Triathlon Things I’ve Learned Thus Far

So it’s been a long while since I posted last – but nothing like now, especially since my first ever triathlon is TOMORROW! So here’s a rundown of things I’ve discovered since April, 3 months ago.

Not only did I achieve my initial goal of completing at least one 5K road race, I’ve completed 6 races thus far in the past couple months!  Two of them have been with my son.

Me at a 5K finish!

After realizing I was running 5Ks in the mid to low 25s I set a goal of getting below 25:00.  I started to focus my running with a speed workout once a week (such as 8 x 400s in the 1:40s) along with tempo runs and long runs. I achieved my goal – not only below 25:00 but just shy of getting into the 23:00s with a time of 24:02! Speedwork once a week with a great group of friends is an important part of training! I’ve also learned what negative splits are (make the last ones faster than the first ones) and a watch that can track laps has been a good tool to have!

Over the course of 5 months I’ve gone from only being able to run about 2 miles before having knee pain to now being able to run 8 miles with no pain! I credit this success to regular cross-training: gradual run sessions with regular swimming and biking, rest, and good nutrition (still meatless going on 9 months now). I have gradually added run time/distance at a rate of about 10% more per week.

I did my first open water swimming in May – thanks to some wonderful friends. My friend Judy loaned me a wetsuit since I didn’t yet have one of my own. We swam in the same lake where my triathlon will be held. It looked a bit intimidating at first.

“I’m swimming way out there?”

Once we were in the middle of the lake I realized what an inspiring experience this was. Here I am looking like a seal, swimming outside with the sun in view each time I turned to take a fresh breath, and I was with friends with the same goals. We swam out to the marker in the middle and then back – – just under 1 mile!

Friends make it all great!

After a couple open water swims I realized that, yes, I could sign up for the Lost Sailor 1 Mile Swim event at the end of May – in the same lake. It was a great day and not only did I complete this event with a time of 31 minutes, I got to experience the group swimming and it wasn’t so bad!

The pink cap is now a regular – it’s bright and easy to fit over all my hair! The goggles (Aqua Sphere) keep the water out and don’t leave goggle marks on my face!

So happy I completed this!

I went to see my two friends compete in their own triathlon at the beginning of June. While it was a downpour the whole time it was good for me to see a triathlon in action for the first time, especially the transition area.

Homemade smoothies with greens mixed are a great recovery meal/beverage post-workout. They pack incredible nutrition that your muscles will just soak up. You really don’t even notice the greens are in the drink. I make mine with a couple handfuls of fresh kale, along with a tablespoon of chia seeds, frozen blueberries and either plain yogurt or soy milk. What a great way to get taste, nutrition, healthful phytochemicals, carbs and protein to fuel for the next workout.

Joining a triathlon club has been helpful! I have met some great like-minded people to train with and learn from. I’ve been able to go to seminars, run clinics and several newbie triathlon clinics. One of my favorite ones was the transitions clinic. Actual practice of T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run) is a great idea – it’s one thing to think about it, it’s another to do it.

My first ever brick workout: my friend Dan and I biked the triathlon 12 mile course and then ran the 5K course. I had heard that the legs from bike to run is something to experience during training. Wow, my quads felt so heavy for the first 1/2 mile or so but then leveled out. It was good to experience that and have that training opportunity. I’ve tried some other mini-brick workouts: such as 3 sets of 15 minute bike to 8 minute run. I got to practice speed on transitions and also have my legs get mini training sessions for leg work transitions. I found that the heavy legs lasted about 2 minutes before the feeling leveled off and I felt better. Good to know!

I’ve learned too that tapering is an important part of training, meaning that I need to back off workouts just before the big day. So that’s what I’ve done yesterday and today – no workouts. Feels a bit weird to not do a workout but the big day is TOMORROW! So the day has come to put it all into action while having a fun time doing it. I embrace living with a grateful heart!

Pico de Gallo

Fresh-made Pico de Gallo

My son made my day today when, at the grocery store looking for quesadilla fixings together and after me saying, “why don’t you pick out a jar of salsa that you’d like” he says, “why don’t we just make our own pico de gallo instead?” Wow, what a great idea, and how awesome is it that he knew to think of that as an idea! I’ve been trying over the years to encourage him to be a part of making foods (one of his favorites has always been desserts) and at least showing him this by making various things from scratch for him to eat.

For example, I found a recipe for a basic pancake mix that we now put together and leave in the freezer for later use. Much better than the box mixes that can also include hydrogenated oils (unhealthy trans fat), preservatives and a bunch of other ingredients. We’ve also discovered making a birthday cake (and the frosting) from scratch is far superior in flavor. So I was delighted that he suggested we make our own pico de gallo salsa. It’s this dietitian-mom’s delight!

