13 February, 2014

Orange Almond Cookies

It has become a habit of posting here on my blog the day before a big race. Although I didn't mention it in last week's post, I went for another race last Friday.

It's the Wadi Bih Run, a 72k trail run with 1000m ascent/descent through the Omani mountains. It's a classic on the Dubai running schedule. I had never done before. Everyone who did, said it was a great day out. The distance can be covered by teams of five, with legs between 1.5k and 4k long. One person would be running, the other four would be transporting themselves to the next changeover point in their support car. Around 200 teams participated in this year's run, and more than a 100 solo runners did the distance on their own.

I was especially looking forward to the trail running. I figured I would like it, running over loose gravel. And I did.
What I didn't look forward to was the hills. I have been running for 10 years and have always avoided hills like the pest. Fortunately, Dubai is flat as a pancake. All races in the UAE are as flat as can be. I kept on saying that I will only start running hills when I am 40. That would give me another 14 months from now.

The hills were tough. There is no other word for it. Paces slow down to ridiculous numbers, something that was hard to swallow on the first hill. For me as a road racer it has always been a cardinal sin to walk. No matter what, you keep on running. Now I found myself on a hilly 72k ultra marathon course. While I was running it in a team and my bits only added up to 17k, I realized that walking steep uphill bits is totally legitimate. In fact, I overtook a guy from another team on an uphill leg when I was walking and he was running.

I apologize to all ultra marathoners for my ignorance. I had to experience it myself that walking during an ultra marathon preserves more energy for the flat and downhill bits and keeps you faster over the whole distance. Many ultra marathoners say that time is not so much of an issue. It's the finishing that counts. Coming from a race background where time is everything, it's probably something that I will only understand once I have run an ultra marathon myself.

So here is my new goal: next year in February I will run Wadi Bih solo: 72k on my own. 30k further than the furthest distance I have run so far. Plus the hills. A new challenge.
I will be running the Berlin marathon again in September. And instead of training for the Dubai marathon straight afterwards I'll be going long and slow and prepare for an ultra marathon. I am all excited. I wish I could start training for it now. But I am aware that my body needs rest. Since September last year I have run two full marathons, one half marathon, two 10k races, two 5k races and Wadi Bih.

Tomorrow morning, another half marathon is to follow. I think I have recovered enough from the Dubai marathon three weeks ago, and the hills of Wadi Bih last week were good training. Tomorrow's half marathon is flat as a pancake again. Weather looks good too. I will try and break 90 minutes. That would be 3 minutes off my current PB. I'll keep you posted!

(Print Recipe)

1 1/3 cups almond meal
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg
100g/4oz jaggery or coconut sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons orange zest

ICING (optional)
2 teaspoons orange juice
1/4 cup powdered raw sugar

Yields ca. 25
In a bowl, combine almond meal, coconut flour and baking soda. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat egg and sugar until creamy. Stir in coconut oil and orange zest. Mix wet and dry ingredients until well combined. Wrap dough tightly in cling wrap and keep refrigerated for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 165C/350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Form balls of the size of a walnut and place them two inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Mix icing sugar and lemon juice together until it becomes a creamy paste. Drizzle over the cooled cookies. Let the frosting become solid before serving.
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06 February, 2014

Asian-Style Chicken Quinoa Salad

This quinoa recipe was an attempt to carb load before my marathon last week. As it contains grains and veggies... Oh, how little do I know.
I am aware that many of my blog readers appreciate my take on nutrition and healthy foods and a whole lot of you love my recipes. But I cannot say often enough that I am not a certified nutritionist. I am simply sharing my findings with you and adjust my views on health, foods and diet accordingly.

Recently, I read an article  in which a nutritionist said that she can only guess calories and macronutrient breakdown when she has a plate of food in front of her. Often it would be very deceptive and there are more hidden facts than obvious ones. Interesting, isn't it?!

A couple of weeks ago I started a food diary to see what my diet looks like in more detail (see here). I have been using one of those iPhone apps. It's been very enlightening. According to my current weight and height, my daily energy expenditure is being calculated to be roughly between 1600-1800 calories when not exercising. With my running and gym routines, I would need more.

Here are some stat facts that I collected over the past two weeks: My average daily calorie intake is 2.000 to 2.200.

During the week prior the marathon when I was trying to carb load for a few days, 43% came from carbs, 40% from fat and 17% from protein. In the other week, when I was eating "normally", I did 37% carbs, 42% fats and 21% protein. My dietary fiber intake 50% to 100% over what's been considered necessary for a healthy diet.

I guess it would be called a low carb diet. Although anyone who avoids grains for most parts would have trouble getting a higher percentage of carbs. I feel good with this percentage although a higher percentage of carbs is often recommended for endurance athletes. I don't think there is one perfect formula with regards to macronutrient breakdown.. More and more studies pop up that show that a high fat diet (healthy fats that is, needless to say) work just as well for athletes.

