Monday, March 30, 2009

Another great recipe from the Barefoot Contessa

When I got to the Y tonight I turned on the Food Network, as usual, and this time I came in halfway through an episode of the Barefoot Contessa. I got there just as she was beginning to prepare Mustard-Roasted Fish.

I watch for entertainment, and to distract myself from the tedium of the elliptical machine—not usually for recipes I would actually prepare. Most of the food I see on the Food Network is far too buttery, olive oily, carby, cheesy, chocolately, and/or delicious for me to dabble with.

But this fish recipe caught my eye. Even though she was using creme fraiche (I immediately wondered whether I could substitute fat free sour cream). It's a simple recipe: creme fraiche (or possible substitute) mixed with dijon mustard, shallots, and capers, and poured over white fish filets which are then baked at 425 degrees. I happened to have two largish halibut filets in my refrigerator waiting to be cooked tonight. I noted the other ingredients on my cell phone so I wouldn't forget.

I had to stop at QFC for the sour cream, shallots and capers, just because I was out, although under many circumstances I might have all the ingredients at hand in my fridge. I decided to go with a mixture of fat free sour cream and greek yoghurt. I know that this wouldn't be as delicious as using the creme fraiche, but with a calorie differential of about 10 calories per tablespoon versus at least 50 in creme fraiche, the substitution had to be made. I like a lot of sauce.

I hadn't noted the proportions, so I just glopped quite a lot of the sour cream and yoghurt into a bowl, spooned in dijon mustard and a spoonful of grainy mustard, then chopped up a large shallot and added it, along with a whole bunch of capers. I put the halibut into my baking dish and poured the whole lot over.

It took about 25 minutes to bake at 425 degrees (the halibut was quite thick). The juices from the cooked fish blended with the mustard sauce, which mellowed it quite a bit. Still,with the amount of mustard I used and the large quantity of capers, the flavor was quite strong. That was fine with me—I like sharp flavors—but it probably wouldn't hurt to follow the proportions in the recipe. I also expect that the flavors are stronger using the fat free cream than when there is a creamier base, either the creme fraiche or a regular sour cream. But I thought it was quite tasty.

Coincidentally, the show with this recipe also featured the roasted broccoli that I made the other day. I took that as a hint, and cooked up another batch tonight to go with the fish. It was a great meal. Good thing, as I still have enough fish for two or three more dinners this week. Recycling, you know.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Running Would-Be

Today I didn't run Whidbey. Instead I ran Would-Be. As in, I would be running the Whidbey Island Half Marathon, except... except... that I'm not.

Up until about twelve days ago I was registered for the Whidbey Island Half. I fully anticipated running the Bath Half, holidaying in England, flying home, and running another half marathon just over a week later.

I was crazy.

After I ran Bath, doing another half marathon again soon seemed so, so impossible.

There was my distinctly mediocre performance in Bath. Now it's one thing flying to England for a destination race, where the race day is only 10% of the entire trip, and you're staying in charming hotels and sightseeing and eating scones and cream, and doing lots of stuff that's just as fun as running. (Possibly, just possibly, more so.) And if your time in this faraway race is less than admirable, well, the important thing is that you've run a half marathon in England and everyone is 5000 miles away anyhow.

But Whidbey, on the other hand, although a lovely place, is too close to home to be a destination race, but is far enough away that you have to leave home at the crack of dawn to get there. And if you did decide to spend the night before the race up there to save on the drive, it wouldn't be in a charming inn (such as Captain Whidbey), but in a motel in Oak Harbor, as close to the start of the race as possible.

And moreover, Whidbey has baggage. Or more precisely, I have Whidbey baggage. That being my half marathon PR from 2007 (1:54:30) and a pretty darn good time from 2008 (just over two hours even). The idea of most likely finishing so much slower this year was a little hard to bear. Plus I know at least two people running this race, who I would have been competitive with in better days, but would undoubtedly beat the pants off of me this year. Hard to take.

I know that last paragraph sounds terribly whiny and self-indulgent, but I think it's legitimate. I do believe that part of building myself up again includes not dragging myself down by doing things that make me feel bad about myself. So I've put races on hold until I get my act reliably together a bit. That may only be a few weeks, or it may be longer. I'm taking it one day at a time.

Obviously, that does not mean not running. I can't run better if I don't run. So this afternoon I set out on my Would-Be long run. One advantage of Would-Be over Whidbey: start time. Whenever I want. And that turned out to be mid-afternoon, after I finished Eclipse and when the sun was truly shining brightly. (But luckily, not too warmly.)

I thought I'd do eight miles, maybe further, at a moderate pace. Without judging whatever pace that turned out to be.

The first mile was 10:59, okay for mile 1, and of course, not to be judged. But after that I leveled out to around 10:30 miles, or a bit faster. My average pace, at the end, was 10:24, which included the first slower mile, and the last mile and a half at sub-10 times.*

And how many miles did my eight mile run turn out to be? Actually, eleven. I did the Anthony's waterfront loop, but squeezed in a couple of extra miles in the first half of the route, so that I was already over six miles when I left the marina area. I decided I would check the distance when I got to the top of Broadway, to decide whether I should complete the Riverside portion of the run or just go straight down Broadway.

Well, by the time I got to Broadway I was over eight miles, and I knew if I went into Riverside I was looking at more than ten miles, maybe closer to the full half marathon distance. I didn't feel that was necessary, or advisable at all!

So I just veered onto Broadway and followed it south toward QFC. Even with this shortened route, the distance was adding up. I hit ten miles somewhere around 16th, ten and a half by 23rd. It looked like eleven was going to be the magic number.

I had consciously increased my pace on Broadway, noting with some gratification that there was just the slightest downhill slope going south. (That is, after going up two hills in the north end!) I rounded the corner at Everett Avenue, pushing myself north again on McDougall. I hit eleven miles just past Starbucks, and immediately stopped the Garmin and turned back to walk into the QFC parking lot. I walked for a moment to cool down and check my splits, then headed into QFC and Starbucks.

I ordered a latte, and decided that my eleven mile run could absorb a cinnamon scone.** Normally I would walk home and eat it there, but the sun was shining and warm enough, so I sat down at one of the outdoor tables to eat and drink some of the latte. Luckily it doesn't take me too long to eat a scone, though, because after the running heat dissipated from my body I started to feel a little bit cool in my sweaty clothes.

