I am so glad to be sitting down right now.
This morning, I rose before dawn. The green lights on my alarm clock read 5:10, but I obeyed its beeping and pulled on my grey running tights, pink sports bra, orange tank top, and a long-sleeved t-shirt that says Albion College Dancers on the front. I washed my face, ponytailed my hair, and bobby-pinned a bandana headband in place to keep my hair under control, no matter what the wind might try to do this morning.
I ate breakfast, the sun still nowhere to be seen. At 6:30, with the sky just beginning to lighten to a rich velvety blue, I took a cab over to Veterans Park. Or rather, I tried to take a cab over to Veterans Park. The road we tried to take to the park had already been blocked off, and there was easily a mile of traffic backed up, cars and trucks probably filled with half-marathon participants who, like me, had been thwarted from getting into the park via Harvey Road.
So I hoofed it. After paying and abandoning my cab-driver to the traffic jam, I walked and, later, with some amount of panic, jogged to the starting line of the 4th Annual Armadillo Dash, relieved to see that no one had left the starting line. I made it.
The air was cool but calm as we all stood together, mentally preparing to run 13.1 miles. For me, running with other people is always a strange experience because I hardly ever do it. Usually I’m a solitary runner, racing against myself and the desire to quit. With other runners, I’m a stew of excitement and anxiety, with a pinch of competitiveness. With others, I want to demonstrate that I belong there, among that pack of runners of all ages and sizes, all speeds and desires. I’m willing to bet, though, that every single one of us shares one goal: finishing.
The race started off very slowly, a logjam of runners trotting together as we squeezed through the tight opening miles. I think my first two miles averaged out to be fifteen-minute miles, which felt frightfully slow compared to my normal nine- or ten-minute miles. My body felt tired and sluggish, unaccustomed to running at such an early morning hour.
But I slogged on, because the only thing worse than running a slow half-marathon is quitting for no good reason. The pace magically righted itself as the mile markers appeared in an orderly procession, 5, 6, 7, 8. I was running almost perfect ten-minute miles, which felt like a minor miracle. Though I had started this race thinking that a half-marathon run in two and a half hours would be fine with me, I realized that if I finished strong, I could easily shave fifteen minutes off that time. Maybe more!
Since I had no running buddy to chat with me, my thoughts wandered like toddlers in a grocery store. I thought about writing this post and how nice it is to have a blog. I thought about the funny things I had overheard that morning (“I dreamed last night that we were at the starting line and you had to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t tie my shoes!”) and how important it is to run your own race. Other runners around me must have thought I was nuts because I would pass them running, then they would pass me while I walked. But that was all part of my running plan: run for 25 minutes, then walk 5. Repeat as needed. For whatever reasons, it’s easier for me to run a faster pace and take walking breaks rather than to run a slower pace with no walking.
I thought about God. There was a prayer before we left the starting line, though I could hear only mumbling through the loud speakers. A man wore a t-shirt whose backside read, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. We passed a handful of churches, the final one of which had a dozen volunteers. One of them wore a shirt that read, My quads are in awe of your quads. I liked that one.
Like a true agnostic, I decided that it couldn’t hurt to have God on my side that morning, so I thought about whether Jesus could help me lift my legs so I might continue to run. I couldn’t tell for sure if it worked, but I did finish strong, so maybe! But what really made my scalp prickle with astonishment was the very idea of faith. Even though my knees were hurting and my legs were growing heavy with exertion, I had absolute faith that I would finish. What more could I accomplish if I always had such faith in myself and my abilities? What mountains could I move, what rivers could I swim if I wore faith on my heart like the bib pinned to my shirt? We usually think of faith in its religious garments, but even agnostics need faith because every adventure is started without knowing whether we will succeed. I try to think of this whenever I’m scared of what the future holds because while there are no guarantees, we’ll never know what happiness could have been ours if we take no chances.
Two hours, seven minutes, and forty-one seconds later, I crossed the finish line. And just like that, it was over.
