Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Equilibrium Update #1

This is my first update to the post in which I mentioned I was going to try to lose some weight to spare my joints and such as I ease back into running post-marathon

After 1 week (I've been doing weigh-ins on Mondays):

Change (me)
Change (Ukr)
Overall Weight
 -2 lb
-4 lb
 no change

After 2 weeks*** (all changes are compared to baseline, NOT the previous week... figure there are gonna be ups and downs, so this is the best way to capture just the overall picture).

Change (me)
Change (Ukr)
Overall Weight
 -2 lb
-2 lb
 no change
 no change
***this week covered Thanskgiving and 4 days of not working out =/

I am not getting too excited yet, as I'm pretty sure water weight and muscle loss are occuring to affect the changes.  The lower-impact stuff I have been doing is probably not helping my muscles one bit, although I have been getting enough protein. 

I WAS using MyFitnessPal to keep me on track, except on the weekends when I was more lenient.  I quit tracking after a week or so but try to roughly estimate my intake.

This past week, I scheduled a body composition analysis, which gave me a better idea of where I stand, whether my goals are fitting, and what I can do to make this easier.  Stay tuned.

As for "The Ukrainian," I will have more details on him in the next update.  We have both been a bit busy, but soon, this quest will return to the front burner.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lemon Curd Experiment

A while back, I decided to make lemon curd.

Now, I am one of those people who does NOT like lemon-y desserts (eeew!), so the thought of producing lemon curd kind of made me wince a little.  However, more than anything else, I was curious if I *could* do it.

Cue THIS recipe.  This is basically a bunch of lemon with agave, cornstarch, and egg yolks.

Everything started off so watery and then finally got to this:

My little sister took this picture of me looking pretty darn pleased about my "accomplishment."  She thinks I'd be too embarrassed to post such a photo -- sweats and all.

As for the curd itself -- it was actually not that "bad."  It had lemon flavor but was not sickening.  I gave this to "The Ukrainian" to eat with bread, though next time, I might actually put it into a tart or something.

How do you feel about lemon-y desserts?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tomato Barley and Capers

I am way behind on this post, but I wanted to get it up later than never. <-- That sounds wrong.

I received some jars of Newman's Own pasta sauce to try out from Foodbuzz and was supposed to create a 30-minute recipe featuring it.

You can tell I'm a novice cook, because anyone can figure out that barley takes longer than 30 minutes to cook.  Gah!

Once this cup of pearled barley and 1 cup of Newman's Own pasta sauce (Roasted Garlic flavor) cooked -- about 40 min -- I stirred in about 2 tablespoons of capers (with a splash of the juice).  It made for a quick meal, and the capers made this side dish a little more sophisticated.

The texture of this barley was chewy, much like the version they served at the Foodbuzz festival.

I was also supposed to record a video on making this, but somehow I popped it out of the box thinking that I could just press Record and go.  Hah, no such luck.  I had no batteries, which weren't included.

My regular camera was a substitute, but after many, many out-takes, I decided to call the multimedia quits.

Speaking of quits, I also made this quinoa and pumpkin mixture that night, which was spiced with cumin and such to make it a burrito filling.  It was okay, but not thrilling enough to elaborate upon.  In addition to not having anymore wraps (fail!), this kind of sparked an upsetting conflict between "The Ukrainian" and I.  We're usually pretty easy-going, so this was kind of a big deal, even though it wasn't.  Full disclosure here!  Ugh.

That quinoa sitting in the freezer now, so I hope it resurfaces before I have to throw it away.

Didn't I say I was a novice cook?'

FTC Disclaimer: I received the Newman's Own product to try out from the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program but was not compensated to provide a positive review.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Let's Talk About Chex

Are you looking for a little appetizer for your Thanksgiving dinner, pre-dinner run, some after-dinner nibblings, or Black Friday fuel?

I made this (<-- recipe link) mix for Halloween.  I was very skeptical about dumping this gluten-free cereal (and pretzels, raisins, and candy corn) in white chocolate.  I feared a mixture that would be too sweet and boring for people to eat.

