NW Trail Runs Cedar River Trail Half Marathon recap

Hello friends, have you had an EPIC weekend?

I saw these at REI...they make energy bars out of meat now. These look epically disgusting

I saw these at REI…they make energy bars out of meat now. These look epically disgusting

Yesterday I had the totally new-to-me experience of running a trail race. The event was put on by Northwest Trail Runs, a group that organizes several series of off-road races throughout Washington state. Everyone I interacted with at the event was SO friendly, I’m definitely considering adding a few more of their runs to my schedule. This was the first year for this particular race; even though there were a few minor hiccups, I cannot say enough nice things about the people behind the event and the experience overall. I was nervous heading into this race, as I have never really done ANY trail running at all, but I finished the day with a huge smile on my face, a little bit of blood on my knees, and a powerful hankering to add more trails to my running repertoire.

I LIKED that!

I LIKED that!

I got hit with a powerful case of pre-race jitters Friday evening around seven pm. I wasn’t too terrified of the terrain or the distance: the event website went out of its way to emphasize that the course’s most significant elevation gain amounted to a mere 150 vertical feet. Nevertheless, I was apprehensive about the prospect of picking my way over roots and rocks for 13.1 miles. I love hiking and exploring the woods, but I have never done any trail running at all. Ever.  I’m not sure why I drew such a sharp distinction in my brain, but I always strictly thought of  beautiful natural areas as “places for hiking” and urban environments as “places for running”.

You hike to here

You hike to here

You run around here

You run around here

After yesterday’s race I realize that I need to squash that supercilious separation between these activities that I enjoy. Running around on pavement is a blast. Running around in a verdant northwestern forest is my personal nirvana. It’s strange how new experiences can make us so nervous before they begin. I find that whether I’m developing a new protocol at work, or trying to learn hip-hop dance, new things always seem totally overwhelming and dreadful until you actually start; once you are doing something, it if often delightful.

OK...delightful might be pushing it when we're talking about developing a protocol at work

OK…delightful might be pushing it when we’re talking about developing a protocol at work

I decided to lay out all of my gear and put myself to bed early Friday night. I realized that reading a million articles about the dos and do NOTs of trail racing would just make me feel woefully inadequate, and worried about the fact that I don’t own any of the “must-have” hydration packs, ultra-maximally cushioned shoes, or high-caliber bear repellent that the internet recommends.

Experience trail-runners opt to carry a crossbow

Experience trail-runners opt to carry a crossbow

I woke up at 6:00 am Saturday morning, which is late for me. Normally I like to get out the door and on my weekly long run by 5:30. However the race was scheduled for 9:30, so I had ample time to eat my oatmeal.

Nuun for hydration, Elvis for  luck, peanut butter for protein....and because I REALLY like peanut butter

Nuun for hydration, Elvis for luck, peanut butter for protein….and because I REALLY like peanut butter

I arrived at the starting line 20 minutes before official check in. Which was a full hour before the race itself  was scheduled to begin. Did I mention that I had been feeling a little anxious about this event?

I was the first guy there!

Hi guys! Will you entertain me for the next hour and a half?

Luckily a friendly race official gave me my bib number, and pointed me in the direction of a convenient place to grab a cup of coffee near the trailhead.

Hobart market and video has a WONDERFUL port-a-potty

Hobart market and video has a WONDERFUL port-a-potty

Hobart Market and Video sells some truly ATROCIOUS coffee

Hobart Market and Video sells some truly ATROCIOUS coffee

After consuming my coffee and saying hello to the honey bucket, I drove back to the starting line and decided to use the extra time afforded to me for 10 minutes of mantra meditation. I’m still going strong with my September meditation challenge. Sitting in stillness for 10 minutes was just what I needed to quiet my overactive mind and find focus before the race.IMG_5116

By this time other runners had started showing up to the starting line. I went through my dynamic stretching warm-up, then we started to cluster around the starting line in preparation for the event to begin.  IMG_5124

Fifteen minutes before the start of the race, our friendly event-director made an unfortunate announcement. Apparently some local hooligans had been messing with the course markings: ripping out the signs and flagging that were supposed to guide us along our merry way. He assured us that they were working on re-marking the course, but the start would have to be delayed. I took the opportunity to wander around and take some photos of the Cedar River.

The Cedar River

The Cedar River

Living with large wood...it's a problem we all face

Living with large wood…it’s truly an unappreciated tragedy

OK- I will try not to fall IN the river

OK- I will try not to fall IN the river

While I was wandering around waiting for the race to start I had a super-surreal moment of deja vu. I realized that I had been to The Cedar River before. During my first year of graduate school I went on a sampling mission to try and isolate an ammonia-oxidizing Archaea named Nitrosopumilus maritimus from river rocks at this very site.

we didn't find any Nitrosopumilis

we didn’t find any Nitrosopumilis that time. Maybe we should have gone running instead?

N. maritimus is a really LITTLE microorganism (from Koenke et al. 2005...I know those guys)

N. maritimus is a really LITTLE microorganism (from Koenke et al. 2005…I know those guys)

After 20 minutes we finally got the word from the race director that the course seemed to be in order. IMG_5127

We all gathered together, gave a “three, two, one” countdown, and we were off into the woods!

Let's do it!

Let’s do it!

The race started off on a wide, flat, gravel trail. I appreciated the even surface: running on a flat gravel path isn’t much different than the roads I am used to. It was a warm and sunny day, and there wasn’t much shade along this path. I started to warm up pretty quickly. Luckily the course quickly diverted and we began winding our way through the woods. Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 11.26.06 AM

I had SO much fun running on the trails. The forest was lush, green, and verdant. The pacific northwest is absolutely beautiful, and this trail was no exception. I loved seeing all the giant ferns and mosses: I felt like I was running through Narnia, or The Land Before Time.

This photo is from a few weeks ago at Cougar Mountain,  but the effect is similar

This photo is from a few weeks ago at Cougar Mountain, but the effect is similar

I also loved the mental aspect of racing on the trail. The uneven surfaces, roots, and rocks made me think about where I set my foot with every step. I always think that running a race is a mental game, but I loved the additional aspect of calculation that the challenge of the trail provided. Running is a sensual meditation: you have to check in with your entire body and determine how you are feeling, should you go faster, should you change your stride? Running hard requires absolute focus: all of the superfluous, self-limiting thoughts bouncing around your brain’s default mode network slide away.

This part of your brain is a total d-bag

This part of your brain is a total d-bag

It’s easy to find this flow state when you are pushing yourself to the absolute limit: when you are sprinting like your eyes will bleed you cant find mental energy to start doubting yourself. Your only thoughts are an amalgam of: “push, push, PUSH, GO, RUN, GO.”However, most races aren’t run at eyeball-rupturing pace from beginning to end. There’s always a section in every race, after the initial adrenaline-fueled mania of the start fades, but before it’s time to kick it up for the end, where my mind starts to wander as I endeavor to maintain my effort. Normally negative thoughts bubble up to the surface: I have to remind myself to run the mile I am at, to silence the self-talk, and to keep a positive attitude at a challenging pace.

R'n'R Sea 2K14. Do I look stoked?

R’n’R Sea 2K14. Do I look stoked?

I din’t have a single doubtful moment while I ran yesterday. This is not to say that I wasn’t working hard the entire time.My quadriceps testify to that fact today. I was a sweaty mess at the end of the race and, while I didn’t score a PR out on the trails, I did end up finishing with a respectable time. The reason that I never found room for self doubt is BECAUSE the entire race was such a challenge. I was so busy trying to figure out where to put my feet to avoid tripping and trying to follow the trail markers that I couldn’t spend any mental energy at all doubting myself. I found a glorious flow. The miles flew by, I was at the first aid station before I knew it.

