Hot and Sour Asian Soup (with wood ears, whatever those are)

Want to make a really good soup that seems like you shouldn’t be able to make it at home?

chinese soup photo 300x225Then this is your recipe, Veganomicon is your book, and I am your man-boy.  Though the authors describe it as “totally inauthentic,” this is one of those soups like so many other Indian and other Asian dishes that have a way of captivating the taste buds and whisking you away to an enchanting foreign land.  (Disclaimer: Not really.)

This soup was fantastic.  Hot and fantastic.  Since I don’t understand the alchemy that creates such wonderful flavors, I don’t have much else to say about it.  I will say three things, though:

1.  It has tofu in it. If Nasoya hadn’t sent me some coupons to try out their tofu for free, I probably would have left it out and made the soup as an appetizer instead of a meal.  As it was, I added some noodles to boost the carb count.  That turned out to be a grave mistake, since the noodles soaked up all the soup overnight and rendered my leftovers disgusting.  (As for the Nasoya, it tasted like—surprise!—tofu.)

2.  It’s really spicy, in a very good way. The recipe calls for chile oil, and the authors implore the reader not to cheap out and use regular hot sauce.  (I had to buy chile oil since I’d never used it, but now I’m hooked.  I’m substituting it for hot sauce on everything.)

I actually used only half the amount called for and still found the soup spicy enough to warn Erin and her spicy-food aversion not to come near it.  Of course, it just occurred to me that I messed up and used white chili powder instead of white pepper when I made it, so that might have had something to do with the heat.

3.  The recipe calls for dried wood ear mushrooms. Aside from sounding weird, these are hard to find: Not even my health food store had them.  I substituted shiitakes, as suggested in Veganomicon. Since they weren’t dried, I went with 5 ounces instead of .5 ounces.

Sad news: March is over, so this’ll be my last Veganomicon recipe for while.  If you’ve enjoyed the recipes, you can use my Amazon affiliate link to buy it, so I get paid and can pimp my ride and such.  Thanks to Isa and Terry of the Post Punk Kitchen for letting me share some recipes with you!

I will say nothing else to disturb this perfect, pristine (totally inauthentic) soup.  Until after the recipe.

Hot and Sour Soup with Wood Ears and Napa Cabbage

From Veganomicon, posted with permission

  • 1/2 ounce dried wood ear mushrooms
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 8 leaves napa cabbage
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons Asian hot chile oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups thick-sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 heaping arrowroot or cornstarch
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu, pressed and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup scallions

Place the wood ear mushrooms in a bowl and pour boiling water over them so that they are submerged by a few inches.  Cover with a plate and let sit for 20 minutes.

To prepare the napa leaves, lay them on top of each other so that they’re spooning.  Thinly slice across them widthwise.  Set aside.

Pour the vegetable broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, hot chile oil, sesame oil and white pepper into a soup pot.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Once the broth is boiling, add the cabbage and the fresh mushrooms.  Cook until the cabbage is completely wilted, about 5 minutes.

The wood ears should be ready at this point, so remove them from the bowl, cut into bite-size pieces, and add them to the soup as well.

Mix the arrowroot with the water until dissolved.  Add to the soup and stir until just slightly thickened, a minute or two.  The soup isn’t going to be very thick, just more cloudy than anything else.  But the starch gives the soup a little body.

Add the shredded carrots and tofu, and cook just until heated through, about 5 more minutes.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with scallions to serve.

More people who are pulling back the curtain on the wizard of java

I don’t hate coffee.  In fact, I love it.  Since I’ve cut back via randomization, I’m not drinking it most days now.  But I’ve been successful for the past two weeks at enjoying one small cup of full-caf coffee each week, without going apeshit and drinking it every day afterward, like last time I tried to moderate.

I came across two posts recently that encouraged me in my fight against the daily jolt.  The first was from Sonal on her blog Keep Running Girl, where she cites a medical review that links caffeine to those scary, seemingly-random, ultra-healthy endurance runner deaths during races that freak out paranoid people like me.

On a far lighter note, Sonal also sent me a picture of her in her NMA shirt.

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(Remember all those women’s smalls I got in stock?  Like 2 left.)

The other coffee post was from Gena at Choosing Raw, in her post Coming Clean About My Daily Cup of Joe.  Gena has actually recently started drinking coffee again, so it’s an interesting perspective.  Speaking of Gena, a little birdie told me you might be hearing more from her in the near future…

Alright, I’m out.  Track workout time, maybe with sis Christine, my new roommate.  One more thing before I go: If you or someone you know is thinking about going vegetarian but not sure how to make it happen, be on the lookout for a new post about exactly that.  Lots of people have been asking me recently, so I figured it’d be nice to have it all in one place.

