Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Pendulum Swings


Life is like a pendulum sometimes, swinging between two different poles. Highs and lows. Summits and valleys. Busy and relaxed. And for us, New York and Colorado. Last week I promised a blog post explaining our recent absence from the blogosphere, and the above photo says it all: we've been in the midst of a cross-country move.

This is my third time—and our second time—moving to Colorado from New York. Our pendulum has swung again. A number of exciting factors brought us back to the Rocky Mountains, which we left in late 2010 to head to the Hudson Valley. Now, we're putting down some pretty good roots. We closed on our house yesterday; we move in this upcoming weekend.

In the meantime, it's been a real challenge to blog, and to develop and photograph new recipes. All but the bare essentials of our kitchen has been packed up since mid-October or so. Since then we've been consumed with finding a new home, packing up the house in New York, driving cross-country with the girls, me starting up a new job, and us getting temporarily settled in an interim place here in Colorado until we move into the new house next weekend.

With much of our extended family—and our beloved ocean and seafood—on the East Coast, aspects of this move have certainly been bittersweet. But we're also terribly excited for this next phase of our lives and all the opportunities that it offers. Plus, Colorado is a place we know and love deeply, from the landscape to the outdoor recreation to the people that made it home for us once, and which make it home for us once again.

And despite our absence from blogging, recent weeks have offered wonderful gluten-free highlights. Such as stopping for lunch in Lawrence, Kansas during our NY-to-CO drive, and finding a New York-style pizza joint that offered a gluten-free pizza crust (with the crust from none other than Colorado's own Gluten-Free Bistro!).

Then there was last week's Thanksgiving. Compared to 2011, when we hosted 16 or so family members at our house in the Hudson Valley, this year was a low-key contrast, with just the four of us. But those of you who've read this blog for any length of time—or read our cookbooks—know how important food traditions are to us. And so, despite our small head count and limited kitchen, we put out our usual gluten-free Thanksgiving spread: turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry relish, apple pie. It was a nice reminder how food can be a delightful source of constancy, a continuous thread in our lives, even when other aspects of life are in a state of flux.

So for now, let us say thank you for your patience. We'll be back to full blogging soon, and we plan to return with gusto, sharing some exciting, new, holiday-season-inspired recipes. Until then, we hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

–Pete

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks

On the eve of Thanksgiving, it's that time of year when many of us reflect on our lives and the people and events of the past year, and think about what we're thankful for. Perhaps fittingly then, it was sometime in the last few weeks that Kelli asked me if—with my ankle injury and being forced to withdraw from the Virgil Crest ultra—I was disappointed with this year's ultra trail racing season. Absolutely not.

Every athlete faces injury and setbacks at various points in their career or life. It just goes with the territory. And while the timing of my ankle injury in the month preceding my biggest and most important ultra of the year was certainly unfortunate, when I reflect on the 2012 season there is much to be thankful for:

  • I completed my most aggressive year of trail running to date, with 8 races and 7 finishes
  • I set a first-time personal record (PR) at the 50k distance
  • I set a new PR for the 50-mile distance on a mountain course
  • I won my age group at the Long Island Making Tracks for Celiacs 5k
  • Prior to my ankle injury, I consistently finished in the top 10 to 20% at races
  • I exorcised old demons, finishing the Bimbler's Bluff course at which I DNF'd last year
  • I set a new PR for trail running mileage - my year-to-date total stands at 1,094 miles as of today
  • I further dialed in my gluten-free training and race nutrition
How could I possibly lament my ankle injury and the Virgil Crest DNF with all those positives staring me in the face?

A number of wide-ranging factors made this very positive year possible. A few of them are worthy to note here, since they're relevant to gluten-free nutrition:
  • I switched from eating primarily white potatoes to mostly eating sweet potatoes, in part for their lower glycemic index and their status as an excellent source of gluten-free carbohydrates
  • I switched from eating primarily Thai jasmine rice to mostly eating Indian basmati rice, again for the lower glycemic index
  • I incorporated First Endurance gluten-free products into my race nutrition, especially the Electrolyte Fuel System drink, EFS Liquid Shot, and Ultragen
  • I paid much closer attention to my pre-training, race morning, during, and recovery nutrition windows
Looking ahead to the coming weeks, months, and year, I'm terribly excited about more great things ahead. In the meantime, though, I'm ready to feast on all sorts of delectable gluten-free delights this Thanksgiving, ranging from the brined turkey and gravy, to the mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and apple pie.

If you happen to be looking for a tasty recipe or two for dessert this year, might I suggest:
Finally, what are you thankful for this year? Whether it was a friend or family member who surprised you with the care they took to prepare a safe gluten-free meal for you, or a coworker who made sure that the office party had a gluten-free option, or anything else, who are the people that made your gluten-free life a little extra special?

–Pete

Monday, November 19, 2012

Race Recap: Bimbler's Bluff 50k, 2012 edition

After the disappointment of dropping from the Virgil Crest ultra due to ongoing problems with injury, I took a step back, gave my body some rest, and then proceeded to undertake a careful and deliberate return to trail running. The goal was to get myself ready for my last race of the 2012 season: the Bimbler's Bluff 50k in Connecticut.

The race was a month ago, and it's been nearly as long since I've blogged. It's amazing how time flies. (More on the reason for our blogging absence in a post later this week...)

