Finding the Work/Life Balance

As you probably have gathered by chatting with me or following my blog/Twitter, I have been having some issues adjusting to life as a post-doc. Part of it is the pressures of my career path: I love what I do and I want to do the best I can, which often means sacrifices, lists that get longer instead of shorter, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed. I think that is part of the life as a post doc/new academic. I’ve always prided myself on being able to go-with-the-flow. During grad school, I had the mantra: “it will all even out eventually” and I still was able to have a life, race fast, and write papers and grants and my dissertation. But now, things are different. I’ve had to make huge sacrifices, including moving 800miles away from my fiance, giving up long-course racing, selling my triathlon bike, etcetera. Sometimes, I feel like I am running behind a wagon full of stuff as it heads down a bumpy road. The stuff in the wagon starts falling out each time it hits a bump, one item at a time, and I am picking up the things that are falling out, and trying to put them back into the wagon. But the more stuff I pick up and put back, the more stuff falls out, and I am having a harder time catching up to the wagon because I am carrying all the stuff. It’s cruel.

Yesterday, after a pretty rough morning, I went to the AWIS-St Louis seminar on improving work/life satisfaction for women scientists. I learned a lot, and wanted to share some insight that I gained to remind myself what to focus on during work/life balance struggles:

1. Look long-term, not at the “right-now”:

There are many times when I feel overwhelmed because what I am doing at that very moment is not what I had planned on doing. I am in the lab at 7pm when I had planned on meeting a group to run at 6pm. Or, I am sitting at my desk working on a grant for 4hrs straight when I was supposed to be doing dissections. I often feel as though I am not dividing my time well enough; that I don’t set aside enough time to get in a run or yoga, or that I don’t get enough done in a work day. I have been focusing too much on the “what’s happening now” aspect and not enough at the long-term. The leaders of the AWIS discussion yesterday brought up something that really struck home with me; Work/life balance is not like balancing scales. It’s more about doing what needs to be done now and planning ahead. One thing I love about my job is that it’s flexible. If I have errands to do in the morning, no one really cares if I don’t come into work until 10am (unless I have meetings). There is no perfect 1 + 1 = 2 answer to the work/life balance equation; sometimes its a little more convoluted. Even still, it’s important to focus on finding your center.

2. Overcome the challenges of finding work/life satisfaction by:

  • setting boundaries
  • planning and prioritizing
  • asking for what I want and what I need
  • cultivating a strong support system for both work and social well-being
Setting boundaries is difficult in my job, because of many reasons. I want to make a good impression on my boss and his peers. I want to be independent and competent, which – so far -has made me feel like I need to do it all alone. I want to be good at what I do; I want people to respect me for what I know, for who I am, and for what I have accomplished. And if I am not accomplishing anything or I am not doing anything on my own, well, where does my identity lie? One thing that has become apparent since starting this job about a year ago, and especially after attending the AWIS seminar, is that I don’t need to do it all alone. There are others who are experts in things I am not, who can help make my life easier just by asking. And there are ways I can ease the workload by delegating tasks and clearing my desk. Which leads me to…
Planning and prioritizing. I have become better over the last few months at staying organized and focused. It was a new learning process, mostly because I have multiple different foci that have a list of priorities and tasks to accomplish. Some tips I’ve learned from my friends, peers, and by trial-and-error:
  1. At the end of each day, I make a list of things that I need to accomplish the next day. I write it on a post-it note, and keep it limited to one post-it. That way, I can accomplish the tasks, and I feel like I am actually doing something productive by crossing things off the list.
  2. I use Google Tasks for the more important stuff- like when its a due-date for an animal treatment, or a grant deadline is coming up, or whatever. The check boxes also provide that “accomplished! YAY” feeling, and if I don’t get them done, I have to drag them to the next day or see them hovering in the list on the side bar.
  3. Use Google Calendar for important meetings. I used to have a pocket calendar that I would write things in but I am forgetful, and wouldn’t always have it on me. Google is everywhere– on my phone, on my computer, on any other computer, so if I forget what I need to do or if I forget I have a meeting in 20minutes, my phone lets me know or my computer blinks at me to remind me. Because, otherwise, I am forgetful.
  4. Delegating smaller, easily accomplishable tasks that would otherwise linger on my post-it notes for weeks has really reduced my stress levels. For example, I have had a stock pile of samples that I need to scan and analyze for bone parameters. But, I just wouldn’t make time to do the analysis. Every time a slot opened up in my calendar, I’d fill it with something else. So, I assigned the task to someone else, and *voila!*, its almost done. Delegate FTW.
Asking for what I need and for what I want has been difficult, because- like I mentioned before- I want to be independent and show that I can do things on my own. But the truth is, I don’t need to do that. Seeking help, like asking someone to do a task that I could do but would take me 5hrs, is a way better use of my mental capacity than just doing it myself. There are definitely lots of things that I can’t ask someone else to do, but there are lots of things that someone else can help me with. Even though I have been at my job for almost a year, I have only recently felt comfortable approaching my boss and asking for help with my project. Part of it is realizing that I am behind and having the self-awareness of saying “OK, I need help!” but also, its just part of getting my job done. There’s no way I could do all the things I am supposed to on my own.
Cultivating a strong support system has not been difficult where I work, mostly because of the incredibly collaborative environment. Both my clinical and research bosses are incredibly supportive, and emotionally I feel very happy with my work environment. But I also need to have the social support, too, which is why in a week I will be moving out of my one-bedroom apartment and into a house with roommates. Being submersed in a new environment will keep me from coming home from work and watching hours of Netflix; it will also help me feel less guilty about things like not eating all my kale from my CSA.
The last thing I want to mention that really struck home with me about the seminar is: where do I see myself when I am older. Right now, I am focused on work, career, research. That’s ok, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Yeah, I want to have a good job, have a well-established lab and be a good, honest scientist. But, more importantly, I want to be a loveable person… I want to get married and spend my life with the man I love. I want to be thoughtful and compassionate, and excited about life-things. I want to focus on building more on relationships that will last a lifetime. Because at the end of the day, it’s just a job, right?
The biggest thing that life is about is love. It’s with a heavy heart that I had to put to rest my beautiful cat, Jasper, yesterday morning. I adopted him in May, and a few months later – at the young age of 6 – he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. After many emergency room visits, vet visits, and up to 12 pills a day, he had enough. Rest in peace, big guy. I loved you so much!

