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My First Blog Post

Wellness

The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.

— Merriam-Webster

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been chasing wellness most of my adult life in some way. It’s one of the reasons I chose to become a physical therapist. I wanted to also help others feel well, and it’s not always about medicine. I’ve also been some version of vegetarian my entire adult life, finally making the full jump to vegan over two years ago.

What exactly does it mean, though, to feel well? One could argue that there are many facets to wellness. It’s not just about your physical well-being, but also social, spiritual, emotional, and environmental factors. If one of these is off, you feel unsettled. And sometimes it’s challenging to figure out which one of these elements is the culprit.

We tend to focus on physical wellness, right? What’s my cholesterol? How many medications do I rely on to stay healthy? How can I better manage my chronic diseases? How can I achieve and maintain a healthy weight?  How can I keep up with my kids?

I know I asked myself these questions when I first began my own wellness journey. I was overweight after having 2 kids, dealing with persistent pain, and wearing the largest size clothes in my life. Not exactly great for my emotional wellness! Does this story sound familiar?

So I began with a goal. My goal was to lose weight. 30 lbs to be exact. I started making use of my YMCA membership and used the food and activity tracker myfitnesspal to reach my goal. It took me about a year to lose the weight, but I knew I wanted to keep working toward better fitness. I was already bored with gym equipment.

In the lobby of my local YMCA, I saw a flyer for a local 5k, the Ashland Harvest Run held every October. Running 3.1 miles seemed like a daunting, yet achievable task. The best way to reach a goal is to break it down into smaller ones. I worked toward running a mile without stopping, then 2 miles. And then it was race day. I ran/walked the entire thing, finishing in the middle of the pack! It was so exciting… the whole race experience, meeting my goal, and performing better than I expected. I officially caught the running bug that day. A friend of mine convinced me to join the Sports Backers/YMCA 10k training team, and this is where I met one of my best friends. She would convince me that I was capable of even more… the marathon. A few training teams later, we have a solid crew of running sisters… sole sisters… and my life is exponentially better because of them! So great for my social wellness! I have now completed 6 marathons. I’m currently training for number 7, the Marine Corps Marathon. I’m also now a coach with the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team with Pink Nation.  

What other crazy do I do, you ask? Well, my journey inspired my husband to find his tribe, too, and he started like me at our local YMCA. He eventually found his way to CrossFit, and he is now a level 1 trainer. I told him I would never try CrossFit unless he opened his own gym. In July of 2017, I had to eat my words, because he started a box with some business partners! He has even competed at the Masters level with some success, placing first in the Festivus games and third in the SuperFit games in 2018. We have since left this business endeavor, but Ralph is working out at a new box and focusing on being an athlete for a bit.

I enjoy the new challenges of CrossFit. Everyone is good at something in the box. Maybe you can’t do handstands, but you can lift weight! Maybe I can’t lift as much as you, but I can do pistol squats! The day I climbed that rope for the first time… well, I felt like Shalane Flannagan crossing the finish line of the NYC marathon! But the best part about CrossFit? It’s been great for our marriage.

I’m also spending some time fostering my creativity. I’ve recently launched a tie-dye shirt business, and I am dabbling in turning my favorite quotes into mixed media art. I hope to sell these at some point as well.

So, here I am. A 44 year old mother of two, married to a talented CrossFit coach, working as a physical therapist, 6 time marathoner, Vegan, artist, and sometimes CrossFit athlete. This sounds more impressive on paper than it really is. This is just me, chasing wellness.

Through this blog, I hope you find inspiration in your own journey. I plan to share with you recipes, running stories and tips, CrossFit stories, vegan tips, nutrition information, fitness clothing reviews, vegan food reviews, a bit of art, and fun features of living in Richmond! Thanks for reading!

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Vegan Tuna Salad

With the prevalence of vegan meat substitutes emerging on the market right now, it’s easy to shift a plant-based diet to these convenient, highly processed protein sources. But more and more frequently, I find myself wanting to cut back on these, and go back to consuming more recognizable ingredients. Sure, I won’t completely give up the convenience of a Beyond burger, but whipping up something from scratch for a sandwich has its own rewards.

So let’s go back to the ever versatile chickpea! Chickpeas are packed with protein and fiber. I shared with you a few months ago a recipe for buffalo chickpea salad. Today, I’m sharing how to make chickpeas taste like seafood! The secret, of course, is Old Bay seasoning. Like the buffalo salad, you can easily prep a batch of this simple and delicious salad for several lunches!

So, without further ado:

Vegan Tuna Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
  • ¼ small red onion, finely diced.
  • Handful of baby carrots (or one whole carrot, peeled) and finely chopped.
  • ¼ cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste (do not over salt!)
Ingredients for Vegan Tuna Salad!

Directions:

For ease of chopping, use a Zyliss or similar type hand chopper to prep the carrots and onion. Add the prepped veggies to a large mixing bowl. Add the chickpeas to the bowl, and use a fork or pastry blender to crush the peas until mostly mashed. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a spoon. Serve as a sandwich on bread or toast or as a part of a traditional salad with greens and additional veggies! You can store leftovers for up to a week in the fridge.

Carrots and onions after chopping.
Using a pastry blender to mash the chickpeas.
Before adding spices and mayo.
The star of the show: Old Bay seasoning!
Finished salad!

If you try this recipe, let me know what you think! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

The Virginia Capital Trail

Last week, I shared my excitement with you for the re-naming of the Ashland to Petersburg Trail, which will now be known as the Fall Line Trail. This is the developing north/south corridor trail in the metro Richmond area, and I can’t wait for it to be finished!

Its companion in the RVA is the well-established Virginia Capital Trail, which runs east/west, and will intersect the Fall Line Trail. The trail ends in downtown Richmond and travels east to Jamestown where it begins. It follows route 5, traversing through a few parks, past plantations in Charles City, and eventually to historic Jamestown.

