Sunday, November 8, 2009

Run Janine, Run

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So on October 25th, 2009 I ran my first marathon. For me this was a big deal as it is something that I've always wanted to do and after a failed year last season I was able to realize my goal this year. The experience was so amazing for me, and not just the race. The practice and training leading up to it was just as good as race day. Anyway, a friend of mine had asked me a bunch of questions about it the next day. So I wanted to post the questions and my responses here to share my experience with others. And for any of you who might be considering running one and wanted to know what it was like, perhaps my thoughts will help answer some questions you might have.

spetros wrote: What did you eat the day before?

Day before I was carb-ing up. For the week prior I was focusing on carbs that were lower in refined sugar / low in Glycemic Index (see this article: So I was eating oatmeal, yogurts, apples etc....

The day before I had oatmeal with protein powder for breakfast, an egg sandwich for lunch, apples, protein bars, and dinner was my favorite, ravioli and meatballs & salad. :)

I have to say that the last few days before the race I was not myself. I was very antsy...I wasn't running and was eating all these carbs and my body was craving to run...isn't that weird? I was quite irritable because I wasn't able to get my runs in. The last thing I did was go for a long bike ride on Thursday just to stretch my legs and hips a bit. But it's not the same for me. I was pacing back and forth the night before because I had all this energy to burn literally -- a very weird feeling.

spetros wrote: were there stands you could run by to grab a snack or a drink?

There were water/poweraid stations about every 2 miles throughout the entire course. There were 3 food stations as well. I knew this ahead of time as the maps had this noted as well as the types of food stations and where they were. So the first food station had oranges at mile 9. There was a sea of orange peels on the ground for about 1/4 mile. It was all sticky too. The next food station was at mile 13 which had Clif Shots (power gel). First of all, I had my own supply of Clif Shots with me because I knew one would not be enough. Second, I was glad that I had because all they had left at mile 13 was Mocha flavor. I didn't want any caffeine as my heart races enough. I was walking up to the marines asking...what flavor do you have? I was a bit annoyed at this that they ran out of all the other flavors. (Vanilla, Chocolate and Raspberry). I prefer vanilla so I had my own that I carried with me. Thing is, you need to time when you are going to have them because you should drink water after having one. So I carried a little "cheat sheet" in my fuel belt with the exact water station locations. So I would know when to rip open a Shot and then have water. I made a point to have a few sips of poweraid and water at each station to keep me going, even if I didn't feel I needed it. The last thing you want to happen is to feel like you "need" a drink or "need" some energy, because by that time, it's too late and your body is going into start using your muscle store. If that happens, -- that's known as hitting the "Wall" and you DON'T want that to happen as your body and mind just takes over. Mile 20 is when this typically happens. As your fat stores will become spent after about 20 miles (as they can only hold a specified amount of energy) when they are depleted, it will start to burn muscle to get it's energy. That's why you have to think of yourself as this machine that needs sugar throughout. It will burn that sugar first before it goes to the reserves in your body and that's EXACTLY what you want when you are doing endurance running. Last food stop was at mile 19 which had Sport Beans. I didn't care much for them -- I grabbed a couple bags to give to the boys next time I saw them. So my rule of thumb was to have my first gel at 75 minutes in, then every 1hr thereafter. I have to say by the end I couldn't stand another gel. They were making me sick -- the consistency blech! At the finish line they provided the runners with a bag of food. Snack box of cheerios (the BEST box of cereal I've had in my life ;)). Banana, bagels, pretzels, granola bars, raisins, water, poweraid...a welcome site for me to have solid food after 5 hrs of having nothing but cake icing.

spetros wrote: How did you feel when you started?