Time for some house arrest

As usual, I am reporting in with a crazy-outta-control-post about my life at the moment. The last few months were quite certainly a blast, but am I ever glad they’re over! I made a map of my travel as of late, with the red heart being where home is (although I think my heart is elsewhere most of the time). After looking at this map, I am not quite sure how I survived these last several weeks. People who travel a lot for work: you have my sympathy.

August brought me some travelage to Colorado, where I paced my friend Andrea in the Leadville 100 (and also got altitude sickness) and then hung out with Baberaham in his soon-to-be-new-city of Fort Collins. That was a nice and relaxing trip, minus the puking at 11oooft. Once I got back, my parents drove to St Louis to visit and brought their dog, and we enjoyed a nice quiet weekend in St Louis.

September started with a quick trip to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding. While I was in the mitten, I recruited my dad to tag along to help volunteer at the Rev3 Cedar Point race on Sunday. The wedding was a blast, and Sunday was a huge Rev3 party. I was the volunteer coordinator for the wetsuit strippers and the run special needs bags. Although helping out at races is way more difficult than actually doing the race itself, I always have such a blast and come back feeling like I’ve accomplished something amazing.

Special thanks to the wetsuit stripping extraordinaires from Lifestyle Fitness in metro-Detroit!

After Cedar Point, I had a few days before leaving on an extended work trip, with a quick detour to hang out with some of my Mega Tough teammies in northern California. Unfortunately, the cat I adopted in May got seriously ill the night before I was supposed to leave, and I had to take him to the ER. I missed my flight because I was carting him around STL for second opinions and echocardiograms and EKGs, to find out my poor lil’ guy has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart). Had this happened 24hrs later, I would have been gone and my cat lady would have found him dead on my living room floor. I was relieved to find out that heart disease in cats is treatable, but I was stressed to the max and my bank accounts were depleted. So, if anyone is interested in adopting a special-needs cat, let me know. Jazzy is super cool, and his meds are getting ironed out… he needs pills twice a day but hopefully won’t need anymore ER visits again.

How can you say no to this cute face?

Eventually, thanks to some really truly amazing people who helped me out with Jasper, I did get to leave for California and met up with my girls as our race was starting in San Francisco. The plan was to race the Ragnar Relay Napa Valley as an ultra team. The execution of such plan failed, as we were pummeled one after the other with trials and tribulations, eventually ending in us pulling the plug after each of us completed our first of three legs. We chalked it up to our fun levels (which were negative from the beginning) and our safety (which was terrorist threat level RED), and we cruised back to Berkeley for some real sleep, real running, and real girl-time fun. I was disappointed with this Ragnar, for a lot of different reasons, because we’ve always had so much fun and success at these events. Oh, well- guess its time for our Mega Tough ladies to take our running shoes elsewhere (trail relay, anyone?).

On Saturday, we slept in and then headed to Mount Tam for some seriously awesome trail time. Aside from rolling my ankle really bad after about 2hrs, I had an absolute blast and we got the much needed girl bonding time that we were not getting in the Ragnar van. And, we got to wear our super-rad shirts that Margot made for us. Score!

Bringing MHz to Napa Valley

After my quick 24ish hours in NoCal, I headed to San Diego for a conference, and then hung out at UCSD in LaJolla for a few days learning some techniques for my research. It was fun and educational, and I am supergeeked about this collaboration!
But my trip didn’t end there. After San Diego, I flew to Marquette and Baberaham picked me up. Some of our grad school friends were getting married in Wausau, so I stayed in Houghton for a day or two and then we drove with friends to the Land of Beer and Cheese for one of the best weddings of the decade.

