Friday, November 28, 2008

Memories of Malva pudding

Thanksgiving is when Americans reflect on the many things that we can and should be thankful for. It is also a time when we strengthen and renew family bonds. For long-term expats like myself (naturalized citizen or not) it often brings back bittersweet memories of earlier days and bygone times when we were living in other countries, with family and friends now separated from us by a chasm of time and space.

As might be expected, Thanksgiving reminds me of some of the foods of my youth and later years. Some of these such as ‘mealie meal’ – the most basic of ground maize products – I have hunted for high and low here in Houston, without success. There are dozens of similar products but none approximating the exact finely ground texture of the mealie meal ingrained in my memory. When I’m feeling really desperate for ‘pap’ (several versions of which can be made from mealie meal by adding water and a little salt) I resort to an imported Italian polenta grain. It’s good but nothing like the real thing.

Other nostalgic foods from the past are easy to recreate. Such as Bobotie, a lightly curried and very flavorful casserole of ground beef or lamb with an egg-based topping. Malva pudding is another. My memory of this delightful dessert (alas not for vegans or someone trying to avoid refined sugar!) goes back literally as far as my memory can stretch. Certainly I knew what Malva pudding was and what it tasted like, by the time I was 5 or maybe 7 years old. This traditional South African dessert is often served on special days. If South Africans were to start up their own Thanksgiving day, Malva pudding would definitely feature as one of the desserts, together with Melktert (milk tart) and koeksusters.

Anyway, a few years back a South African friend sent me a cookbook produced by Gramadoelas, a well-known traditional African restaurant, still doing business at the Market Theater in Newtown, Johannesburg. I was intrigued by quite a few of the recipes including those for old-fashioned green bean and tomato stew. However, the moment I saw the recipe and illustration for Malva pudding, I knew I had to try it.

The prep work didn’t take long, the most ‘exotic’ ingredient being a little apricot jam. I poured the batter into a round stoneware baker, slid it gently into a preheated oven and set the timer for about 50 minutes. When I opened the oven, the unmistakable aroma of a freshly baked Malva pudding sent my scent sensation into orbit. In the time that it took a few molecules to trigger the neurons in the back of my nose, decades dropped away and I was back in my mother’s kitchen, eagerly eying a cooling Malva pudding, anticipating the first mouthful of this very sweet and silky dessert, made even more so by being drenched in a rich, vanilla-flavored custard sauce. I was astonished at the strength of the emotional recall set off by something as simple as the aroma of an old-fashioned dessert. I later learned that apparently, the part of the brain that processes smell is linked to forming long term memories.

Having been pretty much out of action since the San Antonio half marathon due to strained calf muscles, I am getting antsy to hit the roads again. Hopefully I should be able to do that later today, after my session with a neuromuscular massage therapist later this morning. My calves feel fine and I am confident that I will be able to manage a few miles!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Anyone for Kutia?

Since adopting a plant-based diet in April 2007, my cooking repertoire has changed a lot, as I’ve alluded to in a previous posting. Generally, our food is simpler with fewer ingredients, much less (if any) oil, mostly containing unprocessed ingredients and of course no butter, cream, cheese, eggs or pretty much anything which Escoffier or Julia Childs would have used in a sauce.

Experimenting with new ingredients and new combinations has produced mixed results. For example, we have discovered that black or pinto bean burritos (with any number of other fillings such as salsa, brown rice, mushrooms, grilled red peppers, freshly steamed corn), with a home-made chipotle sauce, is now our new family favorite. Yes we miss the taste sensation of the lamb chops and the pork stir fries but our bodies are doing quite well without the saturated fat and cholesterol, thank you very much.

Ever so often, I run into an untried – vegan - recipe which does not turn out too well. There was one a while ago which did not make the ‘keeper’ list. It involved TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein), which is a meat substitute and lots of kale. If I were trying to punish people I would serve them that. And then there are the all-time bombs such as the recipe for ‘Kutia’ which I attempted last week. In retrospect, I should have suspected that something which sounds like it needs a dermatologist’s attention, might not be a good idea. Also, the list of ingredients was odd, to say the least: wheat berries, almonds, raisins, poppy seeds and agave nectar. Hmmm… The best that can be said for this ‘salad’ (as it was billed) or pudding, is that it was edible. Barely. It looked extremely weird with the poppy seeds clinging to the raisins like ants on a dying insect. I subsequently did some Googling on the topic and it appears that kutia is often served at funerals in Russia. If you’re not feeling glum before the funeral, trust me you will after a good solid helping of Kutia.

