Whirlwind in the Windy City

It's Wednesday and I'm just now getting around to sharing my weekend. Bad blogger, I know. I didn't get to a computer for longer than 15 minutes until Tuesday night, so hopefully you'll forgive me, just this once? I think the reason why I'm getting to my weekend a few days late might make up for it: I spent the weekend in Chicago!

I finally got the guts to kick my fear of flying to the curb at least long enough for my first trip to the Windy City. Although Ben and I have talked about going to Chicago for a couple years now, more so in the last couple months, we didn't actually plan this trip until 2 weeks beforehand. And by "plan" I mean we booked a flight and a hotel, but had absolutely zero ideas about what we'd do and see once we got there. That's kind of our travel style.

I'm not going to write a full recap of everything we ate, did, and saw because frankly I think those posts are boring and I like you guys too much to do that to you. Instead, here are some photos and some of our Chicago adventures.

I was honestly a little underwhelmed upon arrival (sorry, Chicagoans, please don't hate me). Chicago didn't strike me the same as my beloved NYC and Boston, which I'm actually pretty thankful for because now I don't have another city to add to my Want-To-Move-To List. Whew.

The Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building was a fun way to get a view of the city (as good of a view as we were going to get anyway - this was the least cloudy it was the whole time we were there). We didn't do the Willis Tower but I think this was a good alternative. It was pricy, but at least or $50 got us drinks and an appetizer to go along with our view.

Deep dish pizza was on the dinner menu both nights we were there.

I wasn't that impressed by Lake Michigan. But then I found the river, and it was super cool.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour was definitely worth it! I felt so happy that I have a good vocabulary and a background in Classics, art history, AND civil engineering because with all of that, I totally understood everything our docent said (and she said a lot)!

Our City Running Tour was awesome! Even thought it was cloudy and foggy and rainy and a little cold. I think running is the absolute best and most fun way to see a city and I love that this company exists (full review to come)!

Any recent or upcoming travels? What's your favorite city?

Training for Tuesday: Planning My Off-Season

I made it to the end of my 2014 races! Finally! If you think you've been listening to my training forever, just think how I feel.

I kid, I kid.

Kind of.

After the Richmond Half Marathon nine days ago, a truly great year of running came to a close. I'll do a 2014 running by the numbers recap at the end of next month, but y'all, I don't think I could have dreamed of a better year. It was absolutely the best year of my (short) running career. I accomplished far more than I ever planned and far exceeded any and all expectations I had for myself this year. I have a couple more small races lined up before the year is really over, but those will be more for fun than anything (although, for the record, I wouldn't say no to another PR...). But besides those, all the big ones are behind me, putting me now in my off-season.

I use the term "off-season" pretty loosely here, since it will only be about a month long. That's because I already have a a goal race lined up for March 2015 (which all five of you who actually read this already know):

Rock 'n' Roll USA half marathon in DC!

I'm super excited about this one, but it will be bittersweet because it means I won't be able to run Shamrock that weekend, which was my first half in 2012, second half in 2013, and last year I completed the Whale Challenge, my first time running back-to-back races: 8k on Saturday, full marathon (my second) on Sunday. Since Shamrock is local and I always have friends running it, it's become a staple in my running calendar.
The good news is that I think the benefits of RnR will outweigh Shamrock. It will be my first RnR series race, my first time running DC, AND (the best part), it's going to be a blogger race party with Alyssa, Becky, and Erin (to name a few). I could not be more excited!!! But, it's not quite time to start hardcore training yet, which leaves me with about a month to get my body rested up but still ready for another training cycle. I know December is a hard month to stay on track, but I want to do my best so that I'm as prepared as possible when I start training again. Here's what I'm thinking for the interim period before RnR training starts:

Continue to run 4x a week. I've miraculously managed this schedule for the last couple years, and that's my running happy place. I don't want to hold myself to a strict mileage goal, but I would like to keep my base by running 15-20ish miles a week. I don't think I'll do any specific speed workouts, but I'll probably keep my weekday runs the same (3-5 miles each) and do a long run of 7-10 miles on the weekend.

Keep short runs to ~8:00 per mile (or under), and long runs sub-9:00. My biggest fear is that I'll somehow regress and lose all the speed I've built up. I've put in so much work over the last year and I hope to keep getting faster, so maintaining my speed is really important to me. 

Cycle once a week. I just got on my bike last week for the first time since Giant Acorn Oly in September. Although cycling outside probably isn't going to happen, I have no reason not to hop on the trainer for an hour a week. Cycling is such great cross training and a habit I need to get back into. 

Get back in a strength training routine. I have made so many excuses for why I've let weightlifting fall by the wayside, but I'm ready to change that. Specifically, I'm thinking of doing the New Rules for Women program again. I know I asked this before, but would anyone be interested in a review of the program as I go through it?

