This Mt. Washington hiking trip had been planned for a little over a month. Needless to say, it was a hike that was very much anticipated. It was extra special knowing that I’d get to summit the tallest mountain in New England on my birthday weekend!

We arrived at the Cog Railway hiker’s parking lot around 8:30am. I had been hydrating like crazy on the drive over. Luckily, we were able to use the Cog Railway Station restrooms before starting our hike, around 8:45. The group consisted of: Cole, Chris, Darren, Josh, Jess, PD and myself.

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Today is my birthday! When asked what I really want to do on my birthday, my thoughts immediately go to: I want to go for a run. That’s what I wanted – more than anything. I even looked for some local road races that I could do, but came up unsuccessful. It wasn’t always this way though. I didn’t always consider my day “perfected” when it involved going for a run.

I started thinking about how, in such a short amount of time, running had gone from being an agonizing activity to being my favorite and all-consuming hobby. Then I realized that I’d never actually written this story down – how I started running; why I started running; and why I even bothered keeping up with it! This, folks, is my running story. (Sit tight, it’s a long one.)

It starts unofficially in high school – back when I avoided any and all physical activity. As I had mentioned before, I was way too competitive for my own good and that prevented me from joining teams or clubs because my own standards were way too high and I put so much pressure on myself to “win” or “succeed.” That being said, I considered myself fortunate because I was naturally thin and felt that I had won the “genetic lottery.”

Well, turns out that my sedentary life just hadn’t caught up to me yet. Then came college, and though I hadn’t noticed it yet, I had gained roughly 10 pounds between my first day as a freshman and my graduation day. (And I thought I could eat endless amounts of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked and couscous without any repercussions!) When you live with yourself (and without a scale!) every single day, it’s hard to notice a change as gradual as 10 pounds in 4 years.

My first autumn as a working woman, I attended an annual (early) Halloween party as Cleopatra. I was psyched because I had worked on the costume for weeks, planning everything from the makeup to the jewelry to the sandals. The party came and went and then I saw the photos. My heart (and jaw) both fell to the floor. I was disgusted. My arm was huge, I had multiple chins and necks: I could finally see the weight gain. I had been so exited to see the photos – even excited for my friends on my social media profiles to see them! Instead, I poured myself a huge glass of wine, untagged myself in all of them and cried in the privacy of my bedroom.

After thought: This is the photo. The photo that quite possibly changed my life. It’s extremely embarrassing to me. I considered not posting it. In fact, I’ve edited this post half a dozen times to delete it, only to put it up again. The more I look at it, the more I realize that as much pain as it caused, this photo needed to exist – and it still does. There’s a reason why this photo hasn’t completely vanished from existence, and it’s because I’ve kept it to remind myself how far I’ve come.

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This was October of 2012. The very next day, I drove myself to Target and bought my first pair of yoga pants. I downloaded the Couch to 5k app. Donning my colorless (can you believe I owned a pair without any color?) sneakers, I set out to complete Week 1 Day 1. It was rough. I was spitting out phlegm and checking the time every 5 minutes. I was so relieved when the narrator told me that I was “half way done” and even more so when I had reached the 5 minute cool down.

I was extremely proud of myself for completing a running workout – but I was also secretly devastated. Growing up, I never really came face-to-face with anything I didn’t excel at. (Of course, looking back, I think that was of my own doing with lots of careful – possibly subconscious – planning to avoid doing anything I was bad at!) Realizing that this skill took a lot of effort and that, hey, I wasn’t that great at it, defeated my attitude and confidence.

On a whim, I signed up for a 1-mile race to support my mom, who organized the event. It’s funny, thinking back – I was nervous! I woke up at 6am for a 9am race start that was right down the road from my house. I didn’t fully grasp the idea of a “pace.” I just figured the goal was to run as fast as I possibly could. And I did – as most should, but I was so undertrained and unprepared. I had yet to run a complete mile even using the C25k app. My competitive side kicked in and I finished without walking. 8:09. That seemed so fast at the time – and for many it is really fast!

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I was so proud of that mile. I wore the race t-shirt everywhere I could. I wanted all of my friends and family to know that I ran a mile.

I kept up with it until week 3. I didn’t really need the app at that point any more though, because I was starting to run straight through many of the “walk now” commands. At the end of each workout, the app would tell me how far I went and what my pace was. I started to push myself further every time. Then, in week 3, I hit a plateau where I stopped improving. Granted, I wasn’t doing any worse, but considering I was competing with my own times (of course I was competing!), I started to lose interest. I felt like I had reached the top and if I couldn’t beat my own times, I was done.

