Coke Zero

I don’t know what it is exactly, but drinking coffee everyday does something to my gut that can induce relapse of my Crohn’s no problem.  I’ve tested it out here and there, but every time I think I’ll get away with it my Crohn’s always seems to catch me in the act and subsequently seeks its revenge.  And because, little does anyone know, that staying properly caffeinated is pretty much a requirement for medical school, I’ve been forced to seek alternative sources for my much-needed caffeine kicks in the morning, early afternoon, and evening.  Luckily, I’ve found my new source to be Coke Zero.

For any of my former co-workers reading this, I’m sure they’re laughing their asses off.  My old PI’s office would more than occassionally be littered with multiple cans of Coke Zero and the mini-fridge would be appropriately stocked to maintain his supply of the magical elixir.  And currently I have to 12-packs in my apartment with another in the trunk of my car which will soon be transported to my locker at school.  Yup, my name is Ted and I’m addicted to Coke Zero.

I’m craving the snap of the can and hiss of the carbonation just writing this.

Fourth

Well, yesterday was the Fourth of July.  I was fortunate enough to celebrate America and freedom all weekend long by going out with my buddy CH and company on Friday night, celebrating JM’s birthday Saturday night, attending a little cookout / hangout at Glazer, and then doing a little party-hopping on America’s birthday.  I went down to the Esplanade along the Charles River for a bit to see my friends KM, JI, and others, then headed over to chill with CH for a bit, then off to my friend BJ’s roof deck in Back Bay to have a couple of drinks and watch the fireworks.

Happy birthday, America.  You’re one fine lady at the age of 235.

GMR – Saturday

I woke up on Saturday morning to the sound of chirping birds and the tires of passing cars on wet pavement.  I took a quick shower (because I wouldn’t be taking one for over a day), brushed my teeth, got dressed, and loaded up the van before heading to the start of the Green Mountain Relay.  We had a start time of 10:00am, so we were going to be one of the last teams to start the race.  This also meant that the pressure was on because we were expected to be one of the faster teams competing.  Not really sure how that happened, but awesome.

We got to the start with plenty of time to spare, and we prepped our van with our high-tech “Caution: Runner on Road” sign I made from cardboard and a sharpie.  A few teams took off at 9:30am, and so it was only a matter of time before it would be our turn to start the GMR.  My teammates and I were growing anxious, partly because we wanted to simply start the race and partly because we were nervous about what we were really getting ourselves into.  200 miles between six people over the course of a day.  The reality of it all was starting to set in.

As our team name was “Our Legs Will Go On” in honor of Celine Dion’s “Our Hearts Will Go On” (don’t ask), SM convinced the GMR volunteer announcing the start to put on Celine’s “Taking Chances” as SW started the race (thanks to the volunteer for the hook-up!).  There was a countdown from 10, and next thing we knew SW took off into the distance.  The rest of us hopped into the van and drove off to the first exchange, then it was SW to SM, SM to WW.  By now it was starting to get hotter out.  Really hot, and really humid.  Thankfully we packed multiple cases of water and Gatorade for this thing because we were really going to need them today.

After the first couple of legs we realized we were off to a great start, and as we talked about our times we began thinking we could possibly catch up to several teams that were ahead of us by exchange eight or so.  Knowing my buddies and myself, we were going to seriously push ourselves to accomplish this (we’re very competitive people at heart).  Eventually it came time for my first leg, and as it was around 80 degrees out and sunny I decided to run this leg sans shirt (sun’s out, guns out).  I also busted out my CW-X shorts to help prevent my legs from becoming fatigued over the course of the next twenty-four hours (kinda dorky looking but they work and are worth every penny).  JP handed off our baton (a Livestrong bracelet) to me and I was off.  Down the street, around the corner, up the hill, down the path, and through the field.  I noticed it suddenly got darker out in a matter of minutes, and then I heard the crack of thunder and felt the first few drops hit my head.  Great, just what we all needed.  As I approached the exchange to hand it off to SW, it poured.  And I mean poured.  SW told me to give the guys a special message, and that message was, “@#$% YOU!”  I jogged over to our van and jumped in, soaking wet of course, as it poured and poured.  We drove (slowly) with our windshield wipers on fast-as-all-hell, and then it started hailing.  Don’t believe me?  Check out a little video here.  SW must have been so pissed.  But at least we were done with our first set of legs, and our first 37.0 miles.

