Food = Energy

Food = Energy

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

News Blast!

Tonight will be a news blast of both running and vegan news (I have some homework to get done!). Enjoy!!

5-year-old runner Anthony Russo
My mom ran the Trenton Half Marathon that this 5 year old ran in about two weeks ago. He just ran a 26:43 5k (roughly 8:37 mile). Read this story here: 

Zach Miller - 2013 JFK 50 Mile - tow path
Zach Miller wins the most famous 50 mile race: the JFK 50 in Maryland. His time: 5 hours 38 mins. His pace per mile: 6:45. Crazy. 
Emily Harrison - 2013 JFK 50 mile - win
Emily Harrison is the first female finisher of the JFK 50. Her time 6 hours 35 mins. Her pace per mile: 7:54. Equally crazy. She was runner-up last year. Way to get em this year Emily! 

Not the greatest quality of studies, but it promotes nut consumption. Always a plus in my book! Check out this article about why you should consume nuts more frequently! 

Val's favorite: Cashews. 
My favorite: Almonds. (Walnuts are creeping up there). 
Nuts sometimes get a bad rap because they are high fat. As long as you aren't inhaling handfuls of nuts at each meal, you should be fine. The fats are good fats and fats have been shown to enable the body to better absorb the nutrients and vitamin founds in in vegetables. So if you are packing in the veggies at lunch or dinner, pair them with a slice of avocado or a handful of nuts of your choice. Also, pair nuts with raisins or dried blueberries or cranberries for a healthy afternoon snack!

And lastly, I love having you here, but if you have the time, check out another blog by a passionate runner who loves blogging about healthy eating and living a healthy, active lifestyle: Christina, The Athletarian 

Happy running! (And yes, you local readers...even in the rain.  It's so much fun!) 

Monday, November 25, 2013

3 days until Thanksgiving!!

As far as Mondays go, today was a pretty good one. I didn't have any lessons to plan out as I was continuing a lesson in the school from last week so that was a relief; I was able to enjoy a relaxing Sunday and an even more relaxing Monday at school. I hope tomorrow's quiz on the Byzantine goes well. I know it's a test the students take, but their scores reflect my teaching thus far so I truly am mentally invested (read: nervous) for how well they are going do. There's one thing that is going against me which happens to be the thing I'm most excited for this week: Thanksgiving. That one word translates to "break" for the students--this is the excitement that could distract them from their studies--and "endless amounts of amazing vegan food" for Val and I!! Good luck students. Now onto an equally important ( of) point of business: Thanksgiving.  

I'll post about the menu later on in the week either after the feast or the next day, but here is a peak at what's probably to come!

I came across this recipe for an amazing salad with caramelized pecans, apples, and cranberries while I was perusing through VegNews and am thinking about adding it to the Thanksgiving Day table. The recipe can be found here: 

And as of now, Val will be making a raw pumpkin pie for our dessert. She made a pumpkin pie (obviously vegan, but all that means is that EVERYONE can enjoy it!) for my niece's Halloween birthday party right before Halloween and it was a big hit! I'm sure she'll top it! She also makes a mean cocoa-banana bread if anyone is interested in the recipe or, if you're local, she'll happily bake it for you and drop it off. Yeah. She's pretty sweet. Recipe for the raw pumpkin pie can be found here:

    sn select bait x saucony shadow original cruelworld cover BAIT x Saucony Shadow Original: Shoes for a Cruel World
Okay, these aren't on the menu BUT can they be?? Pretty please?? BAIT and Saucony have teamed up and have created a casual vegan sneaker that will hit stores December 2nd. I guess even if I could be granted my wish, Thanksgiving is still a few days too early. Christmas maybe? Check out the story and read about these awesome kicks by clicking on the following links: 

Happy running everybody!

Thoughts for the week: 
-What are you thankful for in your life right now?
-Who are you thankful for in your life right now?
-What is your meaning of Thanksgiving? Is it about the food, the family, the days off, or something else entirely? 

Would love to read the comments if anyone is willing to post! 

Today's run: a quick 5 mile run around New Brunswick. Had to get back to cook Val a dinner I promised before she had to head out for class.
Pre-run fuel: 3 dates with water (plus breakfast and lunch of course)

Post-run recovery: Dinner

Dinner: sauteed cabbage, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, and fresh garlic with a side of green beans and a adzuki bean and lentil mix. AMAZING!!! 

Dessert: dairy-free strawberry and cookies and cream ice cream from our favorite local spot: Dairy Deluxe in Highland Park! You don't know what you're missing...oh wait..maybe you do: the dairy! Check them out if you're nearby, but please do order a dairy-free option. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013


As I lied in bed last night, I did what I pretty much always do before turning in:
1) I played my moves in Words with Friends (I've been playing a 70 something year old woman from out west for the past 4 years and it's become a ritual to make sure I at least catch up on my moves before the night's up. I sometimes joke with Val that she's my backup love. I has been 4 years!)

2) I made sure my alarm was set for the right time so I can get to work on time and still sleep as much as possible.

3) I checked the weather.

If my memory is correct, I'm pretty sure it said between 30-32 degrees would be the high for the day. Yes. The high. "Good thing I made tomorrow my rest day or lowest mileage day," I thought to myself as I lay in bed. Well, when I woke up I thought maybe I'll get in a few miles on the treadmill at the YMCA where I work after my shift and then I'll be able to workout afterward. I haven't run on a treadmill since sometime last January and that was only because I was recovering from an injury and was going to the gym on campus quite often to keep my fitness up. Well as soon as I told somebody--and said aloud--my plan to run on the treadmill, I decided I couldn't do that. Yeah it was the coldest day of the season so far, but if I can't take the cold now, how will I take it later? How can I run 50 miles in the January temperatures if I can't handle an hour or so run today.

Well that did it. When I got back from some grocery shopping (slightly disappointed after having to put back gluten free and dairy free pizza crusts because they contained eggs--man, dinner could have been great!) around 2:30, I got on my running gear and headed out the door.

