in the kitchen

I am taking advantage of my stint as a solo parent by experimenting with cooking and food prep. I have two intentions for my cooking during these few weeks. First, I want to use whole ingredients as much as possible, meaning few things out of packages or boxes. Second, I want to eliminate meat as much as I can get away with. To clarify, I am happily an omnivore, but I am increasingly weary of “ethical meat” and I know that there are a lot of loopholes manufacturers can follow in order to get certain certifications on products. Fortunately, this is a great time of year for produce, and I have been able to add a lot of great vegetables in to my repertoire. The star of the week so far has been the garnet yam. My trick with yams is to bake them in their own skin (brushed lightly with olive oil) at the beginning of the week, after which I score their skin and put them away in the fridge. This way, throughout the week, I have tender roasted yam, easy to peel and ready to eat. I find that ingredients like yam offer a nice filler where meat would usually be used. Mashed yam, for example, can be used as a type of glue for veggie patties, enchiladas, and other types of recipes.

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Yesterday, I used a yam to make some stuffed peppers. I stuffed two bell peppers (four halves) with a mixture of cooked yam and quinoa, seasoned to my liking. Before baking, I topped all of the stuffed peppers with a nice layer of chèvre. After around 30 minutes in a 350 oven, they were cooked to perfection. I am a big fan of the flavor combination… and the quinoa along with the vegetables and cheese is quite filling and energizing.

Happy Cooking, and Happy Trails!

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walking in the woods

13288579_1109377945785321_1834034607_oOn Sunday, I went for a hike with my running buddy/adventure mate and my daughter. We hiked a trail out by where I used to live, in the woods east of town. I spent many afternoons hiking the same trail when I was pregnant
with my daughter, five years ago. The diverse greenery and dramatic ravines never fail to amaze and delight me.

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Over time, frequently traveled trails become the oldest of friends. They bear witness to the seasons of our lives, just as we tenderly observe their cycles of transformation. The moss carpets the ground, creeping between the shoots of buttercups, nettles, and ferns. Branches bow and bend asymmetrically. Old logs, showing their sepia-red innards, nurture creamy supernatural fungi. A chartreuse and emerald canopy stencils out dappled sunshine, while the birds and wind play their symphony.

lessons from singing

I am singing my final concert of the year tonight, and I wanted the opportunity to reflect on how my musical journey influences my running journey. Here are a few things I have learned as a singer that really help my running practice:

Breathe into the back and side of the ribs. We are often tempted to either breathe into the throat (shallow breath), or into the abdomen (classically described as a singer’s breath). Our lungs are protected by the rib cage, and pretty darn flexible, when it comes to organs. They are coated by a kind of viscous material. If we direct breath to the back and side of the ribs, we expand the capacity of our lungs. I have found that breathing into the ribs is an excellent way to combat side stiches and other cramps during long distance runs. By keeping the ribs in mind as an anchor point for breath, I often feel like the top half of my body is more engaged and supportive while my legs are doing their thing.

To get through the passaggio, don’t think about the passaggio. The passaggio is that magically awkward gap between vocal ranges. Mine is right at a high E. A passaggio can feel like a brick wall, and when we become aware of it, the natural inclination is to clamp down the throat and struggle through. This is painful, and doesn’t sound great. My vocal teacher gave me a wonderful trick I still use when I am singing in a higher range… which is, put your body off balance when approaching the passaggio. Yes, I literally pick up one foot (discreetly), which engages my core and my mind in the act of balancing. The end result is a seamless transition to the higher register. I am sure there is a lot of physiological science behind why this works, but the simplest explanation that I can give is that balancing on one foot creates a diversion, and causes the body to tense up somewhere other than the vocal chords and airway. Throughout the course of a long distance run, there is usually some kind of passaggio (some might think of it as a wall or a threshold). I find the comparison of these concepts to be helpful because, just as a singer knows to anticipate and work through their passaggio, a distance runner becomes aware of their walls. When I set out for a long run, I know that I hit a threshold sometime between four and five miles. If I can overcome that, I am solid for the rest of the run. Although I do not physically shift my balance to get through the wall, I shift my mental balance by employing a few different tricks. I listen to upbeat music. I pay extra attention to my natural surroundings. I focus my thoughts on working through a research or work problem, and take my mind off of running for a bit.

Hydrate and eat properly. Neither a runner nor a singer want to burp up the spiciness of yesterday’s burrito or suffer from cottonmouth. So, we plan accordingly.

Do a physical warm up. If you walked into the beginning of one of my rehearsals, you would think you were at an unusual yoga class. We stretch, swing, wiggle, and literally pound (lightly!) our lymph tissues before singing. Blood circulates oxygen, which is required by our brain and our muscles to perform. Before singing or running, I’ve developed the habit of briskly massaging my rib tissue, armpits, upper sternum, hips, and thighs. It’s a mental signal to remain present with my whole body during the activity. It also stimulates blood flow to different areas of the body.

