My Concoction

Or A Look at the Lengths a Slow Cyclist Will Take

Okay, many of you know that I have drastically cut back on sugar (and sugar substitutes) and white flour/potatoes/rice, as well as alcohol, a process that began with Dry February. During Dry February, I did give myself a couple of exceptions—I’d eat what I was served when at a dinner party AND I’d permit myself an caffeinated energy drink and/or energy gels for my weekly endurance workout. I define “endurance workout” as anything lasting longer than an hour (but in practice, anything over 90 minutes). This worked well and come March, I opted to (largely) continue being “dry”. Okay, I DID welcome dark chocolate (≥ 85% cacao content) back. But I also wanted to try exercising without sugar or sweeteners. I mean, I wanted the caffeine (it was the only caffeine I’d ingest each week, save for the miniscule quantities in four small squares of dark chocolate—limit, one per day!—and the residual caffeine in my daily cups of decaf).

30.47 miles (49 km) and 100 mg of caffeine later–yours truly after a gym session on the recumbent bike, on an empty stomach no less

The Story of My Concoction

The short of it—it ain’t tasty, but it works. Before, I’d have anywhere from 80 to 114 mg of caffeine, depending on whether I started with a Clif or GU gel, Hy-Drive energy drink, or Red Bull Zero. Usually I’d eat or drink this after 20 minutes or so of cycling if indoors or immediately before the ride if outdoors. Midway through, I might add another gel (20 to 50 mg of caffeine, plus the carbs for energy). But in the interest of my sugar reduction, I opted to experiment with another way. This also allowed (and continues to allow) me the opportunity to assess the relative importance of caffeine vs. carbohydrates in my endurance diet.1

So, I was looking for something that would give me about 100 mg of caffeine to start with. To put this in perspective, it’s about HALF the amount of caffeine that you’d find in a tall (12 oz.) Starbucks Pike Place Roast, admittedly one of the more caffeinated brands out there. A small (10 oz.) Dunkin Donuts brewed coffee has about 150 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, a cup of Keurig Breakfast Blend has about 75 mg. And your standard brown diner brewed dishwater contains about 95 to 165 mg for 8 ounces. So I’m drinking about the equivalent of a generic cup of coffee. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you subsist of decaf, it’s the equivalent of speed.

So, I started by experimenting with canned Trader Joe’s cold brew. I was FLYING! Some cursory Google research revealed that cold brew usually has more caffeine than hot brewed due to its longer steeping time. I nixed that because the caffeine content wasn’t available, even though I’d emailed the company.

Next stop—Whole Foods, where I purchased some canned Illy Espresso drink (unsweetened). The caffeine content for the 6.8-oz. can was 152 mg, so 2/3 of that would get me to 100 mg. Well, from past experience, I also noticed that carbonated energy drinks tended to affect me more quickly than still ones. A diet Red Bull worked faster than the caffeine equivalent of Hy-Drive. So I thought I’d add some carbonation to my Illy Espresso drink. Lo and behold, it not only worked, but it worked RAPIDLY! I’ve only done indoor rides (due to the weather) but I have completed 25+ and 30+ mile rides on my new Petra-approved energy drink. AND I have had no need for the mid-ride caffeine or carb boost! Perhaps with the weather improving, I might need that for an outdoor ride (with pollen and wind, outdoor rides are more challenging than those inside a gym). But I’m pleased with the results and I’m keeping all of the data in a personal training spreadsheet.

Like a fun cocktail, but without the booze. Or the fun.

The “Recipe”

  • 2/3 of a 6.8 ounce (200 ml) can of Illy Espresso drink (unsweetened)
  • flavored seltzer water (do not use the kind with artificial sweeteners)

Pour espresso into a water bottle. Add some seltzer water (I add about 4 oz.). This doesn’t taste very good, but that’s not the aim.

1And the word “endurance” is the key, because it sure isn’t speed! I cycle the same way I used to run—slowly, very slowly, but steadily. For me, the distance is more important.

On New Fitness Goals

Running is Gone—Now What?

As I noted in an earlier post, I was never athletic, so the fact that I not only RAN, but ran LONG DISTANCES still brings a thrill to my heart. I was perhaps the least fit person in my entire graduating class, perhaps my entire school. Yet I had, in my 40s, run a half-marathon. And then another one. And another one after that. Eventually, there were 14 of them, 15 if you include the one I ran on the track at the gym.

