Thursday, September 22, 2011

Salsa Verde Chicken with Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings

I love the website The Pioneer Woman (and her associated site, Tasty Kitchen). One day, at the bottom of the Tasty Kitchen page, I noticed a link for a cookbook for Perfect One-Dish Dinners.  I clicked on the link, which took me to Amazon.  After reading a few of the sample recipes, I knew I wanted to give this book a try.

This recipe was one of the featured ones on Amazon.  It was crazy-easy to make.  Seriously.  Mostly chopping up some herbs, mixing things, and opening some cans.  It took about 30 minutes to cook.  Will said that this was easily one of the best things I've ever made.  As a bonus, the "dumplings" (which are more like drop biscuits that you put on top of the chicken/sauce mixture) would easily be very tasty bisciuts on their own, as a compliment to another dinner.

From the cookbook:

Courtesy of Amazon / Perfect One-Dish Dinners.  Mine did not look quite so pretty.
Serves 6
This stew can be made 2 days ahead up to the point of making the dumplings. Reheat it before topping and baking. If you want to double the recipe, use a large heavy roasting pan set over two burners.


For the Chicken
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 can (14.5 ounces) chicken broth
1 jar (16 ounces) salsa verde (2 cups)
1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
1 large rotisserie chicken, meat deboned and left in large chunks (about 6 cups)
Erin note: I also added some swiss chard (because I got tons from the farm share).  It was really good and added some veggies and color.  Spinach (or something similar) would also be good.

For the Dumplings
1 cup whole milk (I used 1%)
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


For the Chicken
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees (for the dumplings).
2. Heat butter over medium-high heat in a large (11 to 12-inch), deep ovenproof sauté pan or 5-to 6-quart Dutch oven.
3. Whisk in flour to make a paste.
4. Mix broth, salsa verde, and evaporated milk and whisk in all at once. Whisk, vigorously at first, until mixture simmers and thickens to sauce consistency.
5. Stir in chicken, heat through and cover to keep warm.

For the Dumplings
1. Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan until steamy.
2. Mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, scallions, and cilantro in a medium bowl with a fork. Stir in milk mixture to form a smooth, firm dough.
3. Pinch off Ping-Pong-ball-size pieces of dough with your fingers and drop onto chicken mixture.
4. Return chicken to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and transfer pan to oven and bake until dumplings are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve.

Erin Note - I don't have a dutch oven, so I used a regular skillet (which can go into the oven) but quickly realized that the poor little skillet was no match for how much food this was.  After preparing the chicken on the stove in the skillet, I poured it into an 11 x 9 glass baking pan, then added the dumplings.  Then it all went into the oven for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Swift - 1995-2011

I really don't recommend losing both of your kitties within two weeks of each other. :(

Swift kitty was really about the sweetest and prettiest kitty around.  We got her at the Butte, MT pound for a whopping $10, where they thought she was a boy and 2-3 months old.  Hmmm.  Immediately, she was very loving and affectionate.  The roomates and I were kicking around the name Valentine - that's how affectionate she was.  She was also crazy.  I don't know if it was from her hard time on the heavy-metal laden streets of Butte or if she was happy to have room to run, but she spent most of her time zooming up and down the stairs of our duplex.  She zoomed around so much, we decided to name her Swift.  Swift was also a bit crazy.  She liked to run up and bite the ankles of random people, then run away.  Not cool.  She was so crazy that we actually debated her future as our collective kitty, but then one fall day, Ernie was left with us, and she became incredibly sweet.  I guess she just needed another cat to act all her agressions on, although usually, Ernie was the agressor and she was the victim.

Ernie claimed me and Swift had claimed my roommate.  So much so, that when Brandee would leave to go to class, Swift would sit in the window and cry as she walked down the street.  Swift really only liked Brandee - whenever I tried to pick her up, all I got was growling and hissing.  Ok!  Then, in May 1997, Brandee got married to someone who was not a cat-lover.  She offered to find Swift a new home, but I figured, two cats aren't much more work/money than one cat, and Swift and Ernie got along really well.  It was decided that Swift would stay with me.  And then Swift became my shadow.

Swift was affectionate to the point of being incredibly annoying.  When I came home from work, she would run up to the door to greet me and then follow me around the house.  As soon as I sat down, she was on my lap, sometimes without me even realizing it.  She looooved Will (much to his annoyance, although I think he secretly loved it).  Will could get her to do these drunken-love flops on the bed, on command.  He'd say "roll over" and point to the bed.  Swift would drunkenly flop sideways and roll over.  Very cute.

As much as Ernie didn't want to acknowledge humans, Swift was the opposite.  She was very social and friendly.  Occasionally talkative, mostly at food time.  She was actually very annoying at food time with her incessant meowing.  It was so annoying that we would lock her in the spare bathroom - aka "kitty jail" - so we wouldn't have to listen to her demands.