Practice the challenging parts frequently and with intention. We all want to sing the stuff that is fun… the melody, the easy and delightful sections. However, as tempting as that is, this approach misses the deeper learning that occurs as a result of diving into the challenges. Sometimes, a conductor will guide the musicians by flipping the rehearsal so that the piece is worked on from the end to the beginning. This is one method of making sure that the beginning of a piece isn’t perfected over and over again, only to ignore the tricky components later on. The way I relate this to running is by reversing my routes, so that the hills are not in the same place every time, and focusing my attention on running the challenging parts of a route, even when it might be most appealing to walk. My running buddy excels at self-regulating in this fashion, and will often strive to run up every hill, and take walk breaks during the easier parts of the route. It is less fun in the moment, but the payoff is huge… just as it is when you can perform those challenging intervals or rhythms with ease and artistry.

Never lose sight of the artistic endeavor. At the end of the day, music is not what is written on the page. Neither is a run what is marked on the map. Our embodiments of these experiences are living moments that are unique to each individual. The achievement that feels best is when we are finally able to let go of the intellectual considerations, and truly feel what we are creating.

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Happy Trails!

on body positivity

Women are socialized to have distrustful relationships with our bodies. A friend of mine was shocked the other day when her eight-year-old voiced a concern about being fat. The objectification of the female body inundates us, and our children. It is tough to block out the messages and invest the time in building a health relationship with ourselves. As I reflect on this topic, here are a few of my initial thoughts…

meme

Fitspiration/thinspiration can be really divisive and damaging. I love seeing a picture of the view from a buddy’s run/bike ride/hike… but I could live well without the body shaming memes.

whole 30

The latest diet or cleanse is a trend for some, but a stone’s throw away from orthorexia for others. I am part of a few running and health support groups, and I am saddened by the reported feelings of failure and anguish by members when they are not compliant with whatever plan they feel pressure to be on. It’s okay to be on a plan, but it is also okay to say “screw plans, I am going to eat what I want.” Health should be built on a sustainable foundation. It is important to realize that there is an entire industrial complex designed around controlling the food women eat, and making them feel inadequate.

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This is a picture of me wearing clothes that I find comfortable for running in warm weather. I am not intending to be provocative. And yet, I second guess my outfit choice every time I wear something like this, because I am worried about being catcalled. And, on plenty of occasions, I am. This attention is objectifying and unwanted. It usually ruins the rest of my run.

media example

Fit, healthy, and athletic look completely different depending on one’s body type, and yet there is a predominant norm for what it means to look like a female runner in the media. Finding alternative images of runners often involves digging deep, beyond what you will see in your newsfeed or a magazine. It is also incredibly difficult to find runners of different shapes and sizes not affiliated with an inspirational weight-loss trope.

I’ll wrap this post up on a positive note… I am deeply grateful for running blogs for providing an outlet to discuss many of these issues and to challenge the stereotypes and messages perpetuated regularly by mainstream media. It was by reading the writing of regular people, just like you, that I found my inspiration and encouragement to stick with running. Your stories are important—they help people around the world connect and relate. So readers… keep running, and keep blogging!

Happy trails!

longer runs

We are midway through May. I did not sign up for any races this month, and I decided to focus on maintaining a good running practice in advance of June, when I will begin my official marathon training schedule. One of the goals I set for this time of the year (late spring) was to become comfortable running distances slightly longer than the half marathon. When training for consecutive half marathons, it is natural that the 13.1 mile distance becomes the absolute limit for length… at least the way I train for a half. When approaching life after the half marathon, I had two goals in mind:

  1. Run 14, 15, or 16 miles with comfort
  2. Maintain a steady pace throughout the distance

Yesterday, I went on a solo run for 16 miles. I did my usual out-and-back trail run, which involves mixed surfaces (some cement, some pea gravel, and some dirt), rolling hills, and a few steeper hills and switchbacks during the middle portion. I was really pleased to finish up in 2:38, an average mile time of 9:53, with a negative split. I think the best part of the run, however, was that I still had energy after I was done. I could have run a few more miles, at the same pace, which is a great feeling when looking down the path at marathon training.

I am glad yesterday’s run went well, because I will be a single parent for the next few weeks while my partner is at his Ph.D. residency. This means that I will be completing shorter, more frequent runs (probably during my lunch hour), with a little less flexibility to go for long runs. I am fortunate, however, to have my family pitching in and helping me out (it takes a village, and I am very grateful for my village). I hope to complete at least one more long run this month.

