Mini Gingerbread

I have a weakness. I really like buttercream.

Well, these days it’s “buttercream”, but still.

Back in the day, I was a sucker for bakery cakes with buttercream. Heaven forbid somebody bring a cake with that fake, fluffy, whipped creamy type frosting. Very disappointing.

And how about Double Doozies from Great American Cookie Company? Yeah. I kinda miss those.

Thank goodness I have discovered some ways to feed my cravings.

Tomorrow is “treat” day at school, so I asked my girls what I should make that “normal” people would enjoy…

and this is what they quickly came up with. I made it last year over the holidays and it was a big hit! Especially with me…’cuz there’s “buttercream” frosting on these bad boys! Plus, they’re on the healthy side…pumpkin and blackstrap molasses add some serious nutrients to this scrumptious dessert!

X

w

Chia Egg

q

Wet ingredients…

c

wet ingredients blended.

f

Dry ingredients whisked together.

w

Fresh out of the oven.

q

“Buttercream” Frosting

q

And goji berries for the win!

Mini Gingerbread

(adapted from a recipe by Angela Liddon from ohsheglows)

1 c. pumpkin puree

3 T. maple syrup

1/3 c. coconut oil

1/4 c. blackstrap molasses

chia egg (1 T. chia seeds mixed with 3 T. water)

1 2/3 c. spelt flour

3/4 c. coconut or date sugar

1 1/4 t. baking soda

1 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

1 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. ginger powder

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/8 t. cloves

1/2 c. walnuts

goji berries for decorating

Place wet ingredients (first 5 on list) in blender and blend until well mixed. Place dry ingredients in bowl and whisk together. Add wet mixture to dry and stir. Stir in walnuts. Spoon into greased mini bread pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 -30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out dry.

“Buttercream” Frosting

1/2 c. Earth Balance

1 3/4 c. powdered sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. ginger

2 T. almond milk

Blend all ingredients using hand mixture. And while I hate to state the obvious…I will. Frost little gingerbreads. Decorate with goji berries if desired.

 

 

Chia Seed Breakfast Bowl

Breakfast is important to me. Very important. So is being organized. Almost as important as breakfast.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that my breakfast is planned before I go to bed at night. And sometimes, my breakfast is made before I go to bed at night. Or, in the case of this recipe, it’s made for the following two mornings. (Provided my youngest isn’t home…then I have to share.) She is as obsessed with this as I am. Thank goodness, it can easily be prepared in a dorm room, or she would be suffering some serious withdrawal when she is at school.

It would be hard to imagine a breakfast that is packed with a bigger nutritional punch than this one. This breakfast is not only nutrient dense, but it has the bonus of containing omega-3 fatty acids!

Omega-3’s are critical for heart health, and brain development. They lower cholesterol, and control high blood pressure. Plus, they  promote bone health. Some studies have even found omega-3’s helpful in managing depression, and reducing inflammation and joint pain.

Bring on the seeds!

Chia Seeds!

Chia Seeds!

Hemp seeds, dates, vanilla, salt and water...

Hemp seeds, dates, vanilla, salt and water…

and blend away!

blended!

Pour hemp mixture over the chia seeds and give a stir.

Pour hemp mixture over the chia seeds and stir well. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, spoon into a bowl and cover it with your favorite toppings. The first morning I used bananas, goji berries, and cinnamon.

The next morning, spoon into a bowl and cover with your favorite toppings. The first morning I added bananas, goji berries, and cinnamon.

And day number 2 it was bananas and homemade chia seed jam!

Breakfast number 2 was bananas and homemade chia seed jam!

This recipe is from Gena Hemshaw of Choosing Raw. I didn’t change a thing. Because it is THAT GOOD!

Chia Seed Power Pudding (2 servings)

1/4 c. chia seeds

1/2 c. hemp seeds

1 c. water

1 t. vanilla

4 dates (pitted)

pinch of salt

Put chia seeds in a container. I use a glass canning jar. Put remaining ingredients in a cup size blender, and blend. Pour mixture over seeds and stir well. Place in refrigerator overnight. Serve in a bowl, and cover with all the goodies that make you happy. I tend to stay in season. Berries are awesome in the summer, but I tend to stick with bananas in the winter.

NOTE: hemp has a very distinctive taste…word on the street is you will either love it or hate it. While I really hope you are not a “hater”, you can easily replace the hemp and water with a milk of your choice.

Summertime Chia Seed Breakfast Bowl

Summertime Chia Seed Breakfast Bowl

 

 

What Does Healthy “Look” Like?

