Sunday, December 4, 2016

My First Marathon!

I finally did it, y'all! After years of aspiring to run a marathon, I finally crossed that finish line yesterday! I finished the St. Jude Marathon (a charity race for St. Jude Children's Hospital) in Memphis on Saturday.

This has been a LONG time coming. I started training for my first half in 2013 but got a stress fracture in my right foot about halfway through training. I was out for six months after that. And then I finally ran my first half — the St. Jude Half in Memphis — in 2014. I ran the Little Rock Half a couple months later and injured my knee, and I was out for another six months. Then I ran the Great American River Run Half this past May with my sights set on finishing my first full — the St. Jude Marathon — in December. I somehow managed not to get injured while training this time, and my goal became a reality yesterday. That's an amazing feeling!

I thought I'd dedicate this LONG post (sorry!) to recapping my race and my pre- and post-race meals. Tomorrow, I'll share my carefully crafted day-before-the-race nutrition plan. So I'm basically working backwards here.

I went to bed super-early Friday night so I'd be well-rested for the race. I woke up at 5 a.m., fed the critters, and put on my race gear and a little light makeup. I always wear eyeliner and mascara in races because I need to look for those race photos!

Then I had my standard pre-long run breakfast of an oat cup with nut butter. This time, I had a Quaker Real Medleys Cranberry Vanilla Almond steel cut oat cup with Steem caffeinated peanut butter. I don't do coffee before runs because its makes me pee, so I figured caffeinated nut butter would do the trick.

I headed to the race, which met at AutoZone Park, around 6:15 a.m. Even though it didn't begin until 8:30, I knew downtown parking would be a nightmare if I waited too long. I ran into my Lululemon race team buddy Tristan (I was on Lululemon's fundraising team for this race) and her partner, and we chatted for a bit. They were doing the half-marathon. After I separated from them, I snacked on a banana (probably around 7:45ish). Then I made my way to the starting corrals. On the way there, I ran into my coworker Sadie, who was running her first half!

I shed my throwaway hoodie and sweat pants ($3 at the Goodwill!!) outside the corral gates. St. Jude donates all those clothes back to charity. I made an impulse decision to get into a faster corral than what I projected my pace would be, and I'm so glad I did. There was a three-minute wave start between corrals, and jumping ahead allowed me to start sooner rather than stand there freezing and waiting. And the corral I started with didn't reach their goal pace until way later anyway, so it didn't force me to start out too fast. 

Sadly, my awesome wireless Yurbuds headphones wouldn't sync with my phone in the crowds. Instead, my phone was trying to sync with other people's Jawbones and Fitbits. But I had good, old-fashioned wired headphones in my pocket for backup, so I used those throughout the race. Before I knew it, we were off.

I'm a master at crafting a running playlist. Seriously. Somehow, just the right song always comes on at just the right time. In the first mile, when people in front of me were running too slow, Kylie Minogue's "Get Outta My Way" came on just as I began weaving through people. Skrillex's "Breakn' a Sweat" came on right when I realized my hands were hot inside my throwaway gloves, which I then ditched on the side of the course (volunteers gather those things later). Around Mile 4, I got a high-five from a pug. A lady was cradling her dog in a backpack and holding up his paw for runners to high-five. The dog was probably miserable, but it made me happy.

The first few miles flew by. I remember looking up at the signs for miles 6 and 8 and thinking, "Wow, already!" Turns out, I was flying (at least for me)! My friend Misti was tracking my splits online, and she sent me this afterward. I'm a slow runner (12:30 per mile average), but I was running under 12 minutes per mile for the first half. You can see I slowed down SIGNIFICANTLY toward the end but more on that in a few.

Going out faster in the beginning of a race and slowing down in the second half is called a positive split, and it's not a good thing. On the contrary, you're supposed to aim for a negative split and save your energy for the end. But I had a reason for booking it in that first half. In the months and months of training, I'd been worrying myself sick about making it to the half/full split by the cut-off time. The half and full follow the same course until mile 11, and then they split off in different directions. If marathoners didn't make it there by 11:50 a.m., they were sent to finish the half instead. And I couldn't bear the thought of not getting to finish after putting in so much work. 

