I have done a foolhardy thing. I signed up for another marathon. In Napa Valley, to be precise.

This will be marathon number six for me. Numbers four and five unfolded two years ago and within five weeks of each other, a mathematically reckless decision that cured my itch to run 26.2 miles in one go. That is until very recently.

Earlier this winter I paced a friend for the last six miles of her first post-baby marathon. The cheering of the crowd, the adrenaline thick like water, the hazy burning hamstrings, and the exuberance on her face as she rounded the final corner—it’s hard to explain the heady, irresistible appeal of this epic race, but it’s there.

A quick lesson in pharmaceuticals should help explain the quixotic attraction.

The word endorphins, it turns out, is short for “endogenous morphine,” meaning literally “morphine produced by your own body.” Endorphins bind to the same receptors in cells as one of the most powerful opiate drugs, meaning when people talk about the runner’s high, it’s no exaggeration. I’ll get my fix on March 6.

Other long-distance runners know I’m not the only one. Spring marathon season across the country is knocking at the door. Which creates the conundrum: What do you eat after your long training runs?

I’d wager even the most dedicated home cook is ready to reach for a jar of Skippy and sliced bread after a three-hour run. After all those miles, the prospect of standing in the kitchen chopping, steaming, and sautéing begins to have the appeal of a Siberian gulag. Yet your body is craving real food—the antithesis of an anemic, gummy sport gel or Cliff Bar—and another PB&J or bowl of cereal with its spray-on vitamins can only help you recover so well.

Today I want to share the hearty Provencal stew recipe that saved me when I was training for the Boston Marathon in 2008. It’s a simple make-ahead dish that you can reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave while you take a hot shower. I was grateful for the flavorful broth and satisfying combination of proteins and carbohydrates after chilly winter morning runs along the C&O Canal. But even in California this stew nourishes all the same.

The original recipe calls for chicken but I prefer it with Italian sausage. This weekend I tried another variation with pancetta and leeks instead of chicken and celery since that’s what I had in the house. The recipe is highly adaptable.

I stumbled across the dish in The Washington Post a couple years back, though the first version of the recipe belongs to Runner’s World magazine. The portion size below only make 3 servings, so I almost always double it. It takes about 75 minutes to make, start to finish.

Provencal Stew

Adapted from The Washington Post

Herbes de Provence, called for in this recipe, is a mixture that usually includes basil, thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage, summer savory, and/or fennel seeds. You can find it in the spice rack in larger grocery stores.

The recipe makes just enough to give you some, but not too many, leftovers. Divide the finished stew into thirds; freeze the remaining 2 individual portions for up to 3 months.

3 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 or 2 links of sausage, sliced (or a 2 slices pancetta or bacon)

1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges

1 stalk celery, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (or for variation, try 1 leek)

1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

14 ounces canned diced tomatoes, plus their juices

2 medium skin-on red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, crushed*

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

* If you have fresh herbs, you can improvise with a blend of rosemary, thyme, and lavender.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage or pancetta and cook, turning the pieces occasionally, for 2 to 5 minutes or until they have browned on all sides. Remove from the pot and set aside on a plate.

Add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add the cooked sausage or pancetta (whichever you’re using) back into the pot.

Add the broth, tomatoes with their juice, potatoes, herbes de Provence, salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Serve hot.

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