“You must be having a great summer! You look so healthy!”

The words were innocent enough. Complimentary even.

I had just gone in for a dental cleaning, and was chatting with the hygienist, who I had seen on a regular basis for many years. She is an incredibly caring person, and I know she meant well.

Unfortunately, those words sent me into panic mode. What did she mean I “looked” healthy? I wasn’t sure, but I certainly did not take it as a compliment. As soon as I got home, I raced to a mirror, and scrutinized myself…facing forward, facing backward, from each side, and up close. I was not digging “healthy”. Proof in fact, that I really wasn’t. (Healthy, that is.)

Since that time, I have spent many runs, many bike rides, many car rides, many church services (oops), not to mention many nights drifting off to sleep, thinking about what healthy “looks like”.

The components of health were obvious to me:

Nutrition: Your body thrives when you eat nutrient dense foods. I believe Michael Pollan said it best. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” A diet is how you choose to eat, not something  you “go on”.

Physical activity: Exercise is crucial to your well being. Choose activities that you enjoy. Your body needs cardio and resistance/strength training. Find what works for you, and do it.

Sleep:  Your body needs sleep in order to repair itself.  Plus, it helps regulate hunger by maintaining a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. When you don’t get enough sleep,  you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested.

Spirituality: Believe in something bigger that yourself. This is what gives you hope. Knowing and trusting in God allows me to accept things I can’t control. For some, meditation fills this need, while others find their spirituality in nature.

Nothing earth shattering here. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to what needs to be done to achieve “health”, as we are all unique individuals. So, we can’t say that there is one way of eating, or one form of exercise, or an exact number of hours to sleep, or one way to experience spirituality. We do, however, need to be mindful of each of the components, and we should find out what works best for our bodies.

And how do you know when you have found the perfect balance? Well, that’s the hard part. It requires brutally honesty.

Am I physically healthy?

When you get blood work done, are your numbers good? I’m talking cholesterol (and your ratio of HDL to LDL), blood pressure, triglycerides, and glucose here. And are your numbers good without medication? Does your weight/BMI/% of body fat fall in the healthy/normal range? Do you feel good? Are colds and other illnesses the exception rather than the rule?

If this was all there was to “looking” healthy, I wouldn’t have questioned my hygienist on that day last summer. But the mere fact that I did, despite the fact that I could have answered yes to all of the above questions, was all I needed to reevaluate my own life. This is what pushed me to search for what “healthy” looked like. There had to be more to my health than just numbers. I dwelled on this for months.

And then I understood.

So, to my above list, I now add the following:

Feeling at peace: Accepting yourself wherever you happen to be on life’s wellness journey. Knowing that you have the ability to make changes in your life. Realizing you can change your perception of yourself, and understanding that it’s okay if you aren’t quite there yet. Because while I have made peace with food, I am not 100% at peace with  my body.

If life were simple, there would be a formula that we could use to create a visual of  what we would look like at optimal health. Wouldn’t that be great? We would no longer need to strive for something unattainable, unsustainable, or even detrimental to our health. But there isn’t. So, if we truly desire to “look” healthy, we need to take responsibility for ourselves, and change what isn’t working.

 

 

 

 

Brownies You Can Feel Good About Eating

Sometimes life gives you no other options. You just need chocolate. And not just chocolate, but chocolate in the form of warm, gooey brownies.

Back in the day, my family was pretty darn excited about Duncan Hines. We’d clean up a pan in one sitting.  And let’s just take a look at that ingredient list, shall we?

According to the Duncan Hines website:

sugar, enriched bleached wheat flour (wheat flour [enriched with niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], malted barley flour), powdered sugar (sugar, corn starch), cocoa powder processed with alkali, vegetable oil shortening (partially hydrogenated soybean oil). Contains 2% or less of wheat starch, dextrose, salt, cornstarch, artificial flavor, carrageenan, leavening (sodium bicarbonate).

Kind of sad, isn’t it? No wonder I can’t feel good about eating one of those brownies. I am always concerned with an ingredient list that begins with sugar, and then goes on to list a gazillion different ingredients that I would not be able to find in nature. I firmly believe that our bodies were not meant to process chemicals. Jumping off my soap box now…

Once I discovered how good I felt eating real food, brownies were one of the first foods that I felt a need to make using real ingredients. My first attempt was an epic fail. After choking one down, and forcing the family to do the same, the rest disappeared down the garbage disposal. They were THAT bad. I quickly came to the conclusion that black beans were not meant to be in a brownie. Until…

I discovered this recipe! These are husband approved, Hovie child approved, friend approved, and  coworker approved. Most importantly, they are Karen approved. You need to give these bad boys a try. And then do what I do…don’t divulge the ingredients until AFTER you have shared them. I don’t know why it’s so satisfying for me to do that, but it is.

b

Hmm….they LOOK like real brownies!

c

Plus, they are super simple to throw together.

c

You could be eating these within a half hour of deciding you need chocolate.

g

Parchment paper saves you from washing the pan!

m

c

The chocolate chips add an extra “gooeyness” factor.

