Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's Taper Time

My first triathlon of the 2014 season - Carolina Half - is just 7 days away!  I had a solid week of training this week in preparation, which means now it's time to cut back the volume and do a bit of recovery.  

Week 15
Swim  - 10700 yards
Bike - 7 hrs, 26 minutes (3 trainer rides + 57 miles outside)
Run - 25.1 miles
Total: 14 hours

In honor of Marathon Monday in Boston, I donned my blue and yellow and set out for a 10k step-up run on Monday.  It was a struggle physically after a long day on my feet at work, but I got the work done.  Thinking about the events in Boston a year ago and the fact that thousands had run 26.2 miles that morning made it easier for me to suck it up and run 6.2 miles.

Saturday I met a group of people to ride and run next weekend's race course.  The first 15 miles were at a slower pace as the group stayed tightly packed on busier roads, but then things started to spread out and I was able to get in some good "race effort" miles.  I'm still not totally satisfied with my bike fit and am just simply not comfortable in aero for any extended period.  Guess I'll be working on that in the future.  Since we didn't start until nearly 10am, it was getting toasty warm by the time I started running at 1pm.  I knocked out 7 miles while running with a couple other people and felt fairly decent until we had to run the last two miles uphill.

I'm in desperate need for some smoking fast race wheels to complete my bike.
Sadly, though, there are seemingly none to be had for rental in Charlotte.
Anyone care to spare me $1500 to buy a set?

Mentally, I'm feeling excited to get out there and race for the first time this season after 4 fairly solid months of training.  Now it's just a matter of some recovery this week so that my legs are feeling equally fresh on Sunday.

The weather this week was absolutely beautiful - warm sunny skies nearly every day.  So warm, in fact, it was starting to feel more like summer.  I tossed together a great corn salad that reminded me a lot of summer.  It's very simple and uses lots of seasonal produce - fresh corn cut from the cob, bell pepper, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar.

I enjoyed my dinner on the deck each night and found myself longing to stay out there until darkness to soak up the fresh air.  One evening I had the corn salad a top a bed of greens with a side of sweet potato.

Another night, I whipped up a omelet and served it with the corn salad on the side as well as fresh mango and grapes.  The omelet was stuffed with bell pepper, onion, turkey bacon, arugula, and cheddar cheese.

This week brings an end to my two months on the ortho oncology service and the return to the trauma service for May and June. Translated, that means that just as I've settled into a seemingly balanced schedule between work and training and am really enjoying the service I'm on, it's all about to come crashing down.  I'm holding onto hope that I can maintain a reasonable training volume and try my best to pseudo-enjoy the trauma service, but only time will tell.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Staycation

Happy Easter to everyone!   I've had a fantastic past several days, hosting my whole family here in Charlotte for an extra-long weekend.  Dad, Mom, Royce, Erin, Bailey, and Kailua (Royce and Erin's dog), all made the trip from Atlanta on Wednesday.  After eating ourselves into misery at Taste of the Nation on Wednesday night, we woke up to a sunny morning on Thursday.

We spent the afternoon at the White Water Center and hiked six miles through the woods, soaking up the sunshine and tackling a few obstacles.  When we first arrived, the trails were closed due to recent rains, but fortunately, we stumbled upon an open trail along the river.  The dogs had a great time exploring the trails and finding each and every puddle to splash in.

I love the fact that my family enjoys the outdoors and being active.  Charlotte has such a wealth of outdoor opportunities and regardless of what I plan, I can always count on their enthusiasm to get outside and explore.  Unfortunately, Thursday was the only sunny and reasonably warm day during their stay, so we had to cancer our plans for a second day of hiking at Lake Wylie.

On the ride home, the dogs were much more quiet and calm than they were pre-six mile hike.  It looks like Bailey is telling Erin that she is ready for her dog food and then bedtime.

