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April 4, 2008

Strawberry Runners Forever

A few random notes before we get to today’s post …

* Has anyone else noticed that Panic At the Disco got rid of their exclamation point? They used to be called Panic! At the Disco, but with the release of their new album, the exclamation point has vanished. It’s like Elaine Benes became their agent or something (an old Seinfeld joke, sorry … ). I’d love to hear the thought process and/or discussion that accompanied the change – I imagine it was considered as seriously as when Federal Express changed its official name to FedEx. There must be a reason - and now I’m intrigued. And I’ve spent way more time than I care to admit wondering about this.

* Also, I swam nearly 40 yards underwater yesterday: a full lap, a push off the wall, and almost 6 lanes (out of 8) across the opposite direction. You’ve probably forgotten this post, but the 50-yard thing is still a goal of mine – one that I’m inching closer to with each passing week.

* Finally, because some people have asked: I’m not saying another word about a certain athletic tournament that concludes this weekend. I showed my cards a few weeks ago – and now I’m going to leave well enough alone.

That’s it – the random stuff is short and sweet today. As for the post … not so much.


I’ve frequently mentioned my strawberry passion in this blog – and with strawberry season upon us again, it was fairly easy for me to combine that topic with a snapshot from the Big Sur Marathon to create a Monterey Herald article.

If you were a reader of my blog a couple years back, parts of this piece might sound vaguely familiar, but I reworded most of it in a more general fashion to appeal to anyone preparing to run Big Sur. Because - just to remind you – this year, I’m not a participant, but merely a neutral observer of this fantastic race.

The article is also an olive branch of sorts, extended to our local agricultural industry (a VERY heavy hitter in the Salinas Valley), many of whom were angered by this article I published last summer describing some of the conditions field workers encounter on a daily basis. Hopefully they’ll remove me from their most wanted list, and take my mug shot down from my favorite produce stands, so I can buy strawberries with a clear conscience again.


Running Life 3/30/08 “Strawberry Runners Forever”

It’s springtime in Monterey County, which means one thing for local runners: an abundance of fresh strawberries.

OK, that’s not entirely true – it also means warmer temperatures, extended daylight hours, and making final preparations for the Big Sur Marathon in April. But runners also have plenty of reasons to celebrate the local strawberry bounty.

Strawberries are one of most prominent crops of the Salinas Valley from April through September. They’re also a nutritional superfood for athletes, with many restorative benefits that help us with our training. And if that wasn’t enough, they play a starring role in the most beautiful marathon in North America.

Nutritional Benefits

Each serving of our local strawberries provides a full day’s supply of Vitamin C, and powerful antioxidant protection to help the body heal and repair. Strawberries are a rich source of phenols that help strengthen cell structures in the body and prevent cellular damage in all of the body's organ systems. Distance running typically causes chronic, microscopic damage to muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissue structures in the body; the antioxidants found in strawberries help to counteract this.

The phenol content of strawberries has also been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer – but the most remarkable medicinal quality is their role as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Healing properties of strawberries include the ability to lessen activity of an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase. This enzyme is usually referred to as COX, and is responsible for causing inflammation and pain, especially in people who suffer from arthritis. Strawberry phenols naturally inhibit production of this enzyme.

If this sounds familiar, it should: most COX inhibitors are better known by their pharmaceutical name – non-steroidal anti-imflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – or by brand names such as Advil or Motrin. So the next time you’re feeling sore after a hard workout, a tall, cold strawberry smoothie may be the perfect concoction to decrease soreness and help your muscles recover quickly. (Not to mention, they taste fantastic.)

Marathon Refreshment

It’s a fitting combination then, for Monterey County’s finest crop to team up with its finest road race – the Big Sur Marathon, on the last Sunday of April. The wonderful strawberries make a most welcome appearance at the most difficult point of the race.

Experienced Big Sur runners grow to dread one portion of the Marathon above all others: miles 21-24 through Carmel Highlands, where the road rises and falls mercilessly, and when runners are in their most fragile mental and physical state. It’s the stretch of road where enjoyable or successful marathons can quickly unravel.

There is, however, one outpost of comfort and relief during this daunting stretch of the race: the strawberry station at mile 23. A group of Highlands residents stand alongside race volunteers to hand out fresh strawberries to weary runners struggling towards the finish line.

Runners who know of the strawberry station speak of it in reverential tones, like travelers journeying towards a holy shrine. Those who don’t know the station is coming feel their hearts leap with joy and hope when they come across it. Afterwards many runners report that the strawberries were one of the most pleasant experiences of race day.