I’ve run the stretch from Brown’s Island along the canal numerous times in Richmond, and I’ve even run as far as to Varina High School in Henrico County from the city. But this weekend, the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team ran their 20 miler on the trail as a preview to the 2020 Richmond marathon course, starting at Dorey Park.

The marker for the trail from Dorey Park in Henrico County.

Having never been to Dorey Park, I was surprised by how beautiful it is there! Dorey Park is located on the east end of Henrico County. There’s a dog park, a nice playground, a pond that has the most adorable ducks, and real bathrooms.

The pond at Dorey Park.

Since I ran my fall marathon already, I was on bike with my team on Sunday, which was a lot of fun! I had the chance to check on everyone, especially since our route was an out and back. I decided to ride all the way to Shirley Plantation, which by the signage should have been only about a mile past our turnaround. It was actually 3! On my way back to the last water stop at the turn around for our MTT runners, my bike chain popped off. It’s almost impossible to put back on by myself. Fortunately, the trail has enough traffic that I barely waited 3 minutes before someone rode by and stopped to help! I was so grateful!

Catching up to head coach from Pink Nation, Blair, on the trail!

Rarely have I been able to ride and get lost in the activity, but since I was on an off road trail, I got to experience just that. The colors are turning on the trees, there were lots of birds chattering, including bald eagles, and there were creek crossings, too, over bridges. It was such a joy to ride without worrying about getting hit by a car!

A typical stretch along the trail. It’s a 10′ wide, paved path, surrounded by trees and paralleling route 5.

I know I said the Capital Trail is fairly flat, but I have to let you know that it’s really not. There were a few spicy hills, especially approaching Shirley Plantation, which is the actual turn around point on the marathon course. So, be warned if you are running Richmond!

Toward the plantations along route 5.

It may seem like it would be a big mind game to do an out and back on a paved trail, but the scenery really looked different in both directions. And you know how when you are traveling to a destination and it seems long, but the journey back doesn’t? Same way for running this trail.  

Approaching a wooden bridge over water.
One of the many signs along the trail.
Entering Charles City from Henrico!

If you live in the metro Richmond area or in the Williamsburg area and you’ve never visited the Capital Trail before, you really should! And if you’re running Richmond this year, you’re in for a treat! I know that there won’t be huge crowds of people cheering you on, but as far as “virtual” courses go, this one will allow you to not worry so much about cars, and you will love the nature sights! You need to be aware of cyclists, but there are very few places will you will cross a road on the Capital Trail!

The giant bike sculpture at Four Mile Creek Park in Henrico.

Have you ever visited the Virginia Capital Trail? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Are you running Richmond this year? I can also answer questions about the virtual Richmond Marathon experience. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Update on the Ashland to Petersburg Trail!

Ever since I went to the first information meeting for Bike Walk Academy through Sports Backers, I have been super excited about this trail. It was merely a proposed idea at the time. The route is based on the old trolley line that used to run between the Town of Ashland and Richmond in the early 1900’s. Those greenways still exist, lending itself to the perfect place to begin a multi-use path for recreational travel.

Earlier this year on the existing Ashland Trolley Line Trail, which is about a half mile long. This is the south end of the trail on Gwathmey Church Road.
From the middle of the existing Trolley Line Trail.

It’s been a long journey, but finally the trail is beginning to take shape. The initial portion is nearly complete, starting in Ashland at Carter Park and progressing along the existing Trolley Line Trail. This is a portion I run frequently, so it’s been fun to see the progress and even talk to the workers responsible for its formation! The Town of Ashland even got a grant from REI to provide a bike repair station that is in Carter Park.

In the first stages of the extension of a multi-use path connecting Carter Park to the existing Trolley Line Trail in Ashland along Waldrop Lane.
From the same perspective months later with all concrete blocks in place on a raised steel frame platform over a creek bed.

The plans for the trail as proposed by VDOT will extend it through several counties, intersecting the existing and well-traveled Capital Trail, and taking you on to Petersburg. It will take advantage of as many existing trails and bike lanes as possible, and will be 43 miles long in total!

On October 21st, there was a ground breaking ceremony in Carter Park. Several lawmakers were in attendance, including Governor Ralph Northam. He revealed the trail’s new name: the Fall Line Trail.

Sports Backers has created a virtual event to help assist with completion of the trail. Find out how you can become a trailblazer below!

Projects like this are a big monetary investment in the region, but in the long run, will help promote economic growth in the areas where the trail intersects. We can look at the growth along the Capital Trail in Charles City with restaurants and wineries and to the college town of Farmville, VA with their positive changes since the completion of the High Bridge Trail.

I’m most looking forward to having a safer place to run or ride my bike in my own county that is off the main roads. The trail will run right through my part of Hanover County eventually! After several close calls on the streets near my rural home, this will be a welcome change in my options for exercise outdoors.  

If you live in the Richmond metro area, continue to let your local lawmakers know that you support this project through emails, phone calls, and posts to social media.

Do you live in the RVA area? Are you as excited about the Fall Line Trail as I am? Do you have recreational trails in your area? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Vegan Freezer Staples

A couple of weeks ago, I shared about my favorite vegan pantry staples. These are the items that are shelf stable and readily available to serve as vital components for a quick vegan meal.

The other place in the kitchen capable of storing food for longer periods of time is, of course, the freezer! As a companion to my post about pantry staples, let’s talk about great things to have in your freezer.

