New Girls’ Club #oiselleteam

One of the first things my boyfriend (now husband) bought me was a shirt that said: “A woman’s place is on top.” While some girls may take this the wrong way, and find this a chauvinistic, sexist, or insulting maneuver from a dude they just started dating, I found it admirable. You see, the shirt was referencing the author of the book Breaking Trail, Arlene Blum, who is a mountaineer and trailblazer in more ways than just finding her way to the tops of 14,000 footers. This book was a farewell gift from my roommate and running buddy, Katie, when I left Montana. And, this book has been an inspiration to me, especially during the first few years of my PhD (and as I started training and racing marathons)- and to this day. It really drives home to me the fulfillment, the strength, and the power that comes with choosing your own route, breaking your own trail, leading your own life.

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Some big news came a few weeks ago in the world of Track and Field when Kara Goucher announced she would be joining the flock and recently signed with Oiselle. As a member of the flock, I was obviously excited, and admittedly somewhat surprised. But hearing Kara’s story, her rationale to set flight with Oiselle and leave Nike’s support of over a decade, made total and utter sense. And when Sally (Bergesen, CEO of Oiselle) dropped this one, I couldn’t stop nodding:

“We wanted to make room for powerful women on the start line of our company. After all, while we hate to admit, we’re familiar with the stereotypes…i.e., that things get messy when you have too many strong B’s at the top. And that women often tear each other down, right when we should be building each other up. One reason we find it hard to deal with the old boys’ club is that we aren’t very good at putting together the new girls’ club. I’d like to prove that theory wrong. I want to continue building the new girls’ club – where strong yet different personalities can complement rather than compete.” – Sally Bergesen, Oiselle.com

You see, whether its business, or racing, or academia, this stereotype- that women compete and tear each other down- persists. And perhaps its more than a stereotype, as hypercompetitiveness and “catty” behavior is a contended evolutionary trait. But why? I don’t have the resources to answer that question, but I do know that- anecdotally- I’ve experienced this. I’ve been a victim on numerous occasions. But what is worse: I’ve been the assailant. Oh, how I’d love to be able to say that I’ve never felt jealous of other women in similar positions, that I’ve never said something condescending about what another woman was wearing (albeit not to their face…), or performed a side-by-side comparison of another woman’s measurable accomplishments with my own (whether it were race results, papers published, or acclaim from mentors). And why? For what benefit? To make me feel better? If anything, this behavior has made me feel worse. Whatever metrics I utilized sometimes summed to me “on top”- but often, I’d find out that the other woman (or man) was better, however measurable, or stronger, or faster. And the downward spiral would progress until I felt resentment and discomfort in my own skin. And that’s ridiculous.

Fortunately, my approach in assessing myself (and others), and my accomplishments (and the accomplishments of others), has dramatically improved when I don’t pull up a side-by-side comparison. True, it’s incredibly hard to NOT pull this trick. And many aspects of life are evaluated in list-form side-by-side comparisons. Say four people are being interviewed for a single tenure-track position. Each of their strengths and weaknesses are being assessed by a committee. Or, perhaps a hundred grants are being reviewed by a committee and there’s only enough money to fund five, maybe six. This weekend, twenty elite women are toeing the line at a 5K and only one woman can win the $1,000 prize purse. Does that mean that those “losers,” the ones who won’t get that single tenure track job at this one university or win the grant or win the race are worse candidates than the others? Absolutely not. They made it there. They toed the line. Their grant was reviewed. Maybe they just missed the cut off score for funding. Maybe they came in dead last in the race. Whatever the case may be, they were there. They put themselves out there to be judged and to be assessed. By knowing humility and confidence (and when to use it), they show strength and perseverance. And it doesn’t matter what race you’re running or field you study, those there are great traits.

And lastly: It’s ok to be competitive. Competitiveness is a trait in many of us that motivates, inspiring us to do better and be better. Interestingly, comparing our own accomplishments to that of others is incredibly easy. It’s lists and side-by-side comparisons that show A is better than B. 2 is greater than 1. But guess what? Every list is always incomplete. The committee hiring for a tenure track faculty doesn’t care what your 5K PR time is. The granting agency doesn’t care how many friends you have on Facebook. Your competitors in the race this weekend give two shits if you have to prepare for upcoming job interviews*. So maybe… maybe it’s not fair to compare side-by-side. Assume your list isn’t complete; assume “their” list isn’t, either.

*unless your competitors are your friends. Then, they probably care.

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Finding my flock

Oiselle Badge_150px

I found out yesterday morning that I was officially accepted for the Oiselle Volée team.

For over the last year, I have been getting back to my roots in running, focusing on trying to reconnect, improve, and rediscover my drive to be better. Better at what, exactly? Well, better at racing, for sure. I took a few years off, as is habit for me I suppose, after ending graduate school and starting my post-doc. It was a tough few years, and it took a while to get into the swing of things, but I’ve been able to find support and encouragement from others to look ahead and see my potential. Besides, who doesn’t want to be better, stronger, faster? But I’m also striving to be better in a lot of other ways, too- like, better at balance. Sure, I want to be a better balanced runner– meaning, I want to actually be able to stand on one foot and then the other without falling over, and I want to feel strong, grounded, and connected with the earth. Better balance in the literal, tangible sense of “yoga-and-closed-circuit-exercises”-sense. But I have also been striving to find better balance between work and “life” things, better balance in – more importantly- life outside of work. I started rock climbing and strength training again, after several years hiatus, and I tag along with my husband when he goes to the trails to ride his bike, so that I can run on singletrack and hills and sand, so that I can get better and stronger and fitter. I eat better, thanks to my husband who prepares gourmet meals as if I am an athlete in the Tour de France and he’s my amazing chef. I even think better; improving my positivity and thinking ahead at my potential instead of dwelling on my shortcomings.