Other than one 4-mile attempt last Thursday which had to be abandoned, and a Sunday morning ‘run’ which turned into a walk, I have not run since the San Antonio Half Marathon due to calf strain. Both calves are tight with some tender, painful knots. The mistake I made was to run the half in racing flats. Let’s face it, I am too old, too slow and too heavy to be using racing flats in anything other than a 5K... I think it is time for an appointment with the neuromuscular massage therapist.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sugar how do I love thee....

Hi! My name is Bert and I am a sugarholic. I wonder, is there a dank church basement around here on the west side of Houston, where a bunch of chunky suburbanites get together over endless cups of coffee to confess their sugar addictions? To talk about how they got started on the chocolate-laced road to sticky oblivion, how their paychecks were blown on Halloween-sized candy purchases, and how they bottomed out one evening scarfing down three entire slabs of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut confectionary? Let me know if you are familiar with such as place, and I’ll be there. I’ll be there to listen to their tales of caloric woe, of capitulating to demon sugar, devouring a wholesale size bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or surreptitiously ‘helping’ the kids get rid of an excess of Halloween candy. I’ll be there to ‘fess up to late-night forays into the kitchen for just one more slice of Fran Serena’s Famous Poppyseed Cake. And when I take my hand out of my pocket for a welcoming wave, an old Snickers Almond candy wrapper will probably drop to the ground. Down and out on sugar skid row.

So what is one to do? Change of course. After all, didn’t we just vote for change the other day? If we can’t change for the better, we are truly doomed. So - well in advance of the New Year’s resolution season, I am quitting sugar. Goodbye, good friend of 56 years. Has it really been that long? Maybe just 55? I doubt that my dear mother fed me sugary treats in my very first year of life. Or maybe she did, which is likely what got me to where I am today. Having to exorcise the sweet demons that started to tingle my tastebuds with sprinklings of delight way back when I was just a babe in arms. How well do I remember sneaking into the pantry as a young boy, eating one and then another and then some more of my mother’s exquisite ‘Jan Smuts’ pastries, meant to be taken on our annual trip to Kruger Park. By the time the trip to the Game Reserve rolled around, I had put a huge dent into the pastry supply, with no time left to bake more. Oh, the mortification when I was unmasked as the culprit! My brothers were too young and innocent to be getting up to devious stunts like those. And my sister didn’t have the defective sugar gene. That left only one candidate. You know who.

I realize that there is sugar in various forms (such as corn syrup) in a lot of things we eat, and I have no illusions about completely and irrevocably banishing every ounce of refined sugar from my diet. What I will do is to start with the easy targets like cookies, candy, dessert and chocolate cake. Yes chocolate cake. There are many recipes for vegan chocolate cake – and various places to find the stuff such as at Field of Greens. Their chocolate cake – which they buy from Whole Foods – is unbelievably good and does not taste like anything you would consider to be ‘vegan’ whatever comes into your mind when you hear that word. I drive halfway across town at least twice a month, sometimes more, for their vegan barbecue sandwich – and chocolate cake. In the spirit of honesty I should probably have written that the other way round. Chocolate cake first, BBQ sandwich second.

All this begs the question – Why? Why would you want to deprive yourself of the pleasure of a piece of chocolate cake, a cookie or two now and then, or a taste of something sugary in moderation. Why not just make it a part of a healthy, balanced diet? Why? Because I have a weakness for sweet things that will surely trip me up unless I avoid refined sugar completely. It is all or nothing. Also, refined sugar is devoid of any nutritional benefit, delivering nothing but empty calories. You can do a lot better with whole foods such as grains, vegetables and various fruits – many of which are naturally and deliciously sweet. Just need to tweak the taste buds a little! If I really want to optimize my health and strength and build on my running success, the choice is clear. And it does not involve small doses of something that I can do without. I will report back on this in a month or two.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No more long races in racing flats!

I have run my last half marathon - in racing flats. By the end of last Sunday's race, I realized that my calves had taken quite a beating. Taking several days off running seemed like the prudent thing to do, and that is what I did. Until today (Thursday). Tried to go out for a short run but pretty much had to abandon the attempt after 4 miles, ambling back on increasingly tight and painful calves. This is not DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) or some benign muscle pain that disappears once you're warmed up. No I'm afraid I know this feeling only too well: it is the type (and location) of calf strain which presages a full-blown calf pull. Why do I know? Painful and unpleasant memory of two prior injuries - pulled calf muscles following just days (in one instance weeks) after the Houston Marathon.

