Monthly Archives: February 2013

Week 8: workouts

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my first interval workouts on the track (here and here).  Well, the following week I spent my mornings indoors battling a cold.  I wanted to be out on the track enjoying the workouts with Adam, but I needed to take it easy.  This past week I was feeling better, and finished two more interval workouts (on Tuesday and Thursday) – this time on the treadmills in the gym since it was raining both mornings.

Warming up before workouts has made a huge difference for me – the difference between burning out after ten minutes and holding strong (and getting stronger) throughout the workout.  Here’s how I’ve been warming up in the gym:

  • Warm up jog:  3/4 mile @ 5.3 mph
  • Drills (strides, high knees, butt kicks, skips, etc)

On Tuesday Adam and I ran on treadmills side by side in the gym and matched our intervals by time.  Each of the five sets were 4:00 minutes fast, followed by 1:30 minutes slow (I walked at 3.5 mph).  Here’s how they went:

  • 1-3:  6.6 mph (9:05 min/mile)
  • 4:  6.9 mph (8:42 min/mile)
  • 5:  7.2 mph (8:20 min/mile)

It felt like a solid workout.  I definitely didn’t push my limits, but I didn’t walk away feeling like I should have pushed harder.  It felt good.

On Wednesday, I took the opportunity to work in my new running shoes during an easy mile run – just enough to warm up so I could do some light stretching.  My legs always feel better when I remember to stretch the day after a good workout.  I did some yoga as well, but my wrist was hurting too much for the downward dog.  The wrist pain has come and gone over the last couple years – I thought it was due to weight lifting, but I’m starting to believe it has more to do with the way I type (something I’m working on now).

On Thursday (intervals day!!) Adam and I were back on the treadmills together (still in my old shoes).  It’s so much easier to finish the workout when he’s there.  It’s great.  After the usual warm up, we did three sets of longer intervals: 5:15 minutes fast and 2:15 minutes slow:

  • 1:  6.8 mph (8:50 min/mile)
  • 2:  7.0 mph (8:35 min/mile)
  • 3:  7.4 mph (8:06 min/mile)

I felt great after the workout, but by lunch time I had pains in my foot – in the arch, specifically.  I must have been too heavy on my feet during the intervals.  The muscles in my feet need to get stronger just like everything else.  Hopefully it doesn’t cause more trouble for me this next week.

Overall, it was a quiet week, but I’m happy with what I’ve done.  I would really like to find a good strength workout to do Monday, Wednesdays, and Friday to complement my running – something to look forward to for next week.  Wish me luck!

My New Year’s resolution – still going strong

thankful-for-2When I made my New Year’s resolution, I decided to do something small – something that I could commit to doing for an entire year.  Like most of us, I wanted to do something that would make me happier.  I decided to skip my usual resolution of running 5k consistently throughout the year.  In fact, I believe that one is more likely to be fulfilled without a formal New Year’s resolution (which only seems to add on guilt and pressure when things don’t go as planned).  This year I decided to keep a daily journal of things for which I am thankful.

The credit for this idea goes to Tal Ben-Shahar who gave a very interesting lecture at our university some time last year about the science of happiness.  There were a number of points he made that have stuck with me, but this idea has probably had the most influence on my life up to now.  Every night before I go to bed I write down five things for which I am thankful.  Some entries show up time and time again, like the following:

  • the time I get to spend with Adam
  • the support of my family
  • for my health
  • for a productive day at work

I’m incredibly thankful for those “big things”, without a doubt, but sometimes it’s the little things that make me the happiest.  Maybe it’s that some of these little things are more transient, so I appreciate them all the more when they happen – things like

  • a sunny day
  • a good night’s sleep
  • dinner with close friends
  • Adam lending me his raincoat when I forgot mine

Taking the time to write these thoughts down has helped me appreciate how truly lucky I am.  Granted, it’s not always easy.  Some days I just feel like being grumpy about something, but I force myself to acknowledge that there are always at least five things that are good in my life.  I don’t feel better right away, but it does help me let things go and move on with my life the next morning.  It’s hard to be down when there are so many things to be happy about.

So far my New Year’s resolution is helping me be a happier person – something I think we all strive towards.

It may be February, but it’s not too late to give it a try for yourself – what are you thankful for today?

