My Upcoming Sandy Hook Virtual Marathon + 1: In Memory of Lives Lost

This Sunday will finally mark the day that I run my virtual race for the Sandy Hook Elementary Memorial.  It was a fundraising campaign that was initially started on a smaller scale that spread like wildfire: run a 5k, half marathon, bike, swim, walk…. anything that felt RIGHT to the individual in order to pay homage to those lives lost tragically in Sandy Hook, Conn.

The world watched in horror as events unfolded on December 14, 2012. Hearts broke. Tears were shed. It just seemed unfathomable. People didn’t know what to do to cope with this pain. Everyone wanted to help, but many of us didn’t know how.

Benjamin and Beth in Tampa, Fla. created a virtual race that could be completed at any time, with all proceeds benefiting the United Way of Western Connecticut to benefit the families of those lives lost. They even provided a race bib with the victims’ names and ages, as well as a medal. I cannot imagine a medal I would be more proud to earn.

As an experienced marathoner, I wanted to do more than my share of 13.1 miles. I wanted it to really hurt. I wanted it to mean something more than just a long run.

Sunday I will run 27 miles. Each mile will be dedicated solely to one victim, and each mile will be run starting with one minute of silence. This won’t be a race. This won’t be timed for a PR. If I want to walk, I’ll walk. If I need to stop for a few minutes, I’ll stop. It’ll just be me  with my thoughts.

This event will be a personal milestone for me: the longest distance run in one time. It will be a time to reflect on life, and what truly matters in this world. These miles will mean something to me.

If you would like to help contribute to the Sandy Hook Elementary Memorial, please visit the United Way of Western Ct: https://newtown.uwwesternct.org/

If you would like to run some virtual miles, it’s still not too late: http://www.active.com/half-marathon/tampa-fl/sandy-hook-elementary-memorial-virtual-half-marathon-and-5k-2013

I’ll post a “race report” with a photo of the medal once it is received. In the meantime, I truly hope to find myself this weekend as the trails open up to me and the miles bring me home.

 

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Gluten-Free Fuel for Long Runs

I have been asked time and time again on Twitter what I use for long training runs. Before my celiac diagnosis, I always suffered a lot of GI distress, and this especially came to life during my long runs to the point where I absolutely dreaded them every weekend. Since my diagnosis, GI distress is minimal and feels like a thing of the past. No more emergency stops and painful, desperate needs for the Porta-Jon on racecourses, and in the past it was something that I needed for EVERY race. It’s been an incredible transition!

I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to a few staple fuels, but initially my Spi Belt had far more variety for long runs. When I was a member of Team in Training, I was used to the water stop tables being laden with pretzels, candy, cookies, Twizzlers, water and sports drinks. So for my first TNT-less marathon in Vermont, I trained with things like gluten-free pretzels, oreos, raisins, and even chocolate covered espresso beans! I also loved chocolate, so why not train with safe candy like M&M’s and mini peanut butter cups?

As time passed I relied less on solid “real” food for training, and started making things a lot simpler on myself.  I felt it was best to rely on simple digesting sugars rather than foods that might take longer to break down into energy. I carry a hand-held bottle that I can refill at various stops with water, and carry a small Ziploc bag filled with Swedish fish, Sour Patch Kids, or packets of honey. The gels I have used (Gu, Powergel, Carb-Boom) are all gluten-free, but can be expensive for training. Honey, while much lower in sodium, works well enough for training runs.  For hotter months, I sometimes carry powdered sports drink to mix with my water, as it’s very easy to lose sodium during warm long runs.