But I made it there in plenty of time, thanks to my positive split. That may have had a detrimental effort on my energy level later, but at least I got to finish the full. Back to that playlist, right around Mile 11, just as we were splitting off, Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke's "Turbulence" came on. There's a line where Lil' Jon says, "We hit turbulence" before the DJ breaks off into some crazy beats. That line came on just as I made the fork in the road to carry on with the full. Ha! And it was so true.

But I didn't know I'd hit turbulence just yet. You see, my coworkers at Crosstown Arts had a spirit station at Mile 12, and I knew that was right around the corner. I was too pumped about seeing them to feel any pain yet. I knew they were bringing a karaoke machine, and my boss asked if I had any special requests the day before. I said "I Ran So Far Away" by Flock of Seagulls. That's what I was expecting. Instead, I got this!

Yes, that's my boss, dressed as some sort Hedwig-inspired, fabulous drag queen. Of course, I stopped for lots of pictures. Here I am with Chris/Hedwig and Jazzy (the other side of her sign said "Every Time You Take a Step ..." inspired by an incident the other day when I caught a roach in the office and set it free, much to her disgust). 

That spirit station made me so happy!! And I knew my friends Andy and Patrick were waiting to cheer me on less than a mile away since the course ran right past their house. Before I reached them, I saw my friend Diane cheering on runners, and she ran onto the course and hugged me. And then as I approached Andy and Patrick, I noticed they were both holding signs with my name on them! Andy's said something like "Way to Go, Bianca!" I stopped for a pic with Patrick.

Again, I was recharged! It's amazing how impactful those little moments can be in a race. And I knew my friend Susan was just down the road waiting for me. I saw her around Mile 15, and she snapped this pic. She asked how I was doing, and I remember saying, "Great! I feel great!" or something like that.

But then things got hard. Haha. I remember, right around Mile 16, the very moment when my feet went from feeling light and springy to feeling like lead weights. Every step was hard, but I just kept going. I had to. Walking through the aid stations helped, and I think I stopped to pee about four times. I also looked very forward to my walking breaks to eat my energy gels every four to five miles. I got a brief second wind around Mile 17 when I ran into my friends Jennifer and Simon and their dog Riley. Jennifer had a beer waiting for me, but I didn't think I could handle it just then. So sweet though!

I did, however, take the two small beer samples offered around Mile 10 and Mile 20. Those helped! I also saw Jennifer and Simon again at Mile 19. Since their house was in between 17 and 19, they were able to pop up on the course twice! At that point, I stopped to pet their dog and asked if I could just stop running. Simon said no, so I kept going.

Around Mile 20, I remember thinking that six more miles couldn't be THAT hard. But at the same time, it also sounded like forever. There was nice lady offering salted potatoes — just diced, boiled potatoes dipped in salt — around there, and SHE SAVED MY LIFE. My morale was pretty low at that point because I was hurting and tired. But that little blast of saltiness was just what I needed. At that point, everything I'd eaten had been sweet — oats, banana, energy chews, energy gels, NUUN at aid stations — and I was craving salt like crazy. Another women, about a mile away, was handing out pretzels. Perfect. Next time, I'm definitely carrying some salty snacks.

I got a high-five at Mile 22 from Holly Whitfield of the I Love Memphis blog, and she yelled "Bianca! Nice butt!" She was wearing a penguin costume. That helped. Seriously, I learned that the tiniest bright spots make such a difference in a marathon. 

The very last mile — mile 25 — was the HARDEST MILE OF MY LIFE. Seriously, it felt like five miles. By then, my run had slowed to a shuffle. I had to pee again (even though I'd just stopped at Mile 22 to pee). I considered waiting until after the finish, but then I thought, well, I don't care about my time and I really just care about how I feel when I cross the finish line. I'd rather be concentrating on how awesome that is rather than thinking about how bad I have to pee. So I made one last porta-potty pit stop. 

