Sweet-Tooth Friday: Vegan Almond-Quinoa Muffins

christine with muffins photo 300x200Hi everybody!  This is Christine and welcome back to Sweet-Tooth Friday!  This week I made Vegan Almond-Quinoa muffins from the featured cookbook of the month, Veganomicon.

Vegan cupcakes fit for cupcake snobs

Before I was a vegan baker, I worked at a boutique-style cupcakery that does fabulously creative displays and towers of cupcakes without ever compromising on flavor.  When customers started requesting vegan cupcakes, I just wasn’t sure I could make them to the standards people had come to expect from the shop.

Just for fun, I picked up a copy of  Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and within days the cupcakery was able to offer vegan cupcakes on the menu.    Yes, the recipes are that inspired and that good.  In fact, I attribute my later decision to focus only on vegan baking, and eventually on food law, to that first positive experience.

So when I got my hands on Isa and Terry’s next creation, Veganomicon, you can imagine how excited I was to find three chapters on baking!  There are chapters for Desserts, Cookies and Bars, and Breads, Muffins and Scones.  Holy cannoli!

Who knew quinoa could be so cute?

muffin with quinoa photo 300x200After deep contemplation I chose Almond-Quinoa muffins to try because I was intrigued by the idea of baking with a new kind of whole grain.  Isa and Terry recommended red quinoa as particularly “charming” in these muffins, so I just cooked some up the night before with dinner and reserved an unseasoned portion.

Besides, when’s the last time you had quinoa for breakfast, sweetened only with agave nectar and dried apricots?  You will be blown away by how satisfying and yummy these healthy little suckers are!

Vegan Almond-Quinoa Muffins

(reprinted from Veganomicon with permission)

  • 1 cup vanilla soy milk
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar or pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal almond flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 1/4 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots or currants

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a non-stick 12-cup muffin tin.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the soy milk and ground flaxseed.  Allow to sit for 1 minute, then whisk in oil, agave nectar and vanilla.
In a separate large bowl, sift together flour, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until just incorporated.  Gently fold in the cooked quinoa and the apricots and mix until only the large lumps are gone.
Pour into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 20 to 22 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

muffins photo 2 1024x682

These almond-quinoa muffins are amazing!  I didn’t make any substitutions besides using my silicone cupcake wrappers instead of greasing a tin.  I can’t believe these muffins are quinoa-based and have so little sweetener.  The almond flour lends a nice buttery taste, but without the heaviness of standard calorie-bomb muffins.  Plus the cardamom makes them seem like an exotic treat.

muffins photo 1 1024x682

I had great success with this recipe, and what’s cool is that if you have any questions about an ingredient or substitution, there is a forum for The Post Punk Kitchen where readers can post and exchange ideas.

I’m once again very impressed with the quality of Isa and Terry’s work— even my dad said, “Hey!  these taste like real muffins!”  Gee, thanks, dad!  I’m not sure how I will survive until I order a copy of Vegan Cookies take over your Cookie Jar and a Show us your Mitts t-shirt.

Thanks and congrats

Before I go, I just wanted to say thanks for all the congrats you guys sent in about my first 5k.  I had so much fun representing the NMA community, and competing in a race really lit that running spark again!

And congrats to Matt for the blog’s upcoming first year anniversary!  On yesterday’s list of 75 ways going vegetarian has made life better, I really connected with #75, #69, #17, #15, and of course, #41.  Thanks Matt, for the sweet opportunity to write a weekly post here!

See you next Sweet-Tooth Friday!

xoxo Christine

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75 Ways Going Vegetarian Has Made My Life Better

I’ve been vegetarian for just about a year now (the actual date is fuzzy, since I phased out fish over time), and I can say without a doubt that this year represents the most my life has ever improved in such a short period of time.  Granted, there have been a few sacrifices.  But “no buffalo wings during the NCAA tournament” just doesn’t measure up to a list like this.  Enjoy.

