Gretchen McKay

A different kind of runner’s high

As he lines up for Monday’s Boston Marathon, John Platt will feel the same jitters as every runner, plus a few of his own. Did I train hard enough? Will I make it up Heartbreak Hill? At what mile will I go blind?

The Moon resident’s feet always are numb. It will feel like he’s running in work boots. His eyes will be glued to the ground as he thinks through every step.

When the Kenyan elites float past him around mile 11, he’ll be battling vertigo; by mile 18, his peripheral vision will go gray. That’s Uhthoff’s phenomenon, a rare side effect of his multiple sclerosis.

“It’s almost like a storm is approaching,” he says of his temporary blindness, which kicks in when his body gets too hot. “It gets darker and darker,” to the point where he has to stop and stuff ice into his skull cap and arm sleeves to cool down. That brings back his eyesight and puts him back on the course. Until he overheats and loses sight again.

But nothing will stop the 42-year-old father of two — not the weather, which plays roulette with his symptoms; not his doctors, who advise him to not run long distances; and not his body, which fails him every day.

“You run free,” he says. “Alive. In the moment. It’s an entirely different type of runner’s high.”

His doctor calls him “oppositionally defiant.” That makes Mr. Platt grin.

Pushing back

Some 400,000 people in the U.S. have multiple sclerosis, a chronic, degenerative disease of the central nervous system. Mr. Platt was 29 and watching the Daytona 500 on TV when he experienced his first symptom in 2003.

“The world started to spin,” he recalls.

The next day, while driving, he suddenly couldn’t see to his left. He lost feeling in his legs, then his balance. Doctors found a lesion on his brain that they thought might be the result of a stroke or a tumor. It took 18 months for them to diagnose multiple sclerosis.

Mr. Platt will never forget sitting on a paper-covered exam table at Allegheny General Hospital in 2005 when he was told: MS.

“Life almost stops for a second,” he says.

But part of him was relieved. Now he and his wife, Aimee, had a name for the inexplicable symptoms. They could push back.

There is no cure for MS; doctors treat its symptoms and reduce relapses with drugs that suppress the immune system, explains Troy Desai, Mr. Platt’s neurologist at AGH.

“But it won’t make him better or heal the damage,” Dr. Desai says.

Over the next seven years, Mr. Platt developed new symptoms: fatigue, memory loss, tremors. He walked like a drunk. The worst was Uhthoff’s, which struck one steamy June day in 2006 when he was making a sales call for a freight company in a hot warehouse. Even small increases in body temperature cause him to lose his vision. He lost his job. He wanted to give up.

Deeply depressed, he retreated to his air-conditioned home (cooled to 60 degrees) in Moon. To walk, he needed a cane. He had a wheelchair waiting in the garage.

Raising money, awareness

Doctors often prescribe exercise to help manage MS symptoms, but Mr. Platt started running after a personal crisis. In June 2013, he lost a friend from his MS support group to heart issues. He’d flooded his systems with many of the same high-dose steroids. Her sudden death hit him hard.

“I needed to do something about it,” he says.

He went to his basement, stepped onto a dust-covered treadmill his brother had given him, and took a first step. He had to hold tight to the handrails, and it took a half hour, but he walked a mile. The next day, he took a few steps more than that, and the next day, a few more.

The following November, cheered on by his doctors, he walked his first 10-kilometer course around his housing plan. Then, he walked a half-marathon.

In 2014, he got his first real pair of running shoes and a new goal: to raise money and awareness for the MS Society by walking the distance of a marathon every week for an entire year: 1,362.4 miles, or 2.5 million steps.

“That’s when I fell in love with the marathon,” he says.

Or at least his version of the race.

He walked a marathon in April 2014 as part of Pittsburgh’s annual MS Walk. With his father, John Platt, driving behind him at 4 mph, Mr. Platt left his house near Olson Park at 2:45 a.m. and walked to Point State Park. It took six hours.

He decided to try running. He was neither fast nor pretty — he drags his feet — but it improved his health and gave him purpose. He signed up for the Pittsburgh half-marathon in May 2014, and the following September ran 33 miles on a treadmill at Elite Runners, formerly in McKees Rocks, to raise money for MS research.

Matt Imhof, Elite’s director of running operations, still can’t quite believe it.

“He was on it for seven hours, with no breaks,” Mr. Imhof says. “He is so much tougher than the rest of us.”

Mr. Platt next ran three full marathons, the first — and his fastest marathon to date — in Chicago in October 2014. By year’s end, he had walked or run 1,667 miles.

In 2015, Mr. Platt decided to run the world’s largest — the New York City Marathon. But the day before the race, he wore out his legs with his wife and two daughters touring Times Square. As he came down Fifth Avenue during the last few miles of the race, he was visibly in so much pain that his wife jumped onto the course to run with him a quarter-mile to keep him going.

“You can’t be here!” he yelled. “They’re gonna grab you!”

His Chicago time had qualified him for the 2016 Boston Marathon, as one of 50 mobility-impaired runners. Five months later, he ran alongside athletes with spinal injuries and missing limbs, including Patrick Downes, who had lost his left leg in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

As expected, Mr. Platt’s vision went dark around mile 14. He lost 26 minutes icing down in four aid stations along the course. Still, the experience of running the “marathoner’s marathon” in under six hours was so profound, he couldn’t wait to do it again this year. But he would have to take a different approach.

During some race last year — he’s not sure when because he runs numb — he had fractured his pelvis. His doctor would allow him to continue running only with a trainer.

John Platt runs through his neighborhood this month in Moon. After two years of vision problems and balance issues, Mr. Platt was diagnosed in 2007 with multiple sclerosis, a disease that strikes the central nervous system. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Getting ready for Boston

Running always flares Mr. Platt’s MS symptoms, so he pushes to get used to wonky legs and a fuzzy head. He sweats buckets. Every so often, he trips and falls.

“I know every crack in every sidewalk,” he says.

His trainers press to make his body as strong as possible. Weekly workouts at Cool Springs Sports Complex in Bethel Park include weightlifting, speed work and battle ropes. Once a week, he strips down and slips his 6-foot frame into a negative 220-degree cryotherapy chamber to speed recovery.

Cooled to the core, Mr. Platt dresses, then steps into a pair of neoprene “Incredible Hulk” shorts that secure him inside an antigravity treadmill.

“These things give me a permanent wedgie,” he complains as he starts to jog. He’s quickly drenched in sweat.

His trainer, Jeremy McCullough, shakes his head and says, “I push him the same as any client.”

When the session is over, Mr. Platt holds up his right index finger. It’s quivering with fine tremors, a tell-tale sign of a flare-up — and of a good workout.

During Monday’s Boston Marathon, Mr. Platt, for the first time, will run with Mr. McCullough and another guide, Lauren Wentz. They’re there not to be his eyes, but to run ahead to the aid stations and explain his heat blindness to volunteers. They’ll stand ready with ice, hoping to shave minutes off last year’s time.

Mr. Platt understands that people think this is crazy. But as he has since his first step on that treadmill years ago, he’s thinking about his daughters Julia, 13, and Olivia, 11.

“I wanted to be active in their lives,” he says, his voice thick with emotion. “I didn’t want to be that dad that was inside looking out the window as they were playing. I wanted to be out there with them.”

Because they are significantly more likely to develop the disease, he worries that they might also hear the words, “You have MS.” His running shows them that you can overcome it.

“I’m definitely in a much better place because of marathons,” he says. “They really do change lives.”

