Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Run of the Year

1310 miles in 2009.  Not bad.  Although it would have been closer to 1500 if it weren't for this damn butt issue.  And judging from last night's 5-mile test run, I don't think it's going to go away anytime soon.

The run felt OK at first.  I did feel some achy joints, but it was mostly just the result of not running for 27 days.  Initially, I also felt some achiness in my right butt/hip.  I couldn't tell if this was related to my injury or not, but it eventually went away as I warmed up.

The first 3 or 4 miles went really well.  I was running with Mike and John, and although they were running pretty slowly, in retrospect it was probably a little fast for me on my first run back.  The last time I ran in the park, I started getting ankle pains around mile 2, and ended up jogging/walking the rest of a disappointing 4 miler.  So I considered it a success that I did not feel any ankle issue even up until I turned off at the 102nd Street transverse (3 miles).  Just to be safe, though, I slowed down for the last two miles.  Around West 86th Street, I did feel the tendinitis coming back in my ankle.  It wasn't so bad to be debilitating, but it was definitely noticeable.  I slowed down a little bit more, but never felt the need to walk.  Although it's disappointing that the issue is still there, I feel like I just need a few more weeks of taking it easy and my ankle will be back to normal.

The butt, though, is a different story.  My butt has never really bothered me while running; it's always afterwards or the next day that I feel the pain.  Well, after the run, we went to Big Nick's Burger and Pizza Joint (on 75th and Broadway) for dinner.  It was the first time I went to Big Nick's.  They have a massive 28 page menu, which includes everything from Greek food to burgers to pizza and more.  I got a chicken souvlaki pita (pictured below), which was pretty good. 

In contrast to their huge menu, though, the area inside Big Nick's is tiny.  As we were standing in the entryway waiting for our table, some of us had to exit the restaurant whenever someone needed to walk by.  They packed five of us into a table crammed into the back of a narrow room.  Needless to say, I didn't have much legroom.  Halfway through my chicken souvlaki, I was needing to stretch my legs, but felt like I was trapped in this tiny restaurant with nowhere to go.  By the time we paid our check, pain was running from my right butt almost down to my knee.  I was trying to discreetly massage my hamstring during dinner, but I couldn't get in deep enough.  I was glad to get up when we finally left.

As I slept last night, I woke up a few times feeling that the pain in my hamstring was still there.  And at work today, I've had to get up several times to stretch my legs.  It's disheartening, and I know this means I should take it easy.  But I still want to run.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas and Kalbi

OK, I may have jumped the gun a little bit with my last post.  Yes, Dr. Gallina, the foot and ankle specialist, said that, as far as my ankle was concerned, I could start running.  But judging from some issues I've had last week, as well as a follow-up visit to Dr. Babiy's office today, I'm starting to wonder if I was being overly optimistic.

To recap, Dr. Gallina said that I probably just have a little tendinitis in my ankle, and that I could start running as soon as I wanted.  To be extra safe, and to let my butt issue recover a little more, I decided to get an extra week of rest during the Christmas holiday, and to return to running this Wednesday at the fun run. 

For Christmas, I went out to my parents' house, in San Jose, California.  Since I bought my ticket at the last minute, I ended up getting this awful connection in Phoenix.  Well, flight one landed about 25 minutes before flight two was scheduled to take off, and they were at two different terminals.  So as soon as I got off the first plant, I booked it from Terminal A to Terminal B--not super far, but far enough.  Well, by the time I reached Terminal B, I could already feel the tendinitis in my ankle acting up.  Not a good sign. 

And, the five hours of flying seemed to inflame my butt issue as well.  By the end of the first flight, my whole right leg was in agony.  And I continued to feel my butt soreness throughout the rest of the week.  The worst part was driving between my parents' house and my brother's house in Burlingame, about 45 minutes away.  Several times I had to brake with my left foot because my right leg--from the butt all the way down to the knee--was in so much pain and needed to be stretched out.  It was difficult to accept that I still hurt so much even after taking almost all of December off from running...

Today's visit to Dr. Babiy's office didn't help matters.  Dr. Babiy is on vacation, so I met with her colleague, Dr. Craig Feuerman instead.  Dr. Feuerman pretty much said that the ankle and the butt issue could both take months to recover from, and that I shouldn't be running in the meantime.  He acknowledged that Dr. Gallina said I could run, but that was just with respect to my ankle, and even then I should not keep running if I felt pain.  He agreed that the ankle was probably just tendinitis, and stated that I should be icing it frequently.  As for the butt, he thinks it's either a pulled hamstring, or a herniated disk.  As I mentioned here, a herniated disk is a frequent cause of sciatic pain, which may be the type of pain that I am experiencing.

I mentioned to him that Dr. Babiy performed an EMG, which showed no sciatic issue (and thus no herniated disk).  He noted that a negative EMG would not necessarily rule out a sciatic issue.  This is because an EMG is a "physiological" test--which shows whether I have symptoms of sciatica.  He contrasted this with an MRI, which he said was an "anatomical" test--which shows whether I actually have a herniated disk or not.  He said if I wanted to, I could get an MRI of my spine now to determine if I had a herniated disk.  Otherwise, I could wait a month or so to see of the pain subsided, and get an MRI in case it didn't then.  I of course opted to have one now because I am obsessive compulsive like that.  He also asked me if I wanted an oral steroid to help the inflammation go away.  I decided that sounded too scary and that I should pass.  Instead, I'll continue to take super doses of ibuprofen.  In the meantime, I continuing with physical therapy on both my butt and my ankle.

This whole process has made me feel really fortunate that I have health insurance.  I'm also glad I've found some doctors who are willing to perform tests to get to the bottom of what I have.  But still, it doesn't quite make up for the fact that I'm not able to run as much as I want to.

Speaking of running, so Dr. Feuerman told me not to run.  I guess this is against his orders, then, but I'm still planning on going to the fun run tomorrow.  I will take it very, very easy.  If I feel good, then I'll know that I can slowly but surely get better.  If I don't, then I'll know for sure that I just need more rest.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.

