February 23, 2018

Austin 5K

Since the Kaiser Half Marathon DNF, I'd been cooking and eating super healthy, but not doing much that was too impressive on the running front.  Instead, I've been trying to increase my flexibility and work on avoiding re-injuring my left hip/leg by adding in things like calisthenics, yoga, biking, etc.

7:30 AM CT start for the Austin 5k? 
I think we look pretty damn bright eyed!
Essentially, from a pure running perspective, I pulled together two 17 mile weeks, which is not too great.  But, despite the low mileage, most of the running was on the higher effort side, and resulted in faster paces than I'd seen in a while.  Also, I did quite a bit of stretching and my flexibility improved.  My upper body, on the other hand, was wondering what the hell these things called pushups, dips, and crunches were, and why they were back in the mix.

This was a great fun race, even if it did start at 5:30 AM our local time.
I was looking forward to the Austin 5K after our improvised Golden Gate 5K.  The day before the race, a friend informed us that the race was essentially 1.56 miles uphill, and then the same route downhill back.  Well, that was good to know.  I reassessed my pace goals and just decided to do the first half by effort and then see where I was.

Slightly rolling, but essentially a 200 ft climb out
and 200 ft descent back.

I had such a great time on this race.  I hadn't had a *fun* race in a long time, and it was fabulous to remember what they felt like.  E & his buddy passed me on the downhill and I knew I could have kept up with them, but I let them go.  It was a day for joyful running, not pushing to pain.  I needed to just have a great fun race.  And I did.  My low-key goal had been to beat my last Chrissy Field 5K average pace of 9:55/mile, but that was before I knew about the hill.  Official results have me at 10:03/mile and I'm happy to take it.

Next race?  A 12K in April close to where I grew up with friends.  My current goal is to string together 7 decent weeks of healthy food and good fitness despite hosting a visitor in early March, followed by a trip to Pasadena for a conference where both E and I are speakers, then vacation in Colorado to ski with family, and finally a trip to lecture at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in early April.  I'm hopeful I can put together some good weeks despite the life chaos and improve my fitness.

February 14, 2018

Black Rice Navy Bean Turkey Chili

Part of the low-key homebound lifestyle I've been living is getting back into the swing of regularly cooking delicious meals from scratch with a focus on how I can make traditional staples healthier without negatively affecting the deliciousness.

Leftovers for tomorrow!
One of the things I've been doing quite a bit of is cooking in bulk and taking advantage of the freezer.  I'm regularly making a full pound of dried beans or rice when I only need 1/2 or 1/4 pound for the recipe and then just freezing the rest.  I'm also likely to double or quadruple things like soups and sauces and freeze the remainder.  I've also been experimenting with adding additional vegetables to traditional legume and grain preparations.

So, we've been eating very well out of the freezer. E's requested Butternut Squash Gnocchi Bolognese resulted in a fresh-made hosted dinner for 7 plus 3 more defrosted meals over the next 4 months (feeding 3, 2, and 2).  Then there's been lentil soup, vegetarian minestrone, excess broccoli, and more, that at various points, I've reached in, defrosted, and used to make a delicious meal.

Tonight, I had quite a bit of black rice in the fridge.  Plus I had frozen navy beans from the last time I made a navy bean soup.  And, I had some ground turkey.  I put them all together for a great Chili-esque stew.  Making this stew in one night would be quite the undertaking, but I'd done it over a couple of weeks.  All told, it was awesome.

1. Black Rice:

4-6 stems celery
1 large white or yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
3 carrots
1 lb black rice
2 Tbsp salt
olive oil

Mince celery, onion, garlic & carrots.  Sautee in olive oil for 2+ minutes.   Add black rice and sautee.  Add 5 Cups water and salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover.  Stir occasionally.  Add water if too dry.  Cook until water is all gone and rice is al dente.  45 minutes is likely good.  Turn off heat and stir in pot as it cools down to allow excess water vapor to evaporate.  Take 1/4 to 1/2 of rice and put into Tupperware in fridge.  Spoon remaining rice into ziplock bags, push flat to 1 inch wide, label them with the date, and freeze.

Very good for adding to salad bowls.

2. Navy beans

1 carrot
1 medium onion
1 celery stem
1-4 cloves garlic
5 sprigs rosemary leaves removed from stems
salt to taste
1 lb beans

Optional: Soak beans in warm water for 1 hour+.  Toss water and rinse.

Place all ingredients in large pot, cover with 8 Cups water.  Bring to a boil.  Cook until beans are al dente (30-60 minutes depending on soaking, bean age, etc.)

Remove beans from cooking liquid with sieve.

Immediately use some of the freshly cooked beans for something like Creamy Broccoli White Bean Soup, substituting for canned beans.  Blend the carrot, onion, and celery into the soup's base as well, combining with water or bean cooking liquid in lieu of vegetable stock.

Put remaining unused cooked beans into ziplock bags of 1 inch layer, air removed, labeled with the freezing date for future use.

Freeze leftover cooking liquid for future use as vegetarian stock.

Pre-cooked beans are great for salad bowls and soups.

3.  Black Rice Navy Bean Turkey Chili

1/2 large white onion, diced.
5 cloves garlic, minced.
Olive Oil
1/2 lb ground turkey
2 C pre-cooked black rice (see above)
1.5 C frozen pre-cooked white beans (see above)
1 - 28 Oz. Can of tomato pulp (I'd prefer to use canned garden tomatoes, but I don't have any since I didn't have a garden last year).
cumin
paprika
chili powder
red pepper flakes
salt
1-4 Cups water

-Sautee first 3 ingredients together until onions are translucent.
-Add turkey and sautee until fully white (no longer pink).
-Add all additional ingredients and bring to a simmer.
-Cook under cover for 20 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the consistency appropriate.

