Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Closing the Door on 2011

Everyone is recapping 2011, and it's my turn too.
I've run just over 1800 miles.  My goal was to run 2000, but it became apparent at the start of the year that running 2000 miles a year may not be the best, given the ITBS that flared up at the end of 2010.  So, I cut out some running and substituted a whole lotta cross training: biking, rowing, swimming, elliptical.  I didn't always track that mileage, but I know that the double sessions I was doing 3x a week in preparation for Boston really added up!
I ran 12 (ish) races:
February: Freezeroo 8 miler - 57:40 First race post ITBS, and a big sign my plan for Boston was working
March: National Half Marathon: 1:34:37 - PR and qualified for NYCM
April: Boston Marathon 3:27:00 - 9 minute PR and a major triumph
May: Medved Lilac 5k, Rochester - 20:45 - PR, AG winner
June: NY Mini 10k - 46:07 - worst time in a while, but my mom ran her first 10k!
September: 9/11 Memorial 5k - 21:02 - 2nd fastest 5k, and in 80 degree weather - rust-buster race of the fall
Clarendon Day 5k 20:23 - New 5k PR
October: Boo! Run for Life 10k - 42:48 PR - AG winner, first time running a negative split
(Unofficial) 5k track race - 19:57
Marine Corps Marathon: Ran the first 10 miles, jumped out, jumped in to pace my friend Jenny to a BQ
November: Veteran's Day 10k - 41:26 - New PR
Philadelphia Half Marathon + LoopPhest: 1:32:35 - Shiny new PR
Race with Grace 10k: 42:15 - 2nd fastest 10k, and 4 days after Philly
December: Jingle All the Way 8k - 33:31
States Run in: MD, VA (and DC), NY, MA, RI, FL, CA
Races volunteered at: 5
I went gluten free in January, and am starting to show improvement in my bloodwork.
I changed topics in my research, from medieval witchcraft to medieval pilgrimage and piety.
I spent the summer as the Academic Dean of a gifted program in Santa Cruz, and enjoyed my first West Coast experience.
I finished my classes as a PhD student.
I passed my comprehensive exams - one of the biggest victories of the year.
This time last year, it felt like everything was falling apart.  And in January, I took it as an opportunity to rebuild - rebuild my body, my diet, my training, everything.  The first part of 2011 just felt so hard, and I just had to trust the process.  I set out and made a list of goals, and wished I could achieve them - but I was definitely unsure if they were doable.  I remember getting up early and walking to the pool in the dark in the morning before school, just hoping it would all come together.  And I think that is why I am ultimately so pleased with how 2011 went - things happened because of hard work.  I didn't win the lottery or a sweepstakes - everything I "won" came from hard, tenacious work.  And that's why 2011 was a good year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


In dreams, we enter a world that is entirely our own.  JK Rowling, Harry Potter
I don't dream about running much.  A friend of mine who played field hockey in college dreams about it all of the time, but I don't dream about running.  My dreams have been a lot more vivid lately, but nothing about running.  I did have one dream where I got a teeny little dog - most fun one in a while, although it will be a long time before I am ever a dog owner.  Because, moneywise, being a grad student with a dog would be - ruff!
Anyways, I don't have dreams about running, but I do dream about running.  I don't necessarily fall asleep easily -- too much spinning around in my head.  I always thought that as I picked up running and trained more, I would just crash at the end of the day.  But that isn't always the case.  So, in a way to relax and prepare for sleep, I think about running.  But this isn't just about visualization: I fantasize about training for big races - what would it be like to stand in the same race as Magdalena, Deena, Desi, Shalane, Kara.  I pretend that I am running in an attempt to break 3 hours in the marathon, or even bigger, qualifying for the Olympic trials.  And all of the dreaming and imagining does the trick.  Boom, asleep.  I may be crazy, but it is fun to pretend.  Does anyone else pretend like that?
I flew home to Rochester on Saturday night.  I volunteered to get off my afternoon flight and got two free roundtrip tickets in exchange!  Pretty excited about that - and I had nothing going on Saturday, so I was completely content to just sit around the airport, watch planes takeoff, read and RELAX!  I even got bumped to first class for my flight home, which was fun - nice to get a little pampered.
And now I am at home for a few weeks - wahoo!  I am on the schedule of easy running, easy does it.  No schedule until January - just get out there, do some runs, some xt, some weights, and just enjoy the holidays!  I was planning on running 10 miles on Sunday, but once I got on the road, I felt tired, so I shortened it to 7 instead.  And right now - no problem!  My dad and I went to the pool yesterday, and we each got in 2000 yards - felt good to get back in the water.
There is not much else to report!  Just getting excited for Christmas.  My brother came home from college yesterday, so my whole family is back, which is a good feeling.
Can't figure out a clever way to sign off, so ta ta it is!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My love affair with the pen

I took a detour from writing about running to writing about writing.  This is draft one – may come back to this when I get further into the dissertation:
            I’m in the middle of a 20-year love affair with writing.  What I couldn’t illustrate with images as a child, I could certainly depict with words.  And a tradition was born.
            I think I love writing because all of me goes into writing.  My handwriting is my own and no one else’s.  It is messy, frantic, and even sometimes illegible.  “I’s” and “t’s” go undotted and uncrossed – or dashes fly by two letters too late.  My eagerness to splash words across the page surpasses any desire for perfect penmanship.  Heaven forbid I die before my notes are transcribed – no one will have the patience or even the capability to read them.
When I handwrite, I must hold the pen funny – I certainly press hard – the ink from the page collects and makes a black mark on the outside of my right pinkie – a stain that grows throughout the day.
As a child in the car, I always carried books in the car to lose myself in.  I ended up being so engrossed that I barely know my way around my hometown now – because I never looked up until age 16.  But I also sometimes would carry along a notebook as well, so I could write things down – ideas, stories, lists, anything.  The blank pages represented promise, not fear.  They promise a future, not a void.  And as a researcher now, my notebook has exploded into a set of notebooks – ringed, spirals holing all of my thoughts.  I can read over a hundred books in a summer, but the best way to manage my thoughts on them is to write my notes down.  If there was a way to transcribe your brain, I am doing what I can in these notebooks.  And sometimes, I clutch my computer in the same way, eager to clack away at the keyboard.  The cursor says “go” even my brain is trying to say “no.”  My fingers fly frenetically.  My pen flies.  I love underlining, bolding, capitalizing, all ways to emphasize the bajillion thoughts.
When I take notes, I don’t just take notes in the margins, but I use marginalia – truly going back to my medieval roots.  Signposting and drawing out those little or big, related or tangential ideas. 
I love the sheer idea of being a writer – completely in the throes of writing.  Mentally, I am not here.  I am writing in a café in Paris, carefully scripting out my ideas while sipping coffee that was brought to me by a garçon named François.  As the coffee swirls, and the caffeine stimulates my mind, my eyes gaze off into the distance, perhaps the distant past or the far-off past.  No one else is in my head.  I dictate the rhythm and flow – sometimes to a steady beat, others more limpid and fragmented.  I salivate at the possibility of writing in many genres: poetry, free-verse, haikus, prose, the expository essay.  I can manipulate the words in many ways.  I count out syllables in my head for haikus: marveling how the word “refrigerator” occupies all five syllables for a haiku line.  I can rhyme and reason.           
I can, I can, because I say I can.  My writing is not a recipe, dictated by measuring cups and separating three large eggs.  It is not regulated by time or limit: “must be read by” or “ready-made in 30 minutes or less.”
My love of the pen, the scrawling, sprawling ink, allows a multitude of vocabulary terms to describe all my thoughts and beliefs, facts and fictions, all things fortuitous and delicious. 
Why yes, I do love writing words like delicious, lugubrious.  I have a ravenous appetite for this stuff.  It is an insatiable, unquenchable love for being in a scriptorium, equipped with the mighty stylos.   

