Going Wireless

Have I yet gushed about one of the most important items in my running kit? My wireless Bluetooth headphones!

Okay, bear with me here. I know you’re all like “but I have wired headphones and they work just fine!” I was in that camp too for SO long. I was a cheap headphoner because I would always loose them, or they would break on me, or I would be out running in the rain and get rained on and they would get wet, or something. In April of 2015, I finally caved. I needed a new set of headphones, and for about $8 more than I would spend on yet another wired set, I could have these babies. I figured it was worth a shot to see if I liked them.

Let me tell you, folks; they have seriously changed my life. At the time I converted to

Here they are actually on my ears at the Twin Lights Half Marathon; 2015

Here they are actually on my ears at the Twin Lights Half Marathon; 2015

wireless I was just a runner. I didn’t take up Crossfit or the affiliated crazy training antics until a couple months after this pivotal moment in my fitness history. These days, wireless headphones are a must-have for me since I could never wrangle sandbags, sleds, or the assortment of weights and equipment that my current workouts require while still being worried about my cables snagging or pulling loose. At that time though, that simpler time, I was just a runner.

But even then I noticed a difference immediately. Now I could put my phone basically anywhere I wanted on my person (in my pocket, in my magnet pouch thing, in my camelbak) and not worry about how to run my headset wire. I could run without that annoying thump thump thump of the headset cable on my arm or chest or wherever the cable was running. Maybe most importantly, my phone became much easier to access; I could reach and grab it without having to navigate my way through a messy or annoying cable. Win on all sides.

Now that I’ve been running with the headset for a year, I can give you a pretty good idea about wear and tear. I’ve run through all seasons with this thing and it’s held up like a champ. I’ve run in rain, snow, sleet, wind, and everything in between. This headset comes with a variety of ear pads that you can mix and match to custom fit your ear and, once you find the right fit, it stays put. I have never had an issue with the headphones coming loose or jostling free. The only thing I have noticed is that they do require a tiny bit of Tetris if you want to wear them with sunglasses (which I pretty much always do). Nothing insurmountable, but definitely a little extra something to think about when donning your kit.

They hold up great against moisture and sweat. I am not a dainty runner girl; I exude much salt water when I’m working out. Despite having to sometimes wring out my hair, these little champs haven’t show any sign of being remotely bothered by my sweaty self.

They keep a charge for a good long while. I’ve done four or five hour stints with them and been fine; if I’m running a series of shorter runs I’ll usually be good for about four workouts. You can tell when they’re about to go on you because the “reception” between headphones and phone will start to fade; it will become harder and harder to establish the Bluetooth connection. About twenty minutes before full battery-induced shutdown, you’ll get an audio low battery warning. To avoid this, I just charge it up whenever I get home (unless I’ve seriously only done about a mile or two).

The only real sign of wear they’re currently showing is a bit of peeling on the top layer of plastic; but as I’ve said they’ve had some serious hard use for over a year. For the $20 I spent on them, I’ll take some cosmetic defects and count myself lucky.

As an added bonus: these headphones seem to confuse the heck out of casual

Beat the Blerch finish line; September 2015

Beat the Blerch finish line; September 2015

observers. When I’m not using them (but about to and/or have just), I wear them wrapped around my neck. I’ve gotten everything from “did you get a neck tattoo!?” to “what’s that weird nineteenth-century hairstyle you’re sporting?” I call them my Rorschach test; I always find it amusing what creative minds will make of them.

So what do you think they look like?

Narragansett Bay Half Marathon Recap

On Saturday, my honey and I ran the Narragansett Bay Half Marathon in East Providence, Rhode Island. Let me start by saying this: marathon training is tough; but it is FAR easier to motivate for a long run when there’s water support, a pre-planned route you don’t have to think about, a bunch of other runners there with you, a tee shirt, finisher medal, and ice cream at the finish line. Technically, I was programmed for 10 miles this weekend (pull back week; my training plan runs in cycles like this), but I decided it would be WAY easier on my sanity to get the half in and take it easy. So I did.

Obligatory start line selfie!

Obligatory start line selfie!