I had nothing planned for tomorrow (Friday being my 'scheduled' rest day) and will likely take the entire weekend off. There is really no reason for me to be over-stressing my legs now. December 15 is when I start training for Boston; until then there's a lot happening with some social commitments, Thanksgiving and an early December trip to Southern Africa. Starting to get excited about that. It will be good to see my mother and family again, albeit very briefly. So until mid December running will have to play second fiddle in my life.

The bottom line on using the racing flats in the recent half marathon? Yes I am paying the price now, but it was definitely worth it. As it turned out, I just barely made my goal time by 4 seconds and everything else being equal, I would have missed it with regular running shoes. Why? Because conventional wisdom has it that racing flats can improve one's pace by about 4 to 5 seconds or so per mile. Which is all I needed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rock and Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio

Sunday’s Rock and Roll Marathon in San Antonio was an unqualified success. More than 25,000 runners took to the streets of the Alamo City on a cool morning for an inaugural event which is going to be tough to equal in years to come. It was literally a perfect day for racing, quite cold (mid 30’s) until the sun came up and after that ideal. Add to that practically windless conditions and low humidity and you get a race director’s dream day.

A total of 7,526 runners completed the full 26.2 marathon distance – 4,015 males and 3,511 females. In the half marathon there were 17,033 finishers, of which 5,644 were male and 11,389 female. I snuck in just under the 1:40 time limit in my age group to qualify for an automatic entry into the New York City Marathon in 2009. Very happy with that! The chip time of 1:39:56 is now also my personal best time for the distance. It is gratifying to still be achieving PR’s at my age, not that I’ve run that many half marathons over the years.

I had heard that there were some parking issues at the AT&T Center, and that quite a few runners ended up being late for the start. I saw a few of them fly by us around mile 9 or 10. Getting to the start from downtown by shuttle bus was a breeze. There was a shuttle pick-up point about a quarter mile from our hotel, so no stress. It was worth the (extra) expense to stay in a downtown hotel for that reason and to be within walking distance of the Alamodome (for pre-race packet pickup). I would not have wanted to be in a car trying to negotiate my way around town either on Saturday afternoon or early Sunday morning. The race also ended at the Alamodome. After collecting my medal, and replenishing with a bagel, a banana & some raisins, it was just a short 10-minute walk back to the hotel for a nice long hot bath.

Here are approximate mile splits*** and average heart rate:

Mile 1 - 7:59 Pace - 155 Avg. Heart Rate
2 - 7:44 - 150
3 - 7:22 - 151
4 - 7:22 - 157
5 - 7:37 - 160
6 - 7:26 - 154
7 - 7:25 - 158
8 - 7:19 - 157
9 - 7:33 - 156
10 - 7:37 - 156
11 - 7:50 - 153
12 - 7:24 - 159
13 - 7:27 - 161
.1 mi:- 6:48 - 173

*** Approximate because the ‘Garmin distance’ was 13.28 miles total…

The start area was very well organized with hardly any congestion, really amazing for such a large marathon. Prior to the start, and before the sun came up, several hundred of us were huddled around some heat lamps like moths around a candle. At just after 7:00 I reluctantly ventured back into the cold air to start warming up and to fall in line at the port-a-potties. Except there really was no line. There were hundreds of portable toilets everywhere. Clearly, the organizers had done a few other big marathons before… Less than 15 minutes before the start, I ducked into Corral # 2 where I bumped into several other Houston runners from my Striders club as well as from KatyFit. Met up with a few of them again later at the finish line. And then we were off. I am always extremely wary about tripping and falling at the start of any race but the start of this race was so smooth that it was never a concern. There were none of the usual marathon start problems with too many slow runners (and walkers!) in front, with lots of resulting ducking and diving and people zipping up from behind, cutting you off. Houston Marathon organizers: I hope you guys were there taking notes!

For the first couple of miles, I ran with the 3:20 full marathon pace group. When they proved to be a little slower than my goal pace, I latched on to the 3:15 full marathon pace group. Eventually the 3:15 leader sped up and I lost contact.

