Category Archives: life

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!
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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.

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.

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.

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?

I guess it was time to take a break

February started with a bang. Actually, it started with rain, winds, ice, and snow. The snow wasn’t fun snow. It was the snow that has the texture of sugar, abrasive and hellacious. It’s the snow that you loathe if you’re a Nordic skier looking for the perfect wax. In Missouri, I have learned, the winters can be cruel. Not that I don’t know what winters are like. I have lived in the mountains, I’ve lived in the Yoop, I’ve seen- I’ve experienced- winters. But I’ve never experienced a real Missouri winter before. At first, I thought everyone was so full of sh*t. Really? A “midwest” winter? I mean, I grew up on Lake Erie, I went swimming in Lake Superior in December… and you’re telling me its cold and nasty in MO? Pshahhh….

But I bit my tongue. I nodded and grinned when people would say such things. And then, hell froze over. Literally…

Winters in Missouri are like a bipolar boyfriend who has never sought treatment. One day, it’s 60F and sunny. The next? It’s 30 and raining. Then the rain is freezing to the ground, the temperature keeps dropping, the winds keep picking up… and your car ends up with an inch-thick sheet of ice on it. Forget driving. Unless your car is equipped with ice skates, you ain’t going anywhere.  And on the first of February, this is exactly what happened. It started with some rain, some wind, and the temperatures dropped. The next day, the entire town was covered in ice, schools were canceled, the city of St Louis shut down, and everyone was in panic mode. Granted, I didn’t think we needed to buy out the toilet paper and bottled water at Schnucks (that might have been going a little far), but closing schools seemed entirely reasonable.

Luckily, I got to experience the entire week of lackluster road clearing and icy sidewalks before heading south. By the time the weekend came around, the temperatures were already rising and the roads were clear. I didn’t care, I was excited to leave if just for a week.

So. Where did I go? Here’s a hint:

What do tropical rainforests, deep-fried everything, and really awesome people have in common? …

Give up?

Each can be found in Puerto Rico.

I have never been to the Caribbean before this past week, and luckily the weather was tame and… gorgeous. I usually hate hot, humid places. But it wasn’t too hot. There was always a nice breeze from the Trade Winds, and the scenery was phenomenal.

The people were incredibly friendly, especially our driver George. But that’s the Puerto Rican way, I think. How can you not be happy if all you do is stuff outside?

Luckily, I wasn’t completely engulfed by the Puerto Rican lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I ate fried food (fried plantains came with everything…) and I laid in the sun a little too long, leaving my skin the color of lobster. But I did get in a few decent runs. I did some “swimming”- that included diving under and over waves, and body surfed. I hiked in El Yunque National Forest, and I even did some kayaking (granted, it was an eco-tour to see the bioluminescent bay… but I count it nonetheless).


I made it back to Missouri this morning, and I think I brought the nice weather back with me. I really can’t complain – as soon as I got back to my apartment, I grabbed my bike and headed out for a few hours in 60 degree and sunny weather. I feel refreshed, I feel ready to tackle work again, and I am feeling more motivated to train and get back into a schedule. I am also motivated to eat well again, get back into the routine of preparing healthy meals that don’t involve greasy plantains… although I have to admit- the Mofongo was quite delicious.

 

Wildfire

It’s amazing how much disorder can spread. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t have any life-threatening issues or sick family members. I’m in a stable relationship, I’m happy, I love my job. But even for normal, happy, shining people, we still have our ups and downs. Sometimes, it just takes a little match to set the whole thing ablaze.

Two months ago, I started a new job. A new, incredibly awesome job. And with the new job came new responsibilities, new things to learn, new things to read, new ways to behave. I was no longer the senior lab tech, I was now a humbled post-doc in training with lots and lots to learn. It has taken me some time to find the reigns, and I am still reaching. Whenever I would start to think I had a good grip, something would happen and I slip backward a little. But I was inching more and more closely to being able to handle it…

Mind you, two weekends ago, one of my best friends got married. When she got my RSVP, she called me up and asked if I’d like to read a scripture during the ceremony. Hello?! Of course I will do that.

So, to get to the wedding on the cheap, because I am still broke beyond all means and couldn’t afford the plane tickets at the time that they were <$600, I decided I’d drive from St Louis to Minneapolis. It was a hike, so I split it up- and I pretty much had to since I had surgeries on the Friday I was planning to leave. After work, I drove to my teammie Rachelle’s house in Iowa, where she put me up and entertained me for the evening, and then in the morning, I headed the rest of the way to Bloomington for my friend’s big day.

