Monday, November 17, 2014

Into The Off-Season ...

A week after running the Savannah RnR Marathon I find myself in an uncomfortable position - the off season. When I was a younger and less experienced triathlete I didn't think that an off-season was necessary. It didn't make sense to me at the time that taking a specific chunk of time off at the end of a year and resting the body could make you faster next year. I learned my lesson the hard way and after 3 years of not taking any real break I was burned out and completely unmotivated to continue training. In the long run this turned out to be a good thing because it forced me into an off-season and I actually had my best season of racing coming off of it! Funny how that works!

Now, I can totally appreciate and understand the importance of taking time off. First of all, it's allowing me to fully recover from the marathon. The only thing I did last week was ride my bike once for 40 minutes! I'm pretty sure most endurance athletes would be horrified if they only did one 40-minute easy workout over the duration of 7 days. BUT, I know it was good for me and I know that not working out for 6 days will not affect my racing one iota next year. Second, taking some time to relax is going to allow me to do a few other things I usually don't do, like fully indulge in the festivities of my dad's 60th birthday next weekend. Third, by the time I'm done with this break, I will be bursting at the seams with motivation to start training again. To tell you the truth I already want to start training again, but I'm forcing myself to take 2 more full weeks off, where the only working out I do is whatever I feel like doing, certainly nothing overly strenuous. Then in December I plan to start a big focus on (surprise, surprise), the bike!

In case you still don't think an off-season is for you, this article by Jeff Smith of TOPS Athletics (with a few quotes from me in the nutrition section) sums up the benefits nicely and just might may help you change your mind.

After months and months of hard training and racing, the body and the mind of the triathlete need more than just a week of rest and recovery. When following the principles of annual periodization, just as every training week has a rest day, and every training cycle, or block, has a rest week, every year should have an “off-season” for the body to recharge. This is the time to focus on rest & recovery, treating those nagging overuse injuries, developing muscular strength and a balanced body to enhance performance and prevent injury, and optimal whole foods nutrition to restore energy levels and achieve optimal body composition.

Most pro triathletes will incorporate a 12-week off-season mesocycle into their annual training plan. The first two weeks of this off-season period are literally spent resting. Two weeks is adequate time to reestablish normal hormonal homeostasis after a season of hard training & competition. Two weeks is enough time to make the triathlete begin to miss the structure of their training and begin to feel that mental charge to want to begin training again, but it’s not long enough to suffer any quantifiable loss in fitness. This is an excellent opportunity to focus on reconnecting with family, friends, reading, sleeping in, or simply walking the dog.

It’s no secret that triathletes are some of the most driven & focused individuals you’ll ever meet. It’s quite common for the competitive triathlete to train & compete through nagging aches & pains, which are often symptoms of the development of overuse injuries. If you are one of the ones who “trained through the pain”, then during the off-season, you MUST address these symptoms to determine the underlying cause and correct the issues. This includes anything from plantar fasciitis to patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee) to IT Band friction syndrome to hip pain to lower back pain to rotator cuff tendonitis (swimmer’s shoulder). Have a Sports Med professional, ie Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist, conduct an Initial Evaluation to diagnose the root cause of the issues and develop a treatment plan to resolve these issues before beginning your pre-season training cycle. If you ignore these signs & symptoms, it’s not a matter of if, but when you will develop a debilitating, chronic overuse injury or sustain a serious, acute, season ending injury.

Developing and maintaining optimal muscular strength is a critical component of enhancing performance and preventing injury in the triathlete. This does not mean heavy barbell squats like an NFL running back or heavy barbell bench presses like WWF wrestler. It means following an appropriate, sport-specific, Strength & Conditioning program for off-season triathletes designed by a professional, ie Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Laws of physics dictate that Power = Force x Velocity, but in the case of the triathlete, Power:Weight ratio is critical for optimal performance. This said, the competitive triathlete must maintain a lean & efficient physique while maximizing the mechanical strength of their skeletal muscle in order to maximize power output. This is achieved through the appropriate selection of sport-specific exercises, loads, rep & set schemes, rest periods, and weekly frequency. The professional Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialists will work as critical members of your coaching team with your Endurance Coaches and your Athletic Trainers or Physical Therapists to help keep you on the continuum of care during the off-season from injury treatment & rehabilitation to corrective exercise & strengthening to “return to play” status.

