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?


NJ Marathon Eats: Gluten-Free Pre- , During- and Post-Race Fare

Getting to run a race so close to home means I have plenty of opportunities to carb-load MY way with very little fear of cross-contamination or going against the norm in terms of my usual fare, so it made for a very seamless and incident-free weekend!

Pre-Race Dinner

The night before the race I was fortunate enough to carb-load on my usual pre-race dinner of pizza and French fries. I made dough in advance using my favorite Bob’s Red Mill gluten free pizza crust, and loaded it with marinara, spinach, Portobello mushrooms and zucchini. There was a Five Guys less than 5 miles from the hotel, so an order of small Cajun fries was MINE, all MINE! And a small order of fries from Five Guys is usually, oh,  3 – 5 servings’ worth of small fries, depending on the generosity of the establishment. They won’t only fill the cup, but they’ll dump in a ton of extra fries into the bottom of the bag, which I dub “the bag o’ grease”.  I assure you I had plenty, and the massive salt overload is perfect for water retention to avoid dehydration and cramping on race morning. Oh, and I had two Strongbows…that counts as carb-loading in my mind.

Pre-race Breakfast

Race morning I was a little against the grain. I had my usual coffee and Silk creamer, but also had leftover pancakes from the morning before and brought a couple with me. I made them using Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pancake mix, bananas, pecans, cinnamon and cooked quinoa. They are easy enough to make vegan with a flaxseed meal “egg” (1 TB flaxseed meal and 3 TB water, mix and let sit for a couple minutes so it congeals) as well as almond milk and a little oil. I smothered one with some Peanut Butter and Company Mighty Maple and had some unsweetened applesauce on the side. The part of me that obsesses about balancing my meals insists on having fruit or a vegetable with every meal or snack!  One pancake ended up being plenty for me, and definitely carried me though the morning until I could start fueling with gels.

Race Course Support

Atlantic City’s marathon has a lot of out and back sections to the course, so there really never seemed to be any lack of support whatsoever. They provided Gatorade and water at every stop, and lots of tables after Mile 9 had Powerbar Energy Gels and Powerbars. I obviously avoided the Powerbars (the idea of stomaching a whole Powerbar, even without having celiac, seemed ludicrous), and snagged three gels, the first being chocolate (blech) and the second two were Wild Berry. I’m not a Power Gel fan usually but it did the trick when I needed a quick energy burst.

Finish Line Fare

In true Jersey Shore style, the AC Marathon really delivered! Besides the usual water, Gatorade, orange slices and banana halves, they also had soft pretzels and rolls, hot seafood chowder, beer, caramel popcorn, and my favorite treat: Rita’s lemon water ice! I pounced on that like Mojo with one of his toy mice. And it was SO worth it. I ended up getting a second one because the first was so incredibly refreshing. So yes, quite a few strike outs in terms of food I could eat, but the water ice was perfect for what my body craved…all I wanted was fluids, fluids and more fluids.

Post Race Meal

I got to try a brand new establishment on my way home; a friend who wanted to spectate but was unable to make it really wanted to celebrate my finish, and kept telling me about a great place in Collingswood, NJ, called The Tortilla Press. This place really did a great job  great job accommodating all of my needs, and I definitely can’t wait to go back. They truly knew about cross-contamination and gluten free food preparation, which is not something I can say about many establishments. They made me a freshly-baked basket of corn chips and freshly prepped guacamole and salsa that was separate from the other chips and salsa that they bring for the table, not to mention a pitcher of virgin margaritas which we could de-virginize with our own tequila. I assure you that we did so with gusto! They also made me a special gluten-free veggie taco platter filled with seasonal veggies as well as a side of beans and rice. It was all so good I thought I would cry, and I actually had ample leftovers since I had loaded up so substantially on fluids. I was so content and happy to be relaxing with good food, drink and friends…I don’t think it could have gotten any better, but there was even a sweet reward on the radar as well.

My friend told me she scoped out the local cupcake place a block over called My Little Kupcake, and they had gluten-free cupcakes! So yup, you can bet we stopped in! I grabbed a gluten-free pumpkin cupcake in honor of the season (Chris got his favorite, coconut) and I enjoyed half of it later that evening. It was so incredibly delicious it took a LOT of willpower to avoid eating the entire thing in one bite.

I made sure to drink no more alcohol for the rest of the day after my celebratory lunch to ensure I had little muscle soreness and that my muscles stayed well-hydrated. I’ll be honest, if every weekend could be as good as this one in terms of my food experiences, I can’t wait to run my next race simply for all the treats! It was definitely one of the best I had experienced for a long time!

Montana Marathon: Pre-, During-, Post-Race – Gluten-Free Meals and Nutrition

Sorry, I have been SO behind lately on entries, so I will do my best to catch up before my next marathon this Sunday in Atlantic City, NJ.

