Friday, May 29, 2015

Run Recap - Emerald Bay Trail Run 2014

An Invitation

Back in late August of 2014, my friend Sabrina invited me to do a trail race up at Tahoe with her. I consider myself a runner, although I hadn't been running much through the summer, so I thought, "Sure, sounds fun!"

A little history...

For those of you who don't know me, I've been a runner since sometime in middle school, when I started running with my mom and her friend Cindi a couple times a week, and with my mom's running group most Saturdays. The runs with Cindi were usually slow and pretty short. I can remember lots of times when we would run to a specific tree and then walk a lot of the rest of our 3.5 mile loop. But I liked running, and I liked chatting with my mom and Cindi while we were out.

The Saturday morning runs with the running group were a bit longer, usually around 6 miles, and also pretty slow, but I really enjoyed running with the group, even if it meant I had to get up early on the weekend. Afterwards we would always head to my favorite coffee shop, Tyler Street Coffee House (sadly, out of business now) to chat with the running group ladies. Sometimes my mom would have to drag me out of bed to get up for the runs, but the temptation of Tyler Street was a pretty good motivator. I would usually order a bear claw and a hot chocolate, making sure to get my sugar fix for the day!

In high school, I played one year of JV Soccer, then switched to the Cross Country team, which was where I really found a home. I loved the running and the people, and I still feel a rush of excitement every time I see someone in a racing singlet kicking into the finish of a 5K. I was never fast (I was usually the one of the slowest on the team, and my fastest 5K time was somewhere around 27 minutes), but I have so many good memories of the runs we did.

I continued running semi-regularly through college and grad school, usually getting in 2 or 3 short runs per week. I did a couple of 5Ks and 10Ks, but didn't race much otherwise. When I moved to Carson City, I kept running, but the elevation difference from sea level was a total shock to my system, and I didn't run more than a about 5 miles for about a year. Carson City is only at about 4,500 ft, so I was amazed at how  much it affected me. But getting enough oxygen was definitely a challenge. The trails are also really different here--often consisting of sharp, jagged rocks, or sandy, loose soil. Not at all like the soft, wooded trails in the Pacific Northwest! But I joined a local running group and found some trails and road routes to run.

Then came summer...Summer in Nevada is hot and dry. Usually I liked it, but running in the heat at elevation was even more of a challenge. So for most of last summer I barely ran at all. I would run a couple miles on pretty flat courses, or try to get out for the occasional 6 miler, but mostly I just focused on CrossFit, which is inside a gym most of the time. Although the gym doesn't have air conditioning, it is shaded and has plenty of fans to keep a breeze going.

Emerald Bay Trail Run

Anyways, back to the run at Tahoe. The race was the Emerald Bay Trail Run in mid-September. I signed up and did a few training runs with the Carson Area Runners running group, but I figured I was in good enough shape from CrossFit to get through the run with only a few weeks of training. I'm also not very competitive, so I just wanted to do it for fun anyways. Sabrina and I met up with another friend the morning of the run, and headed up to the lake.

The day was perfect--pure blue sky, warm but not hot, and I was excited to run! The race started at the bottom of a pretty big hill, then joined up with the Rubicon Trail for a 7.5 mile course. The trail is at about 6500 ft elevation, and I definitely felt it! Luckily it is mostly pretty flat, with some rolling ups and downs and a few steeper climbs. The scenery along the course was breathtaking. Definitely one of the most scenic runs I have ever done. The race finished on the beach at D.L. Bliss State Park, and from the finish archway, you can run straight into Lake Tahoe. What an awesome way to end a run! Overall, it was a great run, with cheerful, helpful volunteers and staff, good support, and a fantastic course. It is definitely on my list for next year!

