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Race Report: Big Sur Marathon AKA “We Were Promised Strawberries”

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I’m terrible at timely race reports, mostly because I go through a multi-stage process every time I run a race.

* Stage 1: Finish Line – Elation. Over-the-top, I-love-everybody-and-everything style joy. I want to dance and sing and kiss strangers. I am the greatest.

* Stage 2: A Few Hours Later – Critical Analysis. I review my performance and nitpick how I could have done it better. I could have been so much greater.

* Stage 3: A Couple of Days Later – Endorphin Crash. With dopamine levels completely depleted, I am convinced I am the slowest runner ever and that I had no business running a marathon. I am the worst.

* Stage 4: When Race Pictures Are Released: Self-loathing. I swear I was running and not slowly walking like every photo seems to depict. Also, do I really look that heavy in person? At least I’m smiling…I mean, I look vaguely maniacal, but it’s a smile. Is there something worse than worst? If so, I’m that.

* Stage 5: Acceptance – Generally a few weeks post-marathon, when I can look back and laugh. (I also call this my Apathy Tipping Point, wherein I have cared so much that I finally stop caring entirely.) I’m cool.

So yeah. That’s why I’m typing a race report tonight for a marathon I ran 3 weeks ago. It’ll be long. Settle in.

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On Sunday, April 24, I crossed #1 off of my running bucket list: Big Sur Marathon.

A bit of background on why it was such a big deal to run this race: after shattering my left tibia/fibula in 2007, I spent about 5 months on crutches recovering from ORIF surgery (2 plates, 17 screws & a rod). My surgeon told me I’d walk with a permanent limp, that I would have to quit roller derby & that running long distances probably would be too painful. So of course I immediately started looking up destination marathons (after I ordered new derby skates, naturally). Google Image Search brought up Bixby Bridge – I was in awe of its majesty & the beauty of the entire coastline. My Running Bucket List was created right then with Big Sur Marathon as my first entry.

Fast forward through 6 more seasons of derby, 2 marathons, 25 half marathons & around 60 shorter races to 2015, when I entered the lottery for Big Sur. I told my awesome brother Kris what I was doing & he immediately put my sister-in-law/best friend/favorite running buddy Jenny on the list too, unbeknownst to her. In fact, Jenny had no idea she was running a 2nd marathon until I texted her to let her know that we’d both gotten in! Thank goodness she is incredibly cool about surprise race registrations.

Training went smoothly and I got to the start line without any injuries (unlike my first marathon). Jenny, our friend Ted and I had all been stressing for awhile over the strict 6 hour time limit and the drive up and down the course the day before hadn’t exactly set our minds at ease. This was going to be the toughest course I’d ever run by a long shot.

Start line smiles

Start line smiles

For the first 5 miles, we were physically (and mentally) sheltered from the coastal winds by redwoods. We were ahead of our goal pace (Ted was even farther ahead, disappearing into the distance with the 5:30 group while I had Jenny and me on target for a 5:45 finish). We were appreciative of the cool weather and the peaceful beauty of the woods.

We’d read that the first 5 downhill miles are deceptively easy, but knowing that didn’t prepare us for the force with which the 30-40mph winds hit us when the trees gave way to coastline. By the time we hit the 10K mark, it had started drizzling lightly and the headwind was already brutal. We were in danger of dropping below cutoff pace if this wind kept knocking us back.

Jenny and I had made a pact that if one of us was hitting the pace faster than the other then we would part ways. I hated to take off without my favorite running buddy but I was still trucking along despite the headwind, so she urged me to run my race and she’d see me at the finish line. I ran into Ted around mile 7 on a rough uphill and we spent a few minutes together before I pushed ahead. I was on a mission to beat the clock (and the 6 hour cutoff pacer that was now far enough behind me to relax a bit).

