Don't Call it a Comeback

Ugh. 2017 (and late 2016) has been pretty sucky on many levels, for many people.  Today I'm wallowing in the total suckage that has sucked my fitness from Pretty-Solid-for-My-Age to Basically-A-Couch-Potato.  I think I've been less motivated to write for the blog because there's not a lot of fun stuff to blog about. Unfortunately, while there's a comeback lurking somewhere around a corner, you loyal readers might forget who I am if I wait for the comeback before writing again. Let's start at the beginning of the suckage.

August 2016: Officially bailed on my plans to do the McKenzie Trail Ultra I had registered for and lotteried into.  Training was taking way too much time away from family on the weekends, and I wanted to have some fun with the rest of my summer!  Proceeded to slack off even from my normal 20-ish miles per week, took two separate week-long trips, and generally enjoyed myself.

September 2016: Had a blast doing the Gorgeous Relay, which ended up being a 23-mile day for me (over the course of four relay legs).  It was fun but kicked my ass, and I definitely spiked my mileage too aggressively in the two weeks leading up to it.

October 2016: My left foot hurt every time I ran, which was only 3 or 4 times before realizing something was definitely wrong.  Visited a clinic on a lunch break, and they said not to run for a couple of weeks and it would probably go away.

November 2016: It didn't go away.  After two more excruciating weeks of hobbling around, an x-ray showed a stress fracture in the third metatarsal in my left foot.  Classic overuse/running injury, likely caused by that super-fun 23-mile day in September.  Got to give all my left shoes a break and rock a walking boot for 6-8 weeks.

The view under my desk.  I also had to give up my standing desk for 2 months, which was torture.  Sitting all day hurts!

The view under my desk.  I also had to give up my standing desk for 2 months, which was torture.  Sitting all day hurts!

December 2016: Started physical therapy, which was also a bit of non-physical therapy, given that my poor PT had to put up with my nagging about when I could start running, alternating with my worrying aloud that I had a little pain and maybe we were pushing too hard and oh my god what if I never run again?!

January - February 2017: Kept up the physical therapy while performing in a show and digging out from under mountains of snow, and I even got to run on the Alter-G, this amazing machine that encapsulates your lower half into a bubble of air that somehow allows you to run with just a percentage of your body weight.  We started at 70% and worked our way up to 95%.  I was ready to run again!

March 2017: I was all ready to do my first run on the roads (10 minutes!) when I came down with strep throat. Like a 10-year-old.  So I waited. A week of antibiotics later, and I headed out for a .75 mile slow run around the neighborhood.  It felt great!  Except that an hour later, my back had completely seized up--turns out that being in a walking boot for 2 months messes with your alignment--and I was out of commission for several more days.  I waited AGAIN. The triumphant return to running would have to wait until the last week of March, when I would finally have the time and the health to try again. I even mapped out an optimistic little training plan to make sure I would be ready for the annual Mt. St. Helens climb on Mother's Day weekend.

BUT THEN.

The little cold I developed over the weekend turned into pneumonia.  PNEUMONIA, people.  I'm really an optimist most of the time but JEEZ. Can a lady get a break? I'm really getting tired of the couch potato life.

Yes, that's a hot toddy.  It's therapeutic!  I need something to take the edge off while I daydream about trail running and read horror stories of runners who tried to do marathons with pneumonia.

Yes, that's a hot toddy.  It's therapeutic!  I need something to take the edge off while I daydream about trail running and read horror stories of runners who tried to do marathons with pneumonia.

So that's what's going on with me.  The pneumonia diagnosis came through just two days ago.  The comeback has to wait until I'm done with this round of antibiotics and I can breathe deeply without hacking up a lung.  In the meantime, I'm going to start blogging some recipes I've managed to cook up in the last few months, and I'm keeping fingers crossed that I'll still be able to climb St. Helens in May.  

I promise I'll try to spend less time perusing race websites and dreaming about what might have been.  And maybe I'll have a race report for you sometime later this year.

 

PS: I can't end this post with all that negativity, so here's a list of great things that have happened over the last few months:

  • My adorable kids turned 4 and 1 and we had wonderful holidays.
  • My wife started a volunteer gig teaching coding to women and got a much-deserved promotion at work.
  • I got to do a show I've wanted to do for decades, with an amazing cast of awesome people.
  • I am successfully getting my Spanish back in shape as I prepare to take on some pro bono immigration cases. 
  • I finally learned how to drive in the snow.
  • I continue to love my day job.

Apparently I'm still an optimist, albeit a slower and lazier one.