I felt great! I ran into the wind only about half the time and I had a tailwind for quite some distance too so overall it wasn't too bad. The Saucony 3 season gloves I just bought about 2 weeks ago were really put to the test today...They passed with flying colors. The gloves handled the frigid temps with no problem and my trusty Nike thermal headband that I've had for at least 5 years now did the same. A little over 5 miles my watch died, but I was completely fine with that. I was too busy enjoying the beautiful day outside--despite the cold, it truly was a gorgeous day!

When I got back to the apartment, I was curious what the temperature was that I just ran in: 27 degrees according to my phone. Awesome. I could have easily run in the nice warm gym or taken the day off altogether, but I succeeded in not letting the day go to waste. And I wasn't the only one. I saw at least two other individuals who thought they were going to be tougher than 27 degrees today and it was awesome knowing there was company on the road--even if they were running the opposite direction.

When I got back I couldn't wait for dinner! Around 4 I started up some adzuki beans to let them cook through and by 5 I was sitting down for an early dinner. I had several small dishes that I cooked up; I ate one dish, waited about 5 minutes, then got another dish until I was done. Because it was early, I decided to eat dinner this way so that way I would be satiated longer. I managed to take a picture of one of these dishes:

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Cabbage with tomato and tofu topped with an Asian style stir fry seasoning and good old ketchup--buy natural to nix the high fructose corn syrup  


Pre-race fuel: Clif bar with banana for lunch
Post-run recovery: banana and natural peanut butter
Dinner: adzuki beans (protein), tofu (protein), cabbage dish (pictured above), green beans, and a side of carrots and kale w/ hummus. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Slow down!!

Late post tonight. I really have to start posting earlier and getting to bed earlier. Hmm...a New Year's Resolution perhaps.

As planned, I woke up this morning and was all set to help out in any way that I could at a YMCA 5K about 25 minutes away. I was so glad that Val decided to volunteer with me; there was a chance that I was going to be venturing out alone as Val was contemplating sleeping in and studying for her exam all day.

Our car ride was a bit rocky heading over to the 5k. Usually on her game with the phone's GPS, Val proved to be a bit directionally challenged this morning (Sorry know I'm right though!). On top of that, we stopped for Dunkin' Donuts coffees and were attempting to mix in our own brown sugar and almond milk that we brought, but of course the coffee was to the brim and being seat-belted in my seat and in an awkward position I proceeded to spill some of the coffee over the center console. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but it wasn't something that I preferred happen. "Hopefully the volunteering will go much more smoothly than this car ride," I thought to myself.

So we finally got to the check in area, initialed our names on the volunteer sign-in sheet, and received our assignment which was to direct runners up a street at about a mile into the race as well as stop traffic when runners were nearing the intersection. We stopped at a bagel place before heading up our post. Blueberry with grape jam. Split that and had half a banana each. The combination: fantastic. Those simple carbohydrates would come in handy during our run later on. Anyway, when Val returned with the ca$h to purchase said bagel, she informed me that we had company at our post. Now I'm expecting a cheery volunteer to share the post with...was that so wrong an assumption? I mean it was about 40 degrees outside on a Saturday morning so clearly some heart was necessary.

I was expecting someone like this gentleman:

Or maybe a kind, more-experienced community resident such as this cheery lady.

Not quite.
We wound up sharing the post with this woman...


 Okay maybe not so cartoony, but you get the idea!

All jokes aside though I think she scared the living bajebus out of one woman who was going about 10 mph past our intersection after screaming for her to slow down!!!...there was not a runner in sight. But hey! We didn't let any runners get hit and no cars laid on the horn so I guess that's a success story if you've ever heard one.

Overall, I think the volunteer experience was certainly a good first-time experience. The event was pretty small and I didn't have as much interaction with the runners as I thought I was going to have. I was expecting to hand out life-saving containers of miracle fluid (read: cups of water) to runners with pit stains who were sweating profusely. Maybe when it's a bit warmer out. As for now, I'm grateful for the experience I shared with Val. Without volunteers, these runs literally could not function. I mean had we not been at that intersection, runners would easily have continued running straight for who knows how long. Plus, there were some runners who were definitely struggling and the words of encouragement that the volunteers provide--today, that was us--really do make a difference. This is coming from experience being one of those runners on multiple occasions.

I have a newfound appreciation for these volunteers after today, especially during the winter runs. At least the runners get to warm up after about a mile of running. The volunteers have to stand the cold. Leave your post and you seriously risk harming a runner--and during a race, this could mean either her time or her body should a car not know what is going on!

I encourage all exercise enthusiasts out there to volunteer at an event you have run or have performed at. Maybe that event will be at a local organization such as the YMCA or a public library. The service to the community is obvious and you never know how your actions or words may impact those receiving them.


Check out a Runner's World list of the best Thanksgiving foods to add to the table. Then count how many are cruelty-free.


Today's run: 9.4 mile run with Val.
Pre-run fuel: 1/2 blueberry bagel with grape jam, half a banana, half cinnamon-raisin bagel. (Bagels are great simple carbohydrates that can be broken down by the body quickly which helps with an upcoming run, race, or other cardio performance.
Post-run fuel: 1 1/2 bananas (potassium) with natural, home-made peanut butter (protein), and cinnamon (to reduce any inflammation). And coffee, of course.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Long run, no fun

Late post today and I'm pretty exhausted from this past week so I'll try to keep it short. It's weird. I can never and will never get enough of running. I love the training, the tense muscles, the soreness, the early mornings, the sound of my breathing, the gear, the fuel...all of it. And today's run was probably my favorite run to look forward to all week: the long run. My long runs are considerably shorter than when I was in full training-mode for the Tesla ultramarathon, but nevertheless the two hours I put in today still count for me. But something was different about today and I am still trying to wrap my ahead around it.

I was looking forward to the long run all day. It was raining when I woke up for school, but there was a three hour period from 3-6pm that was apparently going to be cloudy skies, but no rain. Great! The universe is helping me out here (although I certainly would have run the long run anyway!). So I arrive at my apartment after school and am trying to figure out what gear to throw on. It was about 56 degrees at the time which is and felt amazing but I knew the sun would be dropping while I was out there. So my questions: Gloves or no gloves? Headband or no headband? Just long sleeve or add the running vest? This kind of back and forth could have gone on for another twenty minutes if Val wasn't there to give me the straight answers. Gloves? "Nooo." Headband? "I really don't think you need it." Okay, well if no headband and no gloves then the running vest is a done deal.

