Will You Help Me Raise Money for Injured Marines?

If you’re a dedicated reader, you’re probably wondering why there are two NMA posts in one day.  (That is, if you’re a dedicated reader who doesn’t read post titles.)

Anyway, I kinda screwed up on something, and I’m hoping you’ll help me out.

For several months now, I’ve known that I’ll be running the Marine Corps Marathon on October 31st.  Not only that, but I’ll have the immense pleasure of running it with a former marine, my brother-in-law Kevin, to help pace him to his first 3:30 marathon.

I can only imagine what an emotional experience it will be.  And to make it even better, we’re part of a team that’s raising money for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.  I committed to raise 300 dollars.

Doesn’t sound too screwed up yet, does it?  Well, here’s what happened.

I decided I’d wait until after my Vermont 50-miler before I announced this on the blog and asked you to help me reach that goal.  I planned to do so next week, but today I got an email saying that the team deadline is tomorrow (Friday)!

So basically, I need to come up with my 300 bucks in a few hours.  And that’s where I’m hoping you’ll help me out.

If a marine or other armed forces member you know has touched your life in some way, I hope you’ll consider donating to this cause.  You’ll be doing something great, and (far less importantly) doing me a big favor as well.

If you’d like to help out, here’s my link where you can donate and learn more about the Semper Fi Fund.  Like I said, I need to raise this money by tomorrow, or who knows what those marines that make up the rest of the team will do to “that tree-hugger guy who didn’t raise his money.” 🙂

In all seriousness, I really appreciate your help.  Here’s a little info about Kevin, the former marine I’ll be running with and a guy I’m damn proud to call my brother-in-law.

I’m a former Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, served 11 years on active duty.  I was born in Hudson, NY and joined the Marine Corps in December of ‘94 – seeking to support the greatest war fighting machine on the planet and wear those dress blues. 😉 I worked in various communications roles throughout my 11 years served on active duty.

Highlights, 2 tours of duty supporting Operation(s) Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Enduring Freedom (OEF), first tour in Kuwait and Iraq during the war conflict in ’02-‘03 and again in Fallujah ’04-‘05.  Also, supported Joint Task Force – Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA) in ’96-’97.  My various duty stations included Japan, Kaneohe Bay Hawaii, and Camp Pendleton, CA, and 29 Palms, CA.  I left the active duty ranks in ’05 and made San Diego, CA my home.  I’ve been supporting Government contracts since at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command – Pacific (SPAWAR – PAC) and at Camp Pendleton, CA working in the Information Assurance (IA) industry.

I’m running the 35th running of the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) aka ‘Peoples Marathon’ for the first time and fund raising/promoting awareness for the ‘Injured Marine | Semper Fi’ fund.

I enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, taking long walks with my dog, hiking, running, mountain bike running, golfing, exploring/sight seeing, and travel.



Again, if you’d like to help out, you can click here to donate, even if it’s just a couple dollars.  Thanks so much for your help.

*Just to clarify: You’re more than welcome to donate after Friday, and it’ll go to the same place.  It’s just that I need to have raised 300 by tomorrow.



The Chocolate Quinoa Protein Bars that Cured My Pop-Tart Addiction

My name is Christine, and I have a Pop-Tart problem.

Ever since I discovered these accidentally-vegan goodies in the vending machine at law school, I can’t seem to get my dollar in the slot fast enough.  That wouldn’t be a big deal every once in awhile, but the vending machine seems to call out my name every time I’m heading to the gym.  My banana just looks so blah next to the shimmering strawberry-frosty goodness!  And yes—by “goodness,” I’m mean 10% strawberries, 90% flavored corn syrup.

Besides packing extra coins for the vending machine, I’ve also started carrying around ibuprofen.  It worked for Matt during his 50-miler, and I count on it for my killer 3:00 headache.  But you know when these headaches started?  Right about the time I started a daily 40-grams of sugar ritual with these damn Pop-Tarts.

I knew I had to break this sugar-rush-crash-medicate cycle, and vowed to make a batch of my Homemade Energy Bars to satisfy that starchy-sweet craving.

Lo and behold, for maybe the first time in NMA-kitchen history, the pantry was out of beans.  Not a legume in sight.  But, times of crisis have a knack of spurring creativity—with a deep pantry rummage I pulled together ingredients for some awesome quinoa energy-protein bars.

With over 7 grams of protein per bar (more if you use nuts!) and about a third of the sugar in Pop-Tarts (from energizing dates and agave nectar instead of corn syrup), the case of the addictive pop-tarts is officially closed.   Enjoy!

Chocolate Quinoa Protein Energy Bars

  • 3/4 cup dry quinoa, or about 2 cups cooked
  • 1/2 cup dates, pitted
  • 3 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup protein powder (I used an unsweetened hemp-based version)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup stir-ins like dry fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, or vegan chocolate chips. (I went for half chocolate chips and half coconut)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 8×8 baking dish lightly with baking spray.

Rinse the dry quinoa in cold water, then let sit in a bowl of water for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, bring 1 cup of water to boil.  Drain the quinoa and add to the boiling water.  Cover, and reduce heat to simmer for about 12 minutes.  Let cool enough to handle.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooked quinoa, dates, agave nectar, vegetable oil, flaxseed, almond extract, and salt.  Process until relatively smooth (the quinoa is so small it stays slightly lumpy).

