Thursday, March 29, 2012

Clarity in Clearwater

For the better part of the last week, I have been in the sunshine state, praying for a miracle; and God has answered those prayers.

My 80-year-old grandfather discovered a Meningioma tumor in his brain in November. At the time it was considered benign, as are most meningiomas, and the diagnosis was to observe the tumor's growth over the next year and see how it was progressing.

Unfortunately, my grandfather started showing symptoms of the tumor shortly thereafter, having seizures that were taking a toll on his fragile body. After more MRIs in mid-March, the tumor appeared to have grown in size by about 20 percent. Surgery was now a necessary reality.

So how did I take this news? That my grandfather, whom I very rarely get to see because he lives in Florida half the year and two hours away the rest of it, was going to be having life-saving surgery? I packed my bags and booked the last flight out on Friday evening after work.

It's not really as heroic as I make it sound. I didn't perform the surgery. I didn't NEED to be there I suppose, but I certainly wanted to be there to give any extra strength and support that I could to my family.

My dad, my sister, my uncle and I flew down Friday evening. We spent the weekend in the sun at the ball field with my grandfather, playing games and enjoying meals together in the evening, and celebrated my grandmother's birthday with a Sunday brunch. You wouldn't even know he was sick or that this roughly 4x4x3 cm monster was slowly wreaking havoc on his brain, aside from his limp and need to walk with a cane.

But when Monday morning came, my aunt showed me pictures of the tumor in his brain from November and from now, and shared with me her research she had done on the tumor type, the hospital where he was to have the surgery, and the surgeon who was to perform the surgery. It made it all very real.

We took my grandfather to a few more appointments that day, to prepare him for the surgery the following morning. We said a family prayer the night before the surgery, all of us in Florida gathering around the phone while other members of my family made a conference call from Maryland. Hand in hand we prayed around the phone.

That phone became the center of my world the following day. Once my grandfather was taken off to surgery, all we could do was wait and pray. A nurse called from the operating room every hour with updates. She would call at quarter to the hour, every hour. It became a habit to sit and stare at the phone at x:45, each hour. When the nurse would be late making the call, I was willing the phone to ring, fearing what it would mean if she didn't call. We were told the surgery would likely take 5 hours, so you can imagine our surprise and anguish when the five hour mark came and went and the doctor was still carving away at the tumor.

Eight hours passed before his status on the waiting room television changed from "OR In," to "OR Out," and then finally to "Recovery In." I about jumped out of the waiting room chair when I saw the status finally change. The doctor successfully removed 95 percent of the tumor, and said my grandfather won't see the tumor again should he live for another 15 years. It was all over, and it has all just begun in so many ways.

We were able to see him about 90 minutes after the surgery. To our delighted surprise, he was already coherent and talking and recognizing our faces as we greeted him in pairs in the Neuro ICU. He was a vision. He was holding our hands and telling us he loved us and that my aunt was his hero and savior.

My aunt who lives in Florida has been his caretaker from the beginning. She did all the research and made all the decisions for his treatment, consulting with the family and keeping everyone informed of the goings-on while we all prayed from afar. She handled the entire thing with such grace and patience, being the beacon of hope for the family, and the rock which my grandmother needed to lean on throughout this entire process.

I learned so much from her over the few days that I was able to spend with her and the stolen moments and conversations about my grandfather, ourselves, and life in general. I came away from this trip with a sense of calm and clarity. A new outlook on what really matters in life. All the stress I put upon myself for things that don't matter... pressure (or a lack thereof) at work, pressure to live up to the expectations of my peers and society, the opinions of others... those things do not matter in the end. Family is what matters. Having things does not matter. Having a sense of purpose in what you do, matters. Giving yourself to those around you that are important to you, matters. Prayer matters. God matters.

Of course I didn't want to return home. My grandfather is making great progress in the hospital, and I would have loved to have seen him make his trip home before I returned to my own, but with my vacation time run out, it was time to return to work and my regular routine.

While I was away, I missed 20+ miles of training, my dear friend's bridal shower, and my husband and puppy; but I know I was in the right place and I was where God wanted me to be. I thank my family, my friends, and mostly my husband for supporting my decision to be with family during this time. Now the next step, or goal as it were, is finding out God's purpose for me and where I should go on from here with this new-found clarity. I have years and years to figure that out, and blessedly, my grandfather will be around for quite a few of them.

Myself, my sister, and my cousin on the boat on our way to our grandmother's birthday brunch.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Where do we go from here?

