Thursday, January 28, 2010

Awards Night, Hot Pot, Intensive Butt Stretches, and a 13-miler.

Lots of big developments this past week.  The biggest news, I think, was that on Saturday I attended the Front Runners New York Annual Awards Night Dinner.  Awards Night is one of the highlights of the year.  It's the club's chance to dress up and recognize the runners who have had a great year, both in terms of running and in service to the club.  We give out points awards for the various age groups, and also for middle and long distance runners, triathlete, newcomer, most improved (which I won in 2007), volunteer of the year, the lifetime award and Front Runner of the Year.  As one of the Race Captains this year, Awards Night was especially exciting for me because I've spent the past year following the entire membership's racing performance and seeing how people have developed as runners.

Well, I am thrilled and honored to report that I was one of the five nominees for Front Runner of the Year!!!  This was so, so exciting for me.  This award goes to the member who has contributed the most to the club and has had the biggest positive impact on the club in the last calendar year, considering athletic achievement and performance as a runner first and also weighing in team spirit, camaraderie and volunteerism.  I was pretty much in tears when they announced me as a nominee, and as my good friend Dane (the FRNY Men's VP) read about my performance this past year.  It was especially moving since the award is based in large part on athletic achievement, and this year I've been dogged by my fair share of disappointments--such as my still-continuing butt injury, and my 3:59:07 Virginia Beach Marathon when I was trying for a 3:10.  But I've realized that in running, there are good days and bad days, but the successes and achievements will always overshadow the disappointments.

It was even more of an honor to have been included among a group of such great athletes.  Here's the little blurb from the special Front Runner Gram announcing the award winners.
We had five fabulous final nominees for Front Runner of the Year in 2009: Steve Vizena, who ran 14 NYRR races with 13 above the illustrious 80% age-graded percentile denoting national-level athlete; Dave Lin, who was not only a RTB ultra captain and Boston Marathon Qualifier but also race captain extraordinaire and election official; Sandi Rowe, who combined volunteerism, team enthusiasm and athletic determination throughout the year and also PR-ed all over the place; Rich, who won the award by capturing his fourth of the top ten all-time NYC marathon finishes by a club member as well as the top overall finish for any Front Runner at a NYRR race last year by coming in second out of more than 3500 racers at the 18-Mile Tune-Up for the NYC Marathon; and Tim Guscott, who raced in 28 NYRR races, competed abroad in an array of marathons, and achieved many PRs while supporting his teammates along the way. 
It should be noted that Rich, who won the award, ran the NYC Marathon in 2:41:50!!!  That's a 6:11 pace--in other words, faster than my 5k pace!  Holy crap.  Here's a picture of four of the five nominees (Steve couldn't make it).  What a great looking group--and don't you just love how Sandi and I are wearing coordinating colors?

Oh, as this is a running and eating blog, here's a picture of the buffet.  The main entree was a chicken dish served with polenta.  It was very tasty.

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I've been making a lot of progress in my injury recovery, I think.  I've have four sessions so far with Dr. Degis, the Strength Conditioning Specialist.  My meetings with him are like everything that I think physical therapy should be (but wasn't with my previous PT).  I see him three times a week for 45 minutes.  Each visit is about half really, really intense stretching.  I will just lay there, and he'll put my legs in different positions and stretch them in different directions.  We'll also do resistance exercises/stretches, where he'll stretch my leg in one direction as I push in the other direction.  The result is deeper stretches than I could possibly do on my own, and it feels really good.

The second half of my sessions are exercises that I do in order to strengthen my hip/hamstring/butt muscles.  He says that the reason I developed this injury is because I have an imbalance in my muscle mechanics.  So the exercises I'm doing are all focused on gaining stability/balance and core strengthening.  One exercise involves standing on one foot on a wobble board while swinging my arms.  It's really hard!  The board can wobble front-and-back, left-and-right, and anywhere in between.  And swinging my arms deliberately throws it off-balance, so I have to use my hips and core to keep from falling off.  I'm still trying to get the hang of it.

I have a good feeling about my sessions with Dr. Degis, and I'm already starting to feel an improvement.  Hopefully with a few more weeks of therapy, I'll be back to normal.