In a small bowl, stir together the protein powder, flour, and stir-ins.  Fold this dry mixture into wet mixture with a spatula.  The dough is very thick, like cookie dough, so use the spatula to press into prepared pan evenly.

Bake for about 22-25 minutes, until firm.  Let cool, then slice into a dozen bars.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition facts (with chocolate chip and coconut option): Calories: 184, Total Fat: 5.4 g, Saturated Fat: 3 g, Cholesterol: 0 g, Sodium: 37 mg,  Potassium: 113 mg, Total Carbs: 29 g, Fiber: 3 g, : Sugars: 16 g, Protein: 7.3 g.



The Astonishing Power of Determination, Ibuprofen, and/or Coca-Cola

[Update: After a reader brought this to my attention, I feel compelled to mention that there have been some reports of ibuprofen being unsafe for use while distance running.  Do some research on your own before you take it.]

At mile 35, I thought very seriously about quitting.  After an 1800-foot climb, followed by another one that took me 40 minutes to hike up, I’d had enough of Vermont.

The Vermont 50-miler runs up, down, and back and forth on a mountain that normal people ski on.  There were a few miles of flat in the beginning of the race, but after that, the terrain could be characterized as one of the following: uphill that hurt; downhill that hurt, or switchbacks that hurt.  I was unprepared for this.

Of the 10 hours and 10 minutes it took me to finish, I’d guess that half of it was spent hiking uphill.  I don’t like hiking.  Hiking is what you do for an hour in the morning while you’re camping, so you don’t feel so bad about drinking your face off and acting like an idiot the rest of the day.

So by mile 35, I was done.  My legs hurt so badly that the only thing I could do to keep moving forward was this awful shuffle-run thing, punctuated by walk breaks.  Based on my time between aid stations, I know that I logged a few 14- or 15-minute miles during this time.  I really, really, really, wanted to quit.

I didn’t quit though.  My wife, Erin, had decided at the last minute that she didn’t like the idea of me running a race without her there to support me.  So a few minutes after I left for Vermont, she packed up the baby and drove the seven hours herself.  To help me finish, not to watch me quit.

I also thought about you.  If I had quit, I’m sure many of you would have told me it was okay, and that running 35 miles on a mountain was a feat in itself.  But, write it or not, I’m sure some people would have thought, “See, that’s what you get for trying a vegan diet during the month of an ultra.”  Or the ever-hilarious “Maybe a steak would have helped.”

So I kept going.  As is the case with most trail runs, there were no mile markers, only the aid stations every four or five miles.  So I kept sane by figuring out what time I’d likely arrive at the next, where a nice warm Coke awaited me.

Yes, that’s Coca-Cola.  If you’ve never tried it for running, do it.  It’s not something I’d ever drink on a regular basis, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it helps me run longer and faster.  Maybe it’s just the concentration of sugar in high-fructose corn syrup, or the caffeine, or the fizz.  Whatever the explanation, I’m not the only one who believes it: Coke, Mountain Dew, and ginger ale have been offered at the aid stations of every ultra I’ve run.

So I started drinking a lot of Coke, one to two small cups at every aid station.  At mile 37 or so, I took a single ibuprofen [see update at beginning of post about the potential danger of taking ibuprofen while running], eager for anything that might temporarily make my legs feel like they weren’t being repeatedly punched every step.

And then, around mile 40, I hit a half mile of glorious flat gravel road.  And all of a sudden, I realized I didn’t hurt anymore.  Whether it was the Coke, the drugs, or the indomitable human spirit, I have no idea.  But I felt great, as if all the pain and hatred of Vermont and mountains and hiking and even myself, for being so stupid as to do this willingly, had all been a dream.

I clocked several 10-minute miles before hitting the final aid station at mile 47, where I got to see Erin and Holden and I sucked down one more Coke before heading out to finish this thing.  The thought of breaking 10 hours crossed my mind, but then I realized that would take way more than I had to give.

Two and a half more miles of winding, beautiful trail, and a half mile of painful running literally down a ski slope, and it was over.  10:10:48, and I remain clueless as to how I beat my North Face time by half an hour.

Told you it was at a ski resort

I know I’m probably making most of the race sound pretty miserable, and at the time, a lot of it was.  But this isn’t to say I regret it: Running an ultra is never really fun for me in the moment, only in hindsight when I can look back and see what I accomplished do I really appreciate it.  There were a lot of times when the only thing that kept me going was the thought, “This will make you stronger.”  I learned a lot from this race about my own limits but also what I’m capable of enduring.

As always, I’m so grateful to have had Erin’s support, and also for the knowledge that my friends Ginn and Paul were suffering on the same hills I was.  They both ran great times (around 8:40 and 9:30) and made the trip a whole lot of fun.  Thanks also to Christie, Paul’s wife, who crewed for us as well.  And of course, thanks to the race directors for putting on the most beautiful race I’ve ever run, and to everyone who volunteered to help make it happen.

What I Wore, Ate, and Drank

These are the details you probably only care about if you’re an ultrarunner or have some little inkling of a desire to become one, so I’ll put them in their own section.

I tried lots of new stuff during this race, starting with the shoes.   (Pretty smart for a 50-miler, huh? My wife thinks so too.)  I guess since I didn’t train very well for this race, I felt like I had nothing to lose.