The sound of the taiko drummers at the bottom of the 2 mile, 45 degree climb up Hurricane Point made my heart beat faster as I approached. Miles 11-13 are the most grueling of the course with a few false summits and morale-crushing views of what’s to come before the top of the mountain. I was so happy to have applied my ElevationTat to help me track my progress and anticipate water stations – it came in handy so many times during the back half of the course, too.

I kind of want this tattooed on me for real.

I kind of want this tattooed on me for real.

I kept my head down and pushed onward and upward. At the very top of the mountain, just as the Mile 13 marker came into view, an extra-hard gust blew across a few other runners and me – it was like nature was trying to knock us down one last time before the descent to Bixby Bridge. I later heard that the gusts were up to 49mph and I absolutely believe it, as we were staggering sideways and seriously discussing holding hands to keep from getting blown off the cliff into the ocean.

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The descent to Bixby Bridge was as emotionally charged as I expected it to be, and when I heard the first strains of Michael Martinez on the famous grand piano I burst into tears. Crossing that gorgeous bridge represented so much for me – the realization of a dream I’d held onto for so long, the accomplishment I’d worked so hard to get to. I thanked God, wiped away my tears for the photographer and then prepared myself for the second half of the course.

The back half of Big Sur features 13 rolling hills over 13 miles. They’re nowhere near as steep as Hurricane Point, but they’re bigger than this flatlander is used to and the roads are steeply banked, resulting in a dramatically uneven camber that might be more of a challenge than the actual hills. 15-19 are lonely miles, since there’s not much out there besides ocean and mountains – I saw more cows than humans, which is cool because that pretty much sums up my childhood on the farm anyway, minus all the water. I cannot tell you how happy I was to hit the 22 mile marker with 15 minutes to spare on the cutoff time – this is a sweep point with a clock and a large sign that lets you know you’ll be riding the bus back to the finish if you’re not there by 11:50am. At this point, I texted my husband (finally had reception after 20 miles) to tell him “I think I’m really going to finish this race!” There may have been more swearing involved, but you get the point.

I had read a lot about the famed strawberries around mile 24 at the top of Strawberry Hill – people went on and on about these strawberries and how they were the best anyone has ever tasted. Naturally, I was looking forward to finally eating one of these berries. Naturally, they were all gone by the time I passed the empty tables. I told myself I’d eat all the berries I wanted after a couple more miles and pushed on.

The last 2 miles were filled with spectators telling me how close I was to the finish. I couldn’t wipe the goofy grin off my face as I heard the announcer’s voice wafting out from the finisher village. I made the turn into the chute and I was finally, FINALLY there. The announcer said something sweet and funny about me being the most colorful runner on the course, but I barely heard her as I looked up and saw my friend Ted waving at me from the side. He got this picture of me getting my medal, which I deeply appreciate.

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My official time was 5:47:45, which was nearly 3 minutes slower than I’d hoped for but good enough to earn a medal. I finished this one without the crippling back pain and sciatica that caused me to limp like a wounded animal at Dallas Marathon. My knees even felt pretty good and I was relatively agile for somebody who’d just run for nearly 6 hours. I expected to be more sore but was incredibly thankful not to be (especially next morning when I had to sprint up/down stairs and through a terminal to avoid missing my flight due to a mobile boarding pass issue).

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I got a wonderful hug from my Sub-30 Club friend Shannon, picked up my post-race snack box (which was seriously nice, although there were no strawberries) and found Jenny, who had a horrible migraine from the wind. I hate that she felt so miserable for so long while waiting for me to finish, but I was so thankful that she was there.

We got home the next day and the stages of marathon processing began. Then my husband made this shadowbox for me (to hang next to the one he made after Dallas Marathon) and I finally found a 6th stage of the process: Pride.

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Thanks for making it through this looooong read. Hopefully my next marathon report will be shorter, since I plan to be a little faster in general by then.

Runner Girls Podcast!

I had such a great conversation with Katie and Sue when they interviewed me last week for Runner Girls Podcast. I talked a lot about falling in love with running as a kid, about running as a pacer and about coaching Girls on the Run. The interview can be found here:

https://runnergirlspodcast.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/season-4-episode-7-all-the-things-all-the-time/#more-1314

Enjoy!

