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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Spring Thaw: Icebreaker from Natureshop

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

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

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

'04, hiking in the South Island

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

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

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

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

Pace Legless Capris:

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

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

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

Zenith Top:

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

Villa Dress:

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

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

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

Gluten sensitivity and my new favorite bakers

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

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

courtesy of WSJ.com

Indoor Deluxe: KickAss Cave

When the weather is like this:

I depend on this:

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

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

 

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

Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

Slump #2: MIA embarassment

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

Slump #3: Wearing the big-girl pants

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

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

What slumps have you been dealing with lately?

SCIENCE! of bears

I couldn’t be more proud of one of today’s NPR stories. One of my favorite professors at Michigan Tech, Dr Seth Donahue, was featured in a story discussing the research of hibernating bears. Seth studies bear bone mechanics and osteoporosis, as well as the mechanisms involved with regulating bone metabolism during periods of inactivity.

Bears make a great, unique model for disuse bone metabolism, because they hibernate for 6 months of the year. During this time, they don’t really move and they don’t secrete waste.  If a human were to do this, they would end up with frail bones, weak muscles, and all sorts of other metabolic problems. But bears are different. Their bones maintain their strength even during hibernation, and as the bear gets older, the porosity of their bone bone (which typically decreases with age in humans) actually increases. Their muscles don’t atrophy during hibernation, either. Recent work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studied the longitudinal metabolism of hibernating bears using a hibernaculum, where the researchers could keep “nuisance” bears (the bears that get into dumpsters in towns and cause all sorts of problems for residents) and observe them during their hibernating state. It’s quite cool stuff, if you ask me.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Click on the image below to hear the rest of the story.

Boston: What's the Big Deal?

There’s definitely an allure to running the Boston Marathon if you are a runner. Personally, I don’t find it my supreme goal to race there, but I would by lying if I said it isn’t on my radar. I’ve passed up registering for four years now, and I’m not really sure why, other than I don’t really have the drive to race a big race like that just yet.

That being said, in my 50×50 list, I do have it laid out that I plan to do Boston as my Massachusetts marathon. I’ve qualified (so far) at every open marathon I’ve run (and even at one iron-distance race, if that counts, which I do not think it does). Last fall, when registration opened for the 2011 Boston Marathon , it sold out in lightning speed. So this brought the folks at BAA to reconsider the qualifying times. After months of deliberating, the time has come.

Yesterday, the BAA released the new standards. First, let me start by saying there is no real easy or perfect way to figure out these types of things. It’s not simple math; there is no real straight forward approach to saying one time is fast enough and another isn’t. There’s statistics involved, means and standard deviations, and the data might not follow a Gaussian distribution (in other words, the spread might not be normal like a bell curve).

If we look at the world’s best for guidance in determining these standards, for example, we see this: The fastest marathon time for a woman in 2010 was nearly five minutes slower than the world record, set in 2003 by Paula Radcliffe. For men, it was a different story. The fastest marathon time last year for men was less than a minute slower than the all-time best set just two years ago. So, the men’s times are a little closer packed together. This makes sense, in a way, because the faster you get, the more those seconds and milliseconds start to matter (ask any sprinter what their best 200m time is… you’ll likely get a different resolution than if you as a marathoner their PR).

OK… So let’s look further at the data. More recent years, men are getting faster and being more competitive with the world record in the marathon. Women, however, are having a harder time. In the following figure, I’ve compiled the top performances in history for men and women in the marathon. In the data, which I acquired on the website for The Association of Road Racing Statisticians, I made a list of the top 30 times in history for both men and women, as well as each time’s respective year of accomplishment. In the plot below is a graphical representation of the data, where women’s times are in blue triangles and men’s times are in red boxes. There’s an obvious difference in performance times; men are approximately 15 minutes faster (on average) than women. Also on the plot you will see two lines. The location of the colored lines illustrate the mean year from the top 30 times for both males (red line) and females (blue line). It is clear that the blue line for females occurs much earlier than the males’. Now, if you’re a statistics geek like I am, the data shows some interesting trends. Take for example the horizontal spread of the blue triangles compared to the red squares. I performed an F-test for variance comparing, first, the years of the top 30 performances between men and women. This gives somewhat of an idea about when the performances were made, whether or not the times saw any dramatic drops over history (if so, the dots should be clustered together) or if there has been any stagnation in performance. Interestingly (and somewhat obvious), there is a significant difference in the variance, or the spread, of years in which the top 30 performances were made, when comparing men and women. And, the F-test demonstrated significant differences in variances, underlining that there’s more than a 99.9% likelihood that the temporal spread between these two groups differs. This could mean a lot of things, but I see it as possibly suggesting that the men continue to beat down the door of the marathon world record, whereas the women had a few great years (in the early 2000s) and haven’t really got back there since. This is a difficult one to translate to the average marathoner; if we were to extrapolate these findings (from data of professional world-champion level runners) to the average marathoner, this might suggest that women’s personal bests aren’t generally improving year after year, whereas men’s (likely) are. In other words, men keep ticking off seconds from their best times, whereas women are just as fast now as they were about ten years ago. [I don’t like to extrapolate data, and I wouldn’t put any support behind that statement. I am simply being facetious).

