What I’ve been up to: Yin Yoga

After I finished my marathon, I knew that my running would naturally wind down. I’m not that into running in the winter (the cold, the dark, the cold) and my weekly mileage is typically anywhere from 10-20 mpw. As someone with RIDICULOUSLY tight hips and hamstrings, I wanted to take advantage of this lull to get into yoga.

Luckily for me, there are several yoga studios very close to my apartment. I ended up going with Yoga Tree as they offer a variety of styles. It seems that most yoga studios in Toronto are bikram, vinyasa, or ashtanga. Personally I feel like I get more out of a gentle hatha class as I have trouble transitioning from pose to pose and I like to stay in a pose once I get there. Yoga Tree has the aforementioned yoga styles, but also offers restorative, gentle hatha, yin, and beginner flow classes. The studio is great! Very clean and it has a nice vibe. They have a deal where your first month is unlimited classes for $40 which is amazing.

This isn’t meant to be a pitch for  Yoga Tree (although so far they are great and I would definitely recommend them). What  I really want to talk about is how much I have fallen in love with yin yoga. Yin yoga is a style of yoga where you use props to support you in a pose (you feel the stretch in your joints and ligaments, but you shouldn’t be using your muscles to hold the pose, hence the props) for 3-5 minutes each. While you are holding the pose you meditate. At first I thought it sounded a little weird, but after my first class I was sold. Not only did my crazy tight hip flexors actually feel nice and open, I could feel the mental benefits, too. People talk about mental benefits from regular yoga classes and I never knew what they were talking about. I totally do now.

If you want to try yin yoga out, there are two free videos on doyogawithme.com.

This week the weather is a little nicer so I’m trying to bump up my running mileage in the AM, and go to yoga class 3-4 evenings a week.

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Race Report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

On October 19th I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I ran my first full marathon in 2012 (San Francisco), and decided that full marathons are not for me. I’m not a fast runner and so a 20 mile training run takes me a LONG time (not to mention recovery). Half marathons seem to fit into my life a lot more easily.

Fast forward to 2014. It was spring and it was time to register to run Scotiabank on the Toronto Cat Rescue team. Typically I register for the half marathon, but at the time of registration my long runs were already 13+ miles. I wanted to challenge myself and so I made the decision to register for the full.

My training went pretty well. I modified Hal Higdon’s Marathon Novice 2 plan by adding in more mileage during the week so that the long run isn’t such a high percentage of your overall weekly total mileage.

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As you can see above, there were two weeks (#8 and #14) where my training was off, the backpacking trip to Algonquin and then another backpacking trip to Bruce Peninsula. So although I wasn’t building running fitness per se, it’s not like I was sitting on the couch watching Netflix.

The morning of the race was pretty cold and it was difficult to know what to wear. I ended up going with shorts and a t-shirt (with a throwaway jacket I bought at Salvation Army for $2), but long sleeves would have been a better choice. A lot of the course was down by the lake and it was pretty chilly at times. Also, check out my TOFU socks.

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I hung out in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel for an hour or so, eating my banana, drinking water, and taking advantage of having a real bathroom at my disposal, as opposed to portapotties. It was really cold standing around in the corrals but I wasn’t out there for long.

The thing I don’t like about this race is that the first half (where full marathon and half marathon people are running together) is way too crowded. As in wow I’m actually tripping over people crowded. Some people love it, I hate it. If it wasn’t for the opportunity to raise money for Toronto Cat Rescue I would pick a different (smaller) race.

At the very first aid station I drank some Gatorade, which normally doesn’t bother me at ALL, but on that day it wasn’t sitting right. I don’t know if it was the cold, the adrenaline, or whatever else, but it made me feel kind of queasy. I didn’t think much of it and kept going. The nauseous feeling never left me after that, and it messed up my ability to fuel. By mile 18 I hadn’t been eating/drinking as much as I had planned (because every time I tried I felt like I was going to be sick) and so I hit the wall HARD.

