Archive for November 7, 2010

Sunday marked the completion of Austin Marathon Training Week number three.  Just fifteen weeks left until race day remain and that means that our Sunday long runs are about to start getting …. well …. Long.

This week’s long run was 14 miles, a distance that we’ve traveled just a few times since the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 2nd.  Once the Sunday after Dom’s memorial service, once the Sunday after Landry was born, and a 15-mile long run two weeks before the Austin Distance Challenge began at the IBM Uptown Classic.

Over the next 15 weeks leading up to race day our Sunday runs will cover 14, 15, 12, 16, 17, 13.1 (race), 19, 20, 12, 21, 12, 20, 13.1 (race), 12, 8 and finally 26.2 at the Austin Marathon.  This training cycle is a bit different than the one that prepared us for our previous PR at the Marathon Distance back in 2009.

That cycle did not include any racing leading up to race day, and no tempo runs or hill repeats.

This cycle which peaks at a long run of 21 miles on January 9th is a bit more focused, a bit more intense and hopefully will yield big results on February 20th.

The marathon and I have a little bit of unfinished business to settle this go round, and if I am unable to settle this thing once and for all, it won’t be because I was unprepared going into it.

There are a lot of things that I enjoy about preparing for the marathon.  I enjoy the fact that it is hard.  I enjoy the fact that despite diligent training and preparation, nothing is guaranteed on race day.  I enjoy the fact that while the race itself is a solo mission, something that you truly have to accomplish on your own, there is a great sense of togetherness and of community on the course.  I enjoy the first mile, when everything feels perfect and I enjoy the last mile, when nothing seems to be working the way that it did just 3 hours earlier.

But one thing that I truly love about Marathon Training is eating.

Over the next 15 weeks I will burn somewhere around 70,000 calories just during my training runs.  Add in the more than 20,000 while riding the tri-bike and another 13,500 strength training and you have over 100,000 calories burned in just about four months.

That is a lot of “fueling” that needs to take place and for an Italian guy like me that means pasta and a lot of it.

Spoiled by a Mom who makes the best Spaghetti Gravy that I have ever had, when I went away for School, I was going to have to learn how to fend for myself.  Armed with an old Pasta Dish and a few throw away items from my Mom’s kitchen, it was time to learn how to make Gravy on my own.

Now a lot of you are saying, what is gravy?  Isn’t it sauce?  Technically Spaghetti “Sauce” that is flavored by using meat is “Gravy”.  A sauce without meat that uses vegetables for its source of flavor is “Sauce”.  It is more than a matter of just where you grew up.  Gravy is gravy, sauce is sauce.

Each time I start a marathon training cycle I make a huge batch of gravy that I will be able to freeze and store for my Saturday Night dinners prior to my Sunday long runs.

The process start to finish takes the better part of four to five hours, which you can imagine is a little too time intensive to make Gravy every weekend.  Especially with little miss Landry around these days, time is of course a bit more scarce than it was preparing for Boston and Pittsburgh Last year.

It all starts with preparing the meat that you will be using to flavor the gravy.  Meatballs need to be formed from ground beef, ground pork or veal, (veal in this case), moistened white bread, fresh parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and eggs.  The above ingredients are put together and formed into egg shaped meatballs (easier to fry than round ones) and set in the refrigerator to firm up.

Meatballs Formed and Braciole Ready for Cooking

Braciole is next to be prepared, which is flank steak that is sliced very thin.  The flank steak is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, parmesan cheese and rolled up into a long “tube”.  Either string or skewers are used to hold the Braciole together.  Sometimes I will also lay a thin slice of veal scaloppini on top of the flank steak and roll that inside the Brajiole …. Good stuff.

The rest of the meats are pretty simple, Hot Italian Sausage, Mild Italian Sausage, Beef Shin, Bone-In Pork and Bone-In Veal.

All of the meats are browned and set-aside to cool.  In addition Two or three yellow onions are peeled and browned to be added to the Gravy.  I will also place two or three celery stalks, A few cloves of Garlic, Fresh Basil and Fresh Parsley into the Pot in the last two hours to provide Flavor.

Once all of the meats and produce is prepared it is time to get the actually Gravy Going.

Canned Tomato Puree is fine – I like to use Cento when I can find it, along with canned tomato paste.

Depending on the size of the batch I am making, I will use between two and four cans Tomato Puree, filling each can twice with water and adding that to the pot as well.  Same goes with the tomato paste.  In this case 4 cans of puree, 8 cans of water, 2 cans of paste and 4 small cans of water.

The Tomato Puree needs to be brought to a boil.  After it comes to a boil for a few minutes I will add A tablespoon or two of sugar to help cut down the acidity and then reduce the heat to medium low, allowing the sauce to slowly “roll” in the pot for two and a half hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so.

After the initial cooking time, the meats and produce are added to the pot, allowing the gravy to cook for another 2 and one half hours.  It is important to stir and of course taste the gravy every 30-45 minutes to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot and you are able to add salt, pepper, garlic etc. to taste.

Those final 2+ hours allow the Gravy to get nice and thick and allows the flavors to come together.  Great, great stuff.

By freezing the gravy I’m only a pot of boiling water and 12 -15 minutes away from a great pre-run, carbo-loading feast.

By having the gravey prepared in advance, it leaves time for making the pasta from scratch Saturday afternoon before dinner.

Austin Marathon Batch Ready for Freezing

A good general rule is a cup of flour and one egg per person to make the pasta dough, but this is definitely something that you have to do by feel.  Some eggs are bigger than others, sometimes the dough is stickier than others, so to get the right consistency, you have to add warm water or more flour accordingly.

After allowing the dough to sit for about an hour, I roll it flat on the “big board” – which every Italian Household used to have back in the day, cut the dough into long strips and then gradually feed it through the pasta maker to reduce the thickness.

When I have the thickness right where I want it, the dough will be put through a final cycle, cutting it into wide noodles, spaghetti or cappellini (Angel Hair).

After drying the pasta on a rack for a couple of hours while the Gravy is finishing up – it will only take about 3 minutes to cook fully in salted boiling water.

Check back in a few weeks as I usually get a hunkering for Lasagna or homemade Ravioli when the Sunday runs start stretching into that 19-20 mile range.

Nothing like training for a Marathon!  Yum.

Sunday’s 14-miler went into the books in 1:39:59 at 7:08 pace.  It was a fantastic run in cool 38 degree Fall Temperatures.  As you can imagine I was able to work up quite an appetite.  Don’t even get me started in on breakfast ….