The wedding was a blast. It was an incredible honor, and to be a part of her and her new husband’s special day was an amazing treat. She looked like a princess, and I’ve never seen a couple more happy than they were. It was an absolutely beautiful day.

That night, I stayed with another friend in the Cities on Saturday night and headed back to St Louis on Sunday morning- it was a long-ass drive back- where my calorie consumption consisted of Monster Nitrous, popcorn, and candy bars. In fact, all weekend, I ate really crappy. And in the 50hrs I was away from St Louis, 22 hours were spent in the car. Yuck.

It took me a few days to find my groove once I returned, but to put it lightly- that week back was hell. My experiments were going haywire, and I couldn’t focus. Never mind that I couldn’t find the time to get in my workouts. It was hell. I was eating like crap (peanut butter and chocolate chips do not equal a well-balanced diet). I was making excuses. I was putting things off and losing my grip on my priorities.

The weekend following that hellacious week consisted of two days of rest and recoup- where I did laundry for the first time in weeks and I was actually able to get on my bike for more than 2hrs. Once I found my groove, I was (sort of) back in the game.

This week? I had a blast. I had a lot of meetings, have been able to actually get things done in the lab, and even made it to masters swim most mornings. Granted, getting home from work at 7pm makes me want to eat dinner instead of hop on the trainer, but I am going to try harder this week to make sure I’m either a) out the door by 5 so I can run/bike or b) get it done during the day (either post-swim or as a mid-afternoon break). And, of course, I am also getting rolling on two major projects, sifting through data on two older projects, and writing a grant that is due in a few months. So, anyone else want to strike a match for me?

I don’t really reflect on “Chi” or Feng Shui much (at all), and if you walked into my apartment and you were a natural energy believer, you’d probably croak. My bike trainer is always set up, smack dab in the center of my living room, and clothes are piled all over my bedroom. My mom would have a conniption. “This is not how I raised you!” I can hear it now… but I do feel better when there is order. I do feel a sense of relief when things are put away, there is cleared counter space and clear floors. I feel better when I look at the calendar and can cross everything off, when I am organized with my projects, and when my desk has less piles of journal papers because I have already put them into their respective binders in order to find them easier later. Anyway, there is definitely a balance in life when I can get on top of the pile of stuff that I need to do and beat my chest and yell “I have conquered you!”… if only for a brief moment. I’m still climbing to the top of the pile, but I’m getting closer… I can already see the crest.

And on that note, I thought I’d share with you this video of life in academia as a grad student. It cracks me up every time I watch it!

Drive versus Desire

Desire: To wish or long for; want.

There are many, many people out there with desires and dreams. In fact, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a dream of some kind or another. Some people share their dreams with others openly, as stories by the fireplace or on long runs in the woods, while others hold their dreams tightly to their chest, not saying a peep and just carrying on in their everyday lives. Some people give up everything they know to make their dreams come true, and others just plug along, their dreams up high, working slowly day by day to get a little bit closer to realization. Some are superstitious, thinking that if they share their dreams then they won’t come true, and also so that- if they fail -they won’t be ridiculed. Others think there is some communal support in sharing one’s dreams; by putting it out there, it’s a sign of commitment. Some dreams are big, while others are just within reach. We can be close to seeing our dreams becoming reality, or we could have a long way to go.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that everyone with a dream is capable of doing what they are setting out to. No, then the idea of the dream would be – well…- reality. Some don’t even set out to tackle their dream, they just continue to dream- maybe as an escape or something to distract them from their mundane lives. Or they think: “Hey, I really want to do this” without making attempts to move that dream within reach. There’s absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with dreaming itself, whether actualized or otherwise. Dreaming can get us through a lot of really tough stuff. I dream about a lot of things that I won’t ever have my hands on, like ending world hunger and having a million dollars to give to my favorite charity (and, of course, running for Miss America). But just dreaming isn’t going to make things happen. Just having the desire for something isn’t going to make it real. Things will sometimes fall into our laps and we can be grateful and make use of those wonderful gifts, but that’s just dumb luck (hey, I’m just being honest).

No, if we really want something, if we really want to see our dreams become reality, we need something a little more. We need determination. We need drive.

Drive: To push, propel, or press onward forcibly; urge forward.