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Double Header Race Report: Girls on the Run 5k and Jingle All the Way 8k

A little behind in blogging land.  While the Philadelphia Half was my last formal race for 2011, I still had a couple races left on the calendar:
2 weekends ago, I ran as a running buddy at the Girls on the Run 5k in DC.  It is a program for girls ages 8-13 who meet twice a week and prepare for a 5k at the end of the season.  They have coaches and a lot of sessions about body image, girl power, and building confidence.  It is a really great program, but I didn't hear about it until midway through the season.  So, I signed up to be a running buddy and run alongside one of the girls.  The race was really cute: they had a mini festival beforehand with music and face painting for the girls.  I was paired up with a little 9 year old name Nina, who had never run a 5k before.  She said she was really nervous and asked if it would take a long time.  I didn't know her at all, so I had no idea how long it would take.  We got into line, and then we were off!  About 5 minutes in, she asked if we were almost done.  I said, no, we still had a while to go (you can't lie to a child about this stuff - this not even like "are we there yet in the car" - she has to get there herself!), but that she was doing great.  And she was - Nina even ran up the hills, and we talk a couple of walking breaks as necessary, and took water at the water stops.  I kept cheering her along, yelling words of encouragement: anything to keep her going.  After 2.5 miles, her face started to tense up and she looked really uncomfortable.  "My stomach hurts," she said - and I felt so bad.  But she was so close, so we walked a little bit, and then started jogging again.  Right before we hit 3 miles, she asked if we were almost there, and I pointed where the finish line was - that she could actually see it, and that we were going to get there.  She ran to the finish line, and we finished in about 37 minutes.  It was a very fun race.  Nina got a medal, and I was very proud of her.  I told her a lot of people who are much older than her have never done a 5k, and that she just did it.  It was a great race, a great program, and something I hope to be involved with in the future.
Then this past Sunday, I ran in the Jingle All the Way 8k.  This race (in its 7th year) had been a 10k for the first 6, but now that so many people were involved, it couldn't be held in West Potomac Park anymore, so it got shortened to an 8k and moved to Freedom Plaza in downtown DC.  I have a special place in my heart for this race.  Not only was it my fourth consecutive time running it, but this race as a 10k was my first race ever in 2008.  I ran 55:04 back then, and was definitely an inexperienced runner - was jumping onto the sidewalk trying to jockey for some space, wore my Mickey Mouse watch instead of a stopwatch, all the markings of a newbie.  So, I like to return to this race each year, in part because it's fun (they give you jingle bells to tie to your shoes), and to reflect on how far I've come in just a few short years.
But since the race wasn't on my formal calendar, I didn't give it much prep.  I did a short workout on Tuesday to just remind the legs of some speed, but that was it.  Even went to a Christmas party Saturday night and had no problem enjoying some Christmas spirit(s) too.  Which is funny, given that I just wrote about my "dry" rule.  But, I was just going out with no big expectations in mind.  I was hoping to just run sub 7:00 pace.  I did my 20 minute warm-up, and while it was cold, the sun was out, which was nice (there was really nasty weather the past 2 years). The new course had a lot of hairpin turns, so I thought that those would slow me down a bit.  There was a 20 minute delay with the start, so I actually ran into a Barnes and Noble to stay warm.  And then they had everything ready, and we were off!  I went through the first mile in 6:38, and I was like, whoa, that is really fast (faster than 10k pace), and I don't know if I'll be able to hold it.  Things spread out fairly quickly, and again, I was amazed just how many people were ahead, clocking a really fast pace.  The second mile was in 7:02, which had included a couple of those hairpin turns, which felt like I was grinding to a halt trying to go around a cone.  Okay, try to find a happy medium.  Then I hit mile 3 in 6:30 - my goodness, can I make up my mind on this?  There were 2 girls about 50 or so yards in front of me, and I really wanted to pass them.  I had almost 2 miles to catch up to them.  Then, mile 4 in 7:03 - this was not an in and out workout (Hard/easy) - what was this?!  I was starting to get closer to those two girls, and had passed some guys as well.  Finally, I was able to pass them fairly aggressively and was determined to just go fast enough that they wouldn't be able to react.  I covered the .98 mile in 6:20 (at least I knew how to keep picking it back up, right?), and crossed the finish line very happy about my overall performance.
33:31 (6:45 pace)
25/3024 women
8/832 age group.
I have made significant progress in my running in just 3 short years, and this race was certainly a testament.  It was also a testament to what you can do when you don't get too worked up about it either.  It was all about going out and having fun, and I did.  It was a great way to end my 2011 racing year.  Will start dreaming about 2012 soon enough!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In the in-between phase

I am at an in-between phrase right now with a couple of things:
I turned in my last big paper a week ago.  It was a big relief to have it done - it was the last major project I had to do this semester as a student.  And on Wednesday, I attended my last two classes ever.  It was a weird feeling.  I went straight on from undergrad to grad school, so, I have been going to classes continuously, well, for 20 years if you want to stretch it all the way back to elementary school.  And finishing coursework means I am ready for the next step of researching and writing my dissertation proposal.  I enjoyed my last classes - definitely ended on a positive note.
But it certainly puts me in an in-between phase.  I've started to do some reading for the next step, but that work really won't take off until January.  I still have some TA responsibilities and grading to do this semester, but my time as a traditional student is over.  How strange!
And with the Philadelphia half ending my official racing season and training, I am at an in-between stage with running too.  I am doing an 8k race on Sunday (Jingle All the Way - 4th year in a row), but I've certainly lightened up my training.  I'll be meeting with my trainer, Sarah, on Monday to discuss plans for the spring.  But any sort of formal schedule won't kick in until January, so now, the plan is just to run (and train) happy:
Monday: 2000 meter swim + weights
Tuesday: race-week track workout.  I really like this one, because it is not terribly long, but it gets your legs going and reminds you of your speed (and that most of the paces are faster than race pace).  1.5 mile warm up, 6 x 150 meter strides, 1 x 1200 (5:09), 500m jog, 2 x 800 (3:18), 400m jog in between, 4 x 400 (92, 90, 91, 89), 2.5 mile cooldown = 9 miles (normally, the warm up and cooldown are 2.5 miles, but I shortened it a little this time.
Wednesday: 6.4 mile run in the rain - there are few things more exhilarating than a run through inclement weather.
Thursday: No school - Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  6.8 mile run downtown, including a loop around the Capitol.  I don't always do my runs around the central part of the city, but had some extra time on my hands, and decided to just enjoy a beautiful sunny day in our nation's capital.
Friday: 7.2 mile run - another sunny day (and the beginning of the week was gray and rainy, so this was definitely a treat) in DC.
While I am definitely someone who enjoys a schedule, it is also fun to live a slightly less-regimented life!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Relieved - Good Numbers

Not to sound overdramatic, but on December 3, 2010, I got a phone call from the doctor that changed my life: I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  It felt like the rug was pulled out from under me.  It was just hard - the doctor keep referring to it as a life sentence, and it definitely felt like that - a gluten jail.  And I worked to change my diet, but even in the summer, when I had bloodwork done, it showed virtually no change.  I felt like a big failure.  My number was way over 100 (goal is to first break through and get below 100 and eventually get down to about 20).  I wasn't being hyper-vgiliant and addressing the issue of cross contamination.  So, I went back to the drawing board, ditched Kix cereal and a couple of other things.  And over Thanksgiving break, I had bloodwork done again.  I called today, and had to wait all day for the GI specialist to call back.  To say I was nervous was an understatement: I was gripping the phone all day waiting and waiting.  I was in class from 4-6, and had resigned myself at that point that I was missing the call.  And when I walked out of class, I saw a voicemail from the doctor's.  My breath quickened in anticipation of the news.  Please tell me that I had improved, please, please, please, I had really tried - let me get below 100.

I finally showed some improvement!  After 11 months on the new diet, with continual steps to modify the diet, I had showed some improvement!  And yes, there is still a lot of work to be done to get my number down to 20, but I had improved.
I am very relieved.  Last December and January, things just seemed so bleak.  And I know now that getting handed this kind of diagnosis is not really the end of the world - a lot of people have to deal with a lot more challenges.  But, it was hard to keep perspective and keep the faith.  I would well up going to the grocery store or the mall - walking by aisles and stores with now-taboo products.  I don't get upset going there anymore.  Sure, the smell of a cinnamon bun or Blue Moon Beer still are a little tantalizing (after all, I still have a nose, eh?), but no more tears.
I am making a new life for myself.  It may not have been what I anticipated, but I am figuring it out.  And I am not doing it alone.  The only way that this has been possible is with a lot of support from friends and family.  My parents especially have had the brunt of it - they've had a lot of frustrated and upset calls from me in the past year, yet they have helped me tremendously.  Some key friends too have just offered so much support - it was not a solo effort.

The journey ahead is still unknown, but today I can say thank you for improving health - something not to be taken for granted.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

With bated breath...