75 Ways Going Vegetarian Has Made My Life Better

75. I don’t have to clean up animal juices in the kitchen.
74. I don’t feel like passing out immediately after dinner.
73. My wife got pregnant right away, when the doctor told us it would be tough.
72. I love my dogs even more than I used to.
71. I took 10 minutes off my marathon time.
70. I discovered Thai and Indian food.
69. We have more grocery money to spend on expensive specialty foods.
68. There’s no reason for me to even think of stopping at McDonald’s.
67. I’m helping the environment without trying.
66. I spend less on vitamins and supplements because I need them less.
65. We’ve started recycling.
64. Erin’s pregnancy has been completely free of complications.
63. Random moles and bumps on my body have disappeared.
62. I haven’t gotten sick once.
61. It gave me a reason to start a blog (and maybe even help some people).
60. I have a cause to care about.
59. It has made me want to donate money to help animals, not do it out of guilt.
58. I pay way more attention to what I eat before and after runs.
57. When I wake up in the morning and forget for just a second that I’m vegetarian, I feel really good about myself when I remember.
56. Cheese, one of most unhealthy foods I still eat, isn’t nearly as appealing as it used to be.
55. I am sympathetic to people who feel passionately about other issues.
54. I don’t even have to think about adding vegetables to my meals.
53. We’ve started composting.
52. I ran my fastest mile, by a whole minute.
51. I ran my first ultramarathon.
50. I sleep a million times better when I don’t go to bed all bloated and full of animal parts.
49. I’ve discovered my local health food store (David’s!).
48. I spend 80% of my grocery shopping time in the produce section.
47. I’ve learned to appreciate nature a hell of a lot more than I used to.
46. Number of runs missed due to injury since going vegetarian = 0.
45. I discovered almond milk.
44. I haven’t weighed myself in months.
43. Sometimes people send me free cookbooks and fitness books.
42. I have more in common with my stepmom, who doesn’t eat mammals.
41. I am closer to my sister.
40. My dad eats so much more healthily than he used to.
39. My mom eats less red meat.
38. I realize that there are a lot of alternatives to the “common knowledge” about nutrition and health.
37. I discovered Michael Pollan, and went to see him speak.
36. Summer mornings at the farmers market with Erin and the dogs are the best.
35. We probably eat twice the variety of foods we used to.
34. We bought a juicer.
33. There’s a lot more room in the freezer.
32. I’ve never tried so many different smoothies.
31. I’ve started sprouting.
30. I think way more about the other stuff in food besides protein, carbs, and fat.
29. I discovered coconut oil.
28. I learned that I like kale, collards, lentils, quinoa, bulgur, and okra.
27. I’ve learned that starchy carbohydrates aren’t the best running fuel (for me).
26. I tried more new recipes this year than I ever have before.
25. When I went to the dentist after a 10-year hiatus, he attributed the cleanliness of my teeth to raw fruits and vegetables.
24. I don’t eat gross school food anymore.
23. Erin is very conscious of pesticides and hormones in the food she eats that feeds our baby.
22. 250 other people around the world wear No Meat Athlete shirts to show everyone else what you can do with plant power.
21. We put some serious miles on our food processor and blender, appliances that used to just sit on the counter.
20. I’ve gotten to talk to and exchange emails with pro athletes and authors.
19. I’ve learned the importance of supporting small farms.
18. I lost a lot of body fat without trying.
17. Almost none of my food comes in packages.
16. I discovered Ezekiel sprouted-grain breads.
15. I eat more nuts and beans than ever before.
14. Doctor visits last year (besides physical exam) = 2. Doctor visits this year (besides physical exam) = 0.
13. We’ve started using natural toothpaste, deodorant, and household cleaning products.
12. When I see a stray dog on the road, I stop.
11. I ran my fastest 5K.
10. I found motivation to quit drinking caffeine, because it’s the most unhealthy thing I do.  (Still working on completely eliminating it, though.)
9. People at races yell, “No Meat!”
8. I make my sports drinks and gels at home now, instead of drinking commercial shit.
7. I got addicted to hemp (protein and oil).
6. I qualified for Boston, something that I had been trying to do for seven years.
5. Qualifying for Boston allowed me to get into trail running, through which I’ve met some incredible runners and people.
4. A friend of mine has become almost completely vegetarian.
3. Thanks to readers like you, I have a voice to share what I’m doing with lots of other motivated people.
2. When I hear about horrors of factory farms, I feel angrier, but less guilty.
1. Lots of people tell me “thanks,” something I’ve never experienced on this level before.