So out the door I went with her biking by my side for the first half mile as she was heading to the Barnes and Noble on campus to get some studying done. An hour and a half later and I was struggling. "This never happens," I found myself thinking. I thought my 8-8:10 minute pace was a perfect speed, but my knee started bothering me and I was being challenged mentally by something I can't explain. At the 1 hour 45 minute mark I was about .4 miles from the apartment and I was considering stopping and walking it back. Fortunately this isn't the first time I wanted to stop a run short, but I decided to slow it down instead and stick it out for another 15 minutes.**

When Val got back from the Barnes and Noble to drop off her bag before we head out to our dinner date (veggie rolls with brown rice at a local sushi place we love), she asked me how my run was and I found it quite difficult to say the usual, "It was good!" It sure as heck was Not good! But that's what I love about this running thing. The relationship I have with running is not much different than any other relationship. We have our good days, our great days, and, like today, our not-so-good days. But if we only had great days, if all of my runs were these amazing, time-shattering runs and workouts, then how would I be able to grow as a runner? It is the difficult days, the struggles, that keep my mind open and challenge me to think about what went wrong or how to improve myself. Should I have eaten better the past couple days or week? Did I get enough sleep this past week? <-- This is why I think I started bonking with about 25-30 minutes left to go. In other words, lack of adequate sleep this week, I think, led to my body to want to throw in the proverbial towel after 90 minutes.

So I completed the two hours, went out for dinner to get veggie rolls and salad appetizers with Val, and then went out to dinner...again. Those veggie rolls just weren't doing it for me. I was craving heavier carbs and there was nothing I could do about it! So I busted out the iPhone, dialed the pizza place around the corner from our apartment and yep...ordered a vegan cheese pizza for pickup before we even paid the bill at our first dinner. What can I say...we may be vegan and we may love exercising and health, but we sure do love our food! Let's just call that proper fueling for tomorrow's 90 minute run with Val.

Speaking of tomorrow, Val and I (maybe just "I" if Val stays up all night studying for an exam) are volunteering at a YMCA 5k in the morning. I've never volunteered at a race before and I've been wanting to for a little while now. I'm so excited to see what this experience has to offer and what I can learn from being on the other side of the water/sign-in table or wherever else they station me! I'll be sure to post about it tomorrow night so check back in the late evening!

**It is usually not a bad thing to stop a run short especially if you are physically drained or are returning from an injury or something of the like. I pushed myself because I knew my struggle was mainly a mental struggle. My knee wasn't it's best today, but that wasn't what made me want to stop running with 15 minutes left. Always look at the positives of a run, not just the negatives. It's important to learn from the negatives, like I will hopefully do, but finishing an hour and 45 minutes would not have been anything I should have been bummed about....Same goes for any time you may struggle during a run or any other kind of exercise you may take part in.


Pre-run fuel: Honey Stinger's Strawberry Waffle (160 calories)
During-run fuel: energy gel
Post-run recovery: veggie rolls w/ brown rice, avocado and tofu salad, 1/2 of a small vegan cheese pizza pie, two small, gluten-free gingerbread cookies, banana and peanut butter. No judging!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Catching up

Happy Thursday everybody! I've been pretty bust the past couple of days,but I seriously missed this! I was getting observed by my supervisor today at the middle school so I've been trying to perfect the lesson that I was to be teaching. Time well spent, I'd say...She loved it!

In the meantime, the same race organizers from the Tesla Hertz Ultramarathon that took place back in October announced that registration for their Fat Ass was officially open; I guess that Facebook "I'll be there" wasn't enough for them! For those of you who don't know, a "fat ass" running event means that there are "no fees, no awards, no aids, no wimps." In other words, running the event is free and the event is entirely self-supported which means no water or aid/snack stations.

This particular run is called the Happily Running Fat Ass and will be run on the same 10 mile loop as Tesla..I think. Needless to say, I registered on Monday for this January 11th event and am planning to run the full 50 miles (runners can run however many miles they want). I honestly can't express how excited I am for winter break right now and not only because of the, well, break part. For anybody interested in a freezing cold, early morning, but otherwise life-memorable experience, I encourage you to check out their Facebook page by clicking on the link below. As for my training, I will be including as much of it as I can in my posts until the race including my fuel intake for those curious what a vegan diet looks like during 50-60+ mile weeks.                    

I haven't been able to share any of the news articles I've been reading these past couple of days so I'll take the rest of this post to share some of them with you! 

If you suffer from the pleasure of coffee-drinking like I do, you might want to consider this article:
Of course I suggest this article as I'm drinking my PM cup of coffee!

If you are worried about childhood obesity, children's health, encouraging our youth to exercise, then please please please check this article out:

And lastly, if you're interested in how to please a vegan this Thanksgiving or to share in the beauty of a cruelty-free Thanksgiving feast, then check out this article:

Until next time everyone!!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Happy Monday!

Woke up this morning to an alarm that I wished hadn't gone off; this is rare for me. Typically, if I set my alarm for something like 4AM, then I'm up at 4AM. Fortunately that was not the time I needed to be up for school and I was allowed another 2 hours of sleep, but still, 6AM was too early for this morning. My body was and still is tired from a 17 mile run Saturday (the longest run since the 50 mile ultra I ran back in October) and a 7 mile fartlek run the next morning. So those were my runs this weekend, and in between I celebrated my dad's 50th birthday with the family at home. Little did I know I'd be heading to bed at 1AM (this has rarely happened in the past two years) after having some great late-night conversations with Val and my aunt and uncle who came up from Virginia. 