Considering the fact that many competitive triathletes have families & careers, between their personal & professional lives and the time demands imposed by training, optimal nutrition is often neglected. The off-season is the window of opportunity to step away from the gels and carb/electrolyte sports beverages and chews and focus on clean, whole foods nutrition. This is the perfect time for the triathlete to focus on body composition goals targeted towards that optimal Power:Weight ratio. “Many athletes talk about ‘getting to race weight’ during the season. The truth is, the bulk of weight loss should be accomplished during the off season when the athlete’s body is not under the same rigorous training/racing demands as in-season.” As mentioned above, the first 2 weeks of rest in the off-season allow the body ample time to return to normal hormonal balance, but optimal whole foods nutrition & hydration is key to this process. The appropriate quantities & ratios of macronutrients (carbs, fats, & proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, & water) are also critical to support the body’s efforts in reducing inflammation and repairing damaged tissues resulting from overuse injuries. Adequate caloric & nutrient intake will also restore the body to optimal energy levels. “Endurance athletes benefit from foods that (1) improve the state of the cardiovascular system to enhance blood flow to working muscles, (2) that provide antioxidants and phytochemicals to speed recovery between workouts, and (3) are high in nutrient density such that they are satisfying without contributing excess calories & fat to the diet that could prevent an athlete from reaching an optimal body fat percent and racing weight.” Undergoing a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) test and a Nutrient Analysis is a good place to start in developing an off-season whole foods nutrition plan.

For the competitive triathlete, the off-season is as critical of a period of time as your peak training blocks during your in-season training. It’s the time for your mind & body to rest & recharge, for you to treat the causes of those nagging aches & pains that you pushed through during training & competition, the time to focus on muscular strength & balance, and your opportunity to restore your body’s hormonal & immune system balance through optimal whole foods nutrition. So, as we approach the end of the competitive season, make sure to discuss your off-season goals and plans with your endurance coach to set yourself up for success in next season’s training & competition!

Jeff Smith, MS, CSCS, EIM1

Monday, November 10, 2014

Savannah Rock 'N' Roll Marathon 2014

I feel like I'm on top of the world right now after achieving my goal of running the 2014 Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in under 3 hours and on top of that surprisingly winning the race!  There's nothing more satisfying than setting a challenging goal for yourself, putting in the hard work & dedication to propel yourself towards that goal, and then ultimately attaining it!  

I started my 18-week Without Limits training plan for Savannah RnR back in July.  It started w/ a 5-week build where I focused solely on increasing my mileage from 50 miles/week to 65 miles/week.  I did 1 day of speed work during this block; other than that all my miles were slow.  When I say slow I mean slow - July in Wilmington is very hot and humid and it was not uncommon for me to average 9:00-9:30 pace on some of my easy runs.  After I had built up my base mileage, my training was periodized into a series of 3 weeks at 65 miles/week:1 week recovery.  I also started incorporating a second day of speed work, usually some intervals during my long run.  With 2 months to go, I upped the length of my long runs which had previously ranged from 14-17 miles.  I did an 18, two 20s, and a 22-miler.  The weather cooled down and my times were naturally getting quicker.  I ran a marathon-pace 1/2 marathon and finished that in 1:29 on tired legs.  My confidence at this point was high - I was not injured, I was hitting my mileage, and nailing all of my speed work.  Three weeks out of the race, thing started to unravel a little bit.  I got a weird GI thing right before Beach2Battleship where I ran a 1:31 half.  I had a few speed workouts after that where I just didn't feel good and it was hard to hit my times.  I felt tired and tried to focus on recovery and getting back to 100% for the last 2 weeks.  During the taper I just felt weird, which I know is normal, but it made me question whether or not I'd actually be able to do it.  

