Study Abroad Anticipation

I’m currently sitting in the car with my parents driving to NY to catch my flight to Florence by way of Frankfurt tonight. Every time I leave my parents to go back to school – despite my excitement – there’s always been nerves. Prone to anxiety attacks since I was little, the frantic panic of facing the unknown has always seemed to haunt me on the cusp of life changing events, but oddly enough, I have felt none of that leading up to what is certainly a massive change in my life.

I’ve been trying for several days to figure out why I’m not nervous and can only think of two things. The first is that it simply hasn’t hit me yet. It is hard to fear something you don’t know and can’t picture and truly can’t fathom at this point in time. The other reason is that I am so excited, excited to a point that I – someone very rarely at a loss for words – can’t find the right words to express the never ending well of unadulterated bliss I have at the idea of spending four months in Italy. I adore Georgetown, but sometimes a break is good. Especially a break in Europe, a place I have felt at home in for a long time due to many family travels there.

There are plenty of things to be stressed about – overcoming the language barrier, staying safe, navigating an entirely new place, making travel arrangements – but somehow my type A brain has been very zen about placing these concerns on the backburner and believing that they will somehow work themselves out while I’m there. Perhaps I’m just trying to embrace the more leisurely ‘laxed Italian pace of life before getting there.

The thing I’m most worried about is walking around with a big AMERICAN sign pasted on my forehead. I’ve heard that Florence is a huge American study abroad location and for that reason American’s get an extremely bad rap as stupid, obnoxious, tourists. Obviously I will be a tourist, but I just hope I’m able to get an accurate and genuine taste of Italian culture. Worrying about that is kind of stupid, though, as there’s nothing I can do about it except control my own behavior.

Other than that, I feel nothing except extreme happiness. This is truly a dream, and I am so lucky to be embarking on what absolutely will be the experience of a lifetime. My biggest goal is to enjoy it and soak it in to the best of my abilities. I am extremely privileged to be given this opportunity and my biggest goal is to take advantage of it.

Long Run Essentials

One of the nice things about running is that it is one of the few sports where you don’t need a ton of gear to partake in it (unlike football or hockey). Actually though, if you get into serious running, you will discover that that is actually not true. Here is a list of my long run gear essentials:

iPhone Armband: For the first month of my running career I held my iPhone in my hand the entire run. It would get sweaty and gross and as my friend Nina once said, it could possibly be making one arm stronger than the other, thus there was a constant need to alternate which hand I held it in. Needless to say, this was unbelievably annoying, so I went down to Nike (any sports store or online store carries a million different brands and designs) and got myself a running armband. It was one of the best investments I’ve ever made because now I truly feel like a free woman, waving my hands wildly about as I run (because I can dammit!), and looking hardcore like I know what I’m doing (ha!).

Nike E1 Prime Performance Armband, photo from www.achillesheel.co.uk

Nike E1 Prime Performance Armband, photo from http://www.achillesheel.co.uk

Performance Socks: This was a recent revelation and I now understand what it must have felt like when archaic people discovered Christ. Before I discovered performance socks (BPS) I was wearing cotton socks to run in, or as close to 100% cotton as I could find (did you know it’s near impossible to find 100% cotton socks anymore?). Anyways, I have hyperhidrosis, so my feet are often sweaty and cotton is just more uncomfortable on them. Little did I know that cotton chafes, especially with shoe inserts, and gives you nasty blisters. After coming back from a 5-mile run this week, with blisters on the arches of both my feet, my dad marched on down to Marathon Sports and came back with these fine pieces of cloth: The Balega Drynamix Hidden Comfort Sock. I don’t know why they’re named “Hidden Comfort” because the comfort has been pretty obvious to me. No more blisters, just cushion and wicking from here on out.