So, when I found out that Oiselle was bringing on some more ladies to the flock this year, I was quick to apply. It was easy for me to apply; the questions in the application were honest and my answers were honest, and the mission of the company is one that I’ve adored for years. In 2009, when my former collegiate teammates and I officially formed Team Mega Tough, I found Oiselle to be the perfect reflection of us; strong, ambitious women, brought together through running, who’ve made the most lasting friendships and have experienced the most remarkable things through each other’s accomplishments. With Team Mega Tough, and now Oiselle, it’s not about me- it’s about the flock. Sure, I want to do better for myself, to race faster and be stronger and have the most amazing balance (can I stand on my head? ok, maybe I don’t really care to do that)… but more importantly, at least to me, I want be there when others in my flock do their best. I want to be the one my teammate calls when she PRs in the 10K after not racing in a few years; when she decides she want to run her first marathon and calls me just to tell me she signed up. When an email chain between five women goes around about running a relay as an ultra team, which means we’d all run more than a marathon- and their first response isn’t: “WHAT? That’s stupid.” It’s: “WHAT? Where do I sign up?” When a friend tells me she wants to race the Leadville 100 mile run, and that she wants to win it, I’m not going to call her crazy; I’m going to buy a plane ticket to Denver and crew for her, pace her until I puke my guts out at 11,000ft above sea level. These are things I enjoy more than racing itself, but these things revolve around running, they are defined by running. And these are things that add up to way more than anything I can accomplish on my own. Running is an individual sport, but there’s so much more to it than doing it all on your own. It’s the meet-up runs in cities while traveling, its the destination races with friends to see more of the country, it’s the 3hr run “just-because” with friends you haven’t seen in months, it’s the bachelorette parties that revolve around trips to islands just to run. Running is at the center, but we flock around it like birds to a lake. It’s about having a team of women that support each other, and I’m proud to say that I run for Oiselle.

More summer training adventures

Training lately has been going well. I’ve had some quality training sessions on the track and off the track, in multiple states even. And, best of all, I’ve been feeling great.

I think that it’s all in the small details; I drink more water during the day (since moving desks to the office instead of being in the lab), I eat incredibly well thanks to my fantastic spouse, I run consistently 6 days a week, and I feel rested. I even took a nap three days in a row last week. Who does that? Well, professional runners, of course. I am by no means a pro, but I do feel exceptional when I am getting the right balance of intensity and recovery. Did I mention I eat incredibly well?

Backing up a few weeks, Baberaham and I traveled up north over the 4th of July weekend to spend some quality time on trails in the Keweenaw. We hit up the Tech Trails right away, and I hammered out 8 fantastic, fast, and flow-y miles on some of the best single track in the Midwest.

Then it was off to the shores of Eagle River, where we enjoyed one of many perfect sunsets on the sandy beach. We camped, drank whiskey, and caught up with friends we haven’t seen in years. Literally. It was fantastic.

On the 4th, we headed all the way up north to the northernmost town of Michigan, Copper Harbor. The IMBA Epic certified, Silver level Ride center that absolutely does not disappoint. I don’t think I could ever get enough of these trails; well, minus the biting flies, of course. But the flow and the climbs and the descents are just so fantastic, and the views are breathtaking. Seriously:

Photo by Hansi Johnson

After a day full of running (me) and riding (B), we went back to Eagle River for some smoked meats and campfire, but made the better decision to head back to town and stay with our friend, Tim, in “town.” We enjoyed a comfortable pull out couch and slept, a lot. Well, I did. B got up and biked more, and I took a rest day. It did get pretty hot, so I was glad I made the decision.

B made a fun, Game-of-Thrones-ian dinner at our friends’ house, and we we slept like rocks again at Tim’s. On our last full day in the Keweenaw, I got a big breakfast in my belly and headed out to tackle my favorite of workouts: Ripleys.

Mont Ripley is the ski hill in Hancock owned by the University (Michigan Tech), and it makes for a great summer/fall training ground. In college, my teammates and I would tackle the “long” route (mostly under the tutelage of our first coach, Gary) and the guts (under the tutelage of our second coach, Joe). The good thing about the long route, you usually only had to do one. The good thing about the guts, they were over in 3 minutes. Either way, though, they were pain, suffering, and shear VO2-max-inducing awesomesauce. It was hot again, and humid, and I haven’t been doing much in the world of hill work in Saint Louis, so I started out by aiming for getting through three guts. After 2, I decided to take a “break” and hike the long route to the chair lift at the top, so I could take some photos and get oxygen to my brain.