I walked the half mile home at a leisurely pace, trying to shake off the stiffness that had settled in during my short sit. What hadn't worn off, happily, was the pleasure and satisfaction from a good run, and even, dare I say, a few lingering endorphins. The Would-Be run was a great success!

*10:30 miles are not desirable race pace, but that was the pace I was doing for long training runs during "better days" last summer. So I feel good about it.

**This is why I am not thin. I eat up my running calories in treats.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Oh my God ... Oven Roasted Broccoli is heaven!

I've been dying to make oven roasted broccoli since I read about it on the Amateur Gourmet. Now I don't know why I waited! It is (as advertised) the best broccoli of your life. The better-than-sex-broccoli. Broccoli that children will eat. Broccoli that non-vegetable eaters will eat. Broccoli that George Bush would eat! (As if I cared.)

The original recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa, the Amateur Gourmet left out the basil and pine nuts, as did I. Read the directions here, as it is entertaining as well as helpful. Here are a few more modifications and/or screw-ups that I made, none of which ruined it at all.

You don't need nearly as much olive oil as the recipe calls for. It says five tablespoons; I'm sure I didn't use much more than a tablespoon drizzled around. And there's no need to add any more when it's done. (As for amount of broccoli, I had a big bag, I just kept throwing on florets until the cookie sheet was covered.)

I made the mistake of trying to roast it in the same oven, simultaneously, as sweet potato wedges. Wrong. First of all, the sweet potatoes have too much moisture, so everything gets soggier than it should. (But didn't matter. Still delicious.) Second, even if you start the sweet potatoes first, which I did by about 15 minutes, they take so long to bake that the broccoli is done first and you are at serious risk of eating it all before the sweet potatoes are done.* So do them first, if at all.

I didn't have any whole garlic cloves, so I used prechopped garlic in a jar. I just blobbed it on and kind of smeared it around. Kind of messy and my fingers smell like garlic, but it worked okay.

The one ingredient that you cannot omit under any circumstances is the lemon, which you grate the rind** and squeeze the juice onto the broccoli after it comes out of the oven. The lemon is the magic ingredient, I believe. It brightens up the broccoli and makes your tastebuds sing. Do not do without!

The final ingredient is the parmesan cheese that you grate onto the cooked broccoli. I don't think it's a deal breaker. If you must omit it, that's fine. However, I think everyone knows that everything is better with grated parmesan on it. If you grate your own, it's so fine that you can have a veritable mountain for only an ounce or so. I didn't buy parmesan, but I was lucky enough to find a rather dried up piece in the fridge, and that worked nicely.

Honestly, I can hardy wait to make this broccoli for everyone I know. Except—then I'd have to share! Oh, bad idea. I want it all to myself....

*I know this from personal experience.
**A micro grater is really helpful for this, as for the parmesan. I, unfortunately, left mine at Rod's house. But I used the small grate side of a box grater and it was relatively fine.

Another good day

Knock on wood, fingers crossed, I had another good run Friday morning and am hoping that maybe this is the beginning of a trend.

(Or maybe it's the effect of waiting another four days before running again. Rain, cold, dark mornings—Wednesday and Thursday were all excuses, excuses, but on Friday I crawled out of bed and hit the road again.)

My only goal was to sustain my pace from Monday—a 10-minute mile or better—and go a little further, at least six miles. So, basically, six miles in an hour or less.

It started out well. When I made my bathroom stop at 1.5 miles (necessary to avoid any emergency situations later on), I checked the Garmin and the first mile was 10:02 or :03 and the first half of second half mile was the same pace.

After that I tried to avoid looking at the Garmin much. It can be so encouraging or so discouraging, and neither is necessarily accurate. If a quick glance at the pace shows 9:30 or so, I feel good. If it shows 10:30, or more, I feel less good.* But neither necessarily indicates what the overall time for the mile is going to be. So I was trying to ignore it.

A few miles in, though, as I was approaching five miles, I did start looking at the overall distance and time to determine whether I was on track for my goal. A 10-minute pace is easy to gauge. If the total time is more than the distance times ten, I am behind. If the time is less than distance times ten, I am doing good. Nearing five miles, I seemed a little bit behind. So I actually, successfully increased my speed a bit.

I'm lucky that the last part of my route is a downhill stretch. I can usually pick up the pace pretty easily in that final portion. By 5.5 miles I saw that I was ahead of goal, so I decided to keep running till the watch hit 60 minutes, then stop and see how far I'd gone. I clicked past six miles at about 58 minutes—two minutes to go—and just kept running. I know I slowed down a little from the final burst, how could I not? In a way I was just passing the time at that point.

At the moment I saw 1:00 (I was looking at the watch by that time), I clicked stop. I jogged the remaining half block or so to the light at the corner of Everett Avenue and Broadway, waited for the light, then jogged—sans Garmin—across the street and the QFC parking lot.

I popped into QFC to buy some Oroweat Double Fiber English muffins (a favorite), then to Starbucks for a latte,** and finally walked myself home. I didn't restart the Garmin to measure the distance because I didn't want to mess up my average pace by throwing walking into the mix. I am familiar enough with the route to know that it's about half a mile, slightly more if you included the bit after I shut off the watch and proceeded to QFC.

When I checked the watch to see how far I'd gone in the hour (of course I did that immediately after stopping at the light) it said 6.21 miles—10K exactly. Now, if it took me 60 minutes to run a 10K race I would probably have a stroke, or a nervous breakdown (the Smelt Run was dangerously close), but for a morning run it was okay to me. Considering my recent history, it was great!

My splits were pretty satisfactory, even pleasing, as well.
Mile 1 - 10:02
Mile 2 - 9:13 (this is a little surprising, as the first half took five minutes)***
Mile 3 - 9:44
Mile 4 - 9:54
Mile 5 - 9:54
Mile 6 - 9:13
Mile 6.21 - 2:02 (9:45 pace)

Overall average pace - 9:40

Tomorrow, Sunday, I'm going to take a longer run. Maybe not as long as a "long run" (which I define as ten miles or more), but maybe eight miles or so. I'll decide tomorrow. I'm afraid it's going to be cold and rainy again, so not exactly inspiring for long distance running. I'm probably not going for the sub-10-minute pace tomorrow, especially if I'm going a bit further than I have been (since Bath on March 15, two weeks ago).

