How NOT to Run a Marathon

I’ve known since the first week of September that I would not be running the Marine Corps Marathon this year. Well, at least I thought that was what the crunch of my ankle on my first 18-mile run was probably trying to tell me. But maybe I misunderstood?

So I kept trying to run each week. I would get about .25 mile before I would realize the stupidity of my effort and return to waiting for my ankle to heal.

It didn’t.

I did my best to distract myself with strength training and pretending that working on my abs is just as good as running.

It didn’t work.

Eventually, a million years or so later, marathon weekend arrived.

I went to the (very organized) Marine Corps expo to pick up my race packet. Even if I couldn’t wear the shirt, I could give it to someone else. That’s the rule, right? You can’t wear a shirt from a race that you failed to complete, but you can wear shirts from other peoples’ races that you never cared about?

Unfortunately going to the expo felt more like rubbing salt in a wound than being revitalized by an electrolyte-rich drink.

I wanted to run.

There was no way that I could do it. After all, I was not only injured, but completely untrained and out of shape thanks to almost two months of not running.

Random marine standing around *not* looking injured.

So I started bargaining. I have heard before that bargaining is one of the stages of grief, but that does not make sense to me. After all, if you can still bargain, there might not be a real reason to grieve, right?

Given the fact that I had paid for this experience and all, I decided that I should just go to the marathon and run whatever part I wanted. My husband was going to be running, and I figured that as long as I showed up ready to run I would be able to jump in and run with him toward the end of the race if he needed it. Of course he wouldn’t need it, but this was about bargaining.

So bright and early on race day I dried my eyes and got dressed to run.

I told my husband that I was going to try to walk the first 10k, or perhaps the half-marathon if I was feeling very good. I had checked the race course map to see how far each point was from a metro station so that I knew how far not to go depending upon how I was feeling. I figured I might make it about 10 miles and then take the metro over to the end of the race to wait for my husband.

So I lined up miles back from the starting line (or so it felt) and eventually started walking. Well, actually I broke into a veery slow run for just a little bit since I didn’t want to drive people crazy and apparently people lined up for a 5:30-6:00hr marathon thought it smart to run the first mile at a sub-10 pace.

I felt great.

I felt ridiculous for walking on hills at the beginning of the race, but I also felt great. I reminded myself that the marathon is officially open to walkers, and as long as I kept up my 14-minute/mile pace I had as much right to be on the course as anyone else.

I stopped to use the restroom. I did not stress about the line. I got to the half-way mark at almost exactly 3 hours and felt like laughing. Who does a half-marathon without even touching cardio?

I stopped at a medical tent and waited five minutes or so for someone to find tape to stop the chaffing by my bra straps.

I stopped a lot to stretch since my body was not used to walking for so long. I also let myself run a little (very slowly!) to help with my tightening muscles.

I promised myself that if I resisted the urge to really run until mile 20 that I could run the last 10k. After all, running untrained for 10k is exactly like running for a marathon well-trained, right?

So I did.

I finished in a little under 6 hours and felt like laughing. Sure, I missed the chance to run a marathon. I missed the chance to run a race. But I still hung out in marathon world for half a day, and it was ridiculously fun.

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Dreary Autumn Friday Food

I started my day with a smoothie made with blackberries, Greek yogurt, ground flax, orange juice, and a bit of frozen peaches and banana.

For my lunch break I did 45 minutes of strength training and then had real egg salad for lunch. And by “egg salad” of course I mean a bed of spring greens with three fried eggs on top, plus a bit of salsa and full-fat Greek yogurt to make it delicious.

I enjoyed a lovely autumn walk for 3.5 miles… well at least as lovely as a dreary fall day can be.

My visiting sister made bagels (yes, she is the crazy Martha Stewart type!) so I had half of one for a snack…

…and then another small bagel with homemade hummus while waiting for dinner. Seriously, homemade bagels are not to be missed.

Thank goodness that lentils cook quickly or I might have devoured another bagel or two. I ate my lentils smothered in cheddar cheese, salsa, and more full-fat Greek yogurt, because it was just one of those days. Ugly and completely satisfying.

What are your favorite foods for a dreary autumn day?

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Autumn Running Er, I Mean Walking

Fall is by far my favorite time of year for running. It is my least favorite season as a whole, but it still rules when it comes to running. Perfect weather, pretty leaves, funny insects, lovely flowers–that is autumn for you!

Since I hurt my ankle a month ago I have not been doing much running, but I try to tell myself that walking has its advantages. After all, if I were running I would probably be unknowingly squashing caterpillars instead of taking pictures of them.

Sure, the trees in Maryland are a joke compared to New England’s autumn colors.

But the caterpillars are much, much larger. So I guess that makes up for the inferior foliage?

Seriously, isn’t this caterpillar crazy? I don’t understand why it is still at this stage in October. I guess it knows that there is no point in turning into a butterfly/moth/something awesome when it can keep on eating? Or maybe I’m just projecting a bit too much…

And who could forget the pretty flowers? I hope this one isn’t destined to be caterpillar food.

What do you do to make walking a little less emotionally painful when you can’t run?