Puppy rescue

puppiesAt 5:30 in the morning I was awakened by a phone call.  Adam was calling from his car, parked on the street in front of our apartment.  “There are five puppies out here who are starving.  They’re scrounging for food and I don’t know what to do.”  I looked out the window and could see the poor things scrambling around in the 35 degree early morning.  The puppies were huddled around a pile of recycling someone had likely put out the night before.  I told him I’d look online and the two of us set about looking for answers.  Baltimore’s animal control didn’t open until 6am.  Would they be safe there or did we need to call a rescue shelter?  Adam stayed in the car and I watched through the window to keep an eye on them.  By the time we got through to animal control, they said it would be a two hour wait.  And the important part: we needed to find a place to keep them until then.

At this point the puppies looked like they were ready to wander off down the alley.  We needed some way to keep their attention.  Adam quickly drove to a nearby store and bought some dog food.  We didn’t want to feed them too much, since it was clear they were malnourished and we didn’t want to make them sick.  To be safe, Adam began to feed them from the car window (we didn’t know how friendly they would be).  Only one of the puppies took the bait at first, but slowly another started to catch on, too.  Two hours was going to be a long time.

puppies2By 7am, other people passing by had stopped to help.  The puppies seemed friendly so Adam got out of the car and I came out to help.  Someone who works in the apartment building brought out a giant cart, and one by one we loaded the puppies into the cart.  Some were shy, but none of them resisted being picked up.  We had blankets, but it was still too cold outside – they were shivering.

With a group of neighbors and apartment staff, we wheeled the puppy cart into the basement and found a mostly-empty electrical room.  We cleaned it out a bit and make sure it was safe before we let them out of the cart.  Our neighbor brought some water and chew toys she had in her apartment from a previous pet.  Before we knew it, the whole office staff knew about the puppies and came by to take a look.  Ooohs and aaahs from all.  “They’re so cute!”  Within fifteen minutes they were all huddled together, asleep.  So what did we do with them now?

puppies4The building manager and staff were incredibly sweet and insisted that we could find loving homes for them – we wouldn’t need to send them to a shelter.  Besides, who would find them there?  They were all really sweet and cuddly so we began posting on Facebook and calling family and friends.  Now that they were safe, warm, and all in one place we could take a deep breath.  The puppies could stay at the apartment complex over the weekend or until we found good homes for them.

Well, guess what?  Within just a few hours, the office staff had found five people with enough kindness to open their hearts and homes to these sweet little puppies.  It turns out this was a good day for them after all.  I love a happy ending.

“Making up for lost time”

It seems that whenever I hear the phrase “making up for lost time” it’s always in the context of an incredibly motivating story: someone escapes from a near-death experience with a renewed sense of purpose, another finds joy from reconnecting with estranged family members, yet another discovers their passion for healthy eating and healthy living.  It’s a phrase that’s meant to be inspiring.  Well, the perfectionist in me has a serious issue with the idea of making up for lost time.  Frankly, it’s overwhelming.  The tagline of my blog is “putting one foot in front of the other” for a reason: it’s simple and it reminds me that I don’t need to obsess about where I came from or where I’m going.  I only need to focus on progress one step at a time.

As a graduate student in my fourth year, I’m feeling this pressure to make up for lost time more and more often: it’s time to publish, time to make due on all that time spent on research.  I understand that my advisor wants me to publish – it’s what pays the bills and allows our research to benefit the community.  I can respect that.  But now it’s beginning to feel less like “let’s publish this research” and more like “you should have published already”.  The impression I get is that every action (aside from adding text or figures to my draft) is a waste of time.

With all of this pressure, I can’t help but think back on my graduate career and say “if only I knew then what I do now – I would have been a great graduate student” (read: published a lot).  I spent so many hours working on the code, reading articles, taking notes at seminars, but these didn’t translate into papers.  During my first year I added new functionality to our group’s code and was excited to use this to produce new results.  I found an article I wanted to compare the results against and I brought them to my advisor.  His response: “This article is a waste of time – let’s do [something more complicated]”.  So I found myself hacking away at the code again.  Two years (and several unsuccessful projects) later, to my surprise, I found myself at a presentation where our new post-doc presented exactly what I had wanted to do in my first year (same analysis, same article for comparison).  He didn’t need to add anything to the code, he just needed to run it.  Within months he was able to publish a paper.  He was allowed to pluck the low-hanging fruit.  And all the while, I feel like I’ve been a failure for not publishing.

The truth of it is this: it’s hard not to feel the need to “make up for lost time” when you’re surrounded by brilliant professors who have been publishing in your field for decades.  There’s a lot to learn as a graduate student – and I’m not only talking about the science.  In addition to the formulas and experimental and numerical techniques, I needed to (and still need to) learn how to code well and how to organize my work.  Some of the work I did the past few years has been lost because I didn’t take the time to document things properly.  I never found a system that worked for me.  All the articles I’ve read are scattered among ambiguously-labeled folders and binders in my office.  It’s inefficient and frustrating.  What I know now is that it’s important to take the time to be organized – to keep a record – and I wish this had been emphasized by my advisor.  His attitude towards documentation can be summed up as “if it’s not going to be published, there’s no sense writing it” and he openly mocks the idea that metadata is important (it is).