Around mile 20 I knew I was so far away from the finish but running hurt SO MUCH and I didn’t know if I could make it. I made a deal with myself that I would run for 3 minutes, walk for 1 minute. The last half mile or so I had a surge of adrenaline and kicked it to the finish line. My time was 5:02:XX. An entire 18 minutes slower than my first marathon in 2012. Even though I was in much better shape and my training went much more smoothly and I was aiming for a 4:30:XX.

At first I was really disappointed in my time. I was embarrassed by it. I didn’t want to tell people my time. But in the past week and a half, not one person has said, wow, you were slow. Everyone has said, wow, you finished when you felt so awful, that’s amazing! AND I raised $500 for a local cat rescue. So although I didn’t hit my time goal, I’ve been trying really hard to put things into perspective and feel good about my accomplishment.

After the marathon my husband helped me hobble into a cab to go home, where I spent the rest of the day eating pizza, drinking beer, and doing this:

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Trip Report – Bruce Peninsula

This past weekend we spent 2 nights backpacking on the Bruce Trail in Bruce Peninsula National Park. There are two backcountry campgrounds in the park, Stormhaven and High Dump. We drove up from Toronto on Friday morning and went to the main office at Cyprus Lake to pick up our permits. Originally we were going to park at Cyprus Lake, hike to Stormhaven on Day 1, hike to High Dump on Day 2, and then hike all the way back to Cyprus Lake on Day 3. The staff person working at the main office suggested that we park at Halfway Log Dump instead, which is between Stormhaven and High Dump, thus making our Day 3 trip a lot more reasonable.

We took the wise staff person’s advice and drove on over to Halfway Log Dump. When you first leave the parking lot, there is a nice, easy trail that takes you down to the beach that’s 1 KM long or so.

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Once you get to the end of this trail you want to turn left for Stormhaven. Be careful as the trail to Stormhaven is easy to miss and isn’t marked when you are coming from the parking lot. If you have extra time take the pebbly path down to Halfway Log Dump, it’s very lovely!

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The sign says that Stormhaven is 2.7 KM, but the map says it’s 2.0 KM. I’m not sure which is correct, but 2.7 sounds about right to me. It’s a very rugged trail, so even though the distance sounds short, it will still take you awhile. The trail is very rocky and there is a lot of climbing and descending, but you are rewarded with views such as this:

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Although beautiful, these views can be a bit terrifying if you are scared of heights and/or plummeting to your death (like me).

We reached Stormhaven around 5:00 PM or so and made our way to our camp site (#9). We were right by the beach and a bit secluded from the other sites, I’d definitely recommend it.

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Once we set up camp we spent some time exploring the amazing beach.

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That night it started to rain and it didn’t stop until we were out on the trail again heading to High Dump. This meant the trail was very slippery, as it’s mostly exposed rock. It was extremely slow-going.

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We hiked the 2.7 KM (or 2.0, who knows) to Halfway Log Dump and then continued on the Bruce Trail for another 6.6 KM to High Dump (again, the map has a different distance listed, which I can’t remember at the moment). This trail starts out easily enough, it follows the forest floor with a gradual incline.

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Don’t get too comfortable though, soon it will turn into steep ascents (some of which we had to scale and climb) and descents (some of which required sliding down the rocks on my butt like a slide). Again, everything was super slippery from the rain and so we had to be really careful.

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It wasn’t all bad though, there were still amazing views:

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Eventually you get to a point where you take a side trail to High Dump. By the time we got to this point the rain had picked up again. The descent down into High Dump is so steep that it requires a rope that is hanging from trees in order to support yourself. To me, this was terrifying in the slippery rain and it took me awhile to make it down. Eventually we got to the bottom and set up camp at 5:30 PM or so.

