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I hate racing.  There, I’ve said it.  And I can’t believe I’m the only one.  In fact, I’m convinced that race-hating is the dirty little secret of the running universe.

Really, what is there to like about it?  You train for months, or years, just to suffer for hours (or days) all for a medal that you could just as easily buy online for a couple of bucks.  And the stress.  The worrying for weeks ahead of time about the weather, your conviction that you are dying from a rare form of cancer that only attacks your plantar fascia, and the nagging unease that builds towards full blown panic at the thought of having to use a Port-a-Potty with fifteen thousand other sweaty people. And this is supposed to be fun!

Truly, I hate it.

Because I primarily run ultras, I start hating every race at about mile ten and continue to hate it for the next twenty-two plus hours.  That is a long time to be in a state of hate.  Yes, there are ups and downs in the level of loathing I feel while I’m racing – sometimes I can feel downright punch drunk with endorphins – but none of the highs ever go as high as the lows go low.  My misery does not have a counterpart in racing, only a dim glow of I­­-might-not-die-this-time contentment when I hit mile 100 and I’m still moving forward.

And it’s not about losing.  Winning a race is just as miserable while you are doing it as simply finishing, because everyone is covering the same distance.  It’s not like winning makes the race shorter, or less pressure-filled. It just means you get a bigger medal, or a trophy, or a giant porcelain salamander (which I admit, is pretty cool, but I still question whether it’s worth running for nine hours to get) when it’s over.

And yet I continue to train every day for my next race.  Mile after mile, pair of shoes after pair of shoes, I run and run.

“You’re like a good understudy,” my husband, Tim, says one day after I come through the front door, my earbuds still in my ears, singing “Come and Get Your Love” at the top of my lungs (there may have been some dancing, too – me, not Tim).

“What does that mean,” I ask accusingly.  I know a compliment is not coming down the pike.

“You seem to really enjoy the practice – the running and the planning – but you hate the performance.  You like all the work but not the show.”

“Um, I don’t think you quite get the concept of ‘understudy’,” I say grumpily, my run buzz quickly dissipating. “An understudy is dying to go onstage.  But they have to wait for the performer to die or get sick or fall off a scaffold, or something.”

“Okay, so I’m not too good with theater metaphors, but you get my point, right?”

And I did.  I want to go to all the rehearsals, put in all the work, but I really dread being called to perform.  What’s up with that?

Frankly, I just know how hard it’s going to be.  There is no easy way to get through a race, regardless of the distance.  It’s always going to be six (or sixteen, or sixty) miles too long.  I’m going to hit the wall, and probably more than once.  I’m going to be whiny and bitchy and vomity (which should totally be a word in the running universe).  Every. Single. Race.

But I keep going back, keep entering my name, address, birthday and shirt size into the boxes on Ultrasignup and Active.com because I can’t help myself.

For as much as I hate to race, hate the pain and the emotional toll it takes, I love to have run.  I love the zig zaggy pleasure of bombing down a trail propelled by the adrenaline of chasing someone, or being chased.  I love the supreme focus required to keep my numbers (and calories) straight when I’m running around a 400 meter track for twenty-four hours.  I love every person on the side of the road holding a sign telling me I’m really a Kenyan, or that I’m looking maaaaaahevelous, and making me laugh out loud during a marathon.  But mostly, I love getting a front row seat to watch people do near-heroic things in the late hours of a race.  None of these things can be experienced during a solo training run of repeats on the hill near my house.  And while no one is there to witness me doing a full face plant during those hill repeats, no one is there to inspire me to get up, shake it off, and keep moving, either.

So, I keep racing, even though I hate it, because I love what it gives, and shows, me a whole lot more.

But I still hate it. Really.

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Potato Doughnuts

Despite the recent “new trend”, food delivery was quite common in the ‘70s.  We had a milkman who delivered more than just plain milk.  If you were so inclined, he would leave cottage cheese, or butter, or, if you were really lucky, ice cream.  We were never that lucky.

“It will melt all over the doorstep,” my mother said, all practical-like. “Our door faces the east, and since the sun rises in the…” she trailed off, ever the elementary school teacher that she was, waiting for me to supply the correct answer.

I crossed my arms and glared at her.  I wanted ice cream and I didn’t care about the stupid sun.

But despite the dearth of ice cream deliveries at my house, my parents did bend for something even better: Spudnuts.  In case you grew up with parents meaner than mine and never got to have a Spudnut, they were doughnuts made out of potatoes.  And while there were supposedly magical Spudnut doughnut shops around the country, in our neighborhood, the best-thing-ever-made-out-of-a-potato treat was delivered to your door at seven o’clock Saturday mornings just in time for cartoons.

Yes.

