Eats: Gluten-Free and Vegan Breakfast Ideas (Part 1)

As summer rolls around I realize I will have several months of training and no races, so I decided to start writing more about the dietary aspect of my life, which some will hopefully find very helpful.  Since these entries can be quite lengthy, I will break them into parts. Trust me, it’s for your benefit, as I tend to be long-winded!

We all remember this phrase as children: It’s the commonly repeated mantra of parents and educators nationwide: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You need to replenish your energy after a good night’s rest, and it’s best to try to eat within an hour or two of waking.

This can sometimes seem like a challenge when you have to cut certain foods from your diet.  Having celiac disease makes these options difficult at times from a convenience standpoint. It used to be pretty easy to just grab a bagel, donut or breakfast sandwich on the commute to work, and going to places like the local diner or IHOP you obviously can’t enjoy French Toast or pancakes, and even IHOP’s omelets have WHEAT FLOUR in them (really guys?!?!)! So I think I can possibly enjoy…a pretty unremarkable fruit plate, and even that I would worry about from a celiac point of view because of shared cutlery and surfaces in the prepping area. Sadly, I haven’t been out to breakfast since my diagnosis, which should be no surprise to anyone!

So let’s make it even “harder” by cutting dairy, eggs and meat from the picture. When I decided to switch back to a plant-based (vegan) diet, it certainly did make things a little more difficult in the breakfast category, as the standard American breakfast can oftentimes consist of, you guessed it, meat, dairy and eggs.

People often ask me what I eat for meals (I think they assume I starve or eat twigs and gravel), and I am happy to oblige by giving you a full breakdown of meal and snack ideas in upcoming entries. So let’s start with breakfast, again, the most important meal of the day!

So as I worked on this list, this song by Annie immediately popped in my head: The Breakfast Song

I will say right off the bat that a nice thing about ALL of these breakfast ideas is that any of them are great to consume before a run, I think for some people dairy can really cause some GI distress. These ideas are all easy on the system and can provide fantastic energy for the day ahead.

Fruit smoothies

This is easily one of my go-to breakfast staples for many reasons, and I have one every morning as part of my breakfast on weekdays. I hate admitting this, but I am not the biggest fan of fruit. I am really weird about texture, so if a fruit is too ripe, mushy or has lots of seeds, I sort of shy away from them. So basically, the raw fruits I eat would be apples and bananas and not much else! With a smoothie, everything is healthfully blended and can be consumed on the go. Another plus is if you have fruit that looks like it’s getting overripe, you can freeze it for smoothies for later without wasting them (and I HATE throwing fruit away); this is especially helpful when you have access to a produce market and end up with five pounds of bananas! Another fun thing is you can really play around with flavors, whether it’s with the juice that you use as the liquid or the fruit varieties. I have even used things like peaches, watermelon and frozen grapes.  Some have been hit or miss, and others are definitely a home run!

I have never used anything but fruit juice for a base, I have yet to venture into the almond, rice or soy milk field when it comes to smoothies, as I know some people love smoothies with yogurt and milk. I tend to stick to fruit juice only. I admit I do love to use Trop 50 juices, they come in a variety of flavors, have no added or artificial sugars, and are sweetened with stevia, a natural, calorie-free sweetener I enjoy. My favorite so far has been the Red Orange, and their No Pulp Orange is also a pretty standard staple. I haven’t gotten super adventurous yet, but the Pomegranate Blueberry is another I’ve tried and found it to be great with the correct fruits.

Frozen fruit can be prepped when fresh (simply slice and store in freezer bags), or bought pre-cut and frozen in the grocery store. For someone with a busy schedule like I sometimes have, this is VERY convenient. I love being able to buy frozen peaches and mangos, as they can be very tedious to prepare. Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s has very good prices for their frozen fruits, as does Dole. Dole makes a great mixed fruit bag that you can buy in bulk size that contains strawberries, pineapple, mango and peaches, and it came to around $1.71 a pound, which is quite affordable! I also scored with a huge bag of frozen mango for around $1.61 a pound, which when you break it down is MUCH cheaper than buying whole, fresh mangos since so much of it goes to waste when you prepare it.

I found that putting the juice in the blender first and then adding the fruit seems to work best. I usually only use 8 oz. of juice and then add the fruit. I never really measure the fruit, but try to make sure it doesn’t overwhelm the blender.  If the blender seems stalled, as mine usually does almost every time, it might be a little low on liquid, so I slowly add extra water until it gets a smooth consistency. This can take a few tries and a few proddings with a spoon (make SURE the blender is completely OFF before trying to help get the unblended fruit into the mix!) I always pour it into a reusable cup with a screw-on lid and reusable straw, and these can even be stored in the freezer for a short time if you won’t be using it right away.

