Virtual long run- Two- #longrun #academia #runchat #oiselleteam

If we were on a long run today, I’d fill you in on the last few weeks of life. This probably won’t be too long of a long run (maybe 1.5hrs? 10miles? What do we feel like doing?) because I ran at a rate that was inversely proportional to the rate at which I consumed cheese and meat over the holidays. Like most everyone out there, December seemed like a whirlwind of events, too, and I didn’t get in all the awesome workouts and training and things I had planned. But really, it wasn’t too crazy. I ran a trail race in 8 inches of snow, I finished my first semester of teaching college sophomores, I applied for a few jobs, I traveled to Michigan for Christmas. I could probably write the “12 days of fall semester ending” song: There was 1 white elephant gift exchange, two Secret Santas, three holiday parties, four students that liked me as an instructor (if I am being optimistic), five reference letters requested, six CV updates, seven lunches and luncheons, eight dinners, nine cookies, make that ten cookies… ok fine, 12 cookies. All long runs should have some singing, right? Anyway, I digress.

If we were on a long run today, I’d tell you how relieved I am to have finished my first semester as a lecturer in engineering. Teaching was tough; it required a lot more time than I thought it would (and I went in expecting to put in more time than most college profs given that I’d never taught an entire class before), it required a lot more effort, and a lot more emotional restraint. It was both humbling and rewarding, and I am excited to teach again knowing what I know now. I didn’t expect or anticipate all the questions I was asked throughout the semester, but as we chugged along, I found my stride. It was a steep learning curve, but I definitely know what approaches to take, and what not to take, in the future when I teach again. That is, if anyone hires me… (more on that later). Have you ever taught a class? A lecture? Have you had any teachers or professors that stood out as ones you liked or didn’t like? What about them made them a good or a bad instructor?

If we were on a long run today, I’d tell you that I have officially started the tenure track (TT) faculty search. In fact, this would probably take up the whole run, so maybe I will save the majority of it for a different post. I will say, however, that this is yet another thing about academia that is not as easy as one might expect (and requires a lot more time than I thought it would). Get a fellowship, they said. It will make you a “hotter” candidate, they said. What I have gathered, in my immature and rather short experience of TT-applying thus far, is that I’m not entirely convinced that the search committees always care that much about that kind of stuff. Cool, you have funding. So does everyone else applying for TT jobs right now (or so it seems).  Nonetheless, I’m on pins and needles waiting… waiting… waiting. Because even if you submit an application on Tuesday, you want (you really, really want) some sort of “cool, thanks for applying” point of contact from a real person, not an automated email, with some sort of “you’re just what we’re looking for!” or, at least, “nah, you’re not that cool” feedback. Because, even though you really want to be that cool, you also don’t like waiting. As I’ve been told, the first round of applications for TT positions tends to be a crapshoot, (or rather in academia) “a learning experience,” and yet another way to develop thicker skin. Also, it’s a way of finding out that the search committees just aren’t that into you, as one might say. And lastly, I will tell you that the TT application process in and of itself is a lot like trying to date someone you’ve had a crush on for a while; the nervous butterflies after you put yourself out there, the checking your phone/email all the time to see if you missed a message or call, the constant sinking “oh shit” feeling that you messed something up (grammatically, of course). Oy. I haven’t dated in a while. Remember when we used to chat about dating on our long runs?

If we were on a long run today, I’d laugh at the analogies we make now that we are “older,” and obviously more mature. Seriously, there was a time when we ran for hours and talked about our crazy sorority roommate and all the f^&#ing glitter in our upstairs bathroom, or our crazy office mate who didn’t use headphones and drove us nuts, or what freshman we could find to give us a free dorm meal. What crazy stories from college (or earlier years) do you remember that got you through long runs?

If we were on a long run today, I’d tell you about the awesome race I did a few weekends ago called the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run. It’s a cult race, usually selling out in the first few days that registration is open (this year it sold out in 6 hrs). Fortunately, the race director threw me on the wait list and I got in after bribing him with threats of volunteering and trail cleanup. Also, Pere Marquette is (apparently) a fairly famous area of Illinois; according to my Coffee Guy (@stringbeanPete), it’s the #2 place in the late 1960s for people to go on their honeymoon. There’s loads of bald eagles flying around, and its about an hour away from St Louis City proper. I almost ditched the race because the area got about 8 inches of snow between midnight and 6am, and the roads were in horrible condition. Fortunately, Emily agreed to drive, so we picked up Irwin and we skidded our way to the PMQT visitors center to run a 7.5mile race, in snow. It was fantastic. Lots of fun, actually kind of fast because the trail was basically paved (albeit with snow). There were some slow sections (e.g., getting behind the train of runners from waves that started ahead of me) and super fast sections (e.g., running in the powder and just flying down the hills), and I wound up in second place for women behind Emily herself. We had the speedy car, apparently. Has there ever been a race that you almost didn’t show up to the start line for that was an absolute freakin’ blast to race?

The drive up.

I like running down hills, too. Photo by James Hooton

I like running down hills, too. Photo by James Hooton

So much pretty snow. Photo by Joann Fricke

So much pretty snow. Photo by Joann Fricke

SuperKate. Photo by Jim Hooton

SuperKate. Photo by Jim Hooton

The line of people.

