Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer adventures 2016

There are few things that hold more promise than the summer weekend. The weather is excellent, the days are long, there's so much to do and see...

But it's way too easy (if boring, and tedious) to just stick to the weekend routine - pancakes for breakfast, newspapers, run a little bit with the little squirt, hang out at home and watch him play, read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to him for the nth time, figure out what to have for lunch, throw up our hands and get burritos, et.c et.c.

This year we thought we ought to, you know, actually plan some adventures. Fun-size ones. 

And adventure we did. 

We went to the children's farm.


And hiking in Colorado.


 Followed by a gondola ride.


We picked (and, ahem, ate) strawberries.


We cycled around Martha's Vineyard.



And ran to the local splash pad. 


Did some more hiking in New Hampshire. 


And went to the county fair. County fairs have the best food. (Not pictured: the TWO frozen lemonades I had.) 


Kid, meet kid.
We visited friends in Maine and went to the beach. (Twice! Never before have I been to a lake beach and an ocean beach in the same weekend. What a concept.) 

This view! I mean. 

Really, what I'm finding is a toddler does limit one's travels and activities in some ways (I can't remember the last time I went to watch a play, and forget about going to Patagonia or Kathmandu for the next decade), but in many other ways is a GREAT excuse to get out and go places. How often are you a tourist in your own region?  

The house is a mess, I haven't run as much as I wanted to, work has been loony, and people who ask me if I've tried Pokemon Go get a blank stare in response, but I'm pretty content with how summer has gone so far.

P.S. Yes, I signed up for the Cambridge Half Marathon. Bring it on. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A day in the life and half a dilemma

Oh look - I'm not too late to get a blog post in for July! Since I seem to be writing an average of one a month. Go me. 

A day in the life: weekday edition

Ideal
5am - Wake up, run, stretch, roll, do a couple of strength exercises, start the coffee, prep breakfast, chug Nuun, and shower
6.30am - Little squirt wakes up (thus forcing everyone else to get up as well). Change, feed, entertain, and dress him. 
8am - Mr GCA carts kidlet off to daycare and heads to work. I finish my coffee and get going on work for the day, as I work from home.
12pm - Pump/ lunch break/ a bit of cleaning/ chores/ dinner prep. 
1pm - Back to work. 
4.30pm - Start making dinner
5pm - One of us retrieves kidlet from school, where he has been a delight, taken lovely naps, and refrained from walking over any of the infants in the infant room.
5.30pm - Playground time.
6.30pm - Dinner, bath, lots of reading and playtime (parent and kid), kid runs around the house being adorable and hilarious
7.45pm - Squirt bedtime
8pm - Sit down to work again with a nice cup of tea, work uninterrupted for an hour or two
9.30pm - Locate whatever book I'm reading from wherever child has stashed it, read a bit
10pm - Fall asleep. 

Reality
5am - Kid sits bolt upright in bed and fusses till 5.30. 
5.30am - Pull on running clothes and stagger out the door.
6.30am - Come home to offspring crying because he can't find mom, and dad Will Not Do. Hasty shower, breakfast, kidtertainment. 
8am - Mr GCA carts kidlet off to daycare and heads to work. I put coffee on for the day and set up for the first of 30628235 conference calls. 
12pm - Emerge from fugue of conference calls and untangle my brain. Work through lunch.
4pm - Contemplate a run, decide it is too late OR go for a run, take a hasty shower, retrieve kidlet at 5pm, and cook dinner while singing to a disgruntled kidlet who feels he's starved of parental attention
4.30pm - Start making dinner
5pm - One of us retrieves kidlet from school. His teachers claim he has generally been a delight. 'We're going to miss him when he goes to the toddler room next month,' they chirp. I suspect this is code for 'He is great but we are exhausted'.
5.30pm - Playground time.
6.30pm - Dinner, bath, lots of reading (parent and kid), kid runs around the house being adorable and hilarious
7.45pm - Kid runs around the house being adorable and hilarious
8pm - Kid still running around the house being adorable and hilarious, but it's getting old
8.30pm - Squirt finally asleep. Lose 30 minutes to Facebook, Instagram, and Spider Solitaire on phone 
9pm - Sit down to work again with a nice cup of tea. Tea goes cold as kid coughs himself awake and has to be put down again
10pm - Read ebook on phone and pass out with kid on our bed.  
2am - Squirt wakes up hungry and gets milk
2.30am - I get hungry and wander to kitchen for trail mix
3am - Fall asleep again

Meanwhile,

...I am still on the no-plan training plan. To run faster, I run faster. The idea is to get comfortable at slightly faster easy pace. Think 9:00-9:30, the faster end of which would frankly be my HM goal pace anyway - I should learn to run this pace by feel. 

Right now I'm training ('training'. Where are my laughing/crying face emojis?) for a sub-2:00 at the Baystate Half on October 16. If all goes well* this summer, I might even be able to make that goal.

BUT...an offer ('offer') for the Cambridge Half Marathon just landed in my inbox. It's $65 till August 1, including beer, cider, and a gender-specific long-sleeved tech shirt. The Cambridge Half is literally in my back yard - it's about a mile and a half from my front door, and I'd run to the start line as a warmup. And it's November 13 - a mere month after Baystate.

SHOULD I sign up? Could Cambridge Half be a backup (with potentially cooler, better weather...or possible pouring freezing rain...you know...New England) if I don't hit my arbitrarily selected time goal at Baystate? And if I do, could it be done as just another particularly well-supported long run?  

*Break out the laughing crying emoji. Last week I ran a grand total of 17 miles. 


Saturday, June 4, 2016

New running life goals


One day I have really got to do a race in this lovely, warm giraffe suit. (Photo from Halloween 2015. What other occasions do we have to go out as a family of giraffes? Offer your suggestions!)

The giraffe suit is probably too small for the baby at this point so this year he'll just have to be Nibbler.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Pittsburgh Half: odds and ends

A few things!

1. I promise I actually ran this race.


I hate stealing race photos. But here is proof. I have no idea when this was taken, but I am still relatively vertical, so it must've been fairly early in the race.

2. Other highlights:
- Women's-specific, v-neck, long-sleeved, tech t-shirt that actually has the right race printed on the front. It's so embarrassing wearing a shirt that says 'marathon' when you did the half, or vice versa.
- Great big chunky solid metal finisher medal harking back to Pittsburgh's steeltown days. I thought our luggage might go over the weight limit from it.

