Eating really well around Seattle/Washington

Unlike other trips, I refrained from planning my #2DaysInSeattle to the hilt. Who knew what lay ahead or the exact schedule and what we’d feel like after the ordeal that is a half- and full marathon?

Willows Inn

The first meal was already planned. We were to dine at Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Lummi rhymes with “gummy”) and we knew this from two weeks before, the earliest we could make reservations. We were going for a Saturday reservation so that we’d only spend Saturday and Sunday but the only reservation my cousin, Alan, could get was a Friday night and suddenly we were going a day early. Dining there was that special and important. And it was three days after Alan’s 40th birthday.

We set out from Vancouver at 5 p.m. on a Friday which is just the most plum time to go with rush hour in addition to the Friday evening border queue. Our reservation was at 7:00 p.m. and I was surprised to learn that four others would be joining us, driving down to Lummi Island for the evening just to eat at Willows Inn. We missed the Bellingham-Lummi Island ferry by just a few minutes (we saw it pulling away) and so Alan’s friends arrived in two waves before 7:00 and at 7:20. We arrived at 7:40 and I wondered what the deal is and why they couldn’t hold up service for us.

 I borrowed a few seconds although we were late to take a picture of the view from our parking spot at Willows Inn – a spectacular sunset.

Contrasting with any other tasting menu I’ve ever had before, the one at Willows in starts at 7:00 and everyone else dining that evening (there is only one seating) is having the tasting menu. Every snack and course comes out at the same time so the kitchen was not delaying our amuse bouches on account of Alan and I not arriving. That there were none served us or saved for us still baffles me, though.

A lovely arrangement was that we had secured the private dining room.

I was offered a glass of the blackberry (or was it blueberry?) shrub which I sipped through dinner. It was refreshingly tart and gave me something other than water to sip on and toast while all the others had gotten the juice or wine pairing.

We missed the first course and started with the beets. What looks like large beets were shaved very thin and sprinkled with nubs of a slightly bitter green herb. The dollop of yogurt was gin-infused.

When this arrived, I was disappointed. One spot prawn that does not qualify as even medium-sized in a bowl that fits in the palm of your hand. Could it be another amuse bouche (freebie)? No, it was listed on the tasting menu and qualified as a course. So I nibbled on the prawn and sipped the broth. It was supremely flavourful and concentrated while still being runny.

A small parade of servers bring in each course so that the six of us receive our food at the same time. For the cod, we were presented with hot to the touch clay cassoulets promising deliciousness. The morsel of cod was immersed in a lovage broth cod with cherry tomatoes of pretty various colours. This was a delicious course and I had to the last drop and including the cod skin.

Alan was dry going on six weeks at that point and ordered the juice pairing. Actually, only one guy ordered the wine pairing and four ordered juice pairing. I refrained because, well, partly because of the price, and I wasn’t sure I would appreciate the pairing. When the sorel one was poured, it was mesmerizing how deep green and beautiful it was.

We were told that the smoked salmon was designed for eating with fingers and it was smoked on site. It was a delicious if odd course where the meat was firm and sweet with the maple glaze and not dry in the center.

Baskets of fresh bread with pan drippings from roasting chicken (?) was served. This was not a course and I highly enjoyed it. Good thing for the excuse of carb loading. :D The bread was very crusty but the inside was chewy and soft. The pan drippings were a little more jelly than I would have expected but so satisfying – possibly more satisfying than meat, haha.

I thought the plating of the romano beans (two of them) was on that pretentious/fine dining side that I didn’t think I would soon see. It was enough beans but just so odd to me. I can’t remember what the herbs were but they were very fresh and grass-like and I remember it being a little salty. Still, it was a nice introduction to romano beans to me when I’m not generally a fan of green beans. Some of my fellow diners didn’t understand this course.

We arrived at the meal of the meal, a small piece of lamb shank with what really was grass in this case. I would have preferred more tender lamb and it was just fascinating and somewhat delicious to nibble on grass.

I hadn’t entirely expected it but dinner was over and we had two dessert courses. Visually, this dessert was beautiful in its own way. Blackberries in a light syrup with chamomile infused ice. Who needs overly sweet dessert? This felt so good for you.

The second dessert kind of blew me away at the time. I had such low and non-existent expectations for dessert. We’d see huckleberry crop up at other places but it was a good start, a little tart berry amongst the smoky malt chips and sweet meringue puffs and cooling woodrub gelato. I wanted more malt chips.

I’m not one for caramels but this is carefully hand-crafted, locally made and fresh so I would make an expection. It was coated in flax so the nuttings attenuated the sweetness.

Our dining mates kept saying how clean and cohesive the meal was, comparing it favourably to shoto by momofuku in Toronto. My dining experiences were definitely augmented with this meal.

Sitka & Spruce

One of the first places Alan mentioned when we started talking about going to Seattle was Sitka & Spruce. I looked it up and was saddened because if we went on Saturday and it’s not a place to carb load and it would not be open on Sunday by the time the race was over. Going down a day earlier, we could squeeze it in for brunch.

The establishment is located in Melrose Market in Capitol Hill which is an adorable warehouse converted to artisanal (to the hilt) shops. We almost didn’t pick out Sitka & Spruce in the back from amongst the shops in the front at the entrance we went in. The kitchen is entirely open and right next to the communal table we decided to sit at.

We started with a dish of olives. It’s not something I would have ordered but I didn’t mind in the least to have another one to chew on between bites of other dishes.

We were hungry when we arrived so a scone that arrived quickly was welcome. It was warm and comforting. I slathered on the whipped butter and even enjoyed the fresh peach jam.

I’m going to call this a cod bagenade because I haven’t found it by searching for it and the menu at Sitka has since changed to have different offerings. A salted or picked cod in creamy salad with homemade “Melba” and sliced pear. We were introduced to more grass (called aggressi?) which was nice to nibble on. We had to order a couple extra slices of toast for this briny spread that somehow reminded me of home (although I don’t eat that there).

My contribution to ordering was the sausage dish served warm on a spicy bed of romaine and more romano beans. This was such a strange brunch but the salad was most comforting to each much like traditional brunch dishes.

Dick’s Drive-In Burgers

We thought we heard that there was a Dick’s around the corner from Sitka but my GPS directed us to the UW area (and all that traffic thanks to the afternoon’s football game). It was okay because having a burger so soon after Sitka if it were around the corner would almost seem insulting.