The line of people. Photo by Joann Fricke

If we were on a long run today, I’d make a plan to have a long run again on Saturday or Sunday, because it’s 2014 now and it’s time to get back at it. Let’s think about what races we want to do this year, and chat about it in a few days, yeah?

Staying on Track: Update

This week, I logged my first official track workout in a series of speed sessions, all by myself on the St Louis Uni track. It. was. fantastic. Technically, I wasn’t alone. I showed up to the track on Wednesday night, and it was a happenin’ place, with nearly 30 kids and their parents bustling around. Six-yr-olds practicing 4×100 relays. They were better at hand-offs than some college relay teams I know. It was cool to watch as I ran lap after lap.

The workout: hammer out 12x400s with 400 rest, shooting for my 5K race pace. Truth be told, I actually broke it down a bit faster. I tried reigning it in, but no matter how much I felt I slowed down, I ran faster. When I run a big block of repeats on the track, I try breaking it down into sets so A) I don’t lose track and B) I don’t get bored/overwhelmed. For Wednesday’s workout, I broke it down into groups of 4:

First set: 1:29, 1:26, 1:26, 1:23
Thoughts: Ok, these were a little fast (the last one 10sec faster than my goal pace) so try not to implode on the next set. Stay relaxed, you have real estate to slow down a little.

Second set: 1:23, 1:22, 1:24, 1:22
Thoughts: Seriously, slow down. The last set is going to be painful.

Third set: 1:20, 1:21, 1:21, 1:19
Thoughts: Ok, well then, don’t listen. The final 400, #12, was a “might-as-well-see-how-fast-you-can-go” with the last 100 a sprint, but I never felt … tired. It was great. Very confidence boosting.

Next up, I have a 5K in mid-June (All American 5K) and I may or may not jump into a 10K in Edwardsville the weekend before. Did I mention that I’m signed up for the Fox Cities Marathon in September?

Speaking of marathons, and 12×400 repeats on the track at 5K race pace, I recently updated my marathon training library with Luke Humphrey’s new book:

 photo IMG_20130601_090853_608_zpsdc0d2875.jpgThis book was super appealing to me for two reasons: I am a big Hansons Brooks fanatic, and the methodologies aren’t too crazy off-the-wall compared to what I’m familiar with. While the 18wk plan (advanced) that I’m following just started last week, and I missed a few 6-milers because of travel to NY, I am feeling confident and focusing on being consistent and running nearly every day. That being said, yesterday’s 6-miler turned into only 2, because 10minutes into my run, the tornado warning sirens went off.

To me, the interesting thing about the Hanson’s method for marathon training, compared to other plans out there that millions of people follow (Galloway, Higdon), is the lack of mega-long runs and incorporation of consistently maintained physiological stress during the week; If I follow the Hanson’s Advanced marathon training plan as it is written to a T, I won’t run anything longer than 16 miles.  When training for a marathon, a lot of runners find this blasphemous. But truthfully, when I look at my week of training midway through the plan, I get a little excited. It reminds me a lot of training in college, under a modified Jack Daniels plan, that incorporates speed, tempo (what we referred to as Lactate Threshold, or LT), and a longer run with consistency and speed. I won’t necessarily have high volume weeks because it’s not practical for me right now (the highest mileage week I have planned is 63 miles), but I will have high physiological stress and cumulative fatigue.

In the past, I’ve cobbled together my own plans in the past based on insight from highly successful coaches (including Pfitzinger’s, Daniels’s, etc.), which follow similar methodologies and likely guided the Hansons in developing their own marathon method. Jack Daniels, an expert exercise physiologist and running coach, literally wrote the book on endurance run training (and also shifted my endurance training mentality during my junior year of college, when our cross-country team welcomed a new coach who followed his methodologies to a T).  What I didn’t embrace before, but is clear after reading the well-written book by Humphrey and reflecting on things here and there that I overlooked in my marathon training over the past five years, is that Daniels’s running methods specifically instruct runners, regardless of their goal race distance, to not incorporate long runs >25-30% of their weekly volume. Even still, I admit that in the past, I ignored this advice in order to just get that “big long run” in on Sunday morning, even if my training during the week was inconsistent, because- well- that’s just what you do when training for a marathon. You gotta have a big, long run. Turns out, actually… you don’t. Oh, and just in case you didn’t know:
 photo daniels_zpsa51dcb1b.jpg

Of course, depending on my total weekly volume, the absolute duration  my long run is irrelevant (remember: it’s 25-30% of my weekly volume at most!); if I design a training plan with the highest volume week of say 100 miles, the longest run of the week would be more than 16 miles. But, 100 mile weeks for me right now are not practical, and I’d probably get injured.

My success and failures in marathoning thus far hinges on cumulative fatigue. Last year, I was ill-prepared for the St Louis Rock and Roll marathon and switched to the half… during the race… even though I ran several long, 3hr+ runs. But I lacked consistency, with typical weeks of training only consisting of 4 days of running per week, and I didn’t accumulate physiological stress to adapt and be faster for longer. The best marathon I’ve had I raced 5 weeks after my first Ironman triathlon, and the accumulation of training 20-30hr weeks with one stellar (albeit forced) taper during post-ironman recovery served as a fantastic tuning for a fast and – most importantly – fun marathon.

