Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Musings on a Tuesday (10.29.13)

Greetings on this glorious Autumnal Tuesday!

1) Some days I think I should be a comedian (some days I actually think I am a comedian, and then I try out some of my jokes on my students, and then they don't laugh. Ah. Being a teacher is the best reality check there is.)

If I was a comedian, my current routine would start with:

"So, pumpkin spice lattes. What's up with that?"

And then, I would go on to riff on all thing pumpkin. It would be like that list in Forest Gump, except not shrimp, but pumpkin.

It's not that I don't like pumpkin--I totally do--but this is the first fall I have spent completely in the United States in 7 years. My last American Fall was in 2006, and it was truncated (every former student I ever taught is now saying: oooooooh, Vocab Word, Miss Bowers!) by my student teaching semester--I went to Taiwan around mid-October. That was the last partial-fall I experienced--and the pumpkin thing? Well, it wasn't a thing.

In case you haven't been out of the country for Autumn for the last 7 years, allow me to enlighten you: the pumpkin spice EVERYTHING craze is out of control. Out of control.

Guys, even McDonald's has a pumpkin spiced latte. 

Even McDonald's. 

And it's pretty good.

2) Next, if I were comedian, I would say: "So, Halloween. What's up with that?"

Because it's the same thing with Halloween as with the pumpkin-everything: o b s e s s i o n.

Now, I am not one of those Holier-than-thou Christians who thinks that Halloween is of the devil. (Sorry if you are one of those Christians and if I have just offended you, but I'm in a super snarky mood, so feelings are going to get hurt today, and it's better that I take it out on you guys than on my students who are the ones who deserve the full blown Miss Bowers Snark this week because they are annoying. Did I mention the part about teaching being a great reality check?)

But, I do think the Halloween worship is a bit excessive. Everywhere you turn, it's Halloween. Except for my house because I refuse to put ghosts in my yard like all of the neighbors up and down my street. Seriously--it's like a haunted village or something on my street.

I love Autumn. But I don't love Halloween. Not because of the meaning of the holiday: I just don't looovvvveeee it. I don't hate it, either. I even like playing dress-up, as long as I can be a literary character:
Can you guess the literary character?
Sometimes I amaze even myself. I love how evil look in this picture. And, this is an epic Fuki-Ji special of a costume. I'm going to give myself a retrospective imaginary Gold Star. 
In fact, if I was invited to a Halloween party this year, which I wasn't, I was going to be River Song from Doctor Who. Okay, that's not exactly literary, but I have the hair for it, and that's what counts.
What's the point of big curly hair if you can't dress up like River Song for Halloween?
Maybe I'm just bitter because no one invited me to a Halloween party? 

Nope, I still think that the Halloween-Adoration is overboard.

3) Here are some things I do love about Fall: 

  • Curling up under a warm blanket on the couch with an especially-good book.
  • Boots--I am really having a love affair with boots this Fall. I want them ALL!
  • That toasty feeling under your covers in the early morning--and that it's not quite so horrifically cold yet that getting out of bed is utter torture.
  • Cardigans--I know, super dorky.
  • Pumpkin spice coffee creamer (I just had to sneak that one in). Even the Aldi brand is good!
  • Soup! And that I can eat soup without sweating.
  • Golden leaves and driving down golden-reddish-yellowish-coppery tree-lined roads.
  • Wood smoke in the air.
  • Wearing scarves without looking like a Hipster.

4) I'm happy to announce that I've signed up for another Half Marathon. Yes, I'm crazy. But, I'd don't mind--it's exercise, baby. This one will be the Philly Love Half-Marathon, a (new) race in Philadelphia on March 30, 2014. And, I have someone to run it with this time, which is fantastic--one of the other teachers at my school is also a runner, and so we are doing it together. I'm thrilled--thrilled, dahlings--to have someone to run with, and really thrilled to get to run in Philadelphia, which is, of course, an awesome city. Any of my Philly friends want to join us? If I can do it, you can do it!

5) For the past month or so (since the dog moved to Mali), I have been ensued in what can only be called an epic battle against a few mice in my house. I cannot catch them! They don't like chocolate, peanut butter, nutella, fruit snacks or cheese. It is ridiculous. I have bought FIVE different kinds of traps to try and get these mice. They either reject the traps and bait entirely...or somehow get the bait (I've discovered that they love eggs) without getting caught. I just got a "Mouse Zapper" from Amazon (it...electrocutes them...humanely, one hopes), so hopefully I can get them that way.