After more than two hours of hiking, we were all ready to eat.  Bad Daddy's Burger Bar was the restaurant designation - casual, dozens of burger options, and to-die-for sweet potato fries.  While most of us opted for the black bean burger or turkey burger, Royce was gutsy and ordered the Bad Ass Burger.  This monster is a 10oz beef patty, lettuce, tomato, buttermilk fried bacon, horseradish mayo, American cheese, and pickles on a brioche bun.  Royce missed the "fried" description of the buttermilk bacon and wasn't anticipating the giant stack of breaded bacon.  Minus a few strips of bacon, however, he did a pretty good job of cleaning his plate.

Mom and I both ordered the Cantina Burger - a grilled black bean patty, green chiles, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, monterrey cheese, and chipotle ranch.  And of course no meal is complete without a side of their crispy sweet potato fries.  The burger quickly became quite messy and turned into a fork and knife meal, but we had no problem cleaning our plates.

Friday morning I baked a French Toast Casserole with caramelized plantains.  Kailua was convinced that if she positioned herself very close to Dad, that she might just earn a bite from his plate.  Mom, Erin, and I tackled a morning yoga class before reconvening with the boys for lunch.  Since the weather had turned cold (50s) and windy, we altered our outdoor plans and instead opted to divide and conquer.  The girls enjoyed some shopping while the boys visited one of the local airports.

That night we celebrated Dad's birthday with a dinner at 131 Main.  This was one of the first restaurants that I took my parents to after I moved to Charlotte, and Dad has always reminisced on meal.  Thus, when I asked him where he wanted to eat for his birthday, he was quick to suggest 131 Main.

We started with shared appetizers - grilled artichokes and smoked salmon.  The artichokes are prepared perfectly, including a nice char from the grill and served alongside a savory sauce.  The smoked salmon is smoked daily in the restaurant and is served with toasts and a tartar-style sauce.  For my main dish, I chose the Farmer's plate, featuring their skillet corn bread and my choice of four vegetables.  My picks included black eyed peas, couscous salad, kale salad, and pickled red cabbage.  The picture is deceiving, but it was a huge plate and I left with a box full of leftovers.

Dad ventured away from his usual vegan diet and chose the BBQ baby back ribs.  The meat literally fell off the bones as he picked them up - a true indication of a perfectly smoked rack of ribs.  The birthday boy was definitely happy!

And because a birthday meal isn't complete without dessert, we shared two massive slices of pie.  Dad chose the banana cream pie and Royce and Erin the key lime pie.  The banana cream pie was piled high with whipped topping, banana, and chocolate chunks.  The key lime pie was tangy and tart with a decadent graham cracker crust.  Between the five of us, we had no trouble eating every last crumb.  Happy Birthday Dad!

Saturday turned into a complete wash-out, with rain starting Friday night and lasting for 34 hours.  After a trip to Not Just Coffee for my favorite caramel latte and shopping at the farmers market, we moved our adventures inside.  The Carolinas Aviation Museum is located near the Charlotte Airport and boasts the fact that they house US Airways 1549 - "Miracle on the Hudson."  Given Royce and Dad's new interest in flying, I knew they would enjoy learning about aviation history and getting an up close look at a variety of planes.  We all really enjoyed the museum!

I determined that there are far too many buttons and controllers in an airplane cockpit for me to feel anything but intimidated.  Dad, however, felt right at home.

Prior to Royce and Erin leaving to make their way back to Atlanta, they requested lunch at another one of my Charlotte favorites - The Cowfish Burger Sushi Bar.  Fortunately, the 1.5 hour wait that we were initially quoted turned into just 30 minutes.  After several heavy and decadent meals, the Seared Sesame Tuna Nicoise Salad was exactly what I was craving.  Royce again managed to dominate a burger, while everyone else enjoyed their bento boxes.

My parents and I had one last fun stop at Lenny Boy Brewery's tap house before winding down for the evening.  I opted for a flight of kombucha and declared the elite beet and strawberry my two favorite flavors.  Meanwhile, Dad found a dark beer he enjoyed and Mom sampled a flight of kombucha and wild ales.

Back at home we had a late light dinner of vegetarian pho from Vietnam Grille while watching The Hurt Locker.  Bailey was worn out from her exciting weekend with Kailua, and crashed hard once she finally constructed an elaborate bed.  That would be a grand total of two chaise lounge cushions, two oversized floor pillows, a bean bag, and a blanket all for an eighty-pound dog.  What a princess!

