Monthly Archives: September 2012

From Running to Living!

Exciting news! I’ve decided to create a new blog that will allow me to write about more of the new activities and directions in my life. It’s not just about running anymore… and for that matter, it’s not just about grieving or architecture or whatever brought you to Slow Happy Runner. Furthermore, it’s not just about “me” but about “us,” as this is a joint blog for my friend and me. I expect to do most of the writing, but you’ll see his touch as well.

Our new blog is called Slow Happy Living. When you visit, you’ll see that we have big visions. We’re both designers, each in our own way, but occasionally we actually create things as well. Our new blog will be the platform for our mutual dreams and creations, while Slow Happy Runner will probably focus more narrowly on — you guessed it — running!

I’ve been scratching my head as to the best way to make the transition from this blog to that one. I’ve enjoyed your comments and interaction here, and I REALLY REALLY don’t want you to go away now. But it’s time to make the leap. So please do have a look at Slow Happy Living and click the “follow” button to read about “CFL” and “LKS” as we continue on our slow happy adventures.

One step at a time!

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2:15:28 — yet another half marathon personal record

It wasn’t easy, especially during the last four miles when it got warm and the trail was bereft of cheering spectators.

It was a great relief to feel chilly at the starting line! It was 52 degrees and I actually wore a light jacket until just a few minutes before the start. Approximately 900 runners began the 2nd annual Rogue Run from Talent to Central Point in southern Oregon.

I went out feeling great and ran the first several miles just ahead of my planned 10:15 pace. I hit the halfway point (6.55 miles) at about 1:06:30, which would have meant a 2:13 finish. But I started to get tired as the weather began to heat up to the 70s in the later miles. I could have kept pushing, but I managed to remember that this was a TRAINING RUN for Victoria BC two weeks from now. So I walked a bit in mile 11, and a bit more in mile 12, and even a few yards at the beginning of mile 13. Then I picked up, found another gear, and finished strong.

My time of 2:15:28 was a personal record by 42 seconds. I finished 5th out of 29 in my age/gender group, and comfortably in the top half overall. Not bad for a training run!

I’m a bit sore now, but I think that’s mostly because of the sub-optimal motel bed and the hours of traveling today. Overall, I had a great mini-vacation — and I’ve now run competitively in 4 states. Only 46 to go!

My friend did an awesome job of positioning himself in front of me and taking photos. I’ll share some photos after I get them downloaded.

Meanwhile, what I’ve learned from this is that I need to go out slower in Victoria. It should be 10-15 degrees cooler, and it may be raining, but even so I think I’d benefit from not acting quite so invincible at the starting line. If I go out at a 10:20 pace, that will leave me plenty of room to pick up the pace in the last five miles. I do think I can beat 2:15, but I want to do it in a way that still allows me to enjoy some fabulous autumn hikes and stay healthy for the icy winter walking ahead.

One step at a time!

Tapered and ready to race… more or less

What is it about tapering for a race that brings out every hidden anxiety, every imaginary ailment, every outrageous scenario of what-could-go-wrong?

All along I’ve told myself (and you, dear readers) that my race down in Oregon this weekend would be “my last long training run” before Victoria, BC. Even so, I’ve treated it as a race that required its own training plan and preparation. I’ve ramped up the training miles and effort, and for the past week or so I have been tapering the miles and effort. I had originally set what seemed like a reasonable goal for this race. I figured that on an “all downhill” course I could run a 2:15 without overdoing it, which would be a modest personal record, one minute faster than my hilly race in June. I figured I could do that, rest up, and then shave another couple of minutes off two weeks later in Victoria.

Well, after test-running the first nine miles of the Oregon course during my visit to Oregon last month, I know that it’s isn’t “all downhill.” So I told myself to back off my ambitions and just go out and enjoy the day.

That’s about the time when everything started to come apart with my training. I’d go out and get hot and just not feel like running fast. I’d forget my water and get thirsty. I’d take a bad step and encounter new muscles with strong opinions about what I was doing out there. For the past several weeks, for one silly reason or another, I haven’t been able to put in the miles I’d planned. So now during this taper period that I know is absolutely essential for a good outcome on race day, I’ve had to fight the urge not to sneak in a couple of extra miles just to be “sure” I’m ready.

I’m now as ready as I’m going to be for this weekend’s race.

Now the anxiety sets in! I’ve had headaches. I’ve felt compelled to take my blood pressure. It’s perfect, and my resting pulse is down to an astonishing 50, give or take a couple, but I don’t seem to take much comfort in that.

My knees, I’m happy to say, are feeling good. But what’s with the twinges in my hips, and WHY is the callus on the ball of my left foot suddenly tender? ARGH! I’m falling apart!!!