I've been thinking a lot about my running slump, the reasons for it, and what I can do to bring myself back. I have some theories which are going to make a really good post one of these days. But for now, I'll just keep running, and continue pushing myself a little more than I have been to run a little faster. My good runs this week will certainly be a positive motivation (and that's partly what that future post is going to be about).

On a completely unrelated topic, yesterday Rod performed at a lunchtime concert called "Blues Against Hunger," a fundraiser for the VOA food bank. It should have been better publicized—I blame the organizers for that. He played several songs that he called "roots" music (I'm not well-versed in the genre), including Folsom Prison Blues at my request, and finishing with Blowing' in the Wind. Here's a picture of him playing and singing. Yes, he's wearing his geeky county ID lanyard. (I think it has a picture of Jerry Garcia on it, though.)

*If it shows 11 or 12 minutes, I feel like crap, and that is the beginning of trouble.
**I have cut back immensely since my trip to England, I'm now down to a double tall skinny caramel latte instead of a quad grande.
***Hope it's not some satellite error, which would throw off my averages entirely. Oh well, as I will never know that, I will assume that it's entirely accurate and I was just highly energized after my potty stop.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A spring in my step

There are so many good clichés using the word "spring."

Hope springs eternal.
From the end spring new beginnings.*
If winter comes, can spring be far behind? **
Spring forward.

There are probably lots more but they don't come to mind just now. But I think it's quite fitting that the various definitions of spring, whether it be the season we have just begun, or the verb meaning moving forward with force and speed, all signify growth, change, and forward motion.

Today (Monday) was the first time I have gone for a run since the official beginning of spring on Friday. (In fact my last run was on the last day of winter, March 19). Maybe it was the four-day non-running rest period, or maybe it really was the change of seasons, but this was the best run I've had in weeks. I did 5.77 miles at an average ten minute pace, with half the splits below ten minutes and half just over, except for the first mile which was 10:46. This doesn't sound terribly impressive, I know, but considering the hard time I've had lately, a ten-minute and faster pace in a morning run is unheard of.

It wasn't an easy run—I had to push myself some—but it felt good to know that I could do that. Perhaps it's the first step in breaking out of my slump. Maybe the new spring season is, in fact, a new beginning.

*Pliny the Elder.
**Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Penzance to Mousehole

Braving my mother's wrath, I got up at 6 this morning to go out for one more run before leaving Penzance on the 10 a.m. train to London. My mother is of the belief that everyone should be packed and ready to go hours before departure time, and preferably spend the remainder of those hours sitting quietly with the luggage. Any activities that would take one away from that luggage are frowned upon. I was at least a double violator, venturing out at 6:15, leaving behind my only partially packed bags, and intentionally taking myself three miles away from the hotel, on foot, risking any kind of theoretical mishap that could delay me and jeopardize our ability to be fully ready to leave by at least 8 a.m. (as our taxi was booked for 9:15).

My destination was Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzzle”), about three miles from Penzance. And three miles back, of course.

The first thing I noticed as I walked out of the hotel into the gentle pre-dawn light, was that it was going to be another lovely, sunny day. The second thing I noticed was that my hips and legs did not ache as they had on Tuesday morning Apparently the healing from the half marathon had begun.

I started out in the same direction as Tuesday morning, although today I found my way down to the Promenade more easily, being a little more familiar with the street layouts. I headed west on the Promenade in the direction of Newlyn.

I know the direction was west because after almost a mile, as I approached Newlyn, I looked back toward Penzance and saw pink sunrise sky near St. Michael's Mount. As I was snapping pictures, a hint of fire appeared on the horizon as the sun prepared to emerge. Although I continued on, I stopped again a few minutes later for more pictures, capturing the sun as it morphed from a sliver to a full firey orb. It is rare that I have the opportunity to photograph a scenic sunrise. I've seen a few colorful ones running at home in the morning, but the eastern backdrop of housetops and freeway do not make for a successful composition. I know—I've whipped out my camera phone on several occasions trying to get a decent picture. Once, when I was in my car driving home from the Y, I wasted several precious getting-ready minutes driving around town looking for a good vantage point. There was none.

After the picture taking was temporarily finished, I ran on through Newlyn, now familiar with the streets and sidewalks of the village, easily making my way to the other side of town. There I was beguiled into another stop above Newlyn Harbor, taking at least a dozen pictures of the colourful boats, plus a quirky warehouse proclaiming “Save Our Fish” traced out in bulbs that must light up at night, and more views of St. Michael's Mount, this time with the Newlyn lighthouse in the frame as well.

About half a mile out of Newlyn I came to the sign where I had stopped on Tuesday, proclaiming that I was two miles from Penzance and one mile from Mousehole. To my chagrin, my Garmin didn't reflect the same distance, as I had forgotten to restart it after one of my picture stops and it remained frozen at 1.6 miles for quite some time. Thanks to the landmark sign, though, I could tell that I had only lost about half a mile, and I could add that distance to my total at the end (or any time, for that matter).

Except for when I was actually in town in Penzance and Newlyn, and forced to jump from side to side of the streets to stay on the sidewalks, I was able to stay on either a walking/biking path or a wide sidewalk for most of the distance. As I was starting out on the Promenade in Penzance I saw a few other people running, including an order woman dressed in black who was coming into Penzance as I was going away. When I stopped on the outskirts of Newlyn to photograph the harbor, she passed me coming back in my direction, and for a while afterward I saw her ahead of me. She wasn't going particularly fast, but she was clearly faster than me, as the distance between us continued to increase even after I put the camera away and started running again. I saw her for a final time near Mousehole, on a return trip once again. I wondered where she had started and where she was going to end, and how many miles she would rack up on her journeys between Penzance and Mousehole.

I came to a sign saying “Mousehole” well before I covered the mile to town. It did occur to me at that point that I could take a picture, call it good, and still log a five-mile run if I headed back to Penzance right then. But I hated to cut my plans short, and really, it wasn't so late that I still couldn't make it back at a reasonable time, without jeopardizing our departure in any real way (as opposed to the theoretical way that was undoubtedly in my mother's mind).

