Defining a Workout Schedule

I always reminisce about the height of my health. It was senior year of college, and that year I decided to make health a priority. I cooked all my meals, I didn’t procrastinate when it came to studying, and I kept a really regular workout schedule. Four days a week, the same classes every time. I felt great, and I got good at them. I got in great shape, and I had energy to spare.

Then I moved to New York, which threw my schedule off. Then I became a teacher, and suddenly working out took a back seat to lesson planning, grading and commiserating with my coworkers after hours. Cut to five years later, and with the exception of marathon training, I haven’t nailed down a reliable workout schedule… Continue reading

Roasted Broccoli and Lemon Tahini Dressing

I can feel it in the salty sweat on my skin …Summer is coming.

Oh, blessed summer! How I love you for your sun, your care-free attitude, and your insistence that I spend all my time in flip flops. I love you for your heat, which rejuvenates me. You make me feel alive, and happy, and deserving of nothing more than treating my body and my spirit right.

Let’s treat ourselves right. Let’s make broccoli… Continue reading

40 Days Reflection

The 40 Days are over! Did you hear? While I have to admit they weren’t a rigid success (I never had a single week of doing all six days of yoga, nor all seven of meditation), I feel pretty darn good. And to be honest, I’m pretty amazed about that, considering the 40 Days coincided with a pretty intense bout of work – the kind that usually leaves me wound up. 
While the last month hasn’t been pure bliss (what is?), I’ve found myself responding to stress in a much healthier way, and I attribute that the best tools I learned during my 40 Days…
1. Recognize I am living in my own story. The world is happening around us, and what we often think of as the “truth” is really the story we make of the bits and pieces we are exposed to. Our stories can be positive or negative, emotion-filled or objective, but they are just our perspectives. 
When I can recognize that the story I’m spinning is just that – a story – it helps keep my perspective wider. I may be sure that the guy who cut me off on the freeway is a total jerk, but what if he’s late for the most important job interview of his life? What if he’s rushing his child to the hospital? Remembering that I don’t know all the facts can help me stay calm.
2. Tease my less-than-best self. I often get in that habit of reprimanding myself when I have a bad moment. When I find myself getting judgmental, I shudder and tell myself to stop it! This not only makes me feel bad, it doesn’t even make the habit go away. 
During the 40 Days I took a more playful approach. When I found myself thinking something I wasn’t proud of, rather than admonish myself, I’d label it as a different Abby. I’d say, “Oh, there goes Judgmental Abby,” or most commonly, “Victim Abby has made her appearance again!” 
Being playful with myself helped me to recognize my negative thoughts (which helped me stop them) but because I kept the tone with myself light, I kept the internal battle at bay. A win all around.
3. Just come back. They say meditation is the art of coming back. I love that, because I so often feel, when I get off course, that I need a trigger to start over. This 40 Days, I never beat myself up if I didn’t make it to a yoga class when I was supposed to. Rather than “starting over” the next week, I forgave myself and came back. Nothing was lost – practicing coming back was just as important as the yoga itself.
4. Choose to be calm. The story of my greatest victory this 40 Days: 
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I could have been in tears. I had driven to Austin that morning for a company recruiting event, and was supposed to make the three-hour drive back to Houston that evening. As the day progressed, more and more work made its way to my phone, until by 5 p.m. I was swamped with tasks that all felt critical to get done by the very next day. The drive back to Houston was daunting, especially with hours of work looming over my head.
Fortunately for me, this was the program’s week of equanimity, or the practice of remaining calm. So I chose to practice. Rather than calling Michael to vent about the work (which would have taken up more of my precious time), I took a few minutes to release my anxiety in my journal. I decided the most critical pieces of work to get done, and I decided that doing them in Austin could be a way to make the situation fun. I’d be working before the exhausting drive home, and I could do it in an Austin coffee shop, an atmosphere I love. 
It worked! I felt so much better, both for getting my work done and for refusing to panic. I vow to practice this every day from here on out. And if I have moments of panic – moments in which I am not practicing equanimity – then I’ll simply come back.
There is another 40 Days program starting up in July. If you’re in the Houston area I highly recommend it – I’ll be seeing you there!