On good days I remember how far I’ve come since I started graduate school and how much I value the activities that I spent my time on (time that I could have been churning out papers, theoretically).  During the first two years I spent most of my time on a heavy course load, but still found time to contribute to the code that has been an essential tool for my research thus far.  I’ve been the teaching assistant for three classes now, one of which took upwards of twenty hours a week (never again).  My greatest blessing during my graduate studies has been another student in our group who introduced me to Linux (and so much more) and is now mentoring me as I maintain our group’s “super-mini” computing cluster.  Without a doubt, the time I’ve spent (and continue to spend) on class, computers, and teaching has been well worth it, but it’s hard to remember that when all I’m hearing is “publish, publish, publish”.

So what am I doing now to succeed as a graduate student?  I’m redefining what it means to succeed – the fact that I haven’t published does not mean this time has been a waste.  I’m also writing more.  I’m organizing my thoughts on a daily basis and in a semi-organized manner.  Admittedly, it’s hard to be completely organized when my work is so exploratory and uncertain.  I now keep a daily record of my goals and accomplishments for the day, along with a to-do list for the future.  Each day’s list is a simple text document, so it’s easily searchable.  I’ve also started a project that I’m calling my “daily literature review” where I write about an article I’ve read.  I summarize the purpose of the paper in my own words, make a note of interesting results, identify what I consider its pros and cons, and I keep track of other related articles I might want to read later.  I’ll see how it works and post about it here – I’m hoping this will help me develop the literature review I need for the article I’m writing.

Writing this post has helped me realized that the time I’ve lost has not been the time spent on classes, computers, code, or teaching, but rather the time I spent telling myself that I was failing – that I was bad at my job.  Even if that is truly the case (which I hope it isn’t), there’s no sense sitting around feeling sorry for myself.  I choose to move forward (one step at a time), and here’s how I’m going to do it:

  • by appreciating all that I’ve learned and accomplished in the past few years,
  • by finding an organization system that enhances my efficiency at work,
  • and by sharing my lessons learned via this blog (to help others be more productive).

Well, here’s hoping for another successful year.

On the spinner and dealing with asthma

It’s been a week of trying new things workout-wise, so I decided to give the spinner a try.  Saturday morning was cold (in the twenties) and very windy so taking my road bike out wasn’t an option.  When I’m in the gym I usually use the recumbent bike, but Adam’s been trying to get me on the spinner.  I guess the spinner is closer to what I’d be doing once I get out on the road.  Well, the spinner was much harder than I expected, but that might have been due to the bike positioning.  It felt like I was using muscles I didn’t usually use – or didn’t know I had.  Next time I’ll have Adam help me find the right settings (height, seat position, etc).

With Adam’s guidance, I decided I’d do 40 minutes on the bike then a 20 minute run.  Those were a very long forty minutes.  I didn’t have music.  There was nothing on the TV.  There were no interesting people to watch.  I must have looked at the clock every other minute.  I wish my heart rate monitor was working so I could look at the data and see how hard I was working.  Fifteen minutes in, I didn’t know if I would finish.  The one time I manually measured my heart rate it was around 170 which is the high end of my bike range (running gets to about 183 before I fall apart).

Then things really got tough.  Three minutes left on the bike, my asthma kicked in.  Suddenly.  That’s the worst part – suddenly.  One minute I’m chugging along and breathing deeply, then the next I feel like I’m in a bear hug.  I try to take a deep breath, but get halfway and feel an intense pressure that won’t let me continue.  Without a doubt, my asthma is exacerbated and sometimes triggered by stress (psychosomatic as I learned from my mom).  Emotions play a huge role.  I always keep my inhaler with me while exercising, but luckily I’ve never had to use it in an emergency.  This time I turned down the resistance on the spinner and focused on remaining calm.  I’m fine.  Things are going to be fine.  Stay calm and keep breathing.  At the end of those three minutes I actually did fell fine.  Crisis averted.

After surviving forty minutes on the spinner and the brief asthma attack, I made my way to the treadmill.  I wanted to take it easy after that, so I jogged at 11:30 min/mile pace for my twenty minutes.  I really could have gone harder – those twenty minutes were comfortable and I worked up a little sweat without too much trouble.  Next time I’ll push it more, but those twenty minutes running were just what I needed at the time – a confidence boost.  I needed to feel fine to convince myself the asthma was gone.  I’m still learning my limits, and Saturday was definitely a learning experience.  Overall, I consider it a win.

