Fall Race Roundup

I realize I haven’t blogged in quite a while, I think race recaps can be tiresome and it’s tough to be motivated sometimes with a busy schedule, but I am going to try and break down in small recaps just exactly I’ve been up to since my Iowa marathon in September:

In September I ran the Bacon 5k challenge, my first 5k race in I don’t know how long, but decades come to mind. The Bacon 5k is simple: run 1.5 miles, eat a half pound of cooked bacon, and then another 1.6 miles. As I got started I didn’t see a whole lot of women ahead of me, so I figured why not race it and see how I do? While the bacon eating portion was a little difficult, it still wasn’t impossible. I finished in 25:03 and won 3rd overall female; I got a nice little medal and gift certificate that I could put toward some bacon swag, so I did. By the way, I realize I hate running fast; long slow distance is much more my thing.

156What better way to celebrate than by getting a bacon stufty?

October was what I termed as my Triple Crown of Insanity: two ultras and a marathon within 14 days.

First was the Blues Cruise 50k, which was a 31-mile trail run around Blue Marsh Lake. As you can see the pictures speak for themselves, but this was a beautiful race course.

1209 1214 1206 1231 1210 1226 1234 123612401214

We got very lucky with the weather because we got hit with lots of wind and rain earlier in the week thanks to Hurricane Joachin, but by race day it was simply overcast and breezy, and the course was actually DRY. Whew. We really lucked out. The course was quite difficult at times. While not nearly as technical as other races I have done, the hills were killer and often. One hill was actually an old ski slope that seemed never ending. I also enjoyed getting to try real food during the race that was provided by the support staff, which included gluten-free vegetable broth, cold potatoes, Coca-Cola (HUGE hit for me, I loved it!)  and pickles. Not much was available for celiac runners, but I was more than happy with what I had!

1232

I learned to love cold, salted boiled potatoes REAL fast!

I finished in a little less than 7 hours. To be honest, I was OK with that. I really learned to respect the ultra that day! It took almost a full week for my quads to recover, I was seriously afraid that I tore something, but luckily was feeling much better by the next weekend, and thank goodness because I had another ultra on my plate!

Next was the Sloppy Cuckoo 12-hour the following Sunday. The Papal Visit moved the 12-hour from September to October, so it wasn’t ideal to have a 50k and a 12-hour a week apart, plus the sun was setting a little earlier this time of year. It was a 6.55 mile loop on trail, and while not super hilly or technical, it was still a good challenge. I took it very easy since my quads were still a little tender. I decided to call it a day after 5 loops since I had a marathon the weekend after this (sigh), and I was glad I made that decision. I didn’t fall, which was a first for a trail run, but I stubbed my one foot very badly on a root (snapped my big toe back quite violently and I had some ball of foot pain for several weeks after). So I earned a lovely German weather house and a bird whistle for running just around 33 miles in 8.5 hours or so.

1244

There was only ONE pic, taken by my husband, that shows me crossing over into the RIGHT finish line (you could either do another loop or finish, and I was ready to finish!)

NEXT I ran the Monster Mash Marathon in Dover, DE, literally the Saturday after the Sunday 12-hour. The main reason for doing this race was because the medal was awesome, it was all about Halloween and it was huge! You get to start at the Dover Speedway and the first mile is literally on the NASCAR track that is dubbed “The Monster Mile”…so there was a lot of camber that first mile! I ran a fairly strong race, while it was a flat road course the only issue I had was that it was quite windy, so for a majority of the race we ran on roads where there were a lot of open cornfields and nothing was able to block that wind. No matter what direction I was running, that wind was in my face and pushing me back. Despite my efforts, I wasn’t able to run a sub-4 and finished in 4:01. SO CLOSE. But the wind just wore me out that day.

1251That’s Miles the Monster in the background, holding a life-size NASCAR car!

Then I got a nice two week break, thank goodness. Put in some training but didn’t go nuts with mileage. Just tried to keep something of a base. Halloween was a total blast and I really enjoyed having some downtime.

1262 1269
Downtime means plenty of time to carve some Nightmare Before Christmas pumpkins! Also had fun getting in the spirit of the season for handing out candy!

The first weekend of November I ran the DC Towpath marathon. I ran with my good friend J and kept pace with her for the duration of the race, and she PR’d the race that day, which was awesome! Only drawback is that the course was literally a four-time out and back, and the towpath was fairly muddy in spots. The course was very well-supported but was definitely one of the most no-frills events I’ve ever done. The start line was literally a line drawn on the ground and there was no chip timing, simply a guy holding a timer and yelling out your time as you finished. But you know what? I loved the fact that they had THREE fuel/hydration stops that were really well-stocked with good food! I learned to love Fritos that day! But seriously, after two out-and-backs I was just like “Ugh, I’m ready to be done already…” but J was determined to run the full marathon, so I figured why not? Let’s do it. And we totally did. It was my 30th marathon and I was happy to earn the medal. Also, it was nice to encourage people as we passed back and forth over and over, runners are seriously supportive people and it’s nice to be able to throw out praise and encouragement to one another.

Last but not least, I just ran the Bucky Challenge, which was a PA race based in Bucks County. You run a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. So it was basically the Goofy Challenge but on a gorgeous canal towpath in PA. It was tough to take pictures because the sun made it very hard to see the screen, so my pics are slim to none. I did fairly well both days, the weather was really great (cold and breezy but DRY, which makes all the difference!) and the course was gorgeous. ALSO, I got to see a deer cross the water of the canal and shake itself dry right in front of me before it bounded off into the woods. It was pretty awesome, I had never seen a deer swim before, but there it was. It was a pleasant surprise, and I think I was the only one who had the pleasure of seeing it happen.

Both days the race was an out-and-back, very flat and scenic. When all was said and done, I earned two long-sleeved tech shirts, two nice medals, and a bright orange “Don’t Fear the Deer: 39.3” hoodie, which I wore with pride for the rest of the day. It was a lot of fun, overall. My friend M joined us for the half, and her and I kept pace for a 2:04 half (I wanted to stay nice and steady and not go all out so I could keep my legs fresh for Sunday’s full marathon. The next day I ran a 4:21 full and was so thrilled to be DONE for the year. Out of all that ran the Bucky, I was fourth overall time-wise, second female. Not bad!

