Keep Calm and Soldier Forth

One of the hardest things about the Dissertating process so far has been acceptance. Specifically accepting that there will be things that happen in and around my life which have a direct impact upon my ability to work on a given day, but over which I have no control.

One of the many issues that plague us grad students is the constant drive to keep working. Because we are masters of our own time, and because there is ALWAYS something more you could be doing, it’s very easy to live with the constant guilt that you could be working right now. Weekends, evenings, much-needed sanity breaks; it doesn’t matter. There will always be that feeling that you could be doing something “more productive” than whatever it is you are currently doing. Even worse, since most of us work from home offices, there’s no sense of “leaving work at work”; my work is always with me just a click away.

What this means is that when life gets in the way, you feel doubly guilty. When you have to spend an hour or two taking your car to get fixed, or you need to go to a doctor’s appointment, or any number of acceptable semi-urgent life situations that just need to be taken care of during “regular business hours” and could throw a giant monkey wrench in your work day, you can feel pretty terrible about it.

For instance: right now, they are doing some major construction on my apartment complex. It’s disruptive, noisy, and means that there are generally workmen staring me in the eye through my office window even though I’m on the second floor. At some point during the next several weeks, there will be workmen in my apartment who I will be required to accommodate by essentially disassembling my office so they can get done what they need to get done. I also will not have access to my own home for at least two days during work hours since they will be in it.

This is not an ideal situation. It keeps me from being as productive as I could be (or “should” be). But I have almost no control over it. I can’t stop it, I can’t make it better, all I can do is work around it as best I can.

It would be easy to throw my hands up and say “I can’t work today because of this thing I have no control over.” The much more difficult path, and the one that I have to take if I hope to ever complete this monster project, is to cope.

Dealing with writing a dissertation is stressful and overwhelming. Dealing with the academic job market is stressful and overwhelming. But this doesn’t mean that the world is going to stop around me; if I want to finish (and oh man do I want to finish), I have to find a way to work through the outside distractions and inconveniences. Adaptability is my friend; finding ways to vary up my routine that won’t prevent me from getting things done just needs to be a way of life.

It’s not easy; but if I wanted “easy” I wouldn’t have gone for a PhD. It’s definitely not convenient. But it is what it is; and I just have to soldier through to reach my goals. Nobody ever said that walking to Mordor would be a tiptoe through the tulips.

Beat the Blerch East 2015: Race Recap

I’ve been a fan of the Oatmeal for… basically ever. One of my favorite comics of his is the series on running (The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons why I Run Long Distances). I got into this comic just before I started running seriously, and as an active person with an interest in staying healthy and exercising I could relate to most things he said. As I became a more serious distance runner, the comic began to speak to the echoes of my soul.

When I found out last year that Matt Inman had created a race series based on the comic (Beat the Blerch) I got super excited. Here was a race with couches! Blerches! Nutella! Cake! The fact that it was in Carnation, Washington was a slightly drawback, but the biggest problem for me was distance: at that time, 10K seemed like a daunting prospect. The race is a 10K/Half/Full Marathon; I wasn’t sure that I’d ever work up the distance necessary to run it, but it was a goal I had at the back of my mind in the distant “someday”.

When they announced this year that they were doing a Beat the Blerch East in Morristown, NJ, I knew that I had to be in. It was a milestone for me to sign up for the half marathon distance without batting an eyelash, and I was super excited because my honey decided to run the 10K as his first race at a distance longer than 5K. Score!

The race was advertised as a mixed media race: roads, some gravel trails, and some sections of “legit trail running”. We arrived thinking that it would be a great adventure and take us a bit out of our comfort zone.

Well, “arriving” was a bit of a problem. Though we had stayed in the race hotel the night before and left plenty of time to get to the race, when the GPS clicked over to .7 miles away we ran into an issue. There was such a huge backup from the parking lot (while the marathoners got to park at the start line due to their early start time, the half marathoners and 10Kers were relegated to an offsite lot with shuttle bus). My race started at 9:00; we pulled into the lot line at 8:15. By 8:40, we were still .4 miles away from the lot; honey took the wheel and I got out and walked the rest of the way to the lot. Once at the lot, I waited in a long line to hop on the shuttle to get to the start.

I didn’t reach the start line until 9:20. Luckily, by then race organizers had realized the problem and postponed the 10K (bumping start time back from 9:30 until 10:00) and were

Start line; that's some serious running!

Start line; that’s some serious running!

allowing half marathoners to start whenever they showed up. I had a lonely race start, but it did mean that I got a couple great pictures crossing the starting line.

It became clear very quickly that the course description was very wrong. While there were some small sections of the “gravel path” (mostly right after the start line) and “paved road” (perhaps .75 miles combined throughout the entire 13.1), the majority of the run was on very technical trails; roots, rocks, steep uphills and downhills (the course had a combined gain of 1249 feet… yikes!). I know that a lot of the other runners were upset or angry at this, but since I had pretty much decided to sit back and enjoy the course rather than reach for a new PR, I was content enough for the challenge.

I was going along at a good clip when at mile 2.6 I spotted it: the first blerch/nutella/cake/couch station! I pulled over immediately to snap a few shots and relax

Who can say "no" to that blerch?