I have tried a variety of different mix and match options with smoothies, and I will say my favorite blend-in fruit has to be strawberries, with peaches and bananas tied for a close second place. The orange, strawberry and banana smoothie is by far one of my favorite combos, with orange, peach and strawberry being another winner. Orange, peach and mango is also a wonderful option, and throw in a strawberry or two for some color. Another wonderful surprise is that, yes, you can use watermelon! Frozen watermelon chunks with orange juice, strawberries and blueberries makes for a crisp and colorful smoothie. Can’t you tell I’m a sucker for orange juice as the base? I just have yet to get very adventurous with juices, and I’ve tried things like Pineapple Mango, and found them to be a little strong. One thing I will say is certain fruits do not blend as smoothly as others; I have found raspberries and blackberries to be a bit pulpy and tend to get caught in the straw, which can be a real pain.

Don’t be shy about adding things like chia seed, hempseed or  flaxseed to smoothies for extra nutrients and healthy fats. The only thing I will say is don’t add a lot (a tablespoon is plenty for one serving) and make sure it blends well throughout the mixture or it might just sit in a heavy clump at the bottom.

Smoothies are by far one of the main staples of my breakfast traditions during the week; you easily get a couple servings of fruit in ONE meal, which is pretty great! I also find them to be quite filling and satisfying.

I do realize, too, that there are a lot of healthy vegan protein shakes on the market, but I find them to be a bit heavy, and I find pure fruit to be much more of a refreshing and simple way to start my day. I will likely review a few shakes in upcoming entries, which I find to be an efficient way to replenish protein after a long run or race, but for the average work morning I don’t think I need to be loading up on extra protein!

Gluten-free toast or a frozen waffle with nut butters, Earth Balance spread or jelly

There are a variety of gluten-free breads on the market, but most contain dairy and/or eggs. Besides making my own in my bread machine (I use Bob’s Red Mill mixes and veganize the recipe, which I will be happy to share another time), I found a couple other products that are gluten-free and vegan:

Ener-G brand English muffins: I absolutely love these English muffins. They are hearty enough where half of one is sufficient, so a four pack can last longer than a week as long as you store them in the refrigerator once opened. Not only are they excellent for breakfast, but they are great for a base for a quick homemade pizza or open-faced sandwiches. I can find these at my local Giant, but their store locator can help you find them in your neck of the woods. I can’t recommend this product enough. It’s just nice to find a gluten-free bread that isn’t overly dry and toasts well.

Ener-G also makes sliced breads as well, perfect for sandwiches, and their tapioca rolls are a staple in my refrigerator for veggie burgers and sandwiches. Yup, I’ve even made breakfast sandwiches with them. Not only are their products wheat and gluten-free, but they are free of a multitude of major allergens, such as dairy, tree-nuts and peanuts, to name a few.

Another company I will mention if you are gluten-intolerant is Food for Life. They make a variety of vegan, gluten-free breads, tortillas, crackers and English muffins. They use all-natural, organic, non-GMO  ingredients and truly do provide an amazing variety of products. The only downside is they also manufacture other products that contain wheat, such as their popular Ezekial Bread. This disclaimer is printed on some of their packaging (“This product is processed and packaged in a facility that also processes wheat…”) and is something for people with celiac disease to take very seriously. When perusing their selections, make sure you inspect the packaging for the disclaimer, some, but not all, may contain this warning. I can usually find their products in the freezer section of most grocery stores.

Trader Joe’s Wheat Free Toaster Waffles: Careful with these in your toaster as the edges tend to burn! But they are low in sugar and half a serving (one waffle) is perfect. Another vegan alternative if they are in your neck of the woods is Wegman’s Gluten Free Homestyle Waffles (and they also come in blueberry), equally good and affordable. Both the TJ’s and Wegman’s brand are less than $2.00 for a box of 8 any time I’ve seen them in stores. The Wegman’s brand does contain sugar as an ingredient, which Chris tends to shy away from, but we will buy them in a pinch (the sugar content is still quite low, only 4 grams for 2 waffles). The TJ’s brand uses evaporated cane sugar as well as fruit juice sweeteners.

