I am official a sub-1:50 half-marathoner. Yesterday I raced my heart out to a 1:49:25 finish at the 2011 San Francisco Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon—for which I had prepped and carb-loaded by making and eating Mark Bittman‘s Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese to my heart’s content.
To enjoy this dish—which is truly amazing with its subtle yet distinct flavors and lively textures—you need to put aside all preexisting notions of what mac and cheese should taste like. This is mac and cheese completely reinvented. There is only 3/4 cups cheese in the entire recipe (which serves four good-size portions) but the head of cauliflower that you cook and then puree (with stock, mustard, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 1/2 cup cheese) gives this recipe its creaminess. (The recipe is posted at the bottom of this entry.)
On the sweet side of things, I had such a blast racing this weekend and if you’ll so indulge me, here’s the recap. It was my second half-marathon (I ran my first in October in around 1:56:40) and I was much better prepared and much calmer this time around (in part because I had that first one under my belt but also because this was part of my training for my first full marathon so while it was a race, wasn’t the race).
Sunday was an insanely warm day—even for Northern California in February—and when Rob dropped me off at the start are, it was already in the mid-60s and the sun was pouring down from a cloudless sky. This meant I wasn’t freezing at the start and could sport my one of my new singlets from my dad and sister. 😉
The race started just after 8:00 am and the first six miles felt amazing. My goal was to set a new PR, which meant averaging 8:50 miles. My first was around 9:04, which was a nice, easy start, but then I quickly dropped into the high 7s and settled around 8:20. A bit quick for what I was planning but it felt good so I went with it. The entire time we were running through Golden Gate Park, I was loving it and taking in all the stunning scenery but was also very eager to hit the Great Highway along Ocean Beach. As soon as I reached that point, however, right around mile 7 (where I was cheered on with a high-five from Rob!), I was wishing I was back in the park. The temperature had reached high-60s, low-70s and it was nothing but clear skies and hot pavement. It was pretty brutal (though nothing like what I’m sure last year’s Chicago marathoners faced) but it was beautiful.
I caught the 1:50 pacers somewhere around mile 8 or 9 and was pretty thrilled. I was also committed to sticking with them through the end. It was great to have them there because it meant I didn’t have to think and could just focus on keeping pace with them and staying strong to the finish. My legs burned and it was one of the toughest races I’ve ran but man, the more it burns, the better it feels at the end. I sprinted into the finish for a 1:49:25 chip time, shaving more than 7 minutes off my previous time and feeling like a champion.
Rob was there with more high-fives and after I collected my t-shirt, thanked the pacers, and ate a banana, it was back to the beach. I hopped in to waist-deep, freezing-cold water for about five minutes (I’m a water baby to the end). It felt so good with the sun shining down (much better than when on the course) and it did my legs good: I can actually walk today without too much pain thanks to that natural ice bath.
We went to a friend’s house for a Superbowl party afterward and were treated to our Minnesotan friend’s homemade Juicy Lucys (hamburgers made with cubes of cheddar cheese in the middle). Man, they were delicious. If the Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese was the perfect pre-race meal, I guarantee you this was the perfect post-race feast.
Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
(slightly adapted from Runner’s World‘s March 2011 The Athlete’s Palate)
1 cauliflower, cored and cut into large pieces
2-1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 bay leaves
8 ounces whole-wheat macaroni or fusilli
1/2 cup grate cheese (such as sharp cheddar, Gruyere, or Emmental—I used fontina cause I had leftover in the fridge and considered using pepper Jack to add some spice)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used Pecorino Romano since I had it it in the fridge)
1/4 cup bread crumbs or panko crumbs (I used panko but would omit altogether next time)
Heat oven to 400F. Boil a pot of salted water. In a saucepan, warm stock and bay leaves on medium-low heat for 5 minutes then turn off heat. Cook cauliflower in boiling water for 25 minutes then remove and set aside or in food processor. Using the water from boiling the cauliflower (brought back to a boil), cook the pasta for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse to cool then place in a greased, nine-inch square baking dish or two-quart casserole dish. In the food process or in a pot with an immersion blender, blend cauliflower, stock (with bay leaves removed), cheese, il, mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Pour sauce over pasta, mix, and spread evenly. Top with Parmesan (or other hard) cheese, bread crumbs or panko (or omit), and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes. Enjoy! (Serves four at 420 calories, 57 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams protein, and 15 grams fat per serving as per article.)