I’m dragging out an old article tonight to expand on for a chapter in my upcoming book. Enjoy!
I dreamed last night about pre-race logistics for a half marathon I was about to run. The triviality of parking, porta-potties and pace groups isn’t particularly noteworthy. It’s the fact that, for the first time in years, I dreamed about running instead of skating.
My brain never shuts down, even when I’m asleep. It just sets up the ol’ projector and starts the slideshow of what I’ve done and what I’m about to do. Before big events, Brainy becomes even more restless than usual – particularly if the events affect other people. Brainy will turn every dream into a dress rehearsal for the main event, which is just as exhausting as it sounds.
I never enjoyed pre-bout jitters. I didn’t like getting physically sick nearly every time I anticipated a tournament or rankings-dependent bout. I can recall so many days of twisted guts and so many nights of fitful sleep….it left me susceptible to full-blown illness every time. Altitude sickness in Taos. Food poisoning in Tucson. My coach had to drive me back from San Antonio on a turn and burn where I’d thrown up so many times during the bout that I was too weak to sit up afterward. I used to brag about the barf bucket I had to keep near the bench (mostly because if you’re going to be that gross, you really need to fully own it). The nerves pushed me, but sometimes they pushed me down to the floor.
Running has always been different – the nerves I feel before a race are like friendly little butterflies, fluttering just enough to make me want to move along with them. The nerves motivate me, not overwhelm me. They make me stronger, not weaker, because they sharpen my performance and give me that giddy tingle of anticipation every time I lace up my running shoes.
It helps that most of my races are local. I’m more comfortable when I have my routines and I’m not driving for hours the day before. I think it runs deeper than that, though. For years, I felt so much pressure to not only win, but to win by as large a point spread as possible. WFTDA rankings are funny like that, or at least they were for the years I played interleague – sometimes it didn’t even matter that you won, because it still wasn’t enough. I took being part of a team very seriously, knowing how important my performance was to our overall success.
Control freaks and perfectionists tend to view success as shared but failure as sole. By this, I mean we blame ourselves when our team loses or fails to advance in ranking. Even the realization that this is irrational – that no single skater wins or loses the bout for her or his team – isn’t enough to alleviate the self-imposed pressure that the highly competitive feel. Being in a leadership position compounds that stress – the captain is expected to not only play well, but to bring out the best in her skaters as well.
Self-awareness is the first step to moving past roadblocks like this. I guess I never really moved past it, but it took a bit of distance to fully realize that.
Running’s not always sunshine and roses. There’s barfing at the finish line and indignant ligaments and finishing slower than my goal time (which was already pretty slow). But it’s all mine, every bit of it, and it affects nobody but me. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that – in embracing personal expectations and owning personal disappointments while enjoying the social atmosphere of a race. I’m still sharing happy, active energy with others. Only now I’m not trying to slow them down, I’m actually hoping they’ll run faster so I’ll have somebody to chase.
(Masa muffins with beef and beans)
I was experimenting in the kitchen today with a big bag of masa harina (which sounds like an 90s dance sensation but is really just finely ground corn flour treated with slaked lime to make the niacin easier to absorb) – making pinole energy bars and whatnot for long runs – when I realized it was well past lunchtime and I needed some protein. After rummaging for a few basic staples, I concocted this quick, filling and versatile gluten-free recipe that tastes just like a tamale but requires less assembly and (to me, anyway) looks much fancier.
I started with a corn muffin base. Here’s my basic recipe – next time I plan to add diced chiles or jalapenos to the batter.
1 ½ cups masa harina (I like Maseca brand)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 ¾ cups milk
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil + enough to grease muffin tins
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a muffin pan. (I use coconut oil because I use it for, oh, EVERYTHING.)
Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients and add to dry, whisking until just combined – the batter will be a bit lumpy.
Fill each muffin tin about halfway (I had enough mix for 8 big muffins – I’ll use a mini pan next time for smaller servings) and bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.
While my muffins were baking, I dug through the freezer and pantry for a protein-based topping. I used lean ground beef and cannellini beans this time, but I plan to experiment with lentils next time for a vegetarian version. Chicken, pork or black beans would also work – those muffins are an incredibly versatile base.
1lb lean ground beef
1 can of cannellini beans
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
½ cup water
A few dashes of hot sauce (I like chipotle Tabasco)
Chili powder, cayenne and/or black pepper to taste (look, I’m not gonna micromanage your spice rack. You know what you like and how much you like, so spice that mess in whatever manner you choose)
Dump all topping ingredients into a large skillet, stirring occasionally, ‘til your meat is browned and the mixture is bubbling. Drain if necessary (I use 91% lean beef so there wasn’t much draining involved with mine).
Time to throw it all together.
Place a couple of muffins on a plate and spoon a bit of topping over each. If you’re feeling fancy and don’t mind the extra calories, a dollop of sour cream, a slice of avocado, and/or a sprinkling of shredded cheddar will dress these up nicely. I have a ton of cherry tomatoes, so mine ended up looking vaguely dessert-like.
Et voila! The whole thing took about 25-30 minutes and was soooo worth it – the muffins were soft and moist and the chili-like mixture on top tasted just like a tamale without the hassle of rolling, wrapping and steaming. The muffins are versatile enough to serve with chili or soup and they’re pretty spectacular by themselves with a smidgen of honey butter spread across their warm, golden tops. I am so happy with the way these turned out – I can’t wait to try more masa-based recipes.