Everyone’s body processes things differently. What works for me may not work for someone else.  My best advice is try things out during a long run and see how they make you feel.  But some good, gluten-free options are:

  • Swedish fish, Sour Patch kids or Jelly Belly jellybeans
  • Gluten-free pretzels or cookies from Glutino
  • Gels (Gu, Honey Stinger (not the waffles), Powergel, Hammer Gel, Clif Shots and Carb Boom are all OK)
  • Gu Chomps, Cliff Shots, Sharkies, and Sport Beans
  • Powerade and Gatorade
  • Chocolate Candy: I no longer follow this option, but in the past I loved M&Ms (all but the pretzel filled ones are gluten-free), Butterfingers and Reese’s peanut butter cups
  • Fruit (naturally gluten-free!): grapes, bananas and orange slices are good, as well as dried fruit like raisins or dried apricots, mangos or figs
  • Boiled, salted potatoes or sweet potatoes cut into cubes
  • Honey, straight from the bottle or in small portable packets, 4 packets = 100 calories

A good rule of thumb is to never try a new fuel on race day. Race days are the only days I bother using gel, and Gu is by far my go-to, but the past several races I did the research to see what was being handed out on the racecourse and simply took what was offered by the volunteers, which was usually (yay!) Gu! Also, from what I have researched, commonly used sports drinks on racecourses like Powerade and Gatorade are gluten free and I have never had any issues with them.  It always helps to prepare and see what they will provide and plan accordingly. But we can get into THAT another time!

Good luck experimenting! Let me know what gluten-free fuel works for you, perhaps I can adopt some new favorites!

EDIT: As my most recent blog entry from March stated, I am abandoning refined sugars and sticking to the most natural fuel sources possible when training, so I have been training mainly with fruit (bananas and grapes, the grapes especially give a quick sugar boost), water and coconut water (as much as I can’t stand it, it’s good for keeping yourself hydrated). Race day is a little trickier (can’t imagine carrying grapes in my Spi-Belt and popping them into my mouth as I run a 8:30 minute mile, LOL) but I do plan on using Honey Stinger Gold gels, since they are mainly honey, water, salt and some essential nutrients. I already tested them out during a long run and they not only tasted good, they were easy to consume and worked great!  Also, no more sports drinks, just sticking to water during a race, and I may just carry a salt packet to be safe during race that may be particularly warm or humid.

SO far I have been sticking to the natural sugar plan with flying colors. Just because I run marathons doesn’t give me a license to eat too much garbage! Who knows, it might even help boost my running performance, but only time will tell. My advice to you is simply to listen to your body, see what works best for you, and experiment!

State # 1: Florida – 2011 Walt Disney World Marathon

FLORIDA
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My race recaps will slowly be posted here, with my 50-state marathon journey officially beginning in January of 2011. I had run three marathons before that time: The Walt Disney World Marathon in 2006 and 2007, and the Philadelphia Marathon in 2009. I had run all three with Team in Training while fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which to this day I still feel very strongly about how amazing this program is: run a marathon for a great cause, meet lots of new running friends, and have incredible support from teammates and coaches from all over the country on race day. If you ever have aspirations to run a marathon, and don’t know how to get started, Team in Training is a great organization to give you all of the resources you need. I will get into that another time!

This first recap will be for what I considered my official State #1: Florida. It was to be my final marathon with Team in Training, and the final marathon that I ran before being diagnosed with celiac disease.  So I had a lot of adjustments to make in my life: training long distance on my own, and a complete diet overhaul.

Please note that most of the recap below is taken from my blast email that I sent to those on my email list when fundraising for Team in Training.

I will spare you the details of the half marathon experience from the day before, after all this IS just a recap of my marathon races for each state, but I will say that the Saturday before the marathon I purposely took it slow and easy so I would have plenty of fuel in the tank for Sunday morning’s marathon, and earned my Donald Duck medal with a personal worst half marathon time of 2:16. The rest of the day I took it easy, and realized that I felt pretty good.  I took a two hour nap before lunch and spent the day off my feet by the pool and hot tub.  That night we had an early dinner and I managed to get a whopping 4 hours of sleep that night before the big day.