As a historian, if I had to pick a tense that I am normally in, it is the past.  Always looking about a millennium behind me, and maybe taking some time to be in the present as well.  I can also be in-tense.  Ba-boom!  Lame joke.  But, I would not describe myself as one who is always looking ahead to the future.  Maybe it's because I am working on a degree with an indeterminable end date.  Maybe it's because I don't know what the next few years will look like.  But anyways...
With bated breath, I am looking ahead and looking forward to next semester for a couple of reasons:
It will be the first semester that I can work on my dissertation proposal.  I have been doing a little reading now, but next semester, as a PhD candidate (as opposed to PhD student), I can start really honing in on my topic and some of the major questions I have.  On the bus to and from Philadelphia, I read a dissertation on a topic similar to mine, and it got me so excited.  I wanted to raid the author's bibliography (nerdy, I know) and work on my reading list!  But I have to wait a little while longer, because...
I am finishing up my last seminar paper ever.  Now, I am going to be writing for the rest of my life (and hopefully some day will write a running book as well as a medieval one!), but this is the last formal in-class assignment I'll ever have, besides the dissertation.  It is due by Saturday morning, and I just want to finish.  I have finally gotten into a good rhythm on it, and I just need to accept the fact that the next few days are going to be very long as I work out the remaining sections of the paper.
I am also looking forward to next semester because...
I am going to be teaching a class of my own!  In October, I interviewed to be an adjunct at Mount Saint Mary's University, and I got the job!  I will be teaching an early modern survey course twice a week.  I have served as a TA at my own school for 3 semesters now, but this will be the first time that I will have a class of my own.  I get to design the syllabus, the booklist, the assignments, everything.  I cannot wait.  I just sent in my booklist to the bookstore.  It is interesting to teach while still being a student.  I remember years when I bought 12 books for a class.  I only made mine get 8 - it is just hard when you know how tight money can be.  I think overall it is going to be a great experience, and I know that I'll learn a lot!  My own early modern professor told me that I would ultimately learn more from teaching next semester than I did during the comps process in that field.  And it's true - when you have to get up in front of a group of students twice a week and account for the material, it really ensures that you know what is going on!
So, there are some great things to look forward to.  And I am very excited about the holidays as well - I love Christmas.  It is just that the last few weeks of the semester are always hard, especially when the really really good things are just around the bend!
But I'll also turn to the past for a minute: this was my favorite picture from Philadelphia.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Making Up the Rules

Last year, Runner's World did an interesting article on elite runners' lucky race charms.
I have some lucky race traditions too:

  • Since March 2009, I have put a small rosary in my key pocket for every race.
  • Since March 2009, I have always worn small gold "V" earrings that my parents gave me when I was little in races.
  • Since June 2009, I have worn my pink visor in every single race.
But I've also created some rules about races too:
  • I try not to have to set the alarm the day before a race - I like to sleep in and wake up naturally, especially since race day tends to be an early morning.
  • The day before, I do a 20-30 minute shake out run.  No watch, no pace expectations.  6 x 150m strides for 5k-half marathon races.
  • No drinking alcohol 48 hours before a marathon, 24 hours before a shorter distance (this was ignored in December 2010 at the Jingle All the Way 10k, when I had already achieved my goal 10k PR for the race, opted to drink 2 beers the night before, and still knocked off 10 seconds).
  • I can only drink coffee in the morning the day before a race: 1-2 cups.  Normally, I drink coffee all day, but not the day before a race.
  • I don't quite have a set curfew, but I like to try to be in bed by 9-9:30.  
  • I drink 1 bottle of gatorade (size varies according to the distance) the afternoon/evening before.
  • I call my parents and my friend Jenny the night before.
  • In the morning, I drink Raspberry Royale tea and eat a bowl of Gorilla Munch cereal (the gluten-free equivalent to Kix cereal).  
I'll admit, I am not so good at having rules about after the race.  I now at least do a 20 minute cooldown for races between 5k-half marathon.  I try to take a nap afterward, but I tend to be so wound up that it only works half of the time.

Do you create any rules about running or racing?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Tradition: Race with Grace 10k

Since I started running, I have a few races that have become tradition.  It's very fun to return to the same course year after year, seeing the same people, racing on the same course, aiming to better my time, remembering the past races (I am a historian after all!).  The Thanksgiving Day Race with Grace 10k in Rochester is one of those traditional races for me.
I was a little apprehensive about how I would feel, given that it was so soon after Philly.  I had been moving rather stiffly for a couple of days after.  I did a 6 mile run on Monday that eventually helped.  I took Tuesday off as a complete rest day (first one since Halloween), and did my 3.4 mile shakeout around my house on Wednesday.  I told myself that I would just aim to run my best and just enjoy the whole thing.  It has been 6 months since I've run a race in Rochester, and it is definitely fun to run in my hometown.
First thing I was grateful for - a 9AM start.  That was the latest start I've had in a while - even with Boston's 10:20 start, you have to be ready for the bus at 7.  So, I was pretty excited to "sleep in" until 6:45.  The sun was starting to come out, and after a small breakfast, did a 2 mile warm up around town.  It is so funny, being at home in Spencerport, rather than Rochester - just how quiet things can be.  I have never been in DC at Thanksgiving, but I am sure things were bustling -- not here.  So quiet and peaceful.
I got to the race with enough time to spare and do a couple of strides.  The announcer said how beautiful of a day it was (and it was true - the weather tends to be pretty dreary), said a prayer, and we were off!
I felt pretty good, and I actually got through the first mile in 6:34.  Whoa, a bit fast - was not aiming to PR.  I had run my 10k PR on 11/13, my half PR in Philly on 11/20 - it just seemed unreasonable to try to do it again on 11/24.  I did want to run at least faster than my Philly 10k split (43:17).  I got through 2 miles around 13:28 - still holding a fast pace, but unsure what the rest of the race was going to look like.  I was running primarily with guys - someone shouted I was in 12th for the women, and I was just trying to hang on.  I hit three miles in 20:12, and the 5k in 20:56, but unlike at the Veteran's Day 10k, I did not think I could do a negative split.  While the sun was out, it was also fairly windy (12 mph), which is always an underestimated challenge.  I saw the 11th woman in front of me, and worked my way to get right behind her and whoosh - 3 women blew past us!  And kept going and going - they clearly had a second wind.  I kept at it, just worked on passing a few guys.  So, if you look behind me, you will see an older guy (65), who was ahead of me for a while, and I was very determined to eventually pass him.  It took a long time, but I finally did.  Maybe it is the same idea as being chicked - I didn't want an older guy passing me.  So I kept going and going, and finally passed him. The nice thing about doing a race like this is knowing the course.  And so, as I returned to the church parking lot, I was very relieved to see the finish and that final .2.  I could hear my parents cheering, and I made my way to the end.
15th woman
5th in age group
89/1011 overall
I was really happy - that was my second fastest 10k ever, and 2.5 minutes faster than my race here last year.
Here is me with my parents at home after.  It was a nice way to start the day and to continue my (somewhat new) Thanksgiving tradition.  We had a great day as a family, and it has been a nice weekend in general.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Phenomenal: Philadelphia Half Marathon 2011

