Anniversary Risotto

On Monday, Erin and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary!

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I’d love to tell you that the reason there was no blog post yesterday is because we snuck off for a spontaneous mid-week getaway to a bed and breakfast to pamper ourselves and celebrate.  The reality is that there was a server issue that kept the blog down for most of the day, and still it doesn’t seem to be working quite right.  Almost as romantic.

Monday wasn’t really the ideal day for an anniversary.  We both had long days at school/work, and neither of us would get home until seven o’clock.  As I was driving home, I tried to think of something to make for dinner that would be just a little bit special.

On both our honeymoon and our first anniversary, Erin and I shared a bottle of our favorite wine, Brunello di Montalcino, and we had kind of hoped to make it a tradition.  But with Erin being pregnant, that wasn’t going to happen this year.  Not because I couldn’t bear to drink it without Erin, but because Brunello is way too damn expensive to open and not finish!

So no Brunello this year.  And no Champagne either.  Unless…

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Champagne risotto!  I remembered a Giada de Laurentiis recipe I had used for New Years once.  Perfect!  Easy and a little bit special.  The alcohol would cook off since it goes into the pan early.  Since Erin wouldn’t be drinking any Champagne, I couldn’t justify opening a full bottle, so I pulled out the little commemorative bottle I got at the Wineglass Marathon!  (Enjoy the photo with the autumn trees reflected in the glass…that’s as artistic as this mathematician gets.)

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So I whipped up the Champagne risotto — well, New York sparkling wine risotto — with asparagus.  (And realized that risotto would seem a lot more special if I didn’t cook it all the time.)

While I was doing that, Erin made us a little salad.

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Top it all off with some strawberry sorbetto and some Q.T., and I’d say we made the best of the little time we had together on our second anniversary.

Wedding anniversaries don’t have much to do with running and fitness.  But it is neat for me to look back at how far we’ve come in just two years.  At the time we got married, neither Erin nor I was doing any kind of physical activity.  I had run the Shamrock marathon in March, but when my foot was hurting in the days after the race I discovered a small stress fracture.  I took a few weeks off, and just like that, a few weeks became seven months.

But in late December of that year, about two months after the wedding, Erin and I started running together.  Nothing hard, just some nice runs around the neighborhood.  As New Year’s approached, we thought we’d try to keep it going by resolving to train for a half marathon.  Together.

In April we ran the Charlottesville half marathon, after doing every single training run together.  And from there, we both trained harder and more consistently than we ever had, in order to get in shape for the Baltimore marathon.  Three months after that, we ran the Disney marathon.  Then Erin got a roadbike, we went vegetarian, I started blogging about it all, and finally I ran Wineglass and qualified for Boston.

Moral: you can change a lot in two years, especially when you have the right person there to change along with you.  And this isn’t even counting the baby that’s on the way!

Alright, I’m publishing this before the site crashes again.  Thanks for all the great comments on the Vega Sport giveaway, and don’t forget to enter before Friday if you still haven’t!

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Vega Sport

Ok faithful NMA readers, all the time you’ve wasted reading my blog might finally be worth a damn!  Brendan Brazier, vegan pro triathlete and author of Thrive, has a new product that’s finally available in the U.S., and a lucky reader is going to win a tub of it.

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The product is called Vega Sport Performance Optimizer, and it’s a sports drink designed to be taken before and during workouts.  If you’re familiar with Brendan’s training and nutrition philosophies, then you can probably guess that it’s made from only the highest-quality ingredients.  The carbohydrate in it is not from high-fructose corn syrup like you get with most commercial sports drinks, but rather from organic sprouted brown rice syrup and organic palm nectar.  This explains why Vega Sport isn’t neon green or red like I’m used to seeing with sports drinks.  See?

