Relay Running

The summer I was 20 I was fortunate enough to spend some serious QT with an incredible woman named Sarah-Jane.  She was a good friend’s ex girl-friend (I was actually living with her ex and his new gal that summer but that’s not the story for today).  Sarah-Jane was several years older than me (mid-late 20’s at the time?), incredibly vivacious, and super active.  She took me to my first yoga class (I’d only practiced with videos before that), my first mat Pilates class, and my first run up the New River Gorge.

We were living in Fayetteville, West Virginia, a super sporty, outdoorsy town full of young whitewater raft guides, kayakers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers that sits on the edge of ‘the gorge’, a nearly thousand foot deep ditch with The New River sitting at the bottom.

I’ll never forget the day Sarah-Jane showed up in my lawn and said

“Hey, I’m going to go run the gorge, wanna come?”

My response was something like

“No way in hell”

I wasn’t much of a runner at that point, I don’t think I’d covered more than 3 miles and never run with anyone else.  I was super self-conscious of being slow and pant-y.

Sweet, supportive Sarah-Jane told me that I could do it, that she runs slow, that, above all, “it will be fun!”.

She has a way about her and so off we went.

It was fun! And, oh boy, did I feel like a bad-ass for doing it.

Over the last thirteen years I’ve done that same 6.25 mile uphill trail run two more times.   Both times were as the runner of a relay team for The New River Gorge Challenge and neither time would have happened without for that encouragement and support from Sarah-Jane back in the day.

Last Saturday myself and two friends competed as The VA Vixens.

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This ain’t your average triathlon.

It starts with a 14 mile mountain bike ride.

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Emma did so awesome.  She just started riding this summer and her longest ride before the race was 6 miles!

Comin in hot!

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A moment later she passed the ankle bracelet to Renee, who took off in her kayak for 8 miles of class 5 whitewater.  She paddled her arms off for a little over an hour and made us proud.

I was there to meet her downriver and take off running!

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I’ve been running approximately half a dozen times this summer, a far cry from training for this 6.25 uphill(stairs) trail run, yet I had a really good time running. I felt strong the whole way, despite the heat and 14,000 vertical gain.

photo (3)My team ended in 4 hours and 9 minutes and placed 2nd in the female relay teams.  I finished 9th in the run out of 58 runners and 2nd out of all the women!  I’ve never been a fast or strong runner, more of a tortoise than a hare, so this was a proud moment.

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Post race team huddle.

My main hope for The VA Vixens was that we all have fun and no one got hurt.  We totally exceeded that by all having a blast and feeling good and proud of ourselves (and each other!) for our respective relay legs.

We’re already talking about next year’s race. :)

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Crazy Awesome, Super Easy Dill Pickles

These pickles are the bomb.

I don’t use that word lightly.  In fact, I think (I hope?) that I never have actually described anything as “the bomb” before but in this case it’s a perfect fit.

They are crunchy, salty and full of great dill and garlic flavor with that awesome lacto-fermented tang that is highly addictive and unique.

I went a little nuts on planting cucumbers this year with these pickles in mind.

dill pickle recipe

Luckily you can get great pickling cucumbers at most farmers markets and farm stands in the U.S. this time of year so even if you don’t have cucs ripening by the minute outside your door you can still make a batch of these.

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The three best things about these pickles are;

  1. They are lacto-fermented (no canning required)
  2. They are lacto-fermented (they are an incredibly healthy “live” probiotic-filled food)
  3. They are lacto-fermented (which in my book equals delicious)

I’ve written many times about my love of lacto-fermented food, including with my recipe for saurkraut, kimchi, and pickled vegetables.   They have a unique tang and je ne sais quoi that can’t be found in any other food.  Plus, the naturally occurring “good bacteria” (probiotics) has improved my immune system dramatically.

Like most lacto-fermented food, this recipe is really just a guideline.  The only important ratio is the 5 tablespoons of sea salt to the 2 quarts of water; the garlic and dill are more of a personal preference.

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Keeping the cucumbers whole helps keep them crunchy!

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Another thing that helps keep them crunchy is the addition of grape leaves.  There is a tannin in the leaves that does this, oak leaves and horseradish leaves can also be used but grapevines are a bit easier to come by.

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I have a disgusting amount of wild grapevines in my backyard so I didn’t have to look hard to harvest for this batch of pickles.

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The grape leaves also provide a bit of a protective layer for the top of the brine, which can get a little filmy sometimes, more on that in the recipe.

Start by laying down half of the leaves in the bottom of your jar, followed by half the dill and garlic.

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Fill the jar with the cucumbers, packing as tightly as possible.

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Stuff the rest of the dill and garlic down into the holes.

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Fill the jar with the salt and water brine solution (details in the recipe), leaving at least an inch of headroom.

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Lots more details in the following “recipe”.

Crazy Awesome Super Easy Dill Pickles
 
Ingredients
  • Large Glass Jar (holds at least 2 quarts, preferably with a wide mouth)
  • 8-15 Pickling Cucumbers
  • 5 Tablespoons Sea Salt*
  • 2 Quarts Water*
  • 3-5 Cloves Garlic
  • 1-3 Heads Dillweed
  • 4-6 Big Grapevine Leaves (washed)
Instructions
  1. *The amount of brine (water and salt solution) you need depends on the size and amount of cucumbers you use. This recipe will probably leave you with leftover brine that can be saved for your next batch.
  2. Dissolve the salt in 1 cup of boiling water and let cool then combine it with the rest of the water to create the pickling brine
  3. In the bottom of a clean jar place 2-3 grape leaves
  4. Add half of the garlic and half of the dill
  5. Add all of your cucumbers, try to pack them in as tight as possible (it's a bit of a tetris game)
  6. In the nooks and crannies place the rest of your garlic and dill
  7. Pour in the pickling brine, covering the top cucumbers completely but leaving at least an inch of "headroom"
  8. Wiggle the jar a bit to release any air that was trapped at the bottom
  9. Cover the top of the brine with the remaining grape leaves
  10. Cover the jar with a lid or a plastic bag secured with a rubberband (if, like me, you got big jars but not big lids!)
  11. Leave on the counter to ferment for 5-8 days
  12. The cucumbers will quickly change from bright green to a more earthy, darker green and the clear brine will start to cloud a little
  13. A white film may appear on the top, this is just fine and can be poured off once the pickles are done
  14. After 5-8 days taste for flavor, the pickles should still be crunchy and should look and feel "pickled" all the way through (not just on the surface. At first they will be more salty than tangy. At this point the top grape leaves can be tossed, the top bit of brine poured off if filmy, and the jar moved to the fridge. Pickles can be kept in the fridge for several months, although the crunch will diminish with time.

I’m pretty simple with my pickle-eating; they are usually eaten straight from the jar while making lunch or occasionally cut thin for a sandwich.  Either way, these pickles f-ing rock! You should probably go make a batch..or five…asap.

 

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