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On the anniversary of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, my thoughts are with all those affected. I’m looking forward to seeing the race come back better than ever next Monday.

Personally, when someone says “Boston Marathon” I think back to the day I brought home my first baby from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. I sat in the back seat of the car so I could hover nervously over my newborn on the drive home. Much to my chagrin the drive took extra long because we had to take a circuitous route back to our tiny on-campus apartment at MIT due to road closures for the marathon. Eventually we made it home safely and without tears (the baby’s or mine)! I can hardly believe it, but that baby turned 12 years old this past weekend! Which brings me to purpose of this post — the birthday cake:

Chocolate mousse cake

In our family, we’ve got birthdays in January, April, July, August and December, which means I’ve had many opportunities to experiment with various recipes to come up with the perfect chocolate cake and frosting recipes. The ones I’ve tried in the past were either too dry or too brownie-like (don’t get me wrong, I love a good brownie, but not when it’s supposed to be cake)! Finally, I’ve found the best chocolate cake ever. The following recipes make a two-layer chocolate cake with chocolate mousse frosting and a chocolate/raspberry/blackberry filling.

Cake:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/one-bowl-chocolate-cake-iii/detail.aspx

For the cake, use organic sugar (regular sugar is too bitter) and high quality cocoa powder (not hot chocolate cocoa powder) — e.g. Ghirardelli or the raw cacao sold at Sprouts. For the vegetable oil, we used safflower oil.

Chocolate mousse frosting:

http://allrecipes.com/video/3244/chocolate-and-raspberry-mousse/detail.aspx?e11=chocolate%20mousse&e8=Quick%20Search&event10=1&event8=1&prop24=SR_Showcase&e7=Recipe&soid=sr_showcase_1

For the mousse, the ingredients list is at the end of the video above. Double the mousse recipe to frost a two-layer cake. Use a high quality brick of baking dark chocolate like Valrhona. Put the metal mixing bowl in the freezer before you whip the cream and make sure the cream is chilled beforehand as well. Again use organic sugar. For the filling between the two layers of cake, mix 1/3 of the chocolate mousse with a small pack of blackberries and a small pack of raspberries. Frost the cake with the remaining chocolate mousse and garnish with the remaining berries. You can shave some extra chocolate on the top with a cheese grater if desired.

To keep the frosting from melting, put the frosted cake in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it. Enjoy!

Over spring break I was lucky enough to travel to Hawaii for a week. I love to keep up with my fitness regimen when I’m on vacation because it means that I get to explore new locations! I find that the best way to get to know an area intimately is to run it! We’d driven around the North Shore on Oahu enough that I’d discovered the beach path that starts at Sunset Beach.

Sunset Beach

Much of the path is shaded by gorgeous tropical plants. I appreciated the shade cover even though it was only about 81 degrees on the late March day.

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The tide pools at Pupukea tempted me but I kept on running.

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I turned around when I reached the 3-mile point at Waimea Bay. I highly recommend the botanical gardens in the Waimea Valley. We had a lot of fun walking the paths and swimming in the natural pool at the bottom of Waimea Falls.

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It wasn’t easy running six miles in the humid and windy climate of the North Shore. By the end my normally dry, California-trained lungs felt clogged with wet cotton, but I was one sweaty and happy girl!

The winner of last week’s giveaway of the book The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table is Kim from Day With KT!

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I admire Kim’s daily commitment to fitness and enjoy her blog very much! You should check her blog out for daily strength training moves, honest and inspirational living, and to watch her as she trains for an ultramarathon!

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the other blogger who entered the contest — my longtime friend Geli who writes for the Run Oregon blog and recently posted a preview of the Vancouver USA Marathon and Half Marathon. I seriously considered that race before I settled on the Santa Rosa Marathon but the timing didn’t work out. Sometime I’m going to get up there to meet Geli in person. I would love to do the Hood to Coast relay with her someday!

Kim, please send me an email at fitfunmom at gmail dot com with your mailing address and I’ll get the book out to you ASAP!

A long time ago in a land far, far away (London to be exact), Donna from Beating Limitations wrote a review of the book The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan.

In her review, Donna wrote:

I enjoyed the way the author extensively researched and footnoted throughout the book. This is not a flippant piece of work – but a very well thought out journey from farm to table – including thoughts on public policy evolution and the agricultural technology revolution.