As a rule of thumb I would say that the less active/more sedentary you are due to your job or lack of exercise, the better you will fare on less carbs.

Now what's the breakdown of this Chicken Quinoa Salad: it's 27% carbs, 41% fat, and 31% protein. Carb loading failed, I'd say. Nevertheless, a delicious salad  that fueled me on the way to another marathon PB. I hope you enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

100g/1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked
1 cup water
pinch of salt

1/4 cup cashew nuts

2 tablespoons coconut oil (divided)

2 teaspoons garam masala (divided)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons raisins

1 tablespoon soy sauce
300g/12oz chicken breast, cut into cubes

1 red bell pepper, finely sliced
1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
2 cups baby arugula leaves

Serves 2-3
In a medium pan, combine quinoa, water and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium pan and over low heat, dry-roast  the cashews nut until golden brown. Shake the pan often to avoid burning. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil over medium heat. Add raisins, ginger and 1 teaspoon of garam masala. Cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

In the same skillet, heat the other tablespoon of coconut oil over medium heat. Add remaining garam masala, the chicken cubes and soy sauce. Keep stirring while the chicken cooks for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat, then add the cooked quinoa and the raisin ginger mixture. Cook for another minute or so to combine flavors. Adjust seasoning with more soy sauce if necessary. Take off the heat. Stir in bell pepper, carrots, and arugula. Sprinkle with toasted cashews. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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01 February, 2014

Dubai Marathon 2014

3:15:37 it was!!! My finish at the Dubai Marathon last week.
It was a tough race. For the first time ever, I didn't do negative splits, e.g. running the first half of the race faster than the second half. My splits were 1:36 and 1:39. My goal was a 3:10:00 time. I knew it was ambitious, but you gotta try in order to find out, right?

The weather was warmer than I had wished for, around 15C/59F.  I felt good, rested and ready. When the gun went off, I tried to get close to my average goal pace within a few kilometers. In retrospect, I must say I never felt 100% comfortable with the pace. I kept on checking my Garmin for the pace. It didn't come naturally. After 10k my hips and groin were already sore. It's an old "problem zone" of mine. I expected to get sore there, but not so soon. Between 20 and 30k I was considering giving up. Not seriously, but the thoughts were there. While my bones were sore, I was still able to keep up the pace. Up until 30k I was on for a 3:12 or 3:13 marathon. Not too far off my goal. At the same time I knew that I was not able to make up and go any faster.
The leading men incl the winner 18 year old Asefa
The toughest part of the race started at 30k. Due to the nature of the marathon route and its surrounding road closures, there were hardly any spectators on those last 12k when everyone most needed them. It was 6k on a long straight road, and 6k back. All on your own. My pace dropped then, and I wasn't even sure if I'd make a sub 3:15 time. I knew which of the local female runners were in front of me, and as it was only a handful and all but one of the runners whom I wanted to beat (incl a long list of men) were behind me, I thought I am not doing too badly and might as well keep going.
20k done - 22k to go....ugh
A few local Anja's Food 4 Thought fans were on the roadside too and supported me. That was a great surprise. At 30k someone shouted at me "Go Anja go, I cook your recipes all the time." I loved it. Thank you!!! Another one shot pictures of me with just a few hundred meters to go to the finish line. Thank you too, Angelika!
Support Crew getting bored
Not surprisingly, I was absolutely exhausted at the end. I remember seeing the big clock at the finish line ticking away in the 3:15s. I remember thinking hard if that was a good time for me or not. I coudln't decide. My brain obviously wasn't working well anymore, as all my energy went into the running. A few friends were sitting in the grandstand at the finish whipping up the crowds and shouting my name. Jeez, I was glad that it was over.

I finished 33rd lady overall (which includes 20 something elite runners), and 5th in my age group.  A PB by 2 1/2 minutes from the Berlin marathon in September, and a whopping 11 minutes faster than the Dubai marathon last year.

It's been a week now since the marathon. It's still sinking in. A friend of mine keeps on asking me if I have realized what great performance I delivered. I am still in two minds. On one hand, 11 minutes off from last year's Dubai marathon is a huge chunk off. And it's a PB. A PB is faster than ever before. On the other hand, I had tried to get close to 3:10 for the second time (it was also my goal for Berlin), and I am still 5 minutes away from it. I know it was an ambitious goal, but I can't deny that there is a grain of disappointment in me too.

I have a feeling that the Berlin and the Dubai marathon were too close to each other. I started training for Berlin in July last year, then ran the marathon at the end of September. October was my "month off", but it felt incredibly short. By November I was supposed to start training for the Dubai marathon. I wasn't ready yet. It took me a while to get motivated again to run high weekly mileages. All in all, it was a very long and hard training spell with very little rest since last summer. It's for a reason that my hips and groin scream for rest.

I look forward now to not count weekly mileages, to go on long runs no longer than 20k and to just run for fun for a few months. Until it all starts again. My next marathon is Berlin again in September. Hopefully, I will get my 3:10:00 time then. Third time lucky?
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