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Mint Simple Syrup

Sometimes it is the simple things that revolutionize one’s life. Or, in this case, the simplicity of making simple syrup of the mint persuasion. Here’s the secret: you don’t need anything to strain it, you just need to crush the mint leaves without detaching them from the stems.

All I did was find a plant to strip mine prune for the equivalent of a cup of mint.

Then I rolled the stems between my palms to crush the leaves while keeping them attached to the stems. I added the mint to 1 cup of water and 1 cup of white sugar in a pot and barely brought it to a boil to dissolve the sugar while stirring.

After it cooled I fished the mint out with a fork, and stood in awe of this wondrous minty simple syrup made without a glance at a strainer!

I don’t drink much, but my friend was mightily impressed with my mint julep. And if you prefer to not down your sugar in liquid form it requires minimal creativity to find ways to add delicate mint flavor to formerly vanilla desserts.

Give the mint-on-stems hand crushing method a try. I’m sure you’ll love it.

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Crowded Races

I was surprised by my reaction to the ad for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in the newest Running Times.

It is a pretty ad. I like cherry blossoms.

But somehow, I didn’t feel the need to set up a reminder to enter the lottery.

I was lucky enough to win an entry into the Cherry Blossom 10 miler this year and it was good. I enjoyed it.

But it was so incredibly crowded. I started the race with the last wave because of porta potty lines. I spent the first half mile walking because there was no room to pass people and everyone was running so slowly that walking was perfectly sufficient to keep up. Eventually there was space to run, but it was still so very crowded.

Crowded races are good for the motivation of always having someone to pass and the help of others to pace you. There is a certain energy that comes from running in a crowd. Blah, blah, blah.

I hate crowds.

I am sure that I will run more crowded races, but I’m thinking that they will be new crowded races. One run of the Cherry Blossom 10 miler feels like quite enough.

Besides, it feels like one should really, really want to run a race before taking a spot away from someone else who presumably also really, really wants to run it. After all, there is a reason for the lottery system, and I think that I will leave this one with one less person fighting for a spot.

How about you? How do you feel about super-crowded races?

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On Not Looking Like A Runner

I am a runner. Well, not really a runner. But I was a runner 30lbs or so ago, and I am working my hardest to be one again. Besides, it sounds stupid to call yourself a jogger (what are you, a stroller or something?) so I call myself a runner, even though I don’t really believe it.

Ehem. Anyway. I am a runner.

But I don’t look like one.

Early morning picture my husband snapped while I was getting ready for a race.

I don’t look like a runner. I look like an overweight woman who happens to want to lose some weight.

Of course I would like to be lighter, but one of the largest (har, har) reasons that I would like to lose weight is so that I can really run again. I love running for its own sake (what it does for my sanity counts as its own sake, right?) and it stinks to not look like a runner.

When I go shoe shopping I can tell that they don’t really know what to do with me. Clearly I am not a real runner, so why should they spend time encouraging me to waste money on good shoes? I finally found a running store where someone would take the time to find shoes that gave me the support and space needed for a long, slow run. Before this store I had encountered people who clearly saw me as just another women wanting to drop weight who probably won’t use the shoes for more than a few miles, so who cares?

This spring I ran my first half-marathon. I was more than a little disappointed with my time of 2:17 because I saw myself as a runner who should have been able to do better. Some very kind runners who inquired about my race were surprised that I had been able to finish at all because I did not look like a runner to them.

I guess that is the bright side to not looking like a runner: people are shocked that you can run at all. Thus, all you have to do to impress them is cross a finish line. ;-)

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Reading: 101 Things to Do Before You Diet

Mimi Spencer’s 101 Things to Do Before You Diet: Because Looking Great Isn’t Just About Losing Weight is the delightful sort of light reading that makes one thank God for your kindle.

It is the sort of book that would be great to read at the beach… except that who wants to be seen reading a diet book at the beach?!

It isn’t actually a diet book. That is the whole point.

Sure, it is full of diet tips (eat lentils, and make sure to eat them while seated at a table!) but advice about not drinking too much alcohol is mixed with fashion tips (get a Diet Dress “the absolute axis of a slim life”) and council to enjoy impromptu games of tag or hide-and-seek.

Spencer is randomly opposed to peep toe shoes “it gives a strong suggestion that you just stubbed your toe. The peep toe is also faintly silly, a design detail too far. Why does the middle toe need a sunroof?” but I forgave her for hating on my favorite shoe because she writes with such whimsy that suddenly sleep studies sound interesting.

Ultimately this book isn’t going to make you lose weight, no book can do that. But it may just make you happy enough to help you turn to black tights (read the book) rather than chocolate cake to improve your day. So if scholarly tomes explaining precisely why you should not drink milk have put you to sleep and you and want something easy enough to read that you just might make a little change? Then this is well worth the very short read (and low price!).

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This morning I took a long hot shower. I have had a sinus infection for almost a week and was unable to resist the urge to tell the environment, water and electric bill “tough luck” and stand in the hot water long after I was clean.