Anyway, I'm venting now about lack of sleep, but what about those people who just ran the Philly Marathon and Half-Marathon yesterday morning?? I have to say that I really wished I was in Philly for the marathon yesterday. It's 19th annual marathon last November was my first and only marathon event and it truly does have a special place in my heart. Were it not for student teaching (Read: a tight budget), I would have registered and ran these beautiful 26.2 miles on a gorgeous Fall morning, but...the universe had other intentions. Instead it wanted me to enjoy a nice run around my hometown with Val. Too bad it didn't want her to enjoy it, too, as she gave in to my nagging and joined me for 7 miles despite her congestion and overall sick-feeling (sorry, Val!). But really. To all you runners who completed the Philadelphia Marathon or the Bucks County Marathon (or ventured out of the area for another marathon), be it your first marathon or your 20th...congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. If you've been contemplating running a marathon and are or keep putting it off, don't worry! It'll happen when it is supposed to happen. It took about a year for the thought of running 26.2 miles to evolve into an act. The training can be intimidating and it is truly an astounding commitment that requires loads of time and energy. So yes, it can be daunting, but trust me when I say that it is absolutely, unquestionably worth every drop of sweat and every hour of sleep you give up! 

For those of you like me who like reading about running news, check this Runner's World article out! While you may not exactly follow suit, maybe it will inspire you to consider registering for that marathon or 5k, 10k, or half marathon you've been eyeing!

And for a quick read about additional benefits to eating a plant-based, vegan diet, click here:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stafko...I can't get over it!

For those of you who haven't read the provocative Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Okay, you're a runner. Get over it" by Chad Stafko, please do so. When you read it, or if you have already, you may wonder why in the world I, a self-identified runner and lover of the sport and lifestyle, would recommend you do such a thing. It's simple: Stafko's op-ed made me even more proud to be a part of the ever-inclusive running community.

Stafko talks about bumper stickers and 5k t-shirts and how they are all apart of the selfie, social-media age. It was pretty clear to me that Stafko is or was a frustrated man when he wrote this opinion, so it's hard to take seriously, but it sure did get my anxiety levels up!

Here's an excerpt I'd like to share:
Many of my friends who regularly run have done so for years, decades before there was a thing called social media to put humanity's self-absorption in overdrive. These folks also tend to be infatuated with fitness anyway. If they're not out on the streets showing the sedentary world how it's done, they're at the gym or in a spinning class.
But what about the others? You can spot them, wandering through the mall or killing time at Starbucks, proudly wearing their "[Fill in the blank] 5K Run" T-shirts. They're getting what they want, without losing a drop of sweat.
So Mr. Stafko, does this mean that all older runners are legitimate runners, safe from your literary judgement, but all younger runners, because they were born after, let's say, 1980 they're phonies who just crave attention? What kind of message does this send to the youth in this nation who suffer from obesity? Is posting a picture or writing a story of a huge weight-loss success a negative, self-promoting act if it inspires even 1 other person to make their lives better by living a more healthy lifestyle?
What made me proud to be a part of the running community were the responses to Stafko's op-ed. Like I said, if you haven't read his piece, do so. Then, feel free to read these responses or Google them yourself. My favorite title retort: "Okay you're a runner hatah. get over it." Check them out!


Today's run: Rest day!!! Rest days are crucial for runners though not all runners take them. That's fine. What's important is to listen to your body and if you need a rest day, but don't want to avoid all exercise then hit up the gym or do some exercises in the house--as long as you don't run, it can be considered a rest day. I don't like rest days a whole lot unless I really need them, but my legs were feeling a bit weakened from yesterday's long run in the 35 degree evening (probably from the cold asphalt/concrete).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Just a feel-good day

I'm going to try to keep tonight's post short and, well...pretty darn sweet. Another cold day here in New Brunswick, NJ but that wasn't going to keep my spirits down. I had an amazing second day of student teaching at the middle school and am pretty confident that I want to start out teaching at the middle school level. Now, I know it's only been two days, but I have truly had such positive experiences with the students and my cooperating teacher these past two days.

So on top of some meeting three periods worth of new students today (approx. 70 students), my cooperating told me, during a conversation we were having, that he would see if there is or will be a job opening to help coach the track team at the high school where he coaches football. I'm pretty sure he could see my ear-to-ear smile I was holding in, but thankfully he didn't comment! Hopefully that plan and my plan to substitute teach in New Brunswick work out.

After school I went for a 90 minute run in place of an 8 mile workout I was going to do. Somehow I thought a 90 minute slow run would be better than an 8 mile workout...I couldn't be more wrong. Because it was so cold and I ran in shorts (don't worry; I was appropriately covered up everywhere else), I ended up running a quicker pace, but that wasn't enough to keep my legs warm. I'm pretty sure they were numb when I got back to my apartment. I'm also pretty sure that the temperature dropped about 10 degrees on my way back (out-and-back run) when the sun dipped behind the buildings. Guess I learned a few things from this run so it wasn't all that bad.

I'm pretty tired at this point in the evening, but I would like to share with you what Val and I stopped to do on our way back to the apartment. After dinner we went out to get some coffee and some kind of vegan snack--cookies were on our mind--and on our drive we looked for a certain homeless man that frequents a convenience store area asking for change. A few days ago we both saw him and bought him a few food items from that convenience store, but this time he wasn't to be found. On our way back from the George St. Co-Op where we decided to go, we saw Billy, the homeless man, and I quickly swerved into the alley-way parking lot next to the convenience store. We re-introduced ourselves as he only remembered our faces and we asked him if he'd like something hot to drink and some food. "I'd love some coffee if you could," he told us. Well Val wouldn't have it that way. After asking where we can get coffee for him, she asked him if he'd like to come with us. So the three of us went for his coffee at a small food place that served every kind of food Val and I would not normally be buying for somebody (e.g. burgers, chicken sandwiches, gyros, etc.). I wasn't about to go into a fast-food place and not offer him some food so he was quite happy to be getting a beef gyro for the night (sorry, cow--I mean this). Although it goes against our philosophy of food, I didn't know how long it'd be since this man had a hot meal and I wasn't about to narrow his options down to french fries and onion rings.

Billy was so appreciative of the generosity we displayed, but I think we should be looking at this in another way. Instead of "generosity" I hope you see this as "humanity". It's easy to say, "No, sorry" to a homeless person asking you for change and the guilt may only last a few seconds, maybe a minute at most before our minds move on to the task at hand. But I can promise you that if you changed that answer to, "Sure, here you go," or offered him/her some food instead, then instead of guilt will be a feeling that is difficult to name, but wonderful to experience. And the good thing about it is that unlike guilt, it won't go away; this feeling will stay with you and you'll want to do it again. We can all make this world a much better place if we just started saying "Okay" or "Yes" to those in need. Our time is cherished, but so should be all the people with whom we share this world.