The aid stations had a HILARIOUS smorgasbord of food

The aid stations had a HILARIOUS smorgasbord of food

I had heard the rumors about the crazy caloric fueling strategies employed by trail runners, and this race did NOT disappoint. There were four aid stations along the course. Each stop offered: electrolytes, water, energy gels, salt tablets, pieces of cliff bars, oranges, bananas, pringles, coca-cola, gummy-bears, candy corn, Doritos, fig newtons, and swedish fish. I opted to skip the refreshments at the first stop because I was still in a delirious trail-induced time-warp AND because I was thinking about the old maxim “never try anything new on race day.” By the second station I was craving calories. I also realized that, because I had never done a trail race before EVERYTHING about this race day was new. I opted to eat a fig newton and slam some gatorade.

That was the best effing fig newton I have ever had in my entire life

That was the best effing fig newton I have ever had in my entire life

I had a few brushes with disaster out in the wilderness. I manage to trip and fall twice. During my second face plant I donated some platelets to the gods of the trail.

Ride fast, fall hard, pain is temporary, chicks dig scars

Ride fast, fall hard, pain is temporary, chicks dig scars

More alarmingly, the trail-vandalizing hoodlums had  apparently been incredibly active after the race began. Myself and two other runners managed to take a wrong turn due to a lack of flagging. Luckily a volunteer on a mountain bike spotted us heading off into parts unknown and got us back on the right track. We ran alongside the courageous volunteer for a few hundred yards as he re-marked the correct course for the benefit of those behind us.

If it weren't for this dude I'd probably still be running around the Cedar River Wilderness.

If it weren’t for this dude I’d probably still be running around the Cedar River Wilderness.

When everything was said and done, I finished in 1:47:47, and got fourth place overall. The top three finishers were rewarded with growlers of local beer.

I know that this screenshot says I got third. That is definitely an administrative mix-up, I finished right behind #51

I know that this screenshot says I got third. That is definitely an administrative mix-up, I finished right behind #51

After the event, the fine folks at NW Trail Runs put out a highly impressive spread of food, and held a raffle. IMG_5137I scarfed down some watermelon chunks, a banana, and a PB&J. I also won a coupon for free vegan grain-based alternative meat products, courtesy of field roastIMG_5138

I loved absolutely everything about my first trail racing experience. Every person at the event was incredibly friendly. I loved the camaraderie of the small race. The scenery was beautiful. I adored the mental aspect of running on trails. I’m starting to train for the Seattle Marathon in November, but I hope to incorporate some more trail running (and maybe a few more trail events) into my routine. I’ll always be out pounding the pavement, running around Seattle. I’m so grateful that I was able to learn that hitting the trails is another fun way to run!

Have y’all ever run a trail race?

What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever gone running?

Should I have eaten the gummy bears?

 

.

 

 

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A happy hodgepodge for Thursday

Zdravstvuyte! How are you doing on this zany Thursday? Is everyone feeling zippy?

Zdravstvuyte means "Hello" in russian. Dont ask THIS american to pronounce that...he cant

Zdravstvuyte means “Hello” in Russian. Don’t ask THIS american to pronounce that…he cant

I cant believe I haven’t posted anything since my abecedarian attempts to explain the neuroscience of meditation last Friday.  Have you missed me, gentle readers? I have certainly missed you. I hope you can forgive my stochastic schedule, consider this post my personal penance.

I think it might take some stronger stuff to purge my peccadilloes

I think it might take some stronger stuff to purge my peccadilloes

Life has, as always, been chaotic in my marathonsam world. I know that as an academic I should not blindly accept unscientific astrology, but, good GOLLY Tuesday’s Harvest Supermoon kicked my ass, chewed me up, and spit me out like a Chuck Norris crossed with a grain thresher.

Chuck Norris doesn't harvest grain

The Virgin Mary once saw Chuck Norris in her grilled-cheese sandwich

I’m so glad that I selected September to make time for meditation every day.IMG_4996Initially I  incorporated five minutes of a body-scanning based meditation practice into my morning running warm-up. I have recently started sitting for 5-10 minutes of transcendental-style mantra meditation each afternoon. These brief breaks to quiet my mind have been an invaluable bastion against the blitzkrieg of business that my PhD program piles upon me.

There will ALWAYS be more experiments we could do.

You have to count a LOT of bacteria in order to measure a mutation rate that’s on the order of 1 in a billion cells.

I recently read a great New York Times interview with Sam Harris about mindfulness, consciousness, and the concept of self. Harris argues that the very concept of consciousness doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, and uses this to make a case FOR spirituality. He likens consciousness to a classic optical illusion: more defined by its absence than by what is actually present.

The square isn't REALLY there, it's just the part that is missing from the circles

The square isn’t REALLY there, it’s just the part that is missing from the circles

I love Sam Harris’ point about self-examination, in the style of mindfulness meditation:

If you turn consciousness upon itself in this moment, you will discover that your mind tends to wander into thought. If you look closely at thoughts themselves, you will notice that they continually arise and pass away. If you look for the thinker of these thoughts, you will not find one. And the sense that you have — “What the hell is Harris talking about? I’m the thinker!”— is just another thought, arising in consciousness.

If you repeatedly turn consciousness upon itself in this way, you will discover that the feeling of being a self disappears.

I was reminded about my own musings on the default mode network (that part of our brain that, for better but often for worse, is responsible for our own self image). Meditation diverts blood flow away from this region: there’s a physiological reason for the phenomenon that Harris describes.

That freaking default mode network always gets in our way

That freaking default mode network always gets in our way

I shouldn’t complain about having too much on my plate- I would always rather be busy than bored. I have found time for some fun these past few weeks. I fit in a fabulous fifteen mile run last weekend.

I loved cathing the sunrise over Gasworks Park

I loved cathing the sunrise over Gasworks Park

Alli and I took Porter out to Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park this past Sunday for a wonderful walk in the woods.

The mosses are bosses!

The mosses are bosses!

We’re beginning to detect some signs that the seasons are changing here in Seattle.

I'm just not quite ready for pumpkins!

I’m just not quite ready for pumpkins!

It’s not full-on tights weather quite yet, but I’m starting to see less of the sun and more of my breath during my morning runs. Yesterday’s hill-repeat workout was particularly chilly and challenging.

This is the giraffe that lives on top of the hill that I run up...I wasn't too pleased with him

This is the giraffe that lives on top of the hill that I run up, and sometimes makes fun of me as I struggle to keep pace

In other, more exciting news: I’m racing this weekend! I’ve signed up for the Cedar River Trail Half Marathon, put on by Northwest Trail Runs. The website describes the course as “not relentless, but always changing, creating a playful trail running course.”

I can get behind "playful"

I can get behind “playful”

Apparently there are “some steep sections, but no major climbs,” which sounds perfect to this total-trail-running neophyte. I have been wanting to get into trail running for quite some time (I’ve been inspired by reading “Born to Run,” watching Sage Canaday’s Instagram feed, and seeing the awesome blogger stuftmama totally conquer a crazy race called “Stairway to Heaven“). This little event is definitely the kiddy-pool version of true trail- and ultra-running, but I’m excited to strap on my water wings and splash around in the shallow end for my first foray into the sport.

Maybe someday I’ll find my inner MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail)-running mountain, but for now I’d need a miracle and WAY more training to be able to run UP a fourteener.

It goes without saying that I'd need a banana along with my miracle

It goes without saying that I’d need a banana along with my miracle.

Finally, before I put this post to press, I’m excited to announce that, as of next Monday, I’m officially in training for the Seattle Marathon. I wrote myself a training plan, and I’m hoping to substantially improve upon my time from Tacoma.