What did I miss?  What’s been the biggest impact reducing meat consumption has had on YOUR life?

This post is part of a series on how to start eating a vegetarian diet, for new vegetarians or endurance athletes looking to take their performance to the next level.

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Run Less, Run Faster Review

If, during any part of the last few years, you were the coffee junkie that I’m now trying hard to no longer be, then surely you’ve seen the quote on a Starbucks cup:

“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating…”

There were lots of other quotes like it, but this one seemed to impact people a little more than the rest.  There’s even a blog named for the quote.

I first read this quote-on-a-cup at the same time as I was discovering its message for myself, through—what else—marathon training.  I don’t know that I agree entirely with it: To me, “liberating” isn’t quite the word to describe commitment.  I would replace it with “not that sucky, and potentially really awesome.”

Fully Committed

It has been over five months since I’ve trained seriously.  I can’t say I feel much guilt about that—after all, this Saturday I’ll be running my second 50K in a span of three months.  It tells me I’ve come a long way as a runner when a race schedule like that is considered “time off.”  But really, it has been relaxing.  And after focusing so hard on qualifying for Boston in October, I absolutely needed the break.

But as I’ve alluded to recently, I have missed that feeling of commitment to a goal.  It’s time to get back out there, to diligently pound out those track workouts, tempo runs, and long runs, one of each per week.  I don’t even feel that I need a goal.  I just need that structure, that feeling that every week I can run just a little bit faster or farther than I could the week before.

Run Less, Run Faster

run less run faster cover 197x300I’ve decided to do the workouts from the book Run Less, Run Faster (Amazon affiliate link) again to get back into racing shape.  This was the training program that finally pushed me past the 3:10 marathon barrier (with one modification, which I’ll explain).

I’d recommend this program not to first-time runners but to anyone who has run a distance before and wants to get faster at that distance.  Here’s the premise.

You do three running workouts per week: one speed workout, one tempo run, and one long run.  On two of the days between them, you cross train with swimming, cycling, or some other low-impact activity.  All the paces are specified based on your current ability level, and to some extent, your goal.

Now, here’s the modification I made, and it’s a big one, given the title of the book:  Don’t run less. Do easy runs in place of the cross-training.

I realize this is going against the whole premise of the book.  I tried running less in early 2009, and I got hurt.  I have no idea if that was the reason, but I did note that I missed running easy, as there’s none of that in this program.

But on the way to getting hurt, I fell in love with the workouts in this book.  So I kept them, and threw out the “Run Less” part.  I ran easy on two or three off days per week, and kept everything else the same.

The striking feature of this program, and what I credit with most of the 10 minutes I knocked off of my previous marathon time, is that you do long runs near your race pace.  This is in stark contrast to most other programs I’ve done, where I’m always made to feel guilty for running any faster than 1-2 minutes slower than race pace on my long run days.  In Run Less, Run Faster, I built up to a 20-mile run at 7:30 pace—a mere 15 seconds per mile slower than my Boston-qualifying pace.

A final feature I enjoyed: While you can customize the training programs to whatever your ability or goal, the training programs for the 16 different Boston-qualifying paces are pre-made, so there’s no need to figure anything out.

Along with going vegetarian and a lot of hard work, I credit this training program with my qualifying for Boston.  The information you need is there; it’s just a matter of making it happen.

Please note: I earn commissions on purchases from Amazon through the links in this post.

This post is part of 10-part series on qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  Check out the rest!