3. Now I have to decide what my plan of attack is next. Another half - perhaps Baystate - to try and break two hours? I don't feel emotionally or physically ready to invest all my energy in a full marathon just yet. On the other hand, I want to keep chipping away at my marathon time...so perhaps Baystate. I've always done well in cool-weather races after training in heat. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

13.1 ways of looking at a half marathon

A Pittsburgh Half Marathon race report, with apologies to Wallace Stevens

1. In media res

Between the 2:10 and the 2:15 pacers, sometime between the elite start and the start of my very mortal Corral C wave, it begins to drizzle.
The first worry is: not enough calories. I am shifting from foot to foot, trying to stay warm in t-shirt and shorts. I've been vertical since 5.45am - one and a half hours - and awake since 4.45. Should've finished my second packet of instant oatmeal. Should've finished my coffee. Should've brought a bagel or Honey Stinger waffle to the start. Shouldn't have walked two miles to the start line. At least I have 20,000 new friends around me. We're all keeping each other warm with nervous energy.

2. Begin at the beginning

The starting gun pops. 30,000 people are running today, including full marathoners, marathon relayers, and half marathoners. It's crowded, wet, slippery unknown streets; I don't want to dodge. Instead I play games for a few miles: find someone wearing yellow and black, chase them down; find someone in red, follow them. I soon warm up.
"This is a lot of trouble to go to for a free banana," I hear someone say, as I pass.

3. It's mostly about me, but also about you

A lot of questions pass through one's head during a longish race. Questions like: Why do I run? and, as it rains harder, What possessed me to wear underpants?
The answer to the first is It wouldn't be fun if it wasn't challenging. The Tarahumara Indians consider running a game, jugando. I feel like I run in that ludic spirit.
As for the second, call me agnostic, but it is possible to be on the fence about underpants/ no underpants.
This is an excellent city race. The spectator support is huge. The Gatorade and water stands are hyper-efficient. The volunteers are on point. The bands are ear-splittingly encouraging.
At least one unofficial support station (run by hashers, of course) somewhere around mile 7 or 8 offers beer. It's Natty Light. I don't care how hydrating it is, I did not run 13.1 miles for Natty Light.
Pittsburgh is a fine city for a foodie, with beer and brunch at decidedly un-coastal price points. The night before, we carbo-load with face-sized sandwiches, stuffed full of fries. Later, we have a croque-madame and a bison-burger and a chocolate stout and a mango-salsa burrito and a chicken tikka rice bowl.
I do not take the Natty Light.

4. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it 

A quarter done already. (I can't say 'without thinking about it'. I've been thinking about it since before I even started.) I eat my first shot block.
Miles 3-6 contain three bridges. Look at this elevation map of the half marathon course.


If you also look at my Garmin, you can kind of infer where the bridges are. Mile 11-12 contains HILLS and is my slowest mile (10:44). Actually, just one hill. It's embarrassingly small, too. The tricky part was not knowing exactly where the hill was going to end - more proof that it really is a mental game.

5.

It takes a mile and a half to finish a single shot block, as I am incapable of running and chewing at the same time. This, coupled with trying to drink while running and also not choke on half-masticated shot block bits, keeps me occupied for many happy miles.
I like thinking about race distances in miles; that there are fewer of them than kilometres seems to help them tick by faster.

6.

Mile 6 is a no-man's-land in which I largely blank out and keep putting one foot in front of the other. The thought dominating my head is 'Oh no, not another bridge.'
This race is not for the acrophobic.

7. A change of pace

More than halfway done! Ok, time to pick up the pace.
I attempt to pick up the pace.
My splits do not reflect my experienced reality. If a mile feels harder than you've actually run it, have you run it?
I see the 2:05 pace sign bobbing in the distance. I started so far behind them, I never even saw them for the first mile. I try to catch them repeatedly for the next six miles, and fail.

"Now we only have to hold this pace for an hour more," remarks a nearby runner to her friend.
"If you ran faster you wouldn't have to hold the pace so long," the friend replies.
"Whoa, good point."

8. Give me a sign...or else forget about it 

Chafing The Game
Toenails Are For Losers
Hey Eric, If You Think Running 13.1 Miles Is Hard...Try Waiting For You!
If Trump Can Run 4 President, You Can Run 13.1
Go Random Stranger (same people, same sign, seen twice)

9. Tick tock 

I flirted with the idea of running Garminless.
I did not run Garminless.
The half marathon is a distance where I feel like I have some room for improvement - but not much. Like, I'm not going to be chopping 15 minutes off my time anytime soon. So every minute counts. I run well aware of the beeps, and well aware of my effort, but take no steps to link the two by actually looking at the darn watch face until about mile 8. When I do look I discover that if I run 10:00 miles the rest of the way I will PR. This thought magically transports me up the next bridge.

10. Goodbye, separation anxiety

I run faster, because I ran down this way to get to the start and I know the terrain. Also, I really want to see my No. 1 Fan Club on the course. They're standing around at mile 10. I run over, kiss both of them, and dart off. According to the husband, baby bear howls for ten minutes after I vanish. Knowing this exact thing would happen, I run faster to finish sooner and get back to them. When I finish, little bear is asleep and snoozes in the carrier until I find them, whereupon he wakes up and grumbles till we get back to the apartment.

11. Oh, baby! 

Spectating is hard work. After we get home from lunch, little bear hibernates for two and a half hours. It's like he ran the half marathon instead of me. I briefly consider running a half every weekend so he'll nap.

12. I think I can, I think I can 

I'm giving it everything I have. My calves are starting to burn. What goes up must come down, right?
I think about Amy, whose virtual training partnership has been invaluable. I don't think I could have done this without her. There's a lot to be said for cheering each other on and being each other's reality check and commiserating about the joys of training while working/ living/ parenting. She's only halfway, and I wonder how she's doing on those full-marathon hills.

13. Lessons

I finish in 2:06. So, no 2:00. I knew that was a stretch goal going in. But 2:06 is a respectable five-minute PR on patchy training and a rolling course. Not bad for my first half marathon in almost two years.
Post-race resolutions are like New Year's resolutions. More strength work, glutes and core, will power me up hills and stave off cramps. Shoulda done a 14-mile long run at least once, instead of the 10s and 12s.
The challenge is putting the resolutions into practice. How to make myself get to the gym for strength work? How do I do speedwork alone? How badly do I really want it? Tell me how you do it.

