Ban Anna? No, Just the Wafers

SOMEONE PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME. Where in the U.S. Constitution does it require that any dessert involving bananas must include vanilla wafers?

Bananas do not usually get too ripe at the RBT house, as we all prefer them before they get brown and spotty. And I eat one for breakfast just about every day, especially before a morning run or race. But things have been a bit nuts around here recently, and so it was that I found five rapidly aging bananas in the kitchen this weekend.

MORE: Read about why bananas are considered by many to be a perfect food for runners

My standard approach is to make banana bread, but I wanted to try something new. Plus I needed a dessert for our D&D session. So I looked around for a banana pudding-style cake recipe in our cookbooks at home and on the Internet. What I found did not impress me.

The mac-and-cheese of mass market cookies.

The mac-and-cheese of mass market cookies. Source: Wikipedia.

The generic recipes (like Kraft Foods) called for instant banana pudding mix, or instant vanilla pudding with sliced bananas. Several promising leads to “Southern Banana Pudding” were nothing more than the instant stuff with a little bourbon added. A couple non-instant recipes were full of sugar and fat, but called for only a single banana – pretty odd for recipes with “banana” in their titles. And every recipe – I mean every recipe – called for a layer, crust, or topping of those d*mn wafers. Mmmm…vanilla-scented sawdust.

I checked supposedly upscale sites like Food Network and Martha Stewart. I consulted The Cake Mix Doctor, with which my wife has produced some real winners like her carrot cake and chocolate chip cake. Wafers, wafers everywhere. In desperation I began checking vegan recipes, which called for – wait for it! – vegan vanilla wafers. Arrgh!!!

How could i serve a Bohemian recipe to such a refined group of jolly fellows?

How could I serve a Bohemian cake to such a refined group of jolly fellows?

Finally I came across a recipe thankfully omitting the wafers. And it called for three ripe bananas. I upped that to four and made a few other tweaks. Here is the result. I used a caramel drizzle in place of the cream cheese frosting, to lower the fat and better taste the bananas. This was a hit.

Wafer-less Banana Cake

RBT’s Un-Wafer Banana Cake

Dry ingredients: 1 cup white whole-wheat flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup lowfat milk
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
4 medium-sized ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the dry ingredients. Beat the egg and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, coconut oil, bananas, and milk. Fold in the dry ingredients until moistened. Pour into a cake pan (I used a Bundt pan for a little more elegance) and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cake is done when cake tester comes out clean. Turn out of pan and cool on rack. The cake should still be very moist inside.

When cool, drizzle with your favorite caramel sauce (here’s the one I made) and top with powdered sugar.

Enjoy with whipped cream, ice cream, whipped coconut cream (or all of them), and fruit.

Yes, it is.

Why yes, it is. 



On the Rocks: DWD Devil’s Lake 50K Recap


DWD Devils Lake - Halfway PointIt was the second half of the Dances with Dirt – Devil’s Lake 50K near Baraboo, Wisconsin. This is normally where I start overtaking people who pass me in the first half. But as I picked my way down the two-mile decline from the rocky overlook to the aid station at the road, runners continued to pass me. And I was too gassed to do anything about it.

What was going on? Perhaps it was the 5:30 a.m. start, which meant I got up around 4:15. Or the 200 percent humidity that soaked everyone in sweat just a few miles in. Or the treacherous roots and rocks along the trail that had already spilled me once and kept threatening to snap off an ankle or two. Or it was just one of those days where you toss your goal time out the window and work on getting through the race. And it wasn’t gonna be easy.

We're off!

We’re off!

The Devil’s Lake course, like the other DWD races, has its features that make it memorable. No fire ants like at Green Swamp, or walls of mud or wading down a river like at Gnaw Bone. But it took more out of me than any of the ultras I’ve ever run.

DWD Devils Lake - On the Trail

View from the top

View from the top.

DWD Devils Lake - Down the Rocks

The signature climb up and down the rocks at the halfway point was a challenge, but the really enervating part was the frequent change in elevation. After the long climb up to the overlook (right above the “43″ in the chart below) came the two-mile descent mentioned above. Then after a couple of miles through a grassy meadow, we turned around and went right back up (mile 22), with another dive downhill at the finish.