Love me, love my crazy calendar

Love me, love my crazy calendar

IMG_5059

So it begins

I’ll be blogging about my training (as well as whatever else interests me) in the coming months. I ran the Tacoma City Marathon to support the Seattle Humane Society. I still am affiliated as a charity athlete with this wonderful organization. Myself, and the animals of King County, would be eternally grateful for your support again this time around. I’m stoked to start ramping up my milage again: stay tuned to this space, there will be rain-soaked running-gear selfies aplenty.

What’s going on with y’all?

What are you excited about right now?

 

 

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Focused Friday: meditation science

Happy Friday, friends. Are you thanking God, or whatever poly-denominational-all-inclusive-unitarian-universalist-gluten-free deity that you choose to worship, that the weekend is right around the corner?

I pray to Martha

I’m a member of the church of Martha

I’m certainly looking forward to a weekend away from manuscript preparation. I’ve been writing up (and re-writing) my results for publication. Somehow each iteration of the draft leads me down another series of experiments investigating an additional pathway. If someone doesn’t reign us in soon we wont publish anything until we have attempted to explain the source of every single mutation that ever happened in the B. subtilis genome.

THIS is the last experiment you need for your paper.

Let’s try one more mutant! Our figure only has panels A through L. We can fit more stuff in the supplement!

I could not have picked a more perfect time to start my Serene September daily meditation challenge. I truly believe that finding five minutes per day of mindfulness is keeping me mentally balanced in the face of frustration.IMG_4996I’ve been incorporating body-scanning based mindfulness mediation into my running warm up. My eight-miler this morning was delightful from start-to-finish: no negative self-talk, just a relaxing hour-long run where the miles and minutes flew by!

Core work, flexibility, mindfulness, open to grace and hit the road!

Core work, flexibility, mindfulness, open to grace and hit the road!

I’m already feeling some positive impacts, so I wanted to write a blog post today digging a little more deeply into the brain science supporting the benefits of meditation. I’ll lay it out on the table right now: neuroscience is NOT my forte. Bacteria don’t have brains.

Morons

Morons

However, I’ve got access to PubMed and an institutional subscription to some solid journals, so I’ll try to highlight some of the cool research into what happens in our minds when we meditate. The inspiration for this post comes from an episode of the “Stuff to Blow Your Mind” podcast covering research into hallucinogens and human experience. It turns out that deep meditation and psychedelic compounds, two powerful tools for expanding your perception, have physiologically similar impacts on brain activity.orange mushroomsThis is NOT to suggest that meditation facilitates a trip into “Fear and Loathing” territory. Our dear hero Hunter S. Thompson consumed COPIOUS quantities of a combination of compounds before he started seeing dinosaurs diving out of the walls: you average meditator or mushroom day-tripper will never experience altered consciousness to the gonzo-degree.

RIP

RIP

In fact, hallucinogens are incidental to the point I am pursuing today. I bring them up only because researchers have recently begun appreciating these compounds’ power as a tool to induce an altered state of consciousness. Scientists can use powerful brain-imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or positron emission tomography to monitor the activity of different brain regions in both resting and altered states of mind (such as those brought on by meditation…or mushrooms)

Ommmmmm

Ommmmmm

amanita

Ummmmm….not this kind of mushroom (although I suspect this might be an Amanita species)

Human beings spend approximately half their time daydreaming. A 2010 study revealed that, on average, adults spend 47% of their time letting their minds wander: contemplating and ruminating about things that aren’t actually happening. We spend half of our waking hours planning what we’ll do next, or recalling what we just did. Strikingly, this study found that these idle thoughts served to make people less happy than when they were actively engaged and focused on the task at hand. The group also found that adults only daydream 30% of the time while they are having sex, but that’s a topic for an entirely different blog post.

This butt-shaped baby carrot is as sexy as we're going to get today

This butt-shaped baby carrot is as sexy as we’re going to get today

Our minds are constantly wandering: fixated on the way things AREN’T. This makes it difficult to appreciate the moment where we ARE. Detaching and daydreaming is making us miserable. Our brains can be our own worst enemies, and thanks to some amazing studies we know what part of the brain is responsible for this self-sabotaging behavior.

Man, our brains can be SUCH a-holes sometimes

Man, our brains can be SUCH a-holes sometimes

Different regions of the brain appear to be responsible for different types of thinking (or, rather: researchers can detect increased activity in particular areas when they scan the brains of people performing a particular task…correlation is not causation, always take a study with a grain of salt). The regions of your brain that light up when you are idly thinking about nothing in particular is called the “Default Mode Network.

The blue parts are the default mode network

The blue parts are the default mode network

The default mode network is also responsible for our perception of ourselves: it’s the part of your brain that tells you your story, the little narrator inside your head that just wont shut up. Listening to the narrator inside your head distracts you from your current surroundings: have you ever wandered into a grocery store while you were distracted, then realized one hour and one hundred dollars later that you cant remember any specific details of your shopping excursion?

Why in the world did I buy all of these bananas?

Why in the world did I buy all of these bananas?

When you devote all of your attention to a particular task, and you are personally motivated to perform the task well for its own sake, your brain does you a favor by dampening down the default mode network. Your brain diverts blood-flow away from this region: idle daydreaming won’t help you complete the activity at hand. The psychologist Mihaly Csikzentzmihalyi describes the mental state when a person is completely focused, fully involved, and enjoying themselves as “flow.” (Here’s a link to his awesome TED talk). People find flow performing activities that are complex and challenging, yet personally rewarding: playing music, creating art, cooking, and running long distances all induce the flow state.When you are in the flow state, you become hyperaware. Time loses meaning, not because you are checked out and daydreaming, but because you are devoting all of your mental energy to what you are doing RIGHT NOW, instead of daydreaming about what you did yesterday.

Chuck Norris finds flow doing roundhouse kicks

Chuck Norris finds flow doing roundhouse kicks

Meditation effects the same changes in blood flow to the default mode network as intense concentration and focus. Interestingly, hallucinogenic compounds also reduce blood-flow to this region. In other words: meditation and psychadelics don’t enhance your perception by ACTIVATING an area in your brain, instead they simply remove some of the self imposed barriers we set up in our own minds to becoming fully engaged in the present moment. Meditation lets you turn off the self-limiting little voice inside your head and open your perception to a higher place.

However, the benefits of meditation extend beyond the yoga mat (or wherever you choose to repeat your mantra). Other studies have demonstrated that experienced meditators have altered connectivity patterns, and decreased blood flow in their default mode networks during a resting (non-medidtative) state. I mentioned in my previous post that meditators display improved performance on tasks that require a high degree of attention. Taken together this suggests that the positive neural patterns established during a meditation practice may be carried with you into your daily life.

Oooommmmmmmmmmm

Oooommmmmmmmmmm

I hope you enjoyed my little dabbling into neuroscience. If I’ve totally mis-interpreted something, please let me know! I’m also interested to hear from all meditators out there on the internet (long-term or newbies):

Have you noticed a difference in your thoughts, focus, or attention associated with your practice?

What are you up to this weekend? Will you find your flow?

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Wellness Wednesday: Roasted Ratatouille

Bonjour brothers and sisters! I hope that this Wednesday finds you well! I started my day with my typical run; however, I incorporated five minutes of body-scanning based mindfulness meditation into the end of my typical dynamic stretching warm-up.

I'm not saying that meditation made the clouds look pretty, but it certainly put me in a more receptive state to their beauty

I’m not saying that meditation made the clouds beautiful, but it certainly put me in a more receptive state to their beauty.