0.1. Unique selling point

A good marketing slogan can be absurdly effective, people. In the near-bronchiospasm conditions of a sprint into the finish, one thing pops into my head over and over: 'I will what I want (and I want my PR)'.
Coming into the last half-mile I legit have tears in my eyes and am starting to have trouble breathing, knowing I'm going to PR - and more importantly, knowing I gave it my best effort today.

As I wobble through the exit chute, I give myself an extra free banana.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Now entering terra incognita


I hear visualisation is a great tool for athletes, so here's a short but totally realistic daydream:

"What do I WEARRRRR," she wailed, sitting on the floor clutching handfuls of quick-dry polyester and nylon. It was a moment of indecision unrivalled by any date night or job interview. Each time she glanced at the weather forecast the numbers and cloud cover icons seemed to shift - or was the scene swimming through tears? She settled on one outfit, with a backup for colder weather.

That night, her son woke up just twice and went right back to sleep straight away. At 5am, she stumbled to the AirBnB kitchen to gnaw on a cold bagel and rummage through the cabinet for something caffeinated. A warmup jog took her the mile and a half to the subway, and she emerged next to her race corral and got in line behind only two people for a clean porta-potty.

For once she refrained from starting too fast, despite the icy tickle of worry - every time! - that her legs would lock on to the pace and manage nothing more than snail-paced miles the rest of the way. As the course wound through the streets of Pittsburgh, she was entertained by a BLURP from a horn here, the crash of a steel-drum there, and for the final mile, an entire acappella chorus singing 'Rolling In The Deep'. 

The race plan went perfectly: slow for the first half, medium for the next quarter, and speeding up to outkick people at the end. She thought of it as Goldilocks pacing - not too slow, not too fast, just right...And with her finish time, she qualified for the Singapore Olympic Trials*. Best of all, the race photographers managed to snap photos of her between Shot Bloks. 

* There are no Singapore Olympic Trials for the marathon.

In three days I'll be running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, entering completely new territory for me.

- First half marathon for which I explicitly trained, or at least had a mental training plan tucked into one of the dusty drawers in my head. 
- Instant postpartum half-marathon PR. (My silly Type-A self is a little gleeful about this one, not gonna lie.) 
- I've never been to Pittsburgh (PGH native Amy is doing the full marathon and we have plans to meet up for all the food - YUM). 
- This will be my first half marathon in the US. (!)
- The weather forecast changes every time I blink. 

I'll be honest - I hit about 40% of that training plan and 60% was a trainwreck (I haven't done any speedwork or weights in weeks). My primary goal is to give it my best shot, finish happy in about two hours, based on long-run paces, and not blow up. My old half PR is 2:11 and dates back to 2012 because I just haven't run a whole lot of halfs, so I have no clue what to expect. 


I'm seriously flirting with the idea of running sans watch, to get that competitive goal-oriented monkey off my back. Part of me thinks that's radical; the other part of me thinks that's radically daft, to pay good money for a half marathon and then not check the time - what?! Plus I want to know my splits. Plus I neeeeeed my watch in order to be on time to the race start. Argh. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Paddle furiously

The weather's alternately blowing hot and cold. Some parts of the river are still iced over, in the shallows and patches where the undercurrent drags the heat away. The other day I saw a gull walking on water, like an avian miracle, its knobbly knees poking up above the waterline. Then it stepped off the veneer of ice and looked really surprised, like it was thinking, Wait, I have to swim?



I feel like that as a runner. This mild winter has been terrific for running. I'll look at my Garmin and think, surely you're broken, timekeeper, because the numbers on the screen would have been plain old unimaginable in a former life of mine. Easy 4-milers at 9 minutes a mile. Long runs at 9:13. Too easy. It makes me suspicious.

All good things must surely come to an end. The winter spree is over, the cold-weather discount removed from the sticker price. I know full well I'm no fitter than I was before. I don't trust anything, not even myself. I don't dare to hope, knowing how hope is nothing to build a base on.

And so I judge not by the numbers but by the feel of my breath as it rushes through my lungs, the relentless drumming of my heart as I charge over a bridge or up a hill. The ache of my feet afterwards. The heat of blood returning to my numb fingers. Now I have to put in the work I've been putting off these lazy easy months. Now I have to swim.  


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Looking forward, again

Every year I claim I'm not the sort of person to do New Year's resolutions. Every year I give in to the temptation to make some anyway.

Here's a little look back at a few simple goals for 2015:

1. Produce, love, and look after a healthy, happy baby.

Mission accomplished! He seems to be doing fine... I think I'll keep him.

Hello, squirt!

2. Keep up my work projects and find a job in our new city.

After slacking off enjoying four and a half months of maternity leave, I got right back to work. It's sort of a part-time thing. I'm thinking that this is the year I really ought to try and crack the North American freelance journalism market. It's still a thrill to see my name in print - well, digitally, mostly.

I did not find a job. I'm not too torn up about that at the moment.

3. Reconnect with friends there.

Did I mention that my best friend from college lived here for about five years, and then moved to Maine for her fiance's work this very summer? /weeps
I did reconnect with a couple of friends, and made several new ones. There's an entire subset of friends here who have only ever seen me looking frazzled and dishevelled with a wiggly baby trying to leap out of my arms or eat my glasses.

Also, somewhere along the way, I found a virtual running tribe - one that's not purchased, but that has kind of organically sprung up around me by way of blogs, social media, and fellow (previously) pregnant runners. I don't think it's the sort of thing I could buy anyway - it has to be earned, by reaching out, taking some emotional risks, trusting people. When you reduce that sort of social interaction to a financial transaction (buy your way into the club! get a t-shirt!) the expectations and atmosphere just seem...different.

But I really would like some local running friends for long runs. Now taking applications...must like early wake-up calls. 

4. Slowly ease back into running by the end of the year; do at least one postpartum race of any distance.

At least one? Try 'just one': the Somerville Road Runners Race to the Row 5K. New (only) post-baby PR! Benchmark set! I finally know my speedwork paces!