So we got some tomatoes, fresh cilantro, some sweet onions and some sharp cheddar cheese. Once we got home I got him on the task of grating the block cheese while I cut up the tomatoes and onions. He pulled several sprigs of cilantro and washed them and then opened a can of diced green chilis that we had and drained them.  Then we combined the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, some chilis and a squeeze of half a lime and let that set a bit.  It was fun and quite easy to make these cheese and pico quesadillas, and the best part (in my opinion) besides the taste, was that they were so fresh-tasting with that crunch of fresh onions and the fresh cilantro. And beyond the fresh food – the ultimate best was that my teenage son was with me in the kitchen and we were spending this time together. This is wonderful.

Amaranth

Last night I cooked up some amaranth grain so I could have it on hand ready to go for morning hot cereal. It’s easy to make: 1 part grain to 3 parts water and simmer about 20 minutes. This is a very nutritious whole grain, in fact, it contains all of the essential amino acids (often lacking in most plant-based foods).  It’s a great source of fiber and provides 20% or your iron needs and 8% calcium. This is a great grain to include in any dish, whether it be hot cereal or added to soups and casseroles. With a carbohydrate to protein ratio of about 4:1 (32gm carb and 7gm protein per serving) it makes a nice addition to any athlete’s post workout meal – carbs for glycogen recovery, protein towards muscle repair and synthesis. Being a vegetarian athlete myself I’ve been especially focused on protein and whole foods quality and this is a great addition. This morning I re-heated a 1/2 cup portion and added some slivered almonds, dried cranberries and a bit of soy milk. It’s a hearty, tasty and nutritious meal; and since I cooked up some extra I’ll have more on hand through the week – ready to go.

The journey continues

So here I am – a couple months later and still meatless. I’m actually pretty amazed just how easy it’s been for me to not even desire eating meat – while at the same time filling that spot with plant-based protein dishes. I continue to expand my horizons for learning and cooking up some new things. Heck, even my son is enjoying some new dishes at home with me.  This has been a surprise benefit for me too! Recently tried a vegan restaurant and it was tasty to try some samples of things there. One of my friends recently said, “you still doing that vegetarian thing?”  to which I chuckled to myself. It’s all good.   So next on my list: finding and trying some new ingredients that I see pop up in recipes here and there.  Items like miso paste (yellow in particular), kelp flakes, nutritional yeast, tofu that’s silken, and some others; well they all sounds a bit foreign, and I’m guessing many of my friends would think the same!  Yet one of my main goals too is to test out some new recipes (tasty and broad appeal a must and vegan) and decide which ones are keepers. And why am I doing this?  I’m seeing that it’s possible to eat well this way while supporting the environment, animal welfare and the health of ourselves while expanding my learning. Sounds good to me.

My Custom Creation!

I wanted to come up with my own creative twist for dinner, considering my meatless adventures, desire to use good quality plant protein and also getting ideas and inspirations from various recipes I’ve looked through. Here’s what I created, and not only is it very tasty, it’s vegan. Here’s what I did to create it.
I started by cooking a spaghetti squash, first by poking it a couple good times with a knife to get it ready for steam cooking. The last time I cooked one I had used the oven at 375 degrees and put the punctured squash in a baking dish with about an inch of water and covered with foil. I found another recipe that suggested using the microwave on high for about 10 minutes. I tried that but the outside flesh wasn’t quite softened yet, so I went back to the original idea and put it in a pre-heated oven to finish cooking while I made the sauce.

Spaghetti squash done steaming

Some recipes I had researched feature diced tomatoes and various spices to make a sauce so I started with this in mind and enhanced with a couple more ideas (thanks to the great things I’ve learned in my Food Fundamentals course and cooking lab I’ve been taking this semester at the university – thanks Chef Guyette)! I first started with chopping and dicing a variety of veggies (mise en place – “everything in its place”) and got the cast iron pan heated up.

Then goes in the mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) and also fresh chopped garlic. I let that saute for a while with a bit of olive oil. Then I tossed in some diced tofu to get browned on all sides (tofu is a good source of plant protein, one of the few plant sources that contain all the essential amino acids needed by the body). Next comes the quinoa:
About 1/4 cup dry quinoa seed was tossed in to join in on the browning (toasted quinoa seeds can add a nutty flavor, and quinoa is yet another plant source that contains all the essential amino acids) while the veggies and tofu also continued to take on a browning flavor boost.
Once everything was browning up good I was ready to add some liquidy ingredients, starting with diced tomatoes and a bit of water . . .
Then some beans (more protein!) and some spices like basil, oregano, sea salt and pepper. This simmered for about 20 or so minutes to blend flavor and let the quinoa cook.
While that was simmering I was able to cut open the spaghetti squash (with an oven mitt – that baby was hot!). Once you gently scrape out the seeds the squash flesh is so easy to scrape out in strands by using a fork.
 The spaghetti squash looks so much like pasta and is a nice (and nutritious) substitute as well. This was plated and then topped with the veggie/quinoa/tofu/bean/tasty sauce and then garnished with fresh chopped basil. It was really tasty and easy to make. Take-away for today: keep exploring, keep trying new culinary creations, tofu isn’t so bad (LOL) and there are ways to eat meatless meals that are protein-rich too.  I’m glad I tried – this is a keeper!