Stay tuned for a post about writing your own plan for your goal race while taking into consideration your physiology. It involves one of my favorite hobbies: Doing the research!

Winner Winner, Frickin’ I’m going to Tahoe @RagnarTrail @TheGearJunkie

This weekend, I was notified that I was a finalist for The Gear Junkie’s Ragnar Trail Relay Sweepstakes. I applied in April, after managing my training schedule and deciding that, yes, I was indeed all-in for a seriously fun year of training and racing and finding my fast again. I had the itch for some quality time on trails, and it was scratched by my trip to Zion for the first-ever Ragnar Trail Relay. When I noticed this sweepstakes on Gear Junkies’ website, I didn’t hesitate to apply.

Actually, I didn’t apply right away. I had this big grandiose plan to make a cool Vimeo video of running on trails with friends and stuff, like when my friend Margot came to St Louis to run 30 miles with me for my 30th birthday (which I still have yet to blog about) or when I ran around the Lunchloops in Grand Junction, Colorado, with my friend Erik until he ran me into the ground and I had to walk 2 miles back to his house. But, in both of those instances, I only took one single goddamned photo, and it was of a giant-ass snake, not anything to do with running… needless to say, I didn’t capture any magical moments on video.

So I resorted to pouring my heart out in a story for the Gear Junkies. It meant a lot to me, but I knew it was a long shot. Somehow, amazingly, it got me into the finalists’ round… and …

I am so thrilled, excited, pumped, ecstatic, … what else? Honored! The Gear Junkie guys (and gals) are a force to be reckoned with, and I get to race with them in all the Tahoe/Ragnar/Salomon glory. Special thank you to Salomon for sponsoring this sweepstakes and making Ragnar Trail events so fantastic (seriously, Josh and KO and the rest of the Salomon crew really know how to show up to an event), to Ragnar for the race entry and for putting on amazing events, and to Gear Junkie for picking me!

Staying on track

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I do well when I have a target in front of me. Two points to draw a line between; what does it take to get from where I am now to where I want to be? When I don’t have a race to train for, I kind of float around; train here, there, whenever I want- less so much more than more so. But when I set a target, a goal race, I can connect the dots between here and there, I can build my fitness and focus. True, I don’t always meet my goals, but I do find that without setting concrete goal, a deadline – if you will – I won’t even make that step. Maybe I’ll start to move in that direction, but it won’t take much to ping me off course.

Now that I’m getting back into the swing of training, which is to say, I’m actually running more than three times a week, it’s time to set some points in the distance to inch towards. So, I signed up for a marathon. The goal: to successfully run a speedy-ish race in less than 20 weeks. This will be my first marathon in nearly 3 years. That’s a lot of years.

But, I did this last year, see. And the year before. Last year, in May, I signed up for a marathon, and trained with stellar mediocrity throughout the summer. As the race date approached, I decided to split the difference based on my training effort and life effort and halved the distance, deciding that I’d just race a half marathon as I toed the line next to all these superfit and fast uber-athletes that toed the line with me. And, although my ego took a blow because there’s no way I could have maintained the pace I wanted to for the entire 26.2 miles (because I barely hung on to that pace for 13.1), I realized something: it was fun.

So much stinkin’ fun. Half marathons are fun. Racing for less than half the time and actually feeling good after crossing the line is a strange phenomenon. And it made me realize something: I want to feel good, have fun, and be fast. Is that possible? Can I do all three of those things?

I’m going to try it, at least. What have I got to lose? I’ve got the training plan ironed out, a track less than 2 miles from my door, and a fire burning in my belly. So long as I’m having fun, I think I’ll be able to stay the course.

Ragnar Trail Zion

This weekend, I was honored to be invited to race on a Ragnar Relay team with Nuun Hydration, a company I am proud to represent as an ambassador. Just a little shameless plug: Nuun is the best product for ultimate hydration. And since the Ragnar Relay this weekend was in the dry, dusty desert of Utah, it was in fact the best piece of pro I had at my disposal. This is my recap of the first-ever Ragnar Trail Relay, the Ragnar Trail Zion, which was held near Zion National Park at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch (of which the address is literally “5 miles down Twin Knolls Road”).

Going into the race, I was excited to experience something a bit different and off the main stream from the well-known company, Ragnar Relay, which was started by Tanner Bell and Dan Hill in Utah in 2004. The company has grown exponentially in both the number of events and its exposure over the last decade; there are now over a dozen road relays spread across North America (yes, one even takes place in Canada!). I appreciate their organization, team-mindedness, and enthusiasm for all things running. I have raced a handful of Ragnar Relays (four, to be exact), along with my wonderful womanly teammies of Team Mega Tough. We’ve utilized these races as a tool to reconnect over the years and across the distance; they serve as a reunion of sorts for a group of girls who ran cross-country and track together in college, and we’ve been joined by more awesome friends we’ve met between now and then. Now that we are no longer all in one place, but rather spread out all across the country (with members in Berkeley, CA; Baltimore, MD; Duluth, MN; Detroit, MI; Saint Louis, MO; etcetera…), we use running reunions of all different kinds to catch up. We’ve even used them as bachelorette parties, since running around Grand Island in Lake Superior is, at least to us, much more fun than partying with penis straws in Vegas. We have successfully, and sometimes less-successfully, crushed 200-ish miles as a regular 12-person team and even as a women-only ultra (which is 6-person), and we’ve always – no matter what – come out on the other side with fantastic memories, a closer bond, and a wonderful sense of just exactly what it means to be the best of friends.

