Monday, May 26, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: putting taste back into our produce

There have been many times that I get home from the grocery store excited about the fresh fruit going into the fridge, only to find that I have mould growing over it just a few days later.  I realize that this wouldn't bother a lot of people but it drives me crazy.   For me, just one mouldy strawberry is enough to infect the lot and warrant tossing the entire basket into the compost.
After complaining about this to my friend, Nicole, she told me about an easy way to preserve fruit naturally:  vinegar.  There is a bit more of a science to it but, basically, I create a mixture of 10% vinegar and 90% water and let my berries soak in it for about 10 minutes.   Then, I drain the berries, refrigerate them and they keep for days.   Be careful: sometimes, I don't get the proportions right as I tend to estimate the 10% vinegar, and the fruit ends up with a bit of a vinegary taste.
Thanks to Nicole, when I get home from the store, I soak all of my berries and grapes in this vinegar-water mix.  And I don't bother to change the water-vinegar; I simply scoop out what is in and add another type of fruit.  Everything comes out looking fresher, fuller (once or twice, my grapes ended up looking like they had been on steroids), and tasting so much cleaner.   And, best of all, fruit keeps longer so I end up saving money.

This is such an easy thing to do and takes very little time.  Good-bye preservatives and mould.  Hello, deliciousness.  Yum!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Trail Running 101

One of the things that I love about running is it has taught me to be more open-minded and try new things.  Running on trails is one of them. 

When I first started running - life before marriage and kids - I was living in downtown Toronto.  When I wanted to run, I headed outdoors into the concrete jungle as parks (forget about trails) were too hard to get to.  So I got use to running on sidewalks and, if I was up before 5:00, on the streets of the big city.

During life after marriage and one son, we moved into suburbia.  I fell in love with our neighbourhood because of the green space that surrounded it.  Roads were quiet, sidewalks were empty and there were lots of trails.  The community called to the runner in me. 

Ironically, though, once we had moved, I hesitated to run through any of the trail system and would use any excuse to avoid it:
a) I only have 45 minutes and, if I go into the trails, I'll get lost and that will make me late.
b) I don't know how far I'm running.  If I stick to the roads, I can measure it (life before Garmin).
c) I'm female.  It's dangerous for me to be on the trails alone.
And so on. 

Over the years, though, in my life with boys (Skipper and Little Ironman), I found myself wandering into the system for fun.  One of my fondest memories is playing "The Wizard of Oz" and we would hide from the "Lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my!" which is really just a variation of Hide 'n Seek.  In the picture above, taken last summer, LI and I were climbing one of the long hills at Sixteen Mile Creek.   The boys also love to ride their bikes through the trails surrounding our home.

The other big factor in building my comfort with the trails is the workouts that we do through the summer.  Because they are so much cooler, we often head into Sixteen Mile Creek for our tempo runs and interval workouts up and down the hills.  At first, I cringed when I heard that we were heading into the trails.  "Yeah!" cried my running partners.  "Really?" I would think.  "You would rather run on the trails that the roads?  Ugh!"  But I played the game and went with them.  I despised the workouts because they were so much tougher than the ones on the roads.  And I always felt lost because nature changed its look from one week to the next; I realized later that this was one of the beauty of trails.  It should be no surprise that, as my runs became better and I got lost less frequently, my fondness for trails grew.

A few weeks ago, I headed into Sixteen Mile Creek for an "easy" run and had hardly gone down the first hill when I got upset: the Town had paved the three hills.   From what I understand, they have been difficult to maintain, especially during the past year after the December storm, meaning it made more financial sense to pave the three paths.  So what use to be an escape to nature is still an escape - but the black asphalt gives it a completely different flavour.

I was surprised that I felt so emotional about this; I felt as if my own space had been invaded.  Then I laughed at myself as I remembered how I use to avoid the trails a decade ago.   Running does not just keep me young physically, but it keeps my mind young as it has helped me to open up and try new things; trail running is one of them.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Like a Kid in the Candy Store

Like most runners, one of the easiest ways for me to stay focused on running and training is to register for a race.   I love racing, but I enjoy it so much that it can become difficult to know when to stop and say "no."

Weeks ago, a few before the marathon, I decided that I wanted to race the Bread and Honey 15K on June 8th.  I love its atmosphere and 15K is one of my favorite distances.  The time frame gave me more than a month to recover from the marathon so everything about it seemed right.  The problem I had was to figure out which path I wanted to follow after the Bread and Honey.

