Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Race Report: Asheville Half Marathon

On Saturday I raced one of the toughest half marathon courses I've ever done.  I knew this race was going to be hilly when I signed up given that Asheville is basically in the Smokey Mountains, near the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail.  BUT, I got a little bit more than I had bargained for.
The city itself sits at 2,134 ft and I swear coming from sea level I could tell a difference in the "thin-ness" of the air!  The night before the race I took a quick look at the elevation profile of the course and was a little nervous to see that it had about 500 more feet of elevation gain than the Mistletoe Half Marathon, which is probably the last hilly half marathon that I've run (other than trail races):

Elevation Profile of the 2014 Asheville Half Marathon
In preparation for this race I didn't do any hill training because there are no hills here in Wilmington.  Yes, I could have gone downtown and run the bridges and yes, I could have run on the treadmill with an incline, but I did neither of those.  My preparation including sticking to my awesome training plan by coach Tom Clifford of Without Limits and cleaning up my diet to drop some body fat.  I averaged about 40-45 miles per week for a month leading into this race and consistently ran 13-15 miles on the weekends, plus a track workout each Wednesday night.  I also ate pretty much a fruitarian diet, sticking with fruits, veggies, some nuts & seeds, and soy milk.  I was able to lose about 5 pounds and about 3% body fat.  I felt really good eating this cleanly again and I found that I recovered really quickly from all my hard workouts!

Ok, so Saturday morning we were driving to the race start and talking about competition.  Just as I was telling Kurt that the website wouldn't have boasted "world class competition" and a $3000+ prize purse if there weren't going to be fast people there, Susan Jerotich of Kenya ran by with some of her fellow countrymen.  They looked ... really fast.
Susan Jerotich of Kenya
The last time I saw Susan and the rest of her pack was at the start of the race.  I lined up near the front and as soon as the gun went off the insanity started.  The first 1.5 miles were pretty much down hill.  I looked at my watch and I was running about 6:30 pace.  It was a tad fast, but I remembered a text that Tom had sent me that morning, "Remember, run the downhills...that's where you get fast in the mountains."  So I kept going at that pace and tried not to let myself break myself.  I was hoping that most of the people in front of me were doing the 10K, but at the split many of them turned onto the half marathon course.  Rats!

The first crazy hill hit at around mile 2.  It started going up and it just didn't stop.  And, it was steep.  I didn't dare look at my watch to see how slow I was running b/c it felt like I could have been going faster had I been crawling.  Finally, after a bunch of switchbacks, there was nice long downhill.  Well, actually it wasn't that nice because when you "run the downhills" they are actually tiring!

Miles 4-5.5 were relatively flat and I was hoping to gain some time here.  However I could tell my legs had taken a beating from that initial climb/downhill because they weren't springing back to full force.  In my mind I should have been running around 6:45 pace on that flat section, but in reality was actually running around 7:05 pace.  I didn't want to force myself to go faster b/c I knew there were more hard hills coming up.

Enter miles 5.5-7.  More crazy switchbacks into thinner air.  Around mile 8 or 9 there was a very long sustained climb.  I had a mile that clocked in at 7:45 pace.  I wasn't happy about this b/c it was a full minute off my desired goal pace.  But at that moment in time, it was just about putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward (and upward).  I reached the summit of that hill and decided to tear down the backside of the hill, clocking the next mile in 6:27.

Hurting big time!
I knew the last 2 miles would be mostly uphill and mentally clicked into gear to push through the pain.  I remembered listening to Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae speak at Revolution 3 Triathlon Quassy 70.3 a couple years ago after her win on a very hard course.  She said, "it's just pain."  With about 1-1.5 miles to go, I was delivered a little treat.  A carrot to be exact.  I was catching up to another woman!  This gave me a task to focus on for the last part of the race.  Within a half mile to the finish I barreled down a hill and noticed that I had gained significant time on her.  I kept using this strategy of running really hard down the hills, just hoping that my quads weren't going to give out!  This paid off because at the very last turn on the course, at the bottom of the very last hill I caught her!  There were only about 50 yards left in the race, all straight uphill.  I braced myself for an uphill sprint to the finish but when I passed her she didn't surge at all.  Fine by me.  I ran strongly up the finish chute (there was no way you could even think about walking this final hill b/c it was lined with spectators) to clutch 5th place overall for the women.

My total time was 1:34:25 (7:13/mile).  Not close to my PR (1:25:55) or to the goal pace I had in my head (6:45/mi), but still somewhat decent considering the difficulty of the course.  It was certainly a challenge and I was very happy to complete it!  I walked back to mile 11 where I met Kurt & ran with him to the finish.  It was amazing to see so many people tackling this course and refusing to give up!  Congrats to all finishers on a job well done!