I had wanted to run Philadelphia for about a year.  A couple of my friends ran it last year, and really loved it.  In May, when I decided to do a season of fall racing (w/ no marathon), I worked it out with Sarah that the Philadelphia Half Marathon would be my big race for the fall season.  I started my training June 13th for this season – Sarah had me on 6 4-week cycles of “5k to half” training.  My races leading up this one included:
9/10 – 9/11 Memorial 5k –  VA – 80 degrees, 21:02
9/24 – Clarendon 5k – VA – 20:23 (PR)
10/16 – Boo! Run for Life 10k – DC – 42:48 (PR)
10/25 – Unofficial 5k on track  -- DC– 19:57 (not certified distance)
11/13 – Veteran’s Day 10k – DC – 41:26 (PR)
I cross trained MWF, did a track workout every Tuesday, a medium run on Thursday (6-8 miles), a tempo run on Saturday, and a long run on Sunday (12-15 miles).  And preparing for comps too – and to be honest, running was what probably kept me sane during that process.
Friday night, I went out to dinner with my friends to celebrate comps (there was a master’s student who took his, along with another PhD candidate and good friend of mine) – 16 people in all.  It was a lot of fun, and a good way to loosen up for the race.  This is me with my friend Brian - the other PhD candidate, who is also a Benedictine monk and priest.  I was very glad that were able to share in the comps experience and celebration together.
I did a small shake-out run (20 minutes) took the bus from DC to Philly  on Saturday – I was so pumped.  I didn’t spend a lot of time at the expo, but dashed over quickly to Philly LoopPhest (a gathering of a bunch of runner bloggers form all over the country) for a fun dinner.  It was nice to meet people from my running world.  I stayed with a friend, got to bed early, and could not wait to get up and run this great race.
I didn’t sleep well, but I also woke up a few minutes before my 5:15 alarm, so I took that as a good sign.  I had a little breakfast and then did my 2 mile warmup through the quiet streets of Philadelphia.  Actually, I couldn’t get over how quiet it was – and then as I approached the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, it was very clear that 20,000 people were up and ready to run! 
I was able to get my bag checked and everything taken care of pretty smoothly.  I was in the maroon corral (2nd corral), and was pretty excited by how close I was to the start.  I talked with a nice guy next to me for a couple of minutes while we waited for the start.  I could not wait.  I had written on my split card "Philadelphia Half: Half No Fear" - I was going to put it all in the race.  And the gun went off!
The crowds in Philadelphia were phenomenal.  And I went through the first mile at 6:59 - perfect.  The miles clicked off so nicely, right at 6:59 pace.  The people were cheering, and since our names were on our bibs, they were actually cheering my name.  I felt like a rockstar. There were drums at mile 2, and I just love running to drums - something rhythmic about that, and I just felt like I was keeping time alongside of them.  I bumped into a friend of mine at mile 3 who was aiming to run a 3 hour marathon, so we just said hi and I let him go, as he was aiming to run each half slightly faster than my one half.  At mile 5, I was still hitting my splits absolutely perfectly, and I was so excited.  I told myself that at mile 10, I would pick it up.  I got through the 10k at 43:17 (6:57 pace).  I couldn't wait for the next 4 miles to go by, so I could really kick - I felt like I still had a lot in me.  But then, I hit the hills.  I knew that I would need to save some for the hills, but oh my goodness, these hills were hard.  And I do a lot of running on hills, but probably not a lot at 7:00 pace.  It was so hard, and then it would flatten out.  And then up again.  I was pretty nervous - this was hard, and all of my thoughts of picking it up at mile 10 went out the window - I just needed to stay close to this pace.  Even though it was hard, the crowds just kept cheering.  At mile 9, we were going up a hill, and turning, and doing the two together felt so hard.  I couldn't believe how tired I was.  Just keep moving, but 4 miles to go seemed far.  I hit mile 10 at 1:11 - about a minute behind my goal time.  I was aiming for 1:31:45 as of last week, but before that, the goal was between 1:33-1:32.  So, I told myself that I needed to do everything I could to stay in the 1:32s.  I finally regrouped at mile 11 - 2.1 miles didn't seem so bad at this point.  And I felt like I could try to pick it up a little.  They kept showing arrows indicating that eventually the half and full marathoners would split off, but they just kept coming - wouldn't we ever finish?  Around 12.5, I picked it up again, determined and excited.  Finally, the Parkway opened up and I could see the finish.  There were so many people cheering for us, and things had spread out enough that people were trickling in - not like Boston, when as many as 20 people are finishing every second.  They announced my name as I was coming down the wire, and bam, it felt like I was flying.  I gave it my absolute all at the end, put my arms up in the air as I came in, so tired yet exhilarated.
1:32:35 - a 2 minute PR (7:03 pace)
Overall: 273/9421
Gender: 57/5901
Division (24-29): 20/1460
Age grade: 71.1%
I have never finished so high in a major race like that - top 2% overall.  And I have moved from just running these events, I am racing them - working to pass people and putting it all out there. It all paid off - all of those races and tempo workouts, made it come together on this big day.  I was so excited.  After I did my cooldown (2 miles, and they were slow - I was done!), I actually bumped into a few friends, which was nice to share in the excitement.  I even watched one friend run a 3:00:01 marathon - wow!  How amazing!
After I left the race, I found a Dunkin Donuts (DC doesn't have DD - and I love their coffee so much), and just sat with my coffee and took it all in.  I wrote "half no fear" on my card, and I really did my best to not be afraid of pushing and put it all there.  There was no doubt in my mind that I put everything into that race.  As I walked around town, with my cape around me, I received numerous congratulations from people - this city really supports its runners.

I took the bus back a few hours after, and even just sitting on the bus, my legs hurt.  But it is that great kind of running hurt - a soreness that reminds you of what you've accomplished.  And my medal says it all - the theme of the race was "Best time of your life," and not only did I run the best half marathon of my life, I just loved loved the whole experience: it was absolutely phenomenal.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oh yeah, that running thing

First of all, thank you everyone for such nice comments after my post on finishing comps.  I am still relieved and so happy: floating on cloud 9.  It's funny, typically after a marathon, the high lasts for about a week, but slowly things return back to normal (generally about the same time the soreness finally goes away!).  This time around, it is over a week after the orals, and I am just relieved.  As I said in the last post, it was the culmination of so many months of intensive work, and really, the result of all of my grad work so far.  Of course, people keep asking "Now what?"  Well, the next step is come up with a dissertation topic, write a proposal, and then spend years researching and writing.  The next step is more uncertain, but it is all my own research, and my choices about what I get to read.
I had a meeting with one of my professors on Wednesday to discuss what I am going to read for the rest of the semester, and she said "Congratulation, you are now a grown up."  Meaning that no longer will my professors dictate all of my reading, but I will be doing it myself.  And we spent time picking out some good books to discuss in this next month - it is like going on a shopping spree!  Nerdy, I know.  And then that afternoon, I met with my advisor to discuss some potential topics.  She said, "Look at you!  What a transformation!  Such relief!"  And yes, I have been walking around more relaxed and happy than I have in...eons.  And we chatted, and she (I am a TA for the undergrad class she teaches) on Friday observed me teach my section.  Which that was nerve-wracking - not as bad as before comps, but again, for the second time this month, my advisor was watching me in action, as a teacher.  Afterwards, she had some good feedback for me and we stood outside our department talking.  And it felt almost as if we were talking colleague to colleague, not student to teacher.  People say that that happens a little after PhD comps - that the faculty recognize that you have gotten over this big hurdle, and that you are just one step closer to being to their level.  And while I still have years and years of work to do to get there, it is an assuring feeling to move up to that level.
But oh yeah, that running thing...(like how it even took me half a post to get to it?)
I did continue to run and train through comps, although as I've said before, my cross training was a bit half hearted.  The past 2 weeks, with a little more time on my hands, I was able to take to the pool twice - wahoo!  Both last Monday and Wednesday, I was able to do my 2000 yard swim.  And it felt so great.  I have actually made some good progress with my swimming.  There have been a few times now when I've gotten my 2000 yards in under 45 minutes, which is great.  It's taken about 10 months to get to this point, and it is pretty exciting.  No triathlons any time soon, but it certainly has been good training for me.
When this semester ends, I look forward to having a little more time for some of the ancillary things that have fallen by the wayside.  Like drills, more core work, plyometrics, etc.  While I don't think I've suffered by not doing them, I know that adding them back in will help.  I've recently recommitted to doing my IT band physical therapy exercises.  It was this time last year that I first started having knee trouble.  Things have been smooth since I had physical therapy at the New Year, but after the Boston Marathon, I stopped doing them.  Rcently, I have gotten back in the habit of doing them.  One, it helps just as a precaution to make sure that each leg individually is strong (all of the exercises are single leg).  Two, they really challenge your sense of balance, which is really key to good running.  After all, you are always just on one leg when you're running!
This morning, I did a 7.5 mile run with 6 x 400 thrown in - just to get a little turnover before Philadelphia.  Sarah said to aim for between 1:36-1:38 - faster than race pace, but not so hard that I couldn't do it after Sunday's race.  I think my excitement about both races translated well into some fast 400s: 1:35, 1:34, 1:32, 1:33, 1:33, 1:29!  I was pretty excited - even though that is so short in comparison to the half, it is a bit faster too...
...And speaking of pace: I met with Sarah yesterday to rehash the 10k and plan for the half.  Months ago, we thought 7:05 pace was a good goal pace.  But after the half, we are moving it to 7:00 pace.  She thinks that I can even push it in the final 5k and aim to go under 7:00 pace.  The big thing is to get over the fear of going fast.  These numbers may seem fast, but I am capable of doing running at that pace.  No fear here!  I kept over 100 books in my head for comps, I can keep 7 minute pace for a half marathon.  And if that's the case, I'll be Phlying in Philly!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veteran's Day 10k Report