But nope... people seemed to actually enjoy this thing.  As my mom (who usually says my creations are too sweet) said, they have an addictive factor.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Physical Therapy Visit

As I mentioned in a previous entry, my marathon-ing career is in jeopardy.  Unless I find a reason why I keep getting debilitating calf cramps in every marathon and buck the trend, then there is really no point for me to keep having the same (sad) story unfold each time I decided to tackle a marathon.

All the Google-ing in the world hasn't really helped me over the years, so I finally decided to see someone about it.

Luckily, I'm in a good running area that had lots of options for physical therapists, some more geared toward runners than others.  I finally decided to visit Catz.

Not that cat.  He wants nothing to do with running, unless it's for kibble.

Catz Physical Therapy Institute operates in a few cities across the country.  When I visited my local branch, I was paired up with Melissa for a consultation to see whether my issue was really one that physical therapy could handle.

Melissa is a super-awesome licensed physical and lymphedema therapist.  She is also a runner herself, having done five marathons and is currently training for the Disney Marathon

After explaining my predicament in detail and answering her questions, she said she was stumped but went through a slew of recommendations.

- fueling: She thinks I'm fine in this area

- hydration/electrolytes: She thinks I'm fine in this area, too

- stretching: I'm doing OK here, maybe more ice baths after running 14+ miles

- medical issues: She doesn't suspect chronic inflammation or something inherently wrong with me, medically, because I don't really have these issues during training, at least not to the degree of the marathon.  However, I can go to the doctor if I want, but most likely, she won't "understand."

- compression socks: Already wear these during runs/races and recently got a pair for pre/post-runs (will review it later).

- gluten or other sensitivity that is causing inflammation in my body: I brushed this one off.

- training: No more concrete for me, street is preferable, but trails work best. Also, no more training runs over 20 miles.

- insoles/orthotics: She looked at my walk and looked at my feet and said they are very flat.  I have a few pairs and should be more consistent with wearing them (I switch shoes and forget to pop out the insoles) to keep my foot in the best position possible as to not have shock affect my calf.  If these don't work, might need $$$ custom ones done for me.

- Galloway method: I have seen this around but didn't want to incorporate walking, ever.  She says it might help "save" my muscles and shouldn't affect my race times if I employ it properly. *need to research*

- running gait analysis: There is likely some biomechanical problem that I have when I run, probably related to some of the other items above, that is essentially screwing my calf.  These issues likely can't be caught in the PT setting because running forms tend to get more sloppy as you go (mile 2 vs. mile 18).  Therefore, she recommended a running coach/gait analyzer.  I haven't had a coach since high school (RIP).


I'm not exactly sure where to go from here, though I may be going to a chiro for a second opinion soon.  Even though I was worried about the expense of physical therapy, I'm kind of bummed that I didn't get my magic bullet, "Hey, let's give you six weeks of therapy, and you'll be cured" answer.  And without an answer, I don't know if I will have the will to run another marathon.

Giving my insoles a permanent home in my shoes is easy.  Avoiding concrete will suck because I don't want to drive to run, but I'm willing to try to see what's possible without it. 

More research is in order, and then I'm going to be more mindful of my running form as I ease back into running.  At some point, I hope to have someone analyze my running, maybe running with "The Ukrainian" instead of solo will help, and then maybe with one of the local running clubs a couple of times.

To be continued.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Candle Cafe Macaroni and Vegan Cheese

I have given the whole vegan mac thing plenty of tries.  I'm not even sure why, as I can't say that it's one of my favorite foods. 

I might have mentioned this before, but I had their weird obsession with Kraft's as a kid.  Since I didn't get to eat it and thought the school lunch version was good, I was elated when my older sister S made some for dinner one night.  Sadly, it became inpalatable after a short time, yet my fascination with it somehow continues.

I picked this vegan boxed meal up at Whole Foods because they had a coupon in their flyer.

The verdict?  The smell was fine, the choice of noodles was good, but then the texture of the cheese... I don't know.  Some of it was coagulated to the point of no return, so even distribution was impossible.  The taste was actually not bad.  It wasn't as tangy as I'd hope mac n cheese to be, but it was pretty similar to cheese as I know it and didn't seem overly processed.

So if you can get over some globs of cheese, this isn't a bad choice if you're vegan and having the pangs for mac n cheese.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Next Goal: Equilibrium

Since I haven't been able to figure out how to control the fate of my marathons (if you missed the recap of my recent marathon gone wrong, it's HERE), I turned to another new goal that I might be able to control. Yep, the rebound goal.

