Monthly Archives: March 2011

SoCal-apalooza, or "this place does not suck"

I should start by saying, in bold letters (and maybe even a bit of underlining), that I love what I do. My job is awesome. I love academia, I love where I am seeing my career go, and I love being able to work closely with the best people in the world. I am being afforded such amazing opportunities, day in and day out, and I just can’t believe it.

Last week I was able to head to cool and sunny San Diego to attend a workshop related to my research. I got in on Tuesday afternoon, which was nice since the workshop didn’t start until midday on Wednesday. What did that mean? I got to get outside and enjoy the sunny SoCal weather, and I even got to make a new friend.

My coach hooked me up with his buddy who works near UC San Diego, and I was geeked to have a guided running tour of the area where I was staying. This dude was too cool, and I got to know him pretty well while we ran for nearly 10miles up and down the coast (and up and down the hills). I gotta say, his personal tour was pretty rad, and I learned all sorts of things. Like, for instance, that the library at UCSD was named after Dr Seuss (Geisel Library), and the trees that line the road to the Scripps Oceanography Institute look just like the ones in Dr Seuss books!

Morgan convinced me to take the route toward Torrey Pines State Park the next morning, so I rolled out after the sun came up and headed north. Lucky for me, the weather was great for the entire 10.5miles. But I guess, since it is SoCal, that’s not uncommon. I ran through UCSD’s campus and then through Torrey Pines, which was absolutely gorgeous.

Part of me was much too excited about the beautiful, temperate weather and the green-ness. The ocean, the cliffs, the big waves. The birds soaring, the running paths, the bikers, the bike lanes. The hills, with the climbs and the descents. At first, I thought, I’d be worried about living in Southern California and having a job. Mostly because I’d be worried I’d be able to keep my job. Wake up, its 60F and sunny, guess I’ll go ride my bike for a few hours! Oh, its still nice… hmm, maybe a swim in the outdoor meter pool? Well its already noon, might as well eat lunch, take a nap, go for a run. Before I know it, it’s 5pm and I haven’t gone to work yet. G-d, I would love it.

But then I got to thinking (logically). How much more balanced would my life would be? Now that it’s spring here in St Louis (I guess?), I am really excited to have the longer days. I’m excited to see the trees blooming and the grass growing. And although being excited about being outside does not help me to get into the lab, it does help me stay focused, make lists, stay organized, and get less distracted. It helps me to get my work done in an orderly fashion as opposed to dawdling or staying until all hours of the evening to keep getting stuff done. I feel like, by moving to St Louis in the dead of winter, that I put myself in kind of a bad place. I think I was a little burnt out, and I also allowed myself to get sucked up into the unbalance of work-work-work and lost focus of what makes me a strong person, because I didn’t have any desire to go out and run in the snow/sleet/ice crap or didn’t have anyone to go with. I know this sounds strange, but I think I do better, perform better, work better, think better, when I am also training better. I get on a bit of a runner’s high when I hit my good workouts and that makes me want to do other things well, too. Getting into the groove was hard when I moved. I don’t know if its worth making excuses, but I’m going to anyway. The days were short. The weather was terrible. I had a new boss who had big grants. I wanted to impress him and the people I work with. Of course, I still want to impress them. I still want to do the best job I can. Uh, duh. But I know that I can do the best work that I can when I can focus, and not run around like a crazy mouse in a cage. And not running around like a crazy mouse in a cage means running around outside in the blossoming trees and sun and spring. Running fast miles and up hills and biking for hours on the weekends.

It’s time to get out of the cage, my friends.

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The Spring Thaw: Icebreaker from Natureshop

Many of you know I have a passion for merino wool. You may remember a post I made last spring about my upgrading wardrobe. I also have talked about the GT goods on the Team Mega Tough blog. If it’s wool, there’s a good chance that I love it. But I have particularly strong love when it comes in Icebreaker form. I’ve been keen to this company ever since 2004, while living in New Zealand for 6months. Now I may be a bit of an elitist, because wool is wool, right? But not all wool is created equal. Icebreaker goes above and beyond quality and design. They do a really great job of making sure their clothes fit right, their socks last forever, and their lines are temperature specific. I would have never dared to wear wool in the summer, before I was introduced to Icebreaker’s Travel and GT lines, that is.

