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Banana Walnut Granola

I’ve made a few variations of this USA Weekend granola recipe ever since discovering it, and this is my most recent favorite.  It’s perfect with cold milk and fresh blueberries.  You might read through the ingredients and think, “One tablespoon of vanilla? Is that a typo?”  but trust me:  an absurd-seeming amount of vanilla extract is the secret to awesome homemade granola.  The imitation stuff is probably fine, and if you’re a Costco member they carry large inexpensive bottles of real vanilla extract.

Banana Walnut Granola

Banana Walnut Granola

Adapted from USA Weekend

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped banana chips
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbs. canola or other flavorless oil
1 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees, and spray a 9×13 metal baking pan with cooking spray.  Mix the oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, salt, coconut, walnuts and banana chips in a bowl.  Combine the maple syrup, oil, water, vanilla extract and cinnamon in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until simmering.

Drizzle the hot liquid over the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Spread the mixture onto the baking pan, and squeeze it to form small clumps.  The wheat germ mixed with the hot liquid forms a kind of mortar and helps make those great crunchy clusters that are otherwise hard to get with homemade granola.

Bake at 275 for 35-40 minutes until light golden brown, stirring once or twice.  The granola may not be as crispy as you would want it right away, but it will get crispier as it cools.  Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Thanks for the kind words about my race report!  I’m so used to my husband’s eyes glazing over when I talk about races that it’s unusual to have people actually be interested.  :-)

Kendra over at Kendra Through The Looking Glass is running a Change It Up Challenge where each week in August she’ll present a challenge designed to get you out of your fitness ruts and shake up your routine.  I love this idea so I joined right in.  The challenge for the first week is to change your workout three times this week.

One of my biggest workout ruts that I fall into is only doing cardio.  I hop on the strength training wagon now and then, but I don’t stick with it long enough for all the sets, reps, weights, exercises, etc. to become as mentally easy and second nature as heading out for a run.  So strength training was the first thing I thought of for changing up a workout.

To get even further outside my comfort zone, I decided that for my first changed workout I would try out a piece of exercise equipment I’ve had sitting around for over a year but have NEVER used:

TheraBand Resistance Band

(not my picture)

I got a TheraBand resistance band last year through a wellness program at work.  But I had no idea what exercises to do with it, so between that and my general aversion to strength training it’s been sitting in my closet gathering dust.

But no more!  I found this routine on Livestrong targeted towards swimmers, and did 3 sets of 12-15 reps of each exercise (except for the flutter kicks because my core strength sucks).

It’s always a little awkward doing new exercises for the first time, but I actually had fun with it and it was harder than I expected.  Like most things, the resistance band has both good and bad aspects.

Pros:

  • It’s super portable, perfect for tossing in a suitcase when traveling.
  • The resistance is very adjustable.
  • I definitely was able to get a good workout.
  • Grabbing the band is much more convenient than dragging out my dumbbells or going to the gym.
  • It allows you to do lat pulldown / rowing type exercises (which are great for swimming) without a cable machine.

Cons:

  • It’s a multiple sets, high reps kind of strength training, which I find kind of tedious.
  • Gripping the band made my hands a little sore and crampy after a while.
  • It gives your hands that latex-y, swim cap smell.  They do make latex-free bands, which might be better.
  • The routine I did required anchoring the band at waist height, and seeing as my husband hasn’t talked me into installing a pole in our house yet, it was difficult to find something vertical to loop the band around that was also strong enough to pull on.  I ended up using a fence post in the back yard (my neighbors already think I’m crazy).

The overall verdict?  I think if I had the right routine, I could get into doing a resistance band workout regularly since it would be really convenient to do at home.  I’ll continue my search for exercises, but at any rate I’m glad I finally tried it out.  Thanks for the inspiration Kendra!

Have you ever used a resistance band, and if so what kind of exercises do you do?  How do you feel about strength training?

It’s a good thing I don’t believe in omens, because when I left for my race Saturday morning at 5:30 am, the skies definitely looked portentous.

But maybe things would be better to the west, where I was heading.

Hmm, not so much.  There was actually some pretty impressive lightning and thunder in that direction, and I debated whether it was worth the risk of driving two hours only to find out that the race was canceled.

I decided to just go ahead, and I’m glad I did because although I ended up driving right through the lightning and pouring rain, by the time I got to the race location it was beautiful, clear and sunny (and nice and cool due to the storm passing through).

The race was in Ellensburg, Washington, and after some GPS mishaps (someday I will learn to actually map out directions in advance) I made it there around 7:30 am.  Which didn’t leave me as much time as I would have liked before the 8:00 start, but was just enough time to take care of the essentials (packet pick-up, port-a-potty, transition area setup).