When I rounded the corner into the finish line, I cued up Katy Perry's "The Moment," and I couldn't help but tear up a little. I'm sure I looked ridiculous with my happy cry, but I was just SO PROUD of myself. That amazing feeling made all the pain that day and all the time spent training worth it. Worth every damn minute.

After I crossed the line, I got my medal! I love a good race medal, and these were way cool. The center piece spins around.

I got my finisher pic taken, and then I heard, "Are you Bianca?" A guy introduced himself as a blog reader from Nashville (I wish I'd remembered his name! My brain wasn't working all the way yet. But if you're reading, hi guy from Nashville!). He asked where he and his wife should eat while they were in town, and of course, I suggested Imagine Vegan Cafe. 

Then I made my way to the free food and beer area. All of the hot food — pizza and soup — was gone by then, but that stuff isn't vegan anyway so I didn't mind. I did get a couple bags of Takis, which are vegan, and these were the greatest thing ever at that moment. I needed salt! 

I also got my two free beers, but it was so cold and rainy by that point that drinking them was pretty miserable. My heat blanket, given to me at the finish line, helped a little but not much. I was there alone, but I chatted with another guy enjoying his beer. It was his first marathon too, and he said "it's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life." I agreed. Then I walked around a bit, but eventually I was so cold, I just decided to make my way to the car. I was shivering as I made that five-block walk to the car.

Once I got home, I had some Silk Chocolate Soymilk and a Chocolate Clif Builder Bar (20 grams of protein!). And then I hopped into the shower. Man, that shower felt AMAZING!! 

I'd made plans to meet up with friends for post-race pizza and beer at Mellow Mushroom, so I got dressed and headed out east to meet up with Mike, Jennifer, Simon, Megan, Joey, Andy, and Patrick. 

Jennifer had ordered the wrong beer — Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale — before I arrived, and she didn't like it. So I had a free beer waiting for me! I happily drank that pale ale, and then I ordered a Founder's Nitro Oatmeal Stout.

And I got a personal-sized Mega Veggie Pizza — vegan-style with Daiya and crumbled tofu. Man, pizza and beer is soooooo good after a marathon. I finished three slices there and ate the last slice at home afterward. My original plan was to eat pizza at Mellow Mushroom and then pick up a Ben & Jerry's vegan milkshake afterward, but I was way too full for a milkshake.

When I got home, I opened a bottle of Williams Landing Yazoo Rouge red muscadine wine that I'd been saving for a special occasion. I have this awesome marathon wine glass that I picked up at the Little Rock Marathon expo in 2015. For the first time ever, I filled it to the 26.2 line (that's about 14 ounces). I enjoyed that as kicked up my tired feet and caught up on the last season of Game of Thrones.

Remember that milkshake I didn't get? Well, today, I made that happen. I woke up thinking about that missed milkshake opportunity, so I drove to Ben & Jerry's for a Vegan PB & Cookies Shake (made with almond milk). The perfect ending to a amazing race weekend.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Autumn Harvest Yogurt Bowl (and a Bonus Smoothie Recipe!)

So Delicious sent me some samples of their sweetened and unsweetened coconut yogurts to use in holiday-themed recipes. I'm slowly working my way through the yogurts, and I wanted to check in and share a couple quick and easy recipes.

If you're not familiar with So Delicious coconut yogurt, it's basically the best. The sweetened varieties come in several flavors, but the best ones — in my opinion — are the Plain and Vanilla. They're the most versatile for use in recipes, and they're amazing on their own with fruit, nuts, and granola. They're smooth and creamy, unlike some other vegan coconut yogurts that tend to be chunkier.

I used the Vanilla Yogurt Alternative (as they call it) to create this awesome Autumn Harvest Yogurt Bowl. I've been eating these bowls for breakfast all week, and they're just so good.

The recipe is simple: 1/2 cup So Delicious Vanilla Yogurt Alternative, 1 apple (diced), 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/3 cup granola (I use Purely Elizabeth Ancient Grain Granola because it's the BEST), 1 tbsp. toasted pepitas, and 1 tbsp. cranberry sauce.