It’s also interesting to look at the spread in the data for performance time as well. If you look at the vertical spread – or in other words, the variability- in the top 30 performances, for both men and women, you can see that the red squares are pretty tightly packed, whereas the blue triangles are spread out a little more in this direction as well. The F-test of variance on this data is also convincingly significant, Again, this could mean that there were a few standout times (notably in the early 2000s) for women. If we take out the women’s current-standing world record time (which is the blue triangle that rests in the 2:15:22 line), the vertical spread for women is a bit more similar to the mens. What does this mean? Well, again, the standout times are one thing. But also, men are at a point where they are having a hard time getting a lot faster. Women, on the other hand, have demonstrated their potential to go fast but don’t have the depth in performance history. It could be simply that women have not been running marathons competitively nearly as long as men have. The first time a woman broke 3 hrs in the marathon was in 1971, whereas men have been under 3hrs since at least 1908.

So what does this all mean? Well, it’s hard to say. In general, the time differential between the world’s best male and female marathons is about 15-16minutes.

But if we look at results from last year’s Boston Marathon, there’s a different story depending on what age group you look at. For the 18-39 age group, top men and women times differ by more than 20 minutes. In the 45-49 age group, for example, the discrepency between top male and female times is a little more than 30 minutes. How does one come up with a standard that is easily translatable and most fair to everyone? The BAA made a decision, based on knowledge and data, to keep men and women’s qualifying times separated by 30 min in each age group. Sure, this might make things a little more difficult for the 18-35 yr olds men, but how many men do you know play the “I’ll wait til I’m 40 to qualify” card so they get an extra 5 minutes? And, how would they get away with saying: “You 45-49yr olds get a gender gap of 30 minutes, but you younger kids in the 18-35 range only get 15.” I don’t think that would go over too well either.

As far as the rolling qualifying times go, it makes sense – at least to me – and I don’t think anyone who is confident that they can beat the qualifying by a good margin has to worry about getting into BAA in 2012. Besides, its I think it ups the bar a bit. The race this year sold out in 8hrs, but how many of those people were “squeakers”, people who JUST got under the qualifying time and were waiting by their computers hoping above hope to get in? I would imagine, a lot. In 2013, things will get a little more difficult, but I think the storm will calm when everyone sees how the 2012 registration goes. And for women to run 3:15 is not uncommon, per se, but it is an atypical goal, and it’s not easy. As a friend of mine pointed out, the “just making it” qualifying pace groups at some easy-to-qualify-at races are generally packed. Will these athletes try to get faster, or will they just run for the fun of it?

And think about how many women and men run the first round qualifying times? Is the race filling up really something to worry about? Now move down to the second qualifying time (which is 3:25 for women and 2:55 for men). Not as hard, but still- not easy. I think I finished around 40th when I ran a 3:22 at Columbus, and that was a relatively large and fast course. So the odds of getting in with a 3:25? Still pretty good. To be honest, had I really wanted to race Boston this year, I would not have got in (I think the registration date was when I was traveling for interviews). And with a 3:22, I would have been quite disappointed that I didn’t get in, knowing that some others in my same age group most likely got in with 3:40:59s. For me, I want to have wanted Boston be a competitive race, but not even giving me the chance to race takes me out of being competitive whatsoever.

In the end, I think the BAA did the best they could to make the playing field even. The new standards act as a sort of filter, and the time periods for registering under each qualifying time are still restricting. It’s not like they are allowing the 2:45 male marathons an entire month to register and fill up the race. And… maybe it is a little elitist, but hasn’t that always been the Boston way?

As an aside: No one complains about the NYC Marathon qualifying times, and maybe that is because of their amount of lottery and charity entries. Boston is making their early qualifying standards somewhat comparable to NYC Marathon’s guaranteed entry times, only not having those charity and lottery spots. In that way, it is remaining different than NYC and not falling under the peer pressure of making everyone happy (which is an impossible thing to do).

These thoughts and opinions are strictly my own with the help of data from online sources (hyperlinked).

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!