October 26, 2009

A Special Case of the Mondays

After a long and severely turbulent flight (worst flight EVER), I'm finally back on the ground in California. Thankfully!

I was uber happy to see Pete, Spokey (my bike), be out of the cold, and back into the comfort and familiarity of my own room.  However, it was Sunday night and I was not excited about going back to work in the morning.  I just wanted a day to do absolutely nothing: no driving, no packing/unpacking my suitcase, no listening to people lecture all day, no thinking, no nothing.  As you can imagine, I wasn't very excited to hear my alarm of obnoxious bongo-like drumming go off at 6:30 this morning.  Definite case of the Mondays.

But not all Mondays can be bad.

About a month ago I decided I was going to put all car purchasing plans to an end, quit using Pete's truck for convenience, and rely on Spokey or public transportation to get everywhere.  Maybe I caught the "going green" bug.  Maybe the amount of money I'd have to spend on a car seemed daunting.  Maybe I like the exercise.  Probably all of the above, who knows.  I made it a whole two weeks before I had to use the truck to get to the LB Half Marathon, and then had a rental car for the past two weeks in Minnesota.  Today, I was back at it.

Once my brain sort of started functioning it sunk in that I was going to ride my bike again for the first time in two weeks - yay!  Then I remembered I had bought some biking gloves before I left for Minnesota and I'd get to test those out too - yay!  Then, when I walked out the door I noticed that it was incredibly foggy - yay!  I had not biked through the fog yet.  Turns out this Monday wasn't so bad, and it was about to get even better.

I reached the bike path and was having fun watching people emerge from the fog - it seemed like some sort of surreal, weird, other-dimension that these people were riding out from.  Freeing me from my "fog trance," I heard a "Goooood morning commuter girl!"  It was Alan.  I had met Alan, a 60ish-year-old retired electrical engineer with a nice Octobeard, back in July on one of my first commutes to work.  That day, Alan ended our "get-to-know-each-other-in-2-min-small-talk" with an intriguing request: "bike commuting is going to change you - figure out how and why and you'll learn to value your ability to bike...next time I see you out here I want a full report!"  And he pedaled away.

Naturally, the first thing Alan said to me after his initial greeting was "so, figure it out yet?!"  I had totally forgotten about his request until this moment - isn't he supposed to be the "old" and forgetful one? But without even hesitating I blurted out, "the simple and unexpected things make me incredibly happy."  Where did that come from?  I'm pretty sure I said it without even thinking first, thankfully it sounded sort of smart and actually made sense!  That usually doesn't happen when I don't think before I speak.  Anyway,  it must've been the "right" answer because Alan got the kind of grin your parents get when you've done something to make them proud - like clean your room or wash the dishes without being asked.  Alan then proceeded to laugh a bit and explain that I seemed more scared than incredibly happy when he unexpectedly emerged from the fog shouting "good morning."  What a goof.

So here I am, happy as can be on this Monday afternoon.

The simple, and often unexpected things are really what matter most.

Today's list of simple pleasures: happy halloween/welcome home card from the roommate, trying out my new biking gloves, uber fog, crazy Alan, smell of fresh-cut grass at the end of October (this doesn't happen in MN), cupcakes from the boss.

Something to think about:
[Thought taken from a talk I went to last week by John Daly]

Can you remember all of the [expected] birthday or holiday gifts you've given or received over the past 5-10 years from family members and/or significant others? (I have trouble remembering past this year)

How about the small, simple, "surprises" you've received (or given) for no specific reason?  (I can remember these types of things, in detail, as far back as 10 yrs ago)

October 16, 2009

Lending a Hand

Volunteering never fails to be rewarding.

This past week I have been back home in Minnesota training for work.  A requirement for our training program is that we somehow give back to our community by volunteering an afternoon of our time.  My group was asked to go to Bridging Inc. - a non-profit organization that "provides the economically disadvantaged with a one-time gift of quality furniture and household items."  Basically, people and families that need household items for a variety of reasons are referred to Bridging Inc. and get to "shop" at the on-site warehouse for everything they need.  The place was packed with donations, old and new (12 semi-loads of furniture and housewares are donated each week).  Pretty cool!