If you use your toaster oven in the workplace, make sure you use a toaster bag or aluminum foil. NEVER, EVER place your gluten-free food directly on the surface, as I can guarantee someone else used it for their bagels, pizza, or other gluten-filled fare. Also, gluten-free breads tend to scorch quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them, I’ve ruined MANY waffles by walking away and assuming the toaster would do it’s job. Trust me, it can happen in the blink of an eye.

Obviously any nut butters will be gluten-free and vegetarian, except I would avoid anything like Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter, as it’s a gluten-filled disaster, or Nutella, which, while delicious, contains dairy and loads of extra sugar. I’ve tried plenty of brands of peanut butter but my go-to is still Trader Joe’s creamy salted natural peanut butter; it has by far the best texture and flavor and never lasts long in my house.  Trader Joe’s also makes an incredible raw unsalted creamy almond butter, but it’s difficult to find as it’s usually in limited supply and runs out fast. If you REALLY want a treat, I cannot recommend Peanut Butter and Company brand peanut butter, who makes certified gluten-free and vegan products. Their peanut butters come in a TEN different flavors, and trust me, I’ve tried them all. My absolute favorite is Mighty Maple, which is obviously AMAZING on a gluten-free waffle!

Earth Balance spread is a vegan butter substitute that I have adopted for many recipes, and also goes great on toast! It’s non-GMO certified and has no trans fats. On a side note, Earth Balance also makes a wonderful coconut peanut spread that goes great on toast! Who would guess that coconut and peanut butter would go so well together? Definitely a match made in heaven!

I don’t consume jelly or jam much these days, but my husband still likes it once in a while. We try to find all-natural brands that aren’t loaded with sugar, such as Wegman’s Organic fruit spread (the first ingredient is actually FRUIT), and sometimes he loves just a simple all-natural apple butter from the local orchard.

Sometimes it’s fun to throw some raisins on top of your toast or waffle for additional sweetness, and sometimes I have even sprinkled some chia seeds on top. A drizzle of maple syrup is also a nice way to add some flavor to nut butters, and it’s best to put it on the bread before adding the nut butter so it soaks into the bread instead of running off the top and onto the plate (or your hand, both of which have happened to me often).

So that is Part One of my gluten-free and vegan breakfast ideas post. Again, long-winded, right? But hopefully helpful. I’ve only scratched the surface on breakfasts and will get more into it in a future entry. Next time we’ll get into some more fun stuff, like cereals and pancakes! I promise it isn’t all sweet stuff, but sometimes my non-sweet options can be a little interesting and not standard breakfast fare.

Much more to come!

The Word “Unfair” is No Longer in my Dictionary

I know I have touched upon this issue before, but sometimes I think we could all use a little reminder: life sometimes can throw a series of roadblocks, it will not be fair, and we simply have to find ways to endure, cope and move on any way we can.

I have lately been going through severe ups and downs emotionally for the past couple weeks. A lot of self-induced pity-parties for things that are completely out of my control. Picking up my husband’s anti-nausea medication at CVS for his upcoming cancer treatment made me feels pangs of anger and sadness. Having to come to terms with the fact that my celiac disease will make it next to impossible to travel back to some of our favorite destinations in the future (Japan, for example, knows so little about gluten and celiac that I would more or less starve if we ever went back, and it was by far one of our favorite places we’ve ever visited). I hate that we both have health issues we have to deal with, will always have to deal with, and I hate that it restricts us from living normal lives some days.

But what IS normal these days?

I lamented to Chris that it just wasn’t fair that we never seemed to get a break. He simply looked at me, smiled, and said “Sweetie, you have to remove that word from your vocabulary. Life isn’t going to be fair, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” One of my closest friends, Stephanie, also said, quite wisely and simply “Life is only what you make of it. Make the best of life with what you have even if it seems hard at times.” Truer words have never been spoken from such insightful people.

Life is about perspective and realizing your small downfalls are nothing when you think about how others may have it. I read a lot, and lately have been reading about such sobering stories about things like genocide in third world countries, or the latest news stories about those who lost everything in Oklahoma. We tend to sometimes put the blinders on and be a little self-centered at times with our own little world and forget how much worse it could be.

As Louis C.K. puts it, we are a nation of complainers. We’re miserable with a GREAT LIFE.  Time to step back and count your blessings, because no matter how bad you think you have it, it’s always going to be worse in someone else’s shoes. And no matter how good you think someone else might have it, you don’t know what they could be secretly enduring, whether it’s financial, health, family problems or otherwise.