So let’s fast-forward to 1:30 AM on Sunday morning, and it’s a repeat of Day 1 in terms of the usual get to the start and wait in the cold, dark waiting area before we got to our corrals.  My teammates K., L. and C. were all fairly my pace, and we trained together for a good part of the season, so we decided to try to stick together the best we could that morning.  It was definitely a lot colder that morning (40 degrees instead of 55!), my toes and fingers were freezing!

There were 17,000 registered runners for the full, and compared to the 27,000 for the half, it was a nice respite.  We all did the march to the corrals much like I did the day before, trying to keep warm and make sure we didn’t need any last minute stops.  When the corral gun went off, we started and were so excited.  This was really it!  I was nervous at first…how would my legs feel?  Sore? Tired? Surprisingly…none of the above!  In fact, I felt like I had not even run a half marathon the day before!  That is exactly how I hoped it would go.  My training runs had paid off.

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                                       2011 Disney Marathon Race Map

So the miles began in the cold dark.  K. and I kept a conservative pace while L. and C. were a tiny bit ahead of us.  K. and I knew we had to be smart and conservative and not go all out so we held back a little, but understood that the excitement of the marathon is enough to have anyone going a little faster than usual!  The first couple miles immediately take you into Epcot, and it was beautiful!  The World Showcase was lit up and the Illuminations globe was also lit and slowly rotating.  It was a wonderful way to start the race!  After that, you are back on the roads for a bit, but they really do try to make sure that you are entertained as much as possible along the way with DJs, Disney characters, cheerleaders, and of course the crowds are there to support you with loud cheering, signs, bells, high fives, you name it.

We ended up stopping for a break around Mile 7 (we decided we would stay Musketeers as much as possible…or should I say Mouseketeers?), and then hit the Magic Kingdom around mile 8 or 9.  Much of this part of the race was very similar to what I had run the day before, but I loved being able to run through the castle again!  At this point in the race, maybe 10 miles in, I started feeling some hot spots in my feet.  Ugh.  Blisters.  I knew this would have to come.  I remember in my highest mileage weeks I started getting some blisters in spots, so I knew this might be a problem.  My quads also started to feel the burn a little, after all, I was 23 miles into a 40 mile weekend.

Exiting the Magic Kingdom is when the race kind of starts to slow down in terms of Disney fun.  Sure, you see Mary Poppins, maybe some crowds, but it really can be desolate.  I managed to see my husband Chris three times by mile 12, but once I saw him the final time I knew I wouldn’t see him until the finish.  We made the best of this time; the four of us were still trucking along together and would take turns chatting with one another.  L. was running her first full and was doing great!  She was so enthusiastic every time we passed a new mile marker.

Miles 14 through 16 are sort of the death miles to some.  There is not much but freeway and a sewage treatment plant, not too exciting, but I will say that the Davy Crockett guy on the course truly had me cracking up when he said “If you’re low on potassium, there’s some nanners at mile 14 up ahead.” That had me laughing for the rest of the slog.  Luckily we did not have massive heat to contend with this year, so it really made it a lot better than the last time I ran Disney in 2007.

We would run into various TNT people from other chapters, and sometimes would run with coaches.  K., L. and I would sort of alternate spots while one ran ahead of two others.  We lost C. maybe halfway through.  The main focus was just trying to keep each other upbeat and positive and talk as much as possible!  That was what made the training runs so enjoyable, just catching up and talking about anything that came to mind.

As we approached Animal Kingdom, you knew you could start counting down your remaining miles in the single digits.  It was an exciting prospect!  Animal Kingdom definitely is my favorite section of the parks to run through, it’s lush and green, and there is great jungle-themed music!  The one ride I was dying to try to get on was Expedition Everest…I had heard of marathoners doing it in the past and it sounded SO awesome.  But alas, we were too early and the park had not officially opened yet, so the ride wasn’t operating.  I don’t know if I would have had the guts to do it anyway, I worried that my quads would have a hard time getting started again.