Recently, Natureshop contacted me and introduced me to their online retail shop. They have just about everything awesome that is wool. Wool slippers? Check. Wool sweaters? Double check. And best of all, they carry the best: Icebreaker.

There are many things I appreciate about Icebreaker, but what really makes this clothing company rad is their transparency, their versatility and their passion for the environment. Anyone who has ever been to New Zealand knows that the country is on top of their game when it comes to being green. And understandably so, it’s an absolutely amazing place:

'04, hiking in the South Island

Which is why when Natureshop approached me about the potential for working with them for clothing reviews, I couldn’t say no. They, too, are on top of their game when it comes to environmental awareness. Natureshop is a CarboNZero company, which means that they aim to reduce their carbon footprint by measuring, managing, and mitigating their greenhouse emissions. Natureshop is selective in the clothing/shoe companies they carry for this reason. Luckily for me and the environment, Icebreaker makes the cut.

Now what about their clothing? Well, if you haven’t seen it before, Icebreaker’s clothing line is 1) comfortable, 2) stylish and 3) versatile. Their sweaters, dresses, even t-shirts can be dressed up or down. Take the Villa dress for example:

It’s smooth and stylish, and can be used as business casual or for a first date (or a night out with the girls). It’s made from the Lite 200 merino, which makes it comfortable to wear on really hot, toasty days (or while dancing all night). It has a summery feel, with short sleeves and a wistful tie. But, hold on- that doesn’t mean its only a hot-weather outfit… The great thing about Icebreaker is that all their stuff can be layered. Grab a sweater to wear over top, or a pair of tights to wear underneath, and you’ll be comfortable even in cooler temps.

My friends at Natureshop agreed to send me the Villa dress, as well as a few other items from my yearly wish-list.  Oh. My. Gosh. Really?! What an amazing treat. Along with the dress, I received a pair of the Pace Legless capris and the Zenith top.

Pace Legless Capris:

At first I was fooled that these were wool. They are thin and light, which I was sure meant that I was going to be cold while out cycling in 40F weather. But of course, I wasn’t cold. Ever. Even though the tights were sheer and thin, they kept me warm and I could not have been more impressed.

The Pace Capris are a great example of layering from Icebreaker. They are in the 200 Baselayer line, but that doesn’t necessary mean they have to be used as a baselayer. I felt comfortable wearing them by themselves while running and biking, and the seams and GT wordmark make me feel like that was a-ok. I have actually worn them over bike shorts, as a way to keep my knees warm while mountain biking. I don’t have to readjust them while I am running, which is a chronic problem I’ve had with most other capris I’ve used for running, so that is a bonus, too.

And, I ran with them yesterday, on a very Spring-in-Saint-Louis day (where the temps soared to 80F and the sun shined brightly), and I felt comfortable. Although, I probably could have used some shorty-shorts to tan my very pale legs…

Zenith Top:

OK, this is hands-down one of the most stylish tops I own. Although I asked for a small, my friends at Natureshop sent me this top in x-small, which I was hesitant about but I am really glad that they made the executive decision. It fits perfectly. Its as if it were tailored to me. The color, cosmic, is a rich blue hue that is great for wearing year-round- I can wear it with a skirt, a pair of jeans, or a nice pair of slacks. I especially love the tie around the neck- not functional, but stylish, and that’s what makes Icebreaker stand apart from other wool clothing companies. The delicate worksmanship of their seams softens the look of their clothing, and even adds a bit of elegance. It’s amazing what a good sewing technique can do!

Villa Dress:

This is a dress I have wanted ever since the Icebreaker 2010 catalog came out. It is such a cute dress that I was sure I could justify spending $110 on it. Then I looked in my closet, and saw that I already have four (count em, 4!) other black dresses. So I talked myself out of it. Granted, I could have just donated my other dresses to Goodwill and felt appeased with the Villa dress… but I didn’t quite do that. Hell, I probably could have donated ALL of my dresses and felt glee with just the Villa.