I gave it up. Winter took over and it was easier just to hibernate: put on warm, loose clothing and ignore that I had an unhappy body underneath. New Year’s came and went and I didn’t make any resolutions, at least not right away. I finally did on January 13th. I made the resolution to lose weight and become healthy.

I didn’t specify that I had to do that by running. So I started making my own workout plans – roughly 20 minutes of cardio and calisthenics. (Jumping jacks, burpees, crunches, planks, lunges, squats, etc.) I lost 3 pounds by the end of the month. I even took up a zumba class and loved it.

By mid February, I decided to give the treadmill a go. It was in our basement so I didn’t have to worry about being embarrassed or watched. I started by running a mile one day. I’d take a few days off from running to focus just on the core exercises, then I’d run again – this time I’d go a teeny bit further. It took me about two weeks to work up to 2 miles and another two weeks to reach my first 5k distance on the treadmill! I had never (unless you count “working towards a degree”) ever worked so hard and so consistently to achieve something. When I saw 3.1 miles on the treadmill screen, I immediately stopped and crumpled into a ball on the floor, bawling. I was so shocked and unbelievably proud of myself. Once I pulled myself together, I found my mom and told her the good news. Being the runner that she is, she offered to take me on my first 5k run outside and pace me for it.

But the more I ran, the more it hurt. In early March, I was given a name for my ailment: shin splints. I wouldn’t wish these on my worst enemy! The pain persisted even when I wasn’t running, and was especially painful first thing in the morning. I knew it was brought about by my running. I had reached a turning point though. I had a legitimate medical excuse to stop running – at least for a while. And to be honest, there was a time not too long before that where I would have embraced that excuse. In hindsight I should have taken a break. Shin splints are serious business and can actually cause permanent damage to your shins if they become stress fractures.

I kept running, though. I was so excited to be seeing results, losing weight and feeling great. I still didn’t consider myself to be a runner though. I had to psych myself up to go for a run and only half of my runs at that point were considered “good runs,” where it was a positive experience both mentally and physically.

I joined my mom and her running friends one Sunday morning for my first distance beyond a 5k. We did 6 miles! That was quite a jump – from a 5k to a 10k. I found that I enjoyed the longer distances more than I enjoyed the shorter. A 10k felt way more rewarding and exhilarating to me than a 5k.

Eventually my shin splints did go away – after a long overdue stretch with a foam roller. I had been running on them for the greater part of two months. I had experienced a runner’s pain like no other and yet I kept going. I was beginning to fall head over heels (quite literally in some situations) in love with the run.

Then I moved out of my childhood home and into an apartment in Portland with my friends. Though I went to school in Portland, I felt less comfortable running in the city. Between moving and living with friends, my hobbies became more social and less about running.

Then a large “fun run” came to Brunswick. We’ve all heard of the Color Run. (This was actually a similar one called “Color Me Rad.”) I had been eyeing them for a while and hoping that they’d make their way north of Boston. I encouraged my mom, sister and cousin to join me.

When the event finally came around in August, I hadn’t gone for a single run in a little over 3 months. You could definitely call me out of shape. But the race was crowded and untimed. I ran by feel; whatever felt comfortable. I was really surprised, actually, by how I felt. It wasn’t easy, (it never is!) but I certainly didn’t feel like I did after my first C25k run.

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And just like that, I was running again. I enlisted the help of my roommate – who used to run track in college – to run with me. We were knocking off runs anywhere from 1 mile to 4 miles long. It was nice being accountable for running and having someone to run with. Though I’ve since moved out of that apartment, I’m still running.

I’ve explored the back roads of Yarmouth (my work town), Portland (my apartment town) and Topsham (my home town). Those areas just feel like home to me. I know them so well and love them to pieces.

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Portland, a city that I had once feared (being from a small-town) has become such a comfort to me. Knowing that I can run from one end to the other in less than a half hour makes this city feel so small and humble. I’ve run the streets, the cemeteries, the trails. I’ve run to the grocery store and to meet friends for dinner and trivia.

Yarmouth has back roads and wildlife to offer. I can run through fields and down beautifully secluded and newly paved roads. I can make a pit stop at high school soccer games. I’ve even found myself in the middle of a cross country meet, dodging runners before I realized (in a state of total embarrassment) that they had bib numbers on and I was the one in the way!

In Topsham, I’ve run roads I’ve known all my life and explored little dirt trails that I had never bothered to notice before. I’ve seen this town from all angles. Just yesterday, my mom and I ran almost 6 miles to watch my sister play field hockey at Bowdoin college.