Tip for non-runners #1: Running downhill in a trail ultra is neither easy nor fun. Especially if it’s steep. And after mile 15. Skeptics are welcome to consult any ultrarunner, or try it themselves.

It was just as fun as it looks.

It was just as fun as it looks.

My whole race went in cycles. After mile 6 I felt like crap. Then I recovered, improved, and at mile 10 I felt invincible. Two miles later I felt like crap again. Rinse and repeat. I was at one of my “feel like crap” moments when I got to the 25-mile aid station where my friend Tracy was volunteering. “You didn’t look too happy,” she told me later. After sucking down Sprite, Gatorade, and water, and pouring more over my steaming head, I pulled myself away and staggered down the trail for the final leg.

“Just do your best,” Tracy called after me.

Oh, that hurt.

You all look awesome! Keep it up! "Zombies NightoftheLivingDead" by Direction and cinematography both by George A. Romero - Screenshot from Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

You all look awesome! Keep it up!
(Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

Tip for non-runners #2: Standard procedure on an ultra run is to say positive things to other runners. During the two-way traffic in the meadow, the air was filled with “Good job!” and “Looking awesome” as runners went by each other. Telling the truth (e.g. “Man, you look like death”) is not cricket.

And yet, after all that, I was in for a couple of surprises. With about three miles to go I got a burst of energy, picked up the pace, and began passing people, even someone who’d flown by me a half mile back. I crossed the finish line in just over six hours – nearly 45 minutes faster than my finish time at Gnaw Bone. For all my worries about tanking the race, I’d finished third in my age group and in the top 20 percent overall.

And all those folks who had passed me? They must have been running the shorter races – the marathon and half marathon, which shared a lot of the 50K course.

This guy's shirt read, "Raw Vegan 50K". As I kept up with him most of the race, I call that a victory for meat.

This guy’s shirt read, “Raw Vegan 50K”. As he was about half my age and I kept up with him most of the race, I call that a victory for meat.

After stretching, my standard post-race half beer, some lunch, and a nice rest on a blanket, I was much restored and able to admit I’d had a good time. Here were some other things to appreciate about the event:

- The Running Fit crew, who did their usual awesome job of setting up the event, supporting and tracking all the runners, and then cleaning up so thoroughly there was no clue on Sunday morning that they’d ever been there.

- The towels soaked in ice water at the Bug Pit (mile 20). Talk about a lifesaver.

- The jugs of water at mile 7.5, just where I needed it. Whoever put it there, thank you so much!

- The post-race lunch that included cold watermelon and portobello mushroom sandwiches

- The clouds covering the sky all day. I have no idea how I could have dealt with the sun being out.

One of the 50 mile finishers. On that course? Truly awesome!

One of the 50 mile finishers. On that course? Truly awesome!

Next up: the Pterodactyl Triathlon on Wednesday.

Between the Deep Blue Sea and the Devil

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you’re healthy today, take a moment to be actively grateful.

Hey, this lake has no lines painted on the bottom!

Okay, Kent Lake isn’t exactly deep and salty, but I needed a headline. Work with me here.

I’m nearing the end of one of my longer periods between races – in this case, my recently completed first triathlon and the upcoming Dances with Dirt 50K at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin.

In one sense, it turned out to be fortuitous timing. My wife contracted a nasty bug that knocked her flat and put her in the hospital for a week with intravenous antibiotics. The good news is that she responded well to treatment and will be discharged on Tuesday.

Sign on Wall - Healing in ProgressThis hospital works hard to put the focus on healing rather than suffering. They use warm colors and lots of wall decorations, visiting hours are not restricted, the food is good, and the doctors and nurses are friendly and polite. But even so, when I walk through those doors and to her room, it doesn’t take long for me to actively appreciate being healthy and fit. There isn’t much in this life that’s more important.


And of course an on-site coffee shop is essential.

And of course an on-site coffee shop is essential.

