31 May 2012

Gnu Bar Review & Giveaway

Gnu Bar Review

Gnu Foods contacted me a week ago to ask if I would be interested in reviewing their bars. I haven't tried Gnu bars before so I was interested to see if I'd like them.

Gnu bar, made from natural ingredients, packs a whopping 12 grams of fiber per 130-140 calorie bar, which comes out to around 50% of the daily fiber. The bars come in nine different flavors, and three new dessert-inspired flavors (blueberry cobbler, blondie, and carrot cake) that were recently added to the line up.

Gnu Bar Review

What I liked the most was the chewy, moist, and dense texture of the baked bars. The flavors that I've tried were all delicious and weren't overwhelmed by any one ingredient. The sugar content of the bars ranges from 7-11 grams, while the fat ranges from 3-5 grams.

I admit that I was skeptical that these bars would actually keep me full; typically, I respond better to protein and fat for staying satiated than fiber. Fortunately, I'm glad to eat my words on this one. The bars do a great job keeping you full without feeling bloated.



Giveaway Details

Up for grabs is a 16-pack of Gnu Bars, flavor of your choice, provided by Gnu Bar. Here's how to win:


Winner will be chosen on Friday, June 8th. This giveaway is open to US residents only.

If you're interested in trying Gnu Bars right away, you can buy a customized 5-pack for $7.95 with free shipping. The bars retail for $1.99 individually so that's a pretty good deal. Sampler pack info.

Good luck!

30 May 2012

Memorial Day Eats with Kroger Private Selection

Memorial Day

I hope everyone had a good Memorial Day Weekend. It's one of my favorite holidays because instead of being consumed by greed and gifts, it's about focusing on those who sacrificed for our country and spending time with those you love.

Krogers Private Selection Review

Courtesy of the BzzAgent program, I received a few coupons for various products from the Kroger Private Selection brand. Their Private Selection brand features premium products ranging from thick cut kettle chips, ice cream, Angus beef, and fresh bakery items. I don't think I've tried anything from this particular Kroger brand before so I was hoping for the best.

Krogers Private Selection

I received a bag of kettle chips, a coupon for a pound of Angus beef, a coupon for a 6-inch pie, and a coupon for $1.50 off their pint of ice cream.

I don't shop at Kroger often enough to know when their shelves are restocked, but I'm thinking it's not Thursday. Their bakery items were picked over and I was lucky enough to snag the last small pie available. Most likely they make a limited amount of Private Selection bakery products for quick turnover, so keep that in mind. As for the Angus beef, I picked up the last one, as well. Good timing. However, the ice cream was fully stocked. The Sweet Honey Baklava ("sweet" is a bit redundant here...) caught my eye so I picked up a pint of that (they come in pints!). Swirled into the honey vanilla ice cream is a walnut honey sauce and pieces of baklava. More on that later.

Krogers Private Selection Review

Honestly, I don't really know what Angus beef tastes like, therefore I won't be able to give you a good comparison between this and standard ground beef. To keep things simple, I seasoned the beef with a tablespoon of premixed steak seasoning. The burgers were being grilled the charcoals would give them more flavor, too.

Krogers Private Selection Review

Now, please bear with me as I attempt to explain how good my burger was. First off, it wasn't overcooked (and by overcooked, I mean well done), and it was very juicy. The taste of the beef was prominently beefy, for lack of a better way to describe it. Some meat tastes flavorless to me. It helped that the burgers stayed thin, too. All I know is that this was the first at-home burger I've enjoyed in a long time.

Moving on to the kettle chips, which I love. Kettle chips are sturdy, crispy, oily pieces of potato that stand up well to dips. These chips seemed thicker than other kettle-style chips I've tried and were crinkle-cut. The salt and pepper flavor usually is a winner, though these were light on the pepper taste despite looking covered in black specks. They were good, though they just needed MORE PEPPER!

Krogers Private Selection Review

For dessert, we have the aforementioned pie and ice cream. Dividing a six-inch pie among five people is very laughable, but it actually ended up being the perfect portion after a big meal.

