on fat and spontaneity

Today’s workout: 40 minute big gear workout followed by 70 minutes of running (pace work); yoga and/or paddle swim in the evening.

This post is dedicated to two of my favorite things. Fat, and spontaneity. I’ll start with the latter.

Not a bad day for riding.

Saturday’s ride through Joshua Tree National Park delivered a fresh jolt of the unexpected into my fairly predictable weekly schedule. Up until Thursday night, the plan had been to spend the weekend in Palm Springs doing a century ride and half marathon with a group of my teammates.

After our housing plan fell through, however, Plan B unfolded quickly before me and I ended up on a couch in Palm Desert with three familiar faces and 10 new ones. I was grateful for the new training environment, and for the chance to practice flexing that spontaneous muscle I too often ignore.

I traded my two races for a) making a whole bunch of new, incredibly generous friends from Chicago, b) getting to ride my bike through a cold, windy, and starkly beautiful desert, and c) drinking barolo at a restaurant straight out of The Godfather with a few of my favorite people. It’s a trade I’d gladly do again, changing only the bitter 4-degree C weather we started riding in.

The cuddliest of the cacti kingdom. (Photo courtesy of Courtney Hall.)

In other news, happy Mardi Gras (aka Fat Tuesday) everyone. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent—which for many just means an excuse to eat pancakes and go out and party. For some, it means that the first tendrils of spring are starting to show, despite the still clinging winter. Whatever it means now, Fat Tuesday got its start when Christians would clear their cupboards of fat and flour in order to prepare for 40 days of leanness.

I can hear all you triathletes now: Did I hear something about leanness? Sign me up!

Last Saturday’s 80 mile trek through Joshua Tree.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, really. I’m here to talk about fat.

As a triathlete—which is basically synonymous with some degree of food obsession—the notion that eating fat doesn’t make you fat is something I’m still learning. It’s becoming more well known that stuffing ourselves with low fat and nonfat everything doesn’t work, as such foods are often loaded with extra sugar and fillers to make up for the lack of flavor. I’m still developing a healthier relationship with food overall, but I think triathlon has helped me come to love and appreciate fat. I no longer shiver in fear at the sight of a bright yellow yolk breaking over a thick slab of perfectly-cooked bacon.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to go into the whole burning fat as fuel/carbohydrate debate, but today I’m celebrating the f-word in all its delicious forms. (My favorites: Avocados, nuts, coconut oil, eggs, and all things pork.)

So go eat some good fat today. Or go be spontaneous, where it’s often the hardest. Either will do you good.

barrage of the good

Today’s workout: 1 hour 15 minute Master’s swim, 1 hour 10 minutes high and low cadence work on the bike trainer.

I don’t want this week to end. Even though I’m looking forward to this weekend’s century ride/half marathon extravaganza in Palm Springs, I’m hoping the weekend won’t bring an end to my unexpected happy streak.

Just two weeks ago I was walking a labyrinth and learning, for the 45,496,326th time, how to let go. (And for the 104,567, 239th time how to not take things personally.) I’ve noticed that when negative things come to roost in my life, they cast a shadow for a while. Everything seems dark, and happiness—other people’s and even my own—seems fraudulent. Laughter turns thin, and good times seem shallow.

A reward for an evening swim session.

Then, Monday came and opened up the world. Each day this week has delivered something good, however small: Work successes. My Garmin 910XT returning from the warranty service void. A new pair of aerobars, and a free tune-up. Tying up loose ends for Ironman Los Cabos, like securing Tri Bike Transport (love them!)

Benefits to riding my bike to the Y: Stopping by the Encinitas Farmer’s Market on the way home and getting a buck for my environmental efforts.

This round of inconsequential things—or maybe it’s the process of writing about them—has made me think about impermanence. How nothing is firm until it’s there, on your plate or in your pocket.

It’s made me think about randomness, too. Like whether this barrage of the good coincides with anything at all.