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I did a lot of eating when I went home for Christmas!  One of the more memorable meals was at the Palace BBQ Buffet in Sunnyvale, CA.  It was an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ place.  For $12.99 per person at lunch, you get free reign over their raw meat bar, which includes kalbi (marinated beef short ribs sliced across the bone), lamb, chicken and pork, pig tongue, chicken gizzards, beef tripe, baby octopus, and and all sorts of other fun stuff.  And of course, there were all sorts of AYCE banchan too.  Yummmmm....

Here's a pic of one of the many plates of raw meat we got.  And a pic of my parents enjoying the BBQ'd goodness.

My brother and his wife had us over for Christmas dinner this year.  The picture below is just a tiny snippet of everything that they made.  Four salads: Japanese seaweed, mung bean sprouts, cucumber, and green papaya.  A fish ball and cucumber soup.  Sticky rice with Chinese sausage.  Green beans with pork.  Oysters two ways (raw, and steamed with black bean sauce).  And a few steamed dungeness crabs.  Oh, and a prime rib roast.  All very tasty.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"You should start running..."

Saw the foot and ankle specialist today, Dr. Jessica Gallina, and her words were music to my ears.  She looked at the MRI, which had shown a tear in my posterior tibial tendon, and did a clinical exam on my left ankle.  Because I was able to stand on my tiptoes and rotate my foot in and out with no pain, she concluded that I just had some tendonitis.  What showed up as a tear on the MRI was microscopic and could have been just some inflammation, or even an MRI "artifact" (which I think is like the equivalent of a fingerprint on the lens).  She did say, however, that the posterior tibial tendon is very important, as it holds the arch up in place, and that a tear or rupture would have been REALLY bad, possibly ending my running.  But since I have no problems with my arch, it's not really a concern.  I'm very glad.

Dr. Gallina also said that if I wanted, I could get some physical therapy on the ankle, or take some anti-inflammatories.  However, as far as she was concerned, I could start running, a little bit at first, and just build my way back up.  She told me to continue to be sure I wore my custom orthodics, as they will support the arch and therefore relieve stress on my posterior tibial tendon.  If, the pain persists, I'll go back to her and try out some other courses of treatment.  One idea she had was platelet rich plasma therapy (PRP)--a process where a small amount of my blood is drawn, and the growth-promoting platelets are collected and injected into the tendon in order to help with regeneration.  It sounds serious and high-tech, but she said she had the tools to do it right in her office.

In the end, I guess Dr. Gallina's diagnosis is the same as what Dr. Metzl said to me almost two months ago, that the ankle issue is not a big deal.  However, I feel much more comfortable with Dr. Gallina's diagnosis since she had the benefit of an MRI, and really took the time to examine and explain my condition.

These past few days and weeks have been really tough.  Online information about tears in the posterior tibial tendon seemed bleak.  Not being able to go to the Wednesday night fun runs left a gaping hole in my weekly routine.  And I gained about 10 pounds since the Chicago Marathon in October.  But I'm glad I've gotten such great support from my friends and I was happy to rediscover yoga.  Just to be safe, I'm going to wait another week or so, until after Christmas, to start running again. Although I still have some trouble sitting for long periods, my butt issue is getting better and hopefully by then I will be just about healed.  Until then, I'm really happy about the news today, and I'm getting excited to get back in my running shoes!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Six weeks off...

I have not run for two weeks now, and I learned this week that it's going to be quite a while longer.

Last Friday, I went back to Dr. Babiy.  The purpose of the visit was to look at the x-rays on my ankle and determine the next steps, as well as to get my electromyogram (EMG) on my butt.  The x-ray came back negative for a fracture.  However, it did show some signs of "cortical thickening," which I guess means that the outer layer of my tibia bone had grown thicker than usual.  She said this was probably the result of my running--as the muscles pull on the bone, they cause stress on it and make the cortex thicker.  She said this was probably not a huge deal, but told me to get an MRI just in case.

The EMG is a test used to record the electrical activity of muscles.  It can be used to detect muscle abnormalities, such as when there is a pinched nerve.  The purpose of the test was to see if I had problems with the sciatic nerve, since I had reported a "pins and needles" sensation to her.

The test was sort of like the rubber mallet reflex test that doctors do, only more high-tech, and much more painful.  The doctor places these electrodes up and down my leg.  She would administer a little shock here and there to basically see how much my leg reacted.  By my foot, where the sciatic nerve is at its smallest, I would feel what amounted to a little electrical pinprick.  But as she moved up my leg, the shocks felt more and more intense, and my reflexive reaction got bigger and bigger.  When she got to my butt, it felt like I got hit with a stun gun, and my leg let out a huge uncontrollable kick.  It was kind of funny and painful at the same time.  The EMG showed that there was nothing wrong with my sciatic nerve, so it turns out that my butt issue is just a muscle problem, like a pulled hamstring or something. 

Later, at physical therapy, my PT Marina (funny, both Dr. Babiy's and my PT's first names are Marina) confirmed that the problem area was not, as I had believed, my piriformis muscle.  She did this by isolating my piriformis muscle: I lay on the table on my left, bent my right leg and raised my right leg up, while her hand applied downward pressure.  This maneuver apparently isolates the piriformis muscle, which ends up flexing out of the butt.  She poked around at that muscle, and I didn't feel anything abnormal.  The area where I felt tenderness was further outside--my glute.  So I guess Dr. Metzl was right, I just have a weak butt. 

So I've been working some exercises to strengthen it, although some of them don't really seem to be butt exercises at all.  One of them is a "pushup" where I lie on the floor and push my chest up while keeping my legs and hips on the floor, kind of like an Upward Facing Dog in yoga.  My favorite part of physical therapy is when she attaches the electrodes to my butt.  The electrodes make a tingling sensation, nothing like the EMG shocks.  She sets the machine for ten minutes, and I usually end up taking a quick nap while it makes my butt feel all warm and fuzzy.  Here's the machine:

The next day, Saturday, I went to get my MRI on my ankle.  I have to say, as great a doctor as Dr. Babiy is, the places she sends me to get imaging done are the worst.  For my x-rays, I went to a place on 17th Street, where I had to sit in the waiting room for an hour and a half!  This was during my lunch break so I thought I was going to get fired.  For my MRI, Dr. Babiy sent me to Union Square Diagnostic Imaging.  I appreciated how this place had evening and weekend appointments.  They were able to fit me in the day after I called them, for a Saturday evening appointment at 7:30 (yes, I was planning to spend Saturday night getting a magnetic image of my ankle).  Around 2:00 they called me and told me they were running ahead of schedule, and asked if I could come in at 5:30.  I gladly obliged.