I felt nervous, but excited and ready to RUN. The start line was a ZOO! They had you line up in corals based on your expected finish time, so faster runners up front, slower runner towards the back. I was in the 4:30 - 5:00 hr finish group. I had to wait about 15 minutes after the gun went off to even start moving. And then the first 1/4 mile was walking until it thinned out. One thing I learned not to do is do not talk to other runners about how they trained right before the start. It gets your mind start worrying about picking apart how you trained. And I was already doubting myself. Seriously, I didn't really know what to expect of myself. I was preparing myself for the reality of not finishing, but still encouraging can do this, run your run -- don't rush. Focus on your heart rate, keep it low or you'll burn out too fast. And enjoy the beautiful day presented to you.

spetros wrote: Did people blow by you or did you pretty much keep the pace?

Since we were grouped based on times, I was pretty much on par with the other runners around me. At times people pass you and you pass other people. But that didn't phase me at all. I've been training to run at a pace that I can hold a conversation with others, so I as able to talk to people while I was running. People were all very jazzed up, throwing around comments and making others laugh. Some people had on costumes, some people carried flags, some had pictures of loved ones on their clothes. Some had statements like "I'm running for my mom" or "In memory of my dad" etc. I saw two guys running in their bare feet!?! Nuts! Oh, and Mike and the boys saw a guy running in a Halo Master Chief costume. I couldn't imagine doing that.

spetros wrote: Did you notice any other interesting scenery?

Like the guys peeing off in the bushes? :) Seriously...for the first 4-5 miles there were tons of guys (and girls) peeing. No humility here! I admit that I did not have to relieve myself during the race, but if I had to, you bet I would have done my business. There were port-o-potties througout the course, but there was no way I was going to stop and wait on line to pee. If I had to pee, I would have just squatted right there. I brought some tissues with me just for that purpose. :) But aside from that, the MCM is coined as one of the most scenic of marathons because of where you are. We ran through Georgetown. (which was the first 8 miles was hilly) ugh! The best parts for me were running across the bridge of the tidal basin and seeing the Washington Monument to the left of me and the Jefferson memorial to the right of me. Clear, sparkling water, beautiful blue sky. It was awesome. The next cool part was running down the mall and in front of the WHite house. THere was a band playing and I felt proud to be there. THere were live band throughout the course which was awesome. It was so motivating. The fans were a trip too. They had such creative signs and were really encouraging you on. Having them there was key in being able to finish. THe presidential Helicopter kept flying by too which was very cool. Also, having marines cheer you on and they manned all the food and water stations. I was gracious to them when they gave me a drink.

spetros wrote: Did you have any kind of running buddy for a few miles?

No, not really. Small talk with a few, but I kept to myself. I wanted to be that way too. No my run.

spetros wrote: Was there a time where you thought you wouldnt make it?

YES! Mile 22-24 It was right after going over the 14th street bridge (which we had to beat by a specified time because they were going to re-open traffic for the bridge -- if you missed the time, there was a bus there to pick you much would that suck!?). Anyway, over the bridge and it dumped you into the "Crystal City" area and it was extremely crowded and windy and shady (because off all the buildings) and it just SUCKED. I didn't think I was gonna be able to finish it. There were too many things that were messing with my head. It was windy, I was cold, my hands were freezing (and swollen for some reason), I hated the street were were on, I was feeling all sorts of different pains in my legs. The crowds were too intense and in your face at that point. (There were some giving out shots of beer to the runners -- and some of the runners were taking them too!) I was getting very agetated and beginning to think I wasn't going to get past this part. So I put on my headset and zoned out and just to that corner...ok, run to that to that to the top of this road...that's all I could do at that point. I have to say, I've never been in a situation like this where you put your body under so much stress that you sort of go into a survival mode. The only other time that was anywhere close to feeling this was was when I gave birth to the boys. THing was...I couldn't stop running. If i did, I knew I wouldn't be able to start again. So I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

spetros wrote: Was there a point where you knew you _were_ going to make it?