Going to the Birds

My apartment is becoming a birdhouse, it seems! I've had a couple nests outside my bedroom window for most of the spring, and every morning I wake up to chirping. This is usually very pleasant--bird noises are a nice and gentle way to wake up. But sometimes it can actually be a bit confusing, because my alarm sound is also birds chirping, and sometimes I'm not sure if the chirps I hear are real birds or just the alarm!
One of the bird nests outside my bedroom window

This week, the bird takeover got even more serious.On Monday, I came home from work to find a pair of ducks acting like they wanted to make a nest under the tree by my front door!
Ducks nesting?!?
They pretty much just sat there and looked at me, until I finally decided I had to move them away so that Jasper wouldn't scare them to death when I brought him outside. Ducks are one of Jasper's favorite things to chase, although he doesn't discriminate too much between ducks, squirrels, cats, mice, rats, chickens, quail, rabbits, lizards, and even flies.

They looked like a happy couple. I haven't seen them come back, so I guess they must have found a better spot to call home. But the chirping birds are still keeping me company in the morning!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I'm Not Doing My Gym's Paleo Challenge

I am a CrossFitter. My CrossFit gym is starting a paleo challenge on Monday. They’re encouraging 100% participation from members. And I’m not doing it.

The reason isn’t because I don’t agree with the paleo diet. Although I don’t follow a strict paleo diet, I do use some principles from it, including focusing on lean proteins and vegetables and reducing refined carbohydrates. I think the paleo diet and other similar programs are great guides for healthy eating.

No, the paleo diet is fine.

The reason is the way to challenge is judged. According to the gym owners, this will be an “old school CrossFit paleo challenge,” with the winner selected by the other competitors based solely on “before” and “after” pictures. The goal of the challenge is to “look good naked.”

While it’s nice to look good naked, I think this is completely the wrong focus for the challenge.

I believe in loving your body. In pushing yourself to be stronger, fitter, and healthier. And I believe in doing what you need do to be a balanced and happy person. The challenge’s focus on outward appearance misses the point of healthy eating, which is to be healthier. To fuel your body for the things you want to do. To provide the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that you need to live a productive life. Life is about way more than how you look naked. Some of the most beautiful people in the gym probably wouldn’t look like models if you took their clothes off, even after 45 days of the paleo challenge. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t focusing on health goals that can’t be seen from the outside. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t lost weight or gained muscle. It doesn’t mean that they’re not wonderful people who are dedicated to CrossFit, their jobs, their families, their communities. There are so many more reasons to eat healthy than just the way you look.

Further, I worry that the focus on outward appearance might be detrimental to the goal of building people who are strong in mind and strong in body. I struggle with perfectionism. In our society, it is so easy to find images of “perfect” bodies to compare ourselves to. It is so easy to find rules for how you “should” eat and train. A few weeks ago, I found myself searching Pinterest for “CrossFit bodies” to see what CrossFitters are “supposed” to look like. Looking at the pictures, I knew I didn’t have that type of body, and I felt myself starting down the perfectionism spiral of self-judgment. I started thinking of all the training I wasn’t doing and all the “bad foods” I was eating. But then I remembered that my body is not the same as the body of any CrossFitter on Pinterest. It is my unique body that I was given. It does amazing things, like carrying me up mountains, deadlifting more than my body weight, and allowing me to run computer models and build awesome spreadsheets. My body also looks pretty good in the mirror, at least sometimes.

Awhile ago someone posted a question in the gym’s Facebook group about how to set goals. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about what my diet and exercise goals actually are. I sort of have long-term goals, like maybe someday running a marathon, and keeping active and healthy for as long as possible. But I don’t really set short-term diet and exercise goals. I’ve tried diets and exercise plans in the past, but I usually don’t last more than a week or two before something happens to upset the plan: I’m at a work meeting and the catered lunch isn’t “on the diet” but I forgot to pack any other food for the day. Or I oversleep and miss one of my workouts. Life gets in the way. But it is actually life that is the point. We only have each day to live, and I don’t want to spend my days worrying about whether I am following a plan perfectly so that I can have a perfect body. Instead, I want to focus on what I can do to be a better person all around right now. So what my short-term goal really comes down to is this: what do I need to do right now to be a healthy and happy person. Is it going for a run, going to gym, eating an apple, going to church, taking a nap, eating ice cream, calling a friend, working on a big project for work, or doing any of the other things I could choose to do? I try to ask myself this when I am feeling uncertain about what to do. Looking back, sometimes I make the wrong choice, but at least I am conscious of making the decision and I learn something for next time. And most of the time, I can figure out what it is that my mind, body, and soul need