*                    *                    *

In the meantime, I am running just twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Wednesdays I do 6 miles, and Saturdays I do a long run (less than 12 weeks to Boston!).  I'm hoping to increase it to three times a week in the next week or two, and then by the end of February to be in full-on marathon training mode.

This past Saturday, I did about 13.5 miles, from Rutgers Church (where FRNY meets on W. 73rd Street) to the base of the GW Bridge and back.  Compared to the 14-miler last week down to Battery Park, this one felt much better.  I ran with Mikey B, Mike Terry, Peter and Matt, and cardiovascularly, I felt like I could go on for a few more miles.  And coming back, we were more than four minutes faster than going out!  We even decided to run the hills of Riverside Park for our last mile instead of the flat path next the the water.  That was fun!

My legs also felt pretty good afterwards.  We had a speaker at the FRNY Bagel Breakfast right after the run, which meant a lot of sitting on the floor, so I had to do quite a bit of stretch and adjusting while listening to the speaker.  But for the rest of the day I felt pretty good.  Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

*                    *                    *

This past week has also meant a lot of good cross-training for me.  I've been going to the Monday night spinning classes that Front Runners is organizing in Long Island City, and the Tuesday night swim clinics that Tritons (the N.Y. gay triathlon club that used to be part of FRNY but is now its own club) organizes in Roosevelt Island.  The spinning classes are really good for me, since the bike is my hardest part of the triathlon (it's also the longest part of the tri), I really don't like biking by myself, and even if I did, I wouldn't be able to bike outside in the cold.  It's an intimate group (about 10-12 of us), but we all get along and are all really enjoying the workouts. 

I also think my swimming form is vastly improving with the Tritons workouts.  So much of swimming depends on having the right form--there's a right way to rotate the body, the entry of the hand has to be at the right angle, you can't turn your head too much when you breathe, you need to glide with each stroke but not for too long, kick with the hips not the knees, reach with your stroke, head down legs up--it's so complicated!  But it's great that our Coaches Les and Claudia are there to make sure we're doing everything right.

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Winter is the time of year when I break out the induction cooker and hold my infamous Chinese hotpot dinner parties.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with hotpot, it basically involves a bunch of people sitting around a table with a pot of boiling soup in the middle, into which various meats, veggies, tofu and seafood products are dunked in to cook briefly, then fished out by the eater and dipped into a tasty sauce.  It's the same idea as Japanese shabu shabu.

Hotpot is believed to have originated in Sichuan province in China.  Sichuan is a landlocked province that has hot, humid summers and chilly, foggy winters.  Hotpot, like the spicy food that Sichuan is known for, has a way of warming the body on cool days, and cooling it on hot days.

I like my hotpot SPICY.  I usually just buy a packet of "mala" (numbing and spicy) hotpot concentrate from Chinatown, which is full of Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers (and a healthy dose of oil so the spiciness adheres to the food).  I have a "yin yang" hotpot, which includes a divider so I can make half the hotpot spicy and half non-spicy.

For the stuff to go into the hotpot, I got my usual list of favorites.  A variety of sliced meats including beef, pork, and chicken.  Veggies included taro root, nappa cabbage, snow pea shoots, and oyster and enoki mushrooms.  Tofu in a million different stages of refinement: fresh tofu, frozen tofu (which becomes spongy and soaks up all the delicious soup), fried tofu (differently sponged), and tofu skin.  Dumplings and wontons of different kinds (chicken, pork, veggie).  And my favorite: a million different seafoods and seafood products.  For some reason, processed seafood products (fish cakes, fish balls, imitation crab and the like) go really well in hotpot, and you can get all sorts of fun shapes, colors and sizes in Chinatown.

At my hotpot parties, people make their own dipping sauces.  I'm a purist, so I just use shacha sauce, which is made from ground up garlic, shallots, chilies and dried shrimp (although I think the real purists mix in a raw egg so it coats the dipped food better).  But people get creative with their sauces, mixing in korean bulgogi sauce, soy sauce, ponzu (a Japanese citrus-flavored soy sauce), mirin, rice wine, sriracha, and whatever else I have in my cupboard.