086One down, one to go!

091

089

093
Whoo hoo, last marathon of 2015! The Rudolph hat was a real hit with the support and spectators, figured I would make the best of the Bucky and have a little fun.

For the remainder of the year I plan on enjoying my recovery, the holidays, and some cross-training and low-mileage weeks. I am running a double marathon weekend in January (2 marathons in 2 days) but since I plan on walk/running both days I’m not very concerned about doing super high mileage training for the rest of the year. I’m there to just earn the states and not PR or do any kind of awesome time those days. Once that is all said and done, I will not have any races until April, and not even a full marathon until late May. Trust me, next year will be a lot lower in terms of scheduled races, and I think my body and wallet will appreciate the break!

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to J, who completed EVERY SINGLE race with me. Every single one. I am very very proud of her, and lucky to have her as a partner in crime for all of my race weekends. She has been a steadfast presence in my life, and a very valued, loved and treasured friend. Thank you for the laughter, strength and support you have given me. Also, thank you for sharing this amazing journey with me every step of the way!

State # 22: South Carolina

Every winter I find I need to get out of PA and somewhere warm, and a run-cation is a perfect way to get in a mini-vacation as well as knock a state off my list. Last year after we went to Massachusetts, my friend TG and I discussed the possibility of flying to Myrtle Beach for race weekend, she would tackle the half, I would run the full. As the weeks passed, we finally decided to commit over the summer, and I helped outline a training plan for her.

One of the only downsides to training for a February race was that winter had been cruel, and it was really tough to get in much outdoor training after I ran Memphis. I’m not kidding when I say this, but I think I managed three outdoor runs. Any time I did attempt an outdoor run I was met with sheets of ice and treacherous terrain, as my trails are left unmaintained in winter (and I won’t share the road with cars). So I ended up doing a LOT of indoor training, with 16, 18 and 20 milers on the treadmill. Was it maddening? Actually it wasn’t bad, I would just find DVDs or shows to stream and find myself entertained as I ran. Considering Myrtle Beach’s marathon was flat as a board, treadmill training served its purpose. I didn’t need to worry about hill training this time around. I seriously just learned to love and appreciate my treadmill. I also managed a 75 mile week, which was a big accomplishment for me and I think it really helped boost my endurance.

The other downside? Pretty much the entire East Coast was in a state of deep freeze, and Myrtle Beach was going through the same unseasonably cold temperatures. When we arrived that Thursday, it was a high of 66, the warmest day we experienced that week.

IMG_2369                           It’s just another day for you and me, in Paradise…para…paradise

After being in below freezing temps for weeks, it felt like absolute paradise to sit outside at LandShark drinking a sweet tea margarita (don’t knock it till you try it!) in the sun, but that was short-lived as the temperatures dipped back down to freezing and the winds kicked up again to make it JUST like home. Good things aren’t always meant to last I guess!

Expo and Race Swag

The Expo was held right where we were staying, at the Sheraton Convention Center, so it made it very convenient for us to get out number and swag the first day of the expo, which was Thursday evening. It had been a while since I had been to a big race expo (besides Memphis) and TG and I both needed some running supplies (Gu, socks, sunglasses, etc.) so it was the perfect opportunity to get what we needed and kill two birds with one stone.
We got a REALLY nice reusable bag, probably the nicest I’ve ever gotten, and the shirts were red, long sleeved, and gender specific. Sure, they were loaded with sponsor logos on the back, but otherwise really nice shirts! The best part of the expo was, by far, the PUPPIES!

IMG_2379                                      And they called it Puppy Love…

I got to play with Molly, an 8-week old golden retriever puppy, as there was a booth set up by an animal shelter trying to find good homes for their puppies. There was another booth set up with maybe 12 dogs that were in training to be service animals. Not only were they trained to help others, but they were ALSO trained to take a dollar bill if you held it out to them!

Another best part was the free beer truck that had maybe six different free beers, and one was ANGRY ORCHARD!

Photo: Angry Orchard

They said the beer was free and they would be back and at the finish line for us. This. Was. Huge. I have run a LOT of marathons, and never, ever have I been able to enjoy a beer at the finish line since my celiac diagnosis. I almost cried with happiness, the very IDEA of getting a beer at the finish from the actual race organizers (and not my husband) sounded too good to be true!

The expo was full of great vendors and we managed to get all we need (finally got a new pair of running sunglasses, LONG overdue) plus some free swag from booths that were advertising races. Marine Corps marathon, I’m looking at you! I got a nice bag and bottle opener just for talking to the guy.

Pre-race dinner
I’ll say first off that my modified-paleo diet was disregarded while on this trip. When I am running races closer to home I think I am going to give the strict paleo a try. But I was pretty shameless with the food I was eating. That afternoon we dug into the Volcano Nachos at Margaritaville, barely making a dent in them, and had an Angry Orchard. I will be the first to say I LOVE LOVE LOVE Margaritaville. You can say it’s hokey or lame, or not like Jimmy Buffet’s music, but they REALLY take good care of their gluten-free patrons. The chef came to the table to talk with us, and they constantly made sure that all of our needs were met 100%. Thanks a million to our server Tim and Chef Sam for an awesome “lunch” that Friday.

We decided that the best place to carb-load that night while in Myrtle Beach was the Mellow Mushroom, a really great pizza joint with a fantastic gluten-free menu. I was really tired and decided to opt for take-out while TG went out with her sister and sis’ boyfriend; I was very sleep-deprived on this trip and decided I needed to just relax in the room than go out. But in the end, it turned out to be absolutely perfect! I got a gluten-free pizza loaded with veggies, a small chef’s salad, and a SIX PACK of Angry Orchard (they know me all too well!). I saved some of the pizza for breakfast (it worked VERY well when I ran Wineglass) and only managed one and a half ciders before finally passing out from exhaustion with maybe 5.5 hours of sleep before I had to get up for the race.