So I’m not doing the paleo challenge. I’m not going to compare myself to other gym members in the hope that I will be judged to be “the best.” I know I don’t have a perfect body, and most of the time I am ok with that. I won't judge you if you choose to participate, because I don't know what your goals are or what you need right now. But I'm going to keep trying to figure out what I need, and right now I know I don't need to stress myself out about following the paleo plan to the letter and I don't need to compare  my body to others. Instead I’m going to keep trying to eat healthy foods, keep challenging myself in the gym, and keep doing whatever else it takes to be the best version of me that I can right at this moment.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Soup

Tonight after work I was craving Thai food. Since Thai food can be pretty hard to make at home, I almost called up the local Thai restaurant to order some takeout. But then I remembered that I had some coconut milk and curry paste in the cupboard. I'd made Tom Ka Gai soup from Cuisine at Home and Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup from Cooking Light before, but I decided to modify those recipes a bit to make a version of my own. The result was absolutely delicious! Definitely equal in deliciousness to Tom Ka soup or red curry from a Thai restaurant! Its an easy, quick recipe to throw together and makes a perfect full meal. If you have cooked chicken already or want to buy a rotisserie chicken, it would be even quicker! You can also pretty much always keep all of the ingredients on hand to make when you haven't been to the grocery store in awhile.

Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Soup
Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Soup
Makes 4 servings; Active: 30 minutes, Total: 1 hour, 30 minutes

For the chicken:
Cooking spray
2 chicken breasts (about 16-20 oz total)
1 Tbs Sriracha
2 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs Thai red curry paste (cheaper if you buy it at an Asian grocery store!)
Salt to taste

For the soup:
1 Tbs coconut oil

4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 inch piece ginger root, minced
2 Tbs lemongrass paste (find it in a tube in the produce section near the herbs)
6 tsp sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
1 Tbs Thai red curry paste 
6-8 cups frozen stir fry vegetables (mine had snow peas, peppers, onions, broccoli, green beans, baby corn, water chestnuts, and mushrooms in the mix)

2 13.5 oz cans lite coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbs fish sauce
Diced chicken

For the chicken, spray a glass dish with cooking spray. 

Place chicken in pan and pour fish sauce over it, then rub with sriracha and curry paste and sprinkle with salt. 

Roast at 350 F for 1 hour, or until juices run clear and chicken is cooked through. Dice chicken and set aside.

For the soup, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. 

Add garlic, ginger, lemongrass paste, sambal oelek, curry paste, and frozen stir fry vegetables. Stir fry for about 3 minutes. 

Add coconut milk, broth, fish sauce, and chicken. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, until vegetables are heated.
Nutrition Information from My Fitness Pal

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Recipe Addiction

I might have too many recipes.

I've always loved food, so it is pretty natural that I would be a recipe collector. Back in the mid 1990s my mom subscribed to Cuisine magazine, and every month I would read it from cover to cover, devouring the pictures of food and the descriptions of cooking techniques. I would occasionally take on a cooking project, and in one the most memorable, I used probably every square inch of space in the kitchen. One year for Christmas, my mom bought me the annual volumes of the magazines bound together.

I started collecting recipes around 2007 when I moved out of the college dorms and into an apartment for the first time. The summer before the move, I copied a few of my mom's recipes and stuck them in a binder to take with me. Over the next couple years, I collected a few more, and tucked them into the binder.

But it was in 2009 that the obsession really started. First I subscribed to the Cuisine at Home eRecipes email list and printed out a few that I thought looked good. Then my aunt gave me a stack of Food and Wine magazines, and I tore through them, clipping out recipes to try. When I went to grad school, I eventually got my own subscriptions to Food and Wine and Cooking Light, and would tear out one or two recipes every month.

