Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

I dressed as Charlie Brown today...

And, I am watching "The Great Pumpkin" as I type this! :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Surf The Murph 50K

On Saturday, I ran the Surf the Murph 50K at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve on the outskirts of Savage, MN.  We were greeted with a gorgeous day for running.  It was 29 degrees at the start, and the temps only got to a high in the low 40's.  Absolutely perfect.  

The races all take place on a 17 mile loop, a mix of single track, hiking, and horse trails.  There were three races going on - a 25K (one loop), 50K (two loops), and a 50 Miler (three loops).  For my race, even my fuzzy math skills tell me that 34 miles is more than "50K."  Hmmm...  

The race started in the dark.  I was there early enough to see the 50 milers head out, and I would need my headlamp for the first half an hour or so.

The 50 milers gathering at the start

Yours truly, staying warm at the start, headlamp ready to go!
Murphy-Hanrehan is a huge, very pristine, and undeveloped park, which is also designated an "Important Bird Area" by the Audubon Society.  A remarkable piece of land.  Throughout the course of the race, I heard and saw pileated and downy woodpeckers, song sparrows, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, blue jays, and plenty of migrating geese.  I saw hoof prints of deer on a few of the trails.  And the race director said there were some coyotes out there with them at 3 AM when they were marking the trails, but I never spotted "Wile E!"  In any case, it is a gorgeous park with lots of cover for many creatures, and whomever decided this area should be preserved is a genius.

"The Murph" is also incredibly hilly by Twin Cities metro standards.  The north side of the park consists of ancient glacial ridges, and the trails are constantly going up and down.  Stately oaks had shed their leaves on the trails, hiding rocks and roots, so you really had to watch your footing.  In the southern end of the park, the terrain is more open and prairie-like, providing some contrast and relief from the relentless hills.

I took this picture mid race just to show an example of the hills we faced all day
But that's not all!  There would be a little bit of bushwhacking, too!  There were a couple of interesting sections of the course.

The first was the "Smurf Village," an area of difficult single track (the name is sort of a word play on "Surf the Murph," giving it playful Smurf theme).  Not only did you get to hop over logs and wind through dense woods, but you got to enjoy several humorous Smurf related signs.  My favorite was the one on a steep hill which had a cute little blue Smurf saying - "Stop walking, you slacker!"

The second was an area called the "Fun Zone."  This was another densely wooded area close to the finish, so I would have to pass through here twice.  The "Fun Zone" features more bushwhacking and the steepest hills on the course - both too steep to run up, and too steep to run down!  This section was so hard!  I declared that the "Fun Zone" was an example of blatant false advertising.

Trail ultras are very different from road marathons.  There are comparatively fewer runners (at times, I went 20 minutes without seeing another person).  They are also more mentally taxing because you always need to pay attention to your footing on the difficult trails, so you can't really zone out and let the miles pass like you do on the roads.

The aid stations in ultras are amazing, too.  You enter to the cheers of the awesome volunteers, and then they tend to you like a pit crew.  "How are you holding up?" "What do you need?"  "Here, let me fill your bottle, you go get something to eat."  It is a personal touch that you can't get in the big races.  They also have a veritable buffet of salty and sweet snacks.  Chips, crackers, pretzels, gummi bears, M&M's, gumdrops, even peanut butter & jelly sandwiches - lots of tasty carbs!  Beyond water, they also have electrolyte replacement drink, and even soda pop (and let me tell you - Coca-Cola is my absolute favorite thing to drink during long races!).

My race, all things considered, went pretty well.  Endurance wise, I felt great, and my multiple 20+ mile training runs paid off.  But my legs weren't really trained well enough for all of the hills, so I will need to do more hill training in the future.  It was rather slow going at the end, mainly because the pounding your quads take makes for some uncomfortable downhill running.

I am still not sure what my time was.  The clock at the finish was showing the time from start of the 50 mile race.  I think I crossed in the 7:15 - 7:20 time frame (like I said, it was slow going out there at the end!).  I don't really have a benchmark 34 mile time, so it is an instant personal best, anyhow!

In lieu of a medal, they do something pretty cool - everyone who finishes gets a piece of a log where they brand the race logo and the distance of your race.  How awesome is that?

Self-portrait with my "finishers log!"
So, with that, my Surf the Murph 50K experience is in the books.  It was a great day on the trails.  The quads are a little sore today, and the staircase in my house is not my buddy night now, but otherwise I feel good.  Thanks to the Surf the Murph race directors, the incredible volunteers, and the Three Rivers Park District for hosting this marvelous event.   