Black Bean Brownies (based on a recipe by Katie Higgins of CCK)

1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed

1/2 c. old fashioned oats

2 T. cacao powder

1/2 tsp. baking powder

pinch of sea salt

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 c. maple syrup

1/4 c. coconut oil

1/2 c. chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand-vegan)

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into a square pan (8 x 8 or 9 x 9-the smaller the pan the longer the baking time) lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 16-20 minutes.

Tofu Isn’t a 4-Letter Word at My House

Protein.

A word worth 9 points when playing Words with Friends or Scrabble (provided no letter occupies a space marked DL, DW, or TL).

But that’s not really important. Unless, of course, you are playing Words with Friends or Scrabble. Obviously.

What is important, however, is understanding the role that protein plays in your health. For starters, it helps your body repair cells and make new ones. Plus, it’s crucial for growth and development in children, teens, and pregnant women. Every single cell in your body contains protein. So protein, is kind of a big deal!

Out of curiosity, I asked my children what their protein of choice was. Actually I asked them  three questions. #1 was if they liked tofu, #2 what their protein of choice was, and #3, if there was a burger or steak in front of them, would they eat either one. (I assured them I was not judging and Christmas presents were not tied to their answers).

And this is what I got back. The first response is from the middle born son.

q

q

IMG_0257

Very interesting! I totally was not anticipating the nut butter responses.

Then I asked the husband. I didn’t threaten to take away his presents either, just in case you were wondering. His protein of choice….peanut butter. Really. I couldn’t make that up if I tried. I looked at him with raised eyebrows. He assured me that he didn’t mean any old peanut butter. It had to be chunky …and with salt. Thank goodness the man has standards.

I wasn’t buying it however. So, I continued to stare at him. (Eyebrows still raised.) Once he realized there would be no repercussion for his answers, he said, “Chicken.”

When I asked him when the last time he had chicken was, he thought about it and said, “Tofu.” Although it may have sounded more like “Tofu?” Yep. Thought so.

Well, this works out very well for me, as I love tofu. Because what’s not to love? It doesn’t have a strong taste…it merely absorbs the marinade or sauce you use. So, as long as you have a great marinade/sauce, you are good to go. The texture of firm/extra firm tofu appeals to me as well. I liken it to a dry mozzarella. Kind of.

Here is one of our favorite tofu dishes adapted from Kathy Patalsky of Healthy.Happy.Life. Her recipe is incredible, but mine is faster and involves fewer ingredients.

I hope you give this a try…especially if you have never experienced tofu before!

m

You will need a grain. I cooked millet in my rice cooker.

l

Wash broccoli and cut into bite size pieces.

c

Make marinade for tofu…tamari, maple syrup, orange juice. liquid smoke and fresh garlic.

k

Pour marinade on tofu.

p

Throw tofu in a hot pan…brown on both sides.

o

Pour in the rest of the marinade and a handful of cashews. Then drizzle with more maple syrup.

k

Remove tofu and cashews from the pan.

p

Put broccoli and veggie broth in the pan and steam. Then sprinkle with nutritional yeast.

p

Arrange in a bowl!

 

Tofu, Broccoli, and Cashew Bowl

1 14 oz. package extra firm or firm tofu

2 T. oil of choice (I used safflower, but I’m sure other oils would be fine)

grain of choice (I used millet)

1 T. tamari

4 T. maple syrup divided

2 T. orange juice

1 tsp. liquid smoke

1 clove garlic

8 cups broccoli (stems off and in small pieces)

1/4 c. vegetable broth

1/4 c. nutritional yeast

a couple of handfuls of raw cashews

Press tofu (for directions on how to press tofu, click here). While tofu is being pressed (removes the moisture and allows it to absorb the marinade), prepare grain. I use my rice cooker. Once tofu is pressed (about 1/2 hour), cut into triangular pieces. I can get 6 pieces out of a block of tofu. Place tofu in a glass pan. Then whisk tamari, 1 T. of the maple syrup, orange juice and garlic together. Pour over tofu. Marinade for a about 1/2 hour, flipping half way through marinading time. The longer you marinate it, the stronger the flavor. Then, when tofu is ready, heat a large pan, and add oil. Add tofu. Brown on both sides. Next pour the rest of the marinade on. Add cashews. Drizzle on the rest of the maple syrup and cook until tofu/cashews get sticky, and liquid has cooked off. Remove tofu and cashews from pan. Then add broccoli and vegetable broth to pan (don’t worry if there is some stickiness left from the tofu/cashews). Cover and steam until crisp tender. Once your grain is cooked, you can assemble your bowl!