Race Start

The race started at 6:30 AM, well before sunrise. Bottom line: it was cold, unseasonably cold for the area. I have run colder races (MD was a 21 degree start and a 32 degree finish) and being from PA I didn’t even really mind it much. I was pretty well-dressed for the race, but looking at everyone else I probably looked WAY underdressed! I was in shorts, calf sleeves, arm warmers, double-gloves and a knit hatband. I was cold but not freezing. A lot of people were in much warmer running gear, most were in throwaway clothes (including bathrobes!), and some were even dressed with thick running jackets, heavy pants and balaclavas like we were running in the Antarctic. Look, it was 30 degrees and the sun wasn’t up yet, but I don’t know if it was cold enough to dress like Randy from A Christmas Story. Also, I’m from a part of the country where it’s just the norm to be that cold in Feb, so 30 degrees was actually almost comfortable. The sight of me in shorts must have garnered some pity, as one woman passed and handed me a metallic sheet from the Chicago Marathon and told me she had a spare. I was grateful for it in the end, but would have survived. Still, runners are an awfully kind and generous bunch!
We didn’t have to wait long once the bus got us to the start; we both hugged goodbye, wished eachother luck, and got into our respective corrals. The National Anthem was sung, the crank chair division started around 6:25 AM, and before we knew it, we were on our way!

Course

The course was pancake flat, and overall fairly scenic. We went through quite a few touristy areas loaded with restaurants and gift shops, but my favorite thing was DEFINITELY seeing palm trees!

IMG_2357                                  Best. Gift Shop. EVER.

Sure it was cold, but it was very nice to see run through a beachy, tropical atmosphere. I will admit that the cold made me want to run fast, and I felt like my first mile I was flying…until I look at my watch and saw 8:25 for the first mile. OK then, not nearly the 7-minute mile I envisioned my legs running, but it certainly FELT like I was running faster. I decided to run a conversational pace and just enjoy myself.

IMG_2413                                   Go pink lightning, you’re burning up the quarter mile…

The first 8 or so miles were pretty quiet and low key. Then suddenly I had a runner come up alongside me and start a conversation. While that might bother some runners, I certainly never mind that, especially when I had no intention to PR. When I run races now I NEVER try to set myself up for disappointment, I don’t like to say “I have a X:XX finish time goal”, instead I just say “Hey, I’ll run based on how I feel and go from there, if I do well, awesome, if I don’t, I still earned my finish and that’s all that matters.” So having a running buddy come out of nowhere was pleasant.Here’s the amazing thing. We talked for a bit, swapping stories. He was also a Marathon Maniac and working on his 50 states goal, and at some point we ended up talking about Hatfield McCoy Reunion Marathon from 2014. It dawned on me suddenly that I met this guy before!!! We ran together for maybe 2 miles right before Blackberry Mountain before we lost one another (I was struggling with pain issues and he trucked right up the hill…singing). It was pretty funny! Only because he was telling me about the horrible time he had travelling to HM’s marathon, and I realized I had heard this story before! So, Seth Cramer, from South Florida, it was really great to see you again, and thank you for helping those miles fly by. I hope we meet again soon! I know you have yet to earn PA and DE.

We ran and chatted and laughed for MILES. I’m SURE plenty of runners found us obnoxious and annoying because we were a bit raucous, but we were there to have fun and it wasn’t a death march, so we might as well joke around, have fun, and swap race stories. We ended up running with another guy for quite a few miles, but eventually lost him. We kept a good and consistent pace throughout, and it was awesome to get to run so close to the beach! It was absolutely beautiful with the sun out and just a few clouds. Sure, it was chilly, but with the sun up and my body finally warmed up, it was actually pretty nice for a marathon! Ten miles later though, I realized I needed a portajon stop, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant…I had to stop, there was no way I could keep going. So Seth and I parted ways.

Interestingly enough, we found each other again as I managed to somehow catch up. Guess I was having a pretty good and consistent day with my pace. I was feeling conversational, in a good mood, and never once hit the wall. The only problem I encountered was after the first half, the wind really started kicking in (10-18 mph, so not brutal but enough to slow you down a little) and made it just a little bit tougher. Any time we could detour off the main road was a blessing, to get the wind out of our face.

Water stops

Myrtle Beach’s marathon was very well-stocked with volunteers and more than enough water stops, one every 2 miles from what I could gauge. There was no fuel until Mile 16, so I made sure to carry two Gu gels with me for Mile 6 and 12 (I just stuffed one into the cuff of each arm warmer, easy peasy!). But the volunteers were very helpful and friendly, and I really appreciated them standing out in the cold for us. They had another Gu stop at Mile 22…and I managed to snag one more for the road. I am trying to be better about fueling myself evenly and not waiting until I feel like I’m going to crash, so it was just right. While I adore the salted caramel Gu, I will say that the salted watermelon flavor was a genius idea!

Finish

I never really hit a wall, but I definitely had some unpleasantness on the course. I could feel blisters forming in their usual places (never bothered with Vaseline or moleskin, which was a big mistake), and actually felt them BURST in my shoes. It was slightly nauseating. One toe I swear I could feel the fluid sloshing around in the blister before it burst like a water balloon. Painful but I just did my best to ignore it. I was way too close to the prize now.
Looking at my watch I could easily see I would manage another sub-4. Talk about a wonderful moment! I had managed three sub-4 marathons out of the last four that I ran, and I was so thrilled to see it was getting “easier” for me to keep a consistent and even pace throughout. In the past I know I always had problems starting off way too fast and then would crash and burn in the second half. Now I was staying evenly paced and not allowing myself to run faster than I could comfortably handle.

I was thrilled, too, to see TG and her sister waiting at the finish line with a camera in hand, and she had her medal hanging proudly around her neck. Yay! That was one of the best moments of the morning. I know that last .2 I just ran as fast as I could without bowling anyone over; I wasn’t trying to showboat, I just wanted to be finished.

IMG_2409Getting to see friends at the finish line is my ultimate reward!!!