Well, I got to the waiting room, and ended up waiting for an hour and forty-five minutes.  I was like, ripsh-t.  I mean, like, they f-cking tell me to get to my appointment two hours early only to wait in the f-cking waiting room for two f-cking hours to watch f-cking Animal Planet on the f-cking TV?!?!  I went like apesh-t at the poor receptionist there, who was the one who told me to come early.  Not one of my proudest moments.

The MRI itself went off without much incident.  Despite the completely unnecessary noise (like an ambulance siren combined with a tractor truck's backup beeps), I managed to fall asleep during the half hour long process.

Wednesday, I had another physical therapy appointment.  And although I did not have a separate appointment that day with Dr. Babiy, she agreed to see me after my PT to discuss my MRI results with me.  It's things like this that make Dr. Babiy such a remarkable sports medicine doc.  I can't imagine another doctor taking time out of their busy day to have an unscheduled meeting with me.  So here's another plug for her.

Well, the MRI results were not good.  I have a partial tear in my tibial tendon.  On top of that, a bone bruise cannot be ruled out.  Though she's not able to say for sure at this point, Dr. Babiy said that these types of injuries usually require about six weeks off from running.  I've already taken two, so four more to go...  Dr. Babiy also referred me to a foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Jessica Gallina, who will further evaluate and treat the condition.  She mentioned the possibility of wearing a boot.

What little information is available online about posterior tibial tendon tears does not give me great confidence.  It is also somewhat confusing.  This injury does not appear to be a common one in runners.  Instead, it usually occurs in sports that require a lot of lateral movement, such as basketball or tennis.  It could also result from a sprained ankle.  I vaguely remember twisting my ankle at some point after the NYC marathon.  But there's a possibility that I'm imagining it, or it could have been my other ankle, and I certainly don't remember it being particularly major.  My appointment with Dr. Gallina is on Monday, so I guess at this point, there's no real point to stressing over it.  It's worth mentioning that while all this is certainly bumming me out, I am glad I sought out Dr. Babiy for a second opinion after Dr. Metzl told me there was nothing wrong with my ankle.  I'll let you know what happens after my Monday exam.

Last week I went to yoga five times.  Yesterday, I realized that I need to get back to doing cardio, lest I continue to balloon up.  I went swimming for the first time in months.  Hopefully, by the end of six weeks, I'll at least be able to develop my stroke.

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I made a couple of chicken dinners over the past week.  The first one was a five-spice braised chicken and daikon that I made in my pressure cooker.  I just threw the chicken and daikon in the pot, along with some scallions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine, Manischewitz, five spice powder, star anise, and sugar.  In the picture below, the daikon looks a little like scallops.  I recently discovered that I can make brown rice in my rice cooker, so I'm making an effort to eat more brown rice instead of white rice.  And I've been on a collard greens kick of late, so that made a nice pairing.

The next night, I made pan-barbecued chicken.  For the barbecue sauce, I used ketchup, soy sauce, sesame oil, grated ginger, sugar and Worcestershire sauce.  My cast-iron skillet did a great job at giving the chicken a tasty caramelized crust.  I served it with a vinegar-based nappa cabbage coleslaw (I was excited to use, for the first time in my life, coriander seeds in this), and some not-so-homemade Bush's Baked Beans.  Oh, and some leftover brown rice and collard greens.  Dessert was a delicious Betty Crocker carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  Mmmmm......

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Foam rolling, running pants and dumplings

After Thanksgiving, I was eager to begin running again.  The Front Runners indoor track season started the week before Thanksgiving, and I was just starting to get into it.  Front Runners meets on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings at the Armory Track, a 200 meter indoor track in Washington Heights

Tuesday's workout was 6 x 800 meters, with 400 meters of jogging after each set.  Koach Kelsey divides the group into three or four smaller groups, roughly based on speed.  Although last year I generally ran in the "fast" group, I've been self-selecting the second group this year so as not to get sucked into the fast people's vortex and overstress my butt and ankle.  Plus, I think the fast group this year is quite a bit faster than the fast group last year (and I'm slower, haha). 

My first four 800s went pretty well.  I was wearing my brand-new racing flats that I had just bought earlier that day (the Brooks Racer ST 4).  It was my first time ever running in racing flats and my feet felt so light.  Peter and Stephan were in my group and we took the front of the group, taking turns at who among us would be in the lead.  First four sets: 3:14, 3:09, 3:09, 3:06.  On the third lap of the fifth set, I began to feel my left ankle acting up.  I let up a little bit on my last lap, finishing in 3:09.  As I started my recovery jog, I realized that I was limping.  After one loop, when the pain in my ankle didn't let up, I decided to call it a day.

I didn't really think much of it.  Having completed five of the six sets, I felt I had a pretty decent workout.  But as I sat and watched the rest of the group do their last set, I couldn't help but feel a bit left out.  It turned out, Peter and Stephan were probably holding back for the first five sets, and flew through their last set at around 2:50.  It looked so fun to be running that fast, and I really wished that I could have joined them.

I know it was a good idea, no matter how difficult, to sit out that last set.  The next night, I went to the Wednesday night fun run.  Two miles in, I got the pain in my ankle again.  I ended up just jogging/walking around the top of the reservoir--another disappointing four miles.  It's starting to get discouraging.

And because I was unwilling to admit defeat, I went to the Armory workout on Thursday too.  I actually did not feel any serious ankle or butt pain at all.  Then again, the workout was really short, and I was not running nearly as fast as I would have liked considering the distance--12 x 200.  My 39-41 second splits were fine, but I knew I could go quite a bit faster.  I started to wonder whether I needed to take some more time off.

I had scheduled an appointment on Friday morning to meet with a new sports medicine doctor.  I liked Dr. Metzl, but I just wanted someone else to take a look at me and tell me if anything was wrong.  I pretty much picked a new doctor at random, typing in "sports medicine new york 10011" into Google.  The first result was walking distance to my apartment, took my insurance, and could fit me in within a few days.  So I booked a date with Dr. Marina Babiy.

