Back on the Run… With a New Goal

The 4th of July is always bittersweet for me, because it’s come to mean the end of my summer visit to Rochester and a return to normally sweltering Tucson. Of course, imagine my surprise when I exited the TIA airport last night to find it a comfortable 73 degrees! Monsoon air is expected to keep us somewhere just below OMG-Hot levels for the next week or so, and I’m hopeful that means cool mornings and maybe sneaking in an outside run. After straining a tendon a few weeks ago, I’m happy to report that I’m back up and running 5K+ distances with no pain and no reduction in speed over pre-injury times. I’m bummed that my June mileage really tanked because of the issue, but it’s good to have a reminder to dial back on the mileage once in a while. This one could have been much, much worse.

So, I think it’s time for a new goal, don’t you? I’ve been thinking about doing a third half marathon for a long time now. I wanted to find something flat, inexpensive, and close to home… but after lots of research I decided to go big. You see, I’ve also been working my butt off on my dissertation and am planning to defend in the fall (essentially finishing my Ph.D., for all the laypersons out there). In addition to racing, I also wanted to plan a small trip in the December/January time frame to celebrate. Why not combine a new race with somewhere I’ve always wanted to go?

Yes, I paid my entry fee this morning for the 2013 Tinkerbell 1/2 Marathon at Disneyland and I’m super excited about it. Sure, the race is expensive ($150 is the early entry fee–and it’s already 85% sold out), but it’s hard to argue with the amazing reviews that last year’s event got and the super spiffy medal. Plus I’ve always wanted to really visit a Disney theme park. When you’re a teenager and your parents go to Disney World without you, you never forget. Never. And a girl only gets her Ph.D. once (or so I hope).

Only six months and 13.1 miles to go!

You probably won’t hear much about my training for this race until September or so, when temps here start cooling off for good and I can really get serious about miles. But, having a new training goal is already making me excited, even though I do still have to wait six months to race it. I may have to find some other (cheaper) goals to tide me over until January!

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More Vegetarian Living with Wegmans

What can I say? I can’t stay away from Wegmans while I’m visiting the East Coast. This week, I decided to see if good things really do come in small packages.

I like hummus now and then as a snack, but sometimes a whole tub is too much to get through. Hence I was intrigued by Wegmans’ Snack & Go Hummus in Red Pepper flavor. ($1.99) This snack is reasonably sized and easy to pack, including flatbread crackers and a small tub of hummus in a re-sealable pack. Nutritionally, it weighs in at 280 calories and 12 grams of fat. The hummus has a distinct red pepper flavor and a citrus tang. The crackers didn’t do it for me, though. I was surprised to find just five thin flatbreads, which didn’t come close to using up the portion of hummus. The crackers themselves looked nice, but were brittle and not filling. The next day, the leftover hummus tasted much better on Triscuits. Unless you are planning to pack this in a lunch or bring it on a hike as a snack, maybe spring for the full-size hummus and spread it on whatever you choose!

Picture from About.com

I also couldn’t pass up this sample-sized packet of Justin’s Maple Almond Nut Butter. ($.99) As a single person, peanut butter is another thing I rarely get through an entire container of before it goes bad, so I’ll only get a large size if I really like it. What appealed to me about this is the simple ingredient list: almonds, palm fruit oil, maple sugar, and sea salt. (A non-maple variety is also available, for those who hate trees or Vermont.) The taste was also simple, but delicious. The almond flavor is mellow and earthy and the maple adds a very subtle touch of sweetness. It was great on toast, but I could also imagine this spread working well on a dessert wafer or cookie. Buyer beware, though—a single 1.15 oz serving packet is 200 calories and a surprising 17g of fat. Enjoy in moderation and you’ll be fine.

