recovery from the bloat you will feel after consuming so much sugar and flour in short order.

  • Flour, baking powder and spices
  • Crystallized ginger, minced
  • Fresh ginger, grated
  • Brown sugar
  • Butter, softened (I used olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and some soy something or other).
  • Molasses
  • Egg 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pumpkin Pudding (gluten free, dairy free)

 2 cups almond milk + 1/4 cup apple butter,  scalded

2 eggs, beaten. Mix with 2 T. cornstarch + 3T sugar and a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice.

Gradually add scalded milk to egg mixture.

Stir in 1 cup pumpkin to egg/milk mixture.

Return to pot and stir until mixture boils.

Serve three ways.

This recipe yields a slightly sweet pudding that is woefully short on creaminess. It needs more fat. Substituting 1 cup of the almond milk for 1 cup coconut milk would be a start. 1 cup of coconut cream would be the smartest choice yielding an increase in fat and sugar. I demolished all three in a matter of minutes. The full fat whipped cream topped version easily dominated the lonely dairy free pudding.

Heck with it, just use 2 cups of heavy cream for the whole recipe. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sweet Asian Glazed Beef and Salmon

My mental state was in  a nose dive. I had committed the dual sin of skipping lunch and doing my grocery shopping in the same afternoon.  As my blood sugar yo-yo-ed back and forth, dipping closer and closer to full-on crabiness; I was desperate for the glaze to thicken, the steak to sear, and the rice to cook.

Dinner could not be served soon enough.

I devoured my first helping like a dog sneaking Kibble from the food bin. As I reached for seconds three simple words written by David Kessler climbed up the memory ladder in my brain: Sweet, salt, and fat.

In his book "The End of Overeating",  Kessler pounds those three words into your subconscious.  Salt, sugar and fat. Repeat after me. Salt, sugar, and fat. Or was it fat, salt, and sweet. Or perhaps salt, sweet and fat? Your get my point.

According to Kessler, If your food is layered with sugary sweetness, comforting fat, and nerve tingling saltiness; chances are you will eat. And eat. And eat. This is a technique mastered by ingenious food manufacturers and industry marketers. If you want to end the overeating in your life then the obvious conclusion seems to be: restrict the fat, the sweet, and the salt.

Perhaps it's not that simple.

I normally avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or any other sweetener in my savory food preparations. Except for today. Needless to say my senses were abuzz as I enjoyed the devilish trio

Not worried about a bulging waistline, strained pancreas, or high blood pressure?

Asian Glaze - Modified from Cooks Illustrated
  • 3 T brown sugar
  • 2 T soy sauce (gluten free)
  • 1 T  Dijon mustard
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1 T mirin
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Green Bean, Carrot, and Coconut Curry

I'm addicted to coconut milk. Toss is frozen green beans, carrots, and rice and I've got lunch on the table before running of to work.

1 Onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, diced
Spices: cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, curry powder, tumeric, mustard seeds, bay leaves, salt, pepper.
1 can coconut milk.

Heat coconut oil, saute onions and spices. Add garlic. Stir in green beans and carrots. Add coconut milk. Simmer for a few minutes.

Serve with rice.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Braised Pork and Cabbage in a Red Sauce

 One head of green cabbage, shredded. 2 onions diced. 6 garlic cloves diced. A bit of balsamic vinegar. And half of a small can of tomato paste. Plus 2 organic pork chops salted and peppered.
Those chops look amazing.

Brown chops in Dutch oven. Remove from heat. Carmelize onions for thirty minutes. Add water occasionally. Soften garlic. Incorporate tomato paste and vinegar.  Dump cabbage into pot and lay pork chops onto cabbage. Cover with lid and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Serve with rice noodles.
Add caption

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Oven Skillet Split Chicken Breast and Red Potatoes

The Thursday afternoon grocery store meat special: bone-in, split chicken breasts.  $3 and change for two gigantic chicken breasts. I grabbed a few red potatoes from the basement and tossed them with a garlic and onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, and some olive oil

 I have a small container of McCormick poultry seasoning buried in the back of the spice drawer.  A liberal dusting on the chicken along with more red pepper flakes. Add potatoes and chicken to skillet and slide into a 425 degree oven.

