Friday, October 24, 2014

Mexican Spaghetti Squash Bake

It seems I'm on a spaghetti squash kick lately! Once again, I found myself craving this vegetable so decided to try preparing it in a new way. 

While I love eating spaghetti squash with traditional Italian sauce, I thought a Mexican twist might be fun. So I combined some of my favorite Mexican ingredients - black beans, corn, jalapeno, lime, cilantro and so on and created a simple but tasty casserole!

And the best part about making healthy comfort food is you don't feel guilty about eating a second helping ;)

Mexican Spaghetti Squash Bake
Serves 4-6

1 medium spaghetti squash, halved and cleaned
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and minced*
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn
1 can diced tomatoes
Juice from half a lime
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used 2 percent)
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle flesh side of squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set on a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil and bake for 35-40 minutes (bake time depends on the size of your squash) or until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set squash aside until cool enough to touch. Using a paper towel, blot up any excess liquid in the squash halves. Then, shred the inside of each half with a fork to create your strands of spaghetti. 

While the squash is baking, you can prepare the black bean and corn mixture. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper and jalapeno and cook until softened - about 3-5 minutes. Then add the corn, black beans, tomatoes, lime juice, cumin and chili powder. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until mixture is warmed through. 

Combine the spaghetti squash with black bean and corn mixture in an 8x8 baking dish. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven, then top with chopped cilantro. 

And that's it! My incredibly indulgent tasting, but still healthy, Mexican casserole. Perfect for the chilly nights ahead this winter. 

Tell me: What's your go-to dinner on a chilly night?

- ST

*If you aren't a fan of spicy food, I recommend using less jalapeno 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kitchen Experiment: Spaghetti Squash!

A few weeks ago, I went to my friend Sara's house for dinner and she made the most delicious spaghetti squash. It was basically comfort food - but without all the calories and fat! Super simple, too - just the squash, marinara sauce, grilled chicken and mozzarella cheese.

I've always been super intimidated by this vegetable but after hearing from Sara how easy it is to prepare, I decided I should give it a try. So over the weekend, I bought my very first spaghetti squash and ... success!

Spaghetti Squash With Meat Sauce
Serves 2

1 medium spaghetti squash, halved and cleaned
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef (I used 93 percent lean)
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups marinara sauce (Look for no sugar added)
2 heaping Tbsp green olive tapenade
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle flesh side of squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set face down on a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil and bake for 35-40 minutes* or until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set squash aside until cool enough to touch. Then, using a fork, shred the inside of each squash and create your strands of spaghetti.

While the squash is baking, you can prepare the sauce. Start by browning the ground beef in a medium skillet. Drain off fat and add diced onions and garlic. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes or until onion has softened. Add marinara sauce and olive tapenade and simmer until squash is ready. 

Combine about 1/2 cup of sauce with the spaghetti strands from each squash boat. Then, top each boat with additional sauce followed by the mozzarella cheese. Return squash to the oven for another 10 minutes to allow the cheese to melt.

This ended up being a super delicious dinner and much easier to prepare than I expected. A few takeaways from this experiment:
  • Do not overcook the squash. I left mine in the oven an extra five minutes because I was chatting on the phone and forgot about it. As a result, my squash was a bit softer than I would have liked. Next time, I'll set a timer. 
  • Consider blotting the inside of the squash with a paper towel after creating the spaghetti strands. I thought mine turned out a tad watery. 
  • I'll definitely make spaghetti squash again - maybe next time a taco-inspired recipe?

Tell me: What's your favorite way to prepare spaghetti squash?

- ST

*Cooking time will vary depending on the size of your squash

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Next Chapter

After this year's Lakefront Marathon, the absolute last thing I wanted to think about or do was any running. After a long year of training and then falling short of my goal, I was in need of a break. My body was ready. And mentally, I was tired.