I got to Mousehole proper at a few minutes past 7:00, and as villages go, it wasn't much. Though I didn't want to take the time to look around the bend or anything. The most interesting thing I saw in Mousehole was a bus going to Penzance. Oh, it crossed my mind. That would certainly solve any time problems I had created by my picture-taking delays. But I just couldn't do it.

Cutting the run from six to five miles would have been fine, but cutting it in half altogether? Only in the case of great emergency, and this wasn't one. Plus, I didn't know if I had enough change in my pocket for the fare, and I wasn't sure whether they would make change for a fiver.* So I let the bus go, and headed back on my own feet. About ten minutes later I saw it again on its return trip to Mousehole.

While I was in Mousehole at just past 7, I tried to call my mother's cell phone because on Tuesday she claimed she had expected me to wake her up as I had been doing in London. But the phone rang and rang** and finally just went to voicemail. (I didn't leave a message.)

The return trip was uneventful, and I stopped again on the Penzance side of Newlyn—by the Newlyn lost fishermen memorial statue—to try to call again. This time she did answer, although her voice was cold.*** I remained cheerful and told her I was about a mile from Penzance, and I'd be back within 15 minutes (I didn't want to set up any scenario where I could be proclaimed any more “late” than I already was). In fact, I think, I was less than a mile away. She said okay. Really, what else could she say? Run faster?

Back on the Promenade I picked up the pace and booked, faster than I had run in any portion of the half marathon. Apparently fear of my mother is a more powerful stimulator than any kind of race adrenaline. I had to slow down to pick my way up the narrow Penzance streets, but still I walked through the hotel room door by 7:45. Fifteen minutes later than my original plan, but I had left fifteen minutes late as well, so I considered myself even.

I pride myself on my ability to shower and get ready quickly. Probably because of my lack of any effort with my hair and makeup. This morning I had myself showered, dressed, hair mostly dried, and the remainder of my packing finished in time to appear for breakfast by 8:15.****

My mother, now friendly, had already ordered kippers for me, as I had said I wanted to have them before we left.***** I split them with her—I got two good-sized filets—and she gave me some of her scrambled eggs. I felt like I needed eggs to counteract the saltiness of the fish, but strangely the hotel serves them solo. (The first time I had kippers was in Penzance in 1986, and I was told then that kippers are usually served with eggs.) I also got a bit of her sauteed mushrooms—big, juicy black mushrooms—and a taste of black pudding.***** (It was surprisingly tasty.)

I went back to the room at 9:00 to get the bags ready for the taxi's arrival, and found a minor crisis in progress.******* My father could not find his passport, or in fact the pouch he carries it in. Although he insisted he hadn't put it in his suitcase, he agreed to look. And in fact that's where it was, neatly packed away. Everyone was very relieved. So, no emergency trips to the U.S. Embassy needed.

From there we filled up a taxi with our bags and were deposited at the railway station by 9:30. The train was already at the platform and we loaded ourselves on (almost using up the entire luggage rack with our belongings) and claimed our seats. There was even enough time leftover from me to zip back to the station cafe and buy pasties for our lunch later on.

At 3:41 we are still on the train, which is running about an hour late due to delays caused by a disabled freight train blocking the route and requiring a diversion. The harried train manager was forced to make the announcements explaining and apologizing for the delays, at one point saying she thought we were about half an hour off schedule (this was early on), but “it's hard to know when you're in the middle of nowhere.” Now, though, we've just left Reading, so London is not far away!

Thursday night addendum—despite arriving in London an hour late, we got to the hotel, claimed our room (we are all sharing for this one last night) and still managed to take a final jaunt to Harrods. Tomorrow we head to Heathrow and home.

To see more pictures of the sun rising, moment by moment, and other pictures from today, click here.

*A £5 note.
**Our cell phones are funny in England. My mother's apparently becomes English while mine stays American. For me to call her I just dial 1 plus the number, but to call my phone with hers you have to dial 001, which is the long distance code for America. However, I was able to use her phone to direct dial an English number, without any international codes at all. Also when I am listening on the line to her phone ringing, it rings with an English accent—”ring ring” just like traditional English phones.

***Undoubtedly I would have to take the "z" out of Penzance for my sins.
****However my mother commented that I looked rather “wild.” I have no idea what she meant. Was it the hair, flyaway in the front and damp and spiky in back? My face, still flushed from running and the shower, unadorned even by a lick of tinted moisturizer and mascara? Or was it the look of fear in my eyes, hoping that I wouldn't be chastised for some transgression that I had committed (like running on a departure day)?
*****As part of my four-day extravaganza of smoked fish. Smoked mackerel for dinner on Monday, smoked haddock and poached egg for breakfast on Tuesday, lox and scrambled egg for breakfast on Wednesday, and today the kippers.
******AKA black sausage, or, you know, something Edward in Twilight would enjoy.
*******A minor crisis because it ended well. Otherwise it would have been major.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Ives and the Coast Path

For more about travelling to St. Ives and walking the coast path, click here. For lots more pictures, click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Penzance Promenade

I had fully intended not to run at all in Penzance and give my legs a thorough rest after Bath (except for walking). But after dinner last night, which ended with ice cream topped with clotted cream (I kid you not), after a day almost entirely spent sitting on a train, I rethought my plans and decided to take the old legs out for a test drive this morning.

Ow, ow, ow. My hips scolded me reproachfully as I took my first few steps out of the Abbey Hotel courtyard. A few steps, then a stop. Look at the map and change directions. A few more achy steps, this time in the right direction. This could be a really hard, as in difficult, run! Of course it didn't help that these first few steps were uphill on a cobbled street. Nothing like uneven stone paving to jostle your joints!

My destination was the Promenade, a wide paved walkway that ran along the seafront in Penzance. And when I finally got out of the side streets and down to the Promenade, I was rewarded with a smooth, flat surface to run on. While it still wasn't easy, or anything like fast, at least it wasn't out and out painful, and there was much less chance of a sprained ankle.

My goal for this morning was to go no more than five miles, and no less than four miles. After my, ahem, rocky beginning, I quickly determined that two miles out and two miles out would make an adequate distance. Plus I wasn't sure how far my walkway would go.

