Zombies Among Us (featuring Creamed Spinach)

mile 1The biggest problem with dating an ultra-runner is how unimpressive your small daily achievements seem in comparison.  My boyfriend, Shannon, ran 8 ultra-marathons (marathons longer than 26.2 miles) in 2012, bringing his race and training mileage to around 3500 miles in just one calendar year. 3500 miles- the distance from New York to Los Angeles, on foot.

I’m still in a great deal of denial about the whole thing.

One of the perks of dating an ultra-runner, however, is that you get to cheer them on in some truly amazing places.  This past January, we traveled to Hawaii so he could compete in one of the hardest ultra-marathons in the world; The H.U.R.T. 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Shannon apres H.U.R.T.
Shannon apres H.U.R.T.

“Compete” is actually the wrong word.  Most 100 mile races are so challenging that the runners try to concentrate more on finishing than finishing first.  I learned a lot on this trip while listening to racers tell stories about how desperately they wanted to quit mid-race but reached deep within themselves and found the emotional and physical fortitude to continue on.

But wait a minute.  Back to me.

I had booked a catering job in New York the day that H.U.R.T. began, so we decided that I would fly to Hawaii to meet Shannon the following day somewhere near the finish line.  We knew it would take him approximately 30-36 hours to finish the course, which drags runners up and down the 1800 foot Mt. Tantalus a total of 15 times; while navigating ropey banyan roots, rocky riverbeds, and Jurassic-era plant specimens.  I could prep, cook, and serve a dinner for 40 people; get a full night’s sleep; get myself all packed up, and travel for 14 hours in the time it took for him to run the race.

As soon as my plane touched the ground, I checked H.U.R.T.’s website to see Shannon’s stats.  He had finished the race in 35 hours and was waiting for me in town.  I was breathless with anticipation though totally exhausted from my long day of travel (a fact that would become irrelevant as soon as I saw him).

The finish line at any marathon is a bit like a zombies anonymous meeting, but at ultras it’s ridiculous.  The momentary adrenalin rush from breaking the virtual tape quickly switches into a full collapse of motor functions.

Zombies or marathoners?
Zombies or marathoners?

The racers stumble to their friends and their stuff, trying to communicate their needs with simple grunts and gestures.  Shannon was three hours past completion when I tossed him into my cab and sped him toward our hotel.  He was tired and war-torn but able to communicate two things: that he never wanted to run that horrible, torturous race ever again; and that he needed a steak.

I asked the man checking us into our Waikiki hotel if there were any nearby restaurants where we could get a good steak.  He exclaimed, “Yeah! Sure!!!” sounding appropriately beachy.  By now, Shannon had the look of a seasoned junkie; nodding out and waking up again and again as we stood at the main desk.  I tried to explain to the hotel staff that he had just completed a marathon but they seemed well acquainted and unimpressed with the nuances of the probably inebriated vacationer.

I helped Shannon walk slowly across the street to grab the last seating in a very nice steakhouse.  steakhouseI tried my best to keep Shannon talking, thinking that if he could just conversate, he wouldn’t fall asleep.  By that time, he had been awake for 43 hours; 35 of those running up and down mountains.  I knew we didn’t have long before he would just be out cold.   With closing eyelids, Shannon ordered a large steak, onion rings, roasted potatoes, a wedge salad, Buffalo wings, potato skins, and creamed spinach.  I kept my opinions to myself.  This wasn’t my first time at the post-ultra-rodeo.

Our table was soon overwhelmed with plates of food, from which I scooped portions for myself (I was exhausted and starving too by now).  Three bites in and I looked up to see Shannon falling asleep face-first into his creamed spinach.

“Shannon.”  I leaned in to wake him.  He did not move.

“Shannon.” Louder now.  Nothing.

“SHANNON!”  My vocal tone had transformed from the sweet, caretaking girlfriend to the guttural boom of a mother whose child is in trouble.  It was the sort of sound that would stop my dogs dead in their tracks; not blaring, just impactful.  Shannon woke up abruptly, his nose just touching the spinach.