There were two points. One was at mile 19. I was so scared of how I was going to feel at 18 miles because I hadn't run further than that during my training. And the surroundings at mile 19 pushed me through. I was by the Smithsonian, there was good music. The spectators were awesome at that spot and because I broke through that 18mile mental block and was still moving I regained a boost of confidence. Then I saw Mike and the boys at mile 20 and that also enspired me to keep on...Mike said...only 6 more miles to go! I was stoked and I felt like a machine...just keep on running. After my 22-24 mile troubles. The last 2 miles were the longest 2 miles of my life. It was on the highway right by the pentagon and the last 1/4 mile had a hill in it. :( But the fans were so encouraging there too (oh, and the marines had major crowd control at the last couple miles at the finish which I was soooo grateful for) Not too many, not too little, but they were awesome and encouraging. WHen I saw those Finish Line Arches, I just started crying! My heart swelled with emotion and I just the tears came down. I couldn't' believe that I was at the end and that I had done it! So many months and years of desire and many miles of running. and I was at my goal! It was an amazing feeling. Once we crossed the line, we lined up to receive our medals and being awarded a metal by a marine made me feel so proud and thankful. THen we got mylar blankets to keep us from cooling off too fast. Got our food bag and got pictures taken. I just lay on the ground thankful for being off my feet. Just laid there for a bit feeling the warm sun. Unfortunately, Mike and the boys didnt' see me finish because as I said they were controlling the number of people at the finish. So I wandered out of the finish section and started to look for Mike. It was an absolute zoo! They have a family reunion area, but I was able to find Mike anyway because he had made a big lime green flag. So that was awesome througout the race because I was able to pin-point him pretty darn easily throughout as no one else had a lime green flag with bunnies drawn on it. :)

spetros wrote: How do you wind down after a marathon?

Well, it took a long time to get back to the hotel because of the crowds. Had to wait on line for 1hr to get on the metro. That really sucked. I was pretty cold and Mike had some clothes for me to put on to keep me warm until we got back to teh hotel. When we got back to the hotel. LONG HOT shower and Mike gave me a massage (we brought our massage table). Then we had to checkout. So we went to dinner and I had chicken and pasta. The 2-1/2 hr drive home sucked because I was so sore having to sit still for the drive home. As for now, I'm just taking it easy. I need to walk a bit to keep the circulation moving in my legs. I took the day off work yesterday because I didn't want to have to sit at my desk all day. I went to my sports trainer/therapist yesterday for another massage. I probably won't do any running for the next couple weeks. But I will probably go to yoga later in the week to stretch a bit. I would also love to go for a swim right now.

Sorry for the dissertation. If you got this far in reading it, I appreciate it. :) This was a significant experience for me in my life. Many people run and complete marathons and it means different things for different people. This was a unique and major accomplishment for me. I'm a physical and active person by nature and if I'm not moving, it really affects me. Running a marathon is something I've dreamed of doing for many years and I was finally able to do it. I'm proud of myself and I'm living on a high now :)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Making the gravy

So although this was back in August, I wanted to share my prize here. My reason for getting into gardening so much was my love for fresh garden tomatoes! After all who can argue that the taste of a fresh tomato doesn't compare to those flavorless red spheres you purchase at the grocery store that are called a tomato.

Anyway, I planted 6 or 8 (can't remember) different varieties of tomato plants this past growing season. I found that the bigger ones produce the best sauce. Next season I'm going to have to keep track of the different varieties -- my bad. I like the Rome tomatoes for salads, I like the bigger ones for sandwiches and for sauce making.

My yield was about 20 jars of sauce (or as Italians say .. "gravy") this season. Not bad for starting out poorly with the blight and blossom end rot I dealt with.

Making my sauce is a long process. I try to break it up in phases so as not to get too harried by it. After's supposed to be relaxing, right?

I collect and collect and collect tomatoes. Once I have a good amount:

I start to produce the gravy. I get a large sauce pot and first sauté garlic and onions in olive oil. While that is sautéing, I start to chop up the tomatoes. I keep them in largish chunks seeds, skin and all and proceed to toss them in the pot. Once the pot is pretty full I'll add some fresh basil and oregano -- a good bit too. Ground pepper, and salt and stir. I cover the lid and let it simmer for a good bit. After a while the tomatoes will break down and start to look "saucy". Depending on the consistency I'll throw in a can of tomoato paste. But the one thing I love about fresh sauce is how light it is! This is something that I especially appreciate in the middle of winter. Popping open a jar of fresh tomato sauce in February brings back memories of the warm summer and me tending to my lovely tomatoes and working in my garden. Anyway, I'll add tomatoe paste, and some red wine...and maybe sprinkle in a bit of sugar. Then I'll just let it simmer. After a while, I'll turn off the heat and let it cool down a bit before proceeding to the next phase of sauce making.