Enjoy immediately with minced chives and shredded cheese on top.  Serves 4-6.

February 11, 2018

San Francisco Fun

This week was an easy low-mileage week with a goal of getting to the start line of the Crissy Field parkrun and being able to finish it, ideally, at least 1 second/mile faster than the last time I'd run it (9:55/mile).

Cable car turn-around at Aquatic Park
Early in the week, I substituted pushups, dips, and core work for several of what ordinarily would have been running minutes and in reward, my arms and chest spent several days wondering what the hell I'd done.  But my leg was happy.  Tuesday, after 2 days of super easy running, I felt like I could go to track group the next morning, and I was excited to do so.  Except, the calendar informed me that that I had a dentist appointment.  Seriously?  Forgotten dentist appointment scheduled 6 months prior is never something to get excited about, but when it means you can't join in your favorite workout?  I was disappointed to say the least. 

SF Date night oysters
After the dentist appointment and work day, I did motivate and took myself to a local track solo before the sunset to try to do some semblance of drills and speedwork with the knowledge that track is definitely one of the most important workouts for fitness for a 5K for me.  It was a solid workout, pace-wise, in fact, I surprised myself with my speed, but I still cut the distance short in an effort to preserve my leg (total speedwork = 1.3 miles, 3+ miles total with jogging w/u, recovery & drills).  

I took a rest/stretch day on Thursday and did one more easy short run Friday AM before Saturday's planned for 5K.  My alarm went off, E jumped out of bed, and I saw that I had a text message and missed call.  My sister was sick.  She would not be coming with her kids to the Exploratorium, which was our scheduled activity for the day (the reason we'd stayed in the city and also the reason we needed to get the run done early before a day of niece/nephew management, hence Parkrun).  I told E we could skip the Parkrun and sleep in if he agreed to do a 5K with me later in the day and he hopped back into bed and was asleep within 30 seconds, happy with the run later plan.  We slept another hour and half and then headed out for our own VERY STEREOTYPICAL San Francisco 5K across the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

One of the best runs I've done in years.
Perfect weather. Gorgeous views.
With E. Over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Couldn't ask for anything more.
It was wonderful.  I stopped for a 1 minute 37 second walk break at the turn around point to get my earbuds in and music turned on while E ditched me on his way back.  From there, I pushed myself without looking at my watch to finish the 5K at an average pace of 10:23, which equals an average pace of 9:54 for the running if you pull out the walk break.  I was elated.  The bridge has a decent hill in the middle, and I was working hard, but nowhere near racing 5K effort (there was a bit of pedestrian weaving as well, of course). I'd hit my original racing goal (minus the walk break) and I had a runner's high for the rest of the day.

Parked by the headlands and walked under the
bridge to get to the start of our run.
We took advantage of our hotel location to enjoy Fisherman's Wharf touristy people watching and entirely too much SF sourdough bread for lunch.

Sourdough breadbowl tomato lobster bisque?
(with a side of bread?)
Don't mind if I do!
We spent the afternoon reading at Aquatic park and enjoying the egregiously gorgeous weather.

Look closely, you can see the swimmers...
E2 and J came and joined us and we enjoyed some local culture from the car clubs that showed off their hydraulics and classic restored American cars.

Check out the cars in the background!
From there, we got cleaned up, went to Franciscan Crab for dinner (highly recommended!) and then the Symphony for the Emperor's Concerto.  

Grand Piano vs. the Orchestra:
The Emperor's Concerto is an awesome back and forth
Sunday, I woke and met E2 in the gym, opting to stretch instead of trying to push my left leg.  I felt great. I'd had a wonderful run and a great weekend.  I wanted more of the same, and I was willing to be a responsible adult (who didn't get back on the treadmill for junk miles) in order to get it.

Sunday dinner was a lovely dinner at our friends' place including visiting parents we hadn't seen since our year abroad where we visited them in Singapore.  And now, with no pain, content and thrilled with such a wonderful weekend, I am looking forward to a pedestrian healthy, home-cooked, lower calorie, higher mileage pain-free week.

Wish me luck!

February 4, 2018

A good spicy food week and Kaiser DNF

Last week was a good taper week, which, in theory, means lots of healthy food and sleep, very little running, lots of stretching, rolling, a visit to my ART specialist and getting myself into the best state possible to run an awesome half marathon.

Well, 5/6 ain't bad.

First, I'm a sucker for Sichuan numbing hot spicy flavors (Mala and all of the other related variants).  I've been trying to figure out where I can acquire the taste close to home and just last week finally found a couple of places that make prepared dishes with it, which was awesome.  But then, I went to Din Tai Fung with a colleague, L, whose wife is from Sichuan.  We ordered spicy noodles and I lamented how difficult it is to get Sichuan numbing spice.  L mentioned that her wife ships spices to the US in bulk because apparently our Californian imports do not meet L's wife standards.  Through some miracle of making my desire known to the universe, within one week of seriously starting my quest to acquire Sichuan spice sources, I was offered some of the imported stash from L's wife for home use.  JACKPOT!

Green = numbing Sichuan peppercorn;
Red = ridiculously spicy pepper flakes. 
Mortar and pestle for scale. 
This is easily a 3 year supply.  Thank you L!
So, on the delicious food front, I hit up 99 Ranch to stock our house with delicious Asian dried, canned, preserved, and fresh goods and we ate off of them for at least half of our meals this week.