Transition area

The whole race course was really well-planned and well-situated.  The swim was in a smallish pond in the park, and the water was the perfect temperature to go wetsuit-less (around 68-70 I think).

The bike course was nice and scenic going through farmland and country roads, with no major climbs.  It did have a long section of that demoralizing kind of slight uphill that seems like it’s flat but you’re just really slow for some reason, but it was made up for by a corresponding section of gradual downhill that makes you feel like you are a speed demon.

The run course may have been my favorite, partly because it was shorter than a normal sprint tri (2.7 miles), and also because it was mostly on trails and in the shade.  I wish I lived nearer to Ellensburg so I could come do open water swims and runs at this park!

The finish line

I was pretty pleased when I saw my finish time (around 1:30) on the clock, and even more pleased when I realized I could subtract some time off that since I was in the second wave that started about 5 minutes after the first.

Things I would do differently do next time:

  • Not leave my race belt with race number in the car.  Luckily they had chip timing so it didn’t seem to be too big of a deal, but I think technically I could have been DQ’ed for not having my race number on.
  • Not put my bike on an empty rack that wasn’t mine.  Since I got there late, my assigned rack was pretty full and there were completely empty ones to the side.  I rationalized it by telling myself that my rack-mates wouldn’t have wanted me moving their bikes and gear to make room and squeeze on there.  But really, if you saw someone with their bike like this (and the bike number making it clear that it’s on the wrong rack):
    Me hogging the bike rack.

    Taken after the race, but I had the rack all to myself during the race.

    …you would think they were a selfish jerk.  Or at least I would.  I know it’s not really a big deal, but I hate breaking or bending rules, and this was not worth the guilt it caused me.  I do wish the race organizers had reassigned the racks once it was clear that there were going to be several empty.

  • Not break the buckle off of my helmet in T2.  Apparently I was in a really big hurry, and ripped the helmet off?  I didn’t notice this until after the race.  Too bad I spent so much time looking for my race belt and ended up with a slow transition time anyway!

Things that I’m glad that I did or that went well:

  • Going wetsuit-less for the swim.  It was so nice not having to deal with it in transition.
  • I pushed myself enough that it was definitely hard but I didn’t blow up.
  • My run pace was around 8:40 mpm, which for me lately is awesome for 2.7 miles, let alone following a swim and a bike.

Overall this was a great race for me, and it’s made me much more excited about doing more triathlons this summer.  I haven’t been racing much lately, thinking that it’s not worth all the effort and the money, but I’m really glad I did this one.

Do you enjoy racing, or would you rather just do your own thing and save the entry fee? It’s weird because I’m not especially competitive, but for some reason I just love races and end up having so much fun.

Climbing this hill on my last bike ride was exciting

The sprint triathlon that I’m doing this Saturday is my first multisport race since my half-Ironman almost exactly a year ago.  So I definitely am a little out of racing practice, and even more so out of short distance racing practice.  I always say that Olympic tris or 10Ks and longer are a better value, because the cost is almost the same so you get much more distance for your dollar.  Really though, I know that short races are even harder in their own way for me.  In a sprint, you can push yourself closer to your true physical limit.  I have gotten back in shape enough that I’m no longer worried that I won’t be able to finish the distances.  But I still find the prospect of going hard for an hour and a half or more to be very daunting.

All of this has me thinking about one of the two important things I learned from one of my Mt. Adams hiking companions.  The first thing I learned is that if you are going hiking with a 2:50 marathoner, DO NOT let them set the pace.  Lesson number two came as we were sitting at Lunch Counter, looking up at the steepest part of the climb up the false summit which as you may recall looked like this:

View of false summit from Lunch Counter

All I could think of was locked-up quads, burning lungs and slipping and tumbling down the snow.   But as he faced the mountain,  he said, without a trace of sarcasm,

“I’m excited! This is going to be hard!”

My initial mental response to this was “friend, you and I are very different people.”  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he had the right attitude.  Doing hard things is exciting!  It may not always be comfortable or even especially pleasant, but it’s thrilling to push yourself beyond what you are sure you can do, and emerge with an expanded knowledge of what you are capable of.  Devoting mental energy to dreading the intense effort it would take to reach the top wasn’t making things any easier.  It was just channeling that nervous excitement into negative channels.

So I’m trying to take that attitude more and relish the challenges ahead of me, rather than worrying about just how much I’m going to suffer when faced with a hill to climb or a tough workout or my first triathlon in a year when I haven’t been super consistent with my training.  Instead I just smile, and think to myself, “this is going to be hard!”

