Kelly the Culinarian: June 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reflections on the Ragnar Relay

It's been almost a month since my running life was transformed by the Ragnar Relay. It was a wonderful experience, and I did learn a ton. I fielded questions from my Twitter and Facebook followers, and based on that, here are my top tips for tackling Ragnar:

  • Try running doubles or on tired legs at least once a week. On race day, you'll have to run anywhere from 4 to 16 miles several times with a few hours in between. Run a hard five miles in the morning and another four after work, or lift weights and then run, etc. The idea is to get used to running while tired.
  • Prepare to run at night. Have someone run with you after dark and run wearing all the safety gear required - a headlamp, a taillight and a reflective vest. 
  • Figure out what you need to eat on the run and bring it. I packed my homemade peanut butter running fuel and it worked quite well.
  • Pack light. There's a bunch of people in a van together with all the stuff. Limit yourself to what you actually need.
  • I don't know why this picture is moving,
    but I'm going with it.
    Napoleon is there for scale.
  • Giant zip top bags. Buy them and use them. I needed four bags - one for each leg of the race, plus an extra for odds and ends like arm warmers, extra hats, lounging clothes and socks.
  • Soak old wash cloths in water and put them in plastic bags, then add one to each of your clothing bags.
  • Unscented baby wipes are not just for babies. Skip the scent or you'll smell like a sweaty baby.
  • Pack an extra pair of shoes and a pair of flip flops for hanging out.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray are important.
  • Edit: Ragnar provides water at exchanges. I drank from my handheld water bottle during the legs that I filled using the cases of water we packed, then chugged electrolyte water after each leg to prevent cramping. 
  • Take a light blanket and a neck pillow. You never know where you'll end up catching a few ZZZs. I wish I had the Chawel then because it's brilliant - towel, changing room and sleeping bag. Live and learn.
  • Pack your food in individual bags, then place the bags in large tupperware containers so they don't get crushed.

Race Day
  • Most teams will rent cargo vans. These ride like buses, so if you get carsick, plan accordingly. I do, so I was happy to get assigned the minivan rather than the cargo van, but I brought Dramamine, too.
  • This should be thought out in advance, but you may wish to run double legs. For example, I ran legs 33 and 34 because they were short - 3 or 4 miles. It's a waste to get out to run just three miles.
  • Use a smartphone tracking app and mass texting to stay in touch with your team. The distance of leg seven was changed while our runner was out on the course. With the texting and tracking, we were able to pick her up and drop another runner. Technology is awesome. Use it.
  • We bought car window markers to decorate our cars. You can also use dry-erase markers to write on the white part of vans, too. If you're going this route, pack a scrubby sponge so you can get the stuff off before returning your rental van.
  • After each leg, head straight to a port-o-potty and wipe down with the wash cloths and baby wipes, place your dirty clothes in the zip-top bag and put on your next set of clothes. This keeps the smell down and makes you feel less disgusting.
  • Sleep when you can, but only in designated sleeping areas. It's so much more restful to sleep horizontally than in the van. 
This was delicious, but
I really shouldn't have ate it
  • Some exchanges have food, water and parties going on, and some are just little cones set up for an exchange. The exchanges that are fun are noted in the Rag Mag you get when you check in.
  • The only bathrooms on the course are at the exchanges, or if there are gas stations or whatever in your run leg. You may wish to tote toilet paper and practice your outdoor bathroom skills.
  • Learn from my mistake: Don't just eat whatever crosses your path unless you want to have to use those outdoor bathroom skills. Pack the food you know agrees with you and stick with it.
  • Brushing your teeth and washing your hands and face with real water makes you a new woman. Take advantage of this where you can.
  • It can be a long day, and tensions can rise. If things get heated, remain calm and remember it's only 24 hours and you're only upset because you're sleep deprived, dirty and in close quarters. Our team got along well, but in retrospect, it was because we didn't know each other well and kept things polite and diplomatic.
  • Drinking isn't allowed on the course, but lots of teams bring a picnic lunch and hang out at the finish. I wish we would have thought ahead and done this. It looked fun!
Ragnar Gear
  • The women's shirts are true to size and quite nice.
  • The medal is awesome.
  • At the finish line, you get one pizza per van, one beer per person and one medal per person. Only the team captain can get the medals.
  • Finishers get Ragnar vehicle stickers.
  • There is a store at the start and finish with Ragnar gear, including jackets, shirts, pint and shot glasses, reflective gear and all sorts of doodads. Volunteers get a big discount.
  • There are a variety of awards for best van, best outfits, best team name, etc. Check the Rag Mag that you get at check in for details.
Read my Ragnar Relay Race Recap from the 2013 Madison to Chicago event.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

