Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon – Lexington, KY (March 31, 2018)

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Me coming into the finish of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon – Lexington, KY

Race: Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon

Place: Lexington, Kentucky

Date: March 31, 2018

Time: 2:04:43

There is something to be said about not coming into a race wanting to smash it.  Pressure can be a friend or foe, and with me, more often than not…it’s foe.

There is also something to be said about choosing an almost local half marathon to run…one that you’ve wanted to run for a couple of years but have always been riding the injury train…and spending it with important people in your life.  Not fussing over all the minutiae…stressing over goal times…all the stuff that comes with races.

There is something to be said about running the race that is billed as “America’s Prettiest Half Marathon.”  Running it, my friends, but really taking it in.  Drinking in the gorgeous horse farms, and the running horses by the roads you are running, taking selfies with strangers and friends alike.

Yeah…it’s something I rarely get to experience because I do get wrapped up in finish times more than finish lines sometimes.  That was a lot of “-imes and -ines” all at once, yeah?

I registered for the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon after being encouraged by my enabler…er…friend…Melissa.  I knew this one was going to be a tough course, as I heard about the, anywhere from 33-40 hills (it’s all in who you ask and talk to!).  We all know, my broken down hips love the downhill and flat spaces.  The uphills…well…let’s just say I’m working on that.

My coach, Linda, actually provides her runners as pacers for this race.  No…I did not sign up to be a pacer.  She and her local and amazing Frankfort pack were going to see runners to their goals on race day.  Linda was going to be pacing the 2:10 group, fresh off of the Chattanooga Marathon where she punched her ticket to the Boston Marathon next year.  I was told to line up with her and to stick with her.  And while, for a brief moment, I felt like I was wasting an opportunity to race…it turned out this was a blessing in disguise (and maybe it was all part of her plan from the start…Melissa is convinced that it was!).

The Friday before the race just happened to be Good Friday.  So, my office gave all employees a half day.  This meant that Cathy and I could hit the road to Lexington early and get to the expo and have some time to look around.  I had packed some Asian soup for us to eat before we hit the road, and we had dinner plans that night with Melissa and Paul at the BEST place to get pasta in Lexington – Bella Notte.

The drive down was easy and uneventful.  We were pumping ourselves up for the race, so I put in the Britney Spears Greatest Hits album (don’t judge!) and played it all the way through.  Then, my Garmin GPS in the car took us some weird route toward the race expo, where we were driving on narrow back roads.  It was wet and rainy and beautiful.  We passed a chicken farm…where I declared, “That there is a chicken farm!”  Because, I wanted to talk in a hick-deep-South accent, I guess.

It was at that turn, however, that Cathy made note of the signs marking the Run the Bluegrass route.  As we turned and took the road toward Keeneland, where the race expo and the start of the race would happen, we wound through the beautiful horse country.  And as Cathy pointed out the course signs, she literally turned her head and said…

“You’re going to die tomorrow.”

I am still laughing over this…because she knows my hatred of uphills.  And there were going to be 30 something uphills to conquer.  She probably wasn’t wrong.  My saving grace was going to be running with Linda…my coach…the 2:10 pacer.  Linda and I have run in the same races before, but never together.  So, I was pretty stoked about it.  Linda was too.  And that helped.

Walking into the expo at Keeneland in Lexington, KY

We arrived to the expo and parked the car.  Keeneland is gorgeous and we walked into the main building of the expo where you are immediately greeted, handed info books and catalogs and directed to the packet pickup area.  This is done by bib number, which is corresponding with the corral/wave that you are in.  My bib was 1052…first corral…but I was falling back to wherever Linda was going to be stationed.  I texted Linda as I got there and then went to get my bib.  A lot of the Frankfort runners were manning packet pick-up and when I gave my bib number, I was given a long look, the bib was flipped over to get my name info, and she said, “I though that was you, Karen.  You’re just not in running clothes.”  That must be one of those #runnerproblems.

Linda caught up with me just as I was entering the expo space to look at all the things for sale and really just wanting to buy everything.  We hugged and she showed me all the great things I should by.  In the end, I ended up with one of the Run The Bluegrass Ponya Bands (I was going to get a Bondi Band, but was literally seconds too late as the woman at the table and grabbed the last two), and the official Run The Bluegrass jacket, which is gorgeous and I love it and want to wear it all the time.  It has, actually, come in handy with the crazy rainy days we’ve had since the race.  I also had Cathy buy me some of the special popcorn from Popcorn Paradise.

Photos, Packet Pickup, Shopping…Run The Bluegrass Expo has it all!!

Melissa and Paul were on their way in, so we made the rounds through the rest of the expo and checked out all the vendors.  I’m still searching for some shoes that I can simply train in (so I don’t wear out those hard-to-find Newton’s that I race in), but none of the ones for sale at the expo spoke to me.  Ah well.  I did finally get to try Sword.  It was pretty good…but I’m still doing well with my combo of Hammer gels and Nuun Performance.  When my stomach is happy…I stick with it.

At the very back of the space, you get to pick up your race shirt.  In this case, it’s this t-shirt hoodie thing.  Which, honestly, has become my favorite thing to wear at the moment.  Just slip it over my workout clothes and good to go.  They also had out next year’s gear and…the hoodie shirts aren’t coming back.  They are bringing in long sleeve and short sleeve tech shirt options, and the upgrade jacket has omni heat lining.

I ran into Tammy and Dean back here and we got to talk for a little bit.  This was also their first time running Run The Bluegrass…so we were all pretty excited to be taking part in it this year.  They were catching dinner at BJ’s…and we were hoping to squeak in as walk-ins at Belle Notte eventually.  They went to head out and we turned around to go back toward the front of the expo.

Melissa and Paul texted to say they were parking so Cathy and I maneuvered back up to the entrance area.  Twenty minutes later and we were wondering if they got lost in the parking lot.  But, they did eventually come through the doors, hit up the bourbon table, got their bibs and texted to see where we were.  I texted back to turn around.

And we were reunited.  We all made our way back through the shopping, vendors, and races that were there to hopefully catch your eye.  Many of them did…so…who knows.  Paul replaced his sunglasses as his old pair went missing on the NYC trip.  And they got their shirts/jackets.  Melissa stayed with the hoodie…but Paul had upgraded to the men’s jacket.  It was NICE!