 Place/Medal

My finish time was 3:52:20, a minute off my PR in Wineglass. If ONLY I didn’t need that restroom stop, I would have been RIGHT THERE! But I digress, my splits were almost identical, with my first half at 1:54, my second at 1:58…with a restroom stop and winds to push me back, I think my pace was almost perfectly consistent the entire race.  I used to run with 15-25 minute positive splits, but I was finally getting better at properly pacing myself.

I will say, too, I had several runners congratulate me at the finish line, pretty much the general message from all of them was “Strong finish, I was trying to keep up with you”, which was a REALLY nice thing to hear. Gotta say that runners are a pretty amazing group of people, sure you compete a little, but if you run faster than someone else, they aren’t sour grapes about it, but congratulatory and happy for you!

The medal was nice, a heavy metal set of flip-flops on a tropical lanyard. Part of me wished they could have incorporated the palm tree and moon from the state flag into the medal, but it was still a nice reward.

IMG_2407

Dreaming of the day I can start Lazing on a sunny afternoon…
and ditch the PowerPuff Girls hatband!

 

Overall Finish 407 / 1478
Gender Finish 99 / 623
Age Group Finish 20 / 121

Post-race spread and celebratory meal

While it was sunny out, it was COLD… and while we would have LOVED to stand around and enjoy the post-race festivities a little more, the wind was just making it a little unbearable. The finish tent food was actually pretty good, lots of fresh fruit to choose, muffins, granola bars and other gluten-filled carbs, but all I wanted (as I usually do after a race) was fluids, so I grabbed a Powerade and bottle of water. We did finally manage a toast at the beer tent, Angry Orchard and microbrew in hand, and while the beer was apparently as much as you could carry (gasp!), it was just too chilly to stand around in sweaty clothes and drink cold beer. Trust me, it was a real shame. 10 degrees warmer and no wind chill I would have easily enjoyed the sunshine and celebrated a little more heartily.

My post-race meal was, of course, at Margaritaville. I’m SO lucky to be able to travel with friends that are easy-going about meal planning and having to choose restaurants with GF options. I think some people might not be so generous about it and get a little resentful about it. But so far, in life, my friends and family care more about my health and well-being than their own needs, and that really makes me feel blessed.

I had a chicken sandwich (with bacon…OMG) with fries (double OMG) and their amazing (and enormous) brownie sundae. I barely put a dent in the sundae but had to make an effort! It was the perfect way to end the day before having to fly home to a wintery hell.

https://i2.wp.com/vsm.defocus.net/img/vsm-c0f26cab5a93f1353991ac8abbaf4f8f.png

Now that South Carolina is done, what is next? Well, I was SUPPOSED to run the Naked Bavarian Marathon this weekend but it got postponed due to inclement weather conditions. THEN I was SUPPOSED to run the Garden Spot Village Marathon in April and THAT got deferred because my parents treated us to a family weekend vacation that very same weekend, luckily the race organizers were VERY understanding! So life can definitely throw some curveballs, good and bad!

So, just maintenance for now, and it’s fine…a lot less pressure on myself. It’s good because I really am busy with upcoming vacations, social plans, and plus I got sick with a cold when I got home, so it’s just been slow recovery!

This May I’ll be running the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine, and surrounding it with some smaller, local races as well. By the end of the year I will almost be halfway done my goal of 50 states and DC, but I also have a goal of running 100 marathons, which I think can easily be done if I include ultras in the mix.

It’s going to be a fun and exciting year, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Playing Catch Up…Again

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve written an entry (two whole months to be exact!). To be honest, I’ve been very busy, but also very unmotivated, and it has been a struggle. I earned a couple more marathon states, got a new autoimmune disease diagnosis, and have been working on a new training plan while recovering from a minor running injury. While I WILL eventually write my race recaps (I don’t know why these are so hard for me, but they truly are…it can be kind of hard to write about a small race where the miles just sort of blur together) I figured I would play some catch up.

But here’s the skinny on my life as of late:

!) I have a new auto-immune disease called Sjögren’s syndrome. I was bluntly told by the rheumatologist that if you have one autoimmune disease (and I already have celiac disease,so it’s a little more common with us 1%ers), you usually have a couple more, so this is at least one of them. Sjögren’s is actually a little more common than celiac, and affects over 4 million people (in fact, Venus Williams has it and has spoken out about the difficulties she’s faced with it). It is a disease that eventually destroys the exocrine glands that create natural moisture for the body, meaning salivary and tear ducts to name a few. Other symptoms include arthritis in the hands (check), joint pain, and extreme fatigue (oh yes, double check). People with Sjögren’s often also have or eventually develop lupus, thyroid disease, and sometimes even more serious things like lymphoma…something else I just may get to look forward to down the road, but let’s just take one thing at a time, shall we? I can’t live my life worrying about what-ifs. After all, my husband has much potential to develop lymphoma as well, thanks to all of his cancer treatments, but we simply can’t wring our hands and worry every day about this possibility. You just need to live one day at a time.

Overall I’d say the fatigue has been the most crippling. I honestly feel like a narcoleptic some days, and it’s pretty frightening. You know that buzzy, jet-lagged feeling you get when you go for over 24 hours without sleep? That’s how I feel almost all the time. If I have a weekday where I need to do a training run in the afternoon, I have to sleep at LEAST an hour before I can handle it.  I really hate feeling this need to sleep my life away, because I honestly used to think I was a person full of boundless energy, and lately I feel like I can barely get through the day. I’m hoping when I see the doctor in a couple weeks I can address the issue and he can advise how to battle the fatigue. I find it’s really been putting a damper on my quality of life and drive to achieve my goals.

But I’ve been getting a handle on it, got some new prescriptions and hopefully will adjust in time. I love how I went from happily being med-free to suddenly having to go to CVS ALL the time! Between Chris and I, we’re like old people WAY before our time. It’s almost laughable. Almost.

2) Speaking of goals, I ran my 20th marathon and 17th state on June 14th. I returned to Feud Country and ran the Hatfield McCoy reunion marathon in order to earn West Virginia, and it was definitely worth it. I got to meet some Twitter friends, fellow Maniacs, and really enjoyed the weekend…I just ran it with a shin issue and Asics that were way past their prime, and pretty much ran myself into a two week recovery period where I wasn’t able to run because I developed a calf strain that took some time to heal. But the two week healing period was very beneficial for me, which I will explain.