It's been a hairy rollercoaster ride, though. I eased back into running and then fell off that wagon, clambered up on it again, fell back out, and ended the year clinging on to the wagon wheel for dear life as it thundered uncontrollably down a rocky, overgrown trail. I think I ran 11 miles the whole of last week. I might have run 11 miles the whole of the previous month, due to travel, work, sickness* and sleep deprivation.

*You get a cold! And you get a cold! And the baby gets a cold! Everyone gets a cold!

5. Complete my Coursera data science specialisation work, and actually practice it. 

Gulp. I have definitely been slacking off on this. Oops. The less said the better.

6. Learn to make something that isn't food. 

I made this Christmas tree from painter's tape and washi tape! Does that count? When you live in 400 square feet of grad student family housing and have no room for a tree... #tinyapartmentlife


Well, GC, what about 2016? 

Funny you should ask, I was just thinking about that.

Pittsburgh Half Marathon training is under way. This past week I've run thrice for a total of 11 miles. This morning I did a little speed workout concocted by the coach for my running group - sadly, the sessions coincide precisely with putting-the-baby-to-bed-time, and after that I tend to conk out, and I have never been a nighttime runner anyway. But what works for me right now is doing the set on my own. I don't have to overthink what I'm going to do. I don't have to make a plan to stick to. All I have to do is show up with the set written down and do it. That and convert treadmill mile measurements to meters in my head.

I'm cobbling together my own common-sense training plan. Speed Mondays. Easy 6 miles Tuesdays. Rest Wednesday. Tempo Thursday. Easy 3-5 or cross-training Fridays. Long run Saturdays. Rest Sundays.

At the end of a hard race I often tell myself, you can do anything for a minute. Why shouldn't the same apply to the scut-work of training, the stuff I personally find most tedious? Especially if it makes the difference between injured and healthy. You can do anything for a minute. Even if I have the attention span of a gerbil, I can commit to two minutes a side of hip/glute strength exercises after each run...one minute at a time. I can commit to two minutes of stretching...one minute at a time. You can do anything for a minute.

If Pittsburgh goes well - and that's a rather big if! - I'm eyeing the Baystate Marathon in October, which I hear is pretty well-organised. And I like to shop local.

Meanwhile. I have a friend who is remarkably talented in all kinds of ways, from running really, really fast to taking gorgeous trail photos. Recently she posted a photo of her New Year's treat to herself: a long, beautiful trail run. It reminded me to treat running as a reward - not a chore. Not even if I have to take an hour out of a day that's so busy I'm losing my mind. It's never a chore; it's never been a chore; it's a treat to myself, isn't it?

And those are my two main things in store this year. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A once-off weekly update

So recently, Julie at A Case of the Runs cheekily posted one of those week-by-week pregnancy surveys that are pretty dull to anyone who is not the surveyee - only she filled out the answers nearly a year after giving birth! In the same spirit, I'm finally getting around to filling out one of these things. 

How far along? Almost 6 months. Postpartum. 

Total weight gain/loss: 0 lbs (from average pre-pregnancy).While pregnant I did put on 30lbs of baby + placenta + water + ...I don't know, matter. And then it all went away again. Where does it come from? If I produce a 7.5-lb baby and a pound of placenta and a couple pounds of water, where on earth does the rest all go? Hey cosmologists, I've solved your dark matter mystery. The answer is PREGNANT PEOPLE. 

Shape change, however, is a whole nother story; my entire substance seems to have been redistributed. The middle is softer, the hips are wider, the butt is flatter, and let's not even talk about fitting back into pre-pregnancy bras. This amuses me greatly, but it is also a little frustrating simply because my old clothes look frumpy. 

Sleep: Sleep??? Remind me what that is, again? Last week, baby began crawling, sitting up, and pulling up to kneel all at one go, which means that at least once a night he wants to practice these thrilling new skills. For an hour. Hello coffee, come to mama. 

Constant. Motion.

Other times, baby just eats and conks back out. I don't begrudge him these little night wakeups - hell, I wake up hungry and thirsty in the middle of the night, why shouldn't he? 

Best moment this week: Mr GCA is away for two weeks for work, so it's just me and baby. On Sunday morning we decided to go out for a walk and randomly bumped into a neighbour and her two kids. (We live in grad student family housing, so this isn't quite as serendipitous as it sounds.) We walked to a cafe, went grocery shopping, picked up batteries at the MicroCenter, had some conversation that wasn't just us talking to ourselves in high-pitched tones, and then baby and I went over to her place for dinner that night. 

Movement: All of the movement, all of the time. Crawling, sitting, pulling up, you name it. I half expect the little squirt to start skiing this winter. Maybe doggy-paddling. 

Food cravings: Not cravings exactly - but these are the snacks I go through on an average day: string cheese, an egg, almonds, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, a couple pieces of leftover Halloween candy, an apple, some crackers, some trail mix, plus regular meals. 

Baby woke up visibly fatter and longer the other day. I guess I know where it all goes. 

Anything making you queasy or sick: A lack of sleep; some diapers after several days of not pooping. 

Leakage: Me or baby? 

Belly Button in or out? I had to check (in, mostly); there is no time for navel-gazing these days! 

Wedding rings on or off? On, but everything is loose. 

Happy or Moody most of the time: Wild swings between ridiculously happy and energetic and amused by my offspring (most mornings) and 'I can't do this any more' (re: solo parenting). 

Weekly Wisdom: I don't know about weekly, but this thought occurred to me and was originally composed as a comment on Fit and Feminist:
"A six-hour training weekend and a teething baby are both equally valid reasons to be exhausted. Once you get into the life choices comparison game, it’s all over; you just have to own your life choices. (Aside: I would love to go for a two-hour run or a long bike ride. The weather is beautiful and perfect. And it’s not happening. Instead I’m pushing 30lbs of stroller and baby for three very slow miles on six months of accumulated sleep debt… it is what it is! And you know what’s hardest? Every. Single. Day on that three-mile slog, I see the big Citgo sign and think of all the things that might never be.)"

There are so many things I love about parenting, but when you're deep in the trenches of being a parent of a really small baby, you might look up now and then...And there, twinkling in the fast-encroaching winter night, is the damn Citgo sign, as if to symbolise everything that's just out of reach. 