Swift was always my sleep buddy.  At night, she would curl up on my hip and spend the whole night there.  For naps, she was really weird and liked to sleep under the covers.  She would paw at the sheet near your head until she got her way, and then happily curl up under the covers somewhere near my feet.  A few times Ernie figured out her hiding spot and attacked her from the top of the covers.  Good times.

In June 2010, right after I signed up for IMTX, Swift was diagnosed with high blood pressure and probable pancreatits and/or lymphoma.  Her once beautiful fluffy fur was greasy and she wasn't eating and was down from 12 lbs to 8 lbs.  The prognosis was uncertain.  Some kitties lived a long time with this, others didn't.  Only time (and a lot of vitamin B-12 injections) would tell. 

Swift was my nap buddy.  I loved to come home after a long (early) run or a race, grab her, and take a nap for a few hours.  I knew that with my IMTX training that I would be taking a lot of naps and would NEED her.  There was just something about her being there, lying on me, that made me go to sleep.  It was our routine.  I needed that routine for my training.  I remember holding her up to eye-level, looking her in the eye, and telling her that she HAD to live through IMTX because I would be needing my nap buddy a lot.  She held me to my word.  The literal day I returned from IMTX, she started to decline even more.  Her digestive system wasn't working well and she wasn't absorbing nutrients - her weight was down to 5.75 lbs.  Even while she was getting sicker, she was still very cheerful and cuddly.  Finally, about 1.5 weeks after we lost Ernie, her breathing became labored and finally we knew that she would not be around anymore as the cancer had likely spread into her lungs.  She had a great life and my naps aren't the same without her.

  • Swifter
  • Rooster
  • Swifter-roo
  • Princess (when we were feeling sarcastic)
Favorite things:
  • She really didn't care much for toys, but she LOVED shoelaces.  She loved us to play "fish" with her, us holding one end and she'd grab the other.  She also just loved carrying the thing around.  Frequently, we'd go to sleep with the shoelace in one room and wake up to find it in another room.
  • She LOVED catnip.  The first time we gave her catnip, she actually managed to cup it in her front paws and throw it up in the air like confetti.  She would act 10 times of crazy for about 5 minutes and then pass out in a catnip-induced haze.
  • Laps.  She just loved to cuddle.
  • She was pretty dingy.  I swear, there would be times where she would be in one part of the house, freak out thinking we weren't home and start wailing.  Also, whenever it was time to put her in kitty jail, sometimes she'd run, but 8 times out of 10, she'd hunker down in the center of the room, like she was hiding into the floor.  Yes, the brown floor will hide a white cat.  Sure.....
  • We had issues of her peeing in her carrier on long road trips. The first time was in 1997, when I moved back to college from my internship.  I was in the middle of nowhere, MT when it happened.  I hauled her into a gas station restroom to wash her up, only there was no sink the bathroom - just a utility sink between the bathrooms.  I got a lot of weird looks as I bathed a yowling kitty.  Second time was on our way home after evacuating to Denver from Hurricane Rita.  One hour into our 17 hr drive back to Houston, just as we were about to get on I-70 at Limon, she got very meowy.  We pulled over to give her a tranquilizer, only to find out that she was really trying to tell us something important.  So, here we were with a cat with pee-soaked legs and tail on a dirt pull off, at sunrise, with wind and semi trucks BLOWING past us on the way to I-70.  All we had were Starbucks napkins and bottled water.  She freaked out and I was going to lose her, so I held her to the ground, which resulted in a cat with now MUDDY pee-coated paws.  We had to smell cat pee the 16 hrs home.  The final time was moving to Denver, just outside of Limon (what is it with Limon?!).  Only this time I knew the signs and pulled over to a rest stop.  Not in time to prevent the accident, but at least she didn't get covered in pee.  The air temperature was -15.  I was cleaning Swift up, Will was outside trying to clean up the carrier with paper towels (we learned) only the pee was freezing in the -15 air.  Fun times!
  • The summer I had an internship in Wyoming, I had a 2nd story apartment with a patio.  I'd let the kitties roam on the patio.  One day, Swift twirled around the iron fencing on the corner, lost her footing, and fell to the grass below.  I tore downstairs to get her, and she was happily relaxing on the grass.
  • She loved to roll on concrete, the hotter and dirtier the better.
  • She really did love to go outside.  Most of the time she was supervised (except for when we sold our Houston house and the dumb selling agent let her escape outside....).  Occasionally she would try to run off.  One time, she and Ernie somehow coordinated things, so that Ernie misbehaved and distracted us as she bolted off.
    Taken on that same Feb 1996 day with Ernie's snow shots.  That's the duplex neighbor's dog in the window.
  • 1996 - Will and Swift
    laser eyes (and James)
    So, Ernie was orange and was naturally ready for Halloween.  We thought Swift was missing out on the fun, so we dressed her in an orange t-shirt.  She really didn't like this very much.
    Kitteh in a box!
    roaming in the grass
    Pretty typical view at night watching TV, with Swift lying on my chest.