Here are some pics from the dinner.  Hotpot is one of those meals where I pass on the Franzia and go instead for a nice cold beer.   Delicious!

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One of the readers of this blog (yes, there actually ARE readers!)  commented on my post about the Under Armour run that I didn't post any pictures of the free jersey that we got.  I was so sad that I didn't have my camera that day, since it was such a cool sight to see 60-something Front Runners wearing their bright blue jerseys running en masse through Central Park.  I did manage to have my Blackberry handy at a subsequent Wednesday night fun run, though, where Mikey B and Jeff both happened to be wearing their new jerseys.  They were kind enough to model them for me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sunset Park to Hudson River Park

Fatai, Roberto and I went on a little bit of an adventure on Friday.  We decided to go to Sunset Park to check out Brooklyn's Chinatown.  Believe it or not, even though we frequently go to the Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, neither Fatai nor I have ever been to Sunset Park, which is a lot closer to Manhattan (just four stops into Brooklyn on the N line).

My primary reason for wanting to go to Sunset Park was to pay a visit to the Yun Nan Flavour Snack, which I noticed in the past month in both the New York Times and New York Magazine.  I don't know anything about Yunnanese food, other than the fact that the Yunnan province is bordered by Sichuan province to the north, and the Vietnam, Laos and Burma to the south.  So I had a feeling that it would be a tasty mix of the spiciness of Sichuan with the tanginess of Southeast Asia.

The Flavour Snack is a tiny little place, with no tables and just a few seats lining the counter which wrapped the room.  The menu was equally minuscule, consisting of only noodle soup, with a choice of three different noodles and six different toppings.  Our plan was just to get a "snack" here, in order to try out the famed noodle soup before going somewhere else in the neighborhood for a slightly more upscale dinner.  So the three of us shared a bowl of the rice noodle with crispy meat sauce.  Ooooh, sooo goood!  It was a delicious mix of gently-cooked sliced pork, tender slices of pork intestine and crunchy fried pork skin, in a richly flavored broth heavy on the cilantro, chili peppers, and fried shallots (not to mention a healthy dose of MSG). 

I would have been happy ordering another bowl of noodles all to myself, but the three of us eyed a cute Sichuan place around the corner, Metro Cafe (menu here), which we wanted to stop into.  Apparently just opened in March, the Metro Cafe combines an authentic Sichuan menu with some fun Japanese and Taiwanese dishes.  We mostly stayed on the Sichuan side.  One of my favorite Sichuan appetizers is fuqi feipain, which literally translates as "Husband and Wife Lung Slices"--it's a cold dish with beef tripe, tongue and tendon, marinated in a spicy mala sauce.  The fuqi feipian was delicious here, definitely better than at Grand Sichuan.  It was more "ma" and less "la" than than Grand Sichuan (i.e., less chili-oil hot, and more Sichuan peppercorn spicy), and it left my mouth and tongue with a great tingly/numbing feeling.

The other highlights of the night were the braised fish with hot bean sauce (dou ban yu) and the twice cooked pork (hui guo rou).  The fish was a giant piece of (I think) buffalo carp belly.  It came with so much hot bean sauce that it was served in a deep pyrex baking dish!  When we ordered the twice cooked pork, I naively asked whether it was made with pork belly or lean pork.  The response, in Chinese, was: "This is an authentic Sichuan restaurant.  We don't serve lean pork!"  It was delicious.  :-)

The next morning, I joined Mikey, Matt and Peter on a 14 miler from Rutgers to the South Street Seaport and back.  I don't know why, but it seems like every time I do a long run, I end up eating crazy spicy food the night before--usually either Sichuan or Thai--which invariably unsettles my stomach the next day.  Without getting into too many details, it took me four attemps Saturday morning to rid my body of the mala-fest and begin my run.  Even so, I had to make everyone wait at the Christopher Street facilities around mile three for a quick pitstop.  But after that, I felt fresh and about two pounds lighter, haha.

The run felt pretty good most of the way.  After my pitstop, Mikey and I slowed down a tiny bit while Matt and Peter stepped it up.  They got to the turnaround about a minute before us and waited for us to finish.  (Of course, that meant they got a minute break and we didn't!  By that point, I really would not have minded a break...).