On the way up to Vermont I stopped at the Adidas outlet and picked up a pair of adiZero XT Trail Shoes on a whim, because I wasn’t happy with my Saloman trail shoes.  I “broke them in” with a three-miler on Saturday, then wore them for 32 blister-free miles on Sunday.  I bought them a half size larger than I normally would, because I was interested in seeing if there was anything to this idea that we all buy running shoes too small.  I must say I loved the shoes and I loved the fit, only changing them after 32 miles because I figured my road shoes would feel a little softer and my feet were starting to hurt (along with everything else).

I wore CEP compression sleeves for the first 32 miles as well, taking them off because I just got sick of my legs being compressed.  Again, I just sort of needed a change, because I was starting to hate everything.

I didn’t wear my Nathan hydration vest this time, choosing instead to go with a hand-held bottle that I filled up with water at every aid station.  I thought I’d get sick of carrying it, but I got used to it and actually kept it for the whole race.

As for food, I stuck with my normal approach of skipping most of the sugar until the second half of the race, but this time, I tried the Paleo diet idea of taking it easy on the wheat products to avoid the gluten.  I ate mostly boiled potatoes from the aid stations, along with some watered-down Vega Sport in my bottle, skipping the Heed provided at the race because it tastes terrible.  I did take several Hammer Endurolytes tablets to make sure I was getting enough salt.

As the miles added up, I transitioned to sugary foods like oranges and watermelon slices, along with some peanut butter sandwiches and potato chips because they looked good at the time.  And finally, at the last aid station or two, it was all Coke, all the time.

So that’s about it!  What do you think, want to run an ultra yet?  If you’re having those first crazy thoughts, let me know and I’ll help point you in the right direction.

More Photos

Holden, cheering for Daddy at Mile 47

As if he actually did something…:)

Me and my crew

Me, Paul, and Ginn



Vermont 50-Miler this Weekend

Four weeks ago, I called my friend and quit.  I told him that I’d still come crew for him at the Vermont 50, but that I just wasn’t in shape to run it.

My training since my first 50-miler had been spotty at best: I hadn’t run more than 14 miles at once during that time.  While the heat in July and August had made it tough, my own lack of motivation was really to blame.

But then a funny thing happened: As soon as I made my quitting official with that call, I realized how completely wrong it felt. Impulsively, I decided I had to run this race.  So I figured out a plan to make this thing happen—a 20-miler and a 30-miler in the next two weeks, then two weeks rest.

Somehow, it worked, and here I am, staring down 50 miles of trail in the mountains of Vermont two days from now.

I’m not trying to turn this into some feel-good, “behold the power of focus and determination in the face of quitting” lesson for you all to take and apply to to your own training.  In fact, trying to run a 20- and 30-miler so quickly was probably stupid and risky.  But I guess I got lucky, and I’m actually feeling pretty good about this thing now.

I know this won’t be the most satisfying race I’ve ever run.  No matter what the outcome, I’ll know that I could have run it faster or felt better if I’d have trained like a normal person (i.e., not back-loaded it all into what amounts to two hard weeks of training before a two-week taper).

But I’ve noticed that often when I’m not in great shape to run a race, it ends up being a lot of fun.  There will be no expectations for me on Sunday, only the challenge of finding a way to carry myself 50 miles.  I won’t be stressed about mile splits or worried about dilly-dallying at an aid station to make sure I only eat vegan food. (Remember? I’m eating vegan this month.)

And if somehow it ends up that with five or ten miles to go , I realize I have a chance to beat my previous time (after all, it was 95 degrees that day and it’ll be 60 this time), then I’ll have something to shoot for and a little bit of that thrill that comes with a normal race day.

But that’s not my goal.  I’m running this race because there’s something about running for that long that feels good.  What I want is to finish this race and enjoy every bit of it, and if that happens, I’ll be happy.

No NMA Monday?

Since the race is Sunday and I’ll be traveling Monday, it’s very likely I won’t have the time (or internet access) to write a post for Monday.  But hey, if you show up and there’s no new one, you could always catch up on Thinking Bettor, my gambling blog. (Do it, do it!)  But I’ll write my race recap and have it ready to go by Tuesday at the latest.

Finally, I got a big shipment of No Meat Athlete shirts yesterday.  Most of the popular sizes have been out of stock for weeks, so if you’ve been trying to get one, now’s the time.

Alright, I’m out!  If all goes well, I’ll be back next week with another 50-miler finisher’s medal, and probably a story or two.

Have a great weekend!



Anyone Can Do an Ironman

Lots of you have been following Susan Lacke since she started writing posts for No Meat Athlete earlier this year.  Ten days ago, she completed her first Ironman triathlon, less than a year and a half after losing 70 pounds on a vegetarian diet allowed her to run her first 5K.  Here’s her recap of Ironman Wisconsin.

“Anyone can do an Ironman. Anyone.”

I was giving a friend a massage after he completed his 12th Ironman when he uttered those words. I had just told him how proud I was of him, and he minimized it like it was nothing more than a 100-meter jog.

“Pssht. Susan, it’s nothing. Anyone can do an Ironman. Anyone. Really, it’s not that big of a deal.”

I had just run my first 5K a few months prior, and admired my friends who did longer distances. My friend Steph had just convinced me to sign up for my first half-marathon, and I was enjoying the training for it. I was swimming and biking at my gym, and loved the cross-training benefits I was getting from those activities. Thanks to vegetarianism, I had lost a significant amount of weight, and thanks to my newfound life as an active person, I was continuing to lose more.