Of course, some marathoners feel too hurried to stop for the berries. They may be wary of eating something unfamiliar, or paranoid about losing precious seconds by slowing down to indulge. Or maybe they’re fearful that if they stopped, they might enjoy the moment so much that they’d decide to kick their feet up and stay a while.

Those runners are missing something truly special. Almost everyone who has stopped at the strawberry station considers it one of the highlights of his or her race. The thought of fresh berries in the distance helps keep them moving through the hardest miles of the race, and once they recharge their batteries with nature’s superfruit, they have more energy to conquer the final 5K.

Thankfully, runners who skip the aid station won’t completely miss out on the strawberry bounty at Big Sur – because one of the things awaiting them at the buffet table in the finisher’s tent is an enormous stack of strawberry crates. So in addition to bagels and water and energy bars, all runners leave the course with a full basket of Monterey County strawberries.

The strawberries are usually the first items I consume, and they never fail to be absolutely delicious. Maybe it’s the circumstances of complete exhaustion or post-race satisfaction, but those post-race strawberries are always among the best things I’ve ever tasted.

So this spring - whether you’re racing a marathon or not - be sure to incorporate this powerful little berry into your running routine. I’m certain that you’ll be happy with the results.


21stCenturyMom 4/3/08, 11:46 PM  

I've been making protein powder shakes with strawberries lately and you know what - I'M SUPER FAST!

Okay - maybe not super fast but I've had some good runs. Who knew it was the berries?

craig 4/3/08, 11:47 PM  

I had no idea strawberries were so good on so many levels. Thanks for the info.

Downhillnut 4/4/08, 6:18 AM  

Just when I thought I'd managed to rationalize Big Sur off my "Bucket List", you bring up another reason to keep it on there.

Straaaawwwwberries, mmmmmmm.

robtherunner 4/4/08, 7:24 AM  

You certainly leave me wanting some fresh strawberries after my run. Hopefully, I will be able to taste the ones served at Big Sur in the coming years. I know, I've mentioned getting to the race just about everytime you write about it.

Deene 4/4/08, 7:43 AM  

great article! it's a good olive branch.

See Zanne Run 4/4/08, 7:47 AM  

oh this is a great post! i'm a real food on the run girl - can't handle those energy gels. i was getting tired of bananas & clementines - adding strawberries to my list now! thanks!

Backofpack 4/4/08, 8:41 AM  

I can't wait!

I'll think of strawberries tomorrow, at Yakima, while I'm slurping my coke, and eating rice krispie treats. How's that for race food of the gods?

David 4/4/08, 4:06 PM  

Strawberries have been absolutely succulent this season in Florida. I have been enjoying the those big firm juicy red morsels for weeks now.

Plant City FL is our heartland for strawberries.

Rainmaker 4/4/08, 7:12 PM  

Doh! I stopped in front of the strawberries at the grocery store a few hours ago (they were on sale too!), but ultimately decided against it. I did get ice cream though. :)

Anne 4/5/08, 5:51 AM  

Seriously, Donald, are you sure you're not on the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce's dole? You just make that place sound like heaven.

And I hope the same people who convinced Panic to drop the exclamation point move on to Yahoo!

Brian 4/5/08, 7:14 PM  

Uh that was kind of geeky, science-boy. And you're always mocking me for getting all up-and-scientific-on-your-parade.

Hey, are you going to take it easy this week or go into Diablo beat up?

triguyjt 4/6/08, 10:41 AM  

very interesting on the strawberries....

huge irony is that i picked up some this am....i don't usually buy strawberries.... hummmmm!!

Addy 4/6/08, 3:38 PM  

mmm...strawberries! I love them so much. I'm not a huge fruit person, but they are my favorites!

Reading your other article made me think of the parents of many of the students I've worked with, who work in those very fields. We've been learning more about what it means to be a migrant family, and the specific strains it puts on the children, who are moved from place to place to follow the harvesting crops.

Jen in Budapest 4/7/08, 1:53 AM  

I found your blog through Rob and just looking for training inspiration. Thanks for the info on strawberries. Who knew.

Also, I'm jealous of your spring time weather. I'm originally from Northern Nevada and familiar with Monterey in the spring time! Enjoy some of that ocean for me, would you? I'm land locked at the moment and cold too...the rain is still falling over here.

Zach 4/7/08, 10:00 AM  

40 yards under water is pretty freakin impressive!

Nice to read about the strawberries - we bought a four pound container of them this weekend and I baked a pie. Now I have even more reason to eat an extra slice after dinner.

jen 4/7/08, 3:47 PM  

Well Zach beat me to it but let me add that this strawberry pie is to die for! We have tons of strawberries left over too. I could eat them for every meal. :)

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