On our way back, the run started getting a bit more difficult.  Since I'm just running about 2 or 3 times a week because of my continuing butt issue, I felt like 14 miles was definitely pushing the limits of my fitness level.  Then, around mile 11, I felt my right hamstring tighten up.  This was similar to the feeling I got around the last eight miles of the NYC marathon.  I knew this wasn't a good sign, but I pushed on.  The last couple of miles were not easy.  And the last mile, from 53rd Street to 72nd Street, always seems like it goes on forever.

In the end, though, I finished, without too much pain, just a few second behind Mikey, and about 3-4 minutes faster in the second half than in the first half.  I was pretty pleased, considering everything.

The rest of the day, though, was kind of a mess.  I went to get brunch after the fun run, and had to get up twice in the middle of eating to stretch my legs because my butt/hamstring was so uncomfortable.  Later, I went to the Museum of the City of New York, where they show a 25-minute film on the history of the City.  Halfway through the movie, I had to get up from my seat and stand against the wall.  I'm feeling much better today, and am looking forward to the Tritons swim workout tonight--my first swim workout in a very long time.  Also, tomorrow I'm going to see Dr. Eric Degis, the guy who Chris Stoia saw for his butt problem, who, apparently, was able to work wonders on it.  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Under Armour Sushi

It's been six days since I got my MRI results saying that I had two herniated disks.  I met with Dr. Babiy today and got her reading of the result.  I'll get to those below.

But first, this week has been quite a big running week for me, the most I've run since the NYC Marathon.  I ended up doing a longish run on Saturday with Mikey B.  He had originally planned on doing a 12-miler, and I wanted to do 10, so we compromised at 11.  Matt also joined us on the first loop, which initially made me a little nervous since I didn't want to push too hard on my first longish run.  But in the end, I think we ran at a good, comfortable pace, and I didn't feel like I overdid it.  I barely even noticed any ankle problem at all.  My butt and hamstring, on the other hand, did have some noticeable discomfort towards the end of the run, but overall, I finished the run with a good feeling.

I felt so good, in fact, that I ran five miles the next day.  I'll be the first to admit that this probably was not the brightest idea.  It was so hard to resist, though.  More than 65 Front Runners had signed up to run the special fun run sponsored by the Under Armour, which has a new pop-up store on 57th and 5th.  If we showed up, we got a free technical Under Armour / FRNY jersey.  And I'm a sucker for swag.

Well, it might have been a combination of the 11-miler the day before, and my late night on Saturday, but I immediately settled in towards the back of the pack.  Even then, it seemed like an ordeal to even finish the loop, which Dane thought was at a 10-minute pace.  Anthony and I thought it was closer to 9, but either way, it was not speedy.  I was so happy to be done.

And so I spent the next two days paying for this run, as I limped around the city, feeling the pain of my hamstring and butt area.  (I've discovered a newer region where I feel the strain, but I feel like I can't reveal it in too much detail, both because it will be overly graphic and because people will make it the "butt" of their jokes).  Because of this, I've decided now that I won't do another run the day after a long run, at last for the next several weeks.

Monday evening I went to a spinning workout that the newly formed FRNY Multisport arm is running (led by Rachel C.).  The plan is to have spinning and swimming workouts alternating every Monday at the Long Island City YMCA.  I'm really happy the club is doing these workouts, particularly since it gives me something else to do while I should be keeping my running to a low level.  Also, I guess I should learn how to bike and swim since I'm signed up now for at least two kinda-scary triathlons this year (Metroman and the Mighty Man Half Iron).  Between these workouts on Mondays, the Tritons swim clinics on Tuesday and Thursday (which I hope to start next week), and Yoga to the People, I think I can manage running just two or three times a week without going crazy.

*                     *                     *

So today I went back to Dr. Babiy to discuss my MRI results.  First off, I admitted to her that I've been running (although I didn't exactly say how much).  She said I shouldn't be running, and she also had that "I knew you would do it anyway" look on her face.

