Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring hikes, and getting caught up in the kitchen

Both Saturday and today, I went hiking at Elm Creek park. After last week's snow, were were finally treated to some better days. Saturday was cool and overcast, but today was perfect (60 and sunny!). I probably spent well over five hours combined hiking on both days. Awesome!

Recent signs of spring and bird highlights:

April 23rd - Field sparrows are abundant in the local park. I found a brown creeper. We are infested with "Myrtle" warblers. And the Dutchman's breeches have bloomed.

April 24th - Eight ring-necked ducks were on a pond in my neighborhood. I found a Virginia rail skulking around a swamp (a new "life lister" for me!). Trees are really starting to bud, lots of green starting to pop.

A few photos:

Yours truly, hiking!



A nice view, starting to see signs of green on the trails



A couple of geese that were checking me out while I was bird watching!



There has been a relative dearth of food posts on this blog as of late. Let's make up for that in one fell swoop with some of my meals from the last week or so!

Putting all modesty aside for a second, I continue to rock out some excellent sourdough pizzas. I have been using this recipe from Slice without fail. It works every time and has been producing fantastic results. My variation as of late is that for the final 8 oz. of flour to make the dough, I have been sneaking in some whole-wheat flour (6 1/2 oz. bread flour and 1 1/2 oz. whole-wheat). This adds just a wee bit of whole-wheat flavor without making the dough heavy, but it also still retains that nice, tangy sourdough flavor. Here are a couple of recent pizza creations:

Sourdough pizza with Canadian bacon, pineapple, red bell pepper, and serrano chilies



Sourdough pizza with Canadian bacon, crimini mushrooms, and black olives



Yesterday, I made Sloppy Joes. Itty Bitty Sloppy Joes! (I am avoiding the annoying culinary trend of calling anything served on a small bun a "slider" - so "Itty Bitty Sloppy Joes" it shall be!) These weren't your ordinary "Manwich" variety, either. I made my own sweet, smoky, and spicy sauce and served them on little White Mountain rolls with some smoked cheddar and spicy bread & butter pickles.

School lunch never looked this good! :)



And finally, tonight's dinner - a Thai chicken and lemongrass stir-fry! Chicken in a spicy mixture of garlic, ginger, red jalapeno, and lemongrass with tons of veggies in a sweet, spicy sauce consisting of fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, white wine, sugar, chile-garlic sauce, and roasted chile paste. It was spicy enough to get my nose running. :)

Spicy and yummy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring?

It is April 20th in Minnesota. A good month since "spring" officially arrived. Here was the view from my office this morning:



Astonishing, really. Everything melted quickly, there was no accumulation on the roads, and it was quite a pretty sight - but I am getting mighty tired of snow.

I took a few days off following the 50K. It was a good idea. There is a bruise on the side of my right foot that is still a little tender (a product of my shoes - need different shoes for longer trail races), so I wanted to let that heal up a bit. Otherwise, I feel great, actually. There is no stiffness in my legs or knees anymore. That tells me I trained well, so I couldn't be more pleased with how everything went.

A couple new bird arrivals to report in recent days:

April 15th - Turkey vulture (landed by the pond outside my office, so I got to see him from above - a rare vantage point), and the osprey
April 16th - Belted kingfisher and the American coot (saw both during my race)
April 17th - Great egret (others had seen this guy much earlier, but this was my first sighting)
April 19th - "Myrtle" warbler (a.k.a., the yellow-rumped), my first warbler of the season

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Trail Mix 50K

Fueled by Friday night's homemade sourdough pizza, I hopped in The Silver Hornet and headed to Bloomington in the south metro to run my first trail ultramarathon - the Trail Mix 50K, an annual spring race that was celebrating its 20th running.

The 50K is comprised of four laps around the Hyland Lake Park Reserve. Trails are wide and not at all technical, a mix of grass, dirt, or wood chips. Lots of rolling hills; a few steep ones, but they are not terribly long. But not a lot of flat ground, in any case. Seems like you are always going up or down in some fashion.