The most manageable food diary ever

At various points in my life, I’ve tried to keep a food diary.  This practice is consistently recommended as a way to be conscious about what we eat, but I’ve never been able to do it.  There’s something about carrying a tiny notebook around with me and pausing at the start of every meal — Just one sec! What’s in this soup? — to record what I’m about to intake that’s just not fun or manageable.  It inevitably lasts for all of about half a day before I throw my hands up and call the project a loss.

So I’m doing it with a camera instead, and the results have been surprisingly awesome.  I get all the benefits — pausing for a second before I inhale my food, and having a record of it afterwards — by doing something I like to do anyway: take pictures.  And when I don’t want to take a picture of what I’m about to eat, it’s a self-check.

Over the next three days, as part of the 40 Days program, I’ll be entering into a three-day “fruit feast.”  For those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that I tried this last year with pretty terrible results.  I gave up the feast — in which you only eat fruit — after one day, citing a raging headache as my downfall.

Tomorrow, with the other 40-days yogis at my back, I’m hoping to last this one all the way through.  And with the knowledge that you’re actually supposed to get a headache after the first day — I’m told it’s a signal your body is being detoxed — I think I’ll be able to hold strong, using my electronic food diary as a record of my achievement. Yes, I’m skeptical of the benefits.  But you know what?  That’s okay.

Onward!

40 Days

I’m about to get the best night’s sleep.

Today I started my yoga studio’s 40 days to personal revolution program, and I’m exhausted.  And feeling light!  By signing on, I’ve committed myself to 6 days of yoga per week — more than I’ve ever done, with the exception of an 8-day stint at an Indian ashram — twice-daily meditation, and daily journaling.  I’ve also more personally committed myself to 1) connecting my mind to my practice and 2) being open.  I’ve felt really closed off lately and I’d like to change that.

And, if I’m really honest, I’d also like to master these:

Wish me luck!

Arugula Hummus

I’m not usually able to conjure up a meal based on what’s already in my pantry.  I tend to buy groceries on a purely as-needed basis, shopping for exactly what I need for the week, and using the leftovers immediately.  It’s part of the whole not-wasting-money thing.

But, scrounging for a way to use my leftover arugula, it occurred to me that hummus was the perfect answer; even with my pantry’s measly contents, I already had everything I needed.  If you have a can of chickpeas then voila! you have lunch, too!

To start, the ingredients.  The best part about hummus is there are a million variations, making it the perfect use-what-you-already-have dish.  Today I made mine with arugula, but tomorrow I may use extra jalapeños.  Just let your tongue be your guide!

I’ve been really into using cookbooks lately.  They are so beautiful, and they make me feel relaxed.  This recipe is adapted from Feast.
Hummus is the easiest thing on earth.  The only recipe step is to process all our ingredients together.  As a side note, every cookbook will tell you to buy dried chickpeas and soak them, but honestly, the beauty of hummus is how quick it is.  I use canned and don’t think twice about it.

Process everything until it’s nice and creamy, about 5 minutes.

Then add the arugula, taste, and adjust as needed.  Feel free to add more liquid; lemon juice is always a big help.

(p.s. Can we talk about the depth of field I’m getting with my new lens?!)

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a few more rosemary leaves.  Lunch!

Arugula Hummus 

Servings: 1 bowl


Ingredients:

1 can chickpeas
1/3 c tahini
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 Tbls lemon juice
1 sprig rosemary
sea salt
1 handful arugula
Greek yogurt for dolloping
toast for serving

Directions:
1. Combine chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, paprika, lemon juice, rosemary and sea salt in a food processor. Blend until creamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Add arugula, and process until arugula is fully incorporated and the hummus is a light green color.
3. Taste and adjust as needed.
4. Serve with freshly toasted bread.
5. Enjoy!