Now, if you are still reading, I have a sweet/funny story. My husband, who never cooks, wanted to surprise me one day by preparing some baked tofu with BBQ sauce on it. Silken tofu is not the same as firm tofu. And he totally understands that now.

 

 

Creamy, Dreamy Hot Cacao

Click here.

Okay, now that we got that taken care of…

Have you ever wondered about the differences between cocoa and cacao? I mean other than the obvious…you know, the number of a’s and o’s, and the order in which they appear. No? Well, really? I mean it really is somewhat intriguing.

It’s actually quite simple. Cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. Cocoa powder is simply raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures. Both provide your body with lots of nutrients, but cacao is less processed. And that’s important to me.

Cacao is a good source of protein, potassium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. Nutrient dense, my friends. Nutrient dense.

So, how does this affect your life? Well…

protein: used to build and repair tissues. 

potassium:  keeps your brain, nerves, heart, and muscles functioning the way they should

zinc: needed to keep your immune system functioning, promotes healing of wounds, and assists in the clotting of blood.

dietary fiber: keeps you regular,can help maintain a healthy weight, lowers risk of diabetes and heart disease.

iron: needed to make red blood cells.

magnesium: promotes heart health, reduces severity of asthma and frequency of migraines.

phosphorus: provides strength to bones and teeth.

copper: prevents premature aging,  increases energy production, regulates heart rhythm, balances thyroid glands, reduces symptoms of arthritis, promotes quick wound healing, increases red blood cell formation, and reduces cholesterol.

manganese: promotes bone health, controls blood sugar, and protects against free radicals.

Not bad! Want to give it a try? Well then, I have an incredibly delicious way for you to do just that!

x

Hot Cacao!

b

A little nut milk…

x

dates, cacao powder, coconut flakes, cinnamon and salt…

m

and blend away!

h

Look how frothy it becomes!

b

Strain into a cup, and heat in the microwave!

Creamy, Dreamy Cocoa

1 1/2 c. nut milk (I used homemade almond milk)

1 T. cacao powder

2 dates (add another if you’d like it sweeter)

1/2 T. unsweetened coconut flakes

1/4 t. cinnamon

pinch of sea salt

 

Put all ingredients in a blender cup. Blend away until you can’t see any chunks! Strain into a microwave safe cup. I’ve found that the thick stuff left in the strainer is quite yummy. I pretty much just grab a spoon and scrape it out. Tastes like a cookie. Heat for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. I’m sure marshmallows on top would definitely add to the experience. I love using Dandies (vegan).

 

Millet Breakfast Bowl

Desire a change of pace for breakfast? Need something fast? Crave something warm? Looking for something that will fill you up, but not out? Require something nutrient dense? Want to control the amount of sugar you eat? Want me to stop asking questions? Yeah…I thought so!

Each Sunday night, in an attempt to simplify the upcoming week, I prep a bunch of food. I clean and chop veggies, I make my ginger tea and hummus, and I cook up a grain in my rice cooker. This week, I decided to make millet. If you have never tried millet, you really need to. It’s unlike any other grain/pseudo grain I have tried (quinoa, amaranth, and wheat berries have always been my staples).

So why eat millet? Millet is super healthy. It has significant amounts of magnesium (promotes heart health, reduces severity of asthma and frequency of migraines), phosphorus (forms mineral matrix of bone, helps metabolize fats), niacin (lowers cholesterol), manganese (promotes bone health, controls blood sugar, protects against free radicals, and helps produce collagen) and copper (improves health of connective tissues, hair, and eyes, prevents premature aging,  increases energy production, regulates heart rhythm, balances thyroid glands, reduces symptoms of arthritis, promotes quick wound healing, increases red blood cell formation, and reduces cholesterol). Whew!

Plus its chewy texture is somewhat addictive!

And it’s easy to prepare! I simply cook up a batch in my rice cooker…throw in millet…throw in water…close cover…turn on!