So that's my game plan for the next 4 or 5 weeks before the real fun begins! How's your training going? Are you enjoying your off-season or gearing up for your next race? Grab a button, link up, and share!


Travel Tips For the Nervous Flyer (From A Nervous Flyer)

I'm a pretty anxious person. I'm not a thrill-seeker. I'm a little afraid of heights and hate the feeling of falling. I don't ride roller coasters, I'd never go sky diving or bungee jumping, etc., so it's probably not a surprise that being trapped in a metal box at 30,000 feet above ground freaks me the eff out. I flew a couple times as a kid without any major issues but that changed when I was 11. 

My grandpa was an Air Force pilot before he retired, and I think because of that influence, my uncle became interested in becoming a pilot as well. He got his pilot's license as a teenager and even though he wasn't a pilot by profession (actually, he was a civil engineer, which is what I'm studying to be), flying was his passion. He owned his own 4-seater plane, which I flew in a few times, and shared his love of flying with his son, my cousin, who was 2 years my junior. In April of 1999 they flew from their home in North Carolina to an air show in Florida. On the way back, something went terribly wrong and their plane went down. The last communication he ever had with air control was to report severe turbulence, but beyond that the ATSB has never been able to identity he exact cause of the crash. My uncle and 9-year-old cousin were both killed on impact.

I've flown maybe 10-15 times since The Accident, but I haven't been able to fly without extreme stress. I know that flying a commercial airline is completely different and that the likelihood of something going wrong is very, very slim, but I haven't been able to get over my fear of flying. I flew a few times after The Accident and any turbulence would leave me hyperventilating and/or crying. I had my worst on-flight panic attack en route from Atlanta to Houston in 2011. It was such a scary experience that I almost talked Ben into renting a car and driving 15 hours from Texas back to Virginia instead of flying. I managed to make it on the flight home but the whole thing scarred me so bad I've avoided flying at all costs since then. I've stuck with road trips and trains for subsequent trips. I finally got the nerve to try again when we went to Boston earlier this year. The flight wasn't even an hour long, so I figured that would be a gold starting point to get me comfortable with flying again. Luckily, the flight was pretty easy and uneventful. We've been talking about going to Chicago for a while now but knowing I'd have to fly there made me nervous. We finally decided to go this past weekend and I'm happy to report that I made it through my longest panic attack-free flight in 3 years. Major feat right there, so I thought I'd share some things that helped me through!

  • Flying in the morning. I had one other on-flight panic attack several year before the Houston one, and they both happened when I was flying at night. Something about not being able to see anything other than darkness out of the (already tiny) windows on the plane makes me really uncomfortable, so I definitely avoid flying at night and prefer to fly as early in the morning as possible. Not only do I feel better when I can discern land below, but I'm generally tired on early morning flights which means I'm less alert and less likely to have enough mental energy to freak out. 
  • Listening to something relaxing. I've tried listening to music on flights but it's never really helped. I have an app on my phone that plays Oriental melodies (so, basically, what you might hear at a spa) that I sometimes listen to during yoga or a hot bath. I fired up the app on my most recent flight and I found it extremely calming and soothing. I've never been able to fall asleep on a flight but I actually managed to sleep for 10-15 minutes at a time for about an hour total!
  • Paying more attention to what road travel feels like. I know, in my logical brain, that the chances of my car crashing are astronomical compared to the plane crashing, but despite that fact I still feel much safer in a car than on a plane. Because my uncle's plane went down due to turbulence (crazy, freak, perfect-storm level turbulence, but turbulence nonetheless), I feel every. single. bump. on an airplane and it makes my stomach drop every time. Even though driving a car on a road is sometimes just as bumpy as being on a plane, those bumps don't phase me at all. That's why I've started forcing myself to become more cognizant of them so that when I'm in the air, I can relate the bumpy experience to what it feels like to drive in a car, and realize that the bumps are normal and okay. It's helped me realize that that turbulence, even bad turbulence, doesn't automatically mean the plane is going down.  
  • Taking a Xanax. I've tried alcohol before flying but that hasn't helped, and might have actually made it worse. I now take Xanax about half an hour before my flight, and I've found that it helps to keep my anxiety at bay. I don't take any medication regularly, not even birth control, and I really don't like to take medication for anything unless I really have to, but for me, flying qualifies as a "have to." Maybe one day that won't be the case, but for now, it's a reality. (Of course, you should consult your doctor before taking any medication). 
With that said, I hope all of you traveling this week have very safe trips and get to spend lots of quality time with your loved ones! Where is everyone spending this holiday? Anybody have any other travel tips I should know about? Send 'em my way!

