November 30, 2014

2 Weeks

Last week was a catch-up week at home, and then we headed out, yet again, this time to London, for Thanksgiving with a friend's family and a wedding.

Before we headed out, I had a light running week (approx 10 miles), but multiple gym workouts (up to 3X10 pushups), and I actually made it to the local track workout (holy soreness Batman!) and the yoga studio.

I pushed my "long" run from last week to Monday and ran a very slow 8 miles. And then we got on the plane...

Total miles run and workouts in England?  0.

I haven't gone this long without a proper workout in a very long time (6 days!).  We were busy with traveling, packing, unpacking, cooking, visiting, wedding festivities, and a bit of sight-seeing.  The gym and/or a run just never made it into the todo list.  It's interesting, actually.  When we're working and traveling, I find it very easy to fit in workouts.  It is a priority that ranks fairly highly and I make it happen.  But, when actually traveling for social/fun reasons, the priority drops severely.

So, I have a big pile of clean workout clothes to unpack.

A few highlights from this trip:

-the pub lunch where we ordered haloumi and it came fried like fish & chips

Old Bull and Bush by Hampstead Heath
 -watching the sunset from the London Eye

On the walk over. From the pedestrian bridge across the Thames

 -Thanksgiving with friends in a foreign country

-The wedding

And now, I'm looking forward to being home for several weeks, eating light and increasing my mileage while continuing to hit the gym, track workouts, and the yoga studio.

November 17, 2014

Running/Fitness Update

Now that I'm home, I finally had some time to look at the calendar and figure out some reasonable running and fitness goals for the next few months.

First, I need to focus on minimizing my body frame.  Miraculously, despite eating all the foods in Europe, I came home at exactly the same mass I was when I left.  I attribute this to lots of walking, easy cardio in a gym whenever I could fit it in, good coffee (I bought a Nespresso machine within 2 days of our return), and reasonable portion sizes (for the most part).  So, I'm going to try to replicate those conditions at home, while also doing my best to increase the workouts and prepare healthier lighter fare when I can cook.  

Since the New York marathon, due to running fatigue and travel, my fitness efforts have been mainly in gyms.  It's been nice to mix it up.  In addition to being able to read while doing moderate cardio on machines, I've been doing much more core work, both strength and stretching.  In my first workout back in the gym in a long time, I included 3 sets of 6 pushups and I've been bumping it up each time.  Most recently, I did 3 sets of 9.  So, I think 3X15 pushups is a good goal for the end of the year.

Last week, I fit in 19.1 miles walking and running, plus another 90 minutes of easy cardio while reading on gym machines, and another hour or so of core.  There were really only 2 real "workouts" as far as running was concerned -- I did 6 miles with the running club on Sunday chatting at a 10:51 AVG pace, which counts as my long run ; and I did 5X400 @ 8:00/mile pace on the treadmill with walking recovery on one of my gym workout days -- this one doesn't look like much but I was actually very proud of it, as it was after 30 minutes on the recumbant bike, and before another 30 minutes of core strength and stretching, so it made for a very solid workout overall.

My current race calendar and goals are very simple:

December 13 -- Summit Rock Half Marathon -- have a solid trail run, no time goals, but want to push myself.

January 11 -- San Francisco Hot Chocolate Run -- easy run to the finish to cheer on folks from my local running club who are racing. (I've got social plans the night before that are unlikely to finish before midnight, so it just didn't make sense for me to pay to do this one.)

February 1 -- SF Kaiser Half Marathon -- race

March 22 -- Oakland Half Marathon -- maybe?

April 26 -- San Luis Obispo Half Marathon -- not sure yet.  Will almost certainly do this one, but it's too far out to set specific goals yet.

My other fitness goals are relatively simple as well.

I want to try to get back into the habit of going to Wednesday track day when I'm home -- their workouts didn't fit with my marathon training (which didn't have much speed work at all), and I don't have much of anything in terms of speed right now.  I'd like to change that.  I think I'd also like to find one or more local 10Ks or 5Ks for early 2014.  

I want to continue gym workouts on at least one, and hopefully 2 days per week to give me the opportunity to reward myself with books to stay motivated and to work on my core.