So I took the entire week off from running and exercise. I thought about taking Y-Blitz and my favorite Y-Kettle Bells class on Thursday ... but decided to make it a complete week of enjoying nothing but socializing, eating all my favorite junk foods, sleeping in, watching tv - basically all the things that tempt me during heavier training periods that I usually take a pass on. It was glorious :)

 Eddie does not approve of sleeping in. Ever.

But as the week went on, I began missing running. It started with reading an article here or there. Then turned into catching up on my favorite running blogs. And after spectating Sunday's Chicago Marathon, I was longing to lace up my shoes and go for a run.

Scenes from Sunday's Chicago Marathon

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A few people have asked me, what's next? The truth is, I'm not sure! I have a few races on the schedule, including the Winter Run Series 5ks and the Tyranena Beer Run. I'm also considering the Strider Indoor 10k in early December - but doubt I'll be in any type of racing shape by then. Any goal races will likely not happen until 2015. This may include a marathon since I still want to BQ. But I may also take a year to work on honing speed by racing shorter distances. Or maybe I'll make it the year to get better at racing half marathons!

But before any of that can happen, I need to start running again. During the next few weeks, it's all about easy miles coupled with more strength training and Y classes. I want my foundation rock solid so that I can start building when the time comes.

I'm looking forward to the next chapter :)

Your turn: What's next for you - in running, life, work, etc?

- ST

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lakefront Marathon 2014 Race Recap

There are dream races. The type of races that make you believe anything and everything is possible.

And then there are disaster races. When things fall apart and just finishing the race is a struggle.

But no matter the experience, racing is bound to bring out a cocktail of emotions. And at Sunday's Lakefront Marathon, I had 26.2 miles worth of feelings. It all started at 6:15am when I arrived at the race and felt my first bit of race nerves. 

You know those people who calmly sit with their eyes closed as they listen to music before a race? Yeah, that's so not me. I got to the race a good hour before the start and spent my time pacing the halls, going to the restroom, adjusting my clothing, etc. I didn't feel as nervous as I do before some races, but I know there was a bit of anxiety since I couldn't sit still. However, I felt ready to race and couldn't wait for the start.

With Sara before the race start!

This year, I got to the start in time to line up in a good spot. And it ended up being right by my friend Alice! We started together but got separated by the crowd for a bit. However, I found her again - only to lose her at the first water stop. She looked strong and sped ahead and I had to let her go.

During the first five miles, I was on pace and felt completely in control. The miles went by pretty fast and felt as easy as they should. This fueled my excitement and made me think about how good a race can feel - running on fresh, tapered legs and running with others. It was the best possible start to a marathon.

After hitting the five mile marker, I began focusing a bit more on pace and rhythm. Things still felt good and I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. Every time I felt the urge to speed up, I reminded myself of Coach Matt's advice to not make any hasty decisions and if I felt like laying the hammer down at any point, to wait an extra mile and see how things feel at that point.

Photo by Bill Flaws - Running in the USA

So instead I started thinking about the half marathon point. It was getting close and at that point I would allow myself to pick up the pace a bit. On the way, I ran into Tracey, who was also aiming for a BQ. We were side by side for a bit but ultimately I had to let her go because I was still trying to reign in my pace. I was happy to see her running so well though!

Miles 10-15 were some of the worst for me. It was during this time that my knee issues from earlier this summer decided to reappear. Suddenly that nice, easy pace was uncomfortable and soon became painful. I thought maybe the feeling would pass if I could just keep going but soon realized that was not going to be the case that day.

So I had a choice: Keep running in pain at BQ pace and risk having to drop from the race OR slow my pace, manage the pain and hopefully finish the race.

I opted for the second option. It was such a tough choice to make because I knew doing so would give me zero chance at making any of my goals for the day. However, I really wanted to finish the race. I hate quitting and that is what a DNF would mean to me. I already have one DNF to my name and definitely did not want another.

So I slowed down, took a few walk breaks and got passed by so many people. It hurt but I told myself it was a smart choice.

