Wednesday, November 7, 2012

skyrise!

**SKYRISE CHICAGO - Sears Tower - 14:57
1st place female - 5th place overall - tied course record**

Let’s step back a bit
I was traveling most of September, over Labor Day I was in Vienna for the Millennium Tower Run-Up, I came home for about a week then was off to Italy for 10 days with my parents.  My race in Milan was cancelled so it became just a vacation, I wasn’t really sure what that meant, haha.  I’m used to traveling for a specific purpose and most of my trips were quite short.  Go there, get it done and head home.  I actually welcomed the change of pace; it was nice not having to think about a race at all, I could do whatever I wanted.  I took this as a period of time to recharge myself, get in some easy workouts before smashing myself training for Sears.  My dad and I did a bunch of running and I also got him to do a stair workout on the Spanish steps with me.  Talk about a different and neat experience :)
While in Europe, my rawness kinda dissipated.  I fell back into the trap of bread.  It had a hold of me, one that I wasn’t proud of.  I couldn’t escape its grasp!  I was eating chocolate croissants and things I wouldn’t normally touch but I was in the mood to indulge.  I could tell my body wasn’t really a fan of this though, I felt sluggish, slow and just blah.  I came back and my stair workouts suffered as well, I wasn’t hitting my usual times so I knew it was time to say good-bye to bread again.  It just doesn’t work with my body and/or training and I can’t control myself around it.  Give me a loaf of grainy nutty fresh bread and I’d most likely devour it in 2 days.   I kicked the habit and instantly felt leaner and my times drastically decreased again!  Yes, I was back!!!
Step it up
Once I got back, I had a little over a month to kill my training before my big race of the fall.  I knew that I had to be spot on with my training; I had to increase the incline, hit more of it and had to be vertically focused.  I switched things up a bit, I continued to put time in on the rower to give me some arm strength and hit my secret training machine to provide another 1-2 vertical arm punch.  I cranked the treadmill and ran easy mountain runs, conquered cobra intervals and was hitting the stairs 2-3 times a week.  I started doing sprints and running in the stairwell once or twice a week and was hitting the bigger Z steps on the weekend, trying to line up solid 5 climb averages.  3 weeks in a row, I hit my best averages and I felt awesome doing it.  My mental attitude was sky-high and my training was all there.  I was having high hopes for sears.  I can see the skyline from my office so I “staired” at that tower every day and just became fixated with it but prevented myself from obsessing over the race.   I wanted to add this tower to my collection of towers I’ve dominated in the Chicago skyline.  I wanted to look up at that beast and know that I finally slayed the fire breathing dragon and owned him.  I didn’t want him to break my heart again or chew me up and spit me out like he’s done in previous years.  It’s funny because when I think back about last year, I have a distaste in my mouth and feel unpleased with my climb yet when I look back in my log its nothing but positive.  I saw how thrilled I was with my time; hit my goal time and this or that.  Strange how your opinion changes, like when you’re giving it your all during a race and you’re telling yourself that you’re pushing it to the limits but you finish and 5 minutes later think you could’ve pushed a smidge harder.  At least I tend to wonder that…
 Driving in and looking up
I really hadn’t been thinking about the specifics of this race, I wanted to do well but I didn’t wanna pressure myself because I think I’m a stronger athlete when I’m positive and don’t get bogged down with the details.  But I usually start second guessing just about everything when it comes down to it.  Was my training enough, am I really capable of the goal times I have in mind.  Sears usually runs about 4 minutes slower/longer than Hancock or Aon so based on those times, the thought of a sub 15 climb lingered on my mind yet I was hesitant to say it out loud or actually tell anyone.  I had a goal of sub 15:30, under 15:15 would be superb and seeing a 14 in the first 2 digits would just be stellar.  Besides Cindy Harris, no female had gone under 15 at Sears, which was a lot to take in. 
I figured out my splits for floor 25, halfway at 52 and floor 75.  Once we got to the higher floors, the configuration of the building would switch, for the first 65 floors we turned right on steep steps then we’d spin off down a little hallway take on a giant massive flight of steps then start turning left.  It also got real funky towards the top because there would be 3 flights per floor so additional turning and that slows ya down so I had to take that into consideration.  The splits couldn’t be equal all the way up; there would be some time differences.  I set my goal time for 15:05 and set the splits accordingly to 3:20 for 25 floors, 7:10 at halfway and 10:25 at 75.  Then I’d only have like 4:30ish left and would need to start giving it my all or pushing to another gear somewhere in the last 25 floors. 
I decided to sleep in my own bed the night before the climb, would save me cash then I could get my coffee on while driving in.  I wasn’t all that nervous until I was driving and could see the tower looming in the distance.  It looked so tall and like it would swallow me whole in the blink of an eye.  My heart started racing and the caffeine didn’t help.  My hands were getting clammy.  I got there and just didn’t know what to do with myself.  I ran through my splits in my head, chatted with my step-siblings.  Blasted some Kelly Clarkson – stronger through my headphones and just visualized my race trying to let nothing get to me.  I’d been training with music the past few weeks and I found it to be motivational but didn’t trust myself to use it during a race, figured it’d make me go training pace which would be way too fast for sears and I’d blow it so I was stuck listening to the sound of my extreme breathing. 
I wanted one last bathroom break before heading to the starting line and saw my step-brothers walking up the escalator.  I wasn’t paying attention and of course they were walking up the down escalator as a warm-up.  As soon as I stepped on I knew I was in trouble, I wasn’t really a fan of this experience.  I didn’t like the movement and I just felt unsteady, anyways I continued upward in a downward fashion.  I reached the top and stepped on the flat moving part like I would on a normal up escalator except this was moving backwards, the steps slipped out from under me.  My hands planted into the top and my knee slammed into the step.  Dang!  That’s no good, I got up, I had escalator marks on my leg, and my knee was throbbing and instantly swelled up.    My knee looked like a fericious feline had scratched me, I joked that I now had the blood of a lion in me.  I attempted to jog around, not a pleasant feeling and my hands were feeling it too, how would they feel yanking the rail for 100 floors?!?  Great, 10 minutes before taking on the tallest tower, I do something stupid.  I jogged around some more and tried to loosen it up, it wasn’t feeling any better. 
We got to the starting line and the nerves started to really hit.  It felt surreal that this race was finally here; of course we all stood around trying to decide who should start where.  Cindy insisted that I go in front of her so I started behind the Stair Climb Lunatic; we were shooting for similar times.  Some other random guys decided to weasel their way in front of us as well, great, now I’m gonna have to lose time trying to get around them.
Climbing higher and higher
I watched Dinkin disappear into the stairwell and patiently waited for the next several seconds until I was given the go ahead.  I ran in there and started to do my thing. I kept telling myself to stay relaxed, there’s no need to blow the race in the first 25 floors.  Last year I was 20 seconds faster than I was supposed to be (I believe I actually hit a 3:05 which was quicker than my goal pace this year!), I didn’t want the same thing to happen this time.  My goal was aggressive so needed to stay on target.  It’s hard to see the floors in this tower, there are several signs with numbers on them and it’s kinda off to the side.  I quickly came upon a few guys who started off in front of me, great now I gotta get around them just like I predicted before the start.  One guy actually muttered something beneath his breath (probably something related to being scared since he was about to get chicked!) and picked up the pace, started running.  Seriously?!?  You’re gonna play this game and try to stay in front of me?  This frustrated me instantly.  I got behind one of the guys and politely asked him to move aside which he did.  Came up on another one, was right behind him for a flight or two, literally one step behind him.  He wouldn’t budge, finally I was like umm, excuse me and he stepped outta the way.  Passed the “runner guy” too.  Ok, now that we crossed that hurdle, I can get back into my routine. 