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There are a few more ingredients in Vega Sport, like coconut oil, berries, herbs, roots, and leaves, all designed to work together to maximize performance.  For example, the brown rice syrup is a high glycemic index sugar, so that you get energy right away, while the palm nectar has a low glycemic index, for slower energy release.  For those who are interested, Brendan put together a video where he explains what each ingredient does.

The most interesting choice of ingredients in here, for me, are yerba mate and green tea leaf, both of which contain caffeine.  I discovered this when I drank a double serving of this stuff about half an hour before a seven-mile run yesterday.  As I was watching the end of the Ravens game and letting Vega Sport go to work, I noticed an alarming amount of life-is-good-ness going on in my head, and only after checking the ingredients list did I discover why.  And that explains the warning on the package that Vega Sport isn’t for children or pregnant women. (Sorry, Erin and Baby Fraz!)


In Thrive, Brendan is pretty much anti-stimulant, recommending caffeine for an extra boost only before races and your most demanding workouts.  From this I infer that ideally, Vega Sport shouldn’t be drunk before every workout and should be saved for the times you really need it.  And this makes me feel a little better about the price tag — let’s face it, 50 dollars for 30 servings isn’t cheap (but all the better for you, the potential contest entrant).

So how was Vega Sport?  Well, it dissolved easily in water just by shaking it in a bottle; no need for an immersion blender.  And it tasted good — not great.  Kind of like most sports drinks but a little more natural tasting.  Of the two flavors, lemon-lime and acai berry, I prefer the lemon-lime.  But it’s close; both are very drinkable.

My trial run with Vega Sport wasn’t really an ideal testing environment, because I just did an easy seven miles on the trail.  And I felt good, but I never had to push myself too hard to really see if I noticed a benefit.  So you’ll have to check back for that one; I’ll definitely give it a try before my next track workout and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Ok, enough of my yackin’ — giveaway time!  The winner gets a tub of Vega Sport in either lemon-lime or acai berry flavor, like the ones shown here.

I hate contests where you get all these extra points for tweeting, linking back, etc.  They make me not want to even enter.  You will make me a happy blogger if you do that stuff, but it won’t get you extra points in the contest.

So all you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post before Friday, and I’ll choose a winner at random.  Nice and simple, huh? Good luck!

Three more things —

1) I earn a commission on any sales that come via my blog.  Nothing to hide here, folks.

2) You might also be interested in my interview with Brendan Brazier, my review of Thrive, and two recipes from Thrive raw energy gel and natural sports drink.

3) Thanks to Brendan and Kelly from Sequel Naturals for the opportunity to review and give away Vega Sport.

For more natural sports nutrition posts and recipes, check out the Running Fuel page.

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Qualifying for Boston: How I Did It

From 4:53:41 to 3:09:59

Running fast has never come easily to me.  When I qualified for the Boston Marathon two weeks ago with a time of 3:09:59, it was the culmination of six marathons and seven years of trying.  And a far cry from the arduous four hours and 53 minutes that it took me to cross the finish line in my first marathon.

While there are plenty of great coaches how there who can help you get faster, the fact that I had to work so hard to get to Boston puts me in a unique position — I went from being a guy who couldn’t run one 7:15 minute mile to a guy who just ran 26.2 of them.

So I thought I’d share with you what I consider to be the most important things I did along the way, in case you can’t get that vision of yourself crossing the line in Boston to stay out of your head, either.

