By Steph Farrar
(Marathon length post, so SPOILER)
It all started Alumni Weekend, last October 2015, 20 years after high school. I stayed with one of my oldest and dearest friends on Lookout Mountain, TN, where I was raised well, even after all the middle-of-the-night sneak outs and kissing boys, smoking cigarettes unwell. I drove into town from Atlanta with another high-school sister, my senior roommate, the only year I boarded away from home. When driving North to Chattanooga, you round a corner directly under Missionary Ridge and just beyond the bend, a great looming, vast city, bordered by mountains, hills, and ridges announces itself to you.
And when we came upon that reveal, we hurrayed. It was actually quite comforting that we were happy to be back. Nearing the end of our thirties, it's basically an even playing ground now. We're almost (if not) mid-life, searching for answers, for purpose and meaning. And it's just now getting a little easier to accept that I'm not 25 anymore.
But it still hurts.
However, not quite as much as a half-marathon. So I have Kathleen of Lookout Mtn. to blame for the pain. As well as the achievement. After our athletic years in high school, both runners, and after the reunion, she signed me up for the Vancouver Seawheeze half-marathon in August of 2016.
Signing your friend up for a half marathon is kind of like giving someone a fish for their birthday. Like, ugh... I have to deal with this now. I have to train, book a ticket and inevitably run 13.1 miles? But damn if it didn't pay off (not that a fish really pays off; it's a pain in the ass actually.) But finishing 22k? That's some will power, Jedi mind shit. And I'll never regret a single step.
I don't care if you worked out today. One of my favorite lines is, "I don't want to hear about your workout unless you fell on the treadmill and broke your face." But I'm sorry to report I am here to brag. One bucket list item checked off, completing a half-marathon before 40. Because I'm an idiot. And I like any kind of adrenaline rush, like a runner's high. Ask me about bungee-jumping off a freestanding gondola in Interlocken over turf, or paragliding off a low Lake Tahoe ravine. Good move dummy.
So...this is our Before.
The Starting Line is nearing and the pressure and excitement is everywhere. It's infectious. There is no way I'm not gonna finish this race.
I love the marooned lady in the forefront, hands on her friends shoulders. A lovely, human moment.
I can say one thing about Vancouver.
God I love Canada. It's so clean. Calm. Generous. Warm. Even though it's usually freezing. They're all just SO NICE.
If you're going to run 22 kilometers on a Saturday morning, it might as well be somewhere breathtakingly beautiful. It's difficult to shoot good photos while jogging, but I tried. I met Vancouver downtown at the impending Starting Line. I greeted this city one mile at a time; throughout the riverwalk, over and back along an extra long bridge with elevation on both ends, mermaids, surf sirens, a guy manning one of those water hover suits holding a sign of encouragement, pumper-uppers on stationary bikes, inching us 1k closer, a sign which read "Ryan Gosling is waiting with a puppy and a beer in 5K. You can do it!" and most importantly, a GREAT playlist.
There are some people who crave camera time. And some who'd prefer to remain behind, masked, private. (I tend to shift but in this case...) you would have to pay me to dress up like a mermaid, paddle board on a melted glacier in a Grecian robe, or sky rocket in a hover-water IronMan suit... with the goal of encouraging half-marathoners to finish strong. I would just rather run the marathon.
I must admit, their presence was passionate; the demonstration of art as a means to support and encourage was invigorating. And I believe I finished because of that support. My legs were little fried chickens.
But the end was near.
I took pictures of two meals from my time in Vancouver. After 13.1 miles of running, we walked four miles around the city, landing at The Noodle Bar, chowing on the BEST spicy Kung Pao Chicken and reminiscing how brave and successful we were. It's not even noon and we already made 30k Steps. So we ate whatever we wanted. And had Oysters, Beef Carpaccio and (I had a) Cabernet from Miku for dinner.
It looked like this:
then these amazing kung pao noodles and a cold beer:
then dinner at Miku... after a four mile site-seeing journey.
In my life, I've had some very proud moments... times when I've surprised myself with some level of success. Winning our Region Pentathlon as a junior, summiting Mt. Shasta summer before my senior year, shaking David Letterman's hand after performing with Weezer, Marrying the love of my life, birthing two watermelons, finishing a Whole30... and completing a half marathon.
Celebrating these moments, these successes has been paramount. I want to run the Malibu half marathon in November so I can power shove a huge bowl of carbonara into my mouth, from the local Italian eatery Tra Di Noi. Sign me up.
And keep these moments coming.
Kung Pao Chicken
stolen 1000% from Feasting at Home
1 lb chicken (or sub roasted cauliflower, see notes below)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tbsp corn starch
1-3 tbsp peanut oil or vegetable oil for frying - optional, see notes.
1 red bell pepper - or handful dry red Chinese chilies (see notes)
Kung Pao Sauce:
1 ½ tsp chopped ginger
1 ½ tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp water
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp vinegar (black vinegar if you have it, or use rice or white)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp garlic chili paste (Sambal chili paste)
Garnish: roasted peanuts, green onion (sliced at a diagonal), lime, raw bean sprouts
Cooked noodles (2-3 servings), rice noodle or rice
If making noodles or rice, get them cooking.
Cut chicken into ¾ inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, sugar and cornstarch to the chicken and toss.
(Alternately -- if using cauliflower, roast cauliflower florets in a 450 F oven for 25-30 minutes, with olive oil, salt and pepper)
Chop ginger, garlic and thinly slice red bell pepper into thin strips.
Measure all the condiments and place in a small bowl (water, soy, fish sauce, oyster, vinegar, sugar and garlic chili paste) and give a quick stir.
Heat oil in a wok over medium high heat, and when its hot, brown the chicken, turning, tossing and cooking through about 5 minutes.
Turn heat off and place crispy chicken on a plate lined with paper towels, blot.
Wipe out wok, add 1 tablespoon oil and heat over medium heat.
Add the red bell pepper and sear over medium heat until tender and just slightly charred in places, about 3-4 minutes. Make a well in the center of the bell peppers, add the ginger and garlic and sear (keeping them in the center), cooking and stirring 2 minutes until they are fragrant and golden. You may need to add a few more drops of oil.
Add the small bowl of mixed sauces to the wok and bring to a simmer, lower heat, then place the cooked chicken (or roasted cauliflower) back into the sauce and toss well, coating it and heating it back up. Serve over rice, noodles, or add the cooked noodles directly into the wok and sear them for a minute or two. Serve immediately.
Garnish with roasted peanuts, sliced scallions, lime and raw bean sprouts.
If subbing with crispy tofu, prepare it in the same way as the chicken, blot, cut into small cubes, coat with salt, pepper, sugar and cornstarch (you may want to use a little more cornstarch) , and fry in the wok until crispy. Then set aside. (Alternatively, you could use "baked tofu" and not fry it, adding it at the end into to the sauce.)
*For a lighter version, use roasted cauliflower instead of chicken and add it to the wok with the sauce (at the very end). You, of course, can also add other cooked veggies, tossing with the flavorful sauce. You can sub another sweetener for the sugar, like agave, maple or honey, but flavors won't be balanced if you leave it out altogether.
*If you use the whole head of cauliflower, you may want to increase the Kung Pao sauce by half so make 1 ½ times the recipe).
*Traditional Kung Pao also includes a handful of red, dried Chinese chilies (Thai red chilies are too spicy) . I usually toss these in at the end with the garlic and ginger, but in this recipe you don't really don't need to because of the chili garlic paste. If you do choose to use the dried chilies, add them in right after the the ginger and garlic, and decrease the garlic chili sauce in the recipe.