I saw one final guy in the distance, it was SCL.  He looked down and saw me, shouted some words of encouragement.  I turned the corner on a landing and he swung wide, using the outside rail.  Graciously letting me by, he yelled something along the lines of “go, spider, go!” and gave me a boost of encouragement, motivation and then I was gone! He later said that he felt a gust of wind as I blew by, haha.  My response was that I doubt I’m capable of producing any gusts but perhaps more of a slight breeze. 
Got to the 25 floor mark and glanced at my watch, 3:10.  A bit fast but not as extreme as last year, 9 seconds in the bank.  Continued with the rhythm, tried not to look at the floors.  Didn’t wanna play mind games with myself.  Didn’t need to be fixated on every passing floor!  I was still feeling strong and relaxed.  Just one hand over the other, grabbing that rail and stepping up 2 steps at a time. 
Finally, I reached the halfway point, floor 52 – 7:00; I was still about 10 seconds ahead of pace.  I was starting to feel it now; the next 25ish floors were drastically harder.  I found myself repeating this phrase to myself “I hate this right now, I hate this right now”, the little demons started to take over.  Then I would quickly tell myself not to think that and I’d go back to something positive or just not thinking at all.  I looked at the signs on the wall, you’ve now climbed the height of the Eiffel tower or the Space Needle or you can see 3 states from the Skydeck.  I’m probably one of the only top climbers who sees those things.  Floor 66 spits ya out down a little hallway and forces ya up this massive long steep flight, its kinda never-ending.  Then it evens out again.  I tasted that blood-iron taste in my mouth and my breathing was rapid fire and so was my heart rate.
Approached 75 and checked the watch – 10:25.  Oh, now I was dead on my goal pace.  That means I lost the 10 seconds I had in the 1st half.  I was still encouraged being on pace, could be worse and I could be behind.  I knew I had about 4:30ish left to go so really had to give it my all.  4:30 isnt that long but when your legs are already feeling like iron dead weights, your arms wanna fall off and your lungs are filled with fire covered daggers, 4:30 can be an excruciatingly long period of time.  I started to dig deep and found myself repeating that same phrase “I hate this right now”.  My mind quickly retreated back to the positive demon on my other shoulder, he would give better advice.  The flights start to change towards the top, they get smaller/shorter and theres 3 per floor instead of 2.  This was gonna slow me down regardless of how I felt and I felt like I was creeping along!!  I really tried to pick up the pace the last 5, 10, 20 floors and it was like I had nothing.  My legs couldn’t go any faster; I was stutter-stepping on the landings and was pushing off my knee instead of relying on the rail.  In a last ditch effort, I attempted to veer down the middle of the stairwell and use both rails but realized that’s not my style and went back to the inner lane and my beloved inner rail.  I was starting to see spots and I knew I didn’t have much time.  I looked at my watch at one point and still had a couple of minutes left, I had no idea what pace I was going or what my finishing time was gonna be but I suspected it was slower than my goal.  I couldn’t hear Cindy or anyone else so figured I was in the clear as far as anyone passing me and I just hung on for dear life.  I tried to bound and give it that extra effort but I just couldn’t will my body to do anything.  Maybe the extra turns make the end feel more dramatic and worse than it actually is but wow it wasn’t pretty.  Some volunteer asked if I was ok or if I needed help, geesh, I must really look bad or sound like a dying wild animal. 
Floor 100, oh my gosh really only 3 floors left.  Were at the end and I really tried to pick it up. 102, one floor left come on do something.  I could hear the cheers from the top and volunteers saying 1 floor left.  I tried to kinda “run” that last flight.  I flung myself across the mat and down onto the carpet.  I laid there motionless for a while, trying to catch my breath.  My entire body felt limp and I looked at my watch – 14:56.  Oh my gosh!!  Excitement rushed through my head but at the same time I couldn’t even process it.  I had no idea how I made up that extra time, I thought I was gonna be like 15:15 or something, the last several floors made me lose hope of sub 15.  I finally got up and attempted to crawl across the floor, my knee was throbbing.  When I made it over to a few of my step-brothers I just laid there in heap.   All I could do was show them my watch.  I felt really sick and just not good; I tried to walk around a bit.  My throat still felt like it was lined with daggers, I had this pounding headache and my knee locked up.  Luckily I didn’t notice my knee at all during the climb and my hands were totally fine too.  I was yawning uncontrollably as well, not like a small weak yawn but like the yawn of a lion. 
We took a bunch of pictures and waited around for everyone to finish.  My step-siblings did a tremendous job, a bunch of them climbed their fastest times and others were ecstatic with climbing this beast for the first time.  I was eager for my dad to finish, this was his first time doing sears and I couldn’t wait to see him.  He finally popped out of the stairwell and a huge smile came across my face and I gave him a giant wave!!  He had been sick the past few days so he didn’t his his goal time but  I was proud of him regardless, he took on the challenge and didn’t give up.  It was great having him there and introducing him to my step-siblings.
I was so thrilled about my time and knew that I had possibly passed or tied the course record which was incredible.  I just couldn’t believe that I won this race and could add the sears tower to my collection of Chicago skyscrapers.  That was my goal and I did it.  And I placed 5th overall, only 4 guys beat me!! 
This race really took a lot out of me; I was mentally and physically exhausted on Monday!!  My nervous system was fried, my knee was still throbbing and my forearms, abs and back were all sore but my legs felt fine, haha.  I decided to take a rest day.  Tuesday was a little better but was still not feeling up to doing anything so took it easy again.  No reason to force myself into training, I deserve a few easy rest days before I start cranking out training at warp speed again.   It seems like this 15:00 race oobliterates me more than a marathon!  But maybe I wasn’t running them fast enough, who knows.  But dang, that tower packed a punch!  At least now I can say that I own the beast! 
It’s so crazy that this race is over; the whole thing went by so quickly! I really can’t even believe everything I’ve done this year and everywhere I’ve gone.  Its kinda surreal.   Now it’s time to start focusing on the other Chicago towers and crushing them in 2013.  First I have to take on a new challenge, the XTERRA 21k trail world championships in Oahu, Hawaii.  I’ve never done a race like this so I have no expectations but maybe my climbing legs will do some work and produce some impressive results.  Then it’s the smaller 58 floor CF climb at 300 N. LaSalle, I just love this building and it’s a fun no pressure kinda race.  But the main focus is on Aon, Empire and Hancock.  Those are my 3 jewels for the winter climbing season; PT is in the mix too but kind of an afterthought.  Stratosphere is a possibility and so is the Big Climb in Seattle along with Aon LA, which is another favorite of mine.  Not sure what other major races I’ll do next year, would like to hit more on the international circuit.  Taipei 101 is one that I would like to return to, there’s no doubt about that!  I'm really looking forward to this upcoming stair season, I cant wait to see all my step-siblings on a regular basis!!  So lucky to have such a great family, were all insane and i love it!
Plenty of time to get back into the groove and crank out the training.   Perhaps I’ll switch it up for a bit although whatever I’m doing seems to be working so might just stick with that but I think I’ll tweak a few minor things. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

finding myself in austria :)