I love the idea of grilled pizza, especially in the summer when it’s way too hot to be running the oven at 500°.  But I’ve never been able to get the technique quite right.  Fortunately, ugly pizzas are still tasty pizzas, so I don’t mind doing lots of experimenting.

For the crust I used Peter Reinhart’s Pizza Napoletana recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which is an amazing book for anyone really interested in bread and patient enough for extremely detailed instructions and explanations.

Whatever crust you use, the grilling method stays pretty much the same.  You’d probably be better off following the instructions at 101 cookbooks or Serious Eats, but here’s about how it went when I attempted it a few nights ago:

Stretch the dough into a nice even round, and assemble all your toppings and ingredients.

Clockwise from top: Spray bottle with water, toppings, olive oil with minced garlic, pizza dough

Toppings were sliced orange bell pepper, mozzarella, and shiitake mushrooms sauteed in a little butter with thyme.

Brush the round of dough with the garlic olive oil.

Attempt to flip the dough onto the hot side of the grill while maintaining the nice round shape.

Fail.  Curse.  Realize your pizza has caught fire, and curse more.  Forget about taking pictures and grab the spray bottle of water to put it out.   Brush the top side with the garlic olive oil.

Once the underside of the pizza is nice and browned (or charred, as the case may be), flip it over and place sliced mozzarella on the cooked side of the crust.  In my grilled pizza experience it’s necessary to put the cheese on first so it will melt.

Then put the rest of the toppings on, move the pizza over to the side of the grill with no burner on, and close the lid. 

Once the underside of the crust is crispy and the cheese is completely melted, slide the pizza off the grill and top with fresh basil.

Decide, hey, that’s a pretty decent pizza, even if it is a little homely.

Cook the second pizza pretty much the same way, messed-up shapes, cursing, flare-ups and all, but only get one picture of it like the less-loved second child pizza that it is.

I really like the flavor of the crust, although it ended up a little thinner than I would have liked in the middle.   I would chalk that up to user error though, since I didn’t give it the full resting time out of the fridge before baking which I think would have let it rise more, and I have a tendency to pile on the toppings.  I’ll definitely be trying this pizza dough again, along with working to refine my pizza grilling technique.

Have you made grilled pizza before?  Any tips?

I’ve never been especially interested in climbing mountains.  The whole “because it’s there” argument does not strike me as a compelling one.  Mountains are great to view from a distance, but on top of the mountain itself is not usually a very pleasant place to be.  Watching movies like Touching the Void just makes me think of all the pleasant, comfortable places in the world where one could be.  In a world full of spas, beaches, and beds with soft fluffy pillows, why would you go out of your way to put yourself on cold and windy glacier or rock in the thin oxygen-lacking air?

Nevertheless, I found myself doing exactly that this past weekend.

Mt. Adams was our goal, and as we drove towards it and it got bigger and bigger, I started to feel more and more apprehensive.  The route we were taking wasn’t a dangerous or technical climb like Everest or even Mt. Rainier, involving rope lines or ladders across crevasses.  You basically walk right up the south face.  But once I could actually see that face and imagine myself walking up it, it didn’t sound quite so simple.

Mt. Adams from a distance

This doesn't look that big...

Mt. Adams Closer

...okay, maybe it does

None of the three of us had ever done any real mountaineering before, but we had plenty of backpacking and hiking experience, and we did our research beforehand.  We armed ourselves with crampons, ice axes, and the half-dozen different permits and forms required, and headed on up to the trailhead.

We camped at the trailhead to head out first thing in the morning, doing the entire 11-mile round trip hike in one shot.  The campground was basically a real-world demonstration of Nietzsche’s statement that hell is other people, but despite the noisy neighbors we got some sleep and set out on the trail at 6:30 am.

We were hiking in snow within the first mile, and within the second mile the trail went from “a little steep” to “straight up the mountain”.

Hikers heading up the South Climb trail at Mt. Adams

It wasn’t too long before we were high enough above the trees to get views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.

View of Mt. Hood on the South Climb of Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood off in the distance

We kept trucking along and made pretty good time getting to Lunch Counter around 10:30, where we had a view of the infamous false summit.

View of false summit from Lunch Counter

You would think you'd be at the top after that climb. But you'd be wrong.

The people climbing up looked like tiny ants. Tiny ants that were moving at a depressingly slow pace.  After a lunch break, we strapped on crampons and started our own depressingly slow ascent.