Enter Cycling

My now ex-boyfriend was not a runner. Rather, he cycled. Indeed, he worked on my bike (an old Trek 850 XC mountain bike) when we first got together, although it would be many months before we would actually ride together. Last February, I suffered a stress fracture, no doubt exacerbated by an “oh, it’ll go away, so I’ll run on it” kind of attitude. After my stress fracture healed, I took a real spin on my bike, something other than errands. I completed six miles. Six whole miles! At once! I don’t think I did that since I bought the bike back when I lived in Iowa City.*.Wow!

We started riding together in the summer—first 10 miles, then 12, then 15, then 20. I was hooked. Not exactly a fast cyclist (then again, I was never a fast runner), but a cyclist in it for distance and endurance. I loved the feeling of accomplishment I got whenever my mileage topped the previous ride. It was (almost) the same feeling I got whenever I finished my long runs, looking at the total mileage on my trusty Garmin GPS watch. Cycling is the new running.

So, Where Am I Going With This?

Well, the short answer is 50 miles from where I start! Actually, much like my first half-marathon, I now have an athletic or fitness goal to aim for. And to train for. A half-century ride (fyi, that’s a 50-mile bike ride). I’ve already completed a metric half-century (50 km). Now I’m aiming for half based on miles.

I find that, for me, having a fitness goal, one with a defined outcome, works for me. I know what it is, where it is, and what I need to do to get there. I may use this blog to keep semi-public tabs on myself as a form of motivation (along with the Excel spreadsheet I’m using to keep track of my training). But I feel inspired and driven now that I’ve identified this objective. And I KNOW I’ll meet it (I even have a deadline—August 31, 2017).

AN ELEGY FOR RUNNING

The Last Run

The last time I went on a serious run was January 5, 2016. I ran 7.09 miles, interspersed with a few walk breaks. It must’ve been outdoors, because I got the mileage down to the hundredths, only possible with my trusty Garmin running watch. With the exception of a quarter-mile here and there, I have not run since.

Awakening the Athlete Within

I had never been athletic as a child or teen, something typically precluded when you are overweight or, by the time I graduated high school, morbidly obese. Weight loss followed, a significant one of over 100 lbs., which I largely kept off save for a couple of episodes (the start of graduate school and the year before my tenure review). By “largely” keeping it off, I mean within 20 pounds—not bad for starting at 254 lbs.

In my sort-of-young adulthood, walking became exercise for me. I’d dieted the weight off, but I never incorporated exercise and some of the weight crept back a bit. Walking was a joy—fitness plus “me” time (though I don’t know if “me” time had been invented yet). This was good.

Some time during graduate school, I started powerwalking the neighborhoods and hills of Newark, Delaware (yes, I was a Fighting Blue Hen), also adopting the now-excoriated low fat diet. I dropped weight and became, for the first time in my life, gorgeous (I’d been cute before, but for a couple of years, I daresay I was marginally stunning). Curvaceous, long red hair (thank you, L’Oreal!), combined with a pretty face (yeah, I heard that one when I was obese). For someone who once had an English teacher tell her to “get off your considerable rear”, this newfound conventional attractiveness was like candy (Three Musketeers, because I was following low-fat). I was even stopped on the street once, with a young man telling me that I was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen (and then he drove off). I felt feminine as well as feminist. Heaven!

Armed (and legged) with a new-born body, I decided it was time to ramp things up in the exercise department. I was going to RUN. Starting small (a block here and there), I eventually built up to running my very first 5K, the 28th Annual Turkey Trot in November of 2001. I ran slowly (I have always run slowly), but I was hooked.

Fast forward about nine months—while finishing my dissertation, I moved to Iowa City to teach for a year on contract at the University of Iowa. By October, I’d run my second 5K. And in the spring of 2003, my third. And in July of 2003, my fourth. Then a move to take a job at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

Welcome to Indiana

Muncie is very, very flat. While that sounds like an advantage to a runner, Iowa City was full of small hills and I’d become quite proficient running UP the hills (I’d even overtake other runners during a race). I missed the topography, but kept up with my running.

On May 1, 2004, I ran in the Burris 75th Anniversary 5k (Burris was 75, not the race). It was cold and miserable, with a steady rain. I slogged through and somehow wound up winning my age group. I got a trophy!