The UW location looked authentic to the drive-in style that Dick’s started as and it was a busy spot. There was a short queue at each of the multiple cashiers and people were milling outside their cars on the brilliantly sunny day and sitting on a ledge in the parking lot to eat their burgers. I got a single patty burger and a chocolate shake, marveling at the reasonable price for both. It’s no Shake Shack, what our dining companions from the evening before likened it to, but satisfying when we already had a meal shortly before!

Cucina Spinasse

Oh where oh where shall we carb load and have a pasta dinner? Our dining companions from the evening before mentioned Spinasse and we were definitely open to recommendations. I couldn’t get a reservation we just dropped in shortly after they opened at 5:00 p.m. Thus we would also finish dinner early and have ample time to rest.

To start, we were presented with some toast with paté and balsamic drizzle. This was a weekend with places with amuse bouches – fancy!

Alan’s pick was the cavatelli with lobster mushroom sauce. Look at me all eager and I read it as lobster and mushroom sauce. But no, lobster mushroom which Alan informed me is a parasite, transforming other mushrooms. Neat. The pasta was chewy and the lobster mushroom so meaty and satisfying. We ordered appy portions of the pastas which looked so small but were amply filling and we could try more. Alan said he would have ordered full sizes were it not for me and my self-control!

The special of the day was tajarin (thin egg noodles which we saw the young staff making) with uni butter. This was so rich and delicious maybe I wanted a full-size portion…

My pick was the pancetta-wrapped quail. It was okay. Would have preferred less stuffing and more quail. :P

Alan’s other pick was tripe braised with tomato, pancetta and chickpeas and topped with foie gras. Tripe to me is so Asian no matter the Italian spices of this dish. I didn’t understand it. I also remarked that the foie gras seemed out of place – there I go trying to be analytical – and it seemed Alan agreed.

Din Tai Fung – Bellevue Square

After we completed our races, I was torn in so many things I wanted to do. Shower! (Okay, it’s not something that was optional.) Go shopping! Show Alan more of Bellevue aside from the hotel! Eat! Get Alan something alcoholic to drink!

We drove towards Bellevue Square and I pointed out all of the restaurants available and he liked the idea of Din Tai Fung (DTF) unless it happened to be too busy. At 4:00 p.m., they were between rushes and we were seated immediately. I liked how it was finally Asian food that was relatively cheaper and would be served quickly.

Alan ordered lightly pickled cucumbers, nothing something I would have ordered. They were garlicky and something refreshing to nibble on throughout the meal.

We were warned that the pork soup dumplings (xiao long bao) were a 35-minute wait so we ordered the pork and crab soup dumplings and were shown the ideal radio of sauce: added to the shredded ginger was one part soy sauce and three parts Chinese vinegar. That was not bad proportions as it turned out.

It’s tremendously fun to eat with Alan. NPY and I wouldn’t order XLB when it’s just us because there are 10 in an order and we’d be full from just our half of it and NPY would want to try other food, more carby dishes.

We ordered pork and shrimp wontons in spicy sauce. I was remarking how I don’t get to order that dish with NPY so Alan encouraged we ordered it. Perhaps I am wary that the dumplings would get redundant but each one we ordered is in different wrappers and cooked differently – steamed in the case of XLB, boiled wontons and pan-fried pot stickers below! I would have preferred a straight chili sauce because this one was disarmingly sweet for my tastes. Alan explained it’s because Taiwanese cuisine tends to include sugar like this.

We couldn’t pass up some beef noodle soup and Alan suggested the pot stickers. So many dumplings and I was quite gleeful. The noodles weren’t great but we were so hungry I thought it was overall pretty good noodle soup. The beef brisket was a bit bland so we applied the tableside chili oil to liven it up. I hadn’t seen pot stickers prepared on a starch layer before and we gobbled all of that down. The sauce with the pot stickers were a little weird.

It was mutual. I accompanied Alan on his first real trip to Seattle and showed him parts of his he has missed in his other quick sojourns there, like going to DTF, the Bellevue and UW area. And his contribution to the trip was definitely these kinds of restaurants I would normally never have tried!

I don’t do normal yoga

… because it’s boring.

Two years ago, I did a spate of aerial yoga classes on an eight-class pass and determined I could get mildly nauseated when inverted and it strengthened my desire to try silks. A year ago, I did 10 “Yoga Barre” classes on a class card with Chopra Yoga which was a kind of hokey class.

A month ago, I started hot yoga on a 10-class pass at Bikram Yoga Vancouver, not far from my place.

At Bikram Yoga, in a studio set at 40 degrees Celcius, we go through a fixed set of 26 poses and I am relieved that some poses aren’t more than stretches. It is not so strenuous yet I haven’t tried to schedule any other physical activity on the same day. The amount that I sweat just amazes me but by the fourth and fifth class, it felt remarkably less hot than it was in classes before.

My first two classes were with Stephanie and her continuous chatter and encouragement carried me through the class. I tried a class with another instructor and was set straight to stick with Stephanie – many another voice talking incessantly for 90 minutes I cannot handle.

I like the challenge of the balance poses and despise the back bends but I know I need to push myself on the latter to not be prematurely old. During the seated series, I scramble like you wouldn’t believe to get the most out of the 20 seconds of shavasana. And I’ve learned to stop and focus on breathing to cool myself down.

Obviously I would not have photos from hot yoga. :)

Most recently, and as a one time thing, I did stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga on my fourth time out on a SUP.

My class was through Vancouver Water Adventures located at Kitsilano Beach, far more convenient than going to Jericho Beach on my other two Vancouver outings. It was possibly our last good summer weekend and the water was really still when we set out at 9 a.m.

The instructor likened the practice on SUP as like being on a wobble board but I much prefer getting some SUP and the wobble coming from waves. We paddled a little bit out and dropped sand anchors – bags filled with sand and sealed by velcro – so we didn’t float away from the group. We removed our ankle tethers and fastened them to our oars and took off our stinky life jackets and lay them on the nose of the boards. Only then, we were unencumbered to practice.

I’m a bit of a wimp about everything. The water is cold and uncomfortable. The sand tracked onto the board was gross and we got intimate with the board both lying back on it in shavasana and face down in child’s pose. I had to get over it and did at times.