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Spicy Cacao-Banana Raw Energy Bars

What do you know, another Monday.

But this Monday is special, for lots of reasons, not the least of which are that I’m on spring break and my second-ever 50K is on Saturday.  It’s also the start of the last full week of my first year of blogging, seeing as I started this blog on March 23rd of last year.

christine running photo 300x288See, told you it was special.  Even more exciting, and less me-centric, is the news that my sister, Christine, ran her first 5K yesterday!  Here she is about a quarter-mile from the finish line, on her way to breaking 30 minutes with a time of 29:46.

Judging by the sea of green around Christine, St. Patrick’s Day races are the one time it’s okay to be “that guy” who wears the race shirt to the actual race.  Still, being a No Meat Athlete is far cooler.  And a shout out to my friends at Charm City Run Bel Air who helped put on the race!

Thrive Fitness raw bar and grill

Okay, no grill.  Just bar.  But how could I resist?

This bar is another raw wonder from Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Fitness.  I recently polished off my batch of Carob Strawberry Chia Energy Bars, so this time I went with a different one, the magic ingredient that sucked me in being jalapeno pepper.  (When Erin and I first discovered Brendan’s recipe for a raw mango smoothie with jalapeno, we became more or less infatuated by it, essentially subsisting on mango-jalapeno smoothies alone for about a month.  I don’t rule out that this may have led to the conception of our baby.)

Again, the bars are loaded with superfoods and the right kinds of sugars for endurance training.  Dates, banana, salba (white chia), carob or cacao, macadamia nuts, and more.  The recipe calls for buckwheat, and this time I went ahead and sprouted it rather than using buckwheat flour.

Here’s some buckwheat before sprouting:

unsprouted buckwheat photo 1024x768

And after, the starch having been converted to easy-digesting sugars and protein to amino acids:

sprouted buckwheat photo 1024x768

All the cool kids are sprouting now.  Are you?

Just like last time, my biggest complaint is that the bars aren’t firm enough to bring on a run; they’re soft and sticky when unfrozen.  (I’m guessing this is a common problem with raw bars.)  Not a huge deal though, since they’re good frozen and can be eaten that way before or after a workout.

Here’s the recipe, printed with Brendan’s permission.  Thanks, Brendan!

Spicy Carob Banana Energy Bars

(from Thrive Fitness)

  • 3/4 cup Medjool dates
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 small banana
  • 1/2 cup sprouted buckwheat (or substitute cooked)
  • 1/4 cup raw carob powder (or substitute raw cacao nibs or roasted carob powder)
  • 1/4 cup salba
  • 1/4 cup macadamia nuts
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp unhulled sesame seeds

Process everything except sesame seeds in a food processor.  Once you have cut the bars, sprinkle them with the sesame seeds.

Just like last time, I put the mixture directly from the food processor into a pan lined with parchment paper, where I shaped it into a brick and then froze it before cutting.

jalapeno cacao banana energy bars photo 1024x768

These bars actually taste really good.  They’re sweet and have a little kick from the jalapeno, and they have a nice crunch from the macadamia nuts and the cacao nibs I used.  Give ‘em a try and let me know what you think!

Non-bloggers, you are dismissed.  Health bloggers, keep reading for…

A little cross-promotion

hbh logo square smallI haven’t mentioned it here in a while, but I’ve made a lot of changes to my other blog, Health Blog Helper.  I’ve put a lot of time recently into making the site look nice and adding lots valuable content to share all the info I’m constantly learning about how we can make our health blogs better.  Plus, I put together a new, free email course you can sign up for!  Please check it out if you haven’t been there in a while.

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An Open Letter to My Unborn Baby

Dear Baby Fraz,

I can’t believe how close we are to meeting you in person.  Five weeks, the day of the Boston Marathon, assuming you don’t jump the gun.  If you’re like your mother, you’ll probably leave yourself plenty of time, just in case you run into any delays on the way out.  If you’re more like your old man, you’ll get caught up in doing something else and likely show up five to ten minutes late.

