On October 26, I ran my last half marathon of the year. I hadn’t planned on running the Rock and Roll Vancouver. My October running event was supposed to be the Victoria Marathon, which I had been training for up until I bought my tickets for Europe with an air of finality. With the push of a button, I was no longer going to achieve my goal of running a marathon this year.
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(And honestly, it was fine. As much as I hate not accomplishing a goal, I also want my first marathon to be really special. I’m one of those girls who believes the first-time for everything is sacred, so you want to do it right. And that’s why I’m saving my marathon cherry for the one race I always thought would take it – the BMO Vancouver Marathon. 2015, watch out!)

But back to the Rock and Roll. The reason I signed up for it was largely because (and this is going to sound so silly) the medal said “inaugural” on it and I thought to myself, “Huh, how often am I going to get to do the inaugural of anything?” And then, all of a sudden, I was signed up and a few days later, I was in Europe doing not one single bit of running (except after trains I was about to miss).

So needless to say, I didn’t feel very prepared to do my best in this race. My goal since the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in D.C. last April has been to get sub-2, but as my SeaWheeze recap can attest, this has been a hard goal to achieve. I decided that with little training, I would just enjoy running the Rock and Roll and see what happens.

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My fave running buddy, MisoNani, was running this on to. She’d had a bad case of food poisoning a few days before so we both decided to take it easy. We consistently ran a pace of 5:45-5:55/km for pretty much all of the race, which by the way, is the nicest course I’ve done in Vancouver in awhile. I enjoyed the change of pace (pun intended) of running around the downtown core and the Stanley Park sea wall. Instead, this course went from the heart of our financial district on Hasting and Thurlow to the Railtown warehouse district over to East Vancouver, before heading back downtown to Yaletown and through Stanley Park across to the Coal Harbour side where the finish was located. Aside from lots of short, rolling hills in Stanley Park (oy vey), it was a great course with just the right amount of challenge for someone like me (the girl who lacks hill training).

It was around 18km that I noticed my time was 1:34 and I really believed in my heart of hearts that I could run the last 3.1km fast enough to get a Sub-2 time. MisoNani was very understanding and so I set off. I was fine at first, but I had to constantly remind myself not to keep going faster. I tried to maintain a steady 5:00-5:15 pace as much as possible, but then there was a hill and then, another one, this time without a downhill to help make up my time. By 19km, I was pushing it and I knew it. My knees were starting to ache, my IT band was throbbing and my hips were feeling tighter than a cork in a champagne bottle. I was hoping I wouldn’t pop before I reached the finish line. The 20km sign appeared and I told myself, “You can do this. Come on!”

Did I mention I hadn’t looked at my watch once to see what my run time was? I had it set to just show pace. I was afraid if I saw how behind I actually was, I’d just lose all heart and slow down. I wanted to know that I could push myself when I really needed to, so i didn’t look. Not once. Even when the 21km sign never appeared and I was running at 5:00/km and I was getting a little desperate. And then, the finish line loomed in the distance. The crowds cheers grew louder. My legs started moving like a machine, like the wheels on an old school train. Just chugging forward as fast I could. I think I can, I think I can. There’s brother and bf cheering me on. “Push it, Karra!” he shouts. I push. I push so hard, I’m almost crying.

And then, boom. It’s done. I’m done. I somehow manage to remember to smile pretty for the cameras as I go over the finish line. A pretty volunteer smiles and congratulates me as she puts my awesome medal over my head and around my neck.

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So what did I clock in at? 2:04:24.

Not a PB. Not an improvement over the SeaWheeze. But it was a time I was proud of. It was proof that once again, I could push through pretty much anything and end up with something decent.

Thanks for a great race Rock & Roll! Congrats to MisoNani on her spectacular 2:07 time and to all the other runners.

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You probably looked at this post title and likely only recognized the city in the middle, huh? Don’t worry, up until a few months ago, Paris was the only city on that list I knew about, too! So I thought it might be good to preface all the trip posts coming up with an explanation of how we chose these cities to see, especially considering Europe is a HUGE continent with lots of must-see cities. Hopefully, this will help in case you’re struggling with the same or a similar situation when it comes to trip planning.

Karra eating a galettes at f armer's market in Bayeux

A little over a week ago (god, time flies), I got back from my last big vacation of the year. It was one that my boyfriend and I weren’t sure we’d even be going on until two months before we left. But stars aligned and before I knew it, we were off to Europe!

