A Big Week for Bikes. . . and Tofu

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Pixie cuts pair well with speed workouts

Last week was a little strange weather-wise, with a smattering of hot, sunny days interrupted by a few non-consecutive days of torrential rain. When the skies were grey, I worked late. When the sun was out, I tried to take advantage of the beautiful weather and I spent a lot of time outside. I received my crash replacement helmet from Bell, and last week I finally got back in the saddle.

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That’s right, first time back on the bike in six months! I was not technically cleared to ride yet (I see the doctor this week), but I felt ready and the weather was perfect, so I carefully took a lap around the neighborhood just to see how it felt. . . it was magnificent! I have so missed riding a bike. I had no wrist pain during or after the ride, and no crazy crash flashbacks when I zipped downhill (braking. . . all. . . the. . . way), so I call it a success!

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Later that week, I was scheduled to run with a friend, and the high temperature that day was over ninety degrees. Due to the heat, we decided to run trails instead of road, to take advantage of the shade and any breeze we could pick up by running in the woods alongside the James River. I’m not technically cleared for trail running yet either, but I was riding high from the cycling success, and I only tripped on rocks once – no falling!

My arm was super sore and swollen after the short run. That night, the pain in my wrist woke me up several times and I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. After a long and stressful day of typing at work in pain, I headed to my regular Friday afternoon appointment with the occupational therapist and got bad news. My therapist wasn’t very happy with the pain and swelling, so I got this weird iontophoresis patch that made my arm look like a battery.

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The patch uses electric current to slowly inject an anti-inflammatory medication into my wrist over a few hours. It worked well so I’m glad that my therapist prescribed it, but after the titanium plates, the screws, the Storm Trooper splint, and now this, I do kind of wonder if OrthoVirginia is trying to turn me into a bionic woman. Am I slowly becoming a machine?

After overdoing it on physical activity in the great outdoors last week, I took it easy over the weekend and practiced being a spectator at the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation’s Cap2Cap ride. Spectating is awesome because it allows you to a) wear whatever you want (hey there Boho tank!), b) eat and drink whatever you want (Capital Trail Pale Ale, anyone?), c) support the participants you love (Kyle! Dad! Adrienne! Lindsay!), and d) take non-sweaty selfies during downtime (see my Instagram account).

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I had the privilege of cheering on my dad, Nick, and my husband, Kyle, as they completed the 50-miler together. I’ve watched them both ride bikes for years, but because they live in different states, they have only ridden together just a handful of times. I had a great time with my Mom, riding from one water stop to the next, to cheer on the boys and catch up on life this Mother’s Day weekend. They played it cool, but I know they both really enjoyed the together-time too.

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Although cheering from the sidelines was fun, I am so ready to get back into an exercise routine. Please send positive thoughts my way this week and maybe the doctor will clear me for more activity! I think that as long as I promise to ice my wrist after exercise and not fall, not even come close, I’ll be able to get back to hiking, biking, and running very soon.

One great piece of news is that I have gotten enough mobility back in my wrist that I am no longer cooking one-handed, and I was even able to cook Mother’s Day brunch for some of my family on Sunday morning, which felt great! My Mom has cooked for me so much over the last six months, so it was great to repay her for at least one meal by making Billy Bread strawberry French toast and cilantro scrambled eggs all by myself!

I also whipped up an awesome salad last week with cranberry balsamic vinegar that I got from my occupational therapist, who totally supports cooking. . . way more than she does trail running. The salad was composed of mixed baby greens, roasted Chioggia beets, goat cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and cranberry balsamic vinegar. I topped it with the best baked tofu I have ever made. I cannot take credit for this wonderful recipe, but I can link to it so you can try it too. I highly recommend Perfect Baked Tofu from Healthy Tipping Point. You will not be disappointed!

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Have a delectable week!

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Recipe for a Blue Ridge Birthday

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My birthday this year fell on a Tuesday, so I had the privilege of celebrating my birthday for a whole week, while I prepared for a weekend birthday trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Thank you, family and friends, for letting me get away with that one. Special thanks to my parents who actually kicked off the celebration a week early, with a trip to see the Garrison Keillor Radio Romance Tour at Maymont, and a gift of some seriously sweet cycling gear for my special day.

We lucked out with gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery all weekend, so I want to share some of the photos that I snapped with my phone. We ended up packing a ton of activities into each day and eating very late, so most of the food photos are nothing to get too excited about. However I will share a few food pictures, starting with my Tuesday birthday dinner. After work, I spent two hours in the kitchen and on the grill, preparing a perfect vegetarian midsummer feast.