Stores such as Target, HOM Furniture, and other local places will often donate overstock items, and a lot of these items require some assembly.  Our job today was to assemble some small entertainment centers.  Sounds simple, right?  Definitely not the case.  These entertainment centers required the most ridiculous assembly I have ever seen (think Ikea on steroids).  There was an instruction BOOK in place of the usual small packet, holes were drilled in all the wrong places, and 11 engineers were crowded around it all.  How many engineers does it take to put an entertainment piece together?  One would've been a lot more efficient.

Here we are, attempting some sort of assembly line.  It was only slightly defective.

Despite a vast amount of frustration, it ended up being an afternoon packed full of fun (we even fit in a game of lawn darts and football on a patch of grass before we started building).  I gained more experience working with a team in a different type of situation, I learned that reading and following instructions isn't always as easy as it appears, and I developed some pretty awesome carpentry skills - just call me Bob.  But most importantly, and most rewarding, in four hours we were able to build...3 entertainment pieces, and help out 3 families!

Here's the finished product:  

What a beauty, eh?!  Lets just hope it doesn't fall apart in transit.  We may have ended up with a few extra screws, plugs, and pieces of wood...nobody was really sure where they were supposed to have gone...

I've always really enjoyed volunteering - but my experience has really only involved volunteering at races.  Helping out at races is never very strenuous - mentally or physically.  For me, it's just a helpful way to cheer for family, friends, random people with awesome names on their bibs, and socialize without having to actually torture myself :)

I had a completely different feeling after volunteering today.  Although the work was relatively tedious, and involved a significant amount of cooperation foreign to a select number of engineers, it felt incredible to know our 22 hands will touch at least 3 families in need.  Lending a hand is something I definitely want to spend more of my free time doing, and I plan to pursue this interest when I get back to California.  

I encourage everyone to find ways you can help out in your community.  I promise you will smile, feel like you did something significant (something many of us struggle feeling with our paid jobs), and meet some fun people.  And, if for some reason you don't enjoy the experience...you can't regret helping someone out, right?  Win-win.

I failed to mention I almost cut my thumb off on a sharp piece of plastic...no worries, though, Batman's got it all covered, literally:

All smiles here :D

October 13, 2009

Long Beach Half Marathon!

After taking a very lovely scenic tour of Long Beach Sunday morning due to what seemed like EVERY road being closed, I finally arrived at my pre-assigned parking spot.  I parked, stuffed everything into my iFitness belt (that thing holds an incredible amount of stuff!), and jogged to the start line.

Just as I started making my way towards the "Wave 3" signs, I realized I really had to go to the bathroom and looked in horror at the ginormous lines.  I joined the billion other people who apparently also had pre-race IBS, and ended up crossing the start line in Wave 4, almost 15 minutes after the race had started.  Thank goodness for Mr. D-chip.

The first 3 miles flew by, and it wasn't until I looked at my watch for the first time at mile 4 that I realized I was well ahead of pace for my 2:15 goal (thank you, wristband).  Bonus!  I was a little concerned I had started too fast - but decided to just keep going and hold on for as long as possible.

"As long as possible" came between miles 9 and 10 when I got a huge bummer of a side ache.  I was thinking "ugh why does this ALWAYS happen!" and that I really needed to figure out how to get rid of them, ASAP.  Apparently I had accumulated some good Karma because within seconds I felt a tap on my shoulder followed by the glorious words, "take deeper breaths, and finish strong!"  Superman then flew away, literally (if I passed 378 people in the last 7 miles, this guy must've passed 2000).  FINALLY, someone told me how to get rid of a side ache, and I felt great again.  This was short lived.

Mile 11 I guess I hit the "wall."  This was totally expected - I knew I could finish, and if I kept myself from walking, I knew I'd be able to break 2:10!  I used the last of my energy to speed up again, and crossed the finish line at 2:08 (a 16 minute PR!).  I was not expecting to do that well at all, and was SO happy!  :-D

                             Here's me: happy!  And, I was a good girl and recycled my foil cape!

This was only my 2nd half marathon and I'm still learning a lot about long distance running.  Here are the main things I took away from this race:

1.  TRAIN!  I really need to give this another shot.  I most likely would not have hit the wall so hard (my pace slowed by almost 2 min), and my legs probably wouldn't still be hurting this bad had I done more than one long training run.

2.  Refueling really helps.  I decided to run with Gu this race.  First time I've ever tried it while running, and it definitely made a huge difference.  Who knew?!

3.  Enjoy the beauty of the course.  So, for about four miles of the race we ran along the beach, next to this huge, blue thing called the ocean - yet, I don't recall ever actually seeing the ocean...I guess I was in "the zone" but I might as well have been zoning out in the middle of a cornfield.