I was glad to finally head home after so much traveling and stress, mostly because I wanted to see my kitty and just have some downtime. Fortunately, while I was gone, I have some super-excellent-friends that took care of my special-needs guy and gave him so much attention. I don’t know what I’d do without them.
Downtime didn’t really happen, although I got a nice long ride in on my Scott Plasma before I put it up for sale. About a week later, I headed to Anderson, South Carolina for Rev3‘s last race of the season. I was helping with the run course, and my job on race day was making sure that the Rev3 HalfRev run course was solid and safe. There’s lots I’ve learned from triathlon racing about pacing, nutrition, and tapering, but I still have lots to learn about triathlon staffing. My nutrition for race day included potato chips and candy bars around 4pm, which is terrible because I had gone two weeks without any processed food. Oh, well. A calorie is a calorie.
 
After I got back from South Carolina, Baberaham put me on house arrest, and I am super geeked to not be traveling again until at least Thanksgiving (maybe Christmas?). I’m also in the process of trying to find a new place to live that has cheaper rent so I can save up some money for our wedding next fall.
I am so geeked to be in STL for a while. Last night, I enjoyed some cyclocross at Queeny Park, and both Baberaham and my TMT girl, Jess, are coming to spend some time here (Jess is doing the Rock and Roll Half Marathon next weekend).

What it takes

Part of life is making our own decisions. Some say that it is part of being a grown-up, and truly, its just what we gotta do.  We can seek out all the advice we want from all the various sources available, but in the end, it’s what we choose to do that dictates how our lives will play out. Of course, there are some people whose opinions matter more than others (and each of us have different hierarchies of opinion-values). And, of course, there are some decisions we don’t have control over, and there are some outcomes that we just simply can’t predict. Regardless, being a grown-up means wearing the big shoes, and sometimes the big shoes aren’t very comfortable.

I’ve been having a few (ok, several) rough months with decision-making in training, racing, and – most importantly – life. With my fiance 700miles away, a pet that has special needs, and a job that my future life/career depends on,  I find myself struggling with what’s left over. My training is a big pile most of the time, and I sometimes feel twinges of guilt and torment when I read posts like Chuckie V’s “Happiness, Ambition, and Pursuit,” especially while I sit in my kitchen reading it while eating a big bowl of rocky road ice cream as some sort of nutrition-subsidized training for the day. When I reflect on what I’ve done in the past – in racing particularly- and truly focus on how well last season went for me and how much potential I had in the sport, I am knocked off the totem pole when I look at what I’ve become. I work a ton and I don’t manage my time in order to train like I should and could. I find myself struggling to get up early and go for runs when I could just as easily go right into work and get two more hours of stuff done. I stopped going to group training sessions, which is really my only source of social interaction with humans. And, fortunately or unfortunately, I find myself struggling to leave work because I always feel so far behind on everything and want to get as much as I can done. How am I ever going to get ahead? The truth is, I don’t know.

With triathlon, I have been telling myself over and over throughout the last year that I have the potential to do well and that I can continue to improve and become a better athlete. But when I race as of late, I’m so disappointed. I feel out of shape (because I am out of shape), I feel slow and lazy and my run is weak. I feel fat (because that 10lbs around my waistline didn’t come just appear out of nowhere) and fluffy and wussy. While training is fun, and tagging-along is my favorite thing to do, I have a difficult time negotiating with myself that its a better idea to go outside and run, if only for 3 miles, than to stay at work an extra hour or to watch an episode of Glee on Hulu. I just don’t get it: why is it that I can’t find the balance, and why do I feel like a teeter-totter all the time?

Truth is, things are different this year. I know that. I’m not in grad school anymore, and I know that my life right now is not supposed to be focused around becoming a faster triathlete or marathoner. Maybe I made that decision when I took this job, when I said “I want to become the best scientist I can be.” But truly, I don’t think it’s quite that. Taking this job didn’t mean that I have to give up my triathlon potential. But what is potential, really? Taking another page from Chuckie’s book, “potential” is practically fruitless. Wanting something and actually doing it are not the same thing. And having the potential to be the best, without actually striking forth and reaching for it, ain’t worth shit.

A year ago, when I took this job, I made the decision to become a better scientist, to become the best at what I do. No, I take that back. When I realized that my education potential is limitless, that was when I made the decision to become the best scientist I could be. However arrogant or hoity-toity that may seem, I knew the opportunity before it really ever bore its head. When I was preparing for my dissertation defense and knowing that I was the only one that really truly knew and understood the stuff I was about to present, I knew what I wanted to do in life. I may have realized this limitless potential, perhaps, when I was recruiting subjects and sponsors for my master’s thesis project, and was so geeked about data and statistics and mechanics. Maybe I knew there was this “potential” when I was a junior in college, so completely awed by the world of biomechanics that I took the course from two different departments. No, I bet it started before that even, when I was in high school shadowing biomedical engineers at Flower Hospital or maybe even earlier, when I was learning about running gait and proper form from my dad’s physical therapist when I was in middle school cross-country. Regardless, the truth is, I knew what I wanted before I knew what I wanted. Ya dig?