Turn half-way at 30 minutes. Roast for 10-15 minutes more. Check internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. At 165 degrees remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes while preparing salad.

Crispy skin is delish!

Toss salad with homemade Ceasar dressing.  Debone chicken. Slice chicken and serve with potatoes.
Seconds is a given.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012 Stone Mill 50 Mile Race Report

After missing TNF 50 at Bear Mountain, NY earlier in the year I decided to put a close to the season by running the Stone Mill 50. The race was close to home and was an absolute deal at $35.00.

As it was my first 50 mile attempt I wanted to start conservatively and finish with something left in the tank. That plan lasted for 12 miles. At least 20 of us went off course and didn't realize it for at least 1/2 of a mile. Then 10 minutes later about 5 of us went wrong again for about 5 minutes. Frustrated, I threw my game plan went out the window (bad idea).

As I passed groups of runners for the third time I was disgusted that I allowed myself to follow the pack and the feet of the runner immediately ahead of me. Instead of looking for the trail markers I assumed the lead runner had it covered. That was not the case. Now that I had wasted 15 minutes I was determined to make up some time. When we hit a brief road section I cranked up the pace even though I knew that it was far too soon for that type of running.

Needless to say I paid the price for the early hard efforts. Everything went south at mile 30 when both hamstrings seized up as I tried to scurry across a creek. The cramps persisted intermittently for the remainder of the afternoon. Any misstep, stick, or tree root caused the cramps to fly-in with varying degree's of intensity. I developed a shuffling gait that allowed me to move forward, albeit slowly, while minimizing the chance of suffering debilitating cramps.

As you can see below my downward spiral began at the 4:40 mark or right around the time I started to cramp. 

Although I was rapidly fading I had no choice but to shuffle on. I caught a few runners who were suffering the same fate. My legs hurt. My mind was questioning why I was still moving forward. I ran with the eventual women's winner for a few miles and we passed the time talking about running and races of all things. We both tripped and stumbled our way down the trail. Eventually I was in no-man's land running solo. I played mind games with my watch. I counted down the aid stations. I promised myself I could walk; but walking caused cramps so I continued with an awkward shuffling gait. I chastised myself for running the wrong way and running too fast early on. I wondered how anyone actually finishes 100 mile races. I got passed by two runners in the last 4 miles. I talked to myself. I thought about the Five Guys Burger and Fries that I was going to eat after the race.

I ended up finishing in 8:14 and change. Good enough for 14th place.

A big thanks to my brother who kept me moving quickly and my father and sister who cheered me on.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gluten Free Apple Crispy Crumble Custard

I spent the afternoon cleaning the house due to the so called hurricane and normal hysteria that follows when places more than 50 miles away are being wracked with floods and winds. I headed up stairs to put something away and as I reached the top a horrible stench filled my nostrils. Did the cat pee in the hallway!? No. Sadly the smell intensified as I walked into the bedroom where the cat was peering at me; nestled deep in the covers. She couldn't have peed the bed and be sleeping on it? No, again. I peeked me head into the studio and the smell smacked me straight in the face. Amber was using an iron, doing something to remove color from fabric or so she claimed. I closed the door and backed away. Perhaps a respirator and ventilation was needed.  I was going to open a window but the damp, cold remnants of "hurricane" Sandy  continue to linger ao I opted to combat the smell with apples, cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar.

Mid-week means gluten free. And oat free as the fiber messes with my intestines. I modified two blog based recipes as I like my gluten free desserts to have a variety of textures. Pies, turnovers, and cakes all require white flour the achieve that flaky, light, and airy texture.  But perhaps a crisp with three distinct layers will deceive the palate and provide a suitable alternative. 

The Crumble:

1/2 C. White rice flour
1/4 C. Quinoa flour
1/4 C. Potato starch
1/4 C. Millet and Sorghum flour
Reserve 1/2 C. for Custardy Goodness. Use 3/4 C. for Crumble.
1/4 C. Brown sugar
1/4 C. White sugar
1/2 t.  Salt
1  t.  Cinnamon
1/2 t. Baking powder
1/4 t. Xanthan gum
4-5 T Cold butter. Diced.
Mix with fingers until just right.