As we were standing around about to try more Sword, I got a text from my friends Ron and Shawn, and they came on back to where we were so we could talk for a moment.  Ron was going for a race PR the following day and he looked relaxed and ready.  They would be heading to Bella Notte for dinner as well later that evening.

Bella Notte Gluten Free House Salad

With all the expo excitement done, the four of us split up to make the trek to Belle Notte for our pre-race dinner.  Bella Notte has an amazing gluten-free menu and knowledgeable staff.  I have never had issues at this restaurant, and I make sure I eat here every time I’m in Lexington.  I often contemplate trying something else…but in the end…I always end up getting the same thing: Gluten-Free Pasta Arrabiata with a Salad (no croutons; no cheese) with their balsamic dressing.  Melissa got the Caesar Salad (no croutons) and the Bella Original Rigatoni Crema (which actually comes out as Fusiili pasta).  Cathy got the Tomato Basil Soup and the Bella Origina Rigatoni Crema, and Paul got Salad and got the Baked Rigatoni Romano.  There was a lot of food…but it was all fantastic, good…and we ate it all.  I was on the right amount of full.  And afterwards, we went to walk it all off for a bit at the Half Price Books nearby and then hit Kroger up for some bananas, waters, and whatever else we needed for the hotel room.

Bella Notte’s Gluten Free Pasta Arrabiata

The plan was to play some games (it’s been awhile since game night and that was the never-ending game of Stranger Things Monopoly).  But instead, we ended up watching a few YouTube Videos (one a comedian doing a bit about fitness trackers and joggers…and triathletes.  It was funny…and of course…Marathon Thoughts).  And then Melissa had us watch the episode of The Office where they run a 5K for rabies awareness.  It was so funny.  So…the games didn’t happen..but we were chill and relaxed and got our stuff laid out for the following morning to help make life easier. Cathy made up my Nuun Performance to go in my water bottle for fuel and then we did a Shaun T stretching video to realign, relax, and prepare ourselves for some sleep and hopefully get out the door on time to head to the start the next morning.

I heard some horror stories about the traffic going into Keeneland on race day.

I actually slept really well.  My alarm went off at the same time as theirs.  And, much like when we shared the Suede Tomb in NYC…we just sort of went in rounds through the bathroom.  I snagged my race clothing (I started in a tank top and running skirt…and of course had my sports bra) to change into while I used the bathroom and brushed my teeth.  I came out of the bathroom to let whoever was next go in and do their thing.  And while that was going on…I put on my compression sleeves, my anklet, my earrings, put my hair extensions in and put my hair in pigtails…

My 2nd outfit that morning…and even this got to be too hot early in the race. How do you dress for freezing at the start and 50 degrees at the finish?

…and then Melissa checked the weather again.  And everything needed to change.  It was about 30 degrees at the start of the race with a decent wind going on.  I changed my entire outfit to a totally different tank top (which I added arm warmers to), bright capri’s…changed my compression sleeves and then put on a jacket and my pants over it to stay warm.  It was going to be close to 50 by the time I would be finishing the race…but we were starting in the freezing temps.  This is why I don’t know how to dress in spring.

To top everything off…I donned my “Hills Suck” Bondi Band.  It was perfect for this race.

Cathy headed down to the restaurant to snag some real food from the complimentary breakfast.  Apparently runners had this plan too because she texted that she was in a line.  She grabbed an English Muffin (line too long to toast it), potatoes, eggs, and bacon and gobbled it down while the runners of the group got their shit together and headed down.  Melissa wasn’t sure how the race would go, so she and Paul went ahead and loaded their stuff up into their car instead of bothering with late checkout.  I went to find Cathy and she casually finished her breakfast, got her coffee to go, and we were all out the door and en route to Keeneland.  Cathy took the first gate (despite instructions to take Gate 2) and we got stuck in a bit of a line waiting to get parking.  Melissa and Paul took Gate 2 and got in and parked in a prime spot without a wait.  Naturally.

Cathy’s Embassy Suites breakfast…don’t know what was in the bowl if anything…

We ended up being directed up a hill with every other vehicle coming in at that point and parking in the grass in the middle of a field.  Thankfully the grass wasn’t too soft from all the rain we’ve been getting or I fear my little Toyota Corolla would have had some problems getting out.  We sat in the warm car until I heard from Melissa and Paul that they were heading to the RunDisney tent for the meetup photo there.  Cathy made me get out into the cold, but we decided to wander into the expo building.  I figured I could use a flushing toilet while there…but then I saw the line and, since I really didn’t have to go…I really didn’t bother to wait in the slow moving ladies room line.  Hey…the port-a-potty lines were just as long.  We eventually did make our way out to the muddy tent area, found Melissa and Paul and then went on a Linda h

Cathy and I before heading to the start line of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon.

unt.  Since she and her runners were pacers, it was no surprise that they weren’t at the tent.  Cathy decided we needed to head down to the start line anyway.

And on the way, I did fuel up with my Banana Bread Lärabar.  The bar worked for New York, even though I definitely used more energy there.  Actually, with all the hills…I figured it would probably be comparable effort.  Maybe?

Ron and I at the start line of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon

At the start line…I saw no one.  No one that I recognized.  No pacers yet.  So I devoured my breakfast and then finally saw a smiling, happy face.  Ron!!  He was hoping to run a RTB (Run The Bluegrass) PR (he has been saying if he can sub-1:45 he’d burn a couch) and he looked good and strong  and we had perfect weather.  I told him I knew he was going to do it and wished him luck and let him go and get lined up where he needed to achieve his goals.  Then, I saw Tim walk by with the 1:45 pacer sign.  AH…the pacers were here…which meant Linda would be here.  Which meant, I needed to head back in the corrals and find her.

On the way, I spotted Greg, who was a 2:00 pacer and stopped to give him a hug and talk to him.  He told me Linda was the next corral back to lead Wave 3 out…so I told him to have a good race and skipped back to where I saw the next pacer sign.  YES!  There was Linda and her pacing partner, Mark!  I had never met Mark, but I had seen him earlier, because he was wearing a kilt.  I notice kilts!

Me, Linda and Mark leading Wave 3 and the 2:10 hopefuls!