Monday, October 5, 2015

Hello again world

Hello everyone! I'm still running; it's just that the blogging is on hold. Here's what happens: I'll have a week of great runs, then come down with a cold from lack of sleep, or the husband will be away for work, or I'll have a science writers' group meeting that night, or something. You know. Two steps forward, one step back. Last week, work was appalling, sleep was worse, and the weather -- well, until Friday we were expecting to be battered by a hurricane. But I got a new haircut. New haircut!! I AM UNSTOPPABLE.


Anyway, here are some reviews of books we've (collectively) read recently:

Mem Fox, Steve Jenkins - Hello Baby!
This is one of those lovely books for a very small baby, with gorgeous cut-paper illustrations, a subtle rhyme, and the perfect opportunity to sneak up and tickle the baby at the end. I'm beginning to appreciate a good illustrator even more.

Deborah Guarino, Steven Kellogg - Is Your Mama a Llama? 
Rhymes have always lodged in my head; as a kid, I thought "I had a Hippopotamus" was completely uproarious. After reading this one a few times, I know it by heart. " 'Is your mama a llama?' I asked my friend Dave. 'No, she is not,' is the answer Dave gave..." The mark of an excellent baby book is its Earworm Quotient.

My very first book of Tractors and trucks 
This was a book so terrible, the author and illustrator aren't even credited. Sure, my little urban baby might want to recognise a garbage truck, a tow truck, or a big rig on the highway. But you don't get to put 'giant tractor', 'tractor' and 'small tractor' on different pages like they're different vehicles. And can we say product placement? You might as well put a footnote inside the cover: "This book sponsored by John Deere". No. Just no.

David Adam - The Man Who Couldn't Stop 
OCD: it's not just about repeated handwashing, or having a counting compulsion. David Adam, an acclaimed science journalist who just happens to have OCD, uses his condition as a way to explore the various facets of the disease. I highly recommend this one.

Also, one thing about parenthood: it only expands the list of social causes and concerns that are on my radar. Gender equality: boys can wear pink too. Saying no to the parenting wars. Making sure all children start out on a level playing field. Child literacy. Not that these weren't important to me before - it's just that they're WAY more personal now.

Okay, fine, here is another photo. Om nom nom pacifier.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dear yesterday me,

Dear yesterday me,

What the heck, woman? Do you not listen to yourself? Ya execute that race plan in reverse or something?

Just look at this:
Somerville Road Runners Race to the Row 5K
9.35am, Sunday August 23

Measurement by my Garmin - 5.11km, 28:09 (chip and gun results)
Mile 1: 8:44:23
Mile 2: 9:06:35
Mile 3: 8:58:66
Final 0.21 miles: 1:19:57
Pace: 5:30/km or 8:51/mile

So here's how it went down:

On Saturday night, this baby of ours woke up too many times. After the too-manyeth time, it was only 6.30am and we were all up for the day, so we sat around entertaining him until it was time to leave the house. Seven hours of very interrupted sleep does not a restful night make.

The race site was the redeveloped and expanded Assembly Square Mall, now called Assembly Row. We didn't explore it (we are not huge mall people, or huge-mall people) but I am told there is a Stride Rite for when that becomes necessary.

It was cool and muggy when we got there around 9am. I picked up my bib with time to spare, and went to the bathroom with no time to spare. (Peeing before trying to run at all is very, very important around here.)



Half my fan club was already asleep before it started. I knew this wasn't going to be the most thrilling race but that was fast, fan club.


I tried to rein it in on the first mile, which was a short out-and-back and part loop around the square. I really did. My legs were not having it. I have no idea how that turned out to be an 8:44 mile. NOT how I wanted to do it. (Later on I read this. Turns out going out fast in a 5K may not be a complete disaster after all?)

Things went much more according to plan on mile 2 (the rest of the square, plus another out-and-back, plus a bit more of the square). I was working a little, but wasn't exhausted. 9:07.

Mile 3 (remainder of the square with yet another out-and-back lollipop turn) hit and I focused on increasing my cadence. That usually seems to work to up the pace and my effort. 8:59.

When my watch beeped for the third mile I - well, I wouldn't say I sprinted, because we are not capable of anything resembling sprinting over here, but I certainly stood up a little taller and turned my short stubby legs over a little faster and passed a few people on the way to the finish line, where I doubled over and turned slightly blue and caught my breath. 1:20.

Overall, 28:09 and 5.11km on the GPS (I am terrible at paying attention to tangents and a few extra metres never killed anyone). For my current level of fitness, I'm happy with that benchmark, and uhh...the execution was fine but not the greatest.

Breath caught.
But I enjoyed my chocolate chip ice cream and slice of pizza and banana at the end, thank you very much. A workout and brunch? Why sure!

I even remembered to take photos before it melted.

The Somerville Road Runners Race to the Row is $25 early registration, $35 regular and $40 day-of. Proceeds benefit community organisation East Somerville Main Streets, and Somerville public school track.
First 300 entrants get swag. There were about 500 runners this year.
There is also a $5 Fast Mile and a free 200m kids' fun run before the main event, for those who are so inclined or age-eligible (9 and under).
Post-race food is excellent and non-runners can pay $10 to partake, may be worthwhile for the beer and cider alone. Did you know Harpoon Brewery makes craft cider? I didn't. Not till yesterday.
I would say the route needs a little work! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dear tomorrow me,

Dear tomorrow me,

At 9.25am today you will be lining up for your first 5K in 1.5 years. It'll be your first road race back since giving birth, so it's a very important benchmarking run. I've seen that course, and it is a loony double loop-the-loop with more hairpin turns than a ballerina's bun. So, I want you to read this and listen to me, back when cooler heads prevailed...

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT go out too fast! You will run the first mile conservatively - let's say 10:00 pace. The second at 9:whatever it is you can muster. The third quite hard (for now, let's pretend that is high 8s or low 9s, but feel free to do it differently as long as you do it hard). And then you can sprint through to the finish. 0.1 mile is less than a minute and you can do anything for one minute.

I want you to be satisfied not only with your benchmark 5K time, but also and more importantly, your effort. I don't want you to feel, as you nearly always do at the end of a 5K, that you could have gone harder.

And then I want you to come back here and tell us exactly what it is that you did. Promise? Promise.

Enjoy the ice cream at the end! And geez, take some photos for once!