    Swift acting as Quality Control when Will works from home. 

    More QC support for Will. She would often rest her paws/head on his mouse arm.

    Ernie and Swift, 1995
    Swift had BEAUTIFUL blue eyes but for some reason, they were really hard to capture in a photo.  This is one of the few which really show off how pretty she was.
    more torture, in the name of Stuff on My Cat . com  she was unamused.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ernie - 1995-2011

Its been 5 weeks since we lost Ernie.  I'm getting better (the first week was ROUGH) but I sure do miss him.

Ernie came to us very randomly.  I lived with 2 other girls in a 2 story duplex.  Swift was really insane and she needed a buddy.  A friend of my evil roommate had Ernie and "couldn't keep him because he wasn't supposed to have pets".  (isn't that something you should check on before you get a pet?).  The guy's roommates throught Ernie was too hyper, so they'd put him in a box and blow pot smoke in the box to chill him out.  Poor kitty sneezed for a year and had what I call the "perma-munchies".  The guy came by on a Friday, was supposed to check in on Monday to see how things were working, but he never came back.  I was fairly indifferent to cats.  My roommates wanted a cat, I had an iguana.  But Ernie had different plans - he chose me as my human and stole my heart.  (just typing this is making me cry again - UGH).  Ernie was tiny when we got him - maybe 6 weeks old and so small he'd stand in the palm of your hand.  He grew to be a big monster kitty - weighing 15 lbs at his heaviest.  He was obstinant, crabby, stand-off-ish, hungry, a pain in the ass, but he could also be sweet, and warm, and gave me kisses on demand.  He was very much an "on my own terms" type of cat - pretty much wanting to be left alone until he decided to grace the humans with his prescence.  That, or if you had food, he was your best friend.  At least until the food went away.  Even though he preferred to be left alone, he was very tolerant of my affections.  He'd let me flip him over to smother his belly in kisses, pet him on demand, hold him upside-down.  Once he started growling, I'd play kitty-bagpipes (growling edition) by squeezing him.  He would eventually have enough (and boy, you would KNOW it), but generally, he put up a front of a tough kitty but was really a big teddy bear of a cat.

Ernie didn't meow (unless he was in the car, and then it was the most pathetic, mournful meow).  He chirped and squeaked.  Especially around dinner time, where anytime we would stand up, he'd take off for the kitchen (where the food was locked up) and made sort of a peeling out (like a car) chirping noise. 

Most of the time he didn't acknowledge humans, unless I'd hurt myself.  I'm clumsy and it was not unusual for me to drop something on my foot or walk into a wall.  I'd invariably do something, drop to the floor yelling in pain.  Will would ignore me.  Ernie would come running, looking very concerned, to make sure I was ok.

He loved all things food and was such a pain in the ass that we couldn't leave food out in the open.  Even if it was in plastic or in tupperware.  He would actually try (and sometimes succeed) in eating through the tupperware to get to the food.  No food item was safe, even for a short amount of time.  I can't even begin to say how many times I was cooling muffins on the stove to find little Ernie-munch marks in the tops of them - while they were still hot.

Ernie hated little kids until a few years ago.  Hated them to the point where he'd just hide under the bed.  One night we were babysitting for a friend and were having dinner in the kitchen.  It was also kitty-dinner time.  Poor Ernie, as much as he loved food, he REALLY hated kids - and his dinner was in the kitchen with the kids.  He really couldn't decide between eating or running.  It was pretty funny.

Ok, enough stories, although there are 16 years of them.  Just a few more random things about him and some pictures.