Except that it wasn’t. There were bathrooms to be found and post-race snacks to be eaten. Last night, I had baked a batch of Mollie Katzen’s Breakfast Biscotti, tweaking the recipe to taste. And before heading into the predawn morning, I had packed a little baggie of them to accompany me to the race.
Foolishly, I thought they would make a good mid-race snack. Certainly they were tasty enough, flecked with bits of lemon zest and bittersweet chocolate chips, but biscotti pose one major problem for a runner: they are dry. Dry and crunchy, which makes them about the worst mid-run food ever. When I’m running, I want liquids—water, orange juice, maybe a yogurt smoothie made with banana. During the race, around mile nine, I think, I had just one bite of biscotti. The chocolate (for energy, of course) was wonderful, but the texture? No, thank you. I’d rather have Gatorade, whose taste I dislike but whose wetness I love.
But I didn’t toss my remaining cookies along the roadside. They remained in their little baggie until later, when I sat in front of a Remax on University Drive, waiting for a cab to take me home. By this time, I was rehydrated and still a little hungry, so I munched on my homemade treat. Sitting there, on that cloudy morning with tired legs and a salt-crusted face, these biscotti tasted perfect. Lemony, not too sweet, with a faint almond flavor and the crunch of cornmeal, they were delicious. They provided some much-needed fat and protein in a homemade, perfectly portable package. While I won’t think of them as mid-run food again, I will keep them in mind for the post-run afterglow, along with a bottle of water and a nice resting spot somewhere outside.
Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe
Makes 20-30 biscotti, depending on how thickly you slice them
May I confess something here? I discovered that I love making biscotti more than I love eating them. Yes, it’s bizarre, but it’s the truth. There’s something about forming the dough into logs, and then slicing that baked log into neat little cookies that I find incredibly appealing. It must be my need for orderliness. Despite my love for the double-baking process, I think I prefer my biscotti on the softer side. I am generally not a huge fan of super-crunchy cookies; I like soft, chewy ones much better.
To make these biscotti a little softer, I cut the baking time a little shorter. In the future, I might even go shorter to make a softer, cakier cookie. Below, I’ve listed a range of baking times so that you can test and tweak with pleasure.
Nonstick cooking spray
3 large eggs
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar (I used vanilla bean-infused sugar here—a nice touch but not strictly necessary)
1/3 cup canola oil
Grated zest from one lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick spray.
2) In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the sugars, oil, lemon zest, and extracts. Beat together until combined.
3) In another bowl, this time medium-sized, combine the flours, oats, cornmeal, and salt.
3) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones. Stir until combined. The batter will be thick but not as stiff as other cookie doughs. Stir the chocolate chips into the batter.
4) Divide the dough in half and spoon the two halves into large mounds on either side the cookie sheet. Shape the mounds into logs about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The logs should be a few inches apart.
5) Bake for 20 minutes and then remove the tray from the oven. Use a pancake flipper to move the logs to cooling racks. To save your hands, let them cool for a few minutes. (The chocolate gets really hot during baking.) Then, working with one log at a time, place a log on a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to slice the log into individual biscotti about 1/2- to 1-inch in width. I tend to slice mine bigger, partly out of laziness and partly because I find it easier to slice biscotti when they are thicker. Mollie recommends that you use a sawing motion to slice to prevent crumbling. Repeat with the other log.
6) Place the biscotti on their sides on the baking tray (same one as before) and put them back in the oven. Bake for 8 minutes, then turn them over. Bake for 4 minutes, then turn the oven off and bake for another 4 minutes. Alternatively, you could remove the biscotti after turning them over and baking for 4 minutes. A longer baking time will give a harder, crunchier cookie; a shorter baking time will give a softer, cakier cookie.
7) Remove the tray from the oven, transfer the biscotti to a cooling rack, and allow them to cool until they are cool to the touch. Eat or pack away for future snacking.