Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Vegan Experience

This March I've embarked on a month-long Vegan Experience. I've been contemplating veganism for nearly a year, and now I've finally found a starting point: I committed to following a vegan diet for 31 days.

My vegan month was inspired by the awesome food blog Serious Eats. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt authors the column The Food Lab, where he obsessively examines and develops home-cooking techniques through science. Each year, Lopez-Alt lives one month of veganism and shares his recipes, tips, and techniques.

Now that I'm in the final hours of my challenge, I find myself conflicted about how to proceed when the calendar changes.

The decision seems straightforward enough: My values tell me that a plant-based diet is best for the environment, for the animals, and for my health. I believe that the environmental impact of meat production is a wasteful contributor to global food scarcity, and that following a vegan diet is a way I can personally take responsibility for minimizing my own impacts on climate change and better sustain food security. I don't see the value in cruelty and have grown ethically opposed to the idea that humans need to turn beings into products. Most selfishly, I believe that a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the best path to maximize my health and physical performance in athletic pursuits.

In 2015, the Federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued a report that concluded that plant-based diet was both healthier and better for the environment. A quote from the report:

"Quantitative modeling research showed how healthy dietary patterns relate to positive environmental outcomes that improve population food security. Moderate to strong evidence demonstrates that healthy dietary patterns that are higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods are associated with more favorable environmental outcomes (lower greenhouse gas emissions and more favorable land, water, and energy use) than are current U.S. dietary patterns." 

So there it was. What better time than now?

I'm grateful for the things I've learned being vegan this month. It's been a surprisingly simple transition from vegetarianism to veganism. I feel physically strong and healthy. I feel like I'm doing a better job living out my values. I've even had fun! Eating vegan has encouraged me to be creative in the kitchen.

Did you know you can use the liquid from a can of chickpeas, known as aquafaba, to make vegan mayonnaise?

That tofu makes a great breakfast scramble?

Or that cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt make a perfectly delicious "cheese" topping for pizza?

With the exception of the time we went to Toscanini's and I settled for mango sorbet even though I really, really, really wanted coffee cookies-and-creme ice cream, I honestly haven't felt like I'm missing out. At home, it's easy to select vegan recipes or make substitutions. Flax meal makes a great egg replacer and almond milk is pretty tasty. I am fortunate to live in a progressive, vegan-friendly city filled with abundant grocery, restaurant, and take-out options.

In spite of the Toscanini's disappointment, I made sure to eat a LOT of vegan ice cream. Including this fantastic cone from Van Leeuwen in Brooklyn.

So why do I have any hang up at all about committing to full-on veganism?

For one thing, I value shared meals with my loved ones. Whether that means hosting a potluck, visiting family, or going out to dinner with friends, I know that my dietary restrictions can exclude me from participation. It is not my goal to cast my judgment on others, to miss out on community experiences, or to come across as ungrateful when so many people in my life already go to great lengths to accommodate my diet.

I also feel this small, nagging sense of guilt that my choice to live a vegan lifestyle is a reflection of privilege. I have access to high quality foods, the financial security to purchase them, and the time to prepare my own meals. I know that these are luxuries not everyone can afford. Then again, I suppose my privilege is all the more reason to hold myself accountable for my choices.

Perhaps my biggest lesson from this experience is discovering that I don't have to live in absolutes. I can follow a vegan diet at home and make conscious choices each day about when to draw lines and when to be flexible. It would feel so wasteful to throw away my down winter coat and my leather Frye boots, so I'm not going to. There will be times when the one vegan option on the menu is neither the healthiest nor the most responsible, humane option. There will be choices to make at family dinners for the rest of my life.

And, yes. I'm eating enough protein.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Race Recap: Cambridge 5K Craicfest 2016

The second best part of being a season passholder for the Cambridge 5K race series?
All of the races are within a mile of my house.

The first best part of being a season passholder for the Cambridge 5K race series?
The camaraderie is unmatched.

I've been running informally with the Slumbrew Happy Soles at their brewery group runs since September, but Craicfest 2016 was only my second official race as part of the team. If you're living in the Camberville area and looking for a group of wonderful people to run with, definitely check out one of the Slumbrew's bi-monthly group runs out of American Fresh Brewhouse Boynton Yards or Assembly Row. And sign up for the Freedom Run as part of the Slumbrew Happy Soles team. The Happy Soles are welcoming, easy-going runners and they know how to put on a great post-race party.