2013 Gull Lake Olympic Triathlon Race Report

My first Olympic-distance tri is in the books! I've continued my streak of placing at triathlons by taking home second in my age group at the Gull Lake Triathlon. I'm very pleased with how it all went and how my body performed, so it was a great day.  It was also a fantastic day to race. Shall we start at the beginning?

After a busy morning at work, I rolled out to pick up Jenny and make the three-hour drive to Hickory Corners, Mich. I booked us in the closest hotel to the start of this tri, which was a mistake. It looked like something straight out of Dexter. I would not recommend it.

So we went to the Ross Township park to check out Gull Lake, where I would be swimming the next day. We were told it was a wetsuit-legal (and recommended) swim, but the water was quite comfortable.

We set out all our gear and tried out best to sleep at the most expensive shit hole motel I've ever stayed in. At the crack of dawn, we donned our apparel, had a crappy continental breakfast appropriate for the setting
and drove the 10 minutes to Gull Lake.

Check in was easy as this was a bare-bones race. The Gull Lake Triathlon has a long history, but Race Director Jim resurrected it last year after it was on hiatus for 15 years. This year was the first Olympic-distance tri, but there was also a sprint, a duathlon, an aqua bike and a relay. Lots of events for everyone.

Jenny got my this ingenious Chawel thing-a-ma-bob that's a towel, neck roll, sleeping bag and changing tent.  I wish I had it during the Ragnar Relay. Anyways, that and the bucket she gave me were the basis of my transition set up. Then, I donned my wetsuit with much effort and nervously headed to the beach.

After a brief warm-up in crystal-clear water, I tried to ascertain where the hell I was swimming to. The buoys looked like candy corn and they were to remain on my right. Once it started, I quickly broke away from the pack and settled into a rhythm. The only dicey part was when I turned past the last buoy, I was quite sure where we were headed.

Coming out of the water, I thought I was doing OK as I jogged up a steep embankment to transition, but Jenny told me I was one of the last to come out of the water. She thought I had hit the bathrooms. Meh.

I struggled to get my shoes on, but eventually made it out on the bike where I snacked on Luna bars and tried to sip water. I say try because I lost both water bottles in the first mile.  I panicked a bit, then just tried to forget it.

The bike was tough. It was hill after hill (see the elevation map) and the pavement was pockmarked and cracked. My bum did not appreciate all the bumps and my parched mouth would have liked an aid station. There weren't any bathrooms anywhere, either, so it's a good thing my stomach cooperated. In the last five miles, I took a shot of straight Krema Peanut Butter. It was exactly what I needed in terms of fuel and a mental boost. Nom.

However, it was discouraging to see the sprinters taking everything back to their cars as I was coming in off the bike.  I transitioned through a bit faster the second time and went out for an equally hilly 10K.  The first half was tough as it felt entirely uphill. My stomach cramped a bit and I started to really worry about the lack of bathrooms, but it went away. There were a few water tables, but I was happy to have my handheld water bottle.

In this race, it was tough to tell how I was doing. There were no clocks, and because there were so many distances, it was tough to tell if I was at the front, middle or back of the pack. So I just kept trucking as fast as I could trot. The middle portion of the run was on a dirt road, which was not fun. I had tiny rocks in my shoes and I was annoyed. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was feeling strong and comfortable. This was a great boost to my ego because I felt like I could have kept going.

I jumped in the lake again to rinse off, then snagged breakfast at the end. It was French toast sticks, breakfast burritos and granola. It was just fine.

There weren't any unlocked bathrooms, and just six port-o-potties, so I decided to wait out changing.