The race was well organized; packet pickup was a breeze and there were plenty of bathrooms (every runner knows this is key for a good long run; pre-race bathroom lines can get nuts at these things). I only realized when we arrived that there would not be free beer at the finish line, but there would be free ice cream…. So I guess that worked out okay. This is particularly true because it was a 7 AM start. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a very slow runner… realistically I was going to be in the 2:45 range for a finish in the kind of heat we were dealing with (this was about my finish time on the nose). As much as I love beer, drinking it before 10 AM on a Sunday is not really my idea of a good time. Ice cream was far preferable.

The start was on time (YAY!) and the first few miles were pretty hilly. It was not a closed course, but it was well executed; we always had a nice wide shoulder for running and there was an ample police/volunteer presence to ensure runner safety. The only kind of off-putting thing was the amount of road kill; at least one significant piece per mile for the first 4 miles. Ew. I was grateful that I was paying enough attention to where I put my feet that this didn’t wind up being a trip hazard.

There were 11 water stations along the way which was really good because we needed it! It was hot and muggy, and though a breeze did eventually kick up that wasn’t entirely sufficient to keep us cool. Gatorade and ample fuel (gels, chomps, and honey stinger waffles) was offered along the course. A+ on aid stations!

For the first several miles we were running through residential areas which was really nice because East Providence has some extremely cute houses. It was a sleepy Sunday

View of the bay from along the course

View of the bay from along the course

morning, so we didn’t see much by way of spectators (though those who were there were out in full force; always a nice thing to see en route). A couple of the members of the community, knowing their yard would be on the race course, even left their sprinkler on facing the street so we could cool off on our way through. That was so kind of them and we definitely appreciated it. Thank you, masked strangers; whomever you are.

There were at least three bands along the race route (I kind of lost count because… like I said… it was HOT). Live music is really cool to run to and can pump you up when you’re in danger of hitting that dreaded wall, so I was super happy to see them out there. Thank you for the music, bands of East Providence!

At about mile 7 the course diverted onto a nearby bike path, which was really nice because it had shade, was flat, and had basically all the amenities of a closed course. Bikers came by now and again, but they were very polite and always signaled (some even cheered!). The course took us past the local fire station and the firemen were out on the driveway giving high fives to runners and shouting encouragement; there are few things in life quite as awesome as being told you’re awesome by a fireman.

Triumphant at the finish!

Triumphant at the finish!

While the course is kind of an out and back, it doesn’t loop back on the same roads it uses to go out so there was plenty of fresh scenery as your ran. On the whole, the course was challenging without being impossible and had some spectacular views. There was a race photographer at the finish line, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing my official race pics.

This was a great little race. It was small, local, cheap (only $50 if you pay attention and register with the early early registration), had ample race support, and an impressive finish line spread. The course was safe and lovely with some beautiful views of the harbor. Despite the early start, I would run it again if I can finagle a night in Providence the evening before. In terms of summer half marathons, you really can’t get much better than this one.

A Tale of Hills and Sandbags

Mount Desert Island is a hilly marathon. And when I say “hilly,” I mean quad-killing, think I’m gonna die hilly. Check out this monster:

mdi_marathon_course_map_profile

In order to train for hills like this, my coach has me doing a number of things. One of them is sandbag hill repeats. The exercise is Neanderthal in its simplicity: grab large sandbag, place on shoulders, run up and down steep hill for about 45 minutes. The principle is that this will strengthen my legs far more effectively than normal person hill repeats (since my legs now have to accommodate the weight of the sandbag; in my case 35 extra pounds).

While this exercise is incredibly difficult to do (seriously, according to my Fitbit I burn more calories doing this than almost any other activity…. It’s because my heart rate spikes in the first sixty seconds or so and never really comes back down until I’m done), it’s also something I’m really enjoying for a variety of reasons. Reason one: I get to go run a hill on an awesome, shady path through some Endor-style woods. Seriously. My first time out there, I couldn’t help but think of this the entire time:

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I remember wondering, as a kid, what kind of sadist Yoda was. I think I have sufficiently answered that question in my adulthood. Luckily my coach only makes me carry a sandbag and not piggyback him (my coach is a six-foot-something man built entirely of muscle; in my head I refer to him as “Gaston”).