Chronic bowel disease doesn’t deter Pittsburgh runner

Lauren Moran of Bloomfield puts on a belt that keeps her stoma bag in place before going for a run. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

A love of running did not come naturally to Lauren Moran.

If anything, the Baldwin native considered moving her legs forward in anything faster than a slow crawl as punishment — and she was on both the soccer and track teams in high school.

“I hated to run,” says Ms. Moran, 34, of Bloomfield. “For me, it was always the worst part of sports.”

She held firm to that belief after graduating from Edinboro University with a communications degree in 2004, and her friends started signing up for weekend 5Ks. “I just never had an interest,” she says.

Even if she had, Ms. Moran’s body might have resisted. The summer after her freshman year in college, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a severe form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Ten years and three major surgeries later — the last of which left her with an ileostomy bag — Ms. Moran has turned her body’s betrayal into motivation. Looking to get healthy, she decided to train with a runner friend for the 2014 Great Race. Crossing the finish was such an emotional high that she ended up running a leg of the 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon Relay. She’ll be on a relay team again this year with family members May 1, helping to raise awareness of Crohn’s.

Her friend and mentor, Emily Winn, is running the full marathon to raise money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America in her honor.

“It’s come full circle,” says Ms. Moran, associate director of alumni relations at Duquesne University. “I’m in a whole new place because of running. My body can do different things.”

Learning to cope

There’s no one test that identifies Crohn’s disease with certainty; its symptoms “fit” a number of GI disorders, including celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

While no one knows for sure what causes Crohn’s, heredity and a malfunctioning immune system are thought to play a role. Stress and diet can aggravate the symptoms, which include diarrhea, abdominal pain and fatigue.

It wasn’t until her weight plummeted 15 pounds that Ms. Moran’s mother insisted she see a doctor. A “million” tests later, she was finally diagnosed.

Named after the physician who first described the disease in 1932, Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, That means its severity and symptoms can vary from patient to patient. A chronic disease, it can develop at any age for the estimated 700,000 Americans who have it, although it’s most common between the ages of 15 and 35.

Ms. Moran didn’t think her diagnosis was a big deal; this was the era before smart phones and computers, so information was hard to come by. “I couldn’t understand why my mom was so upset,” she recalls.

Doctors advised watching her diet to see what foods triggered symptoms and started her on medication. By the end of her junior year, she was getting Remicade infusions every six weeks, but she got worse instead of better. In 2006, while a grad student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, she had to have surgery to remove about 12 inches of her large intestine.

Recovery was tough but within a few weeks she was well enough to take a job in Florida. With maintenance drugs, she stayed healthy for the next few years. “I thought, ’This is great!’” she says.

Lauren Moran of Bloomfield goes for a run. In college, Ms. Moran was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

One step forward, two steps back 

Only it wasn’t. By 2013, the flare-ups were bad enough that simply willing herself to get through the day didn’t cut it. Realizing another surgery was likely, she decided to move back to Pittsburgh to be close to family. Three months after starting her new job at Duquesne University, she was in so much pain she couldn’t sit. Once again she went under the knife.

When she woke up from the 11-hour surgery, she had a colostomy. In addition to the physical recovery, Ms. Moran faced the emotional burden of dealing with a colostomy bag. It was a huge hit to her self esteem.

What if it leaked? Would she smell? How often would she have to empty it, and what if her stoma (the opening on her belly) made a funny noise? How would she wear a bathing suit? And what would it mean for dating?

“There’s so much stigma around it,” she says.

Yet Ms. Moran kept her concerns to herself. As Ms. Winn, 27, of Lawrenceville, notes, ”She’s not the type of person to complain.”

Which is how she came to start running six months after the surgery. Finally feeling good and able to eat different foods again, Ms. Moran realized it was time to get some exercise if she didn’t want to pack on the weight. Ms. Winn had just run the 2014 Pittsburgh Half Marathon and was bugging her to start running with her. With some trepidation, she agreed to train for the Great Race that fall.

Exercise might seem like a bad idea for someone with major stomach issues, but according to several studies, regular workouts can lead to less fatigue and alleviate some symptoms of IBD.

At first, she couldn’t even log a mile along the North Shore and would only run solo. “But Emily kept pushing me and after about a month, I was able to meet her in the Strip District for runs.”

She slowly improved, and that September, with a running belt keeping her stoma bag in place, she ran the Great Race 10K. Tears flowed when she crossed the finish.

“It was such an emotional year, and I never thought I could run,” she says. “It was a huge accomplishment.”

One more challenge

While a stoma is insensitive to pain, the race left her with some bad bruising around the colostomy site and a sore belly. Later that fall, doctors gave her devastating news. the rest of her colon would have to come out.

“I’d come so far that year, and felt healthy,” she recalls. ”I couldn’t believe I had to go through this again.”

In January 2015, surgeons converted her colostomy to an ileostomy, an operation in which doctors make an opening in the lowest part of the small intestine and bring it outside the body. They also removed her rectum.

Recovery was extremely hard, but what kept her going was wanting to run again. “Lauren is not the type to dwell on the bad stuff. She always wants to enjoy the moment,” says David Doyle, a friend since high school.

A month out, she could walk 10 steps. By March, she was jogging again, with a new goal: Running the last leg of the 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon relay. Not only did she finish, she gave it her all.

“It was awesome,” says Ms. Winn, who ran alongside her. ”I was exhausted but she was this little ball of energy.”

A stoma bag keeps Lauren Moran’s ileostomy in place during a run. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Ms. Moran had so much fun that she decided to train for a sprint-distance triathlon at North Park three months later. She’ll run the marathon relay again this year and is also gearing up for her first Olympic-distance triathlon this summer.

Her body has been through so much, but it’s also proven to be resilient, Ms. Moran says. She has to be careful about hydration. But running has played an integral role in her recovery. She hopes by going public with her disease, she’ll create hope for others.

“Other college students will go through this,” she says. “I want them to know they can still lead a healthy life.”

She’s even come to appreciate her stoma.

“How can something that keeps me alive not be beautiful?” she asks.

26.2 Food: How to eat right while training

An occasional series on how to fuel for the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Most serious runners will stop at nothing in the race to maximize performance.

High-tech trainers that keep your feet happy while logging serious miles, the latest fitness watch or app that provides feedback in real-time, specially formulated goos and chews that promise to energize your body for hours — any edge you can get, you’ll take.

What it really boils down to, though, is healthy eating, before, during and after your workouts.

To do your best in an endurance event such as the UPMC Pittsburgh Marathon on May 4, you should be maintaining an appropriate nutrition plan not just the week or so before your race but throughout your training. And yes, that includes weekends, when diets easily can go the way of the devil.

One mistake some runners make going into a marathon-training program — and maybe the reason they decide to attempt the 26.2-mile race in the first place — is to use the race as a vehicle for weight loss, by fueling runs on a reduced-calorie diet. I mean, hasn’t it been drilled into our heads that the key to taking off extra pounds is to consume fewer calories than you burn?

I know that was my plan when I signed up this winter for my first full marathon: To shed that small but still irritating spare tire I’d been carrying around since the holidays.

Working with a nutrition coach provided by my Highmark insurance, I learned that might not be the best idea.

While the body recovers pretty easily after the 13.1 miles of a half marathon, it’s a different story with the grueling 17- to 22-mile workouts marathon training entails.

“It’s very damaging to the body,” my registered dietitian, Andrew Wade, told me. “Your muscles tear during those long runs.”

