Saturday, August 7, 2010

Race Report: Squaw Mountain Run

        How many years have I been trying to do this run? For some reason I could never find it to get registered until this year. Either it never showed up on the calendars that I checked, or web sites, or I would just miss it by a day or a week. I suppose that it is fitting that this year when I have raced so consistently that I would finally get set up to do it. So I finally got myself up to the Squaw Valley parking lot on the first Saturday in August to race up the mountain.
        Great turnout! 540 runners! As a fund raiser for the Auburn ski club, they must be stoked to rake in that cash. I was reminded constantly by the reflection in Born to Run that running is a deep set human activity, almost primal, as evidenced by the huge numbers who will gather to run together. We start complete strangers, who no longer feel quite so strange after sweating and suffering together. Especially for a “race” where only a select few are truly racing. The rest of us just run. Why? Why don’t we stay at home and sleep in on a weekend morning? Do some sensible exercise, like walk the dog? Especially for a race like this one where we all knew that it would hurt. No one shows up for a mountain run expecting to escape the suffering. And yet, 540 souls lined up to test themselves.
        And what a test it was! I knew the course only as a winter ski run. It’s long for a ski run, over three miles, because it gradually winds and switchbacks its way down the mountain. It’s primary function is to be graded ascent for maintenance vehicles, both summer and winter. So while I knew it would be a relentless climb, I didn’t think that it would be that steep. Holy cow, was I wrong about that! As I joked with a couple on the tram ride down, I’ve never walked so much of a trail race. It took a while, but eventually I found something approaching a rhythm of walking and running that kept me moving forward. It wasn’t like a usual trail race where the terrain constantly changes, sometimes necessitating walking. Here, walking wasn’t faster, just unavoidable when my legs ran out of power. I had the most peculiar sensation when switching from a walk to a run, I couldn’t feel my legs! It was like they went numb! I would glance down to check that they were still there and still functioning!
        The other peculiar sensation reflects my fitness profile, and instructs me in how I need to modify my training. At the beginning, my heart rate was pinned, but I am used to that feeling, so I carefully gauge my effort to keep from blowing up. But as the race went on, I gradually lost power in my legs. I wasn’t breathing all that hard, but I couldn’t go any faster. I noticed this in the recent XTERRA races as well, but I figured that it was a result of deadening my legs with a 2 hour mountain bike ride first. In this case, I wasn’t out that long before my strength faded. So, I need to modify my training to include a lot more strength work. I have done a little of this, now I know that I need to be a lot more consistent. This result reflects my usual training routes, which are fairly flat, and the lack of gym workouts. I recall now that the last gym workouts I did that my legs were not nearly as strong as they used to be. SInce I have had this experience a couple times now, I need to change my training to focus on strength and muscular endurance until the end of the season. Hills! I must run them! And weights! I must lift them! And this off season? Time to become a gym rat!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Potato Salads

What’s more summer than potato salad? OK, for most people that would be BBQ, but for us plant powered people, summer means potato salad, fresh corn, and watermelon. If you remove the greasy, fatty, artery clogging dressings that are traditional, what you’re left with is the perfect canvas for nutrient rich plant power. Spuds of all kinds are ideal since they are a whole food in its natural state, minimally processed by cooking, retaining gobs of nutrients. In fact, a rather wacky experiment in the 1930’s showed that people can live on nothing but potatoes in perfect health. What’s even more, the test subjects did not grow tired of their regimen! That’s probably because potatoes have a very high satiety score. They do indeed satisfy. Here are two interesting variations of a summer classic for endurance athletes.

Tahoe Potato Salad

A favorite in our family to accompany veggie burgers. Also makes a delicious lunch on top of crisp greens. The dill is very important, so taste and adjust carefully. The crab boil adds a nice layer of flavor to the potatoes, don’t leave it out!

10 Small Red or yukon gold potatoes
1 Package Zatarain's Crab Boil Seasoning
1 Box Firm Silken Tofu
2 tablespoons each Horseradish and Mustard
1/4 C Fresh Dill, chopped
2 Stalk Celery, chopped
1 Cucumber, peeled and sliced or chopped (optional)
1/2 C Red or green onion (or shallots), chopped

1. Cook potatoes in water to cover with crab boil
2. While potatoes cook: mix together tofu, horseradish and mustard in a food processor or blender until well blended.
3. Add celery, cucumber, dill, relish and onion Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. When potatoes are done and cool enough to handle, chop or slice and add to dressing.
5. Mix well, taste and adjust seasoning.

Variations: Change up the vegetables: red or green bell pepper, grated carrot or beet

Southwest Salsa Potato Salad

Change up the usual potato salad dressing with this spicy version. Use fresh or jarred salsa of the desired heat.