According to the book that’s guiding me on brewing beer, the best thing I can do at this point is to “relax and have a home brew.” I’m exactly as ready as I’m going to be. I did my last run today, and by Sunday I should be well rested and eager to run. I know from experience that this mental and physical anguish is normal. I’m not falling apart. As long as I can focus on eating well and sleeping well over the next several days, I’ll be just fine.

Of course, eating and sleeping well while traveling are easier said than done, but that’s just part of the package when running a “destination” race. It’s exactly what I signed up for!

So why the heck am I so stressed out about it?

One step at a time…

Slow Happy Brewing: The adventure begins!

Yesterday was Brew Day! My friend and I began the process with great excitement. We’d already pre-sanitized all the containers and instruments the day before. We’d received and reviewed the water quality report from the company that bottled the water we planned to use. We’d gathered everything we needed and arranged things next to the stove in the daylight basement room formerly known as my home office.

My home’s previous owner had used this room as a mother-in-law apartment — that’s why there is a stove and a sink there. The stove, however, had not been used in several years. It was last turned on by the home inspector when Kurt and I bought the house five years ago.

My friend and I turned on two of the burners and they heated up just fine. With a small sigh of relief, we began heating water in a giant brew kettle. We also began gently heating our bottle of malt extract so it would pour easily when the time came to add it to the brew kettle.

Into the brew kettle we put one pound of lovely, aromatic ground Crystal barley malt, and the room filled with a luscious malty odor. We turned up the heat on the brew kettle.

Suddenly I noticed smoke rising from around the edges of the stove where it meets the countertop. Within seconds the entire stove top was smoking!

My friend shouted, “Call 911!” I sort of froze. I’m terrified of fire, but I didn’t want to call in a false alarm. My friend then turned off the burners, grabbed the brew kettle, and ran upstairs with it, yelling, “I’ll take care of the beer! Now you call 911!”

So I called 911. The smoke was already dissipating but it was pretty hazy and smelly in the room. The dispatcher calmly asked me questions and then asserted that it was, indeed, a good idea to send out the fire department.

Meanwhile my friend had situated the beer on the kitchen stove and come back downstairs to turn off the breaker. He greeted the two firefighters and showed them to the office, which of course looked like a chemistry lab with all the brewing paraphernalia. It smelled like a chemistry experiment gone waaaay bad.

Using their nifty infrared heat detector, the firefighters determined that the area to the left of the stove had heated up quite a bit, but there was no sign of combustion. They concluded that old grease and dirt under the burners had simply started to smoke, but they also believed that the stove had probably been installed with too little clearance on the left side. They advised me to have someone pull it out and inspect it before using it again.

I am not touching that stove ever again!!! I think I will pull it out forever and install shelving or something in its place.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the 1.5 gallons of water in the brew kettle was heating on the kitchen stove. We bid farewell to the friendly, helpful firefighters  and went upstairs to wait for it to boil.

While waiting for the boil, I read the instructions on the yeast packet. I learned that once the yeast is activated by breaking an inner packet and shaking vigorously, it needs to grow for three hours before being added to our proto-beer. Oops! We were only supposed to boil for 60 minutes. How were we going to stall for another two hours?

Well, we waited… and waited… for the water to boil. My kitchen stove doesn’t seem to be that hot, even at the highest possible setting.

Finally we had something resembling a boil, so in went the 7 pounds of light malt extract and the first of our hops. Now we had a “wort” (that’s what a batch of boiling beer ingredients is called). I started the timers on my iPad brewing app.

Every 20 minutes or so, a timer would go off and we’d add more hops. They are lovely dried flowers that smell wonderful.

Without a kitchen scale, we could only eyeball our measurements, but all of the hops went into the kettle eventually.

I continued to monitor the timers on my brewing app.

At last the 60 minutes were up! Now my friend had to carry the hot brew kettle downstairs to the laundry room, where an ice bath awaited. The idea is to cool the boiling wort as quickly as possible down to 70 degrees. We would then add the yeast, which had been foaming away in its packet for nearly two hours at this point.

We didn’t have enough ice. We couldn’t get the danged kettle cooled below about 90 degrees. Finally it occurred to me that since we were going to add 3.75 gallons of cold water (we’d stashed the bottles in the refrigerator) maybe those 3.75 gallons would take us down to 70 degrees.

With great excitement we poured the 3.75 gallons into the glass carboy. We then poured the contents of the brew kettle (running the wort through a strainer to catch all the hops residue) into the carboy.

This brought the temperature of the wort down to 62 degrees.

Gnashing our teeth, we ran around collecting hair dryers and dish towels. I bathed the carboy with dish towels soaked in hot water while my friend aimed two hair dryers at it. By this point we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so we laughed!

