Friday, August 21, 2015

Weeks and Weeks of Eats

I have a growing number of food pictures on my camera that I haven't shared with you.  The recurring themes are a mix of summer produce, roasted potatoes, salads, and generally simple meals.  Here are a handful of highlights from the past month of meals.

Cinnamon brioche french toast with maple cinnamon peaches and raisins
Kale salad with beets, avocado, radish, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
Trader Joes' Kale, Sweet Potato, and Butternut Squash Pizza
Doctored up with sliced tomato and basil
Kale veggie burger, okra, squash, and red skin potatoes
I have a smoothie for breakfast on Tuesday and Thursday mornings after my bike workout.
Usual ingredients include frozen fruit (banana, berries, or mango), frozen spinach, chia seeds, flax seed, and almond milk.
Fresh salads are frequently my choice for lunch at work.
In addition to mixed greens, tomatoes, and feta, this one has hummus
and tabouleh under the carrots.
Breakfast from Laurel Market
Bacon, Egg, and Goat Cheese on Cranberry Walnut Bread
Without a doubt the best breakfast sandwiches in Charlotte!
Roasted sweet potatoes, corn and basil salad, avocado, and cauliflower "mac and cheese"
Egg Sandwich with tomato, basil, pickles, and arugula,
sweet potato fries (love the Alexia waffle variety!), and roasted green beans.
A lazy Sunday morning with a matcha green tea latte
Falafel with hummus and tahini over a bed of vegetables and a side of sliced peach
Arugula salad topped with tempeh and roasted red skin potatoes
A rare treat on a Monday morning - working on a research project
while sipping a caramel latte at Atherton Mill
Arugula salad with cucumber, beats, mango, tuna, and roasted sunflower seeds
Fake greek yogurt, peaches, blueberry, kiwi, coconut flakes, and almond crumble
Roasted okra, curried quinoa with caramelized onions, and corn and basil salad
Roasted tempeh, red skin potatoes, and sautéed red chard
After all of those pictures, I'm ready for dinner!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon

500 meter swim, 13 mile bike, 5k run
Waxhaw, NC

The Highlights
Swim: 9:32 (1:54/100)
T1: 0:37
Bike: 38:03 (20.5mph)
T2: 0:30
Run: 21:42 (6:58/mi)
Finish Time:
Placement: 3rd overall female

I signed up for this race since I had heard nothing but great things about it last year.  It's not everyday that you can race along side a NASCAR legend.  Plus, who doesn't want to have some racing fun on a Tuesday night!  Let's just start by talking about racing a triathlon on a Tuesday night.  Anyone had experience with that before?  Logistics such as what and when to eat throw off the usual morning race routine.  I left work at 4pm, with just barely enough time to race home, change clothes, load my bike, and venture 30 miles south through rush-hour traffic to Waxhaw.  Dark clouds and gusty winds were in the skies above just as I arrived to the race site.  No sooner did I arrive in transition then they announced for everyone to take cover in preparation for heavy rains.  There was a torrential downpour for about 10 minutes complete with thunder and lightening, but then just as quickly the clouds broke and the sun came out.  Perfect recipe for some hot and steamy racing!  After a brief weather delay, I swam a few hundred yards to warm up before lining up at the start of the national anthem followed by the start of our elite wave.


The course was a simple triangle that was laid out in sheltered calm water.  Despite warm summer temperatures, the water was surprisingly comfortable.  I felt as though I sighted a straight path and had a clean swim with what felt like an aggressive effort for me, yet my time doesn't reflect that at all.         Part of the run into transition was included in the swim time.  However, the fastest female swim time by a powerhouse swimmer was 8:20 (1:40 pace), which obviously shows that the course is long.  For once, I'd love to have a race swim that is the advertised distance so I can see if my pool swim times actually translate to open water.  Regardless, I had the 3rd fastest female swim time and was in and out of transition relatively quickly.

Leaving Cane Creek Park, there are three or four speed bumps that are painted white.  Following a rainstorm, that meant they'd be extra slippery, so I took them cautiously and waited until making a right-hand turn onto the main road to settle into a race effort.  I initially thought I'd have to be a bit conservative because of the rain, but with the exception of a few turns, the road conditions were such that I was able to not worry about the rain.  The terrain is rolling and I stayed in my large chain ring exclusively for the 13 miles.  I was passed by one guy in the last mile, but otherwise never saw a single other racer throughout.  Normalized power was 215 with an average heart rate of 170 and good for 3rd overall female bike split.

