Tri Not to be a Chicken

dissertation, goals, running, swimming, training, triathlon

Confession I: I used to be a total daredevil when I was younger. I think growing up on a dairy farm skewed my idea of “dangerous.” My sister and I would pile up hay at the bottom of a haymow and jump off. We would climb up the sides of silos to see who would go up the highest. We dared each other to grab hold the electric fence (explains a lot, ha!). I grew riding around fast as I could on four-wheelers (sometimes falling off).

Confession III: I’m a total chicken now. There are so many things I’m afraid of now. I’m scared of flying (Bruno had to practically hold my hand through the whole flight from Madrid to JFK in New York), scared of driving (I almost never drive), scared of large groups of people (hello, feeling suffocated), and scared of riding my bike (I had a bad bike accident several years ago, breaking my left elbow).

The day after my half-marathon I signed up for the Williams Bay Triathlon. It takes place September 22 in Williams Bay, Wisconsin on Lake Geneva. It is a sprint distance: 500m swim, 13 mile bike, and a 5k run.

This place holds a special place in my heart. My grandma grew up in Williams Bay. My great-grandma cooked for the mansions that line the lake. It was (is?) a popular summer vacation spot for Chicagoans. Legend has it my great-grandfather was an excellent athlete and would regularly swim across the lake and was even such a good hockey player that the Chicago Black Hawks wanted him to play for them. His mother wouldn’t let him go. All family legend of course. Lake Geneva is a family vacation spot, a place I grew up swimming in during summers. I look forward to swimming in the lake again and doing something small to honor my family history.

I’ve made a mixture of the Hal Higdon half-marathon running three days a week plan plus the Joe Friel beginner triathlon plan. My goal from here until I finish the Serious Series in early August is to run three times a week, bike twice, and swim twice. After the Legend half, I’ll focus more intently on brick training, etc. I am excited to switch things up and I am excited to finish off the season with something different. I can maybe count on one hand the people I know of who have done triathlons (I think like three people, maybe?).

I only have a mountain bike, the same one from my accident. It is rickety and feels a bit like a death trap (oh hi, fear!). I have plans for replacing it before the triathlon, but it will have to wait until the end of the summer (lest I fail the Dave Ramsey commandments of fiscal responsibility). But for now, I put an odometer on my bike and a helmet on my head and as of last week have been riding around town.

And it is nice. I honestly never thought I would like cycling. Even when I would go to and from work on a bike (see above about being scared to drive), it was kind of a drag. But I think now, because I have an end goal, a plan. I find myself looking at bikes, researching bikes, and talking about bikes. I work in the archives of an academic who was known for his cycling and I became very excited finding a letter on how many miles he cycled a year, advice for the newbie cyclist, and buying your first bike. I never expected this interest to happen, but it did.

But it is also a little scary. I think I’m still afraid from my accident. I get nervous about going downhill, like to the point that I probably can’t really take advantage of it because I get that heart racing “it’s too fast” feeling and start tapping the breaks. It is both exhilarating and terrifying. Every time I go out I become a little braver.

And that is what I most appreciate about this new training plan, it really truly shakes things up. It is not just longer (which I’m not actually sure if my body would hold up to right now, to be honest), but it requires two different sports, one of which I can barely do (bike), and one I haven’t done in over a decade (swim). It forces me to be brave with my biking, brave with cutting down running from four to three days a week (yeah, I know that four is barely any and I barely ran over 20 miles a week anyways, but still, different for me).

Even more, it forces me to be brave in changing my goals. I always wanted to go longer with running. I still do, but I think sometimes I want to do too much too fast (I had a solid seven mile run! Let’s look at 50 mile training plans!). And I’ll say it again and again and again. That dissertation is number one priority. I have to do things that do not get in the way of my being able to think and work well most of the day. Sometimes being brave is just being honest with where you are.

Anyway, I’m feeling pretty excited about training right now and I am definitely not going to be a chicken.

xo, Ali

 

To Build a Fire, Pt. 2

daily life

Back in February, I mentioned I was taking a Wilderness Survival course. Part of my interest was a desire to return to the outdoors. We have a few camping trips planned this summer, but I’d like to be able to hike, to see more, to be really out in the wild. The other part of my interest was to be comfortable with failure.