My reading material at the moment. Four food magazines, plus a Nordstrom catalog and Glamour magazine.
Now though, it has gotten a little extreme. I follow food boards on pinterest and then print out the recipes to make later. I tear out at least 5-10 recipes each month from my magazine subscriptions, and usually find a few more from friends, online, the Cuisine email list, or the free food magazine published by the grocery store. I almost always have a stack of recipes sitting on my coffee table waiting to be filed. My binder from 2007 has multiplied: I recently had to expand from three to four binders because I couldn't open the rings anymore without pages falling out.

Recipes waiting to be filed.
 Luckly I have a pretty good organizational system. All my recipes are kept in plastic sheet protectors. They are organized by category (poultry, beef, sides, breakfast, fruit desserts, etc). THree of the binders are for recipes I haven't tried. After I make a recipe, it either goes in the trash and the sheet protector gets reused, or it goes in the bigger white binder of "keepers" that I plan to make again someday. (However, except for some childhood favorites, I can't rememeber the last time I made a recipe two times...).

Three of my four recipe binders, plus the Cuisine at Home annual volumes.
All of these recipes are pretty useful, though! Whenever I'm not sure what to make for dinner, I flip through the binders and pick something that looks good. If I'm going to a potluck, chances are I already have a recipe for something good to bring. It also fuels my creativity, allowing me to try lots of new techniques and flavors. Sometimes the results aren't so delicious, but in those cases, I just have to work harder to make the leftovers taste good.

So maybe I have a lot of recipes, but I'm definitely not going to stop collecting.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beach Day at Tahoe

The weather has been HOT the last few days, so today I headed up the hill to Lake Tahoe to cool off. I left Carson around 10:20 and got to Zephyr Cove about half an hour later. There were cars parked on both sides of the street, but the parking lot ($8) still had plenty of spots, and the beach wasn't too crowded either. The beach was beautiful tan sand, and the water was clear blue. There were mountains in the distance, but I almost felt like I was at the ocean. I feel so lucky to live so close to a place like this!

The day was wonderful and very relaxing. I picked a spot on the beach near some bushes and settled down with a book (Under the Dome, Stephen King). I spent most of the day reading and taking breaks to dip into the water. The water was cold, but very blue and it had that wonderful lake water texture. The first few times I only made it about halfway in before getting cold, but by the end of the day I was swimming around and the water felt fantastic.

The only downside of the day was the sunburn I got on the backs of my thighs...All day I kept reapplying sunscreen, but I realized when I got home and looked in the mirror that I forgot to put more on that one part of my body. Now it is bright red and quite painful. Probably the worst sunburn I've had since I was little. Hopefully it won't hurt too much at work tomorrow!

Rocky Mountain High

Found this post from a few weeks ago that I never got around to publishing 

June 12, 2013
This week I am visiting Boulder, Colorado to attend a short training course for work. I arrived Tuesday night to 100 degree heat, but I hardly noticed, which is a little funny since I used to hate being hot. But it seems that i have become a heat lover.I guess its a good thing, since I live in the desert now!

My rental car is a dark blue Chevy Camaro, which was a fun surprise. The rental company was one I had never heard of, so I was expecting something very basic. When the agent handed over the keys (which he had to retrieve from "the government key area"), he smiled and said I had a nice ride. He didn't say it sarcastically, but I still wasn't sure what he meant.I figured it our right away when I walked out to the lot and saw the car in spot 8A.

On Tuesday night, a colleague invited me to a barbecue at his house. There was a small and somewhat random group of people there, and we relaxed in his tree-shaded back are chatting, drinking beer, and eating grilled pork and kale salad. Kale salad was a revelation for me. I normally don't like kale, because it is so tough and bitter. But wow, kale salad with raspberry vinnagrette is delicious! 

On Wednesday evening after class I took a drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. As I left Boulder, I just kept smiling at all the beauty around me. Mountains and hills and pine trees. Even with a haze of wildfire smoke it was incredible. And it just kept going. The drive from Boulder to Estes Park ,where the park entrance is, took about an hour. I drove into the park and got up to over 11000 feet elevation on the road. 

On Thursday after class I wandered around the shops in downtown Boulder. The Pearl Street area has a ton of cool stores and restaurants. I could have spent an entire day shopping there. I had good pizza at a local pizza place, then went back to the hotel for a relaxing evening of reading.