Category Archives: Healthy Body

This Week’s Muffin: Spinach (?!?)

It’s been a long time since I posted a muffin recipe, mainly because it has been sooooo hot here in NoVA. Who wants to heat an oven?

Also, I’ve been trying to cut back on that kind of food. I won’t go so far as to call muffins “junk” food, but I’m trying to make better choices, such as quality proteins, and cramming as many fruits and veggies into my day as I can.

But finally, the weather has turned, and fall is here. These spinach muffins call for 6 ounces of baby spinach–that’s more than half of one of those big rectangular containers–and they use whole wheat flour. SOLD!

But dang, that batter is green:

I mean… wow.

Christmasy!

I haven’t tasted the finished product yet, but the batter is tasty–the banana takes center stage, while the spinach flavor recedes into a generic earthiness that’s quite nice. I have no idea whether my kids will eat them. Part of me hopes they don’t.

SPINACH MUFFINS 
from the Six O’Clock Scramble menu-planning site–We’ve been happy subscribers for a long time, and they’ve just started adding weekly breakfast suggestions, like this one!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (GF is fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk (use any kind you have)
  • 6 oz. baby spinach
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease or line two muffin tins.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter. In a food processor or blender (I used an immersion blender), mix the milk, spinach, and butter until it is completely pureed. Add the banana and vanilla and blend until just mixed.
  4. Pour pureed mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until completely combined. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full and baking 18-20 minutes.

Focus on Form

A reflection about running, and also more than running.

This past weekend I was in Comfort, Texas, celebrating my brother’s recent marriage. As part of my training for an upcoming half marathon, and the Houston Marathon in January, I had a track workout scheduled for Saturday. I drove to Comfort High School a little before dawn to run some fast-for-me miles around the track (pictured above).

Speed workouts, like long runs, are a test of psychological strength as much as physical endurance. Around the 3/4 mark is when my energy and motivation always start to flag. I’ve learned a variety of mental tricks to keep going, and I needed them Saturday too. I was mentally thumbing through my list of favorite mantras and slogans when I remembered something I’d heard on a running podcast:

Beginning runners focus on the pain.
Intermediate runners focus on the mileage.
Advanced runners focus on form.

It’s definitely true for me. When I first started running several years ago and the going got tough, all I could think about was my burning lungs or stinging quads. (Pro-tip: focusing on the pain is not a good recipe for endurance.)

As I gained more experience on my feet—as an intermediate runner—I would focus on the miles: how far I’d come, how far I still had to go. If I was feeling good, that could be motivating: More than halfway through… Two-thirds done… Just a mile to go! If things were going poorly, however, it was a motivation-killer: You still have seven miles. You’ll never make it. Loser. Focusing on the mileage can be brutal in a race, especially if you’re a middle-of-the-pack runner like me: Lots of people have already finished, and you still have miles to go. And look at all these people passing you.

As for being an advanced runner, I don’t know whether I’ve achieved that milestone yet, but on Saturday morning I decided not to think about the pain, or where I was in my workout, but to focus on form.
Shoulders back and down.
Torso tall.
Quick feet.
Easy breath.
Arms bent at 90 degrees. 

It helped! The miles were still a tough effort, but I focused on myself—on what I could control, and the countless small adjustments that would make the remaining laps more bearable.

Later I pondered how this concept applies to life in general. When we’re in the midst of deep adversity, or even just an unexpected detour, what do we do? 
Do we fixate on the pain and negativity, until that’s all we can see?
Do we obsess over external factors beyond our control?
Or do we turn inward, breathe deeply, and focus on what we can change… namely, our own response?

This week’s shooting in Las Vegas—the most deadly in modern history—has offered an enormous, heartbreaking opportunity to practice this approach.

It’s natural and understandable to feel the full impact of that pain—to empathize with the 59 lost and 527 injured (so far), and their families and loved ones. I myself find it hard to turn away from the stories. But I also know that to focus on the pain to the exclusion of all else will consume me.

It’s also understandable, like the intermediate runner, to focus on the miles… to look around at our culture of violence, the sorry state of gun safety legislation, the dearth of mental health resources for people in need, or all of the above. Many of us wonder why the United States has such a shameful track record compared to other developed nations, and whether our political leaders will display any political wisdom or courage to make a change. I’ll be honest; I don’t see much reason to hope for progress right now.

