running my second 5k, and honey-balsamic vinaigrette

Legs running a 5K

These are the legs of a tired runner

When I first started this blog, many of my posts discussed exercise: my desire to exercise, my struggles to stay motivated, my tendency to make excuses that allowed me to gain weight. Then, as it often does, my focus drifted to things that were more fun to write about. Things like cooking. Traveling. And of course, all of the random adventures that I create for myself. It was easy to neglect writing about exercising, because I simply wasn’t exercising.

Something changed towards the end of July. I was even heavier than I’d ever been before, and becoming quite miserable. Looking in the mirror was depressing. Putting on clothes was depressing. Even eating was depressing, since I felt guilty every time I so much as looked at food and wanted it. I felt like I was so heavy that I didn’t deserve to eat.

Well, I don’t know what sparked it, but something snapped. We’d been religiously attending two classes at the gym: a core class that targets muscles in the abs, and a cardio kickboxing class that’s just an overall barn-burner of a workout. But I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to see. Then I made the decision to start jogging at least once per week. And I dedicated an adorable puppy dog calendar to tracking my exercise.

By the end of August, I could look at my calendar and see at least four documented workouts per week. It felt great. Somehow – despite an off week when I was struck by cellulitis after scuba diving – I managed to maintain the pace through September. And all of a sudden, I started to notice changes. My clothes fit a little better. I could wear the tighter T-shirts that had been shoved to the back of my closet, and when I put them on with jeans, I wasn’t as self-conscious about my belly straining the fabric. I went jeans shopping – usually a traumatic, depressing experience – and came out with a pair in my target size that fit comfortably and perfectly.

What’s more, I started to enjoy running. This was shocking, to say the least. There was no sign of the aches and pains that plagued me when I’d randomly run every six months. I think it’s beacuse I started slowly and built up my muscles gradually. Beyond being pain-free, running has actually felt good. I finally understand the runner’s high, that feeling of elation that you get from breaking a sweat. This has been the strangest thing of all. In the past, running felt good for the first five minutes. Then it just hurt. Now, after about four months of practice, it’s bearable. And afterwards, when the endorphins kick in? It’s all worth it.

As fun as it’s been, I need to be proactive about making sure this hobby sticks. That’s why I signed up for my first 5K: the Atlanta Monster Dash. Yes, I get to don a costume for this race, and that’s the only reason I’m doing it. Well, there is one more reason. The fear of embarrassing myself will get me out the door and running well before the race. At one point in my life, I did a sprint triathlon with the goal of simply finishing. I met my goal, and felt good about it, but there’s room for improvement. Now, I’m ready to be competitive.

In a hilarious twist of events, after signing up for the first run, I signed up for another 5K that would actually take place before it. That event was somewhat painful, but went well overall. Afterwards, I was ready to break another record. Unfortunately, I just learned that the Monster Dash 5K is not a timed event. This works out well for a few reasons. First of all, Xavier is running with me, and the lack of timing will allow us to relax and enjoy the experience. Second, there is trick-or-treating on the race course – this means we can indulge in some candy! And that brings me to my next point.

I’m always going to love decadent food, both preparing it and eating it. (Yes, I’m already excited for Hannukah to make potato latkes, and it’s only October!). But it’s much easier to eat well when you’re in training mode. After a long run, you don’t want to negate your efforts by chowing down a double cheeseburger or half a pizza. So I’ve been making a point to eat lots of entree salads lately. It’s nothing fancy. There’s always some Romaine or green-leaf lettuce in the house, and usually some combination of cucumber, tomato, avocado, carrot, and pepper. I’ll rinse and chop whatever’s around. If there’s protein in the house – chicken tenders, shrimp, whatever – it’ll get a quick saute over high heat, after a dusting of whatever spices I feel like grabbing.

That would be a complete meal in itself, except lately lots of studies have come out saying that salads are actually healthier when you eat them with dressing. I’m no nutritionist, but I can tell you that the nutrients in vegetables are better absorbed into your body when they can bind to fat molecules. In light of this information, you should whip up a quick honey balsamic vinaigrette. Okay, it ups your calorie intake. But it also adds bright, complex flavor to the whole meal. And it makes the salad so tasty that nobody complains about only salad for dinner.

Recipe: Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp shallot or 1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup neutral-flavored oil (canola, grapeseed)
A few tablespoons olive oil (or substitute walnut oil, avocado oil, something flavorful)

In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, Dijon, honey, and shallot or garlic (if using). Alternatively, use a handheld immersion blender on a low setting.

Drizzle in the neutral oil, little by little, whisking or blending throughout. With each addition of oil, whisk until emulsified before adding more. When the texture is just about right, add the olive oil. Finish with a quick blast of the blender or just a little bit more whisking.

Toss with lettuce and veggies, then enjoy.

(Note: when I follow this recipe, it makes enough to dress quite a few salads. You’ll likely have leftovers. They’ll keep well in the fridge for at least a week, encouraging you throughout to make more salad!)

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