32078674_2037758486546100_9163782750057005056_n.jpg

Preparing to leave the comforts of a messy kitchen into the wild.

 

Today was the culmination of the course. We had a practical exam: in twenty minutes build a fire, boil water, and make a shelter. And a written exam: 25 questions, short answer. But of course, as Bruno said, we’re never really done.

It was not my best. I mean I did it. I lit my fire, I boiled water. I made a killer trucker, hitch, and slip knot to set up my shelter. But my fire was ever expanding, with the instructor having to put part of it out (this might not be me, but the wind) and I burned up my ferro rod in the fire, so if I were in a real wilderness survival situation I would be…as the kids say…S.O.L.

The written exam was worse. My sense of direction is still non-existent. Given that I was sick on the navigation day, I still have no idea how to use a compass. On the plus side, I do know what declination is. Also, in full disclosure, with the dissertation being the priority, I only prioritized studying for this exam about as much as you could expect. Still. As a normally A student, probably not my best work.

As I left, I began to fall into a “that was not perfect, or even remotely good!” meltdown. I began to fall down a shame spiral. Me: “I said EAST and it was WEST. I am such a moron! I probably seem so careless with my fire. If we were in California, we would all be totally screwed right now.” Bruno: “I thought we were doing this for fun?”

But I caught myself doing it. And I stopped. No more ruminating.  I don’t feel perfect and I’m definitely going to have to pull out some Brene Brown after this, but I feel ok.

Practical knowledge is hard for me. I’ve always been much more of a theoretically minded person (thus the Ph.D. in political theory). That saying about book smarts and street smarts is basically made for me. I can read you Rousseau in French, but common sense skills have always been a struggle.

By my own measurement my “street” or rather “wilderness” skills have improved by leaps and bounds.

Before I started this class, I could not start a fire. I would have thought food would be the first thing to look for in a survival situation (first things: climate control and water). I would have no idea that blue is the best color for a shelter due to its visibility and how map north is different from true north (theoretically, I still haven’t figured out how that works in practice yet except that it involves drawing lines). The only kind of knots I could make prior to this class is the knots that form by not properly putting my necklaces away, and now I can do three different kinds. Not only can I use a knife, but I’m a proud owner of a “survivor” knife that I keep in my Kate Spade purse (balance in all things).

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Look ma! Emergency shelter!

 

I could not find my way back from a bad situation (to do: sign up for a navigation/map reading course), but I think my chances of doing ok in a bad situation have significantly improved beyond what they were in January. And that, my friends, is a success, no matter how I mucked up the test. What is not lost is my enthusiasm.

Onward!

xo, Ali

 

Monday Miles : April 30 – May 7, 2018

monday miles, training, triathlon

For the most part, I took it easy this week. I felt pretty stiff and tired until the weekend. I tried to stretch it out and so other things than running. That is, I took out my piece of you-know-what mountain bike for rides and got in the pool. Aside for Thursday, when I got caught in a downpour and thunder storm, I run slowly and just enjoyed being outside.

I feel, for the most part, recovered this week. I don’t plan on running too much more, but I’m hoping I’ll feel less stiff and tired while running. I’m doing something completely new tonight and going to CrossFit, so I’m sure that will be interesting. I’m in a quest to get stronger, but I find that when I lift weights on my own I’m about 99.9% that my form is all wrong, so I get “stronger” sure in the fact that I lift more weights, but then usually the next thing you know I have a chest injury (which happened last year). From what I’ve read about it, Crossfit is controversial for runners (for good reason too), but I’m only hoping to make it a twice a week thing rather than an every-single-day-it’s-my-life thing. Something different. Something interesting. We’ll see.

4 / 30 : JasYoga Hips and Hamstrings reset. Foot mobility: 20 times pick up golf ball with each feet, toe yoga for 2 minutes each foot, roll out on golf ball 2 minutes each foot.  Romwod for mobility. Still pretty sore from all the hills from the half-marathon on Saturday.