Call it a runner’s high. Call it temporary insanity. Call it whatever you want.

Anyone can do an Ironman? Anyone?

Count me in.


I recalled those exact words in the day leading up to Ironman Wisconsin. As I looked around at the pre-race festivities, I saw a lot of incredibly fit people.

They had impeccable bodies. They rode expensive bicycles and ran in top-of-the-line shoes. They walked and talked like they knew what they were doing. They devoured spaghetti with meatballs and whole rotisserie chickens in preparation for race day. They likely had never had any major health issues. Their worst vice in their past was probably the occasional candy bar.

And then there was me.

More than one person commented on my No Meat Athlete shirt at packet pickup, asking if it was serious or a joke. I got a few incredulous looks when I said I’d only been doing triathlons for about a year and a half. I was scared to mention much more about my past habits for fear I’d get laughed out of the race. I was a 27 year-old former chubbster girl in a sea of middle-aged overachieving men with rock-hard bodies.

Anyone can do an Ironman? Anyone? Heh. With me in the game, that statement was certainly about to be tested.

Race day

I remembered those words once again as I floated in the water before the start of Ironman Wisconsin. The sun was rising over the lake and things were remarkably calm. As I looked around me, I realized something:

Everyone in the water looked exactly the same.

In our black wetsuits, goggles, and swim caps, we were identical. The thousands of spectathletes lining the shore would be completely and totally unable to pick me out of the crowd of 2,556 athletes in the water. That anonymity was strangely comforting.  Before, at packet pickup, I stood out like a sore thumb — I didn’t belong there. Race morning, with only my head bobbing up and down in the water, I certainly looked like an Ironman hopeful. I just hoped over the course of the day, I could prove I was deserving of being a part of that race. Silently, I reminded myself of my goal: Finish, have fun, and be a *&^%ing Ironman.

Mission accomplished

14 hours, 23 minutes, and 42 seconds.

On paper, it seems like such a long time.

In reality, those 14 hours, 23 minutes, and 42 seconds of September 12, 2010 went by way too fast. It was — dare I say? — fun.

Don’t get me wrong: it was challenging. There were parts that tested my abilities. I used muscles I didn’t even really know I had. But for something that was supposed to be a sufferfest, I never really suffered.

Maybe it’s because I trained well in the months, weeks, and days leading up to race day.

Maybe it’s because I raced conservatively and executed my race plan the way I was told.

Maybe it’s because I had the support and love of my incredible friends and amazing family members that day.

Maybe it’s because it’s really hard to suffer too much when you run out of the swim and everyone moos at you, or you have a crazy spectathlete in a pink speedo or an Indian headdress running alongside you up the hardest climbs of the bike, screaming “SUCK IT UP! DO YOU WANNA BE AN IRONMAN OR NOT?”

But I smiled and laughed a lot over the course of those 14-plus hours.

A revelation

At about mile 15 on the run, I saw a lot of people begin to hit the proverbial “wall.” They began to cramp up, walk, and sit down at the aid stations. I was waiting for it to happen to me. At about Mile 20, I had been running alongside an athlete for about 5 minutes when I realized he was saying something to me. I looked at him and asked him to repeat himself.

“This feels like death. God.”

He dropped back and began walking while I kept going. As I looked at the trail ahead of me, I thought about what he said, and took stock of how I was feeling.

Death? Really?

I’d never felt more alive than I did during that race.

The final stretch

I never hit that wall. I maintained the same pace at the finish that I did at the start. As I turned the final corner toward the finish, all alone, I saw a mass of humanity under the bright lights of the finish chute. For 400 meters, there were hundreds of people, all cheering, roaring my name, and beckoning me to the finish.

I started out the race as an anonymous part of 2,556 Ironman hopefuls. When I crossed that finish line, I was an independent racer. I was someone who achieved her goal.

I was an Ironman.

Anyone can do it. Anyone.

Every day, you probably wake up and use your muscles, your bones, and your skin without really thinking about it. If you take a moment to really consider it, you can be inspired every day.  The human body is capable of accomplishing great things.

Your human body is capable of accomplishing great things.

Don’t take it for granted. Don’t simply be content with doing “just enough.” Don’t underestimate yourself. Whether it’s finally running that first 5K without stopping, contorting yourself into a complicated pose for yoga, hiking to the top of a mountain, or doing an Ironman, your body is capable of it. You only need to identify what it is you want, work toward it, get the support of friends and family, and — most importantly — believe it.

It no longer matters if anyone can do it.

What truly matters is that you can do it.

Thank you a million times over to everyone who sent me e-mails, text messages, Facebook messages, and cupcakes (ohhh, the cupcakes!) in the days leading up to the race. A HUGE thank you to everyone who was cheering for me on race day, whether in person or in spirit. I’m overwhelmed and humbled by all the support I got from you, and hope I made you proud.

Now that I’ve drank the Ironman Kool-Aid, I’m addicted. I plan on registering to do Ironman Arizona in fall of 2011. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to resting, recovering, doing some shorter races for fun, and, if you’ll let me, writing – I love providing you with information, experiences, and random thoughts to enhance your awesomeness as a No Meat Athlete.