By restricting calories, you prevent muscles and other vital body systems from recovering or performing properly, he explained. Not only that, but also the muscle fatigue that comes from running farther than you are used to can linger, often for days. Deny your body the energy it needs during this tired state, and you’re at a higher risk for many of the overuse and impact injuries that can vex a runner.

Pig out whenever you feel like it as a reward for all that hard work, on the other hand — and God knows you’re famished after running for three-plus hours — and you can sap your energy while playing crazy with your digestion system. Especially if you fill up on refined, processed goodies instead of natural whole foods. Don’t know the difference? Think McDonald’s vs. grilled chicken and brown rice whipped up at home, or a handful of mixed nuts or a cup of yogurt with homemade granola instead of Oreos or a bag of potato chips.

One way to avoid this sabotage is to eat a small number of calories (primarily carbs) as soon as your stomach feels back to normal — say, a whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter or a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt. A glass of low-fat chocolate milk also will take the edge off. Then, when you’re ready to eat a “real” meal, you won’t be tempted to overdo it.

What’s a good way to stay on track the 231/2 other hours a day?

A meal plan that helps you break the day’s food into countable calories and into grams of fat, protein and carbohydrates can help organize and motivate runners who want to think more seriously about what they put in their mouths in the weeks leading up to a race.

For instance, a runner my age and size (don’t ask, because I ain’t telling) should be taking in between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day, with an additional mostly-carb 400 calories split into the meals before and after a workout on easy training days (approximately 100 calories per 10 minutes of exercise). For long run days (more than 90 minutes), I get to add an additional 200 calories per hour of exercise.

I know. What an absolute pain to have to marry math with food. Even Mr. Wade acknowledged good nutrition is a “complex topic” that can be very difficult to navigate; it took more than a week of scribbling every last calorie down to get the hang of it, and that was with recipes that provided nutrition information. I’m sure food editor Bob Batz, who sits within earshot, has gotten pretty tired of me debating aloud the merits of quinoa vs. brown rice.

But once I got used to putting pen to paper, well, it really has made me more conscious of making healthful choices.

Especially since Mr. Wade stressed the plan he gave me was a “perfect world” list.

“Your main priority should be your pre- and post-exercise meals [mostly carbs with some protein] and your intra-exercise snacking,” he said. “The rest of the plan is just healthy lifestyle suggestions, and an idea of how many calories you need without exercise.”

In other words, don’t eat junk.

And if you go overboard at lunch or dinner, or mindlessly spoon in the Haagen-Daz while you’re watching TV? It’s OK to stray here or there with a few extra calories, so long as you make up for it by cutting back on future portions.

“It’s not cheating if it’s accounted for,” Mr. Wade reassured me, “as long as you’re eating good foods most of the time.”

Runners differ, of course, on energy sources. Tim Lyman, a running coach at PNC YMCA, Downtown, swears by a peanut butter-and-banana sandwich on whole-wheat before a long run and a whey protein shake after. But during workouts, he only recharges with Gatorade. As for the rest of his training diet, well, whatever.

“I’m pretty sure I ate an entire box of cereal since last night,” he told me one morning.

Then again, he’s 28, and has that long, lean physique that makes you think he could nosh on Big Macs 24/7 and still manage a sub-three-hour marathon, the lucky dog.

Me, I’ve had to learn to eat better in the morning (a glass of OJ provides a quick source of carbs) and work in an afternoon snack that doesn’t come from the vending machine. Along with thinking about portion control, I’ve also learned to identify foods I can eat easily while I’m running to keep my energy level where it needs to be at mile 15. Dried apricots, dry cereal and pretzels, to name just a few.

It’s a daunting journey, this marathon thing. But I’m learning it still can taste delicious, even if you’re wearing the muffin top instead of eating it.

Butternut squash oatmeal

Feel free to play around with the spices in this carb-rich, tummy-friendly breakfast dish from Nick Fischer, in-house dietitian for Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. He says, “It’s only oatmeal, so if you mess it up, start again.”

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup rolled oats (instant are fine)

2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger

1/4 to 1/2 cup pureed butternut squash

Add water and milk to a small pot and bring to a boil. When liquid is boiling, add remaining ingredients and stir until everything is evenly mixed and distributed. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes or until the oatmeal is at the desired consistency. Stir often.

If cooking in a microwave, put water, milk and oats in microwave-safe bowl and cook on high (power level 10) for 2 minutes, or until desired consistency. Then add in the rest of the ingredients. The reason that we add the spices, sugar and pumpkin after cooking in the microwave is because you can’t stir while it is being cooked. Also, it is easier to stir the pumpkin into a hot liquid rather than a cold liquid.

Serves 1.

— Nick Fischer, Fischer Nutrition

Nutrition: 215 calories, 38 grams carbs, 10 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 6 grams fiber

Breakfast Smoothies, Three ways

Healthy, easy to make and oh-so-portable, smoothies are a terrific pre- or post-workout drink. For added protein, substitute Greek yogurt, or a scoop of vanilla whey-protein powder (available at health food stores). I swapped a little orange juice for the sugar. If you want to use fresh fruit, that’s fine — just add a handful of ice cubes.

1½ cups plain low-fat yogurt

1½ cups frozen strawberries and 1 sliced banana OR 3/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks and 3/4 cup frozen mango OR 11/2 cups frozen blueberries and 1/2 cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon sugar, plus extra for seasoning

Pinch salt

Place ingredients in blender. Process on low speed until combined but still coarse in texture, about 10 seconds. Increase speed to high and continue to process until mixture is completely smooth, 20 to 40 seconds. Season with extra sugar to taste and serve. Serves 2.

— “The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook” (America’s Test Kitchen, April 2014, $29.95)

Nutrition: 230 calories, 43 grams carbs, 10 grams protein, 2.5 grams fat, 4 grams fiber

Curry Egg Salad Sandwich

Swapping low-fat Greek yogurt for mayo in this tasty egg salad not only lowers the fat content but also adds protein.

1/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons golden raisins

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 scallions, sliced

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper

4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

2 whole grain bagels, cut in half

4 slices avocado

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

In bowl, stir together yogurt, raisins, mustard, scallions, curry powder, salt and pepper. Gently stir in chopped eggs.

Divide egg mixture between 2 bagel halves. Top each with an equal amount of avocado and cilantro. Top with remaining bagel halves.

Serves 2.

— “The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes” (Rodale, Oct. 2013, $26.99 or $9.24 Kindle edition)

Nutrition: 421 calories, 51 grams carbs, 22 grams protein, 9 grams fiber, 17 grams total fat

Quinoa Pilaf with herbs and lemon

Paired with grilled chicken breast or fish, this makes for a quick and healthful meal for tired or time-challenged runners; I made it at 9:30 p.m., after a taxing speed workout. Toasting the quinoa gives it a rich, nutty flavor — my daughter accused me of “cooking with peanut butter” when she got a whiff. Quinoa is one of the most protein-rich foods you can eat (24 grams per serving), and it’s also rich in anti-inflammatoryphytonutrients.

1½ cups prewashed quinoa

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces

1 small onion, chopped fine

3/4 teaspoon salt

13/4 cups water

3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Toast quinoa in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until quinoa is very fragrant and makes continuous popping sound, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer quinoa to bowl and set aside.