  • Ernie-monster
  • Ernesto (when we were feeling Latin)
  • Bug (his first nickname)
  • Bugger
  • Rat
  • Raccoon (he had a racoon tail and had very raccoon-like traits when it came to food)
  • Boo
Favorite things:
  • sunbeams - he LOVED to lie belly up in the sun
  • blankets which were orange
  • food, especially squash (seriously, he'd go crazy for squash).  But really, he just loved food.
  • Body slamming Swift
  • acting as a paper weight.  Really, any loose paper or bag around on the floor and he was ON IT, holding it down.
  • He would never cuddle or sleep with us until wintertime.  I guess he was cold.  So at night, around 8:30 (or after dinner), he'd decide to cuddle on me for about an hour or so, until he got too warm.  I'd go to bed and wake up at some point in the night with a very large cat sprawled across my chest (back toes at my chin).  If you acknowlegded his presence by petting him, he would leave, only to come back when you were asleep again.  ("do not let the humans know I need them!"
  • One time I had a dream that a snake was biting my toe.  Turned out it was Ernie.  I kicked the "snake" in my sleep and sent him flying.  Oops.
  • During our last move (from Houston to Denver) he did NOT like our Oklahoma hotel.  AT ALL.  He was fine on the drive but when we got to the hotel - wow.  Unhappy cat.  He growled non-stop.  Walking around - growl.  Eating - growling WHILE eating.  Peeing in the litter box - growling while he did his thing.  He hopped up on the bed to be near us, but wouldn't let us touch him.  Poor guy.  Fortunately he was better when we got to Denver.  Maybe he just didn't like Oklahoma?
  • Repeatedly, the vet lectured me about his weight.  Poor guy was on diet food.  What was I supposed to do next, put him on a treadmill?
  • He loved catnip toys - so much that I had to put a playing time limit on him.  If he went longer than 5 minutes, his toy would be gutted, catnip extracted.
  • He fetched, although not on command.  This started when he was a kitten, I tossed a milk ring and he fetched it.  At least once a week for most of his life, we'd play fetch.  Our Houston house had a long tile hallway, which was perfect for fetching.  Early morning was usually good for fetch, although he would also decide that my bedtime was good too.
  • He had the BEST PURR EVER.  Very loud, easy to start.  And when he was very happy, he would get this high-pitched squeak to his purr.
I'm glad that he chose me as his human. :)

Feb 1996 - Ernie was maybe 6 months old.  We just had our typical week where it never got above zero degrees, and this day was sunny and in the 20's.  It was a wonderful day.  For some reason, we thought it would be amusing to take the kitties out in the snow.
wiggly kitties- Feb 1995

Feb 1995

Houston - June 1998.  Ernie and Sumo

My favorite photo of Ernie.  This captured how he would look at me

How can you resist a belly like this??

typical monorail cat pose

cat-skin rug
classic sunbeam pose


more napping sprawl

Monday, September 12, 2011

Race Report - Fall Frenzy Sprint Triathlon

This was my first (and only) sprint of 2011 - weird!

I signed up for this one mainly because it was 4 miles from my house.  Meaning: there was no excuse not to do it, since I could ride my bike to and from the race.  When I signed up, some weird flags went off in my head about the race organization, but I signed up anyways.  The swim was a 500 yard pool swim, so they asked that you provide your estimated time.  I wasn't sure how this was going to go, so I was fairly honest (but agressive) and I put down 8:10.  Turns out, they group you in heats by your (self) seeded number and you swim together as a group.  Soooo, if people weren't honest, it would lead to a bunch of frustration (on my part).  Also, they (for whatever reason - I guess so everyone finishes together?) have the slow swimmers go first, which means that I started towards the end of the race.   They did have a fast lane option, which was dedicated for the whole event, but you had to be able to swim 7:30 or faster.  In all honesty, even when I'm on my swim game, I don't think I could swim a 7:30, so I was just hoping I'd get a decent group.

I went to the pre-race meeting (actually I accidentally timed my packet pick-up at the start of the meeting, and we parked poorly, as in we parked right in the middle of the meeting and felt bad leaving when the meeting was going).  Soo, the race details got even more icky.  Apparently they take ~25 people around your proposed swim time and put you into a wave.  And then it was up to YOU while you're standing around waiting for your wave to find 4 other like-minded swimmers to swim with.  The race started at 7 AM - my wave was at 9:25.  UGH.  Apparently there were a ton of people seeded to swim the 500 yards in 23-25 minutes.  I can't even imagine how you could take so long swimming that.  I mean, that's almost 1 minute PER 25.  I think you would water-walk it faster than that.

So, I guess in an effort to make things nice for the later racers, transition never closed.  Typically in a race, transition closes ~30 min before the race starts.  That way, you don't have people mulling around haphazardly while people are running to and from their bikes.  An open transition meant that people could come and go as they please.  So, as I am leisurely setting up my bike, racers are running to and fro.  This did NOT sounds like a good idea to me.  Honestly, if I hadn't paid money, I may have decided on Saturday not to race.  Instead, I decided to suck it up and to try and go FAST.  I was secretly hoping for a podium spot, since I knew a bunch of speedy people were racing long at other races that day.  Based on past recent races, I should have some speed and I should be able to post a pretty decent time.

I set my alarm for 7 AM, woke up at 6:45.  I haven't slept in that late for a race since Boise 2010, which had a 2 PM start.  I leisurely dinked around the house for an hour then hopped on my bike and rode 4 miles to the race start.  I forgot my jacket in the garage and it was COLD.  That was the one good thing about starting later in the morning - riding my bike soaking wet out of the swim in 50 degree temperatures would be CHILLY.

I showed up to transition and it was really weird.  Most people had their areas set up and there were a few empty spots left.  You had to be very careful with where you racked you bike because in some cases, it was very hard to tell if the place was already taken.  A lot of the slower people were newbies and don't use cycling shoes.  Sometimes all you'd see in an "open" rack was a hat or maybe a bag - no running shoes, since they were using their running shoes on the bike.  Really weird.  I ended up finding a decent spot with a good amount of room and then marked my rack with hot pink duct tape, since I knew everything would look alike when I came into T2.

