Zagreb

zagreb

This is the most exotic location I’ve ever run in. I’m coming directly from Schütz-festspiele in Dresden, and that city felt alien with all it’s enormous grey dull boulevards. In Zagreb I feel right at home. It reminds me of all the other cities I like: Rome, Paris, Athens, Zürich. A bit like Oslo even, with narrow streets and hills. And unlike dresden, they take visa card everywhere. And the shops sell organic fruit and greek yoghurt, and the town is full of bicycling young people. There’s free WIFI at the airport, and the espresso tastes great. In other words, I feel like I already know this place. I expected it to be completely mindblowingly different from home. The language is a mystery though.

Today’s route took me through the poshest part of town, with embassies and such, and a church that looks like it’s decorated with Lego. Then I turned left and passed the film festival site and some cafés, and I wandered in the woods for a while. Every time I thought I saw some dangerous Eastern European men, it turned out to be a family with kids and dogs, and every scary dog I saw had a friendly owner.

All the houses on the eastern route look like mansions to me, but badly kept. They would hardly stand a winter in Norway. The climate here is just amazing. It’s October, but still hot and moist like a summer night at home. The parks have a nice smell of rotting pine needles and leaves. And they stack the wood from the trees they chop down in the park.

 

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Sugar free ice cream

I got an ice cream maker a few months back. Soon after I had put on a couple of kg and was really sick of ice cream, so the machine has been on the shelf since then. (In fact it inspired me to eat no sugar at all for a while, thinking if I can put on weight that easily, maybe I could lose it that easily too.) Ever since I’ve been wondering about how sugar free ice cream would work. In Scandinavia we have a product called Sukrin (consists of erythritol, which is a sugar alcohol. Sounds healthy doesn’t it?). It has a tiny bit of “cooling effect” on the tongue (think tooth paste) but very very little, not at all as much as for instance stevia. It’s excellent for baking. Of all artificial sweeteners I’ve tried this comes the closest to the taste of sugar. It even looks like sugar. It’s expensive, but that is OK by me, I use it rarely. You could sweeten the ice cream with honey or concentrated fruit, but that sort of goes against the purpose of this exercise.

But I worried about what would happen to it as it warmed up and cooled down, and whether it would do something bad for the ice cream’s consistency. Sugar is very sticky and does not freeze easily, which are great properties for making smooth ice cream. I read about it on the World Wide Web, and people claimed to have all sorts of problems, mixing it with some other substance to be able to freeze it better, or alleviate digestive problems. These people either:

  1. Eat way too much ice cream
  2. Don’t know how to make real ice cream
  3. Or know something that I don’t know.

Anyway, it worked just fine, with one small caveat: While it tastes like sugar it does not give that little buzzy feeling you get from sugar, where you just crave more. That sugar craving is in many ways a bad thing, but it’s part of the ice cream experience for me and one of the reasons ice cream is so delicious. So it’s a little bit like decaffeinated coffee, or virgin cocktails in that respect.

You need:

  • 2 egg yolks (pasteurized or tested salmonella free)
  • 2 US cups milk with cream. Ideal fat percentage is around 12-16%, so mix accordingly
  • 1/3 cup of erythritol
  • Gelatine (optional)
  • Vanilla and/or other flavouring
  1. This is a bain-marie.

    This is a bain-marie.

    Warm up the cream and milk in a regular saucepan, with whatever flavouring you want. I used half a vanilla pod and two table spoons of lavender flowers. Whatever taste you add at this point should be concentrated and not too acidic. Sweeten it to taste with erythritol, remember it should taste almost too sweet when it’s warm, as freezing takes some sweetness away. You can stir in one flake of gelatine now if you like. Once it’s dissolved, strain the mixture through a sieve.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks. Set up a bain marie (pot in a pot), so that the top pot does not touch the water, but only the steam. (If that is not possible, make sure the water does not boil, and pay attention so the eggs don’t curdle.) Heat up the whisked yolks gently in the bain marie and pour the warm cream mix into it. You can leave it on for a while now, just stir a bit and check if its done. It should thicken just enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. And this is a spoon

    And this is a spoon

    Leave to cool in the fridge for between 1 and 12 hours, then cool it in the freezer for 20 minutes before churning in the ice cream maker. If you want chunks of e.g. walnuts or chocolate, add them after churning. Freeze until 10 minutes before serving. Tastes best on the same day it’s made.
  4. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, freeze the mixture until it’s almost frozen, and thick, then blend it well with a stick blender, and freeze it again. This is much easier than stirring every half hour for six hours, and gives an equally smooth texture.

Works with sugar as well, if you like that stuff ;-P There are many good recipes out there, and I think everyone needs to make their own perfect recipe. I for one try to keep to these rules of thumb: One egg pr cup milk/cream, and about 15% fat and 10% sugar. At least for me it’s easier to work with ratios than calculate based on a recipe.

New 5k PB: 19:25

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So another 13 seconds closer to 18:59. This post will be all about running form and pace. I promise the next post will be more fun. Hint: it will be about ice cream.