Brooks Giveaway Winner and Some Great Links

A week ago today, I announced a rather awesome giveaway, if I don’t say so myself.  One winner, one pair of Brooks running shoes and one pair of Brooks running shorts.

I also asked you to fill out a survey to help me figure out a few things about the site’s audience, which 488 of you completed.  Huge help. Thank you so much for that.

My favorite criticism of all: “The design looks like the 90’s threw up.”  Tremendously helpful, actually.

Entering the survey got you a double entry, which paid off for someone.  And that someone is…

Lisa, a professional violinist!  Who said NMA readers had no class?  Lisa picked the Brooks Trance 9 to help with her overpronation.  It’s apparent that Lisa’s violin playing has contributed to some expensive tastes, because these shoes weigh in at a whopping 140 bucks!  I’m glad she won, instead of somebody who wanted the cheap old Green Silence (actually, I want those too).  Congratulations, Lisa, and thanks again to everyone who entered the giveaway and especially those who filled out the survey for me.

The Consolation Prize…

…is pretty crappy compared to running shoes and shorts.  Unless one of these links changes your life, of course.  Here are the three best posts I’ve read in the fitness world this week.

  • How to Keep Feces Out of Your Bloodstream (or Lose 10 Pounds in 14 Days) – from Four Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss.  The post is an excerpt from a book that argues against eating grains for both short-term energy and long-term health.  There’s also some interesting stuff about the anti-nutrients in beans.  The funny thing is that even as a vegetarian, I find a lot of Paleo Diet arguments appealing.  How to reconcile the two different eating styles, especially as a marathoner and ultrarunner, is what I’m thinking about.
  • Clean Eating is a Scam and Why You Should Abandon It – from JCD Fitness.  The tagline of this guy’s site is “A No-BS Approach to Looking Great Naked,” which is not quite the same as “A Vegetarian Approach to Endurance Training.”  But I do agree with the main point of this post.
  • Carb Strategies for Staying Lean – from the Fitness Black Book.  As endurance athletes, it’s almost inevitable that we eat a lot of carbohydrates.  This post offers some reasonable, doable strategies for indulging in carbs in a manner that minimizes the adverse effects.

Read these, so you’re not going home empty-handed!



The Best Thing You Can Do with Eggplants

As recently as college, I thought eggplants were poisonous.  I can’t be the only one.  I blame Hudson’s Adventure Island and my parents.

But even after discovering that eggplant wouldn’t drain my energy bars in real life, I still considered it to rank among the world’s worst vegetables.  It’s spongy, the skin is thick, and it doesn’t really taste like anything. (And why the f is it called an eggplant?)

In Hudson's Adventure Island, eggplant = death.

But here’s the thing.  They’re all over the farmers’ markets, and you can get one the size of your head for a dollar.  And there’s an Indian eggplant dish called baingan bharta that I’m in love with.

I’m not going to post a baingan bharta recipe, because that would be stealing.  I’ve been using the recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian (Amazon affiliate link), a fantastic book I got from the library that tons of people recommended to me for my vegan September.  I’m going to buy it once the library takes it away from me. (Here’s a link to a different baingan bharta recipe if you want to try it yourself.)

What I am going to post is the first step, the roasting or smoking of the eggplants, because to my knowledge that’s the only known way to make eggplant good.  And once you do that, it’s easy to make the best baba ganouj I’ve ever tasted.

How to Roast an Eggplant

Ideally, you should smoke eggplants by burying them in the ashes of a fire.  Since most of us don’t regularly have fires with ashes, many make-at-home recipes will have you roast them in the oven instead.

But I found a better way: Smoke them in a gas grill. You don’t even need woodchips; the skins on the eggplant give off their own smoke, and it’s perfect.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Crank your grill up as high as it goes.  Mine gets up to 600 degrees and that seems totally fine.
  2. Pierce two large eggplants all over with a fork and put them on the grill (you can do more than this, but maybe just stick to two the first time).
  3. Close the grill.  Use tongs to rotate the eggplants every 10 to 15 minutes, for as little as half an hour and up to a full hour.  The longer you leave them on there, the smokier the eggplant will get.  You want the middle to be nice and soft but the skins to get charred and crisp.
  4. Remove the eggplants from the grill and allow them to cool.
  5. Carefully cut the eggplants in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving the brittle skins behind. (Others will tell you to peel the skins off, but that leaves lots of char behind.)
  6. Use your smoky eggplant flesh for whatever you want!

Baba Ghannouj Recipe

You can use this soft, smoked eggplant flesh for a lot of things.  As I mentioned, baingan barta and baba ghannouj both start out this way, but so do other things.  Like this eggplant caviar recipe, for example.

Anyway, here’s how to make baba ghannouj with the eggplant you just smoked.  It’s similar to the recipe in World Vegetarian. If you can’t do this, you’re terrible at cooking.

Ready?  Put the smoked flesh of two small eggplants in a food processor with 6 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of a lemon, and two teaspoons of salt.  Puree until it’s creamy, and then add more lemon and salt to taste.  Use as a dip for whole wheat pitas.

Told you it was easy.  Try it and thank me later. 🙂



63 Ways to Shake Up Your Running Routine

Run.  Run a lot.

That’s the answer I give to new runners when they ask me how to get better at running.  When they ask how they’ll ever be able to run a marathon or an ultra when it kills them to run six miles now, the answer is that simple.