Yesterday, I raced in the Veteran's Day 10k in West Potomac Park.  This was my goal 10k of the fall season, and a big test in my ability to gut it out in a race.  If you don't remember, I did a 5k race simulation with my friend/coach and she paced me through an all out 5k - faster and harder than I had ever ran.  She said that I should feel that tired throughout the whole thing during these short distance races.  And so, going into this race, Sarah said to run fast from the start, accept how uncomfortable it would be, and just go for it.  She said to aim for going under 42 minutes, which meant about 6:45 pace - old PR from October (Boo! Run for Life) was 42:48.  That's a pretty decent drop from just 4 weeks ago.  She said not to try to negative split, but just take it out hard.
I was really nervous - 10k is a long time to be uncomfortable.  And while my training tends to go well, the past month, I was a little inconsistent.  I had a long cold, my tempo runs were never anything spectacular, and well, 6:45 for 6.2 miles just felt fast.  I toed the start excited and nervous all rolled into one.  I knew that some of Sarah's teammates (who have qualified for the Olympic Trials) were going to be there, so I stood a few rows back from them.  I was certainly not going to aim to keep up with them, and I knew that there were just going to be a ton of fast people running.
And the gun went off, and I took off.  I could not believe how many people were in front of me - this was a big race (2000 people and $500 cash for the winner) and a lot of fast people were there.  I came through the first mile in 6:25, which was way too fast (she said to aim for 6:35 for the first one).  I pulled back a bit - and got through 2 miles in 13:28 (which meant almost a 7 minute mile) and close to averaging out race pace.  Come on!  I needed to get into a groove and just starting running more even splits. I picked it up a little at this point, but it is certainly a risk with only a third of the race done.  I got through the first 5k in 20:56 - 6:44 pace.  This meant I had just a little time in the bank, and even if I positive split, I could break 42.  But it didn't feel easy, for sure.  I don't remember what I hit for mile 4, but I knew that the last 2.2 miles were going to hurt.  I tried to pick it up a bit - I had been swapping places with a few people, and I was ready to finally do some passing.  It feels good when you do battle with someone, going back and forth, and finally are able to pull away.  I know my 5th mile was 6:37 - I was bound and determined, and I didn't care how much it was going to hurt.  With about half a mile to go, someone cheered, "Go Jess."  Now, I am not Jess, which meant someone was very close behind me.  And then there it was again, "Come on , Jess!"  Nope, I am not going to let this Jess pass me at the end.  I was trying so hard to move quickly, but I couldn't really speed up - I was just hanging on and breathing hard.  As I could see the time clock at the finish line, I was so stunned to see what awaited me:
41:26 (6:40 pace)
31/1139 Women
9/296 Age Group
Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh!  I was spent, but I was excited.  This was over a minute PR from last month.  I did not think I could knock off that much time so quickly.  But I pushed, and pushed, and it happened!  And the more I think about it, I probably could've even went out harder (not in that first mile though).  And if I can learn to run more even pace (my splits were all over the place, but I did managed to negative split again - 20:30 for the second 5k - very close to my 5k PR), that will help a lot too.  
This was me at home after, very happy and excited.
This bodes very well for the Philadelphia Half Marathon on Sunday.  I won't be aiming to go out quite as hard, but I am hoping that half marathon pace (to be determined - I am meeting with Sarah this afternoon to discuss both races) will feel much more comfortable and doable.
I know I've said it before, but this short distance racing is a lot of fun!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Comps Victory Lap

I just got through my most challenging academic week of my graduate career so far.  In July 2010, I took my master's comprehensive exams, which was the final part of my master's degree.  The fields were very general: early medieval, Byzantine, late medieval, and early modern.  The reading list for the 4 fields totaled 60 books. I got through those exams (2 days of written) just fine, and was more excited for the PhD comps because the reading lists would be more tailored to my own research interests (particularly sanctity, piety, and pilgrimage) in early medieval, early modern, and late medieval (primary chronological field) history.  And the PhD lists grew to include over 110 books (I stopped counting).  The masters lists were preset by the department, the PhD ones I set with my professors in the spring.  When the spring semester ended in May, I jumped into my reading and did a major push to read a ton before I went to California for 7 weeks.  I got almost halfway through the lists before California, read a little in Santa Cruz, and then when I returned in August, I jumped right back in and took on comps prep in full blast.  It meant taking a lot of notes from each book, and then assessed the author's major contributions to the field.  When I finished the reading, I then worked to commit the books to memory, their arguments, their sources, and how the books related to one another.  That meant sitting with a huge stack of flashcards, trying to rattle off info from each one.  I also wrote some practice essays on some of the major issues that I thought my professors would ask me to discuss.  And all the while, I tried to keep my head on straight and stay calm.  A lot of times, looking at all of the books on my bookcase, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed from all of the information and the big exam that loomed ahead: 2 days of written exams, followed by an oral exam.  I couldn't have been more nervous.  While I knew I was prepared, while I knew that I had a lot of people behind me who believed in me, I was terrified.
And I was also sick.  I had an awful cold that I was terrified was turning into laryngitis.  So much couching and I was very hoarse (thankfully this was during the written part).  Not the best way to walk into a big day.  But, I was prepared either way.  I was fortunate enough that a good friend of mine was taking the exam too, so we were able to chat a lot in the weeks leading up to it.  On the morning of the first day, Brian and I met to grab coffee and to walk to the exam together.  So nice to walk in with a friend.  For the exam, they put you in an office with a computer (thankfully, you type the exam - my handwriting is the worst).  And they gave me the envelope, which had the questions for my minor fields.  I knew that once I opened the envelope, I would know right away how the day would go.  I breathed in a sigh of relief - these were good questions and I had anticipated that such themes would show up on the exam.  I set to work, and the four hours went by very fast.  Hooray! - part one over!  The majors were the following day.  It is very hard to put in so much intense time into an exam and have to have such a quick turnaround.  And that night was when Jenny arrived, which certainly alleviated some of the stress, at least temporarily.  It was so hard to fall asleep though: the majors awaited - the big fields and the ones I had put the most energy into preparing for.  On the morning of both days, I went for a short 3 mile run, just to clear my head and get a little blood flowing.  And that helped, at least temporarily.  Brian and I met again, and walking into the majors was nerve-wracking.  I had worked so hard, and I just wanted to show that this really was the field that I was meant to study and qualified to be my primary area.  And again, I was handed the envelope, and there was relief when I felt prepared to answer the questions.  I had a lot of thinking and planning to do (I was even writing footnotes in - I had so much to say that I couldn't even fit in the body of my essay), but I was doing it.  I was so glad to be in a closed exam - kept coughing throughout it, but I was not going to be deterred.  I just kept writing and writing, and was happy with the essays I chose (we had options of which ones to answer...although the ones omitted are not forgotten forever...).  So relieved when I was done and walk out the door.
Jenny and I went out to celebrate, and then I crashed so hard.  I slept about 9 hours, which was much more than a few nights of sleep combined.  Even though the orals still awaited, I still had a few days to gear up and get ready for those.
Of course, Jenny was here for the weekend, and that was a good thing for a few reasons.  One, it was so good to have one of my best friends here during one of the most stressful academic weeks of my career.  Two, it meant that I actually took a little time off from studying and just gave myself time to recuperate.  And she ran her big BQ, and being a part of helping her get to the finish was such an incredible moment.
When she left on Monday, I had 2 days to prepare for my orals.  The oral exam was Wednesday: and my committee (4 professors) were going to ask me questions for an hour.  This meant they could ask me to clarify things I wrote in the written part, as well as to verbally answer some of the questions I had chosen to omit.  This was the part I was most terrified about - having to sit before my entire committee and show that I could almost instantly answer their questions.  I have worked with these professors since I started grad school in 2008, and wanted to show that I had grown up a lot in terms of my analysis and response.  Which meant just trying to prepare very thorough responses - I had mined a lot of my old notes and rewrote some outlines of these big issues.
Tuesday night, it was so hard for me to sleep, and I awoke way too early Wednesday morning from sheer anticipation of the big day.  I did another 3 mile run, which again alleviated the nerves for a little while.  I even was talking to myself a little, in an attempt to psych myself up.  I reminded myself that I had prepared so much and for so long, and that I was ready for this.  I also told myself "You are finally becoming the person you wanted to be" - getting to this point was a long-awaited goal, and I had made it this far.  I got dressed and ready in one of my academic outfits, and while I knew that I was going to be nervous, that was an understatement.  I sat at school before the exam, praying, reviewing, just trying to breathe.  One of my committee members bumped into me and said "There's no need to be terrified, your written exams were fine, this will be a breeze."  Okay, while I am glad they are going into the exam rooting for me, I still don't think it will be a breeze.
My 3 professors finally arrived, and it was time for one of the most important academic hours of my life so far to begin.  They asked if I was nervous and slept the night before - yes to the former, no to the latter.  They each had 15 minutes of my time to ask one or two questions (but all 3 were there for the whole time).  One of them even read back to me the last sentence of one of my answers and had me respond with some ideas based on that one claim.  This is why they say choose your words wisely!  It was going well, but it was really tough.  This was certainly a day when they wanted to test my mental flexibility and endurance!  One of my professors is on a fellowship in Europe, and since she couldn't be there, she emailed her questions to be asked, and this was the one when I needed a moment to pause and collect my thoughts (with the other questions, I could pretty much just take a breath and start talking).  But this time, I asked for a moment to organize my thoughts, which was fine.  After that, they also asked me to tie the four fields together (which, chronologically spanned roughly the years 300-1800) - not an easy task.  And then they asked me to go in the hall so they could consult with each other.
Waiting outside brought the nerves to the surface again.  I just sat and prayed while they discussed who knows what.  And then the door opened, and my advisor had a big smile on her face,
"Congratulations, you passed!"
So happy, so relieved!  They all had big smiles on their faces and said I did a good job.  We walked out chatting about the exam, but my mind was elsewhere.  My advisor told me to go out and celebrate - believe me, that was already on the agenda.  It had all paid off.  I could not regret my preparation at all over the last few months, because it worked.  I called my parents and some other friends, to spread the good news - they knew how much it meant to me.  I even had a small glass of wine with a friend at lunch to toast the exam.  So, while it is not official until January 2012 (the start of the new semester), I am a PhD candidate in medieval history.
This is me right before I went into the exam.  And those are all of the books I read in preparation for it - I am not exaggerating.  I got them all up into my brain, and hopefully they'll stay in there for a while!
I cannot describe the sense of relief I felt, and that I still do almost a week later.  It was a very moving experience, in part because it was the culmination of so much work and thought.  I went out to dinner with some friends in my department, all who had taken the exams previously (they started ahead of me in the program), and now I finally get to join their ranks.  I crashed almost immediately after dinner, and  on Thursday, it was like it finally hit me.  I think there was still so much adrenaline on the day of the exam, and the sense of reality of the situation didn't really kick in until the following day.  I knew I had invested so much into this, that the pure relief was astounding - it was a huge burden that was finally gone.  And while it was my name on the line, I was not the only one who went into the exam.  I was a conglomerate of so many people: my professors who helped me, my family and friends who supported me, and I am so grateful for all of the help and care I received during the preparation and execution.
It was ultimately a victory lap of the hard work, and I'll be grinning from ear to ear for a while.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Run of Friendship: MCM 2011