The Bluff race tackles some beautiful wooded country in southern CT east of New Haven. Going into the race, I had two major goals: finish the race (I DNF'd last year with weird cramping trouble), and end the season on a positive note. Although I knew it was unrealistic, given the recent state of my ankle, I also had a third thought hiding in the not-so-deep recesses of my mind: if I was feeling good around mile 20, I'd push the pace and try to actually race the ultra.

Race morning dawned cold, with temps in the 40s. I started the day with some gluten-free cereal and fruit (fresh bananas and apples), then drove to the race site, where I chugged a bottle's worth of my First Endurance Ultragen. Up until that point, I'd exclusively used it for recovery, but I decided to experiment with also having some prior to the race.

My gluten-free race nutrition was vastly different for this race than any other. There were no drop bags for me to send my own gluten-free foods to aid stations. In addition, Kelli and the girls weren't with me for this race, which meant no crew. Combine those two factors together, and for the first time I'd have to rely exclusively on the aid stations for my race nutrition. For other runners that may be no big deal, but for me it introduced an element of uncertainty. From past experience I knew that aid stations tend to be heavy on the gluten items: sandwiches, pretzels, cookies, that sort of thing.

I topped my 20-ounce bottle off with First Endurance Electrolyte Fuel System drink. Once that was depleted, I'd be refilling with the race's offerings of Gatorade, water, or soda. (For the record, I usually went with the Gatorade...)

Despite the cold temps that greeted the day, the forecast called for high temps in the 60s, which is pretty ideal running weather. The trick was how to dress for that range of temps. I opted for running shorts and a T-shirt, plus separate arm sleeves I could remove once things warmed up.

The runners assembled near the starting line for a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, then completed one lap around a field (a chance for us all to spread out) before hitting the trails through the forest. In the early miles, my ankle was feeling good, and I found myself running in a small pack of three runners—me, plus a marathoner from Boston who'd eventually be the women's winner and 7th overall and a history professor from a college in Vermont who eventually placed 14th overall. As with the Virgil Crest, I found myself running in good company.

We chatted off and on, which helped to pass the time. I'm not always conversational when running in ultras, but one of the professor's children had been diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which gave us some common ground (other than the ultra running) and no shortage of things to chat about. Before I summitted the Bluff for which the race is named, I'd already shed my sleeves, having tied them to my bottle belt. Other than a single handful of M&Ms, my race nutrition was confined to slices of oranges and some bananas.

All was going well—it was the kind of glorious fall day that's made for enjoying the outdoors. By mile 15, though, my ankle was starting to act up. I knew the course from last year, and that certain sections were surprisingly technical and rocky. With a heavy layer of fallen, dried leaves obscuring the footing, it put my ankle through its toughest test since I'd sustained the injury two months prior.

Miles 15 to 20 were especially difficult. By the time I rolled into the aid station at mile 20, I could tell that I'd set my ankle recovery back by several weeks. But it was the last race of the season, and after that I could take all the time I needed to properly recover.

Not wanting to do further damage to my ankle, instead of shifting into another gear to race, I dialed back the pace and focused on one thing: simply enjoying the remaining 12.5 miles, the beautiful weather, and the forest. I wasn't racing; I wasn't pushing myself to run harder or run faster; I didn't care who I passed or who was passing me.

In the next 10 miles, about 10 runners passed me—a pair, a group of four, and a handful of solo runners. No matter. I was enjoying every minute of the run. This section of the race also included the longest stretch between aid stations—a little more than 8 miles. To ration my bottle, I'd take a generous mouthful of fluids every ten minutes. I often even slowed to a walk for those seconds, before resuming my jog for the next 10 minutes. It was a leisurely approach compared to my usual push. And the rationing worked perfectly—I took my last swig of fluids, and rolled into the last aid station not more than 10 minutes later.

I knew I was achieving my goal of simply enjoying the run when I bumped into a hiker walking her dog on the trails about a mile before I reached the final aid station. "You look perky!" she called to me as I passed. Mission accomplished.

The final miles passed quickly, and as I glanced at my watch, I saw that I was flirting with a sub-6-hour finish. At the end of the day, my time didn't matter, but I still liked the idea of finishing before the clock ticked over to read 6 hours. It was going to be close—down to a matter of minutes, or even seconds. Then, from my trail in the forest, I could hear the occasional sound of a passing car—the last road I'd cross right before the finish line. Soon, through the trees I could see the edge of the field we'd circled at the start of the race. And then I burst out of the trees, jogged down the last stretch of trail, and crossed the road to the grassy field that held the finish line. 5 hours 57 minutes 25 seconds.

I'd finished in 32nd place out of 145 finishers. Not bad for taking it easy and just enjoying the run. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction.

I chatted with other finishers, including the professor, swigged another helping of Ultragen, downed a banana and some chips and chocolate soy milk, and prepared for the two-hour drive back to the Hudson Valley. It was a stark contrast to last year, when I was slumped over, miserable in the passenger's seat, with Kelli driving us home. This time, I was driving myself home, and felt as good as ever, the ankle not withstanding. What a difference a year makes.

It was time for some well-earned and much-needed rest, and time to truly get the ankle back to health. More gluten-free outdoor adventures and endurance racing are to come.

–Pete