Pre-Race Meal

My typical pre-race meal for marathons is pretty simple fare: pizza and French fries. I can’t say where this came from, but years ago I had it the night before a race, did really great the next day (I think I PR’d for a half marathon), and the habit stuck. When I am on the road, it’s sometimes hard to find either: gluten-free pizza can only be gotten from places I would trust, and those establishments are very few. As for French fries, it’s equally difficult to find places with a  designated fryer; in fact, a baked potato from Wendy’s often serves as a decent and inexpensive stand-in. But when I manage to procure both, it’s like a carb-load dream come true.

In Montana, I pretty much strayed from the norm on all counts. I did some research, but the only one tried-and-true place that everyone reviewed in a positive gluten-free light was a local eatery called The Naked Noodle. It was much like Noodles and Company, a place where you could customize noodle dishes depending on the cuisine you had a hankering for (Japanese, Thai, Italian, etc.), and there were plenty of GF options. They assured me they used separate water, pots and colanders, and I felt confident it would suffice for a pre-race meal. That night I went against pretty much all of my pre-race meal traditions and had Pad Thai with extra veggies and tofu, of all things. While I wanted potatoes in any form, I didn’t have much luck. Chris got some barbeque from a local popular place in Whitefish called The Shak, which touted gluten-free fare, including their potatoes and sweet potato fries. But when I asked if they had a designated fryer, they told me no. Ah, so it’s that kind of gluten-free.I get it.  I went potato-less that night. But happily, I did NOT get glutened, and I will happily endorse the Naked Noodle for anyone visiting Montana, as they had a couple locations.

Race Morning Breakfast

Our hotel in Montana had access to a toaster and a microwave, but unfortunately they were in a common room that was locked up after-hours and in the early morning of Race Day, I had no access to either. This was also my first time, EVER, where I would be unable to have coffee, and the concept alone is maddening. There were way too many strikes against me from the get-go and I had to simply improvise.

I brought some teabags from home and managed to “brew” some tea using hot tap water and let them sit overnight. Instant caffeine, albeit cold. Trust me, when you need caffeine as I do, you take what you can get. I would have had a Mountain Dew if I had to, though I shudder at the thought.  While I had Udi’s bagels at hand, there was no way I could eat them cold. GF bread and bagels are wonderful as long as they are warmed up or toasted, but there was no way I could stomach them cold. There wasn’t even an iron in the hotel room, so I couldn’t even use my iron-toaster technique.

In the end, I had rice cakes with Planter’s nut-trition peanut butter and banana slices and two cups of cold tea. Perfect. Calorie-wise, maybe a tad lacking, but it did the trick.

Race Support Nutrition

During the race itself there were ample tables set up with tons of water, Heed, Hammer Gels (FIVE different flavors!), bananas, pretzels (which I obviously avoided), orange slices, and in the final miles, electrolyte tablets. It was my first experience with Heed, and I won’t say I am a fan, but I have to admit I am not huge on sports drinks anyway. I was assured by the representatives at the Hammer Gel table that their products were all gluten-free, and the gels were actually quite good. I think I ended up having four of them along the course, as well as half a banana and two electrolyte tablets. They were also happy to fill my Nathan Sports bottle any time I asked, so I was never lacking in fluids, and for that I’m quite grateful. It was actually an unusually warm weekend in Whitefish, where they expected close to record highs, so I made sure to drink often. I felt that the Two Bear Marathon was incredibly well supported with plenty for all of the participants, and that means a lot to the runners!  It was definitely a first to see almost every table loaded with gels, whereas many other races only hand them out in the final 12 miles or so.

Post-Race meal

Post-race I was handed a bottle of water and had a moment to peruse the finish line spread. It was as if huge red X’s marked every option. Free Pork BBQ with coleslaw and BEER. To the ordinary finisher with no dietary concerns, the perfect end to a race. For me, it just meant finding sustenance elsewhere. This is something I am pretty used to by now.
Chris made my day by bringing me two cold Angry Orchard ciders, and I snacked on cold hummus and carrots as we started driving south toward Helena. In Kalispell I was satisfied with some fries from Five Guys while Chris had a well-deserved burger. In the end, I feel my post-race choices were QUITE lacking in nutrition and protein. Beer? Carrots? French fries? Ugh, I shudder to think how little I regarded my nutritional needs at the time. I really think, minimum, I need to eat a KIND plus bar, a PB rice cake  or some almonds, something that has some semblance of protein.

I think I fared well in Montana, but was definitely lacking in the post-race meal department. The next two races I think I will do a little better, as they are much closer to home, but I think overall I did well, save a small cross-contamination reaction which I will save for another time. I consider it a victory to not get majorly glutened while traveling!

The Importance of Being Earnest (with Gluten Warnings)

*OK, you can stop rolling your eyes at my not-so-clever title*

Believe it or not, I recently managed to gluten myself TWICE within 72 hours, and it was all due 100% to my own negligence and the fact that I was in denial that cross-contamination disclosures weren’t a big deal. I was totally wrong, and it’s completely my fault. I ended up missing a crucial 20-mile training run and spent my entire Sunday afternoon on the couch, shotgunning episodes of Downton Abbey and laying about miserably.