The start of the race was actually delayed by about 15 minutes because the ambulances were stuck in traffic and not at their stations on the course.  So, I got to know some of the people around me.  I had this couple asking me questions about my Newton running shoes…we talked about half marathons…and then…finally…go-time!!!

Except…I was in Wave 3…so it was walk up with the 2nd wave and wait…and then finally move to the front.  I think Linda said there was supposed to be 2 minutes between waves, but as we got to the front of the line for Wave 3, I heard the announcer say 40 seconds before Wave 3’s start.  Two minutes my runner’s booty!

And just like that…I was off…running my very first Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon.  So many of the runners I know continue to return to this race, so I knew I was in for something special.  I also knew that I could really take in the experience, which was both frustrating and amazing all at once.  My legs like to run…and I was moving at a trot (horse reference, get it?).  I knew that hills awaited and, honestly, this was probably the best way for this race to be approached.  Linda had the breakdown specific to this race on how each mile needed to be run and I’m not used to checking my watch, but I figured I could at least help with that.  Maybe?

First hill…of so many!

We headed up Keeneland’s Back Gate Drive – the first hill…and I felt strong and my legs really wanted to push and power up…but more hills awaited and Linda was keeping me right where I needed to be.  She’s good at that.  HA!

I knew this was going to be a good run when I saw horses within the first couple of miles.  Seriously.  Horses that were in one of their fields.  They were running away from the big group of humans that were running and we all joked that the horses were thinking, “Well, all the people are running…we should too.”  HA!!  It was…SO amazing.  We were still ahead of pace, and Linda said that worked to our advantage because that meant we could walk some of the bigger hills.  I was totally okay with that.

There were definitely a couple of selfie-stops along the way.  And when we hit the split for the 7 Milers and Half Marathoners (which also happened to be that Chicken Farm) and said to Linda to take note to tell Cathy…because I promised her I’d say it.  And then I let go with my “That there is a chicken farm!”  I had so much fun running with Linda and the group of runners that she and Mark were leading.  I got to talk to a few of them about Disney races, Dopey, New York City, and Linda let me in on a secret…it’s good luck to throw your hands up in the air when you run across railroad tracks.  So, the three sets that we crossed during this race, I did that and let out an enthusiastic, “WOOOOO!” at the same time.  I mean, if you’re going to do something…do it with gusto!

It was also around the second or third water stop that we realized that, unlike it was stated in the race guide, Sword was not at every water stop.  And this concerned a lot of runners who had planned to use this as their fuel on the course and didn’t bring their own.  Every water stop we would ask for the Sword…and were told they just had water.  A few runners were already starting to panic as the day was heating up (I shed my arm warmers and was comfortable in a tank), the sun was up, and electrolytes were needed.  I always carry my own fuel regardless, so I said I had Nuun Performance if needed…and Linda had salt tabs to offer if needed as well.  We FINALLY ran across a stop with Sword at the halfway point.  That came as a relief…but the rest of the way…Sword was only in one or two other water stops.  That would be my only compliant…mostly from other runners standpoints.  I have never trained with Sword and am kind of in love with my Nuun, but I could see the frustration and worry of those I was running with who were looking for Sword at every stop.

That being said, the various farms that we came across were stunning.  I particularly liked the one near the end that had spires and is just absolutely stunning.  The fact that that is a BARN and not a house still baffles me!  Honestly!

Going into this race, I was warned about the hill at Mile 9…the dreaded S-Curve.  You start up…it levels out, you round a corner…you go back up.  I was prepping for this and the drums pretty much the entire way.  This hill is, apparently, notorious!  As we were heading toward this hill though, we were coming up another one and had caught up with the wheelchair racer.  He was blind as well and had his helper.  The runners did good to get over at this point, but Linda said to me…”they will fly past us on the downhill in a few minutes.

She heard them too…and started to shout to the runners to GET TO THE RIGHT!  Of course, most did, except those with headphones on.  One woman almost got completely taken out because she couldn’t hear the TEN times Linda had shouted at her to move over for the wheelchairs.  And then…The hill leading into Mile 10.  The dreaded hill I heard so much about.

As we started the climb, a runner started up it with us and said, “This isn’t so bad.”  I laughed and said, “Those might be famous last words.”  She shook her head.  “Nah.  I’m from Cincinnati…I run Mount Adams.”  And then she picked it up and powered on up the hill

I did hear the drums that I had heard so much about.  I was told to put my head down and ignore everything and to just get up the hill.  We climbed, turned…and climbed some more.  That being said…the hill after that one is probably the one that you’ll hate more than anything.

Linda did pass me her pacer sign at this point to run fast downhill to hit use the bathroom near Mile 10.  Mark had me back off the downhill pace (downhill is my favorite speed…this was hard to do, LOL!) and he let Linda know we were going past as we rounded the corner at the water stop and continued onward.  Linda is amazing and caught up with us not much longer…on an uphill.  We like to make her work for it.  After all, running slower than my norm is not easy for me and she had to keep calling me back if I would get too far ahead on the course.  Around Mile 10 I had to take a gel.  My stomach was rumbling (I was usually done with half marathons at this point and I still had three miles to go) and drank some water with it.  It didn’t really do much for the hunger, but my energy was picking back up.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! I’M FREE!

Near the start of the race, Linda had told me that she was going to let me go at Mile 12.1 to spring into the finish line.  Just after we passed Mile 11…she said, “You can go.”  I looked at her.  “Really?”  She nodded.  “Yes…you can go.”  I threw my hands up in the air in a kermit flail and yelled, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY” as I took off.  And trust me, despite the hills, I had energy to burn at this point.  I know I was probably getting the stink eye from some runners at this point.  Pretty much legs are done by this point, but the course only has some small rollers with the long not-steep climb at the end to the finish line.  So, I’m surging.  But, more often than not, what I got was, “You go girl!”  “That’s how you finish!” “Looking strong.” “Get it girl!”  I loved that.  I wasn’t even moving up to race pace at this point, because hills, even at a slower pace, are still hills and my legs weren’t accustomed to running fast.  They adjusted.

The final two miles flew by and when I hit the timing mat at Mile 12.1, I tried to pick it up just a little more.  They record your final furlong (last mile) and I really hoped to pour on the power and speed.  I think I managed to pick it up slightly more, but not where I would feel like I was just…flying.  But I felt good.  I was having fun.  I was smiling.  I looked good.  And I made the turn to come into the finish line and put on that final push and crossed.