We started with the seated poses before getting to standing ones. We did several vinyasa/sun salutations to get used to doing them on the SUP and would throw them in between sets. On one of the first balancing poses, a half warrior, one of the first-timers fell in. She was the only one who would fall in again and she also got motion sickness. I went prepared to get dunked but didn’t look forward to it.

When we did our first downward dog and I saw downtown clearly (Kits is the closest of the beaches to it) and the slightly hazy morning outline of the mountains – familiar sights – but upside down and bobbing on water, it was wild. Shavasana on SUP is my second favourite, after the one in aerial yoga where you’re in a cocoon.

I fought – and I think my core was the better for it – to not fall off the board during the poses. Sometimes, I could do the advanced version of a pose and found it more stable than the beginner version, like full camel pose and wheel pose instead of the bridge pose. But I was hopeless at the prep for headstand, dolphin pose. A headstand on SUP will not be happening.

I would do SUP yoga again and am reminded by this excursion of my affinity to water. Not so much I want to be out there weekly, but more than just once a summer! I like the component of being on the SUP – compared to kayaking which I also enjoy, I feel like a warrior all standing tall and paddling.

The instructor took photos with her camera phone and I provided her with my email address and even followed up two weeks later calling the office to remind her to email them – for promotional purposes. But no photos still. :(

Beat The Blerch: my 2014 half-marathon

My older cousin, Alan, moved to Vancouver seven years after I did and he did so to pursue his culinary dreams; he has been in Vancouver for nearly three years. It’s fascinating to see him pick up the sport of running and (pun intended) run with it. Running works well with his schedule and it’s so much easier in Vancouver, in the various neighbourhoods he has lived in and how much closer everything is. A few years ago, he started doing 10K and half-marathon races.

As the milestone age of 40 drew nearer, he wanted to cross off a particular item on his bucket list: to run a marathon. Of course I was happy to join him on this journey and even – dare I say – guide him.

Preparation

Looking back at the race registration confirmation, back in March, it turns out we had this on our minds for a while. In February/March I was looking up possible marathons in the Pacific Northwest/West coast area in the summer and fall and we had to rule out the truly fabulous ones in California. Then, on March 18, The Oatmeal announced his new book all about running and holding a marathon and given I had learned Alan loves The Oatmeal comics and it’s just in Washington, we knew it was the right race for us. Six days later, we were registering at the moment registration opened and at 9:29, we both got registered for our races and registration closed at 9:30. About five minutes later, I realized that NPY’s cousin’s wedding was the day before the race. Ooops!

Despite registering in March and having the race and training looming over us, we didn’t start training until the end of June.

activity-year-at-a-glanceIt’s a phenomenon that I’m observing each year thus far: my work’s fantastic fitness reimbursement cycle ends at end of June each year so I spend my balance on things like class-cards for barre class or the dance studio for ballet – which means they expire a year later and I’m scrambling to use up my classes before they expire. Every end of June. Plus, the weather is nicest then, the days are long and the barrier to physical activity feels lower.

I have kept myself busy this summer. Throughout March and April, I was running on the treadmill consistently (green). Then there was a completely barren patch in May through the beginning of June when we went away for a week and then packed up our rental apartment and moved into our condo. I extended my ballet class (dark purple) expiry until end of September and you can see when I finished my barre class card (light purle) because I abruptly stopped. Outdoor runs (blue) only started late June and occurred a little less than once a week. And I started hot yoga (pink) and have eight weeks to complete 10 classes! This graphic pretty much captures my summer.

The last year I trained with a group in Vancouver was in 2008, the last year I did those crazy routes. It was so cool to pull off a 20+ km run on the weekend and be able to tell anyone who would listen that we ran to North Vancouver or Richmond. I even squeeze in a run to New West, just barely. I ran farther than the half-marathon distance I registered for five times.

I ate so well on Friday and we head down to the States right after work. With dinner that lingered in the Bellingham area, we didn’t get to our hotel until past midnight. I booked us into the Marriott/Courtyard Seattle Bellevue/Downtown and was pleased all-round with the property, location and that we could swing a super-late check-out of 3:00 p.m. (which ultimately was 3:30 p.m.). We needed that because the late 9 a.m. start for the marathon means you don’t have to wake up stupidly early and drive 30 minutes to Carnation but you don’t finish a four-hour marathon until past 1 p.m.

Another item of preparation that served us so well is that I finally unlocked my phone (using an online site), managed to snag a Roam Mobility SIM for half-price and bought two days of talk+text+data for a reasonable price. The only problem was that Alan’s car cigarette lighter didn’t have a current and my phone battery kept dying (and his S4 battery doesn’t fit my S3)!

We ate so very well again on Saturday marking the huge difference travelling with a foodie chef cousin. We zipped all around the city and hit every traffic obstacle which was mainly in on the I-5 and congestion in the UW area due to the Huskies game: race packet pick-up at Road Runners in pretty Green Lake, truly unique brunch at Sitka & Spruce, post-lunch snack at Dick’s Drive-In Burgers, my first visit to University Village since 2005 (I think), trip to Costco for Alan to buy a Vitamix, early dinner at Cascina Spinasse, and a visit to Walmart where Alan could see how much junk food I get in the States. :P

I got good sleep on Friday once we were in the hotel after midnight and didn’t have to wake up early on Saturday. And we were back to the hotel on Saturday at 8 p.m. so I was so very happy to be in bed by 10 p.m. Not asleep, of course, but unwinding. I meant to re-read The Oatmeal’s comic “The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances” – seemingly appropriate reading – but fell asleep and read it the next morning.

The race

On race day, with a half-hour drive between the hotel and the race start, I set my alarm and woke up at 7 a.m. Alan went downstairs for a hot breakfast while I made oatmeal with hot water from the Keurig.

Briefly before we head out, I wondered if my back bathroom routine was adequate… but we had to go, couldn’t have Alan late and frazzled before his first marathon. I fear we had gotten lost were assuaged when we saw a lot of other cars on the quiet rural roads.

I wanted to bounce around and take photos since there was so much stimulation, so many costumes. But Alan seemed reserved and I respected that. Soon, the marathoners were lined up for their race. Matthew Inman appeared in a green fatsuit, said a few words to those signed up in the formerly first race and set them off on their way.