Having been diagnosed with celiac disease in spring of 2011, you would THINK that by now I would know better. You would think by now I would be well past rookie mistakes. You would think that after my disastrous marathon in Michigan I would be on my toes and 100% alert and aware.

Nope. I’m an idiot. And it’s completely my own fault.

Before getting into the specifics, I wish to preface this by saying how appreciative I am of stores and food manufacturers for being very specific with their allergen disclosures. I absolutely love places like Trader Joe’s, but know quite a bit of their goods have cross contamination potential (and they are very specific with disclosure). I will never stop shopping there (they carry my very favorite natural peanut butter!), but I know that I have to step up my guard or pay serious consequences. Both glutenings were due to my own negligence, and no finger-pointing or blame is aimed at anyone but myself.

Glutening Number One took place during a Saturday night dinner that we hosted for some good friends; I had gotten some homemade veggie burgers from the Fresh Market section of Wegman’s. Perusing the ingredients I saw that everything was safe, but then a warning beneath that they may contain traces a laundry list of possible allergens due to being prepared in a shared area. I thought about this warning and realized the same exact warning was on their prepared sushi, so shrugged it off with a flippant air of dismissal. I ate sushi from Weman’s dozens of times with no issues as long as I knew what to look for, so I assumed the warning was a very small threat with zero consequences.

I was quite wrong, and within an hour or so I spent the rest of my evening in pain; I was reminded of the old paper mache volcano I made in grade school with the baking soda lava flow…it felt that awful. I was feeling quite irritable and frustrated that I ruined a Saturday night by not taking the warning seriously. My 20-mile run that was scheduled for the next morning was completely out of the question, and it really threw a wrench into my training.

Glutening Number Two occurred that Monday afternoon when I purchased some hummus from Trader Joe’s. I had done this dozens of times in the past, always being sure to examine labels ahead of time before checking out. Until that day. I bought a hummus that was a four-flavor variety tub, and sampled it when I got home with some tortilla chips. Within fifteen minutes my stomach was outraged and quite mutinous; I tried to lay down for a short while but the severe pain kept me tossing and turning restlessly. I was reminded of the years I spent as a child going through this exact same kind of agony, and started to trace my steps to the source of the discomfort. Something clicked resolutely in my brain and I went back to check the label on the hummus (that I had previously disregarded) and saw that it was processed in a shared facility with wheat products. I was furious at myself for being so careless. Fortunately I was able to take some activated charcoal tablets with a lot of water, and within an hour or so the symptoms had abated to a mere whisper. But the effects lasted throughout the entire week and even into my weekend that was spent at the family shorehouse.

Two times I glutened myself accidentally due to my own  carelessness. Two times I easily could have avoided it, the first time because I decided to disregard it, the second time because I forget to check and assumed the product was safe like the others I had purchased in the past.

A while back I wrote an entry about never letting my guard down, and I completely and totally failed to follow my own advice. So what does this mean for me in the future? Has a lesson been learned? I certainly think so, but I think it’s an important message to reiterate ad-nauseum (no pun intended!).

If you have celiac disease: never, ever, EVER consume a product that may have shared equipment or was processed or stored in a facility that also processes products with wheat or gluten. The merest hint of cross contamination is enough to send my health into a tailspin. Read labels with a microscope. Check and double-check. Ask questions. Don’t be careless. How many times will I have to accidentally gluten myself before this lesson sinks in and is lodged permanently in the recesses of my brain?

I think it set in earlier this week. I had a strong craving …I really wanted some avocado rolls at lunchtime. I went to three different stores and all three times there was a warning about wheat (and sometimes barley was actually IN the prepared rice, much like how it is prepped in Japan). Was the warning merely about the soy sauce packet that came with the rolls? Is that what it meant by “CONTAINS WHEAT”? I wasn’t about to find out. Irritable and disappointed, I simply went without that day.

To be blunt, having celiac sucks. Going without when you have a major craving also sucks. Being hungry when there are no other options ALSO really sucks. But the consequences are not worth a moment of pleasure in the end. Having your immediate cravings mollified isn’t worth 7-10 days’ worth of side effects, and it also can affect years’ worth of internal healing.

When I hear about celiacs who cheat because they “can’t help it”, it devastates me. They know it hurts, and the pain is worth the pleasure. They are definitely gluttons for punishment, but have no idea how much more damage could be going on internally besides the immediate side effects (for me, seriously annoying things like canker sores, blurred vision, dizziness and extreme fatigue on top of loads of GI distress). It is not worth it, nothing is worth your health.

I will not allow myself to be glutened again by my own hand. I can only hope my message can be passed on to you.

For Further Information on finding gluten in labeling:
What Terms Mean ‘Gluten’ on Food Labels?