Who can say “no” to that blerch?

on the couch for just a moment. The blerch became quite insistent that I eat some cake… so who am I to deny a friendly blerch in the wild?

I took my first spill about .1 miles after this on a sleep and rocky uphill, at which point I decided to go even slower than I had previously planned. I didn’t want to injure myself on the course, and since trail running is almost entirely new to me (I do wish I had been warned about this aspect of the course so I could have prepared for it a little more), I slowed down where I needed to. My new rule was “run when you feel safe enough and strong enough”. This did pretty well for me; I ran sections that I would previously have balked at, and I only wiped out one addition time (in mile 11 somewhere).

Right about midway through the half, I found another blerch. This time, I was ready for her. She never saw me coming.12038525_10104346354966609_8756553916662076957_n

I ate cake and/or nutella at every aid station. I stopped at every aid station but one for water (they were advertised as b
eing every two miles, they were more like every 3; there were four total on the half loop and I was glad that I decided to wear a fuel belt). I’m told that one or two of the aid stations ran out of water and/or cups earlier in the race, but when I arrived they were well stocked.

Since the course was notoriously bad for GPS service (every runner experienced some form of Garmin drop-off), I had no idea what my time looked like as I approached the finish line. I knew that I felt strong and that, unlike in my half in May, the tank wasn’t empty. This race was very much a test run for how I felt about starting marathon training (and if I really should, or if I should get some more base mileage in first). As I was feeling pretty great about life, I think all signs might point to “yes”.

An awesome touch was that the announcer at the finish line cheered runners by name as

Crossing the finish line; my patented victory jump

Crossing the finish line; my patented victory jump

they approached. This was a great use of RFID technology already in play at races, and it was pretty awesome to get a big “YOU GET IT, DANIELLE!” as I was coming in from some dude dressed as bacon. SCORE!

As an awesome cherry on the top of the sundae, despite the technical trails, crazy elevation gain, walk breaks, and blerch breaks, my time came in only ten minutes slower than my half in May (which had none of the above). This gives me great hope for crushing my PR at my next half in November.

Beat the Blerch was a fun race. The troubles I mention above are growing pains for any first-year course, and since the internet has done enough whining about them I think they will be addressed

Of course, what's a finish without a flex?

Of course, what’s a finish without a flex?

before another race is held in this location. I would definitely run it again, though I won’t be running the marathon on this course (too technical, too high a risk of injury, and since it’s a twice around the half loop marathon course it would be too demoralizing for me to pass the finish line and just head right back out again rather than finishing). I’ll find another marathon; though I will continue to beat blerches if given the opportunity.

The cake, by the way, was delicious and I was gifted with a “Nutella taco” (a banana wrapped in wheat bread spread with Nutella) at the finish line. PERFECT finish line food.

Me and honey beating that blerch!

Me and honey beating that blerch!

Take it Away

Hello, gentle readers. I am currently writing you from my spot holed up in a hotel room in quiet and scenic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; a place I had only ever heard of before because of the Billy Joel song that I’ve had stuck in my head since we arrived.

My partner has been traveling a great deal for his job lately. One of the many benefits of my insanely flexible schedule is that, since most of my work is reasonably portable, I can often pick up and ship out with him. As it turns out, being alone in the house with my computer, my books, and my fish for days on end isn’t the best thing for my sanity. As a result, whenever possible I take the opportunity to move my work with me. The crazy thing that I’ve found is that my gypsy life has made me much more productive. This is for several reasons:

  • Distractions are at a minimum. Since there’s not much to do in a hotel room other than the things I bring with me, I am forced into a situation where I have to focus on checking items off of my to-do list. I don’t look around and feel the urge to clean or straighten anything. I don’t have to cook, so I don’t blow off early to start an overly complicated dinner routine just to be away from the desk. I do go for runs still, but those are necessary. It’s a pretty great win-all.
  • Since I’m not at home, the usual at home requirements are on hold. I don’t have to suddenly go to a doctor’s appointment, or take my car to be inspected, or do a grocery run for some weird thing we forgot over the weekend. I don’t have to take out the garbage or recycling, or get the mail which might turn into a 20 minute distraction that takes an hour to re-focus from. I don’t have to deal with any household responsibilities that might take time away from writing. Again, I’m forced into a pressure-cooker situation with my work; my options are work on research or work on writing rather than work on work or work on life stuff.
  • While the hotel is comfortable, it’s not my comfort zone. I don’t feel the siren call of my bed beckon to me at 3:00 PM because my bed is several states away. I don’t have a comfy couch to lounge on with some Netflix at lunchtime. If I want coffee, I can grab some in the lobby; but this doesn’t turn into a spontaneous round of let’s do dishes. I have everything I need, without having any extras.
  • Any bad work-related habits I have are thrown off due to the lack of routine. Since my normal flight patterns are disrupted by not being at home, this means that I have the opportunity to create better ones in this space. When I find myself in a situation that strips me of my habits, I try my hardest to create new ones that are better than the old ones. This is particularly true when I’m in a space that’s temporary; I can be extra super diligent about working (you know, more than even usual) for a span of a few days and not allow myself the small distractions which can turn into big distractions because I can always go back to those “when I get home”. Being away gives me the unique opportunity to work out the kinks in my routine by completely scrapping the routine.
  • Since I’m not exactly in a hopping, bustling city, I don’t have the kind of after-work distractions that can lead to fatigue or illness the day after. It’s not like I’m going bar hopping in Bethlehem Pennsylvania (or doing much of anything that will keep me out late). I can go to bed at a reasonable time, not feel like I’m being “lame” or missing out on something because of it, and wake up refreshed and ready to work the next day.

