“Experienced” marathoner

It may be hard to believe, but this summer is nearly gone. This means the next marathon is looming larger in the near future. For me and my training partners, that date is October 6, for the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York. Having now run seven marathons, I am more aware of what is coming. Standing out most clearly in my mind is recalling how, at some point in most of the marathons I’ve run, I tell myself how utterly crazy it is to torture myself this way. Why would I willingly choose to go through the muscle pain in my legs, the pains in my shoulders, the bleeding, the chafing, and sometimes the near delirium, just to say I had done it? While many in our club have run many more marathons than I, I am starting to get the gist of it.

We have several new runners in our club who are planning to run their first marathons this fall. Some have been running with us on our long Sunday runs, and a couple run on their own but tell me how they are doing. To a person, they ask for little advice, but mostly are quite fixed on their training plans. They all have that holy grail of the marathon runner in mind, the Boston qualifying time. When we (our Sunday group) hear this, like a chorus we say, “just work on finishing”. There is little one can say that helps the naive runner get through their first marathon. We offer the familiar advice of not going out too fast, sticking to a plan, hydrating, eating appropriate numbers of gels throughout the race, and preparing ahead with BodyGlide and bandages. Much of this is relative. What is appropriate hydration for one person may be way under or over for another. How many gels, how often, something other than gels, is pure guesswork.

Some advice is sound and well grounded. It is a good idea not to wear brand new anything, especially shoes, for your first marathon. Even that, though, I’ve ignored, when I wore brand new knee high support socks for a race last fall, not having worn anything like them before, and loved them. How to dress is a tough call. Personal preferences, temperature at the start, where that temperature is headed, sun, clouds, humidity, all figure in to that guesswork. I think I changed my mind about ten times the night before my first marathon. In a race that starts early and goes several hours, conditions can change dramatically. Or, they can stay the same. For my first marathon, Philadelphia, 2008, the temperature never got above freezing. It started in the low 20’s with a bit of wind. The water stops were sheets of ice, not very safe to run, or walk on. The next year, that same race started in the mid 40’s and rose to the low 60’s, practically perfect.

Another piece of guesswork is what to eat the night before. I doubt any marathoner would consider it a good idea to eat a huge meal, redolent with fat, and washed down with many glasses of wine. No, save that for the afterparty. Pasta is the standard, but anything light and easily digestible makes sense to me. Is beer okay? My feeling is yes, “a” beer is okay, and probably helps one relax and not be too wound up.

The first time on the start line of a marathon, the atmosphere is euphoric. Dropping one’s bag at the right spot, managing to make it to the portable toilet for one last squirt, finding one’s way to the proper corral, squeezing in with the other runners, and sensing the collective anxiousness makes for a unique, numbing experience. Other runners are wearing giant trash bags with holes cut for the arms and head. Some are stretching in their limited space. Some are chatting incessantly with friends, all of whom are wearing earbuds and probably already listening to some inspirational play list they have created. And some are quietly looking ahead, perhaps playing out the course in their minds. All of this is in a swirl around the new marathoner who is unaware of how the race will unfold.

I plunged right in my first time. It takes a while to actually get to the start once the gun goes off in the bigger city marathons. There’s a shuffling start, corrals move up, and then one gets caught a little off-guard when the start line is actually underfoot. I remember starting my Garmin as I crossed that first detection pad, hearing the faint cacophony of beeps as the chips get registered, like the sound of locusts. Then, one’s own personal best for a marathon is underway.

I am very pleased to see new runners in our club taking on this challenge. I think they will have an experience that will change them for a lifetime. If, like me, they wind up getting sucked in, and go back time and again to challenge themselves, they will really change their lives. Each time I head to the start line now, I don’t know how the race will end for me. I know that I don’t know. But I have become aware of the routine at the start, the way I asses my condition as the race progresses, and certainly the warning signs of trouble, like cramps that all too often befall me along the way. I am still experimenting with strategy, modifying my starting pace, the way I drink during the race, and learning to slow down in the first half to be able to go faster in the second. It is quite a commitment to take on the training, typically about sixteen weeks, all for the one day event which may have great conditions, or perhaps awful conditions. I wish our club’s new marathoners, and anyone else tackling this for the first time, a satisfying and fulfilling experience, that will cause them to come back again.


Summer cooking for runners: Fish Taco Dinner

A monkfish in it's natural element.

A monkfish in it’s natural element.

Summer is going fast.  Here we are, already in August, and it seems the autumn races will be on us in no time.  But while it is still here, summer is the time to enjoy cooking on the grill, and eating the fresh produce available locally.  Certainly there is an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits now.  This report will focus on a nice way to enjoy grilled fish.