After the marathoners departed, I got pictures at the photobooth and even lined up to get one with Matthew Inman. If I had planned a little better, maybe I could have gotten a book signed by him. All I have is an unadorned advance copy of the book the race was created to market: The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances (to be published on September 30, 2014).

There were so many costumes all around. When did running with a tutu become practically a common thing? And when a tutu was butt right up against me, I tidied it up and observed that no fancy sewing skills are required. The funny thing is I was wary about doing anything flashy but anything I would have done was understated. For this race, you are “in costume” merely by putting on a paper cone birthday hat or wearing a green at with a red shirt (looking like a Sriracha bottle).

As with so many races, I began it alone and it’s okay. After the summer of training with someone else, it is ultimately a solitary activity. And one of the first thoughts that comes to me with the runners all around me jostling in the starting hundred meters for space that, “It’s just another Sunday run. No big deal. But a little more fun with all these people.”

While birthday cake and Nutella sandwiches were promised on the race course, I had already set my mind to save those for the end of the race, if even then. I certainly wasn’t having any beer provided by some kindly spectators either!

Like a dolt, I dropped my phone three times with it falling out of my running pouch (it was purchased when I had an iPhone 3GS and doesn’t fit a Samsung Galaxy 3 so well). The first time, there were a couple people I interrupted and I feel really badly about that. The next two times, the crowd significantly thinned out and then on, I held it in my hand until I slipped it back in the pouch a more secure way, at the risk of wrecking my earphone cord.

At the marathon race start and again at the half-marathon race start, Matthew Inman said a few words to thank racers for participating and supporting his project. And since the Sunday race was the original, first established race but the Saturday runners of the second race got to go first, his treat for us was to dress up in a green fat suit. He was doing the half-marathon but with the out-and-back route, he was going to see everyone anyhow.

I wasn’t trying to catch up to him and eventually did around mile 5. I announced my presence by greeting a girl dressed in purple and covered in purple balloons, “Hi, Grapes!” as she was overtaking me and took her place next to Matthew. I tried to photobomb a selfie she took of herself and Matthew all while we were running. It’s a run race but that doesn’t mean you really stop to take photos!

I haven’t run on a trail in years because I’m a city slicker and I do urban races. Both times I ran in Pacific Spirit Regional Park, I twisted my ankle the moment I let my concentration on terrain slip. The terrain of Tolt MacDonald Park was barely rugged but there was a rock that I slipped a little on. That’s what I’ll do to be part of the Blerch race, run on a trail. And it all turned out okay.

The day before, on Saturday, I was reading spoilers about the race on Facebook from the first runners. Like how Alan would hear gunfire between miles 15 and 17 from the nearby gun range. And people assessing the elevation climb. One runner said it was difficult, that even the 1% elevation got to her. I calmed myself down recalling that all of my treadmill runs were at 1%. The elevation profile for the half-marathon looked like a jagged but consistently uphill climb to the half-way point and since it was an out-and-back, generally downhill all the way back. Then why did it appear to me that it was all downhill on the way to the halfway point?

It turned out my mind was playing tricks on me and when I did turn around, it truly was downhill all of the way back. Good thing.

I took a Gu Caramel Macchiato gel at mile 3. Historically, I have not taken gels on half-marathons. But I needed everything I could muster. I thought I would take my second gel at mile 7 and have it kick in halfway through mile 8 but managed to push back taking the second one – Gu Peanut Butter – until mile 8.

At the halfway point, the time on my phone read 10:39. We started at 9:30 with an ad hoc wave start and mine was around the fifth wave. I had to finish the second half in 1:06 to make it a 2:15 half. I had to – for the first time I remember – negatively split.

It was a goal that I toyed with to do a half-marathon without stopping. So I was bargaining with myself to get to halfway without stopping and then see how it went. The three times I had to stop to pick up my phone do not count as stopping.

In my self-assessment, I felt good after 10K. No pains at all. It was just a matter of willpower to continue on at that point. Iggy Azalea’s “Black widow” was my “power song” to get me to mile 8 and through to taking my second gel. Martin Garrix’s “Animals” took me to mile 10. My right hip felt tight and a little tired at mile 11. My right foot felt like a blister was forming, too.

Contrary to previous outings, I wasn’t so desperate to bargain hard with myself. I really wanted to be able to blog that I had run continuously.

I had just re-read The Oatmeal comic about running and thought about it during the race. For Matthew, running is not about vanity and I agree it is true. The cycle of running and overindulgent post-run feeding does not result in a beautiful body. But after a run (and all the cool stuff I was doing this summer), I feel good and confident and the latter makes you look better while the former motivates me to make better eating decisions.

A huge mental difference during this race was that I didn’t bargain with myself. In part, this was thanks to my goal to run without stopping for half and then the whole race. What is there to negotiate about after the halfway point and I hadn’t stopped and felt good? This summer, I read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (which I learned about in The Oatmeal’s comic about running) and one thing Murakami can say is that he doesn’t stop running to walk during a marathon. I don’t think I could ever run for four hours straight but two hours is within reach.

I like my music a lot. Just as intended, I pondered on some of the memories associated with the music, but not for the entire length of the song – apparently I don’t have the concentration for that.

My mental fortitude was high but I also reasoned the following: The Blerch is a gremlin-demon that taunts you to give up your resolve to run. The Blerch was actualized on the course, holding out cake at the water stations and seated on the course, inviting you to join it and break from running. Since the Blerch was outside, busy with so many runners, it wasn’t in me to whisper in my ear to take it easy. Well, that’s what I told myself and my mental strength, for once was high to begin with.

Taking two gels at appropriate intervals helped. So did ample sleep both Friday and Saturday night. So does training since late June. And a huge confidence booster was that I had trained marathon distances and run more than my race distance several times.

Once I saw the green finish line arch and the elapsed time on the clock since 9:00 a.m., I pushed it into a run, practically a sprint. My goal had been to come in in under 2:15 and the clock read 2:12 and I was going to make it and negative split! A guy and a girl wearing Team RWB each carrying a large American flag, were ahead of me and started running too. For some odd reason, I wanted to cross the finish line with them, soak up the fanfare and cheers that were directed in our direction. Wouldn’t it have been really cool if I had worn something that screamed Canada alongside them? ;)

 

Right after the race, I went to Starbucks and got water and tea and talked to NPY on the phone. When I returned, I realized I should have stuck around and immediately queued up for Matthew Inman’s autograph/comic in my copy of his new book. Darn. The queue was so long and I no longer had the time to wait and see Alan finish. I had a small piece of the cake and it was delicious. Then I waited for my cousin to finish his first marathon.