The Apples:
6 Apples. Peeled, Cored, Diced. I used three varieties.
1 T. Lemon Juice
1/4 C. Brown Sugar
1/4 C. White Sugar
1/4 C. Heavy Cream
1 t. Cinnamon
Stir everything together.

The Custard Goodness:

1 Egg. Beaten.
1/4 C. Heavy cream
3 T Butter melted
Whip with for.
1/4 C. Brown sugar
1/4 C. White sugar
Stir together.
Add more cream/milk if necessary.

Press crumble into buttered glass pie plate. Pour in apple mixture.  Spread custardy goodness over top. Sprinkle with left over crumble. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes

Remove from oven. Let cool slightly.

 Serve warm with milk, ice cream, creme anglais, or eat straight up.

The bottom is crispy. The apples are juicy and mixed with the custard layer. The top is crumbly. You won't even realize there is no white flour or gluten in the mix.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and 48 Hour Sous Vide Short Ribs

Who needs bread and milk? 

With the threat of hurricane Sandy looming large I opted to get the short ribs into the sous vide machine on Saturday night. Patience, patience, patience. Much like waiting for a hurricane moving at 14 mph. 

Now with the rain pelting the windows and work closing early I had plenty of time to sear the meat, roast some sweet potatoes and blanch some green beans. 

Sous vide is the only way to do short ribs in a hurricane. Or the only way to do short ribs period. 143 degrees for medium doneness. 48 hours to melt the collagen. A quick sear with the torch to crisp the skin. Simmer the juices left over from the ribs. 30 minute meals? I doubt it. And once you've tasted this combination you would too: 

I used a very much modified stock/sauce recipe from David Chang of Momofuku to cook the ribs. Water, soy sauce (gluten free), applesauce, sesame oil, Sriracha , smoked paprika, onion, garlic, radish. Simmer. Cool. Immerse ribs. Cook for 48 hours.

The sweet potatoes were coated with olive oil, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and dry mustard. Roast for 30 minutes or so at 400.

The green beans were blanched and then tossed in a butter and garlic sauce with some left over liquid from the short ribs.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

2012 Megatransect Race Report

The Megatransect.  A trail marathon with 5,000' of vertical gain. Sold out in 90 minutes. 700 participants.

Rising from bed at 3am and spending a good part of 12 hours solo, both driving and running, leads to some random thinking. A few of my more pertinent, yet random race day thoughts in no particular order:

Could the trigger points in my soleus muscle be related to the shoes I wear or just the effect of pushing through fatigue and the accompanying sloppy running technique? 

Is my rapidly graying hair a result of excess cortisol production due to too much endurance training? Or did the stress of the excess endurance training trigger turn on my gray hair gene.

How much cardiac inflammation and ultimately cardiac scarring did I incur by averaging 169 bpm heart rate for 4.5 hours?

Does post-race gluten consumption influence my recovery? 

Do speed hikers have an issue with eating too closely to race time?

Does it really matter what type of shoes I wear?

Could a ketogenic diet enhance my performance in ultrarunning? Even if it does can I actually do it?

Why do most trail runners like the ups and the downs but not the flats?

Do real gentleman actually go to gentleman's clubs?

Why doesn't every race have deluxe porta potties such as the ones featured at the Hyner and Megatransect.....carpet and plush toilet paper!?

Why does my runner's high sometimes take 2.5-3 hours to kick in?

No one seems to talk about the runner's low experienced a day or two after completion of an event that required months of training. Why not?

My race went better than planned. Although I really didn't plan at all. The Megatransect course changes occasionally so I didn't pay much attention to the 2011 route on their website ( I figured they would put up the 2012 course map a day or two before the race. That never happened. Perhaps because the course didn't change (further review shows that it did change) or maybe they don't think it matters. Regardless, they had a map in the grab bag. Except that in the darkness of the 7am start I didn't  notice it. Either way, I knew the course was tough and would bring the usual dose of trail running pain.

The course starts with 3.5 miles of paved and forest roads leading to the first climb. On the way out we crossed a railroad track about located a mile from the start/finish area and I couldn't help but think of a long freight train lumbering through and ruining someone's day (or providing a chance for a much needed, but not gonna happen otherwise, break). This scenario makes for good TV coverage and always causes consternation in a certain French bike race during the month of July. As luck would have it a train did roll through sometime after 12:00. I'm sure it slowed someone down. 