My goal was simple - to finish! :) Under 6 hours would be nice. I did not have any lofty time goal. I was just planning to run steady and hope not to crap out near the end. Never having run past the marathon distance, I wanted to try my best to leave something in the tank for the finish.

Because this is Minnesota, we got about an inch of snow overnight. I know, it is mid-April - but this year, anything is possible! Roads were fine, so the drive to the park was good. However, all the trails and grassy areas were covered with a blanket of white. Unreal! It was actually very pretty. The wet snow was clinging to all the trees, creating something of an April winter wonderland.

Some video from the Trail Mix race showing the conditions we ran in, shot by the folks at SkinnySki.com - I am visible between the 2:13 to 2:26 mark. (Actually, in the embedded image below, I am in the background just left of center!)



Midway through the first lap, I ended up chatting with a younger fellow. He was using this race as a "taper run" for a 100K next weekend! (I suspect there is a "You know you are an ultramarathoner when..." saying in there somewhere!) I had told his this was my first 50K, which he thought was pretty cool. As we were walking up a hill, he said, "I see someone gave you some good advice," in reference to walking the hills. He added a few more words of advice for me - "It is a long way to go, so walk 'em now, and if you are feeling good at the end, start running 'em!"

I kept with my plan and made my way around the course, which takes your through open meadows, past ponds and lakes, and through beautiful hardwood forests. It is really a great piece of land. I saw and heard several birds. The nesting ospreys seemed confused by the snow. I had a few new sightings for the season - the belted kingfisher and American coots. Heard the whistles of wood ducks, the familiar "kwirrrr!" of the red-bellied woodpecker, and even the unmistakable gobble of the wild turkey. The sights and sounds were fantastic, despite the weather.

Speaking of weather, did I mention the temperature never got out of the 30's? And, that there was a strong northwest wind? Thankfully, the runners were sheltered from the wind for a good percentage of the course, as we ran through the woods much of the time. There were only a couple of open areas where we had to deal with the wind. Although, occasionally I would get hit by a small chunk of snow or ice blowing off of the trees!

I felt bad for the volunteers. These folks, bless their hearts, manned the aid stations for hours upon hours in the bitter cold wind - and they were just fantastic. Every time you rolled into an aid station, it was - "What can I get for you?" "Can I top off your bottle?" And, there were smiles on their faces as they were helping you. Not to mention the words of encouragement as you departed - "Looking great!" "Keep it up!" The volunteers were AWESOME.

By my third loop, it got eerily quiet as the 25K racers finished up. There was practically nobody left on the course, and at times I felt like I was out there alone! The course loops around in places so you will meet some oncoming runners. On two occasions I ran into my buddy from the first lap, who shouted words of encouragement to me. "Dude, you are running strong! Keep it going!"

As the day warmed up (relatively speaking, of course), the layer of snow melted. In the later stages, after all the traffic from the 50K and 25K runners, parts of the trail turned into a muddy mess. I am talking deep, shoe-sucking mud, the texture of saturated clay, almost impossible to run though. At one point I was running next to a lady as we were trying to navigate these quagmires, and we both started laughing. "This is like quicksand!," she exclaimed. My shoes were a complete disaster afterwards, absolutely caked with mud and dirt.

I am not sure if it was the combination of the cup of Coke and the half a banana I had with about half of the last lap remaining, but I felt remarkably good. Recalling the earlier words of my new friend when discussing hills ("...if you are feeling good at the end, start running 'em!"), I started running 'em! With the exception of a couple of steeper hills, I ran all the others from there on out. Once I hit the final aid station, I knew how far I had left, and I ran the whole way back to the finish. I was surprised by this energy.

Running up the final hill to the finish, I was greeted with a high five from the girl collecting the tags. I crossed in 5:56:57 (results here). So, I finished - goal achieved. Keeping it under 6 hours was the proverbial icing on the cake. I am very excited!

