Hills, Hills, Hills

This past Saturday, my long run group had planned to do one of my favorite long runs. The run has a little bit of something for everyone: a short time on the bike bath, three miles of trails through Glover-Archibald Park, some street running, down through the zoo, a killer hill at mile nine, and a downhill finish. Unfortunately, it rained quite a bit on Friday and Glover-Archibald turned into a mud pit. No one wanted to do a mud run so one of the guys in the group suggested running up Foxhall, a street nearly parallel to Glover-Archibald, which would be the same distance, minus the mud. Although the elevation change would have been the same regardless, skipping the fun of trail running meant a steady 360 foot climb over three miles which was pretty hellish especially since my strength is definitely lacking these days.

Back at Filter for our usual post-run caffeination session, we talked about the run and agreed that running up Foxhall was pretty painful. This conversation led to us talking about how each of us handle hills on our every day runs. Some, like the person who suggested running up Foxhall, are masochistic and enjoy the challenge of hills. Others see hills as a necessary evil and incorporate hill repeats into their workouts once or twice a month. I am firmly in the camp that has a complete dislike for hills and avoid them as much as possible. While my weekday running routes generally include running up Capitol Hill, I view this as a necessity and otherwise try to keep my running routes flat and painless. Running is often painful enough, why make it even harder?

To make up for any lack of leg strength due to my aversion to running up hills, I do some serious lower body strength training twice a week, usually in tandem with hard runs such as a tempo run or interval session. This routine includes a variety of lunges, squats and dead lifts that leave me pretty sore the following day. Still, it does not make up for the lack of hill running. Therefore, in addition to the measly 50 foot climb up Capitol Hill on a select few weekday runs and whatever hills are involved in the Saturday morning long runs, I am going to incorporate hill repeats into my workouts at least every other week. Using this handy how-to from Running Times I am going to start with some short hill repeats. Hopefully within a month, I will be able to confidently run up rather than avoid hills with the benefit of a smoother, faster stride.


Spicy Shrimp with Andouille Sausage on Grits

Back in 2007, I received an e-mail that a fellow Notre Dame alum would be moving to D.C. for a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health and was looking for housing. Although I had no idea who this kid was, I got in touch with the guy and offered him the ratty pull out couch at my old house as a place to crash while he looked for more permanent housing. Looking back, I now see that this may not have been a good idea and could have been one ingredient in a recipe for murder, but in reality it was one of the best things I have done in my life.

During his stay with me, this kid, Ben, and I discovered our mutual love of food and drink. Ben ended up renting an apartment several miles north of me at the D.C.-Maryland border, but since we were on the same metro line a few stops away from each other we hung out a lot, trying out various restaurants, ordering gimlets and manhattans at many a bars, and opening many a bottle of wine. During his first stay in D.C., Ben and I would spend most of every Sunday together. We would start by going to 10:00am Latin mass at St. Matthews Cathedral, followed by a trip to the Dupont Farmers Market or the Friendship Heights Whole Foods. Then we would eat some pate and/or cheese with a French baguette that we had procured before taking a much needed break from each other. Then, later that afternoon Ben would come down to my house and we would make an elaborate Sunday dinner complete with the consumption of at least one bottle of wine. Ben was my first regular cooking companion and together, we have made and eaten a lot of good food throughout our friendship. I only regret that I did not think of documenting it all at the time.

One of the recipes Ben suggested way back when was for a version of shrimp and grits he found while perusing Epicurious.com. I was initially skeptical of embarking on such an endeavor. How could an Asian-American girl from California and a boy from Iowa do justice to an iconic Southern dish? Ben eventually managed to persuade me to put aside my reservations and attempt the dish. We had access to all the ingredients and were adept cooks, so although the end result may not be authentic it would at least be delicious.

Nearly five years later, Ben’s discovery of this shrimp and grits recipe is one of my favorite dishes to make for my friends and guests. What’s not to love? Shrimp = delicious; andouille+onions, bell peppers, and garlic with a touch of Old Bay = delicious; shallots+hot sauce,+heavy cream = delicious; cornmeal+chicken broth+whole milk+heavy cream = delicious. So while this may not be the most authentic shrimp and grits recipe of all time, it is guaranteed to be delicious.

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Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

Winter 2011-2012 has been incredibly mild. There has been no snow accumulation, no snow days, hardly (if any) days below freezing,  and I barely had to break out my winter running gear (the most stylish of all my running gear). Worst of all, there hasn’t been many opportunities to make my favorite winter foods. I have been able to braise here and there and make a few soups and stews but I truly wish the weather had been more amenable to all the rib-sticking goodness that I love to cook during the winter season.