“Time to go.”   And we had the whole meal doggie-bagged.

Shannon passed out the moment his head hit the pillow but woke up around 4:30 in the morning and scarfed up every tiny morsel of that food, only then to pass out for another good, long stretch.IMG_4830

Last night, for Valentine’s dinner, he suggested we recreate a version of that meal at home.  It was incredibly delicious as well as romantic.  He made steak au poivre, I made rosemary potatoes and creamed spinach.  Toward the end, he leaned in and said those words every girl longs to hear.  “You know I have to run that race again.”

Yeah, I knew.  Of course, I knew.

We eat almost as much spinach as Popeye in our household.  Shannon loves creamed spinach because he can get a highly nutritious side that’s also got calories for him to burn off.  I like it because it tastes good and gives me the impetus to join him at the gym.   I make mine with a little pinch of cayenne to give it a little kick and play with the sweetness of the nutmeg and cream.  I think it’s a perfect taste combination, especially after you run 100 miles.

Creamed Spinach
Creamed Spinach

Creamed Spinach

  • 1 ½ pounds baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream

In a large sauté pan, heat a little water and then add half the spinach.  Toss the spinach to wilt it for about 3 minutes, then transfer to a colander over the sink.  Add second half of spinach to hot water and repeat wilting.  Drain in colander, taking time to squeeze out extra water.  Chop coarsely.

Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bay leaf, cayenne, and peppercorns; sauté until onion is soft but not brown, about 3 minutes. Whisk in flour, salt, and nutmeg. Cook until mixture is pale gold and has nutty aroma, whisking constantly about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk. Boil until thick, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Strain béchamel sauce into a medium bowl.

Heat cream in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Add béchamel; whisk until mixture is smooth and begins to simmer. Add spinach and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


16 thoughts on “Zombies Among Us (featuring Creamed Spinach)”

    • Hugh,
      Sounds good! Would you add the dry mustard instead of the cayenne?
      And I hope your surgery was a success and you’re up and around again soon!

  • You’re more right than you know. Not only was I out there on the HURT course with Shannon, but depending on which year the photo was taken I might have even been in that very same crowd of San Francisco zombies.

    • Strarchy,
      You’re hysterical! I think I remember you from your emotional finish in the HURT video montage. Fantastic job all the way around- good running, good zombie ways, good tears of joy.
      And I love the name. PERFECT for an ultra runner!

  • Hey Alison,

    That was the most entertaining race report I’ve ever read, and that includes my own! You even included a recipe! That’s fantastic. What a catch, Shannon!

    • Byron,
      I’m really happy to get such a positive reaction from so many runners. You guys are the best! Thanks so much for the support.

  • Toward the end, he leaned in and said those words every girl longs to hear. “You know I have to run that race again.”

    Love it. Shannon shared this race report in Ultra list I a glad I read it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Naresh,
      Welcome to the blog! I’m thrilled that you loved the story. Please take a look at some of the other posts too. They’re not all about races, but they all have great recipes.
      Thanks again for checking my blog out!

  • Judith,
    It’s crazy right? Crazy but inspiring.
    I think your arugula is a genius addition. Let me know how it turns out.

  • great insight into the world of things
    other people do,that i would never DREAM of doing. 35 hours running. jiminy. good eats though. gonna make the creamed spinach(with a touch of arugula)

  • Congrats to Shannon….as a runner myself, I can’t for a minute even comprehend anything over a marathon (which I’ve never done either). Makes me think of that age-old question: Why did the man climb the mountain? Because it was there!! Why did Shannon run 100 miles?? Because he could!! That’s f*ing amazing! Give thaat man all the creamed spinache he wants (and anything else, for that matter). I’m in awe!!

    • Thanks Kim! I showed your post to Shannon and he blushed. I promise I’ll give him whatever he wants.
      Thanks for the continued support!

  • SUCH a cute pic of Shannon!! AND of the creamed spinach – which is a big fav in our house. Looking forward to making your version.

    • Betty,
      I’ll tell Shannon you like the pic. If you make the spinach, please let me know how it turns out!

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