Recap: Merge 25k

March is almost over.  That statement washes relief over me simply due to the insanity that has been the last 30 days. Amid the transition from previous employer to (almost) current and the epic collegiate sporting event that is March Madness, I donned my kicks for Merge Records 25k race on March 22.

Runners from across the country trekked to Durham for the 25 kilometer race. As written on the  Merge 25k page, we were invited to: “Celebrate 25 years of independent music—kilometer by kilometer—with Merge Records!” And, this was just the kickoff event for more festivities and parties to come for the silver anniversary.

Despite spending my Friday day and night indulging in basketball at PNC Arena for the second round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament (that started with a face-melting upset of Mercer over that one school), I actually felt great come Saturday morning. To say it was an ideal morning for running would be an understatement. A slight chill tinged the air prior to the 7:30am start, but most of us recognized that our goosebumps were temporary. Tackling 15+ miles would warm our bodies, minds, and spirits (or would that be from the DJ booths stationed throughout the course?).

While I normally abhor race photos of me (not to mention my lack in understanding why I would ever want to pay $17 for a photo of me in awkward poses), I did chuckle at my attempt at some badass facial expression here (or am I grimacing?)

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Two things I learned to love from this race:

1) The Metric system: running with kilometers markers instead of miles invigorated my self-confidence (what?! I’ve already ran 6k!) Whether one considers that merely a mind game is fine by this proponent of moving all things into the base 10 system. Of course, each time runners achieved said “miles”, the alarms, whistles and buzzers on their various technological aids rang out, shattering the fragile hold of the non-US standard of measure (just briefly though because soon enough, another beautiful kilometer marker shone in the distance!)

2) Point-to-point races: While it wasn’t my first point-to-point race by any means, stretching out 15.5 miles from Chapel Hill to Durham reminded me how much I appreciate the geographic scheming (and likely organizer sweet-talking) that goes into avoiding the out-and-back routes. During training runs, out-and-backs are where it is at. But, the ability to progress forward rather than face the dreaded orange cone or similar marker requiring the tight turn of doom (I always feel time slows down during those moments) adds such a higher level of enjoyment.

For the last quarter of the race, I found myself flanked between a Catherine and another Katie. Catherine and I (pictured below post-race) found ourselves respect each others apparel choices for that morning’s run.

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Note that really hot guy in orange over my shoulder.

Overall, I loved the course. The Chapel Hill section was an area I had never explored, and it provided a great deal of downhill sections. Not surprisingly, the Durham portion brought just the opposite, with some tougher inclines, especially one last hill right before turning left into the finish (it was one of those hills where, upon turning the corner, I loudly cried out: “Oh my lord” and not in a contemporary Christian singing type of way).

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Yes, I wear that shirt in almost all races. RUNDRM!

25 kilometers crushed in 2:03:03. I had been looking forward to this race, and it did not disappoint. Will there be a 26k next year? One can only hope.

Planning 101: Foraging Fare While Traveling

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Three weeks done. One more to go. I’m halfway through “Team of Rivals” on CD and have logged more than 2,500 miles on my Corolla (check engine light still shines brightly one year later). I’ve driven by the Nantahala River, over the bridge connecting the Outer Banks to Manteo, through Pisgah National Forest, and near the infamous battleship in Wilmington. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the most daunting task for me this year wasn’t necessarily the hours behind the wheel or ensuring my transmission didn’t give out winding up Highway 276 in extreme fog. I was more concerned about: what am I going to eat? (Perhaps less of a surprise since I love to think about food)

Fortunately, this here thing called the Internet makes lessens any dietary concerns thanks to sites like Yelp and other vegan resources (shout-out to Vegan Carolina!) giving the 101 on places that accommodate the plant-based lifestyle.

The photo above comes from Flaming Amy’s Bowl in Wilmington [note: she does apparently have a Burrito Barn in Wilmington as well!]. Back in Phoenix, we had a similar Mongolian-style “build your own bowl” restaurant called Wok Wok that sadly closed in just a couple of years. I was ecstatic to find this gem in New Hanover County. It offered tons of vegetables, plant-proteins (tofu, black beans), and vegan sauce options. If you go, go hungry: all-you-can-eat deliciousness.

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The following day, I ended up at the Tidal Creek Co-Op to mooch free WiFi in between presentations. Above, please meet my lunch: sweet and sour tofu with roasted vegetables over brown rice and a banging salad. While you are seeing the only three hot bar options, they were: 1) incredibly tasty; and 2) all vegan. I could have eaten my weight in that tofu.

Although I lack photos of several delectable meals, I did spend a great deal of time at Earth Fare cafes in Charlotte and Huntersville. Again, free WiFi drew me in, and the $16 salads I built (alright: slight exaggeration but I’m sure I could build a salad that large quite easily) absolutely satisfied. While the Huntersville one was larger, I do have a to give a thumbs down to its layout (not conducive to organized plate filling from hot/salad bar) and no ingredients list for the items, so I had to be extra mindful of what I grabbed.