Like a full week of pre-6 a.m. wake up calls.

Or all the vegetables I’ve been eating.

Or simply, patience.

Whatever it is, I hope it sticks around for awhile.

the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike

Today’s workout: 4200 yard Masters swim with my favorite coach.

I’m a big girl now. At least when it comes to the bike.

My road cycling debut at Saturday’s Boulevard Road Race is in the books. There’s my name on the USA Cycling results page —a first for this middle-of-the-pack triathlete. My goal was simple: Stay with the lead group. I’m proud to report I did just that.

I showed up to Booney-land Calif. at 6:10 a.m., hungry to race, despite lingering sinus issues and Friday’s hard swim and bike workouts. I’d asked my coach if I should rest the day before, to ensure fresh legs. His response? “Fresh legs will increase expectations. Expectations are negative and dreams are positive. Do your normal workout, trust on your fitness and hammer tomorrow! Racing fatigue is a confidence booster!”

OK then. (This is becoming a bit of a trend with us. I ask, “If I’m racing/climbing Mt. Palmoar/getting talked into 100 mile ride with friends tomorrow, do I need to do workout X?” He says yes. I guess this is why we hire coaches. To talk us out of our own talking-out-of.

Warming up on the trainer.

Maybe the best cheerleader-in-absentia ever. Thanks Kayla, it worked!

After a rushed registration and warm-up, there I was, straddling my bike and surrounded muscular women in their matchy-matchy kits. I ate a peanut butter GU and let sucrose and anxiety flood me, just like they do on the beach at a triathlon start, smack dab in the middle of a goggle-eyed swarm. This brand of nerves was sharper, though. Newer, pointier.

7:10, the sound of an air horn, and we were off. I’d been warned that I’d be “making pizza at the start,” as my (ridiculously fast) friend Jess had put it. The leisurely pace allowed me to focus on the new skills I had to learn—and quickly. I never ride in a pack of 40, let alone more than five or six. Learning to anticipate and respond to the moves of the riders around me was a tall enough order for lap numero uno. I’m also a bonafide chicken when it comes to descending, so yeah, there was that, too. (Someone even shouted, “it’s a corner, not a shark!” If it hadn’t been so funny, I might’ve gotten mad.)

Then, elevation arrived like an old friend. I was back in my comfort zone. Or at least the zone where I’m actually capable of doing some damage. (“Comfort” doesn’t apply to this course in any way, shape, or form.)

Doing work with the ladies. Photo courtesy of Giberson Photography.

Doing work with the ladies. Photo courtesy of Giberson Photography.

Mark’s sweet panorama-izing.

On descent round two I opened the throttle more than I ever have, trading illusions of safety for the sake of staying with the women ahead. The roads were smooth and clean, there was hardly any traffic, and my muscles were warm and loosened up. Why not let go? By the time the climbing arrived to humble us once again, I’d found myself in the lead group of about 10 women.

I learned a lot on Saturday, but perhaps the most salient lesson is that in a bike race, strategy might just trump fitness. Looking back, I know I was smart to stay in the middle of the pack, sheltered by the wind and letting the superstars at the front do their thing. However, when the last 200 meters were suddenly in my face, I wasn’t prepared for the surge. I simply didn’t know the route intimately enough to have that instantaneous mind-body command. If I’d been a little closer to the front of the pack, I might have been able to contend for a higher position, but I played it safe for too long during those last few hundred meters.

The final push. Photo courtesy of Giberson Photography

I crossed the finish line, dismounted, and wheeze-coughed, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike,” to Mark. An hour and three mini doughnuts later, I discovered I’d placed 5th among the Cat 4 group, and 7th among the Cat 3-4 field. (This cycling thing is confusing. I’ll stick to triathlon, where I’m just a regular old 30-34.) Our friends were racing much later in the day, so we packed up and headed back to San Diego.