In short, if possible, I highly recommend taking your work on walk-about. Break up your routine in any way that you can (coffee shop visits, libraries, etc.) just to get yourself out of the house and observing your work habits. You might find that such “work-cations” lead to increased productivity and overall betterment of sanity.

Write strong, my brethren!

Don’t Let it Win

Some days, the dissertation wins.

There are days when I walk away from the keyboard with a feeling of triumph. I’ve conquered some little corner of some little mountain, but oh man does it feel so good. There are days when I feel like I’ve accomplished something major like reading through my stack of allotted books, finishing a draft and being happy with it, or closing a chapter of research and being ready to prepare it for its next stage.

Those days, I win.

But some days, the diss gets the upper hand. I get burnt out, I can’t communicate my thoughts clearly, I get so wound up in the tiny things that I’m unable to accomplish anything of substance. There are days when I feel like an unmitigated failure for not getting through that last 250 pages of reading, for not muscling my way through red-penning those last ten pages, for finding myself with not enough brain functionality left to do anything significant after 3:00 PM.

I’m told it’s a common phenomenon.

So here’s the thing: you’re never going to have a perfect string of days no matter what you’re doing. You’re never going to always feel like the top of the world; you’re never going to always consistently succeed at every tiny task. There will be setbacks. There will be days when the stupid writing project wins the battle.

So long as you have more days when you win, you’re still at a net positive.

The important thing when you find that you’ve lost the arm wrestling match for a day is that you do what you need to do to recover. Exercise, drink a beer, sleep, watch some Netflix; whatever it is that will reset you and get you prepared to fight another day. Do it. Avoiding it when you’ve hit the bottom of the bucket is just going to do more self harm than good. Taking the time to self-care and recover is going to give you more productivity in the long run, so just put the red pen down and back away from your desk.

Then, get back on the horse. You need to keep going back into the fray if you ever expect to win. Begin each day fresh with new research goals, new word count objectives, and a new attitude. One bad day does not have to mean a failed project; it just makes you human.

Don’t let the dissertation win.

It can have the battle; don’t give it the war.

Tools of the Trade

Writing a dissertation (or any long project; particularly one that involves research) is a specialized skill that requires specialized training and (not to be ignored) specialized equipment. While I suppose in theory you could write a dissertation on a single laptop with nothing but Microsoft word and an internet browser, doing so would be a great disservice to yourself and make your life needlessly complicated. In the digital age, technology is plentiful, relatively inexpensive, and generally easy to operate. There’s no reason to do without certain vital tools that can make your writing days more productive.

With that goal in mind, I thought I’d take a minute to share the tools of my trade; the things I use to write and research that make my life infinitely easier. I would go so far as to say that I probably wouldn’t have made it to this point in the process without them. For me, these tools are simply necessary to productivity; I think you’ll find them equally useful.

For reference: my primary machine is a basic model Macbook Pro from 2012. Nothing fancy, but definitely gets the job done.

External Monitor 

The only “excess” technological asset that researchers have found actually increases productivity is increased monitor space. It’s not the speed of your hard drive or parallel processing capabilities, but rather how much (literal) digital space you have to lay things out. For me, the external monitor is key to almost everything I do. It allows me to open a text on one screen and my notes on a second, thus transcribing with ease. It allows me to open my notes on one screen and my writing document on a second, thus allowing me to write from research with ease. It allows me to open multiple images on a large scale and compare them side-by-side. It allows me to have my citation manager available for reference during note taking and writing. My external monitor has been key to my work as a Graduate student, academic, and person in the world. And, when you’re taking a break for lunch or what have you, you can play your YouTube videos on one monitor while browsing the web on the second. It’s a win/win. If you’re not writing/researching from two monitors, you’re basically living in the dark ages. Invest in this not-terribly-expensive but terribly-useful tool now; I promise you won’t regret it.


Anyone who works on any serious project needs to have a backup strategy. While e-mailing yourself copies of your work might be one way to do this, there are easier and more consistent methods. I use a combination of Dropbox, Crashplan, and Google docs to save my work in triplicate both locally and in the cloud. No matter what you decide to use for backups, make sure that your plan includes: redundancy, frequency, and version history. You want to know that your work is being backed up on a regular basis, to several places, and that you can roll back a version should you need to.

External mouse and Keyboard

Because I’ve basically created a docking station for my mac, the external mouse and keyboard have become necessary. I’ve found, over the years, that I much prefer a conventional mouse to the built-in track pad that most laptops have. Additionally, an external fully sized keyboard makes it easier for me to type ergonomically. A few clever re-programs of the hotkeys on my Mac and it’s just as good as using the built-in keyboard. I use a Logitech wireless mouse/keyboard, and have since purchased several external travel mice for use when I’m on the go. 

