Saturday, July 16, 2011

Kitchen Therapy

Cooking has always been therapeutic for me and it's one of the first things I turned to when I got home to Victoria last month. There were a few days where I had slept through most of the daylight hours, but would stroll downstairs at 5pm in my pajamas to announce to Wendy (mom-in-law-extraordinaire) that I would be cooking dinner. "Are you sure? I really don't mind." And my response was always, "Thank you, but I'd LOVE to." And I really would. Cooking is relaxing for me, even though I may have five different things going at once and the kitchen looks like a tornado rolled through. I think I especially enjoy it right now because it's something I CAN do. It doesn't involve monitoring my heart rate or emotional state so I can just switch off and cook! I'm also able to create something tasty (usually....) and it's productive as we all need to eat, right?!

Here's a sweet potato salad I made a few weeks ago, and then again recently. I don't often repeat recipes unless they are really good, so this one is worth sharing. It's a variation from Eric Akis' Moroccan potato salad from the Times Colonist.

The original recipe called for a mix of potatoes, but I preferred to use all yams/sweet potatoes as their flavour and nutritional value is much my opinion :) However, when I made this earlier today I had picked up some very cute looking organic purple and regular yams (the "cuteness" factor is key for me when picking ingredients. Ask Adam.. "why would you buy carrots so tiny and pathetic looking?" Me: "Because they are CUTE!") Anyway, the purple yams weren't what I thought they were. They were really just a darker skinned sweet potato, which I think lacks flavour. Anyway, they turned out to compliment each other well in the salad so feel free to mix and match!

~1.5 lbs sweet potatoes/yams (I used about 7-8 small ones)
juice of an orange
juice of a lemon
zest of one lemon
2 tsp honey
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
sea salt and pepper to taste
a few green onions, chopped
fresh mint or basil, chopped

Wash and chop the potatoes (leave the skin on) and cover with water in a large soup pot (the size of the chunks doesn't matter, just try to get them around the same size so they cook evenly). Boil for about 8 minutes until fork tender. Be sure not to overcook as they will fall apart when tossed with the dressing. (I made them perfectly the first time, but got distracted today so they were a little on the mushy side). Drain and set aside to cool.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in the salad bowl you will be using (lemon zest & juice, orange juice and spices). When the potatoes have cooled from "hot" to "warm", gently toss with the dressing. Mix in the fresh mint/basil and green onions and that's it. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled. I find this salad tastes better after it's settled in the fridge for a bit, especially the following day. Just give it another mix to blend the flavours before serving. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Struggle Street

I think it's time for me to get this monkey off my back and write an update.

No news from me this time is unfortunately not exactly good news...

To be honest, I haven't felt like writing anything for awhile because I just haven't felt very good. When I don't feel quite right, I tend to close up and keep to myself, quietly looking forward to brighter days. However, this stretch has gone on long enough, and even though those brighter days are a bit distant in the horizon, I feel as though sharing my experiences might actually be therapeutic!

When I look back on the last few months, and am totally honest with myself, I guess my feelings of fatigue (more than the "norm") started before the Mooloolaba and Sydney World Cups. With the lighter training around the events, I was able to hold it together and put out some solid performances but I remember feeling especially drained after Sydney. It was an emotional race for me: my first WCS in over a year and a half, which unfortunately included a bike crash, and a sprained ankle, and finished with a trip home after being away for six months. I remember when I settled into training at home the following week I struggled with motivation. I just felt flat. I've learned over the years that we don't always feel fresh or motivated when training, so you just have to get on with it. But, this feeling carried on for the weeks I was home and I really felt things unravel my final week before leaving for our Swiss summer camp. I figured there was just one week left, and we were packing up our apartment so I guess you could say life was full-on and I didn't take a moment to reflect upon my dwindling health. When I look back and realize I was counting down the days until I got on the plane so I could SLEEP, I wish some alarm bells had gone off.

I was treated to an upgrade on the plane, and once I settled into my nice little business class pod, I was ready for snooze. But, I didn't sleep a wink and found myself sweating most of the flight. Unfortunately this was just the beginning of some of my bizarre symptoms that would linger for the following six weeks. Training was very much touch and go from the moment I arrived. Both Darren and I weren't sure what was wrong with me. After taking a full week of rest here and there, I would seem to rebound for a few very good days of training, followed by being in something just short of a complete coma for a week. I was chronically tired, stressed, sick, emotional, unable to train, counting down the weeks until races and eventually, pulling out of all races. It was not a good situation.

I decided to return home about three weeks ago and have kept a pretty low profile since (not that my profile is ever "high"!). I slept most of the first week, literally. 12 hour nights, followed by 2 hour naps. I kept saying to Darren over skype, "I feel like a teenager!" Although it wasn't very funny and was getting worrisome.

I actually thought this would be a relatively quick fix. I'm not sure why I thought that when I look back on the pattern over the past couple of months. I just figured that after a week of sleeping and being at sea level, I would be good to go again, maybe even in time for Hamburg this weekend. After two full weeks of resting, my body was still not right. Some days I am well enough to do bits and pieces of training, all with a very controlled heart rate, but others are write-offs. I've been tested for most major illnesses and thankfully nothing major has come back. I had some abnormalities in my blood work, a possible stomach parasite, and an "inconclusive" viral test, but nothing that didn't point towards "rest" as the treatment.

This has been a really tough pill for me to swallow. Last year was rough and I looked forward to this season more than anything. I always think I pay attention to detail and have good communication with my coach, but obviously something went wrong. It was possibly the ten-month training block I'm now coming out of that was too much (I was playing catch-up in the off-season after a year off), or not recognizing the signs of needing a break after Sydney, or simply getting a little older (eeek!) and not being able to handle quite the load of life and training stresses that I used to. I am sure it is a combination of all of these, but going through this has definitely been a learning experience. All of my previous setbacks have been structural injuries so to be honest, these symptoms and feelings weren't on my radar as being terribly problematic. One thing is for sure though, both Darren and myself will be experts in the field of monitoring "over-training" (or rather, "under-resting") by the time this is over. It sounds like athletes can vary dramatically in terms of symptoms, but now that we've been through this, we've created a whole catalog for reference!

As for now, I'm having more and more moments when I feel like myself. And I love that! When I'm having a good day, I will be busy in the kitchen, catching up on emails, laughing, jogging, swimming and spinning. Thankfully theses days are now beginning to string themselves together and I look forward to my return to Switzerland at the start of August. As for racing, unfortunately I can't put a date on that. My body is clearly on its own schedule right now. I will continue to "test" it gently everyday, but I need to give it respect and understand that it will allow me to rip-it-up in races when the time is right.