Despite feeling unsure about how the shaky last 3 weeks of training were going to affect my race, I knew I had one other trump card up my sleeve and that was my nutrition.  After getting back from my trip to Colorado in August to support Sharon at the Leadville 100, I made the decision to fine tune my diet to make sure I was at race weight by Savannah.  For the most part I eat a very healthy diet, but there are plenty of unhealthy vegan foods that sometimes creep in there:  vegan ice cream, homemade vegan chocolate chip cookies, dark chocolate, vegan banana bread, tortilla chips, sweetened coffee drinks, etc.  I cut these things out and ate an entirely whole-foods plant-based diet for 2 months prior to the race.  I literally pruned all of the processed foods out of my diet.  I ate fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, & seeds.  The results were amazing and well worth the effort!  When I ran Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon back in March I weighed about 126-127 lbs.  My weight for this race was 119.  I also significantly reduced my body fat from about 15-16% to 11.5%, which is the leanest I've ever been.  It felt good going into this race at race weight :)

On Friday morning Ashely picked me up & we got on the road to Savannah - girls weekend!!!  We did the expo and picked up some drinks and pizza from Mellow Mushroom (vegan mega veggie, no cheese) and ate dinner at the luxurious La Quinta Midtown hotel.  I felt really bad for Ashley when we realized we had forgotten a bottle opener and her attempts to open her Corona were futile :(

Four a.m. on Saturday morning came around real quick!  We caught the 4:45 shuttle from the hotel and arrived at the race start almost 2 hours early.  We chilled out in Panera where Ashely was able to get some java that tasted better than the coffee water at the hotel.  I did a small dynamic warm up and before you know it, it was time to start!  I made my way to Corral #1 and stayed in the back.  I really didn't want to be tempted to start out too fast. 

The gun went off and the first mile was kinda crowded.  Half marathoners and full marathoners started together so it was impossible to tell who was doing what.  I wanted to run an easy first couple of miles and let my body settle into marathon pace.  I looked at my watch and it said I was running 7:30 pace.  I was not happy about that b/c I didn't feel like I would be comfortable running much faster than that, which probably wasn't a good sign.  But, I ignored this and hoped that I would ease into it.  Well, when I passed the first mile there was a digital clock and it read 6:40!  Holy crap, I had just run the first of 26 miles in 6:40!  Not good.  I forced myself to slow down over the next few miles and my watch eventually became accurate.  

I didn't feel great for the first 5-8 miles of the race.  Maybe it was b/c it was early and cold and I needed time to warm up.  Maybe it was because I was nervous.  I kept worrying about what I would do if I didn't feel good in the first half of the race.  If the first 13 felt hard, how on earth would I run a second 13!?  Because of this I was very anxious to get to the 13 mile mark.

At 11 miles the course split:  half-marathoners went straight and the rest of us fools went left.  Right after the split I passed a woman and I noticed that there was a cyclist next to me who had been riding around me for a while.  I wondered what place I was in and thought I must be in a decent place if this rider is keeping tabs on me.  Miles 12 & 13 were on flat black pavement - I love running on that surface.  And there were huge loud speakers blaring Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal."  I felt a surge of energy and all of a sudden I was 10 times more relaxed than I had been for the first half of the race.  I ran a pair of 6:40 miles and was ok with that.  A few people had started shouting out "2nd female" and it hit me that I was in second place!