Leaving Animal Kingdom and heading to Hollywood Studios is really where the race usually falls apart for a lot of people.  It’s boring, lots of  freeway with a couple bridge overpasses, and an out and back that is a good mile long.  The crowds have pretty much disappeared, and if it’s hot, it can be miserable. This was the point in the race where I didn’t really bonk, but I definitely got quiet and lost my enthusiasm.  There was never a point where I did bonk actually, I think I ran strong the entire way though, but I just felt a little wiped out and needed a bathroom stop and there were none in sight for miles it seemed!

Around this time we saw a welcome sight, another one of our coaches, A..  It was great because he wasn’t exhausted and was really upbeat and could help pull us up out of any kind of mental wall.  Around mile 20 we finally stopped to use a restroom, and then took off, it was a well-appreciated break.  There was no way I would have had a successful finish if I didn’t stop first.  The last six miles would be cake.

A. assured us we all looked great and really strong, none of us had that marathon death shuffle that some start to get at this point.  K. and I kept pace while he ran with L..  My mood had lifted, and I started to encourage people around me to keep going.  I especially wanted the Goofy folks to know I felt their pain, my feet definitely felt as if they had erupted in blisters, but I refused to stop and get them checked, I wanted to just finish and deal later.  So I made sure to keep myself in good spirits, K. and I kept each other laughing, we were rooting on fellow runners and teammates as we passed and just soaring like we had no cares.

Hitting Hollywood Studios was great!  They had a huge table loaded with mini candy bars…I grabbed a Mr. Goodbar only to have it break apart in my hand!  I groaned in good-natured disappointment and just ate what I could.  Hollywood Studios was great and bustling with cheering crowds, and exiting it you knew you only had a short way to go!  We ran along the Boardwalk Hotel area and marveled at how great of a day it was…and it this point K. started running ahead a little more and more.  I was fine to let her go, I had done my best and was happy to see her faring so well and feeling so strong.  I just chatted with people as I passed them and we constantly let each other know we were so close to the finish!

Hitting Epcot again meant the final stretch, the World Showcase was a good mile to loop around and I was actually feeling great, as if I had gotten a second wind.  I started charging ahead with a huge smile on my face, I was actually going to do this!

Hitting Mile 26 was the pivotal moment.  I thought of all the people stricken with blood cancers that I was running for (whether in their memory or honor), and suddenly just burst into tears.  I had made it.  I ended up seeing a guy I had met on the bus yesterday who had run the Goofy Challenge in years past and gave me some tips.  I said with tears in my eyes “Hey!  Goofy Guy!  We did it!” He just grabbed my hand and grinned.  The crowds were screaming in the stands for us, and totally had us pumped up to finish.  We ended up crossing the finish line, arms lifted in victory, and suddenly it was all over.  I had done it!

I looked around at my fellow marathoners and Goofy Challengers and we all kept congratulating each other.  Some of us even hugged!  Disney TRULY brings out friendship and comradery among strangers.  I have run plenty of races over the years, and this one always brings out people who want to just have fun, don’t worry about Boston qualifying (well, I am sure some do!), and all encourage one another with enthusiasm and smiles.

K. finished maybe 2 minutes ahead of me and gave me a huge bear hug and I started crying all over again in relief.  We had done it!  We were given our medals and then I had to go to the Goofy line to get my second medal.  All of us were clanking around like Jacob Marley’s ghost, but it was SUCH a great feeling to finish and congratulate everyone around us.

K. and I found Chris, her fiancee J. and her dad, and they were all smiles and so proud of us!  Chris had brought my flip flops to change into, and pulling off my socks brought a gasp of horror, my feet were in bad shape after all!  Some of the blisters were in spots I had never imagined!  I got them treated at the med tent and bandaged up; hey, if blisters were all I had to account for close to 40 miles worth of running, I’ll take it.  Some of the people in the med time frightened me with how bad they looked!

That night consisted of lots of celebrating with everyone, including getting our pictures taken with Mickey and MInnie at the TNT Victory party.  Minnie grabbed my Goofy medal and mimed sleeping as if to ask if I was exhausted, and to be honest, I didn’t feel too bad overall!

