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On Not Running (+ Cherry Pie)

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea. ~ Isak Dinesen

The other night at the gym I was grumpily pounding (or rather, lightly treading) away at the elliptical machine watching some mindless show or other, thinking about chocolate cake and baking with molasses (perhaps not at the same time, however), and just feeling good to sweat a bit, when I realized that I am not a very patient person. I try, truly I do — it seems each year one of my personal resolutions goes something along the lines of cultivate patience — but it’s hard for me. I can take a setback, but not for very long. I can have a cold, but I will still work and play and move through it. I get irritated if I can’t; it’s not really a word I entertain very often. Which perhaps is a good thing?

Anyway, as I sweated and pondered Sarah Jessica Parker’s dubious choices in footwear and thought about chocolate cake, and about baking with molasses, contemplated my impatience and wished to be anywhere else, the other, resounding thought that lately growls at the back of my mind was: I want to run.

Oh — I really, really do.

For the past six weeks or so (actually I know exactly how long it’s been: since June 19, when I ran 12 miles in less than two hours up and down the hilly backroads of Sebastopol through a sunny early morning) I haven’t run much. Sure I’ve gritted through a few six-milers here and there as well as one particularly awful 10-miler way back at the beginning of July because see above about impatience and inability to sit still and also denial, but for the most part I’ve been not running. It’s been … an experience.

See — I run. I run. Running is a part of me, inextricable from my blood and bones. It’s not just a thing I do; I rarely let a week go by without a run, and most weeks I run at least four times, in varying distances of four to sixteen miles (often much less, but you know). I run for health, mental, physical, and spiritual; I run to get outside; I run to feel good; I run to sweat and to feel better; I run to feel strong; I run simply to be: in the moment, outside, through fog and sun both.

I guess running’s kind of my thing. It has stood me through many years and many moves and many continents and coasts, my constant and my familiar. This spring I had a resurgence of energy and was running better than I have in years, and was on track to run a half-marathon at the end of July here in San Francisco (this past weekend, sob!) in less than two hours (small confession: I actually was planning to run the full marathon. Yes, I am nuts. But …!). I was cramming in 10-milers after work and sort of wishing I had time for more. It felt good. It felt damned good. I was racking up the miles and chasing faster times and on some days it like I was flying. It was sort of amazing.

But, you know. I probably was pushing it a bit too much. Then I foolishly ran in worn-out shoes (be you not like me, please, I beg you) and gave myself the worst case of shin splints I’ve ever experienced. I could barely walk, let alone run. I even went to a doctor! (I never go to doctors.) He, also a runner, told me I’d nearly given myself a stress fracture and hurt my poor muscles so badly I’d need to take at least a month off (though he, the lovely man that he is, did grimace in sympathy as he told me this). And so I have been not-running — not even for the bus! I am dutifully icing and ‘taking it easy’ and doing the gym thing and grinning and bearing it (sorta) but let me tell you: this is hard. Yes, it’s ‘only’ a couple months, but ask any runner what he or she feels when running is off the table for awhile and no doubt you will receive the same answer: I am going slightly crazy. I miss it. It is a daily absence. Also: whinge x 100.

So what to do? Turn to the kitchen, of course. As a way to corral myself into being patient, distract myself from the not-running, and also to make up for some of the grumpiness pain and disruption of routine creates (and to which I’ve unfortunately subjected those around me), there’s been some baking. (OK, yes, fine — when is there not baking? Still.) I’ve baked with my left leg propped up on a chair to give it a break during the worst of it, and I’ve baked after a bike ride around the neighborhood (slight bonus to not-running: you are forced to explore other avenues, which for me means a bit of bike riding which, yeah. I’m going to be keeping that one up.) when I was feeling a little better. I’ve baked chocolate cakes and cookies and banana-cinnamon muffins and caramel cake and a pretty sweet cherry pie …