Rice stick noodle bok choy stir fry with peanuts, spicy shirataki noodle soup (made it twice -- better with a poached egg), and spicy veggie soba ramen-style pre-race soup were all delicious.  After this many meals, E has requested that I rein in the numbing spice, both in frequency and in amount per serving.  Apparently, there can be too much of a good thing.

Not gonna lie -- this spicy mushroom miso veggie soba pre-race dinner was amazing.
So, #1, food?  Check.

#2, sleep?  Yeah.  I did lots of that.

#3, very little running?  Check.  Total weekly mileage before the start line on Sunday AM was 10 miles, almost all of it at target race pace or faster.  I felt fast, strong, and pleased with my lack of pain.

#4, lots of stretching, rolling and a visit to the ART specialist?  I did these as well.  The beastie balls make rolling while indulging in screentime very easy, and I found time to stretch a couple times in the week in an effort to avoid major issues.  The ART visit was wonderful on Thursday and I left thinking that a half finish was easily doable.

#5, an awesome half marathon?  Nope.  Not even close.  My AM went perfectly.  I slept fitfully (typical pre-race stuff for me), woke at my 6:20 alarm,  did the obligatory AM rituals, got out the door, to the Starbucks for the latte and juice and back on the road by 6:45 AM.  I made it to my parking spot before 7:30 AM, and I thought of my friend Cat while waiting for the buses.

This race's shuttles used to be yellow US school buses, but now, in peak SF tech something or other,
they are the tech company buses put to good use on the weekends.
I made it to the start with plenty of time to wait at the porta-johns, finish my juice, do my business, and get to the start, ready to go.  I missed all the cool kids near the start 'cause I don't have FB on my phone and they were all communicating with it. C'est la vie.

4th SF Kaiser half start.  1st DNF.

I headed out for a fast first downhill mile and, it was easy and fast, so as planned, I built in walking breaks and hit the 5K right about on target pace, even though the last mile in the first 5K is significantly uphill.  I felt good.

It was warmer than expected, but not too warm.  Similarly, it was more humid than I'm used to, but not egregious.  I mean, I was sweating like crazy, but that's my gig. If it's over 60, regardless of the humidity, if I'm working at a decent effort level, I'm losing water like no one's business.

I took a Gu at the water station after the 5K and then I picked the pace back up.  I tried to keep the target pace but I was falling behind despite what felt like appropriate half marathon effort for how early in the race it was.  This was, of course, frustrating, as I'd picked a relatively "easy" target pace.  At the 10K mark I was seriously considering stopping.  In addition to the lackluster pacing (which killed any desire to push through for a nice time), my left hip was starting to tighten up and I was concerned that I'd lose all the (minimal) fitness gains I'd made if I pushed it too far.  I have a tentative crissy field 5K next weekend as a training race and a real 5K in Austin the week after.  I knew I wouldn't be able to do a good job at either of them if I pushed today too far.

At mile 7.52 I stepped off the course and walked back to my car --
I had brunch to console myself with a bunch of awesome runners and amazing food, 
hosted by the awesome http://sfroadwarrior.blogspot.com/
Part of me is disappointed, of course.  I was looking forward to completing a half marathon for the first time in over 18 months.  But the other part of me is happy that I made the call I did.  As AK eloquently put it -- it's a risk/reward equation.  The risk was you were going to continue to tighten up your leg and undo the good work you'd done and mess up your upcoming 5Ks.  The reward was you could finish the very annoying 2nd half of Kaiser out and back on Ocean Blvd in the direct sun and humidity.  And when you put it like that, I'm very happy with my decision.  Thanks, AK!

Cheers.  Here's a blurry sweat-covered phone lens photo of fresh fruit in sparkling wine
(who needs juice for mimosas?)
and the first runner to show up to bRUNch
who actually finished the half (https://jensrunningblog.wordpress.com/).
Let's just call it art.

January 28, 2018

Running Update: The Kaiser Half Marathon is a Go

This week's running went very well.  Very little pain and the first 30+ mile week since last November.  I easily beat the assigned paces at track group on Wednesday without any pain, which was such a gift to my confidence.

Today's "long" run of 8 miles went just fine.  8 @ 11:59/mile average pace.  My goal was sub 12.  So, I'll take it.  I also fit in an additional mile of walking with 9 X 30s strides with 90s recovery walking on my way home.  That bonus mile without pain definitely helped me feel confident that odds were in my favor for successfully finishing the half next weekend. 

Now, the only question is how to pick my target pace -- I've got a nice easy taper week in the calendar with lots of good healthy food and sleep planned.  I'm hopeful I can get in one ART session with my therapist and then, ideally, I'll have a good day on Sunday.

The current weather prediction is for fog, which I love.  Today's effort was in full sun, which usually slows me down quite a bit, even if the highs were only in the low 70s. 

McMillan seems to think a 2:30 half is a decent goal for me at this fitness level, so that's my A plan.

I'll shoot to get up early, have my latte, drive up and park to take the bus to the start, be ready to take several gus (I've been running all long runs without any fuel) and head out for 11:27 miles, trying to hold on as long as I can at that pace.  If I'm too fast, I'll take walk breaks at each mile or aid station to get the pace back on track until the last few miles, at which point, I'll just make decisions based on how I'm feeling.

My B plan is just to finish.

Wish me luck!


January 27, 2018

Professional Navel-Gazing

Since returning from the sabbatical, I've kept my law practice relatively slow.  And I've enjoyed it.  I've avoided marketing or going on a blitz to increase my workload, and instead, I've been doing lots of cooking, reading, gardening, and ramping up my workouts, and plenty of adulting like medical/dental/family stuff, filing/culling, finances/taxes, etc. that I'd completely ignored on the sabbatical (and typically only handled when it was on fire back when my practice was more busy).