Recent Tower Training
I told myself when August rolled around; it was time to really start to crack down on the vertical training.  Sears would be here quicker than expected and I wanted to be ready this time around.  I started cranking out 10 rep workouts at the Z tower.  It felt good to be back in there; I’d been doing workouts in my tower but my steps were small and just seemed inadequate for the steepness of the steps inside the tallest skyscraper that looms over the Chicago skyline.  I knew that 10 climbs would take mental fortitude because even 5 climbs can seem daunting at times.  I’ve been reading Scott Jurek’s book Eat & Run so I’d pull motivational quotes from there and repeat them to myself during the climbs.  Also decided to bust out my ipod, first time I’d be climbing with music.  I could tell the beat determined my climb rate, which was sweet.  It kept my mind occupied and I cranked em out.  I hit 2:45 average for my first workout, seemed solid.  The next weekend, I was back in there doing my thing and chopped off a few seconds coming in at 2:40-2:43, felt good to drop the times.  The next week was even more of a shock when I averaged 2:37 for 10 climbs!!! I used to think that was a great average for 5 climbs so to hit it for 10 was encouraging.  The next week, my mind was a mess, scattered and all over the place, my body didn’t feel that great either.  I knew it was gonna be a long workout, I found myself doubting myself and what I could do.  The negative thoughts poured in and I tried my best to block them out but it didn’t happen, I was broken.  My times were ok but I just wasn’t feeling it.  I saw Brady after my 6th climb, he was done with his workout and I just couldn’t handle it, I felt too fragile and weak so I called mine too.  I was disappointed in myself for giving up and for talking myself down.  It was one of those bad days but after a few minutes I got back in there, hit some sprints instead, discovered one step running (something ill now incorporate into my workouts) and managed to eek out a total of 10 climbs.  It wasn’t the workout that I originally set out to do but I finished.   Afterwards, I was somewhat disappointed; I expected more of myself and my mental attitude.  The days when I fall short of positivity can be a real internal battle. 
The weekend before I was off to Vienna, I planned to see if I could break my 5 climb record.  That morning I entered the stairwell, with positivity but somewhat disheartened.  My legs didn’t feel super, it definitely wasn’t my best feeling workout physically but the times showed otherwise.  I didn’t smash my record but I did break it by 1 second, I’ll take it.  I pushed it so much on the last climb, I used everything I had, and my arms were taking on some of the work when my legs were feeling it.  I felt totally spent when I reached the top of the last one.  I was elated to set a 5 climb PR; it was a good sign of what’s to come. 
Leaving Drama Behind
Recently, I’ve been going through some personal melodrama and was really looking forward to escaping, to finding myself while wandering through the streets of Vienna and running in the mountains.  We moved into a new office for work and were having issues getting access to our files so I saving the few files I had to my desktop instead.  Tuesday afternoon, the IT logged onto my computer to try and solve the problem remotely, he quickly moved the mouse, deleting things and clicking this and that.  The next thing I know my desktop is almost completely bare.  I frantically searched for my files, they were gone, deleted!!  My past 3 days of work were lost and I had to get them to the client before I left the country, I searched my personal files and my training log had also been deleted.  My heart sank; my training for the past 6 months was erased.  That thing is so important to me, I had 2 versions and of course they were both gone.  I tried not to freak and before I left for the night we started a program to recover the deleted files.  When I got to work on Wednesday it was done but the files were corrupt!! I spent several precious hours on the phone with the IT guy, frustrated and annoyed.  All I wanted was an easy morning at work to tie up a few loose ends before heading to the airport but I didn’t get any of that, we found my training log but the files were useless.  (After note - I recalled that I had recently sent the calendar version in an email so all is not lost!!  I found it and am just missing a few random days in August, its not the detailed version with the guts of my every feeling and move but at least I know the quantity/gist of what I had done)
I left work to go for a run, planned on an easy jaunt through the forest by work.  Wanted to burn off some steam and excess energy before being cooped up on a plane for 11+ hours.  As soon as I started off, I realized I locked my keys in the car.  Great… at least my office is close by and luckily enough I work with my dad.  I ventured down the path, picking up the pace and raced into the building, even darted up the stairs.  Found my dad, we drove to my parent’s house to get my spare key and at this point, I was on the verge of a mini meltdown.  Tears streaming down my cheeks, I was so frazzled and knew I needed to find positivity and was worried that my race would suffer because of my poor mental attitude.  I felt better after my 5 mile run and a smile crept across my face, I wanted to put it all behind me and knew that I would find relief once I was on my way.
VIENNA!!
I arrived in Vienna around noon on Thursday, hopped on the train to the city and began to wander looking for my hotel.  I’m sure I Iooked like a major tourist wearing my oversized backpack, dragging luggage through the streets, stopping periodically on street corners to check my map.  I was overheating at this point too, had too many layers on and just kept wandering.  It seemed as though I was headed in the right direction but the streets aren’t exactly labeled as directly as they are in the US, brought back memories of London where we searched for and came within 50 feet of our hotel several times, haha.  The street names were on the sides of the buildings but I couldn’t tell which direction they were referring to, was it the the N/S or E/W street?  I finally found my hotel and tossed myself on the bed.  Laid around for a little bit then decided to go for a run, I feel the best way to explore a new place is by running.  You can get around much quicker and it lets me spot places that I’d like to return to at a later time.  I took off down the street, not really sure where I was gonna go.  I knew I was in the inner circle of the city and the loop around it was 5k so that seemed like a good route but I really had no idea how to get to that loop so I just went in the direction that suited me and if I saw somewhere interesting, I headed towards it.  I also brought my phone with me so I could snap action shots.  I came across this area filled with hustle and bustle, outside cafes in the streets, lots of fancy shops and plenty of people.  I made a mental note to definitely come back here; a smile came across my face.  I was on my way to finding what I was internally searching for, I love exploring on my own and experiencing new things, it lets me peel away another layer and discover more about myself.  I darted through the crowds and weaved around for 40 minutes.  That night I headed to a veggie place nearby called Yamm (reminded me of Tibbits in Basel), have a great veggie buffet and lots of raw options so this was good.  I also spotted some coffee shops to head to in the morning. 
Friday morning rolled around, it wasn’t all that nice out which was disappointing because I really wanted to sit outside enjoying a cappuccino or latte and reading but oh well, found a great indoor café.  So I loitered for a bit, and then wandered a bit more and stumbled into a starbucks to do a little more reading.  That afternoon, Norbert was going to show me some sights around Vienna.  First we went to Millennium Tower so I could get a glimpse of the stairwell.  It’s funky because a floor is 17 steps straight, no middle landing or turn.  And the rail was super high and close to the wall, kinda awkward for me but I’d have to make do with it.  I tried a few floors and actually felt refreshed; my legs felt pretty good going vertical despite feeling somewhat tired wandering around.
After leaving the tower, we headed to a famous cathedral. On the way Norbert decided to stop for some traditional Vienna sausage, yea no thanks!  The spicy mustard was awesome though, haha.  Once we got to the church, I wanted to take a tour of the catacombs; it was somewhat eerie and creepy looking at piles of bones and skulls under a church but interesting at the same time.  Some of the bones had been there since the black plague!  We then went up to the top of the steeple, the view was terrific.  Then it was off to a palace, the garden and park around it was beautiful.  I just wanted to take off running but knew I had to save my legs.  I was started to get tired and my legs knew it was about quitting time, so I headed back to the hotel and I was off to Yamm for dinner again.  Decided to enjoy a chai latte while doing some more reading, not sure if it was the caffeine or the time change but I couldn’t fall asleep until after 3:30!!  I’d check my watch every hour and still was laying there awake, fretting about losing sleep for the race. 
Millennium Tower Extreme Climb
Saturday morning, I woke up after about 3 or 4 hours of sleep and hit the pavement to loosen up my legs.  Wandered to a café for a bit then was off to the tower.  I wouldn’t start my climb until at least 3:30 pm so had practically the whole day to kill.  Got there and came across the friendly faces of other European climbers, its great coming together at an event.  It was only 1:30 so I sat around, got a coffee, I was trying to stick to my normal morning race routine.  Ate a banana about an hour before my race.  It was kinda cool and misty out so I decided to warm up inside, the tower is part of a mall so I weaved through the shoppers, unique warmup. 
