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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So Little To Say...

Gosh, I've just got so little to blog about lately.

So, here's a photo.

This is me, Erin, Jessica and Becky. We were all friends starting in the 6th grade. Then, between 8th and 9th grade, Jessica moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland - and that Chesapeake Bay Bridge is a HUGE barrier when you're that age. In 11th grade, Becky moved to Arizona. Erin and I stayed in Annapolis and have kept in touch off and on, but I haven't seen Jessica since 2001 and Becky since 1995. Becky recently moved back to Maryland and we are all back in the same state now (although opposite ends - I live almost in Pennsylvania now and Jessica lives at the Southern end of the state). So, we met for brunch on Sunday.

It was like old times! So weird to be all grown up and stuff though.


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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Foodie Flame Wars

I read with interest an article on Slate.com earlier this week with the headline White Bread Kills. The article basically goes into a little history about various breads - white vs wheat, homemade vs. store bought and the fears through time that have come up for each one. Right now, it's "the thing" to favor whole wheat over white bread, and to always favor homemade vs factory processed. However, back in the early part of the 20th century, it was recommended to buy factory made bread because of questions about the hygiene of making it at home. Of course, now we have a lot of fears about gluten and preservatives.

As I read the comments on the article, which went on and on, I started wondering about the attitudes and the judgmental nature that we seem to have about what other people eat. It seems that lately we've become very very judgey as a society about what people put into their bodies - and for some reason people think that it's everyone elses businesses what you are eating. I understand why - it all boils down to a health issue, but I think we might just be using too many blanket statements out there to try and figure out what is "healthy."

I read the comments on that article and hear "blah blah blah... glycemic index... blah blah blah... gluten... blah blah blah..." But then, everything has a smack of self righteousness.
Example:
...parents should feel guilty if they feed their children white Wonder Bread.
Really? That is what parents should feel guilty about? Because I eat some stuff occasionally that I consider "junk." I eat processed stuff. I avoid it, but I do eat it now again, especially if I want a treat or I'm in a hurry. I must not be doing too bad because I had blood taken in February and found that everything is well within the "normal" range -- even though I don't eat perfect all the time.

I've read other running blogs or other healthy living blogs where someone has gone off on a rant about a mother in a grocery store putting junk food in her cart, or someone whose friend feeds her children Lunchables or some such. Since when did what other people eat become our business? Since when did we start assuming that when you see someone eating a candy bar that candy bars must be a huge part of their diet?

This is a plea from me to you - if you eat healthy and you do what works for you, great. But, if you find yourself judging a stranger or a friend about what they're eating at a particular meal, stop. Just, stop. Today's fads will be gone soon.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stats as of 31 March 2012

March 2011
57.7 miles
11 hours, 57 minutes
Avg Pace: 12:26/mile
Shamrock 5K 2011: 33:21 (10:45/mile)


March 2012
54.3 miles -- 3.4 miles less than in 2011
11 hours, 45 minutes -- 12 minutes less than in 2011
Avg Pace:  13:00/mile -- 34 seconds slower than in 2011
Rock and Roll USA Half Marathon: 2:49:36 (12:57/mile)

Year Totals for 2012:
180.6 miles @ 12:49 pace
23,000m swimming!


Last year, I started out slow and then went back up to a reasonable amount of miles in March. This year, I did about the same mileage but slower. That's because last year I ran the entire month, but shorter distances than this year. This year, I was on vacation for a week and missed a bunch of runs, but I had some extra long, slow ones in there to increase my mileage but not my speed. Last year, I did a 5K as my March race. This year, a half marathon - there's a big speed difference.

I was running really strong before I went to Saba. I have to admit, since coming back from Saba I have not been happy with my running. I have had repeated runs that felt sluggish and slow. I've put on about 5 pounds. I just don't feel right. I switched some of my medications the end of February, and I can't help but feel like all of this is related to that. I'm hoping that April is a better month for me, training wise.

On the non-running front, I've been doing my swimming - as you can see I'm up to a total of 23,000 meters so far this year. Definitely a record for me. I've been keeping up with my strength training as well, but the yoga has dropped off my radar - I haven't been to yoga since before leaving for Saba. It's difficult for me to make it to my gym (40 mins away) for a 7am yoga class. I'm just not used to getting up that early.

I have finally gotten my bike ready for summer, and I rode it for the first time on Sunday. This was indoors, since given my track record I thought it best to do one ride inside first. Plus, the weather was iffy that day. I haven't ridden since September, so I feel like I am basically starting from square one on the bike riding thing. I also have no idea how to fit it into my already full exercise schedule. I'm sure I'll find some time somewhere... How do people work out as much as they do and still have time for a job and a marriage and a life? And some folks have kids! I don't know how you do it, seriously.

Anyway, next up: the Island to Island Half Marathon in Ocean City, Maryland, April 28. I've got a huge group of friends going, so we're looking forward to it!

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rock & Roll USA Half Marathon

The Rock & Roll USA Half marathon took place on March 17. If you recall, I was on the fence about running this one. I ended up signing up for it mostly because my high school friends were doing it and I wanted to hang with them. In the end, I think my big mistake was signing up for a race that I really didn't want to do in the first place.