As I mentioned in my previous post, a hip injury has placed a major damper on my running over the past two months.  After 6 weeks without any running, I had run a total of 14 miles in the previous two weeks before this race.  Short runs at 9 minute pace have been my conservative approach to recovering from a stress fracture.  With Ironman Louisville a short 8 weeks away, I'd rather be undertrained on the run then risk reinjury.  So, all that being said, I was nervous about this run.  I've done the Tomahawk Tri at this venue before, and knew we'd be running trails.  Add heavy rain to the normal perils of trail running, and it had the potential to be very slick.  I took off out of transition unsure how my hip would feel, but fortunately there wasn't any pain.  As expected, there were some very slick, muddy, and root-filled sections of trail that left me nervously watching each and every one of my steps.  Around mile two we exited the trails and entered an out and back final section on the road.  At this point, the struggle was real and my lack of running was very apparent.  However, with a friend and fellow competitor close behind and another within a minute in front of me, there was no time for slowing.  Plus, I had to maintain my lead over Jimmy Johnson!  (He actually finished 3.5 minutes faster than me, but had started in a later swim wave).  I crossed the finish with a run split of 21:42 (6:59/mi), average heart rate of 181, and 2nd overall female run split.  Running that hard and fast probably wasn't the smartest thing for my hip, but you just simply can't take the competitor out of me!

I finished 3rd overall elite female, and at the end of the night joined two friends and training partners on the podium.   And look who I even managed to snap a picture with . . . #48 Jimmy Johnson.  Dad would be so proud!  As much as I would have loved to spend hours longer with some great friends, it was a Tuesday night after all, which meant we all were ready for showers and bed before it was back to work early the next morning.  As much as I wanted a podium finish, I honestly wasn't sure what to expect racing for the first time after an injury.  So, all things considered, I was very happy with my race.

Thanks for the Jimmy Johnson Wellness Foundation for putting together some great prizes for the winning athletes!  A polar heart rate monitor, cooling towel, and Dick's Sporting Goods gift certificate were far better than the usual medal.  And another big thanks for Dr. Bradbury of Greenapple Sports and Wellness for providing some active release therapy for my hip after the race.   Now if only I can comfortably build some mileage in the next 8 weeks so that I can run a marathon off a 112 mile bike.  Should be simple, right?

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Summer Girls' Weekend

Guess who made an appearance in Charlotte this weekend . . . Mom and Bailey!  A couple weeks ago we determined that a girls' weekend was in order, so in no time we had plans for a perfect summer weekend.  Mom and Bailey arrived around dinner time after a four-hour drive, so I prepared vegetable bowls for us to enjoy on the deck as the sun set.  Sweet potatoes, broccoli, beats, and lima beans were topped with a lemon tahini sauce.

Sunflour Baking Company has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time.  Rumor has it that they have some of the best pastries and the most creamy soy lattes in town.  We enjoyed a wonderful lazy breakfast of an almond croissant and latte (for me) and an egg/provolone/spinach/roasted tomato sandwich on rosemary bread and dirty chai latte (for Mom).  Based on the number of pastries that made my mouth water, I'll definitely be back during my last year in Charlotte.  Afterwards, we wandered through the Elizabeth neighborhood with Bailey.

I was quite indecisive when choosing a restaurant for dinner that evening, but eventually we settled on Carpe Diem.  I've been here once before during restaurant week and the service left much to be desired, but fortunately, this visit was far better.  A glass of Riesling for each of us provided a sweet start to the evening.

We started by sharing the Grilled Grape Salad - romaine, arugula, grilled grapes, Bermuda onion, toasted pistachios, white balsamic reduction, and blue cheese vinaigrette.  

Our next course was the Grilled Octopus - spring onions, asparagus, smoked eggplant, romesco.  The octopus was perfectly tender and then smokiness of the eggplant was a unique twist.

For my entree, I chose the pistachio crusted North Carolina trout with a pineapple beurre blanc, Carolina Gold middlins rice, and a kohlrabi-turnip-apple salad.  The salad was a crisp accompaniment to the warm fish and rice and the sauce left me dreaming of a bit more for dipping each bite.

