So about that other hobby…Running.

I’ve been running for about seven years, and I’ve tried several different training plans. Up until I got really serious about my Ashtanga practice, this was acceptable. The amount of miles, the intensity, and the number of days running each week didn’t really matter. As a matter of fact, the more miles and intensity, the better. After committing to the traditional Ashtanga schedule and beginning to learn third series, I knew I needed to reconsider how I went about training for marathons.

When I was done with my fall 2012 races, I decided to write my own training plan for the spring season to accommodate my yoga practice. I based it on two factors: the types of runs and mileage necessary to increase endurance, and minimizing the havoc running wreaks on my yoga practice. Ultimately, running is not beneficial to my yoga practice. Other than increasing endurance, it makes the whole ordeal even more challenging than it already is. But I can’t help it. I love both activities and I’m not ready to call it quits on either. I’ve tried lots of training plans, so I took some time to review my running history and create a plan of my own.

In 2007, I ran my first race: The Lehigh Valley Half Marathon. It’s comical to think of how much of a runner I wasn’t when the running ordeal began. I’d been going to the gym for about a year at that point, attempting to get in shape but despised running. I clearly remember my first experience on the treadmill at my gym: I made it 30 minutes, and hated every single second of it. Oh, and running outside?  People really do that? Needless to say, I was inconsistent and only subjected myself to treadmill time when I started feeling desperate. Around the same time, I subscribed to Fitness Magazine. One issue featured an article about making treadmill running interesting. It was a 45 minute run that incorporated some speed intervals and hill sprints, but I wasn’t a runner. I had no idea that different runs had “names”. As in, “tempo run”, “progression run”, “track workout”, “hill repeats”, or (my personal favorite) “fartlek” (yup, I said fart).

Before I knew it, I was up to running five miles, which sparked the brilliant idea to run a half marathon…and so, a distance runner was born. Never mind that I just began running, was in my early twenties and my social activities revolved around going to bars and drinking. Oh yeah, and here’s the best part: I was a smoker! When I told my husband I was going to run a half marathon, he actually sort of laughed. That makes him sound mean, but he’s the most supportive person in my world and my biggest cheerleader. But up until I discovered my love for running, I was the opposite of athletic. I’m fairly certain that the only time he ever saw me run was to the refrigerator. So a little chuckle out of him after my declaration was completely merited and forgiven.

I was completely unfamiliar with training for anything, so I used the Runner’s World Smart Coach tool to prepare me for the race. When I signed up, I put 2:25 as my goal time. Pace? What the hell is pace? People actually care about how fast they run these things? I was just happy if I finished and lived to wear the free t-shirt they promised me when I paid my race fee.  So I started training, and never picked up another cigarette again (cold turkey, no problemo). I surprised myself by actually sticking to my training plan. I quickly learned that running outside in any of the elements is incredible and beats running on a treadmill under any circumstance. I also learned that I have these things called illiotibial bands when they tightened up as I increased the my mileage, but I still stuck with it. I crossed the finish line in about one hour and 53 minutes, exceeding my pace expectations and walking (okay, limping) away with newfound addiction to running that I still can’t seem to kick. What a high.

I ran a few more half marathons and a bunch of shorter distance races before finally deciding to try the whole full marathon thing. My first marathon was the Nike Marathon in San Francisco, and I used my trusty Smart Coach to design my plan. Throughout my training, I nursed an ankle injury and barely made it across the finish line in just under five hours, swearing I’d never do another one. But somehow I found myself signing up for a second marathon…then my third…fourth…and now, somehow I’ve run 19 of them. My third marathon was the Run for the Red in the Poconos, and it was the first time I actually thought it was “fun”. I made it across the finish line in three hours and 46 minutes, and realized I was close to qualifying for the Boston Marathon (prior to their changes to their qualifying standards).  At that time, I needed a 3:40 (now a 3:35) to qualify, and that started to seem like a reasonable goal. I decided to branch out of the world of the “Smart Coach” training plans and get a little more serious.