Seacrest, out.

14 Comments

 

What Saving Money Can Teach Us About Running

Putting miles in your training log is like putting money in the bank. You begin to draw interest on it immediately.

-Hal Higdon

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It's more like saving Euros than dollars!

I came across this quote the other day while checking out the blog of a friend I met at the HAT 50K.  He’s a great runner and a fitness author, and his blog, Run Bulldog Run, is worth adding to your reader.

Miles logged are like money in the bank

The quote got me excited, because I had just recently been thinking about something very similar.  (Minus the hour difference in our marathon times, maybe Hal Higdon and I aren’t so different.)

What I had been thinking, based on my own experience, was more along these lines: Every time you go for a run, regardless of how sporadic your training is or how long it’s been since you last ran, you bank another few pennies of running ability.  You sock away a lot when things are going well, and during tougher times, you might ignore your running account completely.

But when you come back to it (barring a credit crisis, of course) everything you deposited is still there.  Sure, maybe it’s tied up and not very liquid, but once you’ve sorted things out, every penny is accounted for.

It doesn’t work like this with weightlifting

This is so different from, say, weightlifting.  When I used to lift all the time, if events in my life forced me to stop for a few months, I’d be back to square one.  All that muscle would be lost, and I’d have to go through all that pain again to get it back.  Besides a little bit of knowledge, I was in the exact same place as a beginner.

Running has been so different.  I used to be far less dedicated than I am, and my routine went something like this:

  1. Train for six months to run a marathon.
  2. Relax for a few weeks to let the knicks and pains of training heal.
  3. Stop running entirely, forget that I ever liked running, and drink a lot of beer for six months.
  4. Repeat.

Now, this strategy will never end up in the pages of Runner’s World, but it’s undeniable that I became a better runner during this period.  With no more discipline than this, I got my marathon time from 4:53 all the way down to 3:25.

I don’t think I could have improved much more without finally stepping it up, and I’m proud to say that I’ve run continually for a little over two years now.  The improvements have come much faster since I started making lots of big deposits, but I believe that it’s built on the “nest egg” I contributed to on-and-off for all those years prior.  (If only I could say the same about money.)

When you return to running after a long layoff, it takes a while to get back into it.  You need to build up your speed again.  But during that sporadic period, I always found the distance easy to get back.  Running eight miles with a few marathons under your belt is a billion times easier than it is the first time you do it, regardless of how much couch-surfing you’ve done in the meantime.

It’s not about the muscle

They say it’s in the brain.  When you go out for an easy run, which is likely how you spend the bulk of your training time, you take thousands, maybe tens of thousands of steps.  Even when it’s not physically demanding, scientists say you’re training your brain.  With every one of those steps, you learn something new about how your specific body runs most efficiently (one reason I think feedback from the ground is so important).

In weightlifting and in so many other sports, this kind of repetition doesn’t happen.  Sure, in a good day you might bang out 50 chest presses.  That’s about a hundredth of the number of steps you’ll take in a half hour run.

Hit golf balls for an hour, maybe you’ll hit a couple hundred.  Run for an hour, you’re looking at 1000 steps.

Certainly some of those neural pathways disappear with time off.  But it sure feels like most of them stay.

So what can saving money teach us about running?

We use stupid metaphors like this so that we can learn something about what we don’t understand, from what we do understand.  Pretending for just a second that we all know a lot more about saving money than we do about running, what’s the lesson?

I think it’s that even when times are tough and you’re not socking away any miles, know that you can come back.  You don’t need to feel guilty.  Sure, you’re not adding anything to the nest egg.  But the nest egg isn’t going anywhere, and when you’re ready to contribute again, it will be there.

As Hal says, it’s even earning interest.

What’s the lesson, for you?

This post is part of a series on motivation for running.  Check out the rest!

13 Comments

 

Product Review: RX Sorbo Insoles (with Giveaway!)

Before I get to the review, lots of news to share!

Let’s get the bad out of the way first.

Because the baby’s due date is only three weeks away, I’ve decided to free up some time in my schedule.  I wouldn’t dream of giving up No Meat Athlete, so I’ve decided I need to stop contributing to Running Shorts, the True/Slant column I write with Megan.  Megan will continue writing by herself, and I have no doubt she’ll do a great job, so please keep reading it!  You can read my goodbye post about my plans for the future as a dad and a runner.