I went down to DC on Friday afternoon. I hadn't really realized two HUGE problems with the race when I signed up: 1) I was going to be out of town the two weekends before the race, in Saba. I wouldn't be able to run those two weekends at all. and 2) The race took place on Saturday, so the Expo and packet pickup were on Friday evening, making it difficult for me to get down there from northern Baltimore where I work. I had originally planned to have a friend get my packet (only after Competitor allowed this, at first it was not allowed), but they extended the expo hours to 8pm, so I ended up being able to get there myself.
A view of RFK Stadium from the starting line

I took the train down from Baltimore in order to save myself a traffic headache, and I was oh so happy about it. I relaxed on the train while watching the traffic outside the window. The expo was just ok. I was very annoyed by the fact that they did not have a shirt in my size. I realize that I was at the expo during the last 2 hours that it was open. But - I ordered a Women's Large. Shouldn't I get a Women's Large? Even if someone else comes along before me and wants a Women's Large even though she hadn't ordered one - shouldn't they still keep MY women's large waiting for me?

So, I got my boxy men's shirt, and met my friend Steve. I checked into my hotel and then Steve and I had dinner in the restaurant in the hotel. Meanwhile, a whole ton of people that were also running the race came by - Misty and Rachel and Misty's large group that's she's training (16 ladies!), as well as Ming, who was sharing my room with me. Then, it was bedtime.

Ming and I were up bright and early and we met Misty and her group in the lobby of the hotel. We were very close to the metro station, and the metro was running slow and late and was packed (all of which we expected). We made it to the starting area with plenty of time, though. We checked our bags and then stood in line for 45 minutes for the potties. I was in a different corral from everyone else, so I headed off alone to the starting line. It was about 40 minutes between the start of the race and the time that I actually crossed the starting line. In all, it was about 2 1/2 hours or more of standing before I started the race, which is why I HATE large races.

The beginning of the race seemed like a slight uphill grade. There were spectators, and it was ok. I just wasn't feeling it. in fact, what I was feeling was tired. Tired, sore legs right from the start. Mile 1 was slow and miserable, and I felt like that didn't bode well for the rest of the race.

The course took us through some major sites in DC - we got up close and personal with (or at least got glimpses of) the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Memorial, the Supreme Court, the National Archives and the various museums of the Smithsonian. It was quite a scenic course, and one that I frankly preferred over the Marine Corps Marathon, my only other DC race. There was quite a hill around mile 6, which was quite brutal, but I cannot really complain about the course at all. My issues were really with my own body, which did not feel like running a race that day.

I had to stop for a potty break just before that hill. I absolutely hate potty breaks during races, but it couldn't be helped - I had been working too hard on hydrating. The weird thing was that the potties were often WAY off the course, and I ended up walking right into one (no line), but it was about a half a block away from the course. What was that about? At that point, I just felt like I didn't care anymore. I knew I'd blown any possibility of a fast time, and I was hot (it was a warm day) and unhappy. When you run races in March in the mid-Atlantic, you shouldn't be worried about heat. I was worried about heat.

There were times when I just wanted to quit running but I did not. My high school friends were meeting after the race and I couldn't think of meeting up with them with no medal. So, on I went. I finished in 2:49:36, not my best time, not my worst, but frighteningly close to the time that I did in January when I stopped to ride a roller coaster mid-race.

Macarons on display at The Sweet Lobby
After the race, I waited for no one. I went and picked up my bag and headed to the metro in the hopes of getting back to my hotel in time for a shower before I had to check out at 1pm. I made it, showered, and then sat in the lobby of my hotel trying to figure out what to do next. I knew I wanted to bring something to my friends house.. but what? I got on Yelp on my phone and found a bakery where I could buy macarons - my friend Elizabeth and I had spent about 4 runs discussing French Macarons (not to be confused with macaroons!!!!), and I wanted some. So, I headed to The Sweet Lobby (Cupcake Wars winners) and got myself a box of macarons to share with my friends. I also got a cupcake just for me. Both were AMAZING!

South River Alums
I had to take a MetroBus from the bakery to my friend's house, which was a bit out of my comfort zone. I'm used to the DC Metro, but MetroBus is new to me. Plus, I was carrying my heavy bag, which didn't help. I finally made it though, and caught up with friends that I hadn't seen since I graduated from high school 16 years ago. Some of them had done the full, and I was impressed.

Finally, it was time to head home, so I headed back to Baltimore via Union Station on the train.

I was not happy with this race, but I think it was more about the fact that this race wasn't one I wanted to do in the first place. It's just not my style, not to my taste. To each his own, but I'm looking forward to my race at the end of April that will be much smaller.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Saba 2012

Todd and I went on vacation at the beginning of this month. Where did we go? The beautiful Caribbean island of Saba. Never heard of it? You're not alone. Over and over again, when people asked where we were going on vacation, they had to ask us to explain where Saba was. Even the customs agent when we came back to the
US had never heard of Saba. So, here you go:


Saba is in the Caribbean, and it's only 5 square miles. In comparison, our other tiny island that we like to visit, Little Cayman, is 10 square miles. So, Saba is pretty tiny.