3 by 48 floors, this should be interesting.  They started us by bib numbers for the first climb, not really sure of the rhyme or reason for starting numbers, some of the elite guys were behind me, perhaps it’s by registration date, who knows.  I knew I would have to pass people.  We started upstairs and then one by one walked down an escalator, across a hall to the stairwell, I just took my time.  I was in no hurry and the timing mat was right before the stairwell anyways.  But the timing guys were always waving me forward, alright, alright, I’ll pick up the pace to a slow jog to appease you.
I hadn’t given this race much thought so much else has been cluttering up my mind and I seemed to be more focused or excited about the mountain running I was gonna be doing the next couple of days, haha.  The race was an added bonus and I knew that the outcome didn’t really matter, I would do my best and that’s all I could ask of myself.  Suzy Walsham was there and I knew that she would be my main competition.  I knew the shorter tower would be an advantage for her but thought maybe the triple climb would play to my advantage and possibly equate to a taller tower. 
I wanted to check my watch along the way, 25 seemed like a good spot.  It wasn’t really halfway but was easily memorable.  I was at 2:36, ok that should put me around 5:00.  I had set 5:00 as a goal for myself; I’d like to average that for 3 climbs.  I had to pass several guys and some girls, of course a few came blowing by me at the start of the race, darting around me.  HA! I thought to myself, yea go right ahead I’ll be seeing you in a few floors and just as I predicted, I had to get around them.  After grabbing hands for a bit, I kindly asked people to move aside or let me through, luckily one girl just stepped aside on the landing and the other guys graciously stepped outta the way. 
The last 4 floors are smaller, more turns like a normal stairwell and the rail changed too.  Was white and spindly, I tried to use the vertical poles as leverage and the turns were awkward because it was very square and a large pole was up the middle that would sometimes disrupt my rhythm.   I didn’t really push myself at the end, just kept a relaxed pace.  Didn’t wanna burn my legs on the first climb, checked my watch as I crossed the mat – 5:06.  Umm, alright, I guess that’s ok.  I saw Suzy in the way down, she clocked at 5:07, sweet, I had a second lead and it showed on the leader board.  I knew that both of us had held back but I had a feeling that she held back more than I did but I did think to myself “could I possibly win this”, the thought quickly crept into and out of my mind, I didn’t wanna focus on that and knew that she would probably blaze the next one. 
After the first climb, they put you in starting order of your finishing time so Suzy was starting one spot behind me, excellent (sarcastic response).  We had to wait for everyone to finish and meander down, at this point my legs were feeling alright but as time wore on, I was getting that jittery feeling and just wanted to get it over with.  I was also having some major cotton mouth issues, water didn’t seem to provide any relief.  After about 20 minutes, we lined up to start the 2nd climb.  I was nervous about Suzy starting behind me, not really the position I wanted to be in.  I could hear her hot on my tail as soon as we started, she went running past me within the first 20 floors, I asked her if she wanted to get by but she just blazed by on the outside.  Running like it was no big effort and here I was yanking the rail.  I let her go, I knew there was no sense in me trying to chase her and I just wanted to do my own thing.  It was me against the tower, there was nothing I could do about her phenomenal speed.  I kept climbing, trying to encourage myself.  Looked at floor 25 and was 2:28, sweet about 8 seconds faster the 1st climb.  I was feeling this one a bit more.  I stayed focus on my technique and kept yanking the rail.  I still wasn’t sure how hard I should push because we had that 3rd climb looming over us.  I crossed the mat and dropped my hands to my knees, wow that was a bit rough.  Watch – 4:57, sweet chopped off a decent chunk of time.  Suzy clocked a 4:40 – wow that’s untouchable. So much for my 1 second lead, haha now I was about 15-20 seconds behind.  I knew that I couldn’t make up 15 seconds there was no way, the guys race had the same sort of results. 
My mouth was so dry and thirsty, the feeling just wouldn’t go away.  My legs were really feeling creepy crawly now, I paced and sat around stretching with Suzy waiting for the next climb.  After the 2nd climb, we passed a bunch of guys in the overall standings; guess they couldn’t hold the pace, haha.  The rest before the 3rd climb was closer to 30 minutes and I was getting very antsy.  I just wanted to get it over with and was hoping that I could finish faster than the 2nd climb, but didn’t wanna explode and crawl in with a slower time.  The next woman was about 30 seconds behind me so I figured 2nd place was pretty much a sure thing but I was still a bit nervous, anything can happen in the stairwell. 
Started off the 3rd climb, the rail was just so awkward, with it being so close to the wall; I could tell that my left arm had to swing in an unusual movement to reach up.  It was also quite high for a person my size, haha.  Most of the other climbers were running up the steps but I stuck to my technique, sometimes I’m amazed that  most of the other international climbers run the steps and I just stick to the inside, using the rail and I can keep up with them!  Seems encouraging to me, not sure how I’d do if I tried their style, would I perhaps be faster in shorter climbs?  I’ve been doing some 1 step running the past few workouts; my legs really feel it around 10 floors so it’s something I would need to get used to.  I think in the shorter towers the strategy is just fine but not sure how well they’d do in a beast like sears!! 
Anyways, I could feel the fatigue on the 3rd climb.  Couldn’t really tell my pace when I started off but when I checked at 25, I was 2:31 oh geesh that’s 3 seconds slower than the 2nd climb, that is no good!  I instantly picked up the pace and started bounding.  I had designed 35 as the go floor but I had to pick it up before then.  I eased back into a quicker step cadence and periodically picked it up a bit.  When 35 came around, I put in the surge and then again every few floors.  My arms were finally starting to pick up the slack when my legs were starting to give out, glad all my hard work to get rid of the chicken wings seemed to be beneficial!!  When 40 hit, I thought ok 4 floors then it’s the 4 mini floors.  I hit those mini floors and wanted to really kick it up, I could see a guy right in front of me, I stumbled and fumbled with that rail trying to keep the quicker pace.  I dropped the rail and ran the last flight to the top and onto the mat.  I didn’t collapse, nor did I want to because it was cool and rainy and seemed unpleasant and I hadn’t pushed to that limit.  Watch – 4:55!  Yes, I dropped 2 seconds and really picked it up in the 2nd half which is fantastic. 
Suzy creamed me again hitting 4:38 for her 3rd climb so each of us chopped of 2 seconds.  I was elated with finishing second and my increasingly faster times.  I really did all that I could, I probably could’ve pushed harder but I think mentally I was torn because I knew there was nothing I could do to catch her and just pushed myself to that comfortably hard spot.  I didn’t go over the edge; I was teetering somewhat close to it though.  Now that the race was over, it was on to the real fun – chocolate cake and mountain running!!!
Mountains :)
For the next 2 days, I headed out to the countryside about an hour outside of Vienna.  Norbert was going to show me where he lives and take me to a few of his favorite training spots.  When I woke up Sunday, I went for a short run by my hotel.  There was a little trail that leads to a great view so I explored that.  That morning, we were meeting his dad so he could take some pictures of us for the local newspaper then wandered the streets of the town.  We went to lunch at his house and his mom made a few traditional Austrian things including a dumpling filled with an apricot and served with fresh plum and apple jams.  Also served Kaiserschmarrn – its basically a pancake but it was crumbled up and had raisins in it.  Both were quite tasty. 
Then it was off to the mountains!!  We started with the Durnstein castle track first, this one is mostly steps and takes about 5 minutes to run up.  I’m not a huge fan of running outdoor steps, my legs are too small and I just kinda seem to struggle but I did my best to keep up.  The view was amazing!  The only problem with the mountain training is having to go back down so you can do it all over again, I can feel it in my joints and muscles.  We got to the bottom and decided to head over to another track down the street, Norbert hadn’t ran this one yet so it was totally new to both of us.  It was a narrow trail; one step in the wrong spot could send you toppling over the edge.  I loved the trail, this was more my style and seemed much easier than the steps!!  We cruised to the top, I was carrying my phone so I could snap a picture at any moment and at one point, it buzzed in my hand I looked to see a text asking if I was busy.  Haha, I thought well I’m running up a mountain so yea, I’m a bit busy!  At the top Norbert was shocked that I could run and read at the same time, seemed like it was too easy for me.  That run was great, the trail took about 10 minutes so a good chunk of verticalness. 
That night we met his parents at a wine house / cellar.  I had some fresh grape juice mixed with seltzer water instead of wine, good choice!  Also had some bread and veggies, everyone else was eating meat platters so obviously not my type of thing, haha.  We were able to go into the cellar; it sure is chilly down there!!  But neat to see. 
Sunday, I took off on another morning run.  This time I hit the streets for some vertical running, kept it at 20 minutes because I knew the mountain that was waiting for me in the afternoon would be brutal.  My legs were actually feeling really good, I was feeling fresh and wasn’t sore at all from the day before.  I think all the easy/rest days leading up to the race gave me some time to recover so I was ready to go despite the triple race and 2 mountain climbs plus an easy run that took place during the past 2 days.  I went to breakfast and was extremely tempted by all the fresh breads and jams, I think I over loaded on tiny slices of whole grain bread packed with sunflower seeds, the fresh jams were just too good to resist – strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, apricot, etc.  plus there was tons of fruit.  I’ll get to talking about being vegan and raw while traveling at the end of this. 