Today's run: 90 minute run, 11.5 miles

Pre-run fuel: a Honey Stinger Honey Waffle (I know. I know. Honey. Val and I have slowly been weening ourselves off of it, but for now it is still in our diet)

Post-run recovery: Val made hot soup again for dinner and boy did I need it after the run!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weather Channel?? Just check Facebook!

I did it! I made it through my first day at the middle school. I observed an 8th grade teacher there last semester for 4 or 5 days and it was not nearly enough. Despite what many elementary educators and even colleagues have to say, I really like the middle school aged kids. As long as you can understand and accept that the infamous attitudes are only their means of testing you and the rules of school that confine them, then you can overcome that and help them reach their potential. Especially in the urban districts, the three grades of middle school are crucial for the community's youth and can dictate whether or not they will succeed in high school or even enter the high school. I'm so happy to have the next six weeks to not only learn from these students and my cooperating teacher, but also to do what I can to help these students realize that "their best" is not even 50% of what they're capable of achieving...and that goes for pretty much everybody.

When I woke up this morning I had no idea I would feel like I do now. I tried thinking about how many students I'd be meeting today and how I'd introduce myself, but I wasn't about to pretend like I didn't notice the flurries being blown this way and that by the icy winds. I didn't even have to turn on a weather channel or check my phone for the weather. I'm pretty sure Facebook proved today that it could instill some job insecurity in TV weather reporters! Anyway, even if I had the blinds closed I'd still be able to feel what was going on outside as inside the apartment was around 50 degrees. Val and I caved two days ago and turned on our heat however it actually hasn't turned on. Thanks to a text from the former tenant, we are both now aware that our heating system isn't exactly...efficient. Thanks for the heads up Noah! Oh well. There are plenty of worse things than inefficient heating and our situation only means we get to cozy up next to each other and start making hot cocoa earlier than we would have otherwise!

Winter may have beaten Napoleon, but it sure as heck won't stop me! Oh. Not a fair comparison? You's not even winter yet?? Crap. Well what I'm trying to say is that I still got my run in: a quick out-and-back 5 miler towards Highland Park right outside of New Brunswick. I embedded a 200 meter, pretty elevated hill into the run that I sprinted up and jogged back down three times to tire out my legs a bit so my last two miles would need a bit of pushing to complete. Yes, it was/is cold, but if you can dress appropriately you really do kind of run out of excuses--pun intended.

So I'll leave you tonight with that bit of advice. Many people want to start exercising and the cold shouldn't stop them. If you are one of these people and don't have access to a gym where you can exercise, then all you have left is the great outdoors. Dress warm! A good pair of gloves and a headband are must-haves for me. My most recent purchase, though, that has become a life-saver so far has been some running base-layer tights that I just bought about a week ago. Under Armour? Erhh. Nike? Try again! How about a brand called Layer 8 that Marshall's carries. What I've seen cost upwards of $50 only cost me $12. See yourself running out of excuses the more I continue? I sure hope so.


Today's run: 5 miles with hills

Pre-run fuel: Truthfully, a tiny Halloween package of three rainbow mini-Twizzlers that one of my former 1st grade students gave me when I went to drop off my good-bye goodie bags I promised them. Hey...vegans can have a sweet tooth too, right?

Post-run recovery snack: Small handful of raisins and pumpkin seeds

Dinner: Finally finished Val's soup; mostly beans were all that was left. Also, green beans, cauliflower w/ hummus, and quinoa mixed with split peas with a bit of pasta sauce for some added flavor.

Monday, November 11, 2013

V02? Sure! Why not?

I would like to begin this post by saying, "Thank you," to our veterans for their service and putting their lives on the line to protect this country and its people. 

Today is my last day of "break" and tomorrow I will be heading over to the middle school where I will be teaching 7th grade social studies. It is truly amazing how at ease I feel after just a short five day reprieve from teaching. Now, don't get me wrong. I love teaching and I loved being with my first graders each and every day. I'm grateful not for being away from them, but for the time I have had to do things for me such as going home to see my family, catching up on some TV episodes, and most importantly, getting to run in the morning again.

During my time on a NJ track team a year and a half back, I was known for getting my runs in before anybody else even thought about brushing their teeth. An alarm set for 6:15 means I can enjoy as peaceful a run as I can get in a city such as New Brunswick. I get to lace up my running shoes, strap on my watch, and head out the door without having to worry about stopping at lights or running on the sidewalk. I can't wait for the day I'll be heading out on the trails instead of the roads...One day, Will. One day. 

But on my last day of break I decided to sleep in and by "sleep in" I mean I had my alarm set for 7:30. So of course at 7:15 my body said, "Enough sleep already!" My plan for that morning was to run a few wake-up miles and then run a 40 minute tempo run before lunch. Val had other plans for me. 

Val was awake before me and came into the bedroom to say, "Good morning," and proceeded to ask me if I wanted to go to her lab for a VO2 Max testing. To clarify, Val works as a research assistant in an exercise psychophysiology lab and I have been trying to get a VO2 Max test done ever since I knew I was allowed. I told her that I'd be there at 9am and finally followed through with it. Procrastination won many battles throughout the past couple months, but it finally lost the war! 

For those of you who don't know what a VO2 Max is, allow me to borrow (okay, steal!) an explanation from an article on the subject:
VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as "milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight." 
Any athlete whose performance is immediately contingent on their oxygen intake/utilization would greatly benefit from knowing such information. As an aspiring endurance runner, I plan to use the numbers from my results to help enhance my training and further progress my knowledge of and performance in this amazing sport. 