Running Cowtown 2016 in INKnBURN

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Race report: Cowtown edition! Over the weekend, I ran the 5K and the half marathon for the Cowtown Challenge at Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX.

The stats: this is the 4th year that I have run at least one race during Cowtown Marathon weekend, the 2nd year that I have run the Challenge (complete any two distances on Saturday and Sunday) and the 48th 5K and 23rd half marathon that I have run since I started counting in 2008 post-ORIF surgery.

Last year, the Saturday races plus the Sunday marathon and ultra were canceled due to ice and only the half marathon took place – but we were given the option to earn our medals virtually. I couldn’t get out of my neighborhood due to the ice, so I ran both the 5K and the full marathon on the treadmill (which turned out to be a great test of mental strength). This year, however, our weather was perfect!

Like my last double-race weekend in January (which I really should post a race report for, since I lovingly call it “Questionable Decisions Weekend”), I wore INKnBURN clothing for both races. I knew I needed the superhero power boost that their bright colors and patterns always give me, so I picked the Robot capris for the 5K and the full Miko kit for the half marathon. (to find their clothing, go visit http://www.inknburn.com/ and say goodbye to your next paycheck, because you’re going to want to buy EVERYTHING).

OH MY GOODNESS. I have never talked to so many people on the race course before, and that is saying a lot since I talk to nearly everybody I see during any race I run. People always want to know about my pink hair and my tattoos, but this time they couldn’t stop asking about the clothes. I wish I’d had cards on me to hand out – I shared the INKnBURN name with everyone who asked and thanked them profusely for the compliments. (one of the professional photographers even asked to be in a pic with me and took a selfie of us with his own cell phone.)

I ran the 5K alone and in my own happy little world, although I did get to talk to my friend Helen (who was running the ultra the next day) in the start corral. I was struck by how great the spectators were in the neighborhoods we ran through – children high-fiving us and adults holding up signs. I love when people on the race route are genuinely happy to see us traipsing down their streets. I also thoroughly enjoyed the fact that most Fort Worth police officers wear cowboy hats – that speaks to my farmgirl soul!

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On Sunday, my sister-in-law and best running friend Jenny ran the half with me – we also ran into our friend Linda, who stayed with us for most of the first 7 miles but pulled ahead after and finished a bit before us.

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Last time I paced Jenny we got her to an 8min8sec PR, but neither of us had a time goal for Cowtown – we were just out there to enjoy a nice training run together (we’re 8 weeks out from running Big Sur together).

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It truly was one of the most fun half marathons I have ever run! The spectators were great for the half too, and the police officers and volunteers were so friendly and efficient. The course entertainment was pretty stellar too – case in point:

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We finished with huge smiles on our faces and headed to the post-race food line (delicious choices – bananas and oranges, chicken noodle soup, Blue Bell ice cream, cashews, granola bars, and corn crisps), then to pick up our finisher’s shirts, jackets and medals. The Challenge yielded a special medal to join my 5K and half medals, plus a nice baseball cap with this year’s beautiful logo on the front.

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By the way, that spur actually spins! It’s the third in the 3-year series of spinning spurs that Cowtown gave out. So now I have the half-full-half medals all hanging together on my medal rack.

I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle...

I’ve got spurs that jingle jangle jingle…

All in all, I’d say that this was probably my favorite local race weekend (Runner’s World Festival is still my all-time favorite race weekend and I cannot wait to go back in October). I highly recommend running Cowtown – and I absolutely recommend wearing INKnBURN if you want to stand out and feel like a total rockstar!

Episode 106: Dara O’ Bannon is on Fire!

The wonderful hosts of the Back of the Pack Endurance podcast interviewed me last night about running, roller derby, aerial arts, my experiences as a first-time race director and my upcoming gig as a balloon art model. I come in around the 1 hour mark in this episode and they let me ramble and giggle to my heart’s content!