Look who else paid a visit to Charlotte - the Easter bunny!  We enjoyed one last breakfast together while celebrating Dad's actual birthday, and then I bid Mom, Dad, and Bailey farewell as they hit the road back to the Atlanta.  What a fantastic few days we had together!  There are no words to say how thankful I am that we all love spending time together, make our family a priority, and always have great memories of our fun activities and vacations.

My Easter day, itself, was perfectly low-key.  The rain finally ceased and the sun was shining brightly.  After a 30 mile bike, I alternated soaking up the sun on the deck with a few loads of laundry.  I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend as much as my family did!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Taste of the Nation 2014

Charlotte's annual Taste of the Nation is by far my most anticipated food event of the year.  2014 marks my third consecutive year in attendance, and it continues to get better every year.  With 100% of ticket sales and all proceeds from the silent auction going directly to local and national charities, it's nearly impossible not to get excited about feasting on seemingly endless plates from dozens of Charlotte's fine dining restaurants.  In addition to supporting the national campaign "Share Our Strength - No Kid Hungry," the local organizations  Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and the Community Culinary School of Charlotte were also benefitted immensely.  

It took a lot of arm twisting to have my parents act as my dates for the evening, but they willingly obliged to include the event in their Easter weekend trip to Charlotte.  

Each year the selection of food is fantastic, yet the restaurants manage to keep raising the bar of excellence.  This year I was impressed with the incorporation of more vegetarian dishes, vegetable sides, and more generous wine pours.  Upstream prepared one of my favorite plates - halibut cheek, seaweed salad, and miso sticky rice (below left).  Beside their table was Mimosa Grill, with a great selection of seasonal vegetables and a slice of grilled lamb (below right).

This dish featured duck confit over a bean cake.  While the duck was moist and flavorful, the bean cake needed a bit more moisture and flavor punch.   My favorite entree of the night - Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar's lamb sadly went unphotographed.  It was quite possibly the most tender and flavorful piece of meat that I have ever consumed.

I've yet to visit Gallery Restaurant at the Ballantyne Hotel, but based on their "Snicker's" dessert, it quickly moved to the top of my "must-try" Charlotte restaurant list.  A crunchy peanut base was layered with a rich chocolate mousse, wrapped in dark chocolate, drizzled with a buttery caramel, and dusted with sea salt.  Over the course of the evening, we had to make a return visit for a second taste of this incredibly decadent dessert.

As you can imagine, this giant smoked pig generated lots of attention for Uptown Bar and Grill's (opening Spring '14)  table.  Last year, pulled pork seemed to be the most popular dish, with plate after plate of barbecue.  This year, however, there was only one pork slider.  With the abundance of mouth-watering plates, I opted for only a tasting bite of this before deciding it needed a healthy splash of a sauce to be worth of continued eating.  They did, however, have a really great sweet potato hummus with crudités that I loved.

Baku was recently named one of the top restaurants in the country, so I was very anxious to see what they prepared.  The presentation of a diver scallop, foie gras, and micro greens was impressive, and I can now officially say that I've tried foie gras.

Two Wells Fargo is always a great venue for Taste of the Nation and we were once again granted clear blue skies, though a bit chilly, for the evening's festivities.

I've included only a handful of the dozens of plates that we feasted on, and the last was a lemon gnocchi and sautéed shrimp dish from Ilios Noche.  The lemon flavor was bright and the gnocchi were some of the more palatable that I've tasted.

The evening wouldn't be complete without a father-daughter selfie!

I think I say this every year, but if you are fortunate enough to live in a city where Taste of the Nation occurs, you absolutely must put the local event on your calendar and get yourself there for an evening of fabulous food, entertainment, and fundraising for a great and worthy cause.  Without a doubt, I'll be back again in 2015!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Food Fight and Other Eats

If my recent meals are any indication, the sun is finally starting to bring some warm weather to the South.  I could enjoy a salad for nearly every meal right now, which is in stark contrast to the complete disgust I had for raw vegetables for the first couple weeks after that stomach bug.  Despite the high pollen counts and yellow dust in the air, I've enjoyed many dinners al fresco with the last hour of sunlight and warmth.  