Writing Tools 

I’ve previously gushed about the ease and functionality of Scrivener to my writing process.  If you are interested in Scrivener, here’s my affiliate link for windows, and here it is for Mac.  I will take this moment to emphasize how necessary the program has been to the continued success of my work. Additionally, this project is the first time I’ve used automated citation management software and I’m never looking back. I use Zotero because it’s free, integrates seamlessly to Word (where I do my composing; Scrivener I use for note-taking), and has a Scrivener work-around if I REALLY want it. If you do choose Zotero, make sure you know how to back up your library; it’s only a tiny bit tricky and requires an extra step every now and again to accomplish. Totally worth it for peace of mind.

Caveman Tools

my computer set-up with bookstand in use

my computer set-up with bookstand in use

This is not a technical tool whatsoever, but when I’m working with actual books (which I do with a surprising frequency), I use a bookstand to hold them up for ease of transcription. I seriously don’t know how I did without this thing. When I’m editing by hand (which I also do with a surprising frequency), I use a clipboard and many different colored pens. It’s crazy how much easier this has made my life; for years I’d edit on large hardcovers, notepads, or binders…. I finally broke down and spend the $5 on a clipboard and look at that! The rudimentary technology works exactly the way it’s supposed to!

So…. What tools are you using for dissertation writing that you simply can’t do without?

Night Moves

For those of you who have day jobs, night running might be an unavoidable reality of your existence. While my schedule is generally flexible enough to allow me to get my run in before the sun sets, on days when it’s just too hot (or I’m just too busy) to get out and hit the road, I join the shamblers of the night.

I don't have shots of me in my night running kit, but instead please accept an image I have fondly titled "Breakfast at Lincolnies"

I don’t have shots of me in my night running kit, but instead please accept an image I have fondly titled “Breakfast at Lincolnies”

But night running, particularly if you live in a very residential area (maybe just off a major highway where drivers love to zip around regardless of speed limit) can be a dangerous sport. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy thinking about running safety, particularly when conditions aren’t optimal for me being spotted. Since I was out on the road last night in my night kit, I figure I should probably share some tips on what gear you’re going to want for night running in order to get home safe.

Visibility is key. This means that the axiom about staying away from dark colors is absolutely true. It took me a while to develop a big enough stash of neon running gear to consider myself safe, mostly because neon colors are not the most flattering or pleasant to the eye. Since I tend to lead an active lifestyle as a fight director/dance instructor, I try to buy gear that I can wear in multiple settings. I’m not exactly going to show up to teach students the Waltz wearing high viz yellow or hot pink. Because of this, I had to learn to mentally correct for what gear to buy. If you have ready access to a washer/drier and night running is only an occasional dalliance for you, you probably only need one set of neon clothes. But the next time you purchase the basics (tights, shorts, shirts, sweats, etc.), consider edging towards what I like to call “don’t hit me” colors. My favorite nighttime running jacket for when it’s too chilly for a tee shirt but not cold enough for my hardcore gear is the Kiava FIT jacket in neon. Cut generously so the sleeves will cover your hands and the bottom will cover your lower back without riding up, it’s also built with a cute design. I would definitely wear it in public when out for a post-run drink, and that’s more than I can say about most of my night gear.

While neon clothing is a good start, you’re also going to want a high visibility vest. Both honey and I use the Tuvizio Reflective Vest (mine is Pink in size S/M/L, honey’s is yellow in size L/XL). I love this product because A) it adjusts to a WIDE variety of sizes and B) it doesn’t add bulk or an extra layer. It’s basically just a series of straps with high viz tape configured with buckles. Once you get it adjusted right, you can’t even tell that you’re wearing it. It doesn’t add weight, and it doesn’t move around a lot if sized appropriately. While I wouldn’t call it “fashion forward” (unless you’re going for construction worker chic), it definitely makes me feel safer when out on the road, and I know it’s effective at what it does. It’s also a reasonably inexpensive piece as far as running gear goes; I would highly recommend picking one up.

The thing about high viz tape is that it reflects outside light. What this means is that your high viz vest or high viz features on your gear (my shoes have a reflective strip which is kind of neat) is almost useless if someone is driving around without their lights on. This problem is fairly easy to solve with a clip-on LED light like this one. I like to clip one onto the front of my vest, then one onto the back. The light I’ve linked here can be set to blink or hold steady, and it’s bright enough that anyone should see you coming (or going as the case may be). These little LEDs are lightweight, and have a pretty stellar battery life. If you really want, you can grab them in different colors (though I tend to prefer white since it seems to be the brightest).

Last, but certainly not least, I run with a headlight. Since I’d prefer not to look like a spelunker when out for a run, I opt instead for an awesome pink LED lit cap. With two LEDs on a click switch in the cap’s brim, this hat allows me to light my way conveniently and comfortably. The company makes a variety of colors (as you can see if you click through the amazon link), so don’t feel confined by my personal preferences. But seriously. Pink is where it’s at.