It may have been the smart choice but I was so disappointed in myself. I had to stop looking at my watch because I couldn't bear to see my pace creep up. I kept thinking - all those miles and all those workouts - for what?

There was also the element of feeling like I was disappointing a lot of people. I set that goal of a BQ after my last marathon and was not shy about putting it out there. Along the way I've received so much love and support in chasing this goal that it made it really tough to let it go. For all the people that told me it was a sure thing - it made me feel bad that I couldn't deliver. My friend Tracey explained it so well in her blog post - in the grand scheme, these race times don't matter to anyone but the runner - but it still feels so bad to not achieve the goal that you've put so much into when there are so many people rooting for you. It's a tough pill to swallow.

Miles 18-23 seemed to take forever. I was still getting passed left and right and was stuck in my little cloud of disappointment. But I saw a few more runners I know and seeing them doing so well helped lift my spirits. I saw Anne fly by as well as Nikki. I also ran into Angie, who I ran with for a bit.

But really, I was just so done with the race and wanted it to be over. Anyone that knows me well, knows how terribly impatient I can be when it comes to work, dating, waiting in lines, people walking too slow, etc etc. It's a terrible trait and it was coming out full force. All I wanted to do was kick it into high gear and cross the finish line - but my pesky knee was holding me back.

Until I ran I to my coworker, Lisa, around mile 23.5. "Let's get this thing done!" she said, with the same impatience I was feeling. And I thought, why not? We're close enough to the finish line that I can pick up the pace and if my knee gives out I can walk the rest of the way.

And it felt great to speed up! I was able to ignore the knee issues and thought only about getting to the finish line as fast as possible. No one passed me during this stretch and instead, I passed a ton of people - many that had passed me earlier. All the bottled up frustration from earlier in the race came out and when that finish line came into sight, I felt like a giant cloud had lifted.

Photo by Bill Flaws - Running in the USA

After crossing the line, all I could think was that I was so glad to be done. I was all smiles, mainly because I wasn't out there slogging through the miles anymore. After a big race like a marathon, things tend to not sink in until later so once I had water and Gatorade, I was a happy camper. I had made it to the finish and that was all that mattered.

With Mom, the best spectator!

My results:

Time: 3:46:47
Pace: 8:39 min/mile
AG Place: 29/152
Gender Place: 139/1,028

Now, a few days removed from the race, I'm feeling a mix of emotions. Happy, sad, disappointed, mad, relieved - but most of all, I feel determined. It's like I've said before - sometimes you try so hard for a goal and still miss. But you just have to pick yourself up and try again. So that's exactly what I'll do. I don't know when my next BQ attempt will be but you better believe it will be another all-in effort. The marathon may break you down but it's up to you to decide if it's going to break you!

To end this long recap, I have to say thank you to my wonderful family and friends that have been so supportive as I chase my crazy running dreams. I loved the good luck calls, texts and messages before the race and seeing so many people I know on the course. You guys are the best and I'm so thankful to have such great people in my life :)

Now, my questions for you:

  • How do you recover from a disappointing race?
  • What do you look forward to most during a training break?
  • Random: what is your favorite apple treat?

I'm looking forward to making plenty of apple treats during my time off from training!

- ST

Friday, October 3, 2014

Two Sleeps Til the Big Race

So ... Lakefront Marathon. It's just two sleeps away and I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that I have to race 26.2 miles on Sunday morning. I'm in denial. But things are about to get real!

Going into the race, I have a few goals:

A+ goal: Sub 3:30 finish
A goal: Sub 3:35/BQ finish
B goal: Sub 3:40 finish
C goal: Sub 3:43/new marathon PR

Running the paces I need to run is intimidating and I know it's going to be hard and it's going to hurt. I could give myself a dozen excuses for why I can't make it happen. But I'm not letting myself go down that path. I'd rather start the race thinking about everything I can accomplish instead of what I might not.