How I Qualified for the Boston Marathon

  • Increase foot turnover to 180 steps per minute. Though awkward at first, this forces you to land lighter with each step, like you would if you were running barefoot.  “Running on eggshells” is a great mental image.  I believe that this alone stopped me from getting the shin stress fractures that plagued my training for my first three years of running.  Find a running song with about that tempo and align your steps with it.
  • Do three running workouts and two to three easy runs per week. One long run, one tempo run, and one track workout, plus two or three very slow recovery runs.  I followed the plan from the book Run Less, Run Faster, but I replaced the cross-training with easy runs.
  • Clean up your diet. I’ve always considered myself a healthy eater.  But when I made the decision to become vegetarian, everything changed.  I dropped about five pounds without losing any strength, and from then on I felt like a clean-burning machine.  
  • Spend some time strength-training and foam rolling. When I started doing core-strengthening exercises (from Core Performance Endurance) and foam rolling once or twice per week, nagging injuries became a thing of the past.  No more missing workouts because I needed a break.
  • Do long runs at near marathon pace. In the past, I always did my long runs at one to two minutes slower than marathon pace.  Come race day, I had no idea what I was capable of, and had spent almost no time training at the required 7:15 pace.  This time, my long runs increased in intensity until I did the final 20-miler at only 15 seconds slower than marathon pace, and it made a huge difference in my confidence.
  • Pick a flat course, and train on flat trails. Choosing a fast race makes a big difference.  I qualified at the Wineglass Marathon, which has a few small hills but a small net drop in altitude (200 ft).  And if you’re not going to race on hills, you don’t need to do much hill training.  Do it from time to time, but for the most part, save your body from the wear and tear of hills if you won’t need it on the big day.
  • Do a few trial runs with the stuff you’ll use on race day. Whether it’s your pre-race meal, your during-race fuel (I decided against caffeine supplements), or what you’ll wear, experiment during your long runs leading up to the race.  But save your final long run for a race-day rehearsal, just to be sure nothing can go wrong.  Well, as sure as you can be.
  • Convince yourself that it will happen. In the days before the race, I was unsure of whether I’d be able to qualify.  But in the years before the race, I told myself over and over that one day I would do it, until I became sure of it.  I don’t mean just positive thinking, I mean changing your gut-level association to what you’re capable of.  See this letter I wrote for an example.

So there you have it.  Follow these tips, and you’re sure to be running the streets of Boston on Patriots’ Day.

Ok, there’s just one more thing you have to do.

Work your ass off.

This post is part of 10-part series on qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and part of another designed to teach you how to run long and strong.  Go check out the rest!


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Vegan Pumpkin Bread

Hey guys, Christine here!  As promised, today’s post is a continuation of last week’s preparation of fresh pumpkin puree!  Get ready to fill your home with the smells of the season because we’re baking everyone’s favorite fall treat: Vegan Pumpkin Spice Bread.

And guess who has a home filled with the warm aroma of pumpkin spice right now…the No-Meat Athlete himself! That’s right, I’m baking at my brother’s house!

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I was coming up for a small dinner to welcome our mom back stateside, but due to the electricity shorting out in my kitchen (adios, everything in the fridge) I showed up a couple hours early to work on my STF dessert.

This is actually round two of this week’s post: before my electric went on the fritz, I was working on an entirely different pumpkin dessert.  I had picked up some stevia and I was excited to use it instead of sugar.  I guess I should have done some more research on stevia because it was a disaster!  A sickeningly sweet yet bitter disaster!  I only did a tablespoon but this stuff is really potent!  After getting fed up with the intricate stevia experiment that wasted a batch of my homemade puree,  I was in the mood for something comforting and simple like this yummy bread.

The recipe this week is based on one from The Joy of Vegan Baking.  When I originally got interested in animal-free baking, this is the first book I picked up.  But to be honest, I rarely lift it off the shelf anymore. Why?  It’s not that the recipes don’t taste good; for me the deterrent is soy.

Many of the recipes in this book rely on soy — soy margarine, soy milk, and silken tofu.  The book also leans heavily upon Ener-G egg replacer.  As I’ve progressed as a vegan baker, I’ve became less interested in creating soy copies of “normal” desserts.  My focus now is on making delicious desserts through the combination of REAL ingredients- and by ‘real’ I mean food I would be comfortable eating in or out of a baked good.

That being said, this is the kind of book that can win over the vegan naysayers, and it was a great introduction for me to see what could be done without the use of eggs and dairy.  And there are still some true gems here, like this gorgeous pumpkin bread.