Photo by Katie Morse, triingforpro.wordpress.com

Maybe it was the (totally legal) blend of caffeine, taurine, and quercetin I took before the race, or maybe it was just the adrenaline of racing, but I was jacked up for the rest of the day. We stopped at Luna Grill on the way home for gyros and fries to top off the stores, which just so happened to be right next to IKEA. (Brilliantly planned, if I do say so myself.) Venturing into the mayhem that was Saturday afternoon at IKEA, my organizational OCD kicked in and we walked out with a few new toys. While my race support napped, I set out on a tidying tirade until it was time to go to the Master’s swimming year-end party, where I won the somewhat embarrassing “lane bait” award (see photo above, courtesy of Katie.)

At least when it comes to the bike I’m more hunter than hunted.

Now back to my Monday, where things are going rather swimmingly and good things are in store.

boulevard

Today’s workout: Low cadence/hard gear intervals with the SBX gang, 4 x hard hill repeats, 30 minute out and back at 70.3 pace with the last five minutes at 10k pace. Felt motivated, fast, and strong. 

I just signed up for my first ever road race. On a bike. Not preceded by a swim or followed by a run. I blame the guys at CTS for putting me up to it: I believe the comment had something to do with the length of my femurs. One may be slightly longer than the other, as I once learned at Specialized BG fit class, but they still know how to ride a bike. (Update: Upon telling my new pals at CTS that I’d signed up, they wrote to politely ask if it would be OK to place wagers on me. In the spirit of fun, I said yes. Now I am shaking in my office chair.)

The view from halfway up Mt. Lemmon recently.

The view from halfway up Mt. Lemmon recently.

On Saturday we’ll be packing up the Jetta for another 4:45 take-off. (Apparently Mark actually enjoys this sort of thing. Witnessing his usual sleep patterns, this is beyond me.) This time, my faithful Specialized Amira will be my steed of choice. It’s weight over aerodynamics for Boulevard, a 45-mile, draft-legal, hilly race out in El Centro, an hour from downtown San Diego.

The dictionary tells me that a boulevard is “a wide street, typically lined with trees.” For me, it might take on new meaning on Saturday. I’m thinking “a stretch of road, typically lined with pain and humiliation.” Even if I come dead last, however, I know I’m going to learn something from it. I’m just hoping my next post won’t be titled “Boulevard of broken dreams.”

Queue the Katie-style Google search: “How to race a bike.”

If I don’t come last, I’m going to treat myself to another Mexican pig cookie from Dos Palmos bakery in Leucadia, where Mark and I dined last weekend on a drizzly Saturday.

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dirty starts

There’s nothing like the first race of the year. Sure, there have been training highlights this year so far, like climbing Palomar Mountain on the 1st and training with CTS in Tucson for four days. But today’s SDBC time trial on Fiesta Island marked a new season of racing; despite the whine-worthy conditions, it wasn’t a bad way to start setting some new personal bests.

Unfortunately, the Time Trial PR gods slept in this morning. Either that or they were up in Carlsbad sprinkling their fairy dust on some of my (well-deserving) friends. But I’m not bitter. Just hungrier than ever for a sub-29.

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My best time on the island—dubbed “San Diego’s race of truth”—sits at 29:36. Today’s cold, wind, and mucky roads left me with a 29:54. About 20 seconds slower than on that balmy morning last May.

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Mud, Exhibit A

A time trial is a relatively short, all-out cycling race. Otherwise normal cyclists drag out everything that might help shave off even a few seconds: disc wheels and aero helmets are standard, as are speed suits and booties. The goal? To smooth out all the cracks and become a smooth as a bullet. You begin in the “start house,” clipped into your pedals, and with a volunteer helping to stabilize you. Then, in our case, it’s three leg-crushing laps of a little park in Mission Bay that usually hosts family barbecues and the weekend dog-walking crew.