First off, Dr. Babiy spent at least 20-25 minutes analyzing me, compared with about five minutes for Dr. Metzl.  She she asked me 20 different questions about the pain I was experiencing, made me walk in front of her, tested my reflexes, had me press my leg against her hand in different directions in order to pinpoint the pain, and observed my back to see if the butt issue was linked to my spine (since the sciatic nerve going down the leg originates in the spine).  Dr. Metzl didn't do any of this.

At the end of the exam, she told me that although the pins and needles sensation that I felt could be indicative of sciatica, it was more likely that I had a muscle or tendon strain in my butt.  She scheduled me for an electromyogram (EMG) to rule out the sciatica.  Regarding the ankle, she said she did not see any major inflammation, so that it was probably a sprain as opposed to a stress fracture.  I didn't tell her that I had seen Dr. Metzl a few weeks earilier and he didn't see anything bone-related or serious.  Nonetheless, she ordered x-rays on my ankle.  She said that based on the EMG and x-rays, she will determine if more imaging is necessary.

In the meantime, she prescribed 800mg of ibuprofen twice a day, physical therapy, and lots of icing.  She also said no running for two weeks, at the end of which we will reassess the situation.  I am bummed, but two weeks is not that long, and it's somewhat comforting to know that additional testing will be done.

The convenient thing about Dr. Babiy's office is that not only is it close to my house, but she also has a number of physical therapists on staff.  So I was able to go to physical therapy right after my doctor's appointment (and I only paid one copayment!).  The PT that I saw, Steven, taught me some stretches for my butt and had me use a foam roller.  He was surprised to hear that I don't own a foam roller, nor have I ever really used one.  I have to say, after trying it in physical therapy, I wondered how I could possibly have gone for so long without it.  It felt so it was simultaneously soothing and intensifying my pain at the same time...  I had to buy my own the very next day at Jackrabbit.

*   *   *

A few weeks ago was John's MacConnell's birthday, so I had him and a small group of runners over for dumplings.  By the way, John's working of a new website,  It's still a work in progress, but right now he's using it to show off his new running pants man / lightning bolt character.  Here he is:

The website also has an ever-changing running haiku of the day, and you can submit your own running haiku.  You can also request a running pants man temporary tattoo.  And my favorite part of the site is the area where readers post pictures of their body parts adorned with the running pants man tattoo.  Can you guess which body part is mine?

For John's birthday, I made chive-and-pork, and napa-cabbage-and-pork dumplings.  Both fillings also included shitake mushrooms, ginger, scallion, little dried shrimps, soy sauce, sesame oil and Franzia.  Here are the fillings:

I always have a good time stuffing dumplings with friends.  I think it's more fun to have a dinner party where everyone is helping out, rather than having one person stuck in the kitchen the whole time.  The dumplings below were made by me and John.  He made the fancy crimped ones in the midde, and mine were the pleated ones on the sides.  They tasted even better than they looked.  :-)

Monday, December 7, 2009

I am thankful for not rolling off the mountain

Around the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to take some time off of running.  My butt and ankle were not getting any better, and I thought since I was going to be home for the holiday, it would be the perfect time to get some rest.  So I did not run for 11 days (November 20-30). 

The way I had scheduled things, I almost didn't really have an opportunity to miss running.  Saturday, November 21, I didn't go to the fun run.  Instead, I had registered to volunteer that day as part of my 9+1 volunteer race to qualify for next year's NYC Marathon.  When I signed up for a volunteer race, there weren't many more options available.  One of the few races with volunteer spots left was the Knickerbocker 60k--an 37.2 mile ultramarathon that includes 9 grueling loops around Central Park--so I signed up for it.  I was actually excited about volunteering at the Knickerbocker, despite my 5-hour long volunteer shift.  Six Front Runners ended up running the race, and armed with my cowbell, I got to cheer them on as they came round and round.  It was a small race by NYRR standards--only 187 total runners.  By the end of my volunteer shift, I recognized all of the runners, and felt like I could tell how each one was doing.  One of runners, a member of the Running Club Powered by Dim Sum, recognized me from the Asbury Park Relay Marathon.  The NYC running world is so small, haha.

[As I wrote this entry, I decided to see if I could figure out who this guy was.  After some brief results list cross referencing and a Google search, I found out that he is Hideki Kinoshita, and he set out to run 14 marathons in 13 weeks to raise money for pancreatic cancer.  You can donate to his cause, which benefits the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, here.]

The next day was the Race to Deliver.  I had signed up for it, but decided not to run it because of my injuries.  It's too bad, since for a while, that race held my 4-miler PR (6:22 pace in 2007, which I beat in 2008 with a 6:17.  Hopefully one day before I die, I will break 6:15...).  Also, the race is germane to this blog (about running and food), since the money that's raised through running goes to benefit God's Love We Deliver, which prepares and delivers healthy meals to those who, because of HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, are unable to provide or prepare it themselves.

And on Tuesday, when I normally would have done the speed workout at the Armory, I instead flew to California to spend Thanksgiving with my parents in San Jose.  Although I didn't run during the time I was home, I did do the bike ride that I mentioned in an earlier post with my brother Tony.  To remind you, the ride was an 18.4 mile ride and 4300 foot climb of Mt. Hamilton Thanksgiving morning.  It was brutal.  I literally thought I was going to die.  I can't even explain how difficult it was.

My brother and I got there a few minutes after the bike ride officially begin.  As a result, we did not get to register, and our times weren't listed in the official results.  I think this was a good thing.  My time would have put me in last place, and by a pretty wide margin.  Actually, my brother would have been last, but more on that later.  Suffice it to say that I've run 18.4 miles faster than it took me to bike it.

Riding up Mt. Hamilton requires going up three separate hills, between 4-6 miles each, with a 4.7%-6% grade.  The last hill, at 6 miles and 6%, is both the longest and the steepest.  I was able to go up the first hill without much of a problem.  I wasn't really keeping track of my time or pace or anything, but I knew it took a long time.  When I got past the first hill, I took a little bit of a break.  Somehow my brother and I got separated at the beginning of the ride.  After a few minutes, he didn't show up.  I probably should have waited longer, but I figured I'd be slowing down soon, and he would catch up. 