Return now-empty pan to medium-low heat and melt butter. Add onion and salt; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and light golden, 5 to 7 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, stir in water and quinoa, and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until grains are just tender and liquid is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff quinoa with fork, stir in herbs and lemon juice and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Cooks Illustrated, Jan./Feb. 2014

Nutrition: 384 calories,59 grams carbs, 13 grams protein, 7 grams fiber, 10 grams total fat

Beef and snow pea stir-fry

Pasta is classic runners’ food. Satisfy your need for noodles with this Asian dish, which comes dressed in a (slightly) spicy peanut sauce. If you don’t eat red meat, feel free to substitute chicken or firm tofu that’s been pressed and cut into 1-inch chunks.


9-ounce package soba noodles or whole-wheat spaghetti

1 tablespoon canola oil

3/4 pound sirloin beef, thinly sliced into 2-inch pieces

1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed

1/2 cup Peanut Dressing (recipe follows)

8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained

Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat. When it boils, salt the water and add noodles. Cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Add snow peas and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Add peanut sauce, water chestnut and cooked noodles. Toss to coat everything with sauce.

Serves 4.

— “The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes” (Rodale, Oct. 2013, $26.99 or $9.24 Kindle edition)

Nutrition: 538 calories, 67 grams carbs, 35 grams protein, 15 grams total fat, 8 grams fiber.

Peanut Dressing

1/3 cup peanuts

3 tablespoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger

2 teaspoons sugar

Juice 1/2 lime

1 clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend/process for 1 minute, or until smooth and creamy.

Makes about 1/4 cup dressing.

Quick Caribbean chicken

Perfect for those times when you need a really quick meal to bring you back to life. I added chopped red pepper and canned pineapple for extra color and crunch.

12 ounces chicken, cut into thin strips

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 to 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 teaspoon cooking oil

1 medium sweet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (I cut it into small chunks)

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (about 1/3 pepper)

1 small banana pepper, seeded and chopped

3/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

2 unripe bananas, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1/2 cup canned or fresh pineapple chunks

2 cups hot, cooked brown rice

Season chicken with salt and red pepper. In a large, nonstick skillet, cook chicken in hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes. Add sweet potato, chopped red pepper and banana pepper. Cook and stir for 5 to 6 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink and potato is just tender.

In a small bowl, stir together pineapple juice and cornstarch; stir into chicken mixture. Cook and stir gently until slightly thickened and bubbly. Stir in bananas and pineapple chunks, if using. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Serve over cooked brown rice.

Makes 4 main-dish servings.

— Adapted from

Nutrition: 326 calories, 50 grams carbs, 20 grams protein, 5 grams total fat, 4 grams fiber

Shrimp with Israeli Couscous, Spring Peas, Mint and Lemon

The most popular seafood in the U.S., shrimp is a lean source of protein. It’s also a good way work into your diet selenium, a mineral which may help reduce the joint inflammation that runners can experience from training.

2 lemons

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 cups almonds, blanched

3/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 bunch mint leaves (about 1 cup)

1 pound Israeli couscous

1 pound large shrimp, cleaned, peeled and deveined

2 cups fresh or frozen spring peas

Salt and ground red pepper, to taste

For garnish

1 bunch mint leaves

1/2 cup toasted almonds

Zest and juice 1 of the lemons; reserve the zest. Make a pesto by combining the lemon juice, pamesan cheese, almonds, 3/4 cup olive oil and mint.

Boil liberally salted water in a large pot. Add couscous and cook for 6 to 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat a large skillet with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add shrimp and saute quickly, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add peas and continue cooking. Add 1 cup pesto, followed by the couscous.

Juice the second lemon and season the couscous with the lemon juice, salt and ground red pepper. Finish with the mint leaves, reserved lemon zest and toasted almonds.

Serves 6.

Nutrition: 650 calories, 77 grams carbs, 32 grams protein, 24 grams total fat.

— “The Athlete’s Palate Cookbook” by Yishane Lee and the editors of Runner’s World (Rodale, $13.09 Kindle edition)

Low-Cal Oatmeal cookies

It’s just not a meal without something sweet for dessert, don’t you agree? I need chocolate to get through the day, so mixed 1/2 cup of chocolate chips into the batter, adding about 400 calories (or about 10 calories per cookie).

The first time I made these cookies I substituted mashed banana for the applesauce and my running group gobbled them up. But I think they’re better with the original recipe, especially if you ditch the Splenda for real sugar to get your family to eat them, too. Perfect for a quick after-run pickup.

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats

1 cup dark or golden raisins

1 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped

1/2 cup reduced-calorie, trans fat-free margarine

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup Splenda

2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with cooking spray.

In another large bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Stir in oats and then the raisins and nuts.

In another bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed, beat together margarine, granulated and brown sugars and Splenda until well blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in applesauce, vanilla and chocolate chips. With mixer at low speed, add dry ingredients in 2 batches, just until blended.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. Bake until crisp and lightly brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

— Adapted from “The Men’s Health Big Book of Food & Nutrition” by Joel Weber (Rodale, $26.99)

Nutrition: 84.7 calories, 11.8 grams carbs, 1.9 gram protein, 3.5 grams fat.


Marathoners: Take these recipes and run with them

Pasta Primavera makes the most of spring vegetables/Gretchen McKay


A big bowl of pasta one or two days before a big road race is a time-honored runners’ tradition.

Carbs are the body’s primary fuel source during endurance events such as a half or full marathon. So thinking runners load up on them beforehand to ensure there’s at least a little gas left in the tank for the finish.

There’s no official pasta dinner as in past years for racers in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon; instead, a few local restaurants are offering deals for participants in the May 5 race, which has a combined sold-out field of approximately 20,000 runners. (Both races in 2012 were the 20th largest events of their kinds in the country.) So if you’re looking to gather with family and friends in a festive, can’t-wait-to-run atmosphere, you may want to organize a carbo-loading dinner at home.

No worries: We’ve got you covered.

As the DIY pasta assembled below so deliciously demonstrate, you don’t have to be a culinary genius to cook up a dish that tastes as good as it is good for you in the days leading up to a big race. Nor do you have to spend a fortune on ingredients, or spend a lot of time fussing in the kitchen when you’d rather be doing more important things such as obsessing over how you’re going to have the energy, or leg power at mile 12, to power up The Hill into Oakland.

Here’s why it’s probably not a bad idea to work a moderate amount of pasta into your pre-race diet. During digestion, the body converts the complex carbohydrates in pasta into glycogen, the readiest energy source for working muscles. The sugar enters the bloodstream, where it is transferred to cells to provide energy.

Two recent studies — one conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and published last month in The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, and another that studied competitors in the 2009 London marathon and was published in 2011 in the International Journal of Sports Medicine — concluded that runners who had eaten the most carbohydrates on the day before the race finished faster than those who’d eaten fewer carbohydrates that day.

Looking for local anecdotal evidence of the power of carbs? Elite athletes participating in this year’s Pittsburgh full and half marathons will enjoy a carb-heavy feast the night before at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel, with an early buffet dinner that features chicken breast, penne and baked potatoes.

But not too much of it, and you shouldn’t overindulge, either: Stuffing yourself silly with carbs 12 hours before an event can leave you feeling sluggish, bloated and undigested at the start line, and as any runner can tell you, the last thing you want to deal with when there’s many miles to go is stomach upset. (You want to wake up hungry, not full.) To that end, dinner should be about the same size and provide as many calories as usual; just replace some of the fats and proteins with carbs (they should count for 85 to 95 percent of your meal.)

There’s another reason to eat pasta a day or two before race day. Carb intake before a long run aids in post-run recovery by reducing muscle fatigue and overall damage to the muscle fibers. Which means you’ll bounce back that much sooner.