A lot of people can say that they want to do things. A lot of people can do a lot of talking. I try to not be one of those people. Granted, I don’t usually say anything aloud that I don’t strongly feel I can accomplish. And there’s a fine line between knowing what you can do and just hoping, of course. (Yet, if we only ever did what we are capable of doing at that time, then what is the point of doing anything at all?) There’s a lot of merit in hope. Hope is what drives people to see a change, to base their dreams upon. Hope is a non-tangible necessity for anyone who wants to see a change occur. But just like desire, hope itself is useless.

It’s the drive that gets your places. Just like in a car, or on the bus. It’s simple physics, really, Newton’s First Law of Motion: in order for an object to change directions- to move – a force must act upon it. Drive is that force, it’s taking that step forward, toward our goals, to see them to fruition; or to at least the attempt. The attempt itself is worth more than a million dollars for some. And there’s a difference between dreaming and driving. Dreaming is stagnant, driving is moving. And sometimes, driving takes us to places we may never have even dreamt we’d go.

When I was an undergrad, I decided to go to grad school not because I thought I wanted to be an academic or some hot-shot medical consultant. Nah, I wanted to design shoes. I thought that by going to grad school in biomechanics, I’d be in a great position to apply for a running shoe company and design the next generation of shoes. But during my first year of graduate school, something changed. I wanted to do more. Don’t get me wrong, good running shoes are an incredibly important part of my life and I am incredibly meticulous about finding the right pair. But it wasn’t enough for me. To be honest, I felt like stopping where I was at, getting a desk job somewhere (to be a CAD monkey for a running shoe company); well, I felt like that would be settling. I had more work to do.

“What kind of work?,” you ask. While I didn’t think that I could find a cure cancer nor did I think I’d invent a special pill that would end world hunger (and mind you, I still don’t), I had other types of questions more pertinent to my field of study. And I had time. I was 23, and I was curious.

Luckily for me, I applied to grad school and was offered an opportunity to do what I wanted to do: ask more questions. Granted, I had a sub-par undergrad GPA, and I had big shoes to fill. Whose shoes? I had no idea. Someone else’s, that should be there filling them- but, instead, I was. I didn’t feel like I was the type of person who should be getting their PhD. I mean, really? Me? The thought of someday, someone calling me “Doctor”- it didn’t really make sense. But I went with it. And I had the drive to succeed. I had to prove that I was worthy, right? Someone else had believed in me, that’s why they offered me the job. Now I had to step up to the plate. I’m doing the same thing now with my post-doc. I’m intimidated… definitely intimidated. There are so many smart people with so many incredible ideas and questions. So much wealth of knowledge and resources. But I am here. Somehow, they either overlooked my CV and are kicking themselves for their decision, or they believe that I, too, am capable of doing great work alongside them. I’m no longer sitting on the bench (and I’m not sure if I ever really was, especially not the lab bench- that’s a big no-no); and it’s time once again. Batter up.

I approach triathlon, and running for that matter, with the same mentality. I don’t think I ever dreamed, as a kid, of doing triathlon. And, I am not some genetically-gifted girl with a phenomenally high VO2max and loads of fast twitch muscles that can swim-bike-run her way to a podium spot at every race. But I can train hard, I can recover smart, and I can roll with the punches. I can learn a lot about my body, my physiology. I know what to eat, when to sleep, when to rest. I not only have the drive to succeed, but more strongly, I have the drive to do what I am capable of doing as best I can. And I also have the passion to see what exactly I am capable of. Sounds tricky, but it makes sense to me. I have this weird, quirky tendency to take something, like triathlon, and play with it like Play Doh. I can change it from being “just a sport”, like how many normal people see it, to being something more. It turns into a test, a challenge. To me, it’s a treasure-trove, full of dreams ripe for picking. What am I capable of today? I often ask myself. And I have no doubts, of course, that I can strike out. I can miss out big and fall flat on my face, I’ve done it before (literally). But sometimes, I can hit a home run.

Our drive is what gets us there. Where is there? I’m sure my colleague, Dr Seuss, has a book about it. It’s different for everyone. Ultimately, it’s to our goals (or closer to them anyway). It’s getting us to our potential. Our true potential, not just the potential that someone else may have outlined for us.   Drive is what we do to demonstrate we are capable, and we are passionate. Our drive is our best tool to succeed.

Speaking of drive and determination, my friend Sam has started his own initiative: To hike all four major through-hikes in the US consecutively. And right about now, he’s trucking along the North Country Trail in New York, pursuing his dreams by putting one step in front of the other. Good luck, Sam!