I stumbled upon a book called Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach, by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald. I don’t remember why I chose that book over the others. When reviewing the training plans in the book, they seemed more complicated than anything I was used to. I chose the “Level 1″ marathon program, and PR’d (personal record) in every single race I ran during 2010. It was so exciting that I kept signing up for races and ignored the little twinge in my calf that later turned into a stress fracture in my right tibia, which led to a period in my life where I boycotted running. I was done. Except I’d qualified to run Boston again, so I had to quit after I ran that, of course.

When I finally decided it was time to dust off my shoes to train for Boston #2, I followed the same plan but with less enthusiasm. I’d actually signed up for another marathon, Cleveland. I mean, since I was already training for Boston I might as well knock one more state off my list before I quit, right?  I’d lost so much endurance that running wasn’t fun, and I didn’t run any spectacular race times. Boston really beat me up, mostly due to the extreme heat situation but also in part to my half-hearted training.  The Cleveland Marathon was the first race since my hiatus that actually felt somewhat normal, even though my time was just average. It reignited my interest in running, and I felt the desire to qualify for Boston again under the new qualifications.

Since they changed the standards since I last qualified and made them more challenging, I upped the ante and spent last summer following the ‘Level 2” plan from the same book. I PR’d at the VIA marathon, running a 3:33 and qualifying by a little less than two minutes. I beat the hell out of my body doing it so I scaled things back ran comfortably through the fall, following the FIRST plan.

The FIRST plan is based on the theory that you only need three key runs during the week, and two days of intense cross training to run a PR or just be successful in running. My cross training is my Ashtanga practice. The creators of the FIRST plan don’t recommend yoga as one of the suggested cross training activities, and I understand their rationale. Most forms of yoga are not quite as powerful and athletic as Ashtanga. Runners that incorporate yoga don’t normally practice at the level and intensity necessary to consider it a cross training activity to build endurance.  So my modification was instead of two days of cross training, I would continue my rigorous six day per week practice as I followed the FIRST plan. For the most part, it worked. My fast marathon was in the beginning of September and I was still running moderately paced races by December (Rehoboth Marathon, 3:51 with no problem) and felt great. I just wasn’t setting any new PRs, which I wasn’t as concerned about since my focus was more on my yoga practice. I also think a lot of my success was due to the fact that I had so much strength and endurance from my summer training. Since I was maintaining, I didn’t lose much – I just didn’t gain anything, either.

After the Rehoboth marathon, I took a well deserved three whole weeks off of running. I consistently ran 60-70 miles all summer, followed by three marathons, a half marathon, a 5K and a 10K (the Runner’s World Hat Trick, all in one weekend!) during the fall. I needed to give my body a break, so I spent the three weeks busting my ass on my yoga mat and really enjoying my practice. I spent some time thinking about what my goals were for the spring. My current long term running goal is to run one marathon in each state. I’ve qualified for Boston three times and run it twice so far (one more time on April 15, 2013), so pace is really secondary to everything else right now. My running goal is to have the endurance to complete my spring marathon schedule:

  1. April 15, 2013 – The Boston Marathon (Massachusettes)
  2. May 19, 2013 – The Shires of Vermont Marathon (Vermont)
  3. May 26, 2013 – The Buffalo Marathon (New York)
  4. June 16, 2013 – The Vancouver Marathon (Washington State)
  5. June 22, 2013 – The Mayor’s Marathon (Alaska)

Yep, you read that correctly. Five marathons. I’ve done four in one season before, and I’ve done back to back weeks. So when I decided on this brilliant plan, I also decided that I needed a good plan that targeted my weaknesses and without overwhelming me. I realize that maintaing the traditional Ashtanga schedule will be challenging, so I created my own training plan. After reviewing everything that got me to this point,  I took the principles behind the FIRST plan and the plan I followed by Hudson and Fitzgerald to develop my own training plan.  When I followed the FIRST plan, I always felt as though I needed one more day of running and a few more miles on some of the shorter distance runs. Hudson and Fitzgerald always had ample miles and lots of variety in the workouts, but I often thought there were too many “junk” miles that were unnecessary and could be better spent cross training or resting.