Everyone at these races is so nice. The encouragement you get from the volunteers and the other runners is extraordinary. In the parking lot after the race, I even ran into the lady who was trying to traverse the mud pits with me, and we exchanged congratulatory greetings. I am not sure if it is because there is a shared "We are all in this together" mentality, or if trail runners are just genuinely nice people, or both. Whatever the case, it is a fun environment in which to spend some time.

On my drive home (with my heater on full blast, and heated seats turned all the way up - I was cold!), I thought about this past winter. When I decided to train for this race back in late December, I had no idea that this would be the winter that Mother Nature would try to beat the good folks of Minnesota into submission (officially the 4th snowiest winter on record after Saturday's snowfall!). Training was hard because the weather sucked nearly every single weekend. Looking back, it would have been so easy to quit. I am really glad I stuck with it, because that made achieving my goal even more rewarding. In your face, Mother Nature! ;-)

A short video clip and a slide show of some of my pictures



So, that was my experience. Aside from some stiffness in my legs and knees, I feel remarkably good. And I can say without hesitation that I will do one again. On to the next...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

50K in the snow and mud

This morning I finished my first 50K ultramarathon!



I ran the Trail Mix 50K in Bloomington at the beautiful Hyland Lake Park Reserve. The race was interesting - lots of hills, snow at the start, and plenty of mud. I finished in something like 5:56. Not blazing speed by any stretch of the imagination, but I was actually quite pleased with my finish. Very excited right now!

I will write more later, because now it is time for the semi-regular post-race tradition of take-out from my favorite Chinese restaurant. :) More to come...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

10K

Just a little over 7 years ago in April of 2004, I bought a pair of running shoes and started running.

Tonight on my run, I hit a milestone - I passed the 10,000 career mile mark! Even made myself a little sign to celebrate the occasion where it happened on the trail. :)



It was something of a blessing in disguise. I got home really late after a very long and stressful day at the office and didn't get out running until after 7 PM. By that time, there was nobody on the trails. Had the neighborhood all to myself, sharing it only with the eagle, mallards, wood ducks, robins, and song sparrows. A nice way not only to relieve some stress, but a great night to set a new milestone.

To the next 10K and beyond!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sights and sounds of spring

I took a nice long walk today and saw lots of great stuff.

New bird arrivals included several ducks; the blue-winged teal, three cute little ruddy ducks, and four redheads (a new "life lister" for me...excited!). All were enjoying the open water of the local lake, swimming around with even more loons (I counted 28 today!), mallards, and either the lesser or greater scaups (too far away to ID).

For songbirds, I saw the barn swallow, the dainty ruby-crowned kinglet, and the infamous brown-headed cowbird. A fantastic day for bird watching.

It is also nice to see some signs of green grass. A little over two weeks ago, we still had a fair amount of snow on the ground, so this it a remarkable transformation. And the ice is just about gone from the local lake. Below are some images (and sounds!) from my trek today:

Light reflecting off the rain soaked trail.



Greening up along the trail - eagle's nest on the right, and mama was sitting in there.



Lots and lots of loons on the lake!



Green grass sprouting up along the trail.



The last of the ice on the lake. It is almost all gone.



Another shot of the trail. If you look closely, there is a robin in the trail. They were busy picking up worms after last night's rain!



And now, some sounds of spring! Some rather raucous frogs croaking loudly in a local swamp:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

More spring, please!

Spring has definitely arrived in Minnesota. We had temps in the upper 50's to mid 60's all week long. Snow is gone, and ice is disappearing from lakes at a brisk pace. Lots of new birds and signs of spring this week.

Monday, April 4th - Northern flickers arrived in great numbers, heard the first chorus of frogs croaking loudly in the swamp, and I chased a garter snake off the trail.

Wednesday, April 6th - Flushed an American woodcock (a.k.a, the "Timberdoodle") in the woods along one of my trails, and the double-crested cormorant was on the open water of the lake.