But before we get the holidays started, don't forget that tomorrow (yes, tomorrow!) is your chance to link up with Alyssa and me to tell us alllll about how how training is going! No matter where you are in your training cycle, whether you've just finished a training cycle (like us), or you're gearing up for yor next one (also like us ;)), no matter what you did, are, or will train for, we wanna know! Whether things are going well, badly, or somewhere in between, we firmly believe that training is better with friends. So link up and let us know what's going on!

My Running Fans

I'm linking up today for Runners Tell All, and this month may be my favorite topic yet. I had one person in particular that I planned to talk about today, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I'm lucky enough to have several people I'd consider my biggest running fans. So, lucky for you, today you get to hear about all of them!

First up is all of my fellow running friends. I'm a solo runner in my daily endeavors but I love being a part of the running community. I have friends I've made through running that I never would have otherwise met for myriad reasons. Some live in other places, some are nearly twice my age, some I've never even met in real life, but forging these unlikely friendships has impacted my life in a way I couldn't have anticipated. We might run different distances or paces, but at the end of the day, runners are a very we're-in-this-together kind of crew. There are some runs I wouldn't have made it through without these people's pep talks or encouraging texts. There have been some races that have felt like utter failure, until I get a high-five from a running friend who also suffered through it. Some are new friends, others have been there since the beginning. They inspire me and motivate me. I'm so grateful and proud to know these people not only as runners, but as friends.

Next is my original running partner in crime: Ben. When I got a wild hair and wanted to start the Couch to 5k program in 2011, Ben didn't really want to do it with me. But he did it anyway. Truthfully, 100% honest, no bullshit here: if he hadn't, I'd probably still be on the couch. I don't think I could have done it on my own, not in the beginning. Trying to run was scary for me. I had never been successful at it before and I was so terrified of failure, but having him there to support me even when I struggled gave me hope that I could succeed.  Ben is the best person to have on my side because he's biggest believer that if you put your mind to it, you can do it. When we ran our first 10k, I ran so slowly that he physically couldn't match my pace, but he stayed back with me and helped me through it anyway. After that race I kept up with running and he didn't, but he still gets up and drives me to races, cheers me on while I run, and is always waiting for me at every finish line, happy to celebrate each accomplishment with me. He's recently started running more races with me (although, after 3 halfs in the last 5 weeks, he swears he's going into retirement). I think we both prefer him waiting at the finish line, ready for me to jump into his arms and cry (either sad or happy tears, depending on how the race went).

And finally, really my #1 running fan if I had to pick just one: my dad. I have a great dad, and growing up, I assumed everyone had a great dad. It wasn't until I got to be an adult that I realized how fortunate I was, and that not everyone has the kind of dad I have. My dad coached a lot of my sports teams growing up, so we always had athletics in common, but he coached me through more than just softball. My dad taught me to push myself, and that a little hard work never hurt anybody. He never gives up on me and he never lets me give up on myself.

My dad is the reason I ever entertained the idea of running in the first place. He has always been an athletic guy but not a runner until 7 or 8 years ago. In his late 40s he joined a gym and starting running local races. I wasn't living locally at the time so I only heard about his experiences secondhand, and I didn't really get it. I couldn't figure out how he could be so happy doing something so boring. I remember him posting a watch picture on Facebook from his first sub-2 half and I asked, "You're HAPPY you ran for 2 hours?!" Like I said, I really didn't get it. A few months later I moved back home and found myself needing an answer to the post-grad "What do I do now?!", so I thought maybe I'd try running. Not because I had ever been even decent at it (in fact, I had historically been very, very bad at it) but because I figured if my dad could do it, surely I could too? And the rest, as they say, is history. We don't get to run together a lot, especially now that I've moved, but we do most of the same races. He ran my very first (very slow) half marathon with me, and crossing the finish line and then having him place my medal around my neck and tearfully tell me, "You earned it." will forever be one of my Top 5 Tearjerker Moments.

Another spot on that list goes to the time 2 years later when we finished his first marathon together, hand-in-hand. But before we got to the finish line, I was seriously struggling. Thankfully, my dad was there to coach me through it, in a way that only he could have. He knows just what to say to make me feel like I can do it while simultaneously pissing me off enough for me to get my shit together. As much as my dad is my hero, I think he'd say the same thing about me. He's always been my biggest cheerleader and my #1 fan, and the proudest moments of my life are the moments I knew I made my dad proud.

Demand More From Your Body

I used to have a really great spin instructor, back when I went to the Y and went to spin class. She was a little intense but also super nice and fun. She'd always crank up the music during tough parts of the class and she would yell things at us to keep us going, so we wouldn't give up, so we'd hang on just a little longer. The things she said always resonated with me, but none more so than this:

That class was almost 2 years ago. I was training for a big PR at my second half marathon, and I was willing to push myself as hard as I needed to get there. I thought I really got what she was saying, but I really didn't fully understand it until this weekend during the Richmond Half Marathon. 