Some other random bits from this interlude…

On Sunday I swam for the first time since the triathlon. The time off didn’t make me any faster. (I can dream.) But I completed an 1,800 meter workout, including an 800, without much trouble, even after the 12/20 run & bike “brick” I did on Saturday. Given that the Pterodactyl Triathlon is only four days after Devil’s Lake, this was very encouraging.

B2B trail - St Joseph Mercy Hospital areaWith perfect weather all weekend, I was itching to get out on the bike, so I rode to the Saturday morning run, and from there to visit my wife. Along the way I discovered another part of Washtenaw County’s Border-to-Border Trail, which includes its own car-free bridge across the US 23 freeway. It’s so nice not to have to worry about entrance and exit ramps!

My run included two sets of 3-mile progressions: one mile at a 7:30 pace, the next at 7:15, and the third at 7:00. Our route wound through Barton Hills, where let’s just say Grand Canyon burros would feel right at home. So after setting my initial pace on the lone stretch of level ground, I ignored the watch and ran by feel.

“This will be hard!” my coach warned in her email. She was right – but it was entirely my fault. I’d come across an article on improving half marathon performance, and forwarded it to her. “What do you think about these workouts?” I’d asked.

“These are great, Jeff,” she wrote back, and promptly began assigning them to me. Apparently just reading about the workouts doesn’t improve performance nearly as much as actually doing them.

Next up: DWD Devil’s Lake! Given the elevation changes I see on the route map, Barton Hills will likely be a fond memory. I think the pre-race meal is mountain goat parmigiana.

DWD Devils Lake-50K elevation profile

Freedom to Run, and Freedom of the Run


You probably didn’t notice. There was no formal diplomatic announcement, or fireworks or anything. I just went for a run.

Running and freedom have been associated for a long time. After all, the original “Marathon” was run to announce the victory of the Athenians over the Persians, which preserved Greek independence. And the American Revolution has a famous “run” too, albeit by a horse. (Paul Revere was just along for the ride.)

Meme-NotJustRunningBut I think that running, and running the marathon in particular, embodies many of the characteristics we associate with being “American.” The feeling that we can accomplish anything if we put our mind to it. The willingness to work hard toward a goal, and the determination to see it through.

And as an individual sport, running captures the myth of the “rugged individualist” pioneer, dependent on no one else, whose success or failure in life was entirely his own. No matter how conventional a marathon runner may be in other areas of life, he or she harbors a spark of the rebel that says in this I answer to myself and no other.


Three years ago I stood in the starting queue of my first marathon, 35,000 other runners packed tight around me. As we shambled toward the starting line and then began to jog, then to run, I distinctly remember thinking: All the training, all the preparation, everything that led up to this moment is done. For the next four hours I have no other obligations, nothing else to worry about. The only thing I have to do is run.

And what a liberating feeling that was.

I wasn’t the only one with a feeling of freedom that day. A few miles in I spotted this woman ahead of me:

Desperate Mom

Having helped raise two active kids, I can fully understand why this mom considers marathons vital to her sanity.

But any good run can be liberating. Yesterday I worked late to finish some important tasks. When I got home I felt tired and mentally fatigued, I hadn’t had dinner, and there was the usual list of stuff to do at home. Time to declare a little independence! I changed clothes, slipped the headlamp on, and hit the road.

Wearing my new trail shoes, I ran dirt roads, including a couple I’d never been down before. I soon slipped into a comfortable pace and cruised along, body rejuvenated and mind clear. Like in Chicago, I could briefly imagine myself free of all other obligations, just being out there in the moment.

Until my cell phone went off.

For reasons I won’t go into here, it was necessary for me to stop and check what was going on. Fortunately, all was well, and I finished my run refreshed. But to me it’s another example of how our modern world, with all its wonderful technology and creature comforts, comes at a cost to our sense of freedom. Which makes those opportunities where we can really feel “free” so much more precious.

Team RWB-Liberty RunHappy 4th of July to everyone!