Miles 14-16 were probably my favorite part of the course!  We ran though Savannah University and it was so much fun!  All the students were out cheering us on, blasting music, dancing, and having a good time.  The atmosphere was just awesome and I couldn't help but smile as I ran through there.  Around mile 15 there was an out and back section and I saw the lead female.  She looked really strong and was pretty far ahead of me.  I thought, "there's no way I'm going to catch up to her."  But at the same time I have done many triathlons where I haven't caught a competitor until the final finishing chute and I know that in long races like this anything can happen.  However, I just told myself to stick with my plan, run my race, and shoot for my sub-3.  At mile 16 I still felt great and said to myself, "I can't believe there's only 10 miles left!"  I was confident that I could get to the finish in under 3 hours.  Around this time the course veered onto Savannah University's track, which was my favorite part of the part of the course that was on the campus!  There was loud music and cheer leaders lining the sides of the track.  It totally made you feel like a rock star as you ran around!!  It also reminded me of the many days I spent in Greensboro at A&T's track.  I felt really strong and happy to be in the moment.  

It's amazing in a marathon how you can go from feeling bad to good to great to terrible to good to terrible.  I'd say I hit a pretty good wall at mile 19.  All of a sudden, running got hard.  I didn't feel as smooth and it was taking some real effort to keep on pace.  Around 20 miles two guys passed me.  All I could hear in my head was Tom Clifford's voice from our talk the previous night saying, "DON'T GET CAUGHT RUNNING THE RACE ALONE!"  I was so tired and my legs were really starting to fatigue and all I wanted to do was walk.  But, I took Cliff Dog's advice and latched on to the fellas.  They were running about 6:40/6:45 pace and it hurt to keep up, but I was afraid if I didn't I would blow it.  I tried to feed off of their energy and just put one foot in front of the other to keep up.  I wanted to quit, but I didn't let myself.

Then, around mile 22 we turned a corner and I saw the best sight ever:  the first place female runner!!!  I couldn't believe it!  I was gaining on her, rapidly!  All of a sudden I went from feeling like trash to feeling like a million bucks!  I passed her and she cheered me on saying "You are running strong, go for it, you deserve it!"  I was incredulous and running on pure adrenaline thinking, "Holy shit, I might actually win this entire thing!!!"  I even started getting a little choked up, but everyone knows you can't cry and run 6:50s at the same time, so I took a few deep breaths and carried on.  At this point I was running inbound towards the finish, but there were still many marathoners running outbound and we were passing each other.  I got so many cheers:  "First woman!" "Go girl!" "Looking strong!" "You're kicking ass!"  It was so awesome!  Thank you to everyone who helped cheer me on - it pumped me up and gave me strength to get to the end, which I needed b/c things got very difficult again.

Mile 24 was on the highway and there was a little headwind.  Thankfully a guy caught up to me and I tucked in behind him.  When I said sorry about doing this he was like, "It's ok, draft away!"  I was so thankful to again fall into someone else's footsteps and let them carry me closer and closer to the finish line.  

With about 1.5 miles left, the marathon joined back up with the half marathon course.  This was one of the hardest parts of the race for me because I was so tired and these final miles felt like a continuous gradual uphill.  But again, my spirits were lifted by the energy of the half marathoners, who were cheering wildly as I passed them.  I knew if I could just stay under 7:00 pace that I would finish under 3 hours and this was getting really exciting!!!  With 1 mile to go, I knew I had the win and I knew I was going to break 3 hours (unless my legs gave out, which was not outside the realm of possibility).  Once you get to the point where you have one more mile, you know you can get there.

The last quarter mile of the race was the best.  TONS of spectators were lining the streets and the finishing chute was incredible.  People were packed 20 deep, crowding the sides of the streets as I ran down the final yards of the race.  I heard the announcer announcing that the first female was finishing & was in disbelief to hear my name being called!  The crowd was cheering and it was a moment I'll never forget.  I think I had the biggest grin on my face and raised my arms in the air making a #1 sign on both hands.  I saw them hold up the finishing tape and got to feel myself run through it - so very cool!  My official chip time was 2:59:02 (6:50/mi).  Immediately I was handed an American flag and asked to hold it up so all the reporters and camera people could take pictures!  I'm not ashamed to say I shed a few tears of pure joy :)

It was a real whirlwind after that!  The announcer grabbed me and had me walk back out onto the course where I did an interview.  Then a bunch of tv cameras & reporters interviewed me, asking about my training, the race, my expectations, was I surprised to win, etc etc!  I took a ton more pictures, and was ushered to the VIP tent where I waited for the awards ceremony.  They called us all up on this huge stage and presented the top finishers w/ awards.  It was pretty amazing and I felt like a real celeb, lol!  

