Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Damn, I worked hard for that 6:26 mile... and Vegan Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of two of my recent runs below.

See the stats from the run on the left?  Those are my splits for a local Turkey Day 10K that I ran at the end of November.  At that point, I was only 10 days removed from my valiant, but crash 'n burn effort at the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon.

And those stats from the run on the right?  Those are my splits from a 3.1 mile run that I completed during my lunch hour several days ago.

Left                                                     Right

Why is this significant, and why should we care?  It illustrates perfectly why I hate having to take time off from training to heal aches, pains, and injuries.  The Turkey Trot was my last run of 2013, and I managed to average a steady 6:24 pace over the rolling 10K course, with an impressive 6:09 for my fastest split (impressive by my standards anyways).

I would have loved to train through the Christmas season to keep up the momentum and continue to improve.  However, just as has happened during the past four years, my fall marathon had left me shot, with a varying array of nagging injuries.  Unfortunately, the only remedy is several months off.  Several years ago, it was my left Achilles.  Last year, it was my left knee.  This year, it's my heels...  the left more so, but they’ve both been bothering me.

As in past years, I entered December unable to run any longer...  moaning, groaning, and wallowing in self-pity, thinking that the current injury will never heal, and I'll never be able to run ever again.  And as in past years, after sulking through a few months of drudgerous, indoor cross-training, the injury in question begins to feel better, and I'm able to lace up the running shoes and hit the road.

After taking all of December and January off, I was able to begin running at the beginning of this month.

I can't play Words With Friends after more
than about 15 minutes on the bike because
my hands get too sweaty, and the screen
gets all nasty.  And I'm not sure what a
FELTINGS is, but it's the highest scoring
word that I've ever played.
The first few weeks are always painful and slow, as I regain my wind and running legs.  I've been pedaling furiously on the indoor recumbent bike at least four days a week, trying to bear the boredom by watching Indiana Jones movies on the laptop and playing Words With Friends on the iPhone.  But no matter how long I ride or how high I crank up the pedal resistance, it doesn't translate out onto the roads.

Wise man once say, "To maintain running fitness and sharp running legs, one must run...  always."


Circling back to my lunchtime 5K distance that I covered a few days ago, I decided to use the first mile as a warm-up, and then see how fast I could run my second mile.  I kept checking my Garmin as I neared the end of the first mile, counting down the hundredths of a mile...  0.85...  0.89...  0.93...  almost time to turn on the jets for the first time in over two months...  0.97...  0.98...  0.99...

Here we go!

When my Garmin hit 1.00, I imagined that the gun went off as I picked up the pace and shot forward.

Just like the start of a race, I thought to myself.

I continued to surge forward, increasing my leg turnover while trying to relax into the aggressive, up-tempo pace that one shoots for when settling into that first mile of a race.  I felt surprisingly great...  for about 300 meters.  Then the two month layoff kicked in, reality reared its ugly head, and I came crashing down to earth.  The sweet life that I felt in my legs for the first quarter mile tragically drained down my quads and calves, through my shoes, and onto the pavement, where they pooled into a pathetic puddle of exhaustion.

As the lead crept into my screaming quads, I made my best attempt to maintain an aggressive leg turnover.  But I rounded a corner out of a subdivision and onto the main road, just in time to plow directly into a headwind.  My flailing legs continued to move at a constant rate, but the vicious headwind crushed my momentum even further.  I felt as if I was struggling to stay on a treadmill at high speed.

Up ahead, I saw a monstrous 18-wheeler approaching...  closer...  closer...  closer...  As it whipped by me at 60 mph, I braced myself for the blast of air, which sent me two steps closer to the ditch when it hit.  After a few seconds, I regained control on the shoulder and turned right, leaving the main highway and the headwind for a side road that was sheltered by tall evergreens on each side.  By this point, my legs felt like jelly, and I was afraid to look at my Garmin, knowing that I'd probably struggle to break 7:20 for this lost cause of a mile.

Finally, I glanced down just to catch a quick glimpse of how much longer until the miserable mile might continue...  1.93...  1.94...  I began to sprint furiously, as my form continued to disintegrate into a mess of flailing mush...  1.97...  1.98...  1.99...  2.00.

I looked down at my watch, waiting for the damage.

Much to my astonishment, an unexpected 6:26 flashed across the face of the watch, accompanied by the familiar beep to signify another split.  Damn...  I worked hard for that 6:26.  I toned down the pace to a leisurely 8:47 for the final mile, gasping for breath with each step.  Finally, I slowed to a walk as I turned left into my office parking lot and strolled the final 200 yards to the employee entrance.

I initially had mixed feelings as I evaluated my strenuous effort.  Having completed a 10K just over two months ago at an overall pace of 6:24 minutes per mile, it was a bit frustrating to struggle so much to eek out a solitary 6:26 mile and have nothing left.  However, after additional reflection, I settled on the glass being half full and decided that I was extremely pleased with my workout.  If I continue to build my base back up by gradually adding mileage and throwing in frequent fartleks and fast miles here and there, I'm confident that I'll be in good shape when racing season rolls around in late April.

To celebrate my pre-season success, I'm sharing last night's delicious plant-based meal.

Plant-Based Mexican Stuffed Peppers

We need to get some white plates for better food pictures.

These peppers are absolutely delicious, and they’re so easy to make.  Even without the ground beef that’s present in may traditional stuffed pepper recipes, the seasonings and ingredients meld together perfectly to create a filling that’s hearty, savory, with a very meaty texture. 

As we were enjoying these last night, a friend texted and requested some more meatless recipes.  She and her husband had flirted with going vegetarian in the past, but the changes had always been short-lived.  However, she let me know that meat is really starting to gross both of them out, and she wanted to move towards a permanent change.

I immediately sent her a variation of the recipe below, along with a brief description of the modifications that we made to veganize the dish.  A few days later, she texted me her enthusiastic response, along with a picture.  The peppers were a hit.

If you try them, I think you’ll agree.  Here’s the recipe:

  • 6 medium-sized bell peppers (red or green or yellow or orange or all of the above)
  • 2½ cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (540 ml) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1½ cups frozen corn
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Peppers - Cut the top off each pepper and remove any seeds or ribs left inside.  Arrange cut side up in a baking dish, and set aside.
  3. Filling -  In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic, and saute for 5-7 minutes or until soft.  Stir in the rice, beans, corn, tomato puree, chili powder and cumin, and continue cooking for 5 minutes or until everything is heated through.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.  Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper.  Load up the mixture into the peppers, making sure not to pack too tightly.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until peppers are tender.
  6. Eat...

These are also fantastic as leftovers.  Earlier today at work, I popped the remaining two in the microwave for about 2 minutes just to warm them through, and then I crisped them up in the toaster oven for an additional 5 minutes.

Even better the next day...

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