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I have lost a grand total of 14 pounds since January 13, 2012. But I have gained so, so much more. Throughout this entire experience, I wasn’t just changing physically – something was taking over mentally and emotionally. I was becoming a truly confident person. I wasn’t afraid to try new things and meet new people. Running has taught me that I don’t have to be the best at something – and quite possibly never will be. A huge weight was lifted off of me when that finally set in. There was so much less pressure on me. Speaking of pressure, my blood pressure dropped from hypertensive into a normal/healthy range. (2 years strong!)

Running has granted me freedom and an outlet for frustrations. It’s a time to think, to meditate, to reflect. It’s a time to practice math and calculate my splits, to admire my sneakers and think positive thoughts. It’s also a time to not think, to not stress or worry about anything – to clear my head and enter a state of mind as simple as the sound of my feet hitting the pavement matched perfectly to my inhales and exhales.

Running has introduced me to new people, has given me a whole new discussion topic and bonding time with my mom. It’s taught me patience and dedication. It’s taught me how to love unconditionally – through the good times and the bad times. Running has opened my eyes (and wallet…) to a whole new kind – and favorite kind – of clothing. (Seriously, can you even name a better way to spend a day than in yoga pants and a sports bra?) It gets me out of the house.

I’ve run almost 500 miles since I started logging my outdoor runs back in January 2013. While I know that I’m likely to run this amount in a 4-month time span next year for my marathon training, I’m so excited (and kind of surprised, really) that I even made it beyond the first 10. Here’s to the next 500.

So, yeah. That’s my running story.

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After swimming the .9 mile leg at the Rev3 Tri in Old Orchard Beach, I noted that my swim was much more enjoyable at that distance than it had been for the 1/3 mile swims I had done in the weeks before.

I’m beginning to find that the same is true for my runs. My “long runs” have been packing way more of a positive punch for me than my “short ones.” Though my long runs are nothing compared to those dubbed during marathon training (13-22 miles), I consider any run of mine longer than 4-5 miles to be aptly named. Next year, while I train for a marathon, I expect this naming convention to change drastically.

The thing is, these longer runs have been the best. I’ve moved to a point in my running where I’m just extremely comfortable. (Sidenote: I know comfortable probably isn’t a good thing, but for the time being – while I’m trying to build mileage – I’ll take it!) Once I get past the first mile or two and my breathing becomes regular, I can just keep running and running. My runs don’t really start until that point.

So what is it about these “long runs” that rock?

  • After a mile or two of running, my breathing becomes so relaxed, I can now breathe in and out through my nose – at an 8:30 pace!
  • I am my own cheerleader. I root for myself mentally while I run. I’m always looking on the bright side and reciting encouraging statements to myself. The moment I allow myself to think negative thoughts is the exact moment that a run goes sour. I’ve avoided any kind of negative energy on my (long) runs for a few weeks now.
  • On January 28, 2013, I ran my first 5k distance ever (on a treadmill). I shed a few tears when I saw the mileage jump from 3.0 to 3.1 miles. I was so proud of myself. Knowing how much easier it is to reach 3.1+ miles now, I realize how far I’ve come. It’s during these longer runs that I am most appreciative of that progress.
  • Any mile beyond a “short run” is a prize. It’s extra time that I get to think and plan and rejoice.
  • My long runs allow me to explore. I never run the same route twice – on purpose. I love to mix it up, see new streets, discover new sections of town. It’s nearly impossible for me to get to know my streets well as a driver or passenger. I never truly got to know my hometown and work town until I started running in them.
  • In addition to the amount of thinking I get done during these hour+ runs, I also have plenty of time to not think. Every day, all day, I’m constantly thinking. My brain is firing ideas and suggestions and solutions. (That’s the graphic designer’s life summed up into few words.) My long runs allow me time and space from thinking. I listen to the sound of my feet hitting the pavement, match my breathing to my steps, and just clear my mind. It’s so relaxing and peaceful. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the absence of thinking quite on that level before.
  • This one’s kind of funny – but running has actually made me better at math! Sometimes when I run I calculate my pace and translate that into longer distances. I also challenge myself to calculate my distance in kilometers, which has become so much easier over time!
  • And perhaps the best of all. A long run gives me a great excuse to eat just a little bit more dinner later.

