25 March, 2014

Apple Rosemary Cake with Lemon Drizzle

March is pretty much the last month of the Dubai running season. The races are getting shorter, as the weather gets warmer. Over are the days when the temperatures drop down to 15 degrees or less. I had signed up for two 10k races in March, while giving another half marathon at the beginning of the month a miss as it was only three weeks after my February half marathon.

One of these 10k races was ten days ago, the other one will be this Friday. My racing motivation was low after the RAK half marathon in February. I wrote about it in detail here. I realized the mistakes I made in both the RAK half marathon and the Dubai marathon: I made myself a slave of my Garmin, let it dictate how to run my race. While I achieved PBs in both races, I didn't enjoy running them. I used to be the queen of negative splits. During those two races, I overdid the first half and then struggled through the second. That obviously is not enjoyable.

My legs were tired from all the hard running and endless training miles. I started cutting down on weekly mileage, and add some quality speed work to prepare for the upcoming 10k races. I never enjoyed lung-busting sprinting or running hills (even speed bumps are hills to me). Nevertheless I incorporated them into my weekly training. And... surprise, surprise... I am enjoying them. It's perhaps because they short. After a long running and training season - remember, I started training for the Berlin marathon in July last year and hardly had a rest since - my body appreciates less pounding. Yet, they are quality workouts. I am not sure if they have made me faster yet. But I feel stronger in my legs and lighter on my feet. I bet, somewhere and somehow they will contribute to me becoming a better runner.

Start Line of the Saucony Autodrome 10k
The 10k race last week was a bit too early to have my newly incorporated training sessions show their results. Yet, it turned out to be an important race to me as I got my racing motivation back. This 10k race was a hilly one. So fast times were out of the picture already. The weather decided not to be in favor either: hot and windy.
In previous years I would dread this race. This year, I found all the circumstances - hilly, hot, windy - very deliberating. I decided to run totally by feel, and not become a slave to my Garmin again. I meant to look up what time I did on that course in the previous year, but then I forgot. As a result, I had an awesome race. I didn't collapse halfway. I had more or less even splits. From 7-8k onwards are started "collecting" runners in front of me. My finish time was atrocious, I realized that when I checked my Garmin at 5k and multiplied that time by two. But compared to last year's result on this course, I improved by almost a minute. That's acceptable. I finished 4th lady overall and 3rd in my age group. That's OK too.

Lesson learned: Running is supposed to be fun. That's why we do it. I run best if I trust the signals of my body. I love my Garmin, don't get me wrong and I never leave the house without it, but it cannot beat running by feel. I have only owned a Garmin for two years. For the 7-8 years prior I ran with a simple stopwatch that would not tell me pace or distance covered. I think I learned reading the signals of my body in those years. I should continue doing so in every single race.

So on the occasion of having had a good AND enjoyable race, we'll have some cake today. Who doesn't love a piece of homemade apple cake?! This one is brimming with flavors, as the fresh apples are accentuated with rosemary and vanilla. The lemon drizzle is the cherry on top. I hope you enjoy!
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APPLE ROSEMARY CAKE WITH LEMON DRIZZLE

1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 apple, cored and finely chopped

Lemon Drizzle
¾ cup powdered raw sugar
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Yields one loaf
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Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Line or grease a medium sized loaf tin (22x10cm/9x3inches).

In a large bowl, combine almond meal, coconut flour, baking soda, seas salt and rosemary. Stir until well combined. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in honey, coconut oil and vanilla.
Blend wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in finely chopped apple pieces.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf tin and bake in preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Turn out the cake and let cool on a wire rack.

Lemon Drizzle

Combine powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir until sugar dissolves in the juice. Add more lemon juice by the teaspoon, until mixture has desired consistency. Mixture should be a thick and smooth liquid, not too runny.

Drizzle icing over cake and leave for 15-20 minutes to harden.
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13 March, 2014

Honey Tahini Almond Cookies

I read an interesting article yesterday, on one of my favorite running and nutrition websites Competitor Running. The article was called "Do The Math: Percentages In Diets Are ‘Meaningless’". 
It says that the various recommended ratio of carbs, protein and fat for endurance athletes given in percent are inaccurate. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that endurance athletes are suggested to take in a 60/20/20 ratio. Other sources step away from the high carb intake and rather suggest a 40/30/30 ratio.

Nutrition is a very complex subject, and its science still very young and far from being conclusive. And I am no expert either. However, the findings of a Dutch scientist specializing in endurance performance and nutrition make so much more sense to me. He is a triathlete himself, I thought this is worth mentioning. Asker Jeukendrup says that it is not so much the percentage, but the total quantity of carbs in grams or calories that counts. 

For endurance athletes, carbohydrate needs will vary from 5-10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day with training ranging from one hour per day to five hours or more. 
My weekly training load does not exceed one hour per day on average. Which means I'll be good with 5g carbs per kg body weight. 

Not surprisingly, on days when I exercise I crave more carbs than on rest days. Looking at the statistics of my food journal, I do meet my total carb requirements according Jeukendrop on most days, although the percentage of carbs on that day is still way below the recommended 50 or even 60%, rather in the high 30s% or low 40s% region. I was trying to up my carb intake, but really struggled to get it beyond the 50% mark with normal sized food portions. I even re-introduced some grains into my diet to see if it would make a difference.