Being neighborly: Banana walnut granola

I’ll admit I’m not the most outgoing neighbor.  Often, when I see my neighbors in their yards, I wonder how I’ll get to my car without stopping to have a conversation.  I know that’s a bad habit, so this week when my new neighbors moved in across the street, I bribed myself into making introductions by baking them this home-made banana walnut granola.  It was fun for me and gave me a reason to knock on their door, and BONUS: It was so easy, I realize I’ve been overpaying for the “convenience” of pre-made granola for years now.  I actually think I’ll start making this weekly.
To start, ingredient gathering!  This recipe, straight from Tracy Shutterbean, uses bananas, walnuts, and cashews.  

First mix all the dry ingredients.

Then mix the wet ones.  Over-ripe bananas, which I did not use, work better here.

Stir it all together until all the oats are coated.

Bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Toasty!

Let it cool, then fill a tall mason jar with the stuff…

…add a nice note and voila!  Easy and personal gift for the neighbors.  Turns out they’re super nice and young, and granola-loving or not, now I won’t have to avoid them as I’m coming in and out of my apartment.  I even scored a dinner invite, woot woot!

Banana Walnut Granola

Servings: 10


Ingredients:

5 cups rolled oats
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup whole cashews
1 tsp cinnamon (more if you like the taste)
1/8 cup of brown sugar
2 over-ripe bananas
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Mix dry ingredients.
3. Smash banana into small chunks and mix with wet ingredients.
4. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until all dry ingredients are coated.
5. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes, stirring the mixture every 10 minutes so all sides cook evenly.
6. Remove from heat, let cool and transfer to an air-tight container for storage.
7. Enjoy!

New York City Marathon 2013

2013 NYC Marathon finish

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Boston, legs aching, wondering how to write this.  Part of me wants to weep that I’ll never get yesterday back; most of me is thrilled beyond belief that it happened.  All of me (more than all of me!) is filled with the love I received from my family, Claire, Michael, Nimmi, Lisa, total strangers.  Where do I start?

I ran the New York City Marathon.

Staten Island ferry ride to the start

Marathon Village

lines for the start corrals
The Staten Island Ferry was a buzz of race talk.  “Is this your first?” the resounding question.  Stories from last year, stories from other marathons, time projections, nutritional advice.  Endless tips.
“Be careful as you come off the Queensboro.  The crowd will be loud and you’ll want to push it, but you’ll still have 10 more miles to go.”
“Gu at Mile 18, bananas at Mile 21.  Are you keeping your gloves through the race?”
“I take salt before the run.”
“I eat pretzels.”
“The Verrazano will be freezing.”
“If you miss your wave you can always start at a later time.”
“Whatever you do, don’t go out too fast!”
I listened, wordless, feeling the way I did when I was 16, about to take the SAT.  More prepared than I ever would be, I wanted to be tested.  I was antsy for the start.
My start: Orange corral, Wave 4, 10:55 a.m. start time
My heart jumped at the firing of the cannon (literally… I wasn’t expecting it), and I started.
Mile 1 (Staten Island to Brooklyn): The Verrazano Bridge.  It was freezing!  The only portion of the race in which I couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes.  I was wearing itty bitty shorts (the shorts I had trained in) and wondered if I had made a mistake.
Mile 7 (Park Slope, Brooklyn): I saw my family.  They flew up two years in a row and have been holding on to these signs throughout. They were my first spectators along the course, and I wanted to stop and say hello.  (I actually wanted to cry and yell, “Can you believe I’m running the New York marathon?!“)  I stopped and hugged everyone, but couldn’t communicate the enormity of how I felt.  Instead, I told them I felt great but a little cold… and then I ran on through Brooklyn.
Daddy