Pasta Primavera (Pasta with Spring Vegetables)

This simple pasta dish has all the fresh flavors and colors of spring. I especially liked the addition of fennel, an aromatic, crunchy-sweet member of the parsley family that imparts a delicate taste of anise.

This was the first time I’ve ever cooked with fresh fava beans, and I have to say, they take a bit of effort. You have to blanch and peel the beans before using, and 1 pound of unshelled pods only yields about 1/2 cup shelled beans. If you can’t find baby leeks, which are sweeter and less fibrous than regular leeks, substitute fat green onions.

  • 1 3/4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3 baby leeks, trimmed and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 5 1/2 ounces fava beans, blanched and peeled
  • 5 1/2 ounces baby green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 5 1/2 ounces fresh peas
  • 1 bunch thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 14 ounces cream
  • 18 ounces ditali (short-cut tube) pasta
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 1/2 ounces freshly grated parmesan

Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add leeks and cook gently for 5 minutes, then add garlic and fennel and cook until soft.

Add salt to a large saucepan of water and bring to boil. When water boils, drop in fava and green beans, peas and asparagus. As soon as the water comes back to the boil, lift the vegetables out with a slotted spoon (reserve water for cooking the pasta) and add them to the frying pan with the leek and fennel mixture. Pour in cream and bring to a boil. Let it bubble for 2 minutes — the vegetables should still have a crunch — then remove the pan from the heat.

Boil the pasta in the vegetable water until al dente.

Drain pasta well and add to cream and vegetable mix. Toss everything together. Season with salt and pepper, add the parmesan and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

— “Four Seasons: A Year of Italian Food” by Manuela Darling-Gansser (Hardie Grant, 2012)


Pork and Ginger Wonton Stir-Fry

Pork and Ginger Wonton Stir-Fry/Gretchen McKay

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This inside-out dumpling/noodle dish is an Asian version of spaghetti and meatballs. If you’re not a fan of pork, no problem: simply substitute ground chicken or turkey.

The first time I made this I (rather stupidly) threw all the wonton skins into the boiling water at the same time. Big mistake — the noodles glommed into one big, unappetizing lump. We still ate it, of course, chopping up the noodles, but not without my kids complaining.

  • 8 ounces wonton skins
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons safflower or peanut oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Separate the wonton skins so they do not stick together. Cut wontons into thirds, so they resemble wide, short noodles. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Stir together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil. When it shimmers, add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground pork, breaking it up with a spoon into smaller pieces, and cook until cooked through and no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes.

When pork is cooked, add sauce mixture and cook until liquid has been absorbed. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the sliced chile and scallions.

Drop wontons into boiling water (you may need to separate them again as you add them to the pot, use your fingers). Stir and cook until they rise to the top and are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain well and add to pan with the pork.

Squeeze the lime juice over the dish and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

— “Mad Hungry Cravings: 173 Recipes for the Food You Want to Eat Right Now” by Lucinda Scala Quinn (Artisan, March 2013, $27.95)


Pappardelle with Meatball Pearls/Gretchen McKay


Pappardelle with Meatball Pearls

Quick and easy, and extremely flavorful. I used San Marzano plum tomatoes.

  • 6 Italian sausages (sweet or hot)
  • 2 cups Fabio’s Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup beef or chicken stock
  • 1 pound pappardelle (broad, flat pasta noodles)
  • Handful fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Pull the meat out of the sausage casings in tiny bits.

Combine the tomato sauce and stock in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until it bubbles. Add sausage bits to the pot and continue cooking another 10 to 12 minutes, until sausage is fully cooked and sauce has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat.

Cook pasta in salted boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on thickness; drain.

Toss pasta in sauce, then add basil and extra-virgin oil. Boom!

Serves 4.

— “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen: Over 100 Delicious Family Recipes” by Fabio Viviani (Hyperion, April 23, 2013, $24.99)


Fabio’s Tomato Sauce

  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 10 basil leaves

Smash the garlic with the back of a knife. Place garlic and 5 tablespoons oil in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the garlic is golden brown. Add tomatoes and generous pinches of salt and pepper.

Cook over medium-high heat until sauce is thick and no longer watery, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil and turn heat to high. Stir, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook until oil turns red, then turn off the heat and add the basil at the very end.

Makes 2 cups.


Light Fettucine Alfredo

Light Fettucine Alfredo/Gretchen McKay


Veteran racers know to steer clear of sauces with too much oil, cheese or butter because they can be difficult to digest. This is a low-fat version of the classic Alfredo dish — just 275 calories and 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated) per serving. Broccoli adds a punch of protein. Good enough that my girls took the leftover to school for lunch.

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion (4 to 6 ounces), finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • 1 pound broccoli florets

In nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is golden, about 8 minutes. In bowl, with wire whisk, whisk milk, broth, flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring, until sauce has thickened and boils; boil 1 minute. Stir in parmesan.

Meanwhile, in large saucepot, cook pasta as label directs. After pasta has cooked 7 minutes, add broccoli to pasta water. Cook until pasta and broccoli are done, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Drain pasta and broccoli.

In warm serving bowl, toss pasta with broccoli and sauce.

Serves 6.

— “Good Housekeeping 400 Calorie Italian” (Hearst, April 2, 2013, $14.95)

Three ways to refuel after a marathon

Gluten-free Banana-Nutella Muffins/Gretchen McKay


So you’re among the thousands of Runners of Steel who participated in the Pittsburgh (or another city’s) Marathon. Or maybe you’re one of the many spectators who got up at the crack of dawn to cheer the record-breaking number of entrants on. Bet you’re hungry.

The average runner burns about 100 calories per mile, which when you’re talking an endurance event like a full marathon amounts to an entire day’s worth of calories over just a few hours. No one’s going to blame you, then, if the bagel and banana provided at the finish don’t suffice. Racing works up an appetite. You need a real food, and plenty of it.

Here, we offer a few athlete-tested recipes, including one that’s gluten-free, from this year’s field of world-class elites. All are easy to make, with delicious results.


Gluten-Free Banana Nutella Muffins

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Nutella and bananas. Need we say more?

This recipe comes from ultrarunner Devon Crosby-Helms, who came in 37th in the women’s marathon in the 2012 Olympic Trials. A personal chef who earned a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh, the San Francisco resident is gluten-intolerant, so she devised the muffins using gluten-free flour mix.

If you’ve never enjoyed a bakery product made without “regular” flour, you may be in for a pleasant surprise — samples brought into the newsroom disappeared from the food table in about 30 seconds.

I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, available at Giant Eagle Market District stores. If you like your muffins on the sweet side, use the ripest bananas you can find, as the only sugar in this recipe comes from the Nutella.

  • 2 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, plus banana slices for topping
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Nutella


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place paper liners in 12 muffin tins.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl or stand mixer. In food processor, combine ripe bananas with butter, egg, almond milk and vanilla and process into a smooth paste. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add chocolate-hazelnut spread and stir until incorporated.

Pour batter evenly into muffin cups and top with banana slices. Bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and store in a plastic container. Enjoy with more Nutella.

Makes 12 muffins.

— Devon Crosby-Helms



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This crunchy granola is a favorite with marathoner/personal chef Devon Crosby-Helm’s clients. “They call it ‘crack,’ ” she says, because it’s so addictive. Spoon it on top of yogurt or ice cream for a nice post-race treat, or do as I did and simply eat it by the handful.