The second hill was shorter and not as steep as the first, so it should have been easier.  But by this time, my legs were really feeling the weight of the constant pedaling, and I was already exhausted.  I had to pull over a couple of times on the ride in order to stretch my legs out and rest.  By the way, this wasn't like biking down the Westside Highway.  There are no water fountains, no shops to run into, or porta potties available.  I had brought plenty of water, but was wishing I had brought more along to eat than my single Clif Bar.  I felt like I was going to be completely zapped of any energy in a matter of moments.  I broke off a piece of my Clif Bar and pushed on.

By the third hill, I just had nothing else to give.  The six-mile, 2300 foot rise might has well have been a million miles.  I seriously could have walked faster than I biked.  And about once every mile, I had to stop and catch my breath and stretch my legs for a minute.  By the way, going reeeealllly slowly up a steeeeep hill with clipless pedals is kind of scary.  I started having thoughts that I would start rolling backwards and be unable to clip out of my pedals, flying off the cliff into a ravine. 

Eventually I saw Lick Observatory, which marked the summit.  It was one of this times when you see something huge off in the distance and go and go and go and go but feel like you're never getting any closer.  But about three hours after I started, I finally reached the top.  It was a great sight.  Mt. Hamilton is the tallest mountain overlooking Silicon Valley, and I when was up there, I felt like I had conquered the impossible.

Tony arrived at the top about 10 minutes after me.  The reason he took so long?  I was riding his road bike, and he ended up taking a mountain bike.  Oh, and he had his three-year-old son strapped into a seat on the back.  Showoff.

I felt bad for going so far ahead of him, but I think in the end it worked out for the best.  He said he wanted to turn back after the second hill, and tried calling me to let me know.  Unfortunately, he couldn't get any cell phone signal, so he just kept riding.  Had I been with him, I would have all too gladly agreed to turn around.  But because I kept going, I got rewarded with a great feeling of accomplishment and a magnificent view to boot.

Here are some pictures of Thanksgiving dinner later that day.  Thanksgiving at my house is a combination of Chinese and American foods.  My favorite dish is the stuffing, which my mom makes out of sticky rice.  She adds Chinese sausage, dried shitake mushroom, dried shrimps, and some veggies.  It's so sticky and carby and savory and delicious, I love it.  Among with a bunch of other dishes, Mom also made a sea cucumber and scallop dish, a bean noodle and cucumber salad, and a ginger steamed shrimp, all pictured below.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gone Fishing

My butt is still hurting.  I've decided that Dr. Metzl's diagnosis of a "weak butt" is not completely accurate.  My symptoms appear to be a textbook case of sciatica (minus the loss of bladder or bowel control).  I have a numbness / pins-and-needles sensation from the lower part of my back to right above the knee.  Sciatica is commonly caused by a herniated disk or piriformis syndrome.  I'm not completely sure what a herniated disk is, but it has something to do the the cartilage in the spine, and it can occur when engaging in heavy lifting with your back.

In playing back the last month or so in my head, and spending way too much time on, I had an "a-ha" moment.  The day before the Chicago Marathon, I had some pretty bad back pain.  I believe it came from lugging my carry-on bag from my house, on the subway and a bus to La Guardia, into the overhead compartment of the plane, and then onto another subway and bus to the hotel in Chicago.  The next day (Saturday), the back pain was so intense that I wondered if I'd be able to run on Sunday.  Fortunately, the pain subsided for the marathon.  But immediately after the marathon was when I started to feel the butt pain.  And now I wonder if that pain stems from a herniated disk that occurred when I was lifting my carry-on bag.  Damn me for being a cheapskate and taking public transportation everywhere that day.  The good news is that herniated disk/sciatica gets better on its own with some rest.  But still, I think an MRI would ease my mind a bit.  Can anyone recommend a doctor that I can go to for a quick MRI?

In addition, my left ankle is still giving me problems.  I don't think it's serious--probably a tendon issue.  But, while the butt issue is not debilitating, the ankle problem has really limited my running.  In the two weeks post-NYC marathon, I've run a total of 10 miles.  One upshot of this, though, is that I've gotten a chance to return to yoga, which has allowed me to both build up my butt muscles and stretch the problem areas.

Last Thursday, FaTai and Roberto came over for dinner.  I never really cook whole fish, but FaTai does frequently, and I love to eat it.  I stopped by Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown on the way home and I saw that they had live tilapia swimming in a tank, so I decided to get one.  Believe it or not, it was my first time ever buying a live fish, and the fishmonger's technique was a bit of a shock: first he scooped my fish out of the water with a net and put it into a plastic bag, then he took the bag with the flailing fish and hurled it against the wall.  The fish stopped flailing.  I think it was pretty much knocked out at this point, but just to be sure, he took the side of a cleaver and smacked it against the fish's head.  I have a feeling that fish had seen better days.

I also ended up buying some pork rib tips, tofu and a mystery leafy green vegetable.

Once home, I cooked up a batch of mapo tofu.  Mapo tofu is a traditional Sichuan dish with tofu and pork and lots of hot chili-bean sauce.  Literally translated, it means "pockmarked grandmother's tofu."  I always thought it was so named because the beans/chilis/pork resembled a grandmother's pockmarked face, but the references online appear to universally state that it was named after an old woman during the Qing dynasty who served this dish in her restaurant.  I guess it's more appetizing to have a dish served by a pockmarked old woman than to be eating her face.

The the leafy greens, which I just sauteed with garlic, came out pretty well.  I'm not sure what kind of greens they were, but the stems were a lot more tender than Chinese broccoli.

The pork rib tips were a bit of a mystery.  I didn't really know what I was going to do with them.  Fatai doubted me, saying that I would need 30-40 minutes to cook them well enough.   That immediately lit a lightbulb in my head, prompting me to pull out my new pressure cooker.  I first seared the pork a bit with some garlic, ginger and scallions, and then added some seasonings (soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, Franzia), and sealed up the pressure cooker.  Eight minutes later, I ended up with delicious, tender, fall off the bone ribs.  A little Korean bulgogi sauce added some sweetness.  Yum.

The fish presented the biggest challenge.  I decided to "red cook" it, which means to braise it in a seasoned soy sauce base.  Fish is usually fried a little before braising to give it a moist but non-slimy texture.  I didn't feel like using a gallon of oil to fry it properly, so I kind of just pan-fried it a little in my wok.