Source: Episode 106: Dara O’ Bannon is on Fire!

Baked Potato Chips with Sea Salt & Vinegar

Between marathon training & a busy schedule, I haven’t had a lot of time lately for culinary adventures. That’s a shame, since I love to play in my still-new-to-me kitchen.

My friend Becca posted earlier this week about the salt & vinegar sweet potato chips she’d just made, and they sounded amazing. Today I whipped out my trusty mandoline (many thanks to my derby wife Sloane Gunman for this much-used present) & experimented with my own chips, using both sweet & russet.

The result: crunchy little explosions of flavor that disappeared in a matter of minutes. I’m glad I took a quick pic or two before we devoured them all.

Less rambling, more how-to…

Baked Potato Chips with Sea Salt and Vinegar

Ingredients:

Thinly sliced potatoes
Cold water
Sea salt
Vinegar (I used golden balsamic vinegar, but I plan to try malt vinegar next time)

That’s it. Super simple ingredients, right? The technique is really simple, too.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F & spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray (I used olive oil).

Place your thinly sliced potatoes (I use my mandoline on the 1/8″ setting) in a bowl of cold water and soak them for 20-30 minutes, stirring them about halfway through. Soaking will remove some of the starch so that the slices don’t stick to the pan – they’ll cook more evenly & get crispier.

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Drain & rinse potatoes, then add vinegar to the bowl. (used about 1/4 cup of vinegar per bowl.) Let marinate for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through to evenly coat the slices.

Drain again, then arrange potatoes in a single layer on the cookie sheet & mist the tops lightly with the cooking spray.

Place in oven for 10 minutes, flip & cook for another 10-15 minutes or until crispy. You may need to flip them again to ensure even cooking.

Remove from oven & season with sea salt while they’re still hot. Let cool & serve.

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That’s it! Try them & let me know what you think. I’m planning on making a sweet’n’spicy version with cinnamon & cayenne next time!

Soberthday

My 37th birthday was barely 2 days ago, but this is the day I really prefer to celebrate. See, this is the day I woke up 5 years ago & said, “I’m going to quit drinking today.”

I was 6 weeks out from my first half marathon, hungover from a Halloween party I barely remembered & too sick to do my long run. I’d spent the last couple of years in this cycle – partying too hard with my derby teammates, then dragging my whiskey-soaked ass around trying to function the next day. It started after I broke my leg & separated from V’s dad within the same week – the wheels kind of fell off my life when I was in the wheelchair. I was a social butterfly turned sad barfly, and it had become prohibitive to the life I wanted to live.

There was no program, no steps & no chips (although I have utmost respect for anyone who does go to AA). I simply decided to quit drinking ’til after I ran the 2009 Dallas Half. Then I ran the half & instead of rewarding myself with a beer like I’d originally planned, I immediately signed up for a 15K…then another half…then a handful of other races. Eventually I realized I didn’t ever want that celebratory beer and accepted that I was sober for good.

Derby afterparties lost their appeal & early morning runs became my new fix. My two “Life of the Party” trophies from derby season-end awards ceremonies came off the shelf & racks full of race medals took their place. I won’t even try to pretend that it was easy to go cold turkey & completely change my lifestyle while still surrounded by teammates who drank heavily – but my newfound ability to remember conversations, my role as permanent Designated Driver & looking/feeling younger, healthier & happier were huge incentives to stay on the wagon. Knowing that I could be a decent parent and better partner if I weren’t a drunk – that was the most compelling reason to quit. There was no slipping or faltering. I have been sober for 5 years and counting.

I don’t fault or begrudge anyone else their ability to enjoy alcohol in moderation (although I do take serious issue with drinking & driving. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be alive & un-incarcerated & to have never hurt anyone, considering the many stupid risks I used to take). I just know that, as an all-or-nothing kind of gal, it’s not a line I can ever step across again. I’m much happier with all the finish lines I get to cross now.