After taking a look at my slides and the MRI report, Dr. Babiy concluded that my two herniated disks were small and not likely to be the cause of my butt pain.  She believed that the pain was "localized" (ie, did not originate from the spine), and that it was likely a muscle/tendon strain or tear, which is pretty much what she thought all along.  She told me that I should get "aggressive" with my PT on my hamstring and butt.  If it didn't get better in 3 more weeks, I should return to get localized imaging on the area. 

I pressed her on whether it could be a stress fracture, and she said she didn't think so.  She said that if it was a stress fracture, I would feel the pain while running or putting pressure on it.  Instead, I can stand on one leg, run, and jump up and down without any pain--it's only after running and sitting down that really bothers me.  Still, she said if I wanted I could get a butt x-ray just to be safe.  Her reasoning seemed pretty sound, and I already got a butt x-ray when I was seeing Dr. Metzl, so I'm in no rush to get another.  But still, I may go again next week if I have nothing better to do.

She ended the session by saying that I shouldn't run for three more weeks, but that I am free to do non-impact activities like biking, swimming, elliptical, and yoga.  I think I will keep taking it easy the next three weeks, BUT Boston is less than 14 weeks away, and I promised Mikey B another longish run this weekend...

*                      *                     *

Mike Terry got John some sushi supplies for Christmas, and I was able to get them to throw a sushi-making party for some of the runners this past weekend.  I was so excited for this, as (1) I love sushi, (2) I love audience-participatory dinner parties (e.g., hot pot and dumpling fests), and (3) one of my two food-related New Year's resolutions this year is to eat more omega-3 fatty fish, which includes both tuna and salmon.  (My other food-related resolution, to eat fewer refined grains and more whole grains, does not fare so well in a sushi fest).

Mike and John did most of the heavy lifting--I did most of the heavy eating, haha.  We had so many tasty things to fill the sushi with.  Shrimp, sauteed shiitake mushrooms and sauteed spinach, an omelet made with mirin and dashi, cucumbers, super creamy ripe avocados, and tuna and salmon.  Here are the boys at work:

Our biggest surprise discovery of the night came when we wanted to make spicy salmon and tuna rolls, but realized that we didn't have (or know how to make) the spicy sauce that makes it so delicious.  So we improvised with mayo and sriracha ("Cock") sauce.  OMG, it was soooooo perfect!!!  Better than anything I've had in a restaurant.  So creamy, tangy, spicy and delicious!  I'm still thinking about how good it was now.

Here are some more pics from the night:

Eventually, I decided it was time for me to take a crack at it.  My parents had a sushi mat when I was growing up, but it was one of those things that was always sitting in the back of the drawer that no one knew how to use properly.  Besides, it had been about 20 years or so since I last touched it.  My first attempt at real sushi was a spicy tuna avocado roll.  It tasted good, which I guess is the most important thing, but it definitely wasn't much to look at.  Somehow my fillings were all off-center, and my cutting job was atrocious. 

My next attempt was slightly more successful--a spicy salmon cucumber roll.  I miscounted when cutting, though, and made only six pieces instead of eight, so each piece was a mouthful.  I didn't mind, though--they were tasty!

The only unsuccessful dish of the night was one of my two side dishes.  The first one, a tofu salad, people liked (at least those people who ate tofu).  I wish I took a picture, but it's really easy to make.  I just took two one-pound blocks of tofu which I diced, poured some soy sauce and sesame oil on top, and sprinkled with loads of chopped scallions, red pepper flakes, fried shallots, sesame seeds and bonito flakes.

The other dish, I had a feeling I'd be the only one eating--my spicy mini anchovies.  I just took a bag of dried anchovies (about two cups, available in any store in Chinatown), and sauteed it with some garlic and ginger, red pepper flakes, and fermented black beans.  My dad would always make sure there was a ready supply of these when I was growing up, as they provide a fun salty/spicy/fishiness to any meal.  They weren't so popular with the crowd that night though.  I suppose they're an acquired taste...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Not Sure What This Means

Right after posting my last post, I called the people who did my MRI, Union Square Diagnostic.  They were able to fax me my MRI report.  I have two "small central herniated discs" but without "significant stenosis or nerve root impingement."  I haven't spoken to a doctor about this yet.  But it sounds like even though I have two herniated discs, which can't be good, they are small and unrelated to my butt/hamsting issue.  For now, I'm taking this as good news.

