Tuesday, April 28, 2009

MORE Half Marathon

I finished. That's the most important thing. Every time I start getting frustrated, I keep telling myself: I finished.

I already knew the weather was going to be unseasonably warm and I was already nervous about the prospect of that - weather was the one factor I couldn't control. I slept well through the night and woke-up around 6:15 Sunday morning. It was already above 70 degrees.

I had a little bit of coffee and a banana with peanut butter. I nervously pinned and re-pinned my race number on my shirt. At about 7:15 AM, Mike and I headed towards Central Park. The butterflies really set in when I saw all the women fluttering around the start line. Mike tried to calm my nerves, but 13.1 miles suddenly seemed like a much bigger task than I had imagined.

Mike kissed me good bye and good luck and I lined-up in my corral. Then, the announcement was made that the full marathon was cancelled due to the extreme heat. All the marathoners could run the half-marathon. In addition, the half-marathon was made into a "fun run", where no official times would be kept in hopes people would not attempt to overexert themselves.

While this development didn't matter so much for me, I felt awful for the women who had spent the last four months training for the marathon - I couldn't imagine how heart-wrenching that news must have been.

The race began with little incident. My body felt good and my splits were exactly where I wanted them - I ran the first four miles between 7:20 and 7:40 each. I was more than on pace to hit my goal.

But after I passed the marker for Mile 4, I started feeling weak. There was no doubt the heat was starting to have a huge effect on my performance. By mile 5, I was dizzy and dehydrated. Eight miles to go? I didn't feel like I could walk eight steps without collapsing.

To make matters worse, the water stations were completely spread out on the fully exposed east side of the Park. I couldn't get my electrolyte balance up high enough to regain my starting strength. I felt like my body was converting the water straight into sweat.

To make matters worse, I started to worry I wouldn't finish. I kept thinking how easily I had completed so many of my long runs; not only finished them, but felt like I could have kept going. I wasn't even at mile 7. I felt defeated; I wanted to cry - partly because of the pain, partly because I was so upset.

But my body didn't have any water or salt to spare on something as silly as tears. I had another lap, another 6 miles to go. I knew I wasn't going to let myself stop, so I might as well toughen up.

I don't know that I toughened-up, but I did keep going. Instead of thinking about how much further I had to go, I tried thinking about why I was here. That's right - I not only signed up for this, I paid for this!

I thought back to elementary school, to the recreational soccer league I begged my parents to let me join. They were probably more than a little confused by my request, given the fact that I was not exactly interested in playing sports or particularly coordinated. But they handed over the $50 registration fee as well as their Saturday mornings for the next few months so I could play.

Fairly early in the season, my dad showed up a few minutes before practice concluded. When we got home, he proudly exclaimed, "She's a good runner! She doesn't run like a girl - runs with with her head high and has a good kick." For a girl who proved to not be terribly gifted at soccer (only one notable play the entire season), this compliment was the highlight of the season. Even as a kid, you don't forget something like that.

I thought about back in high school, when my Mum and I watched coverage of a half-marathon in Virginia Beach over the Sunday paper. "You could do that," she said to me. I rolled my eyes and returned to my Fruity Pebbles. Evidently, she had forgotten my detest for running. "Why would I ever run thirteen miles?" I quipped - probably with a much snottier teenage attitude than I recall. She shrugged as she sipped her coffee, "I don't know, because you could."

It didn't mean much to me then. But that little exchange has gotten me through more than a few tough miles. She already knew I could do something like this, long before I believed in myself enough to actually go out and run it.

I thought about all of the encouraging words from family and friends. I thought about how Mike would never let me forget if I gave up and quit. More importantly, I realized I wouldn't let myself forget if I quit.

It was a battle and I'm not really sure what kept my legs move across the finish line, but I made it in just under two hours. My finisher's medal felt heavy around my neck as I struggled to hold my cup of Gatorade and look for Mike. I didn't have to look far, as he appeared behind me - ready to congratulate and console as he knew I hadn't hit my time. He boosted my esteem and made me laugh as I tried to catch my breath.

Two days later, I'm still sore. I've started to think optimistically about not hitting my goal time. This was, after all, my first race over five miles. If I had just gone out on my first attempt and nailed it, maybe I would start to lose some appreciation for the distance and never had the drive to go out and do it again, just faster than before.

And that's the funny thing. I've never had my body feel that weak before and I've never had to physically push myself as hard as I did Sunday morning. I detested the last 9 miles of the race. I was drenched in sweat, Gatorade, dirt and water when I crossed the finish line. My whole body ached Monday morning.

But I can't wait to do it again.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

T-12 Hours

The half-marathon is about 12 hours away.  I picked up my race number this afternoon and think it must be a good sign that it is Valerie's birth year and date, just backwards.

I have combed over the songs on my iPod playlist and enjoyed a carb-filled pasta dinner.  I will layout my outfit as soon as the Red Sox win this game.