I've got some catching up to do!  2 big blogs coming up:
2 years ago, my friend Jenny and I made a pact.  If I achieved a BQ at MCM 2009, she would run a marathon and I would run it with her.  At MCM 2010, we ran that marathon together, and finished in 3:57:40.  It was a great debut marathon for her, and we vowed that we would return again.
And in this case, we returned to where it all started - the Marine Corps Marathon.  Last year, I sent Jenny schedules and planned most of her training.  But this year, she did the majority of it herself - she already had a good base and knew what worked best for her.
Jenny arrived Thursday night in DC, and I must say, I love airport reunions.  I'm sure part of it came from Love Actually, but it is just great to be reunited with someone important.  When I go home, my parents are always at the airport, and that reunion is special.  And it was the same when Jenny arrived - we hadn't seen each other in 6 months.  And when one of your best friends is back, there is a huge sense of relief.  Especially since I was in the middle of comps (that will be blog #2), I needed that reminder of friendship in the midst of a very stressful time.
We were able to spend a lot of time together on Friday and Saturday - laughing, going out to restaurants, just enjoying each other's company.  We met up with an friend of hers on Saturday, which was also fun.  On Saturday afternoon, we even watched the snow fall - because it snowed!  In DC!  In October!  Whodathunk?!  So beautiful, and while it didn't stay, it was lovely to watch.  I'm sure my Florida friend knew that it would be colder here, but no one thought snow.  While it did not look like snow would happen for Sunday, for marathon day, it was going to be cold.
And speaking of cold, on the Tuesday before the marathon, I came down with something.  I don't know what it was, but it was a big barking/coughing, congested gross thing that I'm sure was on the heels of all of my comps prep.  It was keeping me up at night (along with comps anxiety) and wearing me out - not a good sign.
And as the snow fell on Saturday, Jenny told me to carefully consider about doing the marathon.  Rundown and with part of comps still left, it was going a bit risky to do the whole marathon.  And that is the mark of a good friend  - I was supposed to run the whole thing with her and help her.  And she knew that it would cause more harm than help.  Jenny said to think about it, and sleep on it, and no matter what, it would be great.
On Sunday morning, we got up and got ready for the marathon.  Matching shirts (and on the back, we taped "Friend 1" and "Friend 2") and various layers to stay warm in the 30 degree weather.  Loaded onto the bus in Crystal City, and got dropped off at the Pentagon.  We got corralled into the start, and at that point, I was very unsure about how the morning would go.  We hugged, and we were off.  Beautiful day - sunny, cold, but sunny.  And we got through the first mile at 8:45 pace, and then, I knew that it was not my day to run a marathon - I was tired, exhausted, and even though in April I ran 7:56 pace in Boston, this was not a day for me.  I watched Jenny pull ahead a bit, but kept her in my sights for a few miles. I caught up to her at the 10k mark, and told her that I was going to pull out, and meet up with her at mile 23 to pace her through the final 5k.  She was doing a great job and I knew that her training was so strong that she could hold her own.  I drifted back, and after I hit mile 10 (which is by the Lincoln Memorial), I stepped onto the curb.  I didn't think of it as dropping out, because a) I was sick b) this wasn't my race to run.  I jogged to the Metro and hopped on the train to Crystal City.
I stood at mile 23, and watched the people go by.  I had never watched a marathon before, and it was fun to cheer on the runners - because I knew what they were feeling.  And time went by, and suddenly, I saw a flash of blue - Jenny!  I jumped in, and we were off.  My legs felt fine and I knew I had the energy to pull Jenny through the final 5k.  She was tired, but she was on a great pace.  And so we ran, together, as friends do.  And as I hoped, jumping in was able to give Jenny a fresh bit of energy.  It is hard to feel like the last 5k is "just a 5k" and I did everything to help her get from mile to mile.  And finally, we got to mile marker 26.  Just that damn .2 left, and if you know MCM, that includes going up a steep hill when you're already depleted.  The finish line in sight, I could see Jenny struggling to go up and move forward.  I grabbed her hand and pulled, and a Marine behind her pushed, and then she got up the hill.  We charged toward the finish line, hand in hand, and to victory:
A BQ for Jenny at MCM - her second marathon ever.  2 years ago, I BQed at MCM - my second marathon her, and that was where it all started.  Rooted to the spot, we hugged, and I cannot describe how proud I was (and still am) of her.  It was a big moment, and a very special honor to be a part of her marathon victory and BQ.
It took a while for us to summon the motivation to go out to dinner, but eventually we made it to Ted's Montana Grill (which has a lot of great GF options) and celebrate.  So many stories, so many memories were made and shared.  Giggling, laughing, just relieved to have gotten to this point, this victory.  We spent Monday breakfast with her aunt, who lives close by, and was just thrilled about the big BQ.