I substituted almonds for the walnuts and honey for the agave nectar, and also threw in some chopped dried pineapple; next time, I might add a handful of chocolate chips after the mixture has cooled. “Good for you” never tasted so, well, good for you.

  • 4 cups old-fashioned oats or gluten-free oats (to make the recipe gluten free)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup peanut or neutral oil
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1 cup diced dried apricots
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted cashews
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dried berries
  • 1 cup dried cherries


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss oats, shredded coconut and walnuts together in a large bowl. Mix oil and agave together and stir into oat mixture. Spread out evenly on a sheet pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. (My granola mix got crispy in about 30 minutes.)

Remove mixture from oven and mix in remaining ingredients and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 24 servings.

— Devon Crosby-Helms



Chili is always a good way to refuel after a long race, says Jeffrey Eggleston, who won the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon and is in town this weekend to defend his title. This vegetarian version, made with three different kinds of beans, is one of his favorite recipes. He says the addition of dark beer (he likes home-brewed dunkelweisen) is essential, as it’s a good source of B vitamins.

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 zucchini squash, chopped
  • 2 red, orange or yellow bell peppers
  • 2 jalapenos, chopped
  • 1 to 2 Hatch chile peppers, seeded and diced, if you can find them
  • 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 12-ounce bottle of your favorite dark beer
  • 15-ounce can kidney beans
  • 15-ounce can black beans
  • 15-ounce can pinto beans
  • Sea salt and crushed black pepper, to taste


Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion until they become translucent. Season with bay leaves and spices; stir for about 1 minute, until spices become fragrant. Add zucchini and peppers (plus any other vegetables you wish).

Once vegetables are cooked through, add the diced tomatoes, beer and stir in the cans of beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer (covered) for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve chili in bowls with cornbread and a cold brew.

Serves 6 to 8, depending on appetite.

— Jeffrey Eggleston


Quinoa: A high-octane fuel for hungry runners

The food of the Incas, quinoa is considered a "superfood" because it's so nutritious/Gretchen McKay




This time of year when so many are obsessing about eating less in an effort to fit into warm-weather shorts and bathing suits, it’s all I can do not to think about food and how much of it I can possibly stuff in my mouth. Spring ushers in the start of racing season — the city’s biggest running event, the Pittsburgh Marathon, is May 6 — and with it, the long weekend training runs that make my fellow distance runners and me feel so very hungry.

This year, a record-breaking 25,000 have signed up for the city’s full and half marathons, the majority of them (56 percent) women. That means there’s a whole bunch of people rooting around in their refrigerators and pantries looking for something tasty with which to fuel and refuel their hard-working bodies.

Pasta and other high-carb foods are obvious choices in the weeks leading up to an endurance event such as a marathon to assure adequate stores of glycogen, the muscle’s primary fuel source during exercise. But runners need protein, too, to help build and repair muscles, along with fat and fiber to keep them regular during training. And don’t forget lots (and lots) of water.

In other words, that power bar that hits the spot so perfectly after a morning on the trails ain’t gonna cut it over the long run.

It’s time to get your game on with a one-stop food that’s not just super delicious, but also super nutritious: quinoa.

A member of the goosefoot family, which include beets, spinach and chard, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) has been nourishing people for thousands of years. It was particularly revered by the ancient Incas, who considered the sacred seed grown in South America’s Andean mountain region chisaya mama, or the “mother of all grains.” It was so prized, in fact, that leaders planted the first seeds each season using a golden shovel and planned celebrations around the harvest, write Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser in “Quinoa Cuisine” (Ulysses, March 2012, $16.95).

Spanish explorers who conquered the Incas in the 16th century destroyed the fields in which the plant was grown along with the rest of their civilization, and as a result, quinoa — declared illegal — almost disappeared from Andean dinner tables. Even after those South American countries won their independence in the 1820s, and the plant again could be freely grown, its comeback was slow. Only the poor and provincial fed it to their families.

Introduced commercially to Americans in the 1980s, quinoa is still relatively unknown in many home kitchens. Which is unfortunate, because few foods can match the seed’s nutritional profile.

You name it, quinoa’s got it. It’s a complete protein that contains all eight essential amino acids, it also is rich in calcium, iron, fiber and potassium, and is an excellent source of folate, magnesium, vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, potassium, and riboflavin. And all for 222 calories a cup.

Quinoa also is gluten-free, so it’s a good choice for people with celiac disease or those who are sensitive to gluten, wheat and other grass-based food products.

If that doesn’t sell you on the food, consider this:

Because it’s higher in protein and fiber than corn or wheat (the germ in its seeds makes up about 60 percent of the grain), quinoa will help you feel fuller longer. So you may actually end up eating less. Well, theoretically, at least, because once you try it, you’re going to find that you like it, even in recipes as disparate as chili, lasagna and cookies, as my family discovered.

Quinoa is prepared much like rice or pearled barley in about 15 minutes — you can boil it, cook it in a rice cooker, bake or microwave it, using one part grain to two parts liquid — but the results are crunchier and nuttier tasting. It comes in four colors with varying flavors — white, which is the most common, mildest and cheapest; slightly nuttier-tasting red; black, which has the earthiest flavor and a seedlike crunchiness; and tri-color (also called rainbow), which is a mix of all three.

It’s not your cheapest grain — I paid $3.99 per pound for bulk white quinoa at Giant Eagle Market District Robinson, and $8.99 for a 16-ounce bag of Eden organic red quinoa — but keep in mind that it triples in volume when cooked. Though it’s harder to find, some stores also carry quinoa flakes — good as a substitute for oatmeal or breadcrumbs — and quinoa flour.

Often served as a side dish (it makes for a wonderful pilaf, especially when paired with fruit and nuts), cooked quinoa also can headline a meal in soups, chili, stir-fries, casseroles, stews and salads. Surprisingly, it’s also a great addition to baked goods and desserts. For instance, I subbed cooked red quinoa for dried cranberries in a batch of chocolate chip cookies with pretty good results.

Whatever you plan on stirring quinoa into, make sure you rinse the seeds under cool running water before cooking them, to remove any traces of a bitter coating called saponin that might have escaped manufacturers’ pre-washing. Store quinoa like other grains, in a tightly closed container in a dry, cool place.

The following dishes will help you fuel up for your long training runs, or bring your weary body back to life after you’ve put in the miles.

Gretchen McKay








Two-bean quinoa chili

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I couldn’t find black quinoa so substituted red.

  • 1/2 cup black quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 pound ground turkey or chicken
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
  • 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano

Chili “fixings” such as shredded cheese, sliced green onions, sour cream

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring quinoa and water to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork, cover and keep warm.

In a large heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until transluscent and beginning to brown, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and saute, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add turkey or chicken and cook, stirring frequently and breaking up the meat into small chunks, until meat is cooked, about 5 minutes.

Add tomaotes and their juices, kidney beans, black beans, cumin, chili powder, salt and oregano. Bring to simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Stir in cooked quinoa and simmer until quinoa is heated through, about 5 minutes longer. Serve hot in bowls, letting each person garnish their chili with the fixings of their choice. Serves 6.

— “Quinoa Cuisine: 150 Creative Recipes for Super-Nutritious, Amazingly Delicious Dishes” by Jessica Harlan & Kelley Sparwasser (Ulysses Press, March 2012, $16.95)

Gretchen McKay








Quinoa Lasagna

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This creamy pasta dish is made with bechamel, a white sauce of cream and butter, so it’s not necessarily low-cal. But it tasted great.

