Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fall Harvest: Produce and Animal

It has been a couple of weeks since the last harvest of the year from my backyard garden.  It has been nice to have a steady supply of fresh herbs and vegetables much of the year.  Fresh ingredients make the best tasting, nutrient rich food and are critical for recovering from athletic pursuits.  Having processed, canned, and froze excess produce I can continue to look forward to enjoying the finished product of my labor over the winter. 
There were times the garden was both a blessing and a burden, notably during peak harvest as it takes a good amount of time and effort to process and preserve excess produce.  Any garden also requires a certain level of constant attention between watering, weeding, and harvesting.  These tasks often don’t come up at times of my choosing.  The overall experience was positive but there are things I will do differently next year, specifically including more leafy greens and fewer tomatoes.
The peppers grew well in the fall.  A collection of late season Poblano, Bell, Habanero, Cayenne, and Jalapeno peppers.
There were a lot of kitchen creations over the growing season making great use of all the fresh produce.  I never shared my failures, which, there always are but have been sharing what turned out delicious.  Every creation is listed in the food page.  Some of my favorites and most popular:

Beyond the garden, in the past couple of years I have taken up hunting and fishing.  19 Nov 2011 marked the opening day of gun deer season in Wisconsin and my second time hunting.  While I was hunting I read The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel during the slow hours.  This paragraph brought a smile to my face:
“So what should you eat to provide BCAA (branched chain amino acids) and the essential amino acids for your rebuilding muscles?  The best possible source would be meat from game animals such as deer, elk, and buffalo.  Of course, chances are that you don’t have the time to go hunting, given your workout and career choices.  (For our ancestors, hunting was exercise and career all rolled into one activity.)  No, it’s unlikely that you will find game meat outside your back door, and it can’t be sold in supermarkets either.”
The reason game meat is the best source of protein is because these animals have very little fat in their meat and typically free range.  Their fat is layered on the outside of the meat next to the skin as opposed to a cow that has marbled fat.  Animals with a grain based diet will have greater omega 6 and lower omega 3 counts than an animal on a free range diet, making the meat of a grain fed animal inferior.  Some wild deer do eat plenty of toxic GMO corn making them a compromised nutrition source.  For this reason I hunted in swampy woodland far from farms so the deer would have a natural diet of acorns and buds.
The view from my tree stand
After putting in close to a 12 hour day the sun was rapidly fading and a steady rain picked up.  I was ready to call it a day and go back to camp for warmth and food.  Visibility was reduced and 10 minutes remained until last light when two deer manifested from nowhere right on top of me.  Seconds felt like hours as I quietly positioned myself.  Every little sound I made seemed as if it were amplified and I caught the attention of one of the deer a couple times.  I took my shot from 10 yards out after he stepped out from behind a tree.  After a pause he ran off and made it a good 50 yards where I found him the next day.  A lot of careful planning and preparation combined with the luck of an opportunity led to success.
My first deer
Deer are beautiful and elegant animals.  They are also great nutrition and delicious.  I have spent the last couple days butchering and processing the animal and plan to make steaks, stews, sautes, roasts, sausage, jerky, and chili without any going to waste.  This deer will feed my wife and I for quite some time and save us a good deal of money on groceries.

Paleo meal, inner tenderloin and salad.  I meant to eat beets as well but they took longer to cook than anticipated.
I respect these animals and understand the where and how of meat getting to the table.  It is unfortunate that we live in a world where people can live a life disconnected from this process.  I feel animal life is cheapened by the willful ignorance that accompanies many people's consumption of meat from grocery stores.  It is not just meat either, big agriculture and the FDA are guilty of horrible practices related to produce as well.   When dollars are the motivating factor many animals and workers live in undignified conditions to satisfy the demands of the market.  I can say my deer lived a good life and died humanely.         

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bison Chili

After years of careful study and patient trial and error I am finally proud to call a chili my own.  I have no doubt I will continue to experiment with this recipe over the years to come but the foundation has been laid.  The key to a successful chili is fresh quality ingredients in line with Paleolithic nutrition.  The best of chili will utilize only the most nutrient dense foods – meats and vegetables and avoid poor sources such as beans and other grains.  This recipe uses jalapenos but any variety of peppers diced or whole can be used to produce a wide array of great results.  I was fortunate to be able to use some ingredients from this past season’s garden harvest.