Love,
Grace 

Getting a head start

The last time I did a triathlon, I was quite literally in a very different place in life.

I lived in a different country, in a different apartment, had a different job, and that baby I have wasn't even a twinkle in his parents' eye. (Except of course he already existed - see 'that time I did a triathlon while unwittingly four weeks pregnant').

It's been nearly a year since then. Right now, the only triathlons I do involve the delicate juggling act of feed-nap-mom-goes-for-a-run, I would have a hard time swimming a mile, and I currently don't actually own a bike, which I hear is a prerequisite for doing a tri.

But baby D seems intent on prepping me for one.

The other night, I'd brought him into bed with us after the last feed of the night - really the very early morning after I'm mostly awake for the day. And then I fell back into a light snooze, and had some crazy dreams. I dreamt that I was doing the swim leg of a sprint tri. This being a sprint, it was fast and frenzied, and I dreamt that people were kicking me the entire way.

And then I woke up - and baby was indeed snuggled up next to me and kicking me in the side.

I think I'm going to register him for the local kids' swim team this year. What do you think? 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I live in the library

Not really. I just read a lot. I have a lot of downtime while feeding this little hungry monster baby, and we don't have a TV... so here are some very brief reviews of about half the things I've read in the last three months. (The other half are junky crime novels not really worth reviewing.)

Dan Savage, The Kid - Love and sex columnist Dan Savage describes the process of two gay dads (himself and his partner Terry) going through with an open adoption in the late 1990s. Very funny, slightly dated (this was the late 1990s, after all). Their insecurities and worries about societal judgement do not come to pass. Every parent, regardless of gender or orientation, can relate to this one! Spoiler: Kid turns out just fine.

Claudia Rankine, Citizen - I read this about a year after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and as the Sandra Bland case erupted into the media, so this book really hit home. The hard-hitting ?poems? in this book by Pomona College professor, poet and playwright Rankine make it clear that racism isn't just the distant evil of lynchings and Klans, but the everyday lived experience of so many people. Racism by neglect, if you will. Racism by assumption or ignorance or simply failing to stand up for what's right. It's a real thing.

Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone - So there's this girl in the Ozarks. Acts as mum and dad and older sister to her two younger brothers. Her deadbeat meth-cooking dad goes missing one day so she goes off in midwinter to find him and drag him home lest they lose the house to the bail bondsman. As I was reading this I thought "this would make a great movie". And so it did.

Mark Kurlansky, The Food of a Younger Land - Once upon a time, during the Great Depression, the US government actually paid writers and artists to go out and create stuff. Can you imagine?! Among those projects was one to chronicle the nation's culinary habits and traditions.
Kurlansky digs up the old project archives from the Works Progress Administration, containing everything from squirrel stew recipes to New York luncheonette slang ("one on a pillow" is a hamburger, "bellywash" is soup, "Southern swine" is Virginia ham). I thought this one was going to be great, because I really liked Kurlansky's 'Cod', but it turned out to be largely lists and essays lifted from the WPA's archives - I was expecting more commentary. Still, a pretty fascinating peek at actual American cuisine before industrial food took over. Also useful if you need a good recipe for squirrel stew.

Dennis Lehane, Live By Night - I thought I should read a quintessential Boston writer. You might know Lehane from Mystic River and Shutter Island and Gone, Baby, Gone. Well, Live By Night is all of Lehane's strengths at once: Boston and Prohibition and dangerous women and gangster double-crossing. Great read. There's a sequel!

Wednesday Martin, Primates of Park Avenue - Perhaps you've heard of the 'wife bonus' - the lump sum doled out to the stay-at-home wives of high-powered Manhattan executive types based on that year's bonus. Perhaps you were outraged or you couldn't care less about the nontroversy (rich people do things that are totally removed from the everyday lives of ordinary people - wait, what?). This memoir is the source of that 'wife bonus' rumour. Too bad so much of it is factually inaccurate, because it's pretty entertaining - she should've just written it as fiction. Caveat (no spoilers): it should come with a @(#%&* trigger warning for new mums.

Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road - This is one of those depressing 1950s repressed-adults-caught-between-duty-and-ambition novels, in the illustrious tradition of Madame Bovary, Hedda Gabler, and Death of a Salesman. But it's good. But depressing. But good.

Phil Klay, Redeployment - Back in 2004 I took a creative writing class with Phil, who was a couple of years ahead of me at the time. Back then, he was already a pretty darn good fiction writer. Then after graduation he signed on with the Marines and went to Anbar as a public affairs officer and came back and got his MFA and became a great writer and this collection of short stories about modern warfare rather deservedly won the National Book Award last year (and what have you done with your life, GCA?).
My favourites in this collection were the longest ('Prayer in the Furnace') and shortest pieces ('OIF' - read in full here). Especially the latter. If you're a civilian, the military jargon cluttering this story is complete alphabet soup that you don't understand - but you don't have to understand anything until the last sentence when everything becomes crystal clear. That last sentence though. That last sentence.

Apparently it is Almost All White Almost All Male Reading Quarter 2015, I guess? I shall work on this.



Monday, July 27, 2015

Micro-thoughts

Two months in, maternity leave has so far involved a lot of physical labour but very little adult company. As it turns out, babies are terrible conversationalists! Who knew?* Every day I'm left with a brainful of fleeting micro-thoughts and no hands free to put them on Twitter, which is what one would ordinarily do with a bunch of inane, fleeting micro-thoughts.

So I'm saving them up, and you're getting treated to them over here. (I was inspired by Meggie over at The Thinks I Can Think who has taken this approach recently in her sleep-deprived residency state.) Please excuse me if not everything is grammatically correct or can even be parsed as a sentence; I'm a little sleep-deprived myself.

Last week I got myself a new pair of Mizuno Hitogamis from zulily, which is a discount flash-sale site. Normally I hate those sites, and the rest of the stuff on there appears to be hideous, but running shoes for $39 was too great a deal to pass up. Note - they were $39 because they've been replaced with a new edition, the Hitogami 2.
Also, my other two pairs of running shoes (my old Hitogamis and my Kinvara 5s - not my favourite, but I have yet to find a better alternative) are 1.5 years old and 1 year old respectively. While I haven't put a whole lot of miles on those, I can feel them going flat.