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We enjoyed local No Bull gourmet veggie burgers with local tomatoes over fresh spinach, Eating Bird Food’s raw cauliflower tabbouleh, and local corn on the cob with smoked paprika and parsley butter. Kyle asked to take me out to dinner for my birthday, but I really wanted to spend it in the kitchen making the exact birthday dinner that I craved – is that weird? Kyle thought so, but when he took a few bites of this food, he stopped arguing, relaxed, and really enjoyed it!

A few days later, we packed the car and headed to Charlottesville, where we stayed in an apartment we found on AirBnB with my sister and her boyfriend. We arrived late and had a relaxing dinner at Mono Loco, complete with margaritas and cans of Tecate. I had the vegetarian special, a spicy mushroom tamale, which was great fuel for the next day.

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The next morning, after a quick stop at Bodo’s Bagels, we headed west to the Blue Ridge Parkway and did one of our favorite hikes, Humpback Rocks. It was my sister Meghan’s first hike, and she did great! At the top, we were rewarded with a beautiful view on a fairly clear day. The boys were very adventurous and climbed higher than I had ever been before. Fast friends, Kyle and Jake joked around and posed for pictures at 3,000 feet. It was 75 degrees and sunny the whole weekend, which made this top-of-the-world moment even better.

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One of the most exciting moments of the weekend occurred on the way back down from Humpback Rocks, when we saw a black bear beside the trail! I have been patiently waiting to see a bear while on a hike for two years, and I finally got my wish on my birthday weekend! I never would have thought that it would be on one of the most popular hikes in the area, Humpback Rocks. Wild!

After our tough climb and quick descent back to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we simply had to indulge in one of our favorite post-hike rituals, pizza and beer at Blue Mountain Brewery. It seems like every time we go to Blue Mountain Brewery, we run into our friends Brittany and Isaac, and this trip was no exception. We should probably just plan a trip out there together and carpool from Richmond to save on gas!

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Can you see the hops in the foreground? They’re getting so tall this time of year! We spent a lot of time at the brewery as Meghan and I caught up while Kyle and Jake played lawn games. We headed back to Charlottesville for showers, and when we realized it was too late in the afternoon for a winery visit, we headed back out to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company for more beer tasting and appetizers, including some awesome hummus, giant pretzels, and Kyle’s favorite fried pickles. Oh, and of course we took couples photos at sunset, before Meg and Jake had to hit the road.

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The next morning, Kyle and I slept in late, checked out of our apartment, and headed to downtown Charlottesville for breakfast. The selection at Café Cubano on the downtown mall was perfect for carb-loading with reckless abandon in preparation for our next hike. No, we didn’t really need this many carbohydrates, but that hike made a good excuse for us to indulge. The coffee here is fantastic and I highly recommend it. If you go for the French toast, as I did, pay the extra few bucks to get the fresh fruit topping. You won’t regret it!

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After a filling breakfast, we drove out west again to Skyline Drive and tackled Turk Mountain. There were a lot of rocks along the trail which worked out my ankles the whole way up.

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You can reach a clearing with a view without having to do any serious rock scrambling, but for the very best view, you have to scramble over several vertical rock faces to get to the summit.

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Pretty nice view, if you ask me. . .

The vista at the top was one of the best we have ever seen, and we spent a good twenty minutes on a large flat rock at the very top, resting and taking in the view. After our second hiking adventure of the weekend, we meandered down Skyline Drive and headed back towards Richmond, with a stop in Charlottesville for a relaxing late lunch (or early dinner) at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Sometimes it is hard to plan a great weekend in that part of Virginia, just because there are so many options for fun activities and delicious food and drink. We could have done dozens of other things and had a great time, but looking back now on that weekend, I wouldn’t change a thing.

For more adventures, check out my Travel page.

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Running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon D.C.

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It is hard to believe that after four months of training and fundraising, I have finally completed the Inaugural Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. Last Fall, when my Mom asked me and my sister to do the race, I was skeptical that I would cross the finish line in one piece, and I never expected to run across it. When I announced my participation last December and first asked for your support, I was pretty confident that I could at least walk the whole thing. I am very happy to announce today that I did finish the half marathon, and that I raised over $3500 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as the #3 fundraiser for the Maryland chapter of Team in Training for this event. Additionally, Team McDowney raised over $8,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and all three of us crossed the finish line on April 28th. THANK YOU to everyone who supported us on this journey.

Because I have heard that it is important to write down the race story to read again in the future, and because some of you have asked for the details, here is my recap of the 2013 Nike Women’s Half Marathon D.C. I call it The Longest Story Ever Told. If you think this post is long, just be glad it wasn’t a full marathon – I know I am!