Chili Ingredients:  Meat and Vegetables
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 lb ground Bison
28 Oz whole tomatoes
1-2 Onions
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Yellow Bell Pepper
2 Green Bell Peppers
10 jalapeno peppers
1 Head Garlic minced
½ cup chili powder
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp red wine

Cube the buffalo into ½ inch squares and season with salt, pepper, and chili powder.  Add olive oil to a pan and heat.  Working in small batches, brown the meat on all sides and set aside in a large pot.  Browning meat in this manner brings out the most flavors in the seasonings.  Use the red wine and a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan and add the drippings back with the meat.

Core and seed the jalapenos and add to the pot.  Dice the onion and bell peppers and add to the pot accompanied by the tomatoes in their juice and the minced garlic.  Stir the mixture together and heat covered on low for 2 to 3 hours.  Alternatively a crock pot can be used.  The addition of water should be unnecessary with all the juice from the tomatoes, meat, and vegetables.  Some vegetables could be added in the last ½ hour or so if crisper vegetables are desired.  Roasting the peppers before adding would also be delicious.
Chili to go garnished with bacon and raw onion
I made up some bacon and diced raw onion for a garnish.  The chili traveled well and was plentiful.  It was extra delicious after spending some long days outside deer hunting.  I am happy to say next time I make this it will be with venison.   Improvise and enjoy.   

Ropa Vieja

My freezer has been full of tomato sauce from a large tomato haul from the garden earlier this summer.  Recently my garden provided a glut of poblano peppers as well.  This creation was driven by ingredients on hand.  My second try at Ropa Vieja turned out a well.  Recipe follows:

Ropa Vieja
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 lb flank steak
3 Cups tomato sauce
1 Onion
1 Cup diced poblano peppers
6 Cloves Garlic  diced
1 tsp Cumin
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp pepper

Add olive oil to a pan and heat.  Salt and pepper the flank steak and brown on each side 2-3 minutes.  Add the flank steak and remaining ingredients to a crock pot, cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  Shred the meat and serve with any number of things including Spanish rice, vegetables, or tacos.  Most recipes called for the addition of beef stock that I found unnecessary as the flank steak provides a lot of juice on its own.  Carrots and cilantro would also make great additions.  Bell peppers are typically used in place of poblanos.  Improvise and enjoy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Beef Oxtail Soup

I was excited to see oxtail at a local grocer the other day and instinctively bought it.  The gelatinous meat makes for great soups as well as other dishes like tacos.  The oxtail can be used to make both the stock and soup.  I made this without grains to make it paleo, though in the past I have added barley with good results.  This is a great post workout recovery meal for a cold day, reheats with ease and tastes the same as when it was made.  Prep time is low but cook time does take a while. 

Beef Oxtail
To make the stock:

4-8 oxtails
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion
2 Carrots
2 Stalks Celery
4 Cloves Garlic
3 oz tomato paste
2 Bay leaves
½ tsp Marjoram
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Fresh Cracked Pepper

In a large soup pot, add olive oil and heat.  Roll the oxtails in salt, pepper, thyme, and marjoram. Brown the oxtails in the soup pot about a minute per side.  Add the tomato paste, minced garlic, bay leaves, and coarsely diced onion, carrot, and celery to the soup pot.  Add enough water to cover and bring to a low boil for 2 – 3 hours.  Reserve the liquid and oxtails and discard the vegetables.  I find a good stock and tender meat made at the expense of the crispness of the vegetables.  The soup recipe adds fresh vegetables so they may be crisp and more flavorful.   

Beef Oxtail Soup
To make the soup:

Beef stock
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion
2 Carrots
2 Stalks Celery
4 Cloves Garlic
1 cup Mushrooms sliced
2 medium potatoes diced
½ tsp Marjoram
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Fresh Cracked Pepper

Shred the meat from the oxtails, discard the bone and cartilage.  Heat the stock and meat in a soup pot.  Add olive oil to a pan and heat on low.  Dice the Onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and potato and cook for 15 – 20 minutes.  Add the vegetables, minced garlic, and seasonings to the soup pot.  Bring to a low boil and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until potatoes are soft.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Run Faster: Cadence/Over-stride and Performance

Over striding is the single largest factor in preventing runners of all skill levels from reaching their full potential.  Increasing efficiency by way of employing an optimal stride can cut minutes from race times.  Energy is needlessly wasted when over striding by two mechanisms:
  1. The leg is prevented from functioning like a spring by storing and transferring energy from one stride to the next
  2. Energy is lost to greater vertical displacement. 
This topic transcends foot strike as shod or minimalist heel and forefoot strikers are all plenty capable of over striding and the resulting inefficiency and reduction in sustainable pace that comes with it.