Jenny flew back to Florida in the afternoon, and while we were both sad that the visit was over, we also were just so excited about what had just happened.  It was not my marathon, but a run of friendship in its purest and finest state.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Race Simulation before Comps

Last night, I met my training coach/fellow medievalist Sarah on the track for a race simulation 5k.  It has actually been 2 years since we've run together.  We meet regularly and chat a lot (it helps that we're in the same grad program!), but just don't run together (she is really fast - like 37 minutes for the 10k).  The last time we actually ran together was in October 2009 at MCM, when she jumped in for the last 10 miles and helped me get my first BQ.  Anyways, there are still a couple of weeks before my next 10k (Veteran's Day 10k - 11/13), so she wanted to have me to a race simulation, just to test out the gears.  She said she would pace me, and that I would just tuck in behind her.  She said that we would be aggressive in the beginning, ease up slightly midway, and then push at the end.  I've never actually done a 5k on the track, so no matter what, this was going to be an interesting experience.  Sarah also said she was going to be interested to see what my effort looked like - as she gets the times I run for track workouts, but never sees me in action.
We got to the track (the one at our school), and there was a field hockey game about to start, which meant we were moved to lane 5 of the track.  Sarah said she would count the laps and approximate the 5k distance being in lane 5.  I was like, "Thank goodness, I can't do that kind of math right now."  And we were off!  From the "gun" I felt so tired.  I am sure part of it is just getting ready for comps, but it felt hard to go all-out, which is what you need to do in a 5k.  And as spectators were going up to the stands for the field hockey game, we had to do a little bit of weaving between lanes, so not perfectly smooth.  I didn't even use my watch - Sarah was doing all of the timing.  She yelled out "6:30" for the first mile, and I did not think I could do that again 2 more times.  The middle section was really hard - Sarah was about 8 yards in front of me, and I could not catch her for the life of me.  She kept yelling out, "Come on, come on!"  It was so hard to respond and try to pick it up.  I could not believe how hard this was, and in my head, I kept thinking, "I am really blowing this and now waiting her time, ugh."  With a mile to go, 2 of my friends showed up to watch the game, which I had no idea, and so they cheered for me as I passed them.  It really was an interesting experience - here we are doing these laps, Sarah is cheering me on, the stands are filled with people watching another game, but they're also seeing this race simulation as well.  Sarah put her hand up to mark that we had 2 laps left, and I was so relieved.  Maybe I could kick a little bit.  Then, with one lap to go, I was able to get a little closer to Sarah, and was just trying so hard to keep going (again, no idea what kind of time I am running), and my friends were cheering me in to the finish.
PHEW!  I finished and stubbled off the track exhausted.  She asked how I felt, and I said that that was one of the hardest efforts EVER.  She said, well, good, because you ran a 19:57!
Now, that is approximately 5k - we can't really count it because we couldn't do it in lane 1.  But wow!  She said that it equates to about 20:15 on the road, so definitely a PR (sort of) for sure!  I could not believe it, I felt so tired, I thought I had run about 21.  But nope, this was the fastest 5k effort ever!
Sarah said that that is what I need to feel like during a 5k or a 10k, and that I need to push myself a lot harder.  This is the challenge with coming from a marathon background - you find a pace that works that you can hold onto for a loooong time.  Now as I am moving down to these shorter distances, I just need to be more aggressive and be uncomfortable with the pace.  
All in all, I was really pleased with it.  It was a really good learning experience, and a great confidence booster going into comps.
And speaking of which...
Comps start tomorrow.  The written parts will be Thursday and Friday, and then my oral exam will be on Wednesday - a week from today.  All of those months of reading, all of those years of coursework, come down to about 9 hours of exams.  It is hard to believe it is here.  As much as I am nervous, I am also really excited.  I get to show my professors, who have invested a lot of time in me, what my intellectual journey has been like over the past 3.5 years.  I know I have grown up a lot, wrestled with these books and dealt with some of the big questions.  I have read and read and read, and thought about these books in a variety of ways, so that I could use a book on memory (Phantoms of Remembrance) to talk about literacy, church history, death and commemoration practices - I can spin these books in a number of ways.  For my family and friends, it's all they've heard about for months.  And I cannot overstate my gratitude to everyone for all of their support during this preparation process.
Just like a marathon, my big day (or in this, a few days) is almost here.  I'll certainly be listening to psych-up music on the way in to the exam, have a good meal tonight, and do all of those other pre-race rituals that have worked in my running world.  While my professors have called the exam "trial by ordeal," I am looking at it as the culmination of years of training.  Deena Kastor said that "Sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us," and I am going to seek to define myself in this exam.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Swimming to Modernity - body and mind worked together

I have written that I have not been good about my cross training.  Ultimately, one of my favorite forms of cross training is swimming.  It is a lot of fun and it feels great.  But logistically, it is a lot harder to get to the pool than just hop on a stationary bike.  Anyways...I was able to make time for it today and I was glad to be in the pool.
Today was an opportunity to do my "Swim to Modernity" - a 2000 yard swim where I review the timeline in my head.  Since my comps (I'm sure everyone is loving to hear about it in each post) are so soon, it is a good way to review both the chronology and the books I've read.  As I work my through the centuries, I can think about the major events and players, as well as the significant books that address these issues.  Yes, it is one of the nerdiest things I do, but certainly one of the most helpful ways to blend studying and exercising!  And, as the November Runner's World shows, running and training can help make you smarter!
But I digress.  My swim to modernity today was AWESOME.  My body was so happy to be in the water; everything just relaxed.  And my brain was alive and fluttering!  So many thoughts as I went back and forth, "410-Augustine's City of God, 476-Deposition of Romulus Augustulus, 511-death of Clovis, 540-Rule of St. Benedict, 751-beginning of the Carolingian Empire, 813-Synod of Mainz, 1076-Investiture Controversy, 1215-Fourth Lateran Council," and on and on and on.  I felt like my brain was moving so fast, and I was getting in these historiographic debates in too: "Ethnogenesis, barbarian identity, role of the laity in Christian burial practices, display of the sacraments, use of hagiography, functions of Renaissance education."
And, lo and behold, it seemed as if my body could withstand that rapid-fire too.  It normally takes me about 50 minutes to do the 2000 yards, and lately I've gotten down to about 48.  But today: 44 minutes!  I couldn't believe it!  Mind and body worked together today!
Did you ever see the Peanuts cartoon of Woodstock when he talks?  All of those exclamation points and question marks - that's what I must've looked like in the water.
And this is me out of it!  This was from the Clarendon Day 5k a few weeks ago.  Swim Bike Run Photography did a nice job with their pictures and just sent them out.
But I digress yet again.  It was a great day in the pool for both mind and body!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In and Out on the Capital Crescent Trail

While I do not design my own training plan, I have racked up enough workouts that I normally know what to expect.  Cross training 3 times a week, some sort of track workout on Tuesday, a tempo run on Saturday, and a long run on Sunday. The workouts vary a bit, and certainly so do the times I am expected to hit, but I generally know what is coming.  But, I had a new workout to do on Saturday that I had been looking forward to trying out:
2.5 mile warm-up: The purpose of this workout is to do continuous mile repeats with no break, with one mile being a harder effort and the following mile being a “rest” effort.  You will do 4 “In and Outs” for a total of 8 miles (One “in and out” being one harder effort plus the rest mile).  The goal is to start the first mile at around 7:05, the rest mile in about 7:45, the third mile in about 7:00, the rest mile about 7:40, the fifth mile in 6:55, the rest mile in 7:35, the seventh mile in 6:50 and the rest mile in 7:30 or so.  The rest miles should feel “moderate” the hard miles should feel difficult but not all out.  Your times may vary a bit because you will be off the track, and the times that I have listed are just general guidelines.  2.5 mile cool-down: Total=13 miles
So, I went to the Capital Crescent Trail, which goes from Georgetown to Silver Spring.  I had been on it one time before, but it is just a little hard to get to.  But this workout needed good mile markers and no road interruptions.  I was fortunate enough to get a ride from my roommate to Bethesda, so I was all set for this new workout.
I had a great time!  It was really hard, but I loved running on the trail.  There were a couple of times when the trail intersects with a road and I had to cross, but other than that, no interruptions!  And it was one of those perfect fall days - the weather running was made for.  So many people were out and about.  I loved it.  I did not get the workout perfect - I did the 8 miles in 59:20, with the hard/in miles in 7:05, 7:01, 7:02, 6:55.  But it was really hard to ease up in the "out" miles - they were still a bit fast. And I gave it my all in the last "in" mile - was just trying to catch this guy in front of me.  I couldn't get him - he stayed 20 feet in front of me, but he stopped at mile 7.  I yelled "I've been trying to chase you!" and he just laughed - I guess he was done though, because I kept going for the "out" mile and he just caught his breath.
Anyways, it ended up being a 13 mile run and I totally loved it.  I do think I should try to do some tempo runs on it.  Yeah, it stinks to have to pay for metro fare to head out for it, but it can certainly be a once in a while treat.  During the cooldown, I took a couple of pictures:

Beautiful, right?  The trails also reminded me a little of the trails in Santa Cruz.  
Today, I did a long run around the city, and even ran through the National Zoo!  So fortunate to live in a place where you can run almost anywhere in the city and it will be a beautiful route!
4 days to go until comps begin!  I am keeping my head on straight and just continuing to hunker down. Will be toeing the starting line soon enough!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Are my standards too high?