The Promenade itself, I determined, ran about half a mile in the direction I was heading before it turned into more of a paved bike path (still an adequate running surface). About a mile out of Penzance I came to the end of that path as well in a small town called Newlyn. In Newlyn I picked my way through town, hopping between narrow sidewalks that seemed to alternate from one side of the street to the other, and into the narrow street where there was no sidewalk at all. At that time of morning, around 7 a.m., there were few cars in the street to jump out of the way of.

Outside of Newlyn the sidwalks became a bit wider, although still seemed to alternate between sides. After a bit, though, I followed a footpath through a row of small houses terraced along the seaside, and from there onto an honest to goodness paved bike path, which led me to the two-mile point (a little past, in fact). It also led me to a scenic roadsign which proclaimed “Penzance 2 miles” (back where I had come from).

It also proclaimed the distance to a village called Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzzle”), and upon reflection, I am wondering what distance it actually said. I left with the impression that Mousehole was three miles from Penzance, which would mean the sign said one mile from where I was standing. But now I am thinking that perhaps the sign said “Mousehole 3 miles” instead. I had tentatively planned to extend my distance to Mousehole on Thursday morning, and if it is six miles round trip that is a reasonable plan. But if it is a total of five miles each way—well, I'm not running ten miles on Thursday morning, that's for sure. We shall see. (I googled the distance and I was right the first time, so the plan is back on.)

I turned around and followed the paths and roads back into Penzance, and by the time I wound my way through some side streets and back to the hotel courtyard, I manage to up my total mileage to 4.75 miles—a respectable total for the first run back out. My Garmin also claimed I burned 530 calories* which, although barely a dent in the food we've been consuming, is at least something.

Tomorrow morning I'm not running; my plan is to take a walk along the Cornish Coastal Path and meet my parents in St. Ives.
To see more pictures from the day in Penzance, click here. To read about the rest of the day, click here.

*I know that is not net calories, but on the other hand, the weight programmed into the Garmin, which is used to calculate the calorie consumption, is not my current weight either.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bye bye Bath

No running today, just train travel. Read about the trip here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bath Half Marathon

Read about the Bath Half here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I'm dreaming of a Half-Marathon

Last night I dreamed about the half marathon. It wasn't exactly a bad dream, but it wasn't really a good dream either.

On the positive side, the running part of the dream went well. I didn't struggle, and I think I was running faster than I have any reason to expect.

However. A few other bad things, or at least not-so-good things, happened as well.

For one, I forgot to put the timing chip on my shoe. This is big. Everyone knows, no chip, no time. It doesn't matter how fast you run, without the chip to record it, you don't exist. And we all know how significant chip timing is in a big race (15,000 registered in Bath), where many minutes can expire before you even cross the starting line. And Bath is using a wave start system, which is a planned delay. I, as you can imagine, am not in an early wave.

Then, in the dream, I could not find the finish line. I think what I did (in the dream) was think I had finished, stopped somewhere, then realized it was not the proper finish area and had to search to find it. Something like this actually happened to me in a small way once. I was running in Olympia, where there is a group, or a guy, who puts on a marathon and a host of shorter races for every holiday. I was doing the "Halloween" 10K a couple years ago, just because I was on my way to Portland and thought it would be fun to stop for a run along the way. (Yeah, really.) These races take place in Millersvania State Park and while the start is on the main road through the park, the finish is off to the side in a covered shelter. I did not know this. When I got to where I had begun I was looking around for the finish line. I finally headed for the shelter and even then had to take another turn to find the clock. It was confusing.

Now in my Bath dream, despite all my problems I had a very good time at the finish, I think 1:43 (which is something I will never, ever achieve), and perhaps that is the reason it was a bad dream. I had the best time ever, but no chip to record it! Extreme irony.

So let's hope that in my dream I got all the bad stuff out of the way, and my feeling of easy running sticks with me tomorrow. The race doesn't start until 11 a.m (unheard of in the U.S.!), which means I can have breakfast at the hotel early (8:00) and still have plenty of time to walk down to the starting area and warm up as well. Or maybe warm up on the way to the starting area. It will all be fine. It will, it will.

You can read today's rather bitchy travel post here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Different, but sort of the same

I'm back in Bath, and for the first time since before 1995 I am staying in a different hotel than before. Haydon House, my go-to B&B since 1995, closed last year, something I discovered when starting to make plans for this trip. Actually Haydon House had already pulled the rug out from under me in 2007, when I called to make a reservation and learned that former owners Gordon and Magdalena had sold the hotel and retired from the B&B business. The upstart new owners only lasted about 18 months before selling up. Apparently they couldn't hack in the B&B business. This decision came shortly after we stayed there in 2007. I'm not saying there's a connection. Not at all.

Anyhow, back in January I learned that I needed to find a new place to stay in Bath. The place I found was Meadowland Bed and Breakfast. I don't remember if I located it through Karen Brown or Alistair Sawday, but when I looked at the hotel website I knew I had found my replacement to Haydon House. Not only is Meadowland on the same street (Bloomfield Park), but in looking at the pictures of the bedrooms, sitting room, and general decor, I had a sense of déjà vu, as though I were looking at pictures of Haydon House with a slightly different colour scheme.

So I sent an email to book the rooms. There was a bit of confusion because Bank of America blocked my credit card when I tried to charge a deposit (they suspected fraud due to the foreign charges—aren't they used to me spending money in England by now?), but after some exchange of email and phone calls, the owner assured me our reservation was confirmed and he would let me know if there was any problem resending the credit card charge. I never heard anything more, and assumed all was sorted.

Today, however, I became paranoid that something might have gone wrong, that an email saying my card was denied had been overlooked, that we would arrive in Bath with no rooms for the weekend. This thought flickered in and out of my mind during the train ride to Bath, and the taxi ride up the hill to Bloomfield Park. As we passed other B&B's along the way I imagined myself calling them one by one, or going door to door as I did when looking for B&B's in college (a more frugal time in my life), hoping to find one not booked for the weekend of the half marathon.

But my fears were, happily, groundless. As the taxi driver piled our luggage on the sidewalk, the hotel owner, John, came around the corner. He did not say "who are you" as I feared he might, but welcomed us warmly.*

As we crossed the entryway into the foyer of the hotel—which was a large, elegant house—I knew I had made the right choice.