Everything went pretty smoothly until Mile 11, when I started to lose focus. I almost made a fatal error to run the last couple of miles with someone who claimed to be on pace for a 1:38. He ended up with a time of 1:40:52. Take-away lesson: never trust somebody else’s game plan! Of course I did not know it at the time but one slow 7:50 mile (#11) almost did me in; I had to hustle over the last couple of miles to make the goal time. By the time I hit the start of the last steep uphill, with about half a mile to go, I knew it was going to be touch and go. Panic set in but there was really nothing I could do by then. Uphill on tired legs in the last half mile of a half marathon is not an ideal place to be making up lost time. When I made the final right hand turn towards the finish line, I thought there was no way I was going to break 1:40. In the end I did, by the razor-thin margin of 4 seconds. Having previously qualified for Boston with zero seconds to spare (3:45:59 exactly) I guess the 4 second margin this time was more than ample.

All credit to Elite Racing & Rock and Roll: San Antonio is a great half marathon course (only one hill at around Mile 5 that is worth mentioning and then a sharp uphill just before the end), slick corral organization, well-staffed and plentiful water stops, very friendly volunteers, tons of snacks & healthy stuff afterwards, etc. etc. And of course several bands and cheerleader squads along the course. Crowd support was pretty good too, for a first time race of this size.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Senior or regular?

I can still vividly remember the thrill of turning 18, which qualified me for a driver's license. How cool was that! 21 was pretty special too - the age of majority. Grown up at last. Well maybe not quite but that's another topic. Those age-related milestones were all happy events. After that it all goes kind of quiet on the 'major birthday' front. You get married, start getting serious about your job, have kids, try to raise them and so on and so forth. Birthdays come and birthdays go and the years go by. 40 is pretty special and 50 is a real big deal for many people.

It wasn't until last year or maybe the year before that I experienced another age-related marker. It was when some 14-year old offered me the discounted 'Senior' option for tickets at the movies, for the first time. I asked for the qualifying age. '65'. I was 55 at the time. Ouch. Kathleen and I had gone to see (of all things) a fairly late 10:00P showing of Harold and Kumar goes to White Castle. This is a 'stoner' movie, about two pot-smoking guys who get involved in some weird and weirder stuff. You'd think I'd get a break on the age thing for my choice of movie and timing... Nope. Either way, kid behind the movie ticket counter, don't go and offer older looking people the senior option. It is definitely not a good idea. Some of them don't like to be reminded that they are coming apart at the seams. If they want to pay more, let them! After all, they are paying your minimum wage salary. If they want (or deserve) a senior discount, trust me - they'll ask for it.

On a more uplifting note, I am getting excited about Sunday's half marathon in San Antonio. We will be heading out tomorrow morning so that we can swing by the expo to pick up the race packet etc. before checking into our hotel, the Hilton Palacio del Rio on the Riverwalk. Still looking for a restaurant for dinner tomorrow night. San Antonio's only vegetarian/vegan restaurant - Green - is closed on Saturdays. Bummer. We'll probably have to settle for a pasta with a tomato sauce or something like that. The pre-race nutrition is not such a big deal with the half.

I haven't done any running since Wednesday's 5-miler; just some core/abs and weightlifting routines. It's tempting to go out and do a nice 6-mile tempo run, but it won't make me any faster by Sunday... So we will just call it a week and hope that there won't be too many teething problems at Sunday's marathon. Although they do lots of other races, the San Antonio Rock & Roll Marathon is a first for Elite Running. Any first-time event involving 30,000 participants is bound to produce some gremlins. I'm anticipating that the shuttle process - getting everyone to the starting line in time - will not go as smoothly as anticipated. We will see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In search of my long lost abs - Part 2

Some months ago I embarked on a quest of sorts in search of my long-lost abs. I had last seen them approximately 26 years ago, circa 1982. Unlike a good red wine, abs don't improve with age. To the contrary. If you don't pay attention to them, they go the way of those funky root vegetables in the far back corner of the vegetable tray in the fridge. First they go pale and limp and then slowly turn to mush, eventually morphing into a modern-day version of the primeval sludge.

Well I am happy to report that my abs don't seem to have disappeared forever like their contemporaries, the abominable eighties hairstyles and those awful big eye-glasses which we thought were cool back then. As a result of that all-time low point in the history of fashion, I still inwardly cringe upon looking at our wedding photographs.

As for the abs, why do I think that my search has not been a quixotic undertaking? Well I attracted some undue attention shall we say, from a group of women in a car the other day, as I was waiting to cross the road, towards the end of my usual Buffalo Bayou run. I should have winked. At least I smiled.