Check out more of these on my Instagram

We spent our last night at The Fitz, which is quite possibly my favorite place on Earth, and had a delicious meal with fantastic whiskey and amazing friends. I am ever grateful for having Mike and Marc in my life. I worked at The Fitz as an undergrad, when Mike and Marc were just out of high school and Mike’s parents owned the place. Now, these guys run the show, and it just keeps getting better and better. We had our one-final-amazing sunset on Lake Superior as we sat at the bar, Marc pouring us the perfect pours of Stagg and Ardbeg and Pulteney…

And when we woke up in our comfortable queen size bed with the sound of waves crashing against the beach outside, we packed up our things and rolled out of town. We were just as sad as the weather to be leaving, but it was time to head back to the real world. Fortunately, the Keweenaw will be there when we are ready to escape next time.

The Spring Thaw: Icebreaker from Natureshop

Many of you know I have a passion for merino wool. You may remember a post I made last spring about my upgrading wardrobe. I also have talked about the GT goods on the Team Mega Tough blog. If it’s wool, there’s a good chance that I love it. But I have particularly strong love when it comes in Icebreaker form. I’ve been keen to this company ever since 2004, while living in New Zealand for 6months. Now I may be a bit of an elitist, because wool is wool, right? But not all wool is created equal. Icebreaker goes above and beyond quality and design. They do a really great job of making sure their clothes fit right, their socks last forever, and their lines are temperature specific. I would have never dared to wear wool in the summer, before I was introduced to Icebreaker’s Travel and GT lines, that is.

Recently, Natureshop contacted me and introduced me to their online retail shop. They have just about everything awesome that is wool. Wool slippers? Check. Wool sweaters? Double check. And best of all, they carry the best: Icebreaker.

There are many things I appreciate about Icebreaker, but what really makes this clothing company rad is their transparency, their versatility and their passion for the environment. Anyone who has ever been to New Zealand knows that the country is on top of their game when it comes to being green. And understandably so, it’s an absolutely amazing place:

'04, hiking in the South Island

Which is why when Natureshop approached me about the potential for working with them for clothing reviews, I couldn’t say no. They, too, are on top of their game when it comes to environmental awareness. Natureshop is a CarboNZero company, which means that they aim to reduce their carbon footprint by measuring, managing, and mitigating their greenhouse emissions. Natureshop is selective in the clothing/shoe companies they carry for this reason. Luckily for me and the environment, Icebreaker makes the cut.

Now what about their clothing? Well, if you haven’t seen it before, Icebreaker’s clothing line is 1) comfortable, 2) stylish and 3) versatile. Their sweaters, dresses, even t-shirts can be dressed up or down. Take the Villa dress for example:

It’s smooth and stylish, and can be used as business casual or for a first date (or a night out with the girls). It’s made from the Lite 200 merino, which makes it comfortable to wear on really hot, toasty days (or while dancing all night). It has a summery feel, with short sleeves and a wistful tie. But, hold on- that doesn’t mean its only a hot-weather outfit… The great thing about Icebreaker is that all their stuff can be layered. Grab a sweater to wear over top, or a pair of tights to wear underneath, and you’ll be comfortable even in cooler temps.

My friends at Natureshop agreed to send me the Villa dress, as well as a few other items from my yearly wish-list.  Oh. My. Gosh. Really?! What an amazing treat. Along with the dress, I received a pair of the Pace Legless capris and the Zenith top.

Pace Legless Capris:

At first I was fooled that these were wool. They are thin and light, which I was sure meant that I was going to be cold while out cycling in 40F weather. But of course, I wasn’t cold. Ever. Even though the tights were sheer and thin, they kept me warm and I could not have been more impressed.

The Pace Capris are a great example of layering from Icebreaker. They are in the 200 Baselayer line, but that doesn’t necessary mean they have to be used as a baselayer. I felt comfortable wearing them by themselves while running and biking, and the seams and GT wordmark make me feel like that was a-ok. I have actually worn them over bike shorts, as a way to keep my knees warm while mountain biking. I don’t have to readjust them while I am running, which is a chronic problem I’ve had with most other capris I’ve used for running, so that is a bonus, too.

And, I ran with them yesterday, on a very Spring-in-Saint-Louis day (where the temps soared to 80F and the sun shined brightly), and I felt comfortable. Although, I probably could have used some shorty-shorts to tan my very pale legs…

Zenith Top:

OK, this is hands-down one of the most stylish tops I own. Although I asked for a small, my friends at Natureshop sent me this top in x-small, which I was hesitant about but I am really glad that they made the executive decision. It fits perfectly. Its as if it were tailored to me. The color, cosmic, is a rich blue hue that is great for wearing year-round- I can wear it with a skirt, a pair of jeans, or a nice pair of slacks. I especially love the tie around the neck- not functional, but stylish, and that’s what makes Icebreaker stand apart from other wool clothing companies. The delicate worksmanship of their seams softens the look of their clothing, and even adds a bit of elegance. It’s amazing what a good sewing technique can do!

Villa Dress:

This is a dress I have wanted ever since the Icebreaker 2010 catalog came out. It is such a cute dress that I was sure I could justify spending $110 on it. Then I looked in my closet, and saw that I already have four (count em, 4!) other black dresses. So I talked myself out of it. Granted, I could have just donated my other dresses to Goodwill and felt appeased with the Villa dress… but I didn’t quite do that. Hell, I probably could have donated ALL of my dresses and felt glee with just the Villa.

