Thursday, July 21, 2016

Recipe: Super Seedy Granola Bars For a Festival! (Vegan)

I've got a few race recaps on the docket, but first, there are more pressing matters to attend to: Festival snacks!

The greatest weekend of all the weekends of the year is upon us. It is the eve of the Newport Folk Festival. Although Chris and I will be participating in an abbreviated version of this weekend's events (Chris is in a good friend's wedding on Saturday), we couldn't be more excited to lay out our blanket, drag out our cooler, and soak in the music-filled breeze at Fort Adams on Sunday.

In the spirit of music festival stereotypes, I will share my new favorite granola bar recipe. These granola bars are seriously addictive. As I was packaging them away, I found myself driven to cut off the edges of the "crooked ones" and eat the leftovers. Obviously, all of the bars were "crooked ones".

The recipe is from Dana at Minimalist Baker. It is one of her many simple granola bar recipes and it is full of seeds, sweetened by dates and maple syrup, and so very good. I didn't change much from her original recipe. I simply added dried tart cherries and chopped dark chocolate and I cut the bars into smaller servings than suggested.

Super Seedy Granola Bars
adapted, very slightly, from Minimalist Baker

  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 heaping packed cup medjool dates, pitted
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 2 Tbsp flax seeds
  • 2 Tbsp hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup creamy salted natural peanut butter or almond butter (I used Teddie peanut butter)
  • 1/3 cup dried unsweetened tart cherries (optional*)
  • 40g (1.4 oz) chopped dark chocolate (optional*)

  1. Toast your oats and almonds in a 350 degree oven for 13-15 minutes or until slightly golden brown. 
  2. Process dates in a food processor until small bits remain (about 1 minute) and dates have a dough-like consistency. Mine rolled into a ball.
  3. Pour oats, almonds, and dates into a large mixing bowl. Add all of the seeds and set aside.
  4. Warm maple syrup and peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir and pour over oat mixture and then mix, breaking up the dates to disperse throughout. Use a spoon or your hands to thoroughly mix. Add in cherries and chocolate and mix again until evenly distributed.
  5. Transfer to an 8x8 dish or other small pan lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper so they lift out easily. I only have a 9x13 pan, so I used 2/3 of the pan. 
  6. Cover the mixture with parchment or plastic wrap and press down with something flat, such as  a book, to get them flat and packed tight. This will help prevent them from crumbling. Chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes to harden. 
  7. Remove bars from dish and chop into 20 even bars (the original recipe called for 10, but I like smaller snack-size bars. Store in an airtight container for up to a few days. I like them best straight out of the freezer.
* You don't need the dried fruit or chocolate, but I think they taste excellent. You could substitute in raisins, dried cranberries, etc. Although I chopped up a dark chocolate bar I had hanging out in my freezer, you could also use vegan chocolate chips, etc. 

Newport, we're ready for you!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Race Recap: B.A.A. 10K 2016

When my husband mentioned he'd like to try running a 10K race, I feigned nonchalance in hopes that my overeager excitement would not deter him. I'm certain my giddiness was thinly veiled. Within minutes, I had Googled and emailed him the link to register for the 2016 Boston Athletic Association 10K on June 26, 2016.

I avoid the really, really big races. I am drawn to the community atmosphere of small events. The logistics are usually easy, the price tag tends to be cheaper, and there is sometimes a chance I will place among women in the race. I am SO not above signing up for tiny races so that I might win a prize.

Signing up for a very official and very serious race with a $48,500 prize purse felt intense and also exhilarating. The Boston Athletic Association is the organization behind the famed Boston Marathon, and they are no ordinary Mom and Pop race organizing group. With 7,811 runners, including many who run professionally (like for a living!), this was the largest event I'd ever run in.

In what sport other than running do I have the opportunity to compete against the most elite athletes in the whole sport?

The Course
The B.A.A. 10K is an out and back course in downtown Boston. It starts and ends on Charles Street between the Boston Common and the Public Garden. The course travels west up Commonwealth Avenue to the campus of Boston University, where a hairpin turnaround brings runners back toward the Common. This provides a rare opportunity for us human runners to pass by the superhuman front runners blazing their way back toward the finish. There were water stations at each mile and one Gatorade station at Mile 4.

Chris and I rode our bikes together from home to the Boston Common. We locked up and walked over to the duckling statues in the Public Garden, where other runners from Slumbrew Happy Soles were congregating before the race. We found my sister, Carly, and paced around for a few minutes, but I was too nervous to stick around for the group photo, so I jogged off to use the port-a-potty and warm up in the corral for a few minutes. It was a hot morning, and I'd decided I wanted as little sweaty material on my skin as possible...but I've never run in sports bra sans tank top before. I felt pretty awkward about it. Moments before the start, I yanked off my throw away t-shirt and tucked it into a garbage bin.

The Start
There were official signs lining the fencing of the corral to help runners self-seed based on projected pace, but the times were printed so they faced toward the outside of the fence. Most folks were loading in from the front of the corral and didn't have a clear view of the signs, so it seemed we were just trying to make room for one another wherever we could fit. It was jumbly, so I pushed forward as best I could.

