Monday, March 23, 2015

Without Feedback: A Roundabout Race Report

As anyone who has gone through the Clinical Pastoral Education process knows, “feedback” is one of the crucial concepts. Feedback can be positive or negative, helpful or unhelpful. Feedback can help you see what is in your blind spot in the way you function and minister. Feedback can also be painful, exposing something you would prefer to keep hidden, opening up wounds that you thought were already healed. Throughout my CPE process, I learned to value the feedback that I received from my supervisor and my peers. As a priest in parish ministry, I have continued that process by taking feedback from my parishioners and parish leaders and discerning where God might be calling us in ministry together.

As a runner and pseudo-triathlete, I also rely heavily on feedback, mostly the digital kind. My fancy watch spits out my mile splits, my heart rate, my pace, and pretty much anything else I would want to know. On the bike, I get numbers for my pedaling cadence and power output. In the pool, I get strokes per length and pace per 100 yards. All of this gets tracked and input into training logs and analyzed for hopeful improvement. This data tells me when to push harder and when to back off, when to step on the gas and when to rest.

It had been a while since I’d raced a 5K. I’ve run a few for fun or with my husband or for charity, but I hadn’t really pushed myself in that race distance in almost a year and a half. My PR in the 5K was over 4 years old. So I signed up for a 5K on March 7th. Last year, I PR’d in the half marathon at the same event, and I knew it was a well-run event and a flat course. What we didn’t expect was the snow and ice a few days prior. While the roads were clear by Saturday morning, a large part of the half marathon course was not safe, so the race director cancelled the half marathon and let everyone run the 5K.

I arrived at the race start, got my packet and t-shirt, and met up with my parents. When we went to warm-up, I turned on my watch. *Beep* *Buzz* Nothing. I tried again. *Beep* *Buzz* Nothing. The batteries were dead. The watch I rely on to give me my paces, my heart rate, my time was dead. My mom and I jogged a few miles to warm-up while I tried to reconfigure my strategy for the race. I’d told a group of friends earlier in the week that my strategy was basically to go out hard and try to hang on, but without my splits and my pace, how would I know how fast? How would I know if I was running too hard or not hard enough? My mom suggested using a tracker on my phone, but I didn’t want to mess with starting and stopping it, nor did I have a good place to put it while I ran. Mainly, I wanted to focus on running hard, not fussing with my phone.

As we lined up, I felt more nervous than normal. Most of my training has been at a slower-than-usual pace; am I even capable of running fast? The doubts flew through my mind, amped up by the anxiety of the anticipated discomfort I knew I was about to experience. I shouldn’t have worn this heavy of a pull-over. I should have worn a lighter pair of shoes. Why didn’t I bring sunglasses? Then the gun.

I passed the start line with about 25 seconds on the clock. I took off at what felt like a “suicide pace,” to paraphrase Steve Prefontaine, and today was a good day to die. It felt uncomfortable and unsustainable at first, but my body settled into it. I had hoped for time clocks at the mile markers with no such luck. After the first mile market, I backed off a little to catch my breath on and out-and-back section but still kept the effort fairly high. Without numbers for feedback, I had to constantly evaluate my body – how were my legs, my breathing, my heart. Was I tensing up my shoulders or did my arms swing freely? Did I have enough at this effort to run another two miles, one mile, half-mile?

On the last two turns heading to the finish line, I could feel my stomach clench with the effort as I turned up the burners, letting my legs fly. My lungs were on fire, and my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. Even without knowing my official time, I had earned myself a PR as the clock time was faster than my previous PR. When the results were printed, I ran a 26:01, an improvement of over 40 seconds. Naturally, my first thought was, “If I’d known how close I was, maybe I could’ve broken 26!”

Maybe I could’ve, who knows? But I was wrong about one thing. I had feedback the whole time, feedback that didn’t come from a watch beeping at me with numbers that I would arbitrarily decide were too slow or too fast. The feedback I relied on was internal – the lactate burn in my muscles, the constant evaluation of my systems, my stride, and my effort. That feedback was there all along.

I can’t say I’m giving up my gadgets for good. It’s hard to imagine running a longer race with a more complicated pacing strategy without that numerical feedback. But maybe every so often I’ll go out and run a 5K as fast as I can. No watch. No heart rate monitor. Just the wind in my hair and the sound of my heartbeat in my ears.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Slow Down; You’re Moving Too Fast

Sub-titled On Low Heart Rate-Training during Advent

When I crossed the finish line of the Flying Monkey Marathon on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my 2014 racing season unofficially came to an end. It had been a successful one – PRs in the 10K, half marathon, and marathon – along with my first season of triathlon. Despite my success with FIRST/Run Less, Run Faster training programs, I wanted to take things down a notch for a few months.

