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.  :-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Post-Marathon Curry

These past couple of days after the marathon have left me with some sore legs.  Those of you who actually read this blog know that I had made an appointment with the sports medicine doctor, Jordan Metzl, for the week before NYC to have my butt issue checked out.  The morning of my scheduled appointment, I felt like there wasn't an issue anymore (it was, after all, about ten days since I had made the appointment).  There was also a part of me that was feeling just too lazy to go to the doctor's office, which is super inconveniently located on 72nd Street east of York (I didn't even know there was anything east of York!).  So I canceled the appointment.

That was a dumb move.  I spent the next week wondering if I had a stress fracture, and dreaming of all sorts of worst-case-scenario possibilities (e.g., having my hip snap in half around my 18 or ending up like this girl).  I was a bit of a nervous wreck the morning of the marathon, not knowing if my butt would, at any moment, seize up or be in utter debilitating pain.  Fortunately, although it did act up a bit around the last eight miles, I was able to finish the race without it affecting my stride.  However, in the days after the race, the dull pain in my butt has been persistent.  And, despite my best efforts, I can't seem to massage it out, or even identify where it's coming from.

So I called to make another appointment the day after the marathon.  The earliest they can fit me in is next Monday.  Until then, I wait, and take it easy.  I'm planning on going to tonight's fun run, but will probably just do four really slow, easy miles.

Last night, I invited some runners over to watch the broadcast of the marathon, which I had DVR'd.  I had heard of some dramatic events, such as the fall in the women's elite race, Paula Radcliffe's sudden stop after her disappointing 4th place finish, winner Deratu Tulu's unsuccessful attempt encourage Paula to stay with the front pack, and Meb Keflezighi's emotional finish; and I was really excited to see it all.

I had originally thought about ordering pizza, but at the last minute, decided to make a Japanese chicken curry instead.  I hope the guests weren't too disappointed.  Japanese style curry is one of the easiest things in the world to make, and it's also quite tasty.

Interestingly, the Japanese have historically viewed curry as a Western dish, as curry was introduced to Japan by the British in the late 1800s, when India was under British colonial rule.  It's characterized by its sweetness, and often grated apples are added for this purpose.  In addition to a protein (I usually use chicken thighs, but a fried pork cutlet curry [katsu kare] is also a popular choice), the basic vegetables are potatoes, carrots and onions.  This is not traditional, but sometimes I put in some dried cranberries for a little tarty surprise.

To make it, I just throw everything in a big pot and boil it, adding curry power and a roux at the end (with some seasonings like salt and sriracha).  You can also buy pre-made blocks of curry that have the thickener mixed in, but that's kind of cheating (though I do it sometimes too).  Yesterday's curry was a big success, although I may have put in a little too much sriracha, haha.  I paired it with a quick pickled napa cabbage.  Yum.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Marathon Weekend!!!

I'm writing this the day after the New York City Marathon.  This weekend has just been a whirlwind.  There's so much to report since my last post, but I will try to keep things short.

Saturday was the FRNY fun run followed by the Pancake Breakfast.  For those who are doing the marathon, we just do the last two miles of the marathon.  Apparently just moments before I arrived in the park, U.S. Olympic Marathoner Ryan Hall had run by.  I was so sad I missed it!  The 2-mile run itself was pretty uneventful.  I could tell I still had some issues with my feet, left calf and right butt, but I had already decided that these were just pre-marathon jitters that weren't going to seriously interfere with my race.

Otherwise, it was super exciting running those last two miles.  I love seeing the jumbotron they have set up at Columbus Circle--it makes me feel like a rockstar coming in.  I thought of the next day, when I would be running that last half mile in Central Park.  I remember my previous NYC Marathons, and the signs marking 400, 300, 200, 100 meters to go seemed to be spread out by miles.  But running that route on Saturday gave me the confidence to face the marathon on Sunday.

Back at the church, a large crowd had already gathered for the pancake breakfast.  One tradition Front Runners has at this breakfast is the "Marathon Game."  The game begins with everyone standing up if they had ever run a marathon.  Then, runners remain standing if they have run two marathons; those who have only run one sit down.  The numbers increase, and more people sit down, until this is just one runner remaining.  The winner this year was Dale, a visitor from (I think) Calfornia.  He had run *190* marathons total, including 30 just in 2009!  I actually met him in April when Dane and I ran the Big Sur Marathon.  I have to say that 190 sounds a little bit excessive to me, haha.