3) I decided to change my training plan for my upcoming marathon season. In the past I relied on lots of mileage, and…that’s it. No yoga, no cross training, no weights, no stretching. I had the stamina and endurance to run and complete a marathon, but I have sort of hit a wall as to my finish times. When I PR’d back in 2011 (sigh, ah the sweet memory) that was also the year I did a full 3 months of P90X and high mileage training. My body held on to that conditioning and I ran a sub-4 easily. While I can’t commit to marathon training AND P90X, I do want to focus on more weights, yoga and cross training so I am a more well-rounded runner. So instead of running 6-7 days a week, I’m running 5. I am maxing out my top weekly mileage at 60 for the week so I can spend more time on my conditioning. I’m dedicating time to yoga, arms, core strength and leg strength. I’m even getting back into Pilates on my longer mileage days. Has it helped? Only time will tell. Has it hurt? Absolutely not. I’m currently still working on walk/run intervals with my running to ensure I won’t have a relapse with the calf, but it’s been going well, and I’m hoping I can start working a little more on speed.

4) Nutrition-wise I am doing well, and eating pretty clean. I’m trying to focus more on healthy fats and lean protein, and my afternoon snacks (which used to be very carb-y things like bowls of cereal or tortilla chips and hummus) are now things like spoonful of peanut butter or an ounce of cheese or almonds. And after years of letting it collect dust, Chris and I are now using the slow cooker more. In the summer it’s tough to cook, but the slow cooker keeps the kitchen cool, and also yields a TON of leftovers. So Monday is his day to get that thing running so we can have leftovers for a good part of the week. Leftovers means much more time for me to focus on training and getting extra rest, plus it’s great to have him help with the cooking!

So for now, that’s it. I have a lull with races until September, and then it officially kicks in with a possible four marathons this fall (three I’m officially registered, the other I’m 90% sure I’m running it). So I’m hoping with a strong training plan, good nutrition focusing on lots of whole foods, lean protein and good fats (avocados are seriously my favorite food!), plus extra rest when I need it, will allow me to start running better and reach that sub-4 goal again someday. Will I PR this year? Doubtful, as the races are all hilly and challenging, but I won’t know until I get there. In the meantime, I’m just going to work hard, persevere, enjoy the journey, and never give up!

No Longer Feeling Isolated as Someone with Celiac

Or: Suddenly Being the “Go-To” Person for Gluten-Free Living

I apologize if this seems to be a ramble…because it is.

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease almost three years ago, I felt very alone, confused, and frustrated. It’s bad enough that I oftentimes feel like the odd man out at any social gathering (or in public for that matter), something I have learned to embrace long ago since I have never wanted to be a cardboard cut-out of Jane Normal, and having a severe dietary restriction made me feel even MORE out-of-the-norm.  It was a whole new way of life I had to learn very quickly, and there was no easing into it. You just had to jump in with both feet. Luckily though, I have been extremely fortunate to have so many wonderful friends and family who make sure my needs are met, and for that I am grateful! They sort of helped me parachute down into this new way of life, and trust me, it’s not something that is easy to do by yourself. For the longest time I felt pretty isolated…but I have noticed things are changing.

Lately I am finding myself being approached by friends, acquaintances, and even strangers in the gluten-free section of the grocery store…with questions about gluten-free living, cooking, what you should or shouldn’t do. People constantly say “I thought of you the other day when I saw *insert gluten-free reference here, whether it’s a menu, product, bakery, etc.*”. I have become the go-to for GF living in my social circle. And you know what? It feels GOOD to fill that role.

Erin Smith, a wonderful GF  blogger, had posted a great tweet recently that really struck me: “A Celiac Disease diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, it’s a life sentence. What other disease can you treat with food? #thinkpositive #celiac”  Her words were SO meaningful to me because of the truth they contained. I love the phrase “life sentence”, how awesome to look at it from that perspective! She’s right. It’s wonderful to live without pain, it’s wonderful to have a normal life with just a few tweaks beyond the norm. It may sound strange, but having a disease that can be treated with NUTRITION, and not pharmaceuticals, is really a blessing in disguise!

I know several people who adopted the GF lifestyle because it was a last resort to trying to figure out what was wrong with them. Some have never been tested for celiac due to factors like lack of insurance, but are amazed at how good they feel on a gluten-free diet…and never looked back. Undiagnosed or not, they feel great, and I was so happy to be able to help them along in their journey. It’s nice to not feel alone suddenly…it’s great to share GF tips, recipes, and treats with others.  It’s also nice to talk with others who felt they couldn’t talk to ANYONE about their issues, because they felt no one would understand them, and lately everyone feels the need to throw in their snarky 2 cents about the gluten-free “fad” and how it will fade in time to something else. No one understands the severity of celiac and gluten-intolerance…until it happens to them or someone they know or love (I know it was that way for me years before I knew or understood ANYTHING about gluten). Then suddenly the perspective shifts and they have a newfound respect for the lifestyle. Changes are happening, awareness is being created, and more and more people are adopting the lifestyle and feeling better than they ever have in their lives. It’s really an exciting time!

But I digress…I realize this is a ramble. My main point is that I am glad I can help others. I’m glad people feel they can come to me with questions about gluten-free living. I am glad the GF community is expanding, thriving, and embracing one another. It feel goods to be part of something like this, where I can feel connected to others with a common thread, and in doing so we are all helping one another heal, adjust and grow.

I’m no longer alone, and it feels PRETTY good to say that!

Gluten Free and on a Budget? Some Tips I Have Learned Along the Way

2014 is hopefully the year of many positive changes in my life, but one of these changes is also learning how to properly budget for groceries while on a strict gluten-free and vegetarian diet. It can get very expensive really fast if I’m not careful, and every week I allot myself a certain dollar amount that I do my best to stick to, and so far it has proven to work well. Sometimes it takes a little organization and planning with shopping, and sometimes I have to make multiple stops for just a couple things.