Finally we hit the magic 70 degrees. With a mighty flourish, my friend popped open the yeast packet and poured the contents into the carboy. Just over three hours had passed since we’d started the yeast and wondered how we’d ever kill all that time.

Nothing happened.

Several hours later, the liquid in the carboy still looked completely inert.

But this is what I saw this morning!

Beer is happening! Billions of yeast cells are doing their thing, feeding on the sugars in the wort and converting them to alcohol! Yippee!

A week from now we’ll siphon into another carboy for a secondary fermentation cycle, and then in another week we’ll bottle. Our beer should be ready to drink by the first week in October… right around my birthday. It may not be world-class beer, but it will be memorable.

If Slow Happy Runner is an apt moniker for myself, then surely Slow Happy Brewing is the right name for our microbrewery. We stumbled and backtracked and called 911 and laughed our way through an exhausting half day’s work, but we’re very, very optimistic about the outcome.

I’ll keep you posted. But now I think I’ll go for a run.

What’s brewing in Slow Happy Runner Land?

All of a sudden, lots of things are brewing and bubbling and simmering, or about to do so.

Remember when I told you about the few bits of cabbage that I’d managed to rescue from the slugs and salvage from my garden? Those 2.2 pounds of cabbage now comprise about 25% of the sauerkraut that is bubbling and brewing on my kitchen counter. I had to go out and buy three large heads of organic cabbage and add them to mine in order to make a worthwhile-sized batch. I’m pleased to report that my cabbage tastes more flavorful than the store-bought stuff anyway.

I’ve never made sauerkraut before, although given my German ancestry it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I had to buy a large (expensive) crock for this project, so I really hope it turns out well. I’ll need to make many batches of fermented vegetables in the future to fully amortize the cost of that crock!

I started this project a day and a half ago, and it’s now beginning to ferment. I’ll move it to a cooler place in another day or so once the bubbling really gets going. If all goes well, I’ll be eating sauerkraut in a month.

Meanwhile I’m getting ready for a real brewing adventure. Many years ago, back when I was making my own bread and yogurt, I ventured into home brewing. Having lived in Scotland for a while as a student, I’d developed a taste for British ales. But imports were hard to come by, and the craft-brewing craze had not yet taken off in the US. The laws were changing and home brewing was not strictly illegal anymore… so I thought, why not?

Loking back, I realize now that I was quite the pioneer in those days. I managed to find a source for equipment and ingredients, and I brewed (as I recall) three pretty darned good batches of ale. Then somehow, my interests moved on to other things. Meanwhile craft brewing exploded, and it became easier to find really good local ales. When I moved to Washington, I got rid of the brewing equipment that I hadn’t touched in years.

Here in Washington (which happens to be one of the great hop-growing regions of the world) our local craft brewers have gone way, over-the-top overboard with hops. I love hops as much as the next girl, but the really “big” IPAs are not my favorites. Lately, my taste has gone in a mellower, sweeter, less-is-more direction. I’m quite enjoying porters and even the occasional stout.

My friend and I began to experiment with expanding and educating our beer palates. Then a brewing supply store opened right downtown. We went to a brewing club meeting and… you can guess the rest.

After a couple more weeks of research and taste testing, we went back to the brewing supply store and walked out of there with carboys, buckets, a beautiful stainless steel kettle, bottle brushes, tubing, various scientific instruments, and the ingredients for our first batch of beer. We decided to start with a safe choice, just a basic “American amber ale.” For the uninitiated, there is an official list of “beer styles,” each of which is characterized by a distinctive footprint that includes yeast type, brewing procedure, color, bitterness, and of course alcohol content. “American amber ale” is (as you might guess) a reddish ale. It’s hoppy but not overly so. The recipe we chose uses two kinds of barley malt and two kinds of hops… no complex formulas or finicky additives. Basically just boil, cool, ferment, and bottle.

I moved furniture out of my former office to make room for the brewery. It’s an ideal space because there is a stove, a sink, and lots of room to maneuver. It’s downstairs where the temperature is a more or less constant and predictable 65 degrees. I can’t think of a better way to repurpose a home office for post-corporate use.

Tomorrow is brewing day. In three weeks I should be popping the cap off my first bottle of Slow Happy Brew.

Now I’m reading about sourdough starter. I did that, too, a long time ago. I think I’ll try making sourdough bread again!

So besides all this sudden culinary activity, what else is brewing?