A lot of people have been asking how we’re going to handle the vegetarian thing with you, and you’re probably wondering the same thing.  I think it’s kind of cool that you were conceived shortly after your mother and I became vegetarian, so no amount of meat has ever passed into your system.  In that sense, you’re immaculate.  And how neat would it be to know that you lived your life completely “pure,” never consuming the flesh of a single sentient being.

But to raise you with that aim would be completely out of character for me or your mother.  Far deeper than my conviction that one shouldn’t eat animals is my belief that life is about experiencing things for yourself, not accepting on faith alone what others tell you is true or right without question.  For the same reason that I won’t provide you with a default religion to shape your malleable little mind before you’re good at making your own decisions, I won’t forbid you to eat meat.

sascha and linus with giraffe photo 300x225Still, part of my job as a parent is to guide you in the direction I believe is right.  But “guide” is very different from “force.”  I will explain to you, in words you can understand, why in our advanced society I don’t believe we need to hurt animals to feed ourselves.  Your nursery will be decorated with friendly-looking giraffes and ducks (sorry about all the yellow, but that’s the price we all pay for keeping your sex a surprise).  And some of your very best friends, long before you develop strong friendships with human peers, will be our dogs, Linus and Sascha.  Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I envision Linus being extremely gentle around you and Sascha protecting you like you’re her own child.

In that way, I will attempt to instill in you my values without denying you the opportunity to make many of your own choices.  Certainly when you discover Chicken McNuggets at a friend’s house or on TV — we’ll save TV for another conversation — you’ll want to try them, and I won’t deprive you of that experience.  And you won’t be the weird kid on the block who isn’t allowed to eat fast food or has to have a special dinner prepared in order to eat at a friend’s house.  To subject you to that and all that comes with it would not only be unfair; I think it would lead you to store up resentment towards us that would eventually lead to your complete rebellion when you get a little taste of freedom.

Your mother and I won’t be cooking anything at home that has meat in it, even for you, but when you’re old enough to cook I’ll be ecstatic to teach you.  And if at that point you’d like to cook yourself meat, you’re welcome to do so.  If you want pepperoni on your pizza, I’ll probably even let you order that.  (But before you do, I’ll explain to you that lots of pigs are just as smart as Linus and Sascha, and have the same feelings as they do.)

All of this assumes that your mother and I don’t come across information that leads us to change our mind about the healthfulness of a vegetarian diet for children.  As of now, I have no reason to think that you can’t be far healthier on a plant-based diet than you can eating animals.

I can’t wait to meet you.  We’re going to have a lot of fun together.

Love,

Your Dad

P.S. I had a dream two nights ago that I was eating this mind-blowing fresh pasta dish with braised, shredded pork in it.  I used to love this kind of food, but in this dream I was not enjoying it because for some reason I don’t recall, I was pressured to eat it by someone else.  Dreams are weird like this, but don’t worry; this isn’t what vegetarians dream about every night!  But I figured it would make a good first lesson for you: Never compromise your values because of what someone else wants you to do.  It might be easier in the moment, but in the end, damage caused by a lack of self-respect is hard to repair.

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Sweet-Tooth Friday: Superfood Energy Bars

Happy Sweet-Tooth Friday!  This is Christine and instead of my normal frilly-healthy-dessert post, today we are getting down and dirty with homemade vegan superfood energy bars.

An energy bar fit for fueling workouts

superfood bars photo 1 300x200There has been a lot of talk about natural running fuel here lately.  Matt’s series of posts on pre, during, and post workout nutrition got me thinking about the original homemade energy bar recipe I created in the early days of Sweet-Tooth Fridays.  For those bars, my goal was to get away from the crazy-processed and overly sugared “health” bars on the market and create something actually nutritious from whole, real food— not corn syrup and soy.

And the result was a hit, both in taste and nutrition.  We’ve made these bars again and again, and I’ve been known to tuck them into my workout bag for a pick-me-up snack.  But now Matt has risen the bar with his research so I decided to give my old recipe a makeover, meshing it with ideas from the 5 essentials of pre-workout nutrition and elements of Thrive’s Raw Chia energy bars.