At first I though the "private selection" label meant that the products were more natural and made with premium ingredients. Not the case, as far as naturalness goes. Both ingredient lists for the pie and ice cream are long and include additives. Keeping that in mind, they both tasted good. The apples in the pie seemed thick and a little crisp, so I'm hoping it was made with more of a "homemade" pie filling instead of a gloopy can filling. (Don't hold me to that.) The ice cream was my favorite part. The honey flavor was prominent and there was a decent amount of baklava pieces throughout the pint.

So to sum up, I enjoyed everything I tried, though I'm more likely to continue buying the ice cream over the rest.

BzzAgent gave me coupons to give away worth 20% off one Private Selection chips, pie, or ice cream. If you live near a Kroger, send me an email with your address and I'll send you a coupon.

29 May 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Dad's Birthday

We celebrated my dad's birthday this weekend, which included dinner, cake, and crepes.

Chocolate Orange Birthday Cake

My dad requested an orange cake with chocolate frosting, so my mom and I got to work creating the birthday cake. For the cake part, we stuck with Dorie's Perfect Party Cake, subbing out lemon for orange. I love this cake because it's simple to make (you don't have to beat the egg whites separately), comes out sturdy, but stays moist.

Chocolate Orange Birthday Cake

The cake was filled with an orange pastry cream, iced with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, and decorated with homemade candied orange slices. If you've never candied orange slices before, don't be afraid! The recipe is incredibly simple and the process is simple.

For the buttercream, we used Martha Stewart's recipe for Swiss meringue buttercream, folding in five ounces of melted chocolate at the end. If you've never made this kind of buttercream before, don't be scared of the process. Here are the steps necessary to ensure success:

- Butter should be room temperature, which means soft but not mushy. You can press it easily but it will still have a bit of resistance.

- Beat the egg white mixture until cool (feel the underside of the mixing bowl), and stiff, glossy peaks form. Don't rush this step.

- It's natural that the frosting will look soupy and curdled as you add in the butter. It won't start to come together until the third stick is added, so just keep beating.

I like this icing because it's not grainy, nor too sweet, and it ices beautifully. The only downside is that it requires an entire pound of butter, though I've often gotten away using just three sticks before. The icing recipe that's included with the cake link above only uses three sticks, and you can add chocolate to that recipe as well. I used Martha's recipe because I wasn't sure how much icing I would need. Turns out I could have gotten away with less.

Chocolate Orange Birthday Cake

After all the components were put together, the cake looked like it had come from a bakery. It was a beautiful cake and my dad enjoyed it.

Chocolate Orange Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday!

25 May 2012

Brown Butter Oatmeal Biscotti

brown butter oatmeal biscotti

Out of all the cookies I claim to be my favorite, biscotti are my one true love. They're crunchy and not too sweet, perfect for post-breakfast or a light dessert. I got into a biscotti-making kick a few years ago and managed to create three recipes, though I only blogged about two of them.

brown butter oatmeal biscotti

My inspiration for these biscotti probably occurred during my brown butter craze faze. I'm surprised I didn't add any orange zest because I was in the habit of flavoring everything orange, too. Instead, I stuck to freshly grated nutmeg and toasted, ground oatmeal.

Toasted oatmeal is a great ingredient to add to baked goods. It has a very nutty, light taste. Because of the oatmeal, it's a little easier to pretend that a few biscotti are a good idea for breakfast.

brown butter oatmeal biscotti

This must have been one of those recipes I made to test out, then forgot all about. Though I did make it again for gifts, and I gave the recipe to a friend who made it and said it was good. It's that whole picture taking step I sometimes have a problem doing.

And so I made them to document on Tuesday, because it's going to get so hot this weekend (97° on Sunday - global warming came early this year!) that I knew I wouldn't want to bake now.

brown butter oatmeal biscotti

Biscotti require a few extra steps compared to traditional cookies. Once the logs are baked, they're sliced on the bias and baked again to brown. Because my version contains fat (butter and eggs), they don't get as hard as some biscotti do; what I mean is that you can eat them without dunking in coffee.

I'm warning you now - biscotti are high-yield cookies. Biscotti morning, noon, and night! Italian cookies are that way and that's why I like them.

brown butter oatmeal biscotti

I can feel another biscotti kick coming on. Perhaps I'll try a tropical biscotti. If you give this recipe a try, let me know how it goes!