With no trains in sight a group of 14 of us crossed the tracks incident free. Gradually the group began to splinter. 2 runners were a 1/4 mile clear heading into the woods with another group of two about 200 meters behind. The rest of us were a mix of young and old. Veterans and rookies. Those going out too hard and those ready to carry on  the pace to the finish. The group consisted of:  a guy with a mohawk and matching yellow shirt and shorts, two females matching each other stride for stride, another guy with a good bit of body odor already worked up (no one was running behind him for long), and my unremarkable form save for my rapidly graying hair and short stature. 

The first 6 miles were uneventful. I passed a few on the first steep section with a mix of hiking and running.  I passed a few who don't like running downhill on rocky terrain with the early leader a victim to the technical challenge.  I chatted with David Lister and Brennan Donnelly to pass the time. Brennan stated that he was in over his head running with us as David won the 2011 event. I zoned out a listened to the clank and clatter of rocks underfoot as the three of us descended in silence.  It reminded me of  "Thunder Rock" in Acadia National Park. Thunder Rock is apparently known for the thundering sound made when the tide is right and the ocean catches a pile of rocks submerged in a hollow and clashes them together. Naturally when I was there it sounded more like rocks in a washing machine without the metallic clang. Not to impressive. Yet when running downhill the rocks were clattering and I was happy to zone out and let the miles melt away. The first hour passed quickly and my mind snapped back to reality when "The Boulders" burst into view looming ominously above us. 

The Boulders is a section of trail that is essentially a river of giant boulders. If it were flat it would be simple hopping from rock to rock which isn't always simple. Even if it were that would be too easy. Instead it's a river or rocks on the side of a  mountain. So you have uneven hopping. Uphill. For a least a half-mile. I love this type of terrain. I left David and Brennan behind and quickly caught and passed Jeff. Far up rock slide I could see Jeff Smucker and Frank Leiter as the exited the boulder field and disappeared into the trees.
Courtesy of 2007 Mega
I ran solo for a few miles until I caught up to Smucker, with Leiter a hundred meters ahead. Smucker said the lead runner (J.J.) was running all the hills. If you have never run a trail race this might sound obvious. It is running after all. But once you run a trail race you realize the absurdity of running all the hills. For most of us it's not only impractical (energy spent with regard to ground covered) but an impossibility. If you are running all the hills early on either you are stupid or you are strong. Turns out J.J. was on form as he kept it up all the way for the win.

We arrived at the 10 mile aid station where Leiter was suffering from allergy fits. He was coughing with tremendous force. I questioned how he was feeling but he waived me past and said he would be fine. At this point I was in a tricky situation with regard to tactics. I slowly realized I was now in second place with 16 miles to go. Do I go all in and try to catch the lead runner with the hope that his early strategy of running the hills causes him to fade? 

I felt pretty good about my chances when I rolled in to the 14 mile aid station and got my first unofficial time check of 1:30 behind the leader. Those good feelings faded fast. By mile 16 my hip flexors were quivering. By the time I hit the mile 17 aid station I didn't even bother stopping. I didn't want to give up seconds to those chasing from behind.

My feet hurt, my left shoulder was tight (must have been the using my upper body for the first time in weeks on the slick ascent complete with safety rope....or perhaps the wicked descent to the creek where the rope caused a bit of burn before I let it go and almost slipped on my face) and my calves were starting to get twitchy.

The last 6 miles of trail were torturous. Every dropping acorn made me think that Frank, or Jeff, or David were padding down the trail on springy, frolicky, legs eager to make me pay for going out too hard, too soon. I set the goal of getting to Mile 22 aid station without getting caught by anyone. Once I got there I reset my thinking with the goal of getting down the mountain and onto the road without getting caught.

The last downhill tested my abilities. Each foot strike caused my hip flexor tighten. I wanted to let gravity take over and cruise down the mountain but my brain and my muscles couldn't get it together. I felt bockety to use a Frank McCourt term. Ever push that grocery cart with the wheel that is obstinate and causes a veering towards the cereal boxes? That about describes it.