I’m also really excited to say that I think I’ve found my marathon! I had just accepted that I’d run the Maine Marathon since the start is less than a mile from my apartment – but I’d also heard that it’s a tough one and not really all that scenic. (The last thing I want to do is run my weekly work commute for my first marathon!) So after a little bit of searching, I’ve decided that, after all of the training that I’ll be doing, I deserve to get to travel! Now, I can’t afford to hop on a plane in the name of running – though I guess a lot of people pick great destinations for their first 26.2 – but I shifted my search outside of Maine a little bit. To New Hampshire. I love love love New Hampshire. I’m in love with the White Mountains and the beautiful crispness of the state. And I found a gorgeous course! The Manchester City Marathon. That’s my race!

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Today I’m really excited to report on another first of mine: the 10k race! This was also Darren’s first 10k race – and first race overall!

Unfortunately, Darren suffered from a knee injury that prevented him from training to the extent that he would have liked to train, but he made the effort (despite the pain) to run 2 times a week with me, upping the distance a little bit each time. Tuesday before the race, we ran the 10k distance together and he did well! I challenged him at a 9:30 pace, which was a little bit fast for him, but he did it nonetheless! He was ready for race day.

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Tofu Curry over Vegetable Noodles - Spice & Dice

When Darren and I moved in together into a bright, sunny apartment in Portland, we discovered that we were very close to a local treasure: Rosemont Market. For those outside of the Portland/Yarmouth area in Maine, it would be hard to describe just how amazing this little store is. Almost everything in the store is local, from the produce, dairy and spices to the meat, coffee and baked goods. (Minus, of course, the vast and unique selection of imported wines.) The space is painted in colorful and bright oranges, greens and yellows.

Tofu Curry over Vegetable Noodles - Spice & Dice

Sunday afternoon, I took a short stroll – it really only takes me 5 minutes to walk to Rosemont – to pick up some produce. Onions, zucchini, summer squash, rainbow carrots. This is probably the best I’ve ever done “just winging it.” I created this recipe initially because I had an extra package of tofu in the fridge that I hadn’t used for a different recipe and a co-worker mentioned wanting Indian food while at work. That was all I needed. I immediately began planning my dinner for that night. I had curry on my mind.

Tofu Curry over Vegetable Noodles - Spice & Dice

Before I started baking, I had planned to use a Trader Joe’s curry sauce that I bought months before, (which is delicious, by the way) but I really wanted to try my hand at a homemade curry. So before even beginning to experiment, I typed up my own instructions to follow. Coconut milk, curry powder, flour, olive oil. Simple enough.

Tofu Curry over Vegetable Noodles - Spice & Dice

And it was just that. Extremely simple. I’ve also been really into using my mandoline. It’s just a fun instrument and never fails to impress me with its pristine veggie-chopping abilities. My mandoline (a gift that Darren bought for me on our one-year anniversary) is my favorite kitchen appliance! Fries, veggie noodles, chips – you name it. This mandoline can do it!

Tofu Curry over Vegetable Noodles - Spice & Dice

Alright so I have to admit something. Traditional curry sauce usually has fish sauce in it. I created this curry recipe to work with the items that I had in my pantry at the time and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s comprised of four ingredients and this sauce is delicious. It’s just so easy and inexpensive to make. Darren and I both took what was left to work the next day and it tasted even better! Once the sauce has had time to sit for a while, covering the vegetable noodles, the flavor really comes out!

Tofu Curry over Vegetable Noodles - Spice & Dice

I should also mention, for those who are interested, that this dinner is both vegetarian and vegan! If you want to make it gluten-free, all you have to do is substitute the flour in the roux with a gluten-free flour or almond flour.

Tofu Curry over Vegetable Noodles - Spice & Dice

tofu curry over vegetable noodles


yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 14 oz. extra-firm tofu
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium summer squash
  • 3 medium carrots (I used rainbow carrots)
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 Tbsp. + 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds

Instructions:

  1. Drain liquid from tofu package and pat-dry. Let it sit on paper towels while you prepare your curry sauce and vegetable noodles.
  2. Julienne your zucchini, summer squash and carrots with a peeler, spiralizer or mandoline. Set aside.
  3. In a sauce pan, create a roux: heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and keep moving until the flour and olive oil are mixed with no clumps. Slowly add in the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in curry powder and salt.
  4. Slice the tofu into small cubes and transfer to a clean sauce pan with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and the minced garlic. Cook over medium heat, covered, for roughly 8 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  5. In a separate pan, heat the vegetable noodles and 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium heat. Once warm, remove from heat.
  6. When the tofu is browned, add the curry sauce. Stirring, turn down the heat and let simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Assemble your meal: put your noodles at the base of your bowl. Top with tofu and spoon curry sauce over the noodles. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top.