Peanut Brittle?

Today’s cooking class focused around grilling and using a spice rub – in this class we created a Jerk Spice Mixture to use as a marinade for our protein and vegetables. Most of the class used chicken while my lab partner and I got to work with tempeh (another first).

Tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans, and the one we used also contained organic brown rice.When I opened the package it sure looked a bit funny to me – – and actually looked more like peanut brittle.

Upon further review of the nutrition label I see that half of the portion here (4 ounces) contains a good amount of protein (22gm) which is equivalent to what you’d get for a 3 ounce portion of meat. The portion also had a good source of iron (20% of the Daily Value), lots of fiber (12gm) and 15% calcium.

The spice mixture was another first for me. Here’s what was included: allspice, thyme, black pepper, salt, fresh ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, along with some fresh chopped hot chiles, garlic, scallions, chopped onion, brown sugar, fresh lime juice, a touch of vegetable oil and soy sauce. This was all blenderized in the food processor and then we mixed with our sliced tempeh and long sliced zucchini and summer squash and let marinate for a while.

Then the grill was fired up. We learned how proper cross placement on the grill created good sear marks too.  It was actually an easy way to cook but because of the brown sugar content of the spice rub we had to watch the heat of the grill since the sugar can burn easier.

We also cooked up a quick batch of rice and we were good to go. My take? Well I was surprised at the spice heat from the mixture despite the sweetness essence of the other spices. And the tempeh?  Well . . .  for this first round of trying it I was not too impressed as it seemed a bit dry and textured; I think a good sauce with it would help for another attempt down the road.

As a side note about the chicken: another part of this class was learning how to fabricate or cut up a whole chicken. While I didn’t actually eat the chicken I did participate in the cutting steps of breaking down a whole chicken as a part of the course. Some of the students in my class had never done such a thing before and many were hesitant after realizing this whole chicken body had been a former live animal, but now here it was in front of us, gravity holding it ready for the blade once again. Even the meat eaters took a second take . . .  That’s what I love about this course – we get to see ALL the steps of what is involved in getting all types of food ready for consumption – and not just picking up a package from the store. The course really helps  practice  mindfulness skills for sure! (No photos of chicken cutting process; the experience was enough)! Hmmm, peanut brittle right now sounds pretty good.

Adding Protein

Tonight I had some fun trying some new things and it all involved some beans. But beans with pizza? Beans with mashed potatoes? Yes, believe it or not, and it all started with my desire to add some protein to some items in a way that may not be too noticeable.

Gotta love the healthy disclaimer!

So tonight I started with these “Great Northern Beans”.  Beans are a pretty good source of plant protein – – 7gm per 1/2 cup serving – –  and along with that they are pretty much fat-free, pack just as much fiber (7gm/serving) and give 8% iron, 4% calcium, and a couple other nutrients – while being void of saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar. While this canned variety did have some sodium in them I drained and rinsed them so that reduced the sodium but still left some flavor.

Then I put the rinsed beans in my food processor along with a couple good dashes of garlic powder and pureed the heck out of them. I also added a touch of olive oil to add a bit of moisture. These awaited my potatoes to boil and my pizza crust to pre-bake (this too I whipped up in my food processor).

Beans have now been pureed.

Once the potatoes were cooked and drained I added about 3/4 of the bean-garlic puree along with some butter, a splash of milk and a bunch of chopped fresh cilantro. They tasted great, and my son approved of the flavor too!  He knew I had pureed up the beans but didn’t really know I added them to the potatoes.  I don’t think he minded since he was liking the flavor. Usually he’s not a big fan of any bean but these were mixed in well. The result – good tasting with a protein bonus!

Yummy protein potatoes!

Now on to pizza – I par-baked the dough for 6 minutes then took it out and added the remaining garlic-bean puree to the top of the crust. If you look closely at the picture below you can see it on the crust – it blended in quite nicely and added a nice garlic flavor.

Look again, there's beans here!

Then on top of that came all the veggie toppings and cheese – yum.

The pizza was quite tasty and there really was no indication there were beans on this pizza except for the garlic taste that was added when I pureed them. I’m glad I tried these ideas out!

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