I flew into Vegas two days before the race start, which gave me plenty of time to get settled and relax a bit. I stayed at Mandalay Bay with Mickey, a triathlete who lives in Miami (who rocks). After a good night sleep in big comfy beds, we ran a few errands and picked up Sean and Caitlin from the airport to head north to Zion. The drive was uneventful, but gorgeous, and we passed through Zion National Park during one of the last days of National Parks Week. Zion is amazingly gorgeous, and the route to Zion Ponderosa Ranch did not disappoint.

The drive from Vegas to Zion did not suck.

Once we arrived at the Ranch, just outside ZNP, we met up with Megan F., Dana, and Michelle. We then set up camp and had a hot meal at the lodge. It took a while, so we ended up heading back to camp afterward and hitting the hay.

“Race day” is kind of a weird thing to say for a Ragnar Relay, since your race doesn’t start until the afternoon sometime and usually lasts into the next day. For those not familiar, Ragnar Relays (road and trail both), and some other relays, are anywhere between 120-210 miles long, so they take a while no matter how fast you and your teammates may be. The faster your seed time, which is typically based on your road 10K race pace or a half marathon pace, if you’re racing an ultra, is what determines your start time. The faster your seed time, the later your start time. This way, all teams will finish within a few hours of each other, as opposed to the fastest teams crossing the finish line first. In fact, rarely if ever do the fastest teams actually complete the relay before anyone else, which I think is a really awesome aspect of the Ragnar Relay design: Whether you’re fast or not-so-fast, you are running the same course, at the same time, as everyone else.  I love the flow that staggered starts have, and it also influences the attitudes of racers, in my opinion, for the better. There’s less stress, less ego, less anxiety with a staggered start time, and its fun to be running with and around other people.

Nuun: Hydrating Ragnarians

Around lunch time, we picked up a runner to fill our 8th spot, thankfully. Mike, a member of the Ragnar Crew, wanted to race and we were excited to fill that spot. As an extra bonus, Mike is superfit, and also superfun, so we appreciated his offer to join our squad.

Runners taking off on their first, Green, loop.

Our start time was at 4pm, so we kept the Nuun jugs filled up (10 gallons each of Fruit Punch, Orange, and Lemon-Lime go fast in the desert heat) and cheered on the racers. Dana was our first leg, which meant she ran the Green loop; a 3.5mi bobby-pin shaped trail that reunited with the Yellow (a 4mi loop with biggest elevation gain) and Red (a 7.5mi loop) loops at the end. There were three trails in total; with a regular team, we each ran one of the trails one time. The order of the trails were: Green, Yellow, Red, and then back to Green, so we experienced the trails in the following order:

Dana: Green, Red, Yellow
Me: Yellow, Green, Red
Mike: Red, Yellow, Green
Mickey: Green, Red, Yellow
Caitlin: Yellow, Green, Red
Michelle: Red, Yellow, Green
Sean: Green, Red, Yellow
Megan F.: Yellow, Green, Red

Dana starting us off

Dana handed off to me, and I cruised through a mile or two of the Yellow loop before I took a wrong turn, unknowingly. Eventually, I made it back to the correct trail, after putting a log across the trail that I took but was not supposed to take, and reassured my teammates that I was still alive. As the sun began to set, the headlamps came out and the team clicked through their legs smoothly. I took a nap in the tent during Michelle’s run, and headed back down to the expo area to sit around the fire and watch “Unbreakable” on the big screen in front of the campfire.

Around the campfire, watching a movie. Photo by Megan Fay

My second leg took place in the dead of night, and it was a quick and dirty 3.5miles. The athletes were quiet, bundled up around the campfire, not a lot of energy, just a lot of quiet. The moon was bright and the signs were incredibly easy to see. My headlamp was almost too bright. With only 3.5 miles of trails, I felt like pushing myself an extra bit, and felt extra fast. There’s something about running under the stars that is simply exhilarating, and the adrenaline is pumping, too. Afterward, I made a concerted effort to sleep longer, so I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and slept for a solid 4 hours straight. I think that’s a Ragnar record.

Once the sun started coming up, I headed back down to the athlete village to prep for my final leg of 7.5 miles. My college teammate, KO, was at the race as well working/racing for Salomon. Although her team, the Salomon Elite team, had a 7:30pm start time (more than 3hrs after ours), they were catching up to us, and we warmed up a bit together before our hand-off runners came in. That’s one of the really neat things about doing relay races, especially Ragnars. The start times are staggered so that everyone finishes around the same time (within a few hours), and then there’s a big party.

The third and final loop for me, the Red Loop, was beautiful and fairly flat, with a few false-flats. The sun had come up, I felt good, the altitude wasn’t affecting me too much, and I ski-walked where I needed to. And, knowing full well how the last half mile finished- since it was the same connector trail as the other two loops- I dug deep and pushed it to the finish. It didn’t take long for the rest of the team to roll out of their sleeping bags and head out on their final laps. In fact, Megan F. – who didn’t sleep the entire time, mind you – wrapped up her anchor leg swiftly in the heat of the day!