2 C cooked black or pinto beans
1 lb cooked, chunked waxy potatoes
1/2 C diced red onion
1 bell pepper, chopped, any color
1 C salsa of choice (fresh is best, but jarred works well)
juice of one lime
chopped cilantro to tast
hot sauce to taste

Mix all ingredients, check seasonings and adjust as necessary. Chill for an hour to blend flavors, and serve cold or at room temperature.

Variations: Cook your beans yourself from dry for the best flavor and to save money.
Cook the potatoes while prepping the other ingredients, and combine while the potatoes are still warm to better absorb the flavors. Add chopped hot chiles.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

XTERRA Countdown

After a tough XTERRA race in Tahoe City in June, it is now time for specific preparation for XTERRA Incline. This means more open water swims in the lake, which appears to be warming up somewhat, course practice on the Flume trail, and maintenance of trail running fitness. My first lake swims immediately after the last race were painful due to the cold water. I couldn't find a comfortable breathing rhythm at all. But recent swims have shown thatthe water has warmed, and breathing is no longer a problem. So the next action is a swim, and this afternoon I will run some hills for strength. I also need new MTB tires, and tire selection is always a challenge, so off to the bike shop I go!

Monday, August 2, 2010

TBF Friday Night MTB Racing Series

Will the Real Sandbagger Please Stand up?

I have read that there is a special place in hell for sandbaggers. Of course, I worry a little that in the novice category I might be considered a sandbagger! But I quickly assuage my guilt by reminding myself that outside of a couple of XTERRA triathlons, this series is only the second time I have ever raced a bike. That truly defines a novice, no? So why do I care about sandbagging? Because I won the first race for my novice category, and there was That Other Guy. You know Him. The Real sandbagger. The guy with shaved legs, full team kit from a local shop, and a carbon 29er hardtail. In the novice category? Seriously? Except for week one, he just rode away from the field. I rode away from most of the field as well, but I didn’t know what to expect. Next year I will go get my ass kicked in Sport Category where I belong.

Anyway, here is how the race series broke down.

Week 1: 7/16/2010

Filthy heat! Forecast 102 degrees!
I think I drank four liters of water that day trying to stay hydrated. While I love the course at Granite Beach, it’s funny that I have never yet just ridden the trails for fun, only under race conditions. There is just one problem. That Rock. It’s huge, it’s a boulder. It’s actually rideable, but it sure doesn’t look that way! The first time I raced the course, I didn’t know what to expect, so when I came around the bend and saw The Rock, I just powered over it with pure adrenalin. Then in XTERRA, I choked on it. Tonight I choked again. Total mental block, so I had to dismount. Otherwise I rode well, considering the heat. I placed fourth overall, but the three guys who passed me later on were actually in the 40-49 age group, so I won my category! BUT: I was passed by The Fat Guy. Since he was not actually in my category, but one that started a minute back, he was WAY faster. Not cool, I do not like being passed by The Fat Guy, who must have much better technical skills.

Week 2:

Much better weather for this one, only about 90 or so. Still hot, but I must have finally acclimated a little, since I wasn’t busy worrying about the heat, only the racing. Made the drive from the Bay Area to Folsom after summer school without difficulty, and lined up for the start after a brief warmup. I want that rock! I want to own it! I also want to beat That Fat Guy. This time that sandbagger pro-look guy rode away from me and I never caught him. Another guy rode away from me like I was on a trainer, but fortunately he was not in my category, but men 20-29. Damn youngun’s. My regrets were three: one, I didn’t push it hard enough on the paved road section, two, I got passed at the very end by a guy who couldn’t really drop me, and three That Rock owned me again! The paved section exists because of higher than normal water levels this year, and it was a lot longer than I remembered from week one. I wanted to use it for recovery, but I recovered too long, I could have made some time here and prevented that pass. I got a little complacent while riding out there on my own, and let off the gas which got me passed by a guy who wasn’t really, faster, but definitely hungrier. Next week, hammer the road. The route was slightly different as well, with a singletrack section not looking the same at all. The Fat Guy didn’t pass me, but he still rode the course 20 seconds or so faster than me. Damn.

Week 3:

Last one! After finishing fourth overall twice, but first one week and third the next week, I sit in second place for the series in my category. So this week I want to smash it! Unfortunately, it smashed me! This race was harder than the triple digit suffer fest. I arrived late because I drove from Tahoe, miscalculated the time, and encountered more traffic going down the hill than I had anticipated. I had plenty of time to get to the start, but not enough time for a warmup. The previous races I got maybe 10 minutes warmup, not a lot, but enough to get the blood flowing. For a short, intense race like this one, I think that’s crucial. So I lined up near the front and dropped the hammer, trying to keep up with Sandbagger Racer Boy, which I did for awhile. Good news, I cleaned The Rock! I own it now. But then, the lights went out. I hurt. I struggled. I was deep in the Pain Cave without a flashlight. I punched my ticket on the Pain Train and rode that sucker through the middle section. And lo and behold, they changed the course again, the paved section was dramatically shortened. Does this make the course shorter? Longer? Faster? Slower? How do I compare this week’s time to before? I was passed by a few riders including The Fat Guy, who owned me again. I passed a couple guys toward the finish, having no idea what category they were in, but by then I had recovered. Tough race, but a lot of fun all around.