Picture from Wegmans

Finally, I at last got to try Wegmans Portobella Mushroom Burgers, one of various kinds of Wegmans brand veggie burgers available. ($3.99, also in Black Bean and Southwest varieties) I’m kind of stretching the “small-item” theme here. On the one hand, these burgers come in a 2-pack, which is smaller than the normal 4-pack of frozen veggie burgers that I’m accustomed to. On the other hand, the burgers themselves are massive compared to the usual frozen fare. A single patty is a quarter pound, with a whopping 250 calories, 11 grams of fat (5g of saturated fat), and 17g of protein. Kind of makes you wonder if you’re really saving on nutrition by choosing this over a standard beef burger! On the other hand, these burgers are delicious. Made primarily of mushroom, egg, and cheese, they are thick and have a rich taste. Chunks of portobella mushroom are evident right in the burger, and the texture is amazingly meat-like. I was amazed by how it browned up in the pan and of the moist, crumbly texture on the inside. On my stovetop preparation, the center didn’t quite cook up completely, but on a grill or in the oven I bet these would be divine. Pull the burger apart and you can even see the strings of cheese woven into it. A single patty has 2.5 times the calorie count of my normal veggie burgers, so it’s no surprise that this left me full all night. Of course, the calorie count and high fat content are a little off-putting, as is the cost. This is the kind of burger I would bring out for a party or a BBQ, but that I may not keep around just for myself. Who knows, it may even make a convert out of the carnivore in your house.

Taking a Hike at Letchworth State Park

It seems I’ve been temporarily sidelined from running by a bout of tendonitis. While this is a big disappointment to me, the good news is that lower impact activities don’t aggravate my pain so I can stick to other pursuits like hiking, gym workouts, and paddling for the next couple weeks.

Yesterday, I decided to get my exercise by hiking in Letchworth State Park in New York, affectionately known as “The Grand Canyon of the East.” The park was once the estate of William Pryor Letchworth and spans over 14,000 acres in the Southern Tier of New York, bordering several towns in multiple counties. The centerpiece of the park is the deep canyon carved out over thousands of years by the Genesee River. In some places, canyon walls are 600 feet high.

More than just a hiking destination, Letchworth offers a wide variety of activities. Over 20 miles of mixed-use trails are approved for hiking, horseback riding, and biking and can be used in the winter for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. There are ample camping facilities, a stocked trout pond, a museum, a fine dining restaurant (The Glen Iris Inn), and outfitters offer hot air ballooning and river rafting trips. As if that weren’t enough, Letchworth also hosts a variety of events throughout the year including craft shows, a Civil War re-enactment, a 5K race, concerts, and a car show. That’s a lot of things to do!

From Metromix

I, of course, only had one day to enjoy the park so I tried to make the most of it. I left mid-morning for the hour-long drive from the suburbs of Rochester. I made a pit stop in Geneseo to fuel up with a veggie sub from Aunt Cookie’s Sub Shop, a place well known to any SUNY Geneseo alums. While it probably didn’t rank highly on health value, the sub was delicious and very affordable. A hefty 6-inch sub and a small bag of chips cost me just over $4. After that, I continued on to the park through the Mt. Morris entrance. The park runs roughly north-south. I entered at the north, but most of the action in the park is at the south end. It’s a lengthy drive to get from one end of the park to another, but along the way there are many scenic vistas of the gorge to enjoy.

I hiked the Gorge Trail, Trail 1, from Upper Falls to Lower Falls and then hiked the Lower Falls trail which leads almost to the bottom of the gorge. The Gorge Trail is seven miles total one way, but the route that I took was about five miles round trip. Along the way, markers spray-painted on trees confirm you are on the right track. It can be confusing, though. At various points this trail passed through woods, across meadows, along paved roads, and up and down over 200 stone and wood stairs. The trail is pretty well kept, but some of the old stone bridges and stairs are showing their age and I did have to take a couple of detours.

The best views along the way are those of the Middle Falls, just outside and below the Glen Iris Inn. The view of Upper Falls with the railroad bridge crossing over is also neat, but I didn’t get a decent picture.