Reason number two: there is something really viscerally thrilling about hauling this sandbag around in the outside world. It seriously makes me feel like the baddest M-Fer in the world. The added bonus is that the trail I use is a pretty popular one around here for runners (especially those of us doing hill repeats because… well… it’s a giant hill; about half a mile up an insane incline which is a pretty great split if you’re actively trying to run hills for your workout). I pass other runners frequently on the path. Every time I do, I get looks from them. The looks vary in purport; from the pitying “oh my gosh who the heck did you make angry to deserve this treatment?” to “oh my gosh, you’re the baddest M-Fer in the world!” Sometimes, other runners even cheer me on or say admiring things about me. Let me tell you how AWESOME that makes me feel as a girl who, up until her adulthood, was not “athletic” by any sense of the world and was always picked last for any sports team. It also reinforces to me how seriously awesome the global running community is; where else would you tell a perfect stranger how awesome they are simply because they’re doing something similar to your task but with an added degree of difficulty?

Reason number three: the view at the top is absolutely spectacular. I’m not sure I’ve managed to capture it in its glory, but I’ve tried on each occasion that I’ve been out there. Check this out:

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What’s your training schedule look like?

Weekend Running Recap

Weekend running recap!

It’s been hot hot HOT here in New England. I have to be honest, I’ve already asked myself over and over again why it was that I chose a fall marathon rather than a spring marathon. My coaches tell me that fall marathons are easier (since running in the heat is so difficult, the adjustment to fall temperatures from summer temperatures makes your run way awesomer…. As opposed to a spring race during which you basically cross your fingers and hope against hope that you get a nice day and then, thanks to Murphy, wind up running a marathon in 75 degree muggy weather). I’m not really sure that the word “easy” can be applied to marathons at all.

Speaking of training, I suppose I should mention that I’m not on a conventional marathon training plan. Since I do Crossfit several times a week, I’m getting the leg muscle development and cardio recovery threshold work from those workouts. The result? I only run one long run every week (with a little recovery the day after). Oh, don’t worry, I spend the rest of my time doing other equally horrifying things to get in shape for this marathon; nobody really escapes the torment. I’m simply varying my training so that I don’t just run all the time. And before you ask yes, I am doing this under the oversight of a few very experienced coaches; some of whom are marathoners themselves. They know what they’re doing and I trust them entirely.

It's not actually true if Garmin doesn't record it....

It’s not actually true if Garmin doesn’t record it….

This weekend, I had my first 17 scheduled. My first 17…. Ever. As in the longest I have ever run in one clip. It was slated to be a sweltering 92 degrees at the height of the heat on Saturday, so like any self-respecting runner I woke up at the absolute crack of dawn (literally… it was dark outside when I got up) so that I could start and, hopefully, finish before it got too hot.

That didn’t really happen. Yes, I started running in a temperature that was the high end of sustainable, but it quickly got muggy and I am very slow. Additionally, I made the brilliant mistake of forgetting my electrolytes. As a result, I had to alter my planned route to stop at a nearby Walgreens in order to pick up something that wasn’t water to get my body hydrating properly. You know that you’re in serious trouble when water stops making you feel better and, no matter how much you drink, you’re still thirsty. You also know you’re in serious trouble when Gatoraid actually tastes good (yuck). I thank all applicable cosmic forces that the Walgreens was equipped with a pinpad card swipe thingy so that the poor cashier didn’t have to touch my debit card (which, by the way, lives in the sweatiest pocket of my shorts when I run…. Sweatiest of course because it’s the closest to my body because who would run with their debit card and ID in a pocket that wasn’t close to their body? Isn’t that how you get mugged and robbed!?).

After my electrolyte stop I felt much better for a bit, but as it got later and later and hotter and hotter, I became slower and slower. As I’ve previously espoused, I’m already a slow runner so I can only imagine that it looked like I was doing some kind of slow-motion movie crawl to my finish line. Honestly, I couldn’t care less; I was so close to finishing the training run. The distance, I knew, would get easier the next time; all I had to do was keep going.

So I did. And that’s that. When I got home, I nearly did the unthinkable (drink a pint of pickle juice). I then remembered that I had a tube of Nuun tablets I had been meaning to try (free from my gym because apparently whomever originally purchased them hadn’t realized that they were the caffeinated kind). Let me tell you: it takes a special kind of dehydrated to make the Kona Cola Nuun tablets taste like something you want in your mouth. Apparently, I was just that special kind of dehydrated because it was AMAZING. Like… heralds of seraphim sang down from the heavens kind of amazing. I was pretty sure that some cosmic television showed me slow motion running through a field of daisies towards this Nuun drink.