But fate had a little more coincidence in store for me. A couple of them, in fact. When I told John that we had stayed in Haydon House many times before, he said that he knew Gordon and Magdalena, in fact they still belonged to the same golf club. (He also filled us in on the fate of Haydon House. After the new owners decided to sell, it was purchased by someone now using it as a home instead of a hotel.)

Then, when I said I was here to run the half marathon, he told me that his son was running, and he himself had run it for ten years—"until it stopped being fun." Of course, being a runner, he asked me what I expected for a time. I admitted that I had low expectations... while I had been doing two hour halfs last year, I have slowed down so much, I have no idea what to expect. (Later he asked me if I was going to take a warm-up run today. I said I was resting my legs until Sunday, then wondered if perhaps I was wrong about that....)

Later in the evening we walked up (or down?) the road about three quarters of a mile to have dinner at a new little bistro that John recommended. I had a tasty gnocchi with butternut squash, courgette, and tomatoes (and about four pieces of bread). We may eat there again tomorrow night, even perhaps the same dish as a post run dinner. My parents and I like to eat, but we're not good about eating out in England (too cheap for restaurants, perhaps), and often as not find our meals at supermarkets and delis. On the night before a run I want to stay close to my bed!

Right now I'm at the pub next to the bistro, which has free wifi (yea!) and also serves food (although John recommended coming here for "refreshments" rather than meals). I suppose we could eat here tomorrow night as well... I would be fine company with my computer, wrapped up in email, Facebook, and blogging!

Tomorrow will be breakfast at the hotel, a leisurely day in Bath, and, hopefully, a good night's sleep before Sunday's run.

*He did, however, comment on the quantity of our luggage!

Farewell London, Hello Bath

In a few hours we will be leaving London and catching the train to Bath (from Paddington Station). Then, two days from now, the Half Marathon! The course description promises "flat," although the detailed description makes references like "climbs gently (but remorselessly)." So we shall see.

I forwent (is that the proper past tense of forgo?) running this morning to give my legs a chance to rest up for the long run on Sunday. For the last couple of days my quads have been rather achy, don't know why exactly, and my ankle and achilles tendon have been quite tender. In fact, yesterday when my mother and I were walking and stopped to rest, I tried rubbing the back of my leg and it was sore to the touch. I was limping a little too, but luckily (though mysteriously) that doesn't seem to transfer into running.

This morning my legs feel fine, though, and my ankle is barely sore at all. That's actually kind of unusual for London. The last time I was here I remember my whole body aching in the morning when I got up to run, thanks to all the pavement pounding during the day. Maybe we've been taking it a little easy so far. (Day on the train, anyone?)

I had intended to walk to Regent's Park with my dad before breakfast today, but before we even got to Euston he tripped and fell off a kerb and scratched up his hands and face. I insisted that we return to the hotel, where he got ice and bandaids ("plasters") from the hotel staff. Other than an incipient black eye, he seems to be okay, luckily.

But the lack of exercise did not prevent me from eating a large, rather carb-laden breakfast. I have taken to heart the advice from a recent Bath Half newsletter:

  • As you begin to taper your training you should also gradually increase your carbohydrate intake. Foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, bananas, jelly sweets and Lucozade Sport are all high in carbohydrate and low in fat.
I've tapered (reduced mileage, down to zero today!) and this week I've been carb-loading for England (with some disregard of the "low in fat" suggestion).

I'm as ready as I'm going to be. Not much I can do now! Other than avoid injury myself and refrain from eating foods that could bring on intestinal stress, or distress, on Sunday. So yesterday's foray into clotted cream, and, er, fish & chips for dinner, was a one-off. At least until after Sunday.

I don't know what my internet access will be like in Bath and Penzance over the next week. I hope to have it. But if not, the blog will be silent for a few days. Then I will be back as soon as I can with the race results!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Running in London

Who's running in London? Not just me. I went for a run in Regent's Park this morning* and, as usual, saw several—quite a few, really—other runners on the paths and sidewalks. No surprise there. (By the way, I brought my camera along and paused every now and then to take pictures. You can look at my Regent's Park pictures here.)

No, I wasn't surprised to see people running in Regent's Park in the early morning.

What did startle me was the number of runners I saw as my mother and I were walking through London, particularly as we walked along the Embankment on the River Thames, and crossed the river over and back on the Golden Jubilee footbridge. Every few minutes we would spot one or two or three people in shorts or tights, trotting or sprinting toward us or past us. Many were travelling at a pretty healthy clip, and most looked fit and relaxed, as if running long distances at a steady pace was no big deal for them.

I think, perhaps, it is no great coincidence that the London Marathon is a mere "one month, 13 days, 18 hours, 48 minutes, and 35 seconds" away (as of this writing, at this moment). (It will be a bit closer by the time I finish.)

So many of us have an image of the English as beer guzzling, cigarette smoking, fish and chip eating non-runners, but obviously that is not always the case. After all, England is the homeland of Paula Radcliffe, the greatest woman marathoner, and the London Marathon itself is one of the most famous marathons in the world. In fact, the modern marathon distance was established in England.

So somebody must be running in England.

And the evidence indicates that they're mostly doing it along the Thames.**

To read about the rest of my day in London, click here.

*5.25 miles total this morning; I added the extra by taking a loop into Queen Mary's Rose Garden before I left the park and returned to the hotel.

**No, I didn't get any pictures of them. They were moving too quickly to be captured by a digital camera. (You know, the shutter delay.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wednesday (Day 3)

I ran in Regent's Park this morning. And I have no energy to write anything else. To read today's full post, including about my run, click here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

London calling

Must remember--am here to run. That would be a little too easy to forget considering that I haven't run since Saturday's 10-miler. Sunday was a rest (and ski) day, and Monday would have been a running day (especially as I didn't have to go to work), but what with the whole snow, and packing, and going to the airport thing, I gave myself a pass.

Today is Tuesday, right? That makes it fly into London, get a taxi to the hotel, drag my suitcases up three flights of stairs to my tiny single-room garret on the third floor where I don't even get the wireless signal, so I have to come down to the lobby or at least the landing on the stairs, then fall asleep while taking a short afternoon rest, then go find dinner, then read and watch TV and sleep off and on until waking up at midnight and coming downstairs to check email and write, day.