Flowers were in bloom the whole way, giving the trip some color. I also saw squirrels, chipmunks, and lots of birds. Birds of prey continuously circled the canyon looking for a meal.

The Lower Falls Trail hooks into this trail at a well-marked point. This trail is not for the faint of heart, though. Over 120 stone stairs take you down into the gorge, then you pass down a slope or more stairs to a poorly maintained stone platform, which leads you to still more stairs that finally let you out along the canyon walls to a view of the Lower Falls.

Stairs at the Middle Falls

You never really get closer to the Lower Falls than several hundred feet, and again it didn’t make for great views with my iPhone camera. However, the engineering that went into making a stone pathway and bridge along these rough walls is admirable. I can only imagine the effort!

Detail of canyon walls

Today, five miles left me exhausted and took up most of the afternoon. I wish I had gone earlier in the day or had planned my trip for a day when something else was going on in the park. Letchworth is definitely worth seeing, but the $8 per vehicle day pass is a little much for someone who is coming alone just to do some day hiking. Check it out if you have a chance, but plan your visit around other events if you can or invite a carload of friends to join you!

Cross Training by Kayak

Yesterday I decided to give myself a pass on my usual Friday run. I’ve still been feeling the strain of last week’s PR, and I thought that a day off might help my hamstrings and ankle recover. Instead, I went with some friends on a kayak trip. The excursion was run through Bay Creek Paddling Center in Webster, NY and was a very affordable $16 (including boat rental!) thanks to a discounted offering through the Adirondack Mountain Club-Genesee Valley Chapter.

This was my first time in a kayak in probably four years, but I used to love kayaking before I moved to Arizona. I’ve spent time on the water in the Finger Lakes, Lake Ontario, and even took a memorable kayak trip on San Francisco Bay. If you’re new to kayaking or are thinking about trying it for the first time, here are some things to know:

  • On flat water, unless you’re doing something seriously wrong, your odds of capsizing are almost nil. Today’s kayaks are very stable, and the loaners that you will rent at most places are easy to maneuver. The trickiest part is getting in and out.
  • The bigger the body of water, the tougher the paddling. Beginners may want to stick to creeks, canals, and streams (which are plentiful in Upstate New York) and then build to more ambitious trips.
  • Paddling on flat water can be as hard or as easy as you make it. I enjoy a leisurely pace to explore the scenery and watch for birds and animals. Some of my friends last night seemed to think it was the Indy 500. But, you know, whatever works for you.

Not my picture; courtesy of Wikipedia

Our trip lasted about 2.25 hours and we covered 4.5 miles of back streams between Irondequoit Bay and the Ellison Park/Browncroft Blvd. area outside of Rochester. Along the way I saw one snake, a family of swans with signets, a family of Canada geese, some ducks, and a handful of herons (my personal favorite members of the avian family). Others on the trip saw an otter. I heard the splash, but was sorry to miss it. Otters are very cute.

I regrettably didn’t get to take pictures, since I left my camera phone lodged in my breast pocket and would have had to remove my life jacket to get to it. (No, I wouldn’t have died… but I would have gotten yelled at by our guides.) I do hope to go out on the water again before my time here is out, though. My shoulders and wrists are feeling the burn today, but I’d forgotten how much fun it is to get out and do something that isn’t running or a gym workout. Maybe I do need to branch out a little! I leave you with this, my post-paddle reward, a delicious meat-free version of MacGregor’s Mexican Pizza. Yum!

Vegetarian Living With Wegmans

Since I frequently sing the virtues of Trader Joe’s and its vegetarian options, I figured it was only fair to give a nod to Wegmans while I’m visiting New York. Over the years, Wegmans has steadily expanded its organic and vegetarian options. Their stores often co-locate these items in a “Nature’s Marketplace” section, which makes them easy to find. In some stores, like the Brockport, NY location, the Nature’s Marketplace section is sizable and offers everything from frozen foods to supplements and toiletries.