I know I've been harping on this for like 2 months now, but this was finally, FINALLY my last big race of this year. A year bookended by two big races: my first marathon in January, and my (hopefully) first sub-2 half in November. If you've been paying any attention here lately you know that I actually hit that sub-2 not once but twice over the last month. Still, I hoped to go out with a bang at my last big race of 2014 in Richmond. I didn't have a specific goal in mind other than another sub-2 (I like to think of it as the Triple Crown). I had some other goals in mind, none that I was willing to admit out loud, none that even came to me until the day before the race. Here's the thing: I think my days of being married to a time goal are over. I've run a lot of races with a very specific time in mind. I used to spend a whole training cycle, leading up to one race, trying to reach a certain goal. I've achieved some and blown others. It's been a long time since I trained for a specific time, and I kind of prefer it this way. It's hard banking all that training on one day. It's a lot of pressure. I didn't train for any particular time for Richmond and I waited until right before the race started to entertain the thought of any goal times for the day.

As we stood shivering in the porta-potty line on Saturday, I was talking to Ben about how weird it is that I don't really get nervous for races anymore. I'm sure it's a combination of things, not the least of which is that I've stood at a couple starting lines in my day. I wholeheartedly believe that one of the best cures for race anxiety is simply to race more often. But another contender for the top spot is something I've only managed to start doing recently: trust my body. I used to race by the mantra "Trust your training," which was great for when I had been following a strict training plan, but that hasn't been the case lately. Don't get me wrong, I've been training, but not for anything in particular. I've been training for everything and nothing at the same time. So when I lined up on Saturday, "Trust your body" seemed more accurate and more appropriate. 

The morning of the race was cold, so cold, freezing actually. Starting temps were 28*, making this one of the coldest races I've ever run. I tend to do better in less-than-perfect weather (as long as it's of the cold and/or rain variety, not the heat and/or humidity variety), so I hadn't resigned myself to a less-than-stellar race like I think a lot of people had. The beginning of the course was easier than I remembered from last year. The first few miles were more or less flat and all I could think was that I was finally getting my reward for all the tough hills I've been running. I knew from almost the beginning that a sub-2 was pretty much guaranteed, and after a few miles, so was a PR. I started out fast but in control. Like I said, I hadn't committed to any time goals, but I did have 1:50 in the back of my head. I had already looked it up, just for funsies, and found out I needed to average 8:21 to pull it off. So starting after 5 miles, when my average pace was at 8:15, all I could see was the number 4. As in, come hell or high water, the number that came after the 1: on my finish time would be a 4. 

That was that. It was decided. And that's when I thought about what my old spin instructor had said. Demand more of your body. It will give it to you. I hadn't thought about that in a long time, but all of a sudden it popped in my head and became my mantra through the rest of the race. And, oh, the rest of the race. If the beginning was easier than I remembered, the rest was harder. There were hills where I didn't remember there being hills (not even close to Hokie Half or City of Oaks level, but still not easy). There were long straightaways that maybe could have used a small hill or two to break up the monotony. There were a couple sizable hills and my average pace dropped by a couple seconds but not enough to throw me off target. By mile 9 I was starting to get tired, and right before mile 10 I walked a water stop and got a drink. I walked another one and got another drink right before mile 11 and I watched my average pace go up to 8:22, just over where I needed it to be for 1:50.

This is not the first time I've gotten to mile 11 and had now-or-never choice to make: are you going to give up and just miss your goal, or are you going to keep going and finish this thing? I thought some more about what my spin instructor had said. And about what a friend texted me the night before the race: "Remember lay it all out on the line!! this is what you train for!!" That was the same friend who jokingly-but-not-jokingly suggested I go for sub-50 at the Wicked 10k a few weeks ago, his words, "Leave it all on the course" echoing through my mind and carrying me to the finish line that day. So once again, I let his words and my spin teacher's words carry me through to the end of this race.

I knew I had a big downhill coming at the end, so I just needed to do the work until then and then I could let gravity take over. I felt a little bit like I was running in slow motion at that point. I got to mile 12 and I just remember thinking, "Only 8 more minutes." Eight more minutes and this big, awesome, intense, crazy, rewarding, humbling, triumphant year of racing would come to an end. I ran my heart out this year, and I wasn't about to stop with only 8 minutes left. I knew I had to give it all I had, to finish strong. There were a few turns during mile 12, which was nice after a lot of the course running straight down one road for a mile or two at a time. I remembered that part of the course from last year and once I got to where I knew I only had a half mile left, getting really close to that downhill, I started booking.

