Category Archives: motivation

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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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.

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?

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!

Sigh no more

I don’t really like to think of New Year’s as a special event. It’s just a day like any other, and frankly, I don’t do well with resolutions or “how I’m going to change my life in a day” hulabaloos. It’s the same reason why I don’t practice lent (that, and I’m not Catholic). But, even though I tend to disregard January first as a significant day of change, I do still have this feeling of starting afresh. Jan 1 (well, Jan 3, actually) marks the start of focused training, since I have attempted, and failed, thanks to the move, new employment, and holidays. I’ve struggled over the last few weeks to stay focused; I’ve struggled with coping with life.  I have been sleeping a lot, I have been lackluster about running, and that’s just not me. Frankly, being an adult sucks, and I want to get whisked back to the time (about three months ago) when I wasn’t concerned about having enough money (because I could just take out a student loan and I split rent with a roommate). Without getting too mopey about it all, I’ve basically struggled with being alone, broke, and overwhelmed.

But, I can exhale now. I have a roof over my head, I have been paid, and I have food in my cupboards. I’m finding my groove at my new job, I’m committing to training runs and swims, and I’ve found a few people who could use my help as a training buddy as much (well maybe not as much) as I can use theirs. I’ve got a lot on my plate, but I guess that is what life is all about. One step in front of the other.

And I’ve found a little something else that can help. There are certain things that trigger emotions. Smells, sights, sounds- it can mean something different to everyone, but it can mean something nonetheless. Today, for example, I was struggling to find motivation to hop on my trainer, even though it was the 1st of the year and everyone and their dog was doing something active (at least that’s what Twitter would have you believe). And then I turned on iTunes, and it came to me. I played the song Mastermind by Mindless Self Indulgence and immediately threw on my bike shorts and got to work. Apparently, that’s all it took.

So I wanted to share with you, dear readers, my songs for 2011. These are the songs that are going to get me through the day, whether I’m waiting at the bus stop or I’m finding another gear on the trainer. These are the songs that are going to make me think about home, about life, about who I want to be and who I am now. These songs don’t define who I am; I didn’t write them and they weren’t written for me. Some are old, some are new. But they strike a chord in my soul and they give me something to hold onto. Some give me drive, and others give me hope, and that’s really all I need.

Shut Me Up – MSI

Breathe – The Prodigy

Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant

Ghosts and Stuff – deadmau5

Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear

Cosmic Love – Florence + the Machine

Animal – Miike Snow

Islands – The xx

Dog Days Are Over – Florence + the Machine

The Ghost Inside – Broken Bells

Wait So Long – Trampled by Turtles

The Cave – Mumford and Sons

What are the songs that are motivating you?

Real World, Real Food Wrap-up

Thanks to everyone for contributing, spreading the word, and getting involved with the Real World, Real Food Organic Basket Challenge that Sonja and I did last week. It was so incredibly fun.  A particular congratulations goes out to Kara for winning, but I think everyone who participated was a winner (of course!). There was a lot of heart and soul (and tummies) in the mix. It was a great experience to be involve with.

As far as a wrap-up goes, I think the biggest take-away for me was the obvious differences in food costs across the country. Surprisingly, for the same grocery list, Kara (who lives in a fairly rural area) walked away with a lower grocery bill than anyone else who did the challenge from a big city. I was especially surprised that I had the highest bill, even though I am in the most centrally-located city (St Louis is the midwest after all). I for sure thought I would beat Sonja’s basket price, since I live in a mid-sized city that – from what I gathered – has a fairly low cost of living. But, I was wrong.

There are some confounding variables, of course. For one, the list was the same no matter where you are. So, what is locally grown in one region is probably not available locally in another. And, what is easy to import in some places (like from CA to CO) might take a little more to get from the origin to a different destination (say, Michigan’s UP, or Missouri).  Secondly, I shopped in the city instead of on the outskirts, so I had to pay a bit of a premium (depending on where I shop, sales tax can be as high as 9.8%, and it turns out even food is taxed here … I think its around 4%?).