Mommy
Miles 8-12 (Williamsburg, et al., Brooklyn): Things got a bit rowdier before they got a lot calmer (read: dead) as we ran through a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.  
Mile 13 (Greenspoint, Brooklyn): I asked myself, “Could I do that mileage again?”  The answer was an unwavering yes.
Miles 14-15 (Queens):  I was starting to feel like I had run, well, a half marathon when I made it to Queens and was greeted by Lisa.  A hug from Lisa and an urging to enjoy Manhattan (it was so close!), and then I was off, gearing up for the Queensboro Bridge.
Miles 15-16 (Queens to Manhattan): The Queensboro.  I had run it before in training, and remembered it as a manageable incline.  It was also a 10 minute incline at least, and at mile 15 I was starting to feel the pain.  I gave myself a walk break for a minute and then kept plowing through.  On the way down from the bridge, signs read, “If you think the last 10 miles is easier, then welcome to easier… Welcome to Manhattan.”  I got goosebumps; I teared up. This was what I had been waiting for.
Entering Queens
Miles 16-19 (First Avenue, Manhattan):  How do I put these miles into words?  
I knew what was coming.  I had been a spectator at this very point three years in a row, so I knew the crowd would be deep.  I knew the music would swell and the energy would be powerful.  But how do you experience something you’ve been preparing for, been visualizing for years?  
(And how do you react when it lives up to your expectations?)
Miles 16-19 are the closest I’ve ever gotten to a higher experience.  Because oh if there’s nothing I’ve felt more than the power of people as I was running up First Avenue.  
Rounding the streets as you turn off the bridge, First Ave. dips before is ascends, making it possible to see thousands of runners before you.  As I made this round, the crowd felt deafening, and as I ran I started to cry… like, ugly cry as I ran up First.  I was so happy.  This was what I had pictured in all my training runs, the mileage that really meant “New York Marathon” to me.
And it was so good.
As I made my way up First, I scanned the crowd for Michael and Claire, who were promised to be there, and sure enough, they were waiting at 68th Street, bananas and Gu in tote.  I couldn’t have asked for two better people to see.  We hugged and did a little more crying and talked.  And too soon it was over and I was on my way again, fully aware that every step I took meant leaving behind the highest experience I’ve ever had.
First Avenue (photo credit Michael)
smiling on First
Miles 19-26 (the Bronx, Harlem, 5th Avenue, and Central Park): Yes, I lumped them together.  They were hard, and physically painful, and chocked full of 60-second walk breaks (though my mile time never dipped below 11 minutes, heya!).  At this point people cheering started using my name aggressively, rather than cheerfully.  “GO ABBY!” felt more like, “Come on, pick it up, Abbyrather than, “Wow!  We really believe you can do it!”  Even my friends in Harlem (thanks Nimmi, Joe, and Seth!) were pressuring me to keep moving (though I love you guys).
5th Avenue was a steady incline.  Central Park had more hills than I remembered.  Central Park South felt like it never ended.  With every step I PR’d, and even that thought didn’t give me satisfaction.  I was doing it, but that was it.  In those final miles, there was no elation, it was just a mission to be completed.
And so I did!
After 4 hours, 45 minutes and 17 seconds, I crossed the finish line.
I didn’t immediately react; there were little tears and even fewer thoughts.  I just knew I did it.  I did it, I did it, I did it.  It was over… and I didn’t know what to make of that.
“early exit” ponchos

At this point we were freezing.
After 45 minutes of making my way to Columbus Circle, I was greeted by my amazing family, best friend and boyfriend.  I was all love for my support crew.
Claire, me, Daddy, Sean and Michael — missing my mom because she took the picture
Then we headed to Smithfield for the after-party!
The after party: Me and Charity, who I love dearly and haven’t seen since she left for her Peace Corps mission two years ago!

Miho and me — Miho was one of two friends who ran with (but not next to) me.  Our correspondence over the last six months has been entirely training-related.

Me, Claire, Amy
And just like I started this entry wondering how to write it, I leave wondering how to end it.  It was the New York marathon.  I’m happy it’s over, and I wish it had never ended.  Is that okay?
Day 177 (marathon day), by the numbers:

377
 – miles run to date
26.2 – longest run to date
4:45:17 – minutes and seconds it took
10:54 – average minutes/mile

Day 148: 21 Miles

It was a first for me — 21 miles!  There aren’t really enough exclamation points for that.