Needless to say, when asked what item I really, truly wanted from Icebreaker, the Villa dress was my first choice. But, at first, I had a hard time justifying when I was going to wear it. I’m not much of a dress-wearing gal, but I really like wearing dresses. If that makes sense. I guess I am not big on dressing up for normal things like work and socializing. And the Villa dress… it seemed too nice to wear around town, to work, to normal things. But then I realized how silly I was being. First of all, this dress is comfortable. It was designed to be worn for normal things. Heading to the coffee shop? Wear the Villa. Going out to lunch with friends? Sure, where this dress. I’d probably run in it if I didn’t have a bunch of other Icebreaker stuff to run in. I wear it to work, I wear it to the grocery store, I even wear it on the bus… It is machine washable, after all. This dress has reconnected me with my hidden style, too. I went to Urban Outfitters and bought three different kinds of colorful tights to wear underneath, when the temps a bit cooler. Otherwise, I don’t even wear it with pantyhose, because that detracts from the smooth merino against my legs (ooh lala!). It’s just a black dress, after all, but it’s much less than simple. It has a very elegant neckline, and the tie around the waist adds to the beauty of this dress. The length is perfect, I don’t feel like its too short or too conservative, and it doesn’t ride up even though the fabric is light. And just like all the rest of the Icebreaker casual clothes I own, the stitching is well done and offers the dress its own bit of class in and of itself. In four words: I love this dress. [By the way… Anyone need a black dress? I’ve got four I have no use for anymore!]

Natureshop hooked me up with this really swanky gear that I’ve had on my I-really-want-that-someday list. I appreciate their support, and hope you support them by checking out their online shop. Right now, Icebreaker’s winter 2010 gear is on clearance at 30% off, which means you can get the sweet stuff listed here on sale.

Gluten sensitivity and my new favorite bakers

I’ve been gluten-free for over three years now, and without getting up on my soap box, I know it is a diet that works for me. I used to suffer from all sorts of digestive issues; cramping, bloating, irritability. I would always complain about how my stomach hurt, how I felt fat and gassy, how I felt uncomfortable. In fact, I tried all sorts of other things, including going vegetarian for two years, and what my friend calls a pseudo-gluten-free diet (I ate gluten free-ish, minus beer, when I was in New Zealand… turns out, that is not a gluten free diet whatsoever). Anyway, nothing made me feel better, until my boyfriend’s mother recommended I try out the strict gluten-free thing. She has Celiac disease, and so does her mother and daughter. I am lucky to have a super-supportive boyfriend who, although testing negative to the genetic assays for Celiac disease, threw out his gluten-full pizza and donuts in favor of sharing the same diet as me.
One of the things I have come to appreciate is the ever-expanding market for gluten free goods today. Three years ago, it wasn’t difficult, per se, but it wasn’t as easy as it is now. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like twenty years ago.  While the gluten free diet is more expensive than the regular run-of-the-mill diet that includes Wonder bread and Ramen noodles, it does encourage a follower to cook more for themselves, and to learn to love the kitchen. While rice and veggies are a staple in my diet, I am still able to enjoy my lifelong favorite foods, like spaghetti (Tinkyada makes the best gluten-free spaghetti noodles I’ve ever had), peanut butter and jelly (thanks to Larabar), and the best bagels I’ve ever had (gluten free or not) from Against the Grain. Sure, I cut back on grains because spending $7 for a loaf of bread is redonkulous, but it helps me to appreciate the (gluten free) grains when I have them.
My new favorite bakers:
Since moving to St Louis, I have found a few awesome places that cater to the gluten-free folk, and I feel even luckier to have come across a local gluten-free bakery (Free Range Cookies) that distributes their goods all over the metro-STL area. Free Range, if you haven’t already tried it, has the best gluten free baked goods I’ve ever had straight from the source. The owner, Linda Daniels, is a cute, peppy young woman who is seriously on top of her game. I was introduced to FRC because I saw the cocoa crinkle cookies at Kaldi’s, and when I saw they were made in Ferguson, I knew I had to take the hike up there. Granted, it’s not that far from where I live (maybe a 20min drive), and it was totally worth going to the cute town of Ferguson to check out the shop.