My poor fiancé, on my recommendation, threw a tablet in his water bottle later that day and it was only then that we discovered the truth. Long story short: stay away from Kona Cola Nuun tablets…. Unless you’ve run 17 miles through the heat and you’ve got salt literally flaking off your face from the sweat. Then it will taste like ambrosia.

Sunday I did a 20-minute recovery run (also in the heat) that really helped loosen things

Foam rolling is the BEST! ....what, too much?

Foam rolling (or, as pictured, lacrosse ball massage) is the BEST! ….what, too much?

up. I also spent about 45 minutes foam rolling every inch of my legs and hips just to get those tissues good and unstuck. As a result, I woke up today feeling perky enough to get to leg day at the box. While I can’t say I set any PRs this morning, it did feel good to get the proper recovery in.

Alright, folks; what did you do this weekend?

Also: Have you ever drank a pint of pickle juice?

Also also: What’s your favorite Nuun flavor? I’m thinking of grabbing a tube or two of something not Kona Cola….

I am Runner; Hear me Roar

Like most people, I find it difficult to admit to being intimidated by something. Many of the jobs and tasks I perform require fearlessness; so I’ve grown used to executing courageously and allowing my doubts to get expresses in unseen little corners. But I believe it’s a good exercise to face the things that scare us; even if that monster is the fear itself. So here goes: for a long time, I was afraid to call myself a “runner” or an “athlete” and even more afraid to document the experience of being one. Why? Because I didn’t think that I was a “real” enough runner to qualify.

All of the running bloggers I follow seem to be written by incredibly talented athletes; people who are running BQ times, 7 minute miles over long distances, or are semi-professionally (if not professionally) involved in the sport. They are all witty and human people (which is part of what makes following their blogs so much fun), but I had trouble connecting to them as an athlete because they were so far beyond me. My Personal Record on a half marathon course is 2:28 (that averages out to about an 11.5 minute mile). Granted, this was a hilly course, but I can’t say that I run much faster during training. My PR for a 5K is 30 ish minutes (about a 10 minutes mile). This is not fast. During my long marathon training runs, I often run 13 or 14 minute miles. It is summer in New England (which will slow you down), and I do run hills, but by any “reasonable” standards

Finishing my first half; This is a great picture that captures how awesome that felt!

Finishing my first half; This is a great picture that captures how awesome that felt!

this is still incredibly slow.

So it’s been difficult to consider that the feats I’ve accomplished; not technically “unusual” in any capacity with the half marathon distance becoming an incredibly popular distance and running as a sport growing in popularity (btw: http://www.runningusa.org/statistics has some amazing statistics about racing and running in the USA); would make me a member of this “exclusive” runner’s club. It wasn’t until I had finished my fourth half marathon with no plans of stopping that I even began to feel comfortable referring to myself as a “runner” or an “endurance athlete” in conversation.

2015: the year of my first (second, third, and fourth) half marathon

2015: the year of my first (second, third, and fourth) half marathon

I can’t really say what changed. It might have been the literal writing on the wall as I looked at my ever-growing assemblage of finisher’s medals. I think it was also connected to the thought that someone who had completed multiple distance events would even hesitate to call themselves an “athlete.” It was definitely intertwined with the way I looked at my nutrition; once I had some empirical data that my calorie burn vs. calorie intake was skewed far too heavily in the direction of burn, I began to admit to myself that I needed more and different foods to fuel my body. This opened the gateway to allow for the possibility that perhaps someone who runs the run and has to make lifestyle adjustments to support these runs should probably start calling herself a “runner.”

The truth is this: your speed doesn’t make you a runner. Your distance doesn’t make you a runner. Running makes you a runner. If you run, if you run regularly, you are a runner. If you enjoy running, you’re definitely a runner. If you eat different foods to make your runs better, you are most certainly a runner. Running is not about measuring up to an impossible standard; it’s about your personal journey through the sport. It’s about testing the limits of your body and figuring out how hard you can push yourself. It’s about learning yourself and understanding how to motivate. It’s about achieving goals; conquering demons; and (sometimes literally) climbing mountains. It’s about saying “I think I might be able to do that” and then actually doing it.