Thanks for reading. It feels good to share a big part of who I am underneath all the pink sass. 😉

Vegetti Adventures: My Love Affair with a Spiralizer

I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets, particularly those of the “As Seen On TV” persuasion. So when my dear friend Trigger Mortis told me about her Vegetti, I was intrigued (and remained so even after realizing it wasn’t a saucy euphemism).

I picked one up at CVS and gleefully began spiralizing everything in the crisper, experimenting with simple sauces and herbs from our garden. So far, these recipes have all been hits – even my picky, pasta-loving progeny has tasted them (that alone is worth the 14 bucks).

A few tips:
• This thing’s basically a giant pencil sharpener, so long, thin vegetables fit best in it. Sweet potatoes in particular are easier to spiralize if they’re skinny.
• When peeling your vegetables, leave a few inches at the top unpeeled so you’ll be able to grip without slipping.
• You’ll have a couple of inches of pointy veggie nub left, since it’s pretty much impossible to spiralize the entire vegetable. I’ve been saving mine to cube and roast for vegetable soup or dog food.
• The “noodles” can be boiled, but I vastly prefer a quick sauté in olive oil or coconut oil to preserve nutrients – plus the caramelization adds depth of flavor.
• Each of these recipes makes two small servings or one “stop judging me, I just ran 5 miles” serving.

Sweet Potato Pad Thai

Sweet Potato Pad Thai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato Pad Thai

Saute 1 spiralized sweet potato for 5-8 minutes, then stir in:

1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
Dash of sriracha

Top with chopped Thai basil and/or garnish with a lime wedge.

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Hash Brown Nests with Baked Eggs

Hash Brown Nests with Baked Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hash Brown Nests with Baked Eggs

Preheat oven to 475 & grease 2 ramekins or muffin cups. Spiralize 1 russet potato, season with salt and pepper and divide mixture between ramekins, pressing spiralized potatoes into the bottom and sides to form little nests.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, then turn heat down to 400 & remove cups from oven. Carefully crack 1 egg into each cup and return to oven to bake for 5 minutes or until whites set.

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The potato nests were really fun to make, so I also made zucchini nests with cherry tomato “eggs” from our garden. One is raw and vegan; the other is baked and filled with herbed ricotta. The raw recipe works great with cucumber, too.

Zucchini Nests

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Raw Zucchini Nests with Cherry Tomato Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiralize 1 zucchini and marinate the noodles in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and golden balsamic vinegar for a few minutes to soften, then drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange noodles in a nest and top with raw tomatoes and fresh oregano.

 

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Baked Zucchini Nest with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preheat oven to 400 and grease a ramekin or muffin cup. Spiralize 1 zucchini and mix 1 beaten egg into the noodles, then arrange in ramekin/cup to form a nest. On a separate pan or cookie sheet, toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast zucchini nest and tomatoes for 12-15 minutes.

Mix together 1 tablespoon ricotta cheese and 1 teaspoon chopped oregano. Top nest with ricotta and tomatoes.

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Lastly, a trio of post-workout snacks. I find myself craving the zucchini after every run now.

Clockwise from top left: Sweet Potato with Salmon and Black Beans, Cucumber Salad & Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint

Clockwise from top left: Sweet Potato with Salmon and Black Beans, Cucumber Salad & Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato with Salmon and Black Beans
Spiralize 1 sweet potato and sauté for 5-8 minutes. Add 1/4 cup cooked salmon and 1/4 black beans & season with cayenne.

Cucumber Salad
Spiralize 1 cucumber. Season with cracked black pepper, stir in 1 tablespoon of golden balsamic vinegar & top with 1 tablespoon of feta cheese.

Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint
Spiralize 1 zucchini and sauté with 1 chopped clove of garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of ricotta cheese & 1 tablespoon chopped mint. Trust me on the mint! It pairs beautifully with zucchini.

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I’ll post another round after this week’s experiments. Let me know if you try any of these, tell me what you liked & share your own recipes with me!