Lessons learned:

  1. Arrive early. I had no problems with registration, but for short races, a warmup is critical. Now I know.
  2. Gauge effort carefully, I tend to fade in the middle of the race, after going out hard. But then I recover a bit before the finish.
  3. Let go of the brakes!
  4. Get new tires.
  5. Train hard, and smart.
Including the LT climbing intervals once a week definitely made a difference, as well as spending more time on the MTB in general. Now I face a problem, I am fast for a Novice, but really slow for Sport. I don’t want to be That Sandbagger, so, for next year I must train really hard so I can upgrade to sport and not be too far off the back. I need more strength, muscular endurance, and more practice on technical skills so I can find some “free” speed.

Onward and upward!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tahoe Trail Run: Run to the Beach 10K Race Report

        With no clear information ahead of time, this race was even more of a mystery than most. If I knew the area, as some may have, I would have known what to expect. I expected a fairly flat and fast course, since the only description was a mix of trail and road. Also, since the 5K and 10K courses shared a common route for part of the race, I figured that it would be flat. Nope. There was some significant singletrack climbing on the 10K only loop, but since the website had no course profile I didn’t know what to expect. It was a great course, a fair amount of singletrack, one good climb that required a walk at the top, and lots of rocks! I didn’t feel particularly fast, since I was back in the pack, unable to really pass anyone. I ended up running with the same group for most of the race, trading the lead occasionally. I was definitely out of gas at the end, and while I held off some of the people I passed, I got passed by a couple of people who came from nowhere. Unfortunately, I ran off course twice for a few meters (nothing major). Once was THEIR fault, two different arrows, different colors, different directions. The second time was my fault, I was following another runner on a descent and she missed a turn and I didn’t notice. The race had a tough finish that I did not expect, which was on sand! Apparently it was not just a race TO the beach but also ON the beach! Ouch, that hurt.
        Overall, I ran under 54 minutes, which is significantly faster than Burton Creek, making me wonder if the courses were both really 10K. I also wore my new heart rate monitor to see what intensity I was racing at. I uploaded the data into the computer to graph heart rate and found an average of 175, which is a hair under my usual LT of 180. I can feel the difference though, between 175 BPM, where I can recover, to 180 BPM where I feel pinned, and the few times I was up to 182-184 BPM, I was hurting. And so wraps up my first racing/training vacation of the summer: three races on three consecutive beautiful weekends in fantastic Lake Tahoe! Now it’s time to go back to work, make some money to keep up this habit, and tweak the training a bit to get faster.

Next Up for Racing:
Three consecutive Friday night beginner class mountain bike races to improve handling skills.
Find an Olympic distance road triathlon to try a different sort of race

Next Up for Training:
LT intervals!

Next Up for Tahoe Vacation:
Gotta check the calendars for that...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Race Report: XTERRA Tahoe City

Wow, what a tough but fun race. What went right? Only that it was a lot of fun, especially the bike course. The bike course went through all kinds of singletrack through Sierra meadows, windy, twisty and fun. There some climbs, but nothing too major or demanding, except for the altitude, not like Del Valle with its long granny gear fire roads. What was difficult about this course was the false flats, where it didn’t look like you were climbing, but it sure felt like you were. As one guy in transition remarked, it felt like your were going backwards. So that was the fun part, and since in an XTERRA most of your time is spent on the bike, it helps to have a fun bike course. Everything else was very tough.
Where did the tough begin? At registration, when they gave me a swim cap, but no race numbers. Tahoe City being rather cramped, it was confusing to locate transition, registration and the start finish, since they were all in different locations. Usually there all in the same place to simplify matters. So hiked around a lot, parking, registering, setting up transition etc. Despite being one of the first on the scene, I still was just in time for the start, along with the other late guy, Ricardo. From there, it just got harder. The swim was a disaster. I felt confident since the swim at Del Valle went so well. I thought that even though I hadn’t been swimming much that I would be fine. No. The combination of cold water and high altitude put the zap on my breathing and I really struggled. I couldn’t establish a comfortable breathing rhythm until the end of the first 750M lap. I watched despondently as the whole field just swam away from me. I finally gave up on swimming and decided to completely ignore what my arms and legs were doing and concentrate only on breathing which helped a lot. But I was slow. Even Ricardo had a tough swim, although he did better than I did, even though we swam together at Del Valle.
It was a long jog on pavement to transition where I set out on the long bike ride. It started with a long climb on the road that helped to spread people out before heading into the state park for the trails. I definitely could feel the altitude, not that I was suffering more, just that I was so slow. I was working hard, enjoying the ride and the course, but just not moving fast. So much for spending a couple of weeks at altitude to grow some more red blood cells!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tahoe City 10K