State # 12: Michigan: Ann Arbor Lives Up to Its Name

Running a marathon in all 50 states and DC can be a very daunting task, and for the average Joe/Jane it takes quite a long time to accomplish from a training, time and financial standpoint. Depending on the state that you call home, it can be a little easier (or harder) for the aspiring 50-stater to meet their goal faster. Living in Pennsylvania allows me to get to over 20 states within a 12-hour driving time, though I have yet to drive further than 9 hours to reach a race state yet. I consider myself lucky that I live in an ideal location, for 4 states (as well as DC) alone can be reached within a 2-3 hour car ride for a quick weekend getaway to snag some new race bling. I always feel bad for those runners who live in a state in the mid-West who have to pay a lot of airfare just to fly to Delaware, but I am sure the same could be said for me when I have to fly to remote states on the other side of the country.

One of Michigan’s closer cities, Ann Arbor, appealed to me as a marathon destination. It was within driving distance, had more of a college town feel than a city, and had a little more green to it (thus the name).  I also appreciated that the marathon was on the small side, the bigger city marathons tend to stress me out. While I might be missing out on something by foregoing NYC or Chicago by avoiding the mega-races, I feel like I am giving my spot to another deserving runner, not to mention supporting the communities that host the small-town races. A race like Ann Arbor’s marathon, while not a rugged trail race that I’d prefer, still definitely gave off the vibe that it was a smaller race with great support.
There were some downsides to this race according to the reviews: a) it was in June and b) it was fairly hilly. Having run the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion marathon in one of my best times ever (the same exact weekend as Ann Arbor’s marathon actually!), I didn’t let these variables scare me. Whatever happened would happen: this was to be my race for Michigan.

Chris and I decided rather than drive all day, as we had for events past, we would leave in the middle of the night and arrive at a reasonable hour. It worked out in our favor surprisingly well, and we had a great drive with no mishaps. Traffic was light and the miles passed by quickly.

The first stop we made was the Briarwood Mall, not to shop, but for my packet pick-up! That was a first for me, packet pick-up in the middle of a shopping mall. But it was fairly quick and easy, no bells and whistles, grab your shirt and number and you’re on your way. Some expos force you to pass EVERY booth whether you like it or not (yeah Akron, I’m looking at you!), and in this case it was easy to bypass any extra tables if you were in a hurry.

By this time we were well ready for a bite to eat, and decided that Chipotle seemed a safe bet from a gluten-free and vegan standpoint. In the end, I think it ended up being a very poor decision on my part, but at the time it seemed right!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel since the race started quite early the next morning, and most of my pre-race food was brought from home. I wasn’t feeling especially hungry or good by dinnertime, but I knew I needed calories. I couldn’t pinpoint the problem, but Chris had suffered from a nasty bug last weekend and I was hoping and praying I didn’t pick up remnants of it the day before my race.

Race morning I felt a strong sense of something being amiss. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I definitely didn’t feel well, and was worried that something managed to get into my system. All I can say is that the race was one of the worst marathons I had ever experienced. Even after consulting the Magic 8 Ball, I never got an “All Signs Point to Yes” answer on whether or not it was gluten or Chris’ bug. All I can say is that a substantial amount of time was wasted during this race having to stop.

The start line of the race was at the Northwestern corner by Michigan stadium. It was odd, because it was very quiet walking to the start. Runners stood around ready to get the race started, but it was definitely a very low key atmosphere, maybe a step up from Colorado Springs or Hatfield-McCoy Reunion. While it was a warm morning, there was no chance of rain in the forecast and it didn’t look to get hotter than 75 degrees,  this was perfectly doable for a race in June!

The National Anthem was sung, and the race director enthusiastically let off an air horn to signal the race start. We were on our way.

I ran the race at a fairly relaxed pace to start, chatting with a couple Maniacs (Jen and Sean in the very early miles)…the race was definitely a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and quite green! There were lots of trees, rolling fields and hills, and it was far more scenic and less of a city atmosphere than Providence. Within 3 miles I started feeling nausea…within 4 miles I had to stop at a jon. Here was Round One. I won’t get into details, but I will say I wasted a good 1:30 minutes just waiting to get into one. Getting started again I did my best to sort of play catch up with my pace.

Things never improved. I stopped again. And again. And AGAIN. I honestly had no idea how my body had anything left to give. But it was horrible. I might as well have been running with the flu. In the 70+ degree temps I actually had chills, nausea, and horrible cramping. I started to worry about hydration and foolishly left my hand-held water bottle in the room, so I had to rely on the water stops. Fortunately there were plenty, and the volunteers were absolutely wonderful throughout.

A lot of this race in the middle miles were a blur. I remember seeing lots of trees and pretty areas, and also lots of roadkill. Very few spectators. In fact, I think the roadkill actually outnumbered the spectators! But those that WERE on the course were awesome. Many were students from the University of Michigan donned in blue and yellow, and they REALLY were cheering us all on! I found that when I had the energy to converse with other runners, they were amazingly friendly and encouraging. I met another Maniac, Roger, who helped me keep my mind off things for a few miles as we talked about our 50-states quest and how far we both had to go. While I lost many of these Maniacs during the race, I saw them time and again during out and back sections, and no matter WHAT, we shouted encouragement to one another.

