Saturday, December 17, 2011

Finally, a break

I've been on the move since the beginning of December, first in San Francisco for a conference, and then in Arizona for fieldwork. I'm finally home. I'm so glad. It's 10 a.m. on Saturday and I'm snuggled up under the covers, uploading pictures to the computer and discussing Lego airplanes with my son. Best place on earth right now (unfortunately I have to get up in a few minutes, make myself presentable, and go to school to proctor a final exam).

Union Square, San Francisco (don't know who these people are... I was just trying to get the tree)

 John Muir Woods north of SF

Sign at Muir Woods

Excursion to Santa Cruz (~70 minutes south of SF)

After the conference, I spent two days at home before heading off to Middle-of-Nowhere, Arizona for fieldwork:

Canyon near Sitgreaves Pass along Route 66... These bouldery landscapes always make me a little nervous. Who knows when another giant rock is going to tumble downslope?

My field area is beautiful at this time of year. The nights are cold, but the days are perfect for hiking - cool and sunny. 

Campfire food (we camped... I slept in the car because I'm always freezing when I tent-camp in the winter)

Joshua Trees south of Las Vegas

It's been a whirlwind. I've done a pretty good job of maintaining my energy levels; in fact, when we were hiking around my field area, I felt absolutely great. I think ramping up my running in the past couple of months prepared me well for stomping around the desert. On the other hand, my body is definitely waving a white flag and begging for some downtime. As soon as we got to AZ, I came down with a rather clingy cold. Usually I can shake those things in a couple of days, but this time it's still going strong nearly a week in.

I need some rest.

Unfortunately I won't get much of a mental break until the end of January, after my comprehensive exams are over. That's right - over Christmas I'll be hitting the books. I hope I can make myself focus (and I really hope I pass!). Right now all I want to do is lounge around on the couch, drink hot chocolate, and make paper chains for the Christmas tree.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Turkey Trot = Turkey Flop

I paid $35 to run a 5K Turkey Trot this morning. This particular race has been a tradition in our town for several years, and it draws a pretty large crowd of runners (at least 300, maybe 400). Furthermore, the course is as flat as it's going to get around here - so at least in theory, it's a good opportunity to set a 5K PR.
It's sponsored by a professional athletic center where a bunch of pro football players train.

In other words, all signs point to a well-organized race.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Issues with this 5K:
1. 15 tables, no signage. I didn't pre-register, so I registered this morning. It took me several minutes to figure out where the sign-up sheets were. Once I'd filled out the form, it took me another few minutes to figure out where to pay. The person who accepted my money said, "You can get your bib over there," and then pointed in a vague direction. Lather, rinse, repeat with the chip table.

2. No starting line. Most of us milled around in confusion, trying to deduce which direction we were setting off in. Furthermore, there were no suggestions for runner/walker placement. What's the point of having a big, USTF-certified, timed 5K if the people who want to get off to a fast start are blocked from doing so? I'm not insulting the walkers, but race directors should think about this.

3. No gun, no "Ready, set, go," nothing. Some people started running and the rest of us followed.

4. No clocks anywhere along the course. Even the smallest and newest race I did a couple of months ago had a clock at the finish line. I should have started the timer on my phone, but I assumed I didn't need to.

But wait. Isn't it really all about the joy of running? Isn't that the most important thing?

Um, no. If I want to experience the joy of running, I'll go to the local park and run for free. When I sign up for a race, I do it because it's a way to feed my self-competitive hunger. I love running, but I love running in large part because it's a way for me to set goals and strive to reach them.

I've been doing more speedwork lately, and I think I managed to keep up a decent pace during the race - so I have high hopes that I beat my last time. I'll have to wait until the results are posted online (which should be anytime between now and the end of the year).

/disgruntled post

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

He was kind of a jerk (and maybe that's okay)

I've been reading the Steve Jobs biography... and although I haven't finished it yet, the first few chapters portray him as a volatile, selfish, and demanding individual. I'm pretty sure that had I been one of the employees described in the book, Steve and I wouldn't have gotten along. He would have been too mean, and I would have been too sensitive.

The funny thing, though, is that although the book makes no attempt to sugarcoat who he was, it's actually inspiring me to change the way I interact with people. I'm a people-pleaser - not by nature, but by training. I learned early on to focus outward, away from myself, on the things other people wanted and felt. I wanted to make everyone happy. By nature? I am not the nicest person you will ever meet. I can be selfish, perfectionistic, driven to the point of tunnel vision, disgruntled, critical, and overly emotional. I try to hide all of that; my whole life, it's been drilled into me that these are all very negative qualities. So I try to squelch them, not just for the sake of everyone else, but also so that I won't hate myself.

But trying to please others while constantly stifling my own opinions and frustrations isn't working anymore. It just makes me feel bitter - especially now, given the situation with my mom and how busy I am with school and home life. I don't have time to sit around wondering how to make every other person around me happy or worrying that they won't like me. Screw it. Innately, I am all the things I listed above, but I am also a good, loyal, and caring person. I am a loving mother and a committed partner. I'm self-reflective. I'm generous with my time and material possessions. Expressing how I feel won't change that. I've decided to "let it all hang out" and see what happens. I'm not going to be intentionally rude - but I'm going to be direct.

I've tried it over the past week, and I'm surprised by how well it's worked. It's possible that I have caught a few people off guard by being more outspoken and opinionated than I've been in the past, but as far as I can tell, it hasn't hurt me or anyone else. In fact, it has been helpful to me because it's allowed me to state my own boundaries: "No, sorry, I can't do that because I just don't have time" or "If this happens again, I'm going to need more advance notice" or "That project seems more like busywork for the students than something of value. I think we should change it to make it less time-consuming and more meaningful for them." Maybe I'm going to come across as more negative or more demanding, but if so, so be it, because I also think it'll help me preserve my own integrity and build relationships that are based on complete and total honesty.

I'm starting to realize that the people I get along with the best aren't necessarily the nicest people, but rather the most honest people. More than anything, I appreciate knowing where they stand. There's comfort in knowing that they are looking me in the eye and saying everything, not placating me with a bunch of niceties and then talking about me behind my back.

