Monday, December 6, 2021

Race Recap: St. Jude Memphis Half-Marathon

Another Monday, another race recap! Fall racing season is well underway, and it feels like I've had a race nearly every weekend lately (though it's actually been two weeks since my last marathon in Nashville). This past Saturday was the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, and though I've run the full here a couple times, I opted for the half-marathon this year to give my legs a little break after doing two 50ks and a marathon in the past 90 days.

Let's start this post on Friday night with my pre-race pasta dinner. I picked up some dried pasta at Nicoletto's in Nashville when I was there, so I had some of that with jarred mushroom marinara and sauteed mushrooms, plus a lot of noochy-hemp seed parm. 

On Saturday morning, I got up around 5 am and had my standard pre-race bagel with almond butter. St. Jude did a staggered start this year, due to the pandemic, so my start time wasn't until 8:45 am, which is fairly late for a race start. My friend Megan was also signed up for the half, and it was her very first one! I was excited to be there running Megan's first half with her. We rode together (Paul dropped us off) and waited near the start line.

We crossed the start line at 8:45 am, and Megan and I ran together for about four miles, including a jaunt through the St. Jude campus. This race is St. Jude's biggest fundraiser and helps in their mission to never charge families for medical services. 

After we passed the campus, I was feeling good, so I tapped Megan on the shoulder and told her I was taking off. I sped up and held a pretty quick (for me) pace for the rest of the race. 

Paul is recovering from colon surgery, so I was surprised to see him waiting for me to pass on North Parkway near our house! That gave me a nice burst of energy.

Here's a banner that I helped hang for work the night before the race. It was cool to pass under it on the run. 

The race was just a giant party this year. Maybe it was all that pent-up energy from missing a year of the race in 2020, but the spectators came out in full force between Crosstown Concourse and Stonewall in the Evergreen neighborhood. 

When I passed the Crosstown Memphis CDC cheer station (I sit on the CDC board), fellow member Justin handed me a shot of Fireball. So I took that! Also, another CDC member Anna Joy ran with me to cheer me on for a bit! 

Then a few feet down the road, the Memphis Hash House Harriers were handing our beer shots. And then on Stonewall, a man handed me a shot of champagne. Beale Street Brewing made a special beer for the race, and they had samples on North Parkway. Whew! Oh, and on other parts of the course, there were whiskey shots and rum shots. It sounds kind of crazy, but these were very small shots, 1/2-ounce pours typically, so they're just enough to give you a teensy boost. What a fun time! There was so much booze that I ended up turning down a few shots.

Oh, and here's an asparagus that I met in the race.

I finished in decent time. Not my fastest race and not my slowest. I wasn't going for a PR, just a party. And boy did I get a party!

After the race, I got some vegetable soup from the McAlister's booth in the post-race area at AutoZone Park (our baseball stadium), and then I headed for the beer tent to try the special Lighting In All beer that Wiseacre Brewing made just for the race. Our local breweries are so awesome! Megan finished a little after me, and we enjoyed our beers in a grassy area on the hill. The St. Jude Memphis race is always such a good one! 

After my shower, I wanted something decadent to eat, so I went to Imagine Vegan Cafe and ordered the Appetizer Sampler with loaded potato skins, pigs in blankets, hot wings, chicken nuggets, and hush puppies. YUM!!!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Cookbook Review: The Alzheimer's Solution

Dementia runs in my family. My grandpa (Pa) had Alzheimer's, and my Granny had dementia. Watching someone suffer from dementia is tough, and it's a road I don't want to go down. So now that I'm in my 40s, I figure it's time for me to start making lifestyle choices to reduce my risk. I first learned about Team Sherzai (Dean and Ayesha Sherzai) on the Plant Strong podcast, and I've since become a little obsessed with this husband-and-wife team of vegan neurologists! 
A few months ago, I ordered their first book, The Alzheimer's Solution, which lays out a plan to help prevent and even reverse dementia. They call it the NEURO plan: N for nutrition, E for exercise, U for unwind, R for restore, and O for optimize. On the nutrition side, they strongly recommend a low-sugar, whole foods-focused, plant-based diet. I already had the whole foods and plant-based thing down, but I've never really thought much about sugar. 