Despite the rain, our second set of legs was off to a great start.  We started seeing a lot of unfamiliar faces at the exchanges, which meant we were catching up to the teams that started before us (holler).  With the sun once again blazing in the midday sky, it was getting extremely hot and, now that the storm had cleared, it was getting extremely humid.  But we pushed on.  Once again JP tapped out as I tapped in.  This time instead of worrying about the rain and lightning I was able to take in the beautiful scenery that Vermont had to offer.  I passed waterfalls and a gorgeous farm with grazing cows and horses (don’t ask why but I love cows).  Even in the distance I could hear sheep baa-ing.  I finished the leg and passed it off to SW yet again.  Second set of legs: complete.  We were a third of the way done.  Since I carbo-loaded really well, I knew I needed just a little bit of carbs in the form of a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal bar and a bagel with peanut butter to stay energized and a small whey protein shake to help keep up with muscle recovery.  I also decided to take a little extra prednisone to help control my Crohn’s because I knew the toll running (and eating) like this would take on my gut.

As we started the third set of legs dusk began to set in, and so we broke out the reflective vests, headlamps, and blinking red lights.  Running in the complete darkness was beginning to become a reality, although since we had all done crew while at BC, we had run in the pitch black of early morning (and complete exhaustion) down to practice countless times.  However, I also knew that this was going to be particularly challenging for me because as most of the other guys’ legs were getting shorter and easier in terms of overall difficulty, mine were only getting more challenging as the relay progressed (easy, moderate, moderate, hard, hard, hard).  This also meant that my rest time between legs was getting shorter.  Awesome.

I started my third leg sometime around 10:00pm, and into the darkness I went.  About a quarter-mile in and all I could think was, “This is wild.”  The stars were shining brilliantly against the night sky, and the only light in the area was from the moon.  But it was just wild being out in the middle of nowhere, alone, in silence where the only light guiding you was from your headlamp.  Wild doesn’t even begin to describe the experience of running through Vermont at night, but I know I’ll never forget it.  I finished my leg and we had completed the first three legs of the relay covering 106.8 miles.  We were all pleased we had gotten this far, although our bodies were starting to feel the effects of repeatedly running several miles and then sitting in a van immediately after.  The leg I had just completed had a steep downhill, which sounds easy but it just beat the crap out of my knees.  I (and everyone else) was starting to hurt, but that didn’t matter because we sucked it up and pressed on.

When SW came in after finishing his fourth leg, we greeted him for his twenty-fifth birthday with a surprise cookie cake and song.  Everyone else at the exchange joined in with us.  This is one reason why I love the running community.  Everyone is out there, doing their own thing, pushing their own limits, and everyone respects that.  Even though we were teams competing against each other, we were all out there to prove to ourselves that we could do something crazy like the GMR.  And that’s all that mattered.

We were all getting tired, and I decided to lay down for a bit and try to grab some sleep (although I wouldn’t catch a minute of sleep all night) and rest my legs.  Luckily my next leg was short at 4.3 miles, although again it had a lengthy severely steep downhill so it was going to be hard on my body.  Then after that it would just be two more “hard” legs, each with a 2-mile section of incline.

Just.

And be sure to hit up my Flickr for full-sized pictures seen here and others from the GMR.

GMR – Friday

So I haven’t been blogging recently because, well, I’ve been way up in Vermont competing in the Green Mountain Relay.  The relay, which covers about 200 miles, runs along the historic Route 100 which apparently is one of the most scenic highways in the United States.  Running the course takes about an entire day to complete, and as an ultra team we were competing as a team of six runners with each of us completing anywhere from twenty-eight to forty miles divided up between six legs.  Since this was such an amazing (and long) experience, I’ve decided that I’m going to divide coverage of the whole race up between three separate blog posts over the next three days.  There was just so much that happened that there’s no way to cover it all in a single post.  So today, I’m writing about Friday’s events.