Furthermore, I love what I do, just as Steve Jobs loved what he did. And I don't want "being nice" to stand in the way of doing what I love and being as good at it as I possibly can be. I don't want "being nice" to stand in the way of creativity and development of ideas.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stage III

I'm visiting my parents this weekend. I felt like I needed to see how my mom was doing, get some additional information about what she's dealing with, and hopefully bring her some cheer. (I say that last part with some chagrin as I am really not someone who brings cheer... Pollyanna I'm not. I guess what I mean is that I wanted to show her that I care and I'm in this with her.)

I was able to review the tumor pathology report, which in a nutshell indicates that she has Stage III colon cancer. That means she will need to have chemotherapy. I've read numerous reputable sources indicating that the latest chemo drugs for colon cancer are highly effective, and the side effects are relatively tolerable. There's no reason to not be optimistic.

She is incredibly energetic for someone who had major surgery less than two weeks ago and is facing such a tough diagnosis. It's impressive. She's walking around a lot, chatting with friends, getting her own food (she won't let us do much), taking her medications on schedule, and basically being her usual self. I do not see any self-pity or even much worry on her part. She's handling it all about as well as anyone possibly could.

I wish I could say that I am following suit with my own attitude and feelings, but inside I am wrecked. I went for what was supposed to be an hour-long run, and halfway through I stopped right in the middle of the road and started to cry. I'm trying to hide it, but... this is hard. And it seems really unfair and selfish of me to see this as so difficult and to get so upset when my mom is being so positive. It's not that I don't believe she'll get better - I do. The odds are well in her favor.

The thing is that you never know how you're going to react to this sort of situation. All this time I figured that if something were to happen, I'd be able to hold it together. I'm not. Not really. I mean, I think that on the outside, in my interactions with her, I am doing and saying the "right" things. But inside I'm torn up. There's an added complication to what is going on here, which is that our family isn't particularly close and we have a lot of unresolved issues. I have distanced myself from them in recent years. Many of their friends and my friends don't get it; they think I'm selfish. I have my reasons. Now this is happening, and while my feelings about my dysfunctional family haven't changed, I also have this built-in need to be there for my parents. It's confusing and disorienting, and I feel totally narcissistic for having all of these self-focused feelings when it's not about me.

I should be fine. I should be strong. I should be encouraging. I will be those things, as much as I can. But I don't always feel like I have it in me. If this is a marathon, I am not the person at the front, bravely maintaining race pace and thinking positive thoughts. I am the person jogging well behind schedule, the one puking in the bushes and begging to quit, the one who doesn't quit but who whines all the way to the finish line.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Seven miles, students, and Steve Jobs

Yesterday I ran seven miles, the farthest I've run in at least a year or two. My lungs felt good throughout; my legs got kind of rusty at the end. But I finished feeling more refreshed than tired. It helped that I was running outside. The weather was perfect - sunny, cool, breezy - and the falling/blowing leaves made it all the more invigorating. Today I kept it simple and followed up with a three-mile walk on the treadmill.

As I walked, I thought about my students. I've been teaching college students in some capacity for the better part of 10 years. When I started out, I was only a year or two older than the seniors. It didn't take much to intimidate me. I worried about whether they liked me, whether they thought I was lame, whether my classes were "fun" enough.

This is the first year where I look at my students and think, "They're so young." When I'm around them, I don't feel old, per se, but I see how I have changed in the last decade as an instructor. I feel more comfortable in the role, more capable. If they act out, I don't take it personally. I see their insecurities, their worries, and their frustrations. I see their creativity and their unique way of approaching problems. I think they are all incredibly smart and talented, though in different ways. And I really like each and every one of them. This semester I got lucky with my class: no-one whines (or if they do, they're smart enough to whine out of earshot of me), and they work hard enough.

I thought of them, and me, and life in general, when I read part of Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement address to Stanford graduates (I know he talks a lot about death here, but this quote is really about life): "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart... Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday morning

Saturday morning means...

...long, long runs for my husband (20 miles today).

...dark coffee with sugar and almond milk (often reheated a time or two in the microwave because I drink it so slowly)...

...a messy, messy family room, strewn with Legos and trains and books and balloons...

...sweatpants, sweatshirts, and warm socks...

...and me trying to relax, with varying degrees of success. It depends on the weekend. I always take Saturday off, but sometimes my mind continues to whirl even as I'm doing all of the things that supposedly constitute a lazy weekend.

I can tell my anxiety levels are higher than they were, say, a month ago. When I get anxious, I tend to fixate on things and become intensely self-critical. Right now, for instance, I can't seem to stop thinking about a big poster presentation I need to prepare in the next few weeks. Is there any point in sitting here for hours, visualizing where I might place various pictures on said poster? No, but I'm doing just that. I also can't stop thinking that maybe grad school was a big mistake, maybe I'm not smart enough, maybe my advisors have realized I'm an idiot, maybe I'll finish and graduate and nothing will come of it, job-wise. This is the first time in the entire year and a half that I've been in this program that I've had such strong self-doubts... and for seemingly no good direct reason. Thus, I can only assume that stress in my personal life is manifesting itself in my professional life. Emotions are getting distorted and displaced. At times like this I try to ignore what the critical voice in my head is saying. I remind myself that in all likelihood, it is wrong.

From an objective standpoint, I can see that yes, I am stressed out and overwhelmed, and perhaps I've been less patient with certain people - but in the past week I've finished every assignment that was due and attended every meeting that was scheduled. I've taught my class and written lessons. I've gotten up every morning and gone to school. It's true that I am distracted, and it's true that maybe I'm not powering along as I usually do, but I know that if I were an advisor, I would be understanding of that. I have to assume that my own advisors (who are aware that my mom was just diagnosed with cancer and is in the hospital recovering from surgery) can see where I'm coming from and aren't holding it against me.

Around my family, I've been tired. I often come home, eat dinner, and then lay in bed for a little while (a pre-bed nap, if you will). It's not ideal, but I need that time to myself. After a few minutes, I feel somewhat re-energized and can interact with my husband and son without being a complete zombie. Right now I am not being the best partner or mother. I am being a "good enough" partner and mother.