After the awards, Phillip Phillips came on stage and put on a great concert.  His voice sounded great live and Ashley & I hung out for a while before cleaning up & continuing to celebrate!  She was an awesome sherpa for the race - thank you SO much for coming on the trip w/ me, waking up at 4 am, bringing your clappers and cow bells, cheering me on during the race, and having tons of fun the entire time, you rock and we need to do this again!

Congrats to all finishers & thanks to all volunteers!  I'm still in shock that I got a 10 minute marathon PR, ran sub 3 hours, and emerged the female champion of the 2014 Savannah Marathon!  And I think I'll continue to be in shock for a while.  I couldn't be happier about the weekend and with how the race turned out.  I feel like I'm just a girl and I'm on fire ;)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Race Report: Beach2Battleship 2014

Beach 2 Battleship is always a super fun event!  There's nothing better than racing on your home turf and seeing all of your buddies on the course & in the crowd throughout the day!  I'm so glad that Ashley Pierce (aka Malibu) asked me earlier this year to be on a relay team w/ her - thanks AP!  On to the report...

At the beginning of the week I was planning on doing the run portion of the relay and was contemplating how to work the run into my marathon training schedule given that it would be 2 weeks away from Savannah.  After a panicked phone call to coach Tom Clifford on Tuesday, I had a plan to run 55 miles total for the week and do a specific workout during the race.  Well, this was nice but it all went out the window Wednesday night around 10 pm when I started feeling really sick.  I ended up alternating between vomiting & diarrhea every hour on the hour the entire night.  I got zero sleep and it was not fun nor pretty.  Thankfully, Lou covered for me at work on Thursday and I just laid in bed all day (I owe you Lou!!!)  My stomach was so queasy, I couldn't eat anything.  To sum it up, I was basically on a clear liquid diet on Thurs & Fri and I felt too ill too run.  I also found out on Friday that I would be swimming as well as running on Saturday!  I guess you could say the only silver lining in the situation was that by Saturday I was definitely at race weight! 

Saturday morning I met up w/ fellow MFers, Lee, Keira, Ashely, & Alli.  We all rode the bus to race start together and it was exciting to be taking part in this event again!  I was really excited for Alli since it was her first 70.3 ever!!! 

The Swim (1.2 miles) - 28:09
The relays started with men 30-34 and when I got in the water I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't that cold.  The current was so strong that we were literally having to swim against it to stay behind the starting line!  I had a tiny moment of nervousness because it's been a while since I've been in a mass swim start like that, but it quickly disappeared once the starting horn blasted and I found myself in a familiar rhythm.  I felt really good and enjoyed the temperature of the water and the scenery of the swim.  For whatever reason it felt like the last 250 yds of the swim were the most difficult.  Maybe it was because there were so many swimmers closing in on SeaPath that it was choppier and more crowded.  But I hit the deck, declined the wetsuit stripper, and hauled ass into T1 where Ashley was waiting for me ready to rock!  She shot out of T1 like a woman on a mission and I met up with Kurt and we cheered on the rest of the incoming swimmers & outgoing bikers!

After a quick shower and bite to eat, Kurt & I headed downtown for my second leg of the relay.  The transition area was loco!!!  The runners were scattered among spectators and the bikers had to run out of T2 and find their runner.  It made things kind of amusing watching the bikers run/hobble in their cycling shoes!  When I saw Ashely come in, after a smoking' 2:47:09 bike split, I was excited to get out onto the run course.

