Sunday, April 01, 2012

Oakland Marathon 2012

I enjoyed Oakland Marathon immensely.

Mile 17

Even if I had to work very very hard for those last 4 miles, questioning why I would put myself through something like this; 

Mile 23

I had some incredible support from my fantastic running buddy from mile 20 onwards.

Mile 24

And I celebrated finishing in under 5 hours - my goal.  

Final 100 feet

In fact I finished in 4:53:59 and I think I could go faster the next time! 

But what I really want to tell you about is how great it was to share this event with my parents.  My Mum and Dad started together.  Here they are at the start line looking pretty excited.

Mum hurt her knee a couple of weeks ago on a training run though and soon after starting she realized that she wasn't going to be able to keep up her usual pace.  She pleaded with Dad to go on ahead and run his own race and finally around mile 7 he put his head down, pulled his socks up and ran on.  

The marathon route joined the half marathon route around Mile 17 and somewhere around Mile 21 I bumped into Mum.  She was powering along despite her sore knee and seeing her gave me a renewed energy.  Just what I needed at that point.

Both my parents finished with amazing times. My Dad in 2:55:59 and my Mum in 3:30:39.

When we left the finish line, a woman came up to my Mum and said, "I don't know if you could hear me cheering for you.  I was behind you on the route and I just have to tell you that I want to BE you when I grow up.  You are so inspiring!" I have felt like that all my life.

As for how I feel now, one week later?  Well, Marathon #3 certainly seemed like a smaller feat than #1 and #2.  It's quite curious that something that once seemed like the most amazing thing I would achieve feels a bit more common place and now instead I want to aim for running 10 marathons, or more.  I remember the time I met a woman who had run 13 marathons and I thought she was super woman, something beyond and above normal human beings; now that feels like something I might some day achieve. On that note, I've signed up for the next one in October.  Nike Women's Marathon, here I come! Who's with me?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Team in Training

Something I haven't touched on in a while, and deserves it's own post, is a description of the Team in Training experience.  I've been part of the same South Bay running team since the end of 2010*.  The team is extremely well organized with a whole host of helper volunteers including coaches, captains, mentors and managers.  They all work together to make it as positive an experience as possible for the participants who are training to run long distances that in many cases they've never run before.

The people who are attracted to Team in Training are a mixed bunch.  You get people of all ages, abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. Some participants are just out of college, others have kids that are that age; some participants can run 7 minute miles, others struggle (at first) to run consistently for more than 2 minutes at a time. It's difficult at first to see what we have common; until you realize that we're all there to raise money for research into finding a cure for Leukemia and Lymphoma; and to achieve something personally that's an incredible feat, something we'd be proud of, a bucket list item. That combination of altruism and personal zeal mixed together with a healthy dose of humor by the staff leads to the creation of the most incredible team.

It is difficult for me to fully explain the essence of this team in words because a lot of what the team embues is a spirit, a non-tangible glow that simply transports me from my day to day stress to a place of pure physical work and a joint sense of camaraderie. I show up to track practice every Tuesday, thoroughly exhausted from a long day of meetings and debates, feeling stressed and sometimes angry.  Without fail the workout, and the people there, just wash all of that away. We work hard to get through the workout the coaches have set; but we support each other in getting through and when we're done, it feels so good.  The team promotes a strong culture of cheering everyone on no matter what they're working towards.  There is lots of clapping and whopping and recognition of amazing efforts put out by all.

As the season progresses, Saturday long runs become the time to get to know the people on the team better.  If you spend 3-4 hours with someone, with no other distractions, it's inevitable that the conversation becomes about life experiences.  I know I'm not alone in saying I've made great and unexpected friends in this time, simply because we run at the same pace.

When I first joined TNT I thought I might find all the positivity difficult to handle.  I spend most of my day surrounded by fairly cynical information security types and I've calibrated to fit in there.  So much seemingly forced smiles and clapping seemed over the top.  But I'll tell you now I don't feel like that at all.  In fact I've realized that we don't smile and recognize each other enough because it feels damn good to have people tell you that you rock!

I love to run with the team because what we gain is both an individual achievement and a team achievement. We take joy in each person's progress but no one can really run for anyone else.  Each person has to find it within themselves to push and when they do, when YOU do, you celebrate, and everyone else celebrates. You pour your heart and mind into getting your body to keep going; you fight to go further each and every week and at the end of that run, the feelings of pride are only surpassed by how happy you are for every around you, who fought that same fight, and also ran further than they ever have before.

I want to talk about the lives saved by the research funded with the money raised by the people who participate in this program too, but I'll save that for another post.  This one is dedicated to the lives of the people who participate in the program. TNT saves those lives too, by helping us run marathons, by creating teams who care for each other and celebrate each other's success, by showing us that anything is possible when you have other people who believe in you.

If you're considering joining TNT and don't know if it's for you or if you'll be able, let me tell you, you can do it, we're here to support you through. It will change your life for the better.