So I can easily say that running the Goofy Challenge was one of the best race experiences of my life at that point.  I will never forget it!  I feel a pang of sadness thinking I will likely never, ever get back to Orlando to run another Disney marathon. There are way too many states I need to run, and I think third time is the charm with Disney. Gotta close that chapter and look forward to the many new adventures that are sure to come my way.

Finish time: 4:40:25
Overall Place: 5095 / 13512
Sex Place: 1647/6265
Division Place: 330/???

Lessons Learned:
  • Not long after that I discovered Injinji toe socks, and I have never looked back. Blisters are a thing of the past with these socks, and even during marathons where I forget to Bodyglide my toes, the socks do their job with gusto. If you have blister issues, I highly recommend Injinji!
  • Since being diagnosed with celiac disease, I no longer have issues with restroom emergencies on the racecourse. I used to dread my races and long runs due to this very issue, and now I can run a full marathon without needing to stop. GI issues are next to none since adopting a gluten-free diet. It’s been truly eye-opening to see how my life has changed for the better.

Next recap: My second state medal is earned in Burlington, Vermont. While a beautiful racecourse, it was probably one of my most horrible marathon experiences due to high heat and humidity as well as getting “glutened” before race morning. All in all, a bad combination, but the medal WAS earned and life goes on!

Until next time!

Gluten-Free 101: Your Kitchen and the Initial Overhaul

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Imagine going from one way of life to another in the blink of an eye.  The day I was told from this moment forward I had to follow a strict gluten-free diet, I suddenly realized I had a lot of work to do. I think it can be overwhelming, as it isn’t just the diet itself, but the entire food prep area of your home that has to be assessed.  If you are anything like me, you will have to seriously overhaul the area, and I was lucky I had a beloved little sis that was moving into her first apartment, so she got a LOT of my old appliances and cookware! I was glad to be able to give some of my beloved appliances to a good home.

Today I wanted to get into the aspects of gluten-free living by first examining the kitchen and workspace. There are some things that likely need to be replaced, as they are likely contaminated with gluten beyond the point of return, even when they seem clean at first glance.  But never fear, many things are quite usable and safe with a little work!  My kitchen is almost 100% gluten-free, and you will see what I mean below when I say “almost 100%”.

Please note these are the steps I personally took after carefully researching how to make one’s kitchen a safe haven from gluten, some people may be more or less extreme. But these steps all worked for me:

  • The toaster and toaster oven: I have a shameful confession:  two years later, I still have my original toaster oven, gluten and all. I still use my toaster oven. But I also may as well own stock in a company that manufactures  aluminum foil. Every time I use it, I make sure that none of the food I am prepping ever touches the surface of the oven rack. Long gone are the days of just placing a frozen waffle on the toaster oven surface, or even a scrubbed potato for baking.  Everything has to be placed in a designated pan or on tin foil first.  As for my toaster, my mom immediately shipped me an adorable Hello Kitty toaster that has never touched gluten, and is used quite often. While it’s supposed to toast Hello Kitty’s  face on the surface of the bread, it doesn’t work well in that respect, but I still give it props for the cuteness factor.
  •  The oven: As with the toaster oven, I make sure nothing is laid directly on the oven rack. Long gone are the days of putting a frozen pizza directly on the oven rack! If you have a pizza stone, it’s best to donate it, as the porous surface would be difficult to keep clean. Anything that accidentally touches the oven rack or falls through the rack, even for an instant, is disposed. Sad, I know.  No five second rules here.
  • The refrigerator:  I got rid of any soy sauce and replaced it with gluten-free tamari (I like San-J, they even make convenient travel sized packets), and examined the labels of all of my condiments. Most, fortunately, were deemed safe, but some contained wheat or barley malt extract, so any of those bottles were rinsed out, recycled and replaced with safe, gluten free condiments. If you are missing out on your stir fry sauces, Wegman’s makes lots of good sauces, as well as La Choy. A few of the La Choy sauces do contain “natural flavoring”, which in parentheses state barley malt extract, so be advised that natural flavoring might fall under the unsafe category. To be safe, consult the company website or call their customer service to inquire. When in doubt, don’t consume it.Also, any condiments that had been used to dress gluten-filled foods that may have had contact with it, such as cream cheese, jelly, hummus, mayonnaise or butter, were disposed. They are likely filled with cross contamination risks, for even a small crumb is enough to do the job!  But bottled condiments  like ketchup, mustard, etc. were kept.