Ok, now the good news!  Three of those:

  • I’ve chosen the race I’d like to run for my first 50-miler!  Right now I’m trying to finagle a free entry, but as soon as I’m signed up I’ll let you know which one it is.  It’s only a few months away, but I know it’s the right decision because of how excited I am about it.
  • My sister Christine, who writes the Sweet-Tooth Friday posts here, is moving in with us tonight!  She’ll be here at least until she goes to law school in the fall.  Gee, do you think we’ll cook much?
  • I’ve lined up some awesome guest posters so that I can take a couple days off when the baby comes.  Can’t tell you who, but if they all come through, we’ll have a vegetarian triathlete blogger, a fabulous raw foodie, a vegetarian ultrarunner blogger (who isn’t me), and a cool beer guy (who isn’t me).  I’m excited to read the posts myself.

An insole dilemma

rxsorboWhen a nice guy from RX Sorbo Insoles emailed me to ask if I’d be willing to try and review their product, I was a little bit torn.

I try as hard as I can to keep an open mind and not buy in to anything completely unless I have very strong reasons to do so.  But I’ve found the studies about the benefits of barefoot and near-barefoot running so convincing that I consider myself a believer. My feeling is that excess cushioning and support in our shoes only encourage us to run with bad form and injure ourselves.

Because insoles generally add either support or cushioning, they’re taking the opposite approach to injury prevention than barefoot running.  I explained to the company that I’m a barefoot apologist, and when they said they’d still like me to do the review, I gladly accepted and chose two pairs of insoles to put to the test.

Ultra Work-Sport Insoles

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The first pair I tried were the Ultra Work-Sport.  These are pretty standards insoles designed to absorb foot-strike shock, and RX Sorbo claims they absorb 94.7% percent of it, more than any other insole on the market.  And the top layer is antimicrobial and moisture-wicking, something that would prove important for me (as we’ll see).

I first tried the Ultra Work-Sport insoles on a tough trail run of six or seven miles.  I was concerned that the added cushioning would result in less stability while running on rocks and roots, but that wasn’t the case at all.  In fact, I enjoyed the softer ride than that offered by the standard insoles in my Salomon trail shoes.  What’s more, these shoes have always given me blisters, and on this run I got none to speak of.  I’m endlessly grateful for that, since I was worried that the Salomon’s had been a $120 waste.

I also had to run through an ankle-deep stream, and though the insoles got a little squishy after the submersion, I was surprised that they had completely dried out by the next day, even after I left them in the shoes.

Then I tried them this morning in my road shoes and found them much less enjoyable to run in.  I felt that I couldn’t feel the ground the way I normally do; if there was any additional cushioning, the added comfort was offset by the lack of feedback from the ground.  94.7% of this too, it seems, is absorbed by the insoles, and to me, that’s not worth it.

Conclusion: The Ultra Work Insoles have a permanent home in my trail shoes.  By eliminating blister issues and making the Salomon’s wearable, they might have saved me a hundred bucks.  In the road shoes, I could take or leave them.

Ultra Orthotic Arch Insoles

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The other pair I selected was the Ultra Orthotic Arch Insoles, which have a tough, graphite arch in them.  The word “orthotic” hooked me here; when I used to have shin problems it seemed everyone recommend orthotics because I overpronated.

“Strangely,” my shin problems were cured when I switched out of the stability shoes I was wearing and into neutral shoes.  (Once I read more about the arguments for barefoot running, I came to realize that this wasn’t so strange, after all.)

I never liked stability shoes, thinking they felt too clunky, like I was running on blocks.  My hope was that these orthotic insoles might not feel like that, since the arch support is a thin piece of flexible graphite.

No such luck.  When I tried these out, I felt exactly the same way as I used to when I ran in stability shoes.  No feedback from the ground—it kind of felt like I was running on 2×4′s.  I also found that the insole slid forward in my shoe so that the ball of my foot landed on the graphite, which was somewhat painful.  Maybe a fitting issue.

Finally, when I took these out of my shoes, I was disappointed to find that the graphite was tearing away from the foam insole after only the short run I had worn them on.

Conclusion: These are not for me, for the same reason that stability shoes are not for me.  If you believe orthotics are what you need but custom ones are too expensive, this might be a cheaper alternative for you to try out.  (Although, if you believe you need orthotics, I’d encourage you to read some of the studies on barefoot running first.)

The Giveaway!