We stayed for the award ceremony because we learned I got second in my age group! My overall time was 2:52 and I was a half an hour behind the top woman in my age group, but I feel great about how it all went. The medal was a bit disappointing, though. It's identical to the medal I got at the Reindeer Run 5K.

Overall, I think this was a nice community race. I wouldn't travel to it again because it's a big time and cost commitment to stay overnight somewhere. I also would have rather had a nicer medal than breakfast, but that's just me. The T-shirt was simple, but fits well, so that's a win for me.

Special thanks to Jenny for putting up with my terrible choice of hotel, questionable driving and endless pratter during the past 24 hours. Thanks for coming and taking all the photos!

Time: 2:52 overall (will add details when available), 2nd in my age group

Cost: $75

Pros: Cheap, beautiful course, clear/clean swim course, not overcrowded at all, nice race shirt

Cons: No on-course bathrooms, no aid stations on the bike, no parking on site (it's a short walk away, though), no finishers' medals, very basic age group award medals.

Would I do this race again? It was a pretty course and a great day for me, but logistically difficult with living in Illinois.

Friday, June 28, 2013

June Foodie Pen Pal Package

Because I love prizes and getting stuff in the mail, I signed up for the Foodie Pen Pal program.  Each month, participants are randomly paired up to exchange treats and prizes via mail.  The spending limit is $15 and you're encouraged to share locally available items that are within your pen pal's dietary requests.  Since I have none, when I was paired up with Phyllis, I simply told her I love all food, especially chocolate, peanut butter and oatmeal.

And man oh man, did Phyllis deliver. Check out this box of goodies:

Fun fact - Phyllis is from the Lone Star State and actually resides in the very city that both of my sisters were born in. I lived in Round Rock for four years as a child, and am actually heading there for vacation next week. Small world.

Phyllis filled my foodie pen pal package with peanut butter malt balls (because I love PB more than Elvis), locally available pecan pralines, Texas-made WackyM's Cookies (which were a chocolate snicker doodle with a spicy aftertaste), Brazilian-made peanut butter, peach salsa made just up the street and Texas-shaped soap.

I loved trying all the different treats, and appreciate Phyllis's thoughtful contributions. It's touching to be able to connect with strangers through the common language of food.

If you're open to trying new foods and want to connect with people who are just as passionate about food as you are, I highly recommend joining the Foodie Pen Pal program hosted by The Lean Green Bean. Registration for the July exchange is available, and I'm super excited for another month of adventurous treats! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Three Things Thursday

Housekeeping note: Congrats to Jenny for winning my Venus de Miles registration giveaway! I can't wait to ride with her 61 glorious miles on July 28. I'm especially excited because she doesn't drink and will yield her post-ride tickets to me. A great friend to have, indeed!

1. I am taking Belle the bike back to the bike shop for the third time this week. I had a few technical issues on my 65-mile ride that the shop fixed right away, including my brakes sticking and a screw falling off my water bottle. As a courtesy, they filled up my front tire, which then burst.  They replaced it, but it was flat when I got home. Repeat. And now I hope they can get this sorted out since I'm leaving for the Gull Lake Triathlon tomorrow.  No pressure or anything.

2. My mom asked me about my garden, because I haven't mentioned it. I did, in fact, plant again this year. It's going quite well. I have Chinese cabbage, basil and peppers sprouting, along with a few tomato plants. I took what I learned last year and put it into action, growing fewer plants in a different arrangement while using better tomato cages.

3. I got an e-mail last week that I qualified for the USAT Championships in Milwaukee. Is this a big deal, or a big upsell?  I guess I earned a spot by finishing in the top 10 percent of my age group at the Iron Girl Lake Zurich triathlon. However, it's the same day as Zooma Chicago and I've got priorities. Still, not a bad e-mail to get! PS - If you still need to register Zooma's half or 10k, you can use discount code CHIAMB3 to save 10 percent.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cooking with Kelly: Biscoff Stuffed Angel Food Cake with Chobani Cinnamon Glaze

Remember how I hauled off a case of Biscoff spread at the Iron Girl Lake Zurich triathlon? I have many, many ideas on how to make use of this delicious spread.