More wandering in the morning, I was searching for trinkets which mostly means chocolate souvenirs, ha.  Found some special apricot chocolate and bought a few different varieties to share at home.  We met Norbert’s mom for lunch at a café on the Danube, I had a fancy cup of fruit.  I really wasn’t that hungry after my bread explosion at breakfast and didn’t wanna overload before the mountain run. 
This mountain track leads up to a church and is 1.5 km in length and 250 m high.  We started off with a warm-up run, Norbert said I was running too fast.  He’s not a fladlander runner so my easy running pace was a bit much for him, I knew he’d cream me when we started up the mountain.  On average it takes him about 10-11 minutes to reach the top but his fastest is in the 9 minute range.  This was a paved path mixed with steps; I cringed at the steps, ha.  That’s when I’d lose my ground but I could make up some speed on the vertical pavement.  I told him to do what he wanted, he didn’t have to stick with me, I just wanted to enjoy the experience without totally killing myself.  Within seconds, my heart rate was through the roof and my breathing was outta control, wow this thing is killer!  I checked my watch at one point, 4:00, only 4:00 oh dang!  It just kept going up, it was unrelenting.  Every now and again, I could feel a bit of relief and could pick up the pace, we’d hit he steps and I’d fall a bit behind and I tried to use the time for a bit of recovery (ha!).  It kept snaking up and up, checked my watch again around 8:00 alright; I can hang for another 2-3 minutes.  Norbert told me when there were about 50 meters left and I was disappointed by a false finish, kept pushing through and reached the top in 10:39.  That was incredible!!  This would be perfect training for sears or hancock, the timing is just right.  I was feeling obliterated, there’s nowhere to ease up during that climb.  Norbert was very impressed, said he was really feeling it and that I was very strong.  Not too shabby for one of my first mountain runs :) 
We went to the halfway mark to run back up to the top, this time we planned to dart off on another route.  This path seemed much steeper!!  I could tell I was really pushing it during that time.  My calves were getting worked.  Of course there were several steps before the finish but also a long flat run, I sprinted and my legs felt surprisingly great.  I thought they’d be wobbly and worthless but I really gained some speed – finished the half climb in 4:39. 
Norbert then wanted to head to the bottom for some 60 second sprints; I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.  As we were wandering down, I saw a good spot without any steps so decided to do some sprints there.  I could do my own thing on the mountain which seemed like a good idea.  I didn’t know how long this section would take me but I was gonna give it my best shot.  The first time I finished in 1:30, I turned around and ran back down then turned around and right back up again.  Pushed it a bit harder time and hit 1:24, cool cut off 6 seconds.  Turned around and back down and back up, really wanted to get faster again.  I turned the corner and wanted to give my final push, felt like I was creeping along, I could see my finish spot and just really turned on the burners, my legs were giving it their all.  My calves screaming – 1:22, super!!  I was pleased with that so I started the trek back down.  I got there and saw Norbert sprawled on the ground, he was totally spent.  I was feeling upbeat, perky and happy, kinda wanting to do some more, haha.  He told me I could do a cool down or run some more but I declined because the Danube Tower stairwell was waiting for us.  A stair workout after this, we must be nuts!
I never realized what kinda tower this was until we came upon it, reminded me of the stratosphere in Vegas or space needle in seattle.  A tall and skinny tower, you run inside the core of it.  The new tower director was pleased to show us around and to meet me.  He took us into the stairwell, showed us the different levels at the top.  Norbert was familiar with the tower but this was new to me.  It was awesome being welcomed with open arms considering most buildings shut their doors and refuse to let you in the stairwell.  The director was off to Seattle to visit the space needle for some tall tower conference, I told him they should get a race in the needle.  So he gave me his business card, told me to give him my contact info.  He was going to bring it up and wanted to share any additional information with me.  Sweet!
The stairwell was very dark and dirty!!  You could see dirt piling on the steps and the rail.  It was creepy in there; steps were metal and see through.  There wasn’t much space to grab the rail since there was a fence connected to it as well; there were a few long landings to run and other spots where you’d hear a loud crash/thud as your foot pounded the ground on a turn.  The floor numbers started at 60 and were decreasing, that was kinda nice.  Never seen that before, meant that I could instantly tell how much until the finish and didn’t have to do the math.  I started off at a comfortable pace and just kinda did my own thing.  5:22. My hands were covered in dirt by the time I finished and I was constantly wiping them during the climb, even came across a few spider webs that I had to avoid.  Went for a second climb and finished in about the same time.  I probably coulda cranked out a few more climbs but really didn’t wanna spend much more time in there, the darkness and dirt was getting to me, haha.  I don’t think I couldn’t train in there, would leave me feeling depressed and discouraged, haha.  But if it was all I had then I supposed I’d make do with it.  But what a unique place.  Always interesting to try out different stairwells.  There’s a race there in the middle of November and I might get invited, if that’s the case guess I’d have to suck it up, ha.  But it’s a bit short for me, not really my best height. 
Veganism While Traveling
I try to stick to my vegan ways while traveling but at times it gets hard, I knew before leaving for Vienna (and Italy in 10 days) that I may not be able to be completely raw while in Europe and that some vegan things would be set aside but there was no way I’d eat meat – vegetarianism is not something I’m flexible with!!  But vegan and raw, can be toyed with at a moment’s notice depending on my mood.  I would never flat-out drink a glass of milk, have a bowl of yogurt or ice cream, nor would I eat a plate of eggs but if it’s intermingled in the ingredients then I may let it slide.  I have to be flexible; otherwise I’ll go nuts and just stress myself out.   I know in Italy my parents will go nuts too if I refuse to eat anything.
At Yamm, I was lucky enough that they have some raw salad options; I also tried some of the pre-made salads with beans and some roasted pumpkin which was well worth it.  For breakfast in Vienna, I would just take down a banana and have a cappuccino or latte.  At the cafes, I’d ask for soy and if they told me it was unavailable, then cow’s milk it was. 
Of course, everything was thrown out the window for the sachertorte (chocolate cake) that was my reward after the race, it was so tasty!  Once we were out of the city, I wanted to try some traditional Vienna food and didn’t want to offend Norbert’s mom nor did I want to be a hassle, considered the rude vegan American who wouldn’t eat anything.  The items she made were delicious; I know they had milk and eggs in them.  The breakfast spread in my hotel, was incredible.  The bread selection was phenomenal, I haven’t had bread since I went raw about 4 months ago and I was really craving some.  Im a sucker for the kind with nuts and seeds in it.  I sliced a few tiny slices of some sunflower seed bread and topped it with fresh jam which was also too tempting to resist.  There were plenty of choices and other fresh coffee cake type breads, plenty of fruit and granola, nuts and dried fruits.  Granola – another thing I’ve been avoiding, I loaded up a bowl to snack on later.  Figured I had 2 days to take this in before going back on the rawness when I returned home.  There were also fresh veggies and meat slices – no thanks.  I gobbled down a bowl of fruit, little bread slices and sipped my latte.  Good breakfast. 
That night at the wine house, I ordered a sandwich, gave the meat to others and transferred the tomatoes, cucumbers to a grainy baguette and smothered it with spicy mustard! That sweet spicy mustard is another thing I really tend to like. 
The next morning, I went a bit crazy with the bread again.  It’s like I was making up for lost time, haha.  I now remember how much I used to enjoy it and why I had to give it up, hard to control myself when I’m around it. 
I’ll be home for 10 days then it’s off to Italy with my parents.  I think I’ll keep the same strategy of trying to stay vegan but being flexible.  I think I’ll probably try some Italian pizza, sans cheese and perhaps fresh pasta.  I can’t remember the last time I had pasta, I don’t miss it the way I miss bread so we’ll see about that. 
Whenever I travel, I pack plenty of snacks in case I can’t find things to eat.  I’m stocked up with fruit, bars and trail mix, which can all be good alternatives and snacks.  I know there will be fresh markets in Italy and I’d love to buy some veggies but might be hard to just whip up a salad while sitting at dinner with my parents in an Italian restaurant, haha. 
I wanna go back…
Of all the places I’ve been, I think Vienna has now become my new favorite with Taipei in a close second.  The city and atmosphere was something I thoroughly enjoyed, I would love that in the US.  And the mountains are just amazingly breathtaking; Chicago is so dull and boring.  I wish I lived somewhere with scenery and somewhere cool I could train, I’m stuck with the flat land and maybe some hills here and there but they’re no rival for mountain trails.  I really hope I get the opportunity to return to Austria because I would go back in a heartbeat :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