I finally made it to the local Din Tai Fung.  
Delicious & only a 15 minute wait for lunch at 1:30 on a Friday!
Because I'm not super busy, I'm not earning as much money as I usually do.  This means that options that historically haven't been attractive to me because they'd require a pay cut are actually worth thinking about.

I wouldn't have realized this, except a local company reached out and tried to hire me for an in-house position.  And I was actually interested.  I prepared a resume for the first time in 12 years.  It felt good to look at a list of all that I've accomplished professionally since I last tried to get hired.  Ultimately, the job was not a good fit -- the job description was a little aspirational -- describing what the hiring manager would love for the role to evolve into at some point in the future rather than a true description of what the job actually would be on day 1.  There were a couple of other issues that made it not a great option for me as well, but it was fun to get a sense of how desirable my skill set is in a corporate environment after 8 years of being on my own.

First time I've been able to put in a winter garden in years!
That same week, a law firm reached out to see if I'd like to consider joining them as a partner.  This is not an uncommon occurrence.  It has typically happened once or twice a year since I've been on my own.  I usually do the math and it doesn't make sense and we part on good terms.  But, as I mentioned, I'm in a unique spot right now, so I'm talking to them next week.

After agreeing to speak with the law firm, I realized I should probably explore my options more fully if that's what I'm doing.  So, I spoke with a recruiter who I put on hold 'til next week and reached out to a firm I'd turned down in the past but really liked to set up a chat with them.

Time to research recipes led me to brown rice straciatella -- so good! 
This is going to be a regular in the soup rotation.
I'm not really sure where, if anywhere, any of this is going.  But I'm meeting new people and exploring possibilities and in doing so reminding myself of some of the things I love about how my life is currently structured that I'd lose if I chose to ramp up my practice to a more busy situation or chose a different path.

January 21, 2018

Food, Food, Food (and some miles)

This week was super chill.  Lots of healthy food at home, 2 book club events (Pachinko A+, Bonfire B) and some decent runs.

Two of my favorite healthy dishes for dinner:
Brown rice tabbouleh-ish salad
&
Arugula/Spinach Saag
Total mileage: 21.83.  Much lower than hoped for.  BUT, very little pain and several runs that were local high water marks in terms of the amount of time spent at various paces.  Slowly but surely, it feels like I'm making progress.  And the current plan is still to drive up day of and do my best at the Kaiser half.

Half spicy, half original broth
As expected, the long run was the wildcard this week, and it didn't work out.  12 miles was the plan.  I headed out on Saturday AM in gloriously perfect weather and cruised through 5 miles at sub 12 min/mile pace before realizing that (TMI warning) I was having serious sports bra chafing issues.  It was clear to me that I could finish the full run, but that if I did so, I'd need several days of non-sweaty non-sports-bra recovery to get myself healed up enough to run afterwards.  I made the conservative call and decided to take the next detour off the trail and do 15X30s high effort strides with 1 min walking recovery home for a total workout of 8.5 miles.  Not quite 12 miles, but it included 7.5 minutes at speed with very little leg pain at all.  It was so much better of a cardiovascular performance than last week's difficult 10 miler that I just couldn't be too upset even though I had to bail on the full length. 

Post "long" run hot pot goodies:
Enoki mushrooms, pickled cabbage, 
baby octopus, shrimp balls,
house noodles.
We'll be going back!
So, now, after today's rest day of driving up to the city, brunching with friends celebrating their newly adopted infant, driving back, picking out the winter garden, and some lazy yardwork and puzzle time, the plan is to do the 12 either tomorrow or Tuesday.  Fingers crossed.

I opted for pickles, mac and cheese, and collards

In other news, a local company has targeted me for a position in-house that is interesting enough that I'm actually seriously considering shutting down my law firm and taking it. 

Updated Tabbouleh-ish salad w/feta
served alongside one of my favorites -- red lentil soup.
We're still in early discussions, but I pulled together a resume for the first time in several years, and they scheduled an interview for next week. It's very fascinating to consider all of the aspects of changing my professional life from the situation I've had for the last 8 years as my own boss (read: working remotely from anywhere in the world only requires my own approval) into one where I have only one (internal) client, a boss that is not me and probably wants my butt in a seat in a specific physical location most of the time, plus all of the benefits and drawbacks of working for a major corporation (yay: free gym and on-site food and drinks, boo: AM status meetings and probably lots of other stuff I've forgotten about since I left the corporate work force).  

January 14, 2018

Home

 We spent the majority of the week at home with a quick one-night trip up to the city.

The sunset views from our home-away-from-home SF hotel are breathtaking.
It was a pedestrian week of home-based comforts.  It's my favorite time of year -- SOUP SEASON!  So, I made cauliflower leek bisque from the leftovers of a cauliflower, garlic, potato, cheese bake. For a few days, we hosted an out of town friend (who clearly didn't love the healthy soup as much as I did -- he took us out to dinner the next night).

Kale chips and mushroom quinotto.
The next healthy meal effort was a huge hit: Mushroom quinotto with a side of kale chips equals one happy husband.  We've got the last of the quinotto on tap for dinner tonight and we're both looking forward to it.  Thankfully, it only took about 10 days and we've both returned back (more-or-less) to the pre-holiday weights we'd established and then lost in our trip to Mexico and the South.

Last night, in celebration of soup season, I made one of my favorites:  Vegetarian Minestrone!