It's hard for a perfectionist to accept "good enough."

*     *
Yesterday morning, I got up at 5 a.m. and ran four miles at a 10:30- to 10-minute-per-mile pace. That's faster than what I've been running, and I felt good. Tomorrow I'm scheduled to run 7 miles at a comfortable pace. I'm glad for the running. I need it. It's distracting, it's comforting, it's predictable, and it's a challenge that I know I can actually meet. Running is solace.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I am drained. Finding out that someone you care about has cancer totally flips your world upside down. Everything looks and feels different.

If I were to give myself grades for my current performance at school, in helping keep the house in order, and with parenting, I'd award myself a solid C in every category. I'm not really failing, but by no means am I excelling. I'm just sort of floating along. Getting up every day, getting dressed, making lunch, going to school, and giving my kid as many hugs as he wants is pretty much all I can muster. Whatever I manage to accomplish outside of that is just a bonus. What I really want to do is stay in bed for a week. And I'm not even the one who's sick.

Maybe I don't look particularly sad, angry, or worried, but I feel all of those things, and they're manifesting themselves emotionally as well as physically.

I went to see my old therapist today because I needed to talk to someone who really knows me and my history. He told me my feelings are normal and that it isn't selfish to feel the way I do. We talked about my mom, my family, and the potential repercussions for the future. He reminded me that in a week or two, I will have adjusted to this "new normal" - kind of the way your body adjusts when you increase running mileage. After a while, it won't feel as taxing as it does now.

It was so good to talk to him. He listened. He pointed out the healthy, positive choices I've made and am making. He showed that he cares. But the session made me feel sad, too. I wish I had good friends - or just one good friend - to share these things with whenever I need to. I wish someone would call me up or email me and be like, "This sucks, and it's hard. How are you doing? Do you want to talk about it?" But for whatever reason, I haven't made good friends in my adult life, and I feel alone a lot (which definitely doesn't do much for depression or anxiety).

Mostly I'm sad and worried.

I've been doing well with running, though: 3 miles on Monday, six sets of 400 meters on Tuesday, and another 3 miles today. Tomorrow is a rest day, and then I'll run four miles on Friday.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Turkey Day Race Plans

I'm planning to run another 5K on Thanksgiving, which is less than 4 weeks away. Considering how hilly Saturday's race was, and considering that I managed to improve my time anyway, AND considering that the Turkey Day race will be a lot flatter, I can't help but want to improve my time even more.

I'm addicted. I know. I will stop soon.

I've come up with a training schedule adapted from Hal Higdon's intermediate 5K training plan. This week's schedule looks like this:

Monday: 3 miles
Tuesday: 6 x 400
Wednesday: 3 miles
Thursday: Rest
Friday: 4 miles fast
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: 6 miles

Running is a good distraction.

Things that knock the wind out of you

(Fall leaves during a post-race hike that I took yesterday)

My last post was so positive and self-reflective and optimistic. Funny how things work. The next day I got a call from my dad saying that my mom had been admitted to the hospital for severe abdominal pain. They did a CT scan and a colonoscopy and discovered that she has a tumor in her descending colon. She also had an associated infection. She's going to have surgery on Monday (a resection, which is where they cut out the tumor and surrounding colon tissue and splice the healthy tissue back together), at which point they'll send the tumor to pathology for further investigation.

It's frustrating to not know exactly what is going on - what the official diagnosis is, what post-surgery treatment will entail, what the prognosis is, etc. It's also frustrating to be so far away and not be able to talk to the doctors myself. I have a ton of questions.

I talked to my mom yesterday and she was in pretty good spirits - especially considering that she is on an all-liquid diet right now. That would drive me absolutely crazy (and make me hangry), but she's handling it fairly well. She has a roommate, which is good because she's very sociable. Better to have her sitting there gabbing with a new friend than being in there all alone.

I feel almost like I did the time that I climbed a tree in my friend's backyard, fell out, and slammed stomach-down onto the pavement below. I'm... overwhelmed. Discombobulated. Scared. Worried. Emotionally, I've been doing well over the past month, but now I'm starting to feel the pull of that familiar black hole of depression and anxiety. That scares me, too. I find myself feeling completely overwhelmed by school, and I have this urge to just not go, to just stay in bed.

*     *
In better news, I ran another 5K yesterday morning. It was foggy and freezing cold - literally. I could not feel my toes for the first two miles. I also discovered that the course consists entirely of hills; there was only one brief flat stretch. I thought I was running pretty slowly. But somehow I managed to cut a whole minute off my previous time. I think I came in somewhere around 28:10. Of course, now I'm thinking that wow, I'm so close to being in the 27-minute range... How hard would it be to cut another few seconds off, especially if it's a flat course?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To myself on my 33rd birthday

Dear Self,

You had a pretty awesome day today. You got a free latte at Starbucks (and an impromptu birthday greeting from the stranger standing in line behind you) and an awesome artsy-craftsy present from your favorite friend/coworker. You had a surprisingly helpful session with your new therapist at the school counseling center and learned a new calming technique* (one that actually works instead of exacerbating your anxiety). And then you had dinner with your family, followed by homemade cake and cookies that your son was so proud to show off. You capped off the day with a 50-minute speedwork session on the treadmill.

Things have not always been easy for you, and sometimes they still aren't. Sometimes it's hard to remember that the past really is in the past and that yes, this IS your life now, no-one else's, and it's pretty darn good. Not only that, but it is a life you deserve (you still don't totally believe that, but maybe one day soon you will).

Getting older is a little bit freaky, especially when events that happened nearly 15 years ago (like, say, high school graduation) are still vividly clear in your mind, still seemingly close enough to touch. But getting older is also something of a relief. Finally, you are starting to respect yourself; you are starting to commend yourself for the things you've accomplished (mostly personal triumphs that most others will never know about) instead of constantly berating yourself for your shortcomings. You are beginning to see that you are tougher, more resilient, and more capable than you have given yourself credit for. And you are starting to see yourself through your own eyes instead of assessing yourself through the eyes of others.