As the water streamed down my body and the bathroom’s humidity level rose to new levels of wonder I considered how few people out of all of human history have lived with such luxury. So many people today lack access to running water, let alone the excess hot water that allowed me to indulge in a long shower. And once I account for the fact that even the most privileged of the world lived without running water for a very long time, the luxury of a hot shower any time I want it is absolutely astounding.

Perhaps it was the headache-induced mental fog, but thinking of all of this did not make me feel guilty. I just felt so very thankful.

Enjoying the luxury of putting one’s feet up on the balcony on a summer day.

Periodically remembering the relative luxury of my life is good, not only because of the inherent value of gratitude that it evokes, but also because it makes it so much easier to make more thoughtful, frugal choices. When I focus too much on the lives of those around me it can feel like every decision for simplicity is some radical deprivation. But when I remember how much I have in comparison to most people who ever lived, well let’s just say that that changes things.

And today I am so incredibly thankful for the luxury of a long hot shower.

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Roasted Herbed Onions

Autumn is the season of pumpkins and squash and roasted vegetables. Since everyone seems to be putting their pumpkins into coffee there probably won’t be much left for roasting. Thankfully autumn is also the season of cheap onions. Pat yourself on the back for picking up that 10lb bag for $3.00.

After refrigerating the onions–or not, if you prefer to enjoy a good cry once in a while–peel the onions and cut into quarters.

Then find some fresh herbs willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the Delicious. I find thyme and oregano most willing to die for a good cause.

Scatter the dear herbs over the onions along with some salt and pepper and a not-too-strong oil. Sure, you can use a lovely extra-virgin olive oil if you like, but will you hate me if I confess to actually preferring canola oil for this sort of thing?

I bake the onions at 400° for twenty minutes, stir, and then return them to the oven for another 20 minutes. But the truth is that you can cook them at pretty much whatever temperature you want and just adjust the time accordingly.

If you are the sly type you may successfully refrigerate these to add heart-warming flavor to your food throughout the week. But don’t feel too badly if you indulge while they are still warm from the oven. Just promise me that at some point you will have some on your sandwich. Your life will never be the same.

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Raising Iron Levels for Blood Donation

Donating blood is important to me because it is one of those “duh” areas where I can give something at little cost to myself that could be invaluable to someone else. Yet over the years I have been turned away multiple times from donating because I had insufficient iron in my blood.

This may be horribly immature, but I hate having my finger pricked. And testing hemoglobin level involves pricking fingers. So if they are going to prick my finger, I want it to serve a purpose of actually facilitating a worthwhile blood donation!


I do not mind the needle in my arm to actually take my blood for donation.  But I hate the first part where they prick my finger to test the level of iron in my blood. Since that is the worst part of donating blood, it seems like quite a waste to have to go through it, only to be told that I am not qualified to donate.

What does it matter how I feel about being turned away when someone else may actually be dying from lack of blood? I am pathetic. But I comfort myself that those receiving blood do not especially care what I am thinking of when I show up to donate. They probably only care that I get my iron level up and the blood in the bag!


Eventually I got sick enough of being turned away from donating blood that I did some research on how to raise my iron levels sufficiently. I was thrilled to find that a few small steps was all that it took and suddenly I was more than qualified to give a double red cell donation.

For those of you with this issue, here are some ways to increase your iron level before you donate blood:


1. Take a supplement with iron a few times a week. Iron is tricky since there is the risk of overdose. But staying below 100% of the RDA should keep you safe, and taking days off from supplements offers even more protection. There are several easy ways to get the iron supplement that is best for you. If you take a multivitamin anyway you can switch to one with iron like the TwinLab daily. Taking a multivitamin with iron is especially good for upping iron levels for blood donation since it includes vitamin C which helps with iron absorption.

If you’re always on the go and needing more energy, you can get your iron along with a dose of caffeine and vitamins by taking something like Stresstabs with Iron. Caffeine will not help you raise your iron levels, but if you’re going for the energy boost anyway, you might as well get your iron in at the same time!

One warning about iron supplements though: they can be a bit uncomfortable if you’re not getting enough fiber. If that is an issue for you, just try something like Slow Release Iron Tablets. That will allow you to up your iron level for blood donation without any undo side effects!

2. Drink green smoothies! Something about blending lots of greens seems to provide a super-absorbable safe source of iron. I drink green smoothies anywhere from twice a week to every day, depending upon the week.

3. Watch the time of the month. Menstruation has a huge impact on iron levels. I am almost certain to be shown the door if I try to donate blood right after my period.

4. Have some molasses in your breakfast the day you plan to donate. I have not tried this myself, but overheard the advice at the Red Cross center. They claimed that the donors who put molasses in their oatmeal before donating were never again turned away for low iron. I do not know about regular molasses, but if you can stand blackstrap on your toast or in your cereal, it is at least worth a try!

5. Along the same lines: Drink a glass of prune juice every morning the week leading up to, and including the day you donate blood. It may be nasty, but it works!

All of these ideas may be a little less than appealing, but they are most certainly worth a try if your iron levels are too low for blood donation. Downing a nasty drink or taking a pill are a small inconvenience for helping to save lives!

I know that there are many more ways to raise iron levels. Do you have any favorite tips for donating blood?

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