Seriously, I love minestrone in all forms, but it's so satisfying that it's an easy vegetarian option -why add meat when it's so delicious without it?  We'll be eating off these leftovers all week.

In running news, I tried to run slightly more miles than last week and keep up the exercises that seem to be the reason my leg is holding up.  I succeeded.  27.58 miles.  Most of them running, most of which before or after stabilization exercises.  Bonus--I ran the full workout with the track group and hit the McMillan paces for my target (albeit slow) half marathon pace.

The long run of the week is, and will likely continue to be the big question mark.  This week, I headed out on Friday AM in San Francisco in the true chill of the fog with a goal of 10 miles out and back along the Embarcadero and Chrissy Field.  It was not to be.  At 2.5 miles, I had to admit that my hip/butt was not happy with me, and another 7.5 miles just didn't seem like a good idea.  I stopped to walk and stretch and then ran 30s strides with 1 minute of walking recovery back to the hotel.  It was a decent 5 mile workout, just not the one I'd planned on.  I was sore enough that I feared I may need to cut off my half marathon training.  Gamely, I stretched and rolled, and hoped for the best.

Saturday AM, I was surprised to find that my leg felt "Okay."  So, I headed out and forced myself to finish 10 miles @ 13:01/mile pace.  I "ran" almost the whole thing, but the last 2 miles really hurt.  I returned home to tell E that I was almost certain I couldn't do the half.

And then, I rolled and stretched and found that sitting in a chair at lunch didn't hurt as much as I expected.  I rolled off and on all day, and then as we watched a movie that night.  And today, I woke with a reasonably-not-super-tight leg.  So, I headed out for a short easy run and after 1 mile, decided to call it quits due to an instinct that said working hard for sub 12/mile was not smart, even if it didn't hurt.  So I walked home. 

Oddly, I feel better about my prospects for the half than I have in several weeks.  And, of course, either way, I've got lots of delicious homemade soup in my week's future.

January 7, 2018

First Week of 2018

Happy New Year!

Toasting to the TV, New York Ball Drop on NYE with friends.
Starting with the first day of 2018, I had 5 full weeks until the Kaiser Half Marathon.  My left leg rehab had been going reasonably well, so the story I told myself was that if I could do a 20+ mile week including an 8 mile run this week without an increase in pain or decrease in mobility, then I could continue to train for the next few weeks with a goal of completing the half.

Monday, the first of the year, I took the day off.  I'd run on the last day of 2017, and then we'd been up partying pretty late, plus, when I woke, there were snow flurries.  It was going to be a very cold day, so instead of running, E and I enjoyed the first meal of the year at Waffle House, and I did some rolling and stretching and lots of football watching while working on a puzzle.

Tuesday, I did side lunges, glute bridges, and 5 miles in the hills @ 12:39/mile followed by 3 sets of strides with walking recovery in the mid 8 min/mile pace range.  I rolled and stretched afterwards.

Wednesday, my track group back home was doing the Cooper Test, so I figured I would join in, remotely.  My father-in-law drove me to the active oval in Piedmont Park, and he and I jogged for half a mile or so to warm up.  I stopped to do some drills and dynamic stretching while he kept running.

The active oval is a nice wide 0.5 mile gravel loop around four sporting fields with two bisecting paths through the oval. 
The perfect place for a self-run cooper test.
I set my running music list to shuffle and off I went, chasing his 0.25 mile lead and shrinking it down but never quite catching him.  12 minutes later, I'd run 1.26 miles at a 9:34/mile pace, but best of all, my leg had held up.  It was a 5% improvement from the last time I'd run the test, and after a few down weeks due to my leg, so I was pleased, if a bit bummed that I hadn't done better. I do like how broad the performance categories are for the Cooper test.  For my age, my fitness is simply "Good" and will continue to be so, even if I increase my performance by 5% for several more iterations.

And, in the course of writing this, I realized I have a New Year's Goal -- to achieve "Very Good" on the Cooper Test this year.  In order to do that, I'll need to be able to run 8:23/mile for 12 minutes.  Wish me luck!

Thursday was a rest/travel day.  Friday, I had 3 mile intervals on my schedule but work was a bit crazy, so I settled on walking my downtown errands for 1.18 miles, and then a single 2 mile strength interval at 10:24/mile, followed by 0.18 walking cooldown.  Again, my leg held up, and I rolled and stretched afterwards.

Saturday, I had the 8 miler on the calendar.  I headed out late in the morning, but it was clear by mile 2 that it was not to be.  I stopped at a water fountain for 3 miles @ 12:00/mile, lapped up the water while trying to figure out how to deal with the situation.   I decided I'd go for 8 the next day, and tacked on a solid 15 sets of 30 second strides to get home (mainly 8 min/mile pace, with a couple high 7s and low 9s, 1 minute walking recovery intervals between for an additional 1.5 miles).  Of course, I spent some quality time rolling my left leg and hip while watching TV that night.

Today, Sunday, was make-or-break-it day.  I knew that if I couldn't at least get an 8 miler done this week there would be no way I could do 13.1 miles in 4 weeks.  I headed out after 9 AM in the overcast weather for my second attempt.  It wasn't pretty, but I slogged it out, and aided by my audiobook, I finished 8 miles @ 12:55/mile.

So, there it is.  One week into 2018 and I'm still targeting a February half marathon after a 24.22 mile week, and I have a 2018 fitness goal.

January 4, 2018

2017, The Year In Books

2017 was a low volume book year, totaling just 16 visual books and 23 audiobooks.  This is even less than 2016's 22 visual books and 32 audiobooks, and way down from 2015's 29 visual books and 48 audiobooks.