Print this recipe


Brown Butter Oatmeal Biscotti
Recipe by Christina Provo

Yields around 36 mini biscotti

Ingredients -

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted rolled oats, ground to a powder (to toast oats, spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven for 10-13 minutes; cool before grinding)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, browned, refrigerated until solidified to the consistency of room temperature butter
3/4 c sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions -
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oat powder, nutmeg, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat together browned butter and sugar on medium for 2 minutes. mix in almond extract, then beat in eggs one at a time until well blended.

  3. Stir in flour mixture, mixing and pressing gently with the back of a rubber spatula until combined. The dough will not be sticky at all, and there may be large pieces of dough that are not combined with the lump, but as you form the logs you can easily press them together. Be careful not to overmix at this stage; as long as there isn't any powdery mixture remaining, you're all set.

  4. Divide dough into thirds, and place on the prepared baking sheet, evenly apart. pat each mound out to a log about 1 1/2-inches wide by 9-inches long. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are ightly golden and firm when pressed. Transfer parchment sheet, with logs, onto a cooling rack and cool for 15 minutes.

  5. Place one log on a cutting board and slice on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices. place slices on baking sheet (no parchment needed), and repeat with remaining logs. Bake for 10 minutes; remove sheet and flip biscotti over. Continue baking for another 10 minutes. The biscotti should be dry to the touch and golden. Place biscotti on a wire rack to cool completely.

24 May 2012

Random Things and I Am Injured, For Real This Time

random things

Unfortunately, I'm really injured now. It's not serious to the extent that I need surgery, but serious enough that I can't run without worrying that it will get worse. The downside is that the scheduled forecast for the Sunburst half marathon is 74° for the high, which is actually low for a race where the highs often exceed 85°.

Such is life.

But that open-faced sandwich you see? That was a highlight of my depressing week. I've heard of a sandwiched called "French Butter & Radish Sandwich" but I've never tried it before. So the other day I toasted a slice of Hunza bread, which is a very dense, thinly sliced whole grain bread, spread it with butter (don't be shy on the butter), and topped with thinly sliced radishes and Palm Island red gold sea salt. Much tastier than I expected. I will try it with French bread and softened butter next time.

new lara uber bars

Larabar sent me some of their new Uber Bars last week. The difference between these and the regular bars are the chunks of fruit and nuts with a sweet and salty flavor.

I have to be honest here, I enjoy certain flavors of Larabars, specifically the coconut, because it has the least overwhelming date flavor. Almost every flavor tastes like flavor+DATE. Uber bars still have dates, but it's nowhere near as strong as the other bars and the saltiness helps to hide it even more. I really, really enjoyed these and I'm sad that my last bar will be eaten today. I'll be keeping my eyes out for Uber bars.

Besides the flavor, I enjoy that these bars are around 200+ calories. When I'm hungry, a lower-calorie bar just doesn't cut it. Plus, the fat from the nuts keeps me satiated. I kind of have a bar for every circumstance - I just feel snacky; I'm a little hungry; I AM SO HUNGRY; I FELL TO THE FLOOR BECAUSE I AM STARVING. These will work for "I AM SO HUNGRY" moments.

Merry likes sweetened condensed milk

This is one of my cats, Merry. Like Pooh Bear, he likes sweetened condensed milk. Isn't his pink tongue adorable? I like it when he licks my forehead because it's like receiving a free exfoliation. Thanks, Merry, for being more than just a cute kitty cat.

random things

I made this dinner on Monday. It's a spinach-leek stuffed chicken breast with toasted almond brown rice salad on the side. I didn't follow a recipe, nor did I write down measurements; sometimes I just feel like cooking without the pressure of jotting down notes and taking pictures. Since it's still fresh in my mind, I should write down a rough recipe and go back and make it again since it came out so well. I even figured out how to keep the chicken rolls together without using kitchen twine! That alone is worth sharing.

Tomorrow, I have a Running Foodie original biscotti recipe for you. It's my "everyday biscotti" recipe, unlike my holiday gingerbread biscotti. Stay tuned!

23 May 2012

Bon Appetit: French Yogurt Cake

French Lemon Yogurt Bread

I was flipping through May's issue of Bon Appetit and saw the recipe for a very simple (and what I hoped would be very delicious) yogurt bread flavored with lemon. According to the article, a yogurt cake is one of the first desserts young Frenchlings learn how to make.