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I hardly made any changes to this recipe — it was already filled with the goodness of flaxseeds and applesauce.  Of course, I subbed in my fresh pumpkin puree instead of the 14oz can specified.  Oh by the way, I said in my last post that I got 2 cups of puree from each ‘sugar pie’ pumpkin — I have no idea why but after freezing and pureeing smooth it was reduced by about a quarter to half a cup.

To make the recipe a little more NMA friendly, I used a combination of whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour instead of the all-purpose.  I also cut down on the sugar by half a cup and switched to turbinado instead of refined.  Finally, I threw in some ground ginger instead of cloves- that’s just a personal preference because I always find cloves to be overpowering.  If you have it on hand, a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice will do just fine in place of all the spices.

Pumpkin Spice Bread Recipe

  • 3 tbs ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp each cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, and ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • sprinkles of oats and sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the flaxseed and water until thickened.
Combine flax mixture in a large bowl with sugar, applesauce, oil, and pumpkin.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet.  Fold in the walnuts.  Lightly grease loaf pans.  Divide into two regular 8 inch loaf pans or four mini loaf pans.  If you’d like, sprinkle on some oats or turbinado to garnish.  Bake the large loaves for about 55 minutes and the smaller loaves for about 40 minutes.  Let sit for 20 minutes before removing from pan.

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Go ahead and enjoy these warm from the oven, or wrap up the whole loaf and make somebody very happy with a gift of pumpkin cheer!  This vegan pumpkin spice bread got a resounding “MMMMMMM!” from Matt, Erin, my mom, and me!  Plus, the loaves were so easy to make- just stir together!  I hope you enjoy this yummy and healthy slice of autumn.  Maybe I’ll get that stevia figured out for next Sweet-Tooth Friday!

Until then, stay sweet!
xoxo Christine

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Eat Like a Poor Person

The book Born to Run that I just read and enjoyed so much doesn’t go really go into diet advice.  It mentions some of the foods eaten by the Tarahumara tribe (the central characters), like chia seeds and pinole, but doesn’t go into much detail.  But one offhand remark about a running coach’s simple philosophy stuck in my mind.

Eat like a poor person.

It’s not a perfect rule of thumb, since nowadays, fast food and refined flour products are among the cheapest foods you’ll find, in terms of cost-per-calorie.  And organic fruits and vegetables aren’t exactly penny-pinchers.  Really, I think we could do a little better with something like “Eat like a peasant,” since to me, that evokes the image of a pre-McDonald’s, pre-refined grains, pre-pesticides guy who’s down on his luck.

But even with this shortcoming, I like the rule.  For someone short on dough, meat is out, except on rare occasions.  Lentils and other beans are in.  And processed breads and sweets are out too, replaced by unrefined grains and seeds purchased dry, in bulk, and sprouted or soaked at home.

Over the past few weeks, Erin and I have been traveling a lot and eating on the road.  This means lots of take-out, airport food, and eating out.  Definitely not poor-person food; next time we’ll plan better and bring more stuff along to avoid shelling out so many lootcakes and feeling like crap afterward.  When we got back on Sunday, we were really in the mood to party like it was 1899.

So yesterday, we cooked up a nice bean stew, adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Vegetarian book that I turn to so often these days.  (And I realized that this book has lots of peasant foods that I used to skim right past before I was seeking them out!)

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It was very easy (peasants don’t have much time, of course), and hearty-good in the stick-to-your-ribs kind of way.  Certainly not gourmet, and nothing I’d make for company.  But it was fun to make and eat “just for the health of it.” (I stole this catchy pun from a bathroom automatic paper towel dispenser at school.)