RX Sorbo has been nice enough to offer a pair of insoles for a lucky NMA reader.  To enter, all you need to do is visit their insoles page and leave a comment letting me know which of their six types of insoles you’re most interested in trying.  I’m not sure if they’ll give the winner their choice of insole or if they’re giving away a specific pair, but we owe it to them to at least visit their site, don’t we?  Thank you, RX Sorbo!

I’ll keep the contest open for a week, and I’ll announce the winner next Sunday night or Monday.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

20 Comments

 

Sweet-Tooth Friday: Vegan Lemon Bars

Hey everyone, it’s Matt.  I’ll hand it off to Christine in just a second, by I believe I owe you some shirt winners!

Ready?  The five winners of the No Meat Athlete t-shirts are: Bridget (from Pounding Pavement and Plants), sals, Larissa, Kelsey, and Shannon (from Tri 2 Cook).  Congratulations, and thank you again for all the encouraging comments about my blog birthday.

And speaking of shirts, I just got in a shipment of 72 new ones, including about 15 each of the coveted women’s small and medium technical shirts, which I just cannot seem to keep in stock.  So if you’ve been waiting for one, get it before they’re gone again!

And I always love when people send me photos, here are some of the recent NMA representers!

Blogger and veggie mom, Mama Pea:

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Nicest commenter in the world, Erica from Itzy’s Kitchen:

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Twitterer and homebrewer Andy, who sported the carrot pride in his first half marathon:

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Casey, husband of Emily from the Front Burner, pounding a green monster:

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My Daily Mile pal Meredith, who blogs at Sweat Every Day and is running her first 10K tomorrow:

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Maria, from Real Fit Mama, and her daughter Linsey, who are running a half marathon to support ASPCA (which you can support, by the way):

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And this guy, whose photo was snapped by Caroline of See Cat Run while they ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon (and he was wearing Vibram Five Fingers!):

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Thanks for the photos everyone, keep ‘em coming!

Ok, here’s Christine…

Vegan Lemon Bars from Veganomicon

christine with lemon bars photo 300x239Happy Sweet-Tooth Friday!  This is Christine, at your service with another healthy dessert!  Though I’m totally smitten with last week’s wholesome quinoa muffins, I couldn’t let the month of Veganomicon go by without exploring the more indulgent side of their recipes.  There are were so many yummy choices, but I finally decided on Vegan Lemon bars.

Agar agar: The final frontier

I think up until now I had tried almost every vegan trick in the book…except agar agar!  I got my agar powder from iHerb.com with Matt’s first time customer code so I pretty much just had to pay for the shipping.    Agar powder is a vegan alternative to gelatin —you’ve probably heard by now that your Easter Peeps and gummy bears are made with pork, cow and horse products.

Agar, on the other hand, is actually derived from red algae or seaweed.  It thickens when heated which makes it perfect for jellies and custard-style desserts (but makes me nervous that the ocean may gel over some particularly hot day!).  It also can be used as a vegan filtering agent in beers (remember when I learned that some beer wasn’t vegan?)

“Cafe-style lemon bars are here!”

I was a little skeptical of that claim, but healthy-bakers can rejoice!  These are indulgent and tangy just like the egg-yolk, gelatin, and butter versions.  For the vegan margarine, I used Earth Balance’s natural shortening, which only has four ingredients: expeller pressed palm fruit, soybean, canola, and olive oil.  I know these are called lemon bars, but my dad just got back from Key West so I actually used the key lime juice he brought me!  Even he was impressed how much these tasted like little key lime pies.

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Vegan Lemon Bars

reprinted with permission, from Veganomicon

Crust:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus additional to decorate the finished bars
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine

Filling:

  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 3 tbsp agar flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot powder
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
  • 1/4 cup soy milk

Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Prepare the crust:
Pulse the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and cornstarch in a food processor.  Add the margarine in spoonfuls and blend 8 to 10 seconds, and then pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared baking pan and press firmly into an even layer with slightly raised sides, so that it can hold in the filling.  Refrigerate for about 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the unfilled crust for 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and let cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling:
In a saucepot, soak the agar in the water for 15 minutes.  Use the time while it soaks to zest your lemons and squeeze your lemon juice.  Mix the arrowroot into the lemon juice to dissolve.
When the agar has been soaked for 15 minutes, turn on the heat and bring the mixture to a boil.  Boil for about 10 minutes, or until the agar is completely dissolved.  Add the granulated sugar and turmeric, and boil until they have dissolved, about 3 minutes.  Turn down the heat to medium and add the arrowroot mixture, then add the lemon zest and soy milk.  Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.  It should not be rapidly boiling, but low bubbling is okay.
Pour the mixture into the prepared crust.  Let cool for 20 minutes and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until the filling is only slightly jiggly and has set.  Use a sifter or a fine-mesh strainer to sprinkle the bars with confectioners’ sugar.  Slice in squares and serve.