Speaking of core, I want to get back into the yoga studio, with a goal of 1 session per week.

And, then, after fitting in track, gym, and yoga, on the other days each week, I'd like to fit in some easy runs and a long run.

It sounds like many of the bay area running peeps are gearing up for longer races in the spring and early summer.  So I think I may also try to take advantage of that, and just look to join folks on training runs and/or as a pacer/crew on super long runs.

Switzerland, Belgium, and Home

After Paris, we headed to Lausanne to visit friends.

Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva)

We arrived after a morning of train chaos (see previous post).  The weather was unseasonably clear -- you could see the entire lake and the Alps on the other side in France. We walked along the lake and caught up with our friends.  Unfortunately, I forgot my phone, so I didn't get any pictures until the next day when the weather had returned to its typical overcast state.

After the walk, we were treated to a delicious dinner of fondue at their newly re-constructed/renovated home -- how had I forgotten how amazing fondue is?  I declared that I knew what I was asking for from Santa and I stand by my statement.  Mark my words, there will be a Swiss-style fondue set arriving in our household in the next few months.

During all of this and for the rest of our visit, our friends' children (former American residents) talked non-stop, thrilled to practice their English.  The end result is that I learned way more about Swiss history, culture, and the school system than I otherwise would have, and it was very interesting.

My AM run on Sunday and Monday AM along the lake -- pas mal du tout.
I had tried to run in Paris in the Bois de Boulogne, but after 0.5 miles it was clear that I had not fully recovered from the marathon, so I had to stop and hobble back to the hotel for a workout in the gym.  Just before we'd left, I'd managed a 15-minute run on the treadmill, so I knew I could run if the opportunity arose.

Steps up to the Cathedral de Lausanne.
And, so, I did 3-4 miles easy on the gorgeous running path along Lake Geneva both Sunday and Monday before attacking the rest of my days.  So wonderful! 

Cathedral de Lausane -- the reformation here was Calvinist.
Sunday, after the run, we did a few hours of work at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and then we had a delicious lunch of squash bisque with sauteed chanterelles as garnish.  Brilliant! (Perhaps one of my favorite things about this trip was being reminded of so many wonderful foods I can cook in our new kitchen -- this recipe is going into the rotation soon.)

View from the grounds of the Cathedral.  Alps across the lake in the distance.
After lunch, we headed out to do some local sight-seeing.  It's very cool that a random town where your friends live can have so many historical sights to enjoy. 

Interior of the Cathedral.
We took the metro at one point and were amused to see the apologetic signs announcing any delay whatsoever (e.g. 30 seconds gets an apology -- so Swiss!).

Stained Glass in the Cathedral de Lausanne.
Monday AM, it was time to go.  We walked 5 minutes uphill with our luggage to the train station, and then took trains and trams to Geneva, enjoying a day of Raclette, cured meats, and other Swiss delicacies before a tour of the LHC at CERN, followed by more delicious fondue, of course. 

LHC.  Thank goodness it was off for upgrades.  Otherwise, our tour would have been infinitely lamer (but still cool).
Cheese fondue and broth fondue.  Heaven.

The Belgium visit was cut short due to the extra day in Geneva for Cern, so we arrived for our one day in Brussels on a public holiday (which they take a bit more seriously in Europe).  This meant the Magritte Museum was closed. Turns out, US Veteran's day exists on 11/11 for a reason, and there are a few other western European countries who also think this is a good day to celebrate -- major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

We made the best of it, walking around the Grand Place, the Park, and the museum district, enjoying a heavy Belgian lunch of Steak Frites and dinner of Moules Frites.  Of course, along with hundreds of others, we visited the Manekin Pis, but unfortunately, he was not in costume (most likely due to the holiday).

Manekin Pis.  Proof.  We were in Brussels.
Wednesday, we flew home.  Thursday and Friday were jet-lagged work days as we slowly settled back into our home and time-zone.  The weekend was full of socializing and chores and normal things we hadn't done in ages -- E went to a rocket launch; I went to the gym on Friday and Saturday and on Sunday I joined the 6-mile run with my local running club.