  • Vegetables. I normally keep a bag of mixed vegetables for soup and a stir-fry mix on hand. I also keep tater tots and/or fries on hand. There’s also a great brand I’ve found at Walmart called Strong Roots that makes really great cauliflower hash browns and root veggie fries.
These are surprisingly delicious! Even my teenagers love them!
  • Veggie scraps. As I’ve mentioned before, you can freeze fresh vegetable scraps in a gallon size freezer Ziploc bag; once the bag is full, boil with salt and 8 cups of water for at least an hour, strain out the veggies, and then you have a delicious, almost free vegetable broth.
Vegetable broth is easy to make from leftover veggie scraps!
  • Fruit. Frozen fruit makes great smoothies. You can also add frozen fruit to overnight oats, take a bag of berries and make a compote for pancakes or waffles as a sub for syrup, or use it to flavor home brewed kombucha. I also will peel and freeze ripe bananas to use in smoothies.
  • Dorot herb cubes. These are a lifesaver for adding great flavor to meals without adding time or effort. I always have garlic and ginger on hand. These are readily available at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, but I’ve also seen them at Wegman’s.
  • Meat substitutes. My favorites are Gardein meatballs and fried fish, Aldi chick’n patties, Bubba veggie burgers, and newly discovered Beyond breakfast sausages. These all make great, quick meals.
My favorite straight up veggie burger.
  • Frozen dinners. I look at these as a backup for an emergency meal. Two I usually keep on hand are the vegan tikka masala from Trader Joe’s and Amy’s tofu scramble breakfast.
  • Trader Joe’s side dishes. Three I typically keep on hand are their tater tots, cauliflower gnocchi, and vegetable fried rice. The rice makes a great addition to any Asian inspired meals.
  • Vegan ice cream. I really enjoy most of the national brands of non-dairy ice creams and sorbets on the market, and I usually have one pint on hand. Some of my favorites? So Delicious salted caramel, Talenti raspberry sorbet, and Ben and Jerry’s Netflix and chill.
  • Yeast. I store it in the freezer for a longer life!
  • Nuts. For the types I use less frequently, like pine nuts, I store them in the freezer to keep the oils from oxidizing.

My favorite meal that starts with the freezer is vegetable soup. I’ll make the broth from vegetable scraps, sauté onions and a Dorot garlic cube, add that homemade broth, a can of beans, a can of tomatoes, a favorite grain, and frozen mixed vegetables, and I’ve got comfort in a bowl.

It’s almost soup season again! Make a vegetable soup with a combination of freezer and pantry items!

Obviously, our freezers provide us with an excellent way to store food longer and a multitude of convenience foods that help us prepare meals in a hurry. Especially for those of us vegans who live with omnivores!

What are some of your favorites from the freezer? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Post Marathon Blues. Yes, it’s a Thing.

I had an incredibly enjoyable final long run of taper the Sunday before the marathon, spending the first 6 of my planned 8 miles with one of my sole sisters. The marathon training team had 12 on the schedule which I cut, also giving me the opportunity to see the continued evolution of what remains of the monuments on Monument Avenue in the Fan. The weather was perfect, starting at 43 degrees, and gradually warming up into the low 60’s. The air was crisp. The skies were sunny. The breeze was slight.  

The Lee Monument in Richmond, which has become an evolving means of expression for equality and especially for Black Lives Matter. It is the only remaining Confederate monument in Richmond.
It is owned by the state, and its removal is being contested in our judicial system.

After a few weeks of not running together, my friend and I had the chance to catch up on lots of things. I was already thinking about writing a post about this topic, but my friend commented that she wasn’t sure what she was going to do once marathon training team was over. She, like many of us, is using MTT as a distraction from the stress of everything going on in this world. That simply reinforced my need to discuss this issue.

While training, we can remain focused on our goal of completing the marathon. It’s a healthy way to deflect from everyday life stresses. This season, we have the additional stress from the pandemic, new routines from that, and the ongoing political climate problems in our country right now.

We spend so much energy preparing for the big day, but once the celebration of the accomplishment is over, there is a void where all of that energy held space in our lives. It’s a blessing that the work is done, but the curse is the empty space which leaves room for other emotions to enter. It’s a weird kind of grief.

I have definitely been through this with each marathon I’ve run. The worst season for me was in 2015 when I ran both Chicago and Richmond. The races were 5 weeks apart, and it was really hard on my body. What I didn’t really expect was the major emotional down after these races were over.

With a few of my dear friends after crossing the finish line of the Richmond Marathon in 2015.

I think that those of us who chase crazy goals like running marathons are generally high achievers in other aspects of life as well. We push ourselves to do more than just our best. So to not have a goal to chase can leave us feeling out of sorts.

Often with my patients, I bring up common emotional responses to major life events like having a stroke or enduring a trauma. For example, in almost all patients who have had a stroke, it hits them in about their third or fourth day of rehab that they have survived an event that could have killed them, and are now dealing with the grief of losing function. Their bodies have been in fight or flight for days, maybe even weeks, and now they have the time and space to breathe and think. That’s when they get overwhelmed. This is such a universal phenomenon I’ve found in my over 21 years of practice that I actually talk about it during my evaluation of these patients if they are cognitively intact. If this response is normalized and expected, and if we approach it more like a grief process than depression, I’ve found that most patients are more accepting of help to sort through their emotions.

Although running a marathon is generally not a life or death event, it does cause a great deal of stress to our bodies, both physically and mentally. So my purpose of bringing this up through my blog is to normalize this phenomenon, much in the same way as I try to help my patients understand that what they feel after a major medical event is also common. Sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re normal, right? It’s grief of loss of focus. It’s having the time and space to think about other things happening in our lives and in the world. And it’s the loss of that physical outlet for anxiety.

So, how do we deal with it?

A common strategy is to sign up for another race. In that way, it kind of sounds like an addiction. But I’ve been running a spring half marathon since 2014, so… it’s now a part of the regular schedule. Spring half, at least one fall full. But it doesn’t even have to be that ambitious. Sign up for something fun! Maybe you have a child who has been inspired by your journey and wants to run, too, and a 5k is an easily attainable goal you could help them train for!