But tomorrow I will be up early for a run to and through Regent's Park. Just to remind my legs what they are supposed to be doing on Sunday (for a length of time that I anticipate to be a lot more than two hours) (on Sunday, that is, not tomorrow). I have been waiting almost two years to get back to Regent's Park for a run!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Just waiting now

We braved the snow and got out of Everett--by the time we got south of south Everett the snow was pretty much non-existent. The traffic was not, but we had allowed more than plenty of time.

Between the time I woke up at 7 this morning, and about noon, I managed to finish packing and finally get checked in. This was not without a fair amount of stress and the inevitable stress eating. I think my state of mind can best be illustrated by my reaction upon coming across a packet of "organic" Nature's Path toaster pastries leftover from last year's Whidbey Island Marathon. My reaction was "this is exactly what I need!" (Of course, there are few things I needed less.) A few observations: 1) toaster pastries hold up well over a year (even organic); and 2) organic toaster pastries are just as fattening and bad for you as the "regular" toaster pastries (e.g. Pop Tarts).

I finished my packing with relative satsfaction, although I know I still brought too many clothes (despite semi-ruthless paring down) and there are a few things I didn't find in time for the trip. Here are the things NOT going to England....

•My own camera. Never found. So we're bringing my mother's "new" camera.

•The Starbucks cards I bought when I was last in England, thinking they'd be cute gifts (never gave them). It would be nice to use them instead but... Can't find them.

•My Bath street map. Guess I'll have to buy a new one. Again.

Well, we're under two hours now. Time to shut down the BlackBerry and disable the internet (so I don't get socked with international roaming charges).
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Blizzard conditions!

And we are leaving for the airport in about an hour....
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane (tomorrow)

In about ten minutes I will be able to check in and obtain seat assignments for our flight to London tomorrow. If you think that means I am all packed and ready to go, you are wrong. I am suffering from my typical, perpetual, packing procrastination. Not a new experience. It dates back to my college years and occurs whether I am going to Europe or to Canada for a weekend.

I just took a break from my procrastination post to try the online check-in, and have encountered a loop of frustration. British Airways requires you to provide passport information in advance, but when I attempted to do so I got a message that the system was not working, try again later. However, I can't check in or get seats until that information is provided. So although online check-in is "open," I CAN'T CHECK IN!!!

Better go pack. But before I do, a few notes to update.

Yesterday I did my last long run before the half marathon, 10.2 miles on the Centennial Trail near Snohomish. This was actually a fundraising event for the YMCA's Invest in Youth Program, where you raise or donate money and run as many five-mile loops as you choose to. I hope somebody besides me brought some money, because I got the sense that the participants were more interested in running ultra-long distances than raising money. I'm probably wrong, I'm sure they chipped in. Just because one of the volunteers seemed surprised when I handed him a check, meant nothing I am sure.

Anyhow, I was one of the few people there who seemed to be planning to run less than at least a marathon-length distance. I came planning to run ten miles (with enough time allotted for that), and that's what I did. I got there a little after 10 a.m., just in time to run into Julie Bell, who I've seen at so many races over the last couple years. She was finishing up ten miles, so that's one other. The friend that she was running with wanted to do a couple more miles so she asked if she could run along with me for a mile (then she'd turn back and quit).

I said sure, although I warned her I planned to be slow. She said that was fine, she just wanted the distance. Now you'd think she might be a little tired after the ten miles, but on the other hand she was also all warmed up, and I had just come straight from my car (and pretty much my bed before that). We started out at what felt like a pretty decent clip to me. Then she started talking to me, and asking me questions. It was all I could do to maintain the pace and answer in short sentences, while I was trying to get my legs and cardiovascular system going. We finished that first mile in just under ten minutes. Shortly afterward we said our goodbyes and she turned around.

I realized, after she was gone, that I had been running without my ipod, so now that I was alone I pulled it out and turned it on. Nothing like music in your ears to mask the sound of your own breathing. The good thing about starting out faster than planned is that it set the tone for me. I was able to continue to maintain between a 10:15 and 10:30 pace even on my own. This made me happy because that was the non-race pace that I had usually maintained last summer, before my downslide began. I did not consider this event a race, because nobody was running against anybody else, many of us started at different times, and there was no specific finish.

The turnaround was just past 2.5 miles, and I headed back toward the trailhead to finish my first lap. The "back" part of the out and back was slightly easier, because although the path seemed pretty level, it was slightly uphill on the out portion, and therefore slightly downhill on the way back. That was nice.

At the trailhead I stopped at the bathroom, dropped off my gloves because I was getting warm, and started out again. Second verse, same as the first. I began to recognize people as we passed each other going opposite directions. Usually we would wave, sometimes the other person would say "good job" to me (I was never quick enough to say it back).

On my second and final return trip I caught up with an older woman who was walking and talking to another runner who was passing her. Both of them were doing marathon distances ("just" a marathon, each said), and were doing some sort of walk-run combination. The older woman said, I think, she was doing 60-40, which I assumed meant 6/10 of a mile running, and 4/10 walking.

I met up with her just as I began mile 10 on my Garmin, and she started running with me and talking to me. She organizes some kind of long-distance trail run in Kirkland (or somewhere like that) and much prefers trails to pavement, even the gentle blacktop of this path. As we ran together I was able to talk much more easily than in my first mile, yet when I looked at my watch we were doing a 9:30 pace. Clearly warming up makes a difference.

After a ways together she said goodbye--apparently going into a walk phase--and I finished the remaining half mile or so. I was definitely glad to be finished, but felt pretty good about the run.

This morning, even with the one-hour "spring forward" time change, Rod and I were up before the crack of dawn to go skiing up at Stevens. The Pass had multiple inches of new snow, and shockingly, there was even an inch of snow on the ground here from a late night or early morning snowfall (in March!).

In addition to the fresh snow, we were treated to shockingly blue skies and bright sunshine, warm enough that I felt overheated working my way through the soft snow. Rod was excited and claimed it was very light, but it made me a little nervous. My nervousness was well founded when, on one run, I inadvertantly wandered too far off the side and got stuck in deep "powder."

This was a bit of a freak-out experience for me. I don't want to relive it (much) now, but I will say that it took a long time for me to get out, and here was a certain amount of hyperventilating and crying, as well as a fair amount of swearing. Afterwards I was still shaken and skiied badly for at least a couple more runs, until I regained my equilibrium by having lunch. (Funny how that works.)