We had site #9 and it’s quite a distance from the bear poles and toilet, but you are really secluded and off by yourself. There’s even a small cave right behind the camp site which came in handy for keeping things dry in the pouring rain. The light was horrible and I didn’t want to take out my camera in the rain but I managed to get a few shots at our site:

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The rain continued all night and all morning. If there was an easy way to teleport back to the car I would have, but unfortunately the only thing to do was to pack up, climb out with that rope, and carefully make our way back over the slippery rocky trail. It took us about 5 hours, but eventually we made it back to Halfway Log Dump.

Oh, and given all the rain, I had a chance to try out a trash bag rain skirt, which was amazing for keeping our pants dry!

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Trip Report – Algonquin Western Uplands Trail

I just returned from my first backpacking trip – 3 days and 2 nights on the Western Uplands trail at Algonquin Park. The trail has three different length loops, ranging from 32 to 88 km. We did what’s known as “the first loop” – the 32 km option, with an extra 6k thrown in.

To get to Algonquin we took the Parkbus – a terrific initiative that takes city-goers in Toronto and Ottawa to several park locations, including Algonquin, Bruce Peninsula, Killarney, and the Georgian Islands. We caught the bus at 7:00 am right at a nearby subway station (York Mills) and after picking up some more passengers in the city we were off. The bus makes several different stops in Algonquin, for the Western Uplands trail you will need to get off at the West Gate stop. This is where you need to pick up your backcountry camping permits.

Earlier in the week I had phoned and asked if there was potable water at West Gate and the lady assured me that there was no problem with asking the staff in the office to fill up our water bottles and bladders. Wrong. The staff made a big deal about it but in the end my husband was able to talk them into helping us out. The sinks in the washroom are very shallow and you need to keep one hand pushing down on the faucet to get water so that would have been a nightmare if we had to use those.

We arrived at West Gate right on time at 11:00 am and after collecting our permits and filling up our water we were ready to hit the trail and leave West Gate at 12:00 pm.

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The trail head is actually 3 km down the highway from West Gate, and so the beginning of your journey looks like this:

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After not too long you finally arrive at the parking lot and trail head. There are outhouses here and water fountains, so we could have filled up our bottles here but ah well, live and learn.

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The first leg of the trail is 4.4 km. It starts out easy enough, but soon you are going up and down a lot of hills. There are a lot of tree roots and rocks on the trail and it is somewhat slow-going. We made it to Maple Leaf lake for a little break around 3:30 pm. There were quite a few people set up at Maple Leaf already. This photo of the camp site where we took our break is pretty indicative of what you’ll find on this trail. Fire pits with a surrounding bench, a place to pitch your tent, and a bit removed from the site a privy toilet. All in all, much better amenities than what I was expecting!

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We still had 6.6 km to go to where we were spending the first night – Maggie Lake. There was some more ups and downs and the trail was much of the same. Along the way you pass some neat rock formations like this:

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The first site we passed at Maggie was empty but didn’t offer much in the way of a view so even though we were really tired at that point we pressed on. There are sites all around the lake (15, not including the 2 canoe-in sites in the middle of the lake). Luckily the second site right off of the main trail was really great (and empty!). It was secluded and we had a ton of privacy, plus the camp site was HUGE. We arrived at the site around 5:45 pm and we were pretty wiped out.

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One note of caution – the chipmunks and mice are not afraid of humans AT ALL so be very judicious with your food and keeping your gear neatly stowed in your tent! The chipmunks weren’t too bad, but once the sun went down there was tons of tiny little mice all over the place! They will run right over your foot and try to get into everything!

Maggie Lake is stunning. It’s a dead lake, so if fishing is your thing it’s not for you, but it’s a fair size, has a rocky bottom, and has beautiful, clear water.

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There were a ton of loons on the lake and it was amazing to hear their calls through the night. We also woke up at one point to hear a barred owl, which has such a unique call. No doubt he was after the hundreds of mice at our site!