And, now that my little sister is officially living in the best part of the whole country (she moved to Somerville the day before the race), I get to do this all the time:

As for the race itself, it was everything I've come to expect from Cambridge 5K races: Well-organized, on time, great course, ridiculous after party.

On the morning of the race, I warmed up by running over from my apartment to the Cambridgeside Galleria, where the race started and finished. I checked my backpack, showed ID to get my hand X'd for the after party, and found my loved ones to wish them all luck. I'd looked ahead at the location of the starting line and expected there would be a sizable crowd forming at the corrals, so I ran around the next block to cut off the crowd and squeeze myself into the front of the corral. The start directly faced Centanni Park, which just so happens to be where I got married. 

The gun sounded at 9:30 am sharp. I took off with my mind fixed on running hard effort but maintaining an even pace. Last year the race was re-routed due to the unprecedented snowfall, so this was my first time running the actual Craicfest course. It was a unique 5K course and it ran through my favorite park!

After starting with a quick loop back past the mall, we crossed the Gilmore bridge from Cambridge into Charlestown and passed the first mile marker. We made our way under the Zakim Bridge along a foot path and did a lap around Paul Revere park. I was slightly unnerved watching frontrunners already crossing the pedestrian bridge back into Cambridge, but I felt strong. I followed the fast runners over the bridge--the only "hill" in the race--and into North Point Park, where we passed the second mile marker.

Despite the park portion of the course being relatively unmarked with many twists and turns, the race volunteers did a great job directing us around and I never felt confused about where to go. The skyline views were the best. North Point park is one of my favorite places to spend a lazy afternoon, and I had visions of summer picnics while we ran through here. Larry Bird dribbled his basketball all the way through the 5K race.

With a little over half a mile to go, two women caught and passed me. I was still running hard, and kept them close in sight, but couldn't quite catch back up.

We made our last turn onto First Street. My legs gave an auto-pilot final push.

I crossed the line and grinned at my step mom, Missy, who called out, "You were the fifth woman!"

And so it was! With a time of 20:39, I had finished 5th overall for women.

So...where were all the fast women?

Don't get me wrong. I'm very proud of my time, which was only a few seconds off my PR. But 20:39 is rarely a fast enough 5K finish to place a woman in the Top 5. Well, it turns out the fast women had chosen to run the Ras na hEireann USA 5Km down the road in Somerville.

The 5th place woman in the Ras na hEireann USA 5Km finished in 17:35. Yup. That's more like it.

But, relatively speaking, my race was great and I loved it. I was especially pleased with the fact that I ran even splits. I am a notorious positive split runner, and I've been working hard to change that in my current marathon training cycle.

After catching my breath, I took tremendous pleasure in cheering on my family and friends.

My dad was in town to help my sister settle in her new apartment. I tricked him into running the race. He finished in 28:25, like a total badass. I know he was so proud to be photographed at the finish line with his two adult daughters wearing Tina Belcher "BUTTS" t-shirts. 

We wasted no time getting ourselves to the post-race party inside the parking garage of the Cambridgeside Galleria. We posed for our requisite Cambridge YMCA team photo.

And squeezed in with the fantastic, enormous Slumbrew team.

And we partied. Because 20 minutes of running earns at least 2 hours of partying. 

I'll leave you with this. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Race Recap: Hyannis Half Marathon 2016

I signed up for the 2016 Hyannis Half Marathon because I'd received free entry in exchange for volunteering at bib pickup for another race. I figured if I was going to log a long marathon training run in February, I may as well do it with a couple thousand running buddies. 

As the race approached, I prepared myself to embrace the inevitable discomfort of running amid any variety of unpleasant winter weather fated to befall Cape Cod in late February. In 2015, the race was canceled following unprecedented snow. I certainly did not predict we'd be gifted with a sunshine-filled day of perfect running conditions.

I picked up my weekend race companions, Becca and Jernej, and we drove together from Boston to spend the night before the race on Cape Cod. Crossing the Sagamore Bridge onto the Cape on a Saturday afternoon in the off-season was a dream. No 15-mile backup in February! 

Hyannis is located on the region of Cape Cod known as the "Mid Cape". On a map, you can find it on the tricep of the Cape Cod flexed arm. It's a major commercial and transportation hub, and the primary ferry link to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. 

Our first stop was the Resort and Conference Center at Hyannis to pick up race bibs. The expo had all the good old-fashioned race expo stuff: Running gear for sale, representatives from a handful of obscure races, vendors peddling snake oil remedies to cure all running ailments, and piles of cheap headbands plastered with cringe-worthy sayings.