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Ta-da!  Perfect vegan lemon bars!  Using the turmeric to get that lemony-yolk color is genius, and you can’t taste that little bit at all.  Maybe next time I can use a pinch of matcha powder to help show off the key lime.   This recipe says it makes 12 bars, but those are definitely 12 huge cafe-sized bars.  If you’re serving them at a get-together, I think they could be cut into 24 or more pieces for easy snacking.

That’s it for this week!  Thanks again to Isa and Terry for letting us showcase some recipes this month.

Until next time, stay sweet!

xoxo Christine

36 Comments

 

A Vegan Stew as Exotic as Vegan Stew Gets

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You’ll never catch me turning down a chance to cook with plantains.  I don’t even know that I like them that much; I’m just enchanted by the idea of using them.  Savory bananas?  Yes, please. (If you’re new to plantains and want to see them in action, you might enjoy the video about plantains I made a while back.)

But this stew recipe takes the weird-ingredient factor a notch higher, by incorporating another not-too-common one: parsnips, in the form of chips.  I always figured parsnips were interchangeable with turnips, since they both end in “nips.”  But no, it turns out they’re more like carrots.  (Which ends in “rots.”)

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Finally, I added my own strange ingredient to the mix.  When an author gives me permission to post his or her recipe, I’m careful not to change it (see a Health Blog Helper post about posting recipes to understand why).  But with tomatoes not yet in season and one of the worst out-of-season ingredients you can buy, I decided to try Kumatos, based on my sister’s recommendation.  (Basically, they’re dark, sweet, perfect tomatoes.)

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Add a bunch of other vegetables and some pinto beans, and you have yourself one of the most flavorful, satisfying vegan meals I’ve tried.  And Erin couldn’t stop raving about this one, which always makes the husband-cook feel good.

Even better, it’s not much work.  Most of the time is simmering time.  The parsnip chips take a little extra effort, so you could skip them if you’re feeling lazy, but they’re worth it (they remind me of sweet potato fries a little).

This is really a good meal.  Make it for a skeptical, meat-eating friend.  I promise they won’t hate it.  If they do, they’re weird and you don’t need them as a friend. icon smile

Plantain and Pinto Stew with Parsnip Chips

(from Veganomicon, posted with permission)

Serves 4.

  • 1 recipe parsnip chips (recipe follows)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large white onion, chopped finely
  • 1 yellow pepper, chopped finely
  • 3 jalapenos, seeded and chopped finely
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry (any cooking wine will do, or sub vegetable broth)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 ripe plantains, peeled, sliced and halved lengthwise, and sliced into half-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a soup pot over medium heat, saute the onions, peppers, jalapenos, and garlic in the oil for 5 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.  Add the tomatoes, sherry, salt, and cumin.  Cover and bring to a simmer; let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are cooked and broken down.

Add the pinto beans and plantains.  Cover and simmer for another 20 to 25 minutes.  The plantains should be soft and sweet.  Add the cilantro and mix in so that it wilts.

Ladle into bowls and stick a few parsnip chips into bowls, like spears.

Parsnip chips

  • 1 lb parsnips (2 medium size)
  • 2 tsp or so peanut oil

Bake for 15 minutes, then flip them (use tongs for this).  Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.  The parsnips should be flecked with black and dark brown. If some are thinner than others they will cook faster, obviously; remove the skinny ones from the baking sheet as they finish baking.

Line them in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil.  Toss them around to get the oil over all of them, add a little more oil as necessary.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Peel the parsnips and slice them lengthwise.  Place them cut side down and slice into 1/8-inch thick strips, or as close to that as you can get them.

Sprinkle with salt and serve.

20 Comments

 

No Meat Athlete’s One-Year Blog-iversary!

Well, the day is here. Or more accurately, it has been here, since it’s almost over. But somehow I got on an evening blogging schedule this week, so that’s where we are.

number one2Today marks the one-year anniversary of when I started this blog. I’m not writing this post as an opportunity to get all melodramatic about the past twelve months (I’ve done plenty of that about my recent 50K), nor am I writing it to get a bunch of congratulations from everyone (you’ve given me plenty of those recently, too, which I really appreciate).