Today, we were the only ones playing on the island. We were a small, but dedicated crew. (About 60 percent of the registrants had clearly decided to hit the snooze button when they the weather.) Despite my new weapon (a borrowed disc wheel), plenty of coffee, and a solid 45-minute warm up beforehand, I knew I’d probably have to wait until next time for another precious PR.

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Black ninja with white booties.

Dirt!

Dirt!

February 17th, I’m coming for you.

It’s not that another sub-30 doesn’t please me. Not to mention the six pack of beer, dark chocolate, and gift card that came along with my win. Shivering away next to my friend and Ironman pro Beth Walsh on our muddy little virtual podium was also fun, in that masochistic way we triathletes love.

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Beer, chocolate, and good friends. (A photo featuring Keith’s quad.)

The best part, however, was that first glimpse of training hours morphing into performance. It’s like taking a homemade loaf of bread from a hot oven. Maybe the crumb isn’t quite right. Maybe the crust falls as it cools. But you put in the work, and the results are yours. Racing also reminds me that my best-laid plans are only that. Plans. Preparation’s dividends are never a guarantee. Come race morning, there will always be elements beyond my control, a humbling thought in a world that tells us everything’s ours, all we have to do is reach out and take it.

Sometimes, yes. Many times, indeed. But there will always be those other times. Times where stuff gets dirty and you end up just shy of where you want to be.

And so you get up and do it over again. Hopefully with some friends in tow. (That’s for you Beth, Keith, Katie, Mitch, and Mark.)

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Blogging with my victory beer at the ready.

hard knocks and letting go

Today’s workout: Rose Canyon hill repeats and speed work, 6:00 am. Sore, uninspired.

Last night Mark and I walked the Labyrinth behind Scripps Hospital’s Exercise Physiology center. I take private swimming lessons there — with this year’s 30-34 Ironman age group world champion, Christina Jackson. It had been a particularly tough day for me, and despite forgetting everything for those precious 40 minutes in the pool, it came reeling back to me the second I hit the showers.

“Let’s walk the labyrinth,” he said. I whined, silently, in protest, but conceded. When you’re upset, the last thing you want are motivational posters with kittens hanging onto branches or yoga instructors telling you to tap into your inner strength or a some medieval meditation maze telling you everything’s going to be OK. You just want to pity yourself for awhile. Or get mad and throw staplers at your office door.

But I walked it anyway.

It wasn’t particularly beautiful. It was dark to see the ocean just beyond the Torrey Pines cliffs. But it slowed down the train-wreck that had become my thought process long enough for me to come out on the other side with a different perspective. The thing about labyrinths? You just have to keep walking and trust you’ll get to the center. You have to walk away from the center in order to move towards it.

I know, blah blah blah, but it’s kinda true.

Then when we got home, more tears.

DCIM100GOPRO

I recently returned from a work assignment in Tucson, which you can read about here. In short, I swam, biked, and ran my way through four days with six other triathletes of the dude variety. Needless to say, there were frequent opportunities to escape to the pool area or my room for some much-needed alone time.

Unexpectedly, spending a weekend out of the home zone was a boost. I came back feeling rejuvenated and more optimistic than I have in a while. Dust in one area of my life settled nicely, and Tuesday flew by in a whirl of activity.

Then, yesterday.

Things change quickly. Things we have no control over. Things we don’t agree with. Things we have to let go of.

There are those damn motivational kitten posters again.

I face a predicament of perspective. It’s all in how you look at things, right? One eye sees a haggard old woman in the drawing, another a beautiful maiden. As a door closes for me, I just need some time to bite and scratch it for awhile, until I have the energy to go bust down another one.

Or find a window, a rabbit hole, or something altogether more fun.

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My time in the Arizona desert inspired me to return to writing—my first love, and something I’ve not been cultivating lately. Freshcrackedpepper.com was built on this love, and I miss it.