On to the next...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Surf the Murph for Wild and Free - A note of thanks

"In wilderness is the preservation of the world." - Henry David Thoreau

The 50K "finishers log" from Surf the Murph!
Today I finished the Surf the Murph 50K and had a really fun day on the trails.  But this post is not about my race.  That will come later.

This post is to thank a whole bunch of people who made something remarkable happen.

Of course, you know by now that my race was a fundraiser for a fantastic organization, Wild and Free.  A non-profit based in Garrison, MN, they take in injured and orphaned birds and animals in an effort to rehabilitate and release them back into the wild, and they are dedicated to wildlife and habitat education.  They are my charity of choice, as I am continually impressed with the lengths they go to in an effort to protect, care for, and preserve our wild creatures.

I truly had some rather modest goals when starting my fundraiser.  All I really did was sign up for a race and ask my friends for money!  And I was hoping I could raise $1000.

But once I shared my goal with others, something amazing happened.  Several other people stepped up and said, "We want to help you."   

Shortly thereafter, the fundraiser was appearing on websites, in newsletters, and on posters.  Then one of Wild and Free's drug and medical suppliers wanted to join in the fun.  Suddenly we had an offer of matching funds!  The response was incredible.  That $1000 I hoped to raise?  We did that ten times over!  It turned into the single largest fundraiser for Wild and Free.

Of course, the lesson in all of this?  I am really bad at setting goals. ;-)  But seriously, I am simply amazed at the power of teamwork.  It is incredible what can be accomplished when like-minded people come together. 

To all who contributed so generously to this fundraiser, thank you for thinking enough of me, and thank you for believing in this project.  Without your support, this never would have happened!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.   

Thanks to Pfizer Animal Health for their generosity in offering the matching funds.  I can't tell you what a surprise it was to learn about this, and how much it was appreciated.  Thank you for recognizing the work of Wild and Free and seeing the potential with these fundraising efforts.

Last but not least, I want to thank Bob Wrobel from Wild and Free, and Jenni Lange from the Garrison Animal Hospital - two people who I had a lot of contact with in the last few months, and who were so instrumental in promoting this fundraiser to help make it the success that it was. 

Now that this fundraiser has passed, it is my hope that you will see the good work Wild and Free is doing, and that you would consider supporting them in the future.   I would encourage you to go to the Wild and Free website to learn about many other ways to contribute.  You can become a member, they have a fun "Adopt an Animal" program, and you can check out their newsletter for requested donation items and also to buy cool Wild and Free apparel.    

This was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.  Thank you all so much for your support, and for helping an organization that does so much for our birds and animals. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #27: The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook

Let's make some classic American comfort food for this edition of the Cookbook Challenge!  This time we cook from the pages of The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook by Christopher Kimball.

The stained cover indicates I have been using this book!
Anyone who cooks recognizes the name.  Kimball is the editor of Cook's Illustrated, as well as America's Test Kitchen, a long standing publication and cooking show respectively.  He's not into your fancy, overwrought, cooking either.  His is real, honest, home cooking, offering up foolproof recipes and techniques to help the home cook. 

Published in 1998, The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook is a collection of recipe and stories from Kimball, recalling his days growing up in Vermont.  The house itself was a real place, and the book contains many anecdotes about colorful local characters, helpful tools and techniques, and it is filled with farmhouse-style recipes.  Roasts, soups, stews, cakes, breads, pies, covered dish suppers - very homey, unpretentious dishes, and the recipes are not at all daunting.   

I chose to make Kimball's chicken noodle soup.  It is very much a classic recipe, not unlike my own.  Chicken, carrots, onions, celery, parsley, egg noodles - the usual stuff.  However, there are a couple of differences.

First, Kimball uses cut-up chicken pieces and browns them well on the stovetop before making the stock.  I usually buy a whole bird and roast it for a short time in the oven to get some color and roasted flavor.  But by using chicken pieces, you can achieve better results and brown more of the surface area.  This gives the stock even more of a roasted chicken flavor.  I really liked this idea.

Also, Kimball uses something interesting when making the stock - whole cloves.  I had never considered this, but the cloves impart a very exotic flavor and wonderful aroma to the finished product.     
Once the stock is made, Kimball also does what I do.  He adds some fresh carrots and onion when making the soup (since the veggies from the stock are pretty well spent).  Kimball also includes some frozen peas right at the end, an ingredient I love in my chicken noodle soup.