My Story

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Every runner in every race has a unique story that brought her there. On the morning of April 28th, Run Nike Women posted on their Facebook page, “On this day, 15,000 stories come together as one.”

For several of us running, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society played a part in our stories. There were 2300 Team in Training participants in this race, and together we raised $6 million to beat blood cancer. I have already shared with you my fundraising and training experience this season, including the small victories as well as the bumps in the road, and how I got introduced to Team in Training in the first place. What I haven’t shared with you yet is why running a half marathon was such an incredible personal victory. I ran in honor of seven and in memory of thirty-one people, I ran for all of my supporters and donors, I ran for all the patients and patient family and friends that have been affected by blood cancer, and I ran for me.

When I was a college sophomore, I came down with a bad case of mononucleosis that would not go away for months. After dozens of tests and a few rounds of several different medications and therapies, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I dropped my course load down to six credits, stopped working, and slept 12-16 hours a day. I could not climb two flights of stairs without having to sit down and take a break. A four hour shift standing on my feet at my part-time job was a trial. I left every dinner early, I missed almost every party, and shopping trips were a real struggle. I even fell asleep during my 20th birthday party! No matter what I tried, I could not get better for about two years.

Without going into all the details here (because that could take a few blog posts), I will summarize by saying that my life completely changed for ages 19-21. During that time, I thought I would never work a forty hour week or play another sport, and I locked all my old dreams up in a box and tried to replace them with smaller, achievable ones. I read about people with CFS getting better and I read about people getting worse. I did not know what to expect for the future and I took things one step at a time, learning to not push myself or I would pay for it.

For people who know me well, it is easy to see how this condition was devastatingly contrary to my nature. I’m a perfectionist and overachiever, who packs too much activity into too little time, and I am always chasing the next big achievement. In the words of Daft Punk, “harder, better, faster, stronger” is my mantra. In the words of Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “if you’re not first, you’re last” sums up how I had felt about most things I had ever attempted. For that reason, I worked hard. And for the same reason, I had a tendency to shy away from things that I knew I couldn’t be great at. While I was sick, I made a promise to myself that if I ever got better, I would no longer shy away from challenges that were outside my comfort zone and I would accept new experiences, even if I thought I might fail, just because I could.

So, seven years later, training for and completing a half marathon is kind of a big deal. I still have to be careful with my activity level and I am very attuned to my body’s needs, resting when I need to, and only pushing it when I know I have the energy reserves. I work hard but I also work smart. I could relapse at any time and when those old symptoms creep in, I step back so that I will not have to battle fatigue again. I am working on keeping that one promise to myself, which is why I said yes to this experience and raised over $3500 for a great cause, even though I knew I would never be the best at it. I ran because I could, I ran to use my energy for the benefit of others, and I ran far!

Race Week

While much of Richmond prepared for the big NASCAR race, I prepared for my own race weekend by completely resting my injured right Achilles tendon to maximize my chances of finishing strong, trying to let work and life stress roll off my back to stay calm, and following my pre-race diet plan (semi-strictly) to fuel my body for the 13.1 miles on Sunday. I took off work on Friday to pack and prepare, and Kyle and I traveled to D.C. on Saturday morning. I was very excited to see my parents and some fellow Maryland teammates decked out in TNT gear in the hotel lobby when we arrived.

We traveled to the Georgetown waterfront to visit the Nike concept store and have some lunch before heading to packet pick-up. Lunch was at Le Pain Quotidien, and because this is a food blog, I have to show you what we ate.

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The mint lemonade that I ordered was delicious and refreshing. In the name of carb-loading, I dove headfirst into the most perfect slice of wheat bread before our food arrived. I ordered the avocado and chickpea tartine, Kyle had the spring pea hummus tartine, Dad had the smoked salmon and scallion omelette, and Mom had the roasted turkey and avocado tartine.

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After lunch, we walked over to Nike. Nike had put all of the runners’ names on the wall next to their concept store in Georgetown and we had fun finding our names in the mix. I thought this was a pretty cool idea and I was totally surprised by it when we approached the storefront.

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My sister Meghan met us for packet pickup and the Expotique, which was unlike any other race expo I have ever been to. Instead of having dozens of vendor tables and booths in a big conference center, this expo featured just the key sponsors, with really cool booths and activities for each one. Nuun had an electrolyte lounge with brightly colored electrolyte-rich concoctions, Luna Bar had a create-your-own cheer poster station, and Bare Minerals and Paul Mitchell were doing free makeovers right in the expo tent!

