Friday, January 28, 2011

Front Runner of the Year!!!

I have some really, really big news to report.  This past Saturday was the Annual Front Runners New York Awards Night -- the one big night of the year when we recognize all of the great running the club has done, all the the members' achievements, and everyone's huge successes.  I'm so honored, and so, so happy to report that the club awarded me with Front Runner of the Year!!!  

I couldn't believe it...I really didn't expect it at all.  But I am so proud to be able to represent FRNY in this really meaningful way.  So THANK YOU, to all of the Front Runners out there, who have all contributed to making the club my home.  It's through the club that I started running five years ago.  And it is because of the club that I've not only grown to love the sport, but have come to find a real family.  You're the people who I train and race with, but more importantly, you're one who  I share the best times of my life with.  You inspire me, you make me proud, you make me happy, and you make me who I am.

Congratulations to the other nominees for Front Runner of the Year: John, Rachel K, Bernie, and Darin.  You guys are amazing, both terrific athletes and wonderful people.  You're all part of the reason why I love this club so much.  Thank you for being you.

This award means especially much to me this year, as I'm beginning my tenure on the Front Runners Board as Men's Vice President.  I'm excited about the opportunity to help lead the club to great things this year, and I'm really happy to be serving on the Board with the great people below.  2011 is going to be an awesome year.  :-)

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The day after Awards Night, I joined seven other Front Runners at Ride Brooklyn for my first group Computrainer session.  For those of you unfamiliar with Computrainers, it's basically like a course simulator.  You hook up your own bike (in this case, I got to use my brand new Cervelo trike) to a trainer, which is hooked up to a computer system.  The trainer applies more or less resistance on your back tire depending on where you are in a particular course.  So it tightens automatically if you're going up a steep hills, and lets off the tension if you're going downhill.  In a group Computrainer session, everyone watches the screen which shows the course's elevation profile, where they are on the course compared to the other bikers, and various metrics like the rider's MPH, % incline, watts expended and so forth.

With the utmost in love and admiration of Rachel, who organized and promoted the group Computrainer sessions, I absolutely hated the experience.  I was miserable, miserable, miserable.  And not only that, I felt  utterly humiliated.  And frustrated.  It was just really bad.

I hated not being able to adjust the resistance on my own.  Instead, every few miles there was a crazy 6% incline that lasted for miles and miles.  And you're stuck with it.  You just have to pedal until the damn thing is over.  And the slower you pedal, the longer it takes.  It's just miserable.  And I don't know if my trainer was mis-calibrated or what, but it put SO MUCH resistance on my tire every time I went up a hill...I've ridden up plenty of hills before and none them were as hard as the ones the Computrainer had us do.  (Incidentally, the course that we were riding was supposed to be the bike course from the Coeur d'Alene Triathlon in Idaho.  That's one race that I'm NEVER going to do).

Worse yet was the fact that you just can't hide.  The whole time, everyone is staring at a screen like the one below that tells them exactly where they are in relation to the other bikers.

So basically, everyone saw that I was in last place.  And not only that, but I just got further and further and further behind.  I wasn't even close to the 7th place person.  Now, I know it's not a competition, and we're all among friends, and no one really cares about how slow you are... but it's so depressing when everyone in the room kicks your ass on the bike.  By the time Dan finished the 25 mile course, I was still on mile 16, and I had pretty much had enough.  I went to the bathroom just so I could get a few minutes off that damn bike.  It was just so, so, so brutal.

I paid for six sessions on the Computrainer.  And at the end of the first session, I was all but certain that I was going to sell my other five sessions to someone else.  But now, after having a few days to think about it, I've decided to stick it through all six sessions.  I can't even explain how miserable and humiliating the experience was.  But I have to admit, it was probably the best bike workout I've ever had.  Never before have I pushed myself quite so hard.  Even if it takes the fear of public humiliation to get me moving, it did get me through those 6% inclines.  But probably the thing I enjoyed the most about the workout was being able to train with a group of people who are awesome, who push me to do my best, and who are among my best friends.  It was great sitting next to Rachel, who helped me trudge up those unrelenting hills.  And Peter, Mike and Kyle have all seen me at my worst before too, when we spent a loooong 200 miles together this past year at Reach the Beach.  I know I would never be able to do anything like this on my own.  So I'm going to stick with it, and hopefully, in due course, I will learn to love it, or at least get a little better at it and not hate it so much.

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Here's a picture of the Lane 3 Boys at a recent Monday night swim workout.  What a group of hotties.  :-)  Come swim with us at the Long Island City YMCA on Monday nights!