You can also change your focus for your workouts. Do you feel like your body needs a break from running? Try another type of exercise. Maybe you want to focus on your flexibility, so you join a yoga studio. Maybe you want to focus on strength, so you try CrossFit. With CrossFit, there are lots of smaller goals you can check off to note success. New skills, new PR’s on weightlifting, better times to achieve in benchmark WOD’s. Maybe you want to check a triathlon off your bucket list! This is a great time to work on swimming indoors and cycling in preparation for a possible summer race. Maybe you can get lost in nature and go hiking. There are so many pretty trails I want to explore this fall! There are multiple ways of exercising that don’t necessarily involve running.

Another great way to cope is to maintain those friendships you formed in training. I’ve mentioned before that my group of sole sisters has been built through my involvement with several training teams. These women are all so very important in my life, and I admire each of them for their own special gifts and talents. They have put up with a lot from me over the years, and I appreciate their presence in my life! Our little group grew because we spent the time and energy to foster those friendships not only by continuing to run together, but in getting to know each other outside of running.

In anticipation of this completely normal set of emotions after the race, try to plan a few fun things to do in the weeks following. Get together with old friends you haven’t seen in all of your months of training. (Socially distanced, of course). Plan a hike in the mountains. Take a day trip to the beach. You know, all the things you may not have had time to do while training.

Acknowledge and spend a little time remembering your accomplishment by taking your bib, medal, and a race photo to be framed. Michael’s almost always has a sale on custom framing. Last year, I framed my throw away race jacket from the Marine Corps Marathon. I took the time one year post-marathon to make my own medal display.

My medal display. I used mod podge to cover homemade cardboard letters with old race bibs. The MCM recovery jacket is framed in an inexpensive 16 x 20 frame from Walmart.

Perhaps the best thing you can do to cope is just to talk about it. I can guarantee your athletic peers have felt similar emotions following a big race or competition. Normalizing this experience and validating these feelings can go a long way in taking that heaviness off of your spirit. And if that’s still not enough, the roots of these feelings may run deeper.

Always seek professional help if you can’t get out of a funk. There is absolutely no shame in this. In fact, I think that depression and anxiety are pretty common problems among amateurs in our sport. Many of us run as an outlet for stress. That race expo shirt that we all laugh at that says, “I run so I don’t punch people.” Yeah. That’s kind of not a joke, right?

So, yes, post marathon blues are definitely a thing. No, you’re not crazy if you experience this. In fact, I would really be surprised by people who don’t have a few days of letdown after the excitement of a big race is over. But do talk about it. Maintain those new friendships with your running partners. Plan a few non-running fun things to do in the weeks after race day. And find a little something to focus on that involves exercise, but do give your body a break. And absolutely seek help if you need it.   

Have you experienced the phenomenon of post marathon blues? What strategies have you found to help cope? I’d love to hear about your experiences if you’d like to share. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Race Recap: Marine Corps Marathon #45: Virtually!

MCM 45 is a wrap. I feel like I had been training for this race since February. In essence, I was, since I’d been helping my best friend train for the Chicago Marathon, which was supposed to happen on October 11th. With all races either cancelled or forced to move to virtual formats due to the pandemic, we chose to run the Marine Corps Marathon virtually this year.

One of the beauties of running a virtual race is choosing your weather. Well, trying to optimize available help and the schedules of our group running together, last weekend was the weekend. Hurricane Delta had other plans! Thankfully, we are in Virginia, and only felt the remnants. We originally planned to run Sunday, but switched to Saturday due to the impending storm. However, what was forecasted originally to be a dry Saturday and rainy Sunday turned out to be an entire weekend of rain! I couldn’t help but to let out a sigh when I checked the radar upon awakening. There was a giant wall of rain approaching Richmond. Still, we chose the better weather day to run, which was Saturday. We had a steady, light rain for most of the day.

From the start of our “race.” A signature selfie/group shot courtesy of Selina Celebre. Selina in front; back row, L to R: Patty, me, and Leigh Anne.

Marathons aren’t always the way we planned, and this one was no exception. I knew I would not PR. It’s nearly impossible when you don’t have a closed course! But we made the best of it. The pain set in around mile 18 or so, which is typical for me. If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the time when you have to embrace the suck and make peace with the discomfort. The stop and go waiting for traffic was the worst part! But the most important thing was that I got to run a second marathon with my best friend!

I usually cry when I cross the finish line of a marathon, but this time, when my watch flipped to 26.2 miles, I let out a triumphant cry, and hit stop and save on my Garmin. The “finish” line was still about a half a mile away, which I walked, but it was fun to cross the tape our friends had set up for us!

At the “finish line,” although I completed 26.2 about a half mile before! It was so fun to cross the tape, though! Photo courtesy of Kelly Harris.
We were all soaked in the end! Look at this sweet sign our friends made, though! Photo courtesy of Kelly Harris.

I was still sore on Sunday from running the distance, but at least by Monday I could navigate stairs with a reciprocal pattern instead of one at a time, and had the courage to do some foam rolling by Monday evening. I’m two MCM’s away from becoming a member of the Runner’s Club!

I’m forever grateful for the Richmond running community for their support! I’m so appreciative to all of our friends who contributed to our “race,” from friends who allowed us to use their home as a base to those who stood in the rain for hours as our primary aid station, we were blessed.

Friends Amy and Kelly who ran our primary SAG on Saturday. They had help from Julie, who is not pictured.
Photo courtesy of Eric Nachman.
Friends Eric and Becky, who were there for much of our run, and even drove the course to check on us! Photo courtesy of Eric Nachman.