But there was one thing that made this race expo special. I met four-time Boston Marathon champ Bill Rodgers. He was patient and loquacious and he gave me some marathon training advice!

Next stop: The beach. The Cape Air was salty and we collected good luck shells. 

After picking up groceries, we finally made our way to our cute AirBNB rental in a barn in Sandwich. 

We cooked up homemade pizza, laid out our race outfits, and turned in for a good night's sleep. 

The Course
The Hyannis Marathon, Half Marathon, Marathon Relay, and 10K all start together in front of the Resort and Conference Center. This is a 13 mile loop course, with half marathoners completing one loop and marathoners completing two. The course follows paved, mostly residential roads and winds past Hyannis Harbor, the Kennedy Family Compound, Kalus Beach, Craigville Beach, and through Hyannisport and Centerville. The stretches along the beach were sunny, but exposed to wind. Although the roads were not closed off to traffic, there were few cars on the roads and race crew did a great job directing runners. There were 8 aid stations offering both water and Gatorade. The route was mostly flat, with a few gently rolling hills and many turns, which provided changing scenery and helped me stay engaged. 

Race Start
My training called for 16 miles of running on the day of the race. Fortunately, this race has a luxuriously late 10 am start time and my companions were willing to arrive early so I could squeeze in a pre-race warm up run. Parking was easy and the conference center, though crowded, was warm and had bathrooms with modern plumbing. I set out on the quiet streets for 3 peaceful miles. I arrived back with time to wander over to the start line corral and snap a pre-race photo with Becca. It was 43 degrees with abundant sunshine and some breeze. Perfect for running. 

I've never felt so relaxed crossing the start line of a race. Instead of launching myself like a loaded spring, I glided across the timing mat. The pre-race warm up run had me feeling totally at ease. I had resolved to run conservatively and by feel. No checking my watch and no pushing outside the zone of total comfort. I reminded myself to treat this like a training run.

Miles 1-3
The first miles took us out to Hyannis Harbor and past the island ferries. It was flat, with some gradual downhill stretches. With more than 2000 half-marathoners, 366 marathoners, 52 marathon relay teams and 400 10K runners in the field, the first mile did feel crowded, but it wasn't difficult to get around other runners on the paved residential roads and the field spread out quickly. 

Miles 4-6
After the mile 4 marker, we ran briefly along a beach. Apparently the Kennedy Compound was somewhere in here, but I didn't notice it. There was a short hill in mile 5. I found a rhythm and felt relaxed.

Miles 7-9
Right around the 6 mile marker, we began a long, straight stretch of running toward Craigville Beach. The wind really opened up as we ran past this beach, and I tucked in behind the shoulder of a taller male runner, who buffered the headwind for me. This was the first time I've ever attempted the strategy of "drafting" during a race. I don't know how much energy it saved, but it felt better not to have wind whipping in my face. After the beach, there was a gradual hill climb in to mile 8. There were lots of turns, which I found pleasantly distracting. We ran by a cranberry bog. So Cape-y!

Miles 10-Finish
Just before the mile 10 marker, we turned right onto Route 28. This was the only major road we ran on, and I think we ran along it for less than half a mile. Though the running lane was coned off to the narrow shoulder, the field of runners had spread enough so there was plenty of room to pass. Somewhere around mile 11, I realized I was feeling really strong and had a ton of gas in the tank. I'd been meticulously disciplined so far about maintaining a conservative pace. Why not have a little fun? I pumped my arms and grinned as I began to reel in and pass people one by one. At 6:50, my 13th mile was my fastest. 

I finished the race in 1:36:36. It wasn't a particularly fast race for me, but it felt tremendously enjoyable from start to finish. I was the 202nd runner and 17th in my age group. 

Jernej had finished a few minutes ahead of me, and Becca finished a few minutes later. She crossed the finish line looking ridiculously graceful, as always!

We stuck around to explore the post-race festivities, which were thankfully located inside the conference center. There were plenty of bananas, bagels, and fruit to go around, along with minestrone soup, adorable tiny Dunkin Donuts coffee cups (iced, too, because New Englanders love Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, even in February), and donuts.

Bottom Line: The Hyannis Half Marathon was a well-organized late winter race that had the atmosphere of a by-runners, for-runners event. The logistics were straightforward. The competition was fast. The course was lovely and reasonably flat, albeit windy. So long as mother nature is kind, I highly recommend this race. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...