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Please ignore that pathetic thumb nail. I found this gem at the Tidal Creek Co-Op and HOLY SMOKES DO I WANT MORE! I shall find a recipe soon. Does someone out there have one to share?

Other saving graces on this trip:

  • Green Safe Cafe in Asheville (I almost refuse to eat anywhere else in the #AVL when visiting – the citrus kale salad bowl is, by far, my go to item).IMG_20140318_115816
  • Cabo Fish Taco in Charlotte: now, I doubt my beer battered tofu tacos were vegan but THEY WERE INCREDIBLE (it was beyond noisy in the restaurant and I was stationed as far away from our server as possible); many other options available for the non-fish eating crowd (apologies for the blur of a photo)IMAG1500Just ONE more overnight left next week (Boone!) and you better believe I already know where I’ll be dining. I’ve also made great use out of my cooler bag by carting my own fare to and fro: lots of veggies and hummus, apples, cuties, bananas, and Lara bars.

Are you as anal retentive in planning where you will eat meals on for work/vacations/a random Thursday night?

Traveling the Back Roads of Carolina

In this final month of my Donate Life career, I will be spending much of my time behind the wheel, traversing North Carolina from one Driver’s License office to the next as part of our annual DMV awards program. This is my third year taking on this cross-state adventure, and it has taught me a great deal, including:

1) Driving is exhausting.

2) Books on CDs = one of the best inventions ever. During this week, I started “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Fascinating thus far (on disc 6 of 36).

3) There are dozens of hidden gems around this state that I would never have heard of until traveling through country roads.

4) Not a hidden gem = getting stuck behind farm equipment.

During the first week, I traveled to Clinton, Wilmington, Elizabeth City, Morehead City, Yanceyville, Carrboro, and Manteo. As much as I despise the time (sitting) in the car, I do so enjoy the 20 – 30 minutes I have with each office, meeting the DMV examiners, celebrating in their offices’ successes, and impressing on them how much they are appreciated. (I DARE you to tell the examiner at the driver’s license office next time how much you appreciate them. Despite what misgivings 99% of people have about DMV offices and staff, they put up with your bad attitude, have to ride in strangers’ cars [some of who crash said cars during road tests] and deal with a slew of logistical challenges that most of us in the general public never know about. They are dedicated public servants who are parents, grandparents, animal lovers, travelers, and more. In simple terms: be kind and stay positive next time you are renewing your license!)

IMAG1423Cheesy veggie bowl of goodness

Before I left, I wanted to ensure there was some good food to eat for both Aaron (and selfishly for me upon returning late). The above bowl was a combination of vegan cheese sauce over some steamed kale, broccoli, cauliflower, all atop some bulgur and black beans with a plop of salsa. Easy. Simple. Delicious. I will say, though, that I’m not sure if I am still yet on the bulgur train. I tried preparing it with boiling water poured over the bulgur instead of stove top, and it definitely did not cook completely (followed prep instructions in Veganomicon).

One of my standbys – Rice and bean casserole – turned into a soup (because someone didn’t bother to measure out how much brown rice she had left…oops.) Guess what?

IMAG1425It was still freaking awesome!

Chalk up that mistake to a positive outcome. Finally, I prepped Red Lentil Dal (Forks Over Knives cookbook) and – sadly – I did overcook my lentils. Blast! I even allowed them to cook for less time than in the recipe, but I know I should have been paying a little closer attention.

1393806231144Lemon zestiness!

Not sure if I’ll make this particular recipe again. Maybe at least once more and avoiding the mush.

Seems to be a good life goal.

Taking on the 10k

When I first started running, I thought I loved 5ks. They were short and manageable. They offered camaraderie in a mini burst of 30 minutes or less.

But, then I learned: to be a successful running in a 5k, you need to be fast. And ladies and gentleman, I am not that.

I like to consider myself the plodder – I would much rather cover 10, 15, 20 miles over the course of time than engaging in a sprinting bonanza. I. hate. sprints. All of the running blogs, magazines and gurus press the importance of sprinting as part of training, but outside of bootcamp classes, you likely won’t find me tackling a speed workout.

Then, I met the 10k. The 10k – to me – is a fantastic racing distance. While 6.2 miles does still call for speed, it also begs for more strategy than one would likely need to employ in a 5k. The additional mileage gives me those desired feelings of accomplishment. One of the greatest challenges is to find actual 10k race offerings, since the half-marathon has become the dominant race over the last few years.

Last Saturday, I was able to both fulfill my 10k want and support an incredible family in Durham in the Florence Forth 10k. Despite a chilly morning, a terrible night of sleep (or lack thereof), and starting off WAY too fast, I ended up finishing 6th in my age division with a new PR: 46:09, a 7:27 pace (by far, my fastest pace in a road race to date). I felt my time for the remainder of Saturday and into Sunday (I faintly tempted the idea of some sort of workout on Sunday but listened to my body).

What’s your ideal running distance? [Note: while none is an acceptable answer, there has to be something run-related that entices you – a sport, chasing after your kids or pets, pretending you are in a James Bond movie…)