  • 1/2 pound lasagna noodles, cooked according to package
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1/2 pound ground chicken
  • 1 cup diced canned tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Set aside cooked lasagna noodles and cooked quinoa.

Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan and saute onion, carrot and celery until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the ground chicken and brown, stirring, breaking it up into chunks. Add tomatoes and sugar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.

In the meantime, make a quick bechamel sauce by making a roux with the butter and flour. Cook for 2 minutes and whisk in cream. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

When the meat sauce is cooked, fold in the cooked quinoa.

To assemble, grease a loaf pan with butter or oil. Cover bottom of the pan with 2 tablespoons of bechamel sauce. Layer with a strip of pasta noodle and then top with meat-quinoa sauce. Drizzle bechamel over meat-quinoa sauce, and repeat layer(s) of pasta and sauce. Finish with bechamel sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese and bechamel sauce are browned. Serve with a salad of greens and crusty bread.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from

Gretchen McKay








Spicy Tropical Fruit Salad

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This easy salad would be delicious with a variety of fresh fruits, too.

  • 1 cup white quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 medium oranges, segmented, juice reserved
  • 2 tablespoons diced dried apricots
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried pineapple
  • 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 cup cubed jicama
  • 1 small banana, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon spiced rum (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgina olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

1/4 cup diced fresh herbs, such as chives, mint or basil

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring quinoa and water to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off heat and let quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and allow to cool.

Place orange segments in a medium bowl and the orange juice in a small bowl (you should have about 1 tablespoon). To the orange segments add cooked quinoa, dried appricots, raisins, dates, dried pineapple, hazelnuts, jicama and banana, and stir to combine.

To the bowl with orange juice add the pineapple juice concentrate, honey, spiced rum (if using) and chili powder, and whisk to combine. Slowly add olive oil while continually whisking to emulsify the dressing. Add dressing to quinoa-fruit mixture, stirring to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cold. Just before serving, garnish with fresh herbs.

Serves 4 to 6.

— “Quinoa Cuisine: 150 Creative Recipes for Super-Nutritious, Amazingly Delicious Dishes” by Jessica Harlan & Kelley Sparwasser (Ulysses Press, March 2012, $16.95)


Almond Chocolate-Chip Quinoa Cookies

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Who knew you could fold quinoa into cookies, and not have your family gag? I’m guessing it’s because I substiuted chocolate chips for the craisins in the original recipe.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanillla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup slivered unsalted almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter, both sugars and honey in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and extracts; beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 mintues. Beat in flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir in quinoa, oats, chocolate chips and almonds. Spoon dough in 2-tablespoon portions onto prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day or freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

— Adapted from


Road-racing trips: Why not build a vacation around your competitive spirit?

The Big Sur Marathon

When it comes to road races, nothing beats the classic 5K. Last year alone, the 3.1-mile distance chalked up nearly 4.7 million finishers, or 36 percent of all race finishers in 2010. Yet the half marathon is doing its best to catch up.

For the first time in the U.S. last year, more athletes completed a 13.1-mile race (1.38 million) than finished a 10K (1.33 million). That’s triple the number of half marathoners in 2000, when just 485,000 runners crossed the finish line.

Women in particular have fallen in love with the half marathon, accounting for almost 60 percent of the field. It’s long enough for it to feel like a challenge but not so long that you have to kill yourself training for it.

“It’s the hottest race in the world right now,” says Patrice Matamoro, race director of Pittsburgh’s full and half marathons, which like other well-known large races such as the Big Sur, Marine Corps and Houston marathons and Disneyland half marathon sold out last year with record-breaking registrations.

Running an endurance race in your hometown is an accomplishment like no other. But it can be even more motivating, not to mention a heck of a lot more fun, to build a vacation around it. Many of the country’s largest races, in fact, draw more out-of-town visitors than local runners with their weekend-long events.

It’s easier than you might think to plan a destination race. Most every major city in the U.S. stages a half or full marathon (, so it’s just a matter of timing. The popular Rock ‘n’ Roll series of marathons and half marathons, for instance, which debuted in San Diego in 1998, now counts 24 cities on its U.S. tour, along with two in Europe.

If you’re a newbie, a number of charities provide half and full marathon training and support in exchange for fundraising for the cause. One of the largest, Team in Training, which raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, has programs that take runners to the Honolulu Marathon in Waikiki Beach and the Mayors Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, among other places.

So which races are worth the time and effort? Here, we offer some full and half marathons with bucket list appeal.

Big Sur International Marathon and Half Marathon

“If we were told that we could run only one marathon in our lifetime, Big Sur would have to be it,” says Bart Yasso, a longtime marathoner with Runner’s World magazine who spearheads a program that works with more than 7,000 races.

There’s not a more spectacular spot in the country for a race, and if you’re not up to doing the marathon held each April on Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean, the half will give you an equally dramatic view on the Monterey Peninsula each November.

The Nov. 20 half marathon is sold out, but either one is definitely worth a trip to California. Monterey, two hours south of San Francisco, is the headquarters for both races.

What to see: Monterey Bay Aquarium; Cannery Row (made famous by John Steinbeck); Carmel-By-the-Sea that offers a beautiful downtown of galleries, boutiques and restaurants; and the famous 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach. There are also myriad parks, beaches and spas.

Details: Next marathon is April 29, 2012; half, Nov. 18, 2012. marathon website:; half marathon website:

San Francisco Marathon and Half Marathon

The 24-year-old San Francisco Marathon introduced two half-marathon courses this year — all held in July. It gives half-marathoners the unusual choice of running either the first half or the second half of the marathon route.

The marathon is a mostly flat, loop course, starting and finishing on the Embarcadero (near the Ferry Building). The route goes by Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, through the Presidio and into Golden Gate Park, then down famous Haight Street and through the Mission, Potrero and Mission Bay districts, then under the Bay Bridge to the finish.

What to see: Alcatraz Island, Coit Tower, cable car rides, Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Walt Disney Family Museum, Bay cruises, Sausalito, etc.

Details: Next race is July 29, 2012.

Portland Marathon and Half Marathon

What started in 1972 as a simple two-loop run around an island in Oregon’s Columbia River has grown to one of the nation’s favorite destination races. Nearly three-quarters of its participants are from out of state. It’s particularly popular with women, who account for almost 60 percent of finishers.

The event enjoys a reputation as one of the “friendliest, best-organized, most family-oriented” races in the country. Here’s why: Not only does the course stay open for eight hours to accommodate walkers, but it also offers more entertainment than any marathon in the U.S. — this year, 76 groups are scheduled at 53 stations — and lots of goodies in the race’s swag bag.

“Our goal is to treat everyone as a winner,” says event director (and Pittsburgh-area native) Les Smith.

What to do and see: Dozens of hiking trails of varying difficulty are close to the city and in the Columbia River Gorge. Nearby Willamette Valley is the heart of Oregon’s wine country, with more than 200 wineries. Portland also boasts museums, public gardens and great restaurants. The Portland Saturday Market (Mar.-Dec.) is the nation’s largest weekly open-air arts and crafts market.

Details: Next race is Oct. 7, 2012, but you better be quick if you plan on signing up for the half — it sells out in January.

Twin Cities Marathon, 10 Miler and 10K

Dubbed the “Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America,” this course along the Mississippi River starts in downtown Minneapolis and finishes at the State Capitol in St. Paul. With no climbs more than 100 feet long and a downhill finish, it’s a fast course. And you can’t beat the fall scenery, which takes runners past four lakes and up tree-lined boulevards to cheers of encouragement from 300,000 spectators.