        Never trust Google maps completely. That is the lesson of this race. Also, cross check information. I should have looked at the race website for directions, but since this race director has not always gotten all of the information correct in the past, I went with Google thinking that a state park should be easy pickins’ for the Archiver of the Known Universe. Not quite. FInally locating said state park on the state website after the race, the first sentence was “Lake Tahoe’s hidden state park.” No doubt. I could not find this state park with Goolge’s directions. I finally resorted to driving aimlessly around Tahoe City until I found a lot of parked cars and what looked like runners. When I saw a race number, I knew I was in the right place, but it was not the state park. Instead it was the Nordic ski center where I learned how to ski as a little kid many years ago. Turns out that the Nordic center use the “trails”of the state park in the winter and maintain them. The rest of the year you’re on your own. They are not really marked due to unrseolved access issues.
        Fortunately, due to other race morning issues, I left with plenty of time, and while I did not have enough time for a proper warmup for a short course race, I still had plenty of time to check in, get my number, drop the swag bag in the car and take a few deep breaths. The course, as advertised, was fairly flat, no huge climbs like I get in the Santa Cruz mountains or Marin. It was rolling single and double track. But the altitude made these “rolling” climbs much harder. The real challenge on this two lap circuit was a narrow, rocky single track climb. Visually, it was not at all steep, but the narrow twisting trail, generously littered with large rocks, forced you to run sideways as much as forward. A smooth and consistent cadence was impossible, and my heart rate showed it. On the first lap I passed some people, including a woman that I ended running with for most of the race, since she passed me back on the climb on lap 2. I didn’t want to pass her again, but as the course flattened out and became smooth double track, I recovered and picked up my pace, while she didn’t. I had also been passed by some kid who never gapped me either. He would periodically look back. Yeah, I’m still here, you haven’t dropped me yet. I recovered, but they never sped up! I was in a quandary, do I have enough power for another move? When do I go? The finish was tricky with really unstable deep wood chips that were like running in sand. As we headed downhill into the finish, I was right on their heels, yet still they wouldn’t accelerate! I looked to make a move, then the kid who led our little group flinched a little, holding his side. His form looked a little shaky earlier, but now I knew, he was hurting, so I went as hard as I could. I kicked with what I had, determined to hold out to the finish, which I did. I came in just under an hour, having gapped my group by eight and thirteen seconds respectively. A beautiful day, a beautiful race. Summering in Tahoe is divine!

Sunday, April 4, 2010


March 28, 2010
Granite Bay, Folsom Lake

So, my first ever XTERRA off road triathlon is done. The summary, fun, but hard. Worried about driving time, I got up too early, around 4:30. Thinking it would be about a 2 hour drive, I didn’t realize that going down the hill the whole time made it closer to 1 1/2 hour drive. I didn’t know how big an event it would be, so I wanted to get to registration early to make sure I had plenty of time to register and set up my transition area. There were fewer than 200 racers, so registration was easy, since I was there 15 min. before registration opened, and over two hours before the race start! I filled in the time going over my transition, the start, and finish for all three legs of the race.

The Swim:

I was most worried about the swim since my last race the swim was very difficult. I had only put in a few workouts in the pool, but I solved my ear problems, and I felt smooth and comfortable in the pool. How would that translate to a mass start race in 55 degree water? Quite well, actually. I swam smoothly, didn’t use too much energy, only swam off course a little, and didn’t get run over or kicked by other racers. Mission accomplished!

The Bike

This race was almost a quadrathlon, since there was a long jog up the beach to transition. I lagged in transition, so I need to streamline my technique. Having raced essentially the same course as a stand alone MTB race in October, I though I would be a lot faster than I was. Since I have not ridden my MTB in months, I suppose I should have been prepared for feeling a little off. Then I went out so hard, that I stumbled on technical sections I should have cleaned. My lap times were almost the same, even though I felt like I was going much harder the first lap, but I rode smoother on the second lap. I kept thinking that I would make up time on the run, since I usually run well off the bike.

The Run

Very, very hard! After 90 min. of mountain biking, my legs were dead! I was forced to go much slower than usual. It was also a difficult course, with a few sections that required a walk, both uphill and down. By the time it was over, I was cooked!