There are definitely other options to help you light up the night (including shoe lights, light-up bracelets, different vests, etc.), but this is my night kit and so far it’s worked out pretty well. What would you add, fellow runners?

Wipeout Run Race Recap

And it’s finally here, my Wipeout Run Boston 5K Race Recap!

My honey and I ran the Wipeout Run because we love adventure racing and themed 5Ks. While every race has a place in our hearts, the ones with a special purpose or theme are definitely a bit more fun. We walked into this knowing that it was just going to be a nice afternoon on the course and not really expecting a hardcore running experience.

We ran in the 3PM wave. Despite the GIANT crowd of people there, we were able to get

Finish Line Jump Shot

Finish Line Jump Shot

our bibs and check in without much fuss. We checked a bag with the standard towels, extra clothes, and flip-flops, and went to wait on line for the start line. The line to the start chute was HUGE. We actually started waiting around 2:15, which I think is the only way we were running on time. I know that others who ran the race didn’t hit the course until two or three hours after their start-time. Yikes. Word to the wise: show up early, and get in line well before your time. If you wait until your sticker time, you’ll be waiting a while.

The line was in the hot sun, which wasn’t pleasant, but eventually we made our way to the start chute. The emcee who was hosting there was awesome and they played some pretty great upbeat music. It wasn’t long before we were off! (…extra props because they somehow managed to play our song just as we were hitting the start line… love when that happens!)

The first couple straight-aways were long-ish for a 5K obstacle run. They also went from flat pavement to technical gravely dirt/big rock path; not great for those with ankle problems. We were some of the few running most of the way (albeit slowly) but we took our time on those rocky paths because who wants to roll an ankle on a course like this? The first obstacle was the “Smash Wall”; a four-foot or a six-foot wall to climb over (you got to choose your height). Being Spartans, this wasn’t a big deal for us especially since they provided a step-up and a platform to step off onto. Basically you just had to step on the two-by-four, hoist yourself over, then lower down about three feet to the platform. No brainer!

After maybe a .3 mile jog, we hit the “Big Balls”. This was kind of an inflatable bouncy castle with three large red balls. You were supposed to climb up onto a platform, then leap from ball to ball to the other side. After watching the people in line ahead of me go, I recognized that maybe 1% of racers actually achieve this while everyone else wipes out spectacularly. This was the only obstacle that I felt had a serious safety hazard; it was just far too easy to hurt yourself while hurling yourself from ball to ball and coming down hard from a reasonable height (even onto an inflatable mat). Sure enough, both myself and my partner managed to do a little damage on this (even taking it easy). He found a hole in the obstacle with his foot and came down hard on pavement (though thankfully not hard enough to hurt himself, just hard enough to need a moment), and I went face first into ball number two thus cracking my back on the way down. We took it easy and grabbed some water from the nearby water station just to shake it off.

Next up were the “Tumble Tubes”; basically a water slide with an inner tube down an inflatable ramp. You grabbed your tube, climbed up, then slid down. Despite my fear of heights, this was insanely fun. The speed was just right to feel the rush but not so fast that I was worried about hurting myself. We were both laughing pretty hard at the bottom; score!

We hit the “Wrecking Balls” feeling pretty great about life. For this obstacle, everyone was required to put on a life vest (the water in the pool was about shoulder high for me; deep enough to create a safe crash zone should you get swept). Runners had to race down an inflatable balance beam being pursued by two giant red inflatable balls that were on spinning strings. I managed to nimbly dart my way across without getting tossed in the pool; honey took a dive when his ankle buckled on him. It’s best not to fight this one; it’s way safer to go in the pool than try to get back up.

After this was “The Drop” another water-slide style slide. We climbed up then slid down. It was awesome.

Just around the corner was the “Sky’s the Limit”; essentially a giant bouncy castle that you had to jump across. Let me just take a moment to tell you how much I love bouncy castles. This one was particularly awesome because 1) there were no kids to worry about hurting and 2) it was HUGE. So great!

conquering the sweeper

conquering the sweeper

We hit the “Sweeper” just as the sun started to go behind a few clouds. This obstacle was kind of like the wrecking balls; basically it was run across this inflatable balance beam while a giant inflatable arm tries to sweep you. We both made it across. Let me tell you how much of a badass it makes you feel like to outrun that huge red arm.

The penultimate obstacle was the “Foam of Fury”; basically a giant slip’n’slide. You took a running leap on the inflatable gangplank, then penguined your way to the end while sprayers hit you with water and foam. Honey managed this with admirable speed; I had to kind of scoot along the last five feet or so. Next time: more of a running start.

The final obstacle was “Happy Endings”; a GIANT waterslide. We climbed those stairs feeling like a million bucks, then slid down with huge grins on our faces.

And that was that!