Donna offered to pass along her copy of the book to an interested blogger in the hopes that that person would then review the book and pass it along to yet another blogger. I was the lucky recipient of the book, and while it took me a long time to wade through the detailed information it presented, I am glad I read it all. McMillan spends several months working in the farm fields of California, stocking produce at Walmart in Michigan, and in the kitchen of Applebee’s in New York, all while trying to feed herself on the minimal salary those jobs provide. The insight she is able to gather while undercover in those jobs is fascinating and informative. But she doesn’t just leave it at that. She backs up her experiences with extensive research and insight into the food industry in America. This is one of those books I wish everyone would read. If you want the chance to read it, leave a comment to this post. On March 31st, I’ll pick one commenter at random to receive the book. If you win, you’re under no obligation to post your own review and pass the book along, but I hope you will!

In an unusual form of race report, I’m going to take you through my thoughts about the day and the 2014 La Habra 10K as it unfolded for me.

Midnight: Darn it, why can’t I sleep? I must still be winding down from seeing Divergent. Dang that movie was tense. Good thing I slept nine hours last night.

5:30 a.m.: I see Mike is up for his zombie run. I’m glad I don’t have to get up yet. I hope my oldest girl isn’t too mad about getting up that early! I hope she has fun!

6:00 a.m.: Wasn’t it just 5:30 a.m.? Time to get up. It’s still dark out. I hope the younger girls aren’t mad.

6:05 a.m.: Thank goodness the 9-year-old woke up the 5-year-old for me. I love having older kids. Oh look, she even got her dressed! Bonus! Man, I should have shaved my legs last night. Do I care enough to shave them now? No, and besides, it hurts when you sweat on newly-shaven legs.

6:15 a.m.: Coffee with cacao powder. Yum. Oatmeal all around. The oatmeal tastes good, not like cardboard, I must not be too nervous.

6:45 a.m.: Sunscreen? Water? Garmin? Race belt? Timing bib? Sunglasses? Bathroom trip number 4? We should be out the door by now.

7:00 a.m.: Darn it, Mike took my car. Back inside for his keys. Let’s go girls! The race starts at 7:30!

7:10 a.m.: How awesome is it that this race has child care for the kids while the adults race? Oh look, they get to make Rainbow Loom bracelets! And bounce in the bounce house! They’ll be fine without me. Gear check. Easy peasy. Time to warm up with a slow jog and a few strides. Now I’m really feeling those race jitters!

7:20 a.m.: The diaper dash is done and it’s time for the Kids 1K. Oh look, a girl won the race, just like at the Encinitas Mile! Love it! These kids are so cute!

7:30 a.m.: National anthem. I promise to put my hand back over my heart after I check that my Garmin is working and ready for the race start!

7:35 a.m.: Lining up by mile times. How cool is it that I know my mile time is 6:34?! I love that I ran that Encinitas Mile. Okay, that lady cannot run a 6:34. I love a local, small race but I wish people would follow race etiquette! Just chill, don’t say anything.

7:36 a.m.: We’re off! Don’t get trampled in the first turn at the end of the parking lot! Here comes the first steep hill! If there ever was an incentive to go out slow and steady, this is it! Round the corner and up another, more gradual hill.

Running Mile 1: I knew this race was hilly — I did the La Habra 10K before back in 2012 — but dang it’s hard to pace myself correctly with these hills! I need to keep the pace under 8:06 to PR, and under 8:02 to break 50 minutes. The race calculator said that based on my mile time I could race a 10K at 7:37, but that assumes a flat course, and this ain’t flat! Just keep it under 8:00. Well, under 8:00 average.

Running Mile 2: You can go over 8 on the hills. But not by much! Book it on the downhill! Relax your shoulders! Remember how it looked like your shoulders were hunched up by your ears in your Encinitas Mile photos?! Relax your shoulders again! Unclench your fists! This is the hardest mile on the 5K loop. Don’t burn out, just pay attention to your form. Watch out for the kid who keeps sprinting and then walking. How cool that that guy behind me just started coaching that kid! THAT is why I love a small, hometown race.