I then went and got my bike number (because they weren't in yet during packet pick-up!), got body marked (numbers were placed on my arms like normal, but also down the front of my shins :/ ), then I headed to the pool to see what the deal was.  It was around 8:30 and I had almost an hour to go.  I was very aware that things were going to get warmer the longer I waited so I scoped out the fast lane. 
Fast Lane: We will have a fast lane once again this year. In order to swim in this lane, you must have a swim time of 7:30 or faster AND be able to do flip turns. If you do not meet these qualifications and swim in the fast lane, you will be assessed a 5 minute penalty. Once we have moved through all the fast swimmers, we will open it up to the current heat the rest of the pool is on to speed things up. The fast lane will run from 8:00-9:30a.m.

People's race numbers were in reverse order of swim time (slower people had lower numbers).  I was watching the fast lane and there wasn't a line of swimmers waiting to swim, and they weren't getting 5 swimmers at once to swim.  Also, by around 8:45, the swimmers didn't appear to be all that fast.  It didn't seem to me that they weren't really enforcing the 7:30 pace rule, which meant I might be able to sneak into the fast lane. I began polling people with numbers similar to mine: "do you do flip turns?" EVERY single person said no.  So, my hope of finding a group of people around my pace to sneak into the fast lane was dashed.  No flip turns is a SURE sign that you don't belong.  (I still don't understand WHY you wouldn't do flip turns!?!?).  The current group of fast lane swimmers was nearing the end and I noticed that there were only 2 guys waiting around.  I went over there and talked to them.  Turns out they needed a 3rd swimmer so they could start the swim.  They were faster than I was (one guy was about 7:15, the other guy had no idea), so we arranged a swim order and I snuck in.  Success!

They had the 3 of us get in the water together, and they started us ~10 seconds apart.  For whatever reason, we decided I should go second in our group of 3.  This was my first non-tech-assisted swim of the year (meaning no wetsuit or speedsuit).  It was also my first time swimming in my Team SONY kit.  I did my first flip turn and *poof*. It turns out, my SONY tri shorts turn into a parachute during flip turns.  Lovely....   My swimming hasn't been great lately - my current team doesn't believe in swimming longer than 125 meters.  The longest I've swam since May is 200 meters, which is my cool down.  I haven't swam 500 yards straight since May and it showed!  The guy behind me passed me maybe halfway through.  He tapped my foot and I paused on the wall to let him by.  Then at maybe 350 yards, the first guy lapped me, but again, he was nice about it, tapped me, and I paused at the wall to let him by.  All this pausing killed my swim time though.  Blech.  Still, it was better than me trying to pass people, knowing that most male triathlete guys have huge egos and don't let people pass easily.  Normally, I like to descend my swim races, but I could tell I was fading.  I tried to keep my kick strong, but my arms and my breathing were no where near as strong as I like them to be.  Still, I finished ok and the guy who started behind me (who passed me) was still in the water when I touched the wall, so I couldn't have been too far behind.

The other lame thing about this swim is that they have you start at the far end of the pool, so once you're done, you hop out and run all the way around the pool (no running on the pool deck!) to get to the swim exit.  And THEN you hit the mat.  So who really knows what my swim time was.

"Swim" time : 8:55 (seeded for 8:10)

Age Group: 4/38
Overall: 54/333

They had you exit the indoor pool, run across a lawn to a parking lot, then you ran down the road adjacent to the parking lot and THEN you got up to transition.  It was maybe 200 meters or so of jogging?  Watching people (newbies mostly) made for some good entertainment.  Many people stashed clothes at the pool exit on the lawn and they were putting on shoes and clothes there instead of actually in transition.

I hit the door and kept my pace a nice fast jog.  As I was on the grass I heard a "Go Erin!" but I have no idea who was yelling it.  Still, it was nice to hear my name :) 

The rest of transition wasn't too exciting, just lots of quick jogging and grabbing my stuff.  Transition was in a soccer field which is always interesting.  Grass on your feet and in your socks.  And grass/mud in your cycling shoe cleats. 

T1: 2:40.4
Age Group 7/38

When clipping in, I start with my right, pedal some, then clip in my left.  Right foot was no problem, as I was smart and arranged the pedal properly for a quick clip-in.  I somehow missed my left pedal twice.  Each time, my foot slipped and the pedal smacked against my ankle and shin, making some pretty sweet bruises!  No idea if I had mud/grass in my cleat, if I was just rushing too much, or if I was just being a dumbass.  Finally, third time was a charm and I got into left pedal.