I'm not sure that when I initially got the idea to begin training for the USA Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon and subsequently registered for the race as a birthday gift to myself, I had any plan for what comes next.

There was a time that I considered the Marine Corps Marathon as the next logical step, but if you know me, I have lots of dreams and little follow through. I had the registration form filled out before the race sold out and decided to let that one slide, as there are a lot of things going on in my life right now that might keep me from having time for the appropriate training. I did not want to take the spot of someone who could fully commit themselves to the challenge. Now there's a graceful excuse reason if I ever heard one.

Over the last few days, I have taken some time to peruse my options and apply an appropriate training schedule. These are the events I have already registered for coming up:

Sole of the City 10K
April 21
10K (or 6.2 miles) is a distance I have become quite familiar, and dare I even say comfortable, with. My hubby has also been training to run this distance with me on his long runs on the weekends. Throw in that it is sponsored by Under Armour, my favorite athletic apparel store whose founder was a graduate of my Alma mater and it's a no-brainer.

Race Premium:
Black Under Armour Escape Lightweight Quarter Zip

6th Annual Leatherneck 5K
May 19
This is a race the hubster and I run annually and is very near and dear to my heart. The proceeds from the race go to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit set up to provide immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. In addition to it being for a great cause, I frequently run the course as part of my training.

Race Premium:
Each year, a new t-shirt is designed featuring the Marine Corps mascot, the English bulldog. I have quite a collection and am looking forward to expanding on it.

There are several options to continue running into the summer, and even fall! Here are a few I am considering and am teetering on the edge of registering:

Baltimore 10 Miler
June 16
Let's face it. I am a sucker for peer pressure, and when a fellow runner and blogger recommended I sign up for this, I was all, "no way, man, dead heat of summer?" But then she was all, "but there's live zoo animals on the course," and then I was like "where do I sign up?!" So there's that. I was waiting to see how summer vacation plans were going to pan out, but it looks like I will be available for this one!

Race Premium:
Born Fit Quarter Zip Jacket featuring the embroidered Baltimore 10 Miler logo

Baltimore Half Marathon
October 13
And then there was one. One race to rule them all, one race to ... wait a second... I had considered this race before, as the same friend who convinced me to sign up for the USA RnR Half had asked if I was interested in running Baltimore Running Festival's half. The one thing that I felt ill-prepared for during the USA Half was the hilly landscape, and there is one thing I constantly hear about the Baltimore half. Baltimore. Is. Hilly. This makes me want it all the more. The hills almost took me out once and I vow it will not happen again. Either because I will destroy them or I am not going to run this race. Only time will tell.

Race Premium: Under Armour Performance Shirt.

I will be visiting a friend in San Diego at the end of August and I plan to see if there are any small races that we could do as a group once I am out there. This list will change and grow I am sure, but it's good to have plans.

Now I'm off to convince my husband that he wants to run that half marathon we were discussing earlier...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll USA: First Half Recap!

Photo Courtesy of Rock 'n' Roll USA on Facebook

As most of you know, I completed my first half marathon this past weekend. I took my place alongside 30,000 runners to race through the streets of DC in the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll USA 1/2 Marathon & Marathon.

I cannot describe the emotions I felt after crossing the finish line sufficiently for you to understand unless you have done it before yourself. There were waves of accomplishment, regret, relief, disappointment, satisfaction, and a strong urge to do it all over again.

Let us begin at the beginning...

My sister woke up at the crack of dawn to meet us at the hotel in Largo, just outside DC. We chose Largo for three reasons: 1) cheaper than staying in the city; 2) only a few stops away from the Stadium/Armory stop on the Blue Line of the Metro where the race began and finished; 3) less people would be going our way on the Metro after the race. That third reason was pretty key in planning our escape after the race.

She found me a nervous wreck. I did not get much sleep the night before because I kept waking up on the hour due to nerves and excitement. I was so anxious, in fact, that I lost my stomach a few times during the night. So when she got there, she found me chugging lots of water and anxiously trying to prepare my usual Cream of Wheat meal in the hotel microwave (I boiled over the milk and made a mess which my hubster graciously cleaned up).

The three of us set out for the Metro, only just before the doors closed for our departure, hubby decided he needed to run back to the hotel because he too was feeling sick. Thank goodness my sister had met us to ride into the city with us or I might have panicked. He promised to see me as soon as he could, and made haste off the train.