I finally made the turn to see the long, steep downhill to the finish! I didn't know at that point if I would be just under or just over 1:50, but I knew I had given it all I had and that was all I could do. I took that downhill aggressively, looking at my watch frequently. Once the 13 mile marker was in sight, I had about 2 minutes to get to the finish, and that's when I knew I had it. The finish is very, very steep so as much as I was trying to push my pace, I was also trying to reign it in to make sure I didn't trip and fall on my face. Running downhill is harder than it sounds! 


I crossed the finish line and immediately checked my watch (duh). It read 1:49:34 (later official time was actually 1 second slower, SORRY I LIED ON INSTAGRAM). I know I sound like a broken record saying that I never, ever in my life dreamed I'd run ________ (fill in the blank with my most recent PR), but a 1:4X:XX half marathon is something I never even thought about until Saturday (for those of you keeping score at home, I've now taken 52 minutes 46 seconds off my first half 2.5 years ago - bet you can guess what my ultimate goal is ;)). Still, crossing that finish line, I wasn't totally surprised that I did it. I knew from 1/3 of the way into the race that I'd finish with a 1:4X:XX time, but it still wasn't a guarantee. I got it because I demanded it (and also because of that big ass downhill at the end...gotta give credit where credit is due). I'm still getting used to being able to trust my body, to know that it will give me what I demand of it.  I spent so much of my 3.5 running years not being sure what I could ask of it, not being able to trust it, being surprised and overwhelmed and crying tears of joy every time it actually did what I wanted it to do. It feels strange to all of a sudden know that I control my body, my body doesn't control me. Strange, but awesome. I can't think of a feeling I'd rather have to end my 2014 racing year.

Running a Marathon (and Other Things I'm Not Doing This Weekend)

If I've learned anything this year, it's that things don't always go according to planned. You would think that by this point, in my 27th year on this earth, I might have figured that out, but it seems that the Universe has had a real field day this year with teaching me that lesson. My plans a couple months ago included, among other things, running my 3rd marathon (ever, and also this year) tomorrow in Richmond. I got halfway through my training before finally listening to my heart and dropping to the half marathon.

Making that decision was bittersweet because I felt like I was giving up, but truthfully, I had already given up long before I clicked the "Transfer" button on the race registration page. I learned a lot from this whole experience, more than I would have learned had I gone through with my training, I think. I learned a lot about what I need from a training experience, what works for me and what doesn't. I learned that there is so much more to running than the marathon and that achieving other goals is just as fun. It may not be rewarding in the same way training for and running a marathon is rewarding, but it's fun. And since I'm not going pro anytime soon, isn't fun kind of the point?

So this weekend, will not be running a marathon. I will be running a half marathon, which is still kind of a lot, but anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that a marathon is not simply a half marathon x 2. I'm pretty good at math but I can't even figure out how it works out that the first half of a marathon is roughly 20 miles and the second half is the last 6.2. Just trust me.

I will not have a full-on, ugly-cry meltdown at the expo over a hoodie.

I will not refill my Camelbak approximately 40 times a day and drink my weight in water.

I will not stuff my face with so much Mexican food Saturday night that I have to go lay down in the car during dessert. I guess I can't be 100% sure this won't happen, but if it does, it won't be because I'm operating on a -2000 calorie deficit for the day.

I will not have to hobble down the stairs on Sunday. Or have trouble getting in and out of the car on Sunday. Or take way longer than necessary to pee just because sitting down and standing up is an extraordinarily painful task. Or otherwise feel trapped in an 80-year-old's body.

I won't have one of the best days of my life. I've been thinking a lot about my first marathon a lot lately...maybe it's the fact that it's marathon season and there's a new recap to read every week. Maybe it's the fact that the 1-year anniversary will be here before I know it. Whatever it is, it's been on my mind a lot. The day I ran my first marathon was a magical day full of rainbows and butterflies, and I'd run 26.2 miles every single day if I had to to get it back. But while I'm desperate to have that feeling again, I know that it's not in a time capsule waiting for me to uncover it again. I can always look back and remember it fondly, but no other marathon is ever going to top it. I'm never going to get that day back, even if I run a million more marathons, and I have to let it go.

Ultimately, I'm way more happy than I am sad about the fact that I will not be running 26.2 miles tomorrow. I've been able to spend more time with my family during the weekends, rather than running until I drop. I've been able to fit my runs into my school schedule without too much stress or pressure (and even that has been difficult, so I have no idea how I would have managed to actually train for a full marathon). I've been able to PR shorter distance races that otherwise wouldn't have fit into my training plan. I was able to continue my Wicked streak - 4 years and counting! Instead of sacrificing myself for the marathon, I sacrificed the marathon for myself. In the end, I think I got a lot more out of the latter than I would have gotten from the former.