The start of the bike was a bit strange.  Instead of being on roads, we were on the paved hike/bike trail, which had lots of sharp corners and turns.  Its also quite bumpy (due to concrete seams every 5 feet) so its hard to get into a rhythm.  Finally after maybe a mile (?) we were able to ride on open road.  For some dumb reason, I thought the course was flat.  DUMB DUMB DUMB.  It wasn't ridiculously hilly, but there were some good hills.  My mission was to GO FAST on the bike, but the hills made it interesting.  And hard.

The RDs made a comment in the pre-race meeting that we should know the course, specifically where to turn.  Apparently intersections which required a police officer did not allow volunteers to be present for safety reasons.  Police officers are not always the best at telling you where the course goes (say, if you need to turn) and you could miss your turn.  I was very pleased to see that the RDs marked the bike course with spray paint arrows, so there was never any question of where you should go.  VERY nice.

One cop pulled a near-IMTX, letting traffic through, which made me slow down on a downhill leading into an uphill.  I had to hit my brakes but I didn't stop, and he felt bad and apologized.  Several other cops were "directing" traffic from inside their cars.  I'd approach and they'd decide to get out of their car and see if traffic needed to be stopped for me to proceed.  Fortunately, Sunday morning isn't high traffic and I never had a near collision.  Still, you're getting paid to do an EASY job.  Get out of your car and keep us safe, mkay?

Bike course wasn't too exciting.  There was one nasty downhill into a u-turn, which meant you got to climb back up that hill from a near full stop.  That wasn't very nice.  The course going out was mostly uphills and you circled back and had 1 nasty uphill and one medium hill that just went on a bit too long.  I could tell I'm not used to going hard on the bike and I think I started to fade a bit.  Or maybe the wind was working against me.  All I know is I saw 20+ mph going out and was working to keep it at 18 mph going back.  Still, for 12 miles, I pushed.  Since I started the swim early, it was impossible to see where I was in relation to my competition.  I as passing a ton of people, including some dude on a mountain bike with a kid-carrier, which had a stuffed animal (dog?) belted inside the carrier.  (I wish I had my camera, it was amusing).  Only one person passed me, and she was in my age group.  I passed her on the flad and downhill, only to have her destroy me on the next hill. Must work on hills this winter. 

A quick 12 miles later I was done with the bike.  Always trying to work on my T2 time, I undid my Garmin while I was still riding (I'm sure I looked cute, riding and holding my Garmin in my teeth) so I wouldn't have to mess with it later on.

00:41:13 17.47 mile/hr
Age Group: 10/38
Overall: 108/333

Ok, maybe I'm being hard on myself with the bike split... my fastest bike split was 18.7 mph and I've got a bunch of 17.6-17.9 mph splits on FLAT courses.  Given the hills (and my lack of bike training lately), maybe that's not too bad?  Plus, I my pace was right in the middle of the top 10 finishers in the AG.  Still, hill strength will be a good off-season goal.

Nothing remarkable here - just tried to keep it fast.  Swapped out my shoes and grabbed the rest of my junk to put on while I ran.

1:02.6 (my fastest T2 except for the questionable 20 second T2 at Rattlesnake).

Since I had crushed the 10 miler on Monday, I had HIGH expectations for my run.  It was only 3 miles and I wanted to run FAST. My calves, however, had different ideas.  As did a wicked side stitch.  I was trying to push the pace and the best my legs would allow was somewhere around a 10:00-10:30.  The side stitch was irritating but not awful.  But my calves were so tight they just couldn't move any faster.  I walked the first aid station, which eliminated the side stitch.  Leg were still tight until the turn-around.  I knew there was a big hill at the finish, but most everything from 1.5 miles to the finish was downhill, so I tried to push it.  I did a decent job pushing (but walked the aid station, probably only 10 seconds though).  My legs loosened up a bit at the turnaround but I didn't ever get my awesome flying while running feeling.  I tried to do some speed pick-ups as an attempt to trick my legs, only my legs didn't fall for it.  Ugh.  Not a bad running performance (my 3rd fastest 3 mile pace for a sprint) but it wasn't what I knew I was capable of.  My energy and spirit were willing - this time my legs were just not wanting to play along.  Probably because I crushed the 10 mile race 6 days before.  *sigh*

Run time: 30:29.9. 10m 10s min/mile
Age Group: 19/38
Overall: 185/333

Overall time: 1:24:21 (right at my predicted time)
Overall Rank = 111/333
Age Group Rank = 13/38
Post Race
I got my feet rubbed by a reflexologist (felt nice but wasn't long enough), had good italian grub from a local restaurant (spaghetti and meatballs!), then I stuck around for the raffle/award ceremony.  They posted overall race results, not AG results.  I was in the top 1/3 overall that there was a slight chance I'd podium.  I would have podiumed if I was 1 year younger.  Sadly, I was 5 min away from 3rd place and over 1 minute away from 10th place.  5 minutes for me, right now, is just too fast to overcome for me.  Maybe in a few years.  I did win a free massage, though.  Post-race stuff went on WAY TOO LONG, and it was 12:45 before I hopped on the bike to hit the trails home. 