The Metro, being the wonderful mass transit machine that it is, decided that race weekend was the weekend to do track maintenance, putting the race traffic on a single track. Brilliant! So here my sister and I are, 20 minutes to race start, two Metro stops away, waiting for our train to get the green light to start moving when my bladder starts telling me, "it's time to go!"

Looking around the train, there were a handful of other racers nervously checking their watches when finally we started moving again. I promised my bladder that it would find relief soon. Mere minutes later, we pop up out of the metro outside of the Armory where we race to the porta pots, only to find that hundreds of other racers have anxious bladders too. About seven minutes later, and five minutes from the start, a race official comes over to the lines of people waiting to use the porta pots and announces that we should all move to our corrals because the race will be starting on time.

One thought crossed my mind. Not now, pal. I'm committed.

The more useful information from the race official would have been that there were plenty of empty porta pots along the road heading to the race start, where I had to go anyway because my corral was about 12 corrals ahead of where I was waiting in line. But I digress...

Finally feeling ready for the race, my sister and I start jogging to my corral. We pause for a few photo opportunities, texted my hubby to let him know I made it and was getting ready for the start, and climbed through the gate to join my corral.

FINALLY! The excitement of it all begins to hit me. Surrounded by thousands of other runners, all nervous, anxious, and excited to be there, I felt this rush of energy and relief. I was no longer nervous. I was ready. This was what I had trained five months for.

Not the most flattering picture of myself, but considering the circumstances...

As my corral moved like cattle towards the starting line, you could hear the emcee counting down the start for the corral ahead of us. I stepped up to the line, waved to my sister one last time, then we were off!

There was a wave of excitement as the crowd started to move and spectators cheered us on as we crossed the start. There was no shortage of crowd support throughout the race. Every turn we took, there were bystanders to cheer us on.

There was also no shortage of memorable signs either. A few of my favorite were, "You run better than Metro," "Run for Narnia," "Good job (your name)," and the ever clever, "Who Farted?" which was held by someone shouting, "I know it was you!"

It was a beautiful day for a run and there were some great things to be seen along the way. I snapped this photo as I ran past the Washington Monument.

The tree got in the way at the last minute.

One thing I wish I had known before the race is that DC is hilly. The 10 mile loop that I do outside on the weekends is at sea level, and thus, really freaking flat. Sure, I have done a few hills exercises on the treadmill, but not nearly enough to be prepared for what lay ahead of me.

I remember turning a corner around mile 5 and seeing a massive wall of people climbing up ahead of me. It was moving to see that many people on the city's streets, but also terrifying to think, that is going to be me in less than a minute.

I took advantage of a hill around the halfway point to move to the side and break out my Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews. I had brought Fruit Smoothie flavor along for the run and my sister was hanging onto Pink Lemonade for me at the finish line.

I moved to the right and fell to a quick walk as I threw them back, all the while climbing this hill. At the top of the hill, I picked up the pace and started moving again. Little did I know that my sister and husband were at the top of this hill desperately searching the throngs of people for me to go by. I didn't see them, nor they me. Though we later found out through video evidence that we were there at the same time. More on that to come later...

I felt strong until around mile 10. I think the hills and the lack of sleep were finally starting to take their toll on me. I refused to walk on flat roads, and chose strategically when to walk (ie. Gatorade station, long hills). By the time I got to the mile 13 marker, my Garmin 305 had me an extra quarter mile along, which was very frustrating. A friend of mine recommended after the race that he starts his watch a quarter mile into the race to avoid the frustration of thinking you are farther along than you actually are.

Also frustrating, was that the finish line was at the top of a long, slow, gradually inclining hill. It was murder. I was begging for it to be over. Then finally, the end was in sight.

As I said earlier, when I crossed that finish line, there was an unbelievable wave of mixed emotions.

I felt accomplished. I had finished the race, and under my goal time of 2:15:00. My official finish time was 2:13:19. All the months of training and hard work had paid off.

I was relieved that it was over. No more hills! But I regretted that I was not better prepared for the hills, and that I had walked at all; believing I would have been capable of running the distance on a flat course just fine. I started to feel slightly disappointed in myself, thus creating the urge to start all over again.

I was so caught up in my emotions, that I nearly did not hear my husband calling my name as I came to the end of the nourishment zone where he was waiting for me with roses.