After frying, I added some soy sauce, rice wine, star anise and of course Franzia, plus some leftover pot-roast juice for braising.  To make the most out of my braising liquid, I also added some shitake mushrooms, Chinese wood's ear mushrooms, dried lily flowers and tofu skin.  Here's the final product:

The fish itself came out really well.  I think pan frying it first helped it to develop its flavor.  The other stuff that I added to the braise (mushrooms, etc) could have used some extra time braising.  (The next day, I put it back in the pressure cooker for about three minutes, and it came out perfect).

We did a pretty good job on the fish, although none of us were brave enough for the head.  Good thing my parents weren't there...they would have been disappointed that we wasted a perfectly good fish face.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heart and Soul

I went to my appointment with Dr. Jordan Metzl on Monday.  I got x-rays of my butt, hips, pelvis and left ankle.  Apparently I have no fractures.  Instead, he diagnosed me with a "weak butt."  I got a prescription for 6-8 weeks of physical therapy.  Dr. Metzl said I could continue running during this time.

At first, I was considering not going to the physical therapy.  Butt exercises are pretty straightforward, and I probably get plenty of that from all of the warrior poses they do at Yoga to the People.  But I checked out the website of the physical therapist, and it seems like the guy in charge there really knows about runners' injuries.  Michael Conlon, the lead physical therapist, has run 14 marathons, including three Boston Marathons, and also completed two Ironmans.  On top of that, he coaches the NYC chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training.  So I think he'll be a good person to talk to about my butt.  I'll keep you updated.

Monday was a rest day.  Instead of running or Yoga, I took a walk to Western Beef.  My favorite thing about Western Beef is that in the evenings around 7:30ish, they mark down their rotisserie chickens to $2.99.  I'll sometimes buy a few, and portion them out for lunch for the rest of the week.  Or I'll take the breast meat and make a delicious Chinese peanut butter and mustard chicken salad (it's tastier than it sounds).  I often save the bones to make stock.

I was happy to see that on this night, there were plenty of $2.99 rotisserie chickens left.  I decided to pair one up with some soul food inspired sides.  My friend Serenity was with me, and she said she would cook some collard greens (she's from North Carolina; they know their collards there).  I had some white rice left over from chicken curry night last week, so I figured I could use that to make a black-eyed peas and rice side.

Serenity suggested we buy some applesauce to tie everything together.  I gasped at her proposal to buy applesauce...why on earth would you buy flavorless, industrial grade, preservative-laden applesauce when we can just make our own.  So I got a variety of apples to show her how easy it would be.

Serenity's collard greens came out fantastic.  She said she ideally would have put in some bacon for extra flavor, but my bacon was lost somewhere in the deep black hole that is my freezer, so we skipped it.  Being from the South, Serenity likes to cook her vegetables to death.  I would have stopped at this point when there were still bright green and delicious looking.  But hers were actually better.

The peas and rice I made was so simple I'm almost embarrassed.  I just sauteed some garlic and onion, and then dumped in a can of black-eyed peas and my leftover rice.  I added a couple of spoonfuls of Goya recaito (a cilantro-based sauce), salt and pepper, hot sauce, and a ladle full of leftover pot roast juice.  It turned out quite good.

I think the biggest surprise of the night was my applesauce.  I blended together three different varieties of apples, added some cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and brown sugar.  The granny smith apple that I used gave it a fun tartness that is maybe better characterized as an "apple chutney" than applesauce, but but it was super tasty, and brought all of the different flavors together. 

Under Pressure

Sunday was a gorgeous day in NYC, sunny with a high of 68 degrees.
My ankle was still bothering me, so running was out of the question.  Dane and I instead decided to go on a bike ride.  It was a very leisurely 12-miler.  I took my mountain bike, and we rode from my house to Central Park for a loop.  Afterwards, we got a delicious Tasti-D-Lite.  I hope this beautiful fall weather lasts.

For dinner, I decided to bust out my new pressure cooker. I bought it a few weeks ago somewhat impulsively, although I had been thinking about getting one for a while. I have never been exposed to a pressure cooker in my entire life, but have always been intrigued by them.  I decided that my first meal in it would be a pot roast.  Brad and J. came over to act as my test subjects. 

I had another Groupon, this time for $35 to the Amish Market in Tribeca (which I got for $15) that I was going to use to buy the meat.  I always thought that the Amish Market was kind of an upscale market, but it wasn't nearly as nice as I had hoped.  They only had one roast there, and many of the vegetables there were past their prime (and overpriced).  You'd think since they were only a few blocks away from Whole Foods, they'd try a little harder to offer decent fruits and vegetables.  But I'm guessing more people go to Amish Market for their prepared foods than for their produce.  I got the one roast they had, a sirloin silver tip, but went back to the West Side Market in my neighborhood to get the vegatables for my pot roast.  Just the usual stuff...carrots, potatoes, onions, mushrooms.  I also got a few rutabagas for fun.

After searing the roast in the pressure cooker, I threw in some chicken stock, Franzia, onions, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, pepper and paprika, and then sealed up the pot.  A few minutes later, steam starting spurting out of the air vent/cover lock, which rattled a little bit and then popped up, signaling that the cover pressure cooker was locked onto the the pot.  I was a little nervous.  Soon afterwards, a steady stream of steam began flowing from the pressure regulator.  I took this as a good sign, since the regulator ensures that the proper amount of pressure is in the pot (15 PSI), hopefully preventing it from exploding hot pot roast all over the kitchen.

After about 25 minutes, it was time to open up the pressure cooker and toss in the other veggies.  This requires releasing the pressure.  There are three ways to do so: (1) the "natural relsease" method, where you take the pot off the burner and just wait for the pressure to subside naturally; (2) the "cold water" method, where you run the pot under cold water to cool it down and release pressure quickly; and (3) the "quick release" method, where you turn a dial on the pot to get all the built-up pressure and steam in the pot to escape through a valve.  The quick release method sounded the easiest, so I did that.  It was pretty cool seeing all the steam rush out:

I threw in the carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and rutabagas, and sealed the thing back up again to cook for an additional five minutes.  It took the pot a lot longer this time to reach 15 PSI.  And because I had filled it up all the way with veggies, pot roast juice started sputtering out of the release valve along with the steam.  (Hidden somewhere in the instructions in very tiny print was a warning not to fill the pot past 2/3 full.)  After a quick 5 minutes of cooking, J. turned the quick release valve again to let the pressure out.  This caused a stream of pot roast juice to jet out of the valve like it was a Super Soaker, covering my countertop and floor (and J.) with the hot liquid.  Fortunately I got out of harm's way.  Sorry, J.