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I briefly mentioned before in my bitter melon post that I'm part of a potluck group.  We get together about once a month and each bring a dish based on one or two theme ingredients.  Last month, it was gourds (hence, the bitter melon).  This month, it was legumes.  I decided to make one of my favorite dishes, dry-fried Chinese long beans.  Dry-frying the long beans -- sauteing them in a pan with nothing but some oil -- preserves the slightly leathery texture of the beans that distinguishes them from traditional green beans.  Some restaurants cheat by deep-frying them, but then you just end up with greasy beans.  The recipe is below.

Dry-Fried Chinese Long Beans
(All measurements are approximate and can be adjusted according to taste.)
2 pounds long beans, cut into 3" lengths (can be substituted with green beans, but it's not quite the same)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2" piece of ginger, minced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon chili-bean paste (made with fermented soy beans and chili peppers, available in Asian markets and pronounced "la dou ban jian" in Chinese)

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp dried chili pepper flakes
ground white pepper
ground Sichuan peppercorns

In a wok or other big pot, heat on high until smoking.  Add vegetable oil and heat until really hot.  Add long beans and stir-fry for 4-6 minutes, until skins start to pucker.  Add half of the minced ginger/garlic/scallion and continue stir-frying for 2 more minutes.  Turn heat to medium, and add remaining ginger/garlic scallion and all other ingredients except salt.  If pan is dry, add a couple of tablespoons of water (or, better yet, rice wine).  Cover and cook for 4-6 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender.  Adjust seasoning and add salt if desired.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One Hour Swim and Smothered Pork Chops

On Sunday, I did the Team New York Aquatics One Hour Swim.  The event is exactly what it sounds have an hour to swim as much as you can.  It's all in a pool, and you just keep going, back and forth and back and forth.

I had set myself a goal of doing 3000 yards for the hour.  I had no idea if this was realistic or not, it just seemed like a nice round number.  It meant sustaining 60-second 50s for the whole hour.  I knew I was able to swim that fast for 200-yard intervals, but was really nervous about having to do it for an hour.

Before the swim started, we had about 5 minutes to warm up in our lane. Each of our lanes were divided into two.  I shared my lane with a nice woman whose name I forgot.  On my second warmup lap, I crashed into her.  It wasn't just a bump--my right arm locked onto her right arm and we became stuck to each other.  Then she yelled at me, in front of everyone at the pool.  I was so humiliated.  And I knew then and there that this swim was gonna be a sh-tshow.

Twenty seconds before the swim started, I noticed that just about every other swimmer kept a bottle of water  on the deck.  I hadn't even thought to bring water.  And I was already a little dehydrated from a night of karaoke and dancing Saturday night.  This was going to be a disaster.

My first lap, I tried to keep up with the lady in my lane (46 seconds).  That was way too fast.  So I slowed down the second and third laps (51, 55).  By the fourth lap I was tired.  But after the first six or seven laps, I pretty much settled into a groove where I was between 58-61 seconds for the rest of the hour.  One exception was at the halfway point, where I decided to do one lap of breast stroke to loosen up my arms (71 seconds, followed by two fast 56 second laps of freestyle).

Peter McGrane was standing on the deck, being a great cheerleader.  Many, many, many times when I got to the wall, I heard "GO DAVE LIN!" which definitely encouraged me to keep going.  As my mind was wandering through all those laps, I contemplated asking him to fetch me a cup of water, but didn't want to lose the time.  But then I couldn't stop thinking about it, and the more I thought about it, the thirstier I became.

I stayed relatively on my side of the lane pretty much the whole time.  Two times I bumped against the the lady, but they were both minor.  I was trying to hug the lane divider the whole time, and I'm actually quite surprised that I didn't jam my fingers into it--something that I do with quite some frequency.

After about 45 minutes, I started getting a little bored.  Like that feeling you get when you're running on a treadmill and just waiting for it to end.  I found myself looking at the clock after every lap to see how much more time I had left.  I felt fine physically, but it was just a long time to swim.

Finally, I was in the last few minutes.  I was really happy that I was able to make it the whole hour.  And my very last lap was actually one of my fastest laps, 55 seconds.  And then they called time...  and I was so, so happy I was done.  The longest I've ever swam continuously in my life.  It was so great to be finished.

But my real happiness didn't come until a few minutes later, when I was able to track down my timing sheet.  It turned out, I made my goal of 3000 yards!!  In fact, I had JUST BARELY made it, with 3040--not even a single lap to spare.  Wow!  I was elated.  It was such a great feeling to know that I had done exactly what I had set out to do, to have succeeded in reaching my goal.  It also made me realize how far I've gone in swimming over the past year or so.  Just a year and a half ago, I had my disastrous Metroman swim, where I was second to last out of 190 finishers.  And now, I can go 3000 yards without a problem!