Thursday, April 7th - Tree swallows have returned and were checking out nesting boxes along the trail. Also, the willow trees have started to take on some color.

Today - Saturday, April 9th - An "Extreme Loon Advisory" is issued for the Twin Cities! I counted 22 common loons on my local lake, so our Minnesota state bird is here. Female red-winged blackbirds have finally returned, so there was a lot of posturing by the males in every swamp I passed! Other new arrivals include the killdeer and red-breasted mergansers. I saw two cute muskrats along my lake, too!

Anyhow, that is my nature report. Now, onto running.

I had my first Saturday long run of the year where it was comfortable enough to wear shorts! I headed out at 5:30 AM. 50 degrees at that time! Overcast skies and a gentle breeze from the southeast made for what could have been the ideal day for running (at least, for my money).

Very nice. I was recalling two weeks ago when several of my trails were impassable due to a ridiculous late season snowstorm. What a difference several days with temperatures in the 60's makes. It was great to be able to rid myself of multiple layers of winter running gear and just going with shorts and a long sleeved top. Much more freedom of movement. And it made for an outstanding 18 mile run.

And an outstanding run deserves an outstanding meal... :)

Five-spice Pork and Vegetable Stir-Fry



It was mighty tasty. I'll share the recipe later!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring is here?

Got a few more spring arrivals to report:

Sunday, April 3 - Eight northern shovelers were floating around in the open water on my local lake. Pretty ducks!

Monday, April 4 - Numerous northern flickers were in my meadow. Frogs were croaking loudly in the swamp, the first time I have heard them this spring. And I chased the first garter snake of the season off of the trail!

The weather appears to be trending in a more positive direction. Temperatures are reaching into the 50's all this week, and the ice is rapidly melting on the lake. Snow is virtually gone except for patches in shaded areas, or in parking lots where the huge piles of snow left over from this abysmal winter are finally shrinking. I've even noticed some grasses beginning to turn green along the trail's edge.

Yours truly on tonight's run, the local lake really opening up in the background


I am cautiously optimistic that spring has arrived. :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Shrimp, Asparagus, and Chile Stir-Fry

Nice run this morning. Temps were in the low 40's at the time, and the sun was shining brightly. Our snow is virtually gone, except for areas that receive limited sunlight, or where it was piled up.

More new spring birds have arrived. The song sparrow is back. I thought I saw him a couple of days ago, but didn't make a positive ID! Also, I heard a raspy "fee-bee" coming from the treetops. The eastern phoebe has also arrived. Great to see these guys have returned!

The entire journey was an absolute symphony of birds singing. Robins, cardinals, bluejays, chickadees, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, house finches - it was fantastic. Clearly, they are excited about the nicer weather! Red-winged blackbird males have also started staking out some territory along my trails (still no sign of the females yet - they should be arriving soon). And downy woodpeckers were busy hammering away in the woods. Wonderful sounds of spring.

I am hoping this means we can soon say adios to winter!

Tonight's dinner was a shrimp, asparagus, and chile stir-fry. It was based on this recipe from Bon Appetit.

If you visited the link, you will see there is no shrimp in the recipe. I substituted shrimp for the prescribed ground pork! It was a nice substitution.

Shrimp, Asparagus, and Chile Stir-Fry



I followed the recipe closely with these alterations:

  • 1 lb. of shrimp and 8 oz. of asparagus instead of 12 oz. each pork and asparagus
  • Added 3 cloves of minced garlic along with the red jalapeno and ginger
  • Mixed all of the sauce ingredients together along with the corn starch and just added it all at the end (so, nothing was marinated)
Served over some steamed white rice, this was a simple and tasty dish, one which I really enjoyed. I actually found that it needed a little more heat for my taste, so I drizzled a little chile-garlic sauce over my plated stir-fry. I will add some of that to my sauce mixture next time. And there will be a next time. Yummy!

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