*while I trained for Napa Valley marathon last year, when I (didn't really) train for San Jose half marathon and now while I'm training for Oakland marathon.  When training for Seattle marathon I trained with a different TNT team.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Annual State of the Body Address

Talking about the current state of one's injuries feels like the running equivalent of asking a stranger what they think of the weather.  It's an easy default topic on which you can rely on everyone having an opinion.  Here's my latest.

Between the wedding and the start of this season in November, I didn't run that often.  The few times I did, I wasn't fit or strong and my knee ached afterwards.  I didn't stress out.  I did, however, take up another activity - Yoga.  It started while my husband and I were on honeymoon in Grand Cayman.  The resort we were staying at offered yoga in the early morning on the roof, overlooking the ocean.  We learned about downward dogs and deep breathing in time with the waves and it was quite an introduction.  Yoga is something that our orthopedic massage therapist had recommended to both Sean and I as a way of loosening up the tight muscles in my legs and Sean's neck and back.  We decided to keep it up when we got home as something fun to do together.  A groupon offer soon after brought us to the Yoga Belly studio in downtown Mountain View.

Yoga Belly is it's own special type of class in a studio with a heater that brings the temperature up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.  Unlike Bikram, they don't keep the temperature there for the whole class though.  In the beginning of the class we focus entirely on core work, doing many different types of sit-up and planks to strengthen the abs.  In the middle of the class they turn the heater off as we turn up the cardio volume on the poses we work on.  We move fast between poses and it's a combination of balance and stretching, strengthening and breathing.  I sweat a lot! Like I have never shed water before. We're talking sweat dripping from elbows and knees, forehead and neck. Good thing I have a towel!  Then in the last part of the class the heater comes back on and we focus on stretching.  The class is 90 minutes long so there's no need to rush the stretches. We hold each one for a good few deep breaths and I have to tell you that my body feels so different after class.  Sean and I have been going to the class on Sunday morning with the same instructor for several months now, only missing when we're out of town or have people visiting.  I give 100% credit for my relaxed IT bands to this wonderful class.  It kicks my butt every Sunday and without Sean's encouragement I'd be tempted to skip it so often, but I feel soooo good afterwards that I'm always so glad I went.

Coming back to the running, at the start of the season I was nervous about whether I'd actually be able to run any more.  The first few short runs made my right knee ache again and I worried that would be it. But I built up slowly and as the miles piled on, the aching knee disappeared.  Tellingly, foam rolling my IT bands is a lot less painful this year.  It's a huge difference.  To the point where I can't believe how painful it was last year and that it's possible for it to not hurt that much. I have been pretty good at wearing my knee support and foam rolling throughout but I credit the 90 minutes of stretching at my weekly yoga class for really healing me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Family That Runs Together...

Well here we are folks, less than 2 weeks to go until my third marathon.  I just spent a little time reading through some posts from last year and I remember a time when I didn't think I'd ever get back here.  There was the surprise and frustration of my injury 3 weeks before Napa last year; followed by months of doctors and physical therapists, orthopedic massage and foam rolling; all leading to an inconclusive MRI and a knee that just wouldn't seem to heal.  Lucky for me I had a wedding in the middle of it all that distracted me. Then lo and behold when I tentatively put my running shoes back on last November, it was the start of the season that brought me here; uninjured. More about this in subsequent posts...

There are a few special notes about this race and this season training that I want to share with you all.  To begin with, I have a pair of special guests joining me in this mad caper this year.  My unbelievably brilliant Mum and Dad have entered to run the half marathon and I'm so excited to share this experience with them.  The story of their journey to this point is a fun one.

My Dad was overjoyed to witness my first marathon and really inspired by Team in Training including the support they provide and the fine examples of runners of all ages that they motivate to participate.  He left Seattle that year promising to start training so that we could run a marathon together.  Of course, life got in the way; he works long hours and has commitments that make it difficult to fit the training in; I got injured and couldn't train for the Dublin Marathon.  It didn't happen.

In the mean time, quietly and without any fuss or grand declarations my Mum picked up one of the books I had sent my Dad about training for a marathon and started to train by herself; slowly and short distances at first (how we all start out) but with consistency, building up to running non stop for many miles.  Before we knew it she was running 6, 7, 8 miles and blowing us away with her progress.

Dad was frustrated.  He wanted so badly to train but just couldn't figure out how to prioritize the training and motivate himself to get up and out when he needed to.  Mum and I schemed together to think of a way to help him and came up with a devious plan.  On a day he was feeling particularly energetic we asked my Dad if he really wanted to do the race.

"I really do," he replied, "Really!"

We made him commit to the training.

"I promise I'll train," he said, "This time, I'm sure I'll do it."

"How sure?" we replied, "Would you be willing agree to some negative consequences if you don't train?"

"Definitely.  I understand that bad things could happen if I don't work at this," he said, not realizing we were going to define the consequences very specifically.

"Would you be willing to put some money behind your confidence in your ability to train?" we continued.

"Yes," he agreed, "I'm that sure."

"OK so, we want you to write a check to your most hated political party for 500 Euro.  I'll keep the check and if you don't run the race, we'll post it!"