It’s like the 10,000 hour rule.  The more you run, the better your body and brain learn to do it.  It doesn’t have to be every day, and it doesn’t have to involve awful workouts that leave you sprawled out on the track by the time they’re done.

But it does have to be consistent.  Every time you get burnt out and take three or six months off from running, you miss hours upon hours of opportunity to build those neural pathways that help you run efficiently, even effortlessly.

The trick then, is to keep your training interesting.  Here are 63 ways to do just that.

  1. Bored with the roads?  Try trail running.  For help getting started, check out the Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running I wrote for Zen Habits, or the slightly lighter-in-tone Indoorsman’s Guide to Trail Running on this site.
  2. Pick a huge goal.  Maybe it’s a half marathon, a marathon, an ultra, or winning a race.  Who knows.  Make it one that will make your friends laugh when you tell them about it.  That’s how you pick an inspiring goal.  Then focus every day until you make it happen.  One warning: Shoot for the stars, but give yourself a reasonable time frame, be flexible, and listen to your body.
  3. Try an “alternative” running form.  The Pose method and Chi Running both offer what they claim to be more efficient ways of running than the traditional form.
  4. Kill your legs in the gym.  Front squats, cleans, and deadlifts were the lifts we all hated when we were trying to beef up in college, but they’re the ones that will do the most to help you get more power from your legs.  There’s an obscure routine called Curtis P’s that I really like because it blends several of these lifts and can help boost endurance.
  5. Go to a local high school track once a week.  If you’ve never done any speedwork before, you’ll likely see big returns on your track workouts almost right from the start.
  6. You’d have to live in a cave to have missed the swelling barefoot running movement.  But it’s not just barefoot—there are all kinds of minimalist shoes to simulate barefoot running.  From Vibram Fivefingers to Newtons, it seems every shoe manufacturer is paying more attention to the minimalist running movement.  Here’s my experience with minimalist running shoes.  (But before you buy in, check out this interesting anti-barefoot site.)
  7. Are you carrying around some extra weight?  As long as you’re not dipping below what’s healthy, you can expect to shave two seconds off every mile for each pound lost.  If you were to lose those extra 10 pounds, imagine what mile splits that are 20 seconds faster would do for your motivation to run.
  8. Our bodies naturally produce some creatine, a compound which helps supply energy to muscle.  We can get a lot more of it from meat, but since we’re not about that, supplementing is one option.  Supplementing with creatine has been shown to increase strength in athletes, and most people now believe it’s perfectly safe (you should do your own research, of course).
  9. Heart rate training is a fun way to incorporate biofeedback into your runs.  Rather than simply guessing at your threshold training intensity or the proper pace for a long run, for example, you can determine the heart rate zones that correspond to these intensities and shoot to stay in those zones for prescribed amounts of time.
  10. You don’t see much written about breathing exercises for runners, but I’ve found them to be a great way to pass the time when the miles aren’t ticking off quite as fast as you’d like them to.  My favorite is one borrowed from Chi Running—breathe out for three steps, in for two steps.  Out for three steps, in for two steps…  Another one is described in a post about a 30-mile training run I did.
  11. Throwing money at the problem isn’t a good habit to be in, but forking over some cash for a good pre- and  post-workout drink may help you get out of a rut.  Performance benefits aside, I find myself obligated to work out harder because I want to get the most out of what I spent my hard-earned money on.  Check out Vega Sport, my favorite pre-workout drink.
  12. An alternative to #10: You don’t have to buy any expensive products to get what your body needs before, during, and after workouts.  With just a little planning and effort, you can make all your running fuel, from drinks to gels to bars.
  13. Experiment with restricting sugar intake before and during your long runs.  New (and old) runners often think sugar = energy, and that’s certainly true.  But you can train your body to burn fat for fuel, which lasts much longer since it preserves your glycogen levels.  Check out Greg McMillan’s advice on carbohydrate restriction.
  14. Get tribal.  By now, everyone knows about the Tarahumara, Mexico’s tribe of incredible ultrarunners and the subject of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. Try fueling with pinole and chia, making your own huaraches sandals, or running for the pure joy of it like the Tarahumara do.
  15. Read a great running book.  Not another training guide, but a book that will inspire you, a book that will remind you why you dedicate so many hours to this sport.  For me, that book was the aforementioned Born to Run.  For others, it’s John Parker’s Once a Runner.  What’s yours?
  16. Try speeding up your long runs if you’re targeting a certain time in your race.  The idea that your long run pace should be 1-2 minutes slower per mile than your race pace is almost gospel, but many find that running faster better prepares them for race day.  Just make sure you’re recovering.
  17. When people ask me how to avoid shin injuries, something I struggled with for years, the answer I give them is “increase your foot turnover to 180 steps per minute.”  It seems fast, but the result is many short, light steps as opposed to fewer heavy ones.  And shins that don’t hurt.  This is also the turnover rate favored by many of the world’s best runners, so injuries or not, you might find it helps you run faster.
  18. Update your running playlist.  Of all the ideas here, this may the simplest, fastest way to breathe new life into your training schedule.
  19. Lose your easy run days and cross train instead.  If you’re feeling burnt out, physically or mentally, give yourself a break by cycling, swimming, or doing any other low-impact, non-weight-bearing activity.  This controversial approach is advocated by the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training in the book Run Less, Run Faster.