13 min for a 1/2 mile swim
1h30 for 16 mi. MTB
38 min for a 3.5 mi. run
10 min. for transitions
        During: 1 bottle HEED, one Hammer gel
        After: Another bottle HEED, gel and one packet SE

Recovered well with that and a Chipotle burrito.
But: didn’t continue recovery long enough considering poor sleep, so I either picked up a cold, or an allergy attack. or both. Bummer. Lesson learned, pay more attention to recovery of the immune system.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hero #2 Martina Navratilova

I first heard about her focus on diet many moons ago when reading Robert Haas' book on sports nutrition Eat to Win, which I think may be one of the first books of its kind for a general audience, coming as it did after the fitness boom of the 70s. What made it unique was it focus on quality carbohydrate, rather than protein, and emphasizing low fat eating. It's out of print now, but I found an old copy and was surprised at accurate it still remains. It is quite close to McDougall and Pritikin it its practice. In the book he mentioned some of the athletes he worked with such as Navratilova. She is quoted as having benefitted greatly from the plan, but until recently I did not know that she is truly plant based, and credits it for her success. While not being a tennis fan, I have been impressed with very long career, still winning championships into her 50s! So I was quite interested in this little video that credits outstanding longevity in a highly competitive sport to her love of plant power!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tuscan Beans and Greens Crockpot Casserole

While watching the Food Network with my mother, we saw the beginnings of a great slow cooker dish. While the TV chef used chicken, I saw the potential to make it right: fat free vegan! It makes a great stew that we served on soft polenta, but it could be served with other starches, such as potatoes, or a whole grain pilaf. Or, serve with crusty bread and a green salad.


2 cans rinsed, drained white beans
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
8 oz. sliced portabella mushrooms
1-2 jarred roasted red bellpepper, chunked
1 cup veggie broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 bunch kale, chopped

Option 1:

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low until done, 6-8 hrs. Discard rosemary, check seasoning and serve.

Option 2:

Saute onion, garlic, celery, and fennel and carrots in a little wine or broth until soften.
Add to slow cooker with other ingredients and cook as above.

Change the beans, using kidney beans or chickpeas.
Change the seasoning to sage or herbes de Provence.
Add chopped tomatoes.
Use chard, spinach or other greens instead of kale.

I love the slow cooker in winter, and this dish shows it with a slow simmering, good smelling dish that is ready when you are.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Comfort food?

A recent post over at Soulveggie on "comfort food" caught my attention enough that not only did I feel the need to comment as I often do for his posts, but to reflect some and write my own thoughts on the matter. My first thought is that all food should be considered comfort food. Right? I mean, if you're hungry and you eat, aren't you comforted? But clearly there is a distinction between being satisfied and being comforted.

A quick perusal of the cooking magazines shows many cover stories on comfort food. The accompanying photos are usually high fat, meat based concoctions we remember from our childhood. What is being comforted? Certainly not our arteries! Yet somehow we ignore the physical consequences of these dishes with an excuse that they comfort us. Where is the disconnect? Why do we choose short term emotional benefit over long term health? After reading Dr. Kessler's book The End of Overeating, I think I see a reason. He explains some of the new research in neuroscience that shows how bad food, that is, food high in some combination of sugar, salt or fat has a drug effect on the brain quite similar to other drugs like caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. So, at a biological level, we truly are being powerfully comforted by food we know rationally is not good. Couple that drug effect with all the residue of past good feelings associated with this food, and you have a powerful brain cocktail.

I say that it is time to rethink what comfort food should be, and make solid efforts to define comfort as how we will feel in our 60s, 70s and beyond. Kessler details other psychological research that gives some suggestions about how to rewire our brains for new habits. But I am just as encouraged by Dr. Esselstyn's program to reverse heart disease that explains that within three months those brain receptors that respond to fat so enthusiastically can be retrained. Also, Dr. McDougall always refers to his food as comfort food, since it is starch based and therefore very satisfying. My experience has been that if I keep the starch, eliminate the fat, and stick to tastes and flavors I like, I find a different kind of comfort. One that feels good today, and I know will feel good far into the future.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Indian Running

While all the running literary buzz now surrounds Christopher McDougall’s fine book Born to Run, I thought I would go a bit old school and look at this out of print book that covers various threads of the Native American running story. It describes in part the Tarahumara running tradition that has been fascinating in recent years, but also covers some lesser known aspects of Native American running throughout history. It turns out that many tribes throughout North America have a long history of running messengers. In some cases, the relays would make modern communications blush! For instance, the Aztec capital knew of Cortes almost within hours of his arrival in the Yucatan. The Incan messengers were a veritable postal service, fueled at least in part by coca leaves! In the American Southwest, a unique moment in history used the power of long distance runners to produce the largest and most successful uprising against the Spanish in North America. The five hundred year anniversary of this event was commemorated by a group of Pueblo tribes in the early 1980’s with a reenactment of the terrain covered by running a multi day event that linked all the Pueblos involved in the original revolt.
While the writing and storytelling in certainly not as snappy or entertaingl as McDougall’s, it is an interesting read. Nabokov alternates between first hand accounts of the commemorative event with digressions into history. Sometimes this switching back and forth can be annoying, but then McDougall does essentially the same thing by narrating the Copper Canyon ultra with digressions into many different topics. Since it is out of print, the only way to get a copy is to browse used bookstores or use Amazon’s network. If it makes its way to you, its worth some bedtime reading.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shepherd's Pie with Little or No Plan

What a discovery! My sister has mentioned the fun of shepherd’s pie for awhile, but I didn’t get it until I tried it myself. Part of the problem was reading five fairly different recipes, but eventually I created an easy one. It still takes a couple of steps because of the mashed potatoes. But we all agree, the mashed potatoes are what make the dish.