Around mile 15 the course suddenly got very crowded, and I know I didn’t catch up to a group of runners in a pack, but it turned out that the half marathoners joined us and were with us until their final mile. I can’t say why, but running amongst the half marathoners made me feel a little better about myself. I had covered quite a bit more distance, I was still holding it together, and by this point I had yet to walk. It gave me a small confidence boost.
At this point too, we got a lovely surprise: some of the race went through the Arboretum, which boasted beautiful scenery, unpaved dirt trails, and some hills. By this point I was wiped out, and the steep hills were just too much for me to handle. I walked, and felt absolutely no shame in doing so…not after what I had gotten through so far. I gave myself maybe a minute or two to find my bearings, get a little strength back, and force myself to kick back into a run. It was tough, and it took a lot of determination, but I knew I had to keep going.

When we exited the woods, I saw Chris a little past Mile 18. He was so happy to see me, and thought I was right on pace and really happy for me. Upon seeing him I burst into tears and collapsed into his arms, sobbing that I couldn’t finish, I couldn’t do this. It seemed impossible. I was so humiliated at how sick I was feeling, and how my body was just rebelling against me any way it could. He calmly told me “You’re doing great! You’re right on pace! You look so strong!” Words of love and encouragement poured out of him and gave me a some much-needed strength. He insisted I keep going and wouldn’t let me waste any more time blubbering, so I kicked back into gear and gave it my all to finish those final miles.

When you can start counting marathon miles in the single digits, you know you’re going to finish. Only an hour and a half, only a 10k, only a 5k…it starts to seem a little easier with each mile marker. As you get closer to the prize you feel a tiny boost of energy and excitement. I started feeling those pangs of excitement. I was going to do this. It was a new state, my 15th marathon, and while I wouldn’t have the best time ever, I was STILL going to finish this thing no matter how hard it got.

Sure, seeing Chris gave me a nice push…but my body was still in angry mode. I had to stop not once, but two more times. Ugh. I think the last stop I must have wasted a good two to three minutes. It was horrible. But once I got back onto the course I felt like it was finally my last stop, and I only had maybe 4.5 miles to go. This final leg of the race was an out and back that looped around the Briarwood Mall, so I got to pass runners that were heading to the loop. I saw many Maniacs I had seen earlier in the race, including Jen, and she was marveling that she was going to PR today, on this monster of a course. In hindsight, she was right, it WAS a monster of a course! Much hiller than expected, but also what is nice about hills is that what goes up also goes down, so there was some downhill to give us a break!

Around Mile 23 I saw Chris again and he was again cheering enthusiastically…which helped keep my mind off the poor dead rabbit on the street. I swear I have NEVER seen more roadkill during a race, EVER. But at this point I knew I was gaining strength since I had around a 5k to go. We looped around a road to cross a bridge, and Chris popped out again after running to climb up the stairs by the bridge to surprise me. It truly made me burst out laughing when he cheerfully shouted “SURPRISE! Come on! You can DO this! Come on! Don’t forget, we’re going to go to HELL* after this!” I couldn’t stop laughing at that, I realized at that moment he was right, I WOULD do this! I was really close and gaining strength with this knowledge.

The final mile and a half we had to do a small out and back, and of COURSE it was a nasty uphill one way, why wouldn’t it be? Every runner I passed I made sure that I encouraged them. Many half marathoners and faster full marathoners, donning their medals, cheered us on from the sidewalks, and I think it made a world of difference to our morale. What a boost! I think part of marathoning is how it brings us all together, we all have our eyes on the same prize and we all have to go to the same lengths to earn it.
The finish line took place in a stadium, not THE University of Michigan stadium (but how cool would THAT be?), but the smaller Elbel Michigan Band Practice field. It felt SO wonderful to cross that finish line, even though there were a handful of spectators, I was just so happy to have finished in one piece. My finish time was 4:32, definitely not my best, but not entirely dismal either! The amount of time I spent walking, inside jons (which surprisingly were quite clean and not nearly as bad as most other events), waiting for jons…it was a pretty good effort on my part.

The medal was pretty standard fare, but I was disappointed that it didn’t have trees on it. For some reason, the tagline for the race was “Run the city.” But to me, Ann Arbor was so much more than a city, it had so much green, lots of wildlife, lots of trees, I just felt the medal could have been designed to reflect the green atmosphere of Ann Arbor.
I had absolutely zero appetite, and all I wanted was fluids. I figured I would see what they had and snag a couple things for Chris. After all, spectating is hungry work (and I know he spent a lot of time hoofing it to find me on the course)! As per usual, a lovely gluten-filled spread of pizza, muffins, cookies, and other treats. I managed a bottle of water and a Gatorade and was content with it for the time being while he enjoyed some pizza.