So that's what my weekend, and all the things I will and won't be doing during it, look like. What are you up to (or not up to) this weekend?

Five Things I'd Like To Be (But Probably Never Will)

1. A real yogi

I like yoga, I think it helps me mentally and physically, and it's improved my running, but I don't love it. I'd like to love it, but right now I'm too focused on running and triathlon to really devote myself to a regular, serious yoga practice. That's something I'd like to do, though, eventually. If and when there ever comes a time when I can't run anymore, I think that will be the time I finally indulge my inner yogi.

2. A wine connoisseur 

I know absolutely nothing about wine except that I like merlot and cabernet sauvignon and I don't like to spend more than $10 (sometimes I'll splurge on a ~$15 bottle but that's really pushing it). I have no idea what foods go with what wines, or what makes a good wine, or what even makes wine taste different. I just know that if I have a glass in front of me with at least a little wine in it, I'm happy, but I wish I were more fancy than that.

3. A person with a capsule wardrobe 

I've made it no secret that my goal in life is to only own as many things as I reasonably need, so it's probably not a surprise that I'm a little obsessed with the idea of having a capsule wardrobe. The problem is, I like the idea of it, but I'm not entirely sure it would work for me in practice. I get overwhelmed when I have too many options, so I don't have a ton of clothes as it is, but I'm hesitant about limiting what I already feel is a fairly limited wardrobe (but in reality is nowhere close to a capsule wardrobe).

4. A boss lady

I actually think I'd make a great boss lady (nevermind the fact that I don't have a job). I'm organized and I like to get shit done. When I think about the future, when I start my (second) career, I like to imagine myself Olivia Pope-style.

5. An Iron(wo)man

What do you get when you add 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running? 140.6 miles of bad-assery, that's what. I'm not sure this is something I'll ever tackle, but I like to keep it on the table, just in case. It seems so impossible, but then again, it wasn't long ago that a marathon seemed equally impossible and I've managed to make it through that a couple times over. I guess I'll find out just how impossible the road to Ironman (or at least half of it) is when I take on my first 70.3 next year. Wait, did I just admit that publicly? Well, you heard it here first...

I'm off to put my pajamas on...because I'm dreaming.

Just Because I Don't Work...

I don't have a job. I haven't had to go to work from 7:30am - 4pm in almost a year and a half. I don't have a boss. I don't get a paycheck deposited into my bank account twice a month. I don't have a work wardrobe or a daily commute. I don't have a desk with my name on it. I used to have all those things, but I don't anymore (see why I quit for the full story).

Maybe to some that sounds like living the dream, but I get pretty insecure about it. As a 27-year-old with a mortgage, car payment, etc., it feels embarrassing to admit that I don't have a job. Or even that I'm in school. I'm an adult. Adults have jobs. It's hard, having been in the professional world, to go all the way back to the beginning and know I still have so far to go.

Sometimes I feel guilty about the fact that I don't work and instead go to school full-time. It's not like I went back to school to finish a degree I really needed. Nothing happened that prevented me from getting this degree when I was college-aged. I just got a different degree. Then I got bored with that one and panicked at the thought of my career actually being my forever career. That's not a path a lot of people get to take. I'm grateful to even be in a position that allows me to go back to school, but I still feel some guilt over it. 

But just because I don't work doesn't mean I'm not working. I don't think it's news to anyone that college requires a lot of work. I've been there, done that, and I can safely say I work harder now than I ever have. Even when I was in grad school. There are days that I spend 12+ hours doing nothing but schoolwork. Thankfully they're not common, but they're not uncommon either. Want to know what I did this weekend? I spent a good chunk of Saturday and Sunday in the library working on a group assignment. One assignment. For one class. That's not super common either, but do you know how many Saturdays or Sundays I spent at work when I was teaching? Zero. Engineering school is no joke, people. 

Not working isn't something I want to do. I want to have a job. Even though my job wasn't right for me, I still miss the idea of going to work. Not school, but work. But what I want more than to have a job is to have a job I really like. I'm not sure I am or will ever be the type of person who would rather be at work than anywhere else (I think my passions are just too varied for them to every be fully fulfilled by my job), but I want to like what I do. I want to feel like there is value in what I do. I want to feel like my personal strengths and talents are being utilized. I don't have a job because the job I had didn't fit those requirements, and it wore me down.

Some days I feel brave for quitting my job to pursue a dream, but some days I feel like the biggest idiot in the world. Lately, with deadlines and tests and presentations piling up, I've lost sight of why I'm here. I constantly ask myself, "What am I doing?" I have no idea what the next year holds and, as a person who has always planned my life to the T, that's scary. I can't even think more than a couple months in the future anymore, because any farther than than and a panic attack ensues.