Beautiful morning, very zen, like a mac screensaver. I think I’m in love with Parkrun. The people are great, the distance (5k) has plenty of challenge, and it’s just a great way to start Saturday morning.

wpid-20141011_120925.jpgI ran in my well worn Vivobarefoot trail shoes today, and enjoyed the extra grip. Im going in cycles as to how far on the front of the foot I run. This last month I’ve enjoyed a more forefoot landing, which gives me some “free” springiness in my step. What I like about it is that it feels like the vertical movement works as a separate mechanism that requires no work on my part, like a machine, and then all I need to do is run. This sounds very nice, but I also have periods when I land closer to the heel, and I feel like I can conserve some energy that way. Not a heel landing really, but more to the outside of the midfoot. This second method works better if I’m running slow. Which I’m thinking maybe I should do a little less: I reminded myself to use my speed today, and it felt good. The sprint at the end was great (I’m always surprised to find some extra energy near the end of the race, even when I’m very tired).

What I’m beginning to think is that my speed when running is very dependent on running form, and that if I dont use my speed, and run at a pace where I’m efficient, I’m just wasting a lot of energy. Basically I’m terrible at grinding out medium fast high mileage, but I find it much easier to run shorter distances faster. One example is that I had enormous problems getting below 46 minutes for the 10k, because I ran out of steam, and had to resort to my crappy running technique for the last couple of km. As soon as my endurance improved, I could run 10k in 43 minutes relatively easy. In other words, it’s not like I can just reduce my speed by 5% and somehow save that energy for later. I feel like I got over a threshold for where I could “run” the 10k rather than just stick it out.

So the way I think about it is that my legs have a given speed that I need to use, and below that point I’m just not very efficient. The image that I have us that of a speed boat, which will lie too deep in the water at low speed, but at a certain threshold it becomes much more energy efficient. That’s exactly how I felt today.

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A foggy day in Copenhagen town… notice the moon is still up!

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Restitution: playing bingo. I lost. But who cares, I PB’d!

Awesome “Marathon” pasta sauce

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We have a very small kitchen and no dishwasher, so I’m a big fan of recipes that use just one pot. Or at least not more than two.

Marathon means “fennel” in old Greek, so what better way to carbo load than eating pasta with this fennel-based tomato sauce? Serves three ravenous runners.

The recipe is simple, but some ingredients may require going to the store. The key is fennel seeds and tarragon, which go very well together. The sauce is inspired by the Norwegian pizza franchise Peppe’s.

First I chopped all the vegetables.  I fried four onions in olive oil in a huge oven proof pot, and then added: four italian anchovies in oil, which I mashed, and four garlic cloves. I let it fry for a short while. Then I added, in order, a pound of minced pork, four carrots, one fennel root, one whole bottle of cheap red wine, six tomatoes, a pinch of fennel seeds, salt pepper.

I reduced the sauce to a thick consistency, put a lid on the pot and put it in the oven at about 160 Celsius for two hours.

Top with a big handful of fresh tarragon and serve with pasta, and grated parmeggiano.

I’m sharing it because it’s one of the easiest and most delicious dishes I’ve ever made. The combination of fennel seeds and fresh tarragon is just unbeatable.

Ingredients:

Olive oil, salt pepper.
Four onions
Four anchovies (the straight Italian kind in oil. Or just use a tiny amount of fish sauce)
Four garlic cloves
Four carrots
One fennel root
One pound minced pork
One bottle of red whine
Six tomatoes
One pinch fennel seeds
Tarragon for topping

PS: This is a picture of the fields of Marathon in Greece, which gave name to the race distance:

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Summer turns to fall

I got to spend a week in Norway, working, learning new music and celebrating a bunch of family birthdays. It was harder than it sounds, specifically the work part. I’m not sure I’ll ever sing baritone solo in Fauré’s requiem and Carmina Burana in the same day ever again. But thanks to my running habit and my lovely daughter, I also had moments like these:

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Free Stairmaster

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The Office

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Does anyone own a red Buick?

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Young mountaineer

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Just say “mellon”.

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The last summer day

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800 meters of joy

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The water temperature is still great and the beach is a lot more picturesque than in summer. I set a new 800 PB of 2:32. The first lap was intense, I was breathing like a drowning rat. Most of the second lap was a struggle against fatigue, and then I got some extra energy to sprint the last 150m or so, which felt great.

I have a friend (also a singer) who ran 2:20, so the ultimate goal is to beat him.

Bruised ego among most common running injuries

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A lot of things change when the distance increases. Suddenly you have to drink while running, which I never think about in training. And the belt that I usually wear right on my skin suddenly gives me blisters on my back. But the worst bruises were definitely of the mental kind.

I’ve gotten the results from yesterday’s race, and the final time was 1:45:18, about 30 seconds faster than I thought. And that makes it a new personal best by about 30 seconds. Obviously it’s on the wrong side of 1:45, but I feel that I gave it all I had on me, so already I feel a bit better about it. (And the concert I sang right after the race went very well, so I’ve now concluded that running long distance is probably great for singers.)

The reason that I’m disappointed is part that I had an unrealistic goal. My previous PB was about 1:46. I should have stuck with the primary goal of crossing the 1:45 line, instead of gunning for 1:40. People see my 5k time and tell me I could do much better at half marathon, but it ain’t necessarily so: The discrepancy in race times gets bigger as I get fitter.