So whether it’s a short post on my training, or just thoughts on my day, you’re going to be hearing a lot more here from me. You probably won’t find elaborate recipes or my latest projects in the kitchen, as those passions have given way to new ones. But I’ll be writing. About my races, my life, and what I’m eating and thinking about. I’ll be writing.

To stay engaged.

To stay inspired.

To stay alive.

bánh mì

Enough of this waxing poetic about Ironman (with its equal parts joy and sorrow) and back to the reason I started this blog in the first place: food. Ironman training changed my relationship with food, and in some ways, replaced the culinary impulses with new ones. But it’s the off season, so I think we can all just get along now. (Note: I drafted this post way back before the holidays, hence the comment about the off season. But last night’s Nuun-sponsored soiree with other bloggers inspired me to emerge from hiding. We’ll see how long it lasts.)

What better place to start than fat? The hubster has been trying his hand at a variety of delicious meaty things over the past few months (thanks to his new-ish book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman), and I’ve been happy to take on the role of dish washer/recipe tester. One of the best things about Ironman training is that I haven’t had to worry about his latest creation “going straight to my hips,” so to speak. I’m a firm believer in modest amounts of natural fat, like the kind found in nuts, eggs, avocado, and yes, meat. I’ve found that if I don’t have too much too often, I enjoy everything so much more.

One of the first recipes we tried was pork confit. In the introduction, the authors write: “Fat is dense and flavorful, the perfect cooking medium for a leg of duck or a chunk of pork belly … the fat ensures that when the meat is reheated, it remains moist and succulent.” They go on to say that an inexpensive, tough cut of meat like pork shoulder or loin can be transformed into something “exquisite” through this method. Sign me up.

And what better sandwich to use it for than the Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich? I first fell in love with this sandwich in D.C.’s own Eden of Vietnamese cuisine. The airy, crispy baguette sandwich brought to the country by the French hooked me right away. Turns out it’s almost as good homemade, especially if you can find the right baguettes and don’t mind confit-ing your own pork. Below you’ll find the method for pork confit, courtesy of Mr. Ruhlman.

Pork Confit for Bánh mì

adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

2 Tbsp/30 grams kosher salt

3 bay leaves

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp/20 black peppercorns

1 bunch fresh sage

3 Tbsp/36 grams chopped shallots

1/2 tsp/3 grams pink salt

5 pounds/2.25 kilos boneless pork shoulder butt, cut into 2-inch/5-centimeter chunks, or one 3-pound/1.5 kilo boneless pork loin

2 to 4 cups/500-1000 milliliters rendered duck fat or lard (or a combination)

  1. Combine all the ingredients except the pork and the fat in a spice grinder and pulverize to a powder.
  2. Rub the mixture evenly all over the meat. Place it in a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours if you’re using pork shoulder pieces, 48 hours if you’re using pork loin.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 to 200 degrees F/82 to 93 degrees C.
  4. Rinse the pork under tepid water, wiping off all the seasonings, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Submerge the meat in the rendered fat in a stockpot or Dutch oven; the meat must be completely covered in fat. Bring the fat to a gentle simmer on the stovetop, then place the pot, uncovered, in the oven, and cook until fork-tender for 4 to 6 hours for shoulder, 3 hours for loin.
  5. Cool in the fat, then cover, making sure all the meat is submerged in the fat and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or for up to 3 weeks. Or freeze for up to 4 months.
  6. To serve, allow the pork to come to room temperature, remove from the fat, and saute over medium heat or roast at 425 degrees F/220 degrees C. until hot.

Bánh mì Sandwiches

Individual-sized fresh French baguettes (from a Vietnamese bakery if you can find them)

mayonnaise

pork confit, or any kind of other protein you’d like, such as grilled chicken, pulled pork, tofu, etc.

julienned carrots, cucumber, and daikon

cilantro leaves

Sriracha sauce

other dressings to your preference (I had a nutritional yeast concoction on hand which we added, and was delicious!)

  1. Cut open the baguettes and assemble ingredients inside.