On the whole, this was a very fun event. I wouldn’t call it a 5K because I’m pretty sure it didn’t even hit the 2 mile mark for distance. I didn’t wear my Garmin because, as you can see, there was a fair amount of water on the course and I didn’t want to ruin any of my expensive electronics. From an administrative standpoint, they did a pretty good job of keeping things moving (even with the MASS of people there). From a safety perspective, with the exception of the one “big balls” obstacle, everything else was pretty well managed. There were marshals at every obstacle in case anyone ran into an issue, and

Coming off the final slide

Coming off the final slide

EMS staff was on hand to take care of emergencies. It is an expensive race (even with Groupons, our bibs were in the $65 range), and the swag isn’t great (the t-shirt you get is white cotton and boring, unless you upgrade for extra $$ to a tech t-shirt which was fine but not worth the extra $$; you don’t get a finisher’s medal unless you pay for the finisher’s medal package and race pictures are extra). The day we were running happened to be HOT right up until late afternoon; this worked to our advantage since you will get drenched on the course. Running this on a cold day would be a bit miserable. On that note, make sure you wear quick dry everything because you will get soaked. I was also particularly grateful that I had had the foresight to pack a complete change of clothes in the check bag (down to socks and underwear) since everything I was wearing was drenched by the finish line.

I think this would be an awesome race for everyone to run once with a group of friends. It is a very friendly race, so even your non-runner friends can go with you. On the whole, we’d consider running again if there were a group going; but on our own we probably wouldn’t need to have the experience a second time.

Professional Courtesy

Over the weekend, I found this post on HowlRound and it elicited a huge reaction from me. The story of my relationship with professional theatre definitely has a happy ending, but bears some striking similarities to the tale of Mr. Keel.

I’ve been a professional theatre-maker for most of my life. I had the good fortune to attend a performing arts high school, which gave me the training and know-how I needed to navigate New York’s professional scene from a very young age. I bought backstage every week; sent out headshots, resumes, and cover letters; went on auditions; booked jobs; and generally worked my tail off while going to high school. By the time I got to college, I was jaded enough to know that a four-year conservatory program wasn’t going to give me what I wanted; a full time career in the arts wasn’t about spending my college tuition money cultivating my art, it was about figuring out how to work with what I had. I bypassed the BFA in favor of a more “real world marketable” degree and continued my training on the side at some of New York’s many studios where such things were possible.

After college, I worked my way around a bit (both in and out of the field). It was during a

High school me performing in "The Laramie Project"

High school me performing in “The Laramie Project”

conservatory production of Twelfth Night at a big-name regional theatre that I experienced my career turning point. While I had learned a great many things from this company over the years (having trained and worked there several times), it was clear that the program I was embroiled in at that moment didn’t understand me, didn’t encourage me, and didn’t feed my art. I had found myself in an artistic dead space; while those around me could hear their ideas and emotions “resound” within the conservatory, mine were continually disregarded and devalued. Needless to say, I was depressed and lonely and just wanted to finish up my time there so I could go home, lick my wounds, and figure out if this whole “full time theatre professional” thing was really going to work out for the rest of my life. It came to a head one evening during a tech rehearsal in which the director, frustrated with the speed at which tech was running, stopped rehearsal to tell me (in front of the entire cast and production team) that I was “an idiot” for not understanding his clear-as-mud direction, and further elucidating how stupid I must be if I couldn’t comprehend what he was telling me.

That pretty much convinced me that I wasn’t cut out to be an actor. It wasn’t okay that someone felt like they could talk to me that way, it wasn’t okay that I had no recourse about it (what was I going to do, walk out of the rehearsal and never return?), and it wasn’t okay that if I did decide to take action I would be the one bearing the negative label for the rest of my career as someone who was “difficult to work with”. I finished the run, but packed in the trunk and retired from the stage, refocusing my energies on other things.

It took many years for me to want to come back to theatre. While I loved so many things about it, the negatives far outweighed the positives. Professional theatre seemed like a pleasant daydream; good for the young and naïve but in actuality not realistic if you wanted to work, live, and be treated like a human being. Hence my relationship with the term “professional” became fraught; professionalism and the lessons I learned as a professional theatre-maker were things I carried with me in all walks of life. Be fifteen minutes early, come prepared with your work, have a pencil on hand to take notes, bring a water bottle, make eye contact, communicate clearly… I could go on. But for that, being a full-time professional actor had baggage that I simply didn’t want to carry with me. I was angry. I was hurt. I was upset that I had spent so long hanging my hopes on a star that turned out to be a time bomb.

For me, after several years of staying away altogether and then an easy transition back into the theatre via teaching and mentoring (which I absolutely love), I can once again say that I am a “theatre professional” (or was I always a “professional” and just took some time off?). As you know, I now have several levels of theatrical involvement, all of which I consider “professional” engagements: I review, I fight direct, I dramaturge, I text coach, I teach, and (when the mood hits, but only when the mood hits), I perform. But that’s not the case for everyone. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones.

And I think that this, unfortunately, isn’t an uncommon experience. I think there are a fair number of folks who wanted to go pro, trained to go pro, and for one reason or another had to back away from the life of full-time professional theatre-making. Unfortunately, this experience can leave a bad taste in the mouth; we all have our reasons for breaking up with Thespis. As with any breakup, it’s painful and unpleasant, and the way that you handle that pain will determine your attitude about running into your ex at parties.