It’s fall marathon season! Did you run a virtual one this year? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Taper Madness

I have to say, this year’s taper is going better than anticipated. What is taper, you ask? It’s the time in marathon training when you have completed your last 20 mile run and are gradually decreasing mileage over 2-3 weeks until race day, allowing your body to repair itself and restore its glycogen reserves in preparation for your marathon. This time in training is notorious for creating its own special brand of crazy: Taper Madness.

What’s different for me, and for most of my peers also training for fall marathons, is that the race this year will be virtual. That means no crowds, no course support, and no time limits. No getting to the start area super-duper early to find a parking space. No waiting around for hours in the cold for the start of the race. You get to control when you start your race and, to some extent, the weather on race day. Most of the dreaded pressures of race day are off.

However, in past years, taper madness was real! Typical issues include massive amounts of self-doubt, crazy expectations that the sequence of runs with decreasing mileage would be easy (they never are!), and extremely weird dreams. My recurring nightmare usually has something to do with getting to the race without any of the proper gear and carrying a 50 lb. backpack. My first marathon training cycle, however, I was expecting a couple of weeks of blissful break from heavy miles, not the black clouds of self doubt. Even this year, with far less pressure, I’m still having some of these issues.

Hypervigilance is another common phenomenon. This may come in the form of obsessive cleaning, consistently stalking the weather forecast for race day, and worrying about every little ache, pain, and sniffle.

The forecast for this weekend. We had planned to run MCM 45 on Sunday…

Anxiety may manifest in other ways as well, since you have temporarily lost that physical outlet for all of your frustrations. You may have a shorter fuse than normal. You may want to eat ALL THE FOOD. Or you may lose sleep worrying about race day.

We must remind ourselves that the work for race day is done. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. Trust your training. Control what you can, including hydration, nutrition, and sleep, as much as possible!

In this phase when you reduce your running mileage, taper is a great time to read an inspirational book about running! My favorites in past seasons: Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer, Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor, and Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. Sometimes reading books about running can help you focus on your upcoming race.

Reading this book inspired me so much that I almost signed up for the One City Marathon in March. I wisely opted for the half!

Last year pre-race, I was dealing with a sudden onset of tendonitis after my 20 mile training run. I was able to manage with a bit of self-rehab and rest and through the miracle of KT tape. I finished MCM 44 relatively unscathed, minus a large blister on the bottom of one foot from my feet being wet all day. (If you haven’t heard about the horrible race conditions for the Marine Corps Marathon last year, it started in a monsoon and ended in an oven, to sum it up! You can read my story here!)

This year, I’m looking forward to spending 5 plus hours of quality time with my best friend, on our feet, running in the beautiful city of Richmond. We were planning to run Sunday, but with the forecast right now calling for the possibility of major downpours due to the remnants of Hurricane Delta, we will likely race Saturday. The scenery will be a stark change from running in our nation’s capital, but we will still earn that amazing Marine Corps Marathon medal. Only 2 more, and I will be a member of the Runner’s Club for MCM!

If you are training for a fall marathon, I wish you a pleasant and restful taper!

With good friend Becky and my best friend Patty on the course of MCM 44 where we had the honor of meeting Kathrine Switzer in Crystal City! (L to R: me, Becky, Kathrine, and Patty)
Photo courtesy of Becky Hapeman

If you’ve experienced taper before, what “symptoms” have you had? How do you manage? I’d love to hear about it! I’ll have a “race” recap next week. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Grocery Store Tours for Vegans: Lidl

In the bargain grocery market, Aldi and Lidl are pretty similar, and the original store owners were brothers. I already shared Aldi with you a few months ago, so this week, I’m taking you to Lidl! Both are filled with lots of merchandise under the store’s label. I find that the Aldi stores feel smaller, but they tend to have more vegan specific merchandise. Lidl stores are bright and open, but  historically have less variety for vegan diets.

Lidl entered the Richmond market a couple of years ago, and they have rapidly expanded to several locations in the metro area. Since I hadn’t been to Lidl since March at the height of the pandemic, I thought I’d take another look. Unlike Aldi, you do not need a quarter to unlock a grocery cart. You do, however, need to bring bags, and be prepared to bag your own groceries. And like Aldi, they have a couple of aisles of seasonal, non-food merchandise which is always fun.

You can expect to find all the vegan basics here. The biggies are canned and dried beans, a variety of rices, nuts and nut butters, and fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables and fruit. On my last trip in March, I was excited to find tofu, and at the height of the pandemic, Lidl was one of the only stores that had it! On this trip, I was excited to see a number of new vegan offerings!

Here’s what I found at Lidl this trip:

  • Produce. Their produce is typically very fresh, and you can sometimes find interesting things you don’t see in other stores. This week, the weird thing was a bag of large, purple sweet potatoes. Those definitely came home with me! I also bought bulk bags of lemons and limes, bananas, organic grape tomatoes, and organic green grapes. They had a variety of berries, salad greens, and pumpkins this week, too.
Produce section at Lidl on Staples Mill Rd
  • Dave’s Killer Bread. I love this brand, as you may have read before, and they had the hamburger buns this time!
Dave’s Killer Bread
  • Vegan dairy/tofu. They have a nice selection of plant-based milks, including Almond Breeze brand. I bought a couple of types of vegan cheese from Follow Your Heart and some extra-firm organic tofu. I did see that they had So Delicious coconut milk yogurt, which I’ve never seen here before. In the vicinity of these items were many varieties of hummus, including from CAVA, as well as CAVA’s tahini based sauces.
Part of the plant milk selection at Lidl.
One variety of Follow Your Heart vegan cheese today.
Tofu! Something they don’t have at competitor Aldi.
This CAVA tahini dressing came home with me!
  • Beyond Meat products. There was also a store brand of vegan patties! I picked up some Beyond breakfast sausage which was in the freezer section. So excited to try the spicy variety which I haven’t seen before
Store brand plant-based patties and Beyond Beef. Found with the other meat products.
Beyond Sausage. Found in the freezer section.
  • Spices. They have great prices on these, and are generally great quality. This trip, I picked up a pepper mill, red pepper flakes, and some real maple syrup, all at fantastic prices.
Spice section!
Check out the price on this real maple syrup!
  • Surprises this trip include Banza pasta (I bought the spaghetti), sundried vegetable mix (I’ll throw it in some pasta!), two flavors of frozen sorbet, accidentally vegan chocolate, and frozen vegan pizza!
Vegan pizza! I bought the garden vegetable.
Great prices on these accidentally vegan chocolate bars!
  • Non-food merchandise included a wide variety of Halloween items, clothes, and sewing items. I picked up a pattern tracing kit, which I think my daughter will enjoy for embroidery, and an LED magnifying light, which I think my husband will enjoy for looking at some of the treasures he finds relic hunting.
$5.99 for this gadget!