Needless to say, when asked what item I really, truly wanted from Icebreaker, the Villa dress was my first choice. But, at first, I had a hard time justifying when I was going to wear it. I’m not much of a dress-wearing gal, but I really like wearing dresses. If that makes sense. I guess I am not big on dressing up for normal things like work and socializing. And the Villa dress… it seemed too nice to wear around town, to work, to normal things. But then I realized how silly I was being. First of all, this dress is comfortable. It was designed to be worn for normal things. Heading to the coffee shop? Wear the Villa. Going out to lunch with friends? Sure, where this dress. I’d probably run in it if I didn’t have a bunch of other Icebreaker stuff to run in. I wear it to work, I wear it to the grocery store, I even wear it on the bus… It is machine washable, after all. This dress has reconnected me with my hidden style, too. I went to Urban Outfitters and bought three different kinds of colorful tights to wear underneath, when the temps a bit cooler. Otherwise, I don’t even wear it with pantyhose, because that detracts from the smooth merino against my legs (ooh lala!). It’s just a black dress, after all, but it’s much less than simple. It has a very elegant neckline, and the tie around the waist adds to the beauty of this dress. The length is perfect, I don’t feel like its too short or too conservative, and it doesn’t ride up even though the fabric is light. And just like all the rest of the Icebreaker casual clothes I own, the stitching is well done and offers the dress its own bit of class in and of itself. In four words: I love this dress. [By the way… Anyone need a black dress? I’ve got four I have no use for anymore!]

Natureshop hooked me up with this really swanky gear that I’ve had on my I-really-want-that-someday list. I appreciate their support, and hope you support them by checking out their online shop. Right now, Icebreaker’s winter 2010 gear is on clearance at 30% off, which means you can get the sweet stuff listed here on sale.

Motivation

I am less than 9 weeks away from my first big race of the 2011 season. NINE weeks. That is not very long. To be technical about it, it’s only 60 days off. Eek. All sorts of thoughts are flooding my brain, and I’d rather not go too deep into them without wanting to crawl under my covers and stay there for the next two months.

Life has been busy, and I knew it would be. It’s not like grad school wasn’t busy, but being a post-doc in a new lab, getting up to speed with different projects and figuring things out, well- it takes its toll. And while I feel like every post I make as of late is a woe-is-me about how being an adult completely sucks (it doesn’t completely suck, by the way), that isn’t the topic of this post. Rather, my focus today is how I am trying to get through the slumps, no matter what they are, and finding that it is easier than it seems.

Slump #1: Sporadicity of weather and life (yes, I know I made that word up)

The craziness of life and the weather go hand in hand. How, you ask? Well, One day, its a gorgeous 65F and sunny, with a small breeze, and I am just itching to get outside. What will I do? Ride my bike? Go for a run? Why not both? No problem finding motivation to get outside on days like that. So I make sure I get what I need to get done before 5pm, I make sure I go to bed early so I can wake up and run or swim before work, and its all good. But when its 30F and sleeting, however… that’s a different story. Why should I get up early when I can just lay in bed a little longer? So I get to work a little later, and then I find that I don’t really want to wait at the bus stop in the pouring rain. Work late? I suggest to myself. Why not get all this work done *now* (at 8pm on a Monday evening) so that if the weather is nice later in the week, you won’t feel bad about leaving before sundown. Except, it doesn’t work like that. Just because I work late one day doesn’t mean I can just take off early later. No, you see, I have a really good habit of getting into a routine, no matter what it is. Which means, it could be good for my work productivity, or it could be good for my triathlon training. No matter what it is though (and its usually only one), once I get on a roll -say, doing histology for my projects –  well, its hard to get out of the groove. And that is not a terrible thing. Being determined is a strength, a great personality trait. But it can sometimes lead to bad lifestyle changes. Like, for example, skipping lunch because I want to get something done, but that something is going to take me 5-6 hrs to do, so I don’t actually eat lunch until 6pm (most others would call that dinner).  Anyway, these choices spiral a little out of control, and I sometimes lose sight of what I am actually trying to do. So, I have to take a step back to regain my focus.

One way I can encourage myself to make sure I find balance in work/life is by having things to look forward to. I joined a masters swim group, and I have made friends that I look forward to seeing each time I go. I bought a CycleOps JetFluid Pro trainer, and its so sleek and quiet and smooth that I want to ride my bike all the time, no matter what its like outside. With the new trainer, I have been doing some really fun indoor sessions, including some Sufferfest videos and some from my coach. I’ve also been tinkering with my bike fit, and I’m rocking a new Adamo saddle which makes me not want to get off my bike fifteen minutes after getting on. All in all, I am just really finding a connection with my bike, and I have my one-bedroom hardwood-floors and brand-new-bike trainer to thank for that.