Mom's entree was the Vegetarian Anson Mills Rice Grits with oyster mushrooms, sea island red peas, swiss chard, cippolini onions, roasted garlic, aromatic white wine broth, and aged gouda.  A perfect comfort meal!

The next morning we went for a 4.5 mile walk along the greenway, planted a few new flowering plants on my deck, wandered through some stores in South End, and then satisfied our hungry stomachs with lunch at Luna's Living Kitchen.  If you're looking for a unique raw vegetarian meal, look no further than this gem at Atherton Mill.  I promise, you won't be disappointed!  Since we were both considered the same dishes, we split the Rawco Taco Salad and Pad Thai.

Rawco Taco Salad - slices of avocado, pico de gallo, meaty walnut-almond crumbles, and cashew sour cream atop a bed of organic lettuce, served with hot sauce and raw crackers

Pad Thai - crisp zucchini and sweet potato noodles, bean sprouts, purple cabbage, and bell peppers served with our house almond-butter pad thai sauce - garnished with fresh cilantro and a dash of our spicy samba sauce.

We returned bearing a new squeaking ball for Bailey, and she wasted no time being as loud and obnoxious as possible while playing fetch.

It was an ideal summer evening with temperatures in the mid 80s and low humidity, so we decided that we'd begin the evening at Foxcroft Wine Bar sampling a handful of red wines.  We started with two different Cabernet's, followed that with a red blend, and concluded with an Italian blend.  And since drinking wine requires a savory snack, we munched on truffle fries.  Yum!

Sisters or Daughter and Mother?  
Eventually we made our way to Stagioni for our 8pm dinner reservations.  This is yet another restaurant that has received wonderful reviews for their modern Italian cuisine featuring farm-to-table ingredients.  Appetizers went unpictured, but included a fig tart and an arugula salad, both of which we enjoyed.  I've had a craving for spaghetti bolognese, so spaghetti + meatballs was a easy decision. The thick house made pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and the meatball and red sauce had great flavor.

The daily fish special featured pan seared grouper with an heirloom tomato panzanella salad, basil oil, and pickled zephyr squash.  Mom loved the fresh summer flavors that paired with the well executed sear on the fish.

And because no Italian meal is complete without dessert, we savored each and every bite of a cannoli stuffed with an orange scented ricotta-mascarpone and a chocolate semifreddo.

My "Perfect Charlotte Saturday" took a slight twist from usual.  Bailey and I started the day with a 5 mile run (still pain-free!) on a relatively cool summer morning.  Then, Mom and I made the short drive up to Davidson to wander through the farmer's market and downtown shops.  Highlights from the morning included a bacon and blistered tomato buttermilk biscuit, an almond pastry, lattes from Summit Coffee, breads from Millstone Bakehouse and Provisions.  sweet corn from Barbee Farms, and a bag full of okra.

After driving through neighborhoods filled with gorgeous lakefront homes, we set out on a hike at Jetton Park.  The 1.5 mile paved trail winds along the banks of Lake Norman with an abundance of shade that made the summer day feel nearly like fall.

We even found a bench in the shade to enjoy a picnic lunch while watching boaters and stand-up paddle boarders soak up the sun.

Saturday evening we opted for a casual 1.5 mile stroll to dinner at Mellow Mushroom.  Bailey was very happy to join her "people" for dinner and was on her best behavior while sitting on the patio surrounded by other diners.

After a couple indulgent nights, we gladly opted for a simple pizza and salad dinner.  The mega veggie pizza is a vegetarian's delight - saucy, filled to the brim with toppings, and surrounded by a chewy Parmesan crust.

And because it appears that our Girls' Weekend was all about food, it's only appropriate that I leave you with one last picture of the pear pastry from Millstone Bakehouse that we shared for breakfast before Mom and Bailey made the drive back to Atlanta.  The cinnamon poached pear was stuffed with dark chocolate and wrapped in a caramelized pastry dough.  Yes, it was just as decadent and delicious as it sounds!

And that concludes our summer Charlotte girls' weekend.  I always treasure weekends and vacations that I spend with my family, and this was no different.  Thanks for coming to visit, Mom, and for bringing my favorite puppy with you!  T-minus 10 months until I move back to Atlanta!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ironman Training with an Injury

On Sunday I ran 4 miles.  At 9 minute pace.  Pain free.