When you blew out your birthday candles tonight, you tried to think of something to wish for, but nothing immediately came to mind. You have everything you absolutely need and many things you want. There are no pressing voids in your life right now. So you wished for things to stay largely the same - except maybe your 5K time.

Happy birthday.


*Calming technique: Sit quietly and, one by one, identify the sounds close by and far away: the sound of a fan, traffic outside, birds chirping, footsteps on the floor above, etc. This calmed me almost immediately. It really worked!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Social anxiety

I'm feeling a little frustrated with myself tonight, as I often do after I've attended a function with a lot of other people. I really like socializing. I like joking around, I like talking, I like listening.


As much as I enjoy being around other people (in fact I think I really NEED that interaction), I struggle with social anxiety. My visions of what parties and other gatherings are going to be like, and how I'm going to feel in those situations, never seem to match up with what happens.

Here's what generally hampers my ability to relax in big groups:

1. Noise: If the room is noisy and I can't hear what the other person is saying, or if I can tell that they can't hear me, I get kind of zoned out. Noise gets to me.

2. Dissociation: I dissociate a lot - not when I'm on my own, but definitely a) in stressful moments or b) when I am around a lot of other people. When I dissociate, it's like I float off. I watch myself from a distance. My body is there, but my brain is elsewhere. I start to lose my words and have a hard time focusing. My husband says my eyes glaze over. I try very hard to stay grounded, and I'm definitely getting better at it - but tonight I felt it happening with almost every person I talked to. When I try to pull myself in, I start to feel crushed by the noise, by the gaze of whomever is watching me, etc.

3. Self-consciousness: Even if I start out with confidence, I usually leave the gathering feeling like I said all the wrong things... like I embarrassed myself... like no-one likes me because I'm such an awkward loser. And then I spend the next two days analyzing what happened. It almost makes attending these functions totally not worthwhile.

It was kind of a rough day anyway. A bunch of things happened at school that, while they would probably annoy me on even my best days, made me feel angry and frustrated. And when I feel angry/frustrated, everyone can tell. I wish I could hide those emotions, wipe them off my face. But my expressions make me an open book.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

That's better: 1 hour run/walk

One hour workout tonight, and I felt pretty good. I alternated between running and walking:

-10 minutes walking
-5 minutes running
-5 minutes walking
-10 minutes running
-5 minutes walking
-20 minutes running
-5 minutes walking

Nothing wrong with walking!

The best part was that when I was running, I was in the happy zone, just gliding along and enjoying the exercise.

It's been 4 1/2 weeks since I quit therapy. After 1 1/2 years of seeing my awesome, thoughtful, caring therapist once a week or once every other week, this is a huge adjustment for me. I didn't necessarily want to end treatment, nor did I necessarily feel "done" with it. But I did it for two reasons: 1) it was getting expensive (he'd given me a massively reduced rate, but still, therapy is not cheap), and 2) I was starting to feel a little too dependent on it.

Is therapy addictive? I would argue YES. It's hard not to get addicted to having a whole hour every week to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about and have someone listen as if you are the most fascinating person on Earth (which clearly I am not nor ever could be, but my therapist did an awfully good job of making me feel worthwhile and interesting and cared for).

Don't get me wrong - therapy is also hard work. At times I felt worse after sessions than I did before. I guess it's kind of like running: if you want to improve, if you want to make progress, you have to push yourself. Sometimes it's going to hurt. But then you see yourself changing and feeling better about yourself, and you're inclined to keep forging ahead.

I miss my therapist. The whole concept of psychotherapy is kind of weird in that in order for it to work, you need to find a counselor that you're compatible with, someone you can fully trust. Then once you do, you spill your guts, your biggest and most painful secrets, to someone whom you're ultimately going to have to say goodbye to. And it's not like you can end treatment and suddenly become friends with that person. It's not like you can feel free to just call up every now and then for a chat. Goodbye is goodbye, unless you go back to paying them to listen to you.

I guess part of figuring out how effective therapy actually was is seeing how I handle life without it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nirvanaless Wednesday

All the way home, I looked forward to a leisurely 40-minute pre-dinner run/jog. I was feeling energetic and healthy (my cough is finally gone), and I figured the run would be easy. It wasn't. My back ached, my legs felt heavy, and I slogged along at a slower pace than usual. I did stick it out, but I didn't reach blissed-out runner nirvana like I thought I would. Sometimes you just can't tell how it's going to go. At least I did it. I think this weekend will be better. I'm hoping to get outside, run five or six miles in cool, crisp weather, and crunch through some leaves.

In staying-mentally-healthy-and-taking-time-to-smell-the-roses news:

I'm going to go try to finish Hunger Games tonight. I'd heard great things about this series, and so far I'm not disappointed. The pace, the writing, and the characters are all engaging. I love digging into the first book in a series and discovering that I enjoy it because then I have the next few to look forward to. I felt the same way about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (also awesome, albeit somewhat violent - but violent with a clear purpose... I don't know why it's received such meh reviews on Amazon).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life at warp speed

My life is a blur. A busy, intense, faster-than-the-speed-of-light blur. Get up early (5:45 at the latest), eat breakfast, pack lunches, get child in car, drop off child at preschool, commute to school, answer e-mails, do eight bajillion things over the course of the day, get back in car, fight traffic, perhaps stop at store for food, pick up child, make dinner (if it's one of my nights to cook), answer e-mails, think about all the things I forgot to do or could have done better, read books with my son, bedtime routine, try to do something relaxing for a few minutes, go to sleep. Wake up, repeat with minor variations. Occasionally vacuum and do laundry.

People generally do what they need to do. They make it happen somehow. A lot of people have crazy schedules nearly identical to, or tougher than, mine in terms of intensity, multitude of activities and responsibilities, etc. But I have to admit that there are moments when I stop to think about all the stuff I'm doing and thinking about, and I'm surprised that I am managing as well as I am. In the past, I have crashed and burned when facing similar stressors. I'm trying hard to make time for myself, but it's tough - sometimes nearly impossible. The day is over minutes after it's started. The week whooshes by in a flash. The weekend? Pssh. It feels like a blink.