Kurt & I spent the rest of the day indulging in the offerings of Asheville.  Yes, we basically ate and drank our way through the city.  We found some pretty cool micro breweries and even a place called The Chocolate Lounge where all they serve are desserts made out of chocolate.  YUM!  We didn't make it to the Biltmore, but hey I guess that gives us a good reason to come back next year and run this race again!  To quote the website, "If you're a runner, this is one to run!"

Glad to be done!

Monday, June 2, 2014

What the HELL is Nutritional Yeast!?

The food that I've selected for June Food of the Month is Nutritional Yeast!  I realize that many people have never heard of nutritional yeast and may be turned off by the name of it.  BUT, don't let that stop you from trying it!  

Nutritional yeast is inactive yeast that has been cultured in a mixture of sugarcane and molasses and then dried. The end result is tasty little yellow flakes, which are sold in health stores, such as Whole Foods, often in the bulk section. Nutritional yeast has a tangy nutty cheesy flavor and is super healthy. It contains a TON of B vitamins (is a great source of B12 for vegans) and has ~8g non-animal protein per tablespoon! In addition to it's nutritional benefits, I have a friend who swears that it prevents hangovers when eaten late-night after overindulging in alcoholic beverages! However, user beware! This stuff is so good that it is seriously addictive - another friend refers to it as "hippy crack!"

Here is a little list of great ways to use nutritional yeast!

1.  Popcorn.  Probably my favorite usage of nutritional yeast.  Sprinkle nutritional yeast on top of popcorn and I guarantee by the end of the bowl you will be licking it off your fingers :)  Even better (but a lot more unhealthy), take nutritional yeast with you into the movie theater - it tastes awesome on movie theater popcorn.

2.  Potatoes.  Add nutritional yeast to your mashed potatoes for added cheesy flavor.  Sometime I also sprinkle it on baked potatoes and sweet potatoes (this is a great substitution for butter or sour cream).

3.  Soups/stews.  Stir in some nutritional yeast as a savory flavor adder.  

4.  Kale chips.  Lightly mist raw kale with oil.  Sprinkle with Mrs. Dash & nutritional yeast & bake until crispy.  Yum!

5.  Pizza.  Sprinkle nutritional yeast on top of cheese-less pizza.

6.  Spaghetti.  Ditch the green can of processed Parmesan cheese.  Instead use a few sprinkles of nutritional yeast.  

7.  Vegan pesto.  Substitute nutritional yeast for Parmesan cheese in pesto recipes.  See below for one of the BEST vegan pesto recipes EVER!

8.  Vegan mac & cheese.  Nutritional yeast can be made into a cheese-less sauce, perfect for vegan version of kid's favorite meal!  There are tons of recipes

9.  Vegan nacho cheese dip.  Sounds weird, but tastes amazing.  See below for recipe!

10.  Grits.  Craving good old fashioned sausage & grits?  Simply cook some grits, add some Gimme Lean veggie sausage, a little unsweetened soy milk & vegan butter, + nutritional yeast and you will think you are eating the real thing!

11.  Roasted veggies.  Sprinkle on top of roasted veggies to add cheesiness. 

12.  Bread crumbs.  Use nutritional yeast in place of bread crumbs!

13.  Salad topper.  Sprinkle on top of salads to add flavor without all the added fat calories in typical salad dressings. 

14.  Vegan gravy.  Nutritional yeast provides a flavor boost to vegan gravies.  

15.  Dog food.  Yes, dog food.  One client told me that her dog would never eat it's food until she started adding nutritional yeast to it and now her dog can't get enough of the stuff!

Vegan Pesto
2 cups fresh packed basil
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup walnuts
salt & pepper to taste

1.  Blend all of the above in high-powered blender until consistency of pesto is reached.  
2.  Toss with whole wheat penne pasta.  

Nacho "Cheese" Dip, from The Everything Vegan Cookbook by Jolinda Hackett
3 Tbsp vegan margarine
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp peanut butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
3/4 cup salsa
2 Tbsp chopped canned jalapeƱo peppers
[I also sometimes add in a little Cholula and Red Hot to add to the depth of flavor in this dip!]

1.  Heat margarine and soy milk together in a pan over low heat. Add garlic powder, salt, and onion powder, stirring to combine.  Add peanut butter and stir until melted. 
2.  Whisk in flour, 1 Tbsp at a time until smooth.  Heat until thickened, about 5-6 min.
3.  Stir in nutritional yeast, salsa, & jalapeƱos.  
4.  Allow to cool slightly before serving, as sauce will thicken as it cools.