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We met up with hundreds of other TEAMmates at the TNT Inspiration Dinner on Saturday night and lined up for unlimited pasta and veggies. We entered the ballroom through a tunnel of costumed cheering TNT coaches and staff. They made a lot of noise and I felt like a celebrity! The dinner featured some great speakers including a few Olympians and an inspiring survivor and honored TEAMmate, Annalynn Surace, who has fought blood cancer herself two times and was running with us that weekend. Her incredible speech about her journey reminded us all why we were doing what we do, and inspired us to complete the final 13.1 miles of our Nike Women’s Half Marathon journey the next morning. At the dinner we learned that 2300 participants had raised $6 million for LLS during this event, and I learned that I was one of the top fundraisers for Maryland. After dinner, we made our final preparations and headed to bed early!

Race Day

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The alarm went off at 4:00 AM, and in true McDonald sister fashion, Meghan and I were moving quickly. . . 15 minutes later. Ha. By 5:00 AM we were dressed, checked out of the hotel, and eating breakfast in the lobby. I usually eat toast with peanut butter and a banana before long runs. I couldn’t find a banana on Saturday, so I settled for just the bagel and Justin’s maple almond butter that I brought with me. By 5:30 AM we were riding the Metro  with hundreds of other runners, and by 6:30 AM we were lining up in our start corral. Energy was high before the race started, as Nike led us through dynamic warmups that were a little difficult to complete, as 15,000 runners were packed like cattle into tight corrals. Then runners made last-minute adjustments and stretches as party music blared through the loudspeakers. The excitement was overwhelming and I had to start my own playlist early just to tune out and relax for a few minutes before the race.

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The announcer said a few words about the tragic events at the Boston marathon two weeks before, and tens of thousands of runners and spectators fell silent for a moment that gave me chills. After an hour of nonstop loud noise and bustling activity, suddenly all I could hear was a few birds singing on Pennsylvania Avenue and the quiet breath of everyone around me. I saw the sun rise over the Capitol building as the National Anthem started to stream through the speakers, and thousands of women around me quietly placed their hands on their hearts, wiped tears from their eyes, and gazed at the American flag above us. It was an indescribable feeling.

A few minutes later, we were off! A lot of runners passed me in the first few blocks, as I jogged at a comfortable pace with Meghan and Mom by my side. Mom planned to walk the race, so after about a quarter mile of running, she patted me and Meg on the back, air kissed us on the cheeks and said, “Go, girlies!”

The first 4 miles flew by. The course took us through a tunnel in the first or second mile with two bands playing underground with us. The drums echoed through the entire tunnel along with the thunderous sound of a thousand feet running through and loud cheering from participants. I was amazed at the volume and energy of that experience. Meghan and I high-fived at every mile marker, which was a lot of fun. She always saw the mile markers before me because I was so tuned into the playlist on my iPod and the scenery around me. There were a lot of TNT supporters along the course, and I saw some great motivational signs in the crowd.

We expected to see Kyle and my Dad between miles 4 and 5 but somehow missed them. That part of the course was packed with spectators on both sides, and we looked and never found them. Meg and I assumed they couldn’t get access to the cheering spot in time so we kept looking for them along the rest of the course. We saw our Team in Training coach, Jack Beach, between miles 5 and 6 and he ran with us for about 30 seconds and told us we were doing great. There were enthusiastic TNT coaches all over the course and they loudly cheered the names they saw on the front of our jerseys and asked us how we were doing. It was really cool how much support we had the whole way. We hit the 10K mark after an hour and 12 minutes and we realized aloud that we would definitely make it to the finish within the 4 hour time limit.

I started to deflate a little after mile 6 and had to walk and have a few Clif shot blocks at the water station, as I felt that my blood sugar was getting low. I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen Dad and Kyle yet because I was really looking forward to the lift. Plus we had planned to ditch some gear with them as my SPIbelt was a little too packed and Meg was still wearing the long sleeve shirt she had started in and wanted to strip down to the race tank around 8:00 AM. It was almost 8:30 at this point and warming up outside. After some carbs and water I was feeling better for the next mile or so. I accepted the fact that I might not see our cheering section until the finish line and it pushed me to get there sooner.

During mile 8, I spotted a bathroom stop that didn’t look too crowded and we were still making good time (12:40 pace compared to my training pace of 13:00-14:00 miles), so I decided to stop and take advantage. All of the bathroom stops before that one had a line of at least 25 runners and this one only had about 10. Unfortunately, the line moved very slowly, and this stop cost us 10-11 minutes, which was really disappointing because when we rejoined the course we were surrounded by people at a much slower pace. We had to do a lot of weaving for the next mile. Meghan said that all the walkers around her made her feel like she was going to start walking too, and I felt the same.