I'm also surprised I'm not feeling more anxious and overwhelmed these days. I think it's because running gets stuffed into the schedule. I've run five days of the past seven. I tell myself it's mandatory. It's not an option. It's just as important as the other things on my to-do list. Today I came home and hopped right on the treadmill for 30 minutes of speedwork. Short, but I pushed myself and it felt good. It's worth it.

There are other things I could be doing, and maybe other things I SHOULD be doing, but those 30 minutes in my running shoes, or 40, or 50, or sometimes even just 20, have a big payoff for me in terms of being able to cope with life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Running fever

I found out that I won first place in my age division last Saturday. Looking at the times of the other women in my group, it's clear that this was not a super-competitive race (that sounds kind of jerky, but really, no offense intended - some races draw speedier runners than others)... but I'm still excited.

When my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I started running together 13 years ago, I enjoyed it because 1) it was something we could do together and 2) it convinced me that I had far more athletic potential than I had previously given myself credit for. Our first run together lasted 12 minutes, and at the end I thought I might pass out. Our next run was a few seconds longer. Every day, we aimed to increase our time, even if it was only a little. Once we hit the 30-minute mark, we trained for a 5K. Then we realized that going five miles wasn't that much more difficult than going three... and going ten was tough but not impossible... and 10 seemed easier once we'd worked our way up to 13... We ended up running a marathon together a year and a half later, a week before I graduated college. It was a huge achievement for me. It was almost more important than the graduation itself.

Since those early years, I've run off and on. Sometimes I've been relatively serious about it; other times, I've been totally lackadaisical. But I've kept doing it. It's sort of like riding a bike: once you know you can do it, you can always do it (even if it takes a few weeks to get back in shape after a hiatus).

In the last few weeks, though, I think I've been falling in love with running all over again. It feels more like it did in the beginning: challenging, rewarding, difficult, consuming. When my alarm rings early in the morning, I don't hit snooze. I get up, get dressed, and turn on the treadmill. I know it won't always be this way, but right now I am having fun with it - mainly having fun pushing myself. I want to see what I can do, physically and mentally. How hard can I push myself? How much time can I slice off of my race pace? What's my limit?

That's really what I want to know: what my limit is. I have a feeling I haven't come close to reaching it. I think that's the case for most people. We underestimate ourselves. We think, I haven't done it, therefore I can't do it. These days, you hear about people (my husband being one of them) doing 40 milers, 50 milers, 100 milers. You hear about runners who do marathons every other week for the fun of it. You hear about people who sign up for lengthy trail runs at the last minute and complete them without putting in months of training, and they're fine. They push through. And yeah, some of these people are natural and/or elite athletes, but a lot of them aren't. They're regular people who have confidence in their ability to go the distance and prepare for it as best they can. Then they get out there and finish what they start. Or they don't finish, so they go back out later and try again.

At the moment, I don't have time to train for longer races. That won't always be the case, though. At some point I'd love to try another marathon - maybe something longer. And I'd love to pick a beautiful race and run there (like this one). For now, though, I'm signing up for another 5K in a couple of weeks. It's a Halloween run, and it looks like it'll be a good time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

40 minutes

Another busy day... I was up at 5:45, out the door an hour later, and didn't stop until right about now. My Ph.D. life is a whirlwind of papers and presentations and research and labwork and meetings and teaching... Somehow it all gets done, and when I stop to look up, two or three months have gone by. Part of me is a little sad that I'm already 1 1/2 years into my program. It is stressful and crazy, but secretly, I love being a grad student and would do this forever if I could.

Last night I ran for 40 minutes straight on the treadmill. Had it not been late, I would have run longer. It was one of those times when I felt like I could have gone on for miles and miles and miles without getting tired. It was nice to be able to do that the day after the 5K. Surprisingly, my legs didn't feel sore. I'm starting to think that as a recreational runner, I have untapped potential. Right now I am not putting THAT much effort into it. Mostly I do it for fun. If I added some speedwork, set some clear goals, who knows - maybe I could run a 5K in 25 minutes or less. That would be amazing for me.

Unfortunately, I did come down with the cold that's been going around our house. I didn't run today and probably won't tomorrow, either. Working out while sick never seems to help me out much in the way of recovery (though I have heard it's the opposite for some people).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Successful 5K

The 5K was a success. I managed to run it in 29:10, which - given that I usually jog on a treadmill at a pace of ~11 minutes/mile - I'm proud of. From the moment the gun went off, I tried to push myself. I identified people who seemed to be holding steady and stayed near them. Every few minutes I'd pick someone who was just a bit faster and follow them.

The course was fairly flat, and most of the inclines were downhill. It was kind of hot for mid-October, though. By the middle of the race, the sun was blazing down and temperatures were ramping into the 70s. I'd much prefer running in cool, cloudy, 40-60 degree weather.

By the last 0.2-0.3 miles, I was pretty worn out and had that worrying "It's possible that I could throw up any second" feeling... But I focused on breathing and tried to maintain my speed. As soon as I saw the finish line, I broke into a sprint. I like sprinting at the end. It makes me feel like I've truly given the race my all.

My immediate thought upon finishing was, Head towards the bathroom in case breakfast comes back up. Puking four feet from the finish line in front of dozens of people seemed like a non-option. But my queasy stomach settled quickly, and I walked over to the tents to check my time and grab a post-race banana.

I'm already planning the next 5K. There's a big one about a month from now that looks like a lot of fun. In preparation, I think I'll work on ramping up my base speed. I'm also going to do some casual speedwork once a week. I'd love to break 29 minutes in the next race.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's been a while...

My last blog post was in January. I stopped writing when things got too busy... and when things got too busy, I also stopped running on a regular basis. I hit the road or the treadmill maybe once or twice a week - that was it.

It was a rough spring. I've always had sporadic issues with depression and anxiety, but earlier this year they ramped up to a whole new level. I felt like I was drowning, like I couldn't breathe. I was tired all the time. I was lonely. At times, I felt nearly suicidal. The only thing that seemed to mitigate the symptoms was school, so I'd go in early in the morning, work nonstop until 5 or 6, and then drive home. My symptoms seemed to worsen in the evenings, on weekends, and whenever I had a break. Not ideal for the mother of a preschooler (and definitely not ideal for the preschooler). I did my best, but it was like trudging through taffy.