At the same time, there were only a few people still standing when the game had reached twelve marathons.  I was really proud of the fact that I've done twelve marathons.  But it also made me reflect... was I perhaps doing too many?  Considering that my legs were still sore from Chicago, I decided that 2009 was too intense of a year for me, with five marathons and the Reach the Beach Relay Ultra Team (where I ran 34 miles in a 24-hour period).  I made a mental note to myself that next year, I should maybe only do two of them.

I did very little on Saturday, preferring to rest before Sunday's race.  That also meant foregoing on Halloween festivities.  Instead, I went to my third pasta dinner in a row.  This time, it was at Cola's in Chelsea, which, since I first moved to NYC in 1998, has been my favorite non-fussy Italian place in the City.  It's a charming little space, with a very intimate ambiance.  It's a big change from the more trendy Italian places, especially around Chelsea.  And the pasta there is always good.

Most of the time I go to Cola's I get the linguini frutti di mare.  I suppose some people avoid shellfish and other "iffy" foods the night before marathon, but this is my favorite pasta dish.  Cola's piles on the calamari, clams and shrimp in their version of it, along with a hearty mound of linguini, making it a perfectly comforting meal for me before a big race. 

To be honest, I didn't really miss Halloween at all.  I sat by the window at Cola's, and saw all of crazy, chaotic Eighth Avenue prancing up and down the block--most in costumes, some already drunk.  I felt really serene being inside the cozy little restaurant, and looked forward to a restful evening at home.

The next morning, I woke up at 5 am.  I had gone to sleep around midnight, but with the time change, I got a full six hours and felt pretty refreshed and energized.  I had gotten to the subway at 5:45 in order to catch the 6:30 ferry to Staten Island.  Since I live on the edge of the West Village, the subway station was a delighful mix of marathoners and drunken partiers.  Gotta love New York.

It took 45 minutes for the subway to come.  This stressed me out so immensely.  Most of the Front Runners were planning on taking the 6:30 ferry, and it was the one I took last year.  I had no idea if anyone would be on the 7am ferry, if it would make me late for the marathon start, or if I would have to spend the next three hours stressing out by myself.  Fortunately, a 6:45 ferry was added to accomodate all of the people coming in on the subway, and I randomly ran into Patrick and Zander.  I was relieved to see some familiar faces.  And the moment we got to Ft. Wadsworth, I saw the rest of the FRNY crew, who had all been waiting in line at the porta potties.  (Random note: the toilet stalls on the Staten Island ferry do not have doors, and the person who is stuck using the very first one is on display for all the world to see.  That was lucky me.)

About a dozen of us were gathered together by the blue start village.  Someone had the forethought to bring a big plastic tarp, which was perfect for us to sit on since the ground was wet from the rain the night before.  Kieran and Darin were wearing plastic bags on their feet, which made me wish I had them too, since I had only brought my one pair of shoes and they were already getting really muddy.  Fortunately they didn't get wet. 

At around 9:00, we went to check our bags.  I separated from the group to use the porta potties one last time (very glad that I brought some toilet paper with me since by that time the porta potties were out).  When I finished, it dawned on me that I had no idea where the start was, and that the corrals were closing.  I started to freak out.

Not knowing where I was heading, I ran in the direction that I saw most people heading.  I realized that everyone around me was in the second or third wave, and I was in the first.  Then I saw what appeared to be the first wave sectioned off by a six-foot tall fence.  I ran around in circles trying to find the opening in the fence to get through to my corral, but could could find neither an opening nor the "F" corral.  Others were jumping over the fence, so I decided I needed to do that too if I was going to start in the first wave.  Climbing the fence was easy.  But when I got to the top of it, I panicked.  I didn't want to jump down from that high, and couldn't figure out how to gradually lower myself onto the ground.  So like a big homosexual, I asked a random friendly looking runner if I could hold him, and manuevered my way onto the ground.  Crisis averted.

Moments after I got into the corral, it started moving towards the start line.  The wait at the start was relatively uneventful except at one point I felt something spraying my leg.  I turned around and saw the man next to me peeing on the side of one of the buses that sectioned off the start, and the pee was ricocheting off the bus directly onto my leg.  Gross.