I hit the road with the knowledge that there was a turn onto a flat, grassy strip leading to the finish (Thankfully David mentioned this on the run out at the start). My pace slowed dramatically when I hit the grass. It was easier physically than the downhill but the fading pace was wracking my brain. I glanced over my shoulder repeatedly while suffering through the last 1.5 miles; certain someone would have the legs to overtake my rapidly wilting form. I felt heavy and sluggish. I wanted to walk. I lumbered on. 

I finished in 4:32??? and was congratulated by J.J. who came in 6' earlier. He was chattering and bouncing like he had just warmed up for a 10 round bare knuckled boxing match. When asked how I felt he seemed taken aback when I flopped to the grass and elevated my feet on a bench. Sometimes the mind wants more than the body can take.

I captured one race photo:
First Place Female Ashley Moyer 
The Post Race Party was typical for the Grand Slam Series races which means it's anything but typical. Pulled pork, slaw, potato salad, pizza, the Sheetz truck with complimentary "real fruit" smoothies and coffee related drinks.  I got my twitching calves rubbed down. This caused a great deal of pain especially in the left soleus muscle. My feet could have used an epsom salt bath. Or just a long break.

Next up: Stone Mill 50

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Orange Glazed Pork Stir Fry with Cabbage, Pickled Green Tomatoes, and Radishes

Pork cooked via sous vide has multiple possibilities. This particular pork roast was cooked two days (12 hours at 143 degrees) ago and was hanging out in the 'fridge waiting to hit the hot pan. 

First the sauce: peel some orange rind and add to the pot with the juice of the orange. Add soy sauce, hot pepper flakes, ginger, and rice vinegar. Taste. If  it has too much bite, add some oil.  You could thicken with cornstarch but I prefer to keep it thin and allow the rice to absorb it before plating. 

Next the vegetables: saute onions, garlic, thinly sliced cabbage, and radishes. I tossed in a handful of diced pickled green tomatoes which added a vinegary kick to the overall dish. One the vegetables are cooked sufficiently place them aside.

Finally: the pork. Add the sliced pork to the hot pan. When the pork is brown, pour in the sauce and add the previously cooked rice. Stir until sauce is absorbed and plate. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Braised Short Ribs with Summer Vegetable Gratin on Rice

I found a pack of short ribs buried in my chest freezer on the verge of a case of freezer burn. I braised them in an onion, carrot, mushroom, garlic and red wine sauce. The summer vegetable gratin consists of squash, eggplant, and roma tomatoes on a bed of onion and garlic with fresh grated Parmesan sandwiched in between. Everything is served on rice to offset the carbohydrate depletion from the 36 trail miles this weekend.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 Dam Half Marathon Trail Race Report

One year ago I participated in my first ever organized running event: The Dam Half Trail Marathon. Bounding through boulders, splashing across streams, and skittering down rock strewn trails was a blast and I was hooked on trail running and racing.

This year I decided to run PA Trail Runner Trophy Series in its entirety. I was somewhat confident I could win my age group after my inaugural result coupled with consistent winter training. The Series has some great races and I wanted to test my legs over the course of the season.

Naturally, in an attempt of self-sabotage, I let the registration deadline pass me by for the final race of the series.  This left me borderline depressed at missing my chance to finish off what I had started and contemplating running an ultra marathon as punishment.  A flurry of emails and phone calls ensued and the Dam Half Race Director allowed me to run on the basis that I was car-pooling with another runner (my brother is the smart one and had signed up in advance.......that and there are only so many parking spaces at any PA State Park). Thank you RD!

The race profile looks impressive on paper. Vertical lines jut up and and drop down. Only to repeat again. There is talk of the "Stairway to Heaven" and blown-out quads. If the Dam Half is your first running race you will find the hills hard and the rocks even harder. You may even hate your life for a brief period until you reach the BBQ chicken and corn bread at the finish line. But if you run the entire PA Trophy Series you will find yourself thinking as you run down a jeep road, "This course seems flatter than last year".

As usual a handful of runners blasted down the road at the gun. I wanted to follow but not too goal was to conserve energy until  the jeep road sections around the mid-way point. This seems to be my goal for every race but it usually only lasts until the first hill.

I kept it smart early on, content to follow and maintain a steady pace. When I reached the second aid station about six miles in I grabbed a gel and took off without looking back.  I covered the next 2 miles of ascending and descending jeep road in 13:10 while passing two runners. I was feeling good about the pace but knew I was running out of time if I wanted to catch the leaders.