I saw a therapist every week. Therapy helped me work through some painful experiences and negative self-perceptions, but it was hard work. Sometimes I'd leave feeling much worse than when I walked in. Still, I slowly improved. I gained some valuable tools for coping with tough emotions. I learned to remind myself that "I won't always feel this bad. It will get better." A few weeks ago I decided I was ready to venture out again sans therapist. At my last session, I asked him to identify one thing that he thought would really, truly help me manage my moods. I thought he might recommend yoga, or meditation, or medication.

Instead, "Run. Run often. When you talk about running, it's clear that it's a positive thing for you. And enter races - compete. It'll give you something to shoot for and something other than school to focus on."

And so for the past 3 weeks I have been running nearly every day. I've tracked my feelings and my moods, and while the anxiety and sadness still crop up, they've lost their oomph and their edge. I feel better about myself and more confident around others. Challenges, obstacles, and criticism seem less daunting somehow. When I received some (what I felt were) unfair comments on a recent homework assignment, I didn't go home and cry the whole evening as I would have in the past. I felt disgruntled, and I thought, "That sucks. That's uncalled for," but then I went on with my day. It was just a blip. It was a small drop in the huge ocean of experience, a drop that became increasingly diluted until I forgot about it entirely.

In the past, I've always run for fitness or to work off extra calories. But now I want to run for my mental health. Like I said, I've always struggled with roller coaster moods and emotions, and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of feeling lousy. And I don't want to go through what I went through this past spring. It was just too scary. If running 5-6 days a week will give me a brighter outlook on life, then that's what I'm going to do.

So I'm going to start writing here again and logging my miles (still mostly on the treadmill), but I'm going to change my focus a bit. It's less about the distance and exercise now, and more about managing my emotional well-being. I want to see if I can tame my moods simply through exercise and healthy living.

I'm also planning to enter more races, as my therapist suggested. I recently ran a 6K, and this Saturday I'll be running in a 5K. I like short races. They don't require a ton of training, but with some effort I'm pretty sure I can improve my times. And I do enjoy being around other runners, feeling their energy, and moving together towards a common goal.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2.2 miles

That's what I managed to do today, and I walked it. Not that that's bad - it's better than nothing - but I was hoping to do more. Now that school is in session, I'm realizing that I'm probably not going to be able to accomplish everything that I want to do every day. School is a priority. My family is a priority. Sleeping six to eight hours a night is a priority. Three huge priorities. Working out? Also a priority, but not as big as the other ones.

I keep thinking that I will just run a lot on the weekend. I envision myself going to the park and busting out five or six miles on Saturday and on Sunday. The reality? A top priority on the weekend is sitting in front of the television for four hours, chowing through several bowls of cereal, chugging coffee, and hanging out with my son. Yeah, can't wait for Saturday. That sounds divine right now.

Although I wish I had more time to myself, I do love what I do. Sometimes it's stressful, but usually it's a good kind of stress - stimulating as opposed to oppressive or overwhelming.

Wednesday's mileage: 2.2 miles
Week 3 mileage: 8.9 miles
Cumulative total: 52.6 miles

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tired but treading

Managed to run 3.2 miles today. I started at a speed of 5.0 and ramped it up by 0.1 every 1.5 minutes. It was challenging. I think I could have easily managed it during break, but because I worked out in the evening after a long day, my energy was pretty depleted. But I did it!

Monday's mileage: 3.2 miles
Week 3 mileage: 6.7 miles
Cumulative total:
50.4 miles (halfway there!)

Funny - some people run 50 miles in a single day, and here I am all proud that I managed to do it in two weeks. :-)

Tomorrow's a day off. I have to drive across the state to get some lab work done, and it'll probably be pretty late by the time we get home.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

8.5 miles, two days, still feel crappy

I managed to run five miles yesterday, meaning that I met my Week 2 goal of running/walking 22-23 miles. Today I walked 3.5 miles and adjusted the incline for more of a challenge.

Part of the reason I run/jog/workout/move is because it helps keep me balanced and mitigates the anxiety I often deal with. If I'm feeling low, exercise gives me a boost; if my head's all over the place, running gives me a point of focus. Unfortunately, that didn't really work today or yesterday. I stepped onto the treadmill feeling crappy and I stepped off the treadmill feeling pretty much just as crappy, albeit somewhat proud of myself for making the effort to regulate my mood. Plus, I've had this low-grade headache that's stuck around for most of the weekend. Really fun! Or not so much.

My totals are as follow:

Saturday's mileage: 5 miles
Week 2 mileage: 22.3 miles

Sunday's mileage: 3.5 miles
Week 3 mileage: 3.5 miles
Cumulative total: 47.2 miles (almost halfway there!)

Tonight's dinner: baked Mahi Mahi with onions, tomato, and almond slivers over wilted spinach and tomatoes. Really flavorful and very easy! I made it in the toaster oven.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Last two days

Thursday: Didn't run. Was exhausted from school and my one-hour-each-way commute. By the end of last semester, I was so accustomed to the drive that it didn't affect my energy levels, but after my relaxing one-month, no-commute break, I guess I need to get reacclimated.

(We bought our house before I even thought about going back to school. Of course, now we can't sell said house because the market sucks. I daydream about renting closer to the city and walking to my department every day - but I don't think it's going to happen.)

Friday: Was exhausted from school and my one-hour-each-way commute. I did manage to walk four miles on the treadmill after my husband and son had gone to bed. Running felt out of the question. Usually, I quickly get bored of walking, but last night I really enjoyed it and didn't push myself to ramp up my speed. While I walked, I listened to music and read a book.

Plan for today: Run/jog four miles, maybe five if I want to exceed last week's total.

Friday's mileage: 4 miles
Weekly mileage: 17.3 miles
Cumulative total: 38.7 miles

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Human vacuum cleaner

I'm so hungry. I've already had dinner (tuna and rice - two servings) and some potato chips, and I still feel famished. So I'm making a snack of cinnamon toast, in lieu of chocolate. :-/ Obviously this is not a low-calorie day.