5 / 1 : This was my first swim work out in over ten years. Ten minutes. Swim to one side, wait 45 seconds, swim to the other side, wait 45 seconds, repeat. 250 meters. I thought I was going to run 4 miles after this. Hilarious. I was on the treadmill for 35 minutes, ran for only twenty minutes, ultimately moving 2.7 miles. Hip & IT Band mobility. Romwod.

5 / 2 : Another new thing. I road my bike. JasYoga Pre-Ride Warm-up.  30 minutes bike, 5.8 miles. JasYoga Post-Ride Reset. Rolled out quads, hamstrings, foot mobility. Romwod.

5 / 3 : 3 mile run. It was kind of drizzly outside, but weather.com told me it was only going to be light rain. And then, the deluge. Rain. Hail. Lightning. I did not bring a phone with me, so I could not call Bruno. I stood underneath an awning on campus until the right moment to sprint home and sprint I did. Still got my three miles in, though. Romwod.

5 / 4 : REST.

5 / 6 : Easy, easy, easy 8 miles. Walked 1 mile, ran 6 miles, walked 1 mile. I used a heart rate monitor to follow and boy. I tell you what. I know I’m not the fastest runner or even the medium-est (I know, it is not a word) runner, but I’m very slow aerobically. I need to work on that. Like a lot. Despite the slow crawl of a pace, I had a great time.

5 / 7 : 30 minutes, bike. 6.1 miles. This time I took a hillier route. I can run up hills faster than I can bike them. Something to work on for sure.

Total : Swim: 250 m. Bike: 11.9 miles. Run: 13.7 miles.

xo, Ali

 

Favorite Things : April 28 – May 4, 2018

favorite things

So far it has been a nice and relaxing morning today. I was planning on going for a swim, but the pool is closed until next week. I made myself some tea and read for about an hour. I’m hoping to get a few more things done before I head into work at the archives for the day.

Nothing too exciting is planned for the weekend. I have a massage this afternoon and we’re going to have dinner with some friends of ours. I’m hoping to run six miles tomorrow, but we’ll see how the legs feel. I’m trying to take it easy, as I have felt more wiped out and stiff than usual on both runs that I’ve had this week.

And so, without further ado, this week’s favorite things.

An important reminder: travel is no cure for the mind.

Memento mori?

Tips for life-long athlete performance.

Probably something I should start doing: mapping my week for productivity.

Two great posts from my friend Emily. One pre-race. One post-race.

Great post on mental toughness.

Running and a sense of purpose.

Have a great weekend!

xo, Ali

 

 

 

Me vs. the Siren Call of the Internet

daily life, dissertation, goals

I have found my biggest struggle in writing my dissertation has been the siren call of the Internet. I don’t even think about it. I’ll be stuck, thinking of the next word I want to write in a sentence or how I want to phrase a certain argument, and it is like my fingers habitually type in “Facebook” or “Instagram” or “Michigan trail races.” I’ll be on a roll, listening to some tunes, cranking out some words and next thing you know I’m looking at a shirt on Everlane fantasizing about having a daily uniform so I don’t have to think about what to wear everyday. I know I’m not alone on this. Cal Newport addresses the problem of social media and the internet in Deep Work. He recommends quitting.

But productivity is not the only thing that I think social media takes from me. I will just be going about my day la-di-da and I’ll check facebook — I’m about to admit that I’m not the most rational person in the world — and someone will be wrong on the internet (gasp!). I’m not one to facebook philosophize, but I will think about it. I think about what I would say, you know, if I were the type of person who wanted to get in political arguments on facebook. I will ruminate. I will check to see if anyone has said what I think should be said. It takes mental space. Space that could be devoted to Rousseau, planning this class I’m going to teach in the fall, or just feeling peaceful.

The funny thing is is that I try really hard to show up for other people. If we are out to dinner, out for drinks, or out for coffee, you have my attention. I will probably not pull my phone out. But when it comes to my own life, I am easily distracted. Which I guess means, I don’t show up. Stirring the pot while looking at Instagram? Done it. Taken a relaxing bath with phone in hand? Done that too. Sat outside on the porch to read a book and drink some tea, but ended up looking at my phone for most of the time? Guilty.