I'm now done with full-time traveling, and a member in 2 book clubs, so I'm hopeful that alone will increase the reading in 2018.  Also, I'm hopeful my body will let me keep increasing my running mileage, and soon it will be gardening season.  Since I tend to rip through audiobooks while running and gardening, there's also that to look forward to.

Without further adieu, here's the write-up of the final books I read and listened to this year (see part 1 and part 2 for the earlier stuff).

Visually Read Books:

Title
Author
Review
Anonymous (C)
Analee Newitz
A dystopian future where robots are indentured servants until they earn their way to freedom (which rarely happens), and humans born into bad socio-economic situations are as well.  Our heroes are reverse engineering anti-patent folks (although the patent law in this book is *super* way off reality's basis).  The most heart-warming characters are a robot who was raised by humans and appears to have some level of agency as well as a human illegal drug-runner who traffics commercially developed therapies that are artificially inflated as to price and unavailable to the masses.  Worth a read, but not worth the hype in the press.
The Hundred Secret Senses (A+)
Amy Tan
My favorite Amy Tan book so far.  I felt so taken in by the characters and dialogue and references to places that I know, it was as if I'd known these people in my past.  The magical realism of Kwan's view of the world juxtaposed against Olivia's attempts at pure rationality are wonderfully lovely.  The story comes together on both planes slowly, but inevitably, and the ending feels so satisfying and obvious even though I couldn't have guessed where it would go 30 pages earlier.  Highly recommended.
In the Name of Salome (A+)
Julia Alvarez
This book was gifted to me by a good friend years ago.  I finally found time to read it on our trip to Mexico and was so glad that I did so.  The history of the Cubans, the Dominicans, the Puerto Ricans, the other Spanish-conquered and American colonized areas in this part of the world (including Mexico) and all of their US American immigrants is so intertwined and complex.  The exceedingly well-researched but fictional telling of the 19th century stories of Salome Enrique Unrena, a real-life poet and girls' education pioneer in the Dominican Republic is epic.  Sad, defiant, and full of love of life in a way I can't explain but often recognize in good Latin American literature -- I loved this book so much that I packed it back up and brought it back to the U.S. to gift to a good friend rather than leave the copy at the hotel as a gift to a stranger, as I typically do. 
The Wrong Side of Goodbye (B)
Michael Connelly
I bought this at a CVS across the street from the hospital and it was everything I was looking for in a book at the time.  I like Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer books, but I've read them all as he doesn't produce them at the rate he produces his detective Harry Bosch books.  I'd listened to The Crossing, the Harry Bosch book prior to this one, and I'd enjoyed his transition into private investigator practice, so I was hopeful this one would be good as well, and it was.  Fast paced, excellent portrayal of Los Angeles as the setting and also almost a character, and, of course, an solid murder mystery that keeps you guessing but is neatly wrapped up by the end.

Audiobooks:

Title
Author
Review
The Bourne Supremacy (B-)
Robert Ludlum
Glad I went back to re-enjoy this one, as it was so very different than what the movie made the story out to be.  Set in Hong Kong and China.  Marie is kidnapped but not killed at the beginning and her life in danger is a major plot point. 
Tough Sh-t: Life Advice From a Fat Lazy Slob Who Did Good (B)
Kevin Smith
I'd had a bit of overload with the doom and gloom I encounter on twitter and the news (and the dark side of the Jason Bourne stories didn't help), so I sought this one out for solace.  I've always been a big fan of Kevin Smith.  It was fascinating to listen to this book, now, after all the Harvey Weinstein revelations, as Kevin Smith is very open about worshipping Harvey in his early career and owing his entire film success to the early chances that Harvey took on him.  Over the years, their relationship soured and Kevin's outlook matured to the point of realizing that when he thought he was just so "Indy" he'd really been a "Miramouseketeer" and "credibility clown" whenever Harvey asked him to do some press to ensure that bad rumors about Miramax or the Weinsteins would be squashed.  I was curious to see what his take on the revelations was, and when I researched it was pleased to see that he was clearly upset and is donating all of his residuals from all of the films he made with Harvey Weinstein to a non-profit that helps female filmmakers.  This book is, as you'd expect, funny, profane, and lovably honest.  The key message is that life is short and you should live your dreams, which frankly, is a message that needs much more airtime than it gets.  Exactly what the doctor ordered to cheer me up a bit.
Bourne Ultimatum (B-)
Robert Ludlum
I wanted to finish the full series, and I was glad I did.  At this point, the plot is so far off from where the movies went that it's not remotely the same story at all. David Webb is married to Marie, they have kids, and they are living in a protective program in the Northeast US.  Someone has revived the mythical Jason Bourne as an assassin in Asia and some US intelligence operatives decide to kidnap Marie to blackmail David into returning to the role (as a 50 year old) to catch the imposter.  The plot is obviously ridiculous, but it's still a fun romp and a final showdown between the Jackal and Jason Bourne.
Turtles All the Way Down (C+)
John Greene
This book was enjoyable YA, as you'd expect from John Greene.  The main character has mental health issues and much of her inner monologue makes up the prose, which means, as a reader, you are subject to obsessive thought cycles, and detailed descriptions of compulsive behavior among other things.  There's young love (of course) and youth struggles with loving, but flawed parents (of course).  All told, it was a light and easy treatment of some difficult topics. 
The Power (A-)
Naomi Alderman
A very clever exploration of physical power and gender set in a science fiction/fantasy future where women develop electrical impulse control and society evolves accordingly.  My only complaint about this book is that at times I felt the analogies were too forced.  I get it, in this society, men are the more sensitive, emotionally nurturing gender, and they are subject to the spectrum of treatment from women in power that goes along with that.  I couldn't help but feel that a book set in today's society with that much of a focus on gender discrimination would seem fake and preachy.  The lack of random interspersal of decent treatment with the discriminatory treatment was the part that pulled this down from a true A/A+ for me. 
Manhattan Beach (A)
Jennifer Egan
Well researched tale of a female scuba welder working for the Navy during world war II interspersed with timely drama related to immigrants, unions, the Irish and Italian mobs, and the choices that were available to those of lesser means at the time.  Engaging and believable. 
Bonfire (B)
Krysten Ritter
A good debut novel by a multi-talented actress, author, and musician.  The portrayal of small town America was mercilessly dead on, and the main character was fascinatingly flawed while being believably semi-aware of it -- these two aspects were the things that most impressed me with the book.  As far as thrillers go, it was good, but not great.  Occasionally, a turn of phrase would catch me off guard with its insightfulness, but most of the time I didn't notice the writing (which is typical for thrillers I enjoy).  Overall, it was intriguing, light, and easy to process.  The voice acting was good, although I was a little surprised that Krysten didn't do it herself given her voice performance background.  If I have one complaint, it would be that it seemed to me to have too much stereotypically "20-something feminine drama" for my taste and a habit of dropping important plot points in half-explained sidebars.  Worth a read.
Murder on the Orient Express (A)
Agatha Christie
The new theatrical release of the film based on this book inspired me.  I adore Agatha Christie novels and had read most of them in my teens.  However, as I'd discovered when I'd re-read 10 Little Indians for the first time since teenagerhood, for Murder on the Orient Express, I had also completely forgotten the characters and plot.  This Audiobook production was excellent, with a team of voice actors doing all of the various characters such that it was more like listening to a play reading than a typical audiobook.  Almost the entire text is made up of the investigation by the famous detective Hercule Poirot after the death of one of the passengers is discovered while the train is stopped in a snow drift.  It's impressive how much plot Ms. Christie created in the words that are simply dialog between Poirot and the other passengers regarding their behaviors and belongings.  The tightness of the language and her ability to contain an engaging and full story within such strict constraints made me appreciate just how talented Ms. Christie was.