More often than not, performing looks way more like this for me these days. (Photo courtesy of Al Foote II Theatrical Photography)

More often than not, performing looks way more like this for me these days. (Photo courtesy of Al Foote II Theatrical Photography)

There are some who return to the theatre on an amateur level because they simply love making art. Theatre is a part of their blood, and just because they didn’t want to do it professionally doesn’t mean they should stop entirely. This is the best kind of community theatre: theatre made with perfect love. There are others for whom theatre on anything less than a professional level will have “the stench of failure”; they’re bitter, they’re angry, and they simply can’t let go of the past. This, I think, is part of where the “amateur” or “community” theatre stigma comes from; the idea that theatre made for pleasure is somehow “lesser than” theatre made for profit.

Let me make one thing clear: you have not “failed” for choosing a life that sustains and supports you. You have not “failed” for choosing a job with a steady paycheck and benefits, that will allow you to work human hours and be able to see your family on the weekends. You have not “failed” for not wanting to put your very soul on the stage eight shows a week for audiences, directors, and critics who may or may not be appreciative. You have not “failed” for refusing to do things that are degrading and/or embarrassing simply because you need to work this week and it’s the only job available right now. And you certainly have not “failed” for choosing to return to the theatre on your own terms, in your own time, in a way that fulfills your desire to make art.

Why is it “bad” or “wrong” to want to make theatre under any circumstances possible? Why is one person’s desire to perform seen as inconsequential or smaller than another’s simply because the first person isn’t being paid for their work and the second is? And what made us “professionals” fall in love with theatre in the first place? It certainly wasn’t the “spectacular” paychecks…

The “community theatre” stigma needs to be put to the side. I’m not saying that you have to sit through every amateur production of Oklahoma! you find in the papers with a willing heart and gracious applause, but let’s at least have some consideration for fellow artists. Everyone walks a hard road; why should we make it harder for each other when the world’s already a cruel place for us theatre types?


I had hoped to get a recap up today of Wipeout, Boston, but I’m still waiting on their official race pics. Because the course was full of water traps, I didn’t manage to snag any on my own (didn’t want to risk bringing my usual photography methods on the course, and my disposable technology got so waterlogged that it failed me). So we’ll have to wait on that for next week; but it’s coming, I promise!

Instead, I want to take a moment to chat about one of my favorite running gear companies: RawThreads athletics.

I first found RawThreads through the Run, Disney! Community. Since I’m training for the Glass Slipper Challenge in 2016, I have a LOT of Run Disney links that have come across my various feeds. After glancing through RawThreads’ designs, I decided that I probably couldn’t live without them and simply had to have a few of their awesome shirts. I’ve since become addicted and now own a wide array of their products from capris to arm warmers. All of them are super cute with colors that pop (black on black running gear has no personality and I try to shy away from it whenever possible).

All of their stuff is made of bamboo blend tech fabric. This means that it’s wicking, anti-microbial, and oh so soft. I’m not a fan of stiff or scratchy fabrics and since tech gear is synthetic by nature so much of it tends to just feel wrong. Not RawThreads; I could seriously sleep in my running gear if I wanted.

I will say that it doesn’t dry very quickly so when the weather turns cold, I will probably shy away from running in it simply because sweaty clothing = cold runner. But that does mean that it’s great for summer runs; it gets moisture away from my skin and keeps me cool at the same time. While I have worked up some pretty unflattering sweat patterns during summer long runs (sorry, no pictures of those), I can’t really bring myself to mind. There’s only so much you can do to look cute after running ten or twelve miles in summer heat.

Their clothing is durable and built to last. I’ve been running hard in it 3-4 times a week for about six months now and it shows nary a sign of wear. Since it’s easy care, it goes right in the washer/drier without fuss or muss. I haven’t seen pilling, tearing, or stretching of any kind, and all of the logos/designs are holding up beautifully. There has been no fading, and all the zippers are doing great.

Oh, did I mention their pants have zippered pockets large enough to fit my cell phone, keys, and gels in? This means that on shorter runs when I don’t need hydration (or if I choose to carry a hand-held), I can go belt/camel-bak/pouch free! They’re great for 5Ks when you just want to have your phone on you; maybe even slightly longer races or training runs depending on how much water you need. I, personally, love them!

Pretty much RawThreads head to toe in this one: Sprinter Crop in Baltic Dot with Rainbows and Unicorns Racer

Pretty much RawThreads head to toe in this one: Sprinter Crop in Baltic Dot with Rainbows and Unicorns Racer. Also: Victory beer.

Shipping is fast; the company is located in Kissimmee, Florida and I generally get my orders here in Boston within a week. Pretty good considering how far that little package has to go!

Perhaps the best part about RawThreads is their awesome customer service. Over the past several months, I’ve had two instances in which I dealt with their customer support team. In both instances, I was responded to promptly and appropriately; the folks at RawThreads stand by their products and take great care of their customers.

So far, my favorite RawThreads product is my set of arm warmers. I find most arm warmers to be chafey and stiff, and they kind of make my arms look like sausages. RawThreads arm warmers are the same soft bamboo blend as the rest of their clothing, so they have a bit more give than the conventional polyester without sacrificing hold (trust me, they stay up). They are nice and warm, but not oppressive. Since they do have a bit more space, they’re also easy to roll down when you’re too hot; they just collapse onto your wrists and you have a stylish running bracer.