What makes them super?

I decided to leave beans as the backbone ingredient in my new bars, this time opting for adzuki beans instead of white.  I also left the dates in as the main source of sweetness since I now know that they have a high-GI for immediate energy.  Then I added agave nectar as suggested since its low-GI provides for sustained energy later on.

I wanted to lay off the “starchy” forms of carbs in my new bars after learning that they require extra energy for digestion before their sugar can be used as energy for the body.  So I swapped the wheat flour, oats, and cereal with the less starchy pinole and puffed millet (yeah it’s the same puffed millet from my vegan ‘rice cripsy’ treats!)

To make up for the dry ingredients I removed, I also added hemp protein, which is listed in the “superfoods that go the extra mile” category.  Do you think I stopped there?  Nope!  I threw in flaxseed and chia seed, and even maca root to help the adrenal glands recover.  Don’t forget the salt for electrolytes!

superfood bars photo 2 1024x682

I was hoping to make bars that fit with the 3:1 carbs to protein ratio, but  couldn’t quite do it without adding significantly to the fat content.  The protein here comes mainly from nut butter, chopped almonds, hemp protein and beans, and is assisted by the flaxseed, chia, maca, and pinole.  My only other option was adding soy protein which I wasn’t willing to do, so I let my bars stay at a good 4.7:1 carbs to protein ratio (which does fall within the recovery food ratios anyway.)

Matt offered the option of using caffeine as a way of improving performance, but I’ve never run with caffeine before and was nervous about it.  I intentionally left a significant amount of water as the liquid part of this recipe so that it can be up to you whether to brew it as yerba mate, green tea, or even coffee if you want.  I made mine with water and they tasted great, so don’t think you’ll be missing out on flavor if you stick with water.

Finally, with a dash of cinnamon for antioxidants and a squeeze of lime as an acid neutralizer…voila!   New and improved superfood energy bars!

Homemade Vegan Superfood Bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked adzuki beans
  • 1 cup (about 15) fresh medjool dates, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups water (may substiute yerba mate, green tea, or coffee)
  • 4 tbsp agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup natural nut butter (I used cashew but almond, sunflower seed or peanut butter is fine)
  • 4 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 cup pinole, or stoneground cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup maca root powder
  • 1/2 cup hemp protein
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups puffed millet
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped raw almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×13 casserole dish with baking spray or 1 tbsp melted coconut oil.

Mix together the pinole, maca root powder, hemp protein, chia seeds, flaxseeds, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.

In a food processor, puree the beans, dates, and water.  Stir the agave nectar, cashew butter, applesauce and lime juice into the puree.  Combine the wet ingredients with the dry.  Fold in the puffed millet and almonds.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan; bake for 30-35 minutes or until firm.  Allow to cool, then cut into 24 bars.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nutrition facts approximated for 1 bar/whole pan
Calories: 160/3849
Calories from fat: 112/2679
Fat: 8 g/201 g
Saturated fat: 0.7 g/18 g
Protein: 6 g/143 g
Sodium: 84 g/2008 g
Total carbs: 28 g/675 g
Sugar: 15 g/369 g
Fiber: 5 g/129 g

And yes, I drizzled these with a confectioner’s sugar icing that’s not accounted for in the nutrition facts–once again, decorating baked goods is a compulsion!

I’m packing these bars along for this weekend…I’m running my first race, the Shamrock 5k here in Baltimore!  I’ll be wearing my NMA shirt with pride.  Wish me luck and let me know how you like the new and improved bars!

See you next Sweet-Tooth Friday!
xoxo Christine

About the Author: Christine Frazier writes vegan recipes through lots of research, trial, and error … now she is applying the same theory to her other passion, writing stories. Follow along as she deconstructs bestsellers and learns how to write a novel.