French Lemon Yogurt Bread

Really, it's about as easy as it gets. The only unusual step is pressing lemon zest into the sugar to release the oils and flavor. Once that's accomplished, the oil, Greek yogurt, eggs, and vanilla extract get whisked with the sugar before folding in the dry ingredients. My only substitution was to use nonfat Greek yogurt because nobody seems to sell the whole fat variety which I would prefer using. Oh well.

After pouring the batter into a prepared loaf pan, I sprinkled the top with sugar in the raw.

I love sugar in the raw. Sometimes, when I'm suffering from a severe energy dip, I'll rip open a pack of sugar, sprinkle the contents onto my tongue, and enjoy crunching on the sweet nuggets of sugar. Mmm, mmm, mmm!

Anyway.

French Lemon Yogurt Bread

The texture of this bread is wonderfully spongy and has an even-textured crumb. The sugar gives the top a nice crunch. The lemon flavor is a bit light, but sometimes an undertone of flavor is better than a strong punch. This loaf is also not very sweet, making it perfect for a midday snack or toasted for breakfast.

Most of the ingredients I always have on hand, except for the sugar, so I think this recipe is getting added to my lazy baking list.

Recipe - French Yogurt Cake

22 May 2012

Luna Fiber Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Madeline for winning the Luna Fiber Bar giveaway!


Madeline Brubaker, 18 May, 2012 23:15

I love kashi and Fiber One brownies.


Check your email!

Thanks to everyone who entered. I have a few more giveaways lined up that I think you all will enjoy, so stay tuned!

21 May 2012

BzzAgent: SoBe Lifewater with Coconut Water Review

SoBe LIfewater Review

A cool perk of blogging is getting the opportunity to sample different products, some that are new products from brands I've tried before and others I have never tried. My objective when I review a product is to select those that are relevant to my blog and give my readers an honest review. That's where this next product review comes in, which I think will be a great way to stay cool and refreshed this summer. Courtesy of BzzAgent, I was given two bottles from the new SoBe Lifewater drinks with coconut water line to sample. They also sent me coupons to pass out to help spread the word.

Coconut water apparently has many benefits that supposedly makes it nature's perfect sports drink, like being naturally rich in electrolytes, among others. I've seen many running bloggers hit the coconut water bandwagon, though I've never tried it myself (cost reasons). All I know is that I like the taste of coconut. It's tropical, rich, and amazing.

The three new flavors released by SoBe are SoBe Pacific Coconut with Coconut Water, Pomegranate Nectarine with Coconut Water, and Mango Mandarin with Coconut Water. Each bottle contains 10% of coconut water, has natural flavors (out of curiosity, I looked up the FDA's definition of natural flavoring - click the link and search for "natural flavor" to read more) and is sweetened with sugar and stevia. There's a slight aftertaste from the stevia, but it's not as pronounced as other drinks with it that I've tasted. The entire 20-ounce bottle contains 80 calories and 20 grams of sugar. Compared to other SoBe beverages, this is very light but contains enough substance for an energy boost.

SoBe LIfewater Review

I tried the pacific coconut and pomegranate nectarine. The coconut was my favorite (yes, I'm biased -- so is Pippin, apparently) because the flavor of the coconut was strong and very refreshing. The pomegranate nectarine was good, but tasted more tea-like in terms of strength (keep in mind that this is technically an enhanced water beverage, after all) and I couldn't taste the coconut, though I expected not to taste it in this one. I'm pretty sure I'm going to try the mango mandarin since I like mango, though my favorite will probably remain pacific coconut.

Overall, I'm pleased with the line. The drinks will be perfect for times when I want something more than water but less than a sugar bomb. The flavors are well rounded and didn't taste overly sweet. The drinks retail for around $1.79.

If you're interested in trying one yourself, I have three 50¢ off coupons available. Just send me an email at christinaATrunningfoodieDOTcom with your name and address and I'll mail coupons out to the first three who respond.

18 May 2012

biscuits and gravy

Biscuits & Gravy

I could have sworn that I blogged about this, but I guess not. Anyway, way back in April I had a craving for a stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast. After reading a post about baby biscuits and gravy on Disgustingly Good, I entered the kitchen ready to cover the counters in flour.

Biscuits & Gravy

His recipe uses all white whole wheat flour. I've always preferred biscuits with white flour so that they'll stay soft and tender, but what the hey, let's try something new.