And I want to be the best. I am a competitive person, I admit it openly. But I’m not out to sabotage others who also want to be the best. I am realizing that, in order to be the best, I need to focus on that. And by focusing on being the best at one particular thing leaves little room for being the best at anything else, really. We should all strive to be the best at what we do, to challenge ourselves beyond what we think is possible. Some people are good at a lot of things. They aren’t the best at a lot of things, but they are good. I don’t think I will be the best by any means, but I can’t be my best if I don’t give it my all.

When I reflect on this year, I am not going to be sad about my lack of “living up to my potential”- So, this year I wasn’t a rockstar triathlete like I wanted to be. Big woop. I didn’t win my age group at anything and I even bailed on several races for fear of doing poorly. Who cares? Racing stopped being fun, not because I wasn’t racing great races or traveling to great places, but because I was reflecting on my potential in the sport. I knew what I could do, I’d done it before; how come I am not better than before? Aren’t we supposed to get better? Why am I not even the same as I was last season? My potential ended up leaving me short-sighted; I would tell myself over and over that I could have done better ( … ). Too bad I didn’t.  And perhaps was my “potential” limited me from really, fully, truly enjoying things like this:

Post-Wildflower California Coastline Cruise with PICs Sonja and Michelle

or this:

Pre-race excitement at Kansas 70.3. Photo courtesy Brent Newman

Enjoying one helluva'n awesome bike course at Wildflower. Photo courtesy Eric Willis

or this:

St Louis Tri Club and Chrissie Wellington at Kansas 70.3. Photo courtesy Brent Newman

And I’m not living up to my potential in triathlon. Where has my potential got me? Well, nowhere. My decisions to act on my abilities, however, have driven me straight upward. For a long time, I believed that my potential was limited to my ability to pursue endurance sports and to do well at them. I thought that my potential would some day get me to a sub 3hr marathon or a Kona slot or whatever. But my potential, I’ve learned this year, means crap. It’s what I choose to do, what I commit to achieve, that really matters. And for now, Kona will just have to wait. I’ve got other fish to fry.

The Tag-Along

I’ve dubbed myself the Tag-Along, and I am proud to say that I do a good job.

This week, Best Training Buddy (BTB) and I held it down with her training plan and I stuck to her side like glue for nearly all of her shenanigans (except the swims, of course. No thanks, not yet).  Track work? I was up and at ’em at 5am so I could be at the track on time to meet her. Easy ride? Heck yeah, and even sounds more fun than “cheesy ride.” Yesterday, we went out for a 4 hour interval bike-o-rama and a brick run, and although I am not training for anything related to triathlon, I thought it sounded fun and even encouraged her to pick a hilly route. It all sounds fun. Bring it on! Pile on the miles. Who wants to run 10miles at the track, anyway? Well, I DO!

Seriously.

I do.

OK, so what sounds fun about all this? To me, it’s fun to finally again be training with purpose. Right now, my purpose is to be the best training partner that BTB can have, and to build up my strengths. I know what you’re thinking; what’s the purpose when there’s no race on the schedule and no “end” in sight for me? While I really truly do not know what my next triathlon will be or when it will be, I know it will come, and when it does, I will be oh-so-ready. All my training friends have signed up for Ironman Couer d’Alene and I am throwing down as the IronSherpa (which is totally 100% ok with me!). And of course, I could sign up; I even think registration is still open! But I am not going to. I made a decision, and that decision was no. Plus, BTB is doing it, and its her first one, which I think would be super cool if I can tag along for the ride and be there to cheer and hoot and holler.

Is my purpose to be the best tag-along in the universe? Maybe. Of course, my purpose is to become a better athlete, and the way I get there is by finding people whom I can connect with and who I can train well with. I think that being a better athlete takes some serious tag-along-time, and also some serious build time. Being a better athlete takes some serious training relationships, and also some serious inner meditation. I have loads of time to do all of these things, and while it feels like I became a lesser athlete overnight, becoming a stronger athlete isn’t going to happen quite as fast.

So, on with it! Giddy up.

The nemesis has been found… in FROYO!

Apparently, frozen yogurt is THE thing in Saint Louis. That, and cupcake shops. Since I am strict on the g-free diet, I have no interest in the cupcake side of things, but I do love me some froyo. And I’ve been loving it indeed. I use it as a treat for my diet-redux: no more than once a week, and fruit/nuts instead of candy toppings.

My world was rocked this week with an email from my friend, E. She emailed the company, Orange Leaf Yogurt, which is a fro-yo chain that is here in town:

Hi E,

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt has multiple Gluten Free yogurt flavors. The only flavors that are not gluten free are: wedding cake, birthday cake, brownie batter, snickerdoodle, red velvet, cookies and cream, peanut butter and chocolate peanut butter. All of our other flavors not included on the list above are gluten free. If you have any other questions please let me know and I will be happy to answer them.

Uhm.. what?

I’m pretty sure Red Velvet is the second best flavor, next to (you guessed it) PEANUT BUTTER.

REALLY?!