Slump #2: MIA embarassment

I missed a week of Masters swim at the beginning of February because of my trip to Puerto Rico. That was two Saturdays (one of my favorite Masters days), one distance freestyle, and the other random don’t-think-just-swim-what-coach-says workouts that have been making me stronger and stronger in my weakest sport. Because of the vacation, I didn’t buy a month pass for Masters, which meant I didn’t feel obligated to go and get my money’s worth. As the month wore on, and I had eighteen years’ worth of work to catch up on (that is at least what it felt like once I returned from vacation), I found myself staying at work until late into the evening, going to bed later, and not finding the ignition to get up and get my butt off to swim at 430am. Then, I felt like it was too late. I haven’t swam in two whole weeks! I thought to myself. If I go now, everyone will wonder why I am so slow and why I have been skipping out. So instead of swallowing my pride, sucking it up, and just going back and proclaiming “I am a lazy piece, but I am back because I want to get better”- I just didn’t go. That was lame. So today, I bit it and threw down for a month pass, and since I am going to be on a tighter budget now, I really do have to get my money’s worth.

Slump #3: Wearing the big-girl pants

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of pressure at my new job. To be honest, my boss is amazingly cool, laid back, and seriously smart. But, I think part of the pressure comes from within. I don’t want him to be ashamed for hiring me, to think he made a bad decision. I don’t want to let him down, nor do I want to be a bad reflection of my former boss. I want to be the best at what I do, but – of course – I have the humility to know that I won’t always do a perfect job. The job I have reminds me a lot of endurance sports;  I have such a passion to fully submerse myself into the knowledge, the literature, the research. I want to absorb it all and push the limits and do something amazing. It’s been challenging to both find the time and find the mental partitioning to do that with training, too. But I think that training has always been an integral part of my success as a researcher. It helps me find my center, it keeps me from spiraling out of control down a path. It keeps my brain focused and requires me to allocate time to specific tasks instead of going off on tangents for hours on end down a dead end. And I think I’m finding that groove, the style of structuring my day so that I can do my research and still relieve stress and find strength in endurance training.

So, here’s to getting out of the winter slump, no matter what it is (raises glass of milk).

What slumps have you been dealing with lately?

I guess it was time to take a break

February started with a bang. Actually, it started with rain, winds, ice, and snow. The snow wasn’t fun snow. It was the snow that has the texture of sugar, abrasive and hellacious. It’s the snow that you loathe if you’re a Nordic skier looking for the perfect wax. In Missouri, I have learned, the winters can be cruel. Not that I don’t know what winters are like. I have lived in the mountains, I’ve lived in the Yoop, I’ve seen- I’ve experienced- winters. But I’ve never experienced a real Missouri winter before. At first, I thought everyone was so full of sh*t. Really? A “midwest” winter? I mean, I grew up on Lake Erie, I went swimming in Lake Superior in December… and you’re telling me its cold and nasty in MO? Pshahhh….

But I bit my tongue. I nodded and grinned when people would say such things. And then, hell froze over. Literally…

Winters in Missouri are like a bipolar boyfriend who has never sought treatment. One day, it’s 60F and sunny. The next? It’s 30 and raining. Then the rain is freezing to the ground, the temperature keeps dropping, the winds keep picking up… and your car ends up with an inch-thick sheet of ice on it. Forget driving. Unless your car is equipped with ice skates, you ain’t going anywhere.  And on the first of February, this is exactly what happened. It started with some rain, some wind, and the temperatures dropped. The next day, the entire town was covered in ice, schools were canceled, the city of St Louis shut down, and everyone was in panic mode. Granted, I didn’t think we needed to buy out the toilet paper and bottled water at Schnucks (that might have been going a little far), but closing schools seemed entirely reasonable.

Luckily, I got to experience the entire week of lackluster road clearing and icy sidewalks before heading south. By the time the weekend came around, the temperatures were already rising and the roads were clear. I didn’t care, I was excited to leave if just for a week.

So. Where did I go? Here’s a hint:

What do tropical rainforests, deep-fried everything, and really awesome people have in common? …

Give up?

Each can be found in Puerto Rico.

I have never been to the Caribbean before this past week, and luckily the weather was tame and… gorgeous. I usually hate hot, humid places. But it wasn’t too hot. There was always a nice breeze from the Trade Winds, and the scenery was phenomenal.

The people were incredibly friendly, especially our driver George. But that’s the Puerto Rican way, I think. How can you not be happy if all you do is stuff outside?

Luckily, I wasn’t completely engulfed by the Puerto Rican lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I ate fried food (fried plantains came with everything…) and I laid in the sun a little too long, leaving my skin the color of lobster. But I did get in a few decent runs. I did some “swimming”- that included diving under and over waves, and body surfed. I hiked in El Yunque National Forest, and I even did some kayaking (granted, it was an eco-tour to see the bioluminescent bay… but I count it nonetheless).


I made it back to Missouri this morning, and I think I brought the nice weather back with me. I really can’t complain – as soon as I got back to my apartment, I grabbed my bike and headed out for a few hours in 60 degree and sunny weather. I feel refreshed, I feel ready to tackle work again, and I am feeling more motivated to train and get back into a schedule. I am also motivated to eat well again, get back into the routine of preparing healthy meals that don’t involve greasy plantains… although I have to admit- the Mofongo was quite delicious.

 

Wildfire

It’s amazing how much disorder can spread. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t have any life-threatening issues or sick family members. I’m in a stable relationship, I’m happy, I love my job. But even for normal, happy, shining people, we still have our ups and downs. Sometimes, it just takes a little match to set the whole thing ablaze.