Unfortunately I had waited too long to make my move. As I raced down the last stretch of jeep road before the final climb, I could make out 2nd, and 3rd place runners a 1/4+ miles ahead. They glanced back and then turned off the jeep road and onto the final climb of the day. I panted up the incline a few minutes behind desperate to keep my footing and make up ground, hopeful that the flash of color above was the pursued runners. Alas, it was only some industrious spectators who had taken to the course. They graciously cheered me on, but it was evident I had underestimated the ability of the race leaders who were already blistering the descent towards the finish.

I rolled in with a time of 1:46:35 good for 4th place overall and 1st in my age group. I was a whopping 14 minutes faster than in 2011. I also took the overall series win in the 30-39 age group.

Next up the Megatransect.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012 Catoctin 50k Trail Run - Race Report

A few guarantees for a trail race in central Maryland in late July:  The weather will not be cool and dry. The course will not be smooth and flat. The finish will not arrive quick and easy.

I recommend that if you are indeed planning to run a trail race in Maryland in late July that you make it the Catoctin 50k. Here's why: It's a race with no hype, no frills, and no BS. No t-shirts, no medals, and no goodie bags. The race website says it all, "a wink, a handshake, and a smile" is all you need at the finish. As well as the prestigious CAT card:

The drive South on route 15 in Maryland provides the runners a parallel view of the out and back course. As we whisk by at 65mph Shawn and I get an  idea of how long and challenging the race will be. The ridge seems endless and the unspoken question in our minds soon becomes an audible statement of disbelief. Man, that is a long way to run!

Run we did. Jason took the win. I finished tied for 5th. And Shawn completed his first ultra marathon.

I enjoyed the company of running with Sage (1st female finisher) during the middle 10 miles of the race. She helped me stay focused when my hip flexors were cramping and seemed to know everyone on course, eliciting cheers as we soldiered on.  It's amazing how quickly the time goes when you are enjoying upbeat conversation during the middle of a race.

I was excited when the exuberant Greg filled my bottle with ice at aid station #4.  Cold water has never tasted so good. And the popsicle at the 5th aid station almost blew my mind. Were they hiding a freezer in the woods? The volunteers were incredible.

The last 5 miles may have been 7 miles.  All I know was that they were not flat miles and they were not easy miles; rather they were miles that challenged every step. The quads protested on the descents. The heart disagreed on the climbs. I caught up to Scott and we grumbled a bit about the heat, the humidity, and the fact that the finish line was still too far away. But we pressed on glad to have someone to commiserate with and to keep the focus on making it up the last climb.

As we crested the hill and felt the breeze blowing up from the valley below, the pain vanished and the spirits lifted.  I checked my watch: 5:56. I said, "let's finish this" and we turned on what little speed was left and hit the parking lot sprinting, finishing in just under 6 hours.

The rest of the day was spent eating some of the best race food you can imagine and hanging out with good people.  Grilled chicken, black been burgers, a raspberry and lime dressing, avocado relish, potato casserole, and popsicles were plentiful as the lawn chair beckoned.

I look forward to running the Catoctin 50k next year.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Zucchini Fritatta - No recipe needed.

The zucchini plants are booming. It's amazing how quickly a small, tender, not-quite-ready zucchini can transform itself into a green behemoth of a vegetable. Turn your back on the garden for a day and the zucchini's look more like a green version of fat red wiffle ball bat present at the back yard home run derby. 

A simple zucchini fritatta: Zucchini, swiss chard, onions, garlic, eggs and whole milk. Saute vegetables. Add whisked eggs and milk. Cook until it looks right. Top with shredded cheddar and put under the broiler to melt/brown the cheese.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Double Trouble 30k Race Report

I would love give a down-and dirty-critique of the overall race experience at the "Double Trouble" but will leave that for a different day. That said, if you are looking for a unique race that covers all the bases, this probably isn't it.

After my performance on July 4th which I was happy with until I saw the race results I was looking to finish strong on the second loop of the "Double".  After all, getting passed by a barely breathing guy pushing a jogging stroller around mile 3 of a 5 mile race is a sad statement. Being beaten by at least two 40+ women means only one thing; I need to work on my speed.