 

 

 

 

The little things, and some corn tortillas

Evenings in my house are beyond exhausting.  With both of us working full-time and both kids in daycare/pre-school, the whole family stumbles into the house already weary from the long day, the hairy commute, some serious playing, and two demanding jobs. Sometimes it's all we can do to get the kids fed and in bed before we collapse into bed ourselves - and yes, there have been quite a few nights when I've fallen asleep in my 3-year-old's room while trying to read him a book at 7:30pm. 

Dinnertime often means a debate between takeout and cooking, simplicity and completeness, sitting down to eat whatever or cooking on our aching feet. Given all this, it's no wonder that any real creativity in the kitchen has been limited to weekends only - and even weekends often end up being too packed for cooking adventures.  

So: I'm learning to choose the little things, to embrace convenience where it won't ruin a meal, and to make the effort where it will really make a difference.

All that to say: I made my own corn tortillas from scratch, y'all!

Wife and I have been trying to make time to check out the Portland Mercado for months, and we finally made it there last weekend.  I spotted a big bag of corn masa - which just looks like a big bag of flour, but smells SO MUCH like corn - and snagged it.  Upon returning home, I promptly headed right back out to buy my first tortilla press.

After a bit of trial and error (noted: toddlers are not great at making really thin tortillas, parchment paper is less sticky than plastic wrap), I made one awesome batch.  Wife and I ate most of them in minutes with just some avocado and salt* - they were so much more delicious than the usual package of tortillas from TJ's.  The next time I made a batch, it was to make the BBQ tempeh tacos** pictured here.  The taco innards were easy as (store-bought) pie to put together, so the extra 20 minutes of tortilla-making was absolutely worth it.

*Note: during these days of parenting young children, hardly remembering what a full night's sleep felt like, and barely holding it together through the epic tantrums of The Threenager (oh, how I hate that annoying-yet-totally-accurate made-up word), a meal of tortillas and avocado - eaten standing up over the still-hot stovetop - qualifies as straight-up culinary elegance.

**Stay tuned for future posts on No Meat Athlete's new meal planning program - Meg and I are both trying it and plan on sharing results soon!

Now that I'm totally an expert and all...

Cait's Tortilla-Making Hints:

Follow the directions on your bag of masa, which you can get at most grocery stores.  Here are a few extra things I've learned:

  1. You want your dough to feel like Play-Doh.  The instructions on my bag of masa said to use 1.75 cups of water for every 2 cups of masa flour, and that ratio was basically perfect.
  2. Make your dough balls on the small side - they're less likely to fall apart when you pick them up to add them to the pan.
  3. If you've got a tortilla press, awesome - you'll have thinner tortillas - but if you don't, a heavy plate will do just fine.
  4. Get your pan really hot before you add the tortillas - like so hot you think it might start smoking.  It makes a huge difference to how well and quickly the tortillas cook.
  5. While still warm, top a tortilla with a few slices of ripe avocado and a sprinkle of salt.  So simple and seriously good.

How about you?  Where does a little effort make a big difference in your life / kitchen / work?  Perhaps more importantly, when and where is it totally worth it to choose convenience?

Might as Well Face It, I'm Addicted to Sugar

A few weeks ago, I embarked on a journey to quit sugar. No added sugar for a week, meaning no cookies or pastries or chocolate. Fruit and bread products, such as pasta, were OK (yes, I know refined wheat is quickly converted to sugar, but one painful week at a time, OK?). No brown sugar on my oatmeal, no fruit juice.

To be clear, I am not the type to binge on sweets. I don't gobble down an entire cake in a sitting (I don't even really like cake), and I defy that stereotype of the woman needing her chocolate fix; I could take it or leave it. So you may think giving sugar up for a week would be no big deal for me. However, I consistently give into a craving for cookies or a pastry. Every. Single. Day.

It isn't just that I think something sweet would be nice; that would be manageable. I literally salivate when I think of certain items on my go-to-sugar-fix list. When that feeling kicks in, there is no turning back, no such thing as willpower. Only the voice in my head saying, "I ran 3 miles today / ate a small lunch / deserve it because I work hard and have two young kids." The excuses vary by day.

 

The first day of my "experiment" went by without incident. I was fueled by my determination to reach my goal. I even resisted the donuts at work (we bring in donuts for every new hire, and we evidently hired a half dozen people that day).

 

Day Two was a different story. The donuts were still there, but my resolve was faltering. I found myself coming up with the same excuses and using sheer willpower to drown out those voices. I was miserable, and it was only Tuesday.