    Obviously any foods containing wheat or breading were sadly disposed, and I really miss the days of my Trader Joe’s breaded calamari like you wouldn’t believe. Things like veggie burgers, meatballs, vegetarian meat substitutes were all donated or disposed. While you can easily be a vegetarian while gluten-free, a good majority of the meat substitutes contain wheat, so you will have to rely on more natural (and healthy) fare. Don’t forget things like ice cream: cookies and cream and cookie dough were my favorite flavors, and they went the way of the dodo. I’ve even found that beloved childhood favorites like Dixie cups can contain wheat, so ALWAYS check the labeling.

  • Cabinets: I removed all flours, cereals, pretzels, crackers, oatmeal (while there is a lot of back and forth on the status of oats as being gluten free, I don’t risk it, but I do eat certified gluten free oats), energy bars (even ones containing oats), candy containing wheat or malt (no more Milky Ways or Kit Kats!), pastas and couscous. Anything opened was disposed, anything sealed was donated. As with the refrigerated condiments, any jars of condiments like peanut butter or Nutella that may have been cross contaminated should be disposed.  We love to snack on almonds and nuts, so I checked the labels to make sure they weren’t processed in a facility that also processed or shared machinery with wheat or gluten.  This is a standard practice that needs to be implemented right away, always check the label for possible cross contamination risks due to manufacturing. I avoid them always, and it can definitely cause me to miss out on lots of foods that are considered gluten-free at first glance.Most cereals are not gluten-free, even corn or rice based cereals like corn flakes or rice crispies, due to the fact they contain barley malt. I will get into that at another time!  Also, lots of canned soups contain gluten or traces of gluten, and mine were donated. I now make my own soup with gluten-free broths and bases, which in the end is healthier, more wholesome and less sodium-laden!
  • The liquor cabinet: This is an easy one. Beer is the one thing that I actually still keep; since I am not a beer drinker and it’s bottled, it’s a nice thing to have on hand for guests who like to imbibe.  But beer, unless labeled as gluten-free, is most definitely NOT gluten-free. Wine or spirits are usually fine, even wheat or rye- based spirits. The distilling process removes any trace of gluten, which sounds bizarre to me, but many celiac organizations are in agreement that spirits are almost always gluten-free.  So basically, beer – no, everything else – most likely yes. When in doubt, do some checking.
  • Wooden spoons, spatulas, knives, silverware, etc.:  I ran all of my cutlery through the dishwasher many times to ensure they were fully clean, but the wooden spoons and their porous surfaces seemed suspect, so they were donated. The same went for any wooden cutting boards, as I know I had cut bread and pizza on them in the past. They were all promptly donated with no looking back.
  • Colanders, stainless steel skillets, saucepans and heavy pots for pasta were scrubbed by hand with scouring pads and run through the dishwasher several times. I have never had an issue with them. The same went for cookie sheets, muffin tins and pizza pans. Because they are metal and non-porous, a few good scrubbings and dishwasher cycles did the job.
  • The Ultimate Sadness: my coveted Panini press, crepe pans, bread maker, pasta maker, waffle maker and hand mixer were all donated. There was absolutely no question of keeping these. I replaced my bread machine with an awesome new bread maker, my waffle maker was replaced, and my Panini press? Well, a George Forman Grill would do, and certainly does its job just as well at a lesser cost!
  • Things I didn’t even consider: my blender, food processor, rice cooker, crock pot, coffee maker and grinder were safe havens from gluten!