So where do we go from here? For me, the week’s worth of produce that I had all to myself forced me to eat real food every day. Instead of having nachos and cheese for dinner, I had to eat the fennel and cucumber and tomatoes and collard greens before they went bad. I admit, I didn’t get through everything by myself in the one week. Some of the stuff I stored in the freezer (shredded my zucchini and stored it in freezer bags for future bread!). But for the most part, it all went down my gullet. I realized, reflecting on the last week, that most of my meals were vegetarian, some were even vegan. I got a lot more creative with my meals, ate nuts and used olive oil in nearly every meal, and didn’t spend any money during the week by going out to lunch or grabbing a snack from the bookstore. And, as an extra bonus, I felt great all week. I felt sustained. My meals were filling, but not gigantic mounds of noodle and meat. In fact, I only had meat once during the week. I learned that I like fennel, and I like cooking with spices. I learned that I can make time to cook but I can also cook enough for myself to have leftovers to sustain me for the busier days. In other words, in the past week, I’ve really learned a lot about food, and myself.

It got me thinking more (oh boy, who needs that?!). It got me thinking about other cool things to try and what sort of plan I’m going to have every time I go to the grocery store. Yeah, I probably am not going to buy all-organic all-the-time. Unfortunately, I can’t afford it. But I am going to continue my habits of buying mostly in-season foods that don’t travel far. I also got thinking about another cool challenge: see how far our foods travel from the farm to the table. People have done this, they’ve written books about it. But something like this nationally, or even globally, might tell a better story as to why food is more expensive in some cities than others.

So to wrap up, thanks to everyone who participated, including:

TriMommy Kelly

Donna, all the way from the UK!

Miles, Muscles and Mommyhood

Kara, our RWRF Winner from Michigan’s UP

Muddy Mama

Jennifer

And thanks to everyone who spread the word and thank you to those who thought about what they were throwing in their cart at the grocery store. Also, thanks to Whole Foods Galleria for being convenient and friendly, and for having everything I needed to complete my list. Did I mention that, this weekend – after eating clean for an entire week – I finished off my sweet potatoes with a (rather large) side of nitrite-free bacon and farm fresh eggs from Whole Foods? I love their meat counter folks.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Winter Adventures – Lookout Mountain

I leave on Tuesday. I know, it has been approaching. This date has been set for several weeks now, but of course, I’ve been putting off packing and I haven’t submitted my dissertation yet. I’m still doing stuff in the lab. I’m not ready, even though I technically am ready.  Everything that’s supposed to say “I’m ready” actually says that I’m ready. But I’m just not.

One reason? I am not ready to leave this beautiful place. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. And I’ve been to a lot of different places, like Montana and New Zealand. And the UP is just different. It’s like a hidden secret, really. To be fair, I really shouldn’t be sharing its awesomeness with you for fear that I might get hunted down by the locals for letting the cat out of the bag.

But I just can’t help it. Last night, I went hiking at my favorite place, Lookout Mountain in Eagle Harbor. It was daylight when we started, and pitch black when we got to the top. I might be the only one that likes the shorter days; I like running in the dark, hiking under the full moon, but there’s something so awesome about the transition of between day and night. There’s also something so surreal about a walk in the woods, when you look away from the path and can’t see through the thick trees. There’s something so awesome (and I mean that in the way that inspires awe) about seeing the world from the top, the world that’s alive in the sense that’s not what we generally think of as being alive; the alive that is the trees, the cold, fresh air, the snow crunching under your feet. Not seeing more than a few houselights across the entire horizon.

And although I don’t really need to tell you why this is my favorite place, since I think it’s pretty obvious, I can show you.

On the way up Lookout Mountain

Descending from the top, with the town of Eagle Harbor in the distance

Stream crossing

 

Wanna be a part of Team Trakkers in 2011? #fb

Want to be a part of something incredible?

In 2010, I was lucky enough to be a member of Team Trakkers. At first, I was hesitant to apply. To be honest, I felt like a faker. I had only raced three triathlons in my life! I was a newbie, an amateur. I mean, what does a rookie triathlete like me think she’s doing? Why would they want someone like me?! I thought it was just a bunch of crazy awesome triathletes in-it-to-win-it. I mean, I talked with some of the members of the Trakkers team; they were legit! But I noticed something; they were all real people. They had families, jobs, lives outside of the sport. And they weren’t always on the podium; but that wasn’t the point. They were moms, dads, daughters, and sons; they wanted to be good role models for their kids and make their parents proud. They were always sportsmanlike, always encouraging others to make healthy decisions, both for the mind and the body. They were a part of a sport that added something more to their life, but it didn’t make their life.  It added character and discipline, but they would have had that anyway. In truth, they were all-around badasses.