Do you love your job? Will you tell me about a time you felt unsure about something to make me feel better?!

City of Oaks Half Marathon Recap

This was my second year running the City of Oaks half marathon. Last year I learned that I don't have any clue about running hills. This year I learned that I still know nothing about running hills. Remember when I thought that, of my 3 halfs this fall, the Hokie Half would be the hilliest? Well, let me just tell you: that was incorrect.

Top: Hokie Half. Bottom: City of Oaks Half. I know the scales are different BUT STILL.
Until 3 weeks ago, last year's City of Oaks was my half marathon PR: 2:09:59. I was super ecstatic about that time last year, because I got in under 2:10, which had been my goal at a race earlier that year. And I did it despite having a head cold, running a mile before the race started (had to get in 14 miles total for marathon training), and never having run hills before (and there were plenty).

When I lined up at the starting line this year, again I wasn't expecting a particularly great race. My weekday runs last week all felt terrible. After two big PRs recently, I was tired. I knew I wasn't in mental or physical shape to run a hard race, so I had asked Ben earlier in the week if he wanted me to run with him and/or pace him. He said he did but he didn't have an exact goal, so we planned on finishing anywhere between 2:00 and 2:10, depending on how we felt.

The first few miles were mostly downhill, which was nice at the time, but I made sure to warn Ben that that was going to be the easiest part of the race. We ran them faster than I think either of us expected to, but we both felt good so we kept it up.  The 2:00 pacer was well ahead of us, which made me feel bad for all the people following him because he went out way faster than I think I would have wanted to if that were my goal. Miles 1-3 were 8:52, 8:46, 8:57.

Right at the mile 4 marker we started a pretty big climb, and it was up and down for a long time after that. The next few miles took us through a little bit of downtown Raleigh before we headed to a more residential area. At some point we caught up to the 2:00 pacer, and we played back and forth with that group for the rest of the race. All I could think about for the first half of the race was how amazing it would be for me and Ben to finish together, AND to finish under 2 hours. I had been keeping tabs on our pace the whole time and was sure we'd be able to do it with at least a minute or two to spare. Miles 4-7 were 8:57, 8:56, 8:48, 9:08. I don't know what happened to make us slow down during mile 7, but overall I was really surprised by our consistency!

Soon after that we passed the 10k finish line and relay exchange, which was great because there were a lot of people out cheering. But right after that we hit a HUGE hill, and then another really big, long hill after it. Essentially, 7.5-8.5 was a huge climb (and of course it was up, down, up, down even after that). We turned a corner and I distinctly remembered it as being the one where I developed my "What goes up must come down" mantra that I kept repeating to myself through the end of last year's race. That mile really took it out of me. I might have just been a little fatigued since I hadn't eaten anything since before the race, and I wasn't convinced my stomach would play nice if I tried to eat my raisins mid-race. Whatever it was, I was getting tired. There was another long climb from 9.5-10.5, not nearly as big as the previous one, but a climb nonetheless. At some point along that hill, I was really done. I was pretty sure I'd still finish under 2 hours, but I didn't want to chance it for Ben so I told him to go ahead without me. There had been a couple times that I wanted to walk before that and didn't, but I was done with hills at that point. It really wasn't that bad, but I just wasn't in the mood to kill myself that day. I took a walk break and almost immediately I got passed by the 2-hour pacer right as the hill crested (I'm glad I knew he was way ahead of schedule!), and I heard him say that that was the last big hill.  I didn't want to walk too much because I knew I'd be mad at myself if I came that far and didn't get a sub-2, so I ran enough to keep my average pace at 9:00 or below. I walked a water station to get some Gatorade and water in hopes it would give me enough of a boost until the end. Miles 8-11 were 8:53, 9:07, 8:58, 9:53.

When we got to the mile 11 marker, we made a turn to separate from the marathoners. It was about a half mile in one direction, then we'd turn around and run straight to the finish line. I remember this part being really awful last year, I think because it was a little hotter that day, but it wasn't so bad this year. I got to the turnaround and before I knew it, I was in the home stretch. I was thankful when I turned around and realized the wind was at our back, and my pace did pick back up for the last couple miles. When I got to the mile 12 marker I was right around 1:49:00 on my watch, so all I needed to do was maintain a 10:00 pace for the last 1.1 miles to get in under 2 hours (if you've ever wondered how I don't get bored running long distance, it's because I spend at least 50% of the time doing mental math). Even though there were some hills on that last stretch, they weren't nearly as bad as I remembered, and the last mile was mostly downhill.