It is so frustrating, but at the same time, it has become this hilarious, dramatic episode every evening...I walk into the kitchen making as much noise as possible to scare them off the stove where they cheekily run around in broad daylight. I shout angrily when I see them run cheekily into the living room like they own the place. When I come home from school, I open the door with a slight tremble of excitement and anticipation: will I have caught something today? I scheme and mutter to myself, scour the interwebs for advice on catching mice, and plan their demise.

Despite all of this, my mice (see, now I'm calling them "my mice") are as smart as The Brain. And I'm Pinky, I suppose.

No, really. It's like American mice are all hopped up on hormones and they are evolving at a faster rate than we can keep up with them. And, they're coming for us, human world. They will slowly nibble us to death.

For those of you who have ever spent the night in an African hut on a straw mattress...you know that is a distinct possibility, actually...but I'll leave that story for your own tortured nightmares tonight.

On that pleasant note--Until another Tuesday's musing!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Half Marathon Adventure

Hooray! I did it! I ran a Half Marathon!

Six months ago, I "confessed" on this blog that I was having a really hard time getting back into a semblance of an exercise routine since moving back to the United States. So, to motivate myself, I signed up or a half-marathon, believing that the motivation of paying a lot of money to run a race (Yes, you pay to run. Yes. that is crazy) would inspire me to exercise more, and also that having a goal to work toward would help me.

For the most part, this was true; I admit that for the first couple of weeks after signing up for the Half, I trained pretty regularly, and then, after starting my job in April, I definitely slacked off and didn't pick up my running with regularity until about the end of July - not that I didn't run, but it was still pretty sporadic.

Despite my probably-not-the-best training regimen, yesterday I ran the Half Marathon in the Baltimore Running Festival, successfully completing my personal goals, which were: to run the whole way (allowing for mini-pauses at the water/Gatorade stations) and to run it in under 3 hours, oh - and to finish. I accomplished all three of those goals, and though I wasn't the fastest runner in that race, I did beat some people, and had a a lot of fun.

Leading up to race day, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it, simply because when school started I had a hard time fitting exercise into my schedule: I was so wiped out at the end of the day as my body re-acclimated itself to demands of teaching. I kind of overcame this, and was able to get a couple of shorter runs in every week.

The key to half-marathon or marathon training, however, is the weekly long run, which is exactly what it sounds like: once a week, you go for a really long run, slowly increasing your mileage each week. You are not supposed to try to run 10 miles a day as you prepare for a long race. Keep the mileage of your day-to-day runs low - 5 miles or so, and save your strength for one long run a week. My problem with the long runs is that they take so much time. So, my Saturdays were being eaten up by my increasingly longer runs, because it's not just the run itself: your body needs time to recover afterwards. Or, at least my body does. And, recovery does not mean sitting at the table grading homework and working on lesson plans. It means lying on the couch unable to do anything for the rest of the day. I was definitely worried that the longer runs were cutting into time that I needed to spending on school work.

And then, I wrote on my blog that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do the Half. For some reason, that motivated me to do it. Funny how that works? I decided that this was something I had promised to myself long before I had taken this job, and that it's important to have a "life" (not that running 8-10 miles every weekend is having a life) outside of school. I always struggle a lot with feeling guilty if I am not constantly working on school work, and that has been another personal goal of mine this year as a teacher: that it's okay to have some time to yourself; that in fact, you must have some time to yourself not doing school work in order to be a good teacher (but that's for another blog post, perhaps). The other thing that I have had to work to change (and am still working to change) is to see the running as a part of my down time - I would almost resent the hour or more that it would take out of my afternoons after school, because it meant less "down time." But I've been working hard to see running/exercise as a part of that time, not taking away from it. And, of course, being a total nerd, those hour or more runs mean I get to listen to NPR podcasts and audio books, which is something I actually really look forward to, and it helps the miles slip away (except for the last few weeks, because I was training myself not to run with music as the BRF really encouraged the runners to run ear-phones free. I'm really glad that I did, because I think I might have missed out on a lot.

