Do you know what the best part of a marathon is? The last half-mile. That’s where my parents found me in the Napa Valley Marathon and took these photos. You can see my finish-line exhaustion, then euphoria. I was really, really happy to see them.

Napa Valley looks more rugged than refined this time of year. Even if the land costs $200,000 per acre and the tasting fees cost $35 per sip, Mother Nature still pulls on her Carhartts in the spring. Gnarled vines were black against the flush of springtime grasses and yellow mustard wildflowers. Clouds and rain showers clung low to the hills—much to my mom’s sunshine-loving chagrin.

Cramping muscles nearly derailed my race. I had to cajole and sweet-talk my right hamstring through the final miles the way some people talk to their pets. Come on, Buddy, let’s go, and then a firm jerk of the leash forward. I made it, but my persistence came with a penance. By Monday the muscle soreness had migrated south into both of my calves, calcifying them, and leaving me about as mobile as a flat-footed Skipper doll… or a 90-year-old without her walker… or a geriatric golden retriever. You get the idea.

Which is to say this week has been all about recovery and refueling. Initially I planned to recreate some amazing polenta fries that we ate post-race at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena, but a nutrition lecture I attended on Tuesday stopped me short.

Stacy Sims, PhD, an exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist at Stanford who consults for Carmichel Training Systems and Team RadioShack, reminded me to go easy on “The Big Four” (soy, corn, rice, wheat). Her presentation, Nutrition for Health and Performance, had a lot of useful pointers for everyday nutrition as well as specifics for racers—especially cyclists and runners. You can read the details here.

I asked her point-blank what a marathoner should do if she can’t walk down stairs yet.

Her advice?

  1. Get a light massage
  2. Go aquajogging
  3. Hydrate
  4. Eat protein

As instructed, I dusted off my water-wings today. And I plan to cook this Polynesian-inspired dish again soon. Race or no race, I love this meal and return to it again and again.

I won’t pretend it’s perfect recovery food. The shrimp and coconut milk connive together to elevate the cholesterol of the meal, but they’re an exotically scrumptious pair. The sweet potato is wholesomely filling, the curry spicy, and the ginger-cilantro combo packs a one-two punch. Most importantly, shrimp has protein and modest levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which I’m told will help hasten the end of my hobbling. Here’s hoping.

Curried Shrimp on a Sweet Potato

Recipe from The Washington Post

1 serving

1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed clean (about 6 ounces)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and cut crosswise into thin slices

1/4 medium red bell pepper, cut into very thin strips (julienne; about 1/4 cup total)

1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste (or good-quality Indian curry powder)

3 tablespoons low-fat coconut milk

4 ounces any-size uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into pieces

Salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Use a fork or sharp knife to prick the sweet potato in several places. Place on a piece of aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 60 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender and can be easily squeezed.

(Alternatively, to speed up the process, the pricked sweet potato can be microwaved on high for 1 minute, then carefully transferred to the oven and seated on a piece of foil. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the potato is tender.)

Heat the oil in a medium heavy skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes or until it becomes fragrant and starts to soften. Add the bell pepper and cook for 2 to 4 minutes or until the strips lose their crunch. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then add the curry paste and coconut milk, stirring to thoroughly combine. Add the shrimp and stir to incorporate. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or just until the shrimp are firm and opaque. Season with salt to taste; remove from the heat.

When the sweet potato has finished baking, place it on a serving plate. Use a sharp knife to make a centered, lengthwise slit in the top, pinching the potato on each end to expose the flesh and make a pocket for the filling. Spoon on the shrimp mixture and sprinkle with the cilantro. Serve hot.