Back at the hotel I managed to get cleaned up and stomached some plain white rice. It was about all I felt like having at the time. I really, really had zero appetite for hours. Chris drove me to Hell, which was a fun little stop, and then decided he wanted to visit the Arboretum and Peony Garden. It was absolutely beautiful, and we even were on some sections of the trail that I ran on during the race. The Mile 17 marker was still in its spot. By around 7 PM I realized that WOW, I was hungry and ready to dig into some much needed fuel.

We got to try a brand new place that isn’t local to PA called Noodles and Company, and it was amazing! They really went the extra mile to explain how they prepare the rice noodles separately from regular, and were very good at advising me as to what dishes I could get that were definitely GF, so a pad thai with no eggs and meat was ultimately my choice. We even took a little side trip to Five Guys to grab an order of fries (yes, I was VERY hungry by this point!) It was absolutely wonderful and felt so good to eat again.

Looking back on the race, I had good memories of Ann Arbor. If I physically felt well, I would definitely give it two thumbs up as one of my better races. Great people, small, low-key, wonderful and friendly volunteers, great shirt (it FIT and I liked the logo design) and decent medal, nice scenery (such a shame I was too out of it to recognize that we ran THROUGH the Peony Garden!!!) and a challenging course…just a highly recommended smaller race for Michigan that I actually would return to if given the chance.

Race Results

Finish time: 4:32:26
Overall place: 261/402
Gender place: 78/141
Division place: 10/20

What I learned

  • I already blogged extensively about this, but I think I know now that I really need to be careful about pre-race meals. Chipotle was NOT a good idea and I need to probably stick to more bland fare that isn’t loaded with spices.
  • I also need to DO MY HOMEWORK and ask again and again about the status of prepared food being gluten free. My health depends on it!

*Believe it or not, there is a small town maybe 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor called Hell that I was dying to visit for the kitsch factor. We did manage to visit, and mailed some postcards from Hell to ourselves and family. They burn the edges of the card before post-marking it as a nice touch.

As a Celiac, I Can’t Afford to Let My Guard Down

When it comes to dietary lifestyle, I think it’s very easy to become a little too comfortable, and ultimately careless, once you are used to living this way for a while. I’ve officially gotten into a groove; it’s definitely not nearly as hard to live a gluten-free plant-based lifestyle as most people assume, and I’m doing great! But sometimes I think when it comes to the gluten-free part, I can get a little haphazard. Lately it’s been happening to me, and I realize that I need to remember to stay focused, not get sloppy, and diligent about research and asking questions. LOTS of questions. My health absolutely depends on it. I can’t afford to slip up.

Lately I have had incidents occur which, if I wasn’t diligent (and as Chris says, using my Spidey senses), would have ended in disaster. Other times, I assume my work is done and I have suffered consequences because I didn’t do my homework. Having celiac disease means being very aware of everything you consume, and never letting your guard down.

One instance was when I was at a PF Chang’s, a place I frequented often and didn’t have too many issues with in years past. I ordered one of my favorite dishes, a Thai Basil pasta that they would veganize for me. The server brought it to the table and I immediately noticed that the food wasn’t on the correct plate. Those of you who order from the gluten-free menu at Chang’s know that the GF dishes come on round plates with the Chang’s logo on the edges. This order definitely came on a regular square dish.

I asked the server if this was gluten-free, and she at first said yes.

I repeated the question and asked if she was absolutely certain, because it definitely didn’t come on the correct plate. She hesitated, admitted her doubt, and said she would take it back and check for me. I was very calm and understanding, but inside my heart was racing just a little. I am not a confrontational person at all, but I NEED to make sure that the order was 100% correct and had to be very firm and insistent that they know.

In the end, it was NOT gluten-free and they totally mixed up the order. While I never expected a comp, the food WAS comped, I was provided a legitimately GF meal, and all was well at the end of the day.  But I had to ask more than once, not just take the first answer at her word. I had to dig. I had to insist she be certain. No matter what, when eating outside of your comfort zone (meaning your kitchen) there is ALWAYS a risk of being glutened. I oftentimes joke that eating out is like playing Dietary Russian Roulette.

Another incident in which I was fairly diligent was at a recent family birthday party where a lot of grilling was going on. For the veggies, my mom made some homemade black bean burgers which were not GF (made with panko bread crumbs), and some Portobello mushrooms. They decided to put all the vegetarian items on the grill first. I secretly watched as my dad used the same spatula and grilling surface, and realized I was going to have to step in and gently chide/educate him on cross-contamination. I said that I needed to have my own Portobello on foil and a separate spatula would need to be used, because grilling all the veggies items together, while thoughtful for vegetarians, was still a glutening disaster waiting to happen. He sheepishly admitted he had no idea, but I thought it was a good lesson and they were happy to provide a safe replacement for me, new spatula and all.