That. Was. Fun.

Ron flying into the finish line of Run The Bluegrass

I had a medal put around my neck and I made my way through the finisher’s chute.  The entire time I was heading into the finish, I was looking for Cathy and the sign, but never saw her.  Never heard her either (which is weird, because she is always screaming at me at the finish line!).  I stopped near the end of the chute, across from the donuts and just…kept raising up on tiptoes expecting to see the sign walking toward me.  It never happened.

Ron found me. He had a fantastic race…and there will be couch burning because he ran a 1:40.  Totally flew on this course.  I was so excited for him.  I asked him if he had seen Cathy and he hadn’t.  Soon after that, I spotted Linda coming down the chute.  She came over to me and asked me my finish time.  I said it was 2:04 something…and she said she was in the 2:09’s…right on target for that 2:10 pacer!  She’s amazing.  I asked if she had seen Cathy and she hadn’t…so…we figured she might be at the ForWord Running tent so we headed that way.

She wasn’t.  I told Linda to try calling her, which she did, but Cathy didn’t answer.  So, she tried my phone.  This time she got her.  Cathy had been in a panic for about 20 minutes because she had gotten the time I crossed the mat for 12.1 miles, but never received notification that I had finished.  She never saw me sprinting it in.  She thought maybe something had happened to me, and of course, having Linda call her didn’t make her feel any better.  Linda assured her I was fine and we were at the tent.  She came over and looked so relieved.

I ate a few grapes and drank my water, but I knew Cathy and I had a Louisville City soccer match to hit up at 3 pm.  With it coming up on noon-ish at this point…Cathy was ready to get back to the hotel so I could shower and we could get on the road back to Louisville.  I gave Linda a hug and we started through the masses.

Me in the Keeneland Starting Gates after the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon

But I did make Cathy stop, even though she didn’t want to at the time, so I could get the infamous Keeneland Starting Gate photo.  It had to happen and I was going to be stubborn about this one.  I managed to find a short line and pulled myself up to stand in the gate.  I felt amazing.  Cathy snapped some photos and then had to lift me down because that gate is pretty high up.  HA!

Later, when I sent the photo to Melissa, she texted me back and said that was the most genuine smile she had seen on me after a race/run in a long time.  She wasn’t lying.  I felt amazing.  I had so much fun.  I could have cared less about my time.  Genuine.  You better believe it.

So…the official results of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon are that I finished it in 2:04:43, running with the 2:10 pacers for the first 11 miles and then being turned loose for the final 2.1. I was 743/3163 finishers overall. I was the 283/1989 for women finishers. And I was 65/388 in my age division. I’m really happy with this. I averaged a 9:32 pace for the race, none of which ever left me feeling like I was dying or about to die.  The hardest thing was suddenly being hungry.  That never happens.  LOL!  But this race now holds a near and dear place in my heart…and yeah…I’ve already registered for next year!  Can’t wait to smile all over again.

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CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (November 4, 2017)

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Me crossing the finish line of the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

Race: CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: November 4, 2017

Time: 1:41:44

When weekends are busy…boy, they are busy.  That’s how my Monumental Half Marathon weekend turned out to be.  The running gods just sort of made this race available to me, as I was already going to be up in Indianapolis that weekend for a wedding.  Why not make an event out of it?

So, I signed up for the Monumental Half Marathon and went into it with the run/walk mentality that I’ve been practicing, in an attempt to not have my body fall apart on me again at crucial and critical times.  Training with the run/walk method is one thing.  Actually incorporating it into racing is another beast altogether.

But I digress.

My race weekend started off with lots of packing on Thursday night.  Not only did I need to pack for a half marathon, but I also needed to pack for a wedding…AND (yep…there is an and in there) a soccer match.  Told you my weekend was busy.  And this all was happening in the span of one day.

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Lunch on the go…when you’re broke!

So, packing for three events meant about 4 pairs of shoes!  HA!  No joke though, because at first the forecast called for rain, so I had my regular racing shoes, my rain shoes, heels for the wedding, and my recovery shoes for the soccer match.  It also meant packing running clothes for rain, for cold, for comfortable weather…a dress to wear to the wedding…and some jeans, a t-shirt and a hoodie for the soccer match.  Plus pajamas, race fuel, snacks, protein powder, recovery stuff…ALL THE THINGS!!  And, I had originally suggested grabbing sushi on the way up to Indianapolis (we were taking a half day from work to travel and would hit the road right at lunch time), but decided to save money and made gluten-free cashew butter and jelly sandwiches!  My roommate had a small baggie of chips with hers (we had one serving left in a bag at the apartment) and I had the remainder of the grapes we bought at Costco!  That was lunch.

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Me at the race expo for the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

We got up to Indianapolis in good time, actually.  No traffic issues really at all.  So, after checking into the Hilton near the Indiana State Capitol (and also near the start line and finish line), we took a walk to the convention center to hit up the race expo.  I had actually expected to spend more money on stuff at the expo.  It’s a really nice expo.  But all the official merchandise promoted the full marathon, and not really the half.  So, that was a bit disappointing.  Aside from that…obtaining my race bib, t-shirt, and all that stuff was super easy.  And we navigated the aisles of the race expo without signing up for more races, or buying extra stuff…save for 3 Bondi Bands.  They had one that’s perfect for a race I am planning to do with friends in the fall, one that had unicorns and rainbows on it (DUH!) and one that said “Run Like A Princess Today.”  HELLO!  Made for me.  And that was it.  I purchased two replacement water bottles for my fuel belt and called it a day.

With plenty of time to kill, we took the stuff back to the hotel room and then decided to hit up Indianapolis by foot.  This meant walking Monument Circle and stopping into candy store (DUH!).  That’s where we picked up dessert, actually.  Because…candy store!!  Cathy picked up a Diet Butterscotch Root Beer to dry, and it was decent enough.  We then took a stroll down to the city library because she wanted to look at their Irish History section.  And from there…we were both ready to figure out what to have for dinner.