I started at 4:30 a.m. and the whole thing took me almost exactly four hours.  The first 16 miles were solid — the Memorial loop, along the 610 feeder, through Post Oak, Highland Village, River Oaks, Montrose, South Hampton, around Hermann Park… each neighborhood was silent before the sun rose, and I felt light and strong.  I ran a really consistent 10 minute pace and only paused at our designated water stops (about every 5 miles).

At 16 miles I hit a bit of a wall.  I started having mental battles about how long I’d run without stopping.    I was hot.  My legs were heavy.  And at this point I was running back towards my car, so there were no new landmarks, which is always tough for me.  Even when my friend, Teresa, joined to run me back in, she couldn’t totally distract me from the last 5 miles.

Around Mile 18 I had to use my the tried and true 5:1 strategy — 5 minutes of running and a 1-minute walk.  It’s sort of funny how 5:1’s work to keep me going in those last few miles.  At that point the walking didn’t actually feel better — my legs were like lead and so achey even walking was torturous — but 5 minute goals were small and surmountable, and got me through those last three miles.

So I did it!  Teresa by my side, I did it.  Then I took my shoes off and had a popsicle.

Highland Village, deserted at 5:30 a.m.

Teresa and me post-run

Day 148, by the numbers:

312
– miles run to date
21 – longest run to date
3:59:41 – minutes and seconds it took
28 – days until the marathon

Day 141: What not to sweat

To be honest, by the time the marathon rolled around last year, I was sick of it.  I wanted my life, Friday nights and all, to belong to me again.  So this year I’ve had a much more laid back attitude.  Without letting my goal or preparation slip, I also haven’t let training take over my life.  And I’ve been surprised that some of the things I’ve let go — carbo-loading, for example — haven’t impacted my performance at all.  This year, the marathon is a month out and I’m still excited for each and every practice.

I’m no expert (so please, no following this advice if your coach/doctor/whoever tells you otherwise), but here are some of the things I actually don’t worry about too much, despite official running advice to the contrary.  
1. I don’t sweat what I eat during a run.  Instead, I listen to my body and eat when I feel tired or hungry.  I used to be obsessed with following guidelines when it came to racing nutrition.  I’d have a Gu once around Mile 6, and then another every half hour after that.  That meant during an 18-mile run I might have five.  They would slosh around in my belly and in general make me feel bloated.  These days I take my first Gu around Mile 8 and then again in half packet amounts every 2-3 miles, as I feel myself need it.
2. I let myself have a glass of wine (or two) the night before a run.  I used to be religious about not having alcohol two days before a long run, and it used to make me kind of miserable.  Thursday and Friday are social nights, so I hated going out to dinner and not being able to have even a glass of wine.  I’m sure it’s not ideal that I have a glass on Friday nights now, but it makes me feel like I’m not giving over my life to training, and that’s worth it.

3. I don’t worry about eating carbs.  I used to carbo-load on Fridays, and you know what?  I gained like a million pounds during last training season.  Carbs are all around me; I get carbs.  No need to binge on pasta the night before a run.

4. I don’t eat breakfast before a run.  I’m sure people will scream at me for writing that.  But it’s true, and I’ve never felt worse off for it.  With runs starting as early as 4 a.m., I barely have time enough to roll out of bed and lace up my shoes, much less cook myself a healthy breakfast and early enough that it has time to digest a little.  I don’t think so.  All it takes for me these days is a nice meal the night before, and a banana the morning of.  After my runs I make sure to have a big (and well earned!) recovery breakfast.

5. I don’t get eight hours of sleep the night before a run.  Yep, so sue me.  Again, if I’m getting up at 3:20 a.m. for a run, there’s no chance at getting a full night’s sleep anyway.  So if friends want to go to dinner at 9 on Friday night, I’m up for it.  It’s much more important that I get a healthy amount of sleep in the week leading up to the run.


Day 141, by the numbers:

288 – miles run to date
35 – days until the marathon
18.4 – longest training mileage so far