Sunday evening, I made the first *real* meal in our new kitchen.  F,P&R came over and we talked and sipped drinks while I finished preparing farfalle with sausage and onions in homemade roasted tomato sauce (canning is such a blessing!) and a side of sauteed spinach in garlic.

Simple food.  Good company.  Some wine and beer and great conversation.  Yup -- The kitchen is wonderful.  People can sit on stools and chat over the bar while I cook.  Children can run in and out of the kitchen and living room and still be under adult supervision.  Essentially it is much more social and welcoming.

It is great to be home. 

November 11, 2014

France, A Love Story in Food (now with more travel chaos!)

View from our hotel -- Terrible room, but great view.
I've stayed in France many times, mainly with friends, but once living in my own apartment as a French government employee for the entire summer. This time, however, I was like a normal business traveler, working all day in English from my hotel and eating out for every meal.  Not my ideal way to visit a country whose culture and language I LOVE.  But I still went and did my best to enjoy it...

Okay, it wasn't all work. This was our hotel's 34th floor bar view. It didn't suck.
Despite this, one of the things I could make time for was a checklist of the French Foods I wanted to enjoy.  So, most days, I took myself out for a solo lunch at a local brasserie and also tried to influence the dinner group to check one or more boxes on my food list as well.
Nighttime view -- the hotel room was small, old, and lame -- peeling paint, non-functional tub, but damn, what a view!
Soupe a L'ognion -- check. (Yes, this was my first choice. Lunch.  Paris.  Smokers in my outdoor/indoor glass cabin.  What can I say?  It was iconic and I love me some French Onion Soup. Also, perhaps I just love butter, but either way, it was delicious.)
Iconic.  Place de la Bastille -- unexpected  bonus of lunch with my childhood French pen-pal.

Moules Frites -- check. (Across the street from the hotel, a chain, and deliciously so, and from Belgium, whose people, supposedly, are responsible for both the moules in the preparation we enjoyed and the frites, so it was wonderful.) 

Bistek tartare – check.

Crepes -- check.  We went to the  closest creperie to our hotel, just off the Champs Elysees, not too far from the Franklin Roosevelt metro station.  I assumed that if a creperie could stay open in Paris it wouldn’t be bad.  And my assumption was correct.  Normally, I opt out of the dessert crepe, but E convinced me we needed one.  He was right.  The savory buckwheat crepes were delicious (mmm… mushrooms, emmenthal, et jambon).  But the Nutella caramel white wheat crepe was sublime.  The quintessential dessert.

You know you are jealous!

The third day’s bistro lunch was with a friend and I enjoyed choucroute de la mer avec la sauce beurre blanc (This was an adventure – something I’d never had before, I love me some Sauerkraut, but the French version at this restaurant with fish around it in a packed tube-like preparation with potatoes and rich sauce was entirely too much food, but delicious, of course.) (Café Europeen)

Love locks.  Going strong on the passarelles of Paris.

Nightitme Seine view.
Musee D'Orsay.
The Fourth day’s surprise lunch was simply opportunistic -- to avoid the long lines at the metro for the folks heading out for their weekend holidays, E & I went to a local fancy place (Le Congres).  La Degustation de fruit du mer had the expected oysters and prawns, but it also included a couple of surprises I’d never had before including *raw* mussels (les moules espagnoles) and les bulots.  I had to look “Bulots” up, as I’d never had them before, ever, and I didn’t know the English word either – so, in case you were wondering, “Whelks” are nautilus shells with delicious meat inside, and apparently this is the British term for cooked seasnails (not to be confused with landsnails/escargots).  Did I mention they were delicious? (Also, "Bulots" should not be confused with "Boulot" or job.  Good luck with the pronunciation differentiation on that one...)

On the Fourth night in Paris, E and I went out and I ordered encornets a la provencale. (Mmmmm…. Delicious.  New to me.  Never had squid in this style or preparation before.  Absolutely delicious.) (Restaurant Georges.)