We high-fived at the end of mile 8, and Meghan wanted to take off to catch a faster group. We sped up for a bit but after about a half mile, I could tell she had a lot more energy than me and I needed to slow down. My breathing had not been much of a problem during training, with my muscle fatigue catching up to me faster than my well controlled exercise-induced asthma every time, but at this point I was starting to really feel it in my lungs and my legs. I told Meg to go ahead, she asked me if I was sure, and I told her again to go do great. I was really proud that she was doing so well, and really uncomfortable with my own body despite stretching at several points along the course. I needed to regroup and take it slow.

I started to hyperventilate, so I dialed down to a walk and took a puff of my inhaler. When my breathing was under control, I consumed some carbs and stopped to stretch and enjoy the scenery. I repeated my two mantras, “Slow and Steady” and “Enjoy the Moment” and I realized I had made it almost 9 miles in two hours. I was doing well. Not as well as I had started, but overall I was on pace based on my training, so I accepted that and tried to remain positive. I took in the scenery, which had been amazing the whole way. We had passed six memorials and monuments, Arlington Cemetery and the Kennedy Center, and had been within sight of the Potomac River almost the entire way. I focused on enjoying the moment, and that carried me through the next two miles, through a lot of pain in both knees, my right foot, and both hip flexors.

I almost cried when I saw the marker for the end of mile 11 and realized I had run the farthest I ever had. My pace had tanked and I was doing a combination of jogging and walking at this point. Every inspirational sign along the way nearly brought me to tears, along with the slow songs that randomly started playing on my iPod as I had run out of playlist and was just shuffling a Chemical Brothers album at that point. I walked almost all of mile 12 because I was in pain, I was getting emotional, and I wanted to save some energy to finish strong. Things got weird in this mile as the course widened, more people around me started getting sick and injured, and I saw strange (de-)motivational posters from spectators, like “I didn’t get up this early to watch you WALK!” My mantras weren’t working anymore and I realize now that I just wasn’t mentally prepared for those last two miles.

I hit the end of mile 12, downed one last Clif shot block, and hung unto a new mantra that I had seen at the Luna Bar area at the expo the day before: “Mind Over Muscle.” I started jogging again and right as I saw the finish line in sight, my left Achilles tendon (not the problem one) started hurting and my left big toe and foot arch started to cramp up. I immediately thought, I knew I should have tried harder to find a banana this morning, because I always have a banana along with my toast and peanut butter before running, but I couldn’t find a single banana in D.C. the day before the race so I went without. When my toe would not stop spasming, I stopped in the middle of the course and started to stretch my calf as a random TNT coach ran over to me and asked if I was OK. I told him what happened and he said, “you’re almost there, be careful, and don’t worry about this last part of the race, just take it easy and walk, you’re doing great.” I nodded my head and said thanks, and he added, “make sure you rest the rest of the day, these injuries can take a long time to heal.” Great!

I really appreciated the support when I was mentally over this race. I told him I was okay to jog, and thought, screw it, I’m so close, I can finish easy and strong. Mind Over Muscle. I jogged the last half mile, and there were so many spectators cheering my name (from the front of my TNT jersey) that it was impossible to find the three faces I was looking for: Kyle, Dad, and Meghan. I fought back tears as I crossed the finish line and walked down the red carpet to get my finisher prizes. My knees were killing me. Runner’s high, my ass! I just wanted to get out of there and stretch! I gulped a bottle of water, and accepted my finisher “medal” – an exclusive silver necklace in a little blue Tiffany & Co box (my first), handed to me off a silver platter by a cute boy in a tuxedo. Yup, this was a women’s race.

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The Finish

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I collected free snacks and my finisher shirt and headed out of the finisher area. When I had gotten out of the crowd and to a quiet spot, I started to eat a banana, texted my Dad, and started to stretch. Five minutes later, Kyle came out of nowhere and hugged me tight. Meg and Dad followed and I was so happy to see their faces! Apparently Dad and Kyle were on the bridge after mile 4, long before anyone in the race made it there, but we never saw them and they never saw us. Somehow the crew also missed me crossing the crowded finish line, even though we were all there at the same time, so I have no photos of that. You’ll have to trust my word and my timing chip for proof that I completed this race! After Meghan and I compared notes and stretched together, Mom rejoined the group and the men went on a coffee run for us. I have never been so happy to see an iced coffee in my life.

Women seeking men with coffee, ice packs, and compression sleeves.

Women seeking men with coffee, ice packs, and compression sleeves.

Immediately after the race, someone asked me if I would ever do a half marathon again. My legs and in turn my voice screamed “I don’t think so!” but after some reflection, I’m considering it. I think that if I were able to train properly, without any injuries along the way, and if my work schedule normalized so that it would not interfere with exercise time, then I think I would do it. I had a great race this time around, and I think I would  have an even better one the next time, now that I have the experience, and the knowledge that comes along with it, to say that I am a half-marathoner!

