Thursday, September 29, 2016

Run With the Amish Half Marathon - Getting There

All of my running friends have been raving about this race the last couple of years, so I had no choice but to put it on my race calendar for 2016! I'm a sucker for fun and different races, ones with a different "twist" and that are well-organized and well-supported. So nine months ago I penciled this race in on my calendar, watched the website and their Facebook page for announcement that registration was open, and immediately signed up as soon as registration was open.

A little less obvious was the choice of hotel for the trip. The race itself was being held in the heart of S. Ohio Amish country, where no hotels exist, and where the nearest town with decent hotels was at least 25 miles away. So, doing some research using Google maps, I looked at the options with an eye toward location relative to my driving route to get there from Houston, the race start/finish line, and amenities close to the hotel. 

I settled on the Hampton Inn in Maysville KY. I'm a loyal Hilton Honors member so I'd get points for staying there, plus it had several restaurants within walking distance, a Kroger grocery store next door, and would be a direct shot north into OH to West Union where the race was being held. All big pluses. It was about 25 miles from the race venue - a distance estimated by my Garmin GPS to be a 40 minute drive. So I made my reservations and made my trip plans.

I have learned that, depending on what direction I'm heading to get out of town, it is sometimes easier to leave around noontime and plan to stop for the night 300 or so miles away. In this case, heading northeast on U.S. 59 is definitely one of these situations. There are several hotels to choose from in Texarkana, depending on which hotel loyalty program I have enough points for a free room. This trip it would be the Fairfield Inn, using my Marriott Rewards points to get a free room.

Mike's FJR, with the Givi top case installed. Glad I found a new home for it.

So I left home right after lunch on Wednesday and stayed my first night on the road at Fairfield Inn in Texarkana. The next morning, I hit it hard, getting onto I-30 heading to Little Rock, and then I-40. I'd sold my Givi top case to a fellow motorcycle rider, and we'd made plans to meet up in Brinkley AR, just east of Little Rock to finish the transaction. He has a new Yamaha FJR, and this top case will be the perfect compliment to the side cases. We both got there within minutes of each other, and visited long enough to have cups of coffee and tea, see how the new-to-him top case looked on his FJR, and then we each headed in two different directions....him, toward Russellville for an MTF weekend get-together and me, to continue on to Bowling Green for my next night's stop.

Me and Mike, getting caught up after not seeing each other for a couple of years.

Another free room, this one at the Hampton Inn in Bowling Green using my Hilton Honors loyalty points, and a nice dinner with friend Lynne, who lives in town.

With Lynne at Rooster's in Bowling Green. Visiting over dinner.

The next morning I had a comfortable 1/2 day's drive to Maysville, KY and the Hampton Inn. Before checking in, I drove next door to the Kroger grocery store to buy some bananas and raspberries and a couple of other items to have in the room, then went on over to the hotel and got checked in.

Packet pick-up at Miller's in West Union OH.

I had lunch at the Burger King next door, then made the 25 mile drive to Miller's Bakery and Furniture Store in West Union OH to pick up my race packet and get the "lay of the land" for the next morning. The start/finish line will be at this venue, so I asked about the parking situation for the next morning, since we'd be arriving in the dark. The race director pointed to the field next to the compound and said they'd be moving the horses to make room for us to park. In this very field were two very beautiful mom-foal pairs. I had just taken a photo of them moments earlier.

Two beautiful mom-colt pairs at Miller's in West Union.

On the race event Facebook page, the race director announced that they'd be drawing names to give away some mile marker plaques used the previous year. They looked to be really interesting, so I threw my name into the drawing and lo and behold! I won one of them! Good thing I'm in my car and not on a plane!
The basket-style plaque I won in a drawing of race participants

Photo op at packet pickup

I bought some goodies at the Amish bakery here at Miller's - so many delectables to choose from, and Amish men and women efficiently mixing, kneading, baking!! Then I sat on the very pleasant porch in one of their Adirondack chairs, enjoying the pleasant breeze and eating a freshly baked cookie. I still had an hour to kill before the start of the pasta dinner being put on by the Amish, but I was getting very sleepy and a bit dehydrated, and was definitely feeling road weary after two and half days' drive to get here.
The comfy front porch of Miller's Bakery.

Ultimately, I decided the best thing to do was drive back to the hotel, concentrate on my hydration, get dinner at one of the restaurants near the hotel, and then crash for the night. As much as I wanted to attend the pasta dinner and visit with running friends who were coming in for this race, I knew that it would mean a prolonged evening and driving on a narrow, twisty and dark road 25 miles to get back to the hotel later that night.

So a nice chicken fajita dinner ordered to go at the restaurant next to the hotel and I settled into my room with dinner and a beer and watched some TV before setting the alarm for a 5 AM wake-up and went to bed. It will be an early and long day tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ramping Up For a New Half Marathon Season

Okay, summer break is over. Well, anyway, by the calendar it's over. By the weather though, it's not, which is making it really hard for me to start preparing for the upcoming race season.