So the book inspired me to start reading labels to look for added sugars. Natural sugars from fruit are fine, but they say to watch for added sugar from cane sugar, fructose, glucose, and even maple and agave. About 25 grams a day is okay, but some processed foods can have that much in one serving. I've started using stevia more often (like for coffee or for sweetening sauces and even collard greens). But don't worry — I'm not giving up desserts! On days when I want a donut or scoop of ice cream, I just make sure not to eat added sugars elsewhere in my meals.

At the end of the book, they include some vegan, whole foods-based recipes, and I've been working my way through those. I loved their Tofu Turmeric Scramble

And the Oatmeal Amaranth Porridge was a great way to use up some of the amaranth that's been in my pantry for years. I never know what to do with that stuff! This has amaranth, oats, chia, walnuts, blueberries, and banana, and it's sweetened with stevia. I know some people don't care for stevia, but I like it!

These Spelt Pancakes with Chia-Berry Sauce were fantastic! The chia-berry sauce was stevia-sweetened, and it stands in for maple syrup. I'll still be using maple on my pancakes most days, but one tablespoon has a day's worth of sugar, so it's nice to have a substitute for days when I want to get my sugar elsewhere.

And finally, here's a dinner from the book. These Black Bean & Squash Enchiladas are stuffed with beans and delicata squash and topped with a garlicky homemade enchilada sauce. I will definitely make these again!

The exercise chapter recommends about 30 minutes of exercise a day, but as an endurance runner, I'm exceeding that by quite a bit. The unwind chapter is all about relaxation, like meditation and yoga, and I do those things daily. The restore chapter is about sleep, and I've been focusing on sleep hygiene lately and have gotten much better at it! My Garmin sleep score has been improving lately! The final chapter is about optimizing your brain through challenges and brain games, and I'm hoping to bring in some habits in 2022 to work on that (maybe learning a new language?!).

Team Sherzai also has a newer 30-Day Alzheimer's Solution book with a full plan and full-color cookbook, and I've asked for that for Christmas! So I'll probably be doing a 4-week meal plan at some point!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Vegan Chicken & Spaghetti!

Vegan chicken and spaghetti! But not together. Though that would be delicious too! Here are a few recent meals. I've been on a vegan chicken kick lately. Last week, I had some Fry's Family Foods Chick'n Nuggets with Annie's Rich & Creamy Vegan Mac and Kale. The Fry's nuggets are really tasty, especially crisped up in the air fryer. And that boxed vegan Annie's mac is excellent! I got the kind with bits of broccoli. I think Daiya boxed mac is still my fave, but this was good.

I also recently made the Gardein Nashville Hot Chicken with Coleslaw, Whole Wheat Biscuits (from Cookin' Crunk), and Kale. Also, some cashew ranch for dipping! This was my first time trying the Gardein Nashville hot chicken, and it was awesome! My friend Greg bought these tenders when he was visiting Memphis last month, and he accidentally left them in my fridge. Yay for me!! I'll buy him some more when I see him again.

And here's a recent Spaghetti Plate with canned mushrooms, baby spinach, marinara, and lots of nooch. I always prefer fresh mushrooms, but we keep cans in the pantry for those nights when we make pasta and forget to buy mushrooms (it happens a lot!).

Monday, November 29, 2021

Thanksgiving & Black Friday Recap!

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving! I sure did, despite the fact that Thanksgiving was a little different this year. Most years, I head to my parents' house on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and spend the night at their house. On Thursday, I get up and run, and then I'm in the kitchen helping my mom finish up the cooking.

But Paul had to have surgery on Tuesday for diverticulitis, and he was in the hospital for five days. I spent most every night there (except for Friday, more on that in a few), so I knew I'd be there Wednesday night. Also, my parents moved this year, and they're about two and a half hours from Memphis (before, they were just an hour away). So we decided to do a quick Thanksgiving lunch at my me-maw's house. She still lives in my hometown, just an hour away. My mom and me-maw did the cooking, and I just left the hospital in time to get there for a late lunch!

We had all the usual stuff my mom makes — Tofurky, my mama's amazing vegan dressin, hash brown casserole, homemade rolls, and cranberry sauce. And me-maw cooked some corn and chickpeas. My mom always makes everything vegan so I can enjoy all the dishes (but they do have turkey and some non-vegan versions of the casseroles as well). 

My parents aren't pumpkin fans (I know, it's crazy!), so our dessert is usually not very seasonal. But that's okay! This year, we had Daiya Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping, and it was delicious!