Thanks again to all who supported me through generous donations, encouraging messages, and motivational tweets, facebook posts, and instagram comments. Thank you also to the Richmond, VA and Harford County, MD Team in Training coaches and teams for the support during my tale-of-two-cities training experience. If you are interested in getting involved with Team in Training, I absolutely encourage you to do so, and you can find a local chapter here.For Richmonders, there is a Fall season info meeting this Tuesday, April 30th at 5:30 PM at the REI in Short Pump.

What’s next for Team McDowney? Supporting Nick (Dad) in his Seagull Century this Fall – more details to follow. What’s next for me? Rest and relaxation! Recipe development! And after a couple weeks of rest, trail running! Then, who knows?

Farmers’ Market 04.21.12 and Strawberry Snacks

Last week I saw local asparagus in the grocery store for the first time this year. When strawberries followed a few days later, I knew what I had to do. The farmers’ market was calling my name. On our first free Saturday in Richmond in a very long time, Kyle and I made it out to the South of the James Winter Market. Here’s the haul!

  • Romaine lettuce (Broadfork Farm)
  • Green onions (Broadfork Farm)
  • Radishes (Walnut Hill)
  • Strawberries (Walnut Hill)
  • Asparagus (Walnut Hill)
  • Kale (Walnut Hill) – for juicing!
  • Olive and Herb Bread  (Norwood Cottage Bakery)

It was a beautiful warm morning and we enjoyed walking the short distance to the farmers’ market for the first time since moving into our new home. Unfortunately I was battling a migraine for most of the day so I didn’t do much else on Saturday until about 4:00 PM. I couldn’t figure out if it was exhaustion, stress, or my pollen allergies that had sidelined me until the late afternoon. Then when the torrential downpour hit late Saturday evening and the temperature dropped thirty degrees overnight, I figured it out. Usually when the weather takes a dramatic turn like this, I get terrible headaches. I am so glad that I was able to make it out into the sunshine for a few hours to grab a coffee with Kyle and peruse the market tables. We had such a wonderful, relaxing morning before I had to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over my eyes!

I rallied and went out for dinner and drinks with friends on Saturday night, and woke up to cold, pouring rain on Sunday morning. It was such a stark contrast to the nice warm weather of the day before. To remind me of the bright sun-warmed stalls filled with fresh local produce, I pulled out the strawberries and made this easy spring dessert.

These tasty little morsels contain just three ingredients and they are really easy to make. I brought them to brunch with some friends this afternoon and they went over really well, so I decided to share them here. When the main ingredient is dark chocolate peanut butter, what could go wrong?

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Strawberries

Ingredients:

Preparation:

  1. Slice the top off of each strawberry.
  2. Using a paring knife, strawberry huller, or serrated grapefruit spoon (it works!), hollow out the center of each strawberry, being careful not to poke a hole through the bottom or sides of the berry. You are making a little strawberry cup. Adorable.
  3. Optional: slice off the very tip of each strawberry so that the treats will stand upright.
  4. Using a pastry bag, pipe the chocolate peanut butter into the center of each strawberry. Alternatively, use  a small spoon or spatula to the fill berries with the peanut butter.
  5. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt over the top of each one.
  6. Freeze in a covered plastic tub for 20 minutes to set, then store in refrigerator.

Welcoming Winter Weekends

My four day weekend is coming to a close, and I am probably as relaxed as I will be this whole month. With the purchase of our new home, a move to a new neighborhood and the Christmas holiday all ahead of me this December, I decided to take some extra time off to get relaxed, focused and ready. Here’s hoping I will make it through December gracefully.

I woke up Friday morning feeling sluggish, but I still laced up my hiking shoes and went out with Kyle for coffee and a leisurely hike around our future neighborhood. There was a little chill in the air but it was perfectly sunny and the scenery was beautiful.

That afternoon, Kyle and I went out for veggie sushi at Sticky Rice. Then I headed out for a haircut and color, and spent a lot of time reading and trying not to fall asleep in the salon. I think I was really wiped out and needed a break!

That evening I just lounged around the apartment and tried to rest. I had felt off all day so I tried to do as little as possible. I woke up Saturday morning feeling refreshed. I bundled up and headed out to the local coffee shop for breakfast sandwiches and coffees. Then Kyle and I walked about a mile to the Richmond Christmas Parade on Broad Street. I knew we would have fun, but I was surprised at how entertaining the parade really was. I always thought this parade was very targeted at families with small children, but we really enjoyed watching the floats, balloons and performers march down Broad Street.