My results
Chip time: 2:12:50
Average time: 2:30:36
Overall: 285 /816
Females: 155/558 (compared to 258 male half-marathoners)
Division: 73/256

Beat the Blerch racing music

I seem to do this so often – create a playlist and post it – but I haven’t done half-marathon in two years so it has been a while. Here is my 2:15 playlist to get me through Beat the Blerch and the why…

Nostalgia set – these songs are laced with memories including exes, which is okay because I’m in a good place now :)

  • Modest Mouse’s “Float on” -  an ex
  • Nickelback’s “How you remind me” - an ex
  • Pitbull f Havana Brown and Afrojack “Last night” -  an ex
  • Martin Garrix’s “Animals” -  clubbing at Hakkasan in Vegas this year
  • Destra’s “Celebrate” - Caribana 2008 with Vinnie
  • OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” - our (NPY and my) 2014 song!
  • Pitbull f Ke$ha “Timber” - Whistler weekend earlier this year with work peeps
  • Rawlins Cross’ “MacPherson’s Lament” – this is the sounds of home and our graduation ceremony song (from high school, which dates  me)

Running(-related) set

  • Melissa Etheridge’s “I run for life”
  • The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” - why I include this every time: this song was playing when I started my first marathon (back in 2006)
  • Alyssa Reid’s “The Game” - either CTV or one of the sports networks used this song as part of their daily highlight reel music during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver – also Can Con
  • Kanye West’s “Stronger”
  • Three Days Grace’s “Pain”
  • Katy Perry’s “Roar” - I’m not a fan of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”; incidentally, it is a lyric in this fun song
  • DJ Khalid’s “All I do is win” - or “wynne”, whatever the case may be! – and image of Emma Stone lip-syncing it on The Tonight Show
  • Sweetbox’s “Everything’s gonna be alright” - good memories of it being really soothing in a past race

“Apparently I don’t want to grow up” set

  • Jay-Z f Mr. Hudson “Young forever”
  • Fun. f Janelle Monae “We are young”
  • Avril Lavigne’s “Here’s to never growing up” - also Can con
  • Far East Movement f Justin Bieber “Live my Life” - also Can con

Can con set

  • Addictiv’s “Tonight”
  • Nickelback’s “When we stand together” – Have I mentioned before how this song makes me feel? Yes, I have.
  • Carly Rae Jepsen’s ” Call me maybe” – those legs, too

“Ladies with serious legs” set

  • Taylor Swift – I knew you were trouble - particularly her performance of this track on the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
  • Shakira f Beyonce “Can’t remember to forget you” - memory of watching and gawking at the video during girls’ weekend earlier this year with Vinnie and Mona
  • Selena Gomez’s “Come & get it”
  • Rihanna’s “Diamonds” - memories of hearing it performed so hauntingly beautifully in Waikiki by River & Tiger
  • Jennifer Lopez f Pitbull “On the floor”
  • P!nk’s “Try” - I’m so impressed she keeps topping herself performing her songs at awards shows, like at the 2014 Grammys

“All of the other junk-pop” set

  • B.o.B. f Hayley Williams “Airplanes”
  • Adele’s “Rolling in the deep” - memory of really dancing it up at B&K’s wedding to this
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift shop” - we saw Pentatonix cover this in concert and Avi’s deep bass voice particularly resonated in this song
  • Jason Derulo’s “Marry me” – I caved for this ultra sappy song because of it’s great bassline
  • John Legend “All of me” – NPY and I mock how sappy this song is… maybe I’m the only one mocking it and he actually likes it :P
  • Jessie J “Wild”
  • Iggy Azalea f Rita Oru “Black widow” – I don’t care for the rap part because it breaks my stride (not literally, I hope) but like the intensity of the rhythm otherwise

What’s been keeping me busy: training my cousin for his first full marathon (+ Runtastic)

In a few short weeks, my whole life will change.

Okay, I exaggerate but I’m really comfortable in the current swing of things. I’m “training” my cousin for his first marathon (where I’m registered for the half-marathon) which takes place on September 21 in Carnation, WA. We get together to run outdoors once a week and increase our endurance with mind-blowing distances that exceed what I need to do for my own race. I cannot deny having fun putting together routes and introducing him to all corners of Vancouver. (He moved to Vancouver from Toronto three years ago.)

After seeing my friend Lionel posting his cycling outings to Facebook from Runtastic, I’m converted to using that app to track my runs. So this post is a “picture post” of some of our most impressive routes and outings and my commentary.

July 17 – 21.11km Home to Stanley Park

In our of our earliest runs, I took my cousin down the new-ish Carrall Street bikeway and he introduced me to Crab Park where the hipsters hang out and we ran through the “belly” of the Vancouver Convention Centre West. My cousin groaned to hear we were going all around Stanley Park because it just keeps going and going and you want to see the next landmark around the next turn but you don’t. It has to be done, just once. It was the first time he went beyond the half-marathon distance, and just barely.

July 24 – 11.66km Kits-Yaletown Seawall run

We are also so tired of the Seawall! Unless we turn to the city streets, it’s just right there next to our apartments in Olympic Village to hop on and get started. We did some running on sand (it’s so difficult!) when I missed a turn off before Kits and I introduced him to enviable Point Grey Road and we ran by Lululemon’s Chip Wilson’s house.

August 8 – 23.73km UBC run

From our homes in Olympic Village, we ran by all of the beaches – Kits, Jericho, Locarno and Spanish Banks. We were running by just as the KitsFest was wrapping up and there were streams of white balloons still waving in the wind strung off volleyball net posts giving a dreamy quality to the area. I think he had biked up the UBC hill before so running up it was new and we didn’t make it to the top (because I forgot where it leveled off and we breaked too early). We head back mostly on 8th Avenue where I could show him my favourite vistas of the city.