All of this exposition finally bring us up to race day. I was more anxious about how I was going to get to the race rather than the race itself, which is kind of funny, and what I was going to take with me, and how I was going to carry it. I think my brain sort of transferred my worries about the race to the smaller logistics, which was good. I didn't want to drive to the race, because I would have had to get there really, really early since so many of the streets would be closed, and I would have had to hassle with parking and finding somewhere to park - just a huge mess. I also didn't want to ask someone to drop me off, because I needed to get there so early on a Saturday, and I don't feel like I know anyone well enough to do that, yet. So, I decided to take the bus. Now, I've taken the bus in European cities a lot, and I've taken the bus in Senegal a few times, and Car Rapides in Dakar and "Green Machines" in Bamako (just think of Car Rapides and Green Machines as metallic death traps on wheels) but I've not taken the bus in Baltimore in a long time. I was stressing out about it, because I hate being the obvious person who doesn't know what she is doing, and I felt like I would already stick out because of wearing my race shirt and number. So, I did all this research on riding the bus in Baltimore to make sure I wouldn't make a mistake; you may now consider me an expert on the local bus system in Baltimore. The bus that runs right by my house goes directly downtown, which, by the way, I am not going to drive downtown any more, because I'll spend less on the bus than on parking. The only problem was that on the race day the routes would be all discombobulated because of the race, so then I had to figure out how to get to the starting line from where the bus would drop me off. Fortunately, I only had to walk about half a mile, and it was a good warm up. I decided not to take a bag or anything with me, and instead bought a water bottle holder-thingy that had a little pocket for my phone and money - which was great - I haven't been running with a water bottle and now I am not going to go on long runs without it; that was all that I had to carry with me, and I didn't have to hassle with the bag check.

I got up really early on race day so that I could eat well enough in advance. I started with whole grain toast and eggs, and then took a bagel with peanut butter, and a small bag of almonds and craisins with me to snack on while I waited for the race to start. They told us to get there 90 minutes early and I wanted to make sure I had enough fuel to get me through race. I had been eating carb-heavy meals all week (I love that training for a long race means you can basically eat whatever you want) but I still needed to make sure I had a good breakfast.

I was in the 5th wave (i.e. the slowest group) so I had to walk all the way down Light St., almost to Key Highway, to wait for the race to start. The starting line was about a half a mile away, actually. While I waited, the marathon runners started to pass, and I got to see the first runners go by, which was pretty cool.

As I sat on the wall waiting, an man came and sat next to me and started chatting. He gave me some advice about running the Half (he was a walker, but had done it several times). The crazy thing is that it turns out that he is the son of the author E.L. Konisburg, who wrote one of my favorite children's books, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. So random! He then proceeded to creep me out just a little bit by knowing my name, even though I hadn't told him...I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to be creepy - I wear a silver bracelet that has my name on it, and he probably read that, but I was a little taken aback by that. Other than that, it was a nice conversation and took my mind off the race a little.
Map of the Race, for those of you from Baltimore.
Sorry, Kid President - I had no one to take a picture of me in my race shirt, so here is an obligatory selfie. It's the only one, I promise!

Finally, 9:45 (the supposed start of the race) came around, and everyone started to walk, slowly, towards the starting line. We walked, and we walked, and we walked, and we walked. I kept wondering if somehow we had crossed it, and were just all too bunched up to actually run? I was in the slowest "wave" after all. Finally, we crossed Pratt St. and started up Calvert St., and there was the starting line. Crowds lined the sides of the street, and everyone around me started cheering. As a group, we all started running a few feet before the line, which was actually a large, raised, blue hump in the road that would sense our timers (all of our bibs had an electronic thingy in them). We crossed the blue hump, and we were off.
All the people ahead of me, as we waited to get going. There were something like 11,000 runners in the Half, alone.
You can barely see it in this photo (sorry - all pictures were taken with my camera phone, so they are not going to be the greatest [not that I take the greatest pictures normally]) but the starting line is up ahead. This is after walking about half a mile to get there.
This is the "Phoenix Shot Tower," which we ran past. I am not sure where the name comes from.
Running down Baltimore St., through Little Italy.
Because I was running alone and without music, it was interesting to just listen to the conversations of the people around me, and to watch everything that was going on. There were all sorts of different groups running for all sorts of purposes, all kinds of interesting costumes and t-shirts - one guy was running in a Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup outfit (why you would want to run any distance in that, I don't know). Other people were running with home-made Tutus around their waists (women and men). For the first couple of miles people just talked and talked and talked (around Mile 5, the chatter stopped as the hills got harder, and people needed to concentrate and breath). One lady was obviously on the phone with her secretary (really?). When people saw their friends on the sidelines, they got really excited, of course, and that was great to see everyone's personal fans.

It was such a fun race to run because there was such a community spirit. The race runs right through the city, so we were running through residential areas as well as commercial districts. A lot of the neighborhoods we were running through are not the sort of places you would want to be in any other day of the week, but people were lined up on the streets, cheering us on. Kids held their hands out to high five the runners as we ran past, and old ladies stood out on the corner and screamed and cheered like we were their grandchildren running the race. People came out with all sorts of creative and crazy signs:

"Smile if you pooped your pants while training." (No, I didn't smile)
"Half Marathon today, Law and Order Marathon tomorrow."
"Your couch misses you"
"We are strangers, but I AM SO PROUD OF  YOU!"
"You are running faster than the Government!"
"There is a hot guy ahead of you, run harder!"
"There is a creepy guy behind you, run harder!"