Bean Stew Recipe

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

  • 2 cups dry brown rice, cooked
  • 2 mixed cans of beans, like black, pinto, or kidney, rinsed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green part, halved, well-rinsed, and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • large handful green beans, ends snapped off, chopped into 1-inch lengths
  • 3 Tbsp olive or canola oil
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pan over medium-high heat and add the onion, saute until it’s soft, 5-7 minutes.  Add the rest of the oil and the carrot and leek, saute for another 5 minutes or until the leek is tender.  Season with a little salt, then add the paprika and garlic, stirring constantly for a minute to toast the spice.  Add the vegetable stock, along with the canned beans and green beans.  Let it reduce for another 10 minutes or so, then season with salt and pepper and serve over brown rice.

Completely coincidentally, my dad sent me this link to a list of the 20 Healthiest Foods Under $1 the other day.  It’s a great list to review before you head to the store.  And you won’t hear me complain that coffee made the list (#20 baby!), though I can’t say I really agree that it’s healthy.

And finally, I know that this diet rule is kind of a funny way to eat healthily, but real poverty and hunger is really not all that funny.  This week is the first week of Project Feed Me, and there’s still time to get involved!  I commited to getting three other people to do it, so check out Natalie’s page and think about it.  This week’s item is two cans of chili!  See how easy it is?  Get over there and sign up to help out!  And then let me know you’re one of my three. icon smile

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Zico Pure Coconut Water

I love coconut stuff.  And without water, I’d be dead after two weeks, max.

Yet in 28 years, I had yet to taste the marriage of the tasty tropical treat and liquid survival, so I was very happy when I came home the other day to find a big box full of coconut water on my doorstep, courtesy of Zico Pure Coconut Water. Thanks Zico!

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Coconut water, by the way, is not the same as coconut milk.  While coconut milk is derived from the meat of the coconut (one meat I’m down with eating), coconut water is the clear stuff in the middle of the coconut.  So it doesn’t have any of the fat of other coconut products; it’s a juice.

But not just any juice — called “Nature’s Sports Drink” by Zico, coconut water boasts five essential electrolytes and more potassium than a banana, in an 11-oz carton.  And that same 11-oz carton contains only 60 calories and 14 grams of sugar.

This stuff is really growing on me.  I thought the taste was a little strange when I first drank it, sort of like a thinner version of the syrup you get in a can of fruit cocktail or peaches.  But as I drank a few more cartons, I really started to enjoy it.  It’s very refreshing, kind of sweet but not overly so.

I tried three flavors — plain, mango, and passion fruit.  The plain is probably my favorite since it’s the least sweet, followed by mango, then by passion fruit.  But they’re all good.  Now I just need to work out some sort of endorsement deal, because I can put down one of these 11-ouncers in a matter of seconds!

So what about that “Nature’s Sports Drink” claim?  Well, Erin and I tried some after a run today, and found that we liked it even better than before.  It was perfect after a short, easy run, but I don’t think I’ll likely be drinking coconut water during or after most of my workouts.  The problem isn’t the taste; it’s just that I’d have to drink a whole lot of the stuff to get the amount of sugar that I want during and after workouts that last more than an hour or so.

So if you’re curious about coconut water, I highly encourage you to give Zico a try (or two).  And if you’re looking for a light, low-calorie workout drink, even better.  For serious carbohydrate replenishment though, stick to something like homemade lemon-lime sports drink.

Here I am enjoying some Zico after the run with my new Vibrams and my girl Sascha!

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My New ‘Shoes’ – Vibram FiveFingers

Behold: Vibram FiveFingers, the first article of clothing I’ve ever felt the need to put in quotation marks.

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A while back, I wrote about barefoot running and my interest in trying it, but I was hesitant to mess with anything before my attempt to qualify for Boston.  Having done that successfully, as well as having gotten all worked up about running like a tribesman after reading Born to Run, I went ahead and bought this pair of barefoot-simulating shoes as a little BQ-present to myself.

My first thought was that I’d buy the Nike Free, but lots of people recommended Vibram FiveFingers instead, since they have even less cushioning than the Free.  But why, you ask, would I want less cushioning, when running shoe companies have been telling us for years that more is what we need?