August 23 – 29.72km Three Bridges Run

I kept my cousin guessing during this run as we head east on Adanac. “Where are we going? Burnaby? Coquitlam? New West? Surrey? … South Surrey?” No…! North Vancouver! We ran across east Vancouver and across Second Narrows Bridge to North Vancouver. We thought we’d hug the shore but came across private land and started to cut across train tracks and climb between stationary train cars! Then we decided to stick to main roads but there wasn’t always a sidewalk and at one point my cousin ran into a thorny hedge and pushed it out of the way only to have it hit me! More injuries to my left arm to add to those accumulated the week before! We finally made it to Lions Gate Bridge and cut straight through Stanley Park – no more Seawall for us! The third bridge we crossed was Cambie Street Bridge to get home.

Elevation maps are so fun. It was hilly in east Vancouver and the second and third hills correspond to Second Narrows and Lions Gate Bridges.

August 29 – 13.15km Mini Bootcamp run

I introduced my cousin to Angus Drive which was introduced to me by the Broadway/Fir Running Room that I trained with so long ago – it’s a beautiful north-south running westside street that takes us from Broadway south to our hills. I showed my cousin the Trifecta of Hills we would do repeats on: King Ed at Arbutus, Nasty Nanton, and 29th Avenue. He tackles hills with far more relish than I do.

September 1 – 23.25km Vancouver to Richmond run

It has been so great to be challenged to create different (non-Seawall routes) so I was truly excited once I mapped out this run to Richmond. I pulled up the Vancouver and Richmond cycling maps and cobbled this one together. We ran down Ontario to 37th and turned west and climbed that massive hill at QE Park to Heather. From Heather down to Marine, it was downhill and I could point out SIL’s condo under development as we were running through a really stinky area. (Hopefully that landfill moves soon!)

The last time I did a Vancouver-Richmond run was back in 2008 (maybe) and we ran over Oak Street Bridge. I was excited to take my cousin over the Canada Line Bridge where runners and cyclists are on a dedicated level below the train tracks. In Richmond, we turned west onto River Road which connected to No. 3 at some points but we found our way to the Dyke Trail and passed UBC Boathouse and the impressively large Richmond Oval (site of the 2010 Olympic speed skating events). As we head towards the northwestern-most point in Richmond, he asked me if we were going to Steveston – in fact, everyone asked me that afterwards! No, just to the northwestern-most point in Richmond – which had a good payoff arriving at Terra Nova Park and running along marshland and through an intriguing community garden. We turned east again at Westminster Way and “admired” the houses that we could tell from outward appearances belong to (Mainland) Chinese people. Our end point was the Canada Line Brighouse Station and we could raid Kam Do for bakery items before heading back to Vancouver via rapid transit.

The elevation map is hilarious for this one with a steep and fast climb to QE Park then downhill to the bridge and Richmond is flat as a pancake.

Next up? He keeps asking about some lake (Trout? Deer?) so I think it will be Burnaby-New West.

It’s so Vancouver of me to want to show all the  “natural beauty” of Vancouver I can show my cousin (via running which I seem to be passionate about) and give him an intimate look and crash course in Vancouver. Too bad it can’t be the driving factor to keep in Vancouver. So I just try to enjoy these great opportunities to hang out with my cousin, create memories and take advantage of living in the same neighbourhood.

Coined a new term

Last week, I bought a pair of shoes by Christian Siriano (for Payless) which I label as undeniably devastating. Siriano has been designing for Payless for several years but this is the first one that caught my eye both online and in person. I can barely justify it because I can’t name more than three events this year to wear them but….

Payless-Christian Siriano-Kryptic Double Buckle Pump Gap-Eyelet fit & flare dress

I was trying on the shoes with my new black eyelet Gap dress that is in the fit-and-flare style when NPY returned home from work. He stopped on his tracks and said something he’s said a few times this past month or few weeks, “Who are you?”

He suggested that I’m having a mid-life crisis and I very possibly might be but I chose to coin a new term, to put an emphasis on the root cause: Pre-Pregnancy Crisis.

I hate talking about it because there is so much more to life (spoken like a true childless person). Some time in the next 12-18 months, we will have a child and while I want to keep pushing it off (no biological clock here), it is time. The part of me that doesn’t want to be left out of the mommy club that most of our social circle has joined is the part that convinces me the most to take the plunge.

Who knows what is on the other side? A better life? A worse life? Certainly an enriched life.

I have become one of those people and come to that age that while I have much to be grateful for, upon self-evaluation, I’m not happy with what I have to show for it and coming around to thinking having a child would complete us, the next and – ugh – ultimate challenge. I hate that.

In a manner of speaking, things have been going well. I have renewed focus on my career due to people I’m spending time with and the scary thought of time marching on forward with or without me.

It could very well be, as I have observed before, that I’m just a better person in the summer or when it doesn’t rain. But I also realized that around the end of June is when my fitness allowance renews which means the year before I would have spent some fitness money and several vouchers and class cards would expire if for a one-year term. So that was another push to get to fitness and dance classes a lot throughout June. That and training with my cousin for his marathon in September. What else do I really have to do after work (besides study)?

It is a loftier goal to lose weight due to and for training than, well, because I’m like every other woman. I use the guideline as a motivation, “For every pound less you weigh, you shave a minute off your marathon.” I am excited to see how many minutes I could potentially save due to weight loss alone. (Currently standing at six, within two weeks, too.)

I’m obsessed with doing something active everyday and there’s a lot of choices: dance, run, hot yoga, badminton. A condo gym is helpful because I can always go down for a really vigorous walk on a really steep incline (awesome workout for legs and glutes). Unfortunately for NPY, sometimes this no longer leaves time for our after-dinner strolls around the Village.

Physical activity is all good and well but the biggest effect come from diet and I have finally found what works for me:

  • At work: I’ve stopped having a real lunch which used to include leftovers from the night before or bread with some spread; instead, I have a malt or almond milk drink if available and fruit and celery – I feel happily smug eating celery. Not eating at work keeps me feeling better about myself throughout the day and keeps me free for whatever happens for dinner. Usually dinner is just at home and either I will cook and serve myself the smallest helping in the smallest bowl and I am relieved if NPY isn’t even eating at home.
  • Talking about it: Two people in particular are positive influences, both co-workers – Andrea and T. T is a little phenom who doesn’t (generally) eat after 4 p.m. and proves that that doesn’t mean one doesn’t have enough energy in the evening. Andrea has lofty weight-lifting goals and extreme discipline proving that a boring and unwavering lunch of baked naked chicken and vegetables yields results. We work on the same floor and can talk about food we want to eat but don’t. She gets it.
  • Dining out: It is still difficult, but here are some recent examples. (1) We went for dim sum and ordered 9 dishes. Instead of having a full piece of each dish, I had just a bite and I was full enough. Then I skipped dinner. (2) We went for a Chinese meal served family style. Instead of having a full small bowl of each of the three dishes, I had half a small bowl and then skipped dinner. (3) At a wedding banquet, I’ve been to so many now, it’s not that special. I won’t have seconds and only eat food I like. I also skip one of the two carb courses at the end – more for NPY to enjoy. (4) We went for sushi. I had my work non-lunch and participated almost equally in this meal having half of the maki and only the fish part of the salmon don. I didn’t feel bad about that.