Following the guidelines of Dr. Phil Maffetone, I began training by heart rate. I won’t go into the science and physiology of low heart rate-training here, but famous adherents of Maffetone’s system include triathlete Mark Allen and others. I determined my Maximum Aerobic Function heart rate (MAF), set my watch to beep at me when I exceeded it, and headed out on my first run.

While I’m never in danger of breaking any land-speed records, running under my MAF rate can barely be called running. Even calling it jogging is generous. Try “slogging” or “shuffling.” My first run was nearly 2 minutes per mile slower than my normal training pace, and I could only make it halfway up a hill before my watch screeched at me to walk. The next run was slightly more successful, in part because treadmills are blissfully flat.

Shuffling along gave me lots of time to think. Here I am, deliberately slowing down during a time of year when everyone else is ramping up their preparations for the holiday season. As the darkness descends earlier and earlier, people rush to and fro with shopping and mailing packages, baking cookies, addressing Christmas cards, and planning travel. Talk at parties devolves into how everyone is “so busy” and “so stressed.” All while I plod around the greenway.

As a priest (and as a person without children), my holiday season is different. In some ways, I have the luxury of prioritizing the religious aspect. No one expects me to travel on Christmas Eve or show up with a plate with a dozen different types of cookies. I can submerse myself in the themes of Advent – waiting, preparing, watching. While life in the church this time of year is its own kind of busy, people’s expectations of me are different from those of their family or loved ones.

Waiting, preparing, and watching with great anticipation and great hope. Spiritually, I am preparing myself for the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God with us. Physically, I am building my aerobic base with hopes that it will pay off in later months. The cultural messages say go harder, go faster, do more in less time. If not for that beeping watch, it would be tempting.

Beginning MAF training has been humbling. There is not a whole lot of room for my ego, so often tied up in my pace or what others might think looking at my training log or blowing by me on the running path. As I slowly make my way on the sidewalk of a busy road, I start to wonder what the people in those cars are thinking about how slowly I am moving. Subconsciously, I pick up the pace until, once again, I hear the demanding beep of my watch.

“Slow down,” it says. “You’re doing just fine.”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chagny and Puligny-Montrachet

For the second half of our France trip, we took the train down to Burgundy. Ever since I learned about the TGV in French class, I have longed to take a trip on it. Achievement unlocked! Traveling on a Sunday when many offices and restaurants are closed was a little frustrating. We had an issue with getting the rental car out of the Dijon train station parking garage but soon we were on our way, me driving manual transmission in a foreign country.


A little bit later, we arrived unharmed at Chateau de Bellecroix in Chagny, our picturesque hotel for several nights.


That evening we had reservations at Maison Lameloise, a three-star Michelin restaurant, so we went into town early to walk around. Most everything was closed, but we did find a sculpture of a giant rooster.


The next morning after breakfast, we headed to Puligny-Montrachet for a morning of touring Maison d’Olivier LeFlaive. Though we aren’t new to wine, we were new to Burgundy and the French system of appellations. We began by taking a stroll through Puligny-Montrachet to the vineyards, where Regis introduced us to the soil.


Just from where we were standing, we could see many different types of soil due to geologic shifts that affect the quality of the grapes produced. It began to make sense why many people say that Burgundy is the most difficult wine region – a difference of a few meters can make all the difference in the wine!


Following our vineyard tour, we had a cellar tour from Olivier LeFlaive himself as he walked us through the wine-making process.


Finally, it was time to taste some of the wine we had heard so much about, alongside traditional Burgundian cuisine.


Joe’s tasting notes:


After our stomachs were full with food and wine, we wandered down the road to Meursault.


This was our first up-close glimpse of the traditional Burgundian roof, a Flemish-style seen most famously at the Hospice de Beaune.

That evening we had failed to make plans as our travel style is equal parts planning and exploration. Again, many places in Chagny were closed on a Monday night. We stopped into a beer bar (!!!) and ordered some charcuterie, and the woman was very apologetic that the bread was stale since the boulangeries were closed on Monday.

It was getting late and all of the restaurants seemed to have curiously few people in them. There was an advertisement for one last place on a side street, and as we entered, we found all of the people in Chagny inside a cozy stone space, heated by a large wood fire. Le Grenier a Sel was a very lucky find!

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We were welcomed with a kir aligote by a flustered but efficient waitress and immediately settled on sharing some escargot and fondue. Again dining on Monday night meant that they had run out of several things, but we managed to make do.