I'm calling it "equilibrium" on the blog, which is really just a code-word for weight loss.  I have pretty much been the same weight for nearly three years now. Prior to that, I had an extra ~10 Starbucks-induced pounds somewhere, and each year that the scale number increased, I feared that it would only go up from there. Should the same trend start again (due to aging, babies, or whatnot), I want my starting point to be as low as I can (healthfully) get it.

I haven't talked much about weight loss on this blog.  For one thing, I've approached the whole thing rather stupidly in the past.  Secondly, I know that such topics are controversial/sensitive, which opens me up to criticism.  That all comes with the territory, I suppose, but in exchange for some accountability, I'll take it.  And maybe I might motivate someone.

The Goal:

"The Ukrainian" and I both think that carrying a little less weight will help improve our running, as both of us have been noticing our steps getting heavier these days.

My (lofty) goal is to lose 10 lbs over the next 10 (or so) weeks.  "The Ukrainian" has a similar goal, pretty much x2 of mine.  For the both of us, it will bring us closer to the "ideal" weights for our ages/heights and perhaps help us be more efficient runners. 

The Plan:

I will be blogging (hopefully weekly) updates over the next 10 weeks or so, for both "The Ukrainian" and myself.  This will include weight and gut changes, though I will take a few additional measurements for just myself because they seem unfair to men (bulging biceps, anyone?). 

I will NOT be reporting any actual values, just changes.  Also, I will NOT be posting any body shots -- while I thought about doing this, I'm not really comfortable with that idea!

Change (me)
Change (Ukr)
Overall Weight

So the main plan of attack is to mind calories, something I haven't done in years.  For sanity's sake, we don't plan on being all that precise, but any sort of reference is better than none.  (I must be the worst weight-loss blogger ever...)  We used THIS calculator as a reference, which made a recommendation based on account current mass and activity level.  For me, that number is roughly 1400 kcal per day (varies with activity level) for a loss of .6 lb/week and about 2000 for "The Ukrainian" to lose 1 lb/week.  (Edited to add: I'm also using to help me track things for the first week or so until I can eyeball things on my own.)

Since we both just did a marathon, I except neither of us will be doing a whole lot of running for a while, but my goal is to exercise five days a week for about 45 minutes each time.  "The Ukrainian" is usually waaay more hardcore about his workouts than I, but his gym will be closed over most of this time period, so the calculations assumed an activity level similar to mine.

Initial Reflections:

  • Yes, it's holiday time.  I expect we'll have some deviating moments, and I'm okay with that.  I mean, if I can't manage a weight without killing myself, it's not worth it.
  • I think I'd be okay if I don't reach my goal, and even if I could, it will probably take a long time to get there.  I haven't seen -10 on myself for about seven years, while I was still in college with no desk job and did not run regularly.  However, back then, I could lift more weight and was able to last on other cardio machines much longer than I could today.  So this means there is room for improvement, for sure, but whether my body can healthfully support that amount of weight loss is yet to be known.
  • The first day of this was really rough... I was hungry allll day.
  • Thank goodness someone is doing this with me, or I would have given up already.
So in my next update, expect to see this initial chart filled out for us... off to take some measurements!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Santa Barbara Marathon 2011: The Day I Almost Quit

EVENT: Santa Barbara International Marathon
DATE: Saturday, November 12, 2011
LOCATION: Santa Barbara, CA
FINISH TIME: 05:00:26.2

After reading all the nice comments on my pre-race post, I am almost embarrassed/sad to be writing a report on today's race.  Especially since I spent a large portion of that post talking about how I really wanted to make my 10th marathon something to be proud of (besides the quantity, of course).

Before I elaborate on the (upsetting) details, I'll talk about the brighter times from the day before.

One of the highlights of this race was the great organization.  Second to that was the super cute race tech tee. I told the high school-er below that I really liked the shirt because it looks like a soccer shirt.

At that same expo, I won a race entry!!  I was shocked, because I feel like I never win anything.  After today's race, I'm not sure how to use it, though.