Let me put that victory in a little perspective. The weather kept the turnout low (and many people who’d signed up failed to show up). I finished behind a 66-year old man. The person who was third in my age group WALKED. To me it mattered little. Formerly morbidly obese and completely unathletic Petra now had an athletic trophy to put on her shelf.

So, I continued running and one day that summer, I ran five miles. Five whole miles! I’d never done that in a single session before! Emboldened by my rising confidence, I went to the website of the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon and registered for the 2005 race. As soon as I entered my credit card number on the website and clicked Send, I said to myself “my god what have I done”.  This was a 13.1 mile race and I’d only run 5 miles. Once. Well, I knew I had time to train and that’s just what I did.

For those of you unfamiliar with this race, the Mini (as it’s endearingly called locally) is the nation’s largest half-marathon, with 35,000 participants. It’s a spectacle—TV coverage, residents cheering on the runners, bands and other entertainers. To me, it seemed magical.

The First One

About a week or so before the race, my hip started hurting me. This worried me, but I decided to run what I could and walk what I couldn’t. I got to Indy at about 6:15 in the morning and miraculously found a parking space about a block or two from the start. I was chilly and nervous, but those nerves were ones of excitement mixed with a little fear. Being a back-of-the-pack runner, my cohort started about 20-25 minutes after the elite runners (read: Kenyans).  But start we (and I) did.

Within the first mile of the race, I found a twenty-dollar bill (surely a good omen!) and as I continued to run, my hip stopped hurting. I ran and ran and ran, eventually crossing the finish line. Perhaps one of the proudest moments in my life was when a race volunteer placed a finisher’s medal on my neck after completing the race. I felt prouder than when I received my Ph.D.

Since Then

Since that first Mini, I ran ten more (for eleven total), the Fort 4 Fitness half in Fort Wayne, the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, the Urban Bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky, and even an unofficial one on the elevated track at Ball Gym on the BSU camous (158 laps, in case you’re interested).

Back to January 2016—my foot started bothering me again (this was a couple of weeks after my last run—winters were more typically spent on the rowing machine at home). After the foot wasn’t healing, I made an appointment with my podiatrist. He diagnosed a stress fracture and I had to refrain from running or any other exercise putting extra pressure on that foot (I was cleared for walking, albeit in one of those ugly shoes). He pointed out that because I have a bunion, my foot was unstable and further fractures were likely. Indeed, I’d already had several bone bruises in the same spot.

After my fracture healed, I walked more and tried some very minor running breaks in between walking. By the summer, I was cycling, a fitness activity more conducive to working out sans injury. While I thought my running days were over, I harbored a secret hope that one day I would run another half-marathon. However, that was not to be.

Last week, I saw my podiatrist again, because I’d been having some discomfort in a different part of the same previously injured foot. Then I asked about bunion surgery. My mother had it done decades earlier and she remembered it being fairly benign. However, the good doctor showed me the xrays and noted that any surgery performed on my foot would be complicated—cutting a wedge and lengthening a metatarsal, cutting another wedge in a different metatarsal, and putting a plate in my ankle to give me an arch. And then he recommended against surgery unless my foot problems were severely impacting the quality of my life. I knew then I’d never do any serious running again.

Epilogue

I miss running. Cycling is fun, indeed I’ve improved and today I even went on a 30-mile ride, despite not having trained outdoors for some time (it IS winter, although we had a remarkably warm—66°F—day). But while I’m excited to mark my progression into higher mileage, I don’t get the exact same satisfaction cycling as I do running. So goodbye running. I loved you.

The First Real Dry February Temptations–Avoided!

Well, so far this had been going swimmingly–I had a better handle on my diet, I wasn’t craving anything verboten, and my skin even looked better! Alas, at dinner on Saturday night (at a bar/pub/grill type of place), I was sorely tempted to add a beer to my order of a vegetarian Cobb salad. I didn’t, but I really did want to have that beer. How odd, since I’m not really a beer drinker, preferring cocktails and highballs to all things ale. And today I’m feeling a bit anxious and a glass of sparkling wine would be just the ticket. But again, I said “no”.

I DID treat myself to some exotics today–a Hawaiian papaya and a Chinese white pear. Honestly, I’d never even heard of a white pear. But they exist and I am now the proud owner. I haven’t eaten it yet, because I do need to admire it for a few days first!