I didn’t find everything I needed for the week here, but I found several items at really great prices. The syrup, for example, is usually $15-16, and I bought it for less than $14. The red pepper flakes were 79 cents, usually $1.99 other places. And the Dave’s breads were almost a dollar less than retail.

My haul from Lidl.

The biggest change since March is the expanded selection of specifically vegan items, and I’m really happy about that! The fact that they now carry Beyond products and a competing store brand is encouraging. And I’m excited to try the vegan pizza! Hopefully, this pattern continues! It might be time to put Lidl into regular extra grocery trip rotation.

Do you shop at Lidl? What are some of your favorite items, if so? As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Tips on Enduring the Pain of Long Runs

The best part about coaching is ushering in new marathoners to the 1%. I try to think about what I would have wanted to know as I trained for my first marathon back in 2014. The pain of long runs and anxiety of training in the final weeks leading to the race are definitely topics that were discussed. Some of the information here overlaps my earlier post on marathon training tips for newbies. I hope that sharing what I’ve learned over the years will be helpful!

This picture was taken early in my running journey during my first Carytown 10k.

Even now, training for what will hopefully be my 8th marathon, I still get a bit worked up over the next jump in mileage on my weekend long runs. All things considered, this training season has been extremely low-key and relaxed, but the anxiety for my 20 miler the other weekend still emerged! It usually takes the form of seemingly unexplained irritability during my day prior, along with a series of very strange dreams the night before. Go figure.

Our brains try to help us forget the pain we endure during a marathon. In that way, it’s kind of like childbirth. That pain is a progression from what we feel on those 16, 18, and 20 milers. There are scientific explanations for the muscle pain, fatigue, and cramping, and a multitude of theories on how to combat the abuse we endure to train for and run 26.2. Basically, the culprit for pain is a combination of different substances produced by your body as a result of prolonged exercise that lowers the pH in your muscles, including lactate. This article does an excellent job explaining the science if you want to geek out on the topic.

So, yeah, we know why. But what can we DO about it?

Some of the work needs to happen before your long run. If you’re in the part of your season where you are in the upper double digit runs, I would recommend switching to maintenance mode for cross training. Don’t lift heavy! Your body needs to use its resources for your runs. Hydrate well in the day or two prior to your long runs. I would suggest taking in both water and electrolyte drinks in the days prior to your long run. In addition, make sure you are fueling well. That means carbs! Also, make sure you are resting well at night.

To reduce stress in the morning of your long run, lay out all of your gear the night before. Nothing sets up for a bad run more than the anxiety of not being able to find your favorite running shorts or visor in the morning, especially if you’re trying to do this in the dark to avoid disturbing your spouse! That, my friends, is energy wasted. It’s also great practice for race day.

Anticipate chafing areas. For men, cover your nipples. My running buddies swear by band-aids. For ladies, your bra line may need some attention with Body Glide. Do your thighs tend to chafe? Try wearing longer shorts. Do your upper arms chafe? Body Glide. For your feet, I use Body Glide lotion, which works well for me. Speaking of feet, make sure your socks are good quality! There are so many options, and I’ve found that I have to change my sock strategy if I change up shoe brands. When choosing leggings or bike shorts, look for flat seams; raised seams will flip and chafe.

Consider your headwear. A visor or a hat can help keep rain or sun out of your eyes, and if it’s really sunny, sunglasses will reduce eye strain and squinting. My head coach loves to tell our team that it’s amazing how much energy we waste by squinting! I’m a big fan of the Goodr brand; they are polarized, comfortable, and not so expensive that my soul will be crushed if I lose a pair.

I’m almost always in a visor and Goodr sunglasses on race day! This was after the One City Half Marathon in March, right before COVID forced races to be canceled.

During your run, make sure you are staying hydrated and fueled properly. Now that the weather is cooling off as we transition into fall, we tend to reduce our fluid intake, as we don’t sweat as much. But the cool temps can be deceiving! I try to alternate between water and electrolyte replacement on my long runs, and I typically carry Nuun Endurance as my electrolyte replacement, as it has more carbs. I still love Nuun Sport for shorter runs and to pre-load electrolytes.

Speaking of carbs, you will burn through them while running, and that glucose needs to be replaced. Choose your endurance supplements wisely! Experiment to see which chews or gels settle on your stomach; the weekend long runs are practice for race day. Another good thing to have handy on long runs is salt tabs or chews for a quick burst of electrolytes. I love the lemon lime salt chews, which are vegan. If your muscles start cramping, take one of these chased with water. It will help, I promise. Last year, during the Richmond marathon, I handed out many of these just before the Lee Bridge at mile 16. But sometimes, your body just needs food. I always crave salt, so carrying a small bag of pretzels or a few potato chips as a backup is always on board for race day, but I’ve also been known to enjoy a fun size bag of Skittles during a race!

