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.

Backups

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?

RawThreads

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!

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

Today I want to discuss an important part of training: route planning.

When I was running 5K or less for my training runs, I wouldn’t put much thought into this. After all, I would be gone for less than an hour, so it wasn’t that big a deal. The chances of my needing a bathroom break, somewhere to get water, or a place to pull over and call home because of weather emergency were pretty slim. I could pick a direction and run until I was approximately halfway to my goal distance, then turn around and come home without being in too much discomfort for any reason.

As my runs became longer, I needed to start to plan better. Who wants to have to think about giving themselves directions when they’re huffing and puffing like their lungs are going to explode at any moment? And do you really want to be surprised with yet another hill to climb when you’re only about .5 miles away from your turn-around point? What about if it suddenly starts to downpour and you’ve already run an hour out, are you really going to safely run an hour home in the weather conditions?

Route planning opens up a whole host of options that I hadn’t even thought of before I started planning better. It might sound simplistic or obvious, but I never thought that taking a quick break to use a restroom would make my long run that much nicer. In addition, when I pre-plan routes I can let someone know where I am going to be in case of emergency (so that I can be picked up, tracked down, or contacted if something goes horribly wrong while I’m on the road). Being a woman who almost always runs by myself, it makes me feel safer to know that someone will have an idea of where I am and when I should get back. In short: route planning is an essential tool if you’re looking to increase your distance, but it’s not a bad idea to get into the habit early.

For route planning, I almost exclusively use MapMyRun. You will need to sign up for an account (or link it to your Facebook account), but it is a free service (unless you opt into the paid MVP version which I have not). MapMyRun allows you to create routes starting from pretty much any point you specify. On the route creator (maps courtesy of Google maps; thank you, Google even though you’re someday going to be Skynet!), you can input a starting address and then customize your start point. For instance, I almost never actually begin running at my doorstep, but rather take a warm-up walk to the end of my street and then leave that distance for a cool down as well. I can input my address to focus the map on my neighborhood, but scroll to where I would like to place my start pin. The route will then begin measuring distance from the pin and not the inputted address. Since the route creator uses Google maps, you can also input the name of a landmark and often it will be able to find that place. For instance, I frequently run on the Minuteman Bikeway; MapMyRun knows where that is and will show me the bikeway without having to input a start address. The power of Google additionally means that this map is fairly smart when it comes to back roads, small roads, or hiking paths; the route creator pretty much has anything you could want to run on already in its database.

You can see here that I've started planning a route on the Minuteman and it's already giving me elevations.

You can see here that I’ve started planning a route on the Minuteman and it’s already giving me elevations.  I have intervals set to 1 Mile and measurements set to “Imperial”.

MapMyRun will give you elevation splits for your planned route (important if you’re hill training), and it will show distance markers in Imperial or Metric Units (you set this) at a specified distance (fractions of 1; so you can set them at 1 mile, .5 mile, .25 mile, etc.). It will allow you to loop and manipulate routes until you come up with something that will meet your training needs, and then it will allow you to save the route.

Once a route is saved, you can send it to your phone via email. Download MapMyRun’s free App, click the link in the e-mail, and you can upload the route directly to the app. I haven’t honestly tested the app because it doesn’t integrate with Run, Zombies (my preferred running companion), but I do know it will record your workouts, give you splits data on elevation and speed, and allow you to create “challenges” for yourself that it can then push to reminders on your phone (“I want to run five times this week.” “Hey, dude, I see you have only gotten in three runs and it’s Thursday, wanna go for a run today?” stuff like that). For me, the best functionality of MapMyRun has simply been being able to see where water and bathroom stops are on my route (yes, it has a legend for that!).

You can also search for pre-existing routes that other people have created in your area at your target distance. This has been helpful to me because it allows me to see the possibilities without having to experience them; as every runner knows, not every single road is “runnable” due to such variables as: disappearing sidewalks, not enough light when it gets dark, proximity to high-traffic not-quite-highways, blind corners where cars whip around really fast without looking, etc. Getting a sense of where other people tend to run can help me gauge my personal comfort with a route without having to drive or walk the area first.

MapMyRun is definitely worth playing with, even for the beginner runner. At the low low cost of nothing, this tool is well worth every penny.

Soloist: Dealing with Isolation

One of the big challenges that we grad students (particularly non-resident grad students caught somewhere between late dissertation writing and the job market) face is isolation. Going from a structured schedule that involves a highly-social job (teaching and or learning) to sitting at home alone with your research every day can be extremely challenging. If you’re not the type of person that deals well with large tasks to perform in unstructured time, then you’ll face even worse troubles at this stage of the game (and frankly it’s a miracle you got this far). I’m not going to say that I’ve solved the many problems of academic isolation, they are definitely demons I face every day, but I’m coping and I certainly put a lot of thought into how to cope with these issues. Here are a few of my better brainwaves for methods I use to help deal with academic isolation.