Anyway, I told Val I would be there at 9 and of course I don't leave the apartment until about 8:52. I had three options to get to the lab: bike, run, or bus. I didn't want to go back up the stairs and lug my bike back down the stairs so that option was quickly ruled out. I also didn't want to affect my testing results by running there and having an increased heart rate before I even began the test. I compromised. I would run to the first Rutgers bus stop along the way and then take that bus to the campus I needed to be on. One problem: the bus wasn't there when I was arriving and I was feeling too good to wait around. Next bus stop; same thing. There would be two more stops I could catch a bus at or else risk some skewed VO2 Max results. As I am arriving at the third stop, a bus catches up and stops just ahead. Perfect! New problem: it was a packed bus with nobody exiting and a lot of people boarding. My solution: keep running. There was one stop left and I had to make it count. See, I forgot about the hill I would have to run to get to the campus where Val's lab was and walking the hill was not an option given how late I was already. Fortunately, I caught the ever-elusive bus at the final stop before the hill and several people exited and only one person boarded: me. Whew! Figured I'd let the length of this paragraph reflect my little journey. But to think...the fun was just getting started!

I finally arrived at Val's lab and after some introductions and filling out a health history form, I was ready to get started. Val fitted me with all the necessary equipment and told me to hop up on the treadmill. If you've ever experienced a VO2 Max test, then you'll understand how uncomfortable my mouth was feeling. Running and breathing efficiently is a technique in itself, but this test raises that bar to a whole new level. Don't quite understand? 

 How about now?

The treadmill part is continuous running, but consists of several stages with each stage increasing in intensity. By stage 9 my legs were searing and I felt like they could anchor a ship or at least a speedboat. I gave Val a "10 seconds left" signal and pushed through those final seconds so hard that the feeling I felt when the treadmill slowed down and declined in elevation could only be matched by someone handing me a winning jackpot ticket for no reason at all.

I am very happy with my results, but I know they only mean that I need to start running by heart rate as often as I can until I am able to gauge my body's levels on my own. This VO2 Max test is a door to a level of running--there are many-- that is unknown to me and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue my learning about this sport. 

Here I am on the lab's treadmill. Wish I knew how warm it was going to be so I could have brought shorts to run in!

To see Ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes participate in a VO2 Max test, click on this link and fast forward the clip to the 07:15 minute mark. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Apple and the Tree

Everyone has heard that saying: the apple never falls far from the tree. Usually it's said in conversation about a parent and child or perhaps a mentor and mentoree. In this particular usage of the phrase I am referring to me and my mom.

I was back home in Hamilton yesterday due to the second day of the teachers convention in Atlantic City and I definitely needed the R&R. Despite waking up early for another cold, semi-long run, there's something about being home for me that just revitalizes the soul. Every fabric of my body was able to de-stress and just kick back while I enjoyed all the laziness and free food (the best part!) that I wanted. Before my run in the morning I was able to sit down and have a cup of coffee with my mom. I'm not surprised at all where the conversation quickly headed. Back in May, my sister and I registered my mom for the Trenton Double Cross Half Marathon for Mother's Day gift and I knew she has been wanting to chat about the big day.  

First though, let me offer a brief glimpse of our shared running interest. 

My mom and I are quite alike in numerous ways, but I think one of the most grateful things I will always credit her for is instilling in me a love of running. I have been watching my mom head out the door for a run for years and luckily, just like that vegan seed, that passion for running was transferred to me. Just as my own running evolution took place, my mom's track days in high school eventually progressed into running higher mileage. Although she may not be able to run as often as she would like to (like me, I think that's all day every day), she runs whenever she can and most importantly, she runs for herself. Hers is a love of running that was so contagious, it's no wonder I caught the running bug. 

During our coffee time, she was calm and talking about how excited she was about the half. Most of our talk was about the 5 year old boy that would be among the racers in the morning! (
As she had to get ready for work and I was set to go on my run, we said our "See you later's" and parted ways. Admittedly, I didn't remember that she had a half marathon in the morning until she arrived back home from work at about 6 in the evening...some son! What I noticed though was not surprising at all: the calm, cool, and collected mom from the morning was now a bundle of nerves. It's funny how those nerves work. It's like the last thing you want to do is remember you have this big event happening the next day and what's the mind's way of allowing you to forget and relax? It tells you to think and talk about it non-stop!

She wasn't a mess, but I can tell she was anxious. We enjoyed a nice dinner with my dad and Val and afterward she went over into the family room to watch TV and relax a bit. I could imagine the nervous thoughts going through her head! Val and I weren't able to stick around for her race, but I was able to exchange some text messages with her this morning before the race and wish her good luck. 

As I'm writing this I received a message from my mom. She finished her second Trenton Half Marathon in 2 hours and 36 minutes. No walking.

In the words of one of her many messages since she's finished: "Woot woot," Mom. I'm so happy for you and I'm so happy we share a love for one of life's greatest and most simplest pleasures. Most importantly though...I'm happy that this apple didn't far fall from his tree. 


Today's run: 2nd back-to-back long run; 2 hours; 13.1 miles (Note: I run based on time for my long runs,  not distance)

Pre-run fuel: water (Filled up on plenty of carbs while I was home last night)

During-run fuel: energy gel (Unfortunately, the gel packet fell out of my pocket and I found it had been crushed by a car on my way back!)

Post-run fuel: handful of almonds (protein to boost recovery), a banana and natural peanut butter and strawberry jam with cinnamon, raisins and pumpkin seeds mix, half a grapefruit (Feeling ravenous by a 2 hour long run and no fueling throughout meant I needed to tap into my inner will power and avoid ravaging the pantry items and fridge)

Tonight's dinner: Val is making some homemade hot soup! Can't wait to get back to the apartment after work. We've been holding off from turning on the heat so the hot soup is definitely something to look forward to tonight. Thanks, Val!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Just veggies, right?

The questions that I used to be asked most frequently won't really surprise anybody: "Where do you get your protein," and "Do you just eat vegetables?" Occasionally, I am still asked these questions, but I have better answers now. Before, my response to the former question was a short, "From other foods," and to the latter question, "Kind of." My how far I've come!

I can't blame myself for how I would reply to these questions. I didn't know much about protein and for most of my life, I too thought meat was the only real place to get protein (some vegetables have protein too!). As for what vegans ate...I didn't even know what a vegan was until college let alone what they ate. Then came the moment...I met one of these vegans.

I've come to learn that there is rarely a better way to understand something than just diving head-on into whatever that thing is. For me, I wasn't ready to do that, nor was I really that interested. It took meeting someone who was vegan to truly pique my curiosity.