Here's my family! My mom is holding my "uncle" Gray Boy (me-maw's cat!).

After lunch, I made the drive back to Memphis and headed back to the hospital. Paul was eating some solids by then, so I brought him a small plate of leftovers.

The next morning, I hung out at the hospital for most of the day, but after spending three nights there, I wanted to sleep in my own bed. And I always put my holiday decor up on Black Friday, so I wanted to do that too. I went home around 6 pm that night and made myself a lovely Holiday Charcuterie plate with Miyoko's cheddar slices, Renegade vegan salami crackers, Bubbie's pickles, pickled green tomatoes, marcona almonds, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, hummus, figs, and grapes. 

I enjoyed a glass of wine with my snacks, and then I made a spiked nog drink with the Chobani Oat Nog (excellent stuff!!). 

Here's my solstice tree!

Black Friday is also my veganaversary! I've been vegan for 18 years and vegetarian for 28 years!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Coming Soon! Guru's City Vegan

Memphis is about to get another totally vegan restaurant! Guru's City Vegan is planning an opening at 209 S. Highland in the next few months, which will bring us to five all-vegan restaurants (Imagine Vegan Cafe, Plant-Based Heat, Raw Girls, Da Guilty Vegan food truck, and Guru's). Plus, the city has lots of vegan options at non-vegan restaurants! 

Guru's has been doing pop-ups around the city to get the word out and build a following, and they're typically at Grind City Brewing on Saturday nights. I was there on a recent Saturday but forgot they would be there and accidentally ate dinner right before heading to the brewery. I was so bummed that I wasn't hungry, so I made it a point to try them the following week when they had a Monday night pop-up at Cordelia's Market in Harbor Town. 

I got the City Ribs with Mac & Cheese and Granny's Greens. Y'ALL. THIS PLATE WAS FIRE.

The ribs were soy-based and reminded me of a vegan meat product I tried years ago but could never find again. I don't even remember the brand, but I loved that stuff! So I loved these tangy, juicy vegan ribs. The mac had lots of rosemary, and it was creamy and satisfying. And the greens — wow!! These tasted very much like MY granny's greens!

Besides the pop-ups, they're also doing mass feeding events to feed the homeless here in Memphis, and they recently held an event where they fed 300-plus people (with volunteer help from local rap artists 8Ball and Al Kapone)!

I've peeped out their menu for the brick-and-mortar, and it looks phenomenal! Vegan fried chicken, nachos, drumsticks, quesadillas, lasagna, tacos, grilled cheese, po boys. They've got everything! If you're in Memphis, give them a follow on IG to see where they're popping up next. I'll definitely keep y'all posted when they open their restaurant space. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Race Recap: Nashville Rock & Roll Marathon

Last Saturday, I ran the Nashville Rock & Roll Marathon, and after years of trying, I finally crossed the finish line! In 2018, I signed up for the race and got a stress fracture in my foot two weeks before the race. In 2019, Paul and I ran it together (you can read that race recap here), but we didn't make the cutoff time and were pulled from the race at mile 19. I'm a slower runner, so I'm always chasing cutoffs, but that was my first (and only) experience actually being cut off from finishing. In 2020, I signed up again, but we had this little pandemic that canceled everything so ...

Fast forward to this year: This year's race was actually the rescheduled 2020 race, and it was supposed to happen in spring 2021 but was moved AGAIN to this past weekend. I was soooo glad to FINALLY be running it again! Here I am at the race expo at Nissan Stadium (where the Tennessee Titans play) the day before the race.

I arrived in Nashville on Friday around 2 pm and went straight to the expo. The expo was pretty slim this year. Just a few booths, besides the usual bib and shirt check-in tables. I guess Covid has killed big race expos too. After I worked my way through the expo, I drove to Brentwood to check into my hotel. And then I headed out to Nicoletto's Italian Kitchen because I'd heard they have vegan meatballs and egg-free homemade pasta.

Wow! I may have a new favorite Nashville restaurant! I ordered the Spinach Fettucine with Marinara and Vegan Meatballs, and it was perfection! All of their handmade pastas are vegan, and the big ass meatballs are made with seitan. I probably shouldn't have eaten every bite because I try not to overdo it the night before a race, but it was too good. So I ate it all!