(No, this is not a post about guys or dating, in case you were wondering)

I do not know if I would describe myself as a perfectionist.  I actually don't think I would.  I work really hard, but there are some days and experiences when I'm not aiming for perfect.  But I am constantly aiming for my best.

It's funny when you compare standards:
1/3 is phenomenal for a batting average
52% can win you a presidential election
...that would also be a decent approval rating
In high school music competitions, only people who score 99 or 100 will be accepted into their All-State organizations
Only a near perfect SAT score will get you into an Ivy League school
You want your surgeon to have a close-to-zero mortality rate, right?

Obviously, it is not just about the numbers, and you can't go across the board and say what is "acceptable," "good," "excellent,"and "superb."

But I think my standards may be too high.  I have a week to go before the written part of my PhD comps, which will be next Thursday and Friday.  I have been preparing for months: doing the reading, writing, synthesizing, talking about it to anyone who will listen.  On Monday, I woke up in the middle of the night with a nightmare about the exam. I don't remember it now, but I couldn't get my mind to calm down for a while.  And it led to two days straight of just nerves and worrying.  I think part of the mental challenge is dealing with the fact that this is the culmination of years of work.  Another part of it is knowing that I have over 100 books and articles shuffling around my brain, clamoring to be remembered.  And it made for a rough couple of days.  I didn't quite hit my track workout on Tuesday either, which I attributed to the race and comps.

On Wednesday, I met with a friend of mine who is in the program and took his comps last year.  I asked if he would ask me a few questions, so I could practice discussing some answers.  And, over an hour later, I had hit a number of topics.  And I didn't struggle for ideas: I spoke freely and was able to draw from a number of different books.

It was a big relief.  And today I did some good reading and clarified some information about some medieval church councils, which was really helpful.  And all of that worrying lessened - it didn't go away, but it lessened, at least for a little bit.

A lot of this has made me think my standards can be really really high, maybe even unreasonable at times.  I expect to commit this stuff to memory, and I expect to be successful in running.  Consistently.  And maybe that is the issue - I want to be consistent, and when I have an off day, I am disappointed.  I am sure that I am not alone with this - I am writing to a community of go-getters!

And now, with just over a week to go, I am getting my head on straight.  I am pouring over my notes, putting it all together, and hoping that even if I set my standards really high, I will meet them.

Game on!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Negative Split Convert: Boo! Run for Life 10k

After a September set of 5ks, it was time for the 10k in October.  I had signed up to do the Boo! Run for Like 10k in East Potomac Park.  I was really excited to turn to the 10k, because I do think I have more potential to do well in that distance compared to the 5k.  I was also excited because the weather had finally cooled, and they were calling for 50 degrees for race morning. 
Everything this morning in regard to the metro went well (which hasn't been the case lately pre-race), and I arrived with 40 minutes to spare.  Got in a nice warm-up on the course, which meant that I got to preview both mile 1 and mile 6 on the out and back course.  I have actually run this course several times, as it also hosts the December Jingle All the Way 10k, which I've run 3 times.  But, the weather then has always been a bit raw and this was gorgeous.
I was happy to get a good position in the second row of the starting line.  And when the gun went off, felt great.  Sarah told me to aim for just under sub-7 pace.  I went thorugh the first mile in 6:50 and though I should probably back off.  I was in 5th, and then whoosh, 2 women passed me.  And one of them was wearing a tutu and carrying a wand.  I mean, come on!  I don't want to be passed by a fairy.  But it as too early to get worked up over it - I'll deal with her later, I thought.  Hit mile 2 at 14:00, which meant I had actually slowed to a 7:10 mile.  C'mon, gotta even out this pace.  I was hoping to go sub 43 (current PR was 44:45 from last December at the beginning of ITBS).  At this point, I wasn't sure if that was going to happen.  Even still, I felt really comfortable and knew that I had enough in the tank that I could really move in the second 5k.  I have to say, the course was gorgeous: we ran along the harbor and it was just a very pretty morning.  Things spread out nicely, there was a lot of room, and it was actually pretty quiet as we moved along.  I reached the 5k mark in 21:45 (7:00 pace).  I tried to pick it up, but then I hit mile 4 at 28:00, still being very consistent at that 7:00 mark.  I picked it up a little, and I think I ran 6:57 for mile 5.  At that point, I was bound and determined to pass at least one girl.  I just took off, and I although I wasn't sure how smart it was to "kick" with 1.2 left, but I was going to do it.  Last month, I did 6 x 1 mile average 6:42 pace - this was what I was practicing for!  I just kept going and going, and it finally this one girl (not the tutu one - she must've been clocking 6:40s, which is pretty remarkable) was within 20 yards of me.  It took forever, but I was just behind her at the 6 mile mark.  Thankfully, I was able to pass her comfortably, and felt that she wouldn't be able to react back.  I just kept going and going, and could not believe my eyes when I crossed the finish line:
6:54 pace
Almost a 2 minute PR!
This was fantastic in so many ways, particularly because I ran a negative split!  I ran the second 5k almost 45 seconds faster than the first 5k!  I have never been able to do that - I always positive split, so that was really exciting too.  Overall, I was 6th woman and I won my age group (first time doing that in DC!): 25-29.  Good prize too: $20 and a $10 gift card to Pacers Running Stores.  It was a great race overall, and I was just really pleased with my performance.  I may not have caught the tutu, but it certainly was a great victory in DC.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Meeting an Olympian

Thanks to Pacers Running Store in Alexandria, I had the privilege of meeting 2008 Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet.  She did a talk on injury prevention and about her training for the Olympics, training through pregnancy, and working on form and making the little tweaks that have helped her to continue to PR at age 38!
I had heard about this talk almost a month ago, and I was just so excited.  Once i got into the world of running, I became so immersed in all of the elite runners: their stats, their background, upcoming races, etc.  Naturally, I had read a lot about Magdalena, and was very excited to meet her.  She is an Olympian and one of the fastest female American marathoners of all time.  Opportunities like that don't come along all of the time, so I was just thrilled.  She gave her talk, and then there was an opportunity for meet and greet after.  We chatted a bit about California (she lives in Oakland and also was in Santa Cruz for a race this summer), and then I asked her a couple of questions about her favorite pre-race workouts:
For the marathon: 8 x 1 mile 15 seconds faster than goal marathon pace with one minute recovery in between
For 5ks, 10ks: 8 x 1k at 5k pace with equal recovery (so, if you run the 1ks in 4:10, recovery for 4:10).
She was so nice and even agreed to take a picture with me.  I tried not to gush too much, but when you meet someone who is at the top of the sport, who has dedicated her life to training and becoming the best, it is hard not to be in awe.  I have my role models in my field of history and I have my running role models, and she is definitely one of them - it was very cool to meet her.
Good luck as you get ready for Houston (and hopefully London!) 2012!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In the time leading up to a marathon...

A series of questions rush around your head:
-Can I really go that far?
-Can I really run at my desired pace, for 26.2 miles, even if I've never been able to do it in practice?
-I couldn't even do 20 miles at that pace, will it really happen?

And somehow, on Marathon Day, it comes together.  The body knows what to do, even if it has never been put to that specific test before.  All of the types of training link up in perfect union and harmony, and we take off, stringing each mile together at that pace.  And in the 3-4 months of preparation, things didn't gel quite like that, but on the big day, it did.

I need to remind myself of that.  And remember that sometimes I may be my own worst enemy.

And with just over 2 weeks out from my comps and with all of my books done, I am now studying.  And there are some days when I can spout out quite a lot on late medieval devotion.  And there are other days when after a few sentences...it seems like there isn't much left.

I just need to remind myself that:
- Every study day is not perfect
- It is all about the culmination of preparation
- It may not happen in practice, but I can pull it together on that big day.

I even did some reading about Kara Goucher.  Absolutely phenomenal world-class runner, but struggles with self-doubt and "negative chatter."  And look what she has managed to accomplished once she's knocked out the doubting voice - her own.

Just over 2 weeks until the big day, and I just need to remember that I knocked off 9 minutes in Boston, ran a 3:27 after much adversity, and I will do the same very soon with these exams.