Two months ago, I started a new job. A new, incredibly awesome job. And with the new job came new responsibilities, new things to learn, new things to read, new ways to behave. I was no longer the senior lab tech, I was now a humbled post-doc in training with lots and lots to learn. It has taken me some time to find the reigns, and I am still reaching. Whenever I would start to think I had a good grip, something would happen and I slip backward a little. But I was inching more and more closely to being able to handle it…

Mind you, two weekends ago, one of my best friends got married. When she got my RSVP, she called me up and asked if I’d like to read a scripture during the ceremony. Hello?! Of course I will do that.

So, to get to the wedding on the cheap, because I am still broke beyond all means and couldn’t afford the plane tickets at the time that they were <$600, I decided I’d drive from St Louis to Minneapolis. It was a hike, so I split it up- and I pretty much had to since I had surgeries on the Friday I was planning to leave. After work, I drove to my teammie Rachelle’s house in Iowa, where she put me up and entertained me for the evening, and then in the morning, I headed the rest of the way to Bloomington for my friend’s big day.

The wedding was a blast. It was an incredible honor, and to be a part of her and her new husband’s special day was an amazing treat. She looked like a princess, and I’ve never seen a couple more happy than they were. It was an absolutely beautiful day.

That night, I stayed with another friend in the Cities on Saturday night and headed back to St Louis on Sunday morning- it was a long-ass drive back- where my calorie consumption consisted of Monster Nitrous, popcorn, and candy bars. In fact, all weekend, I ate really crappy. And in the 50hrs I was away from St Louis, 22 hours were spent in the car. Yuck.

It took me a few days to find my groove once I returned, but to put it lightly- that week back was hell. My experiments were going haywire, and I couldn’t focus. Never mind that I couldn’t find the time to get in my workouts. It was hell. I was eating like crap (peanut butter and chocolate chips do not equal a well-balanced diet). I was making excuses. I was putting things off and losing my grip on my priorities.

The weekend following that hellacious week consisted of two days of rest and recoup- where I did laundry for the first time in weeks and I was actually able to get on my bike for more than 2hrs. Once I found my groove, I was (sort of) back in the game.

This week? I had a blast. I had a lot of meetings, have been able to actually get things done in the lab, and even made it to masters swim most mornings. Granted, getting home from work at 7pm makes me want to eat dinner instead of hop on the trainer, but I am going to try harder this week to make sure I’m either a) out the door by 5 so I can run/bike or b) get it done during the day (either post-swim or as a mid-afternoon break). And, of course, I am also getting rolling on two major projects, sifting through data on two older projects, and writing a grant that is due in a few months. So, anyone else want to strike a match for me?

I don’t really reflect on “Chi” or Feng Shui much (at all), and if you walked into my apartment and you were a natural energy believer, you’d probably croak. My bike trainer is always set up, smack dab in the center of my living room, and clothes are piled all over my bedroom. My mom would have a conniption. “This is not how I raised you!” I can hear it now… but I do feel better when there is order. I do feel a sense of relief when things are put away, there is cleared counter space and clear floors. I feel better when I look at the calendar and can cross everything off, when I am organized with my projects, and when my desk has less piles of journal papers because I have already put them into their respective binders in order to find them easier later. Anyway, there is definitely a balance in life when I can get on top of the pile of stuff that I need to do and beat my chest and yell “I have conquered you!”… if only for a brief moment. I’m still climbing to the top of the pile, but I’m getting closer… I can already see the crest.

And on that note, I thought I’d share with you this video of life in academia as a grad student. It cracks me up every time I watch it!

Drive versus Desire

Desire: To wish or long for; want.

There are many, many people out there with desires and dreams. In fact, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a dream of some kind or another. Some people share their dreams with others openly, as stories by the fireplace or on long runs in the woods, while others hold their dreams tightly to their chest, not saying a peep and just carrying on in their everyday lives. Some people give up everything they know to make their dreams come true, and others just plug along, their dreams up high, working slowly day by day to get a little bit closer to realization. Some are superstitious, thinking that if they share their dreams then they won’t come true, and also so that- if they fail -they won’t be ridiculed. Others think there is some communal support in sharing one’s dreams; by putting it out there, it’s a sign of commitment. Some dreams are big, while others are just within reach. We can be close to seeing our dreams becoming reality, or we could have a long way to go.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that everyone with a dream is capable of doing what they are setting out to. No, then the idea of the dream would be – well…- reality. Some don’t even set out to tackle their dream, they just continue to dream- maybe as an escape or something to distract them from their mundane lives. Or they think: “Hey, I really want to do this” without making attempts to move that dream within reach. There’s absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with dreaming itself, whether actualized or otherwise. Dreaming can get us through a lot of really tough stuff. I dream about a lot of things that I won’t ever have my hands on, like ending world hunger and having a million dollars to give to my favorite charity (and, of course, running for Miss America). But just dreaming isn’t going to make things happen. Just having the desire for something isn’t going to make it real. Things will sometimes fall into our laps and we can be grateful and make use of those wonderful gifts, but that’s just dumb luck (hey, I’m just being honest).

No, if we really want something, if we really want to see our dreams become reality, we need something a little more. We need determination. We need drive.

Drive: To push, propel, or press onward forcibly; urge forward.