I’ve been attempting to meditate every day. I’m calling it: Serene September, a meditation challenge.IMG_4996I’m three-for-three so far, and I believe I am already reaping some benefits. At the beginning of Tuesday’s tempo run some typical negative thoughts bubbled up in my consciousness (like: “UGH this is HARD” or “I have HOW many miles left!?”). Surprisingly, I found that I was easily able to let those thoughts go and find my flow. I had a great workout. I’m going to keep with my practice and see if I cant observe other benefits as we slide through September.

Maybe meditation will make me more balanced?

The jury’s out on whether it will help my hair

I’m excited to share another Wellness Wednesday recipe post with you this week! I haven’t written a recipe in a while, but I hope I can make it up to you with this delicious dish. Today we’ll be putting together a roasted vegetable ratatouille with quinoa and chickpeas. I’m putting a smoky spin on a traditional Provençale dish. The recipe is a great way to celebrate the flavors of end-of-summer produce. This dinner also happens to be totally vegan, and gluten free.  I wasn’t setting out to make this meal meatless, things just kind of came together that way. I predict that you could serve this dish to any confirmed carnivore and they wouldn’t complain about the lack of animal protein. Are you ready to get cooking?

IMG_4595

Gather your cast of characters. We will need:

1 Eggplant

1 Zucchini

2 Bell peppers

1 Yellow onion

3 Garlic cloves

4 Roma tomatoes

Salt, Pepper, Olive oil

½ tsp each: thyme, basil, oregano

IMG_4542

First we are going to roast our red bell peppers. Set the peppers right underneath a high broiler. Roast them for three to five minutes on each side. You want the skin to blacken, so it’s OK if you space out for a while and forget to check on them. Let these beauties feel the burn!

IMG_4543

While the peppers are roasting, start breaking down the rest of the vegetables. Slice the eggplant into one-inch cubes.

Slice first, then dice

Slice first, then dice

Collect your eggplant cubes in a bowl, drizzle them with two tablespoons of olive oil.

IMG_4547

I’m getting better at these action shots!

Add salt and pepper, then mix everything together.

IMG_4548

Those peppers probably could stand to be turned over by now, go check on them and then let’s focus on our tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half and arrange them on a foil-lined baking sheet.

IMG_4549Spread the eggplant cubes out next to the tomatoes and slide everything into the oven underneath the broiler.IMG_4550While the vegetables are roasting, chop the onion and garlic.IMG_4553

Have I ever told you about the easiest way to chop onions? This technique is GREAT. I used to think that chopping onions was a time-consuming, eye-watering, pain-in-the-ass. Then I realized I that I was doing it wrong. The correct (and totally simple) way to chop onions is laid out in my favorite holy text: Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

"Bless us Saint Julia. May our soufflés soar, our wine pour, and our meals be merry"

Bless us, and our kitchens

Start by halving your onion lengthwise, and cutting off the top. Remove the skin, but LEAVE THE ROOT ATTACHED! The root helps hold everything together. Slice parallel lines of longitude extending almost all the way (but not quite) to the root.IMG_4554Now rotate the onion 90 degrees and cut latitude lines, perpendicular to the first slices. IMG_4555-0As the incisions intersect the onion will fall apart into so many perfectly-diced pieces. That wasn’t hard, now, was it? Cooking is fun!

IMG_4556-0With the onion is perfectly prepared, warm a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. I love my dutch oven for this purpose, but a big stock pot would work too.

Hello, lover

Hello, Lover.

Now is probably a good time to check on your  veggies, and give them a quick turn. IMG_4558-0Those peppers look perfectly blackened and blistered! Remove the peppers from the oven. Add them to the same bowl you mixed up the eggplant in (you don’t even have to wash it, I won’t tell).IMG_4559Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to trap the steam. Let the peppers stew in their own steam for about five minutes. IMG_4560-0 Your pot is probably pre-heated. Film the bottom with roughly two tablespoons of olive oil, then add the onions and garlic.

IMG_4565

Add salt, pepper, and the herbs to the alliums. Cook until the onions begin to turn translucent.

IMG_4564As the onions soften, process your peppers. The steam-bath should allow you to slip the charred skins right off.

Don't you regret shelling out seven bucks far a jar of these in the store when it's so easy to make them at home?

Don’t you regret shelling out seven bucks far a jar of these in the store when it’s so easy to make them at home?

Scrape out the seeds and slice the peppers into strips.

IMG_4576

Do the hokey-pokey, turn yourself about, then dice the roasted red peppers.

IMG_4577The onions and garlic are probably perfect. Slice the summer squash into half-moons and add it to the alliums. I’m not including a picture of slicing the zucchini because I trust that you, my gentle readers, are clever enough to figure out how to do that on your own. Also because I am a space cadet and forgot to TAKE a picture of the process. Cook the mixture over medium heat for a few minutes until the zucchini begins to soften. IMG_4579

Remove your lusciously roasted, beautifully blackened vegetables from the oven.

Come to papa!

Come to papa!

Dump the vegetables and the roasted red peppers into the pot. Mix everything together, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. IMG_4584

Ratatouille is a delicious vegetable dish, full of fresh flavors and phytonutrients. However, this little runner requires some carbohydrates and protein along with every meal. While my ratatouille reduced, I decided to throw together a quick-and-easy combination of quinoa and chickpeas to round out my dinner. IMG_4568-0

One serving of quinoa (1/4 cup) has 7 grams of protein and 32 grams of high quality carbohydrates. Adding 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans to the party brings along another 7 grams of protein, and 22 grams of carbohydrates (and 6 grams of fiber). Both of these foods are naturally high in iron and antioxidants. The grain/legume combo is a great way to pack in the protein if you are a plant-based person.

They also happen to taste delicious

They also happen to taste delicious

After my quinoa cooked, and my ratatouille reduced, I assembled my delicious dinner. This recipe made enough ratatouille for two servings (but could easily be scaled up) The giant salad on the side is optional. The religious iconography is necessary. IMG_4597Happy cooking campers! Have a delicious week!

 

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Monday meditation

Happy Labor Day, workers of the world! Are you enjoying a well-deserved respite from the 9-5 grind? Unfortunately, Bacillus subtilis can’t read calendars: my bacteria are blissfully unaware that today is a federal holiday, which means that this plucky proletarian PhD candidate is spending Labor Day laboring.

These cultures won't grow themselves

These cultures won’t grow themselves. Good thing I wore my lucky red jumpsuit today

Today happens to be the first of September, so it seems like a good opportunity to work on myself as well as my science. As we enter the next lunar cycle and bid goodbye to summer, I am issuing myself a challenge: to meditate every day. September will be The Month of Mindfulness.

IMG_4996Now, I must admit that the inspiration for the meditation challenge comes from my rad Dad, and two of our dear family friends: MaryAnne and Christi Jo. These awesome individuals started THEIR meditation challenge at the beginning of the summer. I’ve been looped in on a group message between these fine folks as they discuss the benefits they have begun to reap from establishing a daily devotion to meditation practice.

Christi and I at the Fremont troll

Christi and I at the Fremont troll

My dad is awesome..but y'all knew that (post Seattle Half Marathon)

My dad is awesome..but y’all knew that (us after the Seattle Half Marathon)

These Baby-Boomer-Buddha-in-waitings’ devotion is impressive, but they aren’t the first in our family to find inspiration through introspection. My grandmother has been meditating every day for 25 years: she is one of the most compassionate, even-keeled women I have ever met.

10365949_10204055723262262_1529217775336371654_nAnecdotal evidence from my family is one thing, but meditation has been subjected to rigorous scientific study. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis in JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation programs are associated with relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. Randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that meditation is beneficial for treating chronic insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Meditation is WAY cheaper than Prozac...and has WAY fewer unpleasant side-effects.

Meditation is WAY cheaper than Prozac…and has WAY fewer unpleasant side-effects.