An over striding runner at left contrasted with an optimal stride at right.  Greater vertical displacement of an overstride can be seen by the relative magnitude of the arrows.

An over stride occurs when the center of mass is behind the knee when the foot strikes.  In extreme examples the leg is straight when the foot strikes as seen displayed by the runner at the left.  An optimal stride is one that places the center of mass directly over a slightly bent knee when the foot strikes as seen displayed by the runner on the right.

Over stride and efficiency are directly related to cadence.  Cadence being defined as the number of right or left foot strikes in a 60 second period.  An over stride / reduction in efficiency occurs at any cadence less than 90 as cited in numerous studies and is easily verifiable by an increase in perceived effort, heart rate, and calorie burn.  An optimal cadence of 90 is employed for much of the human endurance range of paces.  Even faster paces require higher cadences as stride length has a maximum.

My personal pace and cadence curve.  The endurance range of paces is a constant 90.  Outside of the endurance range speed is increased by increasing cadence.
Stride length reaches a maximum at sprint speeds.

Personal cadence made possible by ANT+ foot pod and compatible watch.  .  A foot pod is an underrated but indispensible training tool.

The effect of even a slight over stride on race times of all distances is profound.  Much of the year I employed a cadence of 86 preventing me from realizing my full potential.  A cadence of 90 could have shaved 56 seconds from a 5k, and close to 5 minutes from a half marathon for the paces in the table.  For the most severe over stride the potential is even greater at 3 minutes for a 5k and close to 17 minutes for a half marathon.  As paces slow efficiency decreases when over striding       

Actual Pace
Potential Pace
76 cadence
86 cadence
90 cadence
5:01 (-59s)
5:42 (-18s)
5:16 (-64s)
6:01 (-19s)
5:20 (-65s)
6:05 (-20s)
½ marathon
5:39 (-76s)
6:33 (-22s)

The potential pace in the table indicates what pace could be realized by employing an optimal cadence of 90 if the actual pace were ran in the time listed at the cadence listed.  For a cadence of 90 no improvment is possible and the potential pace equals the actual pace.  To further explain the mechanisms mentioned at the beginning of the post:
Spring Effect:
A running human creates a good amount of kinetic energy.  Running is the closest to flying our bodies get and each stride does include an airborne portion.  The leg can capture much of the energy (63% at 90 cadence) from the vertical displacement that accompanies coming back to earth and apply that energy to the next stride.  The bones and tissue of the human foot and leg form a very functional and efficient spring.       
An over striding runner will not fully benefit from the legs ability to function as a spring.  Instead of the leg capturing and transferring this energy to the next stride some or all of that energy will be violently dissipated in the form of noise and vibration/deformation of the shoes, feet, muscle, and bones.  Run quietly is apt advice.  The next stride will need to generate this energy again requiring additional effort (0 to 16.5% + of total energy expenditure).
Vertical Displacement:
If the spring effect were not offensive enough over striding also requires greater vertical displacement, which sub sequentially requires greater effort to accomplish.  Coming from greater heights also leads to greater impact forces.  It is often repeated that races are a straight line, not up and down, thus in the interest of speed it is best to minimize vertical movement.  This effect is secondary as it causes much less energy loss than losing out on the previously mentioned spring effect.  A small amount of energy is saved from striding less but is does not change the net result.
The popularity of Run Faster:  Shoe Weight and Performance helped inspire this post.  If you enjoyed this post +1, forward it to a friend, or leave a comment.  Feedback keeps me motivated.  Additionally the topic is rich and I am happy to discuss.  If you hated it or see inaccuracies, let me know too.  This post was made possible by way of mathematical analysis utilizing basic physics and efficient runner model rev 1.0.  A follow up post will contain the analysis for the select few.  If you are interested in reading more on the topic this link contains great material.  Thanks for reading.
NOTE:  An optimal cadence of 180 refers to both the left and right foot strikes in a 60 second period.  An optimal cadence of 90 refers to just the left or just the right foot strikes in a 60 second period.  Different device manufacturers and authors use either or.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lake Michigan Bluffs in Pictures

Not far from my house are the bluffs of Lake Michigan.  It is nice to have scenic trails nearby.  The pictures don't really capture all the beauty of the area.