No, the main reason I’m writing this post is because this blog has grown a lot recently (almost 1000 subscribers now!), and I’m guessing that exactly three of you were around when it started. So I figured, “What would better than a quick tour of No Meat Athlete’s first year?” And I answered, “A beer while I write it.”

So that is where we stand.

The beginning

A year ago, I was not a vegetarian.  But I hadn’t eaten red meat for most of the previous year because of a moral aversion, and I had managed to cook some pretty good food nonetheless.

I had never been more excited about running, having run two marathons within three months right before that.  Even in the best shape of my life, though, I had fallen ten minutes short of qualifying for Boston at the Walt Disney World marathon, and recently sidelined by an injury, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen.

3358489 220x300In March 2009 I went to a Tony Robbins seminar—yes, the infomercial, positive-thinking guy—and I came back completely energized and excited about so many things, including running.  Also among them was my diet: Tony issued everyone a ten-day diet challenge that involved eating only fish and plants.

I took the challenge, noticed immediate energy gains, and I was hooked.  (And my wife, Erin, was very receptive to the change.)  I had serious doubts about whether this type of diet could possibly support endurance running, but I thought that if it could, then surely a few people would want to know about it.

Enter No Meat Athlete, and my first post.

March to May – All about the food

012 300x225For a few weeks while I was still injured, this blog might have been called No-Meat Person.  I wrote a little bit about running and my Boston Marathon goals, but almost every post was about a new recipe I was trying.  Smoky black bean burritos was a favorite that we still make today.  And I was really into Michael Pollan; I wrote a post called Junk Food Isn’t Healthy, Health Food Isn’t Healthy, based on his ideas.

I still ate fish occasionally for the first few weeks, but having opened my eyes to the idea of eating consciously, something in me wanted to be a total vegetarian.  I questioned giving up fish, and I ultimately did phase it out completely, becoming a total vegetarian.

And for the record, I started to think about quitting coffee.  It didn’t last.

May to October – Focusing on getting to Boston

On May 17th, I went for my first long run since becoming vegetarian, as any running up to that point had been merely injury rehab.  I ran that 12-mile route faster than I had ever run it, my first clue that there was something to this vegetarian thing.  (That post also describes a 100K bike ride Erin did!)

0141 174x300At that point, I realized I had a serious chance at qualifying for Boston, a completely unforeseen benefit of my new diet.  (I had been worried that it would make me a worse runner.)  I ran the Maryland Half Marathon, and thanks to my blog’s gaining just a bit of popularity, Brendan Brazier’s company sent me a copy of his book Thrive, which came to shape a lot of the way I look at food as running fuel.

Over the summer I trained my butt off to get to Boston.  I followed the training program in Run Less, Run Faster, and managed to win an age group award in a 5K at the beach, when all the good runners must have been hung over or something.  Though most of the training runs went well, I suffered a terrible bonk one day and had the worst run of my life.

Somehow, amidst all this training, I must have tricked somebody into letting me on the radio.  And to provide some nice, sweet breaks from all the running, my sister, Christine, started posting weekly healthy desserts on Fridays.  It was originally a month-long experiment, but Sweet-Tooth Friday is still going strong!

In August, I continued to train hard and started incorporating lots of the Thrive stuff, like raw energy gels.  And then I got the chance to interview Brendan Brazier, professional Ironman triathlete and vegan.

Erin and I found out that she was pregnant, and I announced it on the blog!  I couldn’t believe the coincidence that the due date was April 19, 2010, the day of the Boston Marathon, but I didn’t let that discourage me.  For me, the goal had always been about the challenge of qualifying far more than the actual running of the race.

As the date of my qualifying marathon (the Wineglass Marathon) approached, I thought a lot about running.  I realized that I did it because I loved the structure and challenge of training, but not the actual running.  This prompted me to write a post called I Am Not Really A Runner.  I wrote a good post about foam rolling, too, since I was really focused on avoiding injury.

matt in grass2 225x300Finally it was time.  I did a final, surreal track workout, one that was so strange I’ll never forget it.  Then the big race day came, and I did it.  I qualified!  There was a point when I was sure I wouldn’t qualify, and somehow I got past that and made it, by exactly one minute (3:09:59).  I was overwhelmed with emotion, having achieved a goal I’d had for seven years. And for a few weeks after that, the sense of joy didn’t go away.

October to December – My Blue Period

That’s a joke.  It wasn’t very blue.  But comparatively speaking, we can at least call it azure.

Qualifying for Boston left a gaping hole where that goal used to be.  In search of something to fill it, I read Born to Run and got really inspired to run an ultra and to start trail running.  I even got a pair of Vibram Five Fingers to simulate barefoot running.