The Run (13.1 mi) - 1:31:35
My plan for the run was to start out comfortable and see how things progressed.  If I felt good, I wanted to negative split and perhaps drop a small hammer for the last 5-6 miles.  At the start I felt fantastic, cruising around 7:05 pace.  I decided to hold that for the first half before getting any crazy ideas.  I saw soooo many friends on the run course which totally made my day!!!  Around 5-6 miles, my legs started to feel tired - like my glycogen stores were empty...wait, they probably were empty considering I pretty much did the opposite of carbohydrate loading leading into this race.  At that point, I just decided to try to hold pace and not worry about going faster - my body didn't seem like it wanted to drop below 7:00 miles and that was ok.  I enjoyed being in the moment and got a huge thrill from crossing the finish line in downtown Wilmington amongst a cheering crowd!  

I found Ashley, her husband Jackie, and Kurt and we chilled out for a while and watched our fellow MFers finish!  Our total time was 4:51:21 and we ended up 4th in the mixed relay division - not too shabby!  Almost on the podium!  

Congrats to all finishers - it was a great day out there! Thanks to all volunteers & supporters for making it such an awesome event.  Special congrats to Alli for finishing her first 70.3, to Keira for a solid 3rd AG finish, Lee for 3rd place Aquabike, and especially to Mike for gutting out a hell of a day and finishing his first 140.6!!!!  You guys are awesome and I can't wait to train and race together in 2015.  Many many more fun times to come :)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Setup Events' North Carolina Triathlon Series

Ever since I started racing triathlon back in 2008, the Setup Events North Carolina Triathlon Series (NCTS) has been the premier triathlon series in this state.  I can't even count how many of their races I've done and I can say that being a participant in these events has been a great experience!  In addition to awesome race venues - Wrightsville Beach, White Lake, Over the Mountain, Belews Lake, Stumpy Creek, etc - the NCTS has garnered prestige for being highly competitive.  Historically you could show up at any given event and race against the best of the best in NC.  That fact made the NCTS special.  I don't think it was a coincidence that this set up (pun intended) spurred tougher training & stiffer competition.  It gave North Carolinians their own triathlon microcosm from which many elite amateur and professional triathletes emerged.

It makes me a little sad to see that this has changed.  In 2014, NCTS stopped offering prize money for the top series finishers.  This may not seem like a big deal, especially because it wasn't a ton of money, but I believe it has had the result of diluting the series.  There were not as many people at races this year and the depth of the open fields was staggeringly shallow.  I've spoken to a few people about the change and the main reason I was offered was that it was made to increase participation.  Instead of prize money to top competitors and prize packages for top age groupers, the NCTS now offers a prize package (tri bag, sunglasses, t-shirt, etc) to anyone who completes 5 races.  Theoretically, this incentivizes triathletes of all speeds to race more NCTS races.  But isn't this just like the receipts you can collect from Food Lion in November?  Yes, if you spend enough money you earn a free turkey, but couldn't you have just bought the turkey alone for cheaper?

I guess you can probably tell that I don't think this new approach is optimal.  Here is some more food for thought about why the NCTS prize money should be reinstated:

*The most successful triathlon production brand (IM) is also the most competitive.  When Rev3 stopped offering prize money to the pros, they stopped coming to races.  I think this resulted in many top amateurs choosing other races, and in turn may have had a trickle down effect on other age groupers.

*People love going to races where they can see the pros, race against the pros, and compare their own times against the pro times.  I believe this holds true on a smaller scale for local competition.  I remember when I was just starting out in this sport, I knew all the names of the best local athletes and I thought it was cool to see them on the course, talk to them after the races, and of course compare times - even if I was 30+ minutes behind the leaders I still got a thrill if even one of my splits was relatively close.

*I don't know a single triathlete who is satisfied to remain at their current speed.  It is part of the triathlete mentality to constantly push themselves to be faster and try to work their way up the age group ladder.