The double trouble fit my training schedule perfectly. You don't have a training schedule? Perhaps you should. Or you can continue to training for the sake of training and wonder why your legs aren't responding.  I had taken the week easy except for the short (and slow) race on Wednesday. My volume was down and the legs were feeling fresh.

Robert Lyden in "Distance Running" suggests that the concept of training through races is much maligned and has a negative effect on the athlete. He says it "makes a muddle of the acquisition process". In short, hard training makes hard racing, impossible. He believes that racing should be saved for the tail end of an easy week. A reduction in training stress allows the body to both stabilize and consolidate the potential that was created with that 2-4 week training stress. A competition at the end of this "worthwhile break" allows the body to realize the improvement. Potential must be realized as performance before the athlete can be confident that the training is working as planning. And according to Lyden the only way to realize potential is to allow the body to acquire this potential through a 7-14 day break prior to competition or time trial. 

It just so happened that I was at the end of a "worthwhile break". My body was poised to realize the potential created over the previous few weeks of training. Based on my previous results over similar distances, I should be looking at a top 10 finish.

The start was chaotic. The 30k went one direction and the 15k another. In about 1/4 mile both groups of runners merged onto a gravel path and immediately the slow clashed with those not wishing to hike up the hills. I got stuck behind a mass of slow runners who immediately put on the brakes with the first hill. I took to the weeds and poison ivy to make headway up the first gradual incline. 

After that it thinned out and I ran a steady race. This was boring woods running which is still better than boring road running but there was nothing spectacular about the trail.

The course had a few run-able sections of uphill and a few sections of downhill where time could be make up. You can see my first lap took 1:20:05 and I averaged 166 bpm (heart rate is the red line). Aside from the start I conserved energy and was content to follow. 

The second lap (highlighted in blue) was a much more concentrated effort at the edge of my limit. I ran it in 1:17:41 and averaged 175bpm. I passed 7 runners within the first half of the second lap and finished the last 4-5 miles running solo. 

The post race party was disjointed, as many 15k runners had hit the exits and only a hodge-podge of food remained. I ate some tootsie rolls and a hot dog and snagged the last two bananas.  I was soaked and dripping with perspiration and was glad for the cold, makeshift shower that was set up in the grass. Lane and crew were hanging out and we all chilled until Shawn rolled in. That was it. 5th place finish is my best to date.  Turns out racing after a "worthwhile break" has its benefits.

Seems Peca thinks she won an age group award.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ephrata Firecracker 5 Miler and 4th of July Festivities

The running of the Firecracker 5 miler is a 4th of July tradition of my in-laws family and friends. I had avoided participation for years due to chronic IT band issues.  This year, however, I had no excuses and toed the line anxious to get my first road race out of the way.

I started smoothly and tried to keep my heart rate in check over the first two miles. As things started to settle down I began to think about turning up the effort.  As I crested the largest hill around mile 3 I knew I had something left to finish strong. I increased the pace and starting looking for the carrot down the road.  I picked off a female high school cross country runner, then I galloped past a group of middle school looking runners on the downhill (I’m starting to like running downhill) through main street. My target, Ben Snyder, was cruising about 200 yards ahead with his family cheering as he passed by and turned onto the old railroad grade.

Ashley digging in to catch the lead female.

Once I reached the old railroad grade, I paced myself up to and then drafted off of two gentlemen running side by side. They appeared to be running on the edge of their ability and I didn't want to lose ground. As we passed the last aid station with less than 1.5 to go I skipped the water and went around them, slowly starting to move reel in my quarry.  I timed it perfectly, reaching Ben on the final drag up to the stadium.  I quietly tucked in behind him and stayed that way as we entered the grass of the outfield. As my heart rate recovered, I knew I had enough to go around. We hit the final turn and I made my move, surprising him and crossing the line with room to spare.

Although my overall time and placing showed that I have room to improve, I was happy with how my strategy played out. I paced myself well in the heat and made up quite a few places in the last two miles. 

Closing the gap to Ben.

Dave picking up the pace after assisting a passed out runner.

Brandi feeling the heat.

The race was perfect preparation for the festivities to come: food, badminton tournament, and more food. A great day with great people.