Take time to take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of being alive. Take a moment to look at the food you are about to eat and be gracious that you have healthy food to eat, clean water to drink, and a safe place to enjoy it. The smallest things in life can easily be taken for granted, and we really need to set the complaints and mini-meltdowns aside to take a breath and remember we are alive, this is the only life we have, and we HAVE to make the best of it!

I know I have a lot of inner cleansing to do, but I really want to encourage everyone to do the same. We all have our own burdens to bear, but we all have to do anything we can to appreciate the smallest things we can in life.

So “unfair” is not in my vocabulary. Life is a journey and we need to just do our best to enjoy the ride, even if there are some bumps in the road.

State # 11 Rhode Island Dread (and in the end, fears unfounded)

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Rhode Island was the next state I was to run in my 2013 race calendar. The historic city of Providence was easy enough to get to by train for a quick weekend, and during a good time of year for a race. Rhode Island has a mere handful of races, and with Newport being in October, one of the busier marathon months, I decided to run the spring race in mid-May.

I tend to do something runners call “weather-stalking” the week before a race, sort of keeping an eye on the forecast to see how the weekend would pan out. The forecast looked grim, 60% chance of rain, thunderstorms, and high winds. There was no chance I was going to bail out on this race, the train tickets were paid for, and I had already deferred the race from 2012. I wanted to finally get this state under my belt for good, so if I had to run in the rain, so be it. I also had been suffering from pretty terrible sinus headaches that I tend to get during overcast, rainy and windy days due to air pressure, and nothing can usually stop them from happening and no amount of rest, caffeine, and OTC pain relief can stop it. It just has to run its course. I had a feeling it was going to be a rough weekend if the weather didn’t improve!

The Cox Rhode Races marathon took place on Mother’s Day, and I felt awful knowing I was going to be away and unable to see my mom. I decided to dedicate this race to her, and made a sign to wear during the race. I decided to laminate it to keep it dry, and would give it to her next time I saw her. Yup, even back then I was ornery and full of fire, but my mom looks so beautiful and happy in this picture. Even looking at it now brings me a lot of joy.

I also got a brand new F*ck Cancer patch for my Maniac singlet, which was pretty darned cute.

 In order to maximize my time in Providence, I decided we would head down overnight on Amtrak. D. was again my travel partner in crime, and Chris dropped us off at the station around 11:30 at night for the overnight train. Long story short, the ride was pretty horrible, very little sleep was had, and we arrived at 7 AM feeling pretty exhausted and worn out from a long and uncomfortable night. Luckily we didn’t have much of a walk to get from the station to the hotel to drop off our bags.

The hotel, the Providence Biltmore, was very accommodating to our super early check-in, which was a very nice surprise after an extremely harrowing and annoying night. We managed to have breakfast in the room and get cleaned up, and since we were fairly wired, we figured we would enjoy what we could while the weather stayed dry. The clouds were very overcast and winds were picking up, but it was still warm. We walked around historic Providence and then took a bus to the Roger Williams Zoo, which was a real treat for us. The zoo wasn’t crowded, the animals were happy to pose for pics, and we had a great time. Right as we were ready to leave, the rain and 20+ mph winds started, and didn’t let up at all for the rest of the afternoon.

Seemed like a good time to go to the expo for packet pick-up, so we braved the elements and trudged through the rain (luckily we had umbrellas) to the Omni hotel to grab my race bib and shirt. The expo was fairly small but nice. I had to laugh when asked what size shirt I wanted; when I replied “The smallest one you have” the best they could do was a medium. *sigh* It looked like it would fit Chris better than me (almost fit like a nightshirt!), but I have to take what I could get.

At the expo, I got motioned over by a vendor on my way out. I’ll be honest, I don’t like getting roped into buying things at expos, but Brenda at RooSport totally sold me on her product. It was a pouch that was clipped to your running shorts via a powerful magnet that could fit gels, keys and even a cell phone; for $20 I will say it was one of the best running purchases I ever made, and happily will endorse this product with zero prodding from them. I ran the race with the RooSport the next day and NEVER even knew it was there. With belts I often had chafing, they never fit my waist without lots of adjusting and shifting, and I often even got scratched from the foil gel packet corners when they were inserted into the belt loops. But with the RooSport I had none of those issues, and ran the race with ease.

Back at the hotel we attempted to crash, but to no avail for me. I am a super light sleeper, and the walls of the historic Biltmore were paper thin. Doors constantly opened and closed, conversations could be heard in the hallway, and  I even ( yes this is true) heard someone PEEING in the room next to us. *sigh* I slept maybe an hour and a half. D. was much luckier and slept much better than I did, it might have helped that the bed was SUPER comfy.