And the other reason for my disappointment is that I was expecting it to be an enjoyable experience, and it was just not. I was bored for the first half and tired for the second half of the race. 4:45/km feels like a slow tempo for me, I can comfortably eat an apple or run with my mouth closed. I’m now suspecting that this has more to do with metabolism than strength or endurance. I simply run out of fuel right after the 10k mark. The legs felt absolutely great, and I had no form problems this time.

It seems all runners are different. I know I didn’t have a good food plan for this race. Pasta night(s) are on. And I am pretty sure now that I need to do longer tempo runs to improve at half marathon. I’m afraid long slow distance doesn’t work for me. I think the part I’m missing is one of fuel and glycogen storage, so that’s what I’m going to train.

But first I’m going on a 5k binge. And 400m intervals!

More pasta next time

I PR’ed by a few seconds today, in Copenhagen Half Marathon. I belive it was around 1:45:47. As every other time I’ve run the distance, I ran the first 15k according to plan, and from there on I just longed for a warm bath and a cold drink. Either there is something physiological that makes me less adapted to longer distances, or there is something about my training that I need to change. I know for sure that I give my best during the race, because I could hardly stand up afterwards.

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I have also been eating less carbohydrates than usual, except for lots of fruit and some juice on race day. Next time I will definitely eat that mandatory pasta dinner on the night before. I could smell ammonia on my clothes after the race, which is a sign of burning protein (if I’ve understood it correctly). The problem is likely to be about muscle glycogen, because I feel like I’m flying for the first half of the race and then I bonk very early in the race. My times on 400-5000 meter are better than many runners who beat me at long distances. Up to 10k is fun. It’s weird that I managed a good sprint the last 800 meters.

Now I’m off to singing Monteverdi’s opera l’Orfeo. Not the worst recovery.

Sometimes it’s nice to be a jogger

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Joggers don’t call themselves joggers anymore, but I think it’s a very good word. It tells people “I don’t win races, but I like to run anyway”. The thought came up tonight because I went for a run in the dark, and I suddenly I thought of “the Curse of the Jogger“, as described by Mark Remy. (Dead bodies are always found by “joggers”, not “runners, when described in the media”.) I think the main reason is that all “runners” who are not professional runners are considered joggers by the general public. Who cares, right?

But anyway tonight I feared that there might be a curse after all, so I slowed down in fear of tripping on some rocks. I should have brought a flashlight. I tried a new type of intervals today, where I ran two minutes at half marathon tempo, and then two minutes considerably faster, for about 5-6k. The idea was to show myself that my chosen race tempo of 4:45/km is a reasonable ambition. Felt like it worked.

Ended the run with a swim in the ocean. Not just a plunge, a real swim. Pitch dark sky, all alone, red full moon hanging on the horizon. It’s completely unheard of to have nice bathing temperatures in Denmark in September. Like the laws of physics have been broken or something. Beautiful night skies are hard to photograph unfortunately.

I find that I get more and more lazy as race day approaches, like I come with taper built into my brain. If I can put in any kind of run every day this last week, I’m happy, never mind “quality training”. I’m a little bit bored with running at race pace. When this half marathon is done I want to run lots and lots of 400m intervals.

And lastly: a note to all tourists in Copenhagen with kids and a minimum of skill with animals: At Fortunens Ponycenter you can rent a pony for 30 minutes or more. It’s just a short bike ride from Lyngby or Klampenborg train stations, and very easy to access by car. It’s right next to Kongens Dyrehave, a big park that used to be the king’s hunting grounds. Bring cash!

24 hours around Søerne

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September is here but it still feels like summer. The beach looks like this. We go swimming every other day. Pretty nice.

I’m a bit scared of the half marathon race next weekend. I’m nervous because it might go well. Or it might just be same old feeling of being invincible and lightfooted for 15 k and then crashing. I’m on a very moderate low carbohydrate diet, and it seems I’m losing weight. I will keep this up (because I feel fine) until the race, not carboload at all, and snack during the race. I call it an experiment. I think it’s really more of a performance technique I’ve learned from music, which is to focus on something complicated but measurable to keep fear and anxiety off my mind. Like “my legs will hurt like hell… what an interesting experiment”.

I’m making tortillas. Finally ordered masa harina online. Thank god for the Internet! Chilihouse.dk have both that and chipotle salsa. I don’t have a tortilla press, so all my tortillas read IKEA backwards.

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Easy to make and delicious. Get masa harina, because regular cornstarch will just become polenta. Masa harina is treated with lime (Ca(OH)2, not fruit), which makes the protein more sticky, kind of like gluten. Traditionally this was done with ash. And I love love love chipotle, smoked chillies.

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Tomorrow I will go and watch the final 20 minutes of a 24 hour run around Søerne (the lakes) in Copenhagen. My wife just came home from a run and wondered why she’d been able to outrun a bunch of very fit looking people. Turns out they are running frøken Hansens 24 timers løb. I just want to see it live. Awesome feat. And a little bit crazy.