Running Mile 3: Okay, this is better. Plus the crowd is thinning out. Hey, that lady just complimented me! We’re keeping pace. Yes, I can tell you our pace! It’s 7:27. Yay for the downhill! Are you running the 5K or the 10K, ’cause I’m running the 10K and if you’re running the 5K, you’d better book it, don’t stay with me because I’m running an even pace for the 10K! We’re almost there, good luck!

3.1 Miles, End of First Loop: Hey, I think I just got a PR in the 5K! [Yes, chip time 24:08, a one second PR! Every second counts!] I hope I didn’t go out too fast. Oops. But I feel good. Now let’s see how I handle the hills on round 2.

Running Mile 4: Breathe. Keep a quick turnover on your feet on the hills. Even effort, not even pace on the uphills. Let your legs go on the downhills. My legs feel great, it’s my lungs that are dictating the pace!

Running Mile 5: Darn mile 5. Good thing I remember from mile 2 how hilly this is. Just keep it as close to 8 as possible without burning out.

Running Mile 6: Shoot, that lady passed me! And I don’t think I can pass her back. I hope she’s not in my age group. I don’t think so. [Nope, she's in 30-34 and I'm in 40-44]. I’ll try to stay as close as possible but run my own race. I know I’m doing my best. Maybe I can pass that older guy who keeps walking on the hills. I’m not gaining ground on him though.

Last 0.2 Miles: I can see the finish line! It’s a straightaway here through the parking lot. Don’t trip on the speed bumps! It would be so awful to face plant on the asphalt! Sprint! Don’t throw up! Does the clock say 49 minutes? Yes it does! You’re going to break 50 minutes! RUN! There’s that lady who was running the 5K! How sweet of her to say “There’s my friend!” and cheer me on!

Finish: My Garmin says 49:02 for 6.35 miles. Way to run the tangents there, NOT! An extra .15 miles. It didn’t help that you ran into a wall of 5K walkers at the 5-6 mile mark. Oh well! You got a PR! Hey, there’s that guy you tried to catch. Fist bump! Good race! Nice to meet you, Ming! Ooh, banana and oranges and water! Cookies from Corner Bakery — better save those for the girls. I should say hi to that lady, too. Nice to meet you, Julie! How’d you do? Good job! Let’s check our times. The 5K split is posted. I did PR in the 5K! Oh they’re announcing the 10K awards. I wonder if I won an award in my age group. There’s the medal table. The lady says my name’s not in the top 5? Bummer!! Oh wait, that was the 5K list, I got first in my age group in the 10K! No matter that there were only four of us 40-44 year olds in the race, I got me a “golden medal” as my youngest would say. Plus 6th place female overall. And my official chip time is 49:03 for a big fat PR by 1 minute, 23 seconds. That’s a 7:53 pace. Man, I wonder what I could do with a flat course? I want to run another 10K! And a 5K! I bet I could break 49 minutes in the 10K. Just 4 seconds to shave off, I could do it!

Photo compliments of my 5-year-old.

Photo compliments of my 5-year-old.

Overall Race Review: The La Habra Races (Diaper Dash, 1K, 5K and 10K) are great hometown races that benefit some wonderful local causes: The Children’s Museum at La Habra, The City of La Habra summer concert series, and the La Habra High School Cheerleaders. Packet pick up is easy the night before and also available on race morning. I paid an extra $12 for the tech shirt upgrade and it’s a really nice, black long-sleeved tech shirt, plus I still got the regular, white cotton race shirt. The race volunteers and police support on the course were great. I could not have been more impressed by the timing company. I’ve never seen results posted more quickly at a race and especially online. By the time I got home at 10:30, all the results from the 5K and 10K races were up. Nice work, Gemini Timing! I have also never been to another race that offers a Kids Club while the adults race. My kids loved it — both the activities they got to do and seeing the runners race. This is a hilly course, a challenging course, but a fun and well-organized race!

Vulnerable

As I sit here with yet another case of race jitters, I ask myself why I race. Why put myself through this if it makes me feel this way — anxious, nervous, exposed, vulnerable? Yup, if I had to choose one word, that’s how I feel: vulnerable. I care about the race experience and the outcome. I’ve put in the training time, I’ve paid my money, I want to see it all pay off. I’ve put my goal out there (race to the best of my ability, PR if I’m lucky, qualify for Boston someday). And I don’t want to embarrass myself or get injured.