While it wasn’t on the level of Lameloise, it was one of the most enjoyably laid-back and delicious meals that we had in Burgundy. I never wanted to leave the rustic stone cellar, but all of that eating and drinking is exhausting!

Before departing from Chagny the next morning, I went for a run along some back roads past farm houses and cows, through forests and fields. I didn’t take my phone but it was a rave run in every sense. Then we were off towards Beaune…

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nashville Food Bloggers Watermark Dinner

Watermark opened in Nashville 9 years ago, and yet I had never eaten there until last night. Throughout its tenure, I’d heard various criticisms, mainly that the quality of the food didn’t quite match up with its price. Now, the chef who created the initial concept for Watermark, Joe Shaw, is back at the helm. Chef Shaw worked under Frank Stitt in Birmingham and carries on that Southern-French inspiration into his own food.

I joined a group of other Nashville food bloggers for a five-course tasting dinner with wine pairings and was very pleased with the outcome.

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We began with a couple of Gulf shrimp that had been cooked in butter over spoonbread and topped with an apricot persimmon butter. I didn’t taste too much of the apricot and persimmon, but the shrimp were the star. Watermark prides itself on fresh seafood, and these were not the mealy, gritty, chewy shrimp one sometimes gets in restaurants. Our server Cole explained the dish as a take on the traditional shrimp and grits, with the firmer, slightly sweeter spoonbread substituting for the grits. I really wanted some more of that delicious shrimp, and the acidity of the Austrian Gruner Veltliner cut through the buttery shrimp nicely.

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For me, the next dish was the biggest miss of the night – a pan-roasted Apalachicola flounder with lump crab cake, red beet puree, and fingerling potato. Though the crab cake stood out, the potato, beet puree, and flounder didn’t taste like much at all. I did enjoy the light oak on the Thierry et Pascal Matrot Chardonnay that was served with this dish, and the flounder was obviously high quality. Everything just needed a little more seasoning.

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The wood-fired quail over sweet potato with a Cumberland currant sauce seemed to be the crowd-favorite of the evening. This Thanksgiving-inspired dish was perfect for a fall evening. The acidity of the currant sauce went nicely with the richness of the quail and the creamy sweet potatoes. Our server encouraged us to use our fingers to get every bit of meat off of the bone. A California Pinot Noir accompanied this course.

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The trajectory of the dinner, from lightest to heaviest, reached its apex with this venison dish. Though I can’t remember eating venison, it has a reputation for being gamey and overly chewy. Chef Shaw sources this venison from New Zealand, as it is a specially farmed venison known for its mild flavor and tender texture. Again, a twist on traditional meat-and-potatoes dishes, a potato-bacon cake topped with escarole was served alongside the venison. The South African Syrah that was poured to drink with this course was also part of the plate as the chef reduced it for part of the sauce. The bitterness and crunch of the greens off-set the richness of the potato-bacon cake nicely. This might have been my very narrow favorite of the evening.

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After all of that food and wine, we finished our meal on a pleasantly light note – with Prosecco and a Bonnie Blue Farms goat cheesecake with plum and date puree. This might be the lightest, fluffiest cheesecake I’ve ever had, and the tangy goat cheese flavor turned a ho-hum dessert into something special.

Though the dinner was sponsored and at no cost to me, I will definitely be returning to Watermark as long as Chef Shaw is at the helm. All opinions are my own, and I received no monetary compensation for writing this post.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon


Every year, the online women’s running group that I’m a part of (LLR) selects a city, a race, and a time to meet-up. This year, we converged on Toronto. It had been in the works for a while, but with triathlon training, it seemed to sneak up on me. I had registered to run the full, and Joe decided to tag along and run the half. We arrived in Toronto on Friday, met people at the airport, and our host Lisa kindly picked us up and dropped us off downtown at our hotel.

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The next morning, we headed across the street for the official race shakeout run and a talk by the race director and the founder of the Running Room. Even though we stood around for a while, the talk was helpful and informative. People came from Mexico, South Africa, and Australia to run the race, and we met people from all over. Then we set out on an easy 2 mile loop around downtown. After grabbing coffee and some breakfast, we went back to the hotel and promptly ran into a huge contingent of our group. For many of us, it was the first time meeting in “real life,” but due to Facebook and our forum, we all knew each other already.

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Several people were going to the race expo, but we needed to get cleaned up, so we made plans to go a bit later. In addition to picking up the packet, I also needed to purchase some arm warmers for the race. The race provided shuttles (well, school buses) to the expo from downtown. That was a nice touch since it meant we didn’t have to fuss with cabs or public transit or walking too far.