Cooked millet!

And within minutes…a beautiful, cooked grain!

b

Put millet and nut milk of choice in a microwave safe bowl.

v

After a minute or two in the microwave, it absorbs a lot of the moisture.

v

Add nuts, seed, berries and spice.

,

Give a stir!

Millet Breakfast Bowl

1/3 -1/2 c. cooked millet

enough nut milk to cover (I used coconut milk)

1 T. ground flax seed

1 T. buckwheat groats

1 T. unsweetened coconut flakes

2 T. pecans (or nut of choice)

1 T. pepitas

1 T. dried fruit (I used cranberries)

1/4 t. cinnamon

Put millet in microwave safe bowl. Add enough “milk” to cover. Heat in microwave for 1-2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients. Eat!

Sea Salt “Caramels” and Health Challenge #5

Every couple of weeks, I give my kids at school a “Health Challenge”. Last Tuesday, I presented Health Challenge #5: Limit your “sweet treats” to one per day. After presenting the “Did you know…” facts about added sugars in our food, we got on the topic of what is actually in the foods we eat. As an example, I grabbed a “fruit snack” from the snack cart. (Don’t even get me started on fruit snacks…) Anyway, it provided a great learning opportunity, as the kids realized that the first two ingredients were forms of sugar. They were blown away by the deceptiveness of food manufacturers.

When they questioned gelatin on the ingredient label,  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to let them google that little tidbit of information!! So, out came the iPads. And shortly after, came the “That’s disgusting!” comments. Not going to lie, I loved it!!

My goal really wasn’t to gross them out. I  just wanted them to develop an awareness of the ingredients they are putting into their bodies. Not sure how many fruit snacks will be sold from this point on. This may have an economic impact on our end of year field trip.

But hopefully, it will also have a long term impact on our health care costs. I am willing to take the risk.

So now, I present “Sea Salt Caramels”, boasting only six nutrient rich ingredients:

dates: high in fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, iron and calcium

nut butter: healthy fats, protein, magnesium, and vitamin B6

cacao powder: dietary fiber, iron, calcium, theobromine, anandamide

virgin coconut oil: antioxidants

raw agave nectar: calcium, dietary fiber

sea salt: trace minerals

Now compare that to the ingredients you would find in a typical caramel recipe: white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk, whipping cream, butter….you get the idea. Not a whole lot of nutrition there!

But these? Your body will love you for feeding it these!

blah blah blah

Sea Salt Caramels

blah

Start with some nice, plump dates…

x

process until…

c

they become a gooey mess.

c

Then, add a nut butter  of your choice.

blah blah blah

Place in a container and stick in the fridge.

w

While the “caramel” is chilling, make the chocolate.

q

q

Remove “caramel” from the fridge and form into bite size balls.

a

Dip them in the chocolate, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Chocolate Covered Sea Salt “Caramels”

12 big, plump, juicy dates (make sure pits are removed or this will be a bad day for your processor)

2 T. of nut butter

6 T. coconut oil (melted)

6 T. cacao powder

3 T. liquid sweetener (or to taste)

sea salt

Place dates in processor and process until a sticky mess forms. Add nut butter. Process until blended. Put in bowl and place in fridge. Make chocolate by mixing coconut oil (melted), cacao powder, and liquid sweetener together. Remove “caramel” mixture from fridge, and form little bite size balls. Or big bite size balls…your call. Place in fridge again to harden up. Then, dunk in chocolate mixture, place on parchment lined cookie sheet, and sprinkle with sea salt. Keep these in the fridge!

****If you want to simplify your life, melt about 1/2 c. of chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand) with a teaspoon of coconut oil instead of making your own chocolate. This is less melty than the other option.

Enjoy! And now go ahead, google gelatin.

 

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal (AKA Alli’s Favorite Breakfast)

There’s nothing better than having the kids home for the holidays! I really miss them when they are away at school. I love just hanging out with them and talking AND making them their favorite foods.

This morning, my youngest requested her favorite breakfast…

Peanut Butter and Banana Oatmeal

Peanut Butter and Banana Oatmeal

Begin by making some oatmeal...

Begin by making some oatmeal…

bananas, peanut butter, vanilla go into the blender...

then, put bananas and peanut butter into the blender.

Oats in the bowl...

Once the oats are cooked, place half  in the bowl…

blend until smooth...

and the other half in the blender…and blend until smooth.

pour blender mixture on top of oats, and sprinkle with chocolate chips and buckwheat groats!