Sometimes though, I’m not so diligent. I get lazy. I just assume things are safe. I ask once, take the answer at face value, and get glutened. One of the more recent incidents was at a Chipotle. Now I will flat out admit that I am not sure if I was glutened at Chipotle, but I was very ill the next morning for my race in Ann Arbor. While all signs point to a glutening, Chris has also suffered a stomach bug earlier in the week, so I cannot 100% say it was gluten or if I had picked up remnants of his bug.

Regardless, I made a few mistakes in this case:

  1. I didn’t check online first, and having a smartphone on a 9-hour road trip I had more than enough time to check.
  2. I asked the employee if the chips were gluten-free, to which they replied absolutely, nothing else is put into the fryer but the corn tortilla chips. I simply took their word for it.
  3. I never asked them to change gloves; even though I wasn’t getting anything with a flour tortilla, they handle those tortillas ALL DAY LONG.

The next day after my disastrous race experience, I started thinking back to what could have caused my illness. Chipotle’s website had a section on their gluten-free selection, and what I read made my heart drop a little.

Their statement on the chips was: “However, you should know that it’s possible our corn may have a small amount of gluten from potentially co-mingling with gluten-containing grains in the field.” This was something that was NOT disclosed to me by the employee, and if I had known that was Chipotle’s final answer I would have declined them with gusto.

I also needed to remember that when they make burritos they dip the ladles and spoons into the various ingredient compartments, and then use the same spoons to get it properly distributed onto a flour tortilla. So it’s also quite possible that trace amounts of gluten were in the ingredients.I am also TERRIBLE about asking them to change gloves, which is incredibly important.  It’s enough to make any celiac never want to eat out again! So many of us still hide out in our safety zones for a good reason.

Yes, on a microscopic level, gluten is devastating to a celiac. A single bread crumb is enough to cause serious reaction. Imagine a Gordon Ramsay accent here: Pretty frightening right? Something I need to take more seriously, correct? Lessons have been learned, yes?

An astounding affirmative on all counts.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding out and not enjoying the world like “normal people”. But it’s definitely hard. When you have celiac, you have to be assertive and ask questions. Check and double-check. Do your research. If something doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts and speak up. I am guilty of being a pretty passive individual, but I am getting better about speaking up  and not remaining silent and submissive. Don’t fear the eye roll. It might happen. I’ve had to get a little snarky when I ask if something is GF: “I’m GF because I have celiac disease and my health depends on it, not because (insert celebrity name here) does it.”

It’s important to remain diligent and not let your guard down. Don’t get sloppy. Don’t allow months and years of healing go down the drain because you assumed that everything was fine. It might not be. I think this is a reminder we can all use once in a while!

On a personal note: It’s been super tough for me to get in any efficient blogging and social media time these days, life has been very, very busy and there has not been a chance for a lot of “me” time, but I will definitely do my best to get back into the groove!

Eats: Gluten-Free and Vegan Breakfast Ideas (Part 2)

Most people assume that on a gluten-free, plant-based diet you can’t eat much more than fruit, and while I do find breakfast to be difficult to find while on the road, it’s actually quite wonderful when I have access to a kitchen!

One of Chris’ favorite breakfasts is one of the simplest: cereal and milk. Since he avoids refined sugar and I avoid gluten, it can definitely be difficult to find a happy medium. So my Cinnamon Chex would be his Uncle Sam’s Raisin Bran. Rather than have separate cereals, we worked to find a happy medium.

There is quite a variety of gluten-free cereals on the market, and one of our main staples for a LONG time was the various Chex cereals. They are gluten-free, but also contain sugar and BHT, both things we would like to avoid. We tried finding cereals that were naturally sweetened, have no added preservatives, and were lower in sugars, which can be difficult.

Here are some brands that are tried and true in our pantry (please note they are gluten-free and free of refined sugars and chemical additives):

One of our go-to cereal brands is Erewhon, they make organic, gluten-free cereals that are low in sugar and have few ingredients, which is always a huge plus. They make corn flakes (frosted and plain), brown rice crispies, and some varieties even have dried fruit.
Nature’s Path makes a lot of good cereals that even include some healthy fiber, such as Mesa Sunrise, Whole O’s (their version of Cheerios), rice crispies, and Maple or Vanilla Sunrise.  Nature’s Path also makes a variety of cereals called Envirokidz Organic that are very kid-friendly. The only brand I will buy for Chris is the Amazon Frosted Flakes (can’t beat it when there;s only 3 ingredients!), but on a whole they are definitely catered more to children. While I love Gorilla Munch, Panda Puffs and Leapin’ Lemurs, they are definitely more of a treat than a healthy breakfast!