Dry February–The First Big Test

The first few days of my Dry February went by relatively easily, given that I don’t drink that much and I generally eat healthy during the week. On the weekends, I give myself leeway to indulge.

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to Indianapolis for a few errands, namely for me to start looking at bicycles, since I’m getting more serious about the sport. Given that my current bike is a mountain bike and I do my rides largely on paved trails, roads, and bike lanes AND given that my mileage increased last year, I decided to get a road bike. Mike is a cyclist and this is something we do together, him on his fancy carbon fiber Fuji road bike, me on my almost-20-year-old Trek 850 mountain bike. But I’d be a more efficient rider (and faster, so I wouldn’t slow him down) on a road bike. So, off we went to Performance Bicycle and Bicycle Garage Indy to check out some bikes. Unfortunately, it was too cold to test-ride them, so I’ll have to do that some other weekend. But I started to get a feel for the different kinds of frames and the price$.

We decided to eat at Athens on 86th, a Greek restaurant on, you guessed it, 86th St. And this is when I realized that I might have to look at a limited number of options on the menu. No gyros or souvlakis (or any other sandwiches) because of the white flour pitas. Nothing with breading. Nothing with rice mixed in. No moussaka or pastitsio  (white pasta, white potatoes, bechamel made from white flour). And it was cold, so I really wasn’t in the mood for a salad. BUT, I DID find something I could order–Gigantes, kind of like Greek lima beans baked in a spiced tomato sauce. This was unbelievably good! And hot! And allowable under my Dry February rules!

Because I don’t go out to eat that often (maybe once a week), I hadn’t considered the restaurant aspect. However, I am delighted to report that I did not break my rules, nor did I create a new exception. Yay, me!

Day 2–Dry February

Well, I’m well into Day 2 of Dry February (and about 36 hours into my Facebook Fast). No alcohol, no sugar or sugary sweeteners, no white stuff. Except for one of my exceptions–caffeinated energy gel. Yes, it was Endurance Day at the gym, so I powerwalked for 90 minutes (at least a good 5 miles) after warming up with 15 minutes on a rower (first time on one of those in months). Finished with 15 minutes of slow walking to cool down. Did NOT indulge in my usual sugary treat afterwards. BUT I did have a skinny Starbucks mocha this afternoon, after which I decided to add sugar substitutes to the list of banned foods. Frankly, they aren’t any better for me!

And I DID refrain from eating muesli for breakfast/brunch, because there are sweetened cranberries in the mix. I am really going to be that much of a stickler!

Dry February

Warning—LONG!!!!!!

Warning–This is actually a Facebook post from 1/31/17

So, I didn’t know “Dry January” was a thing. Until today, January 31, the last day of Dry January. Maybe I wasn’t aware because it’s more of a UK thing and, well, I’m not in the UK. Basically, the idea is to abstain from alcohol for the month of January, kind of like a one-month Lenten practice, but for booze.  Perhaps January was chosen to counter the excesses of the holidays (although for many Americans, No Sugar January might be more appropriate!) Whatever the reason, the concept is very workable.

Why am I going on about Dry January? Well, I am currently enjoying a very uncharacteristic midweek cocktail. And why am I drinking a cocktail on a Tuesday afternoon? Because I’m going to give this Dry January thing a try, But I’m going to tweak it a little bit. First change—the month. This will be my Dry FEBRUARY.  Also, since I only have alcohol on weekends (and even then, not to excess), I’ll need some additional changes. After all, cycling season will be here before we know it AND I’ve been straying from the eating plan that has served me well for so long (i.e. I’ve had more carbs than usual, fewer vegetables than usual). So, here we go with Petra’s Dry February.

PETRA’S DRY FEBRUARY RULES

  1. Abstain from alcohol with the following exception: if booze is an ingredient in cooking, I will allow myself to cook with it. I AM a foodie, after all.
  2. Refrain from added sugar (and honey and maple syrup and white grape juice and you get the picture) EXCEPT for Muncie Meatless Monday or if I’m invited to someone’s home and they serve something with added sugar (you know, like a dessert). And except for that high-fiber apple-cranberry muffin from Trader Joe’s that I plan to have for breakfast.
  3. And while I’m at it, refrain from the “white stuff”—white flour, white pasta, white rice, and potatoes. With the same exceptions as noted in Rule 2.
  4. And also refrain from buying any cooking shit—gadgets, small appliances, serveware. I’m already refraining (until Sept. 1) from purchasing any cookbooks and magazines of any stripe. Food, yeah, I’ll buy food.
  5. NO FACEBOOK! I will be available on Messenger and via text (if you have my phone number), but I’m getting off Facebook for a month. So if I don’t “like” your post, it’s because I haven’t friggin’ seen it! I’ll get on one last time tomorrow morning to say goodbye, and then it’ll be four Facebook-free weeks for me.