As you can see, this is a lot of work, and I didn’t do this overnight. It took a LONG time to overhaul my kitchen before it was finally a safe place for a celiac to prepare meals.  Good luck to you if you decide to make this transition in your life. And a DOUBLE-GOOD LUCK if you HAVE to make this transition in your life!

Please feel free to ask questions or send suggestions in the Comments section, as I would hate to have missed anything! I assure you, it’s much easier to have a gluten-free home than it is to try having both gluten and non-gluten diet participants under one roof.  I tried it for a time, and it’s very easy to make mistakes, which  I will address at another time.

Trust me, in the end, it’s not something you miss after a while, even for those who don’t have to follow the diet. My husband Chris is a stellar example of this: it doesn’t bother him in the least and it makes him happy to know I’m safe by keeping it out of the house. That’s dedication for you!

Rebecca Eats (Gluten-Free): The Prologue

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Since my celiac diagnosis in May of 2011, I have joked that I am a “1%-er”; only 1% of the population is estimated to have celiac disease, and even fewer are officially diagnosed by undergoing an endoscopy (as I did).  Celiac disease, in a nutshell, is an autoimmune disease in which the body cannot process gluten (which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), and it causes an inflammatory reaction to the small intestine when ingested.  Left untreated, as I had, it eventually affects the absorption of nutrients, not to mention a host of other very serious problems.*

Basically, to someone with celiac, gluten is poison. There is no antidote.

There is no cure or medication, the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet…for life. This diet isn’t like the kind of diet where you can allow cheat days and give in to temptation. A cheat day would be devastating to a celiac, though I have heard of people who “can’t help it” and cave-in to eating gluten because it’s just too irresistibly delicious. To me, this is absolutely ridiculous and self-destructive. I cannot even imagine breaking this protocol. I’ve been accidentally “glutened” and the side effects are pretty devastating and never, ever worth it!

Not only do I have to follow a strict gluten-free diet, but I also have to look at possible cross-contamination risks with manufacturing when I purchase products. If a product was manufactured in a facility that also manufactures wheat, I don’t purchase or consume it. I am very grateful that more and more companies are disclosing this information as food allergies are becoming very common in our society.  I feel that cross-contamination is also a big issue simply because there is not enough education in the food service industry. I have been glutened simply by eating food that was prepped on the same surface as gluten-containing foods or cut with the same knives. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see gloves being changed before handling my bunless burger at Five Guys, because even miniscule contact with gluten is enough to cause a reaction that last for days. Most establishments are slowly learning to take these needs seriously.

The bottom line is: when in doubt, I don’t ever risk it. That means, often, missing out on a lot of things, as well as sometimes going hungry when I travel unprepared.

It can be overwhelming when you suddenly have to follow the diet with no transition time, no adaptation.  A doctor will simply tell you: Follow a gluten-free diet immediately.  It took a lot of time to adjust, and a lot of mistakes were made along the way, but I have finally gotten the hang of it, and will be two years gluten-free this May.

My home is now gluten-free, with my husband also following the diet in order to avoid cross contamination issues when cooking.  This was all HIS idea, and he actually enjoys the diet just as much as I do! At first I was against this, simply due to the monetary burden that a gluten-free lifestyle put on our wallet. The first year consisted of a lot of pre-packaged products, and when a loaf of bread can cost $6.00, it’s tough to pack sandwiches for lunch on a budget.  With some adjustments and creativity, I have learned how to make many foods (such as bread, pizza crust, waffles, even chicken nuggets and sushi!) healthfully and simply at very little expense. The $7.00 frozen pizza crust can easily be replaced  by making your own using three little ingredients with leftovers to spare.  Sure, sometimes you have to make a little investment (like I did when replacing my appliances), but in the end it’s healthier, less expensive and the benefits are countless. I’m excited to be able to share these tips with you!