I wanted to get up early and run, but that didn't happen. Did I mention that I am NOT a morning person? Instead, I waited until after work. Big mistake. I might feel more tired in the morning, but the reality is that my body is more tuckered out in the evening. I need to MAKE myself get up early! But I like to stay up late! It's a dilemma.

At any rate, I walked/ran four (arduous, not that fun) miles - 3.5 miles of running at 5.4-5.6, and about 0.5 miles of walking. I had to play mental games to keep going... If you run for just TWO MORE MINUTES, you can walk!

Today's mileage: 4 miles
Weekly mileage: 13.3 miles
Cumulative total: 34.7 miles (a third of the way there!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Already exhausted

Today I ushered in my first official day of the new semester. If there's anything more overwhelming than the end of the semester, it's the beginning. I look at all of my classes and syllabi and responsibilities, and I wonder how I am going to successfully make it through the next 3.5 months.

I decided to make this a rest day, but in actuality I walked a total of 2 miles on and around campus. I'm including that in my total.

Today's mileage: 2 miles
Weekly mileage: 9.3 miles
Cumulative total: 30.7 miles

I plan to get up early tomorrow to run for at least 30 minutes. We'll see if that actually happens. The problem is that I detest getting up even earlier than I have to, but by the time I get home, I have no energy to work out. It's morning or nothing.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Things I thought about today: the tragedy in Tucson, mental illness, snow, snow days (I did get one!). Potty training (my son is finally potty trained, as of today). Anxiety about the start of a new semester and all that it entails: classes, teaching, research, grant proposals, balancing work and parenting. The gnawing question of, When this is all over, will I have the job and career I want? Will I be good enough to have the job/career I want? Running three miles helped a lot... Sometimes I need all the endorphins I can get. They seem to subdue the negative self-commentary and the pointless questions.

I made a gluten-free pizza for dinner using the Bob's Red Mill mix and topped it with Muir Glen pizza sauce (YUM), shredded mozzarella, and onions. Personally, I really love the flavor, but the texture is distinct from, say, Dominoes or Tombstone or Mellow Mushroom. I've made this pizza for several of my gluten-eating friends, and while some of them have enjoyed it (or at least put up with it), others have had a less favorable impression. I must say, the gluten-y thing I miss the most is a giant slice of New York-style pizza pie.

Here's a picture of the finished product. It's not very pretty because we dove in and devoured it as soon as it was out of the oven:

Today's mileage: 3.2 miles
Weekly total: 7.3 miles
Cumulative total: 28.7 miles

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Waiting for the snow

It's supposed to start soon! The verdict's still out on how badly this will snarl transportation tomorrow morning. Personally, I'm hoping for a snow day and a chance to read one of the books I picked up at the library this afternoon. Being snowed in on a Monday sounds perfect!

Today's run: 4.1 miles at an average of 5.3 mph. I maintained a speed of 5.5 mph for at least 15 minutes. Progress! I remember when running for more than an hour at 10 minutes per mile felt like the easiest workout ever. That was 6+ years ago, but I think I can get back to that level if fitness. Maybe I'll even exceed it (eventually).

Today's Pandora stations: Sara Bareilles followed by Aerosmith. Favorite song to run to today: Say Hey by Michael Franti and Spearhead. Perfect way to get motivated.

Tonight's dinner: Random concoction consisting of black-eyed peas, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and some potatoes. It's simmering on the stove for the next hour. We're big fans of one-pot meals.

Today's mileage: 4.1 miles
Weekly total: 4.1 miles
Cumulative total: 25.5 miles

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Must... eat... more...

I love food, but for some reason, eating slipped my mind for most of the day. I had a small bowl of cereal for breakfast, an apple and some cheese for "lunch" (not a true meal, as I was too busy putting away Christmas decorations to prepare something substantive), and a couple handfuls of cashews and cranberries. Definitely not enough for me. I think part of the problem was that we'd run out of a lot of the food that I can actually eat (since I don't consume soy, corn, or gluten). I'm usually a creative cook, but sometimes I lack ideas, and putting off eating until something yummy magically shows up in the pantry or fridge seems like the easiest (not the smartest) option. :-/

This afternoon I walked 3.2 miles at an incline of 2-4. By the time I was done, I felt nauseated, not to mention ravenous. I'm planning to eat a big dinner... just haven't decided what that will be yet. My SuperRunner husband is at the grocery store right now. We're supposed to get a hefty winter storm tomorrow night, and we want to make sure we're prepared. Winter storms in the South are always interesting. :-)

Today's miles: 3.2 miles
Cumulative miles: 21.4 miles - this is also my first weekly total. I'm happy with it! Next week I'll try to walk/run a total of 22 or 23 miles.

ETA: Tonight's dinner: egg scramble. Onions, potatoes, spinach, hot sauce, a little bit of Monterey Jack cheese, and of course eggs. I also toasted up a couple of tortillas for my husband:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Today I...

...walked/jogged 4 miles. I probably walked 1.5 miles and jogged 2.5 miles. I meant to just walk, but I get impatient. And bored. Once I started "speeding up" (relative term), I felt good. I thought about how much I enjoy running and yet how lazy I am about my training. I do what gets me in a comfortable runner's groove; I rarely push myself beyond it. I might work on that. Or I might not.

...didn't listen to music while I worked out. Sometimes I don't feel like it. Instead, I caught up on some non-required reading. I especially enjoyed this article about "losers" who became runners.

...made basic pasta and sauce for dinner. This is my fave sauce from Trader Joe's. It's so good that I never add anything to it. It's pretty spicy, which I love. Spoon it over rice pasta (TJs sells that, too), and you've got a tasty gluten-free meal.

I adore Trader Joe's: the prices, the food, the quality. Trader Joe for president!