Dashing and Burning, But Not Jumping

HERE’S A RIDDLE FOR YOU. As I arrived at the Running Fit Dash & Burn Soiree last night, a sticker with a mystery name was slapped on my back, and I had to guess who I was using “20 questions”. Hokey, but it got people talking quickly and easily with other folks they didn’t know – which I figure was the idea. So who was I? Here’s what I found out before I guessed (answer at the end of this post).

I am a very famous man, fictional, who could be alive in today’s world or earlier. I am not in entertainment, science fiction, a detective, or romance novel character. I am not a vampire.

Other notables spotted at the party included GWB, Pocahontas, Huckleberry Finn, Captain Kirk, Katy Perry, and the Terminator (green Woodstock shirt) who, fortunately, never figured out who he was.

Other notables spotted at the party included GWB, Pocahontas, Huckleberry Finn, Captain Kirk, Katy Perry, and the Terminator (green Woodstock shirt) who, fortunately, never figured out who he was. Not sure if he’ll be back.

The Dash & Burn is the annual party for the lovely and talented volunteers who help out at Running Fit events, doing stuff like unwrapping medals, putting up tents, directing traffic (cars and people), registration, handing out water along the race course, and cleaning up afterwards. “All for a T-shirt,” as Running Fit owner Randy Step puts it. As a multiple-event volunteer, I can tell you that’s not true. You get pizza, too.

Trail run to the Dash and BurnThe D&BS takes place at a secret location in the deep, dark woods. It’s so secret that you need to achieve the 33rd level of the Sacred Order of the Goat (*) and run four miles blindfolded to get there. Or just volunteer for any Running Fit event. And you can walk a shorter path. And the blindfold is optional.

It was also the perfect time to try out my new Saucony Peregrine trail shoes. I want to use them for Devil’s Lake, and a 50K on a rocky, treacherous trail is not the occasion for breaking in new shoes. Breaking an ankle, perhaps, but not shoes.

Okay, here’s a final “who am I” hint: I am an imaginary person – and to everyone, not just the figment of one man’s twisted imagination.

See, it's more than just T-shirts.

See, it’s more than just T-shirts.

There was also a raffle of sorts for a pile of leftover race swag. You wrote a fun fact about yourself on a slip of paper. Then Randy read the slips out loud, and when you heard yours, you went to the swag table and picked something out. Many of the “fun facts” were ordinary, but there were a few good ones. Here was mine:

Fun Fact

No one said the “fact” had to be true. (It’s actually 48 years.) “How high can you jump?” Randy asked me, and I managed a six-inch vertical. Hey, I’ll embarrass myself in public for a free camp chair.

It was this couple's 20th wedding anniversary. Naturally, they celebrated at a mosquito-filled campground with lasagna and beer.

This couple’s fun facts: it was their 20th wedding anniversary. Naturally, they celebrated at a mosquito-filled campground with lasagna and beer.

Her fun fact was, “I got hit by a semi.” Seriously. Below is Amy Gluck, who was hit by a gravel truck two years ago on her bike while training for the Kona Ironman. She endured a medically induced coma and multiple surgeries. I wrote about the Ride for Amy fundraiser back in 2012, but hadn’t met her until now. Rock on, Amy!

Amy Gluck - 2

And I keep running into the amazing lady below. Actually, we carpooled to the party.

WMiA with "Mg Girl". I'll let you figure out what Mg stands for. Hint: it relates to the subject she's working toward an advanced degree in.

WMiA with “Mg Girl”. I’ll let you figure out what Mg stands for. Hint: it relates to the subject she’s working toward an advanced degree in.

All in all, a fun evening despite the mosquitoes who laughed at my bug spray. Guess I’ll keep on volunteering!

Okay, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer, assuming you had any to start with. (One can hope.) Here was my mystery identity:

My first guess was "God" but this is probably the next best thing.

Ho ho ho! Sigh – none of the cute chicks volunteered to sit in my lap.


(*) – It’s a Running Fit inside joke.

Tri-day the 18th

“BE SAFE OUT THERE,” the race organizer said, standing in the water by the inflatable dinosaur. “Grab onto a kayak if you need a break.” (He was looking at me. I know he was.)