Training is extremely boring. The thing about new parent schedules is that you have to plan and coordinate with your other half pretty much down to the hour (and if you are a nursing mum, also plan around feeding and pumping). And that's how I run on Monday nights, Wednesday mornings, and Saturday mornings. Without fail. If the weather sucks I take a podcast and run on the treadmill. If you have the flexibility in your day to actually decide to go out for a run in the middle of the day, be grateful!
Mondays are track workouts. This past week we did three mile repeats: 8:33, 8:30, 8:40 (supposed to be 5K pace, fell apart slightly at the end). That's the first time I've seen an 8 on the front end of anything in a very long time.
Wednesdays are 'tempo' days, AKA "I will drag myself out of bed and run three to five miles without looking at my watch because I only got two consecutive hours of sleep at a time last night".
Saturdays are 'long' run days. I haven't made it to six miles yet - probably next weekend though, I have a nice route all planned out. And then, in a few months... we'll be able to run with baby!
I'm hoping that consistency will do *something*. I'm going for the long slow grind, emphasis on the slow.

As for sports bras - I settled on the Moving Comfort Urban X-Over (C/D) and the Moving Comfort Jubralee. The Urban is a souped-up version of the ironing-board A/B model I already own. The velcro straps on the Jubralee, however, have given me a little chafing - just FYI. Probably nothing a bit of Bodyglide can't fix.

OH I REGISTERED FOR A THING: the Tufts Health Plan 10K in October...wish me luck.


* - Books for babies, however, are a trip. Who writes these things and what are they smoking? I mean, take Goldilocks for example. She knocks on the door of a random house in the forest and when no one answers, she walks in and eats their food. What kind of behaviour is that?
I've also been thinking about what I like in baby books: a) big simple pictures, b) good stories, because I have to sit through them as well, and/ or c) rhymes and rhythms, the jauntier and noisier the better. Simple illustrations are great - we have long involved conversations about them. For instance, yesterday I had a very long involved conversation with baby D, in other words with myself, about bees and how they make honey and do the waggle dance to talk to each other.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Back in the saddle

Look at that pace. (That translates to a 10:32 mile pace. Not much, but the average in all my previous runs in 2015 has started with an 11.)

And then by Jen's request - lookit this face.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Odds and ends, post-partum


From the department of products that need to exist, baby-industrial complex edition: 
Camelbak nursing vest to alleviate nursing-induced thirst. Has room for boobs, comes with changing pad, pockets for diapers and burp cloths. Put this on and you're never more than a bite valve away from your water.
Strap-on burp cloths for all-day wear, much like a sweatband.
Ice-cooled baby carrier for summer adventures, like those compression sleeves with the pockets for ice packs. Prevents heat rash and miserable sweaty babies.

The truth about postpartum running:
- I'm about two minutes a mile slower than my normal pace...gahhh! My goal for group runs is simply to keep up. And there is, invariably, some sort of leakage. It's a good thing I now have a remarkably decreased squeamishness about any and all bodily excretions and functions. (I pushed a baby out of where?) Hang on, you say. Runners are already less squeamish about bodily excretions than your average normal person.
Exactly. So this is a step up (/down).
- Time for strength work? What time for strength work? HAHAHA. I'll take sleep for $200, Alex.

The theory of why 35-39 and 40-44 AG women are so terrifying: 
Fit and Feminist mentions in passing on Facebook her theory of AG competitiveness: the 35-39 women are all like 'I pushed a baby out of my vagina and then went without sleep for two years! A 70.3? Psh that's nothing.'
The other segment of 35-39/ 40-44 women, the ones who don't have children - they're probably also relatively settled in their jobs and have their love lives figured out and thus have way, way more focus in training.
And that's why those are the scariest age groups in non-professional racing. Truth.
I want to be one of those ladies when I grow up.

From the department of butchered song lyrics, or what to sing to an infant when you don't remember any children's songs:
a) To the tune of 'Everything is Awesome' (LEGO Movie)
Everything is messy
Everything is messy when you have a baby

b) To the tune of 'Part Of Your World' (The Little Mermaid)
I've got diapers and onesies aplenty
Jammies and mittens galore
You want burp cloths? I've got twenty!
Oh but wait, you spit up, I want more...

Edit: And one more thing I forgot to ask:
Please, please give me your recommendations for completely bombproof sports bras, kplsthx. As a former member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee I find myself in unfamiliar territory. But greater support is now necessary. What do you suggest? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Race report: the one with the best finisher souvenir ever

A few weeks back, I did say that expecting a baby was like training for a marathon... and you don't even get a medal at the end. Last week, the marathon organisers got their act together and fired the starting gun. It wasn't especially well-organised, there definitely weren't enough portaloos, and I still didn't get a finisher medal (technically, I won't be sure I've finished for another 18 years) - but I got something even better: this guy.



Meet baby D, 7.5lbs and 19.25 inches at birth - that's 3.4 kg and 49cm for those of us thinking in metric. Champion pooper and thumb-sucker extraordinaire, but he's still getting the whole eating thing figured out. He enjoys sunshine, a good burp, Rockabye Baby music, and being IN CHARGE.

Speaking of the eating thing, we live in a studio apartment, so visitors are...um...tricky. I put a sign on the door that says: "CAUTION: Breastfeeding mom, crabby baby, and stressed dad within. Visitors may make themselves useful or leave."

So how did the 'race' go? Well - as you all know, nothing ever really goes according to plan. At the same time, it wasn't one of those races where you are all-out miserable and hot and exhausted from the word go.

On Saturday night, I started having cramps and contractions which were irregular...all the way till Tuesday. In all I think I was in early labour for nearly four days. By the time I got to the hospital on Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning, I was 7cm dilated, in active labour, and thoroughly fed up - so asked for an epidural. (I'd been wavering on getting one, but it makes the difference between doing an ultramarathon with a support crew vs without a support crew.) After that, I was in labour for another 8 hoursincluding 3 hours of pushing  (I did say ultra).

The upside is that early labour pains weren't that bad for me, much like bad period cramps. I finally called and went to hospital because I'd started bleeding and was worried it might be a placental abruption or something, but it turned out to be perfectly normal. And with an epidural, you don't feel a thing when they stitch you up afterwards. However, your lady bits have still undergone massive trauma, with all the horrors that entails. Though I feel the alternative - major surgery - is probably worse.

We are totally in love with the little fellow, especially his hair!