Total miles today: 4 miles
Cumulative mileage: 18.2 miles (Wow! Pretty happy with that!)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Self-perceived limits

Last night I was watching "I Used To Be Fat" on MTV (surely there are other 32-year-old women who still watch MTV?). A teenager lost something like 90 pounds in three months. It was amazing. What was even more amazing than the weight loss was seeing her realize that her endurance and stamina far exceeded her own expectations. Once she figured out just how much she could push herself, she was on the fast track to health.

I thought of that today at school/work because I had to accomplish a task I didn't know how to do. I felt pretty stressed out about it, actually, and doubtful that I could do it. But I asked for help, dove in, and guess what? It was actually quite simple. I always worry that I'm not "good enough" to achieve my goals, but that's not true. I simply have to overcome my mental hurdles. Sometimes I need to ignore the self-commentary.

Today's workout: This evening I ran four miles on the treadmill. I felt tired and wanted to walk after one mile, but I didn't. I kept going, maintaining an incline of 2 and a speed of 5.1-5.4. When Pink's "Raise Your Glass" started playing on Pandora, my energy immediately skyrocketed - reminding me that, again, it's all mental.

Tonight's meal: My husband made a delicious vegetable and bean soup - hearty and hydrating.

I added cheese on top because I'm a cheese addict. 

Total miles today: 4 miles
Cumulative mileage: 14.2 miles

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

High calorie day

No running today... Just eating. Tonight was free-for-all night in our house, meaning that everyone got to choose their own food. My husband had leftovers, my son had a grilled cheese sandwich, and I had gluten-free macaroni and cheese (aka gluten-free heart attack in a paper tray - it's yummy, though!) Then we made and consumed chocolate chip cookies. Delicious.

It's nice to have a day off, but I'm already planning tomorrow's run. I'm thinking four miles.

In other running news, my husband signed up for his first 40 mile race today! I'm so proud of him.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Don't think - just breathe

I felt frustrated and discouraged with myself by the time I arrived home from work today. I'm dealing with some uncertainties and unknowns, and there are few things I dislike more than uncertainties and unknowns. I'm a control freak. I'm working on that. What's worse, my mind tends to get stuck in deep ruts of self-criticism, and it's hard to break out of them. Running is one way to do it. Running fast(er than usual) is a really good way to do it because when I run fast, I can't think. I'm too busy remembering to breathe. By the time I'm done, I'm usually out of the rut and in a much better mental state. For me, running is a tool for maintaining mental as well as physical health.

Today's run: I started with 5 minutes at a speed of 4, incline 2. Then I set the speed to 5 and increased it by 0.1 after every minute. After 5 minutes, I went to 5.1 and repeated the sequence. Every time I started a new sequence, I began at a higher speed. I think my max speed was 5.6 or 5.7 - enough to make me feel winded. I finished with a slow jog.

Today's miles: 3 miles
Total cumulative mileage: 10.2 miles

I plan to take tomorrow off. As enthusiastic as I am about working out, I know I need to take a break once or twice a week. Resting can be a real psychological challenge.

Tonight's meal: Chicken and basmati rice stew with carrots, onions, mushrooms, and potatoes. It was delicious!

We have plenty of leftovers for tomorrow and the next day!

Another highlight of the day: Going to Trader Joe's to stock up on food for the next few days. Love the food, love the prices. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Going the (short) distance

First day back to work/school after a ridiculously relaxing holiday. I eased back in with some journal reading and sample preparation. Then I came home and walked/ran 2.2 miles on the treadmill. My plan was to just walk, but I get impatient - I like to get to where I'm going, even if I'm... going nowhere. I hiked up the incline to 3 and averaged a speed of about 4.6. Not speedy, but that's okay.

While I was exercising, I read The New Yorker and Scientific American, then checked Dean Karnazas' blog. Between the jogging and the reading, I was able to get out of work mode. Running always makes me feel so good - and more balanced.

Tonight's dinner: Rice pasta and tomato sauce (pumped up with some onion, tomato, and chopped spinach). This is a staple meal in our house. It's inexpensive, tasty, healthy, and filling.

I think my favorite part of cooking might be browning the onions. I love how they smell.

Today's mileage: 2.2 miles
Cumulative mileage: 7.2 miles

I've decided that once I reach my 100-mile goal, I'll reward myself with a new pair of running shoes. I desperately need them... It's just hard to make such a pricy purchase. Maybe this way I'll feel like I've earned them.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

First post!

I'm a notorious workaholic who has trouble relaxing. Someone asked me a few weeks ago what I like to do for fun - what instantly relaxes me and gets me out of my own head for a while. I said running and cooking. Those were pretty much the only two things I could think of. It's not that I don't enjoy other activities, but for the most part, I don't find them particularly restful. Few things can avoid the steel trap of perfectionism and overanalysis that sits, waiting, in my brain.

I do cook as often as my schedule allows, and I run when I can. Over the December holiday I was reminded of just how much I love putting on my jogging shoes and getting into motion - if only for just a short while, and even if it's only on my treadmill (often the case). My goal this year is to push myself as a runner, even though I know I won't have much time between my lengthy commute, my full work day, and time with my family in the evening. I'm going to use this blog as a place to log my treadmill miles, my speed, favorite meals, and whatever else gets me into a zen state of mind.

First goal: Log 100 miles. These miles can be running or walking, treadmill or outside, fast or slow. Doesn't matter when I finish it.

Today's run: I wanted to see how long I could jog. I've been slowly building up my mileage, and at this point I can comfortably "run" (read: lope slowly) four miles. Today I went five miles at a speed of 4.7, which is between 11 and 12 minutes per mile. I walked for about ten minutes and jogged the rest of the way. As usual, I set the incline at 2. I felt really good, though I could tell I was petering out a bit by the end. My lungs and legs were fine, but I was tired.

Current mileage total: 5 miles.
Dinner tonight: Cannellini beans with tomato, onion, and spinach (variation on a creation by Gluten Hates Me), and baked chicken with a white wine/butter/lemon glaze. All homemade, and all really easy! I didn't use a strict recipe and it still turned out well - definitely not always the case. :-)
Plans for tomorrow: I've been running for the last few days, so I wouldn't feel horrible about taking a break. But it's my first day back at work, and a short run would probably do me good, just to help me transition back into work mode. I'm going to aim for 1-2 miles.