Ideally…it’s always gluten-free pizza before a race for me.  BUT…as this was my first distance race where I would be incorporating my run/walk method, I was toying with giving up the pizza and opting for Mexican or other options.  The gluten-free pizza place we had discovered the year I ran the Indy Women’s was our first stop though.  They weren’t taking reservations and with a marathon happening the next day, we weren’t certain that it wouldn’t be crowded.  It wasn’t at that point.  They said they could seat us at a table, but we’d have to be out by 6:30.  Not a problem.  That gave us plenty of time to peruse the menu, make dinner choices, and still not feel rushed.

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Gluten Free Focaccia from Napolese in Indianapolis, IN

Our waiter was awesome.  We explained to him that I was a Celiac and also couldn’t do dairy.  He was great to work with and even remembered the dairy-free part when we ordered the gluten-free focaccia, which had garlic.  Lots of garlic.  YUM!!

After going back and forth on the type of pizza we were going to split, we finally decided that creating our own would be the most fun.  AND…we even asked the opinion of our server when it came to doing either a white pizza or one with sauce.  We had wanted to have winter squash, balsamic onions, and then quail eggs (protein!) on the pizza.  And after mulling back and forth on whether to sauce it up or go white pizza…the server settled it for us, saying that the white pizza would let the other ingredients shine, and with the eggs, we would have plenty going on with the pizza.  No need for the red sauce.  DONE!!  Order in.

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The pizza we built at Napolese in Indianapolis, IN: Gluten Free Crust, Winter Squash, Balsamic Onions, Quail Eggs

The pizza, by the way, was magnificent.  The crust was basically what they made the focaccia out of, but this time it wasn’t sliced into triangles and put into a basket, it was laid out on a plate, baked to perfection, topped with everything.  Eggs on a pizza was a new experience for me.  And it was amazing.  We devoured without rushing through the meal, pausing to discuss how EPIC this dinner was.  This reminds me…I have squash in my fridge that I need to bake up so it doesn’t go bad.  Perhaps a pizza is in the future.

With my pre-race meal now in the tank, we took a stroll to CVS to pick up additional waters for that evening and race day…and then turned in for the night. I laid out my clothes while Cathy showered…and then it was Food Network for Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives until bedtime.  We turned in early.  But thanks to being so close to the start of the race, my three race morning alarms were set later.

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Rocking my Louisville Landsharks shirt at the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon

Got up with my first alarm to take a pill and some water.  Went back to bed.  An hour later, alarm went off.  I went to get dressed in my race clothes and finished putting my hair up when the alarm for Cathy to wake up went off.  It was perfect timing.  I had packed some snack bars/protein bars to have for breakfast…so we did that in the room.  I filled up my fuel belt with one side water and the other my Nuun Performance (LOVE!!) before grabbing my hoodie, and heading out.  Cathy even remembered the sign.  We were WINNING this morning.

I texted my coach once I got to the start line area, hoping to catch her before the race.  She was aiming for a PR.  I’m not concerned with time right now…just focusing on form, and how I feel.  And she and I discussed a race plan via text for this one the night before.  With as many people running this as there was, we decided a 4 minute run/30 second walk interval might cause problems.  So…the new plan was to have me walk all the water stops.  She was hanging in the convention center, so I didn’t actually find her ahead of time.  Cathy had to convince me to give up my hoodie and get into my corral as I was a Wave 1 runner and the start of the race was getting close.

I gave it up, got a hug, and went to get into the corral at the start.  I had just found a spot that was a decent amount of space back from the start, but not too far back, and then I hear my name being shouted.  I start turning my head, and I see two guys waving at me.  It’s Tim and Greg from Frankfort!!  Greg came over and gave me a hug.  They were doing the full.  We joked about how I was smart and was focusing on half marathons for awhile.  But with the anthem starting to be sung, we wished each other luck and got back into our own zones.

The wheelchair race was underway first.  And then…Wave 1 was off.

I actually felt really good that morning, even with the cold air.  I had opted, at the last minute before leaving town, to swing back by the apartment and grab arm warmers for the race.  This turned out to be a wise decision.  While there were points of the race that I felt I was getting too warm, the wind would kick in and I’d be grateful to have them again.

I loved this race.  Honestly!!  I have always heard good things about it…but this was my first year actually running it.  I have known friends who have done the full or the half and have never heard anything bad about it at all.  I settled into what I felt was a good and easy pace and got into the zone.  Even though it was crowded, there wasn’t a lot of weaving going on.  I felt comfortable and like I wasn’t really pushing too much too fast.  I saw Cathy just after crossing the start line, and she had said she’d be at Monument Circle as well before heading to the finish line to wait for me.  Apparently an actual breakfast happened for her as well…because while I saw her at Monument Circle (hard to miss that sign!), she didn’t see me.  It was still dark, and I was wearing darker colors than I normally do.  After she realized she missed me, she spotted the Au Bon Pain and ended up getting one of their breakfast sandwiches.  HA!!  She’s resourceful like that.

Almost 3 miles in now and I still felt good.  No hip issues (even with the chilly weather) and just a steady rhythm going.  I knew that the marathon/half marathon split was just after Mile 7, so I knew things would thin out a bit at that point as well.  At my 4 mile water stop, Tim caught up with me and gave me a pat on the back and told me I was doing great.  He was doing the full and looked like he wasn’t even trying to maintain a fast pace.  He’s superhuman, I swear!  He ended up catching me again at the water stop around Mile 6 before the split.  I kept waiting for Linda or Greg to pass me…but never did see that.  It was good to see Tim out there though!

The split came and that involved running underneath this arch where half was labeled for the full and the other half was labeled for the half.  They kept on going straight and we made a left turn to continue on our path to the finish line.  Just after Mile 8, they were handing out gels on the course.  Not my thing so onward.  I really felt good the entire time, except between Miles 10 and 11.  I just felt really tired at that point.  I walked a “hill” and a water stop within the same mile.  I didn’t feel bad for it.  I was tuning into my body and it really needed.  There is no shame in walk breaks.  In fact, they sort of make the run more enjoyable…and in the end…the results are quite surprising.  I didn’t speed walk those breaks either.  I strolled each water stop…taking in my own water of fuel as needed.  And after that extra break heading into Mile 11, I felt better and I was able to pick it back up.  Final two miles and into the home stretch.