If you've never had Biscoff spread, it's a bit like a toasted gingerbread cookie in a cream form. It's as delicious as you think it would be and more. I was inspired by this Biscoff Swirl Coffee Cake Recipe, but decided I wanted to sandwich the spread in a fluffy, delightful angel food cake. 

The original recipe called for plain yogurt to create the filling and glaze, but I opted for honey-flavored Chobani. This created a sweet, yet tangy, filling and glaze. The taste complemented the sweetness of the cake and the cinnamon in the glaze brought out some of the flavors in the Biscoff.

Don't let the long name fool you, either. This cake is pretty simple to make and yields an impressive-looking treat.

Biscoff Stuffed Angel Food Cake with Chobani Cinnamon Glaze Recipe
1 box of angel food cake (and items to prepare it)
1 cup of honey Chobani yogurt
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup Biscoff spread
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lined a 9x9 pan with parchment paper and grease, then set aside.

Prepare the angel food cake according to the package directions. Mine cake together quickly using the whisk attachment on my stand mixer.
Next, whisk together the yogurt and sugars until combined, then divide in half.  In one half, add this Biscoff. This is the middle layer of the cake. In the other half, add the cinnamon. This will become the glaze.

To assemble, place half the batter in the pan and use a spatula to level it off. Then, add the Biscoff half in small spoonfuls and gently smooth over the first layer. Add another layer of cake batter, top with the glaze and bake for 35ish minutes, or until the top is crackly and the edges are brown.

Angel food doesn't keep that long, so share some!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Take Time Tuesday

Live Half Full
Speaking of time, where does it all go?  I'm feeling like the days are clicking by way too fast lately. Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I need to learn to prioritize. Moving on.

Today, I'm thankful for fresh you-pick strawberries, which a friend dropped by tonight. They are amazingly delicious.
I'm thankful for customized oatmeal, which today was fig and honey. Hits the spot.
I'm also thankful for the bike shop, which will be servicing my bike for the third time this week for a tire that just won't stay inflated. I'm also thankful that my husband chased me halfway across the state of Wisconsin to pick me up 65 miles south of our hotel as I pedaled towards home.
And I'm thankful for Yelp Elite events, one of which I'll be attending on Thursday. I love a good party and can't wait to check out a new restaurant.
What are you thankful for this week?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Motivational Monday

At the Iron Girl Lake Zurich triathlon, the oldest participant was 70 years old. I passed her on the run and she was looking great and having a great time. What will you be doing at 70?

The youngest participant at the same race was 13. She came in 12th overall. I can't tell you what I was doing at 13, but it certainly had nothing to do with triathlon. I only learned that triathlons existed a few years ago thanks to the joys of the interwebs.

Age is just a number. It's what you do with those years. And I want to be wringing the life out of every last day I have on this planet.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Weekend Recap

What a busy weekend! Tim and I started the weekend with dinner at our favorite all you can eat sushi place. It was wonderful. My favorite there is a sweet potato roll, but the Godzilla roll is a close second.

Then, we got up super early Saturday and set out for Eagle River, Wisconsin. We decided to take Napoleon because then we wouldn't need a sitter, and our hotel was pet friendly. It was a very long drive, but we all survived.

After the wedding, we had dinner together at a local haunt with my favorite niece. Chloe is also my only niece.

Then, we went to a family member's house for the after party. They live right on the lake and we could see Michigan from the shore. We went on an awesome boat ride and enjoyed chatting until I was ready to collapse into our hotel room bed.
Hotel, motel, Eagle River Days Inn .... 
This morning, Tim had breakfast with his family while I set out on an adventure. I wanted to get in 65 miles on my bike to cap off my half Ironman training before I start tapering. Except I forgot my pedal shoes and only wore flip flops, so I had to wear Tim's sneakers for the duration. I biked through rain and scorching sun before I finally reached the town Tim and I decided in advance to meet at. I also had a few technical issues my bike - my rear brakes were sticking and I lost a bolt on my water bottle cage, so it will be going to the bike shop before my next tri next weekend.

I loaded my bike back in the car next to Napoleon so we could drive the remaining four hours home.

