How ‘Normal People’ Eat: Mark Wood

Except for a few strategic and distinguished looking gray hairs, Mark Wood looks almost exactly like he did back in 1987, when he and I ran the Indiana Daily Student at IU.

Mark before his most recent race, the Boulevard Bolt

Now the director of digital development at the Tennessean in Nashville, he’s a runner and slow food connoisseur who’d just returned from some fine meals in Italy when I last saw him, back in September at the IU School of Journalism’s Centennial Celebration.

I’d already interviewed Mark’s wife and co-worker, Karen-Lee Ryan, my good friend and former roommate while I was interning in Washington D.C. for a few months after college.  These two have become such a team that it’s hard for me to imagine them separately.

Still, I was curious whether Mark’s dining habits were a mirror image of Karen-Lee’s, or whether he brought something different to the table, so to speak. Here’s what he had to say:

Q. I think of you and Karen-Lee as such a team in everything you do, and it sounds like you have the same basic philosophy on food. Is that true?

A. Generally speaking, that’s true. We eat most of our meals together, so the reciprocal influence is probably always there. I probably worry a little less about what I eat because I can with fewer repercussions. Having said that, I generally have always eaten pretty well. I think it stems in part from my upbringing, where we always had well-rounded if not always perfectly prepared meals. I just got used to it. Even when I was on my own, I would cook for myself and that usually meant a little meat, some vegetables and a starch.

Q. How do you think you’d be eating now if you hadn’t gotten together with Karen-Lee? (As hard as that is to imagine!)

A. Probably a little less healthy and less locally sourced foods. Not crazy bad or anything since I’ve always been somewhat conscious of what I’m eating. Karen-Lee definitely influences my eating more positively than I probably do for her. Except, of course, when it comes to sweets. I can more easily pass them up than she, so that’s probably where I have my biggest impact on her.

Q. Do you like to cook? If so, do you nibble while you work in the kitchen, or not so much?

A. I like to cook, but don’t do it so much unless I’m on my own. Karen-Lee tends to lead in the kitchen, although I usually am her sous chef. When I do cook, I don’t nibble much. I’m much too focused on what I’m doing and making sure I’m getting it right.

Q. What’s your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant?

A. Right now, that would be the gnocchi at City House in Nashville. It’s made from bread instead of potato and it’s always super delicious no matter what the sauce and ingredients. It’s always local ingredients when possible and usually topped with toasted bread crumbs that give it a great texture and crunch.

Q. Death row, final meal: Same as the one above, or something else (assuming you could have anyone prepare anything you wanted)?

A. Let’s see, I think I’d go the guilty (no pun intended) pleasure route: Country Fried Steak. I don’t get this often because it is calorie laden as you might expect, but there’s a place in Nashville called Puckett’s that makes a nice version with a ribeye steak. No chopped steak or hamburger for them!

Q. Have you ever, in your entire life, been concerned about your weight?

A. No. I’ve always been very active in sports and other activities like hiking and biking. I’ve probably thought about it a little more since moving to Nashville, mostly because we’ve been thinking about our health in general as we get older. We’ve also been more consistent in exercising and working out at the gym.

Q. Do you step on the scale very often?

A. Surprisingly (at least to me), I step on it most days. I’m kind of curious what if anything I do has any effect. It doesn’t change very often, but I still do it.

Q. Does it bother you to get overly full?

A. Definitely. More now than in years past. I now think more about what it means to be overly full — that I’ve probably overeaten. So, I tend to realize earlier when I’m nearing comfortably full and stop eating earlier than I once did.

Q. What do you usually do for breakfast?

A. Breakfast varies quite a bit, but the mainstays are mueslix, oatmeal, bagels or toast with peanut butter or occasionally cream cheese, and muffins or zucchini/banana breads (usually that Karen-Lee has made in a very healthy manner) during the week, and pancakes or maybe some eggs on the weekends.

On weekdays, we actually often eat two breakfasts, a little snack before we go out to run/walk/workout, and then a muffin or something similarly light for the second go round.

Q. I know you like to run. Is that your primary exercise these days?

A. Running is my main calorie burning exercise, but I also walk with Karen-Lee a couple of times a week.

Q. How did you get so dang fast?

A. Good question. I’ve always been a fast runner. It ran in the family somewhat. My brother and sisters were all fast runners. In fact, my mom was fast, too! Which was unfortunate as a kid because you couldn’t outrun her when you were in trouble.

Q. Any future running goals?

A. My running goals now are mostly about improving my times. I ran 22:30 in my last 5k, and I’d like to get that down to 21:40 or less, which would be sub-7 min. miles.

I’m also aiming to take my half marathon time down to 1:45 or better. As I near 50, I’m curious how low I can go — without getting obsessive about it. I don’t want it to take over my life, but I’m a competitive person so I’m always trying to do better.

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