Sometimes my job looks like this; a day of FD work on Tufts University's "Richard III"

Sometimes my job looks like this; a day of FD work on Tufts University’s “Richard III”

Get a Job

I’ve tried to keep a hand in teaching as much as I can, even when that means taking on alternative teaching jobs. I spent a few years teaching continuing adult education which was extremely rewarding and gave me somewhere to be once a week to make human eye contact and discuss things I was passionate about with other people. Though this program didn’t pay “the big bucks”, it was a worthwhile use of my time in that it got me out of the house, gave me a forum in which to try out new teaching materials, and gave me teaching experience that I might otherwise not have had the opportunity to acquire. But even when there are no teaching jobs available (this happens sometimes and it’s not your fault), consider taking on a very part-time, very temporary position somewhere near your beaten path. A few hours of responsibility, social activity, and paid work every week can do wonders for your self-esteem at this highly volatile time. Finding the right fit for this can sometimes be challenging, but think about things you’d actually like to do and see if you can’t monetize them. Remember: not every job you work has to go on your resume and you never know when you’ll meet someone who may just be a useful connection for your true professional calling.

Reach Out

I am not a highly social creature during the best of times, and my social energies get sapped very quickly when I’m under a lot of stress. What this has generally meant is that the dissertation process has made me not just an academic hermit, but a social hermit as well. At the end of the day, the last thing I tend to want to do is go out and be social. Despite this, I try to make an extra effort to see people who I know will 1) understand the process I’m going through, and 2) put positive energy back into my bucket. There are a few friends I have who I know are low-key to be around, will support me if I’m feeling not so great about my work life, and will understand if I just don’t want to talk about much of anything. Being around these people as much as possible (which, let’s face it, is not much when you have a demanding professional schedule) is important to keeping the lonelies at bay. I’m often pleasantly surprised at what an evening in the right company can do for my mood; and my mood in turn effects my productivity. In short: the right amount of time with the right people will help you be a better writer.

Museums can be a cheap way of getting out and staying mentally in the game. This is me an P.T. Barnum (i.e.: My chapter 4) at the National Portrait Gallery in DC

Museums can be a cheap way of getting out and staying mentally in the game. This is me an P.T. Barnum (i.e.: My chapter 4) at the National Portrait Gallery in DC

Vitamin D

Sometimes, just leaving my house to go for a walk can help to improve a dismal mood brought on by dissertation-related isolation. Fresh air and sunshine are mood-lifters, and endorphins will give you an extra kick to boot. If you’ve been keeping up with Dani Dash, you know that I tend to go running rather than walking these days, but whatever your speed taking a break outside is definitely worth your while.

Have a (Small) Treat 

While we grad students live on a notoriously tight budget, now and again a special treat can help you support yourself. Sometimes, this treat can be productivity related; if I’m stuck in the “I don’t wanna” phase of editing, I’ll take my draft to a favorite coffee shop and grab myself a drink (I almost never buy coffee, so this is a great little treat). Sometimes, it can be self-care related; if I’m feeling extremely stressed or strung out, I’ll find a groupon for a massage and take an hour just to refuel and unwind. The pitfall here is obvious: too much of a good thing can break your budget and self-reward structure. Just be careful about how frequently (and how much) you are treating yourself; but don’t feel guilty when you do on occasion (especially if you plan and budget for this). You are worth it.

Remind yourself Why 

This one is the biggest challenge. Facing down today’s job market, it can be difficult to remember why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place. If you can find any way to remind yourself, any trigger to reinvigorate the passion which led you down the road you’re traveling, revisit it as frequently as you need. Often I get so caught up in the writing portion of dissertating that I can’t see the forest for the trees; it’s in these moments that I need to go see a show, or look at old journal entries, or re-read particularly glowing course evals from former students. Find a touchstone that will help key you in to what you love about the work and never let it go. I’m not saying you need to moon like an adolescent love poem, but without taking the time to reinvigorate your passion now and again you’ll slide into the doldrums of the grind and that is soul crushing. Fortify with frequent doses of vitamin L(ove) and try to ignore the vampiric voice of futility.

Get Help

I know many people (myself included) who are likely to thank their therapists in their dissertation acknowledgements. If you’re feeling stuck, depressed, or just unable to shake your mood, there is no shame in seeking professional help. The right person will be able to talk you through your troubles and inject some new light on the subject. If your issues seem to be mostly grad-school related, I highly recommend seeking out a therapist with a PsyD. Since this person has been through the process of getting a Doctorate, they are much more likely to understand your journey and be able to offer insight without you having to explain every step of the way. They have first hand experience with the stakes and stresses of exams, research, advisors, and the myriad of other field-specific stressors that academic life entails.

Whatever you do, don’t let isolation impede your progress. Breaking the cycle is a pivotal piece of “getting it done” (which, at the end of the day, is really what you need to do).