The next AM, despite our best efforts, we left France in a typical international travel fiasco.  We arrived at Gare du Lyon 1 hour before our TGV.  We’d purchased tickets online, however, the automatic ticket machines wouldn’t recognize our US credit cards to print our tickets.  So, I went to information, explained the problem, was sent to the guichet, which took a while to find, finally arrived, took a number to wait to be helped for today’s travel issues (not to be confused with *future* day’s travel issues, a much shorter, faster line, for future reference), and learned that there were 34 people in front of me.

Place de la Concorde
I went back to where E was with the luggage, telling him, “Well, it looks like there are 37 minutes until our train departs and 34 people to be helped – this should be exciting.”  I was then treated to a very relaxed set of civil servants calling people to their desks by number and closing and opening their desks on 15 minute intervals as they alternated breaks.  Finally, as the number before mine appeared to be a no-show, I jumped up to the counter and explained my situation to the woman, correctly assessing from observing the previous folks in line that French would be faster even though I may not have all the necessary vocabulary. 

First, our reservations were a bit complicated to find (of course) because we hadn’t bought directly through the French site, but rather through an EU-wide site.  Then, when she found them, she asked, “Vous-etes bien sur que vous avez payez?  Je ne vois rien de charges.” (Essentially – I don’t see any charges on your credit card.  You don’t have *real* tickets!)   Yikes, I had stepped up to the desk with 6 minutes to spare, assuming all I needed to do was show my confirmation, and get the tickets.  Somehow, after I assured her that we had indeed been charged, she found my ticket and was getting ready to dismiss me with “Allez, tu dois faire le courir de ta vie” (Go, you must run for your life!) when I explained that I also needed E’s ticket.  She found it, printed it, and yelled at the people in front of the door to get out of my way, shouting at me as I left “Allez – VITE! VITE! Vous ne compostez pas, allez juste a la voie C et prennez la premiere voiture.” 

So, that’s what we did.  I ran frenetically zig-zagging and obviously-not-French through the crowds, found E, grabbed one of the bags, shouted at him – “Track C, First car!” and we ran.  We arrived with 30 seconds to spare.  The attendant asked as we arrived – “Lausanne?” “Oui!” I breathlessly confirmed.  “Allez alors!  Montez dans!”  Once we were on the stairs, safely inside the first class car, the conductor asked, “Which coach?”  Laughing, I admitted that I didn’t actually know.  We opened the tickets, confirmed that we had a nice long walk through the train and finally made our way to our 2nd class seats.
L'Obelisque de la Place de la Concorde.

Not yet done with the international ridiculousness, after we’d nicely kicked the guy who’d decided to squat in our seats out of the way, I found my way to the bar car to purchase lunches for E&me, since we hadn’t had time to do that in the station.  After our food was prepared and ready to go, the credit card system stopped working and I had to explain that all I had was 15 Euros and a bunch of American money.  The suite attendant refused to accept my apologies and sent me back to our seats with 26 EU worth of lunch and beer in exchange for my 15 Euros and the promise that I’d bring any and all change I could find.  I found less than 2 Euros in my jacket pocket and when I brought it back to him, apologizing yet again, he said, “Vous devez dejeuner.  Ce n’est pas votre faute que la machine ne marche pas. Enjoyez!”  (You have to eat lunch!  It’s not your fault the machine isn’t working.  Enjoy!)

Vivez la France!

November 7, 2014

New York Marathon

The New York Marathon was the most fun marathon I’ve ever run.

View from the bar at the top of our Times Square Hotel.
It’s only the second time I’ve run a marathon with a friend, and, frankly, after this time, I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to the solo clock-goal slog.  No matter how fast you run it (if you are me) a marathon is going to be a long time to be on your feet, and having a companion you can chat with, catch up with (because when else do I get 4+ hours with a married friend who has a toddler?), and enjoy the sites and experience with is so enjoyable.

The night before -- our throwaway over-clothes from H&M clearance and Walgreens

Also, we were at an iconic course, and just there to finish.  Sure, we wanted to get off our feet as soon as was reasonable given our other goals of not injuring ourselves, enjoying the day, taking photos, etc., but there was absolutely no pressure.