What, then, is left? To focus on form. To care for myself and the people around me. To look inward, and make sure I am acting with the most integrity, wisdom, and compassion. To tend to my breathing. To do what’s mine to do. In my case, that means giving money and writing letters and making phone calls to Congress… and also showing up to work each day, and reading nourishing books, and eating food that’s good for me and for the earth.

To focus on form means to “run the race that is set before us,” as the author of the book of Hebrews wrote to the early church so long ago. I wish the terrain were different—less treacherous, less painful for body and soul. But the race is ours to run nonetheless.

I’m glad we’re running it together.

Fight back with beauty,
MaryAnn

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.
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Want to “work on your form,” as a runner or as a human being? I do running coaching and personal/professional coaching as well. Learn more here.

Go Until No

The Steeple Chasers, 2015

It’s September, which means it’s Ragnar Relay time for me. Ragnar is an event in which teams of twelve people take turns running for some two days straight, through day and night, rain and shine, cold and heat. As I write this, our team is preparing to run next weekend from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC, a distance of 200 miles. Each of us will run three legs for a total of thirteen to twenty-plus miles. (I’m somewhere in the middle at eighteen.) As each runner completes their leg, vans carry the other runners to the next checkpoint, along with a considerable amount of gear. When the previous runner reaches the checkpoint, that person passes along the metal bracelet to the next runner, and off they go.

This is my fourth year to captain a Ragnar Relay team, and as I prepare this year, I can’t help but remember two years ago, when we made our race preparations with one eye on the Weather Channel. Hurricane Joaquin was wreaking havoc on the Bahamas and threatening the mid-Atlantic—exactly where we’d be running in a few days’ time. Forecasters were having a hard time predicting exactly where Joaquin would go, but it was looking more and more like we were in for a soggy race.

Rain we could handle, but what about winds? Flying debris? Flash floods? One member of our team was blunt: “I have serious concerns about doing this race.” Another quickly jumped in to agree. Others weren’t sure. They were willing to try it, but this is a team event, and they didn’t want to appear to be strong-arming the reluctant folks. Besides, wouldn’t Ragnar personnel cancel such a large endeavor if it were unsafe? They were certainly watching the weather at least as closely as we were!

Finally, as captain I felt I needed to make a call. “Anyone who feels uncomfortable with moving forward is welcome to back out with no hard feelings,” I said. “We’ll miss you, but we’ll muddle through. But as a team, we are going to proceed until it becomes clear we shouldn’t. We don’t have enough information to make the call to cancel. Things could work out fine. Or we may reach a decisive point at which it’s unsafe (or no longer fun), at which time we will stop. I trust that we’ll recognize that point when we get there. Until that time, we are moving forward.”

So we packed our vans, just like we’d planned, and we headed to Maryland. Only one of the 36 legs ended up being canceled due to water. The rest were soggy, and some were cold. But we completed the relay. One foot in front of the other, one runner at a time, with a van leapfrogging our path, we did it.

I have since come to call this approach “Go until No.” It happens often in life, that we have to make a decision without having the whole picture. My natural inclination is to stay put until I work out all the details so I can make a risk-free decision. Or I pre-emptively say no to an exciting possibility if there’s a chance it won’t work out. But sometimes we don’t get the full picture until we commit ourselves and take a step forward. As has been attributed to St. Augustine, “solvitur ambulando”: it is solved by walking.

Go until No requires you to trust that your intuition will tell you what you need to know even if it hasn’t yet. It requires you to have faith in the future—not that the future will work out the way you hope, but that it will provide the clarity you need to either keep going, change direction, or turn back.

We’ve had plenty of people come and go on our Ragnar team over our four years together. But I think it’s significant that of those twelve runners in 2015, fully seven of them have been back every year since, and an eighth one is only missing this year’s race due to a family conflict. Certainly, doing something crazy under adverse conditions—and living to tell the tale—bonds a group like few other things do. But I also like to think we grew closer because of our commitment to “Go until No.” What we did was take a leap into the unknown together—and we not only survived, but we thrived. For 200 miles.

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.

Here are my recaps about the 2014 and 2015 Ragnar experience.