So, every Saturday for what felt like years but my mother assures me was only two or three at the most, my brother, Brian, and I would wait patiently (read: running around the den like crazed lunatics) for the teenage neighbor boys who delivered the doughnuts to ring our doorbell. Really, you would think we were never given any sugar if you saw how we would attack Wes and Mike for the waxed paper bag they held out to us like animal trainers offering a slab of meat to wild tigers.  They always seemed a little afraid of us.

After the exchange was safely made, some dollar bills for them, the white bag of treasure for us, we’d slam the door and run to the kitchen.  We may have been little heathens, but we knew better than to eat anywhere but at the kitchen table.  A doughnut and glass of milk apiece later and it was time to get to work.  You see, we were deep sea divers, members of the Sealab 2020 underwater research base.  If you don’t remember this cartoon, you are not alone.  It only aired one season because, apparently, Brian and I were the only two kids watching it.

But even cancellation didn’t stop us from carrying out our missions. All we needed were the cylindrical plaid pillows from our couch (remember, it was the ‘70s), a couple of belts to strap them to our backs, and loads of sugar for fuel.  We were set.  While cartoons played in the background (we needed a soundtrack), we swam and dove to the depths of our ocean floor – gold shag carpeting – while studying the abundant sea life around us – old books, Spanish porcelain ballerinas, fake ferns, and Duraflame logs in the fireplace.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the room we were “diving” in was walled with two huge floor to ceiling plate glass windows overlooking the back yard.  Rather than being brave research divers, we were more like two fish in a giant fish bowl. The irony.

But that is the wonder of the sugar-fueled child; she doesn’t care about where the sun rises or sets because she is not yet locked into a world that demands facts.  Children see oceans in gold shag, scuba tanks in plaid pillows and gourmet wonderment in potato doughnuts while being blissfully unaware that they are actually safely ensconced in a fish bowl until they’re old enough to know the truth. Reality, what a bummer.

During the Christmas holidays one year, many years later when Brian and I were both on the doorstep of middle age, we were eating doughnuts for breakfast at our parents’ kitchen table.

“Remember the Spudnuts?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “And the scuba diving.”

I laughed.  “Did you ever think that WE were the fish in a fish bowl?”

He stared at me for a moment and then burst out laughing.  “Well, no. But it was a blast and those were some damn good doughnuts.”

Yes and yes.

 

 

*** Full disclosure: The photo above is not of a Spudnut. I couldn’t find an actual potato doughnut anywhere, and after going to the grocery store for potatoes twice to make the doughnuts and forgetting potatoes twice, I decided a photo of a doughnut left over from our weekend would have to do. It was still good. Trust me.

 

MARIO BATALI’S POTATO DOUGHNUTS (From ABC’s The Chew)

  • 1/2 pound Russet Potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1/2 cup Whole Milk
  • 2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 3 – 4 cups All-Purpose Flour (or as needed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus 4 cups for deep-frying)
  • 2 tablespoons Sweet Red Vermouth
  • grated zest and juice of 1 Orange
  • Granulated Sugar (for dusting)

 

step-by-step directions

  • Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Boil gently until tender. Drain and pass through a food mill or ricer into a large bowl. Let cool.
  • Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the milk over low heat just until warm. Remove from the heat, sprinkle the yeast into the milk, and let sit for 15 minutes, or until foamy. 
  • Add the eggs, flour, salt, sugar, the 1/2 cup olive oil, the vermouth, and orange zest and juice to the potatoes and mix well to combine. Add the yeast mixture and knead well, adding a little more flour if necessary if the dough is very sticky. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled.
  • Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each one into a 1 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut each one into 5-inch lengths and form into little doughnuts. Place the doughnuts on a well-oiled baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise for 45 minutes, or until doubled. 
  • In a deep pot, heat the remaining 4 cups olive oil to 340 degrees. Working in batches, fry the doughnuts until golden brown, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle generously with granulated sugar while hot and serve warm. 

 

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Saving Yourself With an Ice Ax…or a Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Not That There’s Anything Wrong With Doughnuts

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The Glass Kitchen Giveaway – Win a Copy of Linda Francis Lee’s newest book!

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Boozy Beer Bread

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I Get By With A Little Help From…People I Don’t Know

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Mad, Mad, Mad Mama and Macarons

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Dropping a kid off at college is never easy.  Anxiety, sadness and excitement mixed with a good dose of jet lag have all the makings for a Maternal Meltdown.  The only thing keeping me from throwing my arms around my son and screeching, “You are too young to do this!  You can’t go to school […]

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If Only Heathcliff Were a Runner

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We’re getting ready to head to London for a couple of weeks – and I couldn’t be more excited, and more depressed. Excited because Grant’s excited. Depressed because Grant’s excited. Sigh. Motherhood. The only profession where you get fired if you do your job right. Anyway, to keep myself from weeping openly the entire time […]

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