For the first time ever, I loved running.  Without the Boston goal anymore, running became relaxed and fun.  I met a group of local ultra runners that I started running trails (and drinking) with on Thursday nights, and that made it even better.

And then I got really, really uninspired.  I got tired.  I blogged less.  Perhaps it was still the hole left by the goal that I’d chased for so long; perhaps it was just fatigue from focusing so much on that goal in the preceding months.  Whatever the cause, I sort of just went through the motions of running and blogging.  I experimented a little with ultramarathoner Stu Mittleman’s ideas about not eating sugar during long runs, but that’s something I never got comfortable with.  It’s still in the back of my mind though.

And oh yeah, I had a little fight with a fitness author.  Looking back, that one’s pretty funny.

January to Present – I’m back, baby!

At New Years, I made a big resolution that pertained to my blog: I decided I would only post when I wanted to, and about things I wanted to.  No more posting pictures of what I ate simply because that’s what I saw everyone else doing.

Matt PHUNT finish photo 768x1024 225x300I made an even bigger resolution: to donate all my pageview advertising revenue to help animals.  Combine these two resolutions with my first ultramarathon on the second day of the year, and you have the recipe for a major funk-buster!  As a result, I came to love blogging and running more than I ever had.

I’m proud of every post I have written since I made those decisions.  You’ve probably been around for a lot of that period, but if not, just check out the archives for January, February, and March.  These are my best posts to date—if I were to try to highlight my favorites, it would get really old, I promise.

Wrapping It Up

This year has been amazing.  So much has changed, and it’s almost all for the better.

Like I said, I’m not going to get all sappy here.  I’ll just leave it at “If you’d have told me all this would have happened in a year, I’d have called you an idiot.”

Thank you so much for being a reader of my blog, for however long you have been one.

white cotton shirt 225x300And for that matter, thanks for reading this long-ass post. As my small way of celebrating this one-year anniversary, I’m giving away No Meat Athlete cotton shirts to five random commenters on this post!

As you probably know, I try to keep my posts short so that when you log on every day, you know you’ll get a little bite-size chunk of something to think about that won’t take long to digest.  These past few posts have been anything but short; tomorrow I’ll be right back to the NMA you know, with that awesome stew recipe from Veganomicon I promised you last week.

See you then!

Looking forward to making the next year even better,

Matt

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Why the HAT 50K Was My Favorite Race Yet

Warning: This is a race recap so it’s a little long, as they tend to be.  If you’re not into reading, just watch the video I made.

Warmth.

matt running photo 1 225x300If I were to sum up in one word my experience at the HAT 50K on Saturday, that would be it.  Nothing could be more diametrically opposed to the memories of my bone-chilling, twenty-degree, embrace-the-suck first ultramarathon in January than the high I’m still coming down from after HAT Run.

The temperature was in the seventies and the course was tough, way harder than my previous trail ultra.  Four stream crossings, 9800 feet of climbing, lots of trail, several fields, and a few miles of road made for the hardest run I’ve ever completed.

Coming into this run, I knew that I wasn’t in the best of shape.  I could have done a better job training—hell, I could have done a better job of not drinking three beers the day before while I watched college hoops.  But all the snow this winter was too good an excuse to take it easy, to get in the minimal requisite mileage and enjoy the time off.

So I wasn’t expecting much, mostly just looking to not die.  And if that requirement were met, I would try to have fun.

From Good to Terrible to Great

I won’t bore you with all the details of my actual run, so I’ll keep this part short.  You can watch the video I made to get a three-minute idea of how it went.

matt being fixed photo 225x300I felt how you would imagine running one’s second ultra, on a much harder course, when one is a little out of shape, feels.  I tried my best to not go out too fast and relax during the first big loop.  During the second, once I knew what to expect, I let myself go all out.  But by then, “all out” was kind of a shuffle.

I felt pretty good until about mile 23, at which point it seemed that some sort of large bear jumped on my back.  I was feeling so bad that I even took walk breaks on some downhills.

For about forty minutes, I hated running and was never going to do it again as soon as the race was finished.  Pretty much the solid mental game that I’ve come to expect.

And then it all got better.  I got to a rest stop at mile 26, right before what I considered to be the final leg of the course.  A friend and my mom gave me some words of encouragement and I sat and had some out-of-this-world french fries for a few minutes, and after that I was a new man.  I felt better than I’ve ever felt at the end of a race, even running up hills that I had walked during the first loop.