Now I will be the first to admit I am not huge on Extreme Couponing, but I do occasionally clip a few coupons…very few are even helpful, to be honest. Generic sometimes still is cheaper than name-brand with a coupon, so you sometimes have to just use judgment. Sometimes there are cross-contamination concerns with generic, so read labels carefully. Clipping coupons is the obvious way you can save money, so I won’t even get into that. But there are some other things I have found really help with budgeting, and I think it’s important to share them:

Produce Markets are a Must

Produce in grocery stores can sometimes be a good deal, but I have never found better deals than at local produce markets, even when produce is on a good sale at the supermarket. When I go to the produce market I can walk out with pounds and POUNDS of fresh fruits and vegetables and maybe spend around $20.00, and a lot of this stuff easily will last longer than a week. Expensive foods like avocados are usually on sale at a grocery store, at best, for 3 for $5.00. At a produce market I can get 6 for $4.00 (and trust me, I go through them!). Rather than buying bagged salad mixes I just get fresh heads of romaine or bags of baby spinach, and it goes much, much further. I realize that some produce markets force you to buy something like 5 lbs. of bananas for $2.00, but whatever we can’t consume in time will go towards baking/pancake mixes or be frozen for future use, like smoothies. Never any point in having things go to waste, I try to consume or freeze whatever I can to ensure nothing gets thrown away. That even goes for things like carrots, berries or zucchini.

Learn to Make Things From Scratch

Certain things can be quite costly when bought pre-made, such as hummus, pesto, or guacamole. With a food processor it’s easy to make a lot of these items from scratch for a fraction of the cost, it definitely just takes a little extra work. Hummus can usually cost $3-$5 for an 8-12 oz. container, but making it from scratch can easily cost less than a dollar once you have all the ingredients on hand (tahini is usually the most expensive ingredient, and plenty of hummus recipes don’t even use tahini). Pesto is something that can easily be made in large batches and frozen for future use, but it’s definitely crucial to use good quality olive oil, you can’t cheap out on that, but it will last a LONG time if prepared properly. I always crush a vitamin C tablet into powder and blend it into the pesto as a preservative, otherwise it can go moldy unless you freeze it. My mom has actually taught me how to make jams, and she can crank out tons of preserves that will last for a LONG time if preserved properly.

Gluten-free granola can be VERY expensive, but making a batch by hand takes very little prep work. Even things like French fries can easily be made from scratch rather than buying bags of frozen Ore-Ida fries, and I can guarantee they will be much healthier for you! I’m hoping to get more into some of my favorite recipes and foods for future entries, so stay tuned. Obviously treats like cookies and brownies are always cheaper when made from scratch, even pre-made cookie dough in the refrigerated section (yes, GF versions of this DO exist) is going to cost less than a dozen GF cookies in a box, plus it’ll taste ten times better!

I also make my own soup. I find canned soup to be outrageously expensive, close to $2-$3 a can for GF soup. It’s easy enough to buy a quart of certified GF base (potato, corn, vegetable broth, etc.) and throw in all fresh ingredients for a hearty soup that will yield tons of leftovers. I have yet to make my own broth, but I imagine in time I can experiment with that as well.

Even snacky foods like popcorn, flavored almonds, and chips, can all easily be made from scratch for a fraction of what you’d spend in the store with far less preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients. I recently just got a bag of chocolate-drizzled popcorn in my Taste Guru delivery, and can’t wait to try to make it on my own. Sure it takes a little work, but it will cost less than a dollar for probably three times what a 6 oz. bag would offer. The internet is obviously a fantastic resource for finding good gluten-free recipes, and if you seek, you shall find more than you need.

Buy in Bulk (Subscribe and Save)

While I do make plenty of foods from scratch, I still buy my baking and bread mixes online and make bread at home using a bread maker. I have yet to play Mad Scientist with mixing five different kinds of flour, xanthum gum, etc., and usually just buy mixes and throw everything into the machine and walk away. Two and a half hours later, a fresh loaf of bread is ready! A good bread maker with a gluten-free setting is usually around $100, and I can assure you that you’ll get your money’s worth from it.

Pretty much any GF baked good is cheaper when made at home. I have always found pre-made GF foods to be outrageously expensive. A loaf of GF bread can easily cost $5, gluten-free hamburger rolls usually can cost around $1 for ONE roll, a small bag of GF cookies sometimes costs close to $8.00 (what’s in them, diamond dust?), and pre-made pizza crusts can be astronomical in cost, I’ve seen two pre-made crusts in the freezer section for around $7.00. I can promise you will always save if you just roll up your sleeves, and you will almost always have plenty left over to the point where you can freeze half of it for later. I do this often with pizza crusts, I will make one for now and another will be stored in a freezer bag providing quick and easy access for a future meal.

I usually order my bread, pancake and pizza crust mixes from Amazon using their Subscribe and Save program, and I assure you it is quite economical to go this route. Another place you can find things at a reduced price are places like Big Lots and smash-and-ding grocery stores; many people have told me they’ve found good gluten-free products there, but obviously you need to keep an eye on the expiration dates and make sure the bags are sealed and haven’t been tampered, etc. You can pretty much find any GF company’s products on Amazon, and I’ve easily saved close to 50% on buying in bulk. What’s good about a lot of GF products is that they freeze very well, and that’s a plus when you are only cooking for one or two people in your household.

Go Veg!

I am a vegetarian, and even though my husband is not, he still eats vegetarian quite often. One of his favorite meals is simply beans and rice with salsa, fresh avocado and a huge side of grilled veggies. I’m not kidding when I say this meal is quite cheap to throw together, and very delicious. The sky is the limit when it comes to what I can throw together. I often make penne corn pasta tossed with lots of veggies, white beans and olive oil or pesto. Throw in a side salad or steamed vegetables and some fresh bread and olive oil and it’s a quick and easy meal. We eat salad a LOT, and if I am feeling lazy it’s quite easy to throw together a salad and a veggie burger for a well-rounded meal.

Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, it’s easy enough to plan a few vegetarian meals throughout the week and it will definitely ease the strain on your wallet. A pound of tofu is less than two dollars (I get it at Wegman’s for $1.69), and even cheap meat often involves a lot of waste by trimming away fat, bones, etc. In the end, vegetarian is much less wasteful, affordable, and healthier.