I applied last year with an itch to be a part of something bigger. Words cannot describe how Team Trakkers has helped me grow. Being a part of Team Trakkers has been one of the highlights of my triathlon career. I’ve made incredible friends, explored new places, and have learned so much about myself as an athlete. I pushed past the limits of what I thought I could do, and have taken my athleticism to a new height. No matter how far I traveled for a race this season, I always had a family on the other side.  I’ve been able to share these experiences with my family and my friends.  I’m growing up, and Trakkers has been lent a huge hand in helping me develop and mature.

So now, I offer this same experience to you. You, too, can be a part of this amazing crew!

The application window for Team Trakkers 2011 is now open. Click here to apply. If you have any questions about the team, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Click on the icon to apply

Photo credit: Eric Willis

Warning: May be habit forming

There are some things that I just can’t get the knack for. Like remembering to put on sunscreen before a century ride. Or remembering to take my multivitamin in the morning. Some things just don’t come easy to me. I’d probably walk out of my house without my keys if I didn’t need them to unlock my bike (oh, wait. I have done that before, and locked myself out of my house in the process).

So when it comes to certain things, I really have to put forth an effort to make them habit. Fortunately, there are certain other things that are so fun, I make an effort to fit them in. One thing that I’ve gotten really into the habit of: training.

Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to my rest days. And I’m not so addicted to it, like I am to caffeine, that I need it every day – or else. But when I take a break after my A race or even when I have a recovery week, I’m itchin’ to get back into the game. And when I have a disappointing “check” race or a busy week at work, I yearn to spend some serious time in the saddle and on my feet.

There are definitely some tricks into making training a more consistent (and desired) part of the day. I schedule certain workouts, like morning lap swims and afternoon runs, with training friends that will help pour on the peer pressure if I hesitate or skip out of a session. Not only am I being held accountable, but I also use these sessions to catch up with my friends. Over the past few years I’ve started to get bored with just sitting and chatting (I find that I zone out… how rude!)- I think its much easier and enjoyable to be moving and catching up. So, penciling in a long run or two a week with my best friend really keeps me in the loop, and helps with stress relief as well.

I also set aside time to get in the training. Sunday mornings are reserved- I don’t work until the afternoon (yes I know, it’s Sunday. If you’ve been in grad school, you understand). I’m not a pro triathlete, and I can’t imagine spending 30+ hours training (at least, not while trying to finish my dissertation). And since I’m trying to wrap up three years of graduate work in the next few months, well… let’s just say putting the feet up after a 3hour run isn’t really feasible. But, I do the best I can, and bank on the effectiveness of my TriggerPoint Therapy (and splurge every once in a while on active release massage).

I write out my schedule, I post it somewhere I can see every day. I am holding myself accountable by writing my CedarPoint FullRev training plan on the calendar in our kitchen. This weekend, I made a few modifications to my season schedule, and by re-writing the plan, in ink, on the calendar that everyone in my house can see, I feel more committed to accomplishing the daily tasks. Plus, it reminds me when to rest, and reminds me to not throw down too many hard days in a row (which can be tricky to avoid with the swimbikerun).

One caveat of my habits: I don’t do diets. I just try to eat well as best I can. In high school, I developed a silent obsession with food, and I simply stopped enjoying it. There were “good” foods and “bad” foods. I read labels and counted calories and scolded myself for hitting more than a low-ball amount of calories (even though I was running collegiate xc and had upwards of 16hours of run training a week). I’ve since discovered that food is good, and good food is great.  I’ve reincorporated meat into my diet in a fierce way after being vegetarian for three years, and luckily, unloading gluten from my meal-worthiness lists has also allowed me to reincorporate dairy, so I no longer have any issues with that. My free reign on food is limited, of course, to my gluten sensitivity, but being that our cupboards are entirely g-free (Baberaham has adopted the same diet), I eat without too much regard. I eat more slowly and deliberately, and I know what goes into everything I eat. I eat fresh foods and whole foods and delicious foods (but I also eat a candy bar if I feel like it). But I’m not counting calories anymore or “saving” any up for a special occasion. I don’t weigh myself or have any pairs of “skinny jeans.” If I want to drink a beer, I buy a six-pack of New Grist (and it might last me a few weeks). If I want a candy bar, I eat a candy bar. If I am hungry for nachos, I eat nachos. And just in case, since long course training is ramped up, I have the freezer stockpiled with ice cream (and did I mention there’s an ice cream stop across the street?).