Eeeek.

Truthfully, I haven’t noticed the gluten from my ventures to fro-yo. Apparently I’m not as sensitive as I thought… or maybe I just lucked out in not eating a whole bowl of the gluten-y kind and just doing the samples (isn’t that what everyone goes to froyo for anyway?). And I have probably had it a handful of times (this weekly thing started after I got back from a conference at the end of June, when it was insanely hot forever in the STL). But, it’s super important for all you gluten sensitive folk out there to pay attention.

Here are some tips for your next fro-yo venture if you’re rocking it gluten free-

  • Ask for the ingredients list and make sure you don’t pick any of the seemingly-obviously-gluten-filled flavors.
  • Eat at Red Mango, which is AWESOME, are certified gluten free. and that means ALL of their yogurts are (now watch the toppings of course).
  • When in doubt, go for the basic flavors. Tart, sorbets, and vanillas probably lack in the gluten department.
Good luck, froyo-ians!

The breakfast revamp #i8this

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I actually think breakfast #2 is the most important meal of the day, which typically occurs after my first workout before I head to work. Before I run or swim or bike in the morning, I like to eat a little something so that I have food in my belly to keep me from stopping early because of hunger pains. But, it’s usually a small snack, not a meal by any means- maybe an orange, or a piece of toast, or sometimes a smoothie.

I have got into the habit of eating eggs for breakfast and have revamped my diet to focus more on getting in the recovery-friendly foods, typically high in protein, following most workouts. My main breakfast is usually around 500-600 calories and is typically my biggest meal of the day.

Today, I made something special. I wanted fruit, but knew I couldn’t eat a bowl of raspberries before heading to work. So I made a super delicious, somewhat fancy, but super *easy* breakfast and I wanted to share it with you.

First, I grabbed some leftover Trader Joe’s Organic Sweet Italian sausage from this weekend’s barbecue festivities. This comes in a 4-pack, is pre-cooked, and can be added into just about anything. Each link is only 140 calories and loaded with lean meat protein (15 grams!) so it is an easy choice. I chopped up one link along with a small zucchini that I got in my Fair Shares CSA this week, and sauteed them in a nonstick pan without oil or butter until the zucchini was browned. While that was cookin’, I toasted two pieces of Rudi’s gluten free multigrain bread and spread a little bit of real butter on each slice (sans butter can save you anywhere between 70-150 calories). I then microwaved for 45sec some frozen organic raspberries (about 1/2-3/4 cup), took it out of the microwave, and added plain, nonfat Trader Joe’s organic yogurt on top (1cup). I bought some large Food Network ramekins that work great for this type of preparation, and they are kind of classy to eat out of too. I felt like I was at a bistro.

TA DA!

MyFitnessPal is great because it can break down my diet on a meal-by-meal basis, and it helps me plan out my meals as well. And, it has just about everything that is found anywhere. Raw vegetables? They’re in the database. Random food from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods? That’s in there too.

So MyFitnessPal lets me tinker, too (again, back to the meal planage). Let’s say I wanted to have a more balanced carb/protein ratio (1:1), then I could sub the toast and butter for 2 large scrambled eggs. It comes out pretty stinkin’ even, and drops the calories a bit too (see below). If the yogurt/fruit combo is dropped, then the protein/carb ratio hits more of a 4:1 ratio which is quite appealing to some as a post-workout recovery meal.

And lastly, in honor of one of my friends who also started using MyFitnessPal, I thought I’d come up with this breakfast in vegetarian form, since that’s how she rolls:

Not too shabby. Getting in the protein is a little more tricky for vegetarian diets but this meal seems to have a great balance between protein (yogurt and eggs) and carbs (fruit).

What are you eating for breakfast these days?

What gives?

I feel like I have been punched in the face.

I’m not saying that because my face hurts. No, it’s just a metaphor. I didn’t actually get decked, at least as far as I am aware.

The fist came from the photographer friend of mine that was at Kansas 70.3, which I raced stealth-style a few weeks ago. I’m not going to share the photos out of embarrassment because my ego won’t let me show you. I didn’t tell you I was doing Kansas, you see, because I wasn’t sure I was going to be doing it. I signed up before Wildflower in hopes of garnering the Double Whammy- an ITU long course championship slot (WF), and a LasVegas World Champs slot (KS). Obviously, I didn’t get either of these. And thus, you see, I sort of, kind of, well… quit triathlon this year, in a weird roundabout way. After Wildflower, with my piss-poor performance and my frumpy figure transformation from a winter of haphazard training, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do. Do I want to dedicate enough time to be good at this again, or do I want to just be complacent for the time being? Can I convince myself to give up at work for the day and go train, or will I perpetually leave work to go home and eat peanut butter from the jar?

It wasn’t a question of whether or not I could dedicate time to train. It was a matter of whether or not I would. See, there’s a big difference. And the peanut butter was quite delicious.

There comes a time, though, when you gotta ask yourself “What gives?”

How did I get to this point? How did I not notice that I had the same behavioral patterns as this guy:

Ok, maybe I wasn’t that extreme. 