And so this month I deleted Instagram from my phone. I’ve had facebook off my phone for awhile now. For the past week or so, after dinner, I’ve been turning my phone on airplane mode. This has not always been successful. Last night, I spent a good amount of reading time googling “crossfit and running” (a very contentious issue!). Today, I think I checked Instagram twice on my computer. I’ve typed in facebook out of habit. When I should have been doing the readings for the class I’m going to teach, I spent a lot of time looking at articles on dirtbagging (our rent is up in mid-June, but we cannot move into our new place until July, so technically “homeless” for two weeks. I’m trying to convince Bruno we should dirtbag during them. He is not persuaded). So, I have yet to overcome my need for internet distraction, but I do think I am making improvements.

Ultimately, the objectives are: no Instagram or Facebook during the week, only on weekends. Weekends only. Turn off the phone after dinner. No more googling things when I should be working. More peace. Write and read more pages, less screens. Less getting mad at the internet. Less trying to persuade Bruno we should be dirtbags this summer.

May is the month of me vs. the Internet.*

xo, Ali

*I get that this is a blog on the internet. But I think I’m being productive here! This entire post was done without searching around on the web, a victory in itself.

 

 

The Smell of Chlorine

goals, swimming, training, triathlon

Yesterday, I put on a swimming suit that made me look like a seven year old. I went to the college rec center, tried to find the entrance to the swimming pool, sighed with relief when I found it, and sighed with further relief when I found that there was only one other person in the pool. I awkwardly sat my towel down with my flip-flops and hopped in. I struggled and then gave up on my swimming cap, put on my goggles, looked at the clock, and began to swim.

When I was younger I was a water bug. I have baby pictures of me about to burst with joy being in the pool. Afraid of the water? Not me. I remember taking swimming lessons, but I do not remember not knowing how to swim. I wanted to be at the pool all day every day. I pretended to be mermaids with my sister, constantly trying to touch the bottom of the 12 foot (I was maybe 7 years old at this age), diving off the diving boards, and ate all the glorious Swedish Fish in the world (always associated with summers at the pool for me, 1 penny = 1 Swedish fish, people!). My oldest friend, Paige, and I would hang out at her grandparents fish farm (doing what else?) swimming in a large pond.

I’ve never been afraid of the water. This is probably why I opted to take a ship across to Europe rather than fly for our honeymoon. This lack of fearfulness around water has probably led to some irresponsible decisions. I mean what kind of parents let their elementary school kids swim in the middle of a 20-30 feet deep lake without life jackets? Mine. In their defense, it was the nineties and we were strong swimmers.

lifepreserver

Rocking my Minster Marlins swim suit. Life belts? Who needs ’em?* 

 

By the time I was the age when I could start swim team, I was at the pool all day. I was never very good, never went to regional championships, and was usually in second or third heat, but I have blue ribbons from those heats! I swam back and breast. I remember really enjoying it until I got old enough to be “too cool” for swim team. I did one year of winter high school swim and did not swim again.

I have been playing around with starting to swim again for awhile. After the half-marathon, I kept telling myself. I looked up beginners swim work outs. I bought a suit, some goggles, and a few swim caps. I watched a few youtube videos on form.

And yesterday was the day. The smell of chlorine evoked so many memories. It reminded me of the time I did not use goggles, opening my eyes in the chlorine, and swam so much this way that I could not open my eyes because they were so red and painful from the chemicals. I laid on the couch with a wash cloth over my eyes. It reminded me of the time Paige and I spent all day at the pool swimming and planning on how we would clean the Miami-Erie Canal while making large taffy like creations with fruit flavored tootsie rolls. It reminded me of the weird “beep” the start at the beginning of a race would make. A lot of these memories are from around twenty years ago — that’s how long it has been.

My first swim work out called for only a ten minute swim. Swim one length (25m), wait 30-45 seconds, swim another, repeat. I could only swim five laps…so 250 meters. And I was wiped out exhausted. I know this is not very much at all. I know there are swimmers who do 3000 meter work outs. I’m pretty sure my form was garbage, I kicked my feet too much, and towards the end I was struggling with staying in a straight line (actually, I struggle with this while walking too). But I was satisfied and happy.