4.  Pay it forward.  If you see someone struggling (or just to be nice) help them out!  This type of running may be all about personal goals and achievements, but we're all one big team.  I don't think I would have been able to meet my goal had "Superman" not taken the few seconds to tell me how to get rid of my side ache -  so thankful!

5.  My skort is awesome.

I've worn this during both half marathons, and both times I've been pleasantly surprised with a "cute skirt!"  Compliments are always nice, but when I hear this it also means I've passed someone :-D.

After the race I walked back to the parking lot, took a lovely scenic route out of Long Beach since the crazy full marathoners were still running all over the place, and made my way to the airport to fly back to Minnesota.  When I awoke to immense pain Monday morning, I was also greeted with chilling 35 degree air, and 3 inches of snow - Uffdah!  Here's to 2 weeks of running on a treadmill...

October 9, 2009

Then and Now

Sentimental first post: it happens.

With my second half marathon coming up in two days, I've been thinking a lot about running.  Why did I start running?  Why did I quit, and start running again? Why am I running another half marathon I didn't really train for?  How do people get so motivated to run...so far?!

It all started with my dad.  My dad was an elite runner in his prime, and can still rock a sub 3:30 marathon with his 63-year-old legs.  Now I've never been very close with my dad, but we've always shared a special bond thru running.  Out of his four children, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who has ever found any ounce of joy in this crazy sport.  When I was 2 years old he had me running the kids' fun runs at his races with him, and in middle school I decided to quit soccer and start running cross-country and track when I consistently "won" the mile run in gym class, realizing I had inherited some of his natural talent.

I ran cross-country and track through high school, and was pretty good at it...for not trying very hard.  One thing I definitely did not inherit from my dad was his drive to win.  Running was always about having fun, socializing, and screaming at the top of my lungs for my teammates during the last leg of the 4x4 at track meets; not about taping my face so I wouldn't get frostbite running in -30 deg wind chill, running so hard I start hallucinating, or pushing myself so hard I threw up.

During "long" runs on the Gateway Trail, my friend Sarah and I would always find ourselves looking for places to "hide" until everyone passed us again...cutting a couple miles off the (what now seems short) 5-7 mile runs.  Somehow I still ran sub 6 min splits in our cross-country races, and hovered around 2:30s in my 800s.  What?!  I can't even fathom running that fast anymore.  Maybe my previous success without training is why I currently struggle with it?  All I know is running was a blast, and my dad may have missed a lot of conferences, basketball games, and dances...but he was at every single track and cross-country meet when he was in town.

Then I graduated from high school and made the move to Madison, where I ran maybe 5 times my whole first 3 years of college.  I guess I found new, more exciting things to do?

I totally lost touch with running, and it wasn't until I moved to Huntington Beach last summer for an internship, that I met Pete, and remembered why I loved running in the first place: it's fun, and the bonds you form (Pete has an awesome running group) are unbreakable!  I started running again - struggling to run just 2 miles - yikes; but, by the fall, I felt confident enough with my newly found mad running skillz to ask my dad to do a 5 mile race with me at the apple orchard by my house in Minnesota.  I could tell this made him really happy - we had lost touch a bit since I moved to school - and it made me ecstatic that my dad was going to run a race, slowly...with me!  My mom even seemed to be overjoyed with the idea and came to watch us - she made sure to take a picture similar to one she had taken 18 years ago:

See my dad's ridiculous outfit?  He still wears that...and he still has those shoes, but that's another story.

This race made me fall in love with running all over again.  I'm excited to do it again next Saturday - where I plan to retire my current running shoes - that have been with me thru some major accomplishments this year:

Since that day I've run another 5 mile race in Madison (in a thunderstorm), my first Half Marathon, my first 10 miler, and my first trail run!  My two longer runs, and biggest running accomplishments to date, were extremely painful, and painfully slow - but I had fun, ran with good company, and my dad ran to the finish with me during my half when I felt like quitting...which was right about when this picture was taken (too bad I didn't have to obey traffic signs):

So here I am, waiting to run the Long Beach half marathon which will undoubtedly be painful, and painfully slow...but I've never been more excited.  I'm okay with being a turtle as long as I'm having fun.  The course will be beautiful (and beautifully flat), the crowd sounds promising, and there are lots of runners signed up! Perfect!