Before I knew it I was running by the NC State campus toward the finish. There were a lot of people out at that point and I kept scanning to see if I could find my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and friend who were there. I passed the mile 13 marker and kicked into high gear to cross my 41st finish line. Ben ended up finishing only 50 seconds ahead of me, which made me glad I didn't really lose much time with my walk breaks. I'm actually happy I took them because it made the finish much easier, and I had an awesome kick right at the end.  Miles 12 and 13 were 8:53 and 8:30, and the last .1 was 7:03.

Of all the things I thought would never happen in my running career, running not one but TWO half marathons with this dude would probably be #1.
And, with that, my 9th half marathon was in the books! At 1:58:20 it wasn't my fastest, but I think I can live with that ;)

AND! I got to meet Lisa after the race! I knew she was running but we weren't able to coordinate before the race, so I was super excited when I was standing around after the race and heard my name and turned around to see her! I didn't introduce her to family because I didn't want to have to tell them about this here blog, and later when my sister-in-law asked me how I knew her, I responded, "The Internet." I'm really smooth like that. Anyway. This was her first half and she finished in 2:14, on that crazy course no less. How amazing is that?! Only in my dreams would I have had any shot of finishing my first half in that time. You go, Lisa. Now if only we can get Alyssa in on that City of Oaks action next year...

I have to say, I signed up for this race mostly because I remembered how beautiful and quintessentially fall I thought the course was last year, but it didn't impress me as much this year. Not because it wasn't beautiful (it was!), but because all the fall foliage wasn't so novel for me this year. Since I no longer live at the beach and now live in an area that, honestly, looks pretty similar to Raleigh (i.e. it's like a mountainous fall wonderland every day), the course just didn't strike me the same way. It was still a really pretty race, and the weather was perfect for running (maybe a little chilly for those North Carolinians, but I was into it). It was well-organized, the swag was nice, and the post-race activities were great. I really have nothing but good things to say about this race and hope to be back again next year! I don't know what it is about the City of Oaks but I seem to do some of my best running there, even when it feels unlikely.

Don't Tell Me I'm Beautiful

I went out of town this weekend, and on the way back home yesterday I stopped for gas somewhere along the Virginia/North Carolina border. The gas station was attached to a Subway restaurant, so after I went in the gas station I went over to the Subway next door for a sandwich. As I walked toward the Subway door, a man passed me, looked at me and said, "Hi, beautiful."

Before I could process what had happened, I had already muttered a quick "Thank you" and gone on my way. After that knee jerk reaction, I was bothered, and as I went to open the Subway door, for a split second I thought, "I should turn around and say something." But say what? I have no idea.

I thought about it more after I drove away, and I was not only bothered by the comment, but bothered that I was bothered. What had this man done that had upset me so much? Why did I want to tell him that he couldn't say that to me, when he has every right to say that to me? What had he done that struck me as so wrong?

I felt like I was wrong for being so offended. I'll concede that he was not the most-polished looking guy. Would I have reacted the same if a younger man had said it? A more attractive man? A woman? Maybe I wouldn't have been as offended if it had come from an attractive man my age. Maybe if it had been a woman complimenting my purse or my shoes, I would happily accept it.

But I think there's a difference - maybe at times subtle in definition but big in magnitude - between a genuine compliment and an unwarranted comment. This was not the first time, or even the worst time, that it's happened to me, but I always react the same way - even though it's probably harmless and maybe even *gasp* someone just trying to be nice. I've always thought, "How dare he!" How dare he judge my physical appearance a mere second after seeing me for the first time. How dare he look at me in that way, as if I'm just a pretty object, not a person with far more qualities than my physical attributes. 

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it ran much deeper than that. It's not so much the thought (which is still a problem for me, but I understand human nature), but the fact that someone would find it appropriate to share that thought with me. Because once that barrier has been shattered, I suddenly have no idea what boundaries, if any, that person has. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but that makes me really uncomfortable. It scares me. This guy, for example...right after our exchange I walked in to an empty Subway (at least no one at the front counter) and went to use the restroom. What if he had followed me? What if he had waited for me? What if Ben hadn't been outside pumping gas, and I had been alone? 

The fact is that nothing probably would have happened, but it could have. I don't want to say that, as a rule, I'm fearful of men or people in general, but I have an acute awareness that bad things do happen to women. More than I think any of us are comfortable with. I think of what happened to Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington and countless others like them and wonder if they found theirselves in a similar situation before their tragic and untimely deaths.

I know this reads like a nonsensical stream-of-consciousness, because it largely is. I just can't help but wonder. It feels like an it's-(probably)-not-you-it's-me situation, but I feel like I have to err on the side of caution. Just in case. Because once a stranger opens that door, I just don't know how far they're willing to keep going through it.