Free Range had several different samples to try, and I felt like I could have skipped lunch before going there. I stocked up on all sorts of gluten free goodies, including baguettes (which are doughy on the inside and crispy on the outside, just like gluten-FULL bread is. I don’t know how she does it…), more cookies (I got the almond quinoa and more cocoa crinkles), and even cupcakes. She had all sorts of non-cookie fare, including focaccia, burger buns, and pizza crusts. I couldn’t buy everything, but I did dish out for some biscotti because I love the Free Range chocolate chip biscotti.
Also, a friend of mine recently started a gluten-free diet because she was also having some GI dilemmas, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world. She made a few dozen Girl Scout Samoas, gluten free of course, and Baberaham brought them down this past weekend. Ho.ly.crap. They are so good. Crumbly shortbread cookie covered in chocolate, with a sweet coconut sugary ring on top. I felt like I had gone back in time to when I would eat Girl Scout cookies, only I am pretty sure these things were better than the “real” thing! They were bigger, too. So, good on you Sam, for jumping head first into the gluten free lifestyle. You are doing a great job, and I am so proud of you!
And, in the news:
Recently, the Wall Street Journal shared an interesting study from BMC Medicine about gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, and gluten intolerance. The article discusses how gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease differs, and it sheds light on different symptoms and classifications of the two disorders. Using gut permeability assays, histology of gut biopsies, and mucosal gene expression, differences between Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity were discovered.
What does this mean? Well, besides the obvious (gluten free diet recommendations for gluten reactivity across the board), there may also be slightly varying ways of treating people with gluten sensitivities. While Celiac disease can be considered an autoimmune disorder, which is now easier to detect based on serological tests for common antibodies, gluten sensitivity is much more difficult to diagnose. When people ask me: “How did you know you needed to be on a gluten free diet? Did you get tested?”, I tell them I just gave up gluten and simply felt better. Even if I had been tested, I may have turned up negative for Celiac disease.  But to me, following the gluten free diet made my GI symptoms go away, and that is what mattered the most. This new article in BMC Medicine attempts to uncover whether there may be other ways of diagnosing gluten-reactive disorders, even those that were otherwise considered ambiguous, like gluten sensitivity. There may be a difference between sensitivity (perhaps an innate response) and Celiac (likely an adaptive response), and there may also be potential for the development of molecular diagnostics that can help us to clinically assess each individual issue. Or, the patient can just try the diet, and see if it works. Some people need the answers, and that’s where a study like this can help get us there.

courtesy of WSJ.com

Indoor Deluxe: KickAss Cave

When the weather is like this:

I depend on this:

Training is now rolling full steam ahead, and I am stoked. 3hr trainer ride? No problem. Masters swim every day of the week? I am down. I am feeling back into the groove, and it makes me grin from ear to ear. My rest days that much more worth it. I am ready to crack the whip. I bought a new swimsuit and got two new pairs of goggles. My cupboards are stocked and my freezer is loaded. I am ready to go.

I “remodeled” my living room into the KickAssCave and its sweet. I got new speakers, a shelf for my computer to sit (so I can watch all the Netflix and Daily Show I can handle), and I even have room for several bikes in case I have a trainer party. Not to mention room for a yoga mat. But, you see… I don’t do yoga…

 

I use my yoga mat for my favorite sort of torture: TriggerPoint Therapy. My Quadballer and Grid are getting in overtime lately, and I like it (as I wince).

Motivation

I am less than 9 weeks away from my first big race of the 2011 season. NINE weeks. That is not very long. To be technical about it, it’s only 60 days off. Eek. All sorts of thoughts are flooding my brain, and I’d rather not go too deep into them without wanting to crawl under my covers and stay there for the next two months.

Life has been busy, and I knew it would be. It’s not like grad school wasn’t busy, but being a post-doc in a new lab, getting up to speed with different projects and figuring things out, well- it takes its toll. And while I feel like every post I make as of late is a woe-is-me about how being an adult completely sucks (it doesn’t completely suck, by the way), that isn’t the topic of this post. Rather, my focus today is how I am trying to get through the slumps, no matter what they are, and finding that it is easier than it seems.