It's all about the gas, bout the gas, no bubble.

Right now, baby has a little bit of jaundice. To flush out the bilirubin, we have to feed him quite aggressively, giving him a little formula or pumped milk through a tube setup to supplement what he's eating, while he latches and nurses. EVERY TWO HOURS. It's a juggling act... I wish it were just a little bit warmer out so we could sit out in the sunshine with him.

A few lessons:

- Proper fuelling is essential to a happy, healthy marathon. I didn't really have time to eat as much as I would have liked before getting that epidural, and after that they didn't allow me anything but water and ice chips. I'm convinced I had to push for three hours because I ran out of energy, and I ran out of energy because I had to push for three hours - it's kind of a vicious circle.

- One thing I've learnt from first aid and outdoor risk management classes is "make sure the scene is safe". In other words, you don't want to be the next casualty while trying to rescue your first aid patient. Likewise for being a new parent: you will be much better at your job if you have brushed your teeth, taken a shower, stayed hydrated and fed, got some sleep, had some coffee, (for breastfeeding mums) put nipple cream on, and generally feel more human.

Future race goals:

- Our apartment overlooks a little playground and I always see the kids out there. I am really looking forward to having a toddler or preschooler, because three-year-olds are hilarious.

- I loved growing up with my sister and loads of cousins always around, and I really wish we were geographically closer to baby D's cousins. We have a niece (on my side, directly, plus another six of my cousins' children) and a niece and nephew on the husband's side. They're all pretty close in age and I'm looking forward to spending time with them.

- We'll see how this parenting thing goes, but I'd really love to start actually running again by about late June and do a few more fun runs this summer. I'm really eyeing the 7-mile Falmouth Road Race in August...though I'm not certain I'll be in shape to enjoy 7 miles. And then I'll probably train for the Tufts Health Plan 10K as a goal race in October to sort of see what kind of shape I am actually in.

The lowdown:

Finishing time (stage 1): 13 hours from hospital admission.
Race date: May 13
Entering this race is free, but there are a number of participant fees to pay along the way, and it's totally a personal decision.
Race experience: ups, downs, pretty euphoric. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Running Boston for charity?

Happy Marathon Monday! Right now I'm grouchily watching the livestream of the Boston Marathon while doing work, because I have a ton of work to do before book club meeting tonight. 

Over at Salty Running today, the question came up of what people think of Boston charity runners. Does letting in charity runners diminish the prestige of the race? 

Personally, I would not run Boston as a charity runner without ever qualifying...and I speak as someone for whom it's more likely than not that charity running is the only way I will ever be able to run Boston. (Note for the uninitiated or people who can't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that there is a world of difference between me running a lot and me running fast: I would need to complete a marathon in 3 hours 35 minutes or less to qualify.) I just...wouldn't. BQing and running Boston means more to me than just getting the experience of running Boston; I feel like there's too much history and tradition there for me to not give the race the respect it deserves. 

I don't really mind if someone wants to run it for charity, as long as they respect the marathon distance and train properly for it. (And many people do!)

HOWEVER: The perceived prestige of Boston is precisely what enables the race to raise so much for charity. The bar to get in as a charity runner at Boston is much higher than getting in as a charity runner for just any old marathon, and thus the dollar amount a charity runner needs to raise is that much more, which enables charities to raise tens of millions for their various causes. In a single year. In an ideal situation, the number of charity spots would be limited for exactly this reason: scarcity enables charities to raise more per runner. 

(Tangentially: I would feel better about entering as a charity runner if I knew I was able to qualify/ had already legitimately qualified. Does that make any sense?) 

Friday, April 3, 2015

And here we are

And here we are at 34 weeks gestation and counting. It's exactly like training for a marathon, except the race organisers might suddenly spring a new start date on you that is either later or earlier than planned, you don't know where the start line might be, there are no medals at the end, and you definitely don't get rest days during training. So...ok, not exactly like training for a marathon.

I pretty much stopped running a week or two ago. I miss it, but it's just not that comfortable right now. After the New England Winter That Never Ends, we're finally (!!!) getting some nicer weather. I would go outside and walk but then I'd find myself resenting all the people running down by the river! Fortunately I'm not one of those superwomen who is going to run straight through pregnancy and do laps of the hospital parking lot - oh, who am I kidding, I don't even have anything to prove or appearances to keep up. I'm not a healthy living blogger. Heck, there's maple syrup and cream on my oatmeal, and there aren't even pictures of it. Plenty of walking to and from errands, and 40 minutes walking on the treadmill/ elliptical every couple of days does it for me.

(And then there is my nutty friend who just ran the LA Marathon, four months postpartum...)

What else have I been up to?

- Finishing up several work projects and not taking on major new ones to wind down for maternity leave (or the freelance equivalent of maternity leave)

- Reading: I got myself a public library card after securing some proof-of-residence documents. It's fantabulous! Some highlights that I've enjoyed:

Rachel Maddow, Drift - about the runaway expansion of the American military; she argues that America should return to its sound founding principles of avoiding war as far as possible.
Robert Harris, An Officer and a Spy - Robert Harris does these great historical fictionalisations of real events; he's tackled WWII code-breakers (Enigma), Roman senators (Pompeii), and now in An Officer and a Spy he writes about the Dreyfus Affair.
Pamela Druckerman, Bringing Up Bebe - An American parent in Paris uncovers the mysteries of French parenting and why French children seem so well-behaved (spoiler: French parents are firm with their children - no really does mean no - and far more chill about leaping up to tend to baby's every need). Methinks - as with parenting books everywhere - this is exaggerated a bit for book sale purposes, but there is a seed of truth in there somewhere.

- Attended this conference as a little professional splurge (you bet I will be taking that tax write-off next year); lots of discussion on where the media world is headed, as well as the nuts and bolts of telling better stories, and some lovely conversations about press freedom.

- A friend and I hit up the Harvard Museum of Natural History - which is free on Sunday mornings for local residents!! There was so much to see that we got through about three rooms of incredibly lifelike and exquisite glass flowers, iridescent bugs, giant isopods, massive fossils (my favourite was a huge fossil turtle. Its family name? Stupendymys!), and other stuff before we got hungry and decided to call it a day. I'll post some of my favourite pics later when my phone and my computer are in agreement, but we're definitely going back.