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3 Track Workouts Guaranteed to Kick Your Ass

track photo 300x217I’m a huge fan of the track workout.  It’s something that I didn’t introduce into my training for about five years after I started running, probably because of a subconscious fear instilled in me by awful, once-a-year miles forced on me in middle school gym class.  But now that I’ve gotten comfortable with running on the track, speed workouts are my favorite of all.  Yes, they’re awful.  But you feel damn good afterward.

Scared of the track?

Going to the track is a little intimidating the first time, but it needn’t be.  All you really need to know is this:

  • One lap is 400 meters, just about a quarter-mile.
  • Run counterclockwise.
  • Stay to the inside most of the time, yelling “track” when you need to pass someone — they should get out of the way.
  • When you hear someone behind you yell “track,” you get out of the way.  Or get run over and make an enemy in the process.

Once you have this down, you need to know what you do there, since running around in circles at a steady pace gets boring quickly (as in immediately).  While lots of track workouts are so complicated you need to bring a piece of paper to remind yourself of the paces and distances, my favorites are the simple ones that involve running a single distance multiple times at a single prescribed pace, punctuated by rest intervals.  To me, such workouts mimic the feel of a marathon, where miles at the beginning feel easy, but as your body wears down, hanging on to the pace that was once so comfortable becomes a true test of fitness and willpower.

With that melodramatic introduction, here are my three favorite track workouts.  Of course, warm up before attempting any of these, cool down afterward, and only attempt them if you’re already in good running shape and know what a proper intensity feels like.  These aren’t get-off-the-couch-and-into-shape workouts.  If something feels too hard, by all means slow down.

Three Killer Track Workouts

Track Workout #3:  3 x 1 mile with 400 m rest intervals.

Pace:  Determine 5K mile-pace and subtract 10 seconds.

Just in case you aren’t getting the notation, consider my example:  My 5K pace is about a 6:12 mile, so I’m looking at 6:02 for this workout.  After a warmup, I run one mile at 6:02, then jog slowly around the track one time, then repeat the whole thing two more times, for a total of three repeats.  Too easy, tough guy?  Try resting for only one minute instead of one lap.

Track Workout #2:  Yasso 800’s.

I’ve mentioned this workout before, but that’s because I like it so much.  It’s used as a marathon prediction workout, but it’s a good workout in its own right.  Here’s how it works.  Start with your marathon time (or better, your target marathon time).  For me last year, it was 3 hours, 10 minutes.  Now shift the units so that it becomes minutes and seconds instead of hours and minutes.  (3:10 becomes 3 minutes, 10 seconds.)  Run 800m at this pace, then lightly jog for the same amount of time.  Do this as many times as possible.  If you can complete 10 repeats and 10 rests, then in theory, you can run your target marathon time on a flat course.  In my experience, this is a bit optimistic — that’s why I like to do more than 10.  For more, see the original Runner’s World article introducing the workout.

And my all-time favorite…

Track Workout #1:  10 x 400m with 400m rest intervals.

Pace: Determine 5K mile-pace, then divide by 4 and subtract 10 seconds.  (Example: 19:15 5K is a 6:12 mile.  Divided by 4 gives 1:33, subtracting 10 gives 1:23 for each 400m interval.)  This takes the idea of “easy at first, brutal at the end” to the extreme.”  And it’s so easy — Run 400m, jog 400m.  After one or two of these, it seems like a breeze.  Get to number 6 or so, and all the sudden 4 more is out of the question.  But because each only requires a short effort, I find myself thinking “Ok, I can manage just one more.”  And then after a rest, I think the same thing. And so on until the end.

And then, as I drink my recovery drink, I feel like I own the world.

Good luck!  Why not get your speed on today?

This post is part of a series of posts designed to teach you how to run long and strong.  Go check out the rest!

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Ever make your own BBQ sauce?