My sophomore year at Rutgers I was accepted to participate on an Alternative Breaks community service trip in Tennessee. For those of you who don't know, Alternative Breaks trips are community service trips that occur during winter and/or spring breaks and some schools offer shorter trips on select weekends. Well, one of the other "Alt Breakers" on this Tennessee trip was vegan and so I have to thank her (Thank you, EB) for unknowingly and unintentionally (that I'm aware of) planting the seed that took two years to, let's say, sprout.

A year and a half later I was training for my first triathlon that was to take place in June 2012 and for my 21st birthday that May, my mom gave me a copy of Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. Now I had already watched Food Inc. and then Forks Over Knives not too long after. It was Forks Over Knives that I think led me to pescatarianism (Val was already pescatarian for a couple months at this point), but during those few months after eliminating all meat except for fish from my diet, I was feeling great. I think it was this feel-good sensation that made me so susceptible to the words within Finding Ultra's covers.

An overweight former athlete, Rich Roll turned himself into an endurance machine by embracing a plant-based diet and using that diet to enhance his training regiments. This formerly overweight individual went from speeding through the channels, to speeding through oceans, on roadways, and around mountains; he became an Ultraman.
You can read an article by Rich Roll here:

Anyway, I knew that if Rich Roll can compete in and complete these ultra endurance events then I too can train for my athletic endeavors on a vegan diet. It took some warming up to, but on July 23, 2012--the day after I completed my first sprint triathlon--Val and I made what I would argue was one of the most life-changing decisions I had ever made: we began embracing a vegan diet.

I don't think I learned more about food in the then 21 years of my life than I have over the past 16 months. I'm pretty sure the only food that existed, to my knowledge, consisted of animals, rice, and beans (Benitez,remember?). Oh and in high school I discovered Nature Valley bars. Okay, so that's obviously a stretch, but kidding aside, I would have thought "kale" was someone saying "hail" funny and "quinoa" was a country I had never heard of before. And even though I knew there were all different kinds of beans out there, I would have bet money that red kidney beans were the only ones humans were able to consume (or at least that's how my parents made it seem). Now, all different kinds of beans and legumes/pulses are staples in my diet and I think if all the kale in the world were to dry up, Val would wither away as well.

So, back to that question...Do I just eat vegetables? While they are still a large and important part of my diet, I eat way more than just vegetables. Over the course of my blogging you will be able to see what my typical diet consists of ("coffee" and "lentils" will probably be the biggest hits) as well as the other foods Val and I enjoy. Oh, and when I say, "enjoy" I mean "enjoy". 

Val and I decided to treat ourselves to some ice cream last night. Non-dairy strawberry and cookies & creme for me please! We have hit up this place at least twice a month since we found out they offer non-dairy ice cream. Being vegan doesn't mean depriving yourself of good food. It's all about enjoying food how it should be enjoyed: without the elimination of life. Luckily, it's easier than ever to do this thanks to the booming vegan food market. The tricky part is to stay healthy while enjoying it all! 


Today's run: 1 hour 45 minute long run; 13.11 miles covered

Pre-run fuel: cup of coffee (with my mom)

During-run fuel: handful of pretzels and water

Post-run recovery meal/breakfast: 2 rice cakes with natural peanut butter (no added salt or hydrogenated oils) and strawberry rhubarb jam topped with banana slices; small bowl of kashi rice puff cereal with almond milk, raisins and banana slices; coffee

Note: As I have a 2 hour long run planned for the morning I increased my intake of protein to boost recovery and potassium for my muscles. 
For breakfast I made sure to have bananas and peanut butter. 
Later,  I made sure tofu (protein) was a part of my lunch. 
Tonight's dinner will consist of beans (protein) and vegetables. 
My snacks today: oranges and an apple. 
My cheat foods: a few gingerbreadesque cookies and a freshly baked carob chip cookie from a local natural foods store.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ahh...Teachers Convention

There are many, many pluses about teaching. There's the 7 (or 8) to 3:00 work day. Then you have the prep periods in there somewhere. Then many educators' top three reasons: June, July, August. Oh! Almost forgot..there's that small bit about educating the future's innovators, leaders, and changemakers. But currently, there is one reason why I'm happy to be in education: NJEA teachers convention. Now one day I will be grateful for the right reasons, but for now I'm happy because we are off from school today and tomorrow.

I have loved every minute of student teaching, but I have really missed my daily morning runs. So of course I woke up at 6:30 on my day off and got ready for my run. As I opened the door though, my plan of 2-3 miles immediately turned into a 60 minute run. It was 64 degrees with a nice fall breeze to keep me cool...20 minutes was not going to be enough. The run was enough to tide me over for the day especially after I included a few quarter mile hills into the mix, but I knew I was going to have to get back out there today even if it was during the impending rainfall.

So after breakfast I headed to the Barnes & Noble on campus to get some work done and catch up on some leisurely reading. I returned a couple hours later to get some chores done. You know what they say: dirty clothes don't wash themselves. They do say that right? Well, they do now--whoever they are. So I put a load in the wash and finally covered our bedroom window with the insulating shrink plastic (procrastination really got the best of me here) and got dressed for some sprints in the park.

A little rain never hurt anybody...just don't try telling that to this guy:

I kid, I kid. The rain wasn't this bad, but I still would have liked a proper rain jacket to throw on. I decided some DIY action was called for and managed to pin together my zipper-less jacket that's been tucked away in my closet. The finished product:

Hey I was an art history minor okay? Anyway, it did the job and got me through a quick speed workout.

The session: 2x400, 4x400, 2x200.

Don't feeling like running to a track? Do what I did. You can either sprint for however long a typical 200, 400 or x distance would take to cover or if you have a GPS watch you can run based on distance (e.g. .12 to .13 for 200 meters and .25 for 400 meters). Of course a track is ideal so you don't have to look down at your watch or so can you nix the watch altogether.

Last thing before I head out...anyone hear about the Wings for Life World Run? If not, Google it! Atlantic City has been selected as a location in the U.S. which is pretty cool. Seems a bit confusing and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few glitches with the logistics given the technological dependence of the event, but I am still very tempted to register. Check it out and feel free to share your thoughts here!
Of course there is an actual website, but you can never expect any critique or interesting biases from the event organizers!