Another favorite of mine, and one I wear almost every day when I run in the summer, is the RawThreads racer. I have several in different colors and designs so that I can rotate through them over the course of my training. Not only are they super fun between colors and logos (athletic gear can get really boring sometimes, right?), they’re also breathable and roomy. They have a bit more room in them than most standard athletic wear so they’re a bit more forgiving on days when you don’t want a next-to-skin fit. This combined with the longer length means that they don’t ride up during your run (even when wearing them in combination with a belt), which in turn means no chafing for you! The sizing on these clothes is true to the website-provided size charts; since it’s athletic clothing, it’s a bit smaller than conventional street sizes. While I’ll wear a Small or Medium generally in women’s tops, RawThreads Large is my go-to size. Measure carefully, consult the size chart, and you’ll be alright.

As you can tell, I highly recommend splurging on some RawThreads gear. Not only is it comfortable, but also functional and durable. Basically everything you want out of your running gear.

Please note that I have received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, for this post from RawThreads or anyone else.

Best Behavior: Race Day Etiquette Guide

This weekend was awesome! Amongst enjoying a lovely evening at Waterfire in Providence, a great night at a sweet Victorian B&B, an evening of Shakespeare on Boston Common, and some wonderful food to boot (best meal I’ve ever had at Gracie’s), we also ran Wipeout, Boston! It was a great time, and a full race recap is planned for later this week when photos have been released, but for now I’d like to talk about something I observed on the course: bad race etiquette.

There is definitely an unspoken code of conduct for runners, particularly when out on a packed course. Because this was a fun run rather than hypercompetitive (there was no chip timing, no division prizes, and no ranking system), there were a lot of novice runners out there. It was really great to see people who might not otherwise have tried a run going out on a limb with this one. I will never complain about beginners having a go at running! But for the sake of everyone’s good time, I’m going to take a moment to state a few good rules of thumb to follow on race day.

Obey Traffic Laws

It’s not a problem that some folks run slower than others; as I’ve said I’m a back-of-packer myself. Everyone should take a course at their own pace; particularly when the weather is as nasty as it was on Saturday (it was upwards of 85 degrees at times…. Yikes!). But if you are going to slow down, or if you need a walk break, make sure you’re pulling over to the right to let faster runners get past. This is also important if you’re doing the course with a large group; by all means hang out with your friends, but make sure that you’re clustering to one side so that you’re not “taking over” the road. Pay particular attention to this when the course narrows and there’s less space in general; make sure you’re leaving room for others to pass you.

If you do hear someone say something like “on your left”, that’s a polite way of being told to please squish over. Don’t be upset about it, just let the faster runner by as best (and expediently) as you can.

Guests aren’t Runners 

If you have a cheering squad, that’s awesome! But it’s important that only runners with bibs are on the course at any given time. While your family and friends might be tempted to walk with you for a short section, or hop on the course to take a picture with you at an important mile-marker, please remind them that the course only has limited space and other runners also need to use it. If you’d like to greet your family, duck over to the side and step off for a moment.

If there are snacks at the finish line, please remind your family that those snacks are for the

Always pull right before taking runselfies. Because you just don't want to be "that guy"

Always pull right before taking runselfies. Because you just don’t want to be “that guy”

runners. Bring other non-runner snacks, or go out for food together after you triumph. Often, these snacks are donated to the race and are finite in quantity. When they’re gone, they’re gone. What this means is that if the runners and their guests at the front of the pack finish all the snacks, the back-of-packers don’t get a chance to replenish themselves at the finish line. If you’re cheering squad REALLY wants to be part of your race experience, convince them to run with you! Then they also get all of the perks of being a runner, and you can take selfies together as you go.

Don’t Block the Aid Station 

When you finally hit that water station, you’re definitely yenning for some hydration! But so are the runners behind you. Rather than walk up to the table and monopolize the space, grab your cup from the volunteers, and continue on your way. If you do need to stop at an aid station for any reason, make sure you clear the table and tuck to the side before stopping. Standing directly in front of the table is disruptive to the flow of the race, and might keep others from getting their much-needed hydration.

Clean up 

If you, for any reason, need to “get rid” of something: trash, extra clothing, etc., find a way to keep the article on your person rather than dropping it on the course. Tuck empty gu packets in pockets, pouches, or waistbands. Tie unneeded sweats around your waist and keep running. Detritus on the course can create a huge trip hazard for other runners as well as a headache for race officials since these items now become their cleanup responsibility. Respect the volunteers, officials, and other runners and be self-sufficient out on the course. The world will thank you for it.

Finish Strong and Move On

 Yay, you’re at the finish line, you did it! But don’t come to a dead stop once the race photographer grabs your victory pic. Continue moving away from the finish chute and clear the finish area before you find a place to stop. This is an important step towards keeping crowds managed at the finish line, and making sure that all the runners get their triumphant victory finish without delay or interruption.

While some of these may sound like generally logical ways to behave in the circumstances, you’d be surprised at the things people do when they’re tired, adrenaline hyped, a bit dehydrated, and simply not thinking straight. Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes that guy.

Happy Running!