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As you loyal readers of the blog may have noticed, I've become quite a big fan of Southern/soul food (see here, here and here).  So when Jonathan came over for dinner the other night, I was happy to get to test out a new recipe on a real Southerner.  He wanted pork, so I decided to make some tasty smothered pork chops.  Yummmmm....

I cook pork pretty frequently, but I just about always make it Asian.  And it's usually mixed in with a bunch of vegetables, never just a big hunk of meat.  When I do buy pork chops, it's usually the thin variety, which I think is a better vehicle for delicious Asiany marinades.

But this time I got 1" thick chops, better for dredging, frying, and covering in creamy gravy.  Mmmm....   Since this was my first time making smothered pork chops, I decided to loosely follow Tyler Florence's recipe.  Except Jonathan used the wrong pepper mill and put in ground Sichuan peppercorns instead of black pepper, haha.  

They came out pretty good, I have to say, and only took about 12 minutes to make in my cast iron skillet.  I even liked the slight tingliness of the Sicuan peppercorns.  :-)

My go-to Southern side dishes are always collard greens and sweet potatoes, since they're easy and pretty healthy.  But I think I need to branch out into other things.  Still, they came out pretty tasty this time...  I used smoked pork neck bones (very cheap at Fairway!) to flavor the collards.

Jonathan said all three dishes tasted just like back home (except his grandmother would have put an extra stick of butter in everything).  I took that as a great compliment.  Not bad for an Asian guy in New York City.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bitter Melon, Bitter Cold, Bitter Year.

Good-bye, 2010, and good riddance.  2010 was a pretty disappointing year for me running-wise, and I am glad that it's over.  My total mileage for the year was a dismal 987, which was 25% less than last year.  Thanks to a butt injury that never fully went away and some other unfortunate occurrences, I lost a great deal of my fitness level, gained a ton of weight, missed out on the New York City Marathon, and felt that I lost a part of my identity.

I try to look on the positive side, though, and 2010 did have some good moments.  I managed to run a decent Boston Marathon (though 12 minutes off my PR) despite only about 25 miles per week of training.  I didn't let my team down (and had a lot of fun) at Reach the Beach and the Lockport 100-Mile Relay.  And, thanks to both the FRNY Multisport group and the Tritons, I've grown to enjoy, and have become somewhat decent at, swimming.  My biking, though, still leaves something to be desired; I guess I'll work on that in 2011.

Here's my running log for 2010.  I also kept track of the number of times I went swimming (62), biking/spinning (26...that needs to go up) or did yoga (22).  I'm kind of embarrassed to post it since I feel like the numbers are so low and there's so much blank space on it, but hopefully this will inspire me to train better in 2011 and have a really great year.

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My last race for 2010 was the half-marathon course for The Christmas Marathon, part of a series of free (that's right, FREE) races called The Holiday Marathons organized by a bunch of "passionate marathon-crazed local runners."  The race took place on the trails of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and consisted of 1, 2 or 4 loops of a 6.55-mile course, depending on whether you were doing a 10K, Half, or Full Marathon.  And especially considering it was free, the race had a lot of fun goodies: candy canes for all finishers (varying in size from normal to humongous depending on how far you ran), Santa hats for everyone, bib numbers for everyone (well... they all said 1225, haha), photographers, bananas, apples and bottles of water.  I was very impressed.

This was a particularly special race for me because my parents were in town for Christmas, and I got to participate in the race with them.  My parents walked the 10k while I ran the Half; it was our first time ever doing a race together.  I think they had a lot of fun, and it was great to be able to take part in the race together, to give them an idea of what plays such an important role in my life.  It was definitely a nice way to celebrate Christmas.

The race itself was tough but fun, and my performance OK.  Although I haven't run this course before, I've run in Van Cortlandt Park several times, on the 5K course or in the VCTC 2 x 2 Relay.  So I knew it was going to be hilly.  And hilly it was.  Right at the start was a steep downhill really rocky trail, where I pretty much had to walk down or risk spraining my ankle.  And about a half mile later was what has apparently been dubbed "Holiday Hill"--a steep but short climb that almost stops you in your tracks.  Of course, they stationed a photographer there to capture everyone struggling up it.

There were only about 100 runners total in all three events, so after a couple of miles, I was just running by myself.  It felt nice, actually, to run in the woods alone.  I never get to do any trail running, so this was a welcome change of scenery for me, and I felt really at peace.