Not sure who the original photographer of this photo is...
To me, Saba looks like Dr. Evil's secret volcano lair. It is, in fact, a volcano, although it hasn't erupted since the 17th century. It's considered dormant, but since there are hot springs on the island, there is some sort of volcanic activity going on somewhere around it. In the photo above, do you see the airport there at the bottom? That is the only flat area on the entire island. It's the shortest commercial runway in the world, which means that landing at Saba is an interesting experience. We left from Washington Dulles early in the morning on Saturday, March 3. Dulles is about a 2 hour drive from our house, so we stayed in a nearby hotel the night before and left our car at the hotel in one of those "stay one night, leave your car" packages.We flew direct to Saint Maarten, which has its own exciting airport... The airport is really close to the beach and tourists stand to watch both landings and takeoffs. From inside the airplane, it's a little less exciting. (do watch those videos, btw!) It is cool to see the people lined up at the fence when you're taxing to take off at SXM.

So, from Saint Maarten, we took a puddle jumper (Twin Otter) plane to Saba. The runway is so short, the airplane has to go into a stall in order to keep it on the runway. Todd took a video:

That alarm you hear as the plane lands is the plane stalling.

So, once we arrived, we were greeted by Eddie, who was one of four taxi drivers that we would meet on the island. There are 10 taxi drivers on Saba, and there are no car rentals. The Road (the only road on the island is simply called The Road) is incredible. The original Dutch engineers claimed that it was impossible to build a road on the island, but the Sabans would hear none of that and ended up building the road themselves over the course of 25 years. Read more about it, it's fascinating!

The view of The Bottom from our hotel room
We stayed at Queen's Garden Resort, which is located on Troy Hill. Saba has three towns - The Bottom (which is where the government buildings are located), Windwardside (which is where most of the shops/restaurants are) and Hell's Gate, which is mostly residential. Troy Hill was up the mountain from The Bottom, so our hotel room overlooked the town. We also had an awesome Jacuzzi tub in our room that overlooked the town, with the ocean in the distance.

Our reason for coming to Saba was to dive. We were diving with Saba Deep dive shop. They were truly awesome. In Saba, much of the attraction is deep water pinnacles, so each day our first dive went to one of these pinnacles. The pinnacles usually topped off in about 90 feet of water, which meant that our dives had to be short (you can only stay so long at such depths). Todd and I are used to doing 60 minute dives, but we never reached 60 minutes on any dive while we were in Saba.
Me with the turtle on top of the needle at Third Encounter

One of our favorite dive sites was Third Encounter, where there is a large pinnacle with a small, slender pinnacle (like a needle) nearby. Divemaster Gary led us to the needle, which was covered in corals with creole wrasses swimming all around. To our happy surprise, there was also a large turtle sitting on top of the needle! So pretty.

We were only doing 2 dives per day, which isn't very many compared to the 3-5 dives per day that we typically do on vacation. We were just trying to take it easy this time. In the afternoons, we either relaxed by the pool or hiked around the island. Saba is known for its hiking trails. What I learned from this is that I am not necessarily a hiker - some of the more intense stuff just wasn't for me.

Swimming at Tent Reef
The weather while we were there was no ideal - winds were gusting to 30 mph on most days, and we had some sustained winds of 15-20 mph. When we were farther from the island, the boat was seriously rocky. I hate it when the boat rocks that much.

We had some trouble starting on Wednesday - Saba Deep's boat, Jolly Mon, had its propeller shaft break while we were out on the boat. This meant that we couldn't dive with Saba Deep again during the trip and had to switch to Saba Divers. For this reason, and due to the swells, we ended up doing many of the dives more than once. One dive site, Tent Reef, we did three times. We weren't as happy with Saba Divers as we were with Saba Deep. They weren't as flexible, and made a few mistakes (such as taking us back to Third Encounter, but mis-navigating and taking us for 20 minutes into the blue while seeing nothing at all).
At Babylon

I feel like the diving at Saba is spectacular, but we weren't necessarily seeing it at its absolute best. The winds were just terrible while we were there. However, we still had a great time on our dives.

We had intended to do 5 days of diving, but we ended up doing a 6th. Normally, our trips are Saturday to Saturday and we spend Sunday relaxing before going back to work on Monday. This time, we added an extra day because we were intending to climb to the top of Mount Scenery (the highest point of the islands and the highest point of The Netherlands) on our last day. We needed the extra time because Mount Scenery is too high to climb right after diving - altitude and diving don't mix. Mount Scenery also is a cloud forest, which we were really interested in seeing. In the end, though, we thought we'd go ahead and dive the day before and not worry about the altitude. When the day came to dive Mount Scenery, though, we were too tired and ended up relaxing and shopping. It had rained the night before and the top of the mountain was likely wet, muddy and slippery. Not fun.

Todd shows off an Elephant Ear
on the Sandy Cruz