Handheld Water Bottle: I used to have a water belt but it was wicked uncomfortable so I opted for a small oval-shaped handheld water bottle with a strap, which although not actually palm shaped, is manageable enough on a long run. The best part about it is that the strap mine came with has a little zipper pouch that can hold a gel or keys. I’d also recommend finding a bottle with a soft rubbery top, because they are more comfortable to bite open while running.

Amphipod Hydraform Handheld Pocket, photo from www.amphipod.com

Amphipod Hydraform Handheld Pocket, photo from http://www.amphipod.com

Fuel: Don’t run far in the heat without fuel. You will feel depleted and gross afterwards. Burning this type of body energy requires quick replenishment. Upwards of 7 miles and I will eat a gel at 6 miles. I bought a ton of different brands to try out, but so far I’ve only tried one product and just stuck with it because it worked so well the first time. That product is Gu Energy Gel in Chocolate Outrage and Espresso Love. I actually like the taste so much I look forward to getting to eat them. When you’re tired and hot during a run they taste like manna.

Running Connections

So I’ve been a little AWOL recently because I had to take a week off training due to injury. In order to actually follow through with taking time off, I decided not to blog because it would make me feel guilty for not training and this was something I really had to do to allow my body to heal and continue training for the half. Thankfully the pains I was (/am) having were a couple strains that could be trained through, with proper PT, which I am diligently going to bi-weekly. Any who, in my time off I went to Lollapalooza, the beach, and got a tattoo. During all of this, something really cool happened. I made connections with total strangers based off of our shared love of running.

 

Okay, so Lollapalooza really doesn’t have anything to do with running connections…I only brought it up because 1) I wanted to brag (seriously most unbelievable experience) (for those of you who don’t know what it is, it is a three day music festival in downtown Chicago), 2) It is another reason why I took time off running, and 3) Chicago was unbelievably beautiful and I would have loved to have gotten to run there. Next time I’m there I plan on running in Grant Park and by the lake. Any other recommendations of places to run in Chicago?

 

As for getting the tattoo, this was a very momentous occasion. My mom is one of my very best friends in the world. She and I were born on the same day and it has created an extremely special bond between the two of us. For a while now, we’ve been toying with the idea of getting a tattoo. We decided to get our birthdate with a tree and two birds, one flying and one resting in the tree. It’s based off of a saying that I wrote a poem about last year that says you give your children roots, then you give your children wings. The whole point of the tattoo is to be a reminder of the bond we share and representative of how to be together when we are apart. At the bottom of this post is the poem I wrote.

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After extensive research, we decided to get our tats at Redemption Tattoo, a place that had come highly recommended, and we were certainly not disappointed. We worked with the artist Josh McAlear who took the concept we had in our heads, and turned it into a reality. He is a true artist and extremely professional and accommodating. I could not have asked for a better experience, nor could I be more happy with the outcome.

 

Let me just say, my mother and I are not your average hardcore tattoo types, and yes we know stereotypes are changing blah, blah, blah, but still. After my mom had gotten her tattoo she said, “I feel like a real rebel” as Josh stifled a laugh behind her back. I responded, “No one wearing a shirt from Talbots can be a rebel.” We were rather intimidated by the tattoo-covered artists and felt a little silly and noobish. When we got there though, there were two other people getting tattooed, both pretty vanilla in my book. I felt right at home. The guy getting tattooed next to me had brought his girlfriend along. She struck up a conversation with me after my tattoo was finished and my mom was getting hers.

 

She asked me about the meaning of my tattoo and told me that once you get your first, it becomes pretty addictive. I mentioned how I’ve already thought about possibly getting a running related tattoo, perhaps the distance of the farthest race I run. Her face lit up when I mentioned I was a runner and she proudly popped her foot in the air. She pointed at the black lines on the top of her foot and told me that it was the time from her first marathon in Roman Numerals. When she removed the laptop from her lap, I saw she was wearing a shirt that said Bahstan Runnah. We talked for a while about running, races, running clubs, injuries, and then fitness blogging came up. Turns out she does social media for an organic beer brewery called Peak Brewing. While I am under 21 and thus cannot try the product, I think that what they’re doing (i.e. all local and organic) is unbelievably cool. It was an absolute pleasure meeting her and it was so amazing to make a connection with a total stranger, in a tattoo shop of all places.