I was happy to see that there was a PF Chang’s right by the hotel, and have had excellent luck with them in the past with gluten-free meals. Their servers have been very, very knowledgeable about their gluten-free  menu, and have been very accommodating to do what they can to make meat-filled meals vegetarian for me. My experience that night was very good, with no gluten mishaps, and I felt fairly well carb-loaded for Sunday’s race as I tried to get to sleep that night.

Race morning

Rain, rain and more rain. Overcast skies. No sun in sight. That was what greeted me as I opened the curtains to check the race start area. I still had a headache and felt very out of sorts with having gotten so little sleep. I had a feeling this race would be fairly disastrous.
By the time we left the hotel to walk to the start, the rain had eased.  The most noticeable thing about this race over any other, and with good reason, was the increased police presence around the start area. Police, dogs, and fully decked out officers with semi-automatic weapons quietly patrolled the area. I was a little taken aback, but knew the reason. It was a mere month ago that the finish line of the Boston marathon was bombed, and Providence was less than an hour away. I was glad to see that they took the slightest possibility of a threat seriously. In fact, here is a news story all about the increased security: http://www.wgbhnews.org/post/providence-marathon-runs-undeterred-terrorism-fears

I found the 9:00 minute mile corral and managed to jump in minutes before the start.  And right as the race was about to start, the showers started up again. *sigh* It was going to be a long morning. We started the race and carefully rain the streets that were slick with fresh rain. The streets were very pitted and full of holes and puddles, so I felt as if half the time I was looking more at my feet than at the crowd and the course. The thing I noticed immediately when we started the race was how incredibly achy my muscles felt. The first three miles my legs (especially my hamstrings) just burned. I don’t think I was dehydrated by any means, but had walked quite a bit yesterday (and Providence is a fairly hilly city); that, combined with severe lack of sleep, were likely contributing factors.

Eventually the burning in my legs ceased once I got warmed up, and the miles passed with ease. I kept a fairly steady 9:20 pace throughout the first half. I wanted to ensure an easy recovery for my next race that was in four weeks, so I didn’t want to attack this course with everything I had.

Providence has some very hilly streets, almost San Francisco-caliper, but the race more or less exited the downtown area by the State House and headed south where the hills were a little more kind. Yes, there were definitely hills, but nothing as steep as some of those hills by Benefit Street!   The unfortunate thing about this race is that it didn’t go past some of the more historical sections of Providence, and wasn’t especially scenic. Sure there were sections that were very lush and green, other sections went along the water where we saw boats in the harbor, but many miles were simply commercial or residential. That being said, it was still an enjoyable race simply because the participants were really a great group.

I met a few Maniacs and 50-staters along the way, and one of the most memorable runners was a 14-year old girl named Natalie. I saw she came to a walk around mile 16, and would kick back into gear with a run, and went back and forth between intervals. Another runner talked to her to encourage her, and we marveled at how young she was and how determined she was to finish. I ran alongside her for a while and she asked me some questions about marathons, told me about her training program, and I was just really impressed by how well she was doing. When all was said and done I had to check her results….the little spitfire finished just a few minutes after me. She definitely is made of that steel that only can be defined by completing a marathon and I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw her again at a race. Natalie, you ROCK.

Another runner, I never got her name, ran past around Mile 19 and shouted out “Tattooed girls run faster! Keep it up girl!” and I saw she had a half sleeve tattoo.  We passed each other back and forth in the final miles and she kept shouting out encouragement to me, which to this day still makes me smile. In fact, I saw a guy later on the course with a sleeve and shouted out the same encouragement and it made him break out into a grin. Tattooed runners united!

In the final miles of the race I ran alongside a Massachusetts native named Bridget. We kept pace for a long time together, talked about races we had run. She was running her 13th marathon, and was actually a spectator at Boston and told me of her experience. None of her friends were hurt that day, thankfully, but it was still sobering to listen to her tale. She was easy-going and very friendly, and really helped the miles pass with ease.
This race I noticed that I felt pretty good throughout; I had a hand-held water bottle and could breeze through all the stops.  I did stop twice to ask if I could fill my bottle, and the volunteers were happy to allow me to help myself.  It seemed like they actually appreciated my extra effort to carry my own water. Toward the end of the race there were a few nasty steep hills that forced me to a walk, but only for maybe 30-45 seconds. Another plus was that I had been taking much needed supplements for iron, B12 and D; my last visit to the GI specialist (a week or so after Shamrock) included a review of my bloodwork where some of the numbers were dismal, so I think supplementing those essential vitamins helped substantially as well.