Because carbohydrates are used for fuel only and don't serve structural purposes like fat and protein do, you need proportionally less carbs, the less active you are. This is probably the reason why the paleo diet is popular with so many people these days. With a rather sedentary lifestyle in the office and at home, physical activity is reduced to a minimum unless you make an effort to exercise regularly. 
The protein requirements are slightly increased for athletes as they serve to rebuild damaged muscle tissue after a workout. The recommendations lie are around 1.5g of protein for each kg body weight for endurance athletes. They would be higher if you did bodybuilding. Now that carbs and protein needs can be calculated rather exactly and with a bit of testing you will know how to meet your personal requirements, the rest should be filled up with healthy fats. It's as easy as that.

These cookies are the perfect for the low carb/healthy fat section: made of ground almonds and ground sesame seeds and sweetened with honey. A great snack that is not too sweet. I hope you enjoy.
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HONEY TAHINI ALMOND COOKIES

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sesame seeds

Yields 25-30
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Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine almond meal, salt and baking soda.
In a large bowl, stir together honey, tahini and vanilla extract until well combined.

Add the almond meal mixture to the honey tahini mixture and stir until well incorporated. The dough should be solid enough to form balls. If it's too wet, add some more almond meal.

Form balls of the size of a cherry. Roll in sesame seeds, then flatten it to 1/4 inch thickness and place on the prepared baking sheet. Leave 1-2 inches space between cookies. Repeat until all dough is used up.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until bottoms are golden. For extra crispy cookies, flip them upside down and leave in the warm oven for a few more minutes.
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03 March, 2014

Quinoa Tabbouleh

The update of the half marathon that I ran more than two weeks ago on Valentine's day?.....ahem, yes...... I still owe you that one. Well, let's be totally honest: I was sulking.

I don't really have much reason for it. I felt good at the start line, the weather was perfectly cold, the course flat as a pancake. PB material. I finished in 1:30:40, a PB by more than 2 minutes. Yet, I wasn't happy with that race. It didn't come easy, I continuously got slower through the race. My 5k splits were atrocious. And again, like at the Dubai marathon three weeks earlier, I had thoughts of giving up. I didn't enjoy it.

To put you into the whole picture, I was going for a sub 1:30 time. I thought I could do it. Perhaps it was one number to big for me yet. At the same time, I saw several of my running friends with similar race times to mine, beat the 1:30 barrier for the first time. You can imagine, that didn't go down well. As much as I am happy for all those friends as they deserve it after hard and consistent training, I am very competitive at the same time. I am lagging behind by some 40 seconds. That bugs me. Badly.

Killing myself on the RAK half marathon
Now two weeks later, I am slowly finding my feet again. I didn't run much. A cold that came on a couple of days after the half marathon, was a blessing in disguise to help me stay off my feet. I needed rest. My racing tank was empty. My body depleted. Not so much the leg muscles, rather all my bones. I usually find it difficult not to run despite little injuries and niggles. This time, I could literally feel how the rest was doing me good for every hour that I put up my feet.

I needed some time to decide what to do with myself after the last half marathon. Another one is about to happen in a week's time. My chance to redeem myself before the end of the season? The thought of racing another 21.1k was not appealing. And still isn't. I am quite happy with the prospect of not having to run further than say 15-17k on my weekly long runs.
Two 10k races are coming up in March. They are two weeks apart. The first one is a hilly one. The second one is flat and the one where I run all my 10k PBs.

I decided to use the next 4 weeks to do a bit of speed work. The hilly 10k race will be a training run. But I will try and do well in the last 10k race of the season.  End of March can be quite warm in Dubai already. I am not sure if another PB will be possible.
I have started the training. I am adding strides at the end of my easy runs. I went for hill sprints the other day. To my surprise, I am enjoying the speed work. Perhaps the change to the shorter and faster workouts is all I need after training for two full marathons where it's all about "long and slow" pounding of the pavements.

In the next few weeks I will also experiment with a higher carbohydrate percentage in my diet. As I mentioned in previous posts, I have been writing a food journal over the past 4 or 6 weeks. It turns out that my refined sugar and mostly grain free diet reduces my carb intake to 35-40% of the total. That is rather little, especially for endurance athletes. I will try and increase it to at least 50% every day, and see if it makes a difference in my training, recovery and races.

In order to do that, I am ready to add more grains into my diet again. I have brown rice here and there, and always like quinoa. Today's recipe is a traditional Middle Eastern salad. I love Tabbouleh, it's so refreshing and very easy to prepare. It is typically prepared with bulgur, which is split wheat. I replaced it with quinoa to make it gluten free and more wholesome. I hope you enjoy.
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QUINOA TABBOULEH

(Print Recipe)

1/2 cup quinoa
2/3 cup water
pinch of salt

1 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped and tightly packed
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped and tightly packed
1/2 cup cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
freshly ground pepper

Serves 4
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In a medium pan, bring quinoa and salted water to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover pan, and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 10 minutes. Let quinoa stand in covered pot for another 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Combine finely chopped parsely and mint leaves in a salad bowl. Stir in the cooked quinoa until well combined. Add cucumbers, tomatoes and the dressing. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper or more lemon juice.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Salad keeps well in the fridge for 24 hours.

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