To Survive and To Thrive

I was talking with a friend recently about a setback in her running. By the time it’s all said and done, she will be sidelined for half a year, unable to run at all, and the thought of having to start over is really bumming her out.

I could relate, having been through my own time of injury and rebuilding from scratch. And maybe we can all relate, whether we run or not. Pretty much everyone knows what it’s like to have plans derailed, to have to start over, or to find ourselves on a completely different path than the one we’d hoped to travel. I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, about coming to terms with the unexpected death of her husband. The book is full of wisdom for life’s adversities, however large or small. It also covers similar ground to my book on improv as a life practice, so it’s a good one to tide you over until mine comes out next year! (And if anyone knows Sandberg and could put me in touch with her, I’d love to give her an advance copy.)

I read recently about Willie Stewart, a young, talented rugby player until a horrific construction accident caused him to lose his left arm. For some two years, he laid about, devastated at the loss of the life he’d known, the life that would never be his. (Who could blame him?)

Eventually he found his way back into sports, this time setting his sights on triathlon. He learned to swim and bike with just one arm. This was in the 1980s, when there wasn’t as much support and encouragement for athletes with disabilities. He was determined to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

Finally in 2002, Stewart found himself in the front row of swimmers, determined to match his strength, endurance and focus against the most able-bodied athletes. He finished in the top third of competitors, and went on to have a fruitful career with many other honors and accolades, inspiring others.

Occasionally, a fan or friend will say to Stewart, “Imagine what you could have done if you hadn’t lost your arm!” Imagine, indeed.

And his answer is always the same:
“I wouldn’t have done any of it.”

To come to terms with life as it is, rather than life as we thought it might be, is a holy struggle and a lifelong pursuit. May we find the courage not only to survive, but to thrive.

Peace, Joy, and Yes.
MaryAnn

Note: Willie Stewart’s story comes from the book How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald.

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Monday Runday: Montclair Sprint Triathlon Recap

Yesterday Robert and I competed in the Montclair Sprint Triathlon, my second sprint tri and his first.

It was a hot and humid day, but the race was superb. We had a great time, and it turned out to be a significant race experience for me:

That’s a third place medal. What???

More on that later.

Race Logistics and Review

This is my first Revolution3 race, and I was very impressed by the communication and logistics of this race. I got a personal call from the staff the week of the race, asking if I had any questions and thanking me for registering. The 10-minute race preview video was helpful, and the athlete guide was very complete.

This would be a great first race for a new triathlete, especially one in the DC area–Montclair is south of Woodbridge near Quantico, so it’s convenient. There’s also a Splash and Dash for kids, which makes for a nice family-friend festival atmosphere. The Montclair community seems to take a lot of pride in hosting this race.

And the swag! Participants got a t-shirt, hat, and Rev3 neck gaiter (yes, we’ve got a long hot summer to get through, but then it will get cold enough to need a neck gaiter again). The participant medals were nice. You also get a latex swim cap, color-coded for which type of swim start you do. That isn’t really a race premium, but it’s nice to have backup caps.

The swim is 750 meters in a lovely tree-lined lake. Athletes seeded themselves based on 100yd pace and entered the water two by two, except the speedy speedsters who did a traditional wave before the rest of us. The race is small enough that you don’t have to worry about being mowed down in the water, though I did have a guy t-bone into me while doing the backstroke. (Backstroke? Really?) Buoys are large and plentiful, with lots of safety patrols in kayaks. The swim concludes on a sandy beach, but then it goes to grass, so by the time you get to transition your feet are mostly cleaned off.

The transition area was spacious enough, and the racks are labeled with athletes’ numbers AND names, which is a nice touch. People were friendly and helpful, though I find the intimidation factor to be high in triathlons. Something about the expensive bikes and bullet-shaped helmets make me feel totally out of my league, what with my basic swim unitard, and also Clifford the Big Red Bike, my serviceable but un-flashy ride that a friend gave me as a hand-me-down. And unlike running races, there are no costumes, nor even amusing shirts. I get that swimming makes a tutu hard to wear, and you can’t fit a jester hat over a helmet, but you kinda get the feeling that the tri community isn’t here to play. All well and good, just different.