Biscuits & Gravy

The dough was easy to work with and pretty tasty on its own. (I have this thing for eating raw doughs, I don't know where I picked that up from.) The white whole wheat flour I used gave it a really nutty flavor that worked really well with the gravy.

I cut my biscuits into mini squares using the square cookie cutter set my great aunt gave me a while back. It's a nice change from the standard circular biscuit.

Biscuits & Gravy

As you know, to make a gravy you start with a roux. This roux uses white whole wheat flour, just like the biscuits. I followed the recipe as written, except I subbed a tablespoon of butter for bacon grease, which I highly recommend doing.

Again, just like for biscuits, I prefer to use white flour in rouxs because it's flavor neutral. However, the flour gave the gravy a toasted nutty flavor that I really enjoyed. So don't shy away from using white whole wheat flour, and if you don't have it I suggest you buy some before you make this. If you need another use for it, try my coconut biscotti.

The recipe suggests using as much milk as you need to reach the consistency you desire. I may have used about 3/4 cup total, but it's been so long that I can't remember now. Eyeball it.

Once your gravy reaches the desired consistency, season with good salt and cracked black pepper.

Biscuits & Gravy

Finally, plate up with some softly scrambled eggs and enjoy your breakfast! And in case you like to read while eating, here's this article from NYT informing us that we're making our biscuits wrong.

Luna Fiber Bars Giveaway

Luna Fiber Bars review

If you suddenly found yourself craving Luna Fiber bars after reading my review yesterday, I can help you out. The Luna folks are giving one of my readers the chance to win their own three-pack of Luna Fiber bars, pictured above!

To enter, comment and tell me what your go-to fiber food is. Giveaway runs through Monday and the winner will be chosen Tuesday morning. Include your email address if you don't have a blog or it's not visible. (US residents only, please.)

Good luck!

17 May 2012

New Luna Fiber Bars Review

Like Luna Fiber Bars? Enter my giveaway.

Luna Fiber Bars review

I really like bars. They're good to have around for times when you don't plan ahead and are snackless. They usually last longer than homemade versions, and not all of them are as bad as a candy bar. I mean, I like my candy bars, but I know I can't always grab a Zero bar (the "zero" has nothing to do with the calories - I don't even know what about the bar it has anything to do with, actually) to tide me over because it won't. It's just as bad as my former habit of eating sugar from sugar packets when my blood sugar dips.

When the folks at Luna asked if I wanted to sample their new fiber bars before they hit the market, I said yes. I was curious about the new "soft-baked and fruit-filled" bar, and it came with the added bonus of fiber, folic acid, iron, vitamin d, and calcium, vitamins and minerals that are good for women. I tend to be deficient in iron, even when I take a supplement. So, bonus.

Luna Fiber Bars review

My box of bars included "postcards" with facts about fiber, how to implement exercise into your lifestyle, and things like that.

Each bar contains 7 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fat and are around 110-120 calories. Because of the low calories, one of these bars would be considered a light snack for me, but I thought the nutritional info was decent.

The bars are now available in stores nationwide, or can be found on Luna's website. The retail price is $1.39.

What I looked forward to the most was that Luna Fiber Bars are more cookie-like than the crisp rice base that makes up traditional Luna bars. It's not a texture I particularly care for in a bar and I tend to find them too sweet, so I don't gravitate toward Luna bars except as a last resort. (Meaning, I ran out of sugar packets.)

Luna Fiber Bars review

However, I loved these. The soft cookies, which reminded me of a soft ginger cookie, is speckled with coarse sugar that gives the bars a sweet little crunch. The cookie itself is moist and just a bit dense. There wasn't much fruit filling compared to other bars, but it works because the cookie isn't dry.

My favorite ended up being the peanut butter strawberry. Usually, I avoid peanut flavored bars because it's too overwhelming of a flavor, and I don't really like peanut butter to begin with. While this bar definitely did not lack the peanut flavor, it was nicely balanced with the soft cookie and strawberry filling that I really enjoyed it.

I've tried all three flavors and am satisfied with each one. If I'm looking for a bar I would definitely consider buying these in the future. It doesn't have the mineral-aftertaste like many healthy bars do and would satisfy my cookie cravings.