All in all, the race was a blast and the weekend was fantastic. The trail relays make for a great way to spend time on the trails with friends (new and old), and logistically, they are cake. You simply drive to the race site, set up a tent, and hang out until its time to run. There’s no driving from Point A to Point B; no worrying about driving at 3am. It’s more relaxing and less stressful, being out on trails as opposed to in “civilization.” That being said, there’s plenty of running, hot water (there were people who took a shower after each of their legs), real toilets, and even cabins for those who planned ahead. Of course, trails are typically slower, more technical, and more “adventurous” than roads, so if you aren’t a fan of trail running, Ragnar Trail Relays probably aren’t for you. That being said, if you’ve never done a trail race before, the loops are short enough to not overwhelm even beginners; when the going gets tough, the lap is almost over. There were tons of veteran trail runners out there, but there were even more newbies, people who came from sea level and have never ran a trail race before. Plus, Ragnar knows how to manage races well, and the centricity of the athlete basecamp made things a bit easier, too. I highly recommend these, and look forward to my next Mega Tough get-together at a Ragnar Trail Relay.  Until the next one…

Check out my teammies’ blog posts, too!

Run on. #bostonmarathon

The Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of American running. For practically any runner who has ever ran a marathon, it’s a life goal to make it to the start line.  Heck, it’s a life goal for tons of people that have never even run a 10K. It takes months, years, decades even, massive amounts of time spent training to trim down times in order to toe the line. And getting to the starting line isn’t everything; there’s the whole thing about running yet another grueling 26.2 miles on asphalt, your knees aching and lungs burning, up Heartbreak Hill and across the city of Boston, just to cross the same finish line as tens of thousands of people just like you- some faster, some slower.  It’s the same course every year, the same neighborhoods. Sometimes even the same spectators. Yet it draws the attention of all of us every year, whether we are runners, or not runners, if we’ve raced it before, or if we never will. It’s a race that is alluring, motivating, and inspirational for everyone.

The Boston Marathon has always been a lot more than just a race. It’s the months of diligent training. It’s the races that came before, the race that garnered a qualifying time and the many other races that didn’t. It’s the stories that were picked up along the way in training, in traveling, in life, that get you to the start line, those aspects of our lives that mean more than the race itself. Just starting, just toeing the line.

I have never raced the Boston Marathon. To be honest, it has always intimidated me. So many people, so much excitement. It’s just. So. Big. I suppose that I should have raced it by now; I have been fortunate to have run fast enough times and to have qualified with each of the five open marathons I’ve run. But even though I’ve qualified, when it comes time to register, I have just never even tried to sign up. When the time came, I just wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t excited, or I wanted to switch gears and focus on other things. For five years, I have always made excuses.

But now, everything is different. After the bombings on Monday, after worrying about my friends who were racing and spectating, after seeing the photos online of those injured and those crying. Watching the runners come down the finish chute, not to finish the race but rather to escape whatever exploded less than a block from the end. Watching runners and volunteers go backwards on the course, toward the blasts, towards those in need. Helping, or trying to help, anyway. Yesterday, there was little glory in finishing the biggest marathon in the world. For so many, there wasn’t even a finish line.

I set a goal back in 2008 to run a marathon in each of the fifty states by the time I am 50 years old, and planned to make sure that each one was a BQ. My ultimate goal? To run Boston as the final marathon- maybe not my final marathon ever, but rather the last in the series. Racing Boston would be the peak of this accomplishment, the culmination of what I hoped to accomplish over a period of 25 years. But now? I don’t know that I am going to stick with that goal; I don’t know that I want to.

What I want to do is race Boston now. I want to toe the line, I want to huddle next to other nervous runners just like me, waiting for the gun to go off. I want to stand next to my friends and strangers, the ones I trained with and the ones I met that morning. I want to shout “hiya hiya!” as the elites take off, and as I pass other runners, and as other runners pass me. I want to find my rhythm, maybe I even want to lose my rhythm. I want to feel the crunch of paper cups under my feet and hear the whirrrrr of crowds as I run by. I want to high five the cheering spectators lined up along East Main and Waverly Street, all while wearing a big grin on my face. I want to laugh at the cowbell ringers and people with awesome signs. I want to thank the volunteers for being out. I want to run as fast as I can when I turn onto Boylston, giving it my all, not holding back. Just raw, pure running, unhindered and unadulterated. What it’s supposed to be, and what it is to so many of us.

I want it, now.

The parallels of passions between science and sport

Coming back from the annual Orthopaedic Research Society meeting in San Antonio, which is what many- including myself- consider the “flagship” meeting for basic orthopaedic research scientists in the world, I am feeling a bit upbeat. It feels good, which is rare for post-docs (feeling good about oneself, that is). Er, maybe that is just me. Anyway, it’s been a bit of a challenge getting my feet under me these last two years as I peruse the post-doc requirements for success and substance moving towards a career as an aspiring academe. In fact, it took me a while to connect the dots between the parallels of my former life (i.e., endurance athlete) to my current one (i.e., academic scientist). Of course, I’ve had quite a bit of overlap; I didn’t start training for marathons until the latter end of my master’s degree, and triathlons didn’t enter the picture until the midpoint of my doctorate. I’ve been a runner my entire life- well before I officially declared myself a “scientist.” Truthfully, sport and science have always been in parallel for me, but it’s never really clicked that they overlap in so many ways.