After a nice lunch and a little strolling, we checked into our hotel.  "The Ukrainian" originally thought we could make the drive up to Santa Barbara on race morning, but at the last minute, we decided that was a very bad idea.  Luckily, I was able to score a $97 inn, and in spite of my fears, it was the hugest hotel room I've ever stayed in.  It had a kitchen, living room, separate bathroom and walk-in closet, as well as a separate bedroom.

We took advantage of our huge space by bringing in food.  I didn't feel like going out (in the rain), so this Greek pizza/breadstick/salad dinner really hit the spot.  While dinner was good, we were sad that UCLA lost the basketball game.  Agh.

Here is a vague interpretation of my race outfit.  I didn't end up wearing the gloves or hankie due to it not being as cold as I feared.

Okay, time to write about the tragedy.  I came into this race feeling pretty confident about my training and the hydrating/carbo-loading I had been doing in the days before the race.  The weather was in the upper 50's-mid 60's most of the race, which also made for pretty ideal conditions.

Mile 1 - 8:58
I ran the first mile pretty much right on pace, according to the race strategy that came with my training program.

Mile 2 - 9:12
I don't know why this split was this, as I was checking my Garmin, which was telling me I was still at the 9:00/mi pace.  I was holding back during these first few miles, because I knew I would regret it later.

Mile 3 - 9:14
Mile 4 - 9:15
Mile 5 - 9:23: electrolyte pills
I found the 4:00 pace group coming up from behind and ran with them for a few miles, but I started dropping behind when I slowed at a water station.  Since the water stations seemed kind of spaced out, I didn't want to miss any GU Brew or water.

Mile 6 - 9:50: gel
Mile 7 - 9:35
Mile 8 - 9:57
Mile 9 - 9:40
Mile 10 - 9:27
Mile 11 - 10:02: gel and electrolyte tablets
Mile 12 - 9:52
Mile 13 - 10:08
I could feel myself slowing down during these miles, and I knew that the 4-hour marathon thing just wasn't going to happen.  My muscles were getting just a little tight, but nothing I haven't felt before.  I was briefly stretching at water stations, which helped a bit.  I thought it would be best to slow down before I got a Charley horse.  I just wanted to run a comfortable race, so I went at a pace that felt more natural to me, one that I was familiar with due to the long runs I did during my training.

Mile 14 - 10:35: gel
We entered a beautiful park area with bridges, bodies of water, and leaves on the ground.  So pretty, and the cool Fall air made this part enjoyable.  I was already making plans to run this race next year.

Mile 15 - 10:15
As I finished a small climb, out of nowhere, my right calf seized up.  It was mostly in the lower calf, so although it was extremely painful and immobilized, I was able to massage it a bit and continue after about a minute or so.  I was being cautious and knew that any hopes I had of getting a PR were basically down the drain at this point.

Mile 16 - 12:32
Toward the end of this mile, at the top of another small climb, my calf locked up again, this time entirely.  That thing got so hard and painful that I let out a scream and then had to breathe like a laboring woman.  Everyone was looking, and a few asked if I was okay.  I could not move, and since my other leg was in an awkward position, I was afraid it would seize up, too.  That would was resulted in me falling over, but luckily, it didn't, although it was also tight.  Some guy shook his head at me and said, "You can't stop," which obviously frustrated me...

The last time this happened during a marathon, I was not able to run for the rest of the race, which is one thing at Mile 22 but at Mile 16... agh!  As my leg kept coming in-and-out of this crampy mode, I contemplated getting my first DNF.  To drag my stupid calf another 10 miles (after having dragged it 2 miles since the issue first started) sounded unfathomable.  But then I thought about the medal and all the other times I pulled through some bad times and decided to continue.  Besides, there were no volunteers or aid anywhere around.

I saw the 4:30 pace group, the last pace group, pass me as I was still doubled-over.  It was soul-crushing.

Mile 17 - 15:34: gel
I was able to do bits and pieces of running as my calf would allow.  I was thankful for every step I was able to run (or even walk) at that point.  Lots of cursing on my part ensued, mostly toward my calf, calling it an "attention *hore."

Mile 18 - 17:32: electrolyte pills
I was stopping a lot to prevent my leg from anymore damage.  Sometime during this mile, a brown cat dashed in front of me to take a dump across the way.  Exactly.