In effort to ease congestion, the B.A.A. 10K has a "pulsed" start, meaning runners are released in 4 groups over several minutes. Each runner's chip begins timing when he or she crosses the start line, so there is no penalty for starting in a later pulse. I aimed to position myself to start in the first pulse so I could maximize space and try to keep up with the fast pace set by runners I have no business chasing. As we waited, the elite runners were introduced and a woman sang the national anthem.

Miles 1-3.1
The first mile of the race was quite crowded. Though the street had been closed off, there were cars parked on both sides and runners dodged around cars, pot holes, and each other to carve out some elbow room. I noted there were both mile markers and kilometer markers on the course, and I fixed my brain on calculating the differences between the two as a way to distract myself from the discomfort of the fast start. I settled in to steady breathing, running with some restraint as I assessed the effect of the beating sun.

After passing the 2 mile marker, we turned out from the Back Bay neighborhood onto Commonwealth Avenue and began climbing toward Boston University. A man shifted next to me. This was the out-and-back section of the race where we'd glimpse faster runners on their return leg. "Have the front runners already passed?" he asked. I pointed to the flashing lights of the pace car coming down the hill ahead. Holy cow! They were blazing. First the men passed by, then the women. Hometown hero Shalane Flanagan, who is headed to the Rio Olympics next month to represent the USA in the marathon, was leading the pack by a stride. I whooped for her.

"You know, there are only a few cones between you and the elites," my new companion observed. "You could totally Rosie Ruiz it." I smirked and he drifted ahead a few steps, but I resolved to keep him in my sight line. Now I had someone to beat!

Miles 3.1-6.2
We hit the turnaround at 5K and I was eager to cruise back down the hill. I allowed myself to pick up the pace a little here, enjoying the relief of descent. There was one more small hill as we dipped under the Massachusetts Avenue overpass. We neared downtown and passed a sign that read, "800 meters to go!" I did a quick self-assessment and cranked it up. We rounded the corner onto Boylston Street and I judged that I had about 400 meters left. Time to dig in! I caught my Cheat-To-Win encourager, and he shouted, "Great kick!" as I passed.

I finished the race in 43:16 for a split of 6:57/mile. Though I'd hoped to run a few seconds faster, it was still a PR and I'm pleased that I remembered how to run hard on a hot day. I might be feeling a little scarred by my recent marathon in hell.

After catching my breath, I snagged a water and a banana in the massive, impeccably organized finish area and watched from behind barriers at the finish line for Chris and Carly. Since this was the first ever 10K for both, automatic PRs all around!

Chris finished in 57:24 looking strong and relaxed. (That's him in the teal and black.)

Carly finished in 59:48, and I couldn't find her at the finish line for a photo.

I learned that Shalane Flanagan had gone on to win the race - and set a new American Record. She finished in a mind-blowing 30:52. Daniel Chebii of Kenya won the men's race in 27:55.

We snapped a photo with our new medals, pocketed some free snacks, and picked up our t-shirts.

Check out this highlight video of the women's race from the B.A.A. website. Like I what other sport can I just casually sign up online to bike down the street and compete against the most elite athletes in the world?! This was a really cool experience. Go Shalane! I'll be cheering for you in Rio.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Race Recap: Tough Mudder New England 2016

Before I begin my tale, I must acknowledge the mislabeling of this post. Tough Mudder is not a race. It is a team-oriented challenge. Amid the growing trend of Obstacle Course Racing, this distinction sets Tough Mudder apart. It was the positive, supportive team environment that kept me smiling up and down the muddy trails of a mountain, in spite of my cynicism coming into the day's adventure.

In Tough Mudder's own words (per their website): 
"We are 10-12 miles of mud and obstacles built to test your mental grit, camaraderie and all-around physical fitness. We are a team-oriented challenge with no winner, no finisher medal, no clock to race against--just an ice cold beer and a few good scrapes from a day spent outside and free from everyday bullshit. We are for anyone who has ever followed their gut, tried to defy gravity, chosen "dare" over "truth", taken risks, sought thrills, or is generally awesome at life. Turns out, it's all been training. We are made for this."

Now, I'm not totally convinced that humans were made for climbing through manmade mud tunnels under barbed wire on the trails of an off-season ski mountain in exchange for a Dos Equis and a headband. Then again...we probably aren't made to run 26.2 miles for a medal, a foil blanket and a banana, either. I suppose when we've rid ourselves of natural predators, we've got to find a way to get our thrills and make up for the general lack of danger in our daily lives. That's a post for another day...

After two years balking at Auntie Cristina's invitations to test my grit alongside her, I reluctantly agreed to sign up for Tough Mudder New England 2016. It seems like the perfect sort of event for a thrill-seeking, competition-loving fitness enthusiast. But I hesitated, finding myself hung up on this theme of self-torture that seemed to permeate the event. 

I'd heard of obstacles like "Cage Crawl", where you kinda, sorta waterboard yourself while traveling on your back through water just a few inches below a cage. 