Spotted:

Harlem Globetrotters

No BS Brass Band and the Richmond Flying Squirrels

Some very skilled Hula Hoopers

Storm Troopers

My Alma Mater, VCU

And Rudolph was back this year, with a large Band-Aid after last year’s incident (I highly recommend that you click on the link for the footage).

We walked home after the parade and I prepared for Real Housewives Tea with my two best Richmond girlfriends. Modeled after the RHBH Tea Party, this event featured tiny sandwiches, delicious sweets, and wine. Yes there was tea, but we stayed true to the Housewives episode and made sure that no one drank it, in favor of a little bubbly instead. The only difference was that we left the drama at the door.

We had as much fun as you would expect to have while drinking cava at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon, donning enormous hats and dripping in (costume) jewels. What’s not to love about that? It was truuuuuly loooooovely to catch up with these ladies and I had a deliiiiiightful time.

I spent Sunday and Monday running errands and making plans in preparation for the remainder of this month. There is still a lot of shopping, planning, baking and packing in store over the next three weeks. But I’m not too worried about it. I’m actually kind of excited, since I’ll be doing it all with my best friend.

Ready, set, go!

Bike to Brunch

Sunday was beautiful. Not only did the Packers prevent the Steelers from winning th Superbowl (boooo Steelers!), but the weather was gorgeous and I got to spend some time with great friends. I was invited to brunch at Bellytimber Tavern this weekend, a spot that was expertly chosen specifically for its bloody mary bar. That’s right, you get to make your own bloody mary. How could this turn out to be anything short of wonderful?

According to the NBC12 weather site, it was roughly 48 degrees when I was heading to brunch. I swear it was warmer than that, because when I stepped outside with my coffee late on Sunday morning, it seemed like the perfect day for a bike ride to brunch. The sun was shining, and while there was a little chill in the air, I felt like the groundhog had gotten it right this year and Spring was right around the corner. However skeptical, I guess I have to trust NBC 12 on this one. They usually tell it like it is. Regardless of the actual outside temperature, 48 degrees felt like 65 degrees to me on Sunday and I was pumped to hop on my bike.

Yes, I store it on the balcony

I felt like throwing on my cropped cycling pants and a hoodie but I also kind of wanted to kick it up a notch. Among the brunch guests was my fabulously talented friend Carissa, who just started up her fashion blog again. If you’re like me and your Google Reader is full of blogs about food, fitness, and fashion, check her out. What I love about Carissa’s approach to fashion it this: while she puts thought into every piece she puts on, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. This shows in Carissa’s writing, which is playful, approachable, and fun. As you would expect from a talented graphic designer like her, Carissa has an eye for the details, which always makes for an interesting read.

I feel a tribute post coming on. . . . ! Carissa inspired me to think twice about what to wear before I headed out the door so here is a post about what I wore, head to toe, in honor of Carissa’s fresh start. Keep scrolling past What I Wore to see What I Ate.

I wanted to wear cycling pants but figured that leggings would fit the bill perfectly. I topped the leggings with a lightweight cotton shirt dress with a belt around my upper waist. I chose a blue dress to match my bike. Then I added a scarf for a pop of color and to keep me warm.

Do I look like I have any idea what I'm doing?

My leisurely biking shoes of choice were these flats from Target. Do you love the detail on the leggings that I picked up on a recent trip to Uniqlo in NYC/SoHo?

This was my biking bag of choice, a Vera Bradley number from a few years ago, that perfectly slings across my chest and stays put like a backpack for fuss-free cargo.

I braided my hair, which is a great biking fashion trick that I learned from Kath.

And to top it all off, a Columbia lightweight jacket and my helmet, as always.

Safety First!

Make fun all you want, but while attending a university with a large population of commuter cyclists, I have seen way too many bikers get hit by cars. I am protecting my noggin, just in case.

I hope Carissa approves of my sartorial choices. My fashion tends to be more practical than whimsical but there’s nothing wrong with that, right?

And now for the main event. . . brunch!

I ordered the Messy Jane, which is a TVP sandwich topped with cole slaw and served on a homemade vegan bun. It is Bellytimber’s meatless version of the classic sloppy joe sandwich, and it is oh so delicious.

It definitely warmed me up after my brisk bike ride. And to wash down a lovely Sunday afternoon? Easy, breezy, beautiful.

Bloody Mary.

Cheers and good luck to Carissa for getting back on the horse. And yippee for me for hopping back on the bike. It will be Spring before you know it!

18 Hours in Charlottesville

This Friday evening I traveled to Charlottesville for some good food and a great hike in the beautiful surroundings of Autumn in Central Virginia. Kyle and I soaked up the beautiful weather while visiting family and we made some great stops along the way.

