The Unlikely Marathoner: Part I (and a tasty carbo load recipe)

By November 10, 2013 move, nourish 2 Comments

It’s been a week since I completed the NYC Marathon and, while it may seem ridiculous, I still feel giddy when thinking about it. In the past 7 days I’ve had the same waves of disbelief come over me as in the month following my dissertation defense. I had these moments when I would remember that people could officially call me doctor and smile (like a total dork) to myself. Now I do the same thing when thinking about the fact that I not only crossed the finish line in Central Park, but I did it running on my own two feet and met my 4 hour time goal (well, 4:03:38 if you want to get picky).

Why It’s Kind of a Big Deal

photoMe running a marathon is kind of a big deal. For anyone who has known me since I was a kid, me running even a mile is a big deal. Even though I was part tomboy who kicked around a soccer ball and part girly girl who took jazz dance for 12 years, I was also chubby and true athleticism didn’t really come to me until later in life. I eventually got into everything from hiking and running to rugby and climbing. With lupus-related arthritis in my knees, though, I surely never thought I’d be capable of running a marathon.

Back in 2007, I decided to join a running club (the Montgomery County Road Runners) and train for a half marathon. Even though I had been running casually for a couple of years, this is when I first really found joy in running. Not only did I relish time to myself out in nature, but I met one of my now closest friends who became my near daily running partner and confidant. Before we even got to the half, we decided to extend our goal to running the Marine Corps Marathon. Unfortunately, 6 weeks before getting to run it, I got plantar fasciitis and had to pull out of the race. I was initially devastated after having trained for so many months, but then accepted that it might not be in my destiny to run 26.2 miles.

Fast forward to this past May when I found out that my work had spots available for our team in the NYC Marathon and my gut told me this was my time. I was feeling my healthiest ever after having changed my nutrition and lifestyle and coming off all my meds over the prior year and half. I knew that if ever there were an experience that would symbolize the journey I’ve been on and the power of taking ownership of my health, this would be it.

The Prep

I’ve talked about some of my prep following my injury-imposed intermission halfway through my training, so I won’t rehash all the details. What I will say is that getting to the finish line of a marathon is truly about the training and preparation. Yes, there are those {crazy} people who show up the day of a marathon having barely run over the prior 6 months. But, other than the elite few who can do that well, most others won’t run to their full potential and won’t recover as well without having put in the time over the many months before.

To me, it is not only about the running itself, but the self-care that goes along with pushing your body to its limits. It took getting tendonitis and being sidelined for a couple of weeks for me to get smart. It was then that I started working with my {amazing} trainer Anthony, an endurance athlete himself, who not only revamped my running plan but also taught me the proper way to stretch and the importance of core strength in running.  I also started going to acupuncture and more religiously using my foam roller to relieve the muscle knots in my legs. Lastly, I filled my diet with plant-strong, nourishing and anti-inflammatory foods.

So the next time someone says, “I ran a marathon,” know that what he or she is really saying is, “I trained for a marathon.” In truth, the race itself is the proverbial icing on the cake after months of preparation that include logging many hours on everything from short and long runs to cross-training and self-care.

My Kind of Carbo Loading

I started tapering two weeks before the race, putting in some runs but also giving my body some time to rest and recover. The week prior to the marathon, I focused on keeping myself hydrated and eating a lot of healthy carbohydrates and proteins. For a lot of people, carbo loading brings to mind huge vats of pasta. I did have one dinner that Thursday night that included black rice and soba noodles (recipe below), but otherwise kept to my norm of veggies, fruit, quinoa, beans, nuts and seeds, along with a few bits of eggs and fish here and there.  The night before the marathon, I had dinner with friends and splurged a little bit but not so much that I’d regret it the next morning.

Pesto Black Rice & Soba Noodles with Roasted Winter Vegetables

As happens many evenings, this recipe came together off the cuff – or as I like to call it “EEB style.” Edward Espe Brown is the author of the original Tassajara cookbook, in which he emphasized that cooking should be less about following recipes to the rule than enjoying the process, creativity and fun of cooking – from selecting the ingredients to serving the finished dish.

“The way to be a cook is to cook. The results don’t have to be just right, measuring up to some imagined or ingrained taste. Our cooking doesn’t have to prove how wonderful or talented we are. Just feed, satisfy, nourish.”

That said, even though I try to give exact measurements to you guys, I often just don’t think about it until I’m halfway through cooking a meal. I get caught up in the joy of what I’m doing. This night was no different.

I made this dish three nights before the marathon when my friend (and marathon teammate) came over for dinner and to watch “Run For Your Life,” a documentary about Fred Lebow and the birth of the New York City Marathon (highly recommended). While I don’t often make actual pasta, opting most times for “impostors” like zucchini noodles, I figured it was called for in the spirit of the marathon.

So, I’m going to give you this “recipe” in broad strokes so that you can start experimenting without fear.

The (kind of) Recipe


This pesto is my favorite one to date (my dinner guest concurred). Luckily, it made enough for me to use over some veggies the next day and in my sweet potato soup (recipe coming) in the days after that… oh, and as a dip with some lentil chips as I was waiting for the soup to finish because I couldn’t restrain myself.

Roasted Fall Vegetables with Pesto Over Noodles
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Roasted Vegetables
  1. 2 sweet potatoes, cubed
  2. 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  3. 1 dozen brussels sprouts, halved
  4. Olive oil
  5. Salt and pepper, to taste.
  1. Basil (large bunch)
  2. Kale leaves (handful)
  3. Walnuts
  4. Pistachios
  5. Garlic clove(s)
  6. Lemon juice
  7. Nutritional yeast
  8. Grape seed oil
  1. Black Rice and Soba Noodle combo
  1. Preheat the oven to 450F. Toss sweet potatoes, fennel and brussels sprouts in olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix around occasionally during cooking. Roast until desired doneness.
  2. While the vegetables are roasting, make the pesto by throwing the all the pesto ingredients into a food processor (I use a mini one). Start light with the grape seed oil - you can always add more. Process, pushing down the sides, to achieve desired consistency. Add a bit of extra oil at a time, if needed.
  3. In the last stretch of roasting time, boil pasta according to package directions. I used a mix of black rice noodles and soba noodles.
  4. Finally, serve noodles topped with pesto and roasted veggies.
  1. Next time you roast some veggies, if you aren't including with pesto, you can add more spices such as paprika or cumin or cayenne (or a tiny bit of all three) and squeeze some lime juice over them. Or improvise your own flavor profile and let me know what tasty ones you come up with.
  2. I used salted, roasted pistachios in this batch of pesto so I didn't add any additional salt to it. If you use only unsalted nuts, you might want to toss in a dash or two.
an unprocessed life
Part II: Race Day, Recovery and More Recipes to Come…


  • Shirley says:

    This (kind of) Recipe is made with my favorite vegetables. Can’t wait to make it!
    You create beautiful, nutritious, healing food (and drinks)!
    Your nutritional journey is wonderfully inspiring.

    • Thanks so much Shirley! It’s an extra added benefit to be able to re-connect to family through my journey :) Danny sent me a message today and I’m looking forward to catching up with him. All my best to you!

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