It was so cool that strangers came out to cheer - people obviously inconvenienced by the race and all the closed streets - and yet they cheered anyway. You could tell some of the people were waiting for the road to open up to cross the street, but they just got out of their cars and came up to the top of the intersection and cheered. M&T Bank was one of the sponsors of the race, and they passed out little green cowbells to the spectators, and so all along the race, there were people with green cowbells clanging, along with the inevitable "More Cowbell" signs and cheers.

Every mile or so, the race set up water and Gatorade stands. I am so glad that I used them; I tried to get a drink of Gatorade each time, and filled up my water bottle about half way through. I hadn't really trained with drinking a lot on my long runs, and could really tell the difference in my actual race.

It was perfect weather for the race, after three days of torrential rainstorms, it was just cool enough to run, with a few misting rains along the course, but nothing too cold and wet, fortunately. 

We ran around Lake Montibello, a small reservoir in the city. I wish the quality was better: you could see a long line of florescent colored shirts snaking around the lake as we ran. Just after this, we ran up 33rd St. (not pictured) which is all HILL, but it was cool to run through Waverly, which is the part of the city that my family is originally from. We also ran past the site of Memorial Stadium, for any baseball aficionados out there.
The miles kept slipping away. After I passed 10 miles - the longest distance I had ever run - I still felt like I could run another 10 miles. I don't know if it was a "runner's high," because it was still hard work, but I just felt fine, like I could keep going and going. I did feel a little like Sam in The Fellowship of the Ring telling Frodo "If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been," but I kept going, like Sam. At mile 12 I picked up my pace, because I wanted to make it by 12:45 pm (an arbitrary time, just something to push for). 

Mile 12! (The Mile 2 sign is for the Marathon)
Mile 12 melted away, and as we all got closer and closer, the streets got more and more crowded. We ran past the Lexington St. Market into Camden Yards (not the actual ball field, but the gated street area), through the gates (Mile 13). One tenth to go - I sped up, passed a few people, and crossed the finish line triumphantly. Though I wasn't first, I wasn't last. Though I wasn't fast, I had done it. Slow and Steady completes the race.
Just through Camden Yards....
MILE 13! 1/10TH TO GO!
We were all funneled to an area where they handed us water, Gatorade, our finishers' medals (yeah! we got a medal!), aluminum foil blankets for warmth, and food (protein bars, chips, fruit). I grabbed my goodies and headed out the gate. It was over.
It looks like a Disaster Relief zone
I needed to get to Washington Blvd. to catch the bus home, so slowly trudged in the general direction. After crossing MLK Blvd, I waited at the bus stop for the 36 bus. I chatted with the elderly man waiting on the bench about the race. He told me about the shoes he had just bought. And that he had waited that morning for over 2 hours for the bus that didn't come. After waiting about 15 minutes, I decided to start walking, and figured the bus would come, eventually, and I could get on at some point up the road.

So, I walked and walked, and walked and walked.

The bus never came.

I walked and walked and walked some more.

When I was about a 1/4 mile away from home, of course, the bus came whooshing past me, over an hour after I had initially sat down on the bench. Part of me wishes I had waited, but the other part of me is glad that I just walked home, even if I did have to walk through a (slightly) scary area.

I would recommend the Baltimore Running Festival to anyone looking to run in a slightly-challenging race (there are lots of hills, but they aren't as bad as everyone said). It was really well-organized and an amazing community event - even if you aren't from Baltimore.

All in all, a good time was had by all. It feels amazing to accomplish a really tangible goal like this. I feel motivated to keep running and to keep exercising. I feel healthier, over all, even though I probably didn't lose much weight - I wouldn't know because I don't own a scale, nor plan to any time soon - but all of my clothes seem to fit the same. It feels great to have done this because for so much of my life, I have felt that I wasn't athletic, and that's that. I'm still not athletic, at all, but we can't make the mistake that "not being able to play volleyball" (and feeling downright miserable when we do) means that we can't exercise. I like running because it's something even I can do. And, I like that I can participate in races like this without feeling the anxiety of competition. So, I ran this race for all the non-athletic girls out there: if I can do it, you can totally do it, because no one can miss a ball like Danielle, or trip over her own feet like Danielle.

I hope I can run my next Half with friends (hint, hint!), but even though I was running alone, it was still so much fun (I was thinking about the next one, while running this one!). I'm so proud of myself for accomplishing this - I sort of have an unofficial "30 before 30" list, and this was definitely on it. After running this, I'm even thinking: "Well maybe I could do a marathon...?" But, I want to get a few more Half marathons under my belt. If I'm still in Baltimore next year, I definitely plan on running in the Baltimore Running Festival again - and you should, too!