I’ve been dressing with more care for work and washing my hair daily despite the fact it is thick and falls all the way down my back. I’d rather feel five-star all day rather than starting out four-star and plummeting to two because my hair is oily and gross-feeling. NPY is puzzled by this and doesn’t recognize me.

All this because of my huge fear of how things will change, how I won’t have control over any of this in 12-18 months and for years after that. I’m saddened that I couldn’t enact these changes six months or a year ago but… better late than never.

How to love your job

Disclaimers:
– I already like my job and company a lot.
– This is not advice for everyone (or anyone).
– The following is probably just a symptom of The Summer Season when I’m a nicer, more socialable and optimistic person.

********

I am currently with my fourth workplace (third company) since leaving the ranks of graduate school and it’s mildly impressive to me how much things change in six years… and how much they stay the same.

At my first workplace, I started at the very bottom, that’s how much I needed a job. Within three months, I transferred to a better position but I couldn’t connect with my co-workers or other colleagues in the office. It had a bit to do with the field and where the office was located and people were a little uncouth for my taste.

At my second workplace, in an academic setting, my colleagues were really intelligent but we were such a small and somewhat misunderstood group. I shared an office with two colleagues and I spend enough time with and knew them well enough!

In Toronto, I was pretty frigid for half a year until I started talking to one of my female colleagues who is my age. The addition of a young, talkative, male colleague made the conversations more fun overall. And I really got more comfortable only when I knew my next step, which was to transfer to the Vancouver office. Such is life!

Vancouver is my long-term place. I eschewed putting down roots for seven years but have now bit the bullet, as they say. My current company is one with plenty of career opportunities so I’m a real fan, to say the least. Emulating one of my older colleagues, I was hesitant to be friends with my peers with my position and made my first friends elsewhere in the company and learned through them about different aspects of our business. Further, if you don’t work together or for the same people, you have to talk about things other than work – you won’t hear me slagging about my work or other people. And as I moved into my second year with this office, I let loose a little more. And seriously, having friends at work makes the workplace better.

Which is just a segue to tell you about the super fun and remarkable (for me) things I’ve been up to this week.

On Sunday, I went on that long and dangerous hike with two co-workers. They don’t know it directly but they have been an inspiration for my current healthy lifestyle including eating habits and exercise. On our long drive back to town, I was able to have a really good chat with a co-worker in the same role as me about our future opportunities with the company.

On Monday, I learned a manager and I were both in a bind with expired/expiring passports so we arranged to keep each other company to get passport photos done and then a passport office run. His passion for his work is really inspiring and refreshing and stimulates me to work smarter and towards the possibility of joining his or a similar team.

On Tuesday evening, since the official company Badminton Club hadn’t start up all summer, I organized for a small group of us to go to drop-in at a gym in Burnaby. It’s always fascinating to see colleagues out of suits and “business casual” and learn who is good at badminton and be wildly impressed. My co-worker kept shouting, “You’re a horrible person!” when I would get a good shot off her, which is not a bad thing. :P

On Thursday, my lunch date at the nearby Nespresso shop was with a marketing colleague with us on contract. She’s so awesome I’m always a little saddened that there might not be a role for her after a permanent marketing staff returns from leave. But you still just take the opportunity to get to know someone.

On Friday, my team was treated to a catered lunch from Meat & Bread and then a co-worker and I walked it off with a trip to Bella Gelateria in Coal Harbour. The queue is usually so long this was a smart way to try it out! Gosh, I’m glad the office isn’t so close to Bella for it to be a constant temptation!

Next week will necessarily be more quiet because this week – while really exhilarating – was unsustainable.

How to display or store those race bibs/t-shirts/medals?

There comes a time in every slightly obsessive-compulsive runner girl’s career where she looks up from her piles of race bibs, medals and t-shirts and wonders, “What do I do with all of this stuff?!”

My medal board started out innocently enough in 2005 after just six races (some earlier medals were missing for years).

By the time I moved out of that apartment with the corkboard in the kitchen (six years later):

When I lived on my own and after that in a rental suite, it was still okay to display them on dollar-store over-the-door towel racks on my IKEA Billy bookcase.

 

Medals from anything other than half-marathons.

Half-marathon medals

Now, I am in a condo and NPY “forbids” me from the same kind of display and I agree that a more permanent, more tasteful and less clangy solution is desired. The most common solution is to hang them in a row of hooks above which there is some saying like, “Live, Laugh, Run” or something but do fear the weight of the medals will tear down the wall.

victorymedaldisplay
Image from runyogamarathon.wordpress.com

medals1
Image from halfsandhikes.wordpress.com

f7e1f61a50ec43da7847963127a6e7fc
Image from Run Run Run Pinterest board

This style of display, shown three ways, suits me as discreet and tidy. I can imagine using a shadow box for this. The third image of a board for medals from 50 states inspires me to make a separate shadow box for running in 10 provinces!

I have long had a solution for my race bibs in a scrapbook (followed shortly after my girlfriends stopped scrapbooking sessions during which I did not participate).

If I had spare race bibs – and only for a decent race like the New York Marathon, that would be worthy of turning into a coaster.

custom-race-bib-coaster_thumb
Image from pbfingers.com

I also like the bags that Mile 22 will make from your race bibs. Again, bibs are in a scrapbook and I like it very much that way, too. Got too many bags anyhow.

But what to do about all of those t-shirts?!

All along, I thought I would make a quilt. I need to learn how to use a sewing machine. And would anyone actually use it??