Mexican Salad, Salsa Rice Chips, and Mango
This was the last meal I had when I was in Atlanta a couple weeks ago and it officially marked my return to raw veggies.  A simple combination of greens, black beans, corn, guacamole, and salsa paired great with a sweet and slightly tart mango.

Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Kale Ravioli with Marinara and Argula and a side of sliced pear
I was intrigued by the filling for these raviolis and particularly loved that they were cheese-less.  The brand is La Pasta and I found them at Earth Fare.

Tart Frozen Yogurt, Brownie Bits, Raspberries, and Blueberries
Last weekend's call was miserable.  If the number of orthopedic injuries is any indication, summer weather has arrived, and brought with it the endless list of stupid things people do when it's hot and there is alcohol being consumed.  Needless to say, after no sleep on Friday, Saturday was a sleepy haze.  In my mind, Pinkberry frozen yogurt was an absolute necessity.

Arugula Salad with Mixed Veggies and Salmon Salad, Sweet Potato Wedges
I was reading a magazine last week that discussed the great nutritional value of salmon for athletes.  Lunch time was approaching, and I happen to have a can of Trader Joe's wild salmon in the pantry.  I mixed the fish with a generous scoop of plain greek yogurt, dijon mustard, chopped dill pickle, and fresh cracked pepper.

Arugula Salad with Avocado, Tomato, and Crumbled Veggie Masala Burger
Baked crinkle cut french fries with a hefty dip in ketchup never tasted so good!
The Charlotte Food Fight is an annual event which features a food competition between local food trucks with a featured secret ingredient and all proceeds benefiting a local charity.  You can purchase either a wristband worthy of a dish from each of the 13 food trucks for $40, or instead buy individual tickets to exchange for a single dish.  I was initially deterred by the $40 price tag, but when Yelp offered a giveaway for a few lucky people, I was quick to submit my name.  A week later, I was a winner!

You could not have asked for better weather on a spring afternoon.  After a exhausting morning, including a bike, half-marathon, grocery shopping, and laundry, I made my way to SouthEnd and prepared to gather lots of food.  Knowing that there was no way I could eat so much food in one setting, I came prepared with a bag to collect the small plates.

The food trucks had a combination of regular menu items and then a special dish or two which featured the secret ingredient - SWEET POTATOES.  Since it was in fact a competition, you could vote on your favorite dish for the people's choice award.

Tin Kitchen's duck confit and sweet potato taco (the top picture below) was my favorite!  The soft serve frozen yogurt with pomegranate molasses and pistachios was a close second.  Overall, I was very impressed with the quantity and quality of the food truck options.

Can you believe all of this food?!   From the top going clockwise is smoked trout slider with slaw, bahn mi sandwich/smoked salmon on a sweet potato latke/sweet potato maki roll, buffalo wings and buffalo pizza, sweet potato cupcake, sweet potato tiramisu and lemon cookie, sweet potato tots with braised brussel sprouts, sweet potato poutine with smoked beef taco, coconut curry pork and rice, and potato croquettes/lasagna cupcake.

I think I'll be enjoying leftovers for a couple days to come!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Charlotte Racefest Half Marathon and Training Update

APRIL 12, 2014


FINISH TIME: 1:38:43

If you're wondering why I hadn't mentioned this race, it's because I registered less than 60 hours before the starting time.  I had previously considered racing, but since it was just 3 weeks before my first half-iron of the season, I thought it wiser to save my money and focus on race-specific training.  However, when Earth Fare offered to give away a race entry on Facebook, I couldn't help but enter my name.  There's simply nothing better than a race that starts and finishes less than a mile from your house!  Sure enough I won, and next thing I knew I was crossing my fingers that coach wouldn't have a huge opposition to me racing.  