I’m in the final countdown until my two half marathons, on September 23 and October 7. I’m still trying to think of the first one as “the last long training run” for the second one, but I’m sure that come race #1 day I’ll be out there pushing it just a little bit. However, my training runs have been a bit erratic lately, so I really don’t know what to expect. If I go out on 9/23 and my knees are happy, I’ll have a great day, maybe even another PR without too much effort (I recently ran 10 miles at a sub-10 minute pace). I honestly think that on a downhill course I will beat my hilly PR 2:16:10 without pushing too hard. But if my knees decide they aren’t happy or if 9/23 happens to be a warm day, that race will be a slog. However, it finishes at a microbrew festival, so I’ll drag myself to the finish if I have to.

The Octber 7 race in Victoria BC is one that I do take seriously. I ran that one last year in the seemingly-impossible-at-the-time time of 2:40:33. I’d love to shave 26 minutes or so (that is, 2 minutes a mile) off that time. It’s doable… if my knees are happy that day. So my top priority between now and 10/7 is to keep those knees happy.

Fortunately, my knees are thriving on hiking, so when I’m not running, I’m hiking. My friend and I did a strenuous uphill hike a couple of weeks ago. Views like these keep me coming back for more:

The past few days there has been a touch of autumn in the air. We did a lower altitude hike hoping to see maple and alder leaves starting to turn, but it’s still too early for that. It was a glorious day, though, and we enjoyed the sun shining through this young stand of red alders and douglas firs:

So, what’s brewing, indeed? Just about everything! Slow Happy Runner Land is bubbling and humming with new and exciting things. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow may bring.

What’s brewing in your world?

My gardening debacle (except for the awesome artichokes)

Some of you have asked me how things have gone at my community garden plot.

Well, it’s been a humbling and most educational experience.

I planted a whole bunch of vegetable starts in May: four artichoke plants, two kinds of lettuce, two kinds of onions, bok choi, Chinese cabbage, kale, collards, spinach, and vast quantities of cabbage. I was most excited about the artichokes (because it’s my favorite vegetable) and the cabbage (because I had grandiose dreams of making vast quantities of sauerkraut).

Although I was working in a well-prepared “lasagna”-type bed, everything got off to a slow start and looked sickly until I fertilized.

Then for a couple of weeks everything grew like crazy! The bok choi and Chinese cabbage bolted without ever forming anything resembling a head. Their tall sprays of yellow flowers were beautiful, but not what I had in mind. So I pulled them up.

The spinach, kale, and collards did well — too well. It had not occurred to me that I wouldn’t possibly be able to use all those greens when they ripened pretty much all at once. I looked at a huge thicket of greens and couldn’t figure out what to do with them all. I ate a little, gave a little away, and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the rest. The spinach soon went to seed, the collards are now following, but the kale still looks good. Want some?

My lettuce met with a similar fate.

The onions would have been a great success except that I failed to fully separate the bulbs when I planted them. They taste fine but they are oddly oblong.

Then there was the cabbage. Unknown pests had mowed them down nearly to ground level before I fertilized, but then they made a tremendous recovery. I had a dozen or so perfect, growing heads. Then the slugs came.

Remember, this is the Pacific Northwest — land of giant slugs. These guys can mow through half a head of cabbage overnight. Yesterday I harvested what I could. Today I attempted to clean them. It was ghastly. They were riddled with slugs, cabbage worms, and earwigs. I salvaged parts of three heads. I’ll have to buy some more cabbage before I can attempt to make sauerkraut later this week.

My one huge success is the artichokes. I’ve harvested about a dozen medium sized chokes so far, and I have another 20+ medium and small chokes still coming. I have eaten several. They are delicious!!! Artichokes are perennials and get better each year for five years or so. I have big hopes for a bigger bounty next year!

So what did I learn?

1. Think about how much you can actually use and plant accordingly.
2. Don’t plant everything at once!
3. Organic gardening is great in concept, but I need to figure out how to do pest control.

And next year I think I’ll plant more artichokes.

2:16:10

A real runner never forgets her or his personal bests. Not only will I remember for the rest of my life that I ran my most recent and fastest half marathon this past June in 2:16:10, but I’ll also probably be able to tell you the mile-by-mile details of that race.

I can tell you more:

  • My fastest (unofficial) 5k: 29:19
  • My fastest (unofficial) 10k: 1:01:40 (soooo close to the sub-60 10k of my dreams)

You won’t find my 5k and 10k times online anywhere other than this blog because those weren’t timed races; hence the word “unofficial.” But my North Olympic Discovery half marathon time is out there for all the world to see.

If you don’t closely follow political news, you may not know why I’m harping on this.

So I’ll simply say it again… real runners never forget. And real runners are neither impressed nor amused when others make up stories about their alleged running achievements.

And now back to my usual slowness and happiness…   I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful weekend.

🙂