Now, a few things that I have taken away from this race:
  1. Always have a group of people to support you, especially on your first race.
  2. Plan accordingly if you are going to use public transportation.
  3. Always train for the worst case scenario (hills).
  4. Crowd support is an amazing thing.
My favorite thing about the marathon was going through the tunnels and under bridges. Without fail, every time we runners found ourselves enclosed in a tunnel-like environment, someone would start the hooting and hollering, and it echoed and reverberated until you could feel the energy in the very core of your being. I cannot wait to experience that kind of magic again.

The one thing I can say about the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon event organizers is that they did a fantastic job. I had some reservations going into it having read some bad reviews from previous races, but they were all wiped clean after the event. The race and expo were both very well organized. The race started on time and there were no shortages of volunteers, water, or support. On top of all these positives, Switchfoot put on an amazing performance at the finish line party.

Best of all, after this great experience, hubby says he wants in on the next go round. So now, I'm off to find our next half...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Revisited

I promised I would get these recipes up, and who doesn't love to revisit a holiday? Better late than never, right? All of the recipes are included at the bottom of this post.

Hubby and I don't usually go big for Valentine's Day, but we decided to make a change this year as it was our first Valentine's Day as a married couple.

There is a local gourmet kitchen and catering store that offers cooking classes. Quality Street Kitchen & Catering offers classes in an array of cuisines. Valentine's Day found a DC based chef preparing a succulent Beef Tenderloin with a Port Wine sauce, and a side of Potato Gratin.

Have I got your mouth watering yet? If not, feast your eyes upon the chocolate covered strawberry at the top of this post, then read on.

When we arrived at Quality Street, we were greeted by glasses of sparkling Moscato and chocolate dipped strawberries. (We enjoyed the Moscato so much, we ended up taking two bottles home). Along with half a dozen other hungry couples, we all took our seats on stools facing a giant hooded stove top.

The chef of the night, Jennifer Purcell, was classically trained in the culinary arts at L’Academie de Cuisine, a location I have investigated to pursue my own cooking dreams (but that's a story for another day). She greeted us briefly and got to work.

At the end of the bar where we all sat poised to smell the melodious odors of the feast, there was a giant television that displayed a feed from a camera over the stove so we could see everything she was doing.

The Roast Beef Tenderloin just out of the oven.

She started with the Beef Tenderloin, seasoning it with oil, salt and pepper. She then seared it in the hot pan before popping it in the oven to cook to a nice, cool medium rare.

Meanwhile, the Port Wine Sauce was reducing on the back-burner, along with a warm balsamic vinaigrette.

The first course we consumed was the warm spinach salad topped with seared shrimp, balsamic vinaigrette, candied pecans, dried cherries, bacon, red onion, and shaved Parmesan.

To trim some of the calories and sugars from this course, leave out the candied pecans and choose center cut bacon.

Jennifer had a beautiful Potato Gratin prepared before we arrived, which she topped with slow cooked greens. Then, on top of the pile, came the roasted beef tenderloin with the port wine sauce. The taste of the port wine sauce was sublime. I have recreated it myself twice in the last month, and shared it with a coworker, who in turn shared it with family. I have yet to meet someone unsatisfied with this recipe.

My very own Port Wine Sauce reducing.

The evening was topped with whipped cream. Literally. Whipped cream on top of a warm chocolate cake over cream anglaise.

Be still my heart.

I realize this is not the kind of thing one should eat every night of the week, but treat yourself. Don't deprive yourself of what makes you happy. If you crave chocolate, have a small slice of cake. But do it in moderation. The more you deprive yourself, the harder it becomes to stay dedicated to a goal.

And now for the good stuff...RECIPES!

Warm spinach salad with all the fixin's
  • 3-4 Large Shrimp per person, peeled and deveined
  • 12 cups fresh spinach
  • Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Candied Pecans
  • 1/2 small Red Onion, thin sliced
  • 1/3 cup dried Cherries
  • 6 slices of Bacon, diced and cooked crisp
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, shaved into curls
  1. In a saute pan over medium high heat, heat light oil ad butter (equal parts). Dry shrimp o paper towels ad season with salt ad pepper. Saute about 2-3 minutes per side, until they start to curl. Remove from pan and use same pan to make Vinaigrette.
  2. To serve salad, place spinach and onions in large bowl. Pour warm dressing over greens and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  3. Arrange grees on plates. Place shrimp on top of salad. Sprinkle with remaining ingredients.
Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette 
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large Shallot, fine dice
  • 1/3 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 - 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. In a saute pan, cook garlic and shallots in light oil until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add balsamic and let simmer about 1 minute.
  2. With a whisk, add in olive oil and finish with butter. Season with salt and pepper.
Roasted Beef Tenderloin
  • Beef tenderloin
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Oil, salt, and pepper beef.
  2. Sear in hot pan or grill on each side.
  3. Finish in 375 degree oven until 140-145 internal temp for medium rare to medium.
Port Wine Sauce
  • 2 Shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 2 Sprigs of Thyme
  • Pepper
  • 2-3 Slices of Bacon, Chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup Port Wine
  • 2 cups Demiglas or reduced Beef Stock (no salt added)
  1. Sweat shallots, bay, thyme, bacon and salt in butter.
  2. Deglaze with Port and vinegar.
  3. Reduce to dry and add demiglas.
  4. Reduce and adjust seasoning.
  5. Strain through sieve.
Potato Gratin