Phase two is the pureeing of the sauce. Once the sauce cools down a bit, I will blend up what's in the pot. This is a messy and bit of a pain as you're producing lots of dirty pots. Bit by bit I'll take cup fulls of my sauce and put it in the blender and blend it up so it's a sauce consistency. Again, I just do seeds, skin and all. Once this is all done I start the canning proccess.

While I was doing the blending, I have a large canning pot on the stove heating up to a rapid boil. I then put my sauce into canning jars and in each jar I put 2 TBSP of lemon juice. I seal up the jars and then transfer them into the pot of boiling water. Let them boil for about 45 minutes. From there I turn off the water and let them sit for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes I then take them out of the pot and as they cool you can hear them seal shut...air tight! Once they cool down I check to make all the seals of the jars are securely on. I date them and volia! homemade garden tomato sauce.

In our house...these jars are like liquid gold. I always remind myself while I'm laboring through the process how much our family appreciates it in winter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Soy good!

Well it's been a while since my last post, but that's not to say that there has not been activity in the garden this past month.

Soy beans were a nice surprise for me this year. This is the first time I planted them and one plant was all I needed. It was difficult to determine when the beans were ready for harvesting. They tend to be on the firm side and not like your typical bean. Some were plump, some weren't. And unlike a green beans, that have a shorter harvest time, soy beans seem to need more time to ripen. Perhaps this is completely off base, but I waited until most of them caught up with other more mature looking ones. If the leaves start to brown, then you know you better start harvesting them. Anyway, I did three harvests on one plant and got a good yield for two adults. I had to use a clipper to harvest them as they are very brittle and if you try to pull them off, the entire vine will break.

After harvesting them I par-boiled them. And ran them under cold water. Once they cooled I peeled them. One thing I learned is that the beans have a thin layer of (skin?) (film?) around them and although it was more work peeling them, it was worth it, as that skin is very chewy. Fresh soy beans are so delicious! Crisp and sweet. What a pleasant treat to pop in your mouth or put over a salad. One thing though, if you do get some over-ripe ones they tend to have a lima bean consistency, so you do have to watch out for that. Other than that though, I am definitely going to do soy beans again next year.

Next postings will be on the woes of my melons, tomato canning lesson 101, and turning the poo!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tomato Blight?

Well if it's not one thing, it's another. Tending a garden is like having another child. And how frustrating it is when you see all the effort and time you devoted to your garden turns up some "problem children". What's even worse, when one plant has the blight, it spreads...and spreads fast. So what causes it? How do you treat it? How do you prevent it? Well, I am no garden expert. Like everything else, be it learning an instrument or learning how to write a web-based application it takes experience and time and going through the pains of making mistakes. :) So this is what I know thus far about the nasty tomato blight.

First, there are two types of blight. Early Blight and Late Blight. Phytophthora infestans (aka "Late Blight"). It is not a bacteria or a virus, but rather are a "fungus" caused by infectious spores from standing water that is stagnant on the plants. Early Blight, is caused by a different fungus and occurs in more arid regions. Regardless, the outcome is the same, leaf and stem legions and fruit rot. Blight can occur at any time. I think that what we are seeing here is a Late Blight. Temperature, humidity, and rainfall are the players in this disease. Additionally, blights can spread to other plants from wind blown rain and running ground water. Blight needs a living organism to survive. So keep this in mind for our mild winters and potential un-rotted organic material in the soil. This combination can facilitate another blight outbreak for the next growing season.