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Barefoot Running

The rationale behind the barefoot movement — and make no mistake, what I’m doing is not the same as barefoot, but similar — is that Mother Nature knows better than Nike or Brooks about what has to happen for us to run most efficiently.  According to studies cited in Born to Run, 65-80 percent of runners are injured every year.  If you’re a runner, this isn’t that surprising.  What’s shocking, though, is that injury rate is directly correlated with running shoe cost — the more expensive and more “advanced” the shoe you’re running in, the more likely you’ll be watching your next race from the sidelines.

The problem, it seems, is that the comfort provided by all that cushioning comes at the cost of environmental feedback.  In other words, you can run sloppily, in a way that isn’t healthy on your legs, without feeling (at first, anyway) the pain you’re supposed to feel from it.  Take off your shoes and run barefoot, though, and your form immediately improves; all the sudden it hurts to take those big strides and land hard on your heels like you could with a high-tech running shoe on your foot.

And finally, all that support provided by modern running shoes allows your feet to get lazy.  Kick those shoes off and run, and now those little muscles need to work.  And as they work, they get stronger, the way they’re supposed to.

In case you can’t tell; I’m pretty high on this idea and these new “shoes” of mine.  But it’s a cautious optimism.  By choosing which studies to cite, you can make a pretty good argument for any case you want.  Born to Run seems to be drinking the barefoot Kool-Aid, so to speak, and I’m sure there are some pretty good arguments out there against barefoot running too.  But I find the idea fascinating, and for me it’s worth a “trial run.”  (Sorry, that’s a bad one.)

I just got back from my first run in these bad boys, a little one-miler around the neighborhood.  You’re supposed to ease into this new way of running, since, as I mentioned before, those muscles haven’t had to work in a long, long time.  And I also plan on wearing them mostly on the track and trails, not roads.  The same logic that says we’re meant to run barefoot says “cavemen didn’t have paved roads.”  Nonetheless, it was a nice little run, and I could immediately tell that I had to run differently than I do in my normal shoes.  And I felt every little rock I stepped on; the hard rubber on the bottom really only protects your feet from the scraping of the road.  And that’s exactly the point.

So there you have it: why I am wearing such a ridiculous-looking shoe.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes as I increase my almost-barefoot  mileage!

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Born to Run?

borntorunI was not born to run.  At least, if I was, I have yet to discover my inborn love for running.  And if any of my recent success can be attributed to natural talent, then it sure took a lot of work to coax said talent out.

As evidence to support the case that I Am Not (Really) a Runner, I cited the fact that I don’t read running books.  Well, my argument has just become weaker.

After I mentioned barefoot running on this blog a few months ago, several people recommended that I read Born to Run.  And then more people recommended it.  So after deciding to run a 50-miler, I figured it was time.  On Thursday night I ran out to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy to read on a trip to Florida this weekend.

In short, I have not been able to put it down.  In two days I’ve read 160 pages of it.  To me, the fact that this book flew under my radar for so long is just another clue that I really wasn’t a runner.  But reading it, I sure feel like one.

Never have I itched to run the way I have this weekend.  As soon as we arrived at the hotel, I hit the treadmill in the gym for a quick three miles, the first since my marathon on Sunday, even pushing the last mile to 6:20 pace.  And after a quick morning run yesterday with Erin, it was all I could do not to head out for another after an hour of reading the book got me all fired up again.  I didn’t do it, thinking it would be better not to push it so soon after my marathon, but I was close.

Something has awoken in me this weekend.  Whether it’s the book that’s done it or the satisfaction of my Boston qualifier setting in, I don’t know.  How long it will last, I have no idea either.  But for the time being at least, I can’t wait to get out on the trail and put in some miles, and possibly even — gasp! — enjoy running.  And to me, this is new.

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