Mile 19 - 15:26
Mile 20 - 14:52
At this point, I knew that if I wanted to come in before the dreaded (to me) 5 hour-mark, I'd have to push myself harder.  Prior to this point, I was worried I wouldn't be able to run and finish in 5:30 or more.

Mile 21 - 13:18: gel (believe this was my last one... nothing was helping me)
Mile 22 - 12:58
Mile 23 - 12:34
Mile 24 - 14:09
This mile contained a half-mile ascent of 170 ft, though as I could tell by everyone around me, it felt a lot worse than that.  I knew this was coming, but it was more than I expected, plus there was no real liberating descent afterward.

Mile 25 - 11:09
My calf was in danger of locking up again, but at this point, a sub-5 was a do-or-die.  Very sad, since my goal was an hour less than that.  But I still wanted to accomplish this task, but the slanty roads and lack of descents really made this harder than I had hoped.

Mile 26 - 11:04
.43 - 9:16/pace
This last part was sooo awful, as it felt like forever, and at the last few turns toward the finish, I was pushing so hard (as my precarious leg would allow) I wanted to vomit.  The last bit was on a rubber track, so those last steps felt like a relief.  In the last few seconds, I knew I wasn't going to make it.  It was crushing.  When I crossed the finish line, I kept saying, "I quit, no more."


Through those last 12 miles, I was pretty certain that this would be my last marathon.  Getting Charley horses/cramps every single marathon, no matter how much or little I train (and keep in mind I tend to injure when I train adequately) has been getting old.  Something must be wrong with me, since most marathoners I know don't come upon these issues on sometimes lesser training.  I shouldn't be doing something that I really shouldn't be doing.

I even told a few people on the course that I was retiring from marathons after this.  Yes, I did register for LA Marathon 2012 next March, but since they recently introduced a relay, I was planning on asking them if I could switch over.  I was planning to announce that I was quitting marathons forever on this blog.

"The Ukrainian" made me reconsider.  I agreed that I would run LA Marathon ONLY if I finally see a sports doctor about this and find some sort of cause.  Also, I am going to train over a shorter period of time, much like I did before the Pasadena Marathon in 2009, which is my PR.  Unless I'm able to find a cause and run a decent LA Marathon (which I have yet to do), then that will be my retirement from full marathons.

Yes, the thought of my marathon-ing coming to an end makes me a bit sad, and then I keep wondering if amnesia about today will kick in and convince me to not place this ultimatum on my marathon career.

Sorry this got long... In short, I am sad, disappointed, and all negative things I could possibly feel, all at the same time.  For the first time, I have no urge to ask, "When's the next one?"  And I don't feel proud at all.  Maybe just a little for not quitting, but beyond that, I feel like I've let you all... and myself... down in a very public way.  It was probably one of the darkest running days I've ever had.

Updated with race photos:

(love this first shot because I just crossed the "ish" line)

Santa Barbara International Marathon


Pre-race commentary, Feb. 2011

This race has only been around for a couple of years, so I am curious as to how well it is organized.  I have known for quite a while that I wanted to register, but I was betting on them showing up at other race expos so I could sign up in person.  However, given the impending rate increase, this wait is probably not worth it.  I'll take my processing fees and suck it.

In addition, if I don't insert anymore marathons this year, it will be my 10th marathon. :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Morphin/Marathon Time!

Well, I guess I'm running a marathon tomorrow.

Time to release that inner beast, something I have not been good at in the past.  Put one way, "it's morphin time!" (not that cheeziness will help, but one can try)

For the record, my not-so-secret goal is for my finish time to be as close to 4 hours as possible.  That should be obvious, and not just because I AM using a marathon training plan called "4 Months to a 4-Hour Marathon."  This will be the 10th time that I will be standing at that start line, thinking stuff like, "Why am I here?" and "I can't believe I'm about to do this to myself again."  So after that many 26.2's, you would think that I would get better and better (famous last words).

But noooo, my last marathon PR (4:19) was in 2009 when I ran the Pasadena Marathon with "The Ukrainian" and then pretty much replicated that effort on my own at the Las Vegas Marathon at the end of that year.  Since then, I came somewhat close in San Antonio last year, but given that I run about three marathons a year, these aren't good stats.