So how do we prevent this problem? I've read a variety of suggestions and will list them here.
  • Don't plant tomatoes in the same location next year. (I've read keep them away from the soil for 4 seasons)
  • Use a drip irrigation vs hose watering to reduce splash on leaves.
  • Raised beds and well spaced so they are not touching
  • Remove any leaves or stems that are showing the blight
  • Apply a fungicide
Anyway, these are all lessons learned for me. Hopefully this information will benefit those other garden aficionados that read this. If anyone has other insightful information on tomato blight, please share!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Blossom-end rot my technique of pruning my tomato plants have been favorable as I have quite a lot of fruit coming in. The problem is, as they started to ripen, many of them became rotten on the bottom. This happened to me last year too, for the first batch, but then it got better. In talking with the Gardner and describing these symptoms to him, he suggested Blossom-End Rot. So I google it and indeed there it is! So reasons for this are as follows:
  • Shortage in calcium in the soil
  • Improper watering
  • Too much nitrogen in the soil.
One year I saved egg shells and then I put them in the soil around my tomatoes. Think I'll need to to that next year to help with the calcium. As for watering, could have been due to the heavy rains we had in the spring. But for dryness, I suppose mulching around the plants would keep the soil moist. Next year though, I'm going to put in a drip system.

In other news, peas have been harvested and I planted a new batch for the fall. I also planted lettuce for the fall as well.

And I'll NEVER do pumpkins again. At least not in my small garden plot. They over-took the rest of my ground fruits and then turned around and rotted. (hmmm...maybe they rotted because of the same reason my tomatoes got end rot.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cramping my style

gosh, I was supposed to post this a few weeks back but got side-tracked (surprise-surprise). Now that I am vacationing at my sister-in-laws in FL, I have PLENTY of time to do other things...anyway, like I said, the remainder of this post is a bit dated. When I get back from FL, I'll have to update with new garden states.

I am hoping to pick-up some cuttings from my sister-in-laws garden. She too is a garden aficionado so we have endless conversations about everything earthy. She has no veggies, difficult to grow in such a sandy location, but she's got tons of flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

I am planning on bringing back a lemon and lime tree.

Anyway...on to the older stuff:


Well, the ground vegetables are growing like crazy. Especially the pumpkin. Mind you, I only put one pumpkin seed in the ground and it totally blows me away what it transforms into. I can't help but think about how this is all a part of God's gift to us. To create life from a seed or an egg or similar. Give it the proper ingredients and it grows. I think next year though I'll introduce a soaker system in place. I do enjoy watering but sometimes if I can't get to it, it causes me angst. I don't know if it's OK or not to cut back some of the leaves on the ground vegetables such as the zucchini, and pumpkin. The are snuffing out the cantaloup and the watermelon, so i cut some leaves off to allow them have some air. (Pictures below).

My tomato pruning is really producing some impressive amount of flowers. I don't know if it's just the pruning or the pruning in combination of having raised beds this year, but I'm quite pleased with how everything is turing out. I will of course do some adjusting for next season, such as use a different variety of marigold, re-arrange the placement of the ground fruits as well as the peas.

My backyard gets great sun, but I would really prefer a wider lot as opposed to a narrow lot. I can only access my garden form one side and it prevents me from really maintaining the back of it. Oh well...these are all future things to consider when/if we ever move into a different house.

Pumpkins starting! I've got so many...(wish I'd see this many watermelon)

Raspberry bush...I don't expect any berries for a few years. (Probably by the time we move out of this place they will be ready..sheesh)


Peppers are happy.

I had to cut back some of the pumpkin leaves so the watermelon could have some breathing room. I hope that cutting back ground leaves doesn't effect their fruit.

The battle for space between zucchini, pumpkin, cucumber, cantaloupe & watermelon. Everything looked so small a few weeks back.