This section of my blog, Rebecca Eats, will be all about gluten-free living from my day-to-day experiences:

  • Gluten-Free 101 (what must be done within the first few days, most of which involves cleaning out your pantries and replacing kitchenware)
  • Places I have safely eaten out when travelling to and from events, state by state, as well as places I love that are closer to home
  • Where I love to find my favorite gluten-free products
  • Gluten-free brands I trust
  • Gluten-free foods I use for training, as well as well as the night before and the morning of a race
  • Gluten-free race course fuel  and finish line amenities
  • Simple recipes and meal ideas with few ingredients but still very satisfying**
  • Experiences I have had during the holidays, when things can definitely get tough
  • Meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts
  • Any suggestions, please feel free to add them to the comments section!

I truly hope you enjoy this section, as I really have learned a lot about gluten-free living and really do thrive on this diet. There was a time I struggled with it, made mistakes, and had a lot of frustration, but now I see it as an opportunity to help others! I can’t wait to share my experiences with you!

*To learn more about celiac disease in depth, I encourage you to check out the Celiac Disease Foundation website.

* *I should note that I have no other food intolerances nor do I follow a strict method of eating such as Paleo. My diet is simply gluten-free, everything else is on the table in my house!  

What Caused the Spark that Started the Fire

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My goal to run a marathon in all fifty states was once not so lofty. Back in 2007 or 2008 I decided I wanted to “earn a medal” in all fifty states…so my medal that I earned riding the MS 150 City of Shore bike ride would have counted as a medal for New Jersey, my Baltimore Half Marathon medal would have counted for MD, etc. At the time I aspired to one day finish a triathlon, but that ambition fell by the wayside.*

This desire soon snowballed into something bigger…I had run half marathons in several new cities to earn a state medal such as the Rock ‘N Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, the Disneyland Half Marathon in Anaheim, California, the Lake Placid Half Marathon in upstate New York, and the Freedom’s Run Half Marathon in West Virginia. But something nagged at me. It just didn’t seem to be enough. I would finish my half marathon and watch the marathoners continue their steadfast course, and I felt this small sense of loss.

I wondered if I was possibly missing out on something by “only running the half”? Was the course more scenic? Were there things I was missing that the full marathoners got to experience? Now in the case of Rock ‘N Roll events,  according to most reviews and feedback I have heard, it seemed to be the unanimous opinion that these races are easily catered to the half marathoners. All the bands, the cheering crowds, the action is in the first half. The second half of the course is when the runners thin out and you see industrial parks, sparse and bleak scenery, very few bands, and minimal spectators. But a race like Freedom’s Run went through four different historical battlefields, and the half marathoners completely missed the section that ran through Harper’s Ferry. That particular race brought me to the conclusion that I did NOT want to be excluded from anything a marathon had to offer, even if it was two loops or an out-and-back course.  Missing out on Harper’s Ferry was the spark that started the fire.

So my 50 states + DC mission officially started in January of 2011, where I ran my marathon as a fundraiser and mentor for Team in Training at the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida. This was my third marathon at Disney World, but it was made even more special by running the Goofy Challenge.  I will recap my events one by one for the race archive, and who knows, maybe it will inspire you to run one of these marathons someday!

* I learned somewhat quickly that a) I don’t like cycling enough simply because it’s more trouble than it’s worth with all the gear and safety concerns, and b) I can barely swim in a straight line. Running was always my passion.

Race Calendar 2013

I am currently registered for 6 new states so far for 2013:

The current race calendar is as follows:

Shamrock Marathon (Virginia Beach, Virginia) – March 2013

Cox Rhode Races Marathon (Providence, Rhode Island) – May 2013

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Anne Arbor Marathon (Michigan) – June 2013

Two Bear Marathon (Whitefish Montana)- September 2013

Atlantic City Marathon (Atlantic City, NJ)- October 13, 2013

North Central Trail Marathon (Sparks, Md)- November 30, 2013