An assortment of endurance supplements from REI

Another thing that can help is stretching during your run. Taking a moment, even just a few seconds, to stretch out your calves on the curb, your IT band with a standing stretch, or your shoulders can alleviate your discomfort and fatigue enough to plow through a couple more miles.

Take a walk break. I’m queen of what I’ve dubbed “intuitive intervals.” When my body needs a break, I walk. For the average endurance athlete, it’s almost expected. You can even plan your walk breaks with set intervals, AKA the Galloway method. Breaking up your movement patterns from your running to walking gait can give your muscles an opportunity to move a different way, helping you feel more refreshed to take on further mileage. Forward propulsion in any fashion still gets you to the finish line.

It’s also important to differentiate between your average, overall marathon discomfort from pain in a specific place, which usually indicates an injury. Also take note if you experience dizziness, abnormal breathing patterns, or heart palpitations.  If these happen on race day, it’s a good idea to get checked out in the med tent, even if you make it to the finish. It’s part of what you pay for.

In addition to physical means of adapting to the pain of the long run, there are some mental strategies as well. I try not to use music the entire run, but somewhere in the second half, it’s really helpful, and can be just the mental boost I need. Kind of like a reward. Running with a buddy is also ideal. And on race day, if you have family on the course, anticipating seeing them periodically along the way can help carry you through.

Another strategy is to visualize the finish. During training runs, I often start thinking about my post-run meal. It keeps me motivated to get back to my car as quickly as possible! On race day, I also picture myself crossing the finish line; I think about entering the chute, crossing the timing mat, getting that medal, getting the post-race snacks. And then I still think about my post-run meal…

With my good friend Sarah after our first marathon! We ran every step together, which made crossing the finish line that much sweeter!

During the Richmond marathon, Sports Backers coaches are on the course, and our biggest role is as cheerleaders! One of my friends still talks about my not-so-wonderful-but-uplifting version of RESPECT, singing along with music playing on the course as I checked in with her at about mile 24 last year! It gave her the boost she needed to get to the finish!

Cheerleading on the course of the Richmond Marathon last year! This is on the south side of the Lee Bridge. Photo courtesy of Eric Nachman.

But most of all, run the mile you’re in. Just keep chipping to the finish. And remember why you began this journey in the first place.

The soreness you feel after the race that gets a bit worse the day or two after is the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This article dives deep into the topic; yes, another opportunity to geek out! I usually take a long Epsom salt bath after my run to help speed up the inflammatory process that causes this pain. This actually gets better with movement, so taking short walks, avoiding exclusively parking yourself on the couch, and refueling with healthy food are all great ways to combat this discomfort.

Now, let’s talk briefly about ibuprofen. Some people will take it before the race to prevent pain. I would strongly advise against that. It will wreak havoc on your GI system unless you have an iron stomach. I know this from experience! I didn’t take it to prevent pain, but to drive down a fever prior to running the Shamrock Half Marathon one year (also a stupid idea… but running while sick is a topic for another day!) Let’s just say that the results were startling. First of all, although it did keep my fever down, it did nothing to prevent the pain from running the distance; it also produced GI bleeding. I was also desperate enough to take it during the last few miles of the MCM last year, knowing what may happen, with the same results. Just trust me… don’t do it. And taking it for DOMS after your race provides only marginal relief, at best. This article discusses all the NSAIDs on the market and risks/benefits of each so you can make an educated decision about their use.

Right now, I’m in taper for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon, which I will run “virtually” in Richmond on October 11th with my best friend and a few others from our circle of running buddies. Taper brings its own special set of joys, but since the pressure of running under a strict time frame is off, I’m hoping for an enjoyable taper and marathon run!

My MCM medal from last year!

If you’re in or near Richmond, it’s not too late to sign up for the Richmond Marathon! It will be run on an official, chip timed course along the Virginia Capital Trail, and is a Boston qualifying event.

Are you an endurance runner? What strategies have you used to help you endure the discomfort of the long run? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Vegan Pantry Staples

Take a peek into my pantry! If you’re newly vegan, it’s helpful to know what shelf stable items to keep in stock. My family is not vegan, so it’s often something I throw together from the pantry that becomes my dinner in a pinch. So what do I keep there?