My first pressure cooker meal turned out pretty tasty, although I think I cooked everything for a bit too long.  The texture of the beef was a little bit stringier than I expected, and not as moist as I thought it was be.  After doing some research online, it seems like once you overcook meat in a pressure cooker, it gets really tough and dry, and you have to really overcook it in order to get it moist and tender again.  And even five minutes in the pressure cooker seemed too much time for the carrots, potatoes and rutabagas.  They came out way mushier than I would have liked.  The flavors, though, were pretty decent.  And to cook a pot roast the old fashioned way would have taken at least three hours.  I'm thinking that with a little more practice, I can get it just right.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Run, Cook, Eat, Drink, Live.

I think recovering from my marathons is going to take a little longer than I had hoped.

Saturday morning was my second run after NYC.  My first run, on Wednesday, felt pretty good.  I had only done 3 miles, but didn't feel any discomfort (other than tired legs, which I would have expected three days after a marathon).  My plan was to rest for a few more days, and do the full 6 mile loop Saturday morning.

That didn't quite go as planned.  Pretty much as soon as I started, I felt there was an issue with my left ankle, which I didn't feel at all on my run just a few days prior.  I originally intended to just tough it out, since I was running so slowly anyway and didn't think it would be a problem.  But about a mile and a half into my run, I realized I was limping.  I turned off of E. 85th Street and decided just to run around the top of the Reservoir instead, reducing my run to 4 miles.  During those last two miles, I ended up walking twice and jogging the rest of the way.  It was a little disappointing, but I really wasn't terribly upset since it was clear that my body just needed some more time to recuperate.  At this point I'm thinking I will take this week easy--maybe just running a few miles on Wednesday and doing some cycling or yoga on the other days.

After the fun run, I went with Derek to the Cook Eat Drink Live, a food and wine festival that was being held this weekend in NYC.  The event took place at The Tunnel on 28th Street.  Going there brought back some memories of my crazy clubbing days, a dozen years or so ago, dancing at the Tunnel's Saturday night Kurfew party full twinky candy ravers.  The line getting into the food festival reinforced these memories, as it snaked from 28th Street, down 11th Avenue, and ending in the middle of the 27th Street block.

It was worth the wait, though. Upon entering the space, we were confronted with hundreds of stands offering free samples from NYC restaurants, wine producers, gourmet food purveyors.  There were also live cooking seminars and demonstrations by celebrity chefs, cookbook authors, expert mixologists and the like.  We had planned to go check out a seminar or two, but pretty much spent our entire three hours there stuffing our faces with food and drink.  I discovered that I'm not a big fan of Cabernet Franc, and that Derek can drink Riesling all day.  And Fragoli strawberry liqueur is gross.

The best part of the day, of course, was just eating all of the samples.  There were too many good ones to list, but my favorite was Spoonbread Too Restaurant, a soul food joint that I've actually been meaning to check out.  Their "sample" plate included collard greens, mac and cheese, peas and rice, fried fish, and a huge, juicy barbecued chicken wing.  Derek didn't really care for the chicken wing and he thought I liked the food only because they gave us the most.  I ate his leftover wing.

While we were waiting in line to get to the Spoonbread table, we passed the Eileen's Special Cheesecake table, so of course we couldn't resist.  They were giving out these cute little bite-sized cheesecakes, so we grabbed a little cherry one and split it.  It was so good that we had to grab a blueberry one too and split that one.  Yummmm...  They sell a mini-cheesecake, which looks like it's plenty for two or three people to split for dessert, for only $3.50 in their store in NoLita.  I think that's so much of a better deal than a dinky little cupcake somewhere else.  And cheesecakes, I think, are the quintessential New York dessert.

The one bad thing about the festival was the entree items and the desserts were all together, so it felt like we were having a million little meals back-to-back-to-back.  My favorite post-dessert appetizer, then, was a green papaya salad they were serving at the Planet Thailand table.  The salad was very assertively spiced, in a way that trendy Thai places usually do not.  I remember going to their restaurant, in Chelsea, many years ago but had forgotten about them.  After eating this salad, I'm thinking of giving them another try.  (It also helps that their website has a coupon for a free glass of wine or cocktail.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yoga to the Congee

Yesterday was a day off from running.  Instead, I went to Yoga, at Yoga to the People in the East Village.  I love YTTP.  They have a zillion classes throughout the day, so I go whenever I'm in a yoga mood.  I also like how much core and leg strength work there is.  Because of that, I think it's an excellent complement to my running.  Finally, it's trendy, with a cute, fun crowd, so I fit right in.  :-)

I actually haven't gone to yoga since early August.  This was mainly because I fell on my hand in August.  Twice.  The first time, I was on a 12-mile run to Prospect Park, across the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.  As I approached Grand Army Plaza, I tripped on the uneven sidewalk and landed on my hand, scraping it up pretty badly.  About a mile later, I realized that I also landed on my butt, as the Gu that I had been carrying in my Race Ready shorts had exploded and was running down my leg.  Chocolate Gu.  Gross.

I took the next week and a half off from yoga, since, as my hand was bandaged, I wouldn't be able to comfortably do the downward facing dog.  The day before I was planning to return to yoga, I fell again.  On the same hand.  This time off of a bike.  I was so annoyed.