New Year's Run (and Rum)

Holiday Rum Balls

These rum balls are a favorite during the holidays and new year.  I love them because they're easy to make and require no baking.  People always think they're loaded with booze, but there's only a half cup of rum for about 50 balls.  So you'd have to eat about 12 of them to get just one shot. 

1 box of vanilla wafers
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa
1/2 cup dark rum (I use Myer's)
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
powdered sugar

Crush/chop the vanilla wafers into a fine crumbs.  Combine all of the dry ingredients and add the rum and corn syrup.  Blend well.  Shape into one inch balls, and roll in powdered sugar.  Best if made the night before so flavors can develop.

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I've been trying to get back into running.  Different doctors have told me different things, and rather than sit and sulk about not being able to run, I've decided to run just twice a week at the fun runs.  So I ran five on Saturday and six on Wednesday.

Saturday's run was fine and pretty uneventful.  In the last mile, I started to feel a tingle in my ankle, but it wasn't too bad, and I finished without any pain, and without any change in my stride.  No significant butt/hamstring issue at all.  Saturday evening, though, I realized that I was limping because of the pain in my hamstring.  It wasn't debilitating or anything, just an achiness that felt like it needed to be massaged out.  But when I tried to massage it, I couldn't really pinpoint where the pain was coming from.  Frustrating.

I thought maybe some yoga would help out, so I went on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  I think all of the warrior poses did help my hamstring, but I realized that every time I do a forward fold, I felt the pain moving into my butt.  I've also discovered, although I'm not sure if this is new or not, that when I lean to the left, I feel a tightness/strain in my right hip that is not in my left hip.  So it's my hip, butt and hamstring that's all giving me problems.

I also went on a run on Wednesday.  Six miles.  Not sure if this was the smartest move.  Pretty early on, I felt my hamstring acting up.  It has never really bothered me on my runs before (just afterwards) and although it wasn't a terrible pain, the fact that it existed at all concerns me a bit.

Tuesday I got an MRI on my lower back.  This was my second MRI in a month (the first one was on my ankle), so I thought I knew what to expect.  But this time it was completely different.  Instead of going feet-first into the machine, and leaving my upper body exposed, I went in head-first.  So for about half an hour, I was stuck in a little coffin-like enclosure.  I had ear plugs on to block the jet-engine noise and sirens emitting from the machine.  The top of the opening was about 2 or 3 inches from my face.  I've never really been claustrophobic, but this was a little too much for me to handle.  I realized it was much more bearable if I closed my eyes and tried to let my mind wander.  To my surprise, the next thing I knew, I woke up to the technician pulling me out of the machine.  I ended up sleeping through the whole MRI experience.  Thank goodness--it would have torture to have to be awake the whole time.

Tuesday's MRI is making me extra sensitive about my back.  Perhaps I'm just being a hypochondriac, but I feel like I'm noticing some new aches and pains there.  I went back to yoga yesterday (Thursday).  Several times during the session, my lower back felt uncomfortable as I was transitioning from upward dog to downward dog.  So now I'm all paranoid that something is really wrong.

Today (Friday), my hamstring still feels a little achey from Wednesday's run, and I have a tightness in my ankle that started yesterday.  Mikey and some others wanted to go on a ten-miler tomorrow.  I tentatively said that I would join them, but I'm wondering if I need some more rest.  There's also a five-mile fun run on Sunday that the club is doing.  The Under Armour store on West 57th Street is sponsoring it, and apparently they've custom printed FRNY shirts for us all to wear.  I've decided to skip the NYRR Fred Lebow Classic 5-miler tomorrow, which is particularly disappointing because it was the first NYRR race I ever ran, back in 2006.

My appointment with Dr. Babiy to get the results of my MRI is not until next Thursday.  I'll try on Monday to see if I can get her to talk to me over the phone.  Chris Stoia recommended that I see his doctor, Eric Degis.  I have an appointment with him next Wednesday. 

I'm about to head out to a FRNY Happy Hour at Vlada.  Maybe then I'll decide if I'm running tomorrow.