15 May 2012

Running Foodie's Chocolate Chip Cookies

running foodie chocolate chip cookies

Just in time for National Chocolate Chip Day. Actually, I didn't plan that at all - I'm the last to know about all these ancillary food holidays, and I'd go crazy trying to blog recipes for all of them.

Running Foodie Chocolate Chip Cookies

Instead, I choose to repeat recipes with variations to keep myself from being bored. I suppose I could make a more complex cookie except that I've had this lazy streak I can't seem to shake. I have plans, though. Plans that look eerily similar to a baguette. Plans that remind me of granola bars. Things like that.

running foodie chocolate chip cookies

These cookies, though. They're thick, chewy, full of flavor, and incredibly simple to make. What makes them unique isn't the use of brown butter. It's not the ground coffee. It's the sweetened condensed milk. I looked around the internet and found a recipe that uses condensed milk, though their version creams the butter like a traditional cookie and doesn't use any other sweetener. I'm stuck on chocolate cookies with brown sugar because it has a caramelized toffee flavor. The texture is unbeatable, too. After my first test, I knew I struck gold.

Because the butter is melted you don't need to bust out a mixer. Just whisk the cooled butter with the brown sugar, then whisk in condensed milk, egg, and the remaining ingredients. You do need to refrigerate the dough overnight, but whatever. Except for having to wait a day to bake them (a hour or two might suffice, though I haven't tried it), these are great for spur of the moment baking impulses.

The key to thick cookies is using a lot of dough per ball. (That's not anything you don't already know.) These aren't the biggest cookies, but they're bigger than I normally make. Each ball uses 1/4 cup of dough, and I don't shape them into balls - I press chilled dough into a measuring cup, then pop it out with a spoon which creates a perfect disc of dough. You do need to press it down a little, about 3/4", so that the dough cooks evenly. If it's too thick, it won't spread as nicely. If you press it too much, it will be too thin. Get it? It's a little easier and less messy than rolling them into balls, too.

If you try these out, let me know what you think. Recipe after the jump.

running foodie chocolate chip cookies





Print this recipe

Running Foodie's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe by Christina Provo

Yields about 20 large cookies

Ingredients -

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, browned and cooled to room temperature
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp ground coffee
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Directions -
  1. Pour cooled brown butter into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in brown sugar until combined, followed by the sweetened condensed milk. When mixture is smooth, break in egg whisk to combine; stir in vanilla.
  2. Combine flour, ground coffee, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Using a wooden spoon or plastic spatula, stir in the flour until just a few traces of flour remain. Add the chocolate chips and walnuts and stir to distribute through the dough. Refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. To create cookie discs, press dough into a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Pop out with a spoon and position onto prepared baking sheet, about 2-inches apart. Press discs down until 3/4-inch thick.
  4. Bake for 14 minutes. Tops should be lightly browned and surface will be just set. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes; transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

09 May 2012

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Report

Yeah... I did say I wasn't going to run it. However, my leg showed signs of improvement a few days after the initial incident, and my run one week later felt alright. I hate to pass up on a race I trained for, so I decided to go ahead and do it. I felt that although my fitness had been compromised a little I could still pull off a good race.

We drove into Pittsburgh on Friday, arriving late in the evening. On Saturday we headed to the expo where I finally found out which corral I would be in - B. My first time in an assigned corral!

This was also my first large expo (I went to the NYCM expo, but as a spectator). Because of the poor design of the race people, you had to walk to the other end of the expo to pick up your race bag. I'm sure they set it up this way in hopes that you would buy more stuff you don't need/already have/can buy at home. The only item I needed to buy was a packet of Honey Stingers Chews, after which I waited outside because it was too busy and crowded.

During the rest of the day, we walked around Pittsburgh, went back to the hotel, and ate dinner later that night (I had a 12-inch pizza). I guzzled water throughout the day and evening, knowing Sunday would be on the hot side.

My leg felt a little achy, but I didn't have any trouble walking on it. I went to bed feeling alright about the race the next day.

Four a.m. is a really early wake up call. Since all my races are a) in town and b) short, I've never needed to do this before. I woke up surprisingly easily, though, ate breakfast, drank water, gathered my race gear, and got dressed.