Pre-run fuel: glass of water (I had a urban teachers fellowship dinner last night so I was plenty fueled!)

Post-run meal: half of a grapefruit, a banana and raw peanut butter (courtesy of Val) with cinnamon, and coffee

Recovery snack (for afternoon sprint session): Clif Builder's Chocolate and Peanut Butter bar and a small banana.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I think I forgot something...

Writing up the first post of my first blog was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision. I've been wanting to start a blog for some time now, but just like the idea of running my first ultramarathon, that seed needed some time to grow and yesterday that idea bubble just kind of, well...burst!

I was browsing on my laptop and some time later I was clicking "publish" on my first  blog post. While I hope those who took the time to read it are now reading these very words, I realized that I missed something pretty vital to this relationship I am hoping to create with all of you: proper introductions.

My name is Wilfredo Benitez which you probably read in the "about me" section on this page (Actually, my dad would insist that I tell you my name is Wilfredo Benitez, Jr., but despite the fact that he's mistakenly opened almost every single Amazon and ebay package I get sent home I can't seem to remember that little bit of proper identification). I am a 22 year old full time graduate student at Rutgers University in "Hub City" New Brunswick, New Jersey and I am heading full-speed ahead up the path (let's be optimistic here) of education. In fact, today was my last day student teaching in the 1st grade. Middle's on!

Anyway...There are two facts that help tell the story of where I am in life right now. The first is that I eat a vegan diet. My girlfriend, Val, and I decided to "go vegan" the day after my first triathlon last summer (NJ State) and not one day has gone by that we regret that decision. Okay, so we may have been asked "Do you only eat vegetables," or "Where do you get your protein," about a million and one times, but while it was easy to get slightly irritated (read: pretty annoyed) by the constant questioning, I now look at these moments as opportunities to teach others about our decision to change our lifestyle in such a major way.

The second fact that defines me is that I love to run. I've come to see running as my best friend. I have endless stories and memories that involve running; stories from running foot races around my neighborhood to running track back in high school. Just as I have grown and matured--okay, still maturing--the relationship I have with running is growing as well.

We weren't always best friends though. Way back when, running was just a punishment for not performing other skills good enough or quickly enough. During high school, I never properly understood the mechanics of running nor the importance of proper nutrition (both subjects of a future blog posting for sure!) and because I didn't truly understand my friend, Running, sometimes our relationship suffered. Injuries or niggles were as common as runny noses in an elementary school during winter. Eventually, I came to understand the great sport on a whole other level.

Today, running is my pleasure and my therapy that keeps life's stresses at bay. I'd go so far as to say that because of running, I'm rarely stressed and when I am, that stress doesn't last for a while (please don't confuse being stressed with being tired). But running is also a journey that I hope to have the immense pleasure of and blessings to continue for the rest of my life. Speaking of which...I'd like to dedicate some of this post to Joy Johnson.

For those of you who have never heard this name before, you're certainly not alone. Joy Johnson was the oldest finisher of the 2013 ING NYC Marathon this past Sunday and passed away the next day. She once said, "I want to die running," and I don't think there is a better mantra that captures the love this woman must have had for the sport. From reading her story, as told by many reporters and journalists, even after leaving this earth Joy continues to inspire those who have come to learn her name. It is for this reason why I would like to remember Joy Johnson in this post. At 22, I can only dream of being able to run marathons at age 86; Joy gives that dream hope.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Running clothes ready? Check.

Alarm set? Check.

Did I remember to brush my teeth? Check.

About eight hours later I am awaken by my phone’s alarm clock. Apple aptly named the alarm “Old Phone” as it is reminiscent of the ring of a classic phone, but if you ask my girlfriend, Val to name it she’ll respond: “The most annoying ringtone in the entire world.” Okay, so she may not be wrong, but it does the job excellently.

I was out the door by 7AM—not the the earliest, but I decided to sleep in a bit as I was home for Election Day—and began my 90 minute run. I was originally going to go for a morning wake-up run and then get in a track session in the afternoon, but I felt my hometown roads calling my name and I didn’t have the heart to turn them down.

It was a beautiful fall morning: the temperature was hovering around 42 degrees and the winds were calm. Although the weather was ideal for an early November run I managed to convince myself that it was necessary to wear the new running tights under my shorts just so I can test them out!

When I tell you that I did not want those 90 minutes to end, I mean it! Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Will, if you really didn’t want those 90 minutes to end then why didn’t you just run longer?” Well, my smart, observant friends that thought did cross my mind, but I had to look at the big picture:

Haha..Just kidding. The other big picture: I only had a Clif Shot with me, but no water to wash it down with (smart, I know) and I had to get back to have breakfast before heading out to catch a matinée with my mom (huge mama's boy right here).

So the last of those 90 minutes ticked away, ending my Election Day journey, but not before teaching me a valuable lesson.

Lesson: Always have a backup pair of running sneakers handy.

 I was already on the train heading home last night when I realized I forgot my running sneakers at home. Good thing I have practically brand new Kyocera 17’s in my closet that I all but forgot about in my earlier attempt to be a more minimal runner. Those sneakers really came in handy this morning! I can’t help but think that running in old dress shoes, sandals, or camping boots would have given me the same experience.

So we have come to the end of my first blog post and although I feel like a stranger in a foreign land, I hope you’ll continue to visit and read my posts. Any comments, good or bad, would be greatly appreciated. 

That vegan runner's fuel of choice: 

Pre-run fuel: glass of water (I carbed up appropriately during last night’s dinner or else I recommend eating at last 100 calories prior to any run over 45 minutes)

Post-run breakfast:  Coffee, of course and a couple of rice cakes topped with almond butter, strawberry rhubarb jam, and banana slices. I made sure to include almond butter as the protein helps to boost the recovery process and the sooner after the exercise is complete the better. 

Post-post-run breakfast (and I mean about 10 minutes later):  a bowl of Kashi rice puff cereal with almond milk, banana slices and raisins...Oh okay then...and more coffee. You happy?!