Improvise

Gluten free rolls for sandwiches are pretty expensive. I have learned to use corn tortillas as a substitute for rolls, and it not only saves you money, but calories and sodium as well. Best to warm them up on a skillet and then fold them over and then just cut the sandwich fixin’s in half. A pack of 30 tortillas is usually around $1.50 or less…compare that to 4 GF hamburger rolls for $4-$5! They also have less preservatives and sodium, things I like to look out for when label reading. Stale bread can easily be turned into bread crumbs or croutons, which is far better on your wallet than buying them pre-made. Oftentimes when you have a gluten-free diet improvisation is just part of the game, so you may as well make it worth your while.

Another way to improvise is simply take items in your fridge and experiment. For example, earlier I had a decent sized batch of quinoa, so I tried my hand at making veggie burgers with them. It wasn’t even a matter of trial and error, but I just thought back to old recipes I had used and decided to try making some spur of the moment. Surprisingly they turned out pretty good!

Make Things Stretch

I am by no means an extreme cheapskate (that show appalls and fascinates me on so many levels), but I really like to get my money’s worth out of food. I love to stretch out a meal so it will last a couple days, and usually it just means bulking it up a little. I can easily take a batch of fried rice from P.F. Chang’s, add extra cubed tofu and steamed veggies and stretch it out for several lunches’ worth of meals. Same goes with something like soup, I will simply add more veggies, extra broth or water, and bulk it up so it lasts longer.

Brown Bag It

Such an obvious one, but this really needs to be reiterated. It’s very easy to spend $40-50 a week minimum on breakfast and lunch for a 9-5 job, but I find it’s far more satisfying to pack meals from home, and it costs you no more than you’d spend that would already be allotted in your grocery budget. When preparing dinner I usually make one or two extra servings and pack them in Tupperware so I can just grab them and go later that week.  When you’re on a strict GF diet, brown bagging it is the only way to go most days, I think. No matter what, buying meals means risking exposure to cross contamination even if it’s claimed as being GF.

I hope these tips helped steer you in the right direction when meal planning on a budget. I know when I first started on my GF diet I spent a LOT of money on pre-packaged products simply because I had no idea what I was doing and still had a lot to learn. My 3-year celiac anniversary will be here in a couple months and I found I have learned and evolved in many positive ways. I can only hope these suggestions can help you as well! The bottom line is, it does involve a little extra work, but in the end you will reap the rewards and lessen the pressure on your wallet.

Do you have any tips for people trying to eat gluten-free while on a budget?

What I am Thankful for, as Someone with Celiac Disease

Yes, folks, it’s time for the tried-and-true cliché of “What are YOU thankful for this holiday season?”. To be honest, I am thankful for SO much in my life. My life is really, really good, I have many things to be thankful for on a daily basis and the list would be long (and maybe to some, pretty typical). But I would like to focus on the fact that I have celiac disease for a moment and reflect on how thankful I am in regards to how my environment, friends and family are all so wonderful in helping me heal, thrive and LIVE.

I’m so thankful for:

My wonderful and amazing husband who insists on making sure I am never put at risk, checking and double-checking labels, always looking out for me, always handling “his own food” when we have gluten in the household (it’s not very often, but I find it to be unfair if he can’t have pizza from his favorite place once in a while, I just steer clear of it). He eats anything and everything gluten-free (and likes a LOT of it!), has never once complained while traveling that we have to find a place that is safe for me, enjoys any GF recipe I put in front of him, loves GF beer and never makes demands of me at ALL when it comes to anything regarding food. The most important thing to him is that I am healthy and safe from harm, and living in a GF home is 100% fine for him. He’s never complained about gummy pasta, or having rice again, using tortillas for hamburger buns, he just accepts and enjoys every meal without complaint, and that is amazing to me when I read the horror stories of others who have spouses or SOs that refuse to convert to a GF life to protect their loved one. He’s such a blessing in my life!

Having family that never fails to make sure my needs are met. There is always a gluten-free dessert, always a lot of gluten-free options, and everyone has made sure to be very well-versed in what contains gluten, cross-contamination risks, and other things that come with a gluten-free lifestyle. There is always some Angry Orchard or Strongbow stocked just for me, and my mom especially loves to try new GF dessert recipes. They have never once teased or belittled my having an autoimmune disease and always have taken it very seriously. I think this is SO SO SO important for anyone, of any age, in order to thrive with celiac. If you don’t have the support of your family, I think it can really affect your health, well-being and also self-esteem. I really couldn’t ask for a better family.

Having friends that make extra sure my needs are met whenever we socialize. I have been to parties where there are GF desserts and snacks that are specially marked GF and set aside specifically for me, and I find that so incredibly endearing and thoughtful. Whenever we go out to eat, they never complain about going to a place that is safe for me, and are completely easy-going and have zero demands that things go their way. They take my having celiac seriously, and sometimes even order off the GF menu in case I want to try something. It’s pretty amazing when I think back on all of the good dining experiences I have had with friends. I may not have a million friends, but the ones that I have are gems and I couldn’t ask for more wonderful and selfless people in my life.

Having awesome co-workers that bring in GF treats for me, are always looking out for things that are safe for me to try, and never making me feel left out. Time and time again I find myself pleasantly surprised by this, and I won’t ever forget the time a co-worker went out of her way to get a GF cupcake just for me when we had cake in the office. In fact, that has happened more than once, and with different co-workers! You guys rock on so many levels, seriously.

Thanks to my GI doctors that have helped me through this journey, and I am glad I can be so frank with them when it comes to discussing my symptoms. When discussing bowel movements, bloating, and GI distress, you have to sometimes approach it with a  sense of humor…and I have definitely brought on quite a few laughs and have been called “quite a character/very interesting individual”  on more than one occasion. Hey, I like to keep things lively. But I am so grateful that they finally pinpointed my celiac with no further questions after years of being misdiagnosed, not to mention they have personally called me just to check in, remind me to take my supplements, and have made themselves available if I need them without having to go through 5 receptionists first.  

