Over the last few months, I wrote all of this build up about the Pittsburgh marathon, then the day came, I ran, it passed, and I never told you about it. Truth is, I’ve spent much of the last month trying to decide how I feel about the day. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and its taken me awhile to be able to articulate my thoughts.
As I mentioned earlier in the month, marathon weekend was an absolute blast, spent celebrating with some of my very dearest friends who I spend far too little time with these days. The race itself, well the race itself was, if I’m being completely honest, a runner’s dream come true. So why the mixed feelings?
I’ve run competitively since I was 12 years old, so setting goals for specific finishing times, places, awards, etc, and working feverishly towards them has been a pretty typical part of my life for the last decade and a half. I always focused on setting realistic goals based on my current ability level, along with reach goals–the maybe someday dreams. And to be frank, in my running career, I conquered very few of those reach goals. I never broke 19 minutes in the 5k, I never broke a school record, I never qualified for nationals, or made the all-region team. Hell, I was never even the best runner on my team. And you know what? I am ok with that… Running has always been about something more for me: the friendships forged; the dependable rhythm of the step after step, mile after mile, that calms me during even the most hectic of days; the opportunity to be a part of something much larger than me; and the knowledge that I’m living a lifestyle centered on physical fitness.
When I started marathoning 3 years ago, I followed suit with my old habits of setting doable goals, and the stretch ones. First and foremost, I wanted to finish a marathon. Then I wanted the break 3:30. I wanted to qualify for Boston. I wanted to run Boston. I wanted to pace my best friend through her first marathon. I wanted to break 3:25. Slowly but surely 5 marathons in, I had knocked off each of these goals. Deep down though, I always had this crazy finishing time in my head. It was so crazy, given my ability level, that I never even bothered mentioning it to anyone. 3:15. No… I’ll never be that good. Well maybe some day. In the perfect storm. On the perfect day. In the perfect weather conditions. On a perfectly flat course. After 4 perfect months of training. Maybe someday after an immense amount of dedication and sacrifice and build up, maybe some day, I’d run a 3:15.
And then it happened. And it was everything I imagined it would be. The sun was shining. My friends and family were there cheering me on. Most importantly I was feeling centered and at peace, both physically and mentally.
But if i’m being completely honest, it was also kind of anti-climatic. I knew I was running a solid race. I knew I was well ahead of my goal pace of 3:20. I knew I ran an exceptionally strong 7 miles mid race, when my friend and old teammate Shawn, jumped into the race to pace me. But it wasn’t until I was making my way through downtown Pittsburgh in the final stretch of the course that I realized what was happening. That I realized I was about to shatter my dream time by a whole 45 seconds.
So what does a runner do when they run a 7 minute personal record? Celebrate of course! In my case celebration involved my parents, my best friends, a burger, a milkshake and Pittsburgh’s finest margaritas. I went to bed that night exhausted and elated.
Despite my happiness, I couldn’t help myself and the next day on the five hour drive back to Philadelphia, I found my head full of one single thought: What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? I had barely taken 24 hours to revel in my moment and I was already asking myself what’s next?
I’ve spent the last four weeks searching for an answer to that question, searching for my next challenge. After some pretty huge inspiration from a friend recently, I think I’ve found my challenge… something I can really sink my teeth into. We’ll chat about it soon, but for now, all you need to know is that I’ll be running (and swimming and biking *hint hint*) after some new dreams.
In the meantime, I want to share this recipe for Marathon Chicken. I made it, you guessed it, the night before the Pittsburgh marathon for a group of hungry runners. The recipe itself is fairly simple and it comes together very quickly, (it disappears from the pan even more quickly!) making it the perfect weeknight dinner or meal to serve to a crowd. The flavors are classic so picky eaters will approve. Marathon chicken is super versatile and is absolutely delicious served over whole wheat pasta or piled on an Italian roll for a hearty hoagie.
- 1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken cutlets
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp dried Italian herbs (basil, oregano, etc)
- 15 oz jar marinara sauce
- 2 1/2 Tbs olive oil, divided
- 1 green pepper, sliced
- 1 small yellow pepper, sliced
- 2 oz shredded or sliced mozzarella cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Drizzle the chicken cutlets with 1 Tbs of olive oil and season with the garlic salt, pepper, and Italian herbs. Toss the meat with your hands to make sure it is well coated.
Pour the entire contents of the jar of marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9×9 ceramic or glass baking pan. Layer the chicken over the sauce and bake in the oven, uncovered for 25 minutes.
While the chicken is baking, heat another 1 1/2 Tbs of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet on the stove top. Sautee the sliced peppers and onions for about 20 minutes or until very soft and sweet. When the chicken has finished baking, remove it from the oven and top with the sauteed peppers and onions along with a healthy sprinkling of mozzarella cheese. Return the chicken to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.
Serve chicken hot over whole wheat pasta or as an irresistible sandwich filling.
**Note on cooking time: If you are using chicken breasts instead of cutlets, you’ll need to increase your cooking time by about 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of your breast.
Dream big. Eat well. Be happy.