Meditation is a great adjunct-therapy for a plethora of pathologies, but healthy individuals stand to reap rewards from incorporating moments of mindfulness into their daily routines. Meditation impacts brain wave activity, neurotransmitter, and hormone levels. Meditation reduces bloodstream levels of the stress-hormone cortisol. Long-term meditators outperform non-meditators on tests requiring attention, and visual discernment. Meditation is associated with improved cognitive function, and may even heighten the ability to mount an effective immune response.

There is value in turning inwards, so that you can radiate outwards

Turning inwards can help you radiate outwards

I am currently a sporadic meditator. I take advantage of my yoga practice to clear my mind and sit with my breath. I am sometimes able to let my mind wander away into a blissful, meditative state during my most excellent long runs.

I got there this weekend...it took me 16 miles but I got there.

I got there this weekend…it took me 16 miles but I got there.

However, all of the studies I cited earlier expounding on the magical benefits of meditation investigated the effects of a consistent practice. I want to incorporate meditation into my daily routine! Would any of you, my gentle readers, care to join me?

Porter is a MASTER of quiet contemplation

Porter is a MASTER of quiet contemplation

The goal of meditation is to clear your mind of all distractions and enter a peaceful state, free from thought. This deceptively simple task can be INCREDIBLY difficult: we all live in the 21st century, our to-do-lists are 10 kilometers long, and it’s only a matter of time before we start grafting our iPhones into our skulls at birth. Meditation is an attempt to let the churning cyclone of cognition go for a while, and simply BE.

Meditation is CERTAINLY safer and more effective than trepanation for quieting the mind

Meditation is CERTAINLY safer and more effective than trepanation for quieting the mind

There are two basic approaches to meditation: Transcendental (or Mantra-based)  and Mindfulness. Both are beneficial, and just because you resonate with one style doesn’t mean you are stuck with it forever. Meditation is training for your brain, and just like training your body, sometimes a little variation can help you break through a plateau. I think of the two styles as tuning OUT  and tuning IN. In Transcendental Meditation you repeat a simple mantra to yourself over, and over, and over again. By directing your focus to your mantra, eventually the distractions of the outside world slip away. If thoughts start to bubble up to the surface you gently acknowledge them, but you do not follow them, instead you return your attention to your mantra. The mantra can be anything: a nonsense word, a sanskrit word, the name of your favorite pet.  I’m a fan of the mantra: “So’ham”, which means “I am that.” Sihks use the mantra: “Sat-nam,” which means “true name.” The mantra is a tool to hang your focus on, the meaning of the mantra is almost incidental: as long as it doesn’t distract you.

So-ham....ham-so

so’ham…ham’so: I am that, that I am, I am

Mindfulness meditation takes an opposite, but complimentary approach. Rather than closing yourself off from distractions by focusing on a single mantra, you achieve a state of thoughtlessness by becoming radically aware of every aspect of yourself and your surroundings. Body scanning is a great way to practice mindfulness meditation: sit comfortably, and starting at your toes try to focus all of your attention on each individual part of your body, one incremental digit at a time. Spend time sensing every inch of yourself, don’t spend too much time on any particular part, and don’t attach value to any sensation: just acknowledge each feeling and move onto your next facet. Once you’ve moved your awareness through your entire body, start over at the beginning again.

Attempting some body-scanning in the middle of a handstand

Attempting some body-scanning in the middle of a handstand

Meditation is a paradox: how can quieting the mind be more challenging than conquering a marathon? Meditation is the embodiment of simplicity in the essence of complexity. It’s HARD to sit quietly, and those thoughts and to-do-lists always seem ready to spring to the front of your cerebral cortex.

Seriously...my iCal has only gotten more out of control since April

Seriously…my iCal has only gotten more out of control

I’m viewing my meditation as training for my brain, and applying some of the same principles I use to train my body:

1) Start small. I am going to begin with the goal of meditating 5 minutes per day and work up to longer stretches.

2) Be persistent. Doing new things is hard. However, if you stick with them, you can reap the rewards. Sometimes I sit down and I cannot clear my head no matter how I try…that’s a sign that I need to try again later.

3) Be consistent. Practice makes better. When I have a day where I cannot quiet my mind, I owe it to myself to sit with myself again the next day. The more I practice medication, the easier it will become. I certainly couldn’t run a marathon the first few times I laced up my mizunos.

And I couldn't put my foot behind my head the first time I did yoga.

And I couldn’t put my foot behind my head the first time I did yoga.

Who’s with me? Can I recruit a crew of meditators? It’s easy, all you need to do is find some quiet time for yourself every day! I’d love some (more) company during Serene September! Play alone in the comments, if you want.356px-Om-1.svg

OOOOoooooommmmmmmmmm

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Work-it-out Wednesday: hill repeats

Happy hump day hierophants!

Your robes are looking FABULOUS this morning

Your robes are looking FABULOUS this morning

I hope that your work-week is going well. Have you been interpreting any sacred mysteries or esoteric principles lately? My Wednesday was an uphill battle beginning to end. I spent my lunch break on the phone with Comcast in a futile effort to understand why I’m being overcharged for internet that at the present moment doesn’t seem to be capable of connecting my computer to the world-wide web.

My banana phone currently has better internet connectivity than my modem.

My banana phone currently has better internet connectivity than my modem.

I spent my afternoon isolating RNA from Bacillus subtilis cells.

This kit's name is a lie. RNA is never easy

This kit’s name is a lie. RNA is never easy

My day to day research has me working with DNA on a regular basis. DNA is double-stranded and highly stable; there’s a very good reason our cells use this steadfast molecule to store their genetic code. RNA is DNA’s single-stranded, unstable cellular messenger. It degrades quickly, which makes it difficult to work with. RNA is a diva, as far as biological molecules go.

I think of RNA as the Liza Minelli of nucleic acids

I think of RNA as the Liza Minelli of nucleic acids

Onerous chemistry and incompetent customer service made my afternoon seem like a Sysyphean task; fittingly, my morning workout was also an uphill battle of my own choosing.

Remember Sysyphus? HE was a Greek dude who had to push a rock uphill over and over and over again

Remember Sysyphus? HE was a Greek dude who had to push a rock uphill over and over and over again.

This morning I deviated from my typical tempo runs and Yasso 800s to do a deceptively simple and delightfully difficult speed workout. I opted to start my morning with a series of hill repeats.

My GPS data looks kinda funny...back and forth and back and forth

My GPS data looks kinda funny…back and forth and back and forth

Hill repeats are a phenomenal strategy to build speed and power for runners. I’ve heard hill repeats called “strength training in disguise,” because the added challenge of running uphill forces your legs to recruit slow-, fast-, and intermediate-twitch muscle fibers. Running uphill is great for helping to develop your lactate threshold. Running uphill requires significantly more effort, and a higher turnover rate than running on the flats: combining the benefits of a challenging tempo run and a killer interval session into one workout. Jeff Gaudette explains the physiology (and offers up some sample sets) better than I ever could over at competitor.com. Runner’s World also has a great article with pointers for powering up by running uphill.  If you don’t feel like clicking through the links, I’ll break down the workout I did this morning. There are many variations, from short hill sprints, to the 3-2-1 ladder, but I opted for long hill repeats this morning. These are pretty complex, so grab a pen and paper.

I'm full of it. Hill repeats are simple

I’m full of it. Hill repeats are simple

Step 0: Warm up with roughly a mile of easy running.

Step 1: Find a hill.

Nailed it!

Nailed it!

Step 2: Run up it.

Check! (How sad that I have to start wearing my reflective gear...summer is ending)

Check! (How sad that I have to start wearing my reflective gear…summer is ending)

Step 3: Jog down the hill at an easy pace for recovery.