December 31, 2017

Closing Out 2017

I spent Christmas eve and Christmas day at a hospital, supporting family, grateful for medical care and the impressive things that can be done to save and prolong lives.  It was the first time I've ever celebrated Christmas where I wasn't at a family home-hosted celebration.  Sure, there has been the occasional celebratory Christmas eve or Christmas day meal at a restaurant, but it's always been tagged on to a gathering of either my family or E's family (and often friends as well), with the general celebration based in someone's decorated home with presents.

Christmas Eve Seafood Dinner
Mom and I left the hospital for two meals -- Christmas eve at an oyster bar and Christmas day at a Sushi restaurant.  At both places, I was so thankful for the servers, chefs, bartenders and other service professionals who worked on the holiday, most of whom wore Christmas-themed clothing and played Christmas music.  I saw many single people, sitting at bars, enjoying a holiday meal alone.  And I was so, so grateful for the people who made their and our evening out possible, as well as the great fortune I've had to be able to celebrate the holidays in a family member's home as their guest.  I teared up when I dialed in to watch the unwrapping festivities with E's family -- I very much wanted to be there. Somehow, I'd never realized just how lucky I've been to have experienced joyous Christmas present unwrapping with family every year of my life.  Acknowledging that I'd taken this amazing gift for granted was very humbling.

[Edit: E reminded me that we spent Christmas eve in Sydney and Christmas day in Wellington in 2014.  So, we have spent one Christmas away from other friends and family, I've just never done so before this year in the United States.]

Octopus Ceviche Starter for Christmas Dinner
On the running front, I am tentatively hopeful that I'll be able to continue to improve and actually complete the Kaiser half marathon.

This week's mileage totaled 20.5, almost all of it running, and definitely the highest quality week since I'd admitted my leg was injured (and probably the highest quality week for a couple of weeks before the admission as well).

Christmas day, I did a solo chilly hour along the dike of the Mississippi river, 20 easy minutes out and 40 minutes strides/walk intervals followed by stretching, rolling, and glute work.

Tuesday, I rested, and Wednesday I ran a 5K in the ATL hills @ 11:53 average pace.  Afterward, I dropped in 4 60-second strides by effort (some on hills) @ 9:34; 8:27; 9:25; 10:28 per mile pace with walking recovery.  This was, essentially, the first real "workout" I'd done in 3 weeks and I managed to roll and stretch my leg afterwards until it felt pretty good.

I took Thursday as a rest day, and headed out Friday with hopes of a nice slow 5 miler.  Unfortunately, my leg was not on board.  I did 2.55 miles @ 12:16, but then the tightness in the side and back of my leg made me think it would be best to stop to stretch out my glute and hamstring.  From there, I did some intermittent run/jogging to close out the day with a total of 5.2 miles, although probably only 3.5 or so was actually running.  Upon return to the house, I aggressively rolled and stretched and hoped for the best.