Last but not least, I have to recommend a new fuel that I was encouraged to try by my local running store. Skratch Labs fruit drops are awesome, and you should check them out. They are tart, chewy, and easy on the stomach. I also like that they do not contain caffeine (although caffeine helps me initially, I have observed that it can actually lead to a crash and intestinal cramping later in the run).

sum of the journeys

Two years ago, I started my doctorate. Like many other long-term commitments in my life, returning to school for this last credential was a leap of faith. I was naïve and had no idea what balancing a full-time career, a family, and a full load of coursework year round would look like. If somebody had given me glimpses of the future, I am sure I would have responded “I’m not ready yet.”

Here’s the thing about those crossroads, though. We never feel entirely ready. And we don’t know what we are made of until we are challenged by every aspect of the process. Reflecting on the last two years, many images flash through my mind. Hours upon hours of squinting at datasets. Thousands of pages of academese. Too many papers, responses, and annotations to keep track of. When I think about it all, I feel no regrets. I know I developed skills, I know I gained expertise, and I know there are new wrinkles in my brain that could not be caused by any other experience.

Currently, I find myself at a new crossroads; a new leap of faith. Coursework is coming to an end, and I am at the precipice of dissertating. In my typical fashion, I have been doing as much preparation work as I possibly can. I have dozens of annotations for literature review, I’ve spent the last two years thinking through my topic and design, and I am beginning to visualize how I will defend my proposal to committee.

I’ve remained very private about my identity as a doctoral student. Part of that relates to my overall preference toward privacy regarding many things in my life. The other factor, however, is that this educational journey is a gift I hold very close to my heart. It is precious to me. I find that my rituals of reading, writing, and research lend themselves to a humble manner. This is my own, and nobody else can do it for me. With that in mind, I chug along quietly.

One surprising thing I have found is that the experience of designing and executing research is a creative process. To be successful at research, I require deep periods of introspection. I am only now discussing my dissertation topic, even though I have been sitting with it for two years. Quiet reflection gives me the time I need to sort the pieces (visualize Tetris) and figure out my next steps. In my life balancing a high-stress career and my family commitments, however, there is little space afforded for reflection. For that reason, my running practice is the single greatest support in my success as a doctoral student. Without the sweat, circulation, hours in my own thoughts, I would struggle. I would struggle to find clarity and peace, I would struggle to locate new pockets of motivation, and I would struggle to mitigate the stress of living.

So, while training for a marathon parallel to writing a dissertation might seem odd to some, it was a really easy choice for me to make. Both of these tasks are exercises in self-regulation and personal integrity. At the end of the day, the only person who will be impacted by an incomplete dissertation or an unfinished marathon goal will be me. By the same token, earning my doctorate and finishing another marathon will not dramatically change my daily life. However, it is the sum of these journeys that I can recognize as valuable. The experience of pushing myself to new limits; knowing for any future life challenges that I carry these feats in my pocket.

April Recap

I finished April with 87 miles, bringing my cumulative mileage for the year up to 362. I think I am making good progress toward meeting my goal of running 1,000 miles this year. April was good to me, plenty of runs of various distances, beautiful weather, and lots of sun and light in the evenings. I was very busy throughout the month, and I am quite proud of achieving the mileage that I did. The last day of the month, I ran 15 miles with my running buddy. We tackled the distance at a relaxed pace, and I really enjoyed the run from start to finish. It was an appropriate way, I thought, to mark the passing of time into a more intense season of training. I don’t have any races planned for May. My focus this month is to maintain a practice of running most days a week, and to continue keeping up with long runs (10+ miles each weekend). My biggest mistake three years ago when I last trained for a marathon was prioritizing long runs above regular 2-5 mile tempo runs. I think that the uneven distribution of miles over the week led to many of my IT-band woes. Luckily, I haven’t had those aches and pains since (knock on wood), and I feel much stronger overall.

Yesterday, I began the month with a 3 mile recovery run, down to the beach through my neighborhood trails. I reflected on where I was five years ago… heavily pregnant and completely clueless about the future to come. Although I dabbled in running prior to pregnancy, I really became a runner after I became a mother. As I prepare for my baby’s fifth birthday (in a bit of disbelief), I can’t help but to reflect on my own journey these last few years. I feel a wonderful balance in my running right now that I have not achieved before. Similarly, I feel as though I have hit my stride now that my daughter has outgrown the baby years. In life, there is a constant ebb and flow of conditions, relationships, and environments which surround us. However, for the time being, as ephemeral as it might be, I am grateful for the equilibrium.

Other intentions for the month include staying hydrated, remembering to slather on my sunscreen, and continuing to find new local trail routes for my repertoire (keeps things exciting and fresh).

Happy trails!