A lot of people can say that they want to do things. A lot of people can do a lot of talking. I try to not be one of those people. Granted, I don’t usually say anything aloud that I don’t strongly feel I can accomplish. And there’s a fine line between knowing what you can do and just hoping, of course. (Yet, if we only ever did what we are capable of doing at that time, then what is the point of doing anything at all?) There’s a lot of merit in hope. Hope is what drives people to see a change, to base their dreams upon. Hope is a non-tangible necessity for anyone who wants to see a change occur. But just like desire, hope itself is useless.

It’s the drive that gets your places. Just like in a car, or on the bus. It’s simple physics, really, Newton’s First Law of Motion: in order for an object to change directions- to move – a force must act upon it. Drive is that force, it’s taking that step forward, toward our goals, to see them to fruition; or to at least the attempt. The attempt itself is worth more than a million dollars for some. And there’s a difference between dreaming and driving. Dreaming is stagnant, driving is moving. And sometimes, driving takes us to places we may never have even dreamt we’d go.

When I was an undergrad, I decided to go to grad school not because I thought I wanted to be an academic or some hot-shot medical consultant. Nah, I wanted to design shoes. I thought that by going to grad school in biomechanics, I’d be in a great position to apply for a running shoe company and design the next generation of shoes. But during my first year of graduate school, something changed. I wanted to do more. Don’t get me wrong, good running shoes are an incredibly important part of my life and I am incredibly meticulous about finding the right pair. But it wasn’t enough for me. To be honest, I felt like stopping where I was at, getting a desk job somewhere (to be a CAD monkey for a running shoe company); well, I felt like that would be settling. I had more work to do.

“What kind of work?,” you ask. While I didn’t think that I could find a cure cancer nor did I think I’d invent a special pill that would end world hunger (and mind you, I still don’t), I had other types of questions more pertinent to my field of study. And I had time. I was 23, and I was curious.

Luckily for me, I applied to grad school and was offered an opportunity to do what I wanted to do: ask more questions. Granted, I had a sub-par undergrad GPA, and I had big shoes to fill. Whose shoes? I had no idea. Someone else’s, that should be there filling them- but, instead, I was. I didn’t feel like I was the type of person who should be getting their PhD. I mean, really? Me? The thought of someday, someone calling me “Doctor”- it didn’t really make sense. But I went with it. And I had the drive to succeed. I had to prove that I was worthy, right? Someone else had believed in me, that’s why they offered me the job. Now I had to step up to the plate. I’m doing the same thing now with my post-doc. I’m intimidated… definitely intimidated. There are so many smart people with so many incredible ideas and questions. So much wealth of knowledge and resources. But I am here. Somehow, they either overlooked my CV and are kicking themselves for their decision, or they believe that I, too, am capable of doing great work alongside them. I’m no longer sitting on the bench (and I’m not sure if I ever really was, especially not the lab bench- that’s a big no-no); and it’s time once again. Batter up.

I approach triathlon, and running for that matter, with the same mentality. I don’t think I ever dreamed, as a kid, of doing triathlon. And, I am not some genetically-gifted girl with a phenomenally high VO2max and loads of fast twitch muscles that can swim-bike-run her way to a podium spot at every race. But I can train hard, I can recover smart, and I can roll with the punches. I can learn a lot about my body, my physiology. I know what to eat, when to sleep, when to rest. I not only have the drive to succeed, but more strongly, I have the drive to do what I am capable of doing as best I can. And I also have the passion to see what exactly I am capable of. Sounds tricky, but it makes sense to me. I have this weird, quirky tendency to take something, like triathlon, and play with it like Play Doh. I can change it from being “just a sport”, like how many normal people see it, to being something more. It turns into a test, a challenge. To me, it’s a treasure-trove, full of dreams ripe for picking. What am I capable of today? I often ask myself. And I have no doubts, of course, that I can strike out. I can miss out big and fall flat on my face, I’ve done it before (literally). But sometimes, I can hit a home run.

Our drive is what gets us there. Where is there? I’m sure my colleague, Dr Seuss, has a book about it. It’s different for everyone. Ultimately, it’s to our goals (or closer to them anyway). It’s getting us to our potential. Our true potential, not just the potential that someone else may have outlined for us.   Drive is what we do to demonstrate we are capable, and we are passionate. Our drive is our best tool to succeed.

Speaking of drive and determination, my friend Sam has started his own initiative: To hike all four major through-hikes in the US consecutively. And right about now, he’s trucking along the North Country Trail in New York, pursuing his dreams by putting one step in front of the other. Good luck, Sam!

Sigh no more

I don’t really like to think of New Year’s as a special event. It’s just a day like any other, and frankly, I don’t do well with resolutions or “how I’m going to change my life in a day” hulabaloos. It’s the same reason why I don’t practice lent (that, and I’m not Catholic). But, even though I tend to disregard January first as a significant day of change, I do still have this feeling of starting afresh. Jan 1 (well, Jan 3, actually) marks the start of focused training, since I have attempted, and failed, thanks to the move, new employment, and holidays. I’ve struggled over the last few weeks to stay focused; I’ve struggled with coping with life.  I have been sleeping a lot, I have been lackluster about running, and that’s just not me. Frankly, being an adult sucks, and I want to get whisked back to the time (about three months ago) when I wasn’t concerned about having enough money (because I could just take out a student loan and I split rent with a roommate). Without getting too mopey about it all, I’ve basically struggled with being alone, broke, and overwhelmed.