I don’t think I ever hit the wall, I never felt like quitting, and never hated the experience. A complete turnaround from Shamrock, and my finish time was proof that despite the hills and conditions, I performed much better this time around.

Crossing the finish line for my fourteenth marathon was a great feeling. I loved the medal and felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. medal

The one downside was that the finish line spread was a gluten-lover’s paradise: boxes and boxes of fresh pizza and bagels awaited the finishers, but I was fortunate to see a huge box of bananas. Don’t mind if I do…*yoink*. I did “cheat” on my no-sugar rule that day and have a Gatorade; my body was covered in salt, despite my efforts to maintain hydration, and I needed to replenish those nutrients and electrolytes STAT.

The banana was about all I could handle until we were able to get lunch late that afternoon. While I would have loved a nap, my stomach was throwing a temper tantrum, growling incessantly.  Thank goodness an UNO’s Chicago Grill was nearby, where I got a cheese-free gluten-free pizza piled high with veggies, salad and plenty of Woodchuck Cider.

It was a wonderful way to relax and enjoy the afternoon as the skies cleared and a breeze kicked out the humidity.  Since we were heading home that night on a late train, we had the Biltmore hold our bags and went to see a movie; we decided to check out Jurassic park in 3D. I wanted to make sure I picked a movie that, if I fell asleep during, I wouldn’t regret missing! It was definitely a lot of fun.

Race Results
Finish Time: 4:10:56
Overall Place: 618/1267

Sex Place: 240/616
Division Place: 77/186

Before I know it, my next state to conquer will be arriving, by running the Ann Arbor Marathon in Michigan. My first week of recovery proved to be successful and I already feel strong enough to tackle another marathon. It’s a good feeling to know I have this kind of drive within me.

Next stop: Ann Arbor June 9, 2013!

State # 10: Virginia is for Maniacs

Virginia has a lot of marathons I could run, but the one that was the most popular and stood out as being the most run was the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in mid-March. My friend J. was planning on running it in 2013 and I suggested we go together and make a girl’s weekend out of it; she was definitely up for it.

In the time between Rehoboth and Shamrock some changes had happened in our lives, the main one being that Chris’ cancer had returned and we decided to completely overhaul our dietary lifestyle in order to help combat the growth. This meant that for Shamrock, I would be bringing all of my own meals, from snacks to dinners packed in Tupperware. I was so used to stops at Wendy’s for my baked potato and Frosty fix, candy-filled McFlurries from McDonald’s, and burgers and fries from Five Guys. This time around, I packed all of my own meals rather than grab fast food all weekend. It was a complete change from every single race I’ve ever run. I had to wonder if, in the end, my race performance would be hindered or improved by clean eating?

We headed down Friday afternoon to Virginia and hit the expo within an hour of it closing, which was ample time to explore the expo a little bit before heading to our hotel. J. was running the Whale Challenge that weekend, which involved running the 8k race on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday, so we had to get there Friday in order to pick up our packets. While I considered running the Whale Challenge, I wasn’t too keen on the price tag. While not Disney caliper in cost, I didn’t think it was worth $50 just for a finisher pin.

Saturday I woke up bright and early to cheer on J. as she ran the 8k. It was an overcast day and the weather wasn’t ideal, but everyone was in good spirits. The racecourse was a sea of costumes and green to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and part of me wished I could be running it too; it DID look like a really fun time. As I waited for J. to finish I actually got to chat with a husband and wife that were also 50-staters (and they had completed the circuit more than once already!) and we swapped stories about races we had run and recommendations for states I hadn’t completed.  J. finished the race soon after we parted ways, and I was thrilled to see she had a great finish time, and even received a VERY nice finisher’s medal! I was definitely envious of that, and think I actually would have run the race if I had known that the swag was more than a pin.

The remainder of the day the weather was very hit or miss; not long after my friend’s finish, it began to rain…a lot. The beach weekend we had been looking forward to was definitely being marred by Mother Nature. While the temps were in the 50’s (climbing into the high 60’s), windy and rainy, Sunday’s forecast looked even more foreboding with a high in the mid-40’s. Definitely a huge change from the year before, where as you may recall I ran the Rock ‘N Roll D.C. Marathon (the same weekend as Shamrock) and it was sunny and in the 70’s.