Still...I can't put it off any longer. I've taken two full months off from any meaningful training and I need to get back at it. My first half marathon of the fall/winter season is just two weeks away and I've succumbed to the steamy early morning temps and humidity (lows in the low 80's, humidity in the 90%'s) by not getting out the door as much as I'd like.

To wit, here's my July running log:

July mileage

Except for the rare opportunity to get some runs in while visiting the cooler, drier elevation of Santa Fe, I'd not really gotten out onto the roads to get some serious miles in since my last race in late May in San Diego. Just a bunch of 2+ milers in July, but a better mix of 3-milers - and a 5-miler - throughout the month of August.

August mileage

So, on Labor Day I kicked myself out of bed early - before daylight - and hit the road for a 7-miler. My best bet is to lay everything out the night before so that I can just roll out of bed the next morning, pull on my running clothes, drink a glass of water, and then get out the door before my brain wakes up, before I get distracted, and before I change my mind.

7 miler - getting back into long distance shape

Encouraged by this first longer run in a couple of months, my miles piled up nicely the rest of that week with a few shorter distance outings and then, feeling energized, I planned to do 9 miles the next weekend.

And then, the next week, it was a nine miler

And I did it! I got out the door and completed 9 miles. I promised myself I would do that, and I did, keeping myself honest. Now I can do some maintenance miles this week, get a longer, 5 or 6 miler in this coming weekend, some more maintenance miles the following week, and then it's off to do the Running With The Amish Half Marathon near the end of the month! This starts the fall/winter race season. Lots of races on my calendar in the next 6 months!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It's Soup Time!

One of the many benefits of being retired is discovering - or re-discovering - the kitchen. I always prided myself on being able to put a healthy meal on the table nearly every night after working a full day, back when I was working full time. But some things like homemade soups, stews, chili, spaghetti sauce just weren't possible except on the weekends.

But now I have plenty of time...and inclination! There's just nothing like a hot bowl of healthy, homemade soup for lunch. Having a stash of two or more varieties of soup in the freezer is my perfect "food world."

Split pea and wild rice soup and 10 more servings ready for the freezer

My soup repertoire continues to evolve as I experiment with content and different seasonings and spices. Here, therefore, are some of my favorite soups.

Split pea
The ingredients for this vary, depending on what I have on hand. Usually I make the soup when I have leftover ham, once in a while I use turkey, but my last batch was made with salted, unsmoked pork belly. I removed the rind and trimmed the chunk of pork belly of nearly all visible fat and then diced it up into 1/4" bits. 1 bag of split peas and about a dozen baby carrots, sliced into 1/2" slices. Two scallions, thinly sliced. Garlic powder, finely ground pepper, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika. I rinse the peas and soak them for about 30 minutes, I sometimes use 32 oz unsalted chicken broth plus 1 cup water, and sometimes I use 5 cups of water plus two tablespoons of Penzeys chicken soup base, then combine it all into a pot and simmer for a couple of hours until the split peas are completely softened and the soup becomes a puree. In some batches I've also added brown and wild rice - 1/2 cup uncooked brown and wild rice pre-cooked according to package directions.

Split pea and turkey

Split pea with ham and rice

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
I don't very often roast a turkey, but when I do, I save the drippings and freeze it along with leftover white and dark meat. I'll portion the leftover turkey meat into separate ziplok bags, which is usually enough for several batches of soup. This makes wonderful soup. I add the defrosted drippings, 32 oz unsalted chicken broth, 1 cup water, diced turkey breast meat, sliced baby carrots, 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, I pre-cook1/2 cup uncooked brown and wild rice according to package directions and then add to the pot. Garlic powder, finely ground black pepper, crushed red pepper, finely diced scallions.

Turkey, rice, and spinach soup

Beef and Barley Soup
I regularly cook a chuck roast in the crockpot, producing a tender, flake-apart beef dinner and at least two cups of beef broth. I freeze the broth and the left-over beef to use in soup. I've tried several different types of beef soup - beef noodle, beef rice, beef vegetable, beef barley - and my favorite is beef barley. I dice up the beef into small cubes, add the saved beef broth, add another 32 ounces of packaged beef broth. I add approximately 1.5 cups frozen mixed vegetables, garlic powder, finely ground black pepper, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika.  I cook 3/4 cup uncooked barley separately according to package instructions and then rinse it thoroughly before adding to the soup. One of my favorite soups!

Beef barley soup

Another batch of beef barley soup

Chicken Noodle
A classic! I periodically buy rotisserie chicken, eat the dark meat, and freeze the breast meat into two separate packages, suitable for making two batches of soup. Wide egg noodles boiled and drained ahead of time, slice baby carrots, finely dice two scallion onions, 32 oz packaged salt-free chicken broth, augmented by 2 cups water and 2 tbsp Penzeys chicken soup base. Garlic powder, finely ground black pepper, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika.

Chicken noodle soup

I portion and freeze my soups into 2-cup Glad containers. I try to have several containers of at least two of these different soups in my freezer at any one time. Nothing like reaching into my freezer, pulling out a 2-cup container, defrosting it and having a healthy, hearty lunch for two days. Sure beats eating crummy fast food for lunch!!