Friday, September 09, 2011

Lost: Motivation

I think I've finally hit burn out mode.  I've been skipping workouts like crazy, which is so not like me.

This week:
  • Monday: 10 mile running race
  • Tuesday morning: yoga
  • Tuesday: track night was rained out, so we went to a bar for beer and food.
  • Wednesday: swim team.  Also: should have done my track workout but I did not.
  • Thursday: should have run 6 miles.  Instead, I got up, the house was cool, which meant it was "cold" outside. So, I turned my alarm off and slept in.  Could have ran after work, but instead, I peeled, sliced, and froze about 30 peaches. Priorities.....
  • Friday: should have got up to hit swim practice, but the forecast was for a low of 47, and we swim outside, and Friday is sprint day (which I hate).  So I slept in. 
What is wrong with me?  I never skip swim practice!

Here's some random analysis of where my motivation has gone.
  1. I really do not like my current swim team.  The workouts are not challenging, I've been there since June and really haven't made a connection with anyone.  Even thought at Highlands Ranch I never made friends, at least the workouts were challenging and I was learning new things.  At Inverness, the coach pushes the easy button on the workouts, which doesn't exactly inspire me to do anything more than "easy button".  And since I really don't know anyone there, there's no one to hold me accountable.  After my tri this Sunday, I'm even thinking of taking the rest of the month off from swimming (and getting my Ironman tattoo).  I dunno though.  This would be the longest break from swimming since 2006. 
  2. Based on my recent racing experience, I'm rocking it without really doing much training.  Normally, I train out of fear that I won't perform to my expectations.  Only lately, I'm exceeding expectations without training.  Soooo, why train if I don't have to?
  3. I think I'm so scarred for life from training in the snow last winter/spring, that I really just want to stay in my warm bed.  I am not ready for winter.  Even though 47 really isn't cold, its more the idea that real, true cold is on its way, so I'd better start hibernating now.  Or maybe its more like I didn't get to stay in my nice warm bed at all earlier this year, so I'm making up for lost time.
  4. I only have one more tri this season, and its a sprint.  I could do that in my sleep.  Or I've got myself convinced I could do it in my sleep.  We'll see how true this is Sunday. :/  Besides, with this sucky swim team, I haven't swam anything longer than a 200 (which is my warm up) since May.  This sprint is a 500 pool swim, which I suspect will hurt.
  5. I've been battling shin splints since February.  They're not awful, but lately, I'm just more and more annoyed with them.  When I run, they hurt for ~2 days after.  Its irritating.  If I don't run, they don't hurt.  No irritation.  So therefore, I just don't feel like running. (I do have a physical therapy appt for Monday for this).
  6. October will mark the anniversary of the start of IMTX training.  I trained HARD for 8 months.  I've been training sorta-hard since then.  Well, not hard for me, but hard for the average person.  I think I just want a break.
Maybe next week will be better.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Race Report - Park to Park 10 Miler

A few weeks back, one of my facebook friends posted one of those "hey, I'm thinking of running this, anyone want to join me?" posts.  I vaguely knew about this race but never thought to research it.  September is "get serious about training for that half marathon in October" month.  I've been HORRIBLE at getting in my long runs on the weekends.  I also had to find 2 more races to do for Team SONY.  Even through the price was a bit steep ($60) I thought that this would be good for me because a) it would force me to run 10 miles and b) it would count as one of my Team SONY races.  Win-win!

The run starts at the Natural History museum / zoo and works its way through 5 parks, with the finish line at South High School.  I know Washington Park / South High School very well (my dad lived near there) but I wasn't very familiar with any of the other parks.  I was excited to explore Denver as a runner and see some new things.

Since this run is a point-to-point, getting to the start or finish is interesting if you show up by yourself.  The website offered 3 suggestions: 1) park halfway and run to the start and from the finish (about 4 miles each way); 2) get a group of people, stash a car at the finish, then ride to the start; 3) pay $8 for a shuttle that will either take you to the start or from the finish.  I opted for option #3, the shuttle.  You could either park at the finish and take the shuttle to the start or vice versa.  I know South High School very well AND I thought it would be handy to have my car right at the finish so I could leave when I wanted to leave, so I chose the early option.  That meant for a 7 AM race start, I had to catch the shuttle at 5:50 AM.  UGH. On a holiday no less!

Race Plan
My last "long" run, all of 8 miles, was on July 16th.  SEVEN weeks ago.  Granted, I've been ok about doing mid-week 6 mile runs, but horrible about doing anything over 6 miles.  I really had no idea how 10 miles would feel.  I remember last fall, when my IM coach was getting me ready for a December half marathon.  She had several of my long runs as descend tempo runs, where you get faster in the last half of your run.  So that was the plan... descend this sucker.  I wanted to run the first 5 miles as I felt, keeping my HR in the 150's and warm up nice and slow.  Then miles 5-8 were at Zone 3, with my HR somewhere in the 160's.  Then mile 8 should have my HR in the upper 160's lower 170's.  The last mile should be fast where I'm working but not all out, and the last half mile would be as fast as I could sustain until I crossed the finish line.