So, with all of these things that I’m deleting from my life (for a month), what will I do to fill my life?

  1. Working out more. Yes, I’m pretty good about getting in a weekly endurance workout of at least 90 minutes, but it’s the shorter ones that I am more prone to excuse my way out of. And I will vary my training a bit more—currently it’s just weights and cycling, but I’m going to add powerwalking and maybe the elliptical. And, BSU folks, they’ve added a Concept 2 rowing machine near the track at Ball Gym!
  2. I have two blogs that I’ve neglected (and frankly, I have been busy). I hope to get at least one post on both of them this Dry February. Honestly, as long as this status is, it should’ve been a blog post. And maybe it will be J
  3. More meditation. I had been meditating regularly twice a day, but now my average is about 1.5 times a day. It’s not a panacea for life’s stresses, but I shudder to think how I’d feel WITHOUT it. FYI, meditation has been a regular part of my life for almost two years now.
  4. Eat green leafy vegetables. ‘Nuff said.

So, I’ll say my goodbyes on the morning of the first. And, since you might get a notification, February 18 isn’t my real birthday 😉

My Tenth Mini!

The semester is over and now I have a little time for a half-marathon report. On Saturday, I completed the 2014 Indianapolis Mini-Marathon, the nation’s largest half-marathon. It was my 10th year in a row! Last year’s time was my slowest ever (but I was, nonetheless, delighted with the fact that I finished it). Anyway, this year I finished with almost a full minute-per-mile pace FASTER than 2013! Needless to say, I walked around grinning afterward (even before I knew my finishing time). In fact, I registered for next year’s race almost as soon as I got home.

A couple of firsts this year. My first first: I’d always run in ordinary running tights or shorts, but I used compression capris this year (having only ever done a single short run with them previously, as I just got them). My second first: I’d always traveled there by myself, but this year a friend of mine joined me. Andy retired from my department a few years ago and has been running for a long time. He hadn’t run the Mini for 9 years, but did it this year (much faster than me, of course!) I really enjoyed having someone to hang around with until the start of the race, especially since it was quite windy and cool. Having conversations helped me forget about the chill!

So, what’s up next in this slow-but-ecstatic runner’s plans? I’ve registered for a half-marathon in October, the Urban Bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky. You have to be 21 or older, because there’s bourbon at the finish line!

Mini_2014a_resized

One more day!

Tomorrow morning I run my 10th Indianapolis Mini-Marathon in a row (it’s the nation’s largest half-marathon). Am I ready for it? Well, I’ve certainly gotten my fill of carbohydrates!

My annual day-before-the-race meal is pancakes at IHOP, no butter, swimming (née DROWNING) in syrup. Today I was joined by my friend Andy (also running the race tomorrow) and his wife Leslie (she of fantastic cooking skills!) I happily devoured my stack of pancakes with strawberries and bananas and should have plenty of glycogen in my body for tomorrow. These carbs, plus the energy drink with caffeine, should supply me with the fuel I need to finish. That, and a traditional breakfast of one sleeve of marshmallow Peeps, that is!

And the end of the semester is upon us

Monday is the last day of classes, with final exams scheduled for Tuesday through Friday. My grades must be submitted to the registrar’s office by noon on Monday. What I’ll be doing between now and then is grading (okay, I pretty much do this all semester long). And grading. And grading. And running a half-marathon on Saturday.

The end of the spring semester, for some reason*, puts me in more of a time crunch. So, while I have a slight respite this weekend, it’ll be a grading marathon (on top of the running half-marathon!) after Monday!

*Okay, that half-marathon is the reason! I have to drive down to Indianapolis to pick up my race packet on Thursday, and then drive down again Saturday (early!) morning for the actual race. I’ll get back to Muncie around 1:00, after which I’ll be too physically tired to grade until evening.