I make it fun (and make it a destination). Although swimming is my least favorite of the three (probably because its the one I’m least good at!), I am starting to really enjoy swimming, and I’ve been looking forward to my lap swims instead of dreading them. And since I usually train in the pool with friends, we make do with some really fun workouts, like endless relays and time trials. It passes the time and helps me keep track of the laps. And I definitely count the open water swims as a legit swim workout, and those are always fun. With running and biking, its not as difficult for me to have such a good time, and I typically look forward moreso to the intensity workouts than the “filler” recovery runs and aerobic days. But I remind myself that these runs are important too, and I plan out my run before I leave the house so I assure myself the right distance (and I can’t back out of it). That, or- I call a training bud and ask them to come along too.

My “off-season” is not really so much off as it is rest. Recover. Recoup. But I don’t fall out of habit. I still have a plan to follow, but its usually more flexible and includes more free-days where I get to pick a less-focused activity (like snowshoeing or kayaking). I still have friends to run with. I still have good food to eat. I still have beer to drink.

For me, training is the batter that makes the perfect cake. You don’t wanna whip up the batter too hard, otherwise the cake will not be fluffy and delicious. But you don’t want to forget the eggs, or leave the lumps behind. And with longer races, putting in the training the right way and making a habit of doing the right things can make your cake just-right every time.

Limits

A grad-school friend of mine encouraged me to listen to WNYC‘s Radiolab on our Union Break one summer morning. I got hooked, and found that listening to the latest Radiolab got me through lonely runs and labtime and writing in my office. It inspires me to think about different things than my typical research stuff. Plus, I really enjoy learning. So on this sunny, Sunday morning, I decided to listen to the recently released Radiolab instead of saving it for my drive downstate. It was quite possibly the best motivator to get me out of the funk and out the door on my bike.

Earlier this week, Jad and Robert hosted an episode entitled “Limits.” It starts off with an interview of Julie Moss and Wendy Ingraham, women who are infamous for their determination in the Ironman. Julie, who competed in the fourth Ironman, went into the race with very little endurance training, just sort of on a whim, and almost won the race. She had no real goals before starting the race, but when she found that she was second off the bike, she started to want it. She caught the lead woman within eight miles of the run, and wanted the win more and more. Here’s a recap of the run portion of that infamous race:

Julie and the Radiolab gang discuss the limits she faced in that fateful day. She refers to it as watching “a train wreck”- The limits of human physiology, moreso than psychological limits, are what forced Julie to crawl. Her muscles cramped, her legs slowed, and she collapsed. Her legs just didn’t work. Julie’s determination got her across the line that day – this little voice telling her to “get up” – forced her to crawl across the line.

Robert brings up a good point, in that the voice she heard didn’t tell her to stop, to give up. Julie interjects, that voice would be her ego, and that voice was overpowered by this other voice that changed her life.

“I made a deal with myself- A deal was struck. I don’t care if it hurts. I don’t care if its messy. I don’t care how it looks, I will finish.” – Julie Moss

So according to Julie Moss: Psychologically– there are no limits.

What about physiologically? David Jones joins the show, a retired physiologist that had performed a study on cyclists and energy intake. The hosts discuss the Central Governor Theory, which is basically the “limiting” signal generator that allows your body to maintain its energy reserves for emergencies. It tells your body “HEY! I am done! No more energy, no more activity, stop what you are doing because I ain’t got anymore juice!”- but really, the body probably has a little bit of reserves left. Basically, it governs your energy expenditure just like an engine governor (like on a school bus) limits speed. And just like an engine governor, it’s thought that it can be turned off.

So how far can you take your body? People race the Race Across America, Ultramans, ultramarathons, and all other sorts of incredibly tough endurance activities. How do they do it? What is going on in their brain and their body that makes them able to do this?

Find out! I encourage you to head over to WNYC and NPR to listen to the latest Radiolab podcast! While it won’t answer all the questions (and it will probably raise even more questions than what it starts with), Radiolab is science + entertainment, and it definitely makes learning more fun.