But I did have a few scares, after adopting a new friend,

…that I might turn into this lady:

Oofta.

Now I am asking myself: What gives?

In an effort to get back down to “Normal Megan Fitness” level, I’ve made a few changes. This isn’t just weight-related, it’s mental-health related too. And it should be noted that although I did get in some really excellent training over the last six months (thanks to killer training plans from John Hirsch), it’s incredibly hard to realize the level of fitness I may have gained when I’m carrying around an extra 5-10lbs. And, to be completely fair, I am a terrible listener and I didn’t do everything John advised me to do in my build up to Wildflower. Anyway, my body literally changed in what seemed like overnight (although I know it was really more like four months’ worth of peanut-butter-for-dinner). And although I have been very hesitant to count calories and obsess about my weight (this is the first time I’ve kept track of calories since I was 20), I’m happy to say that I feel good about the changes I am implementing. I’m doing this the healthy way, and I am being flexible with the margin.

The changes include:

  • Counting calories using MyFitnessPal: With MFP, I can establish my own calorie limits, and it incorporates exercise as calorie “credits” to make sure I don’t under-eat. Since I don’t have a scale in my house, I am using measurements of my waist and thigh to track my progress. And, since I am having a hard time fitting into my jeans, that will be a good metric as well.
  • Drinking more water: I started making it a goal to drink at least two bottles of water (with Nuun) at work each day, and the new Nuun flavors really help make that happen. I consumed half a tube of Fruit punch in one day…

  • Embrace my new training friends: One thing I get mopey about is not having my Team Mega Tough gal, Margot, to train with on a regular basis. We’d always head out on the weekends for long runs, meet up on Wednesdays after work to run from the gym, and roll out on our road bikes (or trainers) for a few hours in the evenings. She was always Miss Reliable, and I would never say “no” to her, even if I was really looking forward to sleeping in past 7am on a Sunday. Perhaps partially to do with this, I haven’t taken full advantage of is the plethora of people here that I can train with. I think part of it is that I know I won’t be able to find a suitable substitute for her, which is not really the point. I don’t need to replace her, I just need to keep doin’ what I was doin’. So, for the last month or so, I have been trying to make more of an effort to get to the group events, including TrailNet rides (of which I am now a member) and some special St Louis Tri Club events. It was partly because of the St Louis Tri Club that I raced KS 70.3 knowing full well that I wasn’t going to come close to having the race I wanted to have, because they are an encouraging lot. The group literally had over 2 dozen members in Kansas cheering and racing and sherpa’ing, and it was an amazing experience that I’m so glad I didn’t miss. Within this group, I’ve met some people that can really push me to get better and faster, but more importantly, to have fun!

  • Running more: One thing that has drastically changed in my training this year compared to previous years is that I have been running much, much less. I was swimming more yards than I was running. It was weird, but it kind of makes sense for triathlon: since running is my strength, and I needed to work more on my weaknesses like swimming and biking. But, truth be told, running keeps me sane in a way that biking and swimming don’t. Running also makes me strong. Yesterday, I tried doing plank exercises and noticed that my core is a lot weaker than I’ve ever remembered. This may be because I don’t make time to weight train or do any core strengthening sessions, which was something I didn’t really need when I was running more (running just naturally does that for me). But truth be told, I simply missed running. So I am making it a goal to run more.
  • Getting back to the grid: I miss putting pieces the puzzle together, so I have spent the last month or so diving into a pile of endurance training books, in part thanks to discussions I had with Sonja at Wildflower. I got my exercise physio book back from up north, and I dug out my go-to references: Advanced Marathoning (Pfitzinger) and Jack Daniels (the coach, not the booze). As my training compiles over the next few months, I’ll reference back to my handy Excel spreadsheet that lays it all out. And I’m even printing it out now and posting copies of it at my desk and on my white board. Sorry greenies, the trees are goin’ down.
  • Doing what I know: Running is what I know, so naturally, not running made me feel lost and confused. Does that mean that I really quit triathlon? Hell no! I frickin’ love triathlon. It’s so fun, so versatile, and I really think I can be quite good at it if I focus and dedicate enough time. And even though I’ve only been doing triathlons for about 2 years, it’s definitely something I know, and something I can see myself learning even more about in the coming years.
  • Giving a little: I love my job. I think I come home every day and literally say “I frickin LOVE my job.” Granted, I say this to my cats, who don’t give two shits about whether or not I like my job or anything else for that matter. But there really is nothing better than feeling like you are carving out a niche- little by little- while expanding your intellect and absorbing information like a sponge and sharing that information with others. I feel like I am working on stuff that will really make an impact and it’s so rewarding to see how these things can translate into the clinic. Over the last six months, my job has been the major, #1, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho focus of my drive, my energy, my everything. I think that I really needed to do that, to get to the point where I feel comfortable with my projects, where I can now contribute and to connect. Now that I’m into the groove and I am more confident in what I am doing in the lab, I think I can give a little back to myself in the form of time. I can, and I will, make time to train now where I didn’t feel like I could before (even though I really did have the time, I just didn’t go out and embrace it; I would have rather watch movies on Netflix and relax than go for a run at 7pm). And it’s easier to eat right and train when there’s a 5pm-out-the-door policy or an early alarm clock going off. I now reward myself for training with Netflix instead of deciding between the two, and if I get my long run done in the morning, like I did today, I can watch 2 episodes of Glee. It just feels right, finally. It didn’t feel right before.