The 12-mile bike ride consists of a double loop. It’s hilly, but the hills are mostly gradual, and anyone who trains in northern Virginia would be well prepared for them. The bike begins with a nasty uphill, and the race announcer made a point of reminding people to park their bikes in a low gear, which was a friendly thing to do. The route was shady most of the way, which made a huge difference in comfort level.

The 5K run is also hilly, but again mostly shady. The first half was on the sidewalk alongside part of the bike course, and someone had written various jokes and sayings on the sidewalk in chalk. Thinking of 15 words that rhyme with “run” kept me mentally occupied for quite a while. The second half of the run course is on neighborhood streets as opposed to the main drag. There were at least two water/Gatorade stops, and perhaps a third if memory serves.

The finish chute is on the beach, and the announcer read each name as the person finished. I love when races do that. Crowd support was sporadically placed but enthusiastic, with neighborhood folks offering signs and encouragement.

Post-race amenities included various packaged snacks, plus thick French toast with little packages of syrup. This race also had several computers set up where you could print a receipt with your race time and standings. This was so cool, and I hope more races move to this. It did create a little drama for me personally, which I’ll explain in the next section.

Overall I’d give this race an A. I’m already excited to come back next year.

Personal Goals and Recap

I hadn’t done a triathlon since last August. I hoped to get a PR, but my main goals were modest and tactical:
1. To do freestyle for the majority of the swim segment. I had a goggles fail in August, which meant I had to breaststroke the whole way. And I’ve really been working on FS endurance.
2. To cut down on transition time
3. To push myself on the run leg, which despite being my main sport was the weakest of the three legs last time, at least in terms of relative standing in my division.

How did I do? Well, I did freestyle the whole time and felt strong–but ended up swimming the same pace as I did doing breaststroke last year. Which could mean that my breaststroke is comparatively fast… OR more likely, I need to work on freestyle form, considering I learned as a kid and have never really worked on technique.

I cut way down on transition time by picking a shirt with wide arm holes to throw on over my unitard suit, and slipping on my running shoes while keeping them tied. (I don’t clip in. I’m a big weenie on the bike.) I also borrowed a race belt for my bib, but I lost some time when I stepped into it and the bib ripped. Had to reattach it using diagonal holes. Later Robert said, “Don’t step into it, just put it around you and then hook it.” Duh. This is why you practice transitions.

As for the run leg, I used every mantra I knew to keep going in the heat. I ended up with a 3-minute PR overall, thanks to faster transitions and a faster run leg. I definitely have room to grow–in all three legs, really–but one of my mantras was “as good as I am,” and yesterday was as good as I could be that day.

Regular readers know my angst over whether to register in the Athena category, which is for athletes over a certain weight. Ultimately I decided to go for it. I love that recreational athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and it felt good to take a small stand for positive body image. The race had all the Athenas racked together in transition, and they were funny and badass.

When I printed out my finish time, they had sorted me into my age group rather than as an Athena. They got that figured out, but then it turned out they hadn’t categorized any of the Athenas properly. While they were sorting that out, I printed a result that said I was 3rd out of 6 in my division. I was excited to see that 3–that meant a podium award–but I knew there were more than 6 of us. So there was a long time of waiting and wondering whether another Athena would knock me off the podium, and practicing the art of holding outcomes loosely. Something I kinda stink at.

Finally they got things worked out and I printed my final result:

And that’s when I started to cry.

I have never won anything athletic in my life. My body was the thing that toted my brain around, and that was about it. I was the last kid picked for the team. When I played softball in middle school, I was a passable second base player on the last team in the league. Even today, I am a mid-pack runner on a typical day. And yesterday it was so hot, and I was so tired. And yet I had done something that for me would have seemed impossible even 7 years ago.

The podium finish was bittersweet. Very few triathlons have an Athena category, and I only have one more race on the calendar this season, and it’s not an Athena one. And I may not even qualify for Athena much longer–I’ve been slowly losing weight over the last several months, and unless I stubbornly plateau, I’ll be knocked out of the division next year. Which I have mixed feelings about, to be honest. I love the Athenas I race with, whether we call ourselves that or not.

But either way, I’ll still be there on the starting line of Montclair next year. It was a great race. Though I wouldn’t turn down a cool snap that day…