Ok, ready for this?  It’s a fun one, because it involves:

(a) rolling things up into little southern-goodness-bombs and

(b) making your own barbecue sauce, something I’d never done before.

collard bundles photo 300x225Today’s recipe is from Veganomicon, my featured cookbook of the month.  Which, by the way, is really starting to grow on me: Many of the recipes are a little more complicated than what I’m used to, but the recipes and notes are so well written that I feel like I learn something new every time I make one of the meals.  (Example: “The basic components of a BBQ sauce are something sweet, something sour, and something tomato-y.”)  And the tone of the writing is funny and friendly, without being annoyingly witty or cloying.  As if the PPK needs any of my encouragement, nice job, PPK.

Proof that leaf wraps don’t have to suck

I’m always wary of recipes that require wrapping the main event in some sort of leaf — lettuce, cabbage, or otherwise.  I guess I associate them with that idiotic low-carb craze where we all shunned tortillas and rolls in favor of animal flesh and heart attacks.  And if needless death doesn’t get you, then surely that fact that lettuce leaf wraps always fall apart will.

But not these.  Wrapped in collards, these little flavor bundles stay together really well.  And what exactly is inside said flavor bundles?  Mushrooms, black-eyed peas, chopped collards, and the star of the show — homemade barbecue sauce!

Before you ask: Yes, you could substitute a store-bought barbecue sauce.  But what fun would that be?  Doing it yourself is far more badass (and the sauce is probably spicier, unless you have the barbecue otaku and have some blazing specialty BBQ in your fridge).

When, in the end, I tested my sauce for flavors, I ended up adding some more vinegar and salt.  And in hopes of not killing wife and unborn baby, I started with half the crushed red pepper, and it’s a good thing I did.  The sauce was plenty spicy, even for me, and I like spicy stuff.  Just a warning.

Alright, enough of my yacking.  Here’s the recipe.

(And leave me a comment, because I’d love to know how others like their barbecue sauce.  I’ve always been a vinegar-based guy; that’s the stuff my friend and I embarked on that moronic 7-hour hajj to the Outer Banks one night to get.  But this recipe has shown me that vinegar and tomato can more-than-peacefully coexist.)

blackeyed peas on collard leaf photo 1024x768

BBQ Black-eyed Pea-Collard Rolls

(reprinted from Veganomicon with permission)

Makes 12 rolls, serves 3 to 4.  Time: 40 minutes.

  • 12 large collard leaves
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced thickly
  • 4 cups chopped collards
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 cups Backyard BBQ Sauce (below)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

When the water is boiling, submerge the collard leaves and cover for 6 minutes.  When done, use tongs to transfer them to a strainer and let cool.  Handle them gently so that they don’t rip.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.  Saute the mushrooms in the oil for about 5 minutes, until softened.  Add the chopped collards.  Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until most of the moisture has cooked off.  Add the black-eyed peas and cook through.  Pour on 2 cups of the BBQ sauce and cook for about 5 more minutes.  If it looks watery, turn the heat up a bit and cook a few more minutes.

Let cool just a bit so that you can make the rolls without burning yourself.

Place a collard on a flat work surface with the side that has not been sliced facing you.  Place about 2 tablespoons of the black-eyed peas and company in the lower third of the collard.  Fold the bottom up over the mixture, then fold in the sides.  Roll the collard up, gently but firmly.  If the filling is spilling out, remove some of the black-eyed peas and try again.

Continue rolling the remaining collards.  When ready to serve, spoon extra BBQ sauce over the rolls.

Backyard BBQ Sauce

Makes about 4 cups.  Time: 40 minutes.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped as finely as you can
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard (Dijon is fine, too)
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke

Preheat a saucepan over medium heat.  Place the onions in a pan and saute the oil until browned (about 7 minutes).  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  Add all the other ingredients except the mustard and liquid smoke, and cook for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally.  Lower the heat if the sauce begins to splatter everywhere.  Add the mustard and liquid smoke, and taste for sweetness/sourness.  Adjust the flavors if you think it’s necessary, and cook for 5 more minutes.  If you like a smooth BBQ sauce then puree it, but that’s not entirely necessary.

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