Pour blender mixture on top of oats, and sprinkle with chocolate chips and buckwheat groats!

DSCN5468

1

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal (based on a recipe by Katie Higgins of CCK)

1/2 c. oatmeal

1 t. chia seeds

1 c. almond milk

pinch of salt

1/2 banana

2 T. peanut butter

chocolate chips

buckwheat groats

Put oatmeal, chia seeds, almond milk, and salt in pot and bring to a boil. Then, turn down heat to medium and cook until oats are soft and liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, place banana and peanut butter in blender. Once oats are cooked, place 1/2 of the cooked oats in bowl, and the other half in the blender with the bananas and oatmeal. Blend until smooth. Then put this mixture on top of the oatmeal in the bowl. Finally sprinkle with chocolate chips and buckwheat groats.

 

 

I’m Finally Ready to Talk About It

Warning: This is a l-o-n-g post. Kind of a Part 2 to this post. And kind of the post I have been avoiding writing.

The sky was uncharacteristically dark for a mid-September morning. Steel gray clouds concealed the sunrise, blanketing the streets in darkness. I squinted, scanned the sea of runners gathered in front of me, and searched for a sign marking the entrance to corral A. Once I located it, I quickly kissed my husband good-bye.

“Good luck, Honey!” he said as he wrapped his arms around me for a final hug.

“Don’t forget to find me on the course,” I replied. He had explicit instructions to meet me at mile 6, and then every two to three miles thereafter.

I hastily walked across the rain soaked lawn, entered the corral, and wove my way through the horde of runners who were either jogging in place, or anxiously bouncing from one foot to the other, or talking strategy with fellow runners.

I looked up, and spotted a sign that said “3:45 Finish”, and I thought to myself, “Why not?”

I realized that three hours forty-five minutes was an aggressive goal, but I also knew I could back off that pace and still finish in under four hours (which was my “real” goal…you know..the one that I publicly acknowledged.) I made my way to a spot void of runners, just behind the man holding the sign. I glanced at my Garmin and realized I still had 5 minutes before the race would start.

I tried to focus. My mind started doing the math. Finishing in 3 hours, 45 minutes meant running eight and a half minute miles, while finishing in 4 hours meant I could run a little over 9 minute miles.

I figured that sticking with this pacing group would push me at the beginning of my run,  and it would be okay if I needed to slow down later. Ideally, I wanted to  run nine minute miles, as anything over 4 hours was simply not going to be acceptable.

At no time, during this thought process did it ever occur to me to simply listen to my body, and run a pace that felt right. I was on a mission. I would not be denied. I had accomplished this last year, and anything less was failure.

I smiled as I thought back to the day just one year ago. I had been on top of the world. Not only had I finished my fourth marathon, but I had PR’d by 8 minutes, and  I had qualified for Boston. The memory of that day, filled me with pride.

I had felt really good during the race. Nothing hurt. “The Wall” never materialized.  My husband greeted me at mile 25; only a mile from the finish.

“Honey, you are going to finish in under 4 hours!” he yelled, as he met my pace and kept me company.

I couldn’t believe it! My heart felt about ready to burst from the reality that I was going to PR! The fatigue that had begun to invade my body at mile 22 suddenly was forgotten.

Vivid memories of running that final .2 mile down picturesque Lakeshore Drive filled my mind.  I had wound my way along the shoreline of Lake Winnebago, taking in the beauty of the sailboats as they navigated into the open water. As I had passed through Kimberly Point,  I gazed up at the Neenah Lighthouse, and thought about how blessed I was. 26 miles will do that to you.

As I rounded the final bend, and entered Riverside Park, crowds of onlookers lined the streets and filled the stands, cheering for the runners as they approached the finish line. I took in the moment, much like I took in the moment of each of my childrens’ births. I knew I wanted to remember this feeling forever.

I caught site of the finish line and the time clock. 3:53! I couldn’t believe it. My emotions got the best of me. I felt my throat constrict, and tears of pride and joy welled up in my eyes. I was totally overwhelmed.

“I’m going to do it!” I thought with pride. “I’m actually going to finish in under 4 hours!”

This is one happy runner!

This is one happy runner!

__________________________________________________________________________

And then, the starter’s horn blasted, jolting me back into the present.

I soon found myself shuffling toward the start line with thousands of other runners. I crossed over the electronic mat, struggling to locate my Garmin hidden beneath my long sleeve shirt. Once I found it, I clicked the start button, signaling that my race had begun. Nervous excitement filled my body.