Loving the track

Last Tuesday I finished my first ever track workout (with my fiancé, Adam), and I’m still riding that high – that sense of excitement and achievement.  For the past year, I’ve focused on building my endurance by running various distances (generally between two and five miles) around my home and campus, but I never worked on my speed.  For the longest time I avoided intervals because I didn’t think they’d benefit me – I thought I needed to be able to run well before doing intervals.  It was as though intervals were for the serious, competitive runners.  Well, I can already tell that thinking was backwards.

Perhaps part of my hesitation regarding intervals was that I just didn’t know what to do.  How long?  How many times?  How much rest?  It felt a very different from the simple “I’ll just go out and run xx miles”.  If Adam wasn’t interested in helping me with this, I may never have started (I’m a lucky girl).

Well, Tuesday was amazing, but it absolutely killed my legs – specifically my hip flexors and hamstrings.  I was excited that I felt the burn in my hamstrings, because I’ve heard for a while that mid-foot running works the hamstrings and calves more than running by heel-striking.  I can also tell from the way I’m hurting that my stride was much longer than usual (aka longer than my 5k runs) which means I’m actually working the muscles I would be using during a race.  I’m realizing more and more that my 5k runs just weren’t cutting it – they were too slow and weren’t helping me improve.

Since Tuesday’s workout left me hobbling instead of walking, I made sure to roll out my hamstrings (using a Nalgene bottle) that night.  It felt great, but didn’t make them hurt any differently.  Wednesday morning before my strength training I also did a slow mile run and stretched out my legs.  Despite all this they were still killing me this morning.  I decided to go out for my workout as planned, and I’m glad I did.  Once I began running, the pain went away.  It was colder than Tuesday (around 30° with a bit of wind) but still not too bad.  Here’s what I did:

  • warm up:  1200m jog  (11:40 min/mile)
  • three long intervals:  1000m, then rest between 1:30 and 1:40
  • three short intervals:  200m, then rest between 1:30 and 1:40
  • cool down:  400m barefoot jog

The rest times varied because I was matching my interval’s with Adam’s – he was running 1600m’s and 400m’s.  I’m glad we mixed it up, too – the total interval distance is the same as my workout on Tuesday, but I was able to work on endurance with the 1000m’s and really stretch my legs on the 200m’s.  Here are my splits:

  • 1000m:  5:32  (8:51 min/mile)
  • 1000m:  5:36  (8:58 min/mile)
  • 1000m:  5:40  (9:04 min/mile)
  • 200m:  0:49  (6:32 min/mile)
  • 200m:  0:50  (6:40 min/mile)
  • 200m:  0:49  (6:32 min/mile)

It’s amazing to me that some people can keep up my 200m pace over the length of a marathon.  It was cool/fun to get a feel for that speed.  Overall, I consider today’s workout to be a success – another step in the right direction.  I’m mixing things up and pushing the boundaries.  My legs feel better now that they did last night, so hopefully they’ll be ready for what awaits them this Saturday… maybe a brick (bike + run).  We’ll see!

CSA with One Straw Farm

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this season’s CSA with One Straw Farm.  I bought a full share in 2010 and was incredibly happy with the produce, but I just couldn’t manage to make use of enough veggies for four people (I know, I should have realized this ahead of time, but I was being ambitious).  Wasting perfectly good food made me feel terribly guilty, and I decided not to sign up again until now.  Luckily Adam is as excited about this as I am and is up for the challenge.  We’re both really happy to support local (and organic!) farming.  And the craziest part – we are actually encouraged to visit the farm.  Considering how secretive and opaque our food system can be, this is a big deal to me.

Well, since I won’t see any of this food until June, I’m just going to reminisce about the all the wonderful fruits and veggies I enjoyed the last time, including… strawberries, arugula, kale, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, minzuna, chard, garlic scapes, beets, spinach, romaine, broccoli, zucchini, kohlrabi, white onions, patty pan squash, cabbage, potatoes, garlic, spring onion, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, carrots, corn, cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, white beets, celery, tomatillos, basil, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, green beans, thyme, watermelon, japanese eggplant, green peppers, butternut squash, bok choy, and spaghetti squash.  Yum!  I can’t wait!

For those of you lucky enough to afford the lump sum up-front, I highly encourage you to look for local CSAs.  I can’t guarantee they’ll be as awesome as Joan and Drew at One Straw Farm, but it’s worth a look.