We arrived downtown around 5:30 a.m., parked, and made our way over a bridge (if I never cross another bridge on foot in my life I will be a very happy person) and set up shop near the corrals. The race starts at 7:30, so we had a while to wait. I went to the restroom once during this time and should have gone again because I kind of needed to go when I was in the corral. I hoped the feeling would pass. I also entertained my group with my brother's rendition of a mouse tap dancing on a piece of cheese.

Race: Pittsburgh Half Marathon with 25,000 runners. This was my first time running a large race with assigned corrals - I started in corral B.

Goal: sub-1:50 at 8:18 pace

Weather: A little warmer than I'd have liked, a touch humid, and sunny.

Pre-Race: I definitely have pre-race fueling and hydrating down, maybe a little too well with the hydrating part.

Race: I had a setback two weeks prior to Sunday, resulting in 7 days of no running. While this wasn't the sole factor in not obtaining my goal, it didn't make it any easier. I have some sort of soleus strain/pain/something on my left leg, and my right foot had been giving me trouble for the past few weeks.

Mile 1: 8:25.24 - I wasn't sure what pace to run at, knowing my fitness wasn't exactly were I wanted it to be. I had been debating between 8:30 for the first few miles, or trying to keep my 8:18 goal pace. When I hit the first mile I figured 8:20s was fine.

Mile 2: 8:09.07 - So... If you're an experienced runner, this second mile might give you a hint as to how this will end. I felt really great, actually, and the course wasn't as hilly as I thought. I knew there were bridges (many, many bridges) to come, which meant that I would keep my splits around 8:10-20 for the rest of the race. I slowed on the uphills and didn't fly down the downhills, though I didn't slow myself down either. I started hitting the water stops at this point.

Mile 3: 8:14.38 - I can't quite remember -- in fact, I can't quite remember anything specific about the course, but I think I crossed a bridge this mile. The Pittsburgh race course map was so bad that not only did it not show mile splits, it didn't show scale or tell you were the elevation gains were. This would be detrimental to me.

Mile 4: 8:02.30 - By this point, I'm feeling good. I'm managing the bridges and keeping an even pace. I did realize I was running faster than goal pace, but like the idiot I am I thought I was just doing well and could hold it. I can't remember if I grabbed a Gatorade at this point or not because it was on a bridge. It made sense that there wouldn't be a water stop on a bridge, I thought.

Mile 5: 8:09.89 - This mile was on a bridge. I remember it because I didn't see a water stop. I could be confused.

Anyway, at this point, Alex caught up to me. His plan was to run the first 6 miles with me, but it took him a while to catch up. At first, I thought he was a random weirdo pushing me over with his arm. As I turned to say something rude, I realized who it was and was happy to see him.

Mile 6: 8:09.70 - My 10k split clocked in at 51:35, which, according to the website's tracking, was an 8:18 average pace, though the course might have been long. I grabbed a Gatorade. It was starting to heat up and the sun was pretty bright, but I was holding up and managing the uphills. At this point, I still felt strong and my leg and foot, which were suspect during the first three miles, felt fine.

There were bands along the course that I would have thrown my empty water cups at if possible, not because they sucked (I wasn't listening to their tunes) but because my left ear was stuffy and the sound was amplified in my right hear. It was terrible.

People also make the dumbest signs that they think they are clever. "Run faster than Kim Kardashian's marriage lasted!" I was blown away by the wit. I almost stopped to applaud.

Then there was the sign, "Hurry up and finish - my arms are tired from holding this sign!" Nobody was holding the sign.

I checked out the shorts of some of the women in front of me.

Mostly, though, I ignored everything.

Mile 7: 8:18.29 - I took a GU just before the start of mile 7, but unfortunately had to wait until mile 8 to chase it down with water. I commented about this to Alex. I didn't realize that there wouldn't be a water stop at this mile - it would have been nice if Pittsburgh Marathons let you know where the water stops would be. But the GU went down easily so I figured I was still hydrated - what I didn't think about was that I no longer had to go to the restroom like I did at mile 1.

Mile 8: 8:02.95 - An eight-minute mile? I was doing great! I was a little fatigued, but I figured that's what was to be expected. I finally got that water I had been longing for since the last mile. I still thought that I was doing well, though in retrospect I was beginning to feel annoyed (and sounded like it - sorry, Alex, if I could go back in time I would pour the cup of water you tried to hand me over my head) which is a sign that I was beginning to struggle.