While checking the weather forecast one day back in January, I was thrilled to see that temperatures would be in the 30s with a chance of freezing rain. Sure, it stinks to be out and about when the freezing rain starts but it would also be great to be inside eating a rich and hot soup. I had been waiting for a very long time to make Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup, one of my favorite recipes from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home and took the forecast of freezing rain as a clear sign that it was time to make this amazing soup. As Thomas Keller describes in his book,

“The sweet potatoes make this a rich soup. The curry powder sharpens the flavor, and the cilantro brightens the rich ingredients.”

I would add that rendering the fat from the bacon and using it to cook down the vegetables adds depth to the soup and takes it to another level of goodness. Additionally this hearty soup is filled with vegetables and lentils making it pretty healthy, aside from the bacon fat. This is my favorite soup to make and hope winter lasts a few more weeks so I have another chance to make it again this season.

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Ice Bath

The one thing I have found to be surprisingly difficult about this comeback attempt is that my body doesn’t recover from workouts as quickly as it did before. It kind of makes sense since I’m not as fit as I was over the summer, but I’m not running anywhere near as fast as pre-KFD and my strength training routine is no where near as hard as it was so it is very frustrating that I cannot recover as quickly as I’d like.

To speed along my recovery, I have been really concentrating on stretching properly after each workout and using a foam roller or stick to massage any soreness in my legs. Additionally, I’ve been eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains in an attempt to fuel and refuel correctly. Most importantly I’ve been sleeping for an extra hour or so each night in order to give my body more time to recover.

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Turning 30

I turned 30 two weeks ago. I am not one of those people who dreaded turning 30, although I wasn’t particularly excited about it either. On one hand, I’m glad my twenties are behind me. Although I had a lot of fun, my early twenties were pretty unstable and at times a little messy. On the other hand, in turning 30 I had to look adulthood in the face and figure out what I am doing with my life.

Anyway, my gift to myself this year was to shove all these existential questions aside and get down to the business of celebrating in style. Because I have great and patient friends who admirably tolerate and indulge in my crazy desires, I turned my 30th birthday party into a three-day festival of gluttony.

After a crazy week at work, I flew out of the office as soon as the clock hit 6:00pm in order to meet Pete and Emily at the Kennedy Center for some National Symphony Orchestra action. One of our running pals works at the Kennedy Center and offered us comp tickets for that evening’s performance as it was undersold. On the program was Strauss’ Metamorphosen and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the Eroica. Beethoven is my favorite composer of all time and the Eroica may be my favorite symphony of all time. The NSO’s performance was really outstanding and got my birthday celebration off to a great start.

Me, Pete, & Emily at a previous NSO concert

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Lemongrass Chicken

I originally wanted to name this blog “Work, Eat, Run, Sleep” because that is basically my life — day after day, week after week, month after month — especially when I am training for a race. When I am in full training mode I often tell friends and family that my life is WERS. So while my weekends are filled with delicious and elaborate meals, my weekday dinners are exponentially more hectic and haphazard.

On a regular (i.e. not busy) day, I leave my office anytime between 6:00pm and 6:30pm. After running five to eight miles, strength training, stretching, and commuting, I usually arrive home around 9:00pm, hungry and tired. Therefore, I try to manage my meals so that I only have to cook one quick meal during the week (two, if necessary), which is really for the next day’s lunch and dinner and not for immediate consumption.* After years of this WERS routine, I have a handful of go-to weekday dinners that take 20-30 minutes to make and can be easily reheated for lunch or dinner the next day.

My Top Five Weekday Dinners That Can Be Made in 30 Minutes or Less
1. Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken
2. Ziti with Sausage Onion and Fennel
3. Salmon with Andouille Sausage and Green Olives
4. Crusty Chicken Thighs with Mushroom Sauce
5. Lemongrass Chicken

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The Long Run

Last September, I got super sick. I tried to push through the initial fatigue and random symptoms for a few weeks but by mid-October I was getting sicker by the week without a diagnosis or an end in sight. I had been running and training injury and mostly interruption free for a year and a half and was reluctant to stop but realized I had to focus on getting better so shut myself down. I thought I would only have to sit out for a week or two but by mid-November without getting much better and with my lymph nodes still super swollen, doctors decided I needed a lymph node biopsy. Finally, I was diagnosed with Kikuchi Fujimoto Disease, which is super rare and completely bizarre, but overall not the worse disease to have been diagnosed with.

I was cleared to start running again in early January and for the last month, I have been slowly working my way back into some semblance of shape. Working my way back into shape is a lot like going on a long run. Both a long run and regaining fitness are going to take patience, grit, determination, a little sacrifice and some good pals, but the end will be rewarding and coffee-filled. The journey itself can be great too but also filled with doubt, frustration, and more than a few setbacks.

For me, the immediate goal is running the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler on April 1. It is highly unlikely I will set a personal best that day, but I am going to work my butt of trying to make it happen because one can never predict what kind of race day magic will happen. I just need to get to the starting line as fit as I can get myself and, most importantly, healthy.

Happy Running…