My plan has four days of running: three key workouts and an easy mileage day. The long runs and key workouts have specific goals modeled after the plan devised by Hudson and Fitzgerald.  I also like the types of speed and interval workouts from their plan, so I used more of those workouts instead of the workouts recommended by the FIRST creators. I find that I’m weaker on threshold runs (runs where you hold your race pace for an extended amount of time) so I incorporated many of those. I also prefer to start slow and end fast when I train, so many of my long runs are going to be run as progression runs rather than “easy paced” runs. Additionally, both the FIRST plan and the Hudson/Fitzgerald plan lacked enough designated hill workouts. I added one of those workouts in every other week after a certain period in my training.

I realize that to be successful in a marathon and increase my pace, I should be running a much more considerable number of miles. But like I said, pace is secondary. I’ll run workouts and train to hold more aggressive paces to ensure that I have ample strength on the day of the races to make it to the finish line comfortably and in a reasonable amount of time. Right now, I want to focus on my ashtanga practice…six days per week. Regardless of the outcome, I’m interested in seeing how it all pans out.

Cinnamon Quinoa Breakfast Bake

Usually around this time of year my diet feels a little boring and stale, and I start picking on foods that aren’t quite the best. For a more clean and wholesome meal, I gravitate towards whole grains like brown rice, israeli couscous, and quinoa. One of my favorites is quinoa because it’s full of so many great nutrients: protein, fiber, iron, and magnesium are just some of the benefits found in these little guys. Also, quinoa cooks a bit faster than brown rice so it’s nice to have on hand when you are short on time. Personally, I don’t love the taste of quinoa all by itself – but made into a delicious dish, it’s excellent. I was recently at Wegmans and saw a four pound bag of quinoa, so of course I had to buy it. This week, to get out of my frump, I’m seeing how many dishes I can come up with to incorporate the grain. Yesterday it showed up in a minestrone soup that I made for lunch, and in little patties with some vegetables for dinner. But my best creation of the day was for breakfast:

Cinnamon Quinoa Breakfast Bake
Adapted from: Gabby’s Gluten Free

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups of quinoa, cooked and cooled slightly (regular, red, or try a mix of both!)
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten (vegan substitutes/suggestions to follow)
  • 1/3 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1/3 cup of 100% maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Optional additions

  • Walnuts, pecans, almonds, rasins, shredded coconut, etc.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF and place the quinoa in a large mixing bowl. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with lightly greased parchment.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, almond milk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Add maple syrup and whisk.
  3. Add egg mixture to cooked and cooled quinoa. Add any (or all!) of the optional additions. Stir with a large spoon to combine. Pour into the parchment-lined baking dish and spread it around to ensure that it’s even.
  4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until set and golden.
  5. Using parchment, remove bake from pan as soon as possible so that it doesn’t steam.
  6. Cool completely and cut into squares. Serve with a dollop of nut butter. Yields 6-9 bars

I’m not vegan, or even a vegetarian. I love to eat and don’t really put a label on my diet. However, I don’t eat a lot of meat and I usually try to avoid dairy products. I enjoy things like cheese and meat (even red meat) so I just try to keep it to a minimum. In this recipe, I used eggs but you can make it vegan by substituting with ingredients like unsweetened applesauce, tofu, mashed bananas, or pumpkin puree. Some great substitutes and their conversions are posted here: Vegan Egg Substitutes.

Enjoy!

Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

One of the hardest parts about my week is making sure I have something healthy to eat for lunch. I like to spend my Sunday prepping foods that I can eat all week long. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I tend to gravitate towards vegetarian recipes and meal ideas because they keep a little longer and are lighter on my stomach for after work, when I’m ready to start running or my yoga practice. This weekend was packed with a 10K, concert, and a Super Bowl party so I was short on time. My lunch menu for this week is another spring roll variation, but with a little more of a kick. The recipe below was adapted from and inspired by Basil.
Spring Rolls
  • 8 oz. vermicelli (rice) noodles, prepared*
  • 10 Spring Roll Wrappers
  • 1 Small Head of Red or Green Leaf Lettuce, torn
  • 2 Tablespoons of Rice Vinegar
  • Matchstick Carrots
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Mint, chopped
  • Basil, chopped
  • Napa Cabbage, shredded
  • Spicy Peanut Sauce (recipe follows)

* To prepare vermicelli noodles, fill a large bowl with hot water. Place the noodles in the bowl and soak for 3-5 minutes, or until tender. Drain and toss with rice wine vinegar.

To assemble the spring rolls:
  • Soak a rice paper wrapper in warm water until pliable – about 30 seconds. Remove from water and place on a flat surface, like a cutting board or a large plate.
  • Place the lettuce on the bottom and top with about 1-2 tablespoons of the spicy peanut sauce.
  • Add some noodles, carrots, a sprinkle of the herbs and the cabbage and wrap up the spring roll.
  • Cut in half on the diagonal and serve when ready.

Spicy Peanut Sauce:

  • 1/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Onion, chopped
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 1/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons  Spring Water 
  • 2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter
  • 2 Tablespoon Hoisin Sauce (try to find a nice organic one flavored with miso, or make your own!)
  • 2 Teaspoons of Organic Tomato Paste
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons of Brown Rice Syrup (you could substitute sugar or barley malt

In a pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil and cook the onions until caramelized. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Add the remaining ingredients and combine. Cook for about 5-6 minutes. The sauce will be thick and somewhat chunky from the onions. Use an immersion blender and puree the cooked sauce. Alternately, you could puree in a blender or food processor, or leave the texture a little more chunky. Pureeing will also emulsify the concoction, and will prevent some separation with the toasted sesame oil.

The original recipe had a few different ingredient suggestions, such as using vegetable oil, ketchup, and sugar in the peanut sauce. I used sesame oil, tomato paste, and rice syrup in place of those ingredients to keep it a little more macrobiotic-friendly. The original recipe called for four tablespoons of red pepper.  I like spicy foods, but felt it was just a little too much for the amount of sauce the recipe produces. As for the hoisin sauce, I bought Premier Japan Organic Hoisin. I prefer to make my own, but it was a crazy busy weekend so I had to make do with a prepared version. I like this one because it has fewer preservatives than many of the alternatives and uses miso and tamari as part of the mixture.

Enjoy!

Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup

I’m surprised my skin isn’t turning yellow. I feel as though I’ve been surviving primarily on butternut squash this winter. I particularly love it in soups. I’ve made countless batches, trying and altering different recipes until I decided to come up with a recipe of my own. I love the sweet and salty flavor combination. YUM!

Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup
Serves about 6

  • 1 Tablespoon of sesame, coconut, or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Onion, chopped medium
  • 1 Apple, chopped medium
  • 1 Teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
  • 3 Cups of butternut squash, cubed
  • 2 Medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 Cup of red or yellow lentils
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 Cups of organic, low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 Tablespoons of pure maple syrup (or to taste!)
  • 1 Teaspoon of umeboshi plum vinegar

Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, about two minutes. Add the apple and saute until the vegetables are soft and caramelized. Add the ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the butternut squash, potatoes, lentils, cumin, paprika, chili powder, cinnamon, salt, and a pinch of black pepper and mix. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for  30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are soft.

Puree soup in batches in a blender and put soup back in the pot and return to heat, or use an immersion blender and puree directly in the pot. Add maple syrup and umeboshi plum vinegar, and more salt and pepper if necessary. Enjoy!