I wish I could attribute this finish to something that I could repeat in the future, but I have no idea what it was.  The fries?  (Allen and my mom had better hope so, if they don’t want to be considered essential race day equipment from now on.)

I finished in 5:41:36, in 66th place and about seven minutes slower than in my first ultra.  But that didn’t matter to me at all.  Given the difficulty of the course and my uncertainty coming into the race, I feel like I’ve never run better on any day of my life.

What I Mean By Warmth

matt with rut photo 300x278But when I talk about “warmth,” it isn’t about the weather.  While the heat and sunlight were such a welcome change from the winter that kept so many of us indoors (and out of shape for this run), I’m talking about something different.  I’m talking about the feeling I got from knowing so many people at the race, from the people who make it happen every year, to so many runners that I’ve gotten to know over the past year, to the volunteers and my family, without whom I don’t think I’d have finished the race.

Everywhere I turned, it seemed I knew someone—I’ve never run a race like that.  I’m generally a quiet, keep-to-myself kind of guy.  And I haven’t minded that at other races, the only people I know are those who come to support me.  But having had this experience this weekend, I don’t think I’ll ever look at other races the same way.  If you don’t know from experience, you’ll just have to take it from me what a difference a familiar face makes when you’re a marathon into a race and still have five miles to go.

erin and mom 300x225The course was marked incredibly well.  There was a point in my first ultra at which I got lost, and if you want to talk about embracing suckage, that’s it.  When you’re tired and counting down the miles until you can do anything at all other that run, the idea that you might be—let alone, actually are—running in the wrong direction is on par with that of gnawing off your foot.

So knowing where I was going was an unanticipated luxury this weekend.  Thanks to the race directors, my friends Jeff, Tim, and Mike, who I run with on Thursday nights, for that.

The volunteers were wonderful.  My day started with a greeting from a runner in our local club who shocked us all by being there, not two weeks after he suffered a heart attack.  (When I saw him early in the race, he kindly reminded me that next year I’ll be running with a papoose.)

allen matt and erin photo 222x300I’ve already mentioned my friend Allen, whom I met through this blog.  He was such a tremendous help to me when I was feeling unbelievably awful around mile 26, and the three times before that when I saw him.  He promised me a homebrewed strong ale at the end, and he made good on that promise.

My wife Erin, my mom, my dad, and my sister all came to cheer me on, like they do whenever they get the chance.  As these races get longer (three hours has become six, and six might soon become nine or ten), I appreciate their efforts more and more every time.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves about Erin’s dedication, given her state. icon smile

And the company at the end was great, as always.  I drank a few beers with the people in my Thursday-night ultra group out of the congratulatory beer stein every finisher received.  And then I went over and hung out with a group of people wearing Daily Mile t-shirts, just as they said they would be.  I met Jeanne, Andy, Thomas, Steve, Adam, and some others I’m sure I’m forgetting.  All very nice people from the area whom I’d have never met if not for this interwebs thing.  I even got some baby stroller advice, and a beer!  Conclusion: Daily Mile is cool and I need to participate on the site more, instead of just posting my workouts.

A Lesson Learned (Again)

erin and matt photo 224x300I believe that about sums up the day.  Warmth, warmth, and more warmth.  And another version of the same lesson I learned during my Boston-qualifier: When you think, even for a few minutes, that you really can’t do something, and then you somehow manage to pull it out of your ass, it changes you in a way that you can’t explain until you experience it.  And when you have others to thank for it, it’s even better.

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HAT 50K Video

Wow, what a day.  The HAT 50K was the hardest race I’ve ever run, but the atmosphere, the people, and the weather made it the most fun I’ve ever had racing.

Certainly I could have been better prepared for this race—all the snow this winter prevented me from running any trails in February or March, and I never got in the mileage that I really should have to prepare for an ultra.  Even so, I had a fantastic race.

I finished in 5:41:36, which is a few minutes slower than my first 50K, but this course was so much tougher (9800 feet of climbing!).  Plus the heat slowed everybody down by about 15 minutes from previous years.

There was a point, around mile 25 or so, when I felt terrible, but somehow I got past it to have a really strong finish (I think the support of family and my friend Allen are to thank for this).  Long story short, I was extremely happy with the outcome, and proud of myself for running so well.

I brought my camera along with me and shot some video during the race, and I put it all together in this video recap.  I’ll write a more-detailed recap when I get chance; in the meantime, enjoy the video.

Thanks to all the wonderful people behind this race and those who volunteered.  It was truly an unforgettable experience.

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