Chicken noodle soup, a la The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook
Dare I say this was one of the best batches of chicken noodle soup I have ever made?  Indeed, it was!  Absolutely delicious and downright fantastic.  The stock has a very deep, rich, roasted chicken flavor, and the cloves add a distinctive and pleasing aroma, as well as a warm, complex flavor.  There is no need to add any base or bouillon  to boost the flavor here.  Tender chicken and veggies, slippery egg noodles - this soup is a delight on a chilly day.

Full confession - I had a bunch of mixed fresh herbs on hand that I used to finish the soup.  The recipe only called for parsley, but I had fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano in the fridge, and it would have been a sin not to use some of each.  I would hope Kimball wouldn't mind!  Although, the stock itself was so flavorful that the soup would have still been wonderful without.

The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbookis a no nonsense cookbook filled with solid master recipes for some of your classic American favorites.  There are also numerous tips on techniques and tools to help you do the job well.  A good book for a wide variety of people, from seasoned cooks to novices.  Kimball's recipes will steer you in the right direction towards success.  And the stories of local folks and foods paint an entertaining and insightful picture of a time and place from years gone by.

I look forward to cooking from this one again soon.  Classic split pea soup, anyone?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Autumn Woods Classic 5K

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of running the Autumn Woods Classic with a few of my friends from work.  The race is held on my stomping grounds, the Elm Creek Park Reserve.  It is a pretty popular and very well attended fall race here in the northwestern Twin Cities.  

My work buddies and me, ready to run the Autumn Woods Classic
Before we get into the race, I should probably tell you about the packet pickup.  We could pick up our shirts and bib numbers on Friday, so I decided to incorporate this into my training for Surf the Murph.  After work, I ran to Elm Creek, picked up my shirt and number at the Elm Creek chalet, and ran home.  Turned it into a 20 mile round trip!

A funny moment when I showed up at the chalet to pick up my stuff - Of course, I am a sweaty mess, and one of the ladies helping me out says, "Did you run here?"  I told her I did, and another one of the volunteers said, "You must live pretty close by!"  Well...not exactly!  The incredulous looks I received when I explained where I came from, and that I was still training for a race, were priceless. 

My little drawstring bag from the 2009 Fargo Marathon made a nice impromptu backpack to carry everything.  Truthfully, that was the best long run I have had in this training cycle.  Absolutely fantastic!  So, my race packet was successfully picked up, and my 20 mile long run for the weekend was done.  (Three cheers for multitasking!)

Anyhow, back to today's race.  There are several runners at my office, and we thought it would be fun to do something outside of work.  A couple of us did a little promoting and cajoling and got a group to sign up for the 5K as a sort of bonding event.

In most years, this is right around the time the fall colors are peaking.  However, fall arrived early this year, so it looks a little more like November than October.  No worries, though.  It is a pretty park in all seasons, and the weather turned out to be ideal.  Upper 40's and overcast, with the predicted rain holding off as we wished.

I had done the 10K here before, but never the 5.  It was a mix of paved bike paths, dirt trails, and even one of the horse trails.  The route also contains a fair mix of rolling hills to keep things interesting.  We ran past the lake where I usually see the trumpeter swan family, the swamp where I saw my first Virginia rail, and the place where I know the common yellowthoat will always be.  All very familiar trails, with the exception of the horse trail which I had never been on.  The horse trail had the steepest hill on the course, too!

Having finished a 20 miler about 12 hours before the race, I had no goals, and no real expectations.  This was just intended to be a fun run with my buddies.  I actually ran fine and felt quite good after yesterday's excursion.  I finished in 25:39, which was OK by me.   

Three Rivers Park District does a really nice job with this event.  You can tell they have been doing it a long time.  They had countless volunteers and do a fantastic job directing the traffic in and out of there.  Also, they strive to make this a very "green" and zero waste event with a goal of generating less than 1 oz. of waste per runner.  Virtually everything could be recycled or composted (even the drink cups were compostable).  They encouraged carpooling, and set up a "bike corral" where people could safely park their bikes.  And I guess I got into the spirit of this by running to pick up my packet instead of driving!

The race is also quite a bargain.  Entry fee was $23 if you preregistered, the race was chip timed, you got a quality long sleeved shirt, some nice discount coupons for Sports Authority, a 2 for 1 coupon for Noodles & Co, and it was hosted in one of our biggest and prettiest local parks.  $23 is a heck of a deal compared to some other local events. (I am looking at you, Team Ortho)

We all had fun, and I think we left feeling inspired to do this again.  Good time with my work buddies!