*The athletes who race the most frequently have a direct and an indirect influence on other athletes who are deciding what races to add to their schedule.  Regardless if this is through personal interactions or social media, the impact is there.  In general, the more competitive athletes compete more frequently.

*Competing regularly against the best makes you better and also serves as a measuring stick for your progress.

*There was a certain appeal to racing in the NCTS series because of the high quality of the competition.  It just feels flat without it.

I guess the central theme to my overall point is that good competition is important for the vitality of a race series.  The best way to draw competitors is to "show me the money."  I would bet that if another series comes along and does this, participation will increase immediately.  I think it's great when race companies make the events more family & spectator friendly, but I'm starting to think that this alone will not result in higher participation.

I hope this blog doesn't make me sound like an arrogant a$$.  This is just something that's been bouncing around in my head recently and I had 3 hours to try to figure out how to articulate it while I was running my 22-miler this morning!  Will I race the NCTS in 2015?  Yes.  Will I enjoy it?  Of course. But, if I had another local option that fostered the same type of magical allure as the previous NCTS, I would not hesitate to sign up right now.

This may not be my most popular post, but I'd love to hear what other people think about this, especially those who have raced both pre-2014 and in 2014.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Best Way To Cook Tofu

Organic tofu is one of the healthiest (and cheapest) proteins that you can incorporate into your diet.  When I talk to people about eating tofu, I often hear that maybe they've tried it in a restaurant and liked it but are intimidated to cook it at home because they just don't know what to do.  This blog is intended to bridge that gap by showing you the easiest way to cook tofu and how to incorporate it into a meal.

I've been shopping at Trader Joe's a lot recently because I discovered that they have the best prices on produce and I eat a ton of produce!  Here are the ingredients that you will need for this recipe:

1 package of organic firm tofu
1 bag of mixed frozen veggies
Trader Joe's Island Soyaki sauce (or any other low-fat sauce)
brown or black rice (not pictured)

1.  Cut open the package of tofu and drain the water.

2.  Cut off 1/4 of the block of tofu if you are making 1 serving (use 1/2 of block for 2 servings) and put remaining 3/4 block of tofu back in original packaging.  Fill original packaging with fresh water and store in refrigerator for up to 1 week, changing the water daily.

3.  Slice tofu into 6 pieces.

4.  Heat non-stick pan to medium-high (I like to use my crepe pan for this because it's completely flat and the tofu never sticks to it).  Place tofu into pan.

5.  Cook for about 1-2 minutes until tofu just begins to brown.  This step helps get some of the excess water out of the tofu and prevents you from having to press the tofu prior to cooking.

6.  Pour your sauce of choice over the tofu.

7.  Cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the pan side of the tofu browns. Using a sauce that has a little bit of sweetness to it, like Trader Joe's Island Soyaki, helps the caramelization process and gives your tofu a nice color.

8.  Flip tofu and cook the other side for another 1-2 minutes, until lightly browned.

9.  Serve over rice & veggies and pair with an apple for a healthy energizing meal.  This is GREAT for athletes!!!!

This is a very simple and quick cooking method that uses NO OIL!!!  It is also very easy to package this meal into a tupperware container and bring to work and heat up in the microwave later.  You can vary the types of sauce, veggies, and grains used in this recipe for literally endless possibilities.  Another idea that I've done recently is cook the tofu in BBQ sauce and then use it as the filling for veggie fajitas - I love the BBQ/Tex-Mex combo of flavors!  