Held the first Sunday in October, the weather is usually cool but not cold, which makes for great racing. There’s no half marathon, so if you haven’t yet worked your way up to 26.2 miles, you’ll have to settle for a 10-miler on race day or 10K the day before.

What to see and do: The Mall of America in nearby Bloomington has 500-plus stores and 50 restaurants. There also are top-notch restaurants and nightlife in town, along with museums, boutique shopping and bike riding along the Mississippi.

Details: Next race is Oct. 7, 2012.

Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon

Do you feel lucky? How can you not when the neon lights of Las Vegas’ famous Strip are illuminating your run. In the past, this stop in the popular Rock ‘n’ Roll series of races started in the predawn darkness. This year, marathoners will span all eight lanes of Las Vegas Boulevard, starting at 4 p.m. (the half marathon gets under way at 5:30 p.m.). Some 40,000 runners are expected to participate in the two races, which begin and end at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, making it the world’s largest nighttime running event.

Music makes up the heart and “sole” of this event, with live bands at every mile. There are also a quickie wedding or vow renewal at the “Run Through Wedding Ceremony” and lots of Elvis impersonators on the course, which is about as flat and fast as they come.

You’ll need that advantage: Racers have just 41/2 hours to complete the marathon, and four hours for the half.

What to see and do: You’re in Vegas, baby! Play the slots, see a show, take a ride in America’s largest indoor amusement park, stuff yourself silly at a celebrity chef’s restaurant and shop in one of several casino malls.

Details: The marathon on Dec. 4 is sold out, but there may still be some spots in the half.

Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon and Half Marathon

Pittsburghers might not like its football team, but this Ohio city has one of the region’s most popular races for first-time half and full marathoners. And it’s not just because it’s one of the best-named races in the country. (It pays homage to the city’s “Porkopolis” past.)

“It’s just downright fun,” says Kevin Smith of Elite Runners & Walkers in Robinson, who has run the race twice. “Everyone bends over backwards for this event.”

A Boston qualifier, the course takes its 26,000 runners through neighborhoods in Cincinnati and in Covington and Newport, Ky., across the Ohio River, with a swine-line finish (and victory party) at Yeatman’s Cove on the waterfront.

What to see and do: Visit the world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park, take a zipline adventure or riverboat ride on the Ohio River, visit the zoo. Cincinnati features great shopping and dining and several wonderful museums, including the Harriet Beecher Stowe House.

Details: Next race is May 6, 2012.

Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon

The famed Philadelphia Museum of Art — one of the nation’s largest museums — serves as a stunning backdrop for both the start and finish of this 18th annual event. Recognized for its not-too-difficult but still-challenging terrain and beautiful scenery, the races are run entirely within the City of Brotherly Love’s historical limits: past Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House on the picturesque streets of Old City, and more.

What to see and do: Philadelphia is one of the country’s most culturally vibrant cities, with dozens of museums, historical attractions and artistic venues. It also has a vibrant nightlife, great shopping along Rittenhouse Row and award-winning restaurants. One local (and inexpensive) must: the cheesesteaks at Pat’s King of Steaks in South Philly.

Details: The half marathon on Nov. 13. is sold out, but there may still be spots in the full.

Grandma’s Marathon

This event in Duluth, Minn., began in 1977 when a group of local runners planned a scenic race along the north shore of Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Duluth. Taking its name from Grandma’s restaurants, which served as its first major sponsor, the event has grown to become the 17th largest marathon in the country, drawing 17,000 participants for the weekend events. It introduced the half marathon in 1991.

The race’s relatively flat terrain makes it ideal for those tackling their first marathon. But if it’s a hot day, be warned there’s little shade along the route.

There’s lodging all over downtown, or you might try bunking in the residence halls at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, just up the hill from the lakeshore. where nearby there’s a cool “farm-to-table” restaurant for brunch — At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe, (1902 E. Eighth St., 1-218-724-6811).

What to see: Duluth is 21/2 hours from Minneapolis, so you can visit both cities over a weekend. Duluth has the Great Lakes Aquarium and Lake Superior Railroad Museum; Minneapolis-St. Paul is packed with museums, dining and shopping, as well as biking trails and other activities around its 22 city lakes.

Details: Next race is June 16, 2012.

Tucson Marathon and Half Marathon

There’s still time to register for the events on Dec. 11. These are particularly popular courses for those hoping to get a PR (personal record) because of the almost perfect running conditions. The point-to-point courses are mostly downhill and temperatures at the start (7:30 a.m. for the marathon, 7 a.m. for the half) are in the high 30s and rise to about 65 degrees by late morning. The half marathon course follows the last 13.1-miles of the route.

What to see and do: Hiking, biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, caving in the many parks and canyons. Or visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Catalina State Park, Tohono Chul Park, Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Pima Air & Space Museum. Plus lots of shopping, dining and spas.

Details: Next race is Dec. 11.

Dallas White Rock Marathon and Half Marathon

Looking to work off Thanksgiving dinner? This pre-Christmas event was voted “Best Marathon in Texas” for the past four years by Competitor Magazine. Organizers expect 25,000 runners to take their marks this year at historic Fair Park.

The full marathon course winds through downtown Dallas’ arts district and hip Uptown area, along Turtle Creek and a loop around White Rock Lake. The downhill finish takes runners past the historic Swiss Avenue mansions on the return to Fair Park. Course entertainment includes 40 live bands.

What to see and do: Dallas boasts the largest contiguous urban arts district in the U.S., the center of which is the Dallas Museum of Art. The popular Uptown, West Village and downtown West End Historic districts feature specialty shops, eclectic cafes and restaurants. Or head to the upscale Galleria to people-watch for celebs. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza examines the life and death of President John F. Kennedy.

Details: Next race is Dec. 4.

Outer Banks Marathon and Half Marathon

These point-to-point sea-level races, which bring about 7,500 runners to town, also are relatively flat and fast. Yet the real draw is the North Carolina scenery, which includes the tallest natural sand dune in the eastern U.S., sea oats, wildlife and sweeping sound views.

The course runs north to south, so the late fall wind is behind you. Marathoners begin their journey at historic Kitty Hawk, run past the 60-foot-tall Wright Brothers Monument on Big Kill Devil Hill and at mile 10 switch to a trail run through Nags Head Woods Nature Preserve, one of the few maritime forests on the East Coast. Both races end on storied Roanoke Island.

What to see and do: The blue-green waters of the Atlantic are too chilly for swimming in late fall. But it’s still warm enough for fishing, golf, hiking, kite flying and hang gliding (Kitty Hawk Kites is the largest hang gliding school in the world). OBX also has great seafood restaurants, quaint inns, shopping and five historic lighthouses.

Details: Next marathon and half marathon are on Nov. 13.

More Magazine/ Fitness Magazine Half Marathon

This all-women’s race in New York City’s Central Park each spring makes a perfect girls getaway. It began in 2004 for women 40 and older by More Magazine, which celebrates the lives of women in their 40s and 50s. But More has since partnered with Fitness Magazine and broadened participation to include girls and women, ages 12 and over. On April 3, it drew 8,000 participants from 48 states and 18 foreign countries — making it one of the largest all-women’s races in the world. The 13.1-mile course follows the park’s popular inner loop.

What to see: The race is held Sunday morning, so you’ve got most of the weekend to explore the Big Apple — the museums, monuments, Broadway shows, shopping and dining.

Details: Race is typically the first Sunday in April. It’s organized by the highly efficient New York Road Runners Club.