With just 10 weeks until Ironman Louisville, you'd probably laugh if I told you my Sunday long run was 4 miles.  I, however, couldn't be more thankful.

Exactly 6 weeks ago, months of consistent training came to a rather sudden stop.  My Sunday long runs had been progressing nicely and I finished a 2 hour run satisfied with my pacing and nutrition.  Monday I noticed some soreness in my right hip that felt muscular.  I flew to Providence for a conference that night and on Tuesday morning hit the treadmill for my weekly 10k pace tempo intervals.  My hip was still a bit sore, but after a mile warmup, it felt normal.  Things changed on Wednesday when I woke up with an achy sore hip that was particularly painful each time it extended when walking.  Still thinking it was muscular, I attempted to run an easy 5 miles with a friend that night.  Again, it was sore, but seemed to improve the further I ran.  Little did I know, that would be the last time I ran for 6 weeks.  Later that night the benign ache became a pain in the front of my hip each time I took a step.  It was an eerily familiar pain that ironically dates back 8 years ago when I first began training for triathlons.

2008 Ironman Florida 70.3
My debut race in the swim-bike-run world

The summer before I started medical school I defined myself as an athlete as a runner.  5k and 10k were my preferred distances to race, but more than anything, I loved escaping a busy day to run along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta.  Without any signs of an impending injury, my 6 mile run one afternoon ended with a rather acute onset of pain along the front of my hip.  Over the next week I tried running several more times until I had sharp pain with each step and was left with no choice to not run.  X-rays and an MRI followed and soon enough I had a diagnosis - FEMORAL NECK STRESS FRACTURE.

The dreaded black line in a location that isn't so benign.

Without boring you with details, I spent the next 6+ weeks on crutches, including a trip to Hawaii and the start of medical school.  Since I couldn't run, I started swimming and biking, both activities I had never done before.  Out of that injury spurred my interest in triathlons, and less than a year later I crossed my first triathlon finish line at Ironman Florida 70.3.

Flash-forward now to 6 weeks ago, and that exact pain of past injury was fresh in my mind.  Each step I took hurt, pushing off the wall in the pool hurt, and if I tried to stand on the bike and climb it hurt.  Running was a definite no go.  At that point, x-rays and an MRI were the next logical step, but I couldn't fathom spending $1500+ (not even doctors have good insurance!) for a confirmation of a diagnosis that I already felt confident about.  So, I did as I knew I had to with a presumed femoral neck stress fracture - I stopped running.  For a very long 6 weeks.

At that point, Ironman Louisville was 4+ months away, but even still I hated to think about the potential that I'd never make it to the starting line.  Training had been going so well and I had  high hopes for my second-go at the Ironman distance.  After a week of rest, I was back in the pool and on the bike, determined to use the opportunity to strengthen those disciplines.  Training remained consistent, averaging 15 hours per week, and two back-to-back weekends with 100+ mile bikes boosted my confidence in the sport I consider my weakness.  Sunday long-runs were replaced with a second long bike each weekend, and I tried not to dwell on the fact that I couldn't enjoy the pain of a post-bike run with my friends and training partners.  I was diligent about strength training and recovery to rehab this injury and prevent another.  And most importantly, I tried to ignore the voices in my head questioning my ability to finish an Ironman after missing 6 weeks of running.

Conquering a very hot 100 mile ride
This past week marked 5 weeks of no running, and my hip had been pain free with all activities for almost 2 weeks.  In my mind, it was time to start running again.  On Monday I ran a slow 2 miles, and loved every minute of it.  Thursday brought yet another successful run of 2 miles.  Finally, on Sunday I decided to push the distance a bit while maintaining a very conservative pace.  With each step I was paranoid that the pain would return with the next stride, potentially sidelining my running yet again.  But, I finished 4 pain-free miles at 9 minute pace smiling ear to ear, so thankful to be lacing up my running shoes and hitting the pavement yet again.

So race day is a mere 10 weeks from yesterday and there's a bit of a difference between running 4 miles and running a marathon.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about how the rest of my training will go.  For now, though, I'm focused on one week at a time.  Small increases in mileage and careful attention to recovery will hopefully get me to the starting line in Louisville with a pain-free hip that's ready to tackle 140.6 miles and cross the finish line to hear - "Crystal Perkins, you're an Ironman!"