Step 4: Run up the hill again.

Step 5: Repeat 5-6 times.

IMG_4926

HOW many times!?

Step 6: Cool down with a mile of easy running. 

This giraffe was living at the top of the hill. It made the repeats just a little more fun

This giraffe was living at the top of the hill. It made the repeats just a little more fun.

The workout I outlined is probably the simplest hill repeat session you could possibly do. I chose a hill that was just about a half a mile long and I ran up the whole thing four times at roughly my 10K pace. For the last two repeats I pushed my pace to a 5K effort, and only ran halfway up the hill. I consciously focused on maintaining proper running form on the downhill segments. Even though the downhills are supposed to be recovery, this isn’t an excuse to let your legs loose.

How'd my foot get up THERE?

How’d my foot get up THERE?

In fact, downhill running places more demands on your muscular-skeletal system than any other terrain. I focused on my favorite chi-running principles of short strides with a high cadence to make sure that, even though I was going slow down the hill, I was descending in a controlled manner. After finishing my workout I re-fueled with my favorite carbohydrate and set out to tackle the rest of the day’s tasks.

Oatmeal, Elvis, and fresh flowers. What more could I desire?

Oatmeal, Elvis, and fresh flowers. What more could I desire?

How was your hump day?

Hill repeats: love them or loathe them?

Could Comcast’s customer service be ANY worse?

 

Posted in running, training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Motivational Monday

Namaste neighbors! The light in me honors and acknowledges the light within you.

It's OK to get a little crunchy on a Monday...look how NICE this dahlia is!

It’s OK to get a little crunchy on a Monday…look how NICE this dahlia is!

Happy Monday, gentle readers. Is anyone else’s inner light feeling just a bit dim at the beginning of this work-week? Maybe you’re still radiantly remembering your awesome weekend activities, making it difficult to sit down and shackle yourself to your desk.

If only these colonies would count themselves...

If only these colonies would count themselves…

I definitely felt slightly sluggish during my swim this morning. I started out with my go-to workout, but I totally talked myself out of doing the final kick set.

IMG_4906

We can’t ALWAYS crush it.

I had a wonderful weekend. Friday night Alli and I got all dolled up to attend an arty-party at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

IMG_4853

We clean up REAL nice

Every time the Seattle Art Museum opens a new exhibition they host a swanky soiree to celebrate the curated creativity. The Olympic Sculpture park just installed a new sound installation, titled “Echo,” which was the perfect excuse to dance under the stars on an August evening. These events always include drinks, dancing, performances, and interactive arts and crafts to complement the works on display.

IMG_4845

The big red thing is titled “Eagle.” “Echo is the orange piece in the foreground.

Friday evening’s festivities included an opportunity to create watercolor beard-studies: still life renderings of the northwest’s finest facial hair.

My creation. I was, obviously, drawn to the model's impressive mustache.

My creation. I was, obviously, drawn to the model’s impressive mustache.

It was fun to dress up in nice clothes and observe the mating rituals of the greater northwestern amazon.com employee on Friday night, but by Saturday I was back to my spandex-wearing self. Alli and I took a delightful bike ride around Mercer Island.

IMG_4870

Sunday I woke up bright and early for a thrilling 13 mile run.

IMG_4770

“Thrilling” might be an overstatement

My knees and hip flexors definitely felt a little crunchy while I was out and about on the Seattle streets. I blame Saturday’s bike excursion for the stiffness. Triathlons REALLY have the order wrong (lethality notwithstanding): “Bike then run is not so fun, run then bike is what I like.” I took it slow and gentle on Sunday’s run. I even stopped to snap a picture of the sunrise over Lake Washington as I crossed the Montlake Bridge.

I NEVER stop to take photos on the run...I may have to revise that policy

I NEVER stop to take photos on the run…I may have to revise that policy

Luckily I have a mellow Monday on my agenda. I’m gearing up to start doing some next-generation DNA sequencing this week, so I’m spending today reminding myself how to prepare DNA libraries and mixing up some of the buffers I need for these types of experiments.

We live in a world where any old yahoo with $800 and an afternoon to kill can sequence an entire genome

We live in a world where any old yahoo with $800 and an afternoon to kill can sequence an entire genome

I’ve been having fun tracking down positive affirmations and pairing them with pleasing pictures for Monday morning mantras. Here’s a few sayings I’ve been liking lately to push myself to persevere and stay positive.

IMG_4911

IMG_4909

IMG_4910

How was your weekend?

What do you have going on this week?

 

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Things I like Thursday: special Seattle edition

Aloha astronauts! How are things in your corners of the galaxy?

In my world, Thursdays are for swimming and sharing things that I like. I got a great swim in this morning, but I’m going to flip the format from my typicalthings I like post.

IMG_4825

Notice my super-stylish racing JAMS

Today I want to talk about my favorite (free) things to do in and around my happy little habitat: The Emerald City, Seattle.

394182_10100206004172848_1664780098_nI decided to do a post touting Seattle’s terrific tourist activities because earlier this week my dear friend from college, Casey, came to town for an all-too-brief visit.

IMG_4802

Casey, John, the Pike Place Market Pig, and some patriotic DNA-loving freak

I love playing tour-guide in seattle; Whether I am among friends, family, or prospective microbiology graduate students, I always find something new to love about my city every time I show somebody around. That being said, I definitely have a few standard Seattle sights that I include on almost every itinerary. This city has a LOT to offer: great food, access to the outdoors, music, art, architecture, swarms of upwardly-mobile junior amazon.com executives, and totally insane five-way intersections.

Seriously, what the hell are we supposed to do with this?

Seriously, what the hell are we supposed to do with this?

There’s no way I could possibly list all of my favorite Seattle sights in one post, so I’m not even going to try. Today I’m going to list some of the rocking Rain City Regions that you can roam to free of charge: call it Sam’s recession-buster-special Seattle Sightseeing guide. Click the links to get more information on any of these attractions.

1) Pike Place Market

I have to lead off with Seattle’s iconic excellent and eclectic emporium: the world-famous forum of fruits, vegetables, and flying fish.

IMG_4788Pike Place can be crowded, touristy, and expensive; however, no trip to Seattle is complete without a visit. The market is awesome. The venue is still a fully-functioning sanitary public farmers market: these local artisans earn their livelihood by selling their wares in the stalls.

IMG_4779 You can certainly enjoy the market without spending a single cent. All of the vendors will push free samples like they are working for Pablo Escobar, if Pablo had expanded into the pepper jelly and produce trade.

IMG_4781

“Say hello to my little flower-friends”

I always have fun wandering around feasting my eyes on local art, while I feed my face a million chocolate covered cherries.

2) The Ballard Locks

locksSeattle is on an isthmus between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. The Lake Washington ship canal allows boats to pass between the two bodies of water; however, Lake Washington’s elevation is 8 meters above Sea Level at low tide in the sound. The Hiram M. Chittenden locks maintain water levels, prevent excessive salt water intrusion into the lake, and move boats from one water level to the other. The locks were built by the Army Corp of engineers, and officially opened on July 4th 1917.

ballard locksThe locks are entirely powered by water pressure and gravity. I love visiting the locks to watch the boats pass through.

boat in locksThe locks are helpful for humans in boats trying to migrate upstream. Unfortunately they could stymie salmon trying to swim upstream to spawn. Luckily the facility includes a fish ladder to help our coho comrades find their way home. The fish ladder itself is a marvel of engineering, and in autumn you can watch salmon swimming through the weirs during the annual run.

Just keep swimming!

Just keep swimming!

3) Volunteer Park

One of my favorite features about Seattle is the abundance of green spaces available to offset the urban environment. The master plan for Seattle was designed by the Olmsted Brothers (the first generation descendants of Fredrick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park). The Olmsteds laid out the city so that no house is located more than a half mile from the nearest public park. Volunteer Park, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, is “the crown jewel” of all of our extensive esplanades.