You could sub dried cranberries for the sauce, but if you're like me, you have lots of leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving. And this is a perfect use for it! The smoothness of the yogurt, the sweetness of the apple, the nuttiness of the seeds and granola, and the tartness of the cranberry combine to create an explosion of fall flavor. Seriously, make this bowl.

Another super-easy recipe that I've created using the Plain Yogurt Alternative is this Banana & Spirulina Protein Smoothie.

Yogurt adds a creamy richness and tanginess (plus plenty of probiotics!) to a smoothie. I've been adding a scoop of yogurt to most of my post-run protein smoothies lately, but this combo has become a favorite.

The single-serving smoothie contains 1 cup almond milk, 1 frozen banana, 1/2 cup So Delicious Plain Yogurt Alternative, 1 tsp. spirulina, and 1 scoop of Vega One Natural or French Vanilla protein powder.

Watch for more yogurt reviews soon! I'll be creating recipes with the So Delicious unsweetened plain and vanilla varieties soon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hillary's Eat Well Review

Lately, it seems like I've been living mostly off convenience foods. It's not that I've been super busy. I've just been super lazy, and I always tend to get that way as the holidays approach. It's probably because I know that the crazy gift-buying, wrapping, crafting, party time is coming up, and I'm conserving energy. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Anyway, living off convenience foods is fine when they're on the healthier side. Hilary's Eat Well sent me some coupons to try a few products, and these were packaged foods I could feel good about. I went with the Black Rice Burgers and the Broccoli Casserole Bites.

Hilary's Eat Well makes several varieties of veggie burger, and I'd tried a few in the past. But the Black Rice Burgers were new to me.

They're made with a base of millet, adzuki beans, jasmine rice, and that namesake forbidden rice (otherwise known as black rice). They also contain a ton of awesome veggies — sweet potato, arugula, beet greens, chard, collards, dandelion, kale, parsley, and turnip greens. So many greens! The texture is more on the squishy side, but I like that in a veggie burger that's actually made from veggies. That said, I prefer my more protein-packed burgers to be meatier. 

This burger is definitely not a protein patty though. It only comes in at 4 grams per patty, but sometimes, a girl needs her veggies. And this is a great way to get them! Other burgers include Hemp & Greens, Adzuki, and Root Veggie.

Hilary's also makes fun finger-food bites, like these Broccoli Casserole Bites.

These are made with millet, broccoli, white beans, carrot, and onion. They really do taste like the homestyle broccoli casserole I grew up with, but they're probably much lower in fat. I love that these are naturally vegan! I had mine with vegan ranch for dipping, and they were just perfect as a fun, easy entree (with a salad on the side). These would also be perfect for party snacks!

Hilary's also makes Spicy Mesquite Bites and Mediterranean Bites, and I look forward to trying those. They make salad dressings, but I've yet to find them in stores here. They've also released a new line of veggie sausages, so I hope to find those soon. If I do, expect another review!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Imagine Vegan Cafe's New Location! The Bianca Ice Cream Sundae!

Imagine Vegan Cafe — my favorite vegan restaurant/home away from home — has moved into fancy new digs. The new restaurant is at 2158 Young Avenue, just a few blocks down from the last location and right next door to their original location.

The last place was located inside an old house, and it was charming and comfy. But they simply outgrew that space. That's a great problem for a vegan restaurant to have! The new place is roomier, and they've hired carpenters to create brand new wooden furniture. Here's a quick tour.

There's a new built-in dessert counter, which will soon be stocked with Stephanie's amazing pies and cheesecakes.

Handmade, wooden tables line the walls on both sides.

The soft opening was on Thanksgiving, and I missed that since I was out of town. But my friends and I went to brunch there this past Sunday.

Not only have they added new furniture, but there are several new menu items and — most importantly — a VEGAN SOFT SERVE MACHINE. OMG. In the down time as they were preparing for the move, Imagine crowd-funded to purchase the ice cream machine. It's the first vegan soft serve in Memphis!