This is the first time in a while where I've actually followed a training program closely, particularly one that told me what pace to do!  I think overall, I only missed a few days of training, just on the short mid-week runs when I was feeling tired or life got in the way.

I've seen bloggers post their specific race goals, which is something I fear because I hate having to come back and talk about my shortcomings.  This is not news, but I am not a fast runner... or a very consistent one.  Will I be thinking about my goals during my race, or get caught up in the moment (lonnnnng moment) as usual?

Race Goals:
A) Finish the race, ideally injury-free
B) Come in under 4:40
C) Come in under 4:30
D) Beat my PR, 4:19
E) Come in under 4:15

Realistically, I am not sure I can top 4:15, given how my other 9 marathons have gone so far.  Mental weakness, calf cramps, inclement weather, etc. have been obstacles to me in the past, even when I felt that my base speed was faster.   Yep, you read that right -- I have been feeling slower over the years, even if taking whatever speedwork into account..... at 26 years old.  I gotta do some defying here!

To be continued.... see you on the other side.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Negative Seasonal Changes

I'm a cold-weather runner for sure.

I'm super excited about the cool down, cool evening runs, cute winter clothes (because we don't have a real "winter" in Southern California), and warm drinks.   And of course, I'm hoping for cool weather during my upcoming marathon this weekend (mentioned for, like, the 1000th time).

Of course, things can turn ugly with the cooler weather.  For one thing, I might have to get back into my running sweats.  And then we have to worry about people sniffling their way into spreading their colds to us.

And just as I figured out a way to maintain my skin in the summer, it starts flaking randomly... like snowflakes.  (Did I just put a gross image in your head or what?!)

I was sent this line of sensitive skin products to try.  I don't think I have "sensitive skin" per se, except when the weather changes like it has been...

I like Burt's Bees.  Their pomegranite lip balm is one of the few that doesn't send my lips into utter clown-dom.  This facial cleanser and lotion don't have fragrance.  I like fragrance, but for the sake of natural-ness, I'm willing to deal.

I wish this face wash would foam more, and I do feel a bit jipped of that "squeaky clean" feel that I normally get post-wash, but perhaps those are precisely the qualities that make this good for sensitive skin.

With other lotions, I sometimes get burning from lotions if my skin is very dry.  Not with this one.

I'm planning on using this lotion (under my sunscreen, of course!) on my face when I'm running around in the 40-degree weather that I'm sure is coming this Fall.  Gotta protect my face from that biting wind (or at least what people from my area consider as "biting")!
FTC Disclaimer: I received these products from BzzAgent to review and was free to post my true opinions.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ironman Muscle Rub Gel

I have been having some problems with my knee on-and-off since I started training for the Santa Barbara Marathon this past July.  For a short time, it bothered me during each run, then only during long runs when I struck the wrong way, and now, it usually doesn't bother me at all when running.  (If the pain were bad enough, the wimp in me would probably have me reconsidering my racing plans.)

I have been fortunate that it has been mostly fine lately, though I WILL have to rehab my {right} knee after this race.  How do I figure?  Well, when I'm laying on my back, I can lift my straight left leg to the ceiling, while doing this with my right leg would cause a scary pain in the knee.

Comes to show I don't think I can ever be an *Ironman*, but at least I can feel cool by using this blue muscle rub gel.  Probably would do me better to get something more than a sample, then. =P

I used some of this before a recent half-marathon that I ran, and by the race's end, the parts of me that ended up hurting from all the terrain were parts that I did *not* slather with this gel.  The stuff instantly cooled my legs (yes, I kind of slathered it all over, concentrating on said knee), and I could actually still feel it working a bit during the race as well.

As a side note... may notice that I write a lot about pain relief products and injuries on this site.  I wish it didn't have to be that way, but I do believe that some people's bodies are just more amenable to running than others'.  I hope that age does not add to my issues, but I can only just continue to work out and make sure I remain "balanced."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Foodbuzz Festival 2011

I thought about doing multiple posts for this.  However, given that most people who read my blog probably won't care for three straight posts of foodie stuff, I decided to slam everything into one post. So give this page a little extra time to load, and I spare you two more entries... deal?  ;)


This weekend, I had the privilege of attending the third annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, CA.  I was unsure if I should attend for several reasons, the number-one being that I don't feel that I am a "true" food blogger.  I know there is a lot I need to do to fall into that category, but time/life restraints and my resistance to change the voice of this blog has kept me away from that.