Perhaps more pertinently, one of our Runners World Boston 2009 forumites (Kari) commented on my 'nice abs' the other day, referring to the avatar photo. And yet another forumite - Smick - thought that I was 'totally ripped'. While I think she might be guilty of just the tiniest of overstatements, I will take the compliment gladly. Most of us - myself included - are overly critical of our physical shortcomings. We would have designed ourselves just a little bit better. If only we could be bigger here, smaller there, a little bit taller, heavier, lighter, ripped, smooth, tanned or toned, the world would be a wonderful place. True. This kind of thinking does make the world a wonderful place - for cosmetic surgeons. Meanwhile the rest of us are thrilled to drop a few pounds here and there, gain an inch or two where we want to, and fit into a pair of 'old favorite' pants previously destined for the Goodwill store. So thank you Kari and Smick and those four women in the Honda on the Beltway 8 feeder road last week. I will be tackling the 'Ab Ripper' exercises with renewed enthusiasm - patently all is not lost!

Running has been clicking along pretty smoothly this week; I am taking it easy so that I will have some gas in the tank on Sunday morning in San Antonio, for the half marathon. Here is what I've done so far this week:

Sunday: AM: 10k rowing on the C-2; 500 meter slow/fast intervals. Fast for me is 2 minutes for 500 meters. Slow is 2:30+

Monday: AM: 6 miles easy (9:17 pace) including 4 short hill repeats.
PM: Full 40-minute weights workout.

Tuesday: AM: 5k rowing, 500 meter slow/fast intervals.
PM: 5 mile track workout at Memorial High School including 4 X 800 meter repeats ranging from 3:14 to 3:20. I might have done more but it was raining and miserable.

Wednesday: AM: 20-minute Ab Ripper X workout.
PM: Planning an easy 5 mile run along Buffalo Bayou.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Living in Houston, Texas

Some time last week the members of our 'Boston 2009' forum group (Runners World website), got around to posting the pros and cons of their respective hometowns. It was interesting to get everyone's take on the merits and demerits of places such as the northern peninsula of Michigan (winter is long, dark and cold); Louisville, CO (#3 best place to live in the USA); Milwaukee WI (beer & brats); Long Island NY (3 miles from some of the greatest beaches); Boston MA (wonderful walking city with many restaurants and great shopping); Minneapolis MN (vibrant running scene, incredible trails, parks & lakes); Columbus OH (excellent running place); Louisville KY (big city/small town appeal) and Gainesville FL (picturesque).

My 2 cents worth? Houston’s weather is lousy but the people are super friendly. We love it despite its many faults (crime, congestion, pollution, did I mention weather?) The diversity is amazing. Literally everything from a thriving GLBT community in The Montrose & elsewhere to the neatly landscaped, access-controlled abodes of the meat eaters & hunters in the suburbs outside Loop 610. Venture down Bellaire Boulevard just west of Beltway 8 and you are in Little Beijing with a good dose of Saigon mixed in.

A true big city environment with entertainment, culture, sport, educational, medical & recreational opportunities galore. Fishing? You bet. Barbecue? Are you kidding me! Rodeo? Duh! Opera, ballet, symphony, theater? Of course and world class all the way. Shopping? Ever heard of the Galleria? The Houston Medical Center alone would be in the top ten downtowns in the country if it were a city on its own. Rice University ranks in the Top 20 in the country. Some excellent and highly rated public and private high schools too. Politically, this ain’t Texas, baby – Harris county is blue in a sea of red. It is a great city for runners – very hot in summer but quite comfortable 7 or 8 months of the year. Downright pleasant in winter, except when the occasional 'blue northerner' comes whistling down the plains from Canada.

Over the weekend, I put together my outline training program for the Boston Marathon. I am hoping to start a 'formal' 18-week training program on Dec 14; until then I will just muddle along and try not to gain any weight. The program is of my own design - the idea being to keep it as simple as possible. I don't want to spend more energy figuring out and managing a tempo or speed workout, than actually running it. I honestly think some coaches over-think the process. So many published marathon programs nowadays include a bewildering variety of distances & paces, phasing, peaking, recovery, tapering, cross-training etc. I don't think it has to be that complicated. We are going to be running a marathon, not a half marathon or a 10K. So this means maximizing mileage without getting injured, and adding some speed and strength/tempo workouts to a solid base of long and medium long runs.

So here is my plan:

* Cross-train (rowing) on Sunday.
* easy run plus short hill repeats on Monday.
* track intervals (mostly 1600m) on Tuesday.
* medium long mid-week run (10 to 13 miles) on Wednesday.
* tempo run alternating with fartleks on Thursday.
* rest on Friday.
* long (group) run on Saturday morning.