The night before the race I had my first ever meal that didn’t consist of pizza and French fries. Yes, I totally strayed from tradition (going against EVERYTHING experienced runners warn about with marathons, never try anything new race weekend), and had gluten-free penne with grilled veggies, tofu, and arugula pesto, as well as homemade gluten-free bread and olive oil. It was pretty amazing, and I hoped that it would serve me well as the fuel I needed to complete this race successfully.  I was so used to overloading on sugar and junk food, so this was definitely a 180 from my usual carb loading. And, for the first time ever, I was using Honey Stinger gels instead of Gu on the racecourse, and made sure to avoid all of the Gatorade stops and only grab cups of water. I wanted to do my very best to stick to this (refined) sugar free diet, even during marathons, as a way of showing support to Chris.

With the weather changing so abruptly all weekend, I wasn’t even sure how to dress for this one. My Marathon maniac singlet was a bit small for layering with long sleeves underneath, so I had to get creative on the fly. I made arm warmers out of rainbow striped, Hello Kitty knee socks, which worked out perfectly (and were extra cute). I made sure I had a headband that could cover my ears in case of wind, and my calf compression sleeves helped with warmth.  I also had a patch that J. had given me to wear on my singlet to commemorate how much I despised cancer. Besides uncensoring it I can’t think of any better way to put it, can you?

I also made this sign to honor Chris:

The morning of the race, J. and I took our time getting to the start since the race started at 8:30 AM and we were mere blocks from the start line. It was blustery and very chilly, with wind chill factors around 35 degrees. We shivered and made our way to the start, but definitely felt like it was going to be a really rough race.  J., who is an amazingly strong superwoman, was running the race in a fully loaded ruck, and she was bundled a little better than I was, but no matter how many layers we wore, the winds cut right through them.

I passed a group of Marathon Maniacs in their bright yellow singlets, and they motioned me over and happily introduced themselves and welcomed me with enthusiastic handshakes, lamenting that I had just missed the group photo. This was my very first event as a Maniac, but I must say, they are an amazing and positive group of individuals! I was so proud that I could finally be a part of their team.

The start line was one block parallel to the Boardwalk, so while windy we had a little protection from the winds with the hotels that lined Atlantic Avenue. The skies were heavy and grey with clouds and I think we all said a little prayer to ourselves that it wouldn’t rain. I was feeling pretty emotional that morning, standing alone and thinking of Chris. It was really, really difficult for me to leave him at home, but he insisted I run this race and kick some butt. Knowing he would be proud of me for completing this marathon was just the motivation I needed to run strong.

The race started and we were on our way. The wind was kicking and definitely made it a very tough go. The crowds were cheering us on, and I did my best to smile and enjoy the race. Much of the first half of the racecourse was just like the Rock ‘N Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon I ran in 2009, so much of it was very familiar to me. The course was pancake flat with only 2 hills in the same spot, which was a small bridge crossing. The “hill” was a piece of cake and laughable at best. After conquering Hatfield-McCoy in one piece, I can’t take claims of “hills” on a course too seriously! That is, until I run Montana in September of 2013.

Miles passed and I noticed something fun. Marathon Maniacs are much like team members of Team in Training! If they see a Maniac singlet they clap and cheer for you, give a high five, and sometimes just give a smile and a nod of recognition without a word. But regardless, the Maniacs all lifted one another up with their enthusiasm, and I realized I could get used to this! The positive vibe was just incredible, and I was so glad to be part of such a fun group.

The race, I found, wasn’t as interesting and scenic as others I had run in years past, and the wind and cold made it a fairly miserable experience all around. Very few miles were with the wind at our back, and we had to keep pushing against it. The miles along the boardwalk were especially brutal, and felt as if they were around 20 mph with a chilly bite. You simply had to lower your head and charge against it, and anticipate that eventually you would be making a left-hand turn off the boardwalk and find some shelter from the gusts. I will say that fighting the wind absolutely exhausted me, and ultimately wore me out from a strong finish.

The out and back sections made it a little more fun, fellow Maniacs would shout out encouragement and cheers and I would reply with a whoop and holler. It was always fun to try to spot them. I even ran alongside fellow Maniacs during the race at different points and they were nice as could be, one even said she would be at the marathon in Anne Arbor, Mich., so I’m hoping I can look for her when I get there in June. At one point I approached a group of Maniacs on an out and back and they took my picture a few times for posterity, even saying “This is Rebecca’s first marathon as a Maniac.” Wow, way to make me feel welcome everyone! There was even one section of the course where I had to stop and tighten my left shoe that was too loosely tied (for a good 16 miles, not too smart), and a Maniac in passing slowed down to ask “You OK there Maniac?”. I assured him I was, and he was insistent that I reassure him before continuing on. I’ll tell you, Maniacs are definitely the type that would sacrifice their finish time to help another runner in need.