Mile 9: 8:23.61 - Um, this was starting to feel bad. I didn't realize this mile was slightly uphill or else I would have adjusted my pace. I thought I was being a wuss, was being affected by the heat, and just tried to hold on to my pace. That was my big mistake.

Mile 10: 8:40.98 - And the slowdown begins. I was feeling terrible. My legs were beginning to feel unresponsive and I was guzzling as much water as I could, which wasn't much because I haven't learned to drink and run yet. I didn't want to slow down to drink more because I thought it would be a bad idea. In retrospect, it would have been a great idea.

Mile 11: 8:30.48 - Finally, a downhill. My pace was still slower, but it wouldn't affect my overall by much.

Mile 12: 11:54.55 - This was the end of the race for me. I was struggling on a bridge, was running a 9:30 pace, and hating everything. My legs just wouldn't move. What Alex thinks happened is just that my muscles quit working. Because I don't run many miles, when I hit that point of no return fatigue-wise my legs are unable to keep going. It's happened before in training and it happened again here. I saw that the uphill I was struggling to climb kept going up and I mentally gave in. If I could go back in time, I would try as hard as I could to keep going since I was still ahead of the 1:50 pace group at this point. I felt so bad when I saw them pass and was unable to get myself to start running.

Mile 13: 13:46.79 - What happens when you stop running is that your legs feel terrible. My leg felt like it would fall off, my foot felt like shit, and my toes kept hitting the edge of my shoes and felt as if the toenails had been ripped off (they hadn't and my feet came out looking good). I got myself to start running at mile 12.5. That last half mile plus .32 was torture. This mile was entirely downhill, another reason I wish I could have kept running instead of stopping.

Mile .32: 2:49 @ 8:51 pace - I have nothing to say about this except that I finished just under 2 hours. I wasn't really happy about that because I didn't make my goal. Not only did I not make my goal, but I missed my goal by a lot. I kept walking through the finish line chute and guzzled a few cups of water. I finally lied down under a tree. I remember being glad Alex ran with me because it would have sucked to be alone.

Total: 13.32 in 1:59.36

Thoughts -
  • My problems mostly boil down to inexperience at the distance. I didn't recognize the signals early enough to make the necessary adjustments to salvage the race.

  • 25-30 miles per week is not enough to obtain the goals I set for myself. Basically, my muscles gave out and I didn't have enough of a base to keep going at a slower pace. I'll be working on that this summer.

  • I really failed at drinking enough fluids on the course. Since I mostly run shorter distances and don't need to drink on the run, I've had no real practice at it. I tried the pinch-the-top method, but liquid kept going up my nose or fell out of the cup. I might try bringing a short straw next time.

  • Overall, I'm not as disappointed as I expected. I'm not proud of my time by any means (race times are very personal and relative to my personal running ability, this was not a good day for me), but I did gain a lot of insight into what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.

  • The Pittsburgh website didn't mention where the water stops would be, just that water stops would be throughout the course, or something like that. Being specific helps.

  • The Pittsburgh race course didn't show mile splits, a scale, or give you any inclination as to where the inclines were throughout the course. That would have helped me plan better.

  • In the end, I started off not making adjustments for not being 100% and for not knowing the course. It's better to start off a little slower and finish strong than to suffer and fade. Also, since I don't have much of a base I needed to adjust for that, as well.

Having talked it over with Alex a few times, it boils down to inexperience at this distance which leads to not reading the warning signs. As for my pace, while it's possible to start off fast and hold the pace in a 10k, you can't run a half marathon like that. Because I lack miles on my legs, they aren't used to running when fatigued. I did have some strong progression runs, but the difference between those and this half is that the progressions were run when it was 45-50 degrees on a flat course. I also started off much slower. It all boils down to not making the necessary adjustments to my pace early in the race.

As for training goals this summer, I'm going to work on running more slow miles. I will probably switch to timed runs instead of miles. I might try and look for a fall half.

Now, I do have the Sunburst coming up. I really hope that I can redeem myself, though it's going to be tough. The course is easier, but it's always a hot and humid race. My leg still hurts and I'm not going to try running until Monday. If it feels alright Monday, I'll go ahead and run the half. My goal isn't so much a PR as it is smart pacing.

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Chronicling my adventures from the kitchen to the road, and back again.

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