RAWSOME UPDATE – Sub 19 and Raw Desserts

Grayslake 5k – Hello Sub-19!

The Grayslake 5k was one of the few races that I had on my calendar this year that I was actually planning on racing.  I heard this was a fast course so liked my chances of breaking 19:00 or at least running a PR and getting under 19:15.  I blew away my track workout that week; we were doing 800s so I did 6 of them.  4 of them were under 3:00 with the fastest being 2:53.  I was feeling strong despite the blasted hot temps and searing sun.  I was confident with my workouts and the time I put out on 4 on the 4th.  I wasn’t really thinking much about this race, I wanted to give myself a little extra rest but didn’t need a full on taper or anything.  Blazed the track workout, hit the gym on Thursday and then did a run early Friday morning before the crack of dawn with Melanie, figured that would give me a little extra recovery time. 

I wasn’t even quite sure what pace I needed to run so I typed my goal time(s) into my handy dandy pace calculator and decided to shoot for 6:05-6:10, that should get me there in under 19 or under 19:15.  I put no pressure on myself, just wanted to go out and run, if I had it great, if I didn’t then there’s nothing I can do about.  I’d just congratulate those around me and go on with my day. 

It was kinda rainy the morning of the race, used my windshield wipers almost the entire drive up there.  I sipped on my coffee and listed to tunes, getting ready to face the pavement and grind out a grueling 3.1 miles.  I knew I really had to give it my all during that last stretch, couldn’t let up no matter how much I was hurting.  During the warm up, I could tell it was humid and the sun was peeking through, dang.  Kinda wish the rain woulda stuck around for a while longer. 