The pre-race was very low-key.  They had last-minute packet pick-up at the race start, a van for you to drop your gear bag (they'd take it to the race finish, a VERY nice feature since it was chilly out and I needed my jacket before the race), and the start line with pace groups.  As part of Team SONY, I have a running kit and a tri kit.  Only one problem with the running kit - no pockets!  I need gels for anything longer than 1 hour, so I wore my tri kit.  I think I was the only one (out of 971 people) wearing a tri kit.  But at least I had my gels!  I found some of my Saturday running club buddies (who I haven't seen in 7 weeks) and said hi.  They were going to run faster than I was (how'd that happen? we were the same speed!) so I put in my SONY MP3 player in my ears and decided to be anti-social for the race.  Also: my bib number was 777.  Such a cool number!

The race went by in a blur - it really didn't feel like 10 miles.  The course twists a bunch and travelling from park to park really does provide a good distraction.  There were only 3 aid stations (2.5 miles, 5 miles, 7.5 miles) and for whatever reason, that helped things to seem shorter than it really was.  Maybe its because I'm trained to see aid stations every 1 mile.

Nothing huge to report on this race report - I kept pretty much to plan.  I ran with my hand-held bottle filled with water, as I'm trying to live off the course better.  I had 2 Hammer Gels in my pocket, but they were really as a supplement if I needed them.  On the way to the race, I had a Coke Zero and a PowerBar, trying to minimize stomach issues.  The first few miles my stomach felt a bit icky, more like it was too full.  Need to remember that I don't need to eat a whole bar  - I bet half a bar would be fine.  Fortunately my stomach worked itself out and was a non-issue.  I took a gulp of PowerAid at each aid station.  At mile 5 I started to get a bit dizzy, so I took in a 1/3 of a gel.  It helped, but didn't fix the problem.  At ~8.5 I took in more gel, so I'd have good energy for the push to the finish, and that seemed to do the trick.

Pacing was really good.  There were some slight hills, and the uphills, while not steep, were LONG.  I stayed focused, working on keeping my steps small and light on the hills.  I actually passed quite a few people on the hills :)  The fun part about going up the hills is when you crest over the top and go downhill.  If you keep your foot cadence the same as you did on the uphill, you can FLY downhill.  I really pushed the downhills, while staying in my HR zones.

The first 5 miles were pretty uneventful.  Just running and getting warmed up, taking in the sights.  I'd say that I never really felt warmed up until somewhere around mile 4 or 5.  Also around mile 4 or 5, my bladder decided to make its presence known.  The port-a-cans at the mile 5 aid station were busy and I was secretly hoping that my bladder was just confused and with time (and more running) it could be ignored.  I decided to hold off until the 7.5 mile aid station and use the bathroom then.  I increased my pace at mile 5 per my pacing goals and everything was going fine.  At mile 7.5, I was happy for a bathroom break, only to find out that the port-o-cans were LOCKED.  No idea what the deal was here.  I just knew that I had 2.5 miles and no more than 30 min of running left.  I decided to suck it up and push for the finish.  If I was running hard, then chances are, I wouldn't be thinking about my bladder.  This worked and I was fine for the rest of the race.

Miles 8-10 went through Washington Park, which is the area I'm most familiar with.  I knew the finish wasn't far and I wanted to see how hard I could run.  I kept looking at my watch and was seeing 9:30-9:15 pace.  9:15 is my PR for 1-mile repeats on the track.  I didn't know how I could keep up the pace for 2 miles but I was going to try.  We got the south end of the park and I pushed more.  Then out of the park with 1/2 mile left.  You could see the high school, only they were sneaky and made you run around the school into the staduim, and around the track to the finish.  I kept the pace, passing people, and once I saw the stadium parking lot, I just lit on my afterburners.  That's the best way to describe it.  I was tired, but I wanted to push more, so I just went for it.  It was such a cool feeling to demand MORE from my body and to have my body respond.  I was now running somewhere around an 8:30-8:15 pace and passing all sorts of people, including several who had passed me early on.  Then finally the finish line.  I'm sure my photo is precious, as I'm redlining and feeling pukey. But I'm happy because I executed my plan, ran FAST, and barely trained for this.  Maybe not training is the way to go.

Chip Time 1:43:34
5 mile split: 53:21- I ran the back half of the race 3:08 faster, which is about 37 seconds/mile faster than the first half.  PERFECT.
Overall Place 741 / 971
Gender Place 402 / 591
Division Place 86 / 128
Age Grade 48.5%
Pace 10:22