Do I still sometimes feel a pang of misrepresentation when I discuss my running habit with faster friends? Absolutely. Do I let it stop me? Nope. I am a runner; anyone who wants to dispute that can try to outrun me over a long distance. I may be slow, but I’ll finish every time.

I’m Back!

Hello, world!  I’m back.

I am not going to try and explain-away the dissertation-invoked hiatus, but suffice to say that I missed blogging.  I haven’t stopped running, I haven’t stopped making theatre, and I haven’t stopped making academic progress.  Thing one: I’m officially a Doctor!  That’s some pretty exciting news that should probably feel like it changed more things than it did.

But enough about that; let me discuss what’s going to happen with the blog.

As I refocus, I’ll be looking to write more about my running, and more about my cross fit habit.  Workouts, nutrition, gear reviews; that sort of thing.  I’ve found that these things really fuel joy in my life; and that’s what I need to focus on as much as possible.  Life is short; let’s live the things that make us happy.

So expect to see more about my training; more about staying active; and FAR more gratuitous gym selfies (P.S. if you’re looking to constantly stay appraised of my gratuitous gym selfies, check out my instagram.

Let’s start here: current goals: I’m training to run the Mount Desert Island Marathon in October (my first marathon!).  I’m also 2/3 of the way complete with my Spartan Trifecta for 2016 (I did the Tri-State New Jersey Beast and the Tri-State New York Sprint; Super is scheduled for August).  Between marathon training and crossfit, I’m doing a LOT of training which should give me plenty of fodder.

So if you’re interested in following the antics of a back-of-pack runner; welcome aboard!  Here goes a new adventure in Dani land.

Run for the Penguins: Race Recap

The only thing I love more than running is running for adorable animals. Did you know that the African penguin is an endangered species? Neither did I until I met one last year on my birthday! One hour with Greenblack the penguin at the Mystic Aquarium was all it took to get me hooked on these adorable little waddlers. So when they told me that the Aquarium hosts an annual 5K to benefit penguin research and preservation, I knew I was in.

The race had its ninth birthday this year, so I knew that it was a well-worn course. Despite this, we didn’t get updates about check-in, bib pick-up, or even start time until shockingly close to race day. I might have blinked at signing up if I had realized that it was a 9AM start-time on a Saturday (which effectively meant a 5:30 AM wakeup call since we had to drive down to the Aquarium… a hefty road-trip). Nevertheless, myself, my honey, and my BFF got it together and woke before the sun to get to the start line.

We were mostly asleep the whole way down, but woke up pretty quickly when we arrived. There was a penguin walking around taking pictures and giving out hugs, which was

Us with the Penguin!

Us with the Penguin!

awesome since it was a bit chilly before the start. I agonized over what to wear for this race since the morning did start out quite cold; but knowing that it was going to warm up during the run I opted for just a thermal and my vest. Turns out I made the correct choice; by the time we were out on the trail it was nice and toasty.

I thought it would be a nice, flat road race; I was WRONG. The course started nice and flat and I booked it out of the start gate. It was a small-ish race (only 250 runners), so even in the crowded sections of the course it wasn’t that terrible. After a brief half mile on flat road, we ran through a cute field, then into a small trail section with some technical elements. Roots, inclines, a bridge; it was legit trail running for a minute there. This was the only section of the course where I experienced back-up; at one point the trail got so narrow that runners had to go one at a time, which meant we all ground to a halt waiting for our turn.

Since I hadn’t planned on PRing that day, this was just fine with me. The backup didn’t take long to clear, and we were on the road again. Out of the trail section, we were back on the roads of Mystic for what turned out to be a windy course.

There were two water stops, both serving ice cold water. I was grateful for this, but quickly found a small technical difficulty: the water-fillers were a bit overzealous and were actually doling out full cups of water. While I would have loved to swig, toss, and run (as is my usual MO at water stops on a 5K), this was kind of impossible with a full cup of icey hydration goodness. I suppose I could have tossed the half-full cup, but that just felt wasteful… Anyway, the water stops slowed me down a tiny bit but like I said, this was not a PR-chasing day.