I'm going to have Mike bring my phone to the race tomorrow, so I will send you all a mass email to let you know I have survived.

Thank you all for your encouraging words and thoughts today - they really mean more than you know!

Week One: Mise en Place

What a week!  After months of anticipation, the first day of pastry school finally arrived.

The nerves did not set-in until Sunday night.  I was packing my bags, trying to make sure I had everything for both a workout at lunch and class later that evening.  My bags were quadruple checked just to be sure nothing had been overlooked.

I tried not to think about it too much at work during the day, but this proved to be a little difficult with nothing to keep my mind busy.  I was not nervous about not doing well or not being able to handle the schedule.  I knew the nerves were only due to beginning something new, something unknown.

As registration began at 5:15 PM, my boss had given me permission to leave work about twenty minutes early, so that I wouldn't be late.  When I arrived at the registrar's office, before I had time to remove my soaked winter coat, I was plopped on a chair, my ID photo was snapped, I was handed a bag containing all my books and I was assigned to a locker.  "Go get dressed and be in room 502 by 6 PM," the woman said hurriedly, but with a welcoming smile.

The week was filled with orientation, introductions to classmates, terminology, equipment and ingredients.  The class size is small, only eight people, which will not only allow for greater attention from the chef-instructors, but also allowed us to become comfortable with each other by the end of the week.  The mix of people in the class is extraordinary: another girl in finance, a lawyer, a court reporter getting ready to retire and I am by far the youngest of the group.  Our chef-instructor, Kathryn Gordon, earned her MBA from NYU Stern and worked in finance before working at some very notable restaurants in NYC.

We had a dairy tasting Tuesday night.  And if that sounds delicious, I would encourage you to open your refridgerator and try butter milk, half-and-half, heavy cream, margarine, unsalted butters, salted butters, ricotta cheese, mascorpone cheese and cream cheese.  Then, open your cupboards and try eating shortening, lard, evaporated milk and sweet and condensed milk.  Still sound appetizing?  

The importance of the tasting was not lost on anyone - we all appreciated we need to understand the tastes of our ingredients and how one brand may be more desirable than another.  But I don't think anyone was in the mood for a milkshake after class.

The new schedule finally caught-up with me Wednesday morning.  Up at 6 AM, work until 5 PM, class until 10 PM, study until 12 AM.  And, one of those strange coincidences of life, I was actually busy and stressed at work, covering my supervisor's work while she was on jury duty.

On Thursday, we got to bake for the first time: gingersnaps.  The chef-instructor made it clear that she was there just to observe the process.  We paired-up and got to work.  Setting up the KitchenAid mixer, I realized I had never been so nervous to bake before.  It's always such a relaxing activity for me, whether I'm by myself or lucky enough to be in the kitchen with my Mum.

But, my runner's mind took over and calmed me down.  "Relax, it's the first effort.  Just focus on the process."  Working myself into a nervous ball of energy certainly was not going to help anything.

The results were varied between every group.  One group placed all 40 cookies on the bake sheet and wound up with one large, square cookie.  Our cookies would have benefited from an extra minute or so in the oven.  But all-in-all, everyone worked well together.

One new term we learned this week, of which I took a particular liking to, was mise en place.  It is the french phrase for "(to put) everything in it's place."  In the kitchen, this means having your ingredients, equipment and work area ready before beginning the recipe.  At work on Thursday, as I sat exhausted from the week, the word popped into my head.  

I began to consider mise en place as more of a state of being than just a phrase.  Although I was exhausted from the week, I woke up each morning wishing I could just head straight to class; I am truly interested in the readings and the lessons.  Suddenly, with the pursuit of something I truly have a passion for, everything seems to be falling into place.  I am again back at a state of mise en place in my life.

Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

Last Saturday was Mike's mother's birthday.  It also happened to be one of the first true spring days in the city.

As she is quite such a sweet supporter of my baking, I wanted to make something special and unique for her birthday.

With the weather warming, the lighter tastes of citrus combined with just the right amount of sugar suddenly seemed like a perfect combination for a spring birthday treat.

The cookie part was very much like a shortbread, except with more lemon than usual.  In the future I think I will add a bit more lemon to the dough, to try to achieve a greater balance between the tartness of the lemon and sweetness of the sugar.

The filling was, obviously, cream cheese based with a bit of lemon juice, zest and sugar.  Besides the recipe listing the incorrect amount of cream cheese (tsk, tsk Martha), it was also a bit runny.  Next time, I will play with the proportions a bit more so the same taste is achieved in a thicker consistency.  But when refrigerated, the cookies were quite scrumptious - especially wonderful paired with a hot cup of coffee or tea.

I received a lovely thank you note for the treats and, just as I suspected, they were enjoyed immensely.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Technical Difficulties

Just FYI - my laptop recently crashed, so I have been unable to update you with new posts and photos.  I am actively researching new laptops and hope to have a replacement in the next few days.

Hang in there - I'll be back up ASAP!!!
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