Lab

OK, I get it, saying this out loud makes me quite the jock. But what do you expect? This blog is supposed to be focused on my athletic adventures. That’s why I started blogging in the first place, and it is definitely more exciting than talking about science all the time (right?).  My own blogacity (is that a word?) sort of “fell off the wagon” when I started my post-doc, mostly because I had a big internal struggle of whether or not I should even attempt continuing to compete at an amateur elite level. And when I realized I could no longer hang at the level I was at, I got frustrated and my competitiveness pushed me to throw in the towel all-together.  Let’s be honest; to continue competing on the level I wanted to would have required a lot of sacrifices that were a bit easier to handle in grad school, such as 25hr training weeks, travel to and from races, early mornings at the pool, etc.  In grad school, I had an incredible support crew, and perhaps a bit less pressure in the lab to “do more.” As I transitioned into being a post-doc, I experienced a ton of life changes, including moving to a new city and living by myself for the first time ever (and having a long-distance relationship). I debated between traveling to races and traveling to spend time with the ones I love. And I just, frankly, had a terrible time putting all my eggs in two completely different baskets; did I want to be a great athlete, or did I want to be a great scientist?

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Anyway, in the end I decided to step back from training as a competitive athlete and focused more on training to be a competitive scientist. Seriously, what does it mean to be a competitive scientist? For non-scientists out there, I’ll have you know that there are lots of things to consider, including the ability to obtain grants and the marketability of the research one does. It was almost unknown territory, except for one thing: there are lots of parallels between both paths. To be good at either sports or science, you have to be dedicated, you have to have passion, and you have to follow your dreams, as cliche as that sounds. There are many similarities between my former life as an aspiring athlete and my current life as an aspiring scientist, and here’s a few:

  • Do it because you love it: Elite athletes are competitive in nature, otherwise what are they doing at the elite level, right? I think scientists are, too- especially those with academia as their goal. It’s easy to get caught up in the competition; racing and training can take on a whole new feel if you’re only concerned about winning and not about the stuff in between. Research is the same way. Sometimes, we reflect more on whether or not we got the last grant or all that stuff our peers are doing better than we are. This may especially be true for women in both arenas, whether athletics or academics; we often look to others to find the pitfalls we have in ourselves instead of looking within to see what good stuff we can bring to the table. There are ups and downs, good days and bad, with both athletics and research. Not every day is the best day ever… actually, most days are far from that. Sometimes, the track work ends early because you aren’t hitting your goal 400meter times. Sometimes, you put the pipettor down and throw the samples back in the freezer because your experiment is a bust. But we need to take the bad with the good even on the worst of days if we want to deliver high quality results. It’s important to understand that even on the worst days, putting in our best effort is what it takes to be successful.
  • Find the right coach for you: I’ve had many great inspirational coaches in my athletic career. The most inspiring was, in high school, when I had a running coach that was like a third parent to me. He was dedicated and enthusiastic, caring and nurturing, while being tough with a “no whiners” attitude. He’d write reports for all his athletes after every cross-country race; we’d receive a card with our mile splits and notes on how to improve, what we did right, and where to focus our efforts in the coming week of training. He was honest and straightforward, but never mean or belittling. After all, we were teenage girls, and this 60yr-old man had us under his thumb. I had, and still have, a tremendous amount of respect for this man, and he helped shape me into the focused athlete I became. Everything he taught me, I carry with me to this day. It wasn’t just in sport, it was in life things, too. His mantra, “It will feel better when the pain goes away,” is relevant in so many aspects, not just when doing 20×400 repeats. In high school, my life revolved around decision-making based on running, and it was in part because of the respect he instilled in me. The same can be said about academia. Reflecting back to high school again, I had the most amazing math and physics teacher who would go above and beyond what was necessary to see that her students really understood. She also had a tough-love mentality, and she engrained in me so many things I still carry in my brain box today.  Who we choose to guide us can play a pivotal role in the outlook we have on our future, and this is particularly relevant to who we choose as mentors during our academic training. I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors who are excited about the work they do, who are supportive and encouraging but do not placate me with false ideas of what an academic career entails. I would say that not everyone in endurance sports needs a coach… but honestly, at some time in their life or another, every successful endurance athlete has had a coach- whether it was in high school or college or along the way. Having a mentor in academia, especially at the budding stages as a graduate student/post-doc, is critical (you can’t really get a degree or complete a post-doc without having some sort of mentor/mentee relationship), and while this relationship doesn’t have to be perfect to develop a successful career trajectory, it certainly helps to have someone on your side; Just like having a great coach encourages athletic success. As I grow, I hope to always have great mentors to look up to and pass along what they’ve taught me.
  • Stand behind your results: When it comes to the “A” race, the build and the taper are both crucial for successful execution on race day. The same can be said about presenting your research. You’ve invested all this time, collecting data, analyzing, writing, performing statistics; it’s all a lot of work on the back end, but when it comes time to presenting your work at a conference or submitting it for review to a journal, well- the work has been done. The hay is in the barn. It will either be a huge success, or it won’t, but there’s nothing you can change about it now. So stand behind the work you’ve done, be confident, but also be willing to accept that there is likely someone out there in the field that can push you to do better. Don’t throw yourself a pity party at the finish line; instead, rejoice in what you’ve accomplished but also take criticisms in stride, knowing that they will make you and the work you do better in the end.
  • It’s better to be a funnel than a sieve: When planning a race season, it’s important to focus on one major race, with a few smaller races along the way for “tune ups” to help hone your skills. Aside from my body’s lack of ability to stand up to more than 2 marathons a year, I’ve found that it’s just easier to be successful in the long-course races if I don’t spread myself too thin with too much racing. In research, I think it’s important to maintain this mindset and focus what we do in the lab with what we want to do every day. Staying focused in research is an important, and sometimes overlooked, way of being successful. While writing grants is a 1-in-10-if-you’re-lucky deal (meaning, just keep churning out grant applications until one hits), and as a researcher I have to keep pushing through fellowship applications, I try to keep sight of what I want to research in the long term, staying focused in one central theme (e.g. soft tissue biomechanics) so that I can establish myself as an expert in that area. Just like in running, where training for a 5K personal best doesn’t mean you’ll try to race a marathon the weekend before, being a well-established researcher means I need to hone my skills in one area instead of dabbling in a lot of off-topic areas.
  • You have to invest time into your training if you want to improve: Some people are naturals; they pick up sport right off the bat and hit the ground running. But for those of us who are mortals, we get better with the right type and amount of training. Some of us are better suited for 5Ks and others for marathons, and we need to understand where our strengths lie, address them from the start, and focus our training around our goals. Academia is no different. While there are geniuses in our midst, we can’t all be perfect from the start.  It takes training, and practice, and patience to perfect our skills and get better. I am no where near as good as I hope to one day be, but I know that if I give up and settle, I won’t improve. So I gotta keep plugging away.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint: I guess, in racing, this only applies if you really are training for a marathon, or an ironman, or whatever. But even still, the point is that you don’t want to blow up in the first 100 meters of a race by going like a bat out of hell off the start line. In research, especially for graduate students and post-docs, there is a susceptibility for burn-out from being over-ambitious in the first few years. I suppose this could be true for early-career faculty as well, but I can’t say for certain first hand. Working long hours is only worth it if you reap the benefits of it; if you’re hours are fruitless, or you find yourself working without purpose, then it’s a waste of time. By no means am I saying that you shouldn’t work hard; I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t work 60+hr weeks (even still) on occasion when the effort is required. When a grant is due or a paper needs to be submitted, you put in that extra effort to see that it gets done and it gets done well; there’s no room for half-assing in academia. That being said, knowing your limits not just for productivity but also just plain “will to work” is important, because it’s not at all difficult to lose sight of what’s important. And, just like in racing where it’s easy to go balls-out in the first quarter mile of the race, it’s even easier to start out at a steady pace and pick it up mid-way through. Find a groove and trudge along through the race, because it’s a long one.DSC_0007