As loose and relaxed as I tried to be, I could not get rid of the butterflies that were fluttering around my belly as I began. You see, my knee had been giving me trouble for months. Although I had taken time off of running, and diligently followed my prescribed course of physical therapy, I still couldn’t run without pain. So after three months, I resorted to a cortisone shot.

While it did not completely erase the pain, it allowed me to resume my running. I had missed the first four weeks of the training program, and couldn’t do the speed workouts at the pace I wanted to, but I was able to get the miles in.

However, the reality was, my knee still hurt, and while I had completed several 20 mile training runs, I was unsure of how my knee would feel at mile 21.

I tried to relax. For the first mile. I eavesdropped on the conversations of other runners, enjoying the camaraderie.

“Hey…do you know why a marathon is 26.2 miles?” one runner asked.

His running buddy replied, “No, why is a marathon 26.2 miles?”

“‘cuz 26.3 would be insane!”

I laughed along with the people who were within hearing distance of the jokester.

I felt sluggish, but I was not concerned. I was running at a pace that was not natural for me, and the first three miles of a run never feel that great for me, no matter how long the race. I tried settling in.  I knew I could back off at anytime. I smiled to myself as a symphony of chirps emitted from the watches of runners surrounding me as we reached the one mile marker. Predictable.

As I passed the 5 mile mark I realized I hadn’t even thought about my knee. I felt a glimmer of optimism. Painfree. Not even a twinge. At this point, I wasn’t even concerned that my body was feeling heavy and slow. Again, I attributed it to a too fast pace, which I felt I could counteract by just slowing down.

My husband met me at mile 6, providing me with my homemade Energy Bite (much needed fuel for my body). This past summer I had finally learned the importance of fueling my body during long runs. I knew it was crucial to take in nutrients and calories every 3 miles or so. This strategy had allowed me keep a strong pace on training runs. I was hopeful that I would feel a burst of energy shortly.

Somewhere around mile 8, I gave in to a slower pace. The burst of energy I had anticipated was not forthcoming. With mild disappointment, I realized I needed to ease up. I slowed down my pace and watched as the 3:45 pace group disappeared out of sight. I found myself running alone. I looked back and was grateful that the 3:55 pace group was nowhere to be seen.

Despite the fact that I was running at a slower pace, I wasn’t feeling any stronger, My body felt like it had already run 20 miles. Not good.

“What the heck?” I mumbled to myself with great frustration “Why today?”

I struggled to make it to the halfway mark (13.1 miles) in under 2 hours. I realized the only way I would meet my goal of finishing in under 4 hours would be to run a negative split. In other words, I would have to run the second half of the marathon faster than what I ran the first half.  Shortly after this realization, the 4:00 pace group passed me. Disappointment hit me like a brick to the head. I couldn’t escape the negative thoughts running through my mind.

As I approached the 16 mile mark, I could see volunteers gathered on either side of the road. Some were holding cups and yelling, “Gatorade!”, while others were holding identical cups and yelling, “Water!” Still others were holding big bowls of banana halves, and orange slices.

And then I saw my supportive husband, riding his bike, and holding a sickly sweet energy bite wrapped in a kleenex. My mind struggled for the right answer. My magical little energy bite which had never let me down on a training run? A banana? The thought of eating anything sent my insides churning. I could feel the bile rising in my throat.

“You need to eat something!” I reasoned with myself.

My gaze shifted between my husband with the kleenex and the woman holding the bowl of bananas. The bananas won. If for no other reason than I would have an excuse to walk. I needed to peel my banana, before I could eat it. I gave in.

I slowed my already slow pace, grabbed a banana from the bowl, mumbled “Thank you,” and veered off to the side of the road where I allowed myself to walk.

“How are you feeling? my husband hesitantly asked as he pedaled up beside me.

“This sucks,” I told him, without meeting his eyes.

I walked on silently. A cardboard box garbage can was 20 feet ahead of me. The banana skin needed to go in the garbage. I certainly didn’t want to be a litter bug.

I finished my banana, and flung the skin into the garbage can…and missed.

“You have GOT to be kidding me, “ I grumbled as I rolled my eyes.

“If you keep walking, it will take you forever to finish,” I reasoned with myself. I started to jog

And then, just when I thought the day could not get any worse. It happened. A slight twinge appeared in my left knee, and within a half of a mile, escalated into a sharp, stabbing pain. I changed my stride, favoring my right leg, in an attempt  to lessen the pain. Never a good idea, by the way. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for my right hip to join in the revolt.