And even better, they actually named a soft serve dessert after me! I've been a devoted customer since day one, and I eat there just about every week. I am so honored and thrilled to present to you The Bianca — an Oreo-stuffed peanut butter brownie topped with soft serve, chocolate syrup, and nuts.

It's so amazing! The brownie is all warm, and the ice cream is so cold. When Kristie asked me what I would want on a Bianca-themed dessert, I said "peanut butter and chocolate and Oreos." YES! My friends wanted to help me eat it, so I let them have bites. But I made it clear that I was finishing most of this baby on my own.

Additionally, they've updated the menu with a few new items, including this BBQ Salad. That's what I ordered on Sunday. It's BBQ seitan over fresh greens, broccoli, tomato, and baby carrots with your choice of dressing. Of course I chose ranch!

Other new items include pizza by the slice (!!!!!), the steakhouse burger (two patties with veggie bacon, bbq sauce, and onion rings — all piled onto the burger), a vegan grilled cheese, and a BBQ wrap. They've also brought back some long-defunct menu items, like spaghetti and smoked sausage.

Monday, November 28, 2016

12 Years Vegan!

On Black Friday, I celebrated 12 years vegan and 22 years vegetarian! I went vegetarian on the day after Thanksgiving (after a six-month experiment being a semi-vegetarian and consuming chicken and fish) back in 1994, and I went all the way vegan on Black Friday in 2004. Even though that date changes year to year, I choose to celebrate on the day after Thanksgiving because it's just easier to remember.

Both diet/lifestyle changes were solely motivated by my concern for animal rights. When I went vegetarian, I was 14 years old and hell-bent on changing the world. My friend Purvi, who emigrated to the U.S. from India, was vegetarian, and she made it look easy enough. And even though I grew up in a small Arkansas town, eating vegetarian was fairly easy. But then again, I did eat a ton of cheese pizza and mac and cheese. By 2004, at age 24, I'd gotten more active in the animal rights movement, and I'd made an awesome vegan friend named Jil (she later moved to New York, but I miss her!). I was living in Memphis and doing lots of PETA demos. I even helped launch a now-defunct group called Memphis Area Animal Rights Activists. As I learned more about the horrors of dairy- and egg-farming, going vegan seemed imperative. So I made the vegan switch on the day after Thanksgiving in 2004. And I've never looked back! Greatest decision I've ever made.

I always start my veganaversary with a leftover slice of Thanksgiving pie for breakfast! This year, that was a slice of my mama's Upside Down Apple Pecan Pie with CocoWhip.

My mama and I do some late-day Black Friday shopping (no waiting in line at 5 a.m. for us!), so we meet first for brunch at Brother Juniper's. Just about every year, I celebrate my veganaversary with their Fahim's Special Tofu Scramble, Home Fries, and Homemade Multigrain Toast with Jam. 

Pro tip: Fahim's Special (a scramble made with tofu, portabellas, and roasted red peppers) is no longer on the menu, but they can make it by special request. They removed it from the menu because it used to be served with kalamata olives, and they weren't selling enough of the dish, so they took it off the menu so they could stop carrying the olives. It's weird since olives keep for a long time, but whatever. My mama and I bring our own jar of kalamata olives and add them ourselves (BYOO, am I right?).

Then we spend the afternoon seeking out Black Friday deals in clothing shops. This year, we found lots at H&M and some things at American Eagle (I love their jeans because they make them to fit short people).

After our shopping excursion, my mama headed back to Arkansas, and I went home to heat up a big ole plate of Thanksgiving Leftovers. For me, the leftovers are more exciting than the actual Thanksgiving meal! I've been eating plates like this all weekend and just finished everything up tonight. I'm glad to get back to normal, healthier eating, but I'm sad that it's all gone.

Happy veganaversary to me!!!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving Recap!

So yea, I totally failed to post my Thanksgiving feast on the day of. Sorry! I got home from my parents' house around 6 p.m., but I felt compelled to put up my holiday tree and do my decorating. So that happened in lieu of blogging. But I'm here now with a delicious Thanksgiving recap.