Our main reason for going was so my boyfriend could attend a conference in Heidelberg, Germany (now you know why it ended up on the list). I had no clue what this university town would be like and from pictures, it reminded me a lot of these ceramic Christmas villages capes that my grandma likes to put out during the holidays. I’ll save what the town was actually like for my recap post on it.

Karra in the Paris Opera House

Knowing that we wanted the conference to be at the end of our trip, we ended up with 10 free days that could be used to go anywhere we went. I’ve been to Europe once before on a blitz group tour that took me to places like Paris and Amsterdam. It was a ton of fun, but made it impossible to really enjoy any of the cities I went to since I usually had 1.5 days MAX to explore – definitely not enough time to eat a whole lot of croissants or Belgian waffles. The bf, on the other hand, had only been to London. So, we had a lot of countries to choose from.

After a lot of TripAdvisoring, asking more knowledgable family and friends, and asking social media (more me than him, natch), we ended up picking Paris because “Paris is always a good idea” (thank you, Audrey) and because it would only take 3 hours to train to Heidelberg from there (we really wanted to train and the idea of flying never crossed our minds).

From there, it was a no brainer for my bf to pick the Normandy region of France as the place he wanted to start our trip. He’s a major history and politics buff and he talked about going to see the D-Day beaches the same way I talked about eating French pastries and cheese. He narrowed down the city to Bayeux based on a lot of great feedback on TripAdvisor forums. It was rated as the best city to take a D-Day tour from and, while it’s a small town (we made our way around it in one afternoon), there were some cool tourist attractions and it was close to other cities and attractions we wanted to see.

Karra in Heidelberg

So, after we decided on our cities, this is the itinerary we ended up with (including transportation and travel time, in case you find those handy):

  • Fly into Paris CDG via London (approx. 13 hours and 20 minutes including the layover). Take a train from CDG to Paris St. Lazare station and then a train to Bayeux from there (approx. 2 hours 30 mins of train travel)
  • Bayeux for 3 days
  • One train back to Paris (approx. 2 hours 10 mins)
  • Paris for 5.5 days
  • Take late afternoon train from Paris Est station to Karlsruhe and then another train to Heidelberg (approx. 4.5 hours of train travel)
  • Heidelberg for 6 days
  • Train from Heidelberg to Frankfurt Airport (approx. 1 hour 10 mins of train travel). Fly back home via London (approx. 13 hours and 5 minutes including the layover).

Anyway, I’m excited to share the rest of my trip with you guys. I have some really great stories to share so stay tuned!

What’s your method or strategy for picking the countries or cities you want to see? Share them in the comments below – I’d love to know what your experience was like. 

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Alright, it’s been about 2 hours since I crossed the finish line on this one and I have some mixed emotions.

I’m just going to say it: I was aiming to finally go sub-2 hours on a half marathon, but finished in 2:05 instead (unofficial time because I forgot my timing chip at home. Good ol’ Garmin watch has me at this and I’m sticking to it). On the one hand, it sucks, but on the other, I had a great time doing this race.

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To be honest, up until a month ago, I had kind of forgotten that SeaWheeze was coming up. I was so focused on what was supposed to be my first marathon in October (but now I’ll be travelling during that time instead) that I was quite relaxed with my pacing during my training runs, keeping it at a cool 6:00-6:15 per kilometre. I had planned to use SeaWheeze as a training run and not race it. But when my travel plans firmed up and it was certain that I couldn’t do my marathon this year, I got it in my head to try for a sub-2 time.

I thought it’d be easy to jump down to a 5:30 pace for the race and achieve my goal, but it was not to be. Here are the lessons I learned:

DON’T FORGET YOUR TIMING CHIP. What my official time would be kept plaguing me in the back of my head and in the end I had to go off of my sports watch. Maybe I finished earlier than I thought…I’ll never know now.

– Pace yourself well. Because I didn’t have my chip, I was trying to follow a friend who was aiming for a 1:45 time. I ended up going too fast too early and used up most of my energy. Had I been just a tad more conservative in the beginning and picked up speed in the middle and sustained it, I probably would’ve hit my goal. Instead I was gassed by 15km.