I met Kyle in Charlottesville, just over an hour’s drive from Richmond. On Friday night, we visited with family members and then grabbed a bite to eat at our favorite pizza place in Virginia. Our Cville adventure started around 7:00 PM with cold beers and hot pizza.

The Mellow Mushroom (website)

We had a medium Mega Veggie pizza to share. The piping hot pie was loaded with delicious veggies and it was perfect as the night was getting colder. I had waited too long for dinner and was starving for that perfect crispy-doughy crust. And their pizza sauce is unbelievable; the combination of crust and sauce is what makes this pizza special.

We washed it all down with a few cold beers, including a new one that we had not seen before: Midnight Project #3, Oxymoron. The Midnight Projects are a series of collaboration beers created by Terrapin (GA) and Left Hand Brewing (CO). As the third installment in the series, Oxymoron was a highly anticipated beer that made its debut this Fall. Kyle and I were BIG fans of Midnight Project #2, Depth Charge, which was an espresso milk stout that was released in the Fall of 2009. Oxymoron is an India Pale Lager, which appealed to us because Kyle is really into IPAs and I love a good lager. It was very interesting and I think we will try it again when we are more focused on tasting beer and less focused on tasting pizza.

The service was excellent from the hostess and the wait staff. At the end of our meal, the owner/manager stopped by our table to make sure we were having a good time. We were very impressed that he stopped to check on us, especially on a busy Friday night. The Mellow Mushroom, as usual, did not disappoint these hungry travelers. It remains one of our favorite places to visit while in Charlottesville.

Humpback Rocks

On Saturday morning, we got up bright and early to make the 30 minute drive to Afton and hike up to the Humpback Rocks Overlook. We did a longer version of the same hike 6 months ago, and this time we just climbed up and right back down because we were pressed for time. It was about a 1.5 hour hike that we completed while the sun was rising over the mountain. I had to stop to catch my breath several times on the ascent, but the view from the top was worth the climb.

The views were spectacular and we wanted to stay all day at the top of those rocks. But our stomachs were growling and we had a tight schedule so we had to hike back down. On our endorphin highs, Kyle and I brainstormed how we could fit more hiking into our schedules. I hope we get at least one more good one in while the leaves are still changing.

We got back to our hotel with 25 minutes to shower, pack, and check out of the room. I made it out with wet hair, a crumpled mess of clothing stuffed into my overnight bag, and a fistful of cosmetic products in my hand to hide my dark circles during the car ride back to downtown. Kyle drove towards UVA with the single goal of calorie replacement.

Boylan Heights (website)

We had been meaning to visit this “gourmet burger bar” at the Corner in Charlottesville for awhile. Our timing was perfect as we ducked in for an early lunch. The place filled up with students in the hour that we were there; the crowd grew from two tables to twenty and we were glad we got out orders in when we did.

I must have had 40 ounces of water while we were there because I was so thirsty after our hike. We both ordered veggie burgers, and the patties were unlike any others I’ve ever had. They were homemade patties formed from a mixture of quinoa, black beans, and fresh vegetables and then deep fried so that the outside was crispy while the inside was soft.

The taste of the burger was great, and my only complaint was the consistency. It fell apart while I ate it, and I think the burger could be made better by either the addition of lentils or more mashed beans to the mix, or a reduction in the size of the veggie pieces. The recipe includes white beans but they don’t stick the patty together very well. I just like my burger to stay on my bun while I’m eating it. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t eat every last errant crumb with my fork after the bun was history. I was not crazy about the fries on the side, but I will be back for that burger again. I even caught myself daydreaming about it earlier today.

Another note on Boylan Heights: I really liked the concept of the restaurant and the prep-school theme was integrated throughout the experience in a creative way. I was also impressed by the branding, which was done very well with a clean and academic looking logo emblazoned on every inch of the restaurant space, from the menus to the napkin dispensers to the toothpicks that poked out of the tops of our burger buns. The folks at Boylan Heights know a lot about burgers, but they also know a thing or two about marketing, which helps them stand out.

Home Sweet Home

After about 18 hours in Charlottesville, we drove back home to get some other weekend chore stuff out of the way. Again we took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked to dinner in the Fan. The excitement of our quick trip woke up the travel bug in us and caused us to talk about vacations, school, our careers, and the future. It was a great conversation and as we walked the streets of our own beautiful neighborhood, we reminisced about exploring Richmond when it was new to me (Kyle grew up here), and we dreamed about exploring other cities too. Although after a healthy meal and a stroll back home, with the comforting smell of freshly baked cookies wafting over from our tiny oven in our little apartment kitchen, in that moment we were happy to be right where we are.