 

Yesterday, my parents and I went to the beach. Right after we had set up camp, I started hearing tid-bits of very familiar words coming from the group of adults sitting right next to us. A little backstory, there is a relay race in Oregon called the Hood to Coast, it is a 12-person, 195 mile relay race from Mt. Hood to the Oregon coast. My dad has run it around 10 times and I have been there every year to cheer him on. I’m hoping soon to run it with him, but that’s a story for another day. Anyways, I’m familiar with the lingo that accompanies the race and realized the people next to us were talking about it. I told my dad, who of course was already lost in his book, and he went and talked to them about it. Turns out only one of the guys had run it, but the entire group of people was full of marathoners and triathletes (my favorite was the mid-thirty year old mother of 4 who has done several Ironmans).

 

The point of all of these ramblings is that running has the ability to unite people from all walks of life, in all kinds of situations. When I started running, I was in serious Track and Field withdrawal. I really really missed the community that the sport brought with it and what I love so much about running is the incredible community it breeds. You have to be a little bit crazy to be a runner. And that crazy streak is what unites such an unbelievably diverse group of athletes. People run for all different reasons. There is no stereotypical runner. The thing we all have in common is this need to move and find our inner strength outdoors. Be it at a tattoo parlor, or on the beach, the power of running is strong and pervasive. The community can find you anywhere and the opportunities running provides you with for connections are limitless, much like the feeling it provides you with while running.

 

Here is the poem I wrote about the phrase that my mom and I’s tattoos are based on:

 

Departures

 

I.

 

You give your children roots

Then you give your children wings.

We don’t know what to do,

with our bodies springing loosely from the ground, reaching

for the sun.

 

Caked in the rich soils of our past,

our feet ache

to remain here

in fertile familiarity.

But out heads

see horizons undiscovered

and ache to fill each cavity

with

all that, out there.

 

Our hearts, right here,

right in the middle,

yearn for the answer.

The freedom to fly,

But strength

to carry our homes along for the ride.

 

II.

 

I once tried to fly away

too soon,

my feet caught among the brambles,

my skin stretched too thin across my rib cage.

Familiar hands tickled my sides

with rounded nails slightly too long.

I fell back to earth.

 

As the date crept ever closer,

I tried to burrow deeper,

Thought

maybe I’d like to be a seedling

again.

But I dirtied my wings,

and scraped my toes along the bedrock.

 

III.

 

One day,

our roots loosened,

wings strengthened,

ready to weather the weight

of hearts grown heavy as rocks.

 

We took flight.

Mud dripped from our feet

to the grown-ups on the ground like toy figurines

shrinking in the final rays of day.

 

Wind will toss our bodies like rag dolls, tatter

our fragile wings.

Our feet will yearn for stability or permanence.

It’s departure time.

We’ll take what we’ve been given,

And figure the rest out

along the path.

 

 

 

Training Apps (Nike+, NTC)

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If you are a college student running on a budget, or really anyone who can’t afford to dole out the big bucks for the best running accouterments, there are several options out there for you. When I was younger, my parents instituted a rule in our household after the discovery of my rather rapid cycling through interests. The rule was that if you took up a new hobby, you had to stick with it for at least a year or two before any big purchases could be made regarding it. For example, I now have a sewing machine and guitar that I had to earn through years of borrowing other’s equipment. This mentality has stuck with me throughout the years, so when I started running, partially because of my childhood rule, and partially because I’m cheap as hell (correction, I just don’t like spending money when there are perfectly good, cheaper options available) I decided not to invest in any serious running equipment, with the exception of shoes and clothes.