 

Getting to 5K

My running story began, as so many peoples’ do, with the C25K program.

It’s a good program. Very approachable, and I knew that it had a high success rate. I also knew that the length of the workouts was manageable for me (at around 45 minutes each), and while I preferred to run outside I would also have the option of doing it on the treadmill if I really wanted to. So I took the plunge.

I started with one of the free C25K trainer apps (because, really, who is going to remember ever-changing intervals while feeling like they’re going to die because OMG RUNNING IS HARD?). It was a simple interface with a kind female voice that would tell me to “begin running” or “start walking” and, most importantly, I could use it while playing my music.

Me and my honey rocking our bibs at the 2014 Massachusetts  Zombie Run (no affiliation with the app)

Me and my honey rocking our bibs at the 2014 Massachusetts Zombie Run (no affiliation with the app)

I found that I had a hard time sticking with it. The voice became sterile after a while, and when I had to repeat hard weeks here was no incentive to get to the end of the run other than to say that I “really” did it rather than dragged my sorry behind through it. When I began to loathe starting up the app, I decided it was probably time for a new approach.

So I downloaded the Zombies, Run 5K trainer. Zombies, Run is an awesome game. Part radio play, part video game, the premise is that you turn on an episode every time you go out for a run and you’re in the middle of the zombie holocaust. You’re Runner 5, a runner who lives in a settlement called “Able Township” and is frequently sent out of the base to do supply runs, intel gathering, or recon/rescue missions. The full app has a lot of great features, but I’ll leave those to review for another time.

The 5K trainer is very similar to C25K in that it’s based on an interval running program. You run for a certain amount of time, then you walk for a certain amount of time. Over the course of eight weeks with three workouts per week, your walk intervals get gradually reduced and your run intervals gradually increase until (voila!) you’re doing a 5K.

The only difference with this program is that it includes “free form runs”. These periods of time, I have found, can be really intimidating to beginning runners (I know they were for me when I first started!). These “runs” actually aren’t runs at all; but rather a chance for you to push yourself in the program. While the ultimate goal is to run for the entire free form run, you are welcome to walk and catch your breath for whatever period of these runs you need to. I found that, while I was intimidated to look at how long some of them were going into a run, I often surprised myself at how much of these free form runs I could actually run. Let me tell you how AWESOME it felt to run for 20 minutes straight for the first time!

Zombies, Run 5K trainer also includes an assortment of exercises in between your intervals. Heel-raises, knee-lifts, squats, and even skipping are thrown in to various weeks of the program to strengthen your calves, quads, and glutes (important muscle groups for a runner to develop). These exercises are interspersed with your workout and you are not expected to do them on your own outside of your run. Pretty sweet if you ask me!

The best part is that you get a radio play, and an independent plot arc, to help you along your way. The 5K trainer introduces you to characters who you will meet once you graduate to the full app, but it is also a stand-alone story that feeds into the main plot of Zombies, Run. For those keeping track, the 5K trainer’s story fits in between Season 1 episodes 1 and 2. I found that I grew really attached to Sam and the Doc during my 5K training, and it made running feel much more fun. I actually looked forward to my workouts since I was invested in the story and the characters. At that point in my running training, being invested was a huge component of actually doing my workouts.

In short, I’m not sure I would have gotten my 5K if not for the Zombies, Run 5k trainer. It’s available on the apple store and google play for android; and last I checked ran a whopping $1.99 for the whole 8 week season. Well worth the investment if you ask me, and definitely less expensive than hiring both a personal trainer AND a zombie hoard!

Dani Dash!

As I become more and more invested in my dissertation project, I’ve also become more and more invested in my latest (greatest) obsession/hobby/lifestyle: Running!

It was only a little over a year ago that I ran my first 5K (a Spartan Sprint because go big or go home, right?) and I was hooked.  Since then, I’ve graduated to longer and longer races.  In 2015, I made a resolution to run one chip-timed race each month and so far I’m going strong!

So why start a new blog?  Well, as I’ve trained and grown as a runner, I’ve been enjoying other peoples’ blogs immensely.  I’ve also found that there are questions I’ve had which haven’t necessarily been answered in these blogs; such as: what is the best tiara to run in?  Can a back-of-backer really run (x,y,z) race comfortably?  What kind of gear should I use?  What should I wear to run x miles when it’s y degrees outside and (overcast/sunny/raining)?

These questions, and more, are things I hope to explore!  I’ll still be blogging on the DaniProse side of things, but I also wanted to write about running in a forum connected to it.  For me, running has been a necessary side-task for dissertation work.  Without it, I don’t think I would have studied as effectively for my comprehensive exams or gotten as far as I have in the diss process.  It’s innately tied up in my academics; but also something that is slightly removed.  It’s my cross-training; my physical exertion to match the mental.

So, here I am.  I run.  And I want to share that love with the internet.  I’m so excited to hit the road.