I practically danced the first quarter mile.  It's such an emotional time for me at the start each year when they play "New York, New York," and this year, I really wanted to make sure to treat the marathon as a "fun run" without the pressure of a time goal.  Although I started off the race with a Nike pace bracelet, I ended up tossing it at mile two because it was making me push myself harder than I wanted to. 

Here are my splits, and what I remember from the race:

Mile 1:  8:36
Mile 2:  7:22
Mile 3:  7:55
Mile 4:  7:51
Mile 5:  7:49

Mile 6:  7:47
Mile 7:  7:48
Mile 8:  7:51
Mile 9:  7:51
Mile 10:  7:39

Mile 11:  7:50
Mile 12:  7:45
Mile 13:  8:21  (I made a quick bathroom break.  Even though I didn't reeeeally have to go, I thought to myself that if I wanted negative splits, I should really go in the first half, haha.)
Mile 14-15: 16:09  (I forgot to hit the lap button)

Mile 16:  8:18
Mile 17-18:  15:51 (Ugh, forgot again)  This is when I started feeling my butt issue.  It wasn't a sharp pain, but I could definitely feel that something was not right.  And whatever I felt seemed like it was going down to my right hamstring and up to my lower back.  I started slowing down a tiny bit.  Not significantly, but enough so that my foot strikes weren't as hard.  It was also around mile 17 that I really started running with Matt.  We had each passed each other a couple of times since about mile 10.  But on First Avenue we kind of paired off and worked off each other.  This was Matt's first marathon.  It was funny, at one point, hearing people call out "Go Dave!" he turned to me and asked "How does everyone here know you?"  He didn't see that my name was pinned in big letters to my singlet.  Later, one spectator, seeing that we were both Front Runners, shouted, "Go Dave!  Go Dave's Friend!")
Mile 19:  8:10
Mile 20:  8:23

Mile 21:  8:31  (By this point, any hopes of negative splits were way out the window.  I was actually getting kind of discouraged.  But then I saw two FRNY cheerleaders.  First was Kerstin.  She was cheering so loudly and exuberantly, it immediately gave me a boost.  Just a few seconds later, I saw John MacConnell cheering on the other side of the street.  I ran across a dozen runners to go and give him a hug.  It cost a few seconds, but I more than made up for it with my renewed energy over the next mile.)
Mile 22:  8:30
Mile 23:  8:16  (After about 5 miles of running together, Matt starts to pull ahead.  I let him go, and after a moment, I see Timmy.  I have to say, it's pretty comforting seeing so many other Front Runners all around me running this race.  Timmy asks me how I'm doing, and I say something like "Oh my god, I'm dying.")
Mile 24:  8:32  (This was the mile I was looking forward to.  The Front Runners are in charge of the mile 24 water station, and there were going to be dozens there cheering for me.  I took a moment to compose myself so I would look good running through.  It was great to see so many Front Runners out there cheering.  It was totally the boost that I needed.  I grabbed a cup of water from Sharon, and went on to finish off the race.)

Mile 25:  8:11
Mile 26:  8:04
Last 0.2:  1:35
Total:  3:31:05

In the end, I was almost 22 minutes slower than my Chicago Marathon time three weeks ago, and 15 minutes slower than last year's NYC Marathon.  It felt a lot more difficult than Chicago.  However, whereas I ended up walking much of the last 3-4 miles at last year's NYC, I didn't walk at all on this one (although I did take about a 15 second bathroom break).  I'm very pleased with how I did.  I stayed pretty strong until the finish, kept a good attitude the whole time, and was smart not to overdo it when my butt started acting up.

After the race, I had what has become my post-ING NYC Marathon tradition--a street cart vendor hotdog.  A group of us then went to a post-race party that Harlem United was throwing.  Harlem United provides services to people with HIV/AIDS, and was one of the charities that sent runners to and benefitted from the marathon.  FRNY's Koach Kelsey is the Deputy Director of Supportive Housing there.  It was great to sit down and get a cup of coffee.  They also had a big dinner spread for us.  Of course, it was pasta.  So four big pasta dinners on four successive days.  I'm ready to stop carbo loading for a while.  :-)