 

The next couple days were no easier, but I was starting to realize something: my cravings were rising during certain emotional states. Primarily, stress.

 

From the minute I enter the door to the moment I put my toddler and preschooler to bed, it's nonstop action, whether that means cooking, cleaning, playing, or acting as a human barrier between tiny swinging fists. Walking downstairs after getting the last one tucked in is pure relief--I got through another day. And I am so exhausted, so tense, so deserving of a cookie. My husband had so thoughtfully made sugar cookies--I couldn't hurt his feelings by not eating just one, could I?

 

I'd like to say that completely eliminating stress would end my cravings--that probably would help--but it will likely be a fixture in my life until my kids can fend for themselves. As I've aged, my tolerance for stress has decreased. I no longer pride myself on my ability to thrive under pressure. I just don't have it in me anymore, perhaps because I am in a constant state of physical, mental, and emotional movement. I'm basically a walking, talking, ticking time bomb some days; one additional stressor, even a small one, can set me off.

 

My latest approach is simply trying to reduce the impact stress has on me, rather than try to reduce the number of stressors.  My only option besides prescription drugs (not off the table, mind you) is to find natural methods to deal with stress, thereby curbing the killer cravings. I started taking a hot yoga class two weeks ago. Some may find it odd, but I find the sweltering, tropical, 100-plus-degree heat to be calming and refreshing at the same time. Granted, I slipped on my sweaty mat last week during downward dog, but that's just par for the course. If I can commit to going to class, it may be a while before I notice any effects on my stress levels.

 

I've also started running again. Putting one foot after the other can be very meditative. My runs along the Willamette River are slow and steady--I've been passed by men in their 60s--but they give me the time to work things out in my head. I arrive back at work refreshed and ready to face the last half of the day.

 

I will keep working on the magic potion that will make me impervious to the emotions that drive me to sugar. Until I find it, I am trying to not let sugar abstinence rule my life. Instead, I'm doing my best to reduce stress and find solace in a walk or a cup of herbal tea, as cliche as that sounds, but not killing myself if I slip up. I have enough stressors to answer to these days; adding another voice to answer to might end in an all-out cookie-dough gorgefest.

Who is Cait?

I get more feedback than the average gal when I run. I hear “right on!” from dudes I am trying to ignore. “You go girl!” is a common one from the ladies, too. This happens on the road, on race courses, out on the trails. If I see ten people out on my run, I can almost guarantee at least one or two of them will say something to me. If you closed your eyes and listened to my run, you’d think I’m one impressive athlete, but you’d be wrong—I am definitely not a fast runner.

I am a fat runner.

You read that right. I run a solid 11-minute mile on a flat surface, and it’s not rare to catch me chugging up long hills at a less-than-blistering 13-minute pace. People cheer me on because I’m straight-up chubby, and it’s not often you see a 30-something woman carrying 40 extra pounds along for 5 miles, except for perhaps on reality TV.Wahine

Sure, runners are generally an inclusive bunch, and on some days the cheering masses are right—I do need a little affirmation. Still, often those hurrahs just serve to remind me that no matter how many hours I’ve logged on my feet, no matter how many more miles I’ve run than they have this week, I’m still considered less of an athlete because of the extra pounds.

I combat the feeling by reminding myself of my boosters' good intentions, make a mental note that I should not be turning lemonade into lemons, and feel lucky that I am, in fact, doing great (and weren’t they kind to notice?). It usually works.

Last spring, while training for my first half-marathon, I often ran a particularly hilly 6-mile route. I killed it on those hills back then, and I loved taking in the views from the road. One freakishly cold afternoon, I rounded a bend on my way back downhill to see a chubby 20-something woman jogging toward me, hustling her way uphill.

Finally, I got it: The urge to say “you go girl!” was overwhelming.

I found it hard to suppress not only because she was chunky, but because she was running hard and smiling and clearly working her butt off on that hill. I opened my mouth to cheer her on, and closed it again. We both knew we were athletes, and that with every step we were at proving that women don't have to be skinny to be healthy.

It took a long time to get to the place where I worry more about my fitness than my body fat, and I plan to stay here by cooking (and sharing!) my mostly plant-based recipes.  Rather than pursuing weight loss, I try to focus on health in my cooking, eating, running, and writing, while trying to fit it all into my crazy life.  There will be days when I skip the cooking, running, and writing altogether, and weeks when my infant son keeps me up so much at night that junk food takes the place of sleep, but I’m ok if my pursuit is of “good enough” and not so much perfection.

All that to say that I will likely continue to be the big girl on the race course, and you are welcome to cheer me on.