I hope this helps inspire you to try cooking tofu at home because it really is easy peasy :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Race Report: Carolina Beach Half Marathon

I love doing new things and I got a chance to do something new on Sunday by being a pacer in the Carolina Beach Half Marathon!  You've seen pace groups before - they are the herds of runners in a race clustered around a runner carrying a big sign with a time on it.  Running with a pace group is great because a) it's fun, b) it helps prevent you from going out too hard, c) they help you keep pace when the going gets tough, and d) you get to forge a little camaraderie with cool peeps who happen to be the same speed that you are.  If you're a spectator in a race, it's nice to have pace groups because you know where the runners are in the race that are going by you and it can help you know where to look for the person that you're trying to spectate.  The role of the pacer is to finish the race in exactly the time that is printed on the sign that he or she is carrying.  People are relying on you to carry out this duty - their PR's depend on it.  The best way to do this is to run the perfect negative split.  This can be tricky because you don't want to go out too fast and risk people blowing up at the end of the race, but you don't want to go out too slow such that you don't reach the goal time.  The pressure is on and you better be able to deliver the goods.

When I originally agreed to pace for the Carolina Beach Half I signed on for the 1:40 group.  However, upon seeing that this race was a month out from my A race (Savannah marathon), Tom Clifford told me to switch into the 1:30 pace group so that I would get a good marathon-pace workout.  I was nervous about doing this because I wasn't 100% sure I'd be able to run a 1:30 half in the midst of 65-mile training weeks on fatigued legs.  But he said, "If you can't run a 1:30 half, how are you going to run a sub 3 hour marathon?!"  So I dropped into the 1:30 group.

Come to find out I would be pacing the race w/ Eric Torrey, a veteran 1:30 pacer.  This was good because I knew that if I couldn't maintain pace he'd be able to finish the race easily.  I did a mile warm up with a few pick ups and felt good.  The weather was cold (50s) and there wasn't much wind.   We gathered at the starting line with our sign (Eric carried it for about 1 mile before ditching it to volunteers) and a 4-5 people huddled around and spoke of hopes of breaking 1:30.  I remembered back to when I first broke the 1:30 barrier and how impossible it seemed at the time!  It was a good group and everyone stayed together for the first half-ish.  Local celebrity Richard Segal was amongst us and there were people cheering for him at every turn!  When runners in our group broke off and ran ahead it was kind of hard not to go with them, but it was our job to stay on the 1:30 pace so Eric and I ran together from mile 7-12.  I was surprised to find that I felt really good for pretty much the entire run.  Within the last mile we caught back up to Steven Dees and tried to give him a final push of motivation to get to the finish.  He gave a gutsy performance and ended up with a PR by over a minute!  Just awesome!  I spent the remainder of the morning chillin' by the lake and watching friends finish the race - fantastic job everyone!!!

Overall it was a great race, well-organized, and very enjoyable.  Weather was perfect and post-race Moe's hit the spot.  I'm super pleased with how well this run went.  We nailed the pace and finished right at 1:29:07.  While I can't say that it was easy, I can say that it was not difficult.  I feel like this is a good sign that my training is working.  It bodes well for Savannah and I'm starting to get really excited for that race.  I believe I can crack 3.

Congrats to Amanda & Kristina on their first 1/2 marathon!

Mr. Enoch does it again!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hideaway With Me At TrySports Wilmington

In case you haven’t heard, I started a new job at TrySports Wilmington about a month ago. Around that same time Kurt introduced me to a song that I have been completely obsessed with ever since: Hideaway by Kiesza. I just love the 90’s vibe that the music has and I really dig the outfits & dance moves in the music video!!! So, one day when I was in the midst of one of my many 10 milers that have been the staple of marathon training diet for the past 12 weeks, I had one of my best ideas ever! I had been wanting to write a blog about how awesome my new job was, but then I realized it would be about 1,000 times more awesome if I made a vlog about it to accompany my new favorite song! Over the next 5-10 ten-milers I daydreamed about the video and I never found myself lacking in the number of creative ideas that flowed into my brain while I listened to the song on repeat :)

Thank you to Kiesza for making this fantastic song (if you ever come to Wilmington we will gladly fit you for running shoes!) And a huge THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the making of this video and allowed me to video tape your sweet dancing skillz and publish them on YouTube!  We had a ton of fun!

Here is my version of Kiesza’s Hideaway with a TrySports twist!