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Me with Linda, my coach, after the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

I could hear the announcer as I neared the final stretch of the half marathon.  I took a corner and could see that finish line.  As I was nearing it, I spotted Cathy and the sign.  She was shouting at me and the crowd was loud and awesome.  And I heard my name get announced just as I was moments away from crossing that finish line.  That’s always a motivation to kick it up a notch.  I never have much of a kick at the end of a race, but I was smiling the entire time as I crossed over that finish line and threw my hands up in celebration!

Afterwards, made the walk through the finish chute, getting a Mylar blanket, a medal, lots of snacks, and some water.  I got an official finisher photo on the way to meet up with Cathy.  And soon after finding her, we got word that Linda was on her way to the finish line, so we waited to flag her down.  And the first thing she did was give me a hug.  I love my coach, for real!!  She’s my biggest support system, even when I am one of her biggest headaches (I am neurotic; I can’t help it!).  We talked to her for a little bit, but soon had to head back tot he hotel to cycle through showers and get dressed for the wedding.  Linda was going to be waiting on her runners doing the full and half marathon.

From running shoes to high heels and a pretty dress. We made a coffee stop at Strange Brew in Greenwood, IN before the wedding (necessary) and then got to see two friends get married.  A little dancing and food at the reception and we were in the bathroom changing into clothes for the soccer match and heading back to Louisville to cheer our team to victory (it went to penalty kicks and we won…and charged the field afterwards).  It was a long, but totally amazing day!

So…the official results of the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:41:44…walking EVERY water stop.   I’ll take that time with walk breaks. Hell yeah!  I was 720/7972 finishers overall.  I was the 175/4492 female finishers.  And I was 32/775 in my age division.  WITH. WALK. BREAKS.  YAAAAAAS!!  Maybe Jeff Galloway really does have the secret recipe for racing success!  I mean, I ran/walked that race faster than I did the KDF Half Marathon.  It was also faster than I ran the Dark Side Half Marathon.  Yep…Jeff Galloway is a genius!

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Hard work understands hard work.  And hugs from your coach at the finish line make it all worth it in the end.

Recipe: Roasted Vegetable “Rice” Bowl with BBQ Sauce

I told you I was playing around with cauliflower rice…which is why you are getting the third consecutive recipe which includes it in part of the lineup!!

As a vegetarian, I get my share of veggies…but my favorite way to eat them…is roasting them in the oven.  I love when they get that slight crispiness to them.  And yes…it happens even without oil!  I take oil out of the cooking process more times than not…and the results are just as amazing.

After my trip to California, I wanted to really get back on track with my eating.  It got pushed to the wayside with the holidays and then with my trip…but I did have a detox in between and it really did make me feel better.  So, with a promise to rely less on those processed carbohydrates and get my nutrients from more real food…I honed in on a few changes.

While I won’t always be replacing pasta and rice with alternatives, I do want to do it a lot more than I have been.  So, instead of plating my roasted vegetables over brown rice…I just got out the riced cauliflower…poured it in a pan with some water and cooked it until it was soft.  I seasoned it the same way I would have the rice…and the results were mind-blowing.  I’d make this again instantly!  It would work even as a breakfast or lunch…but this week…it was dinner for my roommate and for two nights.

The recipe follows:

Roasted Vegetable “Rice” Bowl with BBQ Sauce

image1-1Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, ends snapped
  • 2 medium yellow squash or zucchini, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced into 1/3-inch-thick rings
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • black pepper, to taste


Ingredients for “Rice”:

  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets (or one bag of cauliflower rice)
  • 1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari
  • sea salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
Garnishes:
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce of choice
  • 1 medium avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced

 

Directions:

**Chop head of cauliflower into florets and place in food processor. Pulse until it starts to resemble rice; set aside.

**NOTE: If you want a less-mess, no maintenance way of doing this, go to Trader Joes, Kroger, Target, or pretty much ANY grocery store these days and they have bags of already riced cauliflower in their produce section and even in the freezer section.  I do this…because food processors are a pain to clean!  So, skip the first step if you cheat and get the already riced cauliflower.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Spread the veggies out over the pan, drizzle with the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes or until veggies are tender and golden, stopping to toss at the 20-minute mark.

While the veggies are roasting, place your riced cauliflower into a pan with 1/4 cup water and cook until softened.  Place cooked cauliflower rice into a large bowl and add basil, balsamic vinegar, and tamari to a large mixing bowl.

Use a large wooden spoon to stir.

Season with sea salt and black pepper, to taste.

Once the veggies are done roasting, remove from the oven and set aside.

Scoop 1 cup of the cauliflower rice into a bowl, top with the roasted vegetables.

If your barbecue sauce is thick, whisk one tablespoon of water into it at a time until desired thinness is achieved. Drizzle over the veggies or serve in a small dish alongside them.

Garnish with the sliced avocado.

ENJOY!

~*~*~

I have SO much Master’s Hand BBQ Sauce in my fridge thanks to a bit of a Thanksgiving kerfuffle.  But, it works out in my favor, as it’s the most amazing BBQ sauce I have ever tasted…and it was magnificent on this dish.  I ended up thinning it out with 2 tablespoons of water to get more of a drizzle over the veggies.  But that is all personal preference.

If you want to get the most out of your veggies…roast them.  If you want to make them awesome…drizzle some BBQ sauce over them.

Oh yeah!

Recipe: Cauliflower Fried “Rice”

I won’t lie…I’m a carb-a-holic.  Is that really a thing?  Is that a word? Doesn’t matter.  Carbs make me happy.  Gluten-free bread, pasta, donuts, muffins, potatoes, rice…you name it…I love to eat it.

That being said, I’m doing a slight bit of overhauling to my diet this year…aiming to cut back on all those processed carbs (like…bread, pasta, donuts, muffins, etc) and try to replace them with real food…healthier choices…and something that will nourish my body more.

Before I was diagnosed with Celiac…I may have lived at the Chinese buffet at least 2 times a month.  I love Chinese food.  I always have.  But, most of it is not even an option for me these days, unless I make it.  I’m Irish…not Chinese.  My Chinese food is never as amazing as when…you know…someone who is Chinese makes it.