Monday thru Thursday I had enjoyed a recovery week and was beginning to see improvement in leg fatigue.  I was also coming off a busy weekend of call and definitely needed the extra time for some sleep.  The compromise to me doing the half marathon, was that I still had to fit my long ride into the weekend.  Since I'm working tomorrow, that meant the only option was Friday evening.  With the exception of a flat tire, the 45 mile ride was right on target with my planned half-iron wattage.  Saturday morning, in order to simulate a brick, I hopped on the trainer for a 90 minute bike BEFORE the race.  I was a bit concerned how those bike miles would hamper my running, but I generally tend to run well off the bike, so I was hopeful.  

My goal was to run the first 8 miles very conservatively and then build my pace based on how I was feeling.  In typical fashion, my "conservative" start was faster than I anticipated.  However, my legs were feeling good and so I stuck with it.  Since this race is literally in my backyard, I was familiar with the first several miles of the course.  Miles 1-3 were a steady climb and I intentionally tried to relax on the uphills to avoid burning matches early on.  Miles 4 was net downhill before climbing into mile 5.

Mile 1 - 7:21
Mile 2 - 7:29
Mile 3 - 7:35
Mile 4 - 7:14
Mile 5 - 7:33

Miles 6 and 7 had a mix of a couple climbs and descends, and we ended a long stretch on Providence Road and made a turn into some neighborhoods that I wasn't familiar with.  In some respects, I enjoy running on unfamiliar routes because it keeps me interested and I can't focus on knowing exactly where the hard sections will be.  The downside, however, is that I had no idea I was going to spend several miles on a nearly eternal climb.  I took a gel at mile 7 and grabbed my first cup of water.  Physically I was still feeling fairly decent.  The climbs, however in miles 8 and 10 really took a toll on my legs and suddenly I was feeling every bit of the 4 hours I had spent on the bike in the 12 hours leading up to the race.

Mile 6 - 7:22
Mile 7 - 7:25
Mile 8 - 7:58
Mile 9 - 7:15
Mile 10 - 7:39

Each time I assumed we were reaching the crest of the climb, we'd make another turn and keep right on climbing.  There were a few times that I legitimately thought I was going to trip over my own feet and had to refocus on getting through each half-mile.  Finally, just after passing mile 11, a downhill stretch was in sight.  Thank goodness!  As expected based on the rest of the course, that was short lived and the last mile greeted us with a 60 foot climb over one-tength of a mile and then another dreadfully long climb as the finish line came into sight.  Over that last mile my heart rate was hovering at 180 and I crossed the finish feeling as though I had truly pushed as hard as I could over the last 5k.  

Mile 11 - 7:49
Mile 12 - 7:34
Mile 13 - 7:40
0.1 mi - 0:44 (7:19 pace)

I finished with a time of 1:38:43, which is 8 seconds faster than my NC Half-Marathon from a month ago, but still a couple minutes shy of my PR.  

4th AG 25-29
Females  17 / 760
Overall  106 / 1305

Overall I'm fairly pleased with this race.  Considering I had no intention of racing this weekend and then not only raced, but did so 12 hours after a 45 mile bike and immediately following 90 minutes on the trainer with a couple race efforts, I think I ran a consistent 13.1 miles.  Hills are certainly my weakness with running, so events such as this are good both physically and mentally.  The goal I had set for myself was to simply run a consistent race sub-1:40, so in that respect I was successful.  Certainly if I can pull off a similar time in the 70.3 distance, I will be satisfied.  

For those tracking my weekly training, here's the breakdown of the past two weeks of swimming, biking, and running.  I've also included a few specific workouts.

Week 12  -  12 hours, 8 minutes
Swim: 10450 yards
20 x 100 descending every set of 5 with last set on 1:30
1000 yards for time (14:45)

Bike:  6 hours, 52 minutes
4 x 8 minutes power intervals were a struggle to maintain 190 W

Run: 16.7 miles

Week 13 - Recovery, 11 hours
Swim: 4100 yards

Bike: 6 hours, 45 minutes
45 miles at 176W

Run: 18 miles (including the 1/2 Marathon)

Only 3 weeks until my first triathlon of the season - North Carolina Half-Ironman in Davidson, NC!