I also make a homemade oat-free granola with Erewhon brown rice cereal using a recipe I found on the Attune Foods website. Chris adores this granola, and has dubbed it “Sweeties”. It’s great to eat with your dairy-free milk of choice or just plain, and as long as it’s sealed well, it will stay crisp and fresh for weeks. It is GREAT for road trips, and I have made quick breakfasts using it with just a banana and peanut butter. It’s even great for a sweet treat as well. I’ve tried different flavorings of extracts (coconut and vanilla are especially good) as well as different kinds of nuts for different results. In the end, they are ALL good, so give this recipe a try! There are also a lot of good gluten-free granola brands such as Udi’s and Glutenfreeda, but they do contain oats and as a celiac I tend to steer clear. Trader Joe’s makes an oat-free granola but I found it to be a bit high in calories and sugar.

While we no longer consume sugar-based cereals, I only feel it’s fair to mention that there are some cereals you can find outside of the organic section, but most of them are definitely chemically-laden sugar bombs with little nutritional value like Fruity or Cocoa Pebbles, Gluten-Free Rice Krispies, or Chocolate, Cinnamon, Honey Nut or Apple Cinnamon Chex. The less sweetened varieties of Chex can usually be found generic, such as corn or rice squares (basically Chex with different labeling), but the second ingredient is usually sugar, and they usually contain BHT or BHA (quote “to maintain freshness”), which are considered harmful food additives. Since Chris is a two-time cancer survivor, we do our best to avoid foods with preservatives these days. So I do recommend that you stick with the more organic cereals with no chemical additives any time you can.

As for hot cereals, I admit I love grits, and as far as my research has showed, they are gluten-free. One of my go-to breakfasts on my last cruise was grits, GF toast and fresh fruit. Be mindful of the manufacturing disclaimer though, if you see it’s been processed in a facility that handles wheat, I would avoid it. I have mainly seen this with generic brands.
I have found that I have an intolerance to oats, which is pretty heartbreaking, so I stopped using them for meals and recipes in the past couple months; if you CAN enjoy oats, I highly recommend Glutenfreeda. They have various flavored oatmeals, such as banana flaxseed, apple cinnamon, and maple raisin. Their ingredients are all-natural too! They have a wonderful consistency and taste great with add-ins, my favorite being a spoonful of peanut butter, or a sprinkling of chia seeds, flaxseeds, or nuts. Eco-Planet also makes a delicious gluten-free, organic multi-grain hot cereal in flavors like apple cinnamon and maple, as well as plain (the consistency is awesome!). As for a heartier cereal, Bob’s Red Mill has a variety of gluten-free hot cereals as well. I haven’t tried any of them, because I usually like things that are quick and on the go, so the slower cooking cereals aren’t in my pantry as a staple.

Cooked quinoa is also great for a hot cereal, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is by adding raisins, nuts, a little sweetener of choice, and a spoonful of peanut butter. Once warmed up, add a little dairy-free milk or just enjoy as-is, but it’s a delightful protein-packed breakfast! Quinoa is easy enough to make in a rice cooker and yields plenty of leftovers that keep well in the refrigerator. Trust me, one cup of uncooked quinoa goes a LONG way
As for milk, while Chris is not a practicing vegetarian (but oftentimes eats like one thanks to me!), he stopped using dairy milk several months ago. I encouraged him to try Almond Milk, which was my usual staple; while he was at first quite skeptical, he was immediately hooked and hasn’t looked back. We can’t seem to keep enough almond milk in the house! I’m not picky when it comes to brands, I’ve used Silk, Almond Breeze and Trader Joe’s brands and found them all to be great. The Almond Breeze Coconut Milk is wonderful but very sweet, so I’d recommend it more for desserts (like a rice pudding) than for breakfast. I used to enjoy soy milk but found it didn’t keep as well as I would have liked it to, but there are countless brands that you can choose from, including vanilla and chocolate flavored! Rice milk is also an option, but I always found it to be thin and watery and not to my liking. You can also find dairy-free beverages made from hemp (which I’ve tried and found it to be pretty good!) or coconut milk. The wonderful thing about ANY of these dairy-free milk options is that you can find most of them not only in the cold aisle, but also on store shelves with the dry goods in smaller packaging. This makes it an excellent option for traveling on the road, as long as you have a fridge in your hotel room once it’s opened. They even come in “juice-box” sizes which is very convenient if you’re anything like us and may have more than one destination on a road trip!

Obviously fruit is a great thing to throw into cold cereal, my favorites being the old stand-by of bananas or strawberries, but there are obviously lots of other options you can try, such as blueberries, fresh peaches, raspberries and blackberries. Like a little sweetener? I usually just use a little sprinkling of stevia, but Chris loves honey of all things, which to this day amuses me when I see him putting it on corn flakes. Agave nectar is something I am learning to adopt instead of honey, and I find that a little goes a long way! You can also try a little coconut palm sugar, which is a natural sugar with a brown sugar and caramel taste.

Weekends are my favorite time to splurge on breakfast, and next time I will get into some of my favorite eats, like quinoa pancakes, tofu scramble and bi-colored oven potatoes. Hopefully you’ll love them just as much as I do!

What are some of your favorite gluten-free cereals?