Peas, peppers and see the soy bean bush on the right side? I wonder if there will be any beans when I get back?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rain Rain

Don't know if it's all the rain we've had, my raised beds, my square foot method :) or a bit of all, but things are exploding in my garden. I goofed by placing the zucchini in the wrong spot, but next year I'll adjust. I wonder if it's OK to cut back some of the zucchini leaves as they are encroaching on my other stuff :)

I think next year, I'm gonna just put the seeds right in the garden rather than start in the house. The few that I started in the garden are doing much better than any from seed. Also, flower seeds are more troublesome than vegetable seeds so it seems. I put in a trellis following the suggestion from Mel's book. Using conduit and getting 50' of trellis netting (still have ton's left) I made two trellis. One for my peas and one for my tomatoes. Apparently I can keep the trellis in place throughout the winter which will be nice. I'm also pinching the suckers that are growing on the tomatoes to prevent too much bushiness and to help force more veggies. I added some swiss chard for the bunnies (hope they like swiss chard). Here are some updated pictures of my garden:

Full Garden

My Tomatoes (7 plants)

zucchini going into the cucumbers

Pumpkin, Cantaloup, Watermelon

Snow Peas and Sugar Snap Peas growing but no flowers yet.

Carrots and Swiss Chard & Arugula to the right of the carrots.


Romaine Lettuce & Spinach (didn't do well at all, I'm just letting it go to seed.

The one soy bean plant of about 8 seeds that I planted that survived.

Another shot of the carrots, swiss chard etc...marigolds in the front from seed are the biggest I've ever seen but no flowers yet..

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lettuce & Peas

After all this rain, the lettuce has gone crazy.  Also, my peas are starting to grow up too.  Tomorrow I will put in trellis and critter-proof the garden by adding some chicken wire.  

The square-foot method was an afterthought, so the peas are not really planted correctly.  I also to understand how to be compact about tomatoes.  They take up so much room, but the book says to use a trellis for them.  I bought some trellis netting from their site.  Square Foot Gardening and am going to build some tomorrow.

This is the 2nd year I've tried to start flowers from seed and with no luck.  I suppose I need to start earlier because I want them to be bloomed right NOW.  The only ones that are doing any good are the geraniums and the portulacus.  Oh and the marigolds and Zinnas that the boys planted.  Seems like the flowers do well when they are started from seed in the pot that they are gonna stay in.  Transplanting them doesn't seem to work and they get so leggy when in peat pellets inside. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Facilitating poo

This year has been the year of becoming more of an organic gardener.  From considering raising chickens to creating my own compost, I have caught the garden bug.  This weekend, after reading up on various different composting solutions, we decided to make our own.  Something pleasing to the eye and large enough to continually fertilize my garden year round without the need to till.  After years of religious tilling I have be enlightened as to the do's and don'ts of organic fertilizing.  That said, after about 6 hrs, we have ourselves an awesome composter.  

What I wanted was something that would create enough compost to handle consistent feeding of my 40'x3' raised bed garden.  So I wanted at least a 2-bin system.  Second, I wanted a way to access and rotate the compost easily.  What we came up with was to utilize the design we found from the Lowes website with some subtle modifications.  (not to mention their instructions are a bit flawed).

My husband and I worked together and only two blisters later, I've got a composter that will probably outlast my raised beds.  Here are some pictures of the process:

Framed.  We  used pressure treated wood.  We got the wood at Home Depot.  We were told that the wood no longer contains arsenic and is safe for gardens etc.

In order to handle the top post, we needed to chisel out the back posts.

Frame and posts in place.  We bolted the posts into the frame.

In order to have the front boards slide out, we needed to create some runner rails.  This involved sandwiching a 2x2 board between the front post and a 2x4 board.  This was then bolted in place. 

Back and floor in place.  The boards have 1/4" space between them.  We used a 1/4" nail to make the spaces even.

Preparing the front slats.  The front boards are removable so you can access the compost easily.  Screw in screws to about 1/4" so when you slide them in the top, they will have space between them.

Front boards slide in nicely with the front board runner.

Attaching the wire mesh to the sides.  This was how I got my blisters.  Wire mesh goes in the center divider, and the sides as well as attach to the top lids.

Composter or a great prison for small children :)

Finished product
Lids open.