At the starting line, I was asking around to see who was gunning for what pace.  I wanted a faster speedy friend to slack off and pace me but he wasn’t interested and it’s a good thing because he thought to break 19, I needed to run a 6:30 pace.  geesh, I woulda been extremely disappointed when I got to the first mile marker and realized I needed to make up 30 seconds, haha.  In all fairness though, I wasnt even sure what pace I needed to run and I really have no clue how fast any of the speedy guys go nor do I know the pace of anyone behind me.  So guess I can't expect everyone else to figure out my pace for me because I can barely keep track of myself, haha.  I found a few other guys who were looking to run around 19:00 so that’s who I was gonna go with. 

The gun went off and they all took off like jackrabbits, umm, ok that’s a bit quick.  Stay relaxed and do your own thing, no need to get sucked in with the fast kids.  Don’t wanna blaze that first mile only to progressively wither away during the rest of the race, that didn’t seem like a pleasant race strategy.  After a few twists and turns, we came upon the first mile.  There wasn’t a marker but there was a guy yelling splits, I heard him say 5:45.  Umm, excuse me?!?  That’s like my mile time trial pace, there’s no way I just ran that for the first mile of this race at least I hope not because if I did, I’m in some real trouble. 

I didn’t let the time get to me and just kept cranking away, I didn’t feel the need to adjust because I had a feeling the marker was off.  There were a few more twists and turns and slight inclines, I kept on picking people off.   Picked a target and reeled them in, once I got em, picked another one and did the same thing.  I was still feeling quite strong.  Mile 2 came around, another guy reading splits but no marker, my watch read 12:10.  Alright so that meant I was dead on for a sub 19, ie 18:59, if I could keep up that same pace for another mile.  I calculated the split and either I slowed down drastically that 2nd mile or the 1st mile was really in the wrong spot, I decided it was the latter otherwise my shot of hitting a PR was out the window.


encouraging my dad to the finish :)

I knew I’d have to dig deep during the last mile; I didn’t feel like I was slowing down and just kept pushing the pace.  I figured I had about 6:00 to go and that made me think of the US Bank climb in Milwaukee because it takes me somewhere between 5, 6, 7 minutes, couldn’t remember the specifics.  Alright cool, I know I can push through that.  Shouldn’t be any issues.  At this point, I was still feeling pretty good.  The heat was starting to bake me a little bit but I wasn’t feeling like it drained all my energy or that I needed to slow down or was gonna be sick because of it.   Friends told me that once you approach the downtown area, you still have to go around the block before heading to the finish; I saw the area and knew I was almost done.  I started to pick up the pace just a bit.  I looked at my watch, somewhere between 16-17 minutes, alright so 2:00 left.  That’s like a Zurich climb, you totally go this!!  You know how to push hard for 2 minutes, you know how to pick it up and just grind to that other level when there are only 10-20 floors to go.  This is nowhere near the pain you feel during a climb, your heart is beating fast but it’s not gonna explode, your legs are pushing it but they’re not filled with acid, you’re not gonna collapse, there is no doubt that you can do this, that you can go harder. 

I turned the corner to the finish, I could see the clock and I picked up the pace, the red numbers were ticking every second and I just gave it all I could, I picked up the pace even more.  I was trying to go sub 19, I didn’t know if I would make it.  Those numbers were just glaring at me and I was fighting so hard to get there before the clock struck 19:00, I couldn’t tell the distance I had and how long it would take me.  I had no clue so I was just watching and running, watching and running!  I got there – 18:53!!  I made it and I had time to spare!!  Oh my gosh, how the heck did I just break 19:00 in suboptimal conditions without really doing much run training, this was incredible.  I just broke the limits of what I thought I could do. 

I’m not sure why I was thinking about climbing during my race, I think most people would think ok 2:00 is a little over a ¼ mile, just one more lap around the track and a smidge more but I start thinking about buildings and floors and comparing my race to that.  Maybe to prove that I have more left in me, that I had more to give.  The two obviously can’t be compared but the effort can be, I still don’t think I’ve reached my full running potential.  I need to learn how to push the limits the same way I do in the stairwell, I can’t be afraid of the pain, I need to embrace it.  Not sure why I haven’t reached that in running especially since I’ve been running for years but I know I’ll get there.  I’m starting to harness that power this year and I know there’s more to come.  I’m looking forward to seeing what kinda times I can put up.  I think having a positive mental attitude has been important as well, just going into a race without any pressure and doing what I came to do is awesome, so much better than freaking out at the starting line and being a wreck when I have a bad race. 

Mile Time Trial

A few days after Grayslake, we had a mile time trial on tap during our track workout.  Sweet, maybe this would be my chance to break 5:40!  The day after Grayslake, I ran 10 miles with Brad and Rob, we picked up the pace during the second half and finished with negative splits but my claves were torched from the race, my legs just didn’t feel all that great.  I hit the stairs Monday morning, they were still kinda dead.  After work I did an hour on the spin bike then hit the rowing machine before heading for my run at Dick Pond.  My legs were still feeling trashed, it was 95+ and the sun was blazing down, we were all kinda feeling it so a 7 mile run turned into 5 miles and I was happy to be done.  Tuesday cranked out another hour on the spin bike, followed by 3 miles (35:00) of vertical training and a few flat running miles.   Woke up Wednesday morning, ready to hit the stairs.  Did my normal climb, bleh 1:45, I consider anything under 1:40 to be slow and that’s when I know my legs are feeling it.  I decided to hit 5 floor sprints instead of continuing on with the slow climbing, the sprints actually provided some relief to my dead legs and I was digging them, can’t believe I actually said I was digging 5 floor sprints, those things are brutal.  Hunched over after each one, gasping for air, heart wanting to explode, yea that’s the good stuff.  I did 6 of those and called it a morning. 

As the day progressed, my legs started to feel a bit more tired.  I got to the track, started  my warmup, I felt alright but my legs felt a bit off.  but usually I feel sluggish during the WU and even the first 1-2 reps of the workout.  We did 2 x 400 before the mile time trial, my 400s felt horrible.  I hit a 1:29 on the 2nd one and thought to myself, there’s no way I can string 4 of those together to go sub 6 in this mile.  I thought about canning the mile then stepping it up during the rest of the workout but when it came to it, I toed the line with everyone else.  Started off, the first lap wasn’t too bad I was at 1:25 which was decent, there was some wind going around the northwest corner, I really needed someone to block that for me. 
Came through at the half at 2:54, alright I had slowed down a bit but I was still 6 seconds under 6:00.  The third lap started to suck, I started to fade and people started passing me.  I tried to encourage myself, told myself that I should be up there with them.  Then I started second guessing myself, that I underestimated this mile and my dead legs, I did stairs this morning, I did this workout and that workout.  why did I expect to do well, I knew the reason because I’d been busting track workouts and races when I shouldn’t be so I thought maybe I’d surprise myself with this mile.  It just wasn’t gonna happen. 