There are just so many unknowns. I've never 'raced' a marathon before - my past two years were more run and see what happens with no set time goal. But this year is different. And now I find myself asking, how will my body hold up when racing this distance? How will I deal with the inevitable physical discomfort late in the race? How will I push through the mental hurdles?

But these are the questions that make racing any distance exciting. Every race is unique and you don't know how you'll answer until you're struggling through the miles. But by the end of this one, I'll know how I answered by the time on the clock.

I'm excited to put on my Oiselle team singlet and call upon my  training with Coach Matt to see what it gets me on Sunday. I have faith that the work I've done will carry me through. And on race day, the possibilities are endless.

I'll see you on the other side of 26.2!

My questions for you:
  • When do your race nerves kick in and what do you do to help calm yourself before a big race?
  • When a race gets tough, what do you do to help yourself get back on track?

- ST

Friday, September 26, 2014

Italian Vegetable Soup

When the temperature starts to drop, one of the things I love best is a bowl of warm, comforting soup. So in anticipation of the many chilly fall nights to come, I created a healthy but tasty vegetable soup.

The recipe may look like it requires a lot of ingredients but most are things you might already have at home. Regarding the seasonings, you can follow what I used or sub in your own favorites. 

One of the best things about soup is that you can customize it to your tastes so it's exactly the way you like it. Comfort in a bowl, no matter how you season it :)

Italian Vegetable Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 zucchini, halved and sliced
1 yellow squash, halved and sliced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
3/4 cup dry macaroni pasta, cooked and drained
8 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle
1 tbsp dry parsley
1 tsp dry basil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 handfuls spinach
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat then add onion, garlic, carrots, celery zucchini and yellow squash. Cook about 5 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and cooked pasta and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add stock and seasonings and bring to a light boil before reducing heat to low. Allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add spinach and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the soup is cooking, you can prepare Brie and Herb Crostini to top each bowl of soup. 

For the crostini:
8 1/4 inch thick slices of baguette
2 Tbsp macadamia nut oil (you can also use olive oil)
1 tsp dry herbs of choice (I used basil)
8 pats of brie cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Combine oil with herbs and brush baguette slices with the mixture. Top each slice with brie. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until brie is melted and bread is crisp.

Tell me: What is your favorite fall soup?

- ST

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Enough With the Excuses!

It should be an easy question - What's your goal for the race? But lately, I've noticed that runners, including myself, are hesitant to give a straight answer. Instead of stating a goal, there's a lot of hemming and hawing. "Well ... I'd like to run X:XX but, you know, I've had some knee problems lately/training wasn't perfect/the weather hasn't cooperated/etc. so who knows what will happen ..."

It's one thing to have an injury and accept that it will likely change your race plan and goal. It's also perfectly acceptable to not want to share your race goal. But the thing I take issue with is all the excuses!

I completely get it. It's scary to put a goal out there. To say exactly what you want to achieve because there's always that chance you'll fall short. Sometimes it's easier to just play it off like it's no big deal. If you don't put yourself on the line, you can't fail - but you'll also never realize your full potential. Like Shalane Flanagan once said:

By allowing excuses before a race even begins, we set ourselves up for failure. Believe a tight calf  is going to affect your ability to achieve your goal time and midway through the race when you're getting tired, you'll let that excuse creep in. Today's not the day. My calf is tight. I'm not going to get my time. I can let up just a bit and coast to the finish.

But to sell yourself short is to disrespect all the training you put into the race. You worked hard for your goal so why would you start making excuses when you're so close to realizing it? Instead, grit your teeth and acknowledge achieving any goal requires hard work. And with running, it's likely going to hurt. Accept this without excuses.

And at worst, if you miss your goal ... so what? True, there's disappointment in working hard and not getting what you want. But it's not the end all, say all. It's not failing. You just need to brush yourself off and try again.

So be fearless. Put your goal out there. No qualifiers. No excuses.

My goal for Lakefront Marathon is a BQ time.

Tell me: what is your current race goal?

- ST