  20. Sign up for a race.  We’ve all talked about races we’d like to do this year, only to slack off and forget about them altogether.  If you want to drastically increase the chances of your following through to train for a race, sign up.  Putting up your money and marking it on your calendar makes it real.
  21. Find a partner and commit to something.  Together.  In addition to the companionship and in-this-together-mentality, training with a friend adds one important ingredient—accountability.  It’s a lot harder to hit the snooze button when you know you’ll be letting a friend down.
  22. Running clubs are all over the place.  It’s amazing how many people so close to you are even bigger running addicts than you are (and how many great runners there are everywhere).  Mine costs 20 bucks a year for the family and puts on a free race almost every week.  Can you beat that?  Find a runner’s club near you today.
  23. Find a guru.  There are so many coaches who know so much more about running than any of us can ever hope to.  For me, Jack Daniels, Pete Pfitzinger, and Greg McMillan come to mind, all of whom have published mounds of tips and training programs.
  24. If all you ever run is marathons, spend a spring and summer trying to PR in a 5K.  Or better yet, a mile.  And if you’ve done six half marathons, maybe it’s time to go all the way.  Hey, they say if you can run 13 miles, you can run 26, right?
  25. Eat better.  In addition to potentially losing weight, you just might find that eating better makes you want to train harder.  Eating like a poor person is my current craze.  If you’re really crazy, try this new vegetarian diet thing all these freaks are doing. 😉  Thrive is a great place to start.
  26. If you always run the same route, change it.  Completely.  Even if you don’t have a GPS, you can plot your route and get the exact mileage at Map My Run or Gmaps Pedometer.
  27. Run to get someone else in shape.  Human beings will do far more for other people than they ever would for themselves, so if you’re having trouble getting out there, make it about someone else.  A family member, a friend, a dog.  Somebody out there would love to be coached by an experienced runner like yourself.
  28. Lead a pacegroup.  When I made my first serious run at qualifying for Boston, I ran with the 3:10 pace group for as long as I could.  I didn’t make it that day, but as I was running, I realized what a tremendous sense of gratitude I felt for the guys leading the group.  I can only imagine how great it would feel to help so many people reach their goal.  Warning: In order to be a pacer, most races will require that you’ve run several races a good bit faster than the time you’d like to pace.
  29. Be a volunteer.  If injury or some other reason prevents you from running that race you had hoped to, help hand out water or work the finish line at a race.  The runners appreciate it, you get inspired, everyone wins.
  30. Running is such an individual sport, but doing a relay is way to make it about the team.  Try the popular multi-day Ragnar Relays—I mean, what’s not to love about 200 miles and 6 to 12 people crammed into a couple of vans for a few days?
  31. Sooner or later it seems everyone gets the itch to do a triathlon.  If you’re feeling like you need something to mix up your routine a little bit, maybe now’s the time to make it happen.  Check out Susan’s tips on making the transition from runner to triathlete.
  32. Want to enjoy running, run longer before you get tired, and get injured less?  Then slow down for a few weeks.  Like, by a minute or two per mile.  Nobody ever said running had to be about racing.
  33. Run for a cause.  Team in Training is the big one, but there are plenty of others, like Team Vegan.  And there’s a side called Crowdrise that allows you to raise money for any cause, like this runner is doing for Farm Sanctuary.
  34. Join DailyMile.  It’s Facebook meets Twitter meets your running journal.  And the people there are awesome.
  35. Study the mental game of running.  Matt Fitzgerald’s Brain Training for Running is one that’s on my list of to-reads.
  36. Ultramarathons seem to scare a lot of people.  If you’re thinking about running one but aren’t sure about it, crew for somebody running one.  Chances are you’ll be able to run with them for some leg of the race, but check the rules of the specific race.  You’ll get a feel for just how long an ultra is and what running trails is like if you’ve never done that.  And there’s nothing like helping someone do something incredible to make you want to do it yourself.
  37. If it’s nagging injuries that are keeping you down, try foam rolling.  It’ll soften muscle tissue and help reduce the likelihood of injury.  It hurts like hell at first, but eventually it feels like a hard massage.  If you want to try it without plunking down 20 bucks for a foam roller at Target, you can use a tennis ball to hit several trigger points and see how “great”  it feels.
  38. Kill the hill!  Find a long hill that’ll take you three or four minutes to run hard up.  When you get there, turn around and run back down slowly, for five minutes.  Repeat four to eight times.
  39. Get into Parkour.  I’m hesitant to call this running, and it’s sort of weird, but I must say I’m fascinated by Parkour, the art of traversing terrain (buildings and all) as efficiently as possible.  I’ve never tried it, but it’d be a pretty badass form of cross-training.  Check out this comprehensive Parkour beginner’s guide from Nerd Fitness, if for no other reason than to be entertained for a few minutes by the video.
  40. Run at night.  Okay, be careful with this one, as it requires reflective gear, running with a partner, and a headlamp.  But there’s no reason to restrict your running to the daytime, especially if you have a safe place to run that’s mostly free of traffic.  Any night running I’ve done has been on trails, and always in a group, so that’s all I can recommend.
  41. Core training has become a bit of a cliche. But there’s no doubt it works and can make you a stronger runner, especially if you run trails, which requires a wider variety of movements than does road running.  I personally like the Core Performance books, including their Endurance and Essentials programs, for their focus on form, efficiency, and the ability to do the exercises without joining a gym.