So the basic game plan was to use primarily ingredients that would be found in the freezer and pantry. Frozen veggies, canned beans, potatoes and onions are easy to keep on hand won’t require trips to the store.

4 med. potatoes
prepared horseradish to taste
4-8 oz. mushrooms fresh; or equivalent dried rehydrated and finely chopped
1 onion chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 T ea. dried parsely, sage, rosemary and thyme
1 6 oz. tomato paste
1 T Bragg’s or soy sauce
1 can each kidney beans and chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz. bag frozen mixed veggies (like peas, carrots, corn)
1 16 oz. frozen broccoli
a little red wine or broth for sauteeing

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Peel potatoes and boil until done. mash with a little cooking water or non dairy milk. Add horseradish to taste, about 2-3 T.
  2. While potatoes cook, saute onion, garlic, celery, and mushrooms in wine or broth until soft.
  3. Add dried herbs and Bragg’s or soy sauce.
  4. Add beans and cook until well combined and veggies are well cooked. Add tomato paste and combine well. Transfer bean mixture to a sprayed baking dish.
  5. Add frozen veggies to skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook to taste.
  6. Spread veggie mixture over the bean mixture.
  7. Spread the mashed potatoes over the vegetable layer, sealing the edges well. Dust with paprika, and bake for about 30 min., uncovered.
Note that the vegetables used are very flexible. Many variations of fresh or frozen veggies could be used, depending on season, availability, or inclination. This makes a big batch, but it won’t stay around for long! Plus, it freezes and reheats well.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hero #1 Rip Esselstyn

First in an occasional series of plant based warriors who put the walk to the talk, so to speak, is former pro triathlete and current firefighter Rip Esselstyn. Son of doctor Caldwell Esselstyn who has pioneered heart disease reversal through low fat plant based diet, the whole family walks the walk. In Rip’s case, he also talks a lot. In his new book The Engine 2 Diet, he skillfully creates a plan for regular people to change from an unhealthy SAD (standard American diet) to what he calls plant strong eating. What he does is take the phenomenal research that his dad has done into heart disease reversal and create a very accessible plan. Just to make sure, he tested it a couple of times on fellow firefighters and community members in Austin, Texas. The result? Maybe to their surprise, but certainly not to Rip, everybody improved their health with improved cholesterol, blood pressure, increased energy and well being.

Rip clearly has been living this lifestyle for awhile. In fact, the whole family transitioned rather late based on father Caldwell’s research. There are a lot of family stories surrounding the recipes that show how this has been a collaborative effort for some time. It also makes the recipes more accessible, as many are based on familiar foods. In most cases, these old favorites are simply reworked to eliminate the meat, dairy, and oil and add in some nutrient dense ingredients like kale.
So why is Rip a feed the beast! hero? Because there are not many who have combined true low fat vegan plant based living with outstanding athletic performance. Rip ate plant strong while competing professionally as a triathlete for ten years. Plus, his current job as a firefighter requires some athleticism as well! He puts to bed the misguided notion that athletes need a richer diet, or are even able to tolerate richer food. My only wish is that he would write and speak a little more about the athletic experience he has had eating this way, since there is so much misinformation surrounding sports nutrition.

To see how he presents this lifestyle in person check out this performance on national television.

Great recipes include: the burger recipe (my family favorite), the lasagna, and the “meat” loaf
For more Esselstyn info check out dad’s book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (I think mom Ann’s recipes are even better!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lent Leftovers

Be honest: What happened to your New Year's Resolutions? If you're anything like me, Life is what happened. As in, Life is what happens when you are making other plans. For me, the usual scheduling challenges of final exams and basketball season derailed my January base training goals. Nor did I lose those couple of holiday pounds. Of course that means that my race weight is rather distant at the moment. 

Enter the Leftovers. So what if mistakes were made? That's what Lent is for. Not being Catholic or Orthodox and with no cultural connection to the religious significance, it always just seemed like a good idea. After the holiday feasting, a time of withdrawl, fasting and reflection to last out the winter until Spring's new growth comes in. Especially when combined with a tradition of New Year's Resolutions, Lent looks to me like a perfect second chance! 