Then he gave the “go signal” and my group splashed across the starting line and out into Kent Lake for the start of the Triceratops Triathlon.

This was not only my first triathlon, it was my first-ever swim of any distance in open water. But one thought was clear in my mind as we struck out for the first buoy: ain’t no way I’m gonna grab a kayak.

The staging area. You rack your bike here before the start, and come back for each transition.

The staging area. You rack your bike here before the start, and come back for each transition.

A triathlon is a swim, bike, and run event, completed in that order. Perhaps the most famous is the Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run (yes, a marathon) for 140.6 miles total. Other popular distances include the half Ironman (70.3 miles), the Olympic distance (51.5 km, or 32 miles), and the so-called “sprint triathlon” (0.5 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike ride, 5K run). The Running Fit T-Rex series I signed up for are sprints.

Triathlon gear. Clockwise from top right: swim cap in wave color, ankle strap with timing chip, bib for the run, bike tag with race number, "tri top" with the event's logo.

Triathlon gear. Clockwise from top right: swim cap in wave color, ankle strap with timing chip, bib for the run, bike tag with race number, “tri top” with the event’s logo. (Bike and bike gear shown separately.)

Most sprinters finish in 90 minutes or less, which means one can be squeezed into a weekday evening, as this one was. If  there was going to be a race, that is: a nasty thunderstorm knocked out power at home Wednesday morning, and the weather radar promised another set that afternoon. Fortunately, they’d come and gone by 5:00, so our 6:00 start had a comfortable water temperature (77 degrees) and air temps in the 60s, perfect for the bike and run.

Displaying a confidence he didn't entirely feel...

Displaying a confidence he didn’t entirely feel…

The swimming was my biggest worry. Never in my life had I done any meaningful distance, and I found out at a swim class in April just how much work I needed with form, breathing, and especially, endurance. I couldn’t swim more than 50 meters without stopping, and I needed to get to 800. With regular practice and some coaching, I reached it in late May – in the pool. Could I do that in the lake? I wasn’t so sure. But I’d decided no matter what, I wasn’t reaching for any kayaks.

The swim course. The kayaks help swimmers stay on course, rescue people in trouble, and provide float breaks to those who may need them.

The swim course. The kayaks help swimmers stay on course, rescue people in trouble, and provide float breaks to those who may need them.

The race started in waves (no pun intended) to minimize crowding in the water. When you’re swimming hard it’s difficult to see who’s around you, and everyone has his or her stories about getting elbowed and kicked. I got a little of that, but not much. Even better, my goggles never fogged up like they did in practice, and I was able to track the course buoys the entire way. Even though many swimmers passed me (along with a few turtles), I emerged from the water in one piece.


Run for your lives! It's the Creature from the White Lagoon!

Run for your lives! It’s the Creature from the White Lagoon!

Transitioning to the bike was reasonably smooth, the hardest part getting the gloves onto my wet hands, and I pretty much held my own, being passed by many better riders, but doing my share of passing as well. And “drafting” (staying close behind someone to take advantage of lessened air resistance) was not allowed in this event, which made a bike non-racer like me feel a lot safer.

Triceratops Bike GS - 0889

They write your race number on your arms with a grease pencil – and your age on the back of your calf. (Still lower than my race numbers, for the time being.)

Then it was off with the bike shoes and into the running shoes for the 5K. My legs were stiff and heavy at first (as was everyone’s), and someone looking at us runners for that first quarter mile might have wondered which senior citizen’s facility had just had a massive escape. But I got my legs back and finished with a strong time, feeling good. I was a triathlete!

Triceratops Run GS - 411

The race results show my swim, bike, and run splits separately, along with where I placed in each category. As expected, I was slow in the swim. Turned out I was in the middle on the bike portion, and strong in the run – in the top 15 percent. The “T1″ and “T2″ are my times in transition from one activity to the next. T1 is from end of the swim to the start of the bike, and T2 is from the end of the bike portion to the start of the run.