What I’ll be reading for the next five years

I am not the best reader. I am often pretty darned slow at getting through books, mostly because after a page or two, I fall asleep. Maybe I am bored, or just tired, but it happens and I am over it. Sometimes, I will read paragraph after paragraph without actually reading the sentences as sentences, and end up having to go back again to read it the next day because I forgot what it was about. Pro tip: Don’t read when you are tired. I’m a picky reader, too, which doesn’t help, and if I find a book I don’t like, chances are I won’t finish it. I’m ok with this, and I don’t get upset or anxious if I don’t finish it; I will simply just put it back on the shelf and move on to something else. I am rarely envious of people who always have a book to read before bed or on the train… because honestly, if I go to bed without a book, I will just fall asleep. Cripes, I fall asleep after two pages even when I have a killer book to read!

As a post-doc, I started getting into audiobooks, because a) I sometimes do mindless things that take a lot of time (e.g., mechanical testing, dissections) and b) I am not good at staying involved in reading (see above). Maybe it has something to do with all the journal articles I read, or maybe I am just lazy/tired. Either way, whatever. I got into audiobooks, and I am now content with Audible, of which I subscribe. I download one audiobook a month (sometimes more if they are having sales) and try to get through it before the next month’s credits come along.

The first audiobook I downloaded was ‘The Eye of the World,‘ the first book of fourteen (15 if you include the prequel written in 2005) in the Wheel of Time series originally written by Robert Jordan. Jordan passed away in 2007, before he was able to complete this series… however, it has since been completed by someone hand-picked by Jordan’s wife who reflected on Jordan’s massive collection of notes to write and wrap up the last three books. My husband started reading this series after finishing ‘A Dance with Dragons,‘ the recently released book from the series A Song of Ice and Fire (the series that HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones” is based on). Anyway, I also read and enjoyed all of the ASOIAF books (I know, right?), and my husband mentioned that I may like Wheel of Time, but it was not as intense (read: sex-crazed) as George R.R. Martin’s series was. And, unfortunately for me, it is a long series (14 books in total) with not-so-short books. Yes, the fourth book has over 1,000 pages. That is a lot of pages. But, I started to dig fantasy, and thought ‘what the heck’… I might as well give it a go as an audiobook and listen on my long drive to Tennessee and back (16 round trip hours).