So where does this leave me? I am crossing my fingers that this isn’t just a wave of motivation that has come and will soon pass. I really want to get better, to be healthier, to be leaner and be faster. I want to focus on the fun, but also look toward the future and build my efforts toward my next race, and my next season. Who knows what races I’ll do in what’s left of 2011; the beautiful thing is that I don’t really have to decide. For now, I can just train and have fun for now, while getting strong and healthy, and will still see the light ahead of me that’s shining brighter every day.

Just breathe

These past few weeks have made me feel like I’m on a roller coaster.

Who am I kidding? The past few months have been like an extended vacation to Cedar Point. Only, it wasn’t a fun vacation. Kinda like the one where you feel like you’re going to throw up the whole time but the ride never stops.

Although I didn’t throw up (that was a metaphor), I feel like I’m finally finding my feet under me. They are there, believe it or not, and I can use them to stand up, and stand tall.

There’s all sorts of things I could fill you in on, but I’ll just leave it at this:

I’m finally feeling better.

Layer by layer

It’s been awhile. It’s been quiet here.

I’ve been quiet. My mind has been quiet. My body has been still. Finally. Still, in the sense of not moving. No vibrations, no fluttering. No undulations or perturbations. Just still.

A layer of me, my peace and calm sensibilities, peeled off a few weekends ago when I was waiting in the airport in St Louis, trying to get out of dodge to visit my boyfriend. Trying; I say that, as if I were going to be the one flying the plane.  One thing I’ve learned is that nothing is in my control when it comes to traveling by air, especially when living in the land of tornados and flash floods. I was scared as I hid in the bathroom at the airport, not knowing that indeed, the tornado had just wrecked havoc on the main terminal. Needless to say, the 2011 Tornado of St Louis ruined my weekend plans, but I am thankful that it was only marginal damage and that no one was seriously hurt. Walking outside that night, taking a taxi home instead of the airplane to Houghton, just felt odd. There were trees uprooted and thrown across the highways, there were vehicles dangling off parking structure roofs. Windows were blown out of cars and bus stops, and it was strangely, eerily, calm.

Yet, even after experiencing that, I still can’t imagine what it must have been like for those who experienced the tornado that just ripped through Joplin, Missouri, yesterday afternoon.

Things like that, things like freak storms and mile-wide tornados; stuff like that is hard to grasp. Those who see the damage in real life say that it’s not something you can ever imagine. It’s not real, until you see it. And it’s not real, at least not for me or for you, really- because our lives go on without more than a flinch or a twinge of sadness after looking at the photos and videos online. Our houses are still standing and our lights are still working. Our beds are comfortable and dry and covered by a ceiling, surrounded by four walls. Our neighbor is still sheltered with a roof over his head and the trees are still planted firmly in our yards. But for the people of Joplin, their families and their loved ones, it’s all very real. The giant that came out of the sky, that stomped their neighborhood down to a sheet of paper, they saw it. It arrived at their doorstep and they didn’t have a choice, they couldn’t turn it away or pretend like they weren’t home. It came through their neighborhoods, without invitation and without warning, and it ruined their weekend plans. For many, it ruined their lives. For many, it took their lives.

Courtesy of CBSnews.com

It’s difficult to imagine what something like this – something so natural yet so devastating, something that causes an entire city to be torn apart, layer by layer – is. Something that leaves you raw, exposed, completely vulnerable. Yet at the same time, knowing that it is over – watching as the sun comes out, yet again – brings a sense of calm and quiet. It’s an unwelcome quiet for some.

At first, it looks like something from Resident Evil, or some other apocalyptic zombie-type movie.  But it’s not the movies, not for the people of Joplin. It’s real, raw, all the layers are gone and the emotions are just primal. Instinctual.

Below is one of my favorite photos from today’s images online. A couple’s joy as they find their beloved pet, amidst the rubble and debris. The smiles, the tears, and hugs. The relief. The layers are off and it’s like they are drunk with happiness.

Courtesy of CBSnews.com

I know not everyone in Joplin could experience this same sense of peace at finding the ones they love. Over 100 people are dead, and many of those who survived do not have homes to call their own any longer. It’s hard enough being alone, but being homeless too? All of a sudden, literally, in as much time as it takes to snap your fingers, your life can be changed forever.

Please check out the Joplin, MO Tornado Recovery Facebook page for information on ways to help those in Joplin.  Askinosie Chocolate is donating 15% from its retail sales to the Joplin rescue and recovery needs, and the United Way of Missouri is taking donations and registering volunteers.

It's race season!