My race resultsSo, in all there are five opportunities for improvement in the remaining two triathlons. However, as my next one comes just four days after the Devil’s Lake 50K, I’ll not try to set my sights too high.

Next up – some time off of training, which I’m already enjoying more than I oughta. Then Devil’s Lake on July 12.

This group I lined up with here pack some power. Chrissy (second from left) is my swimming coach. She was the second overall woman finisher. Michael, leftmost, is her husband, and finished seventh overall. To my immediate left is Tracy, who also runs ultramarathons and is also an Ironman. Yikes!

This group I lined up with here packs some power. Chrissy (second from left) is my swim coach and was the second overall woman finisher. Next to me is her husband Michael, who finished seventh overall. Leftmost is Tracy, who also runs ultramarathons and is an Ironman. Yikes!

Muscle Power

I hope all my fellow fathers had a great Father’s Day yesterday! I got to spend part of my Sunday with DD #2, who kept an eye on me while I took a pre-triathlon practice swim in Kent Lake. This Wednesday is the big day!

Open water swimming is different from the pool, all right. When my goggles fogged up I couldn’t see the buoys and wound up zigzagging all over the place. Fortunately I didn’t head butt one, or take out any kids.

Hey, this lake has no lines painted on the bottom!

Hey, this lake has no lines painted on the bottom!

Afterward, we celebrated with Bigalora pizza for dinner. If there’s a Bigalora in your area, find the time to try it. Their pizza is made in the Napoletana style, with a fermented dough (the “biga” part), wood-fired with a thin crispy crust. It’s not cracker-crunchy like I had in Italy, but it’s close. And there’s less sauce and cheese than the standard American pizza, but I think there’s more flavor in them, and the toppings are large enough that you can actually taste them.

Bigalora Pizza - Fathers Day

Saturday was Flag Day, an appropriate day for the Liberty Run, part of the Liberty Festival in Canton. This event became particularly famous in 2012, when a record was set for the most runners dressed as the Statue of Liberty. It’s amazing what can get into the Guinness Book, isn’t it. No such grand statement this year, but still a great turnout, and plenty of colorful costumes.

Liberty Run costumes 1-2

Liberty Run costume - 3

Posing with medal, mug for completing the "Uncle Sam Slam" (5K + 10K), and age group award glass. Ah, sweet swag - isn't that the American Dream?

Posing with medal, mug for completing the “Uncle Sam Slam” (5K + 10K), and age group award glass. Ah, sweet swag – isn’t that the American Dream?

There were two races offered that morning – a 5K and a 10K. You can guess what I chose. (Yep. Both.)

I ran a good strong time in the 5K, and then jogged the 10K, where I got a reminder that “run easy” does not mean “run stupid”. Early in the 10K I stopped to snap a photo, causing the runner behind me to run into me. All I can say is that I wasn’t thinking. From then on I made sure to pull over to the side to take a picture.

Also part of the Liberty Festival was a “muscle car” exhibit, consisting of hot rods dating from the 1930s to the 1960s. All of them were in amazing condition, showing the care and attention their owners have spent on them.

82 years old and still smokin' hot.

82 years old and still smokin’ hot.

Needs no introduction.

Needs no introduction.

At the time I wasn’t looking for an analogy, but I tripped over it anyway. Maybe we don’t have the time, money, or desire to restore and maintain a vintage muscle car, but we all ought to take a strong interest in keeping ourselves running smoothly for a long time. The formula for doing so is simple and straightforward; eat right and exercise regularly. And yet those who track such things say that over one-third of Americans are seriously overweight, which is known to lead to health problems. Why is proper care of oneself so hard for many people to do?

I’m not suggesting that people get off the couch and run an Ironman, like fellow blogger Mario Sanchez did at age 55, or become a two-a-day racing fool like me. But I am suggesting that people at least get off the couch.

I realize with many of my readers I’m preaching to the choir, but if not – what’s holding you back? Find something enjoyable that engages your muscles. Run, bike, climb rocks, swim, play a sport. Or just walk. Your body will thank you for it. And you can enjoy that Bigalora pizza without feeling guilty.