Cover of the book “The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan. From: Wikipedia

The audiobook was 30 hours. After my road trip, I was still completely hooked with the WOT audiobook. The writing was descriptive and engaging, and completely enjoyable. The story captures the lives of five unique young adults living in a town called Emond’s Field, which is detached from the rest of the world, so to speak. There is good and evil, light and dark, and monsters and magic. It’s an exceptional story with a descriptive fantasy theme to portray the coming-of-age of individuals who are “woven into the pattern” by the wheel of time.

After I finished audiobook, I read out-right (no audiobook necessary) the second book, “The Great Hunt,” which was even more engaging. The story just keeps getting better and better. Unfortunately, since I am so slow at getting through books, and these are not little books, it will be a while before I actually find out what happens to the Dragon Reborn and the Aes Sedai. I commend the narrators of the audiobook for their great work; plus, I get to correct my husband when he mispronounces Egwene’s name.

If you are into fantasy, then this is old news and you’ve probably already read WOT twice over. But if you are interested in exploring a new genre, and aren’t afraid of dedicating the next 14 books to this engrossing storyline, I highly recommend it. It helps that the last book, “A Memory of Light,” just came out, so you don’t have to worry about a series that never gets completed. Rumor has it that Brandon Sanderson does an exceptional job at finishing it out. Our copy was ordered on Amazon last night, although it will be a while yet before I can put my hands on it. I am only on book #3: “The Dragon Reborn“!

The world hasn’t ended.

Well, we survived. As if I was actually concerned. To be honest, it took listening to NPR at 4pm today to realize that today was the day that the Mayan calendar ended.

But whatever. Who cares.

What I care about is the fact that I now live with my husband. We started driving from Fort Collins, Colorado, at 6pm on Saturday and arrived in the beautifully foggy Saint Louis at around 9am on Sunday. We didn’t stop, we didn’t get a hotel, we just motored through the beautiful(ly dark) state of Kansas and all it has to offer (mostly, windmills). No rest for the wicked. We started unpacking everything we transported in the 12′ Penske truck into our new grown-up-married-peoples loft. Then, instead of resting, we went to get all my stuff from my house, and moved it into the new place. Then we unpacked. Made a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond. Unpacked some more. All on Sunday.

I slept like the world had ended that day. But alas, it didn’t.

Now that nearly everything is unpacked and put in its right place in our massive two-bedroom, two-bathroom loft in the city of Saint Louis, we are feeling settled in. We even reignited our tradition of Trainer T-days tonight, which was fantastic. Now, if only I could wake up before the sun rises, so I could get more track work in…

But who wants to settle in? We’ll be heading to Michigan on Saturday for some quality family time and more driving, because driving is what we love to do… right? It’s a good thing Baberaham makes a great travel buddy. Safe travels to all who will be traveling this weekend, whether it’s in a car, train, plane, boat, or whatever.

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The life and times…

Adventuring back into the blogosphere is a challenge. I used to have it good when I was blogging, things were easy. I’d do something fun in training and post about it. I’d read blog posts of friends who were training for triathlons, like me, and see what they were eating, drinking, running, swimming, biking, yoga-ing, reading, watching, etcetera. I got comfortable with using the word “blog,” and I’d become so proficient at it that I could write a blog post while eating dinner or riding on the trainer. It would be a brain dump a few times a week (not nearly as frequently as I’d poop, of course), and voila- I had a virtual diary of my life and times for a good solid portion of my graduate school years.

And then, like a freight train, the real world hit me. Maybe I didn’t have anything exciting to blog about, or I didn’t have time, or I had too many excuses. My stint in competitive racing came to a screeching halt when I took on training for academics, also known as “mixed martial arts meets squash for your brain,” and that made me even less excited to blog, when all I had to blog about was how much it hurt to run 5 miles, how many times I banged my head against the wall trying to figure out an experiment, or how many bowls of ice cream I ate since the last time I rode my bike. Trust me, you don’t want to know. I gained weight, which made me even less excited than I had been about blogging, because who wants to listen to an out-of-shape fatty drone on and on about how hard it is to train when her motivation falls out the window at the mention of happy hour? Unless, the happy hour was at Tom’s, and fun stories were shared with fantastic coworkers.

Oops. See what I mean? I probably lost at least 50% of my readers just now.

So what am I going to talk about, as a washed up former age-group triathlete turned focused post-doctoral scientist? Well, probably not triathlon. But, you will likely see a lot of what I am embracing now: my runner self. I’ll remind you what it feels like to get back into shape (read: droning on and on about her dumpy self). OK, I’ll keep droning to a minimum. I’ll take you on explorations in St Louis, via bike and on foot, and share with you my favoritest, secretest (and some not-so-secret) spots that make me so happy to be living where I am. I’ll share testaments of my daily life, as an academic and an athlete regaining the reigns of her bad-ass self. I can’t wait to share with you pieces of me again, as I make my way down the ebb and flow of the life I lead. And I’ll share just how I am putting myself back together- This, my friends, will be the humpty dumpty story of a fitness fanatic who fell off the wagon. And I’m back, with some figurative super glue.