Slump #1: Sporadicity of weather and life (yes, I know I made that word up)

The craziness of life and the weather go hand in hand. How, you ask? Well, One day, its a gorgeous 65F and sunny, with a small breeze, and I am just itching to get outside. What will I do? Ride my bike? Go for a run? Why not both? No problem finding motivation to get outside on days like that. So I make sure I get what I need to get done before 5pm, I make sure I go to bed early so I can wake up and run or swim before work, and its all good. But when its 30F and sleeting, however… that’s a different story. Why should I get up early when I can just lay in bed a little longer? So I get to work a little later, and then I find that I don’t really want to wait at the bus stop in the pouring rain. Work late? I suggest to myself. Why not get all this work done *now* (at 8pm on a Monday evening) so that if the weather is nice later in the week, you won’t feel bad about leaving before sundown. Except, it doesn’t work like that. Just because I work late one day doesn’t mean I can just take off early later. No, you see, I have a really good habit of getting into a routine, no matter what it is. Which means, it could be good for my work productivity, or it could be good for my triathlon training. No matter what it is though (and its usually only one), once I get on a roll -say, doing histology for my projects –  well, its hard to get out of the groove. And that is not a terrible thing. Being determined is a strength, a great personality trait. But it can sometimes lead to bad lifestyle changes. Like, for example, skipping lunch because I want to get something done, but that something is going to take me 5-6 hrs to do, so I don’t actually eat lunch until 6pm (most others would call that dinner).  Anyway, these choices spiral a little out of control, and I sometimes lose sight of what I am actually trying to do. So, I have to take a step back to regain my focus.

One way I can encourage myself to make sure I find balance in work/life is by having things to look forward to. I joined a masters swim group, and I have made friends that I look forward to seeing each time I go. I bought a CycleOps JetFluid Pro trainer, and its so sleek and quiet and smooth that I want to ride my bike all the time, no matter what its like outside. With the new trainer, I have been doing some really fun indoor sessions, including some Sufferfest videos and some from my coach. I’ve also been tinkering with my bike fit, and I’m rocking a new Adamo saddle which makes me not want to get off my bike fifteen minutes after getting on. All in all, I am just really finding a connection with my bike, and I have my one-bedroom hardwood-floors and brand-new-bike trainer to thank for that.

Slump #2: MIA embarassment

I missed a week of Masters swim at the beginning of February because of my trip to Puerto Rico. That was two Saturdays (one of my favorite Masters days), one distance freestyle, and the other random don’t-think-just-swim-what-coach-says workouts that have been making me stronger and stronger in my weakest sport. Because of the vacation, I didn’t buy a month pass for Masters, which meant I didn’t feel obligated to go and get my money’s worth. As the month wore on, and I had eighteen years’ worth of work to catch up on (that is at least what it felt like once I returned from vacation), I found myself staying at work until late into the evening, going to bed later, and not finding the ignition to get up and get my butt off to swim at 430am. Then, I felt like it was too late. I haven’t swam in two whole weeks! I thought to myself. If I go now, everyone will wonder why I am so slow and why I have been skipping out. So instead of swallowing my pride, sucking it up, and just going back and proclaiming “I am a lazy piece, but I am back because I want to get better”- I just didn’t go. That was lame. So today, I bit it and threw down for a month pass, and since I am going to be on a tighter budget now, I really do have to get my money’s worth.

Slump #3: Wearing the big-girl pants

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of pressure at my new job. To be honest, my boss is amazingly cool, laid back, and seriously smart. But, I think part of the pressure comes from within. I don’t want him to be ashamed for hiring me, to think he made a bad decision. I don’t want to let him down, nor do I want to be a bad reflection of my former boss. I want to be the best at what I do, but – of course – I have the humility to know that I won’t always do a perfect job. The job I have reminds me a lot of endurance sports;  I have such a passion to fully submerse myself into the knowledge, the literature, the research. I want to absorb it all and push the limits and do something amazing. It’s been challenging to both find the time and find the mental partitioning to do that with training, too. But I think that training has always been an integral part of my success as a researcher. It helps me find my center, it keeps me from spiraling out of control down a path. It keeps my brain focused and requires me to allocate time to specific tasks instead of going off on tangents for hours on end down a dead end. And I think I’m finding that groove, the style of structuring my day so that I can do my research and still relieve stress and find strength in endurance training.

So, here’s to getting out of the winter slump, no matter what it is (raises glass of milk).

What slumps have you been dealing with lately?