My strategy while staying with non-vegetarian relatives is to find convenience items that are quick to make and unobtrusive, getting me in and out of the kitchen fast and with little hassle to others who are preparing meals. Frozen foods seemed like an ideal choice, given the circumstances. The first item I tried is Wegmans Organic Soy Chorizo and Potato Burrito ($1.99). This item weighs in at a reasonable 300 calories, and I had high hopes for taste. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that vegetarian chorizos I tried in Tucson were on par with the real thing. This burrito, though, didn’t quite live up to expectations. The combination of thick whole wheat tortilla and potato dominated the flavor, drowning out the spices of the chorizo. The burrito was also rather dry. Instructions advise cooking the burrito in the microwave wrapped in a paper towel, but I feel like the paper towel soaked up moisture. This is probably not a product that I’d make a repeat purchase.

I also purchased Quorn Cheese Burgers, a new product to Wegmans that was on sale ($3.99 for a 4-pack, $4.99 regular price) and advertised in their seasonal magazine. At 100 calories per burger, I give these patties high marks. Quorn burgers are made from mycoproteins derived from fungi and are available in four different flavors. These cheese burgers contain Cheddar and soft cheeses. The texture is very meat-like, though the product itself has an almost layered appearance on the inside. Smoke flavoring is a great addition, creating a taste reminiscent of a bacon cheeseburger and making this the best smelling veggie burger I’ve ever tried. Though I give these burgers a definitive thumbs-up, a couple of tips are in order: First, the burgers are not individually wrapped in cellophane or plastic within the box. I’m not a fan of useless packaging, but this did strike me as odd. Some interior packaging would probably prevent freezer burn on the patties, which was already developing on mine within a week. If you’re keeping them in the freezer for an extended period of time, you may want to re-package the burgers in foil. Also, I recommend a stovetop or grill preparation for the burgers. They were more moist and tasty coming from the stovetop than they were coming out of a microwave.

On a final note, fans of veggies may want to check out the Summer edition of Wegmans Menu Magazine ($4.99, but mailed free to many customers). While the issue is not all-vegetarian (a feature on ethical meat producers that Wegmans purchases from is included), there are some tasty looking vegetable recipes and tips on grilling your favorite vegetables. Valuable coupons are also included.

The Fast and the Furriest 10K Race Report

On Saturday June 9, I ran The Fast and the Furriest 10K, only I almost didn’t. But I’ll get to that.

I had high hopes for a new PR at this race. I’ve been running faster than my previous PR pace ever since coming back to the Rochester area. My longest training run was just 5.8 miles, but I hoped my record pace could hold out. I picked up my race packet at the Ridgeway Ave. Fleet Feet location a couple of days before the race. One of my few complaints about the event was that online information about race times and packet pickup was contradictory. Packet pickup times and locations listed on the city’s event Web site and on Active.com were conflicting, but ultimately an e-mail from Yellowjacket Racing cleared up the confusion. The race shirt is just kind of OK—it will make sure I get seen if I wear it while night running—but the race numbers are cute and the packet was composed with pet owners in mind. (The Verona Street Animal Society and Rochester Animal Services are beneficiaries of the event.) Also included were coupons for local vet services, a packet of dog treats from a local realtor, and a packet of Milk Bone “trail mix” for dogs. My little one approved of that.

The morning of the race I faced a difficult decision. I woke up two hours before race time to a steady rain. My dog wouldn’t go outside, and I wondered if I shouldn’t either. Knowing that Rochesterians are used to bad weather, I had little doubt that the race would go on. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a part of it. I’m not new to bad weather racing (Temecula Valley, anyone?), but running a 10K is a different ball game than running a 5K. I made the decision to suit up and drive into the city anyway, just to see if weather got better toward race time. It rained so hard on the way in that I almost turned around, but when I got within a few blocks of the start and saw runners warming up in spite of the rain I knew there was no turning back.