This year's shirt

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fundraiser Update - Looking sharp for Surf the Murph

Most of you know by now that I am running Surf the Murph as a fundraiser to benefit Wild and Free, a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation facility in Garrison, MN.  Yesterday I received something pretty cool in the mail.  The folks at Wild and Free and the Garrison Animal Hospital had a custom technical race shirt made for me!

Looking sharp!
How thoughtful and awesome is that?  It is a really great shirt, exactly the kind of thing I wear for fall running.  I am looking forward to wearing this proudly to represent Wild and Free at Surf the Murph.  Thank you so much to the people at W&F and GAH for doing this for me.  That was so cool!

The fundraiser is going better than any of us had expected.  We have currently raised over $5600, and that is not counting the $5000 in matching funds pledged by Pfizer Animal Health.  We will have raised well in excess of $10,000 by the time all is said and done, and it will be the largest fundraiser to date for Wild and Free.   

Thank you to all who have been so generous in supporting this project.  This gift will go a long way towards helping a wonderful organization.  If anyone else feels compelled and wishes to support this mission, there is still time to contribute.  Simply click on the"Donate Now" button below to be magically transported to my fundraiser website:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cookbook Challenge #26: Off The Shelf

For this Cookbook Challenge, we went across the pond to Australia, so to speak.  I cooked from the pages of Off The Shelf: Cooking from the Pantry by Donna Hay.

Quick and easy cooking
Donna Hay would seem to be Australia's answer to Martha Stewart.  She is a hugely popular cookbook author, food stylist, and magazine editor.  She has an impressive 14 best-selling cookbooks to her name, an eponymous magazine, and her own cooking show.

Off The Shelf is all about how to stock your pantry with basic ingredients in order to pull off a multitude of dishes.  It is very heavy on grains and pasta/noodles, as you might imagine, and there are a number of interesting Asian and Mediterranean-style dishes to chose from.  But there are also tips on some essential sauces and other ingredients to keep on hand to make a variety of interesting meals at a moment's notice.

I came across this cookbook several years ago and have made some successful dishes from it previously (in fact, it contains my go-to recipe for Chinese BBQ pork)  But I chose something new this time and made her Chilli Cashew Chicken Noodles.  Basically, this is a simple Asian-style stir-fried noodle dish with chicken, onions, chile peppers, red bell pepper (what, no garlic?!?), and rice stick noodles with some cilantro and cashews.

Donna Hay's Chilli Cashew Chicken Noodles
There were very few ingredients, and it comes together in no time.  I was initially suspicious of the sauce, which consisted of a couple tablespoons each of fish sauce, soy sauce, and lemon juice, figuring it would not be enough.  However, the sugar that is added when cooking the onions more or less liquefies, and it ends up dressing the chicken, veggies, and noodles quite nicely.

It was a delicious Thai-style noodle dinner.  Sweet, salty, and spicy, with chewy rice stick noodles, and tender pieces of chicken, peppers, and onions.  Cashews add a nice crunch, and cilantro brings a burst of freshness.  Drizzle on some Sriracha chile sauce at the table, and you are good to go.  Great stuff!

Off The Shelf: Cooking from the Pantry is a book for anyone who appreciates being able to quickly cook dinner with items you can keep on hand.  It would be especially useful for busy folks or people who are learning to cook.  Hay offers some good advice for stocking your pantry, and most of the recipes in the book are not terribly complex and have only a handful of ingredients.  There are a couple recipes in here I keep coming back to, and I will add her Chilli Cashew Chicken Noodles to that growing list.  Although, I am going to sneak in a little garlic next time!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Last of the fall colors

I managed a shade over 24 miles this morning.  And so begins the taper for Surf the Murph!

The run itself was alright, but weather was excellent if you are a runner.  Mid 30's, overcast, rather breezy, but still great.  Rather crisp out there today, and I actually experienced a fairly intense burst of snow flurries when I was running through Elm Creek Park!  Perhaps winter will be back with a vengeance to make up for last year's extraordinarily mild one?

Fall migration is still underway.  I saw tons of Canada geese, robins, dark-eyed juncos, and white-throated sparrows, in addition to a few trumpeter swans, wood ducks, palm warblers, a great-blue heron, and even a Swainson's thrush.  

The peak of our fall colors was last weekend, I do believe.  This week we also had some cooler days descend upon us midweek.  A wicked cold front accompanied with wild winds knocked down many of our leaves.  Much of color has left us, as I observed today.  I will leave you with some shots from October 1st, one of the last colorful days we had.

One of my local lakes, still some yellows hanging in there

Entrance to Fish Lake Park

Gorgeous sumac

Leaf-covered trails in Fish Lake Park

Fish Lake shoreline


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