So, when I asked the Internet about it, I saw an image of race t-shirts made into a scarf and I thought that is feasible…

blog 002
Image from earlyrunner.blogspot.com

Just for the fun of it, I thought this mannequin dressed up in race bibs and mannequins is the best!

kristine_binder_nader
Image from RunnersWorld.com

The Stawamus Chief Trail: the most difficult and dangerous activity of my life

A week ago, I was having lunch with coworkers and they were talking about hiking The Chief. Andrea had plans to do it that weekend and I felt a desire grow in me… Squamish Valley Music Festival and the possibility of traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway made Andrea postpone her plans and I was free to go up this weekend. I invited another one of our colleagues and Andrea’s friend visiting from France rounded out our foursome.

Seven years ago, I hiked The Chief with NPY and Lil’ Sis. We bought Subway sandwiches in Squamish and hiked just the first peak. I barely knew there were two others. On our way down, Lil’ Sis and I took up the width of the stairs and an older man passed us on the left on the gravel and ended up slipping and falling rolling down several steps. That has traumatized me a little. And all these years, I have felt like I have been missing something by not going to the other two peaks while with the definite anxiety about coming down.

fuel for the hike

And after a year since my last hike (last year, Grouse Grind, with Andrea and a different colleauge), I forget my loathing for nature and feel like it’s time for my yearly dose. This was a good one for a yearly go at it. A mosquito bit me on my exposed leg before I got a change to apply mosquito repellent, grrrr.

We were in it for doing all three peaks so the first one wasn’t so hard. It was difficult at the very beginning and I found it indistinguishable from Grouse Grind, and the differences appeared more after the first peak.

first peak

It was Andrea’s idea to ask the guys taking pictures shirtless if she could join them and a few other women joined in the fun.

it was andrea’s idea

We tracked downwards from the first peak, down the short chain and ladder and reached the fork and set out towards the second peak instead of back to the trailhead. The chains were extensive and the rockface was really big and looked like you couldn’t scale it!

The view was just as nice, although higher.

second peak

our shoes

Between the second and third peak, we came across the group that was slacklining. I hadn’t heard of or seen it before and it’s wild! Not my things. And I’m too old. Seriously.

 

After walking a long a narrow ridge and really not so much effort, we reached the third peak. Our view of the water was blocked by the first two peaks but it was neat to see how far we had gotten, the crowds on the other two peaks.

We had completed it… except for the going back down part.

third peak

“look off in the distance”

The first large chunk of the downhill from third peak was brutal, all rock. You’d think I had balance and be limber and be fit from all I do. But I’m terrified of scraping myself up so I was really tentative. And any slip freaked me out and I wasn’t sure I was going to save myself from sliding without stopping. At one point, I was listening too intently to another group talk about which of the upcoming way was easier and I stepped onto a too smooth inclined rock and wiped out landing on my bum and scraping up my forearm. Thank goodness I didn’t hit my head or scrape up my hands which I needed to hang off rocks for dear life. Later, I slipped on a wet patch and nicked myself near my elbow. I was freaking out that my luck would come in threes!

When we were finally in the clear, I told my colleague that the whole hike was the most difficult activity I had ever done. “Even more difficult than a marathon?” Yes! And certainly it was more dangerous. The most dangerous activity I’ve every participated in. And I survived.

that blessed rock

It was wild when we’re back at the trailhead just what we accomplished. But after a drive back that took two hours, the feeling has dissipated a little. And the bruises and soreness isn’t so big.

I wasn’t too disappointed to disband for the day since I knew what I wanted to make for dinner.  A quick vegetarian ramen in a butternut squash soup turned a little Asian.

meal after the chief

Currently reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall

Arnold-Schwarzenegger-Total-RecallOkay, I admit I read this one. I want to read some non-fiction because it’s “smarter” but nothing dull. I found that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s memoir, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, published last November, was just what I needed.

At 656 pages, the memoir – like its author – is not small and so it felt like I was reading this for ages. But it was enjoyable throughout in no small part due to the continuously interesting store and the voice. Particularly in the beginning, it read a bit like a young man’s diary, when Arnold’s pursuits were a little more self-centered like becoming the best bodybuilder and movie start. Even as he ages, he is focused on relaying the facts, not getting philosophical and maintaining a confident voice and simple styles. When he does add in the details, his personality comes through, especially if I try to hear his voice in my head.

We know so much about the man already but it was really nice to fill in the details: the rigorous training that went into bodybuilding and how much of a promoter of the sport he is; the real estate portion that contributed so much to his wealth and was new to me and doesn’t constitute a separate “chapter” of his life; all of background that showed his interest in politics leading to him running for public office; and the particulars of his two terms in office – my overall impression was it wasn’t glorious when he left but what were the high points?

There is so much we already know about Arnold so the only “suspense” for me was how he was going to handle the affair. Was he going to mention it – did it even make publication deadline? Yes, because the memoir was published only last year and the affair came to light several years ago. How would he approach it? With a similar “manly” way as his other relationships, in a way, and tells it as it is. He doesn’t wax poetic about anyone except Maria and when he got to “The Secret”, the last chapter, I realized how the memoir is an apology to her (where she’s mentioned) and I melted a little as he wrote that he’s waiting and working and hopeful they will get back together.

I was reading this for so long (since before May until the beginning of August) that there was a lot of time to observe some curious effects:

  • When we went to California in May, I wanted to visit Muscle Beach portion of Venice Beach – we didn’t though because Venice Beach looked a little skeevy.
  • My new appreciation of body building came through when NPY and I were gossiping about a colleague of his who is a fitness model and I was talking to a colleague who is entertaining the idea of being a bodybuilder in the bikini model class. We all know how resistance training is so essential but I cannot say that reading the memoir has effected any real change in my routine.
  • My indignation when I saw a Facebook post liked by my BIL (I think the page is called “S Lifts”?) where a woman preparing for a bodybuilding competition showed her new purchases including stilettos, rhinestone bangles and blinged out bikini. It sickened me that it’s not good enough for her to be unadorned. But… I don’t know the whole story or what their male counterparts have to do.
  • I saw that CBC was airing The Passionate Eye: The Kennedy Saga (originally aired in 2010), PVR’ed it right away and watched it soon after, unlike other PVR’ed shows languishing on the recorder unwatched.
  • And when Arnold stopped by Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show in March (we probably only watched the episode some time in April or May), of course I watched it!