I think this is one of the smallest runs I’ve ever taken part in, perhaps due in part to the weather. Despite lots of promotion online and in print, race results recorded just 211 finishers for the 10K. (A 5K and a dog walk were also offered.) The start was a bit disorganized—announcers were hard to hear over the chatter and were not adequately amplified. I guess electronic amplification and rain don’t mix. As a result, I think most of the pack took off early. I was mid-pack about a block down the road when I heard the starting horn actually blow. This may be why my Garmin times were faster than the mile times announced by race volunteers all the way through.

At the actual start of the race it had briefly stopped raining, but it started up again a few blocks in and continued the whole way. I was so focused on my running that it really wasn’t too much of a bother, except that: a) wet feet late in the race were really annoying. Between rain and puddles I was soaked to my socks; b) my double-tied shoes came untied during the race, which I blame on soaked laces. I lost a few seconds to re-tie them. The race course took us through downtown, along the Genesee River to the University of Rochester area, back across the river, and up back to downtown with a finish outside the Verona Street Animal Shelter. In good weather, it’s not a bad place to run. I’ve run some of these streets as part of the Rochester Half Marathon and on lunchtime runs when I worked in downtown Rochester. The neighborhood is a bit rough, but at 8AM on a Saturday with a pack of runners, there were no problems.

I could tell from my Garmin that my pace was fast (by my standards) throughout. Anything under 10:30/mi would make for a new PR, and my longer training runs were around 10:25/mi while shorter runs (up to 4 miles) were under 10:00/mi pace. On race day, I was thrilled to be consistently under 10:00/mi. I’ve never run for so long at this speed, and though I was concerned about being wet and tired at the end I held out and crossed the finish line in 61:27—a new PR by about 4 minutes!

This about says it all regarding the weather

The 10K is still a growth area for me. This was only actually my third 10K ever—after the ridiculously hilly 2010 Cinco de Mayo 10K in Tucson and the 2012 Lost Dutchman 10K in Apache Junction—and every race has been faster than the last. I believe I could shave a little more time off my 10K in the future, but I’m pleased with this performance and I think it shows the result of more training miles, weight loss, and a better diet—all things I’ve worked hard at in 2012. An interesting side note to this is that even at an overall 9:55/mi pace I was one of the slower finishers in this race. I’d like to think this is because rain deterred a lot of slower runners and walkers who might have otherwise participated.

Support along the course was good, with times announced each mile as runners passed. Post-race entertainment included live music, an expo of pet products and services, and an open house at the Verona Street Shelter with adoptable pets. Weather cleared up within 15 or 20 minutes of the finish so I got to enjoy some of this while attempting to dry off. These two pups pictured here are among the many pets at the shelter looking for forever homes. These adorable babies have no front legs, but they were as happy and loving as any puppies could be. I hope someone in the Rochester area will give these little ones a bright future!

10K Ready

I don’t have much to discuss right now, I guess. Being on “vacation” has made me a lot less enthusiastic about sitting down to blog! However, I do have a 10K approaching on Saturday and after today’s run I am very hopeful for a new PR. Really, anything under a 10:30/mi pace will do it for me. Just to give you an idea, here is a summary of my runs since I got back to New York:

  • 5/27: 5.8 @ 10:26/mi
  • 5/29: 3.5 @ 9:32/mi
  • 5/31: 3.2 @ 9:39/mi
  • 6/1: 3.1 @ 9:58/mi
  • 6/3: 5.8 @ 10:23/mi
  • 6/5: 4 @ 9:48/mi

That’s right, every run I’ve done in NY has been at a pace faster than my current PR pace for a 10K. Of course, the caveat is that I haven’t yet done a run of 6 miles or more. I’m not totally pleased about that, but the weather here in Rochester has been so lousy for the past couple of weeks that I’ve been forced to do my long runs on the treadmill… which shuts off after 60 minutes. Weak. Who invented that system, anyway? I guess this weekend will be the test of my endurance!