So what does Lent mean? The popular definition is giving something up as a sort of discipline, spiritually or otherwise. I suppose it is sort of proving to oneself that one CAN do it. In the traditional sense it was to practice three spiritual disciplines: 
  1. Fasting- This was to overcome the temptations of the flesh and show mastery of one's appetites. The rules were varied, and possibly came from a practical need to conserve food supplies in the lean times of late winter and early spring when food could be scarce.
  2. Prayer- Since the tradition has a religious foundation, the days leading up to the Easter celebration should focus on more personal meditation of spiritual matters.
  3. Almsgiving- The Christian ideal of charity is also highlighted with the faithful encouraged to give to others by donating time, money, or energy to worthy causes.

I was inspired by a Buddhist friend who gave up beer for Lent to try the same effort last year. I gave up cheese, and for six weeks I had to avoid it, which was sometimes easy but sometimes difficult. So this year I will expand my Lenten effort to cover all three categories. The intriguing thing about Lent is that it is temporary, roughly six weeks or 40 days. WHat happens after Lent? The traditional practice seems somewhat blank. I suppose the ideal goal would be to continue the new habits indefinitely. But then it seems like any other "self-improvement" scheme. Perhaps making it temporary makes it somehow special? I suppose I will have to answer those questions later.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

LOW Fat is the Key

While many in the nutrition field like to pass off low fat eating as another embarrassing 80s trend along the lines of a Sony Walkman with those foam headphones or leg warmers, no one can really argue with the clinical success and scientific research about a diet where 10% of calories come from fat. Some like the Atkins crew, Gary Taubes or even South Beach, FL like to argue that all that low fat preaching did no good. It did a lot of good, but only for the people who made the effort. Most people went their merry fat way and barely changed at all. Check my man Soulveggie's explanation as to why in this case, 10% is the magic number.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Belgian Training Part 2: Monsoon Monday

Belgian Training Part 2: Monsoon Monday
If last week I thought all the grey made it like Belgium, this week's forecast calls for a monsoon: heavy rain and high winds all week, mudslide and flood risk, general meteorological mayhem. Well. I guess the gym and indoor trainer are on tap for the week.  The gym is fine, I should be working on building more of the strength that I began creating before the holidays.  The training is working, but I am starting to fade a bit, thanks to the hectic school schedule of girls basketball and finals. I've got a little sinus thing going on as well, I feel fine, except for my head, so I must watch my recovery carefully.  This week's long ride went much better.  I ate more before, and during, so I felt much stronger, although I kept the exact same pace as last week, over the same course.  I also recovered better, although I drank too much coffee before the ride, so that my post ride nap was not quite the bliss I had hoped for.  I got that after my long run yesterday.  I changed my run course a little, adding in another little loop, that didn't actually add that much time overall.  I felt very good on the run. I reminded myself to slow down and keep a relaxed pace, walking occasionally to drink, and I felt great up until the very end, where my legs started to go dead. I consoled myself with the fact that I did do a long ride the day before.

Sat. Long ride 2:55 I haven't this much endurance this early before, good news!
Sun. Long run 1:35 Need to figure out how to integrate yoga into the week.

Farmer's Market:
yellow peppers, brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, fingerling and red potatoes

In the kitchen:
Mediterranean Stew in the crock pot. I love crock pot season! This one had beans, veggies, herbs, wine, and I forgot the artichoke hearts. Oh well, it was still good over Kashi 7 Grain Pilaf. Tonight will be the broccoli rabe over soft polenta.

Her: Are you training for a marathon, young man?
Me: (aloud) No, just running because I love it!
Me: (in my head) Young man ?! You mean I don't look like a middle aged knucklehead? Marathon? Is that because of my ultra smooth stride, gleaned from reading books about Kenyans and Tarahumara?
Ah, the kindness of strangers, everyone needs a little ego boost, even Buddhists!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Belgian Training Bust

Whenever the weather in the endurance "off-season" gets murky, I just think of Belgium. The Flemish hardmen are out training in worse weather, what right do I have to complain? Especially since there is no real "off-season" anyway. Now I am supposed to building a base, which means training hours, right? The Belgians are even more intense, they are racing cyclocross in the snow, or preparing for their biggest road races which start in just a couple of months. I have no right to complain, but I will anyway. It was cold, foggy, and damp this morning for my 3 hour road ride. I felt like I was in Belgium. It has been cold and grey for so long now I forgot what the sun looks like. Vitamin D? Not a chance, son, go pop a few hundred IU and suck it up. I was low on energy, nearly bonked, and struggled to recover the rest of the day. A quick look at the 2009 training log revealed a possible cause: it has been a long time since I rode 3 hrs. Oh well, better luck next week. On the flip, I don't think I have ever been doing such long rides this early in the season, so that bodes well for the rest of the season. On the food front, my crock pot rocks, because it cooks up a mean pot of gourmet pinto beans!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Evolution or Revolution for New Year'...

Evolution or Revolution for New Year's Resolutions?