Or the infamous "Electroshock Therapy", where you run through live wires. For funzies!

(Here's a photo of me applying the cheap strategy of "drafting" by allowing the bigger dude in front of me hit all the live wires first so I knew which ones to avoid.)

This year's event took place over the weekend of June 18th & 19th at Mount Snow in West Dover, VT. In the winter, Mount Snow serves as a ski resort in the Green Mountains. The event was ten miles long, with twenty obstacles spread over a winding course up and down the mountain. Three of the obstacles had harder or different versions for "Legionnaires", which is Tough Mudder lingo for veteran participants. Participants could sign up for either Saturday or Sunday events and our start times were staggered throughout the day to ease congestion. Most people arrived as part of a team. 

I drove up from Boston on Saturday morning. By car, the trip took about 2.5 hours. It was a lovely drive, winding through the mountainous parts of Massachusetts and southern Vermont. Parking was straightforward...but also cost $20. The biggest downside to this event was the sheer volume of add-on fees. As if $150 to register for the event wasn't enough, it was $20 to park, $5 to stow a bag with the stuff you didn't want to destroy in mud, and $15 to take a hot shower after the race. 

I hopped on a shuttle bus from the remote parking area and found Auntie Cristina and Uncle Sean waiting for me. Cristina and I were a team of two in this crazy event, and Sean was our impressively diligent and dutiful photographer. 

The Start
After fastening my race bib to my shorts, Cristina branded my arms and legs with my bib number in permanent marker. Since the race bibs commonly become obscured by mud and/or are destroyed during the event, this branding with marker is how people identify themselves on the course. It is mostly for the sake of on-course photographers.

We wedged ourselves into a "Warm Up Zone" and were led through a brief overview of the day and some goofy warm up exercises before being unleashed to run up a short hill and over a wooden wall.

Once over the wall, we found ourselves in a holding pen which was the REAL start line. We had a moment of silence for servicemen and women. We sang the national anthem. Then we started running up the mountain. 

The Obstacles and The Trekking
The first obstacle didn't come until almost the Mile 2 mark. I'm certain this was intentional, giving the crowd of eager participants an opportunity to spread out over that first uphill mile in order to ease congestion at the obstacles. We did wait on line for several obstacles, but never for more than a few minutes. 

We climbed up a knotted rope over a wall for our first obstacle, Balls to the Wall. Did I mention the obstacles were named by that fraternity brother who doled out nicknames like "Han Solo Cup"?

After running some more, including through a bunch of mud, we launched ourselves down a slide into a dumpster filled with ice mud in what is known as Arctic Enema. It was admittedly exhilarating after some hot sunny sweating.

The Cage Crawl/Rain Man waterboarding obstacle, though still a ridiculous idea, was much less intense than I imagined it to be. 

Then came the Hero Carry, in which we took turns piggy-backing one another uphill. Simple fun, one of my favorite parts of the race!

Shortly after mile 3, we found ourselves at Shawshanked. Crawl on your belly in some mud under barbed wire, then go through a big dark tunnel before plunging yourself into some more mud water. 

Run some more. Up a hill, down a hill.

Somewhere in Mile 4 in we crawled through mud in Mud Mile 2.0

At Mile 5, we ducked in a pond in Underwater Tunnels, then carried heavy logs with teammates over and under some walls in Hold Your Wood. Yes, that is really what the obstacle is called. The next obstacle had an even more graphic name: Birth Canal. It involved squeezing your body between the muddy ground and heavy tarps filled with water.

We ran/hiked up the ski trails toward the peak and then came down through the woods in Bushwhacked. Cristina conquered Berlin Walls.

At Mile 7, we climbed over another wall with some tires on Skidmarked and crept under cargo netting at Devil's Beard.

At Mile 8, we finally reached our most looked-forward-to challenge of the day: Funky Monkey 2.0. For this obstacle, we crossed a set of inclined monkey bars and launched ourselves using a metal swing to grab hold of a suspended pole, which we traversed hand over hand to a platform on the other side of a big pool of mud water.

Cristina and I both nailed it!

I used a pair of wooden pegs to climb over a wall in Liberator while Cristina had to use just one peg to haul up the "Legionnaire" version, called Backstabber.

At Mile 9, we worked as a team to turn giant rotisserie blocks in mud water at Block Ness Monster.

King of the Swingers was the most anxiety-provoking of the obstacles. Jump from a platform, catch a moving swing, and try to use it to launch yourself toward a bell high above the water. There were scuba divers sitting in the water in case anyone didn't come back up. Yeesh.

Pyramid Scheme was a fun team challenge helping one another over a long a slippery wall.

Everest 2.0 involved running up a big giant half-pipish ramp.

To end the race, first-timers run through Electroshock Therapy, which is exactly how it sounds. A bunch of live wires. Unless you allow a big guy run in front of you and pave the way so you don't get shocked at all, like I did. Cheat to win!

We ended the day dirty, smelly, and smiling. In spite of my skepticism about the whole event, I had a lot of fun. And the $15 shower was pretty much the best shower ever.

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