About 2/3 of the way through the course, we hit a SERIOUS hill. The kind of hill that makes runners want to cry and give up. While I had been doing pretty good, the hill put a definite crimp in my plans (I wasn’t the only one) and I had to slow down to tackle it. But… just keep running, as they say.

After the hill, the course doubled back on itself. It led you back through the trail (more roots… more rocks…), back through the field, then back onto that nice flat piece of road before you hit the finish. I was able to finish strong within a minute of my PR; not too shabby considering the terrain and the back-up on the trail! The finish line was well-stocked with bagels, bananas, water, poweraid, and (get this) brick oven pizza that they were making in the back of a truck from a portable brick oven. Pretty killer for a 5K!

Honey was able to PR on that insanely difficult course, and my BFF finished strong (running the entire thing; her first full 5K! So proud!) so it was a good day for our crew. At the finish line, you could check to see if you won a door prize (none of us did), adopt a penguin (we absolutely did), and put your name in the penguin betting pool because (get this) there was a PENGUIN RACE to follow! Yes, after the humans ran for the penguins, the penguins ran for the humans!

Before the penguin race, we got to explore the aquarium a bit. It’s a neat place with lots of things to see, pet (I touched a shark!), and wonder at. We checking in with our favorite whale – Juno the beluga star of such Youtube videos as “mariachi whale” and “bagpipe whale”. Then it was time for the penguin race. Of course we got there early and got

A Penguin Race!

A Penguin Race!

wonderful seats (they host the penguin race in the same space that the seal show is… the seals are in the darkened swim tank while the penguin race chute is on the floor in front which probably means that the penguins can’t actually see the seals, but the irony is still palpable to us humans). The penguin race was adorable; the penguins weren’t entirely sure which way the finish line was, but they figured it out eventually.

On the whole, this was a great, well-run race and I’d highly recommend the experience. It’s a beginner-friendly race with a course that will challenge you without making you want to die, and there are loads of perks at the finish line. Plus: penguins. Do it for the penguins.

Love the List

Over the years, I’ve espoused the importance of lists over and over again as a vital resource for the busy grad student. Today, once more, I find the need to cry out the wonderful benefits of list-writing. So, if you’ll indulge me as I get meta for a brief moment, here’s a list of reasons why lists are important:

  • They keep you organized. Pretty self-explanatory. The key here is understanding you own work habits and figuring out how to support them; “organized” means different things to different people. We all have our own individual ways of working and lists are going to function differently for each of us. Love your list, understand your list, allow your list to understand you.
  • They keep you from forgetting things. If you write it on the list, it’s there for you to see when you’re panicking about it later. Boom. Like magic.
  • They help you relax at the end of the day. Often if I’m in a real panic after work hours, sitting down and writing a list of the “need to do” things for the next day will alleviate this because it helps me see how much I actually need to do and keeps me from getting anxious that I’ll forget any of it. Lists also help me consolidate tasks for the day and see where I am in my work progression and what I need to do next to get where I want to be. If I follow my list, I can’t go wrong.
  • They keep you on track. Before I leave my desk at the end of a very busy day, I write a brief list for myself of what I need to do the next day. This allows me to free my mind for the evening, devote attention to other things, then dive in in the morning right where I left off without thirty minutes of figuring out where exactly that was. At-a-glance information is always better than “I put it somewhere” information; it’s all about trimming minutes off the edges of your many tasks so that you can fit as much as possible into one day’s work.
  • They give you a concrete look at what you’ve accomplished in a day. When you’re working on a giant, seemingly endless project that moves like the desert sands (like… say… a dissertation…), you need this. Without a hard look at the physical facts of what I’ve done with my daytime hours, all too often I feel like I’m spinning in a giant hamster wheel: running hard but never really getting anywhere. Incidentally, treadmill running also feels this way… but at least that gives me a good endorphin kick as a reward for my troubles. If I keep a hard copy list of tasks that I need to do in a day (or period of time), then I can see how much I’ve crossed off the list. I also get to give myself an awesome feeling of accomplishment when I tear up/cross out/scribble over/destroy by fire this page of notes. Boo-yah!

There it is; lists. Trust me on this. You’ll live a better life once you’ve taken their power for your own purposes.

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!