– Have a device that tracks your pace and keep your eye on it. I tried to follow the 2:00 pace beaver around 5km and kept up for awhile. But when we hit the long downhill on Burrard St Bridge, I ended up going faster and lost the beaver. This would’ve been great if I had paid more attention to the pace I was going at afterwards. I had been so reliant on finding the beaver that I never figure out the right pace to maintain. I’d just ebb and flow from too fast to too slow. And when the beaver finally caught up, my legs felt like lead.

– Match your training runs closely to what you hope to achieve at your race. As mentioned, I had been training at a slower speed and never really picked it up for the goal I had set for SeaWheeze. I also trained at 10-1 and decided it would be a good idea to never take breaks during the actual race. This ended up with me being forced to take several long walking breaks from 15-20km because my body was slowing down.

– High fives provide major power boosts. I don’t know why, but when I stick my hand out at runners on the other side of the loop and they high five me and I get about 5-7 of those in a row, I go faster and the struggle stops being real for a few seconds. It really helps – try it next time!!

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In the end, I just made a few bad calls with this race. They’re easily fixable for my next one (haven’t decided which one to do yet) so I hope to achieve sub-2 there. The nice thing about having to stop racing in the middle of this half marathon is that I was able to enjoy it more than I had been instead of pushing myself past the point of exhaustion. I also didn’t end up injuring myself, which was important. I’m proud of myself for recognizing when my body had had enough and for still running (albeit very slowly) through the pain. Oh SeaWheeze 2014, you have taught me much more than you know.

Congratulations to everyone that did this half marathon! And thank you to the amazing organizers and awesome volunteers. Now, to digest my 2nd brunch (thanks for the awesome Runner’s Brunch, Bearfoot Bistro!) and celebratory mimosa from Yolks!

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Flower arrangementI’ve been struggling for the past few days to find the right way to write my novel and it didn’t help that I’d watched The Book Thief last night. It was such a masterpiece of storytelling – great plot, fantastic dialogue and exquisite word choices – that I wanted to echo it in my own writing. I can only imagine how much better the book is and it’s now on my reading list. Anyway, as I rewrote a scene this morning, I kept deleting words until finally I let my stream of conscious go and write whatever. It was crap t o say the least.

Afterwards, I went on my last long run before SeaWheeze next week (18k since I’m still following my marathon training plan for fun). Usually when I go for a run, I come up with some really good ideas for my novel. But two hours later, I was physically and mentally exhausted. The right idea just wouldn’t come. Although I did do some good, hard thinking about what kind of person my main character is.

When I sat down again to write, I was hesitant. Should I just keep writing off of the crap from earlier? Should I try again?

I ended up doing the latter and without even realizing it, about 45 minutes later, I had a scene that was actually good. And it was perfectly setting up another scene that I had been struggling to keep or not. It was such an awesome feeling to come out of my writing cloud and realize that sometimes to write a story, you just have to let the words come. You can’t force it.

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Mindy and Danny. Image from: The Vulture

Disclaimer: There are The Mindy Project spoilers in this post. Turn away now if you know what’s good for you and finish the current 2 seasons of the show. You will be glad you did.

Ah, the rom-com sitcom. I can’t remember the last time I watched a really good TV show that had all the trappings of one of my favorite movie genres: romantic comedy. I just finished binge-watching The Mindy Project over the past two days and I have to say that I’m on a little bit of a major high right now from this show.

There is nothing I love more in books, movies or real-life than opposites/enemies finding out that they are actually perfect for each other. I didn’t think Danny and Mindy would work out, but the writers of the show did a fantastic job of planting the seeds for this relationship throughout the first season of the show. You knew it was coming, and you wanted it to happen, but you didn’t know when or how. It’s the same kind of writing that gets me to stay up late at night reading a romance novel, especially the young adult fiction kind.

There’s just something so cute about the way teenagers fall in love. The hormones, the cliques, the self-consciousness…there’s so many things keeping them from seeing what’s been in front of them all along (i.e. the best guy friend who’s memorized her favorite Chinese take-out order). And then, when she gets the guy of her dreams, she just truly believes in her heart that he is the only one she will ever be with.

That’s a fun world to escape into sometimes. But what was so great about The Mindy Project was that Mindy dated a lot of guys who weren’t all frogs. You got to go along with her as she learned how to be herself and to be honest about her feelings, something that is very hard to do when you’re dating someone new. And through it all, she managed to find Danny, the best kind of friend, who comforted her, listened to her, challenged her, and of course, infuriated her.