But, I can exhale now. I have a roof over my head, I have been paid, and I have food in my cupboards. I’m finding my groove at my new job, I’m committing to training runs and swims, and I’ve found a few people who could use my help as a training buddy as much (well maybe not as much) as I can use theirs. I’ve got a lot on my plate, but I guess that is what life is all about. One step in front of the other.

And I’ve found a little something else that can help. There are certain things that trigger emotions. Smells, sights, sounds- it can mean something different to everyone, but it can mean something nonetheless. Today, for example, I was struggling to find motivation to hop on my trainer, even though it was the 1st of the year and everyone and their dog was doing something active (at least that’s what Twitter would have you believe). And then I turned on iTunes, and it came to me. I played the song Mastermind by Mindless Self Indulgence and immediately threw on my bike shorts and got to work. Apparently, that’s all it took.

So I wanted to share with you, dear readers, my songs for 2011. These are the songs that are going to get me through the day, whether I’m waiting at the bus stop or I’m finding another gear on the trainer. These are the songs that are going to make me think about home, about life, about who I want to be and who I am now. These songs don’t define who I am; I didn’t write them and they weren’t written for me. Some are old, some are new. But they strike a chord in my soul and they give me something to hold onto. Some give me drive, and others give me hope, and that’s really all I need.

Shut Me Up – MSI

Breathe – The Prodigy

Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant

Ghosts and Stuff – deadmau5

Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear

Cosmic Love – Florence + the Machine

Animal – Miike Snow

Islands – The xx

Dog Days Are Over – Florence + the Machine

The Ghost Inside – Broken Bells

Wait So Long – Trampled by Turtles

The Cave – Mumford and Sons

What are the songs that are motivating you?

Real World, Real Food Wrap-up

Thanks to everyone for contributing, spreading the word, and getting involved with the Real World, Real Food Organic Basket Challenge that Sonja and I did last week. It was so incredibly fun.  A particular congratulations goes out to Kara for winning, but I think everyone who participated was a winner (of course!). There was a lot of heart and soul (and tummies) in the mix. It was a great experience to be involve with.

As far as a wrap-up goes, I think the biggest take-away for me was the obvious differences in food costs across the country. Surprisingly, for the same grocery list, Kara (who lives in a fairly rural area) walked away with a lower grocery bill than anyone else who did the challenge from a big city. I was especially surprised that I had the highest bill, even though I am in the most centrally-located city (St Louis is the midwest after all). I for sure thought I would beat Sonja’s basket price, since I live in a mid-sized city that – from what I gathered – has a fairly low cost of living. But, I was wrong.

There are some confounding variables, of course. For one, the list was the same no matter where you are. So, what is locally grown in one region is probably not available locally in another. And, what is easy to import in some places (like from CA to CO) might take a little more to get from the origin to a different destination (say, Michigan’s UP, or Missouri).  Secondly, I shopped in the city instead of on the outskirts, so I had to pay a bit of a premium (depending on where I shop, sales tax can be as high as 9.8%, and it turns out even food is taxed here … I think its around 4%?).

So where do we go from here? For me, the week’s worth of produce that I had all to myself forced me to eat real food every day. Instead of having nachos and cheese for dinner, I had to eat the fennel and cucumber and tomatoes and collard greens before they went bad. I admit, I didn’t get through everything by myself in the one week. Some of the stuff I stored in the freezer (shredded my zucchini and stored it in freezer bags for future bread!). But for the most part, it all went down my gullet. I realized, reflecting on the last week, that most of my meals were vegetarian, some were even vegan. I got a lot more creative with my meals, ate nuts and used olive oil in nearly every meal, and didn’t spend any money during the week by going out to lunch or grabbing a snack from the bookstore. And, as an extra bonus, I felt great all week. I felt sustained. My meals were filling, but not gigantic mounds of noodle and meat. In fact, I only had meat once during the week. I learned that I like fennel, and I like cooking with spices. I learned that I can make time to cook but I can also cook enough for myself to have leftovers to sustain me for the busier days. In other words, in the past week, I’ve really learned a lot about food, and myself.

It got me thinking more (oh boy, who needs that?!). It got me thinking about other cool things to try and what sort of plan I’m going to have every time I go to the grocery store. Yeah, I probably am not going to buy all-organic all-the-time. Unfortunately, I can’t afford it. But I am going to continue my habits of buying mostly in-season foods that don’t travel far. I also got thinking about another cool challenge: see how far our foods travel from the farm to the table. People have done this, they’ve written books about it. But something like this nationally, or even globally, might tell a better story as to why food is more expensive in some cities than others.

So to wrap up, thanks to everyone who participated, including:

TriMommy Kelly

Donna, all the way from the UK!

Miles, Muscles and Mommyhood

Kara, our RWRF Winner from Michigan’s UP

Muddy Mama

Jennifer

And thanks to everyone who spread the word and thank you to those who thought about what they were throwing in their cart at the grocery store. Also, thanks to Whole Foods Galleria for being convenient and friendly, and for having everything I needed to complete my list. Did I mention that, this weekend – after eating clean for an entire week – I finished off my sweet potatoes with a (rather large) side of nitrite-free bacon and farm fresh eggs from Whole Foods? I love their meat counter folks.

Happy Holidays, everyone!