Some hiccups happened along the race, one being a much needed pit stop. Imagine the horror when, out of a row of 5 porta-jons, not a single one had a shred of toilet paper left. Talk about mortifying. I must have wasted a couple minutes going from stall to stall to find SOMETHING but to no avail. I gritted my teeth in frustration and just headed back out there, completely exasperated. The main issue was that the half marathon started an hour and a half before the full, so any porta-jons were already decimated. I was surprised to see that a lot of halfers were still on the course at this point, but I admired their determination.

At this point, too, I don’t think the race could have ended sooner. I was done with it, and really wasn’t enjoying myself. The wind and cold, as well as the miles of concrete were just taking their toll on my performance. I could tell I wasn’t the only one, plenty of others seemed whipped by the conditions. I was losing morale fast. A few times, though, I had people pass me and comment on my F*ck Cancer patch, all giving me a positive boost of encouragement and even a high five or two. One girl in particular stood out, and the funny thing was we actually followed each other on Twitter and she recognized me on the racecourse after the fact! I had to thank her for her encouragement, because I really needed it then. So Jennifer, THANK YOU!

The finish line loomed as we approached the boardwalk area and the wind whipped me harshly. All I could think of at that moment was Chris, and I just burst into tears. I was going to make it, he was going to be proud of me, and we were going to be together soon. I did everything I could to have a strong finish, aching hips and all, and finished in 4:17. It was my slowest finish time in a year and a half.

I hobbled to get my medal and finisher’s hat (both awesome, by the way), and we got an even better surprise, which could NOT have come on a better day: a fleece finisher’s blanket! I wrapped it around me tightly as I went back to the hotel to grab a quick shower, bite to eat, and check on J’s progress via text tracking.

Waiting at the finish line was brutal, and I held out as long as I could, but the gusting wind and damp cold just chilled me more than I could stand. I was shivering uncontrollably as I waited for her, and did my best to clap and cheer for the other finishers. I finally had to go back inside and waited in the hotel lobby to warm up and wait for that final text notification that she had finished.  She did great,  and to this day I applaud her for enduring those conditions with such a heavy ruck on her back. She’s amazing. Once we found each other, we went into the finish line tent and relaxed where it was free from the wind and cold, and much more comfortable! Irish stew and beer flowed freely and runners congregated in groups chatting about the morning’s event.

J. and I both agreed that we did not like this race. I do feel if the conditions were better I would have enjoyed it a little more, but I also enjoy courses that have some off-road miles and have a more natural setting. I know of some runners who state Shamrock is their favorite race and they run it every year. Others who ran it this year actually PR’d. I had pretty much the opposite effect on all counts, I was fairly miserable and it took me hours to get warm, even after taking the hottest shower I could stand.

The rest of the day that had so much promise for some fun beach time just ended like a cold, miserable day in March should, huddled in the hotel room and watching reality TV and refueling with plenty of food. In the end, it wasn’t a bad thing to relax and stay warm, and it was actually a nice way to end the evening, even if indoors.

My experience at Shamrock had its ups and downs, but race certainly didn’t dampen my spirits to run my next marathon. You will always have one that stands out as the disappointment, but I had plenty of good memories as well. The main thing I learned was that as a Marathon Maniac, I’ll always have a friend on the racecourse.

Results
Finish Time: 4:17:51
Total Place: 1391/2995
Gender Place: 439/1294
Division Place: 73/208
What I Learned
  • Like a Boy Scout, I must without a doubt always be prepared for the next race. The lack of toilet paper on the course won’t catch me off guard next time, and I will forever more always carry a pack of tissues with me to bar any disaster.
  • At first I questioned my clean eating as hindering my performance, perhaps it wasn’t sugar-fueled enough. But after some reading and thinking, I realized that the wind and porta-jon fiasco slowed me down quite a bit, and there was nothing I could have done to combat nature. In the end, I think I excelled as best I could, and will do better next time.


    I am FINALLY caught up on race recaps and can finally focus on the present!
    And not a moment too soon, my next marathon is approaching fast, with the Cox Rhode Races Marathon in Providence Rhode Island on May 12. Wish me luck as I tackle State #11, Marathon #14!