Being the anal person that I am though, I needed to be able to track the distances and times I was running, so I did a little research and found the Nike+ app. I’m sure many of you have some vague idea of the Nike+ chip you can put in your shoe to track miles, but Nike+ is no longer just about that chip. My dad has been using Nike+ for years moving from the chip, to bracelet, to watch, but I discovered, you don’t need any of that stuff!

 The Nike+ app for iPhone is incredible. I’m sure there are many other apps out there that track your miles and times for free, but this app has a few special features that I really enjoy. Before I get into the things that make the app special, I just want to say that after having used this app, I probably wouldn’t invest in any of the other Nike+ technology because you have to upload it to your profile to see your stats. With the app you can see and listen to your time/distance as you go, so for a person who loves instant gratification, as well as is following a training program, the app is great.

 

Best features of the Nike+ app:

Social Networking: The app not only tracks your activity, but also allows you to connect with your friends who use Nike+, and pits you in friendly competitions with them. This makes running less of a solitary activity and also gives you some motivation to keep your mileage up.

Trophies: Again a great motivational tool, when you reach certain benchmarks, trophies are added to your profile. There are awards for anything such as running a certain number of days/weeks/months in a row or number of miles logged in a certain time period. Regardless of their triviality, it feels good to rack up trophies.

Some of the trophies I've earned.

Some of the trophies I’ve earned.

Motivational Speakers: This is probably my favorite aspect of the app, as silly as it is. When you finish a run or if you set your run for a certain distance, when you’re in the last portion of it, famous runners/Nike affiliated athletes will come on and congratulate or motivate you to keep pushing. I don’t care that it’s pre-recorded, Ashton Eaton can come on my headphones and tell me I’m great any day of the week!

Data Collection: The app does a great job of collecting ones running data including, weather, how it felt, and what surface you ran on and creating not only an individual page for each run, but also graphs of running data for the month.

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Powersongs: The app talks to you throughout your run, giving you your average pace at each mile and if you set the distance you’re going to run, when you’re very close to finishing it, it will give you the option to start a powersong. A powersong is a pre-set pump up song of your choosing, taken from your phone’s iPod.

While I may eventually try and acquire a Garmin watch, for now, the Nike+ app is a great resource that not only tells me what I’m doing, but also gives me another level of motivation thanks to it’s personal bench marks.

Another fitness app I love to use is the Nike Training Club (NTC) app . Also free, it provides targeted workouts for strengthening specific areas of the body with great video instruction. Oftentimes when I run out of ideas for my own strengthening exercises I will use this app for some variation, or to target an area that I don’t know any exercises for.

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Cape Cod Rail Trail

This past weekend I reached the point in my half marathon training program where the weekend long run was farther than I had ever run before. Having done 7 miles the week before, 8 seemed daunting, but doable. While I’ve been following Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan to a T, I hadn’t actually read any of his descriptions of each of the workouts. To my surprise, I discovered that you’re actually supposed to run 30-90 seconds slower than your race pace during long runs. My theory up until this point had been that you should run as fast or faster than your race pace in training to make it feel easier when you were actually racing. Given the strain keeping this pace put on my body, I was more than happy to oblige Hal’s advice and run slower than I had been. This also eased some of the anxiety I had about my first foray into what I consider true distance running.

I was on Cape Cod this weekend in Orleans with a friend from school. Before leaving for the beach, I did some googling of places to run on the Cape. The most appealing and accessible appeared to be the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 22-mile paved trail, running from South Dennis to South Wellfleet, passing through Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet.

My friend and I drove to the trail and entered at Nickerson State Park. After a massive rainstorm the night before there was no humidity and at 10am it was about 78 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. We began running SW towards Brewster and Harwich. There were tons of bikers out, in addition to runners. The company was welcome in the way in which seeing other people out there working and suffering gives comfort and solidarity.