I'm always happy to travel, especially to see family, but it makes me appreciate home even more. With 65 miles under my belt and a car to clean up before work tomorrow, I've got another eventful evening ahead of me!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Three Things Thursday

1. Working from home one day a week is the only way my life is not a hot mess at this point in my training cycle. It's wonderful - I get up at the same time as usual and spin on the trainer for a few hours, hop into the shower and start working. During my lunch, I do laundry, because I'm still waiting for those laundry fairies to stop by my house and do their thing.
2. But in working from home, I realized we have a big ant problem. I kind of freaked out and called my mom, who recommended this brand of ant killer. Reading the reviews on Amazon cracked me up. I'm going to be committing ant genocide during the next few days and hope to eradicate them from my corner of the suburbs.
3. Napoleon came to work with me again today. He vigorously played with my coworkers for a while, then passed out on a blanket next to my desk. He'd make a really crappy employee, but he's an excellent office mascot.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Win it Wednesday: Venus de Miles Entry and Tips

Ya'll know I love cycling. It's a great way to see the world differently and cover lots of miles without completing trashing your body. And I love any sport where you're not only able, but encouraged, to eat while partaking in it. Those cycling jerseys were designed to hold snacks, and for that, I love them.

Last year, I participated in the inaugural Venus de Miles Illinois Ride. This was my first foray into the world of long(er)-distance cycling and it was a wonderful experience. I trained for this ride and had a great time, so much so that I started working with the organization to bring other bloggers on board to spread the word. I've talked it up so much that several of my new-to-biking buddies will be joining in on the action. Here are a few of my Venus-specific tips to help you make the most of your day (and a giveaway so you can join my July 28)!

1. Wear sunscreen. I can't emphasize this enough.

2. Wear a small backpack or leave one of your water bottle cages empty. There was so much swag at this race that I had nowhere to store. I wish I had an available bottle cage so I could have picked up a sports bottle and filled it with the bars, gummies and goodies at the aid station to snack on later.
One of the aid stations
3. Come hungry. The food at this event is phenomenal. How many rides have you been at that include catered aid stations? I distinctly remember the standard PB&J sandwiches, along with cookies, two-bite brownies, fruit and all sorts of amazing treats. I hear that this year will include even more food, if that's even possible.

4. Block off your day. MacKenna and I were probably the last people to leave the post-race party. We had an awesome time getting facials and manicures, sampling custom cocktails, eating a gourmet lunch and chatting with our fellow riders. I wouldn't want to feel rushed. On that topic ...

Spinning-created margaritas at the party
5. Don't worry about your time, pace or performance. This is not the event to worry about qualifying for the Tour de France. It's about having a good time, not getting a good time. See the sites and stop at the aid stations. Take pictures, have a chat with a fellow rider and soak up the experience.

6. Wear a costume or team-coordinated outfit. This race is all about celebrating and having fun. Also, I find the more distinctive your apparel, the more likely you'll get in the marketing materials for the next year. Bonus!

More post-ride partying
7. Hydrate in the days before. The pace might be leisurely, but it's still a long time to be out on the road. Plan accordingly and prepare your body.

8. Be safe. Helmets are required for this ride and should be for every ride you do. I've taken some nasty spills over the years and am lucky to have my wits about me thanks to my helmet. Leave the music at home and pick up the emergency contact information when you check in.

9. Learn more about the charity this ride benefits. Greenhouse Scholars is an excellent program helping kids go to school. This ride is more than just a fun day spent with your girlfriends - it's an event that provides a lifetime of opportunity.

Want to join me July 28 for a 25- or 60-mile ride through Illinois? Here's your chance! Rafflecopter will randomly select a winner next Wednesday, who I will contact via e-mail and recognize on this page.

To enter, start by commenting on this blog: What do you like the most about cycling?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Iron Girl Photos

Thanks to Alyssa's boyfriend, Matt, for capturing us in all our glory.  Here's our best catwoman impressions.
Aww yeah ... does this swimcap make my ears look fat?
Let's play "Where's Waldo?" Too bad we all look alike.
A few post-race photos
Getting my 2nd-place age group award from Meghann.
Thank you, Iron Girl, for inviting me to participate in this inaugural race. It was a great time!