Volunteer Park is home to a historic conservatory with bounteous bizarre and beautiful botanicals on display.

20140518-212709-77229356The historic water tower in volunteer park offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the entire city, the Cascade Mountains, The Olympic Mountains, and Puget Sound.

20140518-215219-78739116Why pay $20 and wait in line to take an elevator to the top of the space needle when you can get a better view for free by climbing a few flights of stairs?

volunteer park

And you can SEE the space needle from the top of the water tower

4) Greenlake

Greenlake is a freshwater lake in the north of Seattle. During the summer the beaches are open for boaters and swimmers to enjoy aquatic activities.

My dad getting ready to enjoy Greenlake

My dad getting ready to enjoy Greenlake

There is a mixed use path circumnavigating Greenlake that happens to be exactly 5 kilometers. I spend a LOT of time running around green lake. I prefer to run at vampire hours early in the morning when the path is almost abandoned.

IMG_4600However, walking around the lake on a weekend afternoon offers premium people watching opportunities: you can observe dog walkers, rollerbladers, power-yuppies power-walking while power-sipping Starbucks, and (if you’re lucky) the resident great blue heron!

Hiroshima memorial at Greenlake

Hiroshima remembrance at Greenlake

5) The Fremont Troll

The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle is a weird, wonderful, wacky place, that calls itself “the center of the universe.” The Fremont arts council celebrates all things quirky and maintains a plethora of public art installations around the area. The troll has made his home underneath the Aurora bridge since 1989, and though he looks big and scary, he is a friendly troll who loves having his picture taken.

20140518-211623-76583371After you visit the troll, be sure to stop by the Theo Chocolate Factory  for some delectable delicacies.

Find this and put it in your mouth

Find this and put it in your mouth

Theo is a local Seattle company that crafts its confections from organic, fair-trade sourced beans. The factory offers free tours hourly, but if you’re not in the mood to wait around you can pop into their retail space and stuff your face with samples of all of their fantastic flavors. I love the 85% dark, the sea salt almond, and the fig and fennel bar most of all, but every flavor is delicious. Try the ghost-chili caramels, if you are feeling spicy!

I'm ALWAYS feeling spicy...and fruity

I’m ALWAYS feeling spicy…and fruity

I think that the activities I’ve listed could easily fill an entire day with free fun. I haven’t even mentioned the awesomeness that is The Olympic Sculpture Park, The Lake Washington Arboretum, or The Burke-Gilman Trail. There’s just not enough megabytes in the internet to list ALL of the activities available in the coffee-kingdom. I hope that my list could be helpful to anyone planning a visit to my fair city, or wanting to reminisce about past vacations.

We've also got a cool mountain named Rainier

We’ve also got a cool mountain named Rainier

Have you been to Seattle? What was your favorite thing to see? Want to come visit? You can stay on my couch and I’m an awesome cook. 

 

 

 

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Motivational Monday: be awesome

Guten tag groovy guys and gals. I hope everybody is starting this merry monday well rested from any weekend shenanigans. May your commutes have been as smooth as your coffees are strong as we get ready to take a big old bite out of the coming workweek.

Dog is my co-pilot...I'm totally lying, I commute by bike

Dog is my co-pilot…I’m totally lying, I bike to work

My Monday began with a typical one-two-three punch of cardio, carbohydrates, and bike commuting.

I do NOT love that the days have started getting shorter and my runs are yet again veering into vampire territory

I do NOT love that the days have started getting shorter and my runs are yet again veering into vampire territory

I DO love oatmeal...always and forever.

I DO love oatmeal…always and forever.

fuji bikeI’m recovering nicely from Saturday’s triathlon. My legs felt fine during my run and my ride: I’m a little saddle-sore, and my shins are tight, but every other part of me seems to be ship-shape and bristol fashion.

I have no idea what that means either...

I have no idea what that means either…but I’m really good at driving boats

Mondays are tough. It’s hard to get back into the groove of the week when you’re still re-living the glory of the weekend. Friday seems pretty far away when you’re behind on emails before lunchtime, and your experiments are already going wrong in new and bizarrely unexpected ways.

Lesson learned: a pyrex baking dish will NOT fit on that platform shaker after all

Lesson learned: a pyrex baking dish will NOT fit on the platform shaker after all

Sometimes I tell myself positive affirmations or mantras to chase away the Monday malaise. Today I think I’ll take a different tactic: I’m going to share a couple of stories about awesome people doing extraordinary things. Rather than dwelling on the infinite inconveniences that sap your inspiration, let’s marvel at what human beings are capable of and decide to swim upstream against what’s in our way.

Swim upstream guys. We got this!

We’ve got this.

Without further ado, here are the awesome individuals that are motivating me this week.

1) Mo’ne Davis

I love that the best pitcher in little league baseball right now is a 13 year old girl from Philadelphia. I love that Mo’ne Davis throws a 72 mile-per-hour fastball (which, because of the fact that the mound is closer to the plate in little-league, is equivalent to a 90 mph pitch in the big leagues!). I love that Mo’ne Davis’ lucky charm is to keep money in her back pocket because: “It’s just that I do well when I’ve got money in my back pocket. And I know if I ever get hungry, I know I can get something to eat because I’ve got money.” I love that she seems like a genuinely down-to-earth, well rounded kid in interviews.

2) Sage Canaday

Sage Canaday is an Oregonian trail and ultra-runner living in Boulder, Colorado. His instagram feed is a totally awesome combination of spectacular scenic vistas, and vegan food-porn. Sage Canaday’s athletic accomplishments and devotion to healthy living are always inspiring. This weekend he knocked another achievement into the upper atmosphere by leading team U.S.A to a commanding victory at the Pikes Peak Ascent Trail Race.

The Pike’s Peak Ascent gains 7,815 vertical feet over the course of 13.32 miles. That is no joke. I officially give up my right to complain about the hills of Seattle EVER again.

3) Sister Madonna Buder

Sister Madonna Buder is an 84 year old nun from Spokane who does Iron Man Triathlons. She is the oldest person ever to complete an ironman (at IM Canada in 2012), and was recently inducted into the triathlon hall-of-fame. Technically she no longer competes at the full-Iron distance (her last event was Kona, 2012), and has been using her “retirement” to focus on the marathon, and half-iron distance. In between training she STILL finds time for volunteer service, and community outreach in the pacific northwest. Sister Buder’s attitude to training and living life is exuberant and reverent. She always races hard because: “”I owe it to posterity to give it my all.” She maintains a healthy diet, but isn’t dogmatic about her choices: “I have done nothing knowledgable to pollute my body; except, maybe a drink when it’s necessary.” She sees her training and competing as an act of devotion and celebration: “As long as my body is in motion, it doesn’t matter what it’s doing … as long as it’s oiled!”

Have a WONDERFUL week everybody. Keep your bodies well oiled, in motion, and have a drink if it’s necessary. 

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Deuces Wild Sprint Triathlon recap

Here’s looking at you…gentle readers.

Play it again, Sam

Play it again, Sam

Do you remember how I wrote a really whiny post on Friday? Thank you for serving as pseudo-psychotherapists for this highly-educated, highly-neurotic endurance athlete! You really went above and beyond the call of duty, I cannot imagine how tedious it must be to wade through a thousand words of over-alliterative prose over-analyzing the disagreeable aspects of my own athletic pursuits.