I am accustomed to city running, which can be frustrating regarding pedestrians, but I find enjoyable because the scenery is always changing both in terms of landscape and people. The Rail Trail was beautiful, but monotonous. The entire thing was virtually a concrete road encompassed by a tunnel of greenery, with occasional breaks of sun when town roads crossed the trail. The greenery provided very welcome shade, but virtually no variation, which got a little boring. My friend and I fluctuated between 9 and 10 minute miles, meeting our goal of 9:30 average miles. Due to my city running, I stop pretty often for stoplights. As this was a rural trail, there was no reason to stop except pure exhaustion. In the end, we ended up stopping every 2 miles (3 stops total), which I am very proud of!

Last week on my 7 mile run, I tried running with a water belt. I found it wildly uncomfortable and ended up just carrying the bottle in hand. After that, I went to Marathon Sports in Boston and got a small bottle with a hand strap. I tested it out on the 8 mile run, and while not the most comfortable thing ever, it did the trick! The other thing I got at Marathon Sports was a bunch of gels/chews to experiment with. I took the Chocolate Outrage GU Energy Gel with me on this run and stopped at mile 6 to eat it. I loved the taste and when I finished my run, and later into that day, I didn’t feel as depleted and dehydrated as I had after my 7 mile run.

Overall it was a great experience and made me feel as if I might actually have it in myself to finish the half marathon. While I’m very excited for the half, I’m really nervous about actually being able to run that far, and being able to run 8 miles was the first time that I really thought, okay, if I can do this, I can do 13.1. And if you’re looking for a place to run on the cape, look no further than the Cape Cod Rail Trail, despite the monotony it was beautiful and nice and shady.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie.

One of the best parts of being home is that my mom has a Vitamix. I don’t really know what differentiates Vitamixes from regular blenders, but based on people’s general reaction to them I think they’re like the Cadillac of blenders? Any who, I love smoothies. I mean there are just so many reasons to:

1. They taste delicious.

2. You can hide super healthy stuff in them.

3. It’s a great way to stay hydrated pre/post exercise.

4. Summer heat makes me not very hungry, so smoothies give me an alternative way to

get nutrients.

My mom is an expert at making green drinks, but when using the Vitamix myself, I prefer to make protein/potassium packed smoothies, partially because those are important nutrients for running, but mostly because the green drinks my mom makes are full of really weird things that I’m totally down to drink, just as long as I don’t have to see them in the making.

Recently I’ve started making what I call the Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie. It’s super filling, delicious, and works great as a breakfast. Blend all of the below ingredients together, makes about a glass and a half. It it pretty sweet and thick, much like a milkshake, to adjust this, add more ice or an unflavored milk like coconut milk.

 

Ingredients:

Foundational ingredients of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie.

Foundational ingredients of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie.

1 “juice box” container of chocolate almond milk

1 small banana (6-7 inches)

2 tablespoons peanut butter

1 cup raw spinach

2 handfuls ice

*Feel free to add any powdered vitamins/minerals; I often add Vitamin C, and Healthy Tummy Fiber.

 

Nutrition Info:

Silk Pure Almond Dark Chocolate Milk

120 calories

120mg potassium

23g carbs

1g protein

45% daily calcium (based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet)

 

Banana (small 6-7inches)

90 calories

362mg potassium

23g carbs

1g protein

Wild Harvest Organic Peanut Butter (2tbsp) (I use this brand because it is one of the only brands that doesn’t use soy oil which I’m allergic to.)

210 calories

6g carbs

8g protein

 

Raw Spinach (1 cup)

7 calories

1g carbs

1g protein

 

*Banana and Raw Spinach nutritional info from www.nutrition.self.com

 

Vitamix full of Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie ingredients.

Vitamix full of Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Smoothie ingredients.

 

 

 

Daddy’s Girl

*Disclaimer: This article is not to say that my dad and I weren’t close, or had trouble connecting before I became a runner, or to say that the only way we could connect was through sports. That would be a narrow-minded dishonor to our relationship. But I will say that running has kicked down new doors in our relationship, allowing us to communicate above words, through the magic sound of feet pounding pavement.