I drove to my parents' house in Jonesboro, Arkansas on Wednesday after work. It's only an hour away from Memphis, so I got there just in time to grab some dinner. My mama and I wanted to eat something light since we knew we'd be pigging out on Thursday, so we stopped by the Truck Patch, Jonesboro's health food store, and hit the salad bar. I always go crazy on a pay-by-the-pound salad bar and wound up with a massive $11 salad. Oops. It was so good though — fried tofu, kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, almonds, sunflower seeds, black beans, garbanzos, corn, peas, and so much more.

My dad made us some bloody marys after dinner, and I retired early since I needed to get up way early for a run. My marathon is next weekend, and I had a 5-mile training run scheduled for Thursday morning. Luckily, my runner friend Misti (who lives just outside Memphis) was back home in Jonesboro for the holiday too. I've known Misti since college when we both went to Arkansas State in Jonesboro, and we both moved to Memphis around the same time. So we go back at least 15 or 16 years. Anyway, her sister knew a group of 30 or so runners who do 10 miles every year on Thanksgiving. We joined up with them, but we only did 6 miles since I'm tapering (and I was only scheduled for 5). Misti wanted to go that extra mile since she's also in training for a half.

After our run, I went back to my parents' house to shower and have a small breakfast. The night before, at the Truck Patch, I picked up this Vanilla Spice Protein Coconut-milk by REBBL Herbs. So good! Definitely my new fave protein milk. I wish I could buy this in Memphis.

We also picked up some Ozery Bakery Cranberry Orange Morning Rounds and a small tub of Go Veggie Vegan Cream Cheese at the health food store. Perfect pre-Thanksgiving lunch, post-run breakfast snack.

We usually have our big meal for lunch rather than dinner. So around 1 p.m., we dug into a massive feast prepared by my mama. She makes everything vegan! Except they do have a turkey for them. I always bring some kind of vegan roast for me. This year, I got the Trader Joe's Breaded Turkey-less Stuffed Roast with Gravy, which is actually made by Gardein. It was excellent!

Mama makes the BEST Cornbread Dressin' in the world. Seriously. This is the highlight of Thanksgiving.

Her Hash Brown Casserole is the second best thing about Thanksgiving. Love this stuff. Shredded potatoes, Daiya cheddar, Tofutti sour cream, onions, lots of Earth Balance, and cornflake topping.

She tried a new recipe for Broccoli & Rice Casserole this year, and it was really yummy. This had creamed corn inside and panko crumbs on top.

Mama's Green Beans are amazing. She slow-cooks them for hours and adds olive oil and Liquid Smoke and a little sugar.

She was disappointed in her Dinner Rolls this year. She tried a new recipe and felt like they were too dense. But my daddy and I loved them. They were more like biscuits, but who doesn't love a biscuit?

She also tried a new recipe for the Cranberry Sauce, but this one was a definite winner. It had orange peel and orange marmalade, so it was tart and citrusy and sweet. 

And she used my recipe for Poppyseed Coleslaw from Cookin' Crunk for our salad!

Some years, I get in the kitchen and help out by making a dish of my own. This year, I made Cauliflower Stuffing using this recipe. A coworker had sent me this recipe, and it sounded really good. Just cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, Earth Balance, herbs, and a little veggie broth. We all loved it (but my mushroom-hating dad said it would have been better without the mushrooms).

Here's my plate! So much goodness. Photographed outside for better light. Eaten inside because it's cold out there!

After dinner, it was pie time! My mama made an Upside Down Apple Pecan Pie this year. The pecan topping actually goes on the bottom of the pie pan, and then the pie is flipped out after baking and cooling. So pretty and really delicious.

After dinner, we took an ussie in front of the holiday tree. Sadly, my Granny had a cold and couldn't make it, so it was just my mom, dad, me, and Me-Maw.

And then my dad got this picture of the ladies!

Good times! Great food! It's hard to believe Thanksgiving has come and gone. It's really one of my favorite holidays since eating is pretty much the most enjoyable activity I can think of. Hope y'all had a great one too!