After dinner, I went back to my hotel and enjoyed my one pre-race beer, a Memphis Made Colonial Aggression ESB that I packed from home, while I watched a Forensic Files marathon on HLN. I have a bit of a true crime addiction. 

I went to bed super-early — 8:30ish — since I needed to be up at 4 am for the race. I didn't sleep very well by myself in a new place, but I got up at 4 am and heated my bagel with peanut butter, got dressed, and headed back to Nissan Stadium for the race. They had free parking at the stadium until 6 am, but my race didn't start until 7:20 am. I arrived around 5:30 am and had to sit in my car for about an hour (it was too cold to head to the start line). 

Here I am in my "throwaway clothes" (most races donate discarded items, so I always grab warm stuff from the Goodwill to wear before a race in cooler weather) heading to the start! It was in the 30s at the race start, but thankfully, the weather warmed to almost 60 during the race.

The race got off to a great start, and I was surprised that I was able to hold a fast (for me!!) pace for the first half of the race. Negative splits are ideal, but I've never been able to master that in a marathon, so I like to run a little faster in the first half since I know I'll slow down as I tire. It's not a perfect strategy, but it typically works for me.

The first half of this race is always a giant party because the Rock & Roll series races tend to attract way more half-marathoners. So for 13 miles, you're running with a big crowd. And then the half-marathoners split off, and you're suddenly all alone (or at least that's how it is in the back of the pack where I am). In the past, the second half went through a desolate business district, and it was super-sad. But they changed the course this year, after complaints from runners, and the second half went through a park. 

There was a 3-ish mile loop that repeated twice in that park, and as I entered the park for my first loop, I spotted the mile 24 sign. I knew I wanted to stop and get a picture there if I made it past the cutoff again. I had a good feeling I'd finish the race because my pace was much faster than in 2019. Once I made it into that second loop, I knew I'd made it past the cutoff, and I got a little teary! Paul wasn't able to run with me this year because he's having some health issues, so I knew I needed to finish this race for the both of us.

I finally got to that mile 24 sign and stopped for that picture. I texted this to Paul and said "I'm gonna finish this thing!" He'd been tracking me on my Garmin so he knew I was doing well!

I crossed the finish line only a few seconds slower than my marathon PR from the Little Rock 2020 Marathon! Technically, my Garmin said the Nashville course was a little long, so if I were going by my watch, this race was a PR! Either way, I finished in an excellent (for me!) time!

I was so proud of myself. And I couldn't wait for that free post-race beer. So I hobbled over to the beer tent, only to discover that they were only giving out alcohol-free Heineken. WHAT?! That was a bummer. 

Oh well. I downed my one booze-free beer and then headed to Paul's parents' house (they live in Nashville) for a quick shower. Then I went to Wild Cow for a post-race treat. I wanted to eat everything, but I finally settled on a Gyro Pita Sandwich (made with seitan, mixed greens, tomato, cucumber, olives, and tzatziki) with Hummus & Chips. All that bread and seitan and salt hit the spot!

Then I hopped in the car for the three-hour drive back to Memphis! I was stiff and sore from the race, so bathroom stops were a challenge. But I made it. As soon as I walked in the door, I opened a REAL beer — a 9% ABV Over Achiever Imperial IPA. I figured I'd earned that!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Biscuits, Porridge, & Tofu Scram

Sorry for the lack of posting last week! It was just a busy week. This past weekend, I ran the Nashville Rock & Roll Marathon, and I'll post a full race recap soon. But today, here's a quick post with some recent breakfasts. 

A couple Sundays ago, I woke up and realized I had everything I needed to make Biscuits & Gravy! I'm loving this break from 50K training because it means sleeping in and not running on Sundays. And that means big breakfasts! I had some Gardein vegan sausage and homemade vegan biscuits (from a recent dinner) in the freezer, so I whipped up the sausage sage gravy from Cookin' Crunk and had myself a nice breakfast feast.

Speaking of biscuits, here's a Black-eyed Pea Sausage Biscuit from LuLu's that I picked up from the Cooper-Young Farmer's Market. I'd planned to take it home and heat it after my run that day, but I was so famished after my run that I just ate it cold in the car. Was still delicious!

And here's a Tofu Scramble plate! I used the No Meat Athlete recipe from their Health Made Simple plan with lots of turmeric, cumin, onions, garlic, and spinach. Plus, some air-fried home fries on the side.