The 4th lap was no good at all, I was almost dead last which wasn’t a great feeling, I trudged in and finished with a 5:58.  Bleh, that’s really not cool.  I just ran 6:05 for a 5k so I know im faster than a 5:58 so it really doesn’t matter, my legs just didn’t have it, nothing I can do about that.   It’s not really a big deal, congrats to everyone else who ran a mile PR, it’s well deserved!!  I was kinda disappointed but it’s not dragging me down.  This is the worst track workout I’ve had in a long time; my legs haven’t felt that burnt.  Usually I can still pull out decent times but today, my body didn’t want to.   This proves, I’m not unbreakable or invincible.  I have bad days and tired days just like everyone else, it’s the slower tired days that make you appreciate the faster easy ones a whole lot more, they make us better and stronger.  Can’t have your best workout and race, every single time, it just doesn’t work that way.  I know that before this year is over I’ll break 5:40 in the mile, it’s gonna happen!!

Borrowed Earth

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rawsome dinner at Borrowed Earth café in Downers Grove.  I went with Barb, Elyse and Sara, were all veggie / vegan eaters so were pumped about going.  I always have trouble deciding what to eat in a veggie restaurant because I have the whole menu to choose from!!  I’m used to carnivore type places were I’m limited to what’s listed under salads or sides and even then I have to have it customized.  Umm, can I get the such and such salad without the chicken, cheese or eggs, with the dressing on the side and can you add some nuts to that?  Thanks much!  That’s became the standard ordering pattern when I adopted the veggie / vegan lifestyle, I’m quite fine with it but sometimes I wonder if the others around me think I’m nuts or if the chefs back in the kitchen are spitting on those extra nuts.  Anyways, who was the person that decided that almost all salads need to have some kind of meat added to them and why does it have to be topped with some crumbled moldy cheese?  It’s a salad, it’s supposed to be healthy, and it’s supposed to be made with fresh veggies, not loaded with bacon bits and fatty dressing.  That’s the problem with food in this country, it’s always bigger is better, lets load you up with a portion large enough to feed a starving lion and on top of that we’ll fry it, add grease or make it fatty in some kind of way.  I’m glad that more places are coming up with additional veggie options; I think healthy eating is starting to catch on but will it ever become main stream?  I could continue on this rant, not even sure why I started it in the first place so I should get off my soapbox and get on to talking about how delicious raw food is. 

We decided that the 4 of us would order different entrees and split them.  They all came with salad and the dressing was phenomenal.  We ended up getting these tasty entrees:

Planet Pizza - Made with wheat-free buckwheat, flax seed and spice crust, covered with marinara sauce, tomatoes and ricotta nut "cheese."    This is what I decided to order, I thought it’d be like a pizza crush topped with goodness but it was more like a lasagna type configuration.  Still quite good, had all the traditional pizza flavors but wasn’t what I expected, I wanted a crust!!

Burrito Loco - Guacamole, sour cream “cheese,” salsa and spicy sunflower seed “beans” wrapped in a corn tortilla.  This definitely had a kick to it; I could taste those spicy seed “beans”. 

Lasagna - Layers of zucchini noodles, spinach, and vegetables topped with a cashew ricotta "cheese" and marinara sauce.   The lasagna and the pizza were kinda similar, both had the Italian flavors but there was still a difference between the two. 

Falafels Falafels Falafels   - Ground nuts combined with rich spices rolled together and wrapped in a carrot flax seed wrap.   This was great, the curry was outstanding, left ya with a powerful punch of flavor. 

I love these raw wraps, so unique.  Everything was so colorful and just fun to eat and share.   I think the next time I go; I wanna try the sweet potato quesadilla!  The food tasted incredible but its kinda pricey, almost $18 per entrée but the portions were quite generous but it’s so totally worth it. 

On to dessert, of course we had to try the raw desserts!!  The restaurant even says: “We only have one rule – Nobody leaves without dessert”.   I was really looking forward to this, how you can go wrong with a dessert made from all natural healthy ingredients, nuts, dates, cacao, fresh fruit, etc.  Once again, we each picked something and shared.  I went straight for the chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, we had a chocolate brownie with mint chip ice cream, a chocolate cherry cheesecake and a cashew cheesecake.  They were all so creamy and decadent.   Sure maybe the calorie count wasn’t on the low side and they didn’t skimp on fat either but the ingredients are all so fresh and good for you, it’s hard to ignore that.  I would prefer to eat something like this and maybe have more fat or calories than take a low fat, low calorie dessert that’s processed and packed with chemicals!

RAWMAZING DESSERTS

I had a few bbqs to attend one weekend so thought it was the perfect time to share some raw desserts.  I’ll go through phases where I’ll really get into baking or making things for a few weeks in a row.  I’m always eager to share with everyone, most of the time I’ll try to give most of it away.  Otherwise, it’s sitting there tempting me and I usually end up eating it all in the span of 1-2 days so it’s not glaring at me from the kitchen.  This time was no different.  I found a few recipes for raw tarts, I didn’t have a tart pan and wanted to easily share them so decided to make individual tarts using a cupcake pan for the molds. 

As most raw dessert recipes go, the nuts have to be soaked ahead of time.  I was planning on making my desserts Friday night so I tossed macadamia nuts, almonds and cashews into three separate bowls and covered them with water before I left for work.  I decided upon a chocolate coconut ganache and a cashew cheesecake that could be topped with fresh berries.   I had most of the ingredients at home so that was lucky.  These desserts are really easy to make, basically all you need is a food processor.   Of course, I was constantly snacking on the crust and filling to make sure everything tasted alright, even consumed a few deformed tarts that’s night :)

Cacao Coconut Ganache - I started processing up the nuts and whatever else to make the crust, then packed that into the pans.  Tossed it in the fridge while I made the filling, the chocolate filling was just cacao powder, coconut oil and agave, so simple!  The crust consisted of shredded coconut, almonds and coconut oil.  Talk about having little to no ingredients, how rawmazing is that?!?  I could really taste the coconut oil in the crust and filling, I thought it was good but wasn’t sure how other people would react.  Coconut oil can have an overpowering taste at times so if you’re not used to it, you might think its funky in flavor but I love using it in baking as an alternative to oil or butter.   http://www.rawmazing.com/cacao-coconut-ganache-tart/

Cashew Cheesecake - The cashew cheesecake was superb!!  This also had whole some ingredients, crust was made with macadamia nuts and dates, I added a few cashews because my stash of macadamia nuts was running low.  The filling was cashews, agave, lime juice, coconut oil and vanilla.   These were made the same way, toss the ingredients for the crust in the food processor then pat into the pan.  Then mix up the ingredients for the filling.  Toss the whole thing into the freezer and patiently wait.   http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe/raw-cashew-cheesecake/

Chocolate Coconut Almond Tarts – The third kind of tart I made was something I came up with on my own.  I had soaked an extra ½ cup of almonds so I wanted to use those to make something.  I go through stages where I make my own larabars so I know you pretty much need dates and nuts to start then can add any combination of flavors.  So I kicked my crust off with the almonds, shredded coconut and dates.  Then made the filling with cacao powder and agave, also added a splash of melted coconut oil.  I think these ended up being my favorite and I was just trying something out!!  I love when that happens. 

Check out the recipes for raw desserts I made, you should definitely try them.  I found a new recipe for avocado strawberry cream pie and I think that’s gonna be my next attempt at raw “baking”.