One difficulty that I'm facing is there is sooooo much to chose from; these are just a handful of flyers that I got in a recent race kit.  I considered road racing as well as track and trail; I did not look at any of the more "extreme" races like Spartan Race, Colour Me Rad, or Slime Run.  To me, those are more opportunities to run and be silly; I want a good old-fashioned "run until you puke or die" kind of race. 

I looked at race series like Subaru, Canada Running Series and Excel Racing, and I quickly checked off anything that was downhill.  I thought about location - close to home is always better - and I worried about how Little Ironman would handle my taking off early on a few Sunday mornings.  So then I started to look at races that had Fun Runs for Kids.

Now, a week later, I think I have finally set some summer running goals, starting with the Bread and Honey 15K.  Then, I'll race The Pride Run at the end of June, which will be a challenging race with many younger and stronger runners, likely followed by the Ontario Masters 10K at Varsity Stadium the next day.   The Masters Track races is taking me outside my comfort zone and, so, has become my summer goal: race track.   Before I fully commit to that, though, I need to spend more time on the track in the next few weeks and wrap my head around the idea of racing 40 laps.  Assuming that everything goes well, I'll add the Canadian Masters 5K at Varsity Stadium in July.   And I'm quite sure that I'll find something to do after that; trail racing is on my mind, and I'm sure I'll find another road race or too. 

The other goal I have set is to spend more time at the yoga studio.  I stopped in the winter as timing never seemed to work out; either I had a long run the next day or I just couldn't get away from work or family in time to get to a class.  After finally getting to one last night,  I realize how much I should have made that extra effort as my legs and core are tighter than tight.  On a more positive note, I had no trouble keeping up with the abdominal work at my first class back; in fact, I could push through to the end when others couldn't.  A handstand?  Well, that's a different story.

So goals are set and everything seems to be moving forward.  Now it's just time to chase some new dreams.


Monday, May 12, 2014

When Rest is Best

Today is my first day back at it: back at a break from blogging and from running. 

The running break had to happen.  After all - drumroll, please - I ran the Goodlife Marathon in Toronto last week, with a 3:33 finish time.  I wish I had pushed myself a little bit harder (more on that later this week) so that I truly earned my rest/recovery week.  However, the marathon being the marathon, I'm following the "rest is best" advice and giving my legs some time off. 

The blogging break also had to happen.  As the title of this blog indicates, I often compare my life to a juggler as I am constantly trying to balance work, family and running.  In the past year, as school got busier, the family grew older and running became more intense, I found myself dedicating more and more time to each.  Something had to go and the unfortunate recipient was this blog.  

Tomorrow night, I head back to my first practice with energy to unleash; I hope my legs can keep up.  And from there, I can begin to share the dreams that I have, which will become goals to chase.

Come follow along.
A few kilometres from the finish.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Making it Through the Cold

On Wednesday night, I woke up at 11:30 pm wondering how I dozed off a few hours earlier.  I didn't have that tough of a day and my run went well.  Then, it suddenly hit me: my run was in windchills dropping below 20C again; the fresh air knocked me right out.

This past week has been the toughest week of running that I think I've ever had running.  In Ontario, we had four straight days of temperatures dropping close to -30C with the windchill.  On Monday, I swapped my run with my Tuesday's bike workout, hoping that it would warm up a bit.  When it didn't, I cringed.

Tuesday, I planned to hit the rec centre and mill about.  I thought about it all day long and, after school, I waited to head over - as late as I could in the hope that I could have the treadmill for an hour as it would be quieter then.  At the last minute, though, I started to dress for the winter: 4 top layers, tights and a looser fitting pant over top, hat, two-layered mitts and my trusty balaclava.  Even though it was 8:30 and the temperature was at -25c, I was heading outside.

Snot freezes really fast!  Yuck!
My balaclava is what made the cold bearable.  I started with it over my nose and mouth and uncovered my nose after a few minutes.  Within the first mile, both of my nose and mouth were exposed, but I immediately recovered them when I had to stop at the traffic light.  This routine - both, one and none - of covering and uncovering through my 8 miles let me breathe properly without worrying about my asthma kicking in.  My only problem was dealing with the wet mucous that froze and melted everytime my balaclava changed positions.  By mile 6, it was so frozen that I couldn't stretch it back over my mouth so I had to rotate the entire piece and ran home with a frozen lump of snot next to my ear instead.  Yuck!

