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.