It wasn't even my bike, and I was just trying to do a good deed.  Dane had registered to do the Staten Island Triathlon as part of a relay team.  He was going to do the biking leg, but he didn't have a bike.  Jeff agreed to lend him his bike, but because of logistics, he had to leave it at my apartment.  So, I decided to be a good samaritan and ride Jeff's bike up to Dane's house on a night I was supposed to help cook dinner for some runner friends.  Anyways, Jeff has this Kryoponite bike chain thing that he had wrapped around the bike frame.  I kept it there as I started to ride the bike.  I literally had not pedaled 10 feet when the chain slipped down between the spokes of the front wheel and jammed the wheel, causing me to fly over the handlebars onto my left friggin hand.  This time, I was immediately gushing blood all over.  I grabbed a Village Voice to try to sop it up, but just made a big bloody mess.  There was a Mexican street fair going on in my block.  So I had to push my bike, and my hand dripping with blood, through about a thousand people to get back home.  At home, I grabbed an old race t-shirt to wrap my hand in, and seriously thought about going to the hospital.  Instead, I went to Duane Reade, with my hand still wrapped in the t-shirt, and bought a bunch of gauze and tape and crap, and dressed the wound at home.  I then took a taxi to Dane's and left the damn bike at home.

So, anyway, yesterday was my first yoga session since then.  My hand actually felt pretty good, as did my legs.  I would have stayed in the half-pigeon pose all night because it felt sooooo good on my butt.  I'm going try to go one more time this weekend to help my legs recover from the marathon.

One more thing.  Going to yoga for the first time in three months meant that I finally got to break out my new yoga mat tote bag, which I made on my sewing machine.  Look how stylish it is!

After yoga, I went down to the Lower East Side, to one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the City, Congee Village.  The restaurant serves consistently good Cantonese food, but their namesake dish, congee, is what I go for.  Congee is basically Chinese rice porridge--rice is cooked in a large amount of water or broth until it becomes a soupy mush, and then additional ingredients are mixed in.  It's often then baked and served in an earthenware crock. 

Depending on what's mixed inside and when it's eaten, congee can be sweet or savory, served hot or cold.  In the summer, a chilled sweet mung bean congee is a good choice because of the bean's ability to lower the body temperature and rid it of toxins.  Lean pork and preserved egg congee is probably the most popular and classic version, although I rarely eat it because preserved eggs tend to gross people out.  So yesterday, we decided on a non-offensive chicken and shitake mushroom congee. 

They say congee is the ultimate comfort food, and really is.  Especially hot congee on a cold night.  We paired it with a Singapore mei fun (rice vermicelli), some red-braised tofu and some soup dumplings.  Very tasty.

Seitan Parmigiana

So this week, in my post-marathon high, I agreed to participate in two events, both of which kind of terrify me beyond words.

First, I told my brother, who is in California, that I would go on a bike ride with him on Thanksgiving Day when I'm out there visiting my family.  It was only after I agreed to do it that I learned what the ride would entail...4300 feet of climbing over 18.4 miles.  It's part of a series of bike rides in the San Francisco bay area deceptively called "Low Key Hillclimbs."  The ride is up Mt. Hamilton in San Jose, and apparently the last 7 miles of it is at a 6% grade.  So, if by "low key," they mean that I'll be walking my ass up that mountain pushing my bicycle, then I guess I'm ready for it.

Second, I decided to register for the 2010 Metroman Triathlon in Asbury Park, NJ.  I did this Tri this past July, and had a less than ideal experience with it.  The race is a 1500m swim, 21 mile bike and a 10k run.  The problem is, the swim is in the ocean.  And I'm afraid of waves.  I had never done an ocean swim before, and the salt water, the darkness of the ocean, and the roughness of the waves completely threw me off-guard.  And, it was an out-an-back course, and I was in the first wave, so it meant that the people faster than me were crashing into me as they were going back, and the people in the next wave were crashing into me as they were passing me.  And I had a crazy time sighting which meant I was zigzagging all over the place and swimming way more than I needed to.  Oh, and I also got lost, and turned to go back to shore before the actual turning point and had go back and swim way more than I needed to.  Of the 190 people doing the Tri, I was 189th in the swim.

This is me, coming out of the water at Metroman, delirious.

So, yeah.  I'm not really sure why I signed up for Metroman again.  But hopefully it'll go better than last year.  The bummer, though, is that it's the same day as the Nautica NYC Triathlon, which I had really wanted to do next year.  But I've swim in the Hudson River before, and I feel comfortable doing so.  I feel that with the Metroman, it'll give me a chance to confront my fear of ocean swimming.  Plus, it's about $200 cheaper than the NYC Tri.

Last night, I went to the Wednesday night fun run.  It was my first run after the marathon.  My legs are actually feeling pretty good.  Of course they're still tired and sore, but it doesn't seem like anything that bad.  I only did three miles yesterday, at an easy pace.  Hopefully by the Saturday run, I'll be able to do the full 6 mile loop.

After the fun run, I went to a birthday dinner for my friend Maggie.  As I mentioned earlier, Maggie's a vegetarian.  We went to a vegetarian place in the West Village called Soy and Sake.  As the name suggests, it's asian-centric, though not exclusively asian.

I feel like there are two types of vegetarian restaurants.  Those that focus on vegetables themselves, bringing out an inventiveness and creativity to vegetables that restaurants focusing on meat dishes tend not to present, and those that that find ways to substitute meat with non-meat ingredients.  Dirt Candy, in the East Village, falls into the first category.  When I went there, I had this crazy portabella mousse cube that was so weird and delicious, like nothing I've ever imagined before.  Soy and Sake is the other kind, where you can order up a plate of soy buffalo wings or a General Tso's wheat gluten.

I found it quite tasty.  As a meat eater, I really didn't miss the meat.  Perhaps it was because I ordered two "chicken" dishes...  the buffalo wing appetizer and a bourbon "chicken."  And the portions were huge.  The wings, believe it or not, were very meaty, and their sauce was tangy and sweet.  The bourbon chicken was less successful, as I felt the texture was a little dense, the flavor was mostly on the outside of the slices of soy product, and though it came with various dipping sauces, the soy itself was somewhat dry.  The other dishes that I sampled, including sweet and sour "pork," a beef stir-fry, and a green curry chicken, were pretty decent, and no worse than their real-meat variations at your everyday trendy pan-asian restaurant.

I think my favorite dish was one of their non-asian offerings.  Fatai ordered a soy chicken parmigiana.  I only had a bite, but the soy chicken patty was expertly prepared, crispy and delicious with an equally delicious basil marinara sauce.  And since Soy and Sake is not a vegan restaurant, you get a choice of real or non-dairy mozzarella.  I think the real mozzarella was the right choice.  :-)