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It was a good-sized expo, though I think I managed to purchase the last remaining pair of small arm warmers in the whole building. The other group told us where they had signed the big wall, and I managed to find it!

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After the expo, we tried to meet up with people at the St. Lawrence Market. I was hungry and needed to eat, and the market was very crowded. We ended up at an eastern European counter, where I got a beef and cabbage roll. By dinnertime, I realized that I had not eaten enough that day. We had reservations for the whole group at a restaurant a little bit from the hotel. A few of us were up for an adventure and took the subway and streetcar, even though we ended up being a little late.


Flouting the advice I’d read in Runner’s World on the plane about not eating too many vegetables the day before the race, I had a kale salad with grilled chicken. I also had two glasses of red wine. Two other LLR ladies who were not with us in Toronto had PR’d in the marathon that day, and after talking with Sara and Margaret, we decided to shoot for 4:25 the next morning. I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do and had even mentioned that I just wasn’t really feeling that fire in my belly. Sometime in between that comment and dinner, I decided that I wanted to go for it. I would run with Sara and Margaret the next day and see how it went.

After dinner, we planned to meet in the hotel lobby before the race. Much to my surprise, I slept REALLY well, something that rarely happens the night before the race.

Race Day:


Race morning dawned cool (38*) and clear (for a little while anyway). With a late start at 8:45, I slept in until 7 am before drinking my coffee, eating my RxBar, and getting dressed. Then it was time to head downstairs!

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We all met up and took pictures, discussed our hopes for our races, and shook out the nerves.


Then we all headed to our corrals to shiver and wait.


The first start was at 8:45, but our corral didn’t get started until close to 9 AM. We crossed the timing mats and were off! After standing around in the cold, my legs and feet took a while to get warmed up. When my watch beeped for the first mile, I looked around for the mile marker and then remembered all the markers would be in kilometers for this race! After making a downtown loop, we had a long out-and-back along the lake. Because it split a few times, we didn’t see anyone else until we turned around. We were ticking off some pretty quick miles, about 20 seconds faster than our 10:00 miles we were shooting for, but I felt good.


A photographer was taking photos from the back of a motorcycle, so Margaret gave her her phone, and she took this action shot of us running and looking happy.

The half marathon split off pretty close to their finish, and we continued on. Our halfway split was right at 2:10, and Sara said, “That gives us about a 5 minute cushion,” more than enough should we start to slow. On another out-and-back, we saw Liz and Stef ahead of us looking really strong and fast.

We continued to tick off sub-10 miles until Margaret’s back started hurting, and she decided to drop back and stretch. My legs were feeling the pace and the distance. I knew if I could make it to the turnaround, it would be a straight shot into downtown from there. Sara continued to encourage me, even as I got quiet, focusing on digging deep.

Our names on our bibs were actually big enough to read, and the spectators made good use of them. I don’t know how many of them know what a huge lift it is to hear someone say, “Looking strong, [your name], you can do this!”

This obnoxious woman from New York came running up and started talking about Marathon Maniacs and running ultras with us. She said she was having a rough day and had been having stomach issues, even as I was struggling to keep pace. I was not sad to see her drop behind us eventually.

With about 4 miles to go, I ripped off my arm warmers, not so much because I was warm but because they were bugging me. We saw a sign that read “Shut Up Legs,” and that was what I needed to push through the immense soreness and pain in my quads and IT bands.

I knew we had one more bridge to go up and over before we got to downtown. As we crested the bridge, I knew I had it in the bag. We ticked off the final few kilometers and made the turn onto Bay Street with Old City Hall in front of us. I knew from the shakeout run that we wouldn’t be able to see the finish line because the road jagged in the last 100 meters, but they had signs with 500, 400, 300 meters. At 400 meters, my watch read 4:18, and I knew breaking 4:20 was not going to happen, but I gave it everything I had left with the crowds cheering us in.

My watch read 4:20:21, official time 4:20:19. I cried and hugged Sara and thanked her profusely. They gave us our medals and space blankets, which I had trouble maneuvering.


Margaret finished just a few minutes behind us, and we found other people still on the square. Liz helped Stef run a huge PR, and a lot of our group had good, solid races. Most of all, we had fun, and we ran together. Those who didn’t run, cheered with signs and crazy hats. It was an awesome experience.

Afterward, we cleaned up, changed, and walked (very, very slowly in my case) to Lisa’s parents’ condo where there was food and beer and more time to hang out together.

Several days later, I’m still flying high from the race, the camaraderie, and the wonderful time I got to spend with my friends.