My first loop was about 55 minutes.  When I saw that, I couldn't believe it!  I knew I wasn't running particularly fast, but it definitely felt a lot harder than 8:23 miles.  I tried to speed up a little bit for the second half, but there were just so many hills and obstacles that I was never able to maintain it.  I lapped my parents at around mile 11.5 (their mile 5), and they looked like they were enjoying themselves.

At around 12.5, just as I was turning onto the final finish flat area, some guy passed me.  At first I was like, "whatever," and let him go ahead.  But then my competitive side took over, and I decided I wasn't going to let him win.  So I busted it out and tried to outkick him.  But he had the same idea.  It was a final sprint to the finish, and I even heard people standing by the finish line commenting on how we were neck-and-neck.  With about 20 yards to go, I kicked it up as hard as I could, didn't look back, and ran right to that finish line.  And I won!  Yayyy!!!  Of course, it was an untimed race, and no one will ever see the results, but it always feels good to outkick someone at the end of a race.  :-)

Despite the strong finish, my second loop was quite a bit slower than the first one, and I ended up finishing in 1:54:57.  Not really anything to brag about, but I was satisfied.

The Lin Family Racing Team

Daniel ran the full marathon (he's nuts!) and Manja did the 10K

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One of my goals for 2011 is to be a better biker.  To that end, I recently got a new baby--a brand new, gently used 2005 Cervelo Dual, my very first Tri Bike.  Cervelo doesn't make this bike anymore, apparently deciding to replace it with the Cervelo P1, which, as far as I can tell is pretty much the same thing.  The only difference I can see is that I saved about a thousand bucks by not buying something shiny and brand new.  Back when they did make the Dual, it was consistently rated the best Tri Bike for under $2000.  So I think I got a good deal.

I haven't taken it for a ride yet...but I can't wait!

The seat post looks a little weird because I couldn't figure out how to stick it in when I took the picture.  I later learned to unscrew the little screw.

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Some of the runners and I recently got together for a potluck.  I always love a potluck!  But this one had a theme ingredient (or two) that we had to include in our dishes.  We either had to use a gourd or cranberries.  And it had to be vegetarian.

I decided to forgo this tasty looking Cranberry Soy Sauce Tofu recipe that I found online and go with a traditional Chinese dish, hoping to broaden people's taste experiences.  My gourd of choice was bitter melon--and I was on a mission to make it palatable.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, bitter melon is extremely, extremely, extremely bitter. Nothing else can compare to's like dandelion greens, arugula and broccoli rabe combined times a thousand.  It's also known for its various health benefits.  In particular, many scientific studies have shown bitter melon to have anticancer, antiviral and lipid lowering effects.  But I like it just for its bitterness.

Nonetheless, I didn't think everyone at the potluck wanted to know how bitter bitter melon could be, so I had a few tricks up my sleeve.  I decided to make a stir-fry of bitter melon and scrambled eggs with black bean sauce.  I thought the sweetness of the eggs and the funkiness off the black bean sauce (they're actually soy beans, not black beans, which turn black in a fermentation process) would offset the bitterness.

In preparing the bitter melon, the white pith inside is the most bitter part, so I was careful to scrape out every last bit.  Then I blanched the slices of melon in boiling water to remove some of the bitterness.  And in the stir-fry itself, I added some sugar and lots of spices to temper the flavor of the melon.

Despite my efforts, when I got to the dinner, I was totally nervous.  In fact, I was sweating bullets throughout the appetizers because they were so tasty and I thought everyone was going to get turned off by my bitter melon mess.  OMG, I should have just stuck with the cranberry-soy tofu!

But to my surprise, people actually enjoyed it!  I think I had done a good job of balancing the bitterness so you could tell it was obviously bitter melon, but it wasn't quite as aggressively bitter.  It went really well with the eggs and black beans.  Here's the recipe in case you'd like to try it out.  Enjoy!

Bitter Melon with Eggs

2 quarts water
3 medium sized bitter melons (about 1.5 - 2 pounds)
6 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. sugar
1 T. fermented black beans or prepared black bean sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
salt, ground Sichuan pepper, ground white pepper to taste

1.  Bring water to boil

2.  Cut off ends of bitter melon.  Cut in half lengthwise.  Remove seeds and pith.  Cut into slices on the bias about 1/4" thick.  (Note: do not peel the bitter melon)

3.  Blanch bitter melon slices in boiling water for 3 minutes.  Drain.

4.  In a skillet or wok, heat vegetable oil and garlic.  Add bitter melon, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and beans/bean sauce.  Stir fry until bitter melon is tender.  Add eggs, stirring slowly until egg is cooked.  Season with salt and ground pepper.  Remove from heat and serve.