The fish taco has a great many variations, and there are those who would argue for one over another, one being more “authentic”.  Paying no attention to purists, this is my version of this dish, along with an accompanying vegetable medley.

Menu:  Fish Tacos (or fish fajitas)

Bean, Corn and Pepper medley

The main attraction of this dish is the grilled fish.  Two of my favorites for making fish tacos are Mahi Mahi, otherwise known as dolphin fish:

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi

and monkfish, a really bizarre bottom dweller known as the “poor man’s lobster.”  It is also known as having all head and tail and no body, and the tail, cheeks and liver are the parts that people eat:

Monkfish in the market

Monkfish in the market

In most markets, one won’t see the whole monkfish, just the tail portion.  Both of these fish are generally available, and are not considered endangered.  There is a tagging program for monkfish run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US government, and the website has some very interesting information on this fish, as well as great photos.

The mahi mahi is a tender, tasty fish which is very lean.  It can be cooked directly on the grill, but I prefer to grill it on foil, to protect it.

Mahi mahi filet prepared for grilling.

Mahi mahi filet prepared for grilling.

I used a mango chipotle marinade on the top half, for the fish tacos, and a sesame soy marinade on the bottom half, for another dinner.  On the grill, the cooking time varies depending on the intensity of the heat and the thickness of the fish.  It is done when it is flaky and cooked white all the way through.

Mahi mahi sharing the grill with some bison burgers and sliced yams.

Mahi mahi sharing the grill with some bison burgers and sliced yams.

I cook the monkfish the same way, on foil to protect it.  Monkfish is a lot denser than mahi mahi, yet it is still very lean.

Shredded cabbage

Shredded cabbage

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Black Bean and Corn Salsa



Assembling the tacos requires the following ingredients:

tortillas (of your choice, corn or flour, but they should be the large ones)

grilled fish

shredded cabbage

Muir Glen Organic Black Bean & Corn Salsa, medium hot

ripe avocado

light pepper ranch salad dressing

The fish can be used right off the grill, fresh and hot.  It can also be refrigerated once it is cooked and it is still good for a few days.

Tortilla with monkfish.  This was grilled with a fajita marinade.

Tortilla with monkfish. This was grilled with a fajita marinade.

Next comes the fresh, shredded cabbage.

Next comes the fresh, shredded cabbage.

Spoon some of the salsa over the fish and cabbage.

Spoon some of the salsa over the fish and cabbage.

Add some avocado slices to top it off.

Add some avocado slices to top it off.

Add a drizzle of light pepper ranch salad dressing on top.  This adds a little creamy sweetness to counter the heat of the salsa.  Then, wrap it up!


Black and White Bean, Black Eyed Peas, Corn and Pepper side dish:

This is my wife’s recipe, and she is the cook for this cold dish.


grilled corn on the cob, four ears

two ripe Jersey tomatoes, chopped small

one large can of black beans, 1lb. 13oz., rinsed

one can of small white beans, 15.5oz., rinsed

one can of black eyed peas, 15.5oz., rinsed

two bell peppers, one green, one red, chopped in small pieces

six green onions, diced

one quarter cup of chopped cilantro

Ken’s Light Caesar dressing or red wine and vinegar dressing

We start by grilling the corn shucked and straight on the grill, to give it a nice char.  This enhances the flavor of the corn.  The corn is cut off the cob and placed in a large bowl.  The other ingredients are added.  Finally, we add a dressing of Ken’s Light Caesar dressing, or some other such as red wine vinegar dressing, to give it some zing.  Mix it all up and serve.

For a beverage to go with this meal, here are some suggestions:

Kona Brewing Company Longboard Lager, a malty lager which complements fish tacos, if only because of it’s Hawaiian heritage.  The Kona one buys on the mainland is brewed here, not in Hawai’i, but according to the Kona recipe.

Iced tea, can’t go wrong with this.

Milagro Farm Estate Grown Rosé of Sangiovese, a dry rosé which matches well with the spicy fish.  If you happen to live in San Diego, seek this one out.  If not, you’ll probably need to find another rosé, preferably dry and medium bodied.

Today was an “almost too good to be true” day.  No rain, blue sky with an artists display of cumulus clouds, and dry, moderate temperatures.  I had a good fourteen mile run today, at a very decent pace.  It was such a relief not to run in murderous heat and humidity.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a couple of these tacos for dinner this evening.

¡Buen Provecho! and happy running.

Uncorking Croatia



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