Many times I think that we try the path of revolution for the New Year.  As the feasting wears off and we think of what didn't get accomplished in the previous year, we set truly ambitious goals.  It's like we are trying the personal equivalent of storming the Bastille.  If any aristocrats of our old habits are found, off with their heads! Vive la revolution!  Does becoming a Bolshevik of our psyche actually work?  For some, yes. A clean sweep for many people often succeeds.  But for many others, I think that if we get down on ourselves for not executing the "revolution" last year may find some solace in looking at evolution. Perhaps we have progressed some.  Perhaps we can build on that. Maybe the revolution functions best not in totality, but as just enough shock to overcome inertia and create enough space for change.

For myself, I look back on some of my goals from last year to see how well I did. If I treat it as a pass/fail exam, then I failed.  But I don't feel like a failure. In fact, I feel a lot better! So what worked? I set a goal of getting into racing.  I wanted to run a half marathon, (fail) Xterra triathlon (fail) ultra mountain bike race (fail).  But the big picture was racing: I ran 5 trail races, two road races, one MTB race and one triathlon. Pass, with flying colors! I wanted to lose weight to improve my power to weight ratio, I lost about 15 lbs.(pass) I wanted to learn more and improve my skills for following the McDougall Program to lose that weight and improve health.(pass) I feel and perform better than I have in a long time, and have learned a lot. If I don't look at the bigger picture it would be easy to look at 2009 as a fail, but I definitely don't feel that way.  Seen in this perspective, 2009's lessons are motivating for 2010.

So what's on tap for 2010?


sub 45 min. 10K run (road)
1 mile swim in open water
150 lb. bench press for reps
225 lb. squat for reps
Pull-ups at body weight for reps
(those lifts would return me to previous levels when endurance was not the priority)
100 mi. road bike century


Xterra: Nor-Cal complete season: Granite Bay, Del Valle, Tahoe x2
Uvas and Sac Sprint Triathlons
Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz Triathlons
50 mi. MTB Race
July Fri. MTB Series
Try cyclocross
Skyline to the Sea Ultra 50K


Attain race weight (150 lbs. ?)
Improve McDougalling skill
Further reduce oil, cheese, flour and sugar
Create recipe resource 

Join triathlon club
Write article for Veg Times (publishing optional!)

How much editing is allowed?  Unlimited editing dilutes commitment, but carving them in stone might mean discarding them altogether.

Pressure Cooker Paranoia

Like many people, I have an irrational fear of pressure cookers. I have long read of their advantages, especially for vegetarians who like bean dishes. Speeding up the bean cooking process would be fantastic as I already like to cook from dry beans whenever possible for better flavor. So I received a pressure cooker as a a gift and I was so excited that I ... left it unused. I especially wanted for high altitude cooking, but fear overcame me. I read that there are the old school "jiggle top" cookers, and the new school cookers that have a tighter seal. That caused confusion and the source of my fear crystalized. Everyone knows the horror stories of ruined dinners, ruined kitchens, and even injury from an exploding pressure cooker. Apparently, this almost never happens, not even in the old days, but once a belief takes hold, watch out!

So, it took my sister to decide to conquer the fear by making a fabulous lentil-quinoa soup while I was skiing. No tragedies occurred, but a great soup was the result. So today we tried a more ambitious recipe: New Mexico Pinto Bean Soup adapted from Lorna Sass's book Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. I used my heirloom pinto beans from Adobe Milling, since they have great flavor. Here is more or less what we did:

New Mexico Pinto Bean Soup

2 C soaked dried pinto beans
1 T canola oil (while I eschew all oil, in this case the pressure cooker requires it for beans, to prevent disaster)
1 t cumin seeds, whole
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 red bellpepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
2 C corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
2 t dried oregano
Dash of chipotle chili powder
Dash of ground coriander
4 C water or broth

For finishing:
2 T tomato paste
1/2 C minced fresh cilantro
2 T lime juice

1. Sizzle cumin seeds in the oil until they pop, add garlic and brown
2. Add onion and peppers and saute one minute
3. Add beans, corn, water and spices
4. Lock lid and bring to high pressure, lower heat and cook for 8 min.
5. Remove from heat and allow pressure to come down naturally.
6. Using an immersion blender, whizz in the tomato paste until the desired consistency is achieved
7. Add cilantro and lime juice, check for seasoning and serve.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day Crash

So while the purported 60,000 New Year's Eve partiers slept of there new decade enthusiasm, we continued our recent tradition of skiing on New Year's Day. The blackout period of our season passes has ended, and the hill is not crowded. Time to make some turns! For my niece, Gabrielle, this is probably her favorite thing in the world: skiing with her uncle and grandpa and especially her dad. It's not often that her dad skis with her since usually my dad and I take her. (We are the enthusiastic skiers in the family) So we had a nearly perfect session on the hill even though the weather was nasty and cold, and I tweaked my knee trying to goof off with 70s fresstyle. But the highlight of the day was the chairlift crash, which happened right in from of my eyes, while I was powerless to help. Enjoy!