The show writers knew how to get you to fall in love with this couple and to root for them and it was so satisfying when that first kiss finally happened. Perfect setting, perfect set up.

As an aspiring novelist, these are the kinds of stories I love to tell. They may be cheesy at times or hard to get through, but they make us smile so hard while we’re reading that our cheeks hurt by the end and we barely notice (actually, we can barely stop smiling). I want to write stories about two people who take a long time to fall in love and the circumstances that come up preventing them from getting to that long awaited first kiss. I love the idea of love and I hope that the stories I write do this amazing feeling justice.

Well done, writers of The Mindy Project. You guys make falling in love both funny and awesome.

Image source: The Vulture

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Do you hate going to the dentist? I know some people who have a huge fear of being in a dentist’s chair. Me? Not so much. I think it’s because the first dentist I remember going to was my mom’s niece (or my “aunt” if you get Filipino family dynamics). Once you see your dentist belting out karaoke hits at the top of her lungs, it takes the scare factor out of seeing her with a drill in her hand.

One thing I do hate about my dentist visits is finding out that I have yet another cavity. My sweet tooth can get uncontrollable sometimes, so I’m pretty religious about brushing my teeth very carefully and flossing every night.

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Torte

Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist digging into this Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Torte the week before my dentist appointment. I suspect it contributed somewhat to my teeth problems. But can you blame me for being unable to resist it?

Ground hazelnut mixed with sugar

Macaroon batter

I made this torte for my man’s birthday. I know it doesn’t look very pretty – my cake decorating skills pale in comparison to my baking super powers – but it was absolutely, positively, scrum-diddly-umptious.

At first, all the chocolate and hazelnuts reminded me of my Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies, but the flavour and texture is more similar to a Ferrero Rocher. If it was about 8” wide, four layers tall and covered in decadent whipped cream, that is.

Baking chocolate chunks

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Layers of macaroon, chocolate and whipped cream

The macaroon layers are soft, not chewy, which is a great sign you beat the egg whites to just the right consistency. It holds up well against the chocolate and whipped cream layers, so that each bite is just pure bliss.

I think it was definitely worth the cavities, don’t you?

Slice of Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Torte

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Torte

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

The Macaroons

1 C plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
2½ tbsp ground hazelnuts
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Oil or butter for greasing parchment rounds

The Chocolate Filling

1 C bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼ C water

The Whipped Frosting and Filling

1½ C chilled whipping or heavy cream
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Decoration

Semi- or bittersweet chocolate bar for shaving

Let’s do this:

Make the macaroons

  1. Position your oven rack/s in the top and lower third of your oven and preheat it to 325F
  2. Flip a plate upside down over four pieces of parchment paper and trace around it to create 8-inch circles. Turn each piece of parchment over to prevent ink or pencil lines from seeping into macaroon.
  3. Place each piece of parchment on a baking sheet and spray with cooking oil or lightly coat with butter. Wipe down with a paper towel to leave a very thin, sheer coat of grease.
  4. Place hazelnuts, 1C sugar and salt in a food processor and blend until finely ground.
  5. In a bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract, then slowly add remaining 2 tbsp of sugar. Beat together until mixture is stiff, but not dry.
  6. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 1/3 increments so egg whites don’t lose their fluff.
  7. When everything is mixed, spread ¼ of the batter evenly within each parchment circle, filling completely. 
  8. Bake macaroons until golden and dry to the touch – approximately 20 minutes in my oven.
  9. Cool macaroons on a cooling rack or do it the speedy way by placing them in the freezer for five minutes. 

Make the chocolate filling

  1. While macaroons cool, heat half of chocolate and all the water in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in second half of chocolate chunks until melted. This should cool the mixture to lukewarm.
  3. Grab cooled macaroons and spread chocolate evenly over the top of each one. You want a thin layer on each.
  4. Let cool at room temperature, which can take a few hours, or do it the speedy way and place in freezer until firm (about five minutes).

Make the whipped frosting

You can do this a day ahead and leave in the refrigerator until you’re ready for it.

1. Beat cream with sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Put it all together:

  1. Gently peel the parchment off the back of each macaroon round. Place the first disc on your cake serving plate.
  2. Slather 1/3C of whipped cream over it. Repeat with second and third macaroon.
  3. Top the cake with the final round and frost all over with whipped cream.
  4. If desired, use a grater or vegetable peeler to scrape chocolate bar and create decorative shavings or curls for the cake.

 

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