  42. Be a numbers nerd—there’s tons of data you can use to measure your progress and help you train better.  Time, speed, distance, elevation change, heart rate, calories burned, all of which can be measured or estimated with a single device on your wrist nowadays.  What’s more motivating than seeing your progress in cold, hard numbers?
  43. Some people have this idea that you can only race a few times per year or season.  While it’s true that if you’re looking for PR’s in longer distances, you should probably only race every few months, there’s no reason a fit runner can’t do a lot of long races each year.  So if you’re looking for a change, plan a race every month or even a race every week, depending on your fitness level.
  44. Try bigger shoes.  Stu Mittleman, an American ultrarunner who once ran 1000 miles in less than 12 days, claims that the vast majority of people run in shoes that are way too small, often by one or two sizes!  Mittleman says your toes should be a full thumb-width from the front of your shoes.  Some of Stu’s ideas are a little out there, but if you’re not getting the results you want or you’re having foot problems, it’s worth a try.
  45. If you always run for miles, run for time.  If you always run for time, run for miles.
  46. Meditate while you run.  Several books on meditation (not running) mention that exercise is an ideal time for meditating because of the repetitive movement, lack of distraction, and ability to focus on simple things while you run.  Leo at Zen Habits has a great post on Zen running; try it during your next long run and you find yourself with two hours to spare.
  47. Yet another way to add variety to your long run: Make it a progressive run, one in which your speed gradually increases as you get further into the run.  Running Planet has a good post about different types of progressive runs.
  48. Try being a minimalist runner.  In addition to getting a pair of minimalist shoes, ditch the watch, Garmin, heart rate monitor, iPod, everything.  Enjoy.
  49. Find a way to race a person, not just a clock.  You can just pick some rando in front of you on your next run, but I promise you it’s much more fun if they know about it.
  50. Watch a great running movie.  Two that make me want to lace up my shoes: Spirit of the Marathon and Running the Sahara.
  51. Run every day for a month.  Jack Daniels says that when you’re so tired you want to stop running, try running faster.  When I was in a funk last year and didn’t feel like running, I tried running every day to break out of it.  Another interesting idea: Blaine from Run to Win suggested running one mile the first day, two the second day, three the third day, and so on for as long as possible.  Hey, at least the first week is easy!
  52. Become a superhero.  I love this idea from Nerd Fitness: Create a persona, complete with name, attitude, goal, theme song, and (optionally) costume.  When it’s time to train, be that character.  Go crazy with it!  You don’t have to tell anyone.
  53. Don’t ignore your upper body.  While a lot of muscle mass with eventually slow you down, strength can only help.  Rather than heavy bench presses or bicep curls, try bodyweight exercises like those in the (free) 100 Pushups and 50 Pullups programs.
  54. Try compression gear.  Compression socks work amazingly well at keeping your legs and feet from getting sore on long runs.  I’ve noticed little benefit from compression shorts, however.
  55. Create while you run.  Whether you’re an artist, a student, or a businessperson, it’s worth it to try brainstorming about a project during your next mid-length run.  Many find that their focus and creativity are heightened after 20 to 30 minutes of relaxed running.  For me, a little bit of caffeine from green tea or yerba mate helps the process along.
  56. It’s not really my thing, but a lot of runners like to listen to a running podcast during their long runs.  RunningPodcasts.org has a directory of what must be 100 different ones to choose from and subscribe to.
  57. Work short speed intervals into your normal runs.  While the term “speedwork” might be intimidating to some, it doesn’t have to be.  You don’t even need to go to the track.  Simply run at near-sprint pace for 30-second or 1-minute intervals, depending on what you can handle, with 2- to 3-minute rests in between.  As you get stronger, increase the interval length and decrease the rest.
  58. Any decent running store will offer group runs on certain nights of the week.  Usually they attract runners of a variety of fitness levels, so you’ll almost certainly find someone to run with.
  59. If you’re one of the select few in this world whose idea of a perfect vacation involves lots of running, why not plan a trip around it?  Your running vacation could be as simple as a destination race, or as involved as a two-week running tour of an island or country.
  60. Confession: I once bought an outfit specifically to wear for a marathon.  I was going to qualify for Boston that day (I didn’t), and I wanted to look good doing it (I did, I think).  But you know what?  Having that outfit added to my excitement about the big day.  If you have a big race coming up, get yourself something nice to run it in.  Just make sure you wear it at least once beforehand, to make sure it’s comfortable.
  61. Runners, especially ultrarunners, like to celebrate the end of hard run (or the start, I’ve seen it) with a cold beer.  The two go together great, and there are lots of “drinking clubs with a running problem” out there.  Check out Beer Runner, a blogger for Draft Magazine who posts about this match made in heaven.
  62. Try walking.  Former Olympian Jeff Galloway popularized the walk/run method, in which runners take short walk breaks (usually a minute or less) every few minutes or miles, depending on speed and fitness.  While it might seem wimpy and is arguably better for first-time marathoners, Galloway claims that many marathoners have broken three hours for the first time by implementing a walk/run plan.
  63. Find a great running blog.  I’ve made it easy for you: Follow the links in this post and you’ll find lots of them.  Or, better yet, start your own.

63 is a lot, but that can’t be them all.  What’s your favorite way to mix things up?

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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