Still, I am glad I attended.  It was only my second time in San Francisco, and "The Ukrainian" was nice enough to drive me there, all 5.5 hours.

Here he is showing me his love for Jarlsberg cheese, alongside the "swag bag" (I hate that term -- for more detail on what was inside, you can click HERE).

The last time I was up there, I was in such a rush due to a half-marathon I was running.  Since we were near the Chinatown area, I just had to take a look this time, bust out my pseudo-Cantonese, and buy a mooncake for home.

Then, it was off to the Welcome Dinner.  It got pretty cold (by CA standards) in the days before the festival, so I had no idea what to wear.

The reception was hosted by Sabra (hummus).  Those roasted chickpeas were my favorite!

Here are a few shots of dinner... it was buffet-style little bites, a lot of the recipes created by bloggers.  I didn't try everything due to things containing meat or excessive dairy, but I honestly was a little underwhelmed by most of the food.  My uncultured taste buds cry foul when things "try too hard" to be tasty.  In fact, my favorite thing was that lentil salad on the left.

You know something is wrong when your massive sweet tooth only likes one out of an entire plate of desserts.  That star-shaped chocolate on the middle right was the only thing I enjoyed.

I didn't end up attending the learning sessions the next morning, frankly because I didn't want to commit to anything before I showed up.  Instead, I headed to the Ferry Building/Farmer's Market/Embarcadero.  People were "Occupy"ing SF.

We HAD to get an open-faced lox sandwich.

And a salted caramel vegan donut.

AND a Blue Bottle coffee (didn't see why it's so hyped).

We attended the Foodbuzz Tasting Pavilion that afternoon and literally spent 2 hours eating/drinking from the many, many wonderful vendors.  This was, by far, the highlight of the festival.  As you know, I love discovering new products!

The special guest at the event was Chef Tyler Florence, from The Great Food Truck Race (not like I have cable, so I had to take people's word for it!).

Of course, there were these.  But by the time I reached them, my stomach had trouble creating a vacancy for them...

We made out like bandits.

After a food-induced nap, it was outing time again... the Gala Dinner.

(I really need more festive clothing... I had trouble finding appropriate attire.)

I had no idea there was going to be a mingling hour, yet there we were, sampling Alexia fries.

Toasting with my sister.  My alcohol tolerance is fairly low, but I drank at pretty much every part of the festival that I attended.  Yikes.

The Gala Dinner didn't officially commence until Tyler completed his cooking demo... that meant smelling pork chops and dumplings while hoping for food to come...  It was like watching a cooking show on smell-o-vision.  Please, technology, catch up and make this a normal thing!

The view from the jumbo-tron:

Finally the dinner started.  The main course (for meat-eaters) is below.  Is it me, or is filet mignon supposed to be round?  How the heck would I know?

My dish.  It didn't taste vegan, but I hear it was.  Something about this barley was too creamy and flavorful to pass as vegan, ha ha!  The grilled fennel (leek?) was too tough to eat, and those greens at the bottom right were not tasty.  However, really good barley.

The dessert trio.  I liked the flavor of the bread pudding (center), but it was too dry.  The chocolate mousse (top) was good, and the cheesecake at the bottom was pretty plain.  A step up from the previous night's desserts, though!

Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to try so many new foods this past weekend.  My inexperienced palate definitely got a kick in the pants from all the flavor combinations -- some good, some not-so-good.  I was DEFINITELY inspired to put more thought into my cooking (and blogging), particularly by the vendors at the Tasting Pavilion, whose samples really blew me away.

As for what it was like to be among so many bloggers, I must say that I was a bit surprised at how shy everyone was.  I consider myself fairly average in terms of outgoingness, but I witnessed a lot of very insecure people doing things that insecure people would do/not do.  Perhaps it's the veil of anonymity being removed that caused this feeling of awkwardness to first-time attendees like me, but yeah, it was really weird.

Finally, I did meet quite a few new people that I hope will become part of my regular blog-reading rotation.  As a primarily running/fitness blogger, I haven't been reading too many full-on food blogs, but perhaps there is no time like the present.