After lunch some clouds had rolled in and we got some snow. Still, even the snowflakes were light and fluffy, and didn't really disrupt the skiing the way snowfall sometimes does. But by very early afternoon, my quads had had enough. Yesterday's ten miles plus somewhat strenous skiing did me in. At one point I literally thought, I just don't want to make another turn; luckily that was in a spot where I could just point myself downhill and go!

So I've done lots of stuff this weekend (I didn't even mention the auction fundraiser and dinner we attended last night); everything but pack, really. And, now, check in for the flight. I made a second effort and the system is still down. Better go do that packing and try again later. I am sure my mother will blame me if we get bad seats! Okay, better try again now, just in case it's working. Then pack.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Running with the Smelt

I can't believe I haven't used that title before. The clever title is the only reason I am allowing myself to write about the suckfest that was Saturday's 10K up in LaConner. (It was called the Smelt Run.) I don't even have any pictures from this run (which is highly unusual for a vain narcissist such as myself), since I haven't yet located my camera and it didn't seem worth the effort to set my mother up with my cell phone camera.

I am sensing this post is taking a negative tone. That really wasn't my intention. Doing a 10K right now was important to me, as I am about two weeks away from the Bath Half Marathon and the occasional race is the only speed work I am doing these days. That may explain why I wasn't able to accomplish any speed, to speak of, in the race itself!

So Saturday morning I picked up my mom and dad at their house and we headed northward to LaConner. LaConner is one of the few towns in Northwest Washington that can be labeled "charming" or "quaint."* One of their quaint, if not charming, traditions is an annual Smelt Derby, which includes a smelt fishing contest, pancake breakfast, and a 5K & 10K run. I'm not particularly interested in smelt fishing** and I don't need to eat pancakes,*** but for the last few years I've participated in the 10K Smelt Run.

The weather was okay, a little bit cold but not too cold, and dry, thankfully. When we got up to LaConner I stopped briefly at the school where the race began to pick up my number, then parked the car in town so we'd be closer to the Calico Cupboard for lunch after the run.

I did my warm-up by running through town, back to the middle school, into town again, etc. I stopped at the public restroom on First Street, then later at another conveniently located facility on Morris Street. (I also used a bathroom at the school just before the race, and I had no line in any of those locations!) My mother told me that my legs looked light as I jogged past her car, and, in fact, I did feel pretty good.

At 10 a.m. we all gathered around the start line (literally a line on the road), and even though this was not chipped, it didn't matter because I crossed the start line within a couple of seconds. We ran down Morris Street into town, then through town before going out onto the flats. I saw my dad watching from a corner on Morris, and I could tell from his searching expression that he didn't see me. So I yelled "hey Dad" as I passed him, and waved. My mother was still in the car parked on First Street, and I dropped my balled-up gloves**** on her windshield as I passed.

There are a few hills within the town of LaConner, and we ran up and back down a short, rather steep portion of one as we passed through town, but after that the whole course was flat as a pancake. Often when you get out onto the flats there is quite a wind, but this time it was very still—at least on the outgoing portion.

I was wearing my Garmin, but I did not allow myself to look at my pace or split times as I went, because I didn't want to discourage myself if the times were bad. But eventually, as I realized there were no mile markers, I allowed myself to peek occasionally at the corner of the watch that registered mileage, just so I could get an idea of where we were.

The course was partially out and back. At about four miles we turned around some cones and traced our steps back to the school where the run began.

Now, all this time I had no real idea how fast or slow I was running. I didn't feel glacially slow, but I knew I wasn't running as fast as my past "good" 10K's. At around 5K, I was mildly dismayed to be passed by an old man who I know as Boris, a fixture at the Skagit runs. I have always been faster than him. (I know this is not a huge thing, considering that he is over 70 years old, but it's something.)

Boris maintained a short distance ahead of me as we progressed. I realized, as we all plugged along, that my lack of speed work has created more than one problem for me. Obviously, I have become slower. But perhaps more troublesome (troublesomely?), I didn't seem to know how to pick up the pace. I could run, but I couldn't adjust how fast I was running.

Added to this, as we headed into the last couple miles, that wind that had been missing on the way out appeared with a vengeance on the way back. We spent most of the last two miles running directly into a stiff wind, or so it seemed, anyway.

As we were nearing the last portion of the run, I did manage to dredge up some kind of energy and pick up the pace a bit. I passed a man wearing a Fleet Feet shirt (passing is good). I passed a woman that had been persistently ahead of me for most of the race. (Of course it is possibly that these people slowed down as we neared the final miles.) I gained on, but never did quite pass, another woman who had stayed ahead of me.

And Boris. I managed to close the distance on him enough that I knew I could pass him in the final "sprint" to the finish line. Then, as the finish area grew closer, he suddenly stopped and walked off to the side of the course. WTF? Was he depriving me of my opportunity to legitimately "chick" a 70+ year old man? I had no time to worry over the reasons for his stopping. I put on some steam (such as it was), and stumbled over the finish line. The clock read just over 59 minutes.

That was, by the way, my worst-ever 10K time by several minutes. My only consolation was that my 9:30 average pace was still substantially faster than my current morning run pace. And (this is something) I felt fine, I didn't feel like I had killed myself or anything. Which is good, considering that I'm going to be running twice the distance in Bath.

So there you have it. My inexplicable downward spiral continues, but at least I can still muster a sub-10 minute pace. (Oh, that is sad.)

*Others that come to mind are Anacortes (a personal favorite) and Gig Harbor. I am sure there are others, they just don't come to mind. Oregon probably has a few, and the California coast as well. But compared to the east coast, particularly New England, where white churches and 200-year-old houses are a dime a dozen, the west coast just can't compare.

**Although when my grandmother was alive we used to drop nets and catch messes of smelt, which she cleaned, dredged in flour, and pan-fried.

***At least not in a hall with a bunch of strangers.

****One of several pairs of cheap chenille gloves which I bought at QFC for $2.49 each, with the idea that I could lose them without suffering too much. But I love these gloves, and hang onto them with my life! Except that I inadvertantly left a pair in the bathroom at the hospital on my early morning run today. I was running through Grand Avenue Park and thought to myself, hey, it's warm enough that I am running without gloves! Then I realized I left the house wearing gloves....