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!

Take it Away

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

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

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

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

Write strong, my brethren!

Don’t Let it Win

Some days, the dissertation wins.

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

Those days, I win.

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

I’m told it’s a common phenomenon.

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

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

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

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

Don’t let the dissertation win.

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

Tools of the Trade

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

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

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

External Monitor 

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


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

External mouse and Keyboard

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

Writing Tools 

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

Caveman Tools

my computer set-up with bookstand in use

my computer set-up with bookstand in use

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

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

Night Moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wipeout Run Race Recap

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

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

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

Finish Line Jump Shot

Finish Line Jump Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

conquering the sweeper

conquering the sweeper

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

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

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

And that was that!

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

Coming off the final slide

Coming off the final slide

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

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

Professional Courtesy

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

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

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

High school me performing in "The Laramie Project"

High school me performing in “The Laramie Project”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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