  • Grains.
    • Oats (quick cooking, usually)
    • White rice. Basmati and Jasmine are my favorites! Trader Joe’s is a great source for rice. My next favorites are the Lundberg brand or Rice Selects.
    • Brown rice (whole grain and extra fiber)
    • Farro (love this nutty, high protein grain) I buy farro at Trader Joe’s, Kroger, or Wegmans, all the store brands.
    • Quinoa (another high protein grain)
    • Pasta (regular semolina pasta varieties as well as chickpea flour pastas for more protein like Banza). My favorite pasta is the Trader Joe’s organic spaghetti.  
  • Canned beans. All varieties, really. Black, pinto, white cannolini, red kidney, great northern, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, refried beans are all in my pantry at any given time. My favorite place to buy these is at Kroger, since they are often on sale and sold in 4-packs. I usually buy their Simple Truth organic brand.  My favorite refried beans are either variety sold at Trader Joe’s.
  • Dried beans. Of course you keep dried beans at hand! Navy beans, black beans, and red lentils are favorites, as are the 15 bean soup bags. All but the red lentils need to be soaked overnight before cooking. Beans are definitely better this way, but take a lot more time and effort! But so cheap!
  • Sweeteners.
    • Organic sugar. The only way you can be sure your sugar is vegan is if it’s organic; most sugar is processed with bone char, and organic is not. I buy mine from Costco in the giant bag for around $8. It’s a bargain, for sure!
    • Real maple syrup. The best deal is at Costco for their Kirkland brand. It’s around $16 for a jug. A little goes a long way! Besides the usual use as a delicious topping for waffles and pancakes, it’s a key ingredient in many vegan recipes for sweet treats, including the energy balls my family loves.
    • Chocolate chips. My favorites are from Enjoy Life. Available at most big chain grocery stores. I use these as a topping for my chocolate cake, as a key ingredient in the previously mentioned energy balls, and to melt and use to make homemade peanut butter cups.
    • Jams and jellies. These are great for peanut butter and jelly, obviously, but also to sweeten overnight oats or even hot, quick oats.
  • Flour. King Arthur is my favorite brand. I always have all-purpose on hand for basic recipes, but often keep whole wheat on hand to add extra fiber and nutrition to quick breads. For most recipes, you can easily sub for up to half of the AP flour without much change in rise or texture.
  • Yeast. I actually keep this in my freezer. Right now I have active rise yeast that has to be activated in warm water, a lucky find at Costco at the beginning of the pandemic. I typically keep rapid rise yeast packets on hand, which is slowly making its way back into the stores. Yeast is a key ingredient in the Dutch oven bread I make and pizza dough!
  • Broths.
    • Vegetable broth is a must. I usually buy whatever organic store brand is available wherever I ‘m shopping. I’m not picky. (Here’s a tip, though. Save all of those veggie scraps in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, and once it’s full, boil the scraps with 8 cups of water for about an hour, strain, and you have delicious homemade broth. You can freeze the broth to use later, too).
    • Vegan Protein Broth from Walmart sold under their Sam’s Choice organic brand. It makes a great substitute when veganizing creamy soup recipes like my mom’s famous potato soup.
    • Canned coconut milk. It’s essential for vegetable curries!
  • Spices.
    • I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s spice blends like their onion salt, everything but the bagel seasoning, and chili spice blend. Their smoked paprika is also excellent.
    • Lifehouse freeze dried spices. Dill, parsley, and oregano are favorites.
    • Himalayan pink salt. Costco has the best deal on this. I just refill a smaller salt shaker!
  • Fats. I keep olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil on hand. Vegan mayo moves to the fridge once opened, but I always have a backup in the pantry!
  • Canned vegetables.
    • Tomatoes and tomato based pasta sauce and salsas. This includes diced, tomato sauce, crushed, and tomato paste. I’ll include dried tomatoes here as well. I’m not picky. If I can get Kirkland’s organic brand from Costco, that’s ideal for the quality and price, but most organic store brands are great. I’ve tried them all. I keep jarred salsas on hand for making vegan chili.
    • Green beans. Any organic brand is fine. I love to combine these with sautéed onions, diced tomatoes, and oregano for a yummy, Greek inspired veggie side dish.
    • Corn. It’s easy to rinse a can and add to homemade cowboy caviar, a favorite at my house!
    • Olives and pickles. I love briny things! My favorites are from Trader Joe’s. Pitted Kalamata to add to salads, all canned olives, and dill pickles.
  • Tea and coffee. I keep at least black tea bags on hand right now for brewing kombucha! And I can’t survive without my morning cup of joe!
One of my earlier batches of home brewed Kombucha!
  • Nut butters. I always have peanut butter on hand! We love Jif Natural creamy here. For almond butter, my favorite is the creamy, salted variety from Trader Joe’s. But if you go to Costco, their Kirkland brands are pretty good, too!
  • Nuts. I especially love salted almonds and cashews. For nuts I use less frequently, including pine nuts and walnuts, I will keep these in the freezer. Trader Joe’s and Aldi are my go-to places to buy these.
  • Root vegetables. I usually have one variety of potatoes, a bag of sweet onions, and a bag of red onions on hand.
  • Dried fruit. I especially love raisins for adding to oatmeal and apricots for snacking.
  • Snacks. I love a good, salty potato chip. The Kettle brand is my favorite, and you can buy big bags at Costco, but these are readily available at most grocery stores. I also love tortilla chips; Garden of Eatin’ brand is my family’s favorite.

Some ideas for pantry meals:

  • Throw together a vegan Bolognese using jarred pasta sauce, sautéed onions, and canned lentils (drained and rinsed). Serve over your favorite pasta!
  • Roast potatoes in multiples, even if you won’t eat them all in one meal. Serve them the first night topped with veggies and your favorite dressing (homemade vegan ranch is my favorite!), and use the leftovers to make potato salad or hash browns.
  • Make a delicious sweet breakfast with quick oats! Check out my previous post on 5 Minute Breakfast.
Quick oats with raisins, brown sugar, maple syrup, and fresh strawberries.
  • Pasta salad. Cook whatever pasta you have on hand, rinse in cold water, and toss with your favorite canned beans (drained and rinsed), olives, spices, and olive oil. If you have sundried tomatoes, add these to the cooking pasta in the last few minutes to rehydrate them. Add whatever fresh veggies you may have in the fridge. Don’t want pasta? Sub farro or quinoa instead!
Farro salad. This one has a mix of pantry and fresh ingredients.
Buffalo Chickpea Salad
Vegan Chili
  • Vegetable soup. I love to use the 15 bean dried mix for this, soaking overnight, then cooking over 1-2 hours with vegetable broth, spices, and throwing in whatever veggies I have. I might use a couple of potatoes peeled and diced, a diced onion, a can of diced tomatoes, and a bag of frozen mixed veggies.
  • Vegan potato soup. The only thing in this soup that you can’t find in your pantry is the vegan butter!
Vegan potato soup

Not all vegan meals have to be complicated or based on fresh ingredients. So shop those inner aisles at the grocery store for great, shelf stable ingredients to have on hand! I hope you’ve found some inspiration for your next meal!

What meals have you thrown together with ingredients from your pantry? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.