After getting through that hour, the rest of the week was much easier.  Wednesday was equally cold but I had the company of TOC-Oakville to get me through the tempo.  On Thursday, temperatures rose dramatically so that my evening run seemed almost balmy in comparison.  And now, at the end of another snowstorm, I can smile because I got today's workout out of the way before the snow started and I am looking forward to running with friends early tomorrow morning.

Clothing, timing, friends: that's what got me through this cold week of running.  What did you do to get you through yours?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Robbie Burns Race: Just a Test

PJ bottoms in our race kits!
In Ontario, the first major race of the year is the Robbie Burns 8K in Burlington, Ontario.  Now in its 35th year, it is well-organized and a favorite for many - even with a high likelihood of cold temperatures.

I have raced it several times in the past few years and really enjoy it for the competition.  Let's face it; a January race is going to bring out the toughest runners and result in some fast times.  Last year, I didn't run the course well, only to realize a few days later that I had been developing a cold which eventually led to bronchitis.  That slower time had become a monkey on my back and I simply had to go back to Burlington to wrap up some loose ends.  I wanted to find that sub-35 that I couldn't catch - and I've been wanting that for the past year.

A few weeks ago, I was beginning to think that I had been cursed by Robbie Burns himself as I developed an upper respiratory chest infection at the beginning of December, which was either misdiagnosed or resulted in bronchitis at the end of the month.  Once I felt healthy enough to push myself, I found myself facing the wrath of Old Man Winter, who threw ice, wind and extreme cold temperatures at us; the fast legs were just not there.  Going into the race, I had very little speedwork since the end of November.  I was worried.  So, two weeks ago, Coach Kevin had me set a few goals.  I decided that I wanted to:

1.  Better last year's time.
2. Run a sub-35.  If I accomplished this, I would have also met my first goal.
3. Walk away with an Age Group Award.  As stated above, the competition here is tough and any AG prize is something to be extra proud of.

I felt these goals were achievable if things went according to plan.  However, as we got closer and closer to race day, it became apparent that Mother Nature had a mind of her own and this race was about to become a test.

next post: Race Report, Robbie Burns 8K.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Embracing the Treadmill

I broke a record yesterday: my PTM count.  At this point last year, I hadn't been on the mill at all.  In fact, at this point last year, it had been more than a few years since I was on one.  Last winter, as I learned to be more determined about getting in my weekly mileage, I found myself running the 'mill twice: once in February and, again, in March.  Yesterday, I surpassed my personal treadmill count;  This year alone, I have been on the treadmill three times!
Obviously, I'm not a fan of running on the machine.  When someone mentions their workout on one, I cringe.  Ironically, I do admire those, though, who have the dedication to get on it day after day, or for longer runs.  Me?  I'll spin on a bike quite comfortably but I struggle to run a treadmill workout.
Like everyone else in Ontario, I have had a tough time dealing with this winter's cold,  wind and ice.  I clearly remember thinking we were in a "January cold" in December, and it has only gotten worse.  Thursday night, with a long run scheduled on a night with what has become typical extreme cold temperatures, I opted to wait until Friday; at least, I'd have daylight.  But yesterday, as I started to pull on my layers in the late afternoon, I suddenly changed my mind about heading outside.  Going to the Rec Centre made much more sense.
Fortunately, being Friday night, the Fitness Centre was quiet and I was able to run for 80 minutes.  While on the treadmill, I decided it was time to change my attitude and accept the good things about it.
1. Less laundry.  I know it's strange that this is first on my list, but I'm tired of the loads of wash that winter running brings.  On the treadmill, I only need one layer instead of 3 or 4.
2. Form:  Focus on form, focus on form, focus on form.  On my second treadmill run this year, I found myself stuck in front of a mirror the entire time, which meant I was also stuck staring at myself the entire time. I noticed that my left elbow sticks out a bit when I run - something that I wouldn't notice on the road.  Yesterday, I tried to focus on bringing my elbow closer to my body (or I could keep things the same so that I can elbow the competition at my next race).
3. Pace:  With the exception of warming up, I held my pace the entire time - a little slower than my marathon pace.
4. Mental power:  Running on the treadmill is mind-numbing.  The 80 minutes I spent yesterday has to be some kind of Jedi mental training to help prep for the marathon.

Somehow, I have a feeling that I'm going to be facing the treadmill again in the near future; it's just been that kind of a winter.  And I'm ready for it.