Thank you to the online celiac and gluten-free community, that is tirelessly working to promote awareness and not taking crap from anyone! You guys have been great on calling out the scams, standing up for what you think is right, getting on the media that dismissively regards the “gluten-free trend” as a fad, and have been vigilant with educating on celiac disease and gluten-free living. You bring us all together when, as a very small part of the population, we can often feel alone. You are a wonderful asset and resource to the celiac community, and I am very grateful to know you!

Thank you to the restaurants that are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of cross-contamination and having knowledgeable staff and management when it comes to gluten-free menus. When I have questions, they either immediately know the answer or they take the time to consult the chefs or management to get a concrete answer. In the first month or two of my diagnosis, I was glutened a couple times, but lately I have found that the staff seems more trained, the menus are clearly marked, and they are really getting wise to safely providing for my needs. It’s amazing to see how things have progressively gotten better in the 2+ years of my diagnosis. And I will give a special shout-out to P.F. Chang’s, Pei Wei, and Q’doba, all places I have gone to multiple times and have had excellent experiences with when it comes to safely eating gluten-free. And believe it or not, I have YET to get a serious eye roll when I ask for a GF menu. That’s a plus. Oh, and lastly, FIVE GUYS for their fries, always guaranteed to be GF. I’m a pretty healthy eater 90% of the time, but there are days where I need that fix, and they deliver.

Thank you to the supermarkets I frequent with the gluten-free sections all clearly marked and an amazing selection of products. I will never get bored eating the same thing, as I am finding plenty of variety and I appreciate how careful you are with being specific about CC possibilities and clearly marking your labels of freshly made foods. Wegman’s is a godsend, and Giant has also been very good to me!

Thank you to all the gluten-free food manufacturers that take a lot of time and care to process food safely and are so careful with disclosure when it comes to cross-contamination concerns. I am finding I am getting glutened a LOT less as of late because the labels have been very clearly marked and I always am made aware when a product is processed in the same facility (or with the same machinery) as wheat or gluten. I am really happy to see more and more gluten-free products that are safely marked as GF certified, it really puts my mind at ease! Oh, and to all the gluten-free beer and cider distributors, I bow to you, it’s been so nice to be able to enjoy a nice cold one after a marathon!

I can only hope I covered everything, and if there is anything you are thankful for that you feel I may have missed, please feel free to comment!

I wish you all a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving. Take some time to reflect, and realize how good you really have it when things in life sometimes seem less than ideal; trust me, we’ve had a rough year with some bumps in the road and are still grateful and consider ourselves quite lucky.

May your holiday be filled with love, family, friends, good food and drinks, and most of all, thankfulness for all the good things in your life.

Gotta Love the Element of Surprise: I Can’t Believe it’s Gluten-Free!

Having celiac disease means you have to immediately conform your life to a gluten-free lifestyle with absolutely no cheating and really make sure you avoid cross contamination at all costs. I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone tell me “I could never have celiac, I would die if I had to follow that diet.” There is one part of me that just wants to hit them in the head with a sack of gluten-free flour and retort “Really? You’d die? YOU’D DIE?” Way to be a total drama queen. And you might as well tell me how much it sucks to be me. It’s about that insulting to insinuate eating gluten-free is the equivalent of  swallowing a cyanide pill. You have absolutely NO idea how much it has changed my quality of life. It’s like I have been given a whole new life, but without constant pain, fatigue, pain, discomfort, bloating, pain…and more pain. If given a choice, I will go with Door #2, thanks.

My first year of having celiac disease was a major shift in my life where I had to completely overhaul every aspect of my carefree and food-obsessed life. I had my moments. My temper tantrums. My meltdowns. My self-pity parties filled with tears and frustration.  It was like trying to swim upstream while wearing concrete shoes and a weighted vest. And then one day the weights finally fell off, the current shifted and I was coasting freely, lightly, and happily with my diagnosis. It didn’t happen overnight, but it DID in fact happen in time.

To those naysayers that think celiac is the end-all of life as you know it, I have to say:
You know what? You adjust. You try new things. You learn to cook more and order take-out a lot less.  You learn to rely much more on yourself and a lot less on others. But you also learn to share your new-found knowledge with others.

I think a good portion of the population assumes gluten-free means tasteless, dry and not fit for human consumption. But time and time again I find that they are surprised to find that gluten-free actually tastes GOOD.

I host dinner a lot when it comes to social gatherings with friends and family, and since I run a pretty tight ship my meals are always GF across the board. And time and time again, the naysayers are pleasantly surprised at how good everything can taste. Homemade bread, salad, steamed veggies and baked ziti are often quick and easy staples for a group meal, and more often than not, guests are going for seconds and thirds, and I am left with VERY few leftovers.

Sometimes I bring in gluten-free goodies for the office, and time and time again people are pleased and surprised that the GF Oreos or cupcakes actually taste better than “real” ones. It actually makes me feel pretty good at the end of the day when I can “trick” someone with GF fare and reveal the “big secret” once all is consumed.

Gluten-free does not equal a culinary death sentence.  If anything, it expands the palate and makes you experiment and try new things. And you know what? Now many of my friends and family embrace the “dark side” of gluten-free, and some actually prefer it over ordinary fare. That is pretty significant, and means that GF is actually NOT the equivalent of eating food made from a 3-D printer (and yes, apparently that idea is in the works, and no thank you I won’t try it!).

And one of the most common things I hear these days when the “Big Reveal” is made is “WOW, I can’t believe it’s gluten-free!” Well well well! Take THAT Culinary Cynics! Surprise, Gastronomic Gourmands! And a big Nelson-Muntz “Ha ha!” to the Epicurean Elitists! Imagine that…gluten-free does NOT suck! You certainly won’t know that until you try it for yourself. And while my life DOES depend on it, I still enjoy it immensely and I love being able to share it with others…especially knowing my body is finally thriving rather than dying a slow and agonizing death.

Don’t knock it ’till you try it, folks.

What gluten-free food have you shared with others that they were pleasantly surprised WASN’T GF? How did it make you feel?