I already cannot wait to get back in the water again. My goal for this next twelve-week training period is to try to swim twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. The pool is closed due to finals (I think most of the lifeguards are undergrads), so I will not be able to swim again until next week Friday. I’m already excited for it, hoping to get in just one more pool length. I’m looking forward to smelling like chlorine again.

xo, Ali

*Just kidding kids. Be safe.

 

Race Report : Trail Half-Marathon in Pinckney, Michigan (April 28, 2018)

races, running

This is long.

Where to begin?

I’ll start with the night before. I’m a graduate student. I live in a college town, meaning I live right next door to college students. The majority of them are amazing, scarily bright, and are some of the best people to share a campus with. Then there are my neighbors who threw a party the Friday night of my race. I suspect this is karma from my own high school and college days. Weirdly, I felt really calm about it. Like, “its ok, I slept well last night” kind of calm. I set three alarms for 4:00, 4:10, and 4:15am for the next day.

I’m not sure what time I fell asleep. I tried not to look at my phone. I don’t think I slept well. But I woke up to footsteps. That wasn’t right. I was supposed to wake up to my alarm. But instead, there was Bruno. “Hon, you awake?” I could hear my alarm going off, over and over again. It was 4:30.

And you know what. I still stayed calm (very different from my marathon, where I was on the verge of a meltdown the whole morning). I felt grateful, grateful that Bruno woke up early enough that I could still get a shower in (yeah, I did that. Lack of coffee does not leave me with much options to wake up). I ate what has been my standard breakfast the last few weeks: ground beef, carrots, bone broth, lots of olive oil. Bruno packed some super plain gluten-free oatmeal for just in case. Like in water nothing fancy. I did not want to have any stomach issues. I had some rooibos tea. I packed a Results tea (tea so good that I am starting not to miss coffee that much) and a water bottle of grape Nuun (the best flavor) for the road.

I had everything packed the previous night, so around 5:45 am we hit the road. The race website said headphones were discouraged, so I played my pump-up jams for the road. Dixie Chicks, “Ready to Run.” LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Pink Floyd, “Run Like Hell.” Republica, “Ready to Go.” Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks.” Toto, “Africa.” Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight.” Matthew Wilder, “Break My Stride.” I ate half my oatmeal. Drank my tea and Nuun. I had golf balls underneath my hamstrings that I kept rolling around on to prevent them from getting too tight from the drive.

We arrived. And it was cold. I was starting to regret my choice of shorts, but at the same time grateful that I brought gloves. We had only forty-five minutes, so I quickly checked in and got to stretching. About quarter till eight, I took a salted caramel GU and decided to get in one last bathroom (ok, ok, port-a-potty) trip. By then the race was about ready to start.

I could not hear on the announcer the paces for the waves. It was super muffled. I just assumed (correctly) that the first wave was probably not for me. I hopped in the second one when I heard one woman ask, “Do you know what pace this is supposed to be?” And another woman respond, “I have no idea.” I figured, what the hell, let’s get going.

On the drive, I told Bruno I had no idea what to expect as it was my first trail half. If it were a road half, based on my long run paces, I would have probably tried to shoot for under two hours. But I had goals that “if doable” I would try to go for them. They were: a. Stay around 10:50 pace. b. Try not to walk. c. Run under 2 hours 30 minutes.

Goals a. and b. went out the window within the first mile. The first four-ish miles we were definitely packed in there. We would come to a hill or a turn and we’d all be waiting to get through. I would start to move and then halt again. I really did not mind. It kind of helped make it feel like a real community event. “Hey, we’re in it together through these hills.”

After around mile four it started to thin out. And I was planning on trying to really pay attention to each mile, just so that I could put it on here, but I didn’t. All I can say is that I was really enjoying myself. I also about ate it several times. Luckily, I stayed upright for most of the run.

On the hills. During training, there was a road I would go up and down just because it was just one mile long hill. I was not sure that it would be enough. I think it was. I mean I still had to hike some of the hills — particularly a gnarly, long one around 11 or 12 miles (so close to the finish too!), but when it was more rolling, as long as I was paying attention to my footing, I could run through it just fine. What I’m basically trying to say is that although the hills were tough (my butt still hurts), the hills were not torture or impossible. Thank God for Mauck Road.