This weekend, I enjoyed one of my favorite things: racing. I soaked it up in nearly all its forms. I raced, I spectated, I sherpa’d. I had a few firsts, too- my first ever road bike race (well, two, actually…) and a first place finish.

Saturday was a perfect day, both weather-wise and prep-wise. I could not stop reminding myself how much of a good idea it was to do the time trial and the crit at the Tour of Hermann. My friend, Annie, and I showed up about an hour before the TT was to begin, and as I pulled out my race wheels, I realized that I hadn’t swapped cassettes. So, I either had to go race-wheel-less or find someone with a chain whip. Luckily, I was able to get the bike assembled, race wheels and all, with the help of Annie and a nearby racer who had a bunch of tools. As I arrived at the start corral, I realized that my rear tire was a little low. A man in a leopard-print robe and oxford shoes recognized that I was clueless, probably because of the look of panic on my face and the fact that my race number was upside down. He offered to fix my number, and asked if I needed anything else- realizing that the first group of TT starters would be delayed, I asked him if he knew if there was a bike pump around. He scurried off, and came back shortly with a pump from the guys from Mesa Bikes. He pumped up my tire, and soon thereafter it was time to line up. I thanked him, and felt relaxed- calm- and was excited to get going.

I was nervous to do the clipped-in start. I thought for sure I could handle it, but I chickened out in the end. I started, clipped in, and hurried off to chase down the others in front of me.

Only I had a hard time catching those in front of me. Turns out, in road racing, time trialists that are spread out by 30sec are hard to catch. And, top that with the fact that there were quite a bit of Cat1-2-3 racers in the time trial at the Tour of Hermann, and I soon realized that I was not really the one to be chasing. I was passed within the first few miles by a few speedy guys, but I just kept my head down and my feet pedaling fast. I tried to climb the hills with a lot of power, telling myself that I didn’t really have to do the crit if my legs felt too tired afterward…

I hammered away, and rocketed down the hills. Finally, I saw a girl who had started 1min in front of me. Interestingly enough, on the uphills, I’d gain ground on her, but in the downhills she’d lengthen our gap. But, she was on a road bike, and I had my Plasma. The laws of physics were against me. My bike was heavier, more aero, and had bigger gears. Whatever.

The TT was 14mi, and I was glad when I was nearing the finish. My legs were burning, but it felt good, and I felt good. I felt strong. I felt redlined. I had no idea where I finished after I crossed the line- Annie and I disassembled our bikes and headed onward to the Crit.

Crits are insane. This crit was especially insane. The course was 1.2mi, and finished in a very steep uphill. It was not what I expected, but I didn’t really know what to expect. The Women’s Cat 3-4 were the first group to go, and we were in for 7laps. There weren’t many of us, but we were all tough.

After a few laps, the groups spread out. I did a bit of riding on my own. I tried to work with other women. I would yell “Let’s go get ’em” or “Come on, stay on my wheel!” as I’d go by. I was absolutely digging the opportunities to pass and get passed. I would pull up to a girl and try to get her to go with me. Because the field was so small, I think there was little room for attacking. The one large pack (of only 4-5 women) that pulled away at the beginning fell apart by lap 5. I started to gain on the women one by one. Every time I’d finish a lap, the announcer would say my name and tell everyone that I was his darkhorse and that this weekend’s races were my first road races ever. He then announced, to everyone, that I had won the time trial. The announcer, turns out, was the leopard-printed dude that helped me before the TT. In the end, I came across the line in 4th, having pulled away from the pack but not quite catching the third place woman. But, for my first crit against some really tough women, I was stoked.

And I had to make sure the announcer was right.

Had I really won the TT?

Heck yeah! For women’s Cat 3-4, I was 1st. And, my time was the 3rd fastest on the day for women across categories, only parts of a second out of 2nd. That was cool.

Road racing is hard. There’s strategy, and there’s grit. All in all, I think I am hooked. The crit was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be, but it was a lot more tough. Oofta!

After the race, Annie and I had a german-fare lunch and tasted some wine at the Stone Hill Winery (which is where the crit took place). We watched some of the mens races and part of the Women1-2-3 crit, and then took off for home. My friend Kenny G was to be coming to town to race the Go! St Louis half marathon the next day. I met up with him and his friends at the WashU track meet, and we then had a delicious pre-race dinner of spaghetti at my apartment.

The next day, I dropped Kenny G off at the race and then grabbed a cup of coffee to prep myself as the world’s best spectator. It was hot, and I felt bad for the racers. I also felt relieved to not be racing that day.

After Kenny finished (he was 44th overall!), we sat on a bench under a tree for a bit while we waited for his friends to finish the full marathon. The day got more miserable, as temps rose and the breeze never really picked up. Apparently, marathoners were asked to turn around at the half marathon turnaround if they weren’t there by a certain time, and quite a few runners went to the med tent.

I’m super-stoked that Kenny and his friends could come down to race. It was great to be a spectator, and I am really excited about living in a bigger city where races are more frequent and I have more opportunity to watch and cheer and volunteer. Spectating is tiring, though- I had to take a nap after standing around all day!