But really, how could I embarrass myself? It’s not like anyone cares about my race time but me. It’s not like if I tripped and fell, other people would laugh. Quite the opposite, I’m sure. Family, friends, fellow racers, they would all offer sympathy and concern. So I why do I feel so vulnerable? I equate it to going up on stage to perform in a play. The actor has rehearsed for months and wants to do well. He knows if he flubs a line, it won’t be the end of the world. No one will throw tomatoes or boo him off the stage. His friends, family and fellow actors will still care for him, and they’ll offer sympathy. But he will still feel embarrassment, and a sense that he let himself down by not doing his best. And yet in spite of the pressure, he goes up on stage anyway, and makes himself vulnerable.

So why do I do it? Why do I race?

1. The challenge makes me grow.

2. Fear is a good motivator. I love to train, but sometimes that’s not enough to get me out the door early on a weekend morning for a long run. Having a lofty race goal on the horizon keeps me accountable.

3. The reward for putting oneself out there is greater than the risk of embarrassment or injury.

4. Every race teaches us something. A great race affirms our training and our choices. A “bad” race points out what we could do differently next time.

5. Pushing past that feeling of vulnerability gives you a sense of accomplishment, no matter the outcome.

Courage is its own reward.

~ Plautus, Roman playwright.

Tomorrow I will hit the starting line of the La Habra 10K. It’s a hilly, two-loop course that presents an interesting challenge. Two years ago I completed the race in 51:29. My 10K PR from the Turkey Trot trail race is 50:26. I’d love to finish this race in under 50 minutes. Who knows what race day will bring, but I am willing to make myself vulnerable to find out.

This morning I woke up at 4:30 a.m. for the privilege of participating in the inaugural race for The Encinitas Mile and I am so glad I did! After an uneventful 80-minute drive during which I got to see the full moon shine on the Pacific Ocean, I arrived in Encinitas at 7 a.m. and had no trouble finding free parking within a block of the race expo. I took advantage of the race day bib pickup and easily picked up my bib, timing chip and high quality cotton shirt (finally, a cotton t-shirt that is actually soft and stylish, although they do run a bit small in the women’s so go up a size if you are borderline.)

The event started on time and ran smoothly for multiple heats. I loved hearing a pre-race pep talk by Steve Scott, the American record holder in the mile for over 25 years, who has run 136 sub-4 mile race times! His main advice to the 6-12 year olds in the first heat (and all the other spectators listening) was to go out steady and run the mile at an even pace. He cautioned us all not to go out too fast (a mistake I’d recently made at the iTry 5K that almost cost me a PR). I’d never raced a mile before and had high hopes to come in under 7 minutes. I’d been doing my quarter mile repeats at about 6:55 and thought I could hit that for the mile if I managed the race right.

The heat for the masters men and women (all ages 40+, not including elite runners) started at 8:30 a.m. I lined up about five rows of people back, not quite midway in the pack. As an inaugural race there weren’t too many people in the heat and I had no idea where to put myself, but it turned out to be just right. I heeded Steve Scott’s advice and did my best not to go out too fast. I kept the pace between 6:11 and 6:44 (my slowest average pace after making the u-turn at the half-mile mark) and when I hit the 3/4-mile mark I picked up the pace until I saw the finish line and sprinted all-out to come in at 6:34! Turns out that with the small field (15 in the 40-49 group and 23 in the masters women overall) that put me in second place for both groups! I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Best of all, second place came with a gift card for $20 for Movin Shoes and a gift certificate for a running skirt from Running Skirts. I redeemed my gift certificate at the Running Skirts booth at the post-race expo and chose this super-cute, colorful option:

running skirt

What a great day! I never would have guessed this was an inaugural event and I commend the organizers for putting on a well-organized and serious yet fun race. There was something for everyone, from children to masters to elites and, at the end, even dogs! The weather couldn’t be beat and the setting on Vulcan Ave. was gorgeous. I would totally do this race again and I recommend it to anyone interested in tackling the mile. I found that I very much enjoyed the mile race distance — definitely a challenge with the speed but “easier” than the sustained effort of a 5K.

Have you ever raced a mile? Did you compete in track at school and/or have you raced the mile in competition outside of an academic setting? As I said, I’d never raced the mile distance before but I look forward to working on my speed and taking it on again!

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