… which is my way of saying after all that moaning about: here’s a recipe for you, at long last, that I hope you’ll make this weekend. Wait — are cherries still even in season? If not, tuck it away for next summer. Because honestly, this is the most delicious, the most decadently summery pie I’ve ever made and I wish I had made it more than once. It eased the disappointment, smoothed over the non-running grump a bit, and, wonder of wonders, helped me cultivate some of that elusive patience I’m always wishing for (cherry pitting is not for the faint of heart, but put on some Gillian Welch and let your mind go. It’s oddly soothing.). I’m learning to pin it down with me to stay for awhile; hard when my body wants to gallop on ahead fecklessly. I’ve been dreaming of running lately, that it’s easy and swift again, and that I can go farther than even I ever did. Pitting cherries, making pie dough, sifting sugar — it helps me stay in the present moment. And I am learning to bide my time … mostly.

I’m heading off to the mountains today with some of my favorite people, to sleep out under the stars and breathe that clean, dry air and drink (filtered) water from snow-melt and cook outside every night and s-l-o-w down. Pictures and stories upon my return.

[print_this]Sweet Cherry Pie

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4-6 Tbsp ice water

4 cups pitted fresh cherries (about 2 1/2 pounds unpitted)
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar (adjust this according to the sweetness of your cherries)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter, fork, or simply your hands. Mix and crumble together until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time, tossing and stirring with a fork until it just holds together. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in fridge at least 1/2 hour. Remove and let warm up a bit about 5 minutes before you plan to roll it out.

Meanwhile, stir together the cherries, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon and almond extract gently together in a large bowl.

Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter pie dish (glass or pottery). Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.

Spoon filling into pie crust, discarding the majority of the liquid that has pooled in the bowl. Dot the filling with the bits of cold butter.

Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.

Bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F. and bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack.

Devour, preferably with vanilla ice cream.[/print_this]


  1. So sorry to hear, Nicole. I also had an injury from doing too much too quickly (on a much smaller scale ) and it was sad/hard to let it all go. But you will be back!

  2. My sentiments EXACTLY. I went back to the doctor today and have 2 more weeks with my air cast. I can start to add biking back and swimming (which I don’t even like to do or have a gym to do it in) this week, no yoga even for 10 more days, and who knows when I will be able to run again. I’m traveling with friends to Madison, WI next weekend for a half, I can no longer run. I miss running so much friend. So much.

  3. Girl, I feel ya! My last decent run was a 15-miler through the Marina/Pac Heights the day before I left for Hawaii in April. Since then, I’ve run a handful of six-milers (and logged a few days at the gym) and…nothing else. Admittedly, I lost motivation when I found out I was going around the world and had to sell my Chicago Marathon bib for the fall, but still. Not sure either if there’s any point trying to get my running back when I leave in 12 days!

  4. Ugh. I know what it is to not be able to run. There are decent consolations, but none that are really enough. And as far as patience goes, well it is a nice idea. I appreciate very much the concept of it, but in order for patience to work in my brain, I have to redefine it. I just read something about this that said instead of patience, “trust your struggle.” Somehow this resonated better for me. If I am preoccupied trusting my struggle, then at least I won’t be doing that thing where I SAY I’m being patient but really what I’m doing is just waiting to find a better/new/different way. So, I am trusting my struggle.

    Yes, that is what I’m going with.

  5. Wow I’m the exact opposite. I hate running. I do. Somehow I got wrangled into running a half marathon and now I have to run. Have to. And I’m grumpy about it. That said… if I was told I couldn’t swim I be making pies all over the place!

  6. I think every runner knows your pain. I injured myself (in the glute) on July 9–I ran a fast 5k in the humidity then added on another 6 miles. And for three weeks afterwards I couldn’t run. And I nearly went crazy. The only thing saving me were jokes about injuring my arse. This is my first week wading back in and yes it’s painful, but it feels so good. Remember–it will come back!

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