The next morning we took it pretty slow and luxurious – we made some coffee, had a nice warm breakfast and took our time packing up camp. We set out on the trail at 10:00 am on the nose. We had a long second day planned with 16.6 km of hiking. We weren’t planning on the trail being quite so rugged from Norah Lake to right before Ramona Lake. There were quite a few of very steep, rugged hills. It was fun, but it was also slow-going. Originally we planned to stop at Eu Lake for a lunch break but we decided to push through and just eat snacks on the trail as we were running behind schedule.  One word of warning – right after Oak Lake the trail takes a turn that’s not well marked and if you’re not careful you’ll end up going the wrong way down a portage (not that it happened to us or anything…*cough*).

We arrived at Ramona Lake around 3:00 pm or so and we took a little breather and filtered some more water. The trail had been pretty rough up to that point and we were exhausted, but we still had another 4.5 km to go until we arrived at our second camp site at Guskewau Lake. Luckily the trail gets a lot easier after Ramona. We made pretty good time and hit our site at Guskewau at 5:45 pm.

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A lot of the sites at Gueskewau were already full but surprisingly the most secluded site (the most northern one) was free. It wasn’t as nice as our site at Maggie Lake, but it was still pretty good.

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but Guskewau is a more muddy lake with some marshland. The mosquitoes were quite a bit worse than at Maggie, but died down once we had a fire going.

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Speaking of mosquitoes, they of course were awful this time of year. I may have looked like an idiot, but my bug jacket came in SO handy! Best $12.00 I have ever spent!

The next morning we didn’t have far to go, but we wanted to make sure we left extra time to make it back to West Gate to catch the Parkbus back to the city. We only had 3.9 km of trail which was fairly easy-going and downhill most of the way. Finally we arrived back at the parking lot and took a much needed break.

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Unfortunately we still had to walk 3 km on the highway back to West Gate, which was the hardest 3 km of the entire trip! It was hot and sunny on the highway and it seemed to take forever. Once at the West Gate we cleaned up in the bathrooms (yay flush toilets!) and relaxed in the shade until the Parkbus came to take us back to the city. All was well on the journey until we were about 30 min. north of Barrie. We switched bus drivers and the new driver took us on a really weird “shortcut” that included driving around Barrie for 30 minutes, and then he decided to take a side road with a 50 km/h speed limit. How that’s quicker than going on the freeway I’m not sure. We ended up getting home 1 hour and 15 minutes late, but at least we were in an air conditioned bus with a cushy chair, so it could have been a lot worse.

All in all I would say our first backpacking trip was a success! I can’t wait until September when we have another trip planned for Bruce Peninsula. I can already see why this is such an addictive hobby!

 

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Next Challenge: Running a Marathon for Cats!

Wow, this site has been dead lately. Rather than write a long explanation of what I’ve been up to since my last post I’m going to dive right in.

Lately a lot of my energy has been poured into training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which I’ll be running to fund raise for Toronto Cat Rescue. I ran my first marathon in 2012 in San Francisco. I swore I would never do that again. While I enjoy running, I didn’t particularly enjoy marathon training and I thought that I would stick to half marathons for the foreseeable future. But here I am, doing it all over again. At least this time I have the thought of helping Toronto Cat Rescue to push me when I don’t particularly feel like training.

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Last marathon I used Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 program. This time around I’m using Novice 2. The two programs are very similar, although Novice 2 has slightly higher mileage and some pace runs. I just finished Week 5 of the 18 week plan and things have been progressing pretty well, although I’m reaching the point in my training where I’m constantly hungry. Note to self: quit filling up on junk and incorporate more whole grains, healthy fats, and quality protein.

marathontrainingupdateOnly 2.5 more months to go – yikes!

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Tofu Cookery: Jewish-Style Cabbage Rolls

Both my husband and I come from Ukrainian-Canadian families. So I’ve had my share of cabbage rolls (holubtsi). However, Ukrainian-Canadian cabbage rolls, at least in our families (I realize each family is going to differ on this), are typically just rice and sauteed onion rolled up in cabbage, baked with Campbell’s tomato soup (very traditional, I’m sure).