On running no head-phones. I have never ran so long without music or a podcast before. I was surprised when I reached half-way. I was afraid that without headphones the whole thing would be a slog. I do not even remember what I thought about. I just was really in it. It was not until probably around nine miles that I thought, “I could use some music right now.” But by that point, 4 more miles did not seem too bad to be sans-music. Also, I had seen a few people try to pass those with head phones and have to repeat “Left. Left. LEFT!” that I was glad not to be “that” person.

On my body. I felt really good most of the time. As I said, it was not until the last couple of miles that I began to feel mentally and physically tired. I was nervous about my foot and hamstrings going hay-wire, but nothing went wrong. My left foot did hurt a bit for about a mile and then kept quiet the rest of the run.

On nutrition. I had a GU at mile 5 and mile 10. I felt fine. They worked. I’m just not so sure if GU is something I want to continue with out of concern for possible stomach distress. I want to figure out something else. But I felt strong and fueled most the run. Friday night I had salmon, a huge amount of sweet potatoes, green beans, and zucchini for dinner, so that seemed to work for me.

On nature. I know Michigan is beautiful. I mean I see it in the fall and the spring. But this trail is lush. There is plenty to catch the eye (just don’t trip!). My favorite moment was running over the bridge that separates the two lakes. I wanted to just stop and look, but wanted to keep going/not get in anybody’s way.

On the people. I only saw Bruno at the beginning and the end of the run, but there were plenty of people on the trails who cheered. I passed a few high school or junior high (I can’t tell how old the young’uns are anymore) who made high-five lines, an adorable family who were handing out high-fives, the guy who kept shouting, “You look fantastic! You are kicking so much ass right now!” and plenty of people who were just using the trails who had a kind word to say. Not to mention the runners themselves. There was a woman I kept playing leap-frog with and we would laugh and joke with each other each time one of us would pass the other. Plenty of “good job’s” and cheers from other runners if you ran hard up a hill (which I did do a few times). It was a privilege to share the trails with such people.

On finishing. I did not cry when I finished (more on that in just a bit). But I did start to tear up around mile eleven or so. I mean I was so close to being done. The whole race just flew by and I could not believe that I was actually doing it. I had waited so long for the day and it just was turning out perfectly. I was so grateful. The huge hill at the end of the run quickly ended my sappy feelings. But they happened. About .3 or so miles from the finish, there was a dude with a huge boom box blaring “Renegade” by Styx. Confession: I love Styx. I once saw them in concert with REO Speedwagon when I was 11 with my mom. I shouted, “YEAH! STYX!” And then promptly tripped, but did not fall. I knew the race was a little over half distance, so I did not know when to just gun it. But someone told me over the hill it was a straight shot to the finish line, so I just bolted. I bolted hard. I can’t remember if it felt hard or not. I knew I was within about a minute of goal c (which at that point I had kind of forgotten about) I have not seen my finish line pictures yet, but I bet I look something terrible. They will also show me chicking a guy within twenty feet of the finish line, so there’s that. Most importantly, though, I did make my c. goal: 13:4 miles in 2:29:45, average pace 11:15/mile (really, it was ALL over the place).

trailhalfmarathon

We went to the Hell Hole Bar afterwards. I celebrated with a bacon cheeseburger and a Bell’s Oberon. Both of us were exhausted on the drive home. When we got home, I took a lavender sea salt bath, put my legs up the wall, and tried to nap. The rest of the day was spent vegging. I ate some ice cream (I totally blew up my food allergy elimination diet — and have still been paying for it).

It was such a great day. I am still so grateful for every minute, every mile of it. Even during the hills, I could not help but smile. When I was wavering on signing up for another race (as my reward) later that day, Bruno said, “Just do it. You looked so joyous today.”

Next up: Flirt with Dirt Dirty Duo in June (5k & 10k) and The Legend Half-Marathon in August. That will complete the Serious Series of trail races. It has been easy to future-trip and look ahead, but this trail half-marathon was truly a beautiful beginning of races for me.

xo, Ali