Ah, Friday.  The day before the Green Mountain Relay.  The whole day felt like the calm before the storm.  I could see the race looming on the horizon as it was quickly approaching, and all I could do was prepare myself for it as best I could.  It was time to start loading up on carbohydrates and maximizing my body’s stores of glycogen (science talk for energy).  My breakfast consisted of some soy milk and cereal (soy milk because of Crohn’s) along with some eggs with cheese on toast, and lunch was a nice large helping of pasta with a little butter and Parmesan cheese.  Of course, anytime you load up on carbs like this you also gain a few pounds of water weight.  This is fine because you need to be well hydrated before a huge race like the GMR, but man can you feel bloated and disgusting.  I don’t normally stuff carbs down my face like this, so I felt like a total tubby the entire day.

I left work a little early to go home and finish packing for the race (and eat more cereal).  After Googling “long distance relay tips,” I came across an article and a forum that gave some (now in hindsight) really good advice.  Besides the expected advice on food, water, transportation, and safety, there was some particularly good advice on what to pack.  One runner suggested packing an outfit for every leg plus one.  Seems like a lot of clothes, right?  Who packs seven pairs of spandex, six tank tops, four long-sleeve shirts, two pairs of shoes, a pair of flip flops, and eight pairs of socks among other things for just one race?  Regardless, I packed it all up.

WW, JP, and SW of Newton Center swung by my place to pick me up (along with all my crap) before swinging by the North End to grab SK, SM, and CR.  Next thing I knew we were en route to New Hampshire for a quick pit stop at SK’s house for reflective vests, headlamps, and some delicious homemade oatmeal cookies.  Then we were off for Vermont, but first stopping for dinner at Blaser’s Fireside Tavern.  This was pretty much our only option because SK was attempting to direct us to a Cracker Barrel for a quick bite, but we then discovered that it was Cracker Barrel Store, which was more of a small town general store (way to go, SK).  Anyway, the restaurant was a very homey kind of place.  I mean, when we were walking up to the door it felt like we were crashing someone’s summer BBQ at their pond-side house.  Having loaded up on carbohydrates the entire by downing bowls of cereal, bread, and pasta, I ordered a chicken sandwich with a little bit of french fries and onion rings.  Most of the other guys ordered pasta with chicken, but I knew I’d be fine on carbs.  However, little did we realize that this would be our last real meal before the race.

During the course of dinner night fell, and it started getting cooler out.  Thoughts of running through Vermont in this kind of darkness started to course through my head.  This was going to be interesting.  “Interesting” soon turned into “unfathomable” as we got closer to our hotel and were driving up some seriously steep and winding hills, well, more like mountains.  We were literally all laughing out loud as our van was cranking in first gear up the hill as WW dodged massive boulders jutting into the road.  What were we getting ourselves into?

We finally arrived at the Smuggler’s Notch Inn around midnight, and quietly snuck in.  It was a quaint little place with creaking floors and country-style rooms, and it would serve as a great place for our last night of sleep before the GMR.  I was tired, but looking forward slash scared of the race the next day.

We had just one last night of sleep before we would embark on what would become one of the most challenging physical excursions of our lives.

Cheesy

The one truly awesome thing about food is that sometimes the most basic edible treats can take us back to some of our fondest childhood memories.  Anyone who’s seen Disney and Pixar’s “Ratatouille” (one of my favorites) can probably recall the scene where the cranky critic Anton Ego takes one bite of Remy’s ratatouille and is suddenly sent back in time to comforting thoughts of being a boy and eating his mother’s own ratatouille.

Well, for me the other night I had a non-stop craving for some grilled cheese.  I actually went to the grocery store specifically to buy white bread and American cheese.  When I got home I heated up the pan, tossed in a pad of butter, and threw in my simple sandwich of bread-cheese-bread.  I listened to the sizzle of the frying bread as I waited a minute or two, flipped, and waited another minute.  Done.

Who thought something so simple could be so freaking delicious?  Biting into the crispy, buttery bread and with the ooey-gooey melted cheese all in one bite is simply out of this world.  I don’t need those fancy cheeses, artisan breads, or other toppings.  Just give me some Pepperidge Farms white bread and some Kraft singles and I’m set.  It’s so good.  And sure grilled cheese is a comfort food in itself anyway, but it always reminds me of the times when my brother and I would be stuck inside on cold, rainy summer days and Mom would make us lunch.  My favorite days were when she made grilled cheese (although if I recall correctly my picky eater brother wasn’t such a fan, but his loss).  So on these recent cold, rainy June days in Boston there’s nothing like having a little grilled cheese to help block out the bleakness of the recent weather.

Grilled cheese anyone?