It was *cold* at the start.  Thank goodness Dunkin Donuts was giving away hats.
This translated to compete and utter fun.  For a while now, I've been going back and forth on whether I actually enjoy training for and completing marathons.  I think the take-home after NYC is that I may never *race* a marathon again.  The enjoyment I got out of completing this monumental task with a friend, comfortably, and enjoying the beauty and diversity of the sites was *much* more than what I typically get out of going it alone. (But of course, never say never.)       

It took about 5 minutes to walk to the actual start-line after our wave began.

For Chicago, before I pulled out, I was on pace for around a 4:40 marathon.  That was about what I thought my fitness could handle.  And it was fun.  BUT NO WHERE NEAR AS FUN AS NEW YORK.  I didn't stop to appreciate the different neighborhoods.  I didn't spend too much time looking around.  And I definitely didn't have anyone to share the experience with.

The Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  SO WINDY.
Also, N completely surprised me.  She’d only run a max long run of 11 miles.  So my goal was to reign us in at the beginning, keep it easy, and be ready to drop to run/walk intervals of whatever frequency made sense whenever the wheels fell off.

Finally touching down in Brooklyn.
Ummmmm… N was having none of the “you might hit the wall” business.  She just kept on keeping on, and never needed to start shorter intervals.  We ran in the high tens to high 11s when we were running, and walked approximately every mile or so for the aid stations, where necessary to take pictures, or for other reasons (a 6m30s porta-loo break, fueling walk breaks, vaseline).

On our way to Queens with a view of Manhattan in the background.
The approximate difference in terms of overall time on my feet was somewhere in the range of 44 minutes. 

Running under the 59th St./Queensborough Bridge.

What I realized is that if I can trade some extra time for shared memories, photos, and just a general great time, I'll take it.

The view from the side of the 59th St. Bridge.

Interestingly, the walk/stop breaks slowed us down less than I expected.  If we hadn't needed to the porta-potty stop (this was my only big complaint about NYC -- their were *not* enough bathrooms on the course, and the lines were very long), the difference would have been only 38 minutes.  This includes actual *stops* of minutes at a time to take pictures. 

Touched down in Manhattan (E surprised me by yelling for us at this corner!)
Because we weren't worried about time, we decided to use a PowerBar peanut butter and jelly (the very chewy kind) as our first fuel break after the 10K.  Folks, I will share the results of this experiment so you can learn from our mistake.  It turns out, while PowerBars are great for some pre- mid- and post-workout fuel, they suck in the middle of a marathon.  So much chewing.  So hard to swallow.  Coats the mouth in a funky way that means you can't get enough water to wash it down at the aid station.  Not recommended.

Headed up to the Bronx.
Around the half we had our second fuel walk break, this time Gu.  Faster. Easier. More pleasant all around.

From the Bronx and through the park, we picked it up -- we were ready to be done, and then we were.
Somewhere around 18 or so, the NYC marathon was giving out PowerBar gels.  The first option was Orange Dream.  I'd never had a PowerBar gel, but I knew that I usually don't like fruit flavored gels so I gave it back and went for a Double Latte from a later volunteer.  From this I learned that for me, PowerBar gel is too syrupy, and oddly acidic.  So, I think I'll continue to stick with my Gus for now.

If you opted for "no baggage" you received a nice warm parka to walk back to your hotel.
Like all big races, the logistics for NYC were insane for us.  You need to come at least a day early to go the expo (which was actually less out of control than Chicago).  We opted to stay the night in a hotel on Staten Island rather than messing with the Ferry and the buses from the Ferry to the start.  Even so, we ended up walking about 2 miles before the actual start because our cab couldn't drop us any closer (and because the distance from the security check to the actual start is at least a mile).  The walk from the finish to where you can meet your family takes at least 10-15 minutes.  Something to note if you've got an anxious toddler who last saw mommy around mile 25.  Our hotel was 2.6 miles of walking from the finish -- while it was annoying this was probably a good thing, we walked and drank the Gatorade recovery protein drink from our goodie bag as it grew darker and colder.

From there, it was a quick shower, a quick meal with N and family, and then chaos because no cabs could get across town due to the marathon shutdowns that were slowly opening up.  Finally, we made it to our flight, boarded, and then after more than an hour delay, we were unboarded into a roped off area and were met with this sight:

Needless to say, our travel plans that night did not go according to plan...