My potato gratin. I prefer it a little browned.
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Butter
  • 2 lbs Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a saucepan, heat up the cream and chopped garlic on low heat.
  3. While cream is heating up, butter a casserole dish. Place a layer of potato in an overlapping pattern and season with salt and pepper. Remove cream from heat, strain through a sieve, and pour a little over the potatoes. Top with some grated Parmesan. Make 2 more layers. Baked, covered, for 35 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan and bake, uncovered, until cheese browns, about 15 minutes.
Slow Cooked Greens
  • Large Bag Kale, Collards, or Mustard Greens, rinsed
  • 5-6 slices Bacon
  • 5-6 Garlic Cloves
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chicken Stock
  • Sherry Vinegar
  1. In a large pot, cook bacon over medium heat until starting to crisp. Add garlic ad red pepper flakes and continue to cook until garlic is golden.
  2. Add greens and stock until greens are half covered (they will cook down into stock). Season with salt and pepper. Cook, covered, until greens are tender (time depends on type of green and how large the leaves are).
  3. Finish with sherry vinegar to taste.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Coming Down the Home Stretch

Hello bloggers, long time no see. I have neglected you, and I apologize. There have been some family health issues and with the race coming up, I have been filling all of my time with running ad family.

My taper week begins now! And my first half-marathon is five days away. The weather is projected to be balmy, which is against every thing that I had planned for, but I am really looking forward to seeing the sun.

I set out for my long run on Sunday, rather than Saturday, because the weather was closer to the prediction for the day of the half. I wore my Lululemon Run Inspired Crops, Under Armour Cold Gear Fitted Mock Neck Long Sleeve Shirt, my newly acquired SPI belt, and my CamelBak.

I decided that the Mock Neck is not going to cut it on race day. As much as I LOVE that thing, it is not made for a 70 degree day. Hence the **Cold Gear** label. I think I will opt for my Under Armour tee shirt instead.

1 mile in, I had to pee. Apparently, using the restroom three times before leaving the house was not enough. So while my hubster and the pup continued on the 10 mile loop, I started turning off at every trail head looking for a porta potty. I eventually found one around 3.5 miles, but not before adding .6 miles to my course.

Anyway, I kept a fairly easy pace. I caught up with hubby around my 6.8 miles, his 6.2. We walked a little way and each ate a Honey Stinger Energy Chew. Delicious! Seriously. They remind me so much of the little fruit packs I used to get in my lunch box when I was a wee lass.

After that, it was a smooth 3.5 miles to the finish. Here are the splits:

Mile Time Best Pace
1 10:28 8:29
2 10:16 8:51
3 10:11 9:16
4 9:12 8:06
5 9:20 7:44
6 9:31 8:23
7 10:27 9:04
8 9:59 9:11
9 9:38 8:45
10 9:31 8:39
10.65 5:56 8:11

I cannot believe that this time next week, I will be a half-marathoner. All of the training and hard work is about to pay off. I cannot wait to cross the finish line.

Any of you have any advice for a first time marathoner?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Oh bother!

I finally get back on track with my blog posts, and then BAM! It's 7:30 at night on a Thursday and I am still at work. My post that I had planned for Friday is incomplete and I am going to miss my run tonight. On top of that, they fed us pizza.


Don't they know pizza is my weakness?! I shudder to think how many calories I ate. But I'll tell you anyway. It was in the ballpark of 600. **shudders**

Oy vey. What a day! (What a workout I'm going to have to do to wash away this day!)

I know I promised earlier this week that I would have those Valentine's Day recipes up by the end of the week, but they are going to have to wait until next week. Please be sure to check back for them! They are delicious and you will not be disappointed.

Until then...