Tree on the bluff.  Insert motivational poster phase here.

Gorgeous lookout featuring evidence of illegal campfires.

Bluff trail

Garter Snake

Washout, not a trail.

Open field off the bluffs

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lakefront Discovery 15k

This past Saturday I joined my wife to compete in the Badgerland Striders Lakefront Discovery 15k.  It was a fun event on a beautiful course.  This was my first 15k race and I thoroughly enjoyed the distance and its pacing challenges.  The event had a good vibe with a lot of runners sporting Halloween costumes and the finish at the Milwaukee Ale house didn’t hurt any.  There was a chill in the air with temperatures in the mid thirties (Fahrenheit) and a 10 mph breeze.  Despite the temperature breathing was easy and dressing in layers made the outdoor experience quite manageable.

Downhill race start out in front.  Photo taken by Bill of Running in the USA.

I have not done a road race since July and as such shaped my workouts since the Urbanathlon to zero in on a reasonable pace.  Recently I also started training with a foot pod and have been obsessing about stride.  This training helped me set my goal to run as efficiently as possible by way of 180 cadence.  It was the only shot I had at finishing in under an hour.  Problem is I am guilty of over striding at a tempo pace.  When over striding I experience the sensation of going faster and certainly am working hard but in the end energy is wasted and finish times are slower.

High cadences feature a good looking stride with the center of mass over the knee.  Thanks to Donna's friend Chris for taking the photo. 

The start of the race featured a prominent downhill.  I lined up in the front and at the word go let gravity take me and focused on quick leg turnover.  When I train hills it is both up and down leaving me extremely comfortable on the downhill.  I was surprised to be winning over a quarter mile in but the situation promptly corrected itself.    Even though the entire first mile was an exercise in restraint it still featured a split better suited for a 5k effort.

Course Elevation plotted against cadence

I was locked into a 180 cadence and content running my own race, at least the first third.  As the top of the field passed me by I observed their footstrike, cadence, and shoes.  I have noticed a lot of elite runners at various races wear Adidas Adizero Aegis and this 15k was no different.  Footstrike was mixed with most exhibiting a heel strike.  Over striding was minimal and the winning male and female had very high turnover.  The only guy who passed me with questionable form faded by the sixth mile where I reclaimed a large lead he had opened and passed him.

498 women and 432 men participated.

The third mile featured a prominent hill.  As strong as I was on the downhill I was weak on the uphill.  I was separated from the group I had been in close proximity to and ran my slowest split of the race.   I struggled to maintain a good cadence up the hill.  I just might need more muscle in my legs to be a better uphill runner.  Coming out of the hill I picked up the pace and changed my focus from running my own race to overtaking those ahead of me.  I was successful but was not working alone as others had the same idea.

Average cadence came out to 89.  I could have done a better job hugging corners.

By miles seven eight and nine I started to struggle with keeping my cadence high.  As I fatigued I would begin over striding.  I kept my watch set to cadence and quickly remedied the problem as it surfaced.  At this point I had run out of anyone to pass and was in a race with a guy dressed as Forest Gump and another gentleman who both had never been far.  After losing Forest I paced off the other runner and have to say we must have been pushing each other.  I never did have a big finishing mile because I was spent.  Plenty of other runners did, I sprinted in spurts the last half mile but was ultimately force fed my pride when I couldn’t keep up with them.  It was a good day.  I made my goal with a finish time of 59:45, good for 20th place.

Finish times in 10 minute increments.  

The Badgerland Striders consistently put on well run quality events of great value.  The events are organized by runners for runners and are well thought out as such.  I must thank all the volunteers for the great job.  It is an organization I hope to become more involved in by way of volunteering over the next year.  This past year my wife and I read splits for the Lakefront marathon in what was a pleasant experience.  I encourage all endurance athletes to volunteer to help with an event.