That being said, I’ve been craving as of late…and I finally decided to cave and give into it.  And I got out my skillet on Sunday afternoon and whipped up a healthier version of fried rice, replacing the rice with riced cauliflower.  The recipe is below:

Cauliflower Fried “Rice”

Cauliflower Fried

Cauliflower Fried “Rice”

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets (or one bag of cauliflower rice)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup carrots, cubed
2 eggs, beaten (if making vegan, sub in tofu or just leave out)
¼ cup low sodium tamari
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
⅛ tsp. ground ginger
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp green onions, chopped (optional garnish)


Directions:

**Chop head of cauliflower into florets and place in food processor. Pulse until it starts to resemble rice; set aside.

**NOTE: If you want a less-mess, no maintenance way of doing this, go to Trader Joes, Kroger, Target, or pretty much ANY grocery store these days and they have bags of already riced cauliflower in their produce section and even in the freezer section.  I do this…because food processors are a pain to clean!  So, skip the first step if you cheat and get the already riced cauliflower.  At the end when you add it in with the sauce, cook it until it has softened.
 

Heat a large wok (or skillet) over medium heat and add 1/4 cup water. Add onion, peas and carrots and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. (Add more water as needed to prevent veggies from sticking).Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger and red pepper flakes; set aside.

Slide veggie mixture to one side of the wok and add in the beaten eggs (or tofu…or skip this step if you opted to go without the protein), scrambling until cooked through and then incorporate with the veggies.

Stir in cauliflower “rice” and pour the sauce over top, mixing well. Cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, until cauliflower is soft and tender.

Top with green onions, serve and enjoy!

~*~*~

Simple, easy…and yes…super delicious!!  Oh…and only 220 calories per serving!  You can’t beat that, right?  Highly recommended to your Chinese food lovers if you’re looking for a healthier alternative!!  Or maybe you just want to try something new!

Either way, it’s an easy recipe with little to do but stir away!!  So…no excuses, friends.  Get rockin’ that wok!

Recipe: Cauliflower Rice Pad Thai

So, my roommate and I are making a few more dietary changes this year and so far it’s not been too hard to stick to.  I mean, there are days that are completely off the plan (Hello, Soft Pretzel Wednesday!)…but that’s okay.  This isn’t about perfection, it’s just about progress!

We are working on cutting down on added sugars and processed carbs.  This is not to say that we are never going to eat gluten-free pasta or use rice in dishes ever again.  And this is not to say that dessert is off the table.  I did, however, very proudly, get rid of the stash of chocolate in my office drawer.  I reached for those M&Ms one too many times while stressed out…so they are gone…and not coming back in.

Normally I have a pretty set meal plan going into the weekend, but for some reason, this past week got away from me and I just…didn’t get to it.  Not going to sugar-coat it.  SO…I decided to prep some different things and just attempt to make something a little bit healthier.

One of my favorite types of food (second to Indian) is Thai.  I love Thai food, and Thai food is so easy to make gluten free.  That being said…I didn’t have pad thai noodles on hand and I’m on a tight budget after my trip to California (like…it’s non-existent, to be honest)…so I only wanted to have to grocery shop for the essentials.  I needed filling, healthy meals on the fly…so I bought Trader Joes and Kroger out of their bags of riced cauliflower.

That is not an exaggeration.

And from it emerged 3 dishes made with riced cauliflower (not counting the ones I did earlier in the week, which I should put up in the blog…so if I get time, I will. I promise.  They’re delicious).  But this week…I was most excited about my take on pad thai…using…riced cauliflower instead of noodles.  This dish is SUPER easy to make…so I encourage you to do so!

Recipe: Cauliflower Rice Pad Thai

 

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Cauliflower Rice Pad Thai

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head of cauliflower (or one bag of cauliflower rice)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 12 oz bag frozen stir-fry vegetables
  • 1/4 cup lightly salted peanuts


Ingredients of the Peanut Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or low-sodium Tamari
  • 3 tablespoon seasoned white vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon lime juice


Directions:

**Rice your head of cauliflower by chopping the florets roughly and adding them to your food processor.  Pulse the cauliflower until it resembles rice.  Then heat it up in the microwave for 7 minutes, stopping to stir it once halfway through.

**NOTE: If you want a less-mess, no maintenance way of doing this, go to Trader Joes, Kroger, Target, or pretty much ANY grocery store these days and they have bags of already riced cauliflower in their produce section and even in the freezer section.  I do this…because food processors are a pain to clean!  So, skip the first step if you cheat and get the already riced cauliflower.  At the end when you add it in with the sauce, cook it until it has softened.

Line a large skillet with a thin layer of water.

Add the garlic and onions tot he pan.  Cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften.  Add additional water, if necessary.

Add the frozen vegetables to the pan.  Cover the vegetables and cook for approximately 10 minutes, or until everything is heated through.  Once again, add additional water to keep things from sticking.

***While the vegetables are cooking, whisk the sauce together in a medium bowl.

***NOTE: If you aren’t feeling frisky, both San-J and Annie Chun make FANTASTIC peanut/pad thai sauces that are gluten free.  So…if making the sauce seems like too much work, just use the bottled stuff.

Once the vegetables are cooked through, add the cauliflower “rice” and peanut sauce to the pan.  Stir until well-combined.  If using bagged cauliflower rice, cook until cauliflower has softened, about 5 minutes.

Dish servings into bowls and garnish with peanuts.

ENJOY!

~*~*~

I wasn’t sure how I’d appreciate the change from actual pad thai noodles to using riced cauliflower, but it worked.  This dish was amazing.  And it’s dinner again tonight. And that’s always something to look forward to!

 

Recipe: BBQ Bean Chili

It’s winter.  Officially.  Although, at times, it doesn’t quite feel like winter.  Regardless, it’s the end of January, and I’m craving my warming and hearty (yet healthy) soups and stews and chilies.  I won’t lie, with recent talk at the office of the Annual Chili Cook-off (I won last year!), my mind has been on creating a new chili to cook up for the big competition.

This past weekend, while doing some recipe testing with cauliflower…I decided to do something completely different and make some chili…from scratch.

This meant on Saturday afternoon, I had dry heirloom beans soaking in water on my counter top.  When I do something…I do it right.  Now…if you don’t have the time, patience, or a clue as to how to work with dry beans…no worries, this recipe will work with canned beans as well.  Just use 2 cans of tri-blend beans and you will get similar results.