I will mix in some weights, flexband and core/abs workouts where/when possible.

This week's running has been excellent. Weather permitting I should get really close to the 1:40 New York Marathon-qualifying mark in next Saturday's half marathon in San Antonio. Here is how it went:

* Sunday: 10K rowing (alternating fast and slow 500 meter intervals), also some weights and an Ab Ripper X workout.
* Monday am: 7 miles total including 1 mi warmup.
* Tuesday pm: 6 total including 4 X 1-mile repeats of 7:07 (HR 148); 7:11 (151); 7:09 (154) and 7:09 (154). And I voted for the first time!
* Wednesday am: 10 miles total including 1 mile warmup; 9 @ 9:12 pace (HR 132)
* Thursday pm: 7 miles total including 4 consecutive miles @ Half marathon HR of 155. The tempo miles ended up being 7:51 (144); 7:49 (154); 7:44 (152) and 7:49 (154).
* Friday: Rest.
* Saturday am: 12 miles total @ 9:14 pace. Gorgeous day.

Total for the week: 42 miles, highest weekly total since well before the hurricane and the knee injury. We're on the comeback trail here!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Making plans for Boston

I'm a couple of steps closer to running the 113th Boston Marathon in April next year. Over the weekend I completed and mailed my registration form. Fortunately no angst about being accepted or not... It is a pre-approved application, a one-time medical deferral as a result of having to withdraw from the 2008 race due to injury. Last week, I also made arrangements for accommodation for the weekend. Kathleen and I will be staying at La Capella Suites, a bed & breakfast in the North End, Boston's Little Italy. The locals tell me that the neighborhood is packed with restaurants, virtually all of them Italian, and the locals maintain their deeply-rooted ties to Italian culture. Although not cheap, the b & b rate is about half as much as a decent hotel room in the Back Bay area of Boston. Let's call it my concession to the tough financial times we're going through.

La Cappella Suites started off as a one-story chapel built in 1941 and is now a five-floor home and tiny inn. The Muse family live in the first three floors of the house, with the guest suites on floors four and five. Apparently, La Cappella is just steps from the Freedom Trail and its many historic sites, including Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House, and Old North Church. Sounds like we will have plenty to occupy us on Saturday and Sunday in addition to visiting the Expo of course. And maybe taking in a Red Sox game!

All that remains to be done is to book flights.

Easy 7 miles this morning, 1 mile warming up with the dogs (they each get a turn down to the pool and back) and then 6 miles along the bayou at a steady 9:15 or so pace. Average HR for the run was 130. I had planned to do an extra mile of short hill repeats, but thought better of it. My left calf is still very tight, probably a result of using the racing flats for the entire half marathon recently. I don't want to take chances now with San Antonio coming up in 2 weeks.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dinner and a movie

Went out with some friends to 'Late Nite Pie' at Bagby and Elgin tonight, after going to the movies - Happy-Go-Lucky with Sally Hawkins as Poppy - at Angelika downtown. The movie was entertaining enough, but not much more memorable than the veggie pizza. Sally Hawkins is excellent as Poppy, a quirky 30-year old primary school teacher whose effervescent personality brings out the best in most people. But not everybody. Poppy can teach all of us something about what it means to be truly happy.

It has been a good running week: 39 miles total including a 'short' long run of 12 miles today (Saturday); a productive tempo run on Thursday, some mile repeats at the track and a couple of recovery runs. Left calf still a bit tight - have been working it over with the foam roller and The Stick.

I enjoyed Thursday's tempo run which included 4 consecutive miles at 'half-marathon heart rate' which I have pegged at 155. In the end this kicked out miles of 7:35, 7:52, 7:47 and 7:49. I would have liked those miles to be closer to 7:40 but there were some hills involved... Tuesday's 1600 meter repeats at Memorial High School track produced three 1600's at 7:17, 7:22 and 6:50. Next week I will step it up to 4 X 1,600 meter repeats, with a 400 meter slow jog interval.

Saturday's short long run of 12 miles was slated to be a group run with my Katy Fit 'Green' group, but I missed them due to a misunderstanding about the start time. So I had to tough it out and run the 12 on my own. Not fun but I got it done at a pretty steady clip around 9:17 average miles (except for the first and last ones). I had downloaded a couple of old Grand Funk Railroad albums so that helped to break the tedium of the long run. My heart rate was just under or around 130bpm for the entire run.