My Dad has a strong political allegiance to one party in Ireland so we made him write a check to the opposition party. He thought it was hilarious until he had to put pen to paper and found it extremely difficult to write out that check.  We had to pry it from his fingers and needless to say, my Dad has been the most dedicated runner for the following 6 months! Every time he feels too tired to go out running he thinks about his hard earned money going to a political fund he vehemently opposes and it's enough to make him put on his running shoes! He worked up to being able to keep up with my mother and they ran 12 miles together last weekend.  They're both more than thrilled to be running in the race on the 25th of March.

As for me I'm so delighted that I get to share the excitement and build up to a race with my parents.  There's something so thrilling about preparing for an event for so long and feeling the anticipation build and build as the date gets closer. Add to that I'm in taper by now so I have a whole lot of extra energy that I usually run off and for me it all goes into thinking about that one day, a couple of weeks from now, when the I'll have my race number on my chest and my running shoes on my feet and I'll watch the time count down to start and I'll be off!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How We Cooked A Goose; In Pictures

While traveling over Thanksgiving, we noticed this photo on the front of the latest edition of Saveur magazine in the newsstand. We were captivated and decided we'd like to change up Christmas dinner with something different and goose was going to be it. Never having cooked goose before we wanted to have a trial run before the big day and today was it.
Here's the goose as it came out of the fridge.  We bought it from Los Gatos Meats and they were extremely helpful.  We called on Thursday to order it and they moved it from the freezer to the fridge to make sure it was thawed and ready for us to cook.  This goose weighs 12 lbs.
Goose is very fatty.  

They left the skin from the neck attached.

Begin by removing all the extraneous fat.

Also remove the wing tips.

Wash the goose inside and out.

Make sure to dry it thoroughly.

Season with salt and pepper.

Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the skin.

Then put the lemon halves in the cavity.

Add some sage and thyme.

Place the goose in a roasting tray on a rack and fill the tray with chicken stock.
Cover with foil and steam for an hour to render as much fat from the skin as possible.

In the mean time, prepare the stuffing.  Start with some quartered brussel sprouts.

Some celery.
Dice a medium onion.
Dice some bacon,

and a couple of apples.

Add the onion, bacon and brussel sprouts to a pan to saute for a while.

Dice up some cooked chestnuts.

Add all of the stuffing ingredients to a bowl with some wild rice and parsley, thyme and sage.
After an hour, uncover the goose, move it while on the rack to another tray.

Drain off the chicken stock and liquid fat from the roasting tray.

There will be a lot of fat.  Let it sit for a while so the fat can rise to the top and siphon it off.

Remove the lemon and herbs from the cavity.

Drain the rest of the liquid from the goose.

Stuff the goose with some of the stuffing; placing the rest in an oven proof casserole dish.

After you separate the fat from the chicken stock, keep it aside to roast the vegetables in.

Place the goose, breast side down on the rack in the roasting tray.  Add a carrot, some onion and celery along with some stock into the bottom of the tray.  Place the tray in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour.

Then start on the gravy.  Melt some butter in a pot.

Clean up the neck and giblets, removing the silver skin. Saute these in the pot with the butter.

Add the stock and bring to the boil; turn down the heat and simmer for 40 minutes until it reduces by half. Add a little more chicken stock if you don't have enough stock from steaming the goose. 

Prepare the roast vegetables.  We used carrots, parsnips and potatoes and cut them into similar size and shapes.

After an hour, take the goose out of the oven.

Turn it breast side up and put it back in the oven at 475 for another 70 minutes.
When there is just 15 minutes left, put the casserole of stuffing and roast vegetables into the oven too.
When the stock has reduced by half, remove the neck and other giblets .

Drain the gravy through cheese cloth. 
When the time is up and the temperature of the stuffing inside the goose reaches 180 degrees, take the goose out and cover with foil to rest for 15 minutes.

Take out the stuffing with it has browned a little on top.

Use a little of the goose fat and flour to make a roux in the roasting pan on the stove top.

Add the goose stock and bring to the boil,  then allow to thicken.

The Goose!

Carve the goose, first take the legs off.

Then remove the breasts.
Strain the gravy.


The goose meat is very dark.

So, what's the verdict?  Well it took us 6+ hours of non stop cooking.  We didn't sit down from the moment we began at 12:45 until the meal was served shortly after 6pm. It smelled wonderful while we were cooking; wonderfully rich and intense. The gravy thick and tasty, one of the best ones we have made; the roasted veggies were delicious; the stuffing had great textures, it was crunchy and fruity.  But the goose was so very disappointing.  We managed to do what I thought was impossible for goose.  We dried it out.  The goose was dry and tough.  The skin was not crispy. We also tried the leg meat and it was a little better but still not enough to live up to expectations.

On review, we turned to our own bible of cooking (everyone has one don't they?) 'The New Best Recipe', by Cook's Illustrated.  They don't have a recipe for goose but they do for duck, where they suggest breaking up the bird following the steaming step so that the breast can be cooked for a shorter period than the legs.  If we ever try goose again, I think we'll do it this way.  Unfortunately though, our experience today has left us a little exhausted and disappointed so I don't think we'll try it for Christmas day.  The turkey is a tried, tested and much loved cheaper option that we'll cherish even more now that we know it's also better than other options.