I’m certainly not a cabbage roll expert. My understanding is that Polish-style cabbage rolls (globaki) are more likely to have meat in them. There are about a bajillion other versions of cabbage rolls from other countries as well.

Anyhoo, Tofu Cookery has a recipe for Jewish-style cabbage rolls, or holishkes. Wikipedia tells me that these also typically have meat. Can you guess what’s in the Louise Hagler version? That’s right, tofu.

The filling consists of cooked rice, mashed up tofu, onion, and garlic. Alright, I”m on board with that. Where this fell apart for me was the sauce. The sauce is made with water, tomato paste, raisins, and sweetener. I was not a fan. The sweetness was a real turn-off. Give me my tomato soup cabbage rolls any day.

They weren’t perfect, but I was pretty proud of my rolling capabilities. My mother-in-law rolls them absolutely perfect, but she’s probably made thousands upon thousands throughout her life. When we lived closer to her, she would make me a batch of vegan cabbage rolls (basically she just subs out dairy butter for vegan butter to saute the onions, the rest of her recipe is already vegan) and stash them in her freezer. Yum!

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Tofu Cookery: Eggplant Sandwiches

This recipe is quite similar to the eggplant lasagna I posted about earlier. Essentially you bread and bake slices of eggplant, and fill with a tofu ricotta. I added some fresh tomato and basil.

 

These were pretty tasty, but not very substantial. I think they would be good for a summer meal when you want something light, along with a salad or a cold soup or what-have-you. They were also a bit messy, so I’m not sure I’d serve them at a fancypants occasion.

I’m certainly not carb-phobic, but I love the idea of making sandwiches with tasty vegetables rather than slices of bread. Do you have any favourite veggie stand-ins for bread?

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Tofu Cookery: Oriental Slaw

Continuing on with my month of Tofu CookeryI decided to try out the “Oriental Slaw.” This is a pretty basic slaw…shredded Napa or any green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot. The dressing I whirred up in my food processor – it as garlic, ginger, cilantro, onion, rice vinegar, sweetener, a bit of oil (I used sesame), and then a tiny bit of tofu. Quite honestly I think the tofu is superfluous and not needed at all.

This was alright. Typically for slaw I make the recipe from Vegan Table which also has tofu, but instead of being hidden in the dressing it is cubed, fried (or baked) and a main ingredient in the slaw.

Tofu Cookery: Chili Con Tofu

I had serious reservations about this chili. Normally, I think a hearty bean chili is where it’s at. But chili with tofu? This was new territory to me. However, in the name of Vegan MoFo, I ventured forth.

This recipe is really simple. Essentially you brown some onion, garlic, and green pepper, along with crumbled tofu that’s been mixed with soy sauce. You then add some tomato sauce, water/veggie broth, chili powder, and pinto beans. That’s it.

Truth be told this chili didn’t look so great. The white hunks of tofu were really unappetizing to me. But taste it I did and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t half bad at all. This isn’t something I’d make again, I much prefer more ‘traditional’ non-tofu chili, but I’m glad I tried it.

What do you normally put in your chili? Usually I stick with kidney and pinto beans, but sometimes I add chickpeas.

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Tofu Cookery: Eggplant Lasagna

I’ve always been a sucker for a delicious lasagna. Lasagnas can be quite heavy dishes though, with all of the noodles and what-not. Tofu Cookery does have a recipe for a traditional lasagna, but also includes one with breaded and oven-baked eggplant as the stand-ins for the noodles.

I had tried a similar dish years ago, but that one just used sliced, raw eggplant. The Tofu Cookery recipe includes the extra step of lightly breading the tofu and then baking it in the oven. This made all the difference in the world – the breaded eggplant was delicious!  The eggplant is layered with a pretty typical tofu ricotta as well as marinara sauce. I had some beautiful, local tomatoes from the farmers market and so I sliced those up and put some on the top of the lasagna, along with extra breadcrumbs.

This was delicious! Definitely something I’d make again. Like most lasagnas, the leftovers were even better and made for some scrumptious lunches.

 

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