One of the good things about so many people being on the mountain (the ranger station told us over 200) was that the steps in the snow were pretty well-defined for the most part.  I was in good spirits for the first third of the climb, and started to get excited and believe for the first time that we really were going to make it to the top.

View of the climb up the false summit

Kind of like a stair climber machine at the gym.

About 2/3 of the way in, it got steep enough that I got slightly freaked out looking around or taking pictures.  I always say that I’m not afraid of heights, I’m afraid of falling (yet another argument against my future as a mountain climber).  When I stood still, all I could think about was the slipperiness of the snow, and the pull of gravity, and how you could keep on sliding down all 2,000 feet you just climbed up (unless your crampon snagged and you broke your ankle on the way down).  Really, the climb never got all that steep and there were several little kids and a dog that made it to the summit as well, but I was still very glad that I had crampons and an ice axe to help anchor me into the snow.

I also started to tire out and have to rest more.  I live about 400 feet above sea level, so I could feel the effects of the altitude even at the trailhead at 5,600 feet.  Making that steep climb at 10,000 feet required lots of stopping to catch my breath.  I got in a pattern where I would take 20 slow steps, then rest for 30 seconds, then take 20 more.  After 60 steps I was allowed to look at the top to see how much further, because looking more often was discouraging since the top didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

Overall it took me about an hour and a half to reach the false summit.  We rested for a while before setting out on the final section of climbing.  We knew about the whole false summit thing, but the final climb looked steeper than we had expected (or hoped, I guess).

Mt. Adams

Just a little more climbing...

It was a lot shorter and less steep than the previous section, and my outlook started to improve.  The morning’s clouds had cleared and the sky was an amazing deep cobalt blue like I’ve never seen before.  I started thinking about how amazingly lucky I was to be there and to have the chance to be doing something like this.

Climbing Mt. Adams

Finally, after 8 hours, we reached the summit.  It was exhilarating to be up so high, seeing for hundreds of miles, and looking at just how far we had come in one day.  We had seen Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens the whole way up, but this was the first time we could see Mt. Rainier to the north.

View of Mt. St. Helens from the summit of Mt. Adams

Mt. St. Helens in the distance

View of Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier. I forget what that range to the right is called.

I had been hoping to see the old mining building, from the days when they used to take mules up here to mine sulfur, but it was all covered with snow.  It made for a great “king of the mountain” posing spot though.

Me on top of Mt. Adams

Way higher up than Mt. St. Helens

After spending some time taking it all in, we started our descent.  There were around a dozen people on the summit at the same time as us, and about half of them had snowboards or skis with them for the descents.  We stuck with glissading down, sliding on our butts down chutes created from all the previous glissaders.

Glissading down the mountain

Glissading down the mountain

That picture is actually from when we were hiking up.  I didn’t get any pictures while we were descending because I was too busy screaming in terror.  For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but there were some really steep sections where you quickly could gain enough speed to feel very out of control.

There was still some hiking to do, but being able to glissade down those long steep sections really sped up our descent.  It took us less than half the time to descend than it did to reach the summit, and that’s with one especially slow person who kept digging in her ice axe trying to slow down while glissading (ahem).

Hiking back down

Hiking back down

Overall it was an incredible experience.  It was great for a first climb because it was basic enough for beginners with no mountaineering experience, but it still definitely felt like a real mountain and a big accomplishment.

I definitely have more understanding of the appeal of mountain climbing now.  The mere mention of the word “crevasse” still kind of freaks me out, but I could see myself doing something like this again in the future.  On the drive home, we saw Mt. Hood glowing in the sunset light, and it looked awfully tempting…

The view from my ride

Scene from my bike ride yesterday. I don't know why I have a hard time getting out there, it's so nice when I do.

It’s halfway through July, and one week after I outlined my goals for the month, so I wanted to update my progress on each of them.

  • Get prepared for a sprint triathlon on July 31st. I’m at 4 bike rides and 4 runs in the past week including last Thursday.  Still working on dragging my butt to the pool.  I also registered for the race, so there’s no backing out now!  You can see all my training at The Daily Mile.
  • Re-build the habit of morning workouts. I’m 4/7 in the past week, but 3/3 in the past 3 days.  I feel like I’m getting back into the a.m. rhythm, now I just need to stick with it.
  • Bike commute at least four times. Still 1/4 since I haven’t done this since last Thursday, but I’m planning to tomorrow.
  • Keep a food journal. Only 3 for 7 on this one.  Due to my Saturday activities it wasn’t really feasible to track everything I was eating (more on that in a post to come), but I can definitely do better on this!
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