Piedmont Park is a great place for flat strength intervals
Saturday AM, my leg surprised me by feeling much better, so I decided to go forward with the planned for (very short) workout.  I did side lunges and glute bridges to warm up, then walked to Piedmont Park, and ran a mile @ 9:44.  The original goal had been 10:30, but E came along and pulled me at a faster than planned pace.  I walked the 5 minutes to recover and started up again for a second mile, but it was not to be.  After 0.25 miles of starting at 9:44 and eventually slowing to 10:11/mile average pace, I walked a bit to recover and closed out the last 0.75 miles @ 10:34.  Looks like the original plan of 2 mile intervals at 10:30 pace was the right call... BUT, I fit in some 8:45 pace strides on the way home from the park and my leg held up afterwards, so this, too, was a success.

Sunday's plan was pace agnostic -- just 3 miles to get me over 20 for the week.  I rolled and did side lunges and glute bridges beforehand and headed out with my father in law for his favorite loop, warning him that I wanted to take it very easy.  We finished 1m30s faster than the last time we'd run it together a couple of weeks ago, and better yet, my leg was barely annoyed with me.  Three 11:30 pain free miles on a perfectly chilly day including 244 ft of elevation gain and loss?  It's a great way to close out the year.

Happy New Year's Eve, y'all.  Stay safe and I'll see you in 2018!

December 26, 2017

Cozumel & Playa del Carmen (Diving and Serious Lazy Leg)

Arriving at the Ferry Terminal in Cozumel
What the heck kind of ship is that off in the distance?
How many smokestacks can one boat have?
We headed out for a test shore dive on our first full day in Cozumel -- E's cold had cleared up so we rented gear and jumped straight in to the super strong currents off of Cozumel.  We kicked against them, swam out a bit to confirm E could equalize his ears down at 20 feet (the deepest dip we could find off the shore) and then floated back without effort to our dive resort's dock.  We then ill-advisedly kept floating past it to take in a few more views, which meant a serious up-current swim to close out the dive.  In full on lazy mode, I counted the scissor kicking under the water as good hip flexor extension and stability work for my leg for the day.  I also counted the 2 miles we walked round trip to dinner, cursing our lack of foresight with respect to insect repellant, hats, and sunscreens the whole time.  For the Sabbatical year, we had a big pile of stuff we never removed from the luggage, and so, we never thought about needing to pack it.  Now, starting with empty luggage for the first time in a while, we were unprepared for some basic travel needs.


Bonus points to anyone who can name this hilarious
Classic Mexican Movie
The themes are cock-fighting, big hats, love, and betrayal.
For the shore dive, the water was as clear as promised (very!) and the number of fish right there in front of our faces immediately after shore entry was impressive and surprising.  The rest of the day was perfectly indulgent: nachos, and reading under umbrellas in front of the ocean while sipping on drinks followed by an early onsite dinner. We woke early the next day, did a 2 tank drift dive over the reefs, studied for our Nitrox certification, and went to bed early after a stereotypical Cozumel dinner at La Choza.

Gorgeous full room nativity scene at La Choza.
The next day we took our Nitrox test (passed!) and did a 2 tank afternoon enriched air dive in the currents over the gorgeous reef enjoying views of puffer fish, lion fish, moray eels, many colorful tropical fish I can't identify, as well as a trigger fish, a sea turtle (!!!), and a gigantic eagle ray (majestic span of at least 6 feet).  We didn't even exit the dive shop 'til after 7 PM, so we availed ourselves of the onsite restaurant and bar and were in bed by 10 PM.

Christmas lighted ship parade from our dive resort window every night.
Thursday, a non-diving day, I headed out for my first run since Cancun, but the heat and humidity of Cozumel coupled with my left leg/butt/hip meant that I took it easy and just did 3 miles of run/walking followed by strengthening, stretching & stabilization.  Then, we took the ferry to Playa Del Carmen, which had changed immensely since we'd last been there 10+ years ago.  We settled into the Hyatt (yay, points!) for 2 final nights of luxury before heading back.

That afternoon's activities involved eating a delicious selection of skewers and going to one of 3 dive centers within 1 block of the hotel to book a cenote dive for our last full day.  We showed up Friday morning to learn we'd be diving at Dreamgate Cenote.  It was a wonderfully unique and beautiful experience -- as promised, the stalactites and stalagmites were gorgeous, and the fresh water was impossibly clear.  The one downside was that at 24C, even with a full wetsuit and a half wetsuit on top of it, after 45 minutes my fingers and toes were numb and I was shaking when we exited the water.  The difference between 24C and 27C in water is impressive!

One of many amazing views on Dreamgate cenote dive
PC: prodiveinternational.com
Saturday AM we woke to fit in yet another joint weight session.  I started with 2 miles of TM intervals at 1% incline, doing the "faster" stuff in the mid to low 9s with walking recovery, and then E and I cobbled together a hodge podge circuit of leg press, incline hanging rows, tricep overhead freeweight extensions, chest press, free weight cross jabs, medicine ball squat/(jumps), medicine ball standing twists, partner leg throw-downs, side foot ab crunch taps, and (of course) the obligatory glute bridges/pulses.

Crazy jetpack powered ridiculousness
(watched from the PDC beach from afar, in awe)

E had camarones flambeado for his final meal
this Mexico Trip--deliciousness and a show
all in one
We arrived back in the US on Saturday night, but Sunday AM, I found myself headed back out to the airport for a surprise change of Holiday plans, so the hoped for long run did not materialize.  Instead I spent the day flying and supporting various family members, where my presence was very appreciated. 

And there you have it.  A gloriously perfect and decadent week of Caribbean Mexican diving, food, drink, and also lots of sleep.  Even less actual running or other workouts than planned, but I'm relaxed, and relatively pain free.  So, I'd say my "lay off the hurt left leg and take it easy 'til it heals" plan is going swimmingly... Here's to hoping that I can start to increase mileage and train next week...