"I forgive you, if you throw the frisbee"

“I forgive you, if you throw the frisbee”

Despite all of the strum und drang, Saturday’s race was a SMASHING success. I did not drown on the swim. There were no sasquatch attacks to speak of during the bike. My legs felt great during the run. I even ended up placing third in my age-group. I had a great time start-to finish. I’m sad that it took me almost all summer to finally jump back on the triathlon train: I’m already obsessively checking gametiime.com to try and find a few more local events before the end of the season and return of the rain.

Soooo many events...SUCH a small stipend

Soooo many events…SUCH a small stipend

Now that we’ve accepted and acknowledged that Sam is totally off-his-rocker, let’s recap this race!

As if there was ever any doubt

As if there was ever any doubt

The Deuces Wild Sprint Triathlon is put on by Joint Base Lewis McChord, an operational Army and Air Force installation one hour south of Seattle. The start was scheduled for 9:00 am so I had plenty of time to enjoy my traditional pre-race hunk-a-hunk of burning carbs breakfast.

Viva las Oatmeal doesn't quite have the same ring to it

Viva las Oatmeal doesn’t quite have the same ring to it

I topped off my bike’s tires with air, loaded up my trusty Subaru, and set off southward for a morning of multi-sport.

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Still no end caps…I am the WORST triathlete, I swear.

When I arrived at the base, I was politely, yet firmly, informed that I would need a day-pass to gain entry. Apparently there are rules and regulations about exactly who is allowed to access our nation’s fully-functioning military facilities.

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They didn’t turn the cannons on me, but there were men with guns

Seeing the soldiers in fatigues made me nervous. I am deeply patriotic, however I also happen to be a card-carrying, birkentock-wearing, politically-liberal, mostly-plant-based, mustachioed, freak-a-zoid on wheels. Could “excessive weirdness” get me sent to Guantanamo? How could I make it clear to the fine men and women serving our country on the base that I support THEM wholeheartedly, even if I have trouble supporting some of their organizations actions abroad? What would a triathlon on a military base be LIKE? Are they going to make me get a haircut?

Like the biblical Samson, my hair is the source of my strength

Like the biblical Samson, my hair is the source of my strength

Luckily, getting a guest-pass was a piece of cake. The main office was organized and efficient. Everyone I interacted with could not have been more courteous, or helpful. My experience at the front gate accurately foreshadowed my entire race experience; it turns out races on military bases are extremely efficient, well organized, and they are staffed by courteous people.

Shocker.

Shocker.

I easily located the starting line, and started setting up my transition.

IMG_4717Setting up the transition area always calms me down. The mindless task of laying out all of my gear just-so occupies my thoughts away from any nervousness. Seeing all of my gear nicely arranged and organized gives the obsessive-compulsive part of my brain that drives my endurance pursuits a particularly pleasing itch. As I unpack for each event I take a chance to visualize and strategize how I can run my best race.

OK...shoes? Check. Helmet? Check. Fuel? Check.

OK…shoes? Check. Helmet? Check. Fuel? Check.

Eventually I reached the point where I could not possibly re-locate my shoes, Gus, and towel into any configuration that I hadn’t come up with three times before.  I decided to take a look at the swim course. Seeing the route in person always makes the swim feel less overwhelming and intimidating.

Just out to the buoy and back? That's not so bad at all!

Just out to the buoy and back? That’s not so bad at all!

I did a quick dynamic stretching warm up (I like Matt Fitzgerald’s), pulled on my wetsuit, and headed over to hear the pre-race briefing. The pre-race briefing started EXACTLY at 8:45. The race director informed us that the courses had been measured and double-checked for distance accuracy. The race director gave us one warning about the bike course: while the volunteers had cleared the majority of visible rocks from the roads, we should keep an eye out for small pebbles that escaped their sweeping…

Really.

Look out for rocks!

Look out for rocks! Not that there were any

Did I mention how efficient, and organized this race was? These military triathletes do NOT mess around.

Unlike this age-grouper, who spends a good 90% of his day messing around...and taking selfies

Unlike this age-grouper, who spends a good 90% of his day messing around…and taking selfies

After the briefing we had five minutes before the start of the swim. I took a few strokes out and back, then got into position with the rest of the wet-suited warriors.

This is a photo from the Beaver Lake Triathlon 2013...no one was in their underwear at this race

This is a photo from the Beaver Lake Triathlon 2013…no one was in their underwear at this race

The swim was a mass start. I mentioned on Friday that I find the swim to be the most mentally challenging aspect of triathlons. Open water swimming scares me: under the water is dark, you’re surrounded by a frothing flailing mass of human bodies kicking, and it’s difficult to determine if you are swimming in the correct direction. I stayed with the majority of the pack as we rounded the first buoy. I appreciated that I could use the motion of the pack to chart my course, I pretended to be a fish in a school instead of stressing out about whether I was headed in the right direction. Midway to the second buoy, a guy swam right on top of me and I got an elbow to the nose. At that point I decided I was over playing anchovy, and veered for calmer waters at the outside of the pack. Swimming at the periphery was more relaxing, but I definitely payed the price. I found my flow just after I rounded the second buoy, and decided to give my swim a little stronger effort. I felt like Namor the sub-mariner for a few glorious moments util, I peeked my head out of the water to sight and realized I had veered WAY off course. I changed directions to undo my errant ZAG, where I clearly should have ZIGged. The end of the swim was a breeze. Before I knew it, I was up on the beach and into transition one.

I doubt that Namor would veer as wildly off-course as I did, though.

I doubt that Namor would veer as wildly off-course as I did, though.

I stripped off my wetsuit, velcroed on my bike shoes, buckled my helmet and mounted my trusty steed. I was SO proud of myself for being speed-demon Sam in the transition area, until I glanced at the clock and realized four minutes had elapsed.

Time is relative...dude.

Time is relative…dude.

I shook off my chagrin and started spinning. The very first thought through my brain as I got onto the bike course was: “Oh yeah, you really LIKE triathlons.” The bike course itself was flat as a pancake, smooth as glass (I didn’t see a SINGLE errant pebble), and entirely devoid of traffic. I got into my masher gear and started grinding away, quickly overtaking quite a few people within the first three miles. I was mostly focusing on the cyclists in front of me throughout the ride, but at one point I looked up and noticed we were riding alongside an artillery practice field complete with tanks and anti-aircraft guns.

No I didn't dismount and play at being a plane midway through the race...but I was tempted

No I didn’t dismount and play at being a plane midway through the race…but I was tempted

Before I knew it I was back in T1, slamming a margarita flavored shot block down my gullet, and tying up the laces on my mizunos.

Have you tried the margarita flavor? They are SO good. They have extra salt!

Have you tried the margarita flavor? They are SO good. They have extra salt!

Which mizunos?

Which mizunos?

My run felt great. I passed a few more people. I definitely had the initial jelly-legs feeling, but I was so jazzed up from the bike ride that I was able to find my flow pretty quickly. The run for a sprint is so short I don’t have time to play mind games, sing songs, or repeat mantras. I told myself: “Suck it up, sugar. This race is almost over, time to slide it in to the finish.”

All told, my time was 1:21:22: enough to earn me 3rd in my age-group. I was disappointed to notice that the guy who came in second beat me by one minute and seven seconds. One minute and seven seconds is basically six decades in the world of endurance sports, but looking at both of our splits it is clear that my extra minute did not come from the bike, or the run. Does this mean that I have to start practicing my transitions?

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Do I have to start taking these things seriously now? Crap.

All in all I had a great race. I always love competing, and getting a little positive reinforcement with a cheesy bronze medal was the cherry on top of the sweaty Sunday. I needed the reminder that I am capable of facing my fears. The scary stories I tell myself aren’t nearly so frightening under the bright endorphin-filled daylight.

I hope everybody had a WONDERFUL weekend! Did anyone else race? Got any PRs or juicy stories to share?

 

 

 

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