That being said…I wanted something smokey…with that true homestyle flair.  So…instead of tomato sauce…this chili got the bbq sauce treatment.  And I have some local, amazing bbq sauce on hand…lots of it in fact…so I got a little chefy and a little creative.  And the result…left the people who tried it raving.

SO…I figured I would just go ahead and share the recipe with you!

Recipe: BBQ Bean Chili


Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 (4 0z) can mild chiles
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup dry beans, soaked overnight (I used Epicurean Specialty Heirloom Bean Blend – which contains beans, peas & lentils)
  • 1 cup bbq sauce (I used Masters Hand with Integrity [Medium])


Directions:

Prep the beans.  Place beans on a sheet pan or clean towel.  Remove and discard any shriveled or broken beans and any stones or debris.  Rinse thoroughly in cold water.

Soak overnight. Rinse and place in a large pot, covered with fresh water.  Bring water to a boil for 3 minutes, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 60-90 minutes, until beans are tender.  Reserve a cup of the cooking water.

Line a large pot with 1/4 cup water over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic, and chiles.  Sauté until soft.

Add in chili powder, oregano, cumin and cayenne; stir for 2 minutes.

Mix in the cooked beans, 1/2 cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid and the bbq sauce.  Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat and simmer until theflavors blend and the chili thickens.  About 20-30 minutes.  I found I needed to a the rest of the bean water to get it to the texture I like…but vegetable broth would also work.

Garnish with a sliced avocado!

(Of course, you can garnish this however you like…sour cream, cilantro, grated cheese…but I love me a good, ripe avocado on top).

ENJOY!

~*~*~

LOVED this chili from the first taste.  It’s tangy, it’s got a kick to it, but it’s not overwhelming.  Not only that, it’s warming and hearty…and healthy!  How’s that for winning?

Go ahead, cook some up!!  It freezes well, but, trust me, it may not be around long enough to need to hit the freezer!

Product Review: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Product: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto – $3.29+

You know…it was because I was told that the liveGfree Gluten Free Tortillas at Aldi wouldn’t fall apart and crumble on me (which was false…they did…and I was sad) that I ended up back at my Aldi to grab some gluten-free goods.  Just the tortillas…that was the plan.

But you know how quickly plans fall apart when gluten free products/food are involved.

While standing in line with one item, I spotted the infamous liveGfree box colors on some discounted sale items.  There were three different types of pastas sitting there…discounted…looking for a happy pantry to belong to.  I thought about just skipping that.  I’m trying to move things out, not bring more in, but they were discounted to $1.99…so I grabbed one of each flavor.

With this being an odd week with half days and holidays…my usual meal planning is thrown a bit off.  When I’m not going to be here, batch cooking that much just doesn’t make sense.  So, I pick and choose and then fill in.  So, when my roommate said to just throw together a pasta or something for a lunch on Monday, that’s exactly what I decided to do.

I knew we had these boxes of Aldi lifeGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meals in my pantry, so I gave her the choice of flavors…(all of which will be reviewed here…so watch this space)…and she decided to start with the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal.

Cooking this up is super easy.  Simply throw 1-1/4 cup water into a pan and bring it to a boil.  Once there, pour the noodles and seasoning mix into the water.  Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for about 7-9 minutes.  Stir it occasionally, and continue to cook until the water is completely absorbed.  That’s it.  It’s ready to eat.

Well, here is the downside.  A box contains only 1-1/2 servings.  Yes…one and a half servings.  I don’t know where the logic is with that, but after I had this cooked up and split it between my roommate and I…there was hardly anything in our lunch bowls.  So, I reached into my freezer and pulled out the Beyond Meat Gluten Free and Vegan Italian Meatballs, cooking up some of those to add to the dish to bulk it up and make it bigger than just a side dish.  So, please be aware…1-1/2 servings per container.  If there is more than 1-1/2 of you eating…plan accordingly.

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal  (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

At lunch today, I retrieved the Pyrex containers with the pasta and “meatballs” in it and popped each one in the microwave to heat.  Once heated all the way through…lunch was ready to go.  I do love a no-hassle, fuss-free, easy lunch to prepare at work when the kitchen can get quite chaotic with everyone fighting for counter space and the microwave.

I settled in at  my desk, gave it a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (because I like it hot, LOL!) and dug in.

First of all, I was very impressed with the way the pasta held up, not just in the cooking process, but also in the reheating. It didn’t fall apart or get gummy.  So, that’s a huge plus.  I loved the seasoning that was cooked down over the noodles.  A blend of basil and spinach, mixed with a touch of garlic and Parmesan.  So, yeah…not exactly dairy-free, eh?  I didn’t notice that when I bought it…but…it was all I had for lunch.  I’m not allergic to dairy…just highly intolerant to lactose.  So, I just hoped for the best.  Very full of flavor…which surprised me.  I never expect much from boxed pasta meals, but this one was actually very delicious.  I am, however, quite happy that I opted to include the vegan meatballs to bulk it out.  It also added to the depth of flavor of the dish.  For a pasta meal that I spent under $2 to purchase…this was the happy surprise of the week.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Let’s discuss the ingredients that go into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, shall we?  This boxed meal is made from gluten free pasta (corn flour, rice flour), process cheese food in powder [cheese blend (pasteurized milk, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes), whey powder, salt, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate], cream powder (cream, milk), natural flavor, potato starch, parmigano reggiano cheese (milk, salt, rennet), dehydrated spinach, dehydrated basil, salt, garlic powder, and turmeric powder.  This pasta meal is gluten free and wheat free.

Now that we know what goes into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, let’s look at the nutrition ingredients.  A serving size of this product is 2/3 cup (or 3/4 cup prepared), and there are 1.5 servings fer container.  One serving will provide you with 250 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 42 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 4 grams sugars, and 8 grams protein.  If you were to eat the entire box yourself, you would only be consuming 375 calories in total.  Which, really isn’t too bad.  I just think that Aldi should either round it down to 1 serving or up to 2 servings, because this half serving really annoyed me, if you couldn’t tell.

I wasn’t expecting much from this Aldi meal, but, once again, Aldi surprised me.  I should have trusted them a little more.  If you can get your hands on the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meal’s…it’s a cheap and delicious way to have something on hand for when you don’t really have time or energy to cook something else up.

Check your local Aldi…and pick some up.