Mile 18. Another aid station. Another banana. Another opportunity to walk. Another conversation with myself. The pain subsided when I walked.

“I don’t want to do this,” I thought. “Just walk the rest of the way,”

It was cold and windy and misting. Not a beautiful day for a run.

And then, in the midst of my pity party, I thought about how I felt last fall when I broke my elbow and wasn’t allowed to run for months. I thought about how disappointed I felt last spring when my knee pain forced me to miss running in a half marathon. I thought about a friend who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. I thought about a lot of things. And with all of this thinking,  I had distracted myself long enough to reach mile 20.

“6.2 to go. Anybody could run 6.2,” I told myself. This was a game I frequently played with myself on long runs.

I had run that thousands of times. At this point I made a decision. I would not quit. I wouldn’t even walk through aid stations. I thought about all the times I had told my children, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever!” I knew I had to keep on pushing. I had just demonstrated to myself that by crawling inside my mind, I could make the miles go by. I was not going to let pain win.

Mile 23

I looked at my Garmin and saw my time. Disappointment came rushing back. I was five minutes away from last year’s finish time, with three miles left to go. Simply finishing was not my goal, as it had been in every other marathon I had run. I wanted to run well. I wanted, no I needed to finish in under 4 hours. And I wasn’t going to be able to. I was angry with myself.

If only I hadn’t walked through that aid station. If only I hadn’t pushed my pace. If only my knee didn’t hurt.

I pushed on, my anger driving me.

Mile 24 brought me into home territory.

I began to anticipate the end of the race. Despite the fact that my body was screaming for me to stop (and my knee was the loudest), my mind kept fighting back.

“You need to do this,” I demanded of myself. “You have run this route hundreds of times.”

I ran with anger and disappointment.

As I ran over the bridge, linking Doty Island to my hometown, I was greeted with “Way to go, Mrs. Hovie,” and “Looking good, Karen!” I smiled weakly refusing to make eye contact. My personal disappointment outweighed the enthusiasm the crowd was sharing with me.

The final .5 of the race is inarguably the most beautiful of the entire race. Exquisite mansions line the Wisconsin Avenue. Tall, broad oaks, on the cusp of full brilliant color, form a canopy over the narrow road that winds along the shore. A beautiful lighthouse graces the land marking the entrance of Neenah’s harbor. But I wasn’t having any of it. Last year I was enamored by the beauty. This year I was only aware of my failure.

I rounded the final curve, and the finish line came into view. I could hear the crowd cheering, as the announcer congratulated the runners by name as they crossed the finish line. I, however, fixated on only one thing: the clock and its announcement of my failure. I prayed that the announcer would skip over my name, and I could disappear into the crowd unnoticed.

But then I heard it. “Karen Hovie from Neenah!”

“Where was he last year when I totally kicked butt?” I angrily mumbled to myself.

I crossed over the finish line and hit the “stop” button on my Garmin. I couldn’t bare to look at the time. A mylar blanket was quickly draped around my shoulders, much like a queen’s cape. As I shuffled through the finish gate, I ducked my head as a finisher’s medal is placed around my neck.

The step that takes me from the street to the curb is physically painful, but not nearly as painful as my disappointment.  I force myself to keep walking; I just want to go home, take a shower, and forget about the day. I make my way to a table stacked high with t-shirts, receive my finisher’s shirt, and wind my way through the park. The lawn is trampled, and there is mud everywhere.

Exhausted runners stand in line at the food tent. But the sight of the cookies, and the smell of the roast beef sandwiches turns my stomach, and I briefly wonder if I’ll make it through the area without throwing up. I reluctantly grab a bottle of water. I search for my husband so he can take me home, and see him hurrying over to me.

At the last minute, I have him take a picture of me, with my t-shirt and medal.

 

And this is a "not so happy" runner.

And this is a “not so happy” runner.

__________________________________________________________________________

It has now been over two months since the marathon. And I’ve been waiting. I know that all stories worth sharing have some kind of moral or lesson learned. So I’ve been waiting for that moral or lesson to be revealed to me.

But I’m not really sure there is one. I mean sure, one could dig deep and say when I was faced with adversity, and I wanted to quit, I didn’t. I fought through the pain and finished. But I’m not really feeling that.

Or maybe the lesson I need to learn is that this was just one race, and it doesn’t define me as a runner, or  as a person.

Or maybe there isn’t a lesson to be learned.

Or,  maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the end of the story.  So for now, I’ll just add this:

DSCN5438

to these:

DSCN5113

and keep it all in perspective.