My mother and I have the type of connection that can only come from sharing the same birthday. There is some inextricable link between us, akin to the bond I imagine twins share. My mother is the heart and soul of our family. She is vivacious, talkative, expressive, and loving. For whatever moodiness, or brooding that the rest of the family, myself included, brings to the table, my mother’s kindness softens those edges and envelops us all. I am my mother’s daughter in so many ways, words and feelings seem to bubble from the two of us incessantly, but for all of our similarities I have a very prominent streak of my father in my makeup as well. If my mother is the heart and soul of our family, my father is the backbone.

My father is a diamond in the rough. He is the type of man by which I measure all others, and most fall very short. He is quiet, stoic, brilliant, modest, quirky, and deeply kind. A man of few words, he makes what he says count. As a daughter, I think I baffle him. I talk a mile a minute about trivial teenage girl drama and I’m not deluded enough to think any of that could be of interest to him. I know though, that he cares. It is through his words and pep talks that I have found the strength to overcome all challenges, both athletically, and in day-to-day life. When I have stopped believing in myself, my dad has always been there with a steely faith to keep me going. It is through his even keel and unwavering support that we connect.

He may not say much with his mouth, but I’ve learned that he speaks through his feet. For as long as I can remember, my dad has been a runner. Through good times and bad he has disappeared outside to pound out his grievances on the pavement, returning sweat covered and lighter in demeanor. While he was never disappointed in my decision not to be a distance runner in high school, I was disappointed in myself that I couldn’t give him that common ground between us. Instead, he learned about jumping, came to my meets after long days in the office, standing far enough away as to not distract me, but close enough that I could feel the comfort of his presence.

When I finally got into distance running, I wanted it as much for myself, as for my dad. I didn’t want to take his hobby, but I wanted to be a part of it. My dad shares so little of himself in the ways that I consider conventional, but I realized it wasn’t an issue of sharing, so much as learning to listen. So I laced up a pair of running shoes and started listening to the pavement.

Two days after my first run, that fateful DC spring day when I decided I was going to be a runner, I went to NYC for a family member’s wedding. I asked my dad if he wanted to go running with me. We did a five-mile loop around the Central Park Reservoir. No matter how many races I run, or how many training runs I go on in the future, this run will keep a very special place in my heart. Since that run I haven’t felt as undeniably happy and invincible while running. The weather was crisp and cool, the view was beautiful, but it was the companionship that made it so special. My dad and I didn’t talk much, but our feet were communicating. Sharing such a triumphant and trying experience such as running, with another person is the stuff that unbreakable bonds are made of. The simple sound of my father’s panting and the crunchy beat of his feet on the gravel was the most comforting and beautiful way for him to say I love you.

Our first daddy-daughter run around the Central Park  Reservoir.

Our first daddy-daughter run around the Central Park Reservoir.

Another trait I get from my father is my hyper-competitiveness. Every run for me is a competition with myself and I am constantly looking at all things with a competitive mindset. My father though, always lets me set the pace, staying a half foot behind so as to never pressure me to go faster. I never thought much of this until doing a race with him and seeing the speed he is capable of. When we first started running together, I was running 10:15 miles, well over 2 minutes slower than his average pace. Knowing how competitive he is, I realize how much it means for him to slow down to run with me. I love running with my dad, and true to my personality, I am vocal about it. My father, also true to his personality, is not. I could easily interpret that as meaning he doesn’t enjoy running together, but that would mean I wasn’t listening. Our side-by-side footfalls mean the world to the other.

While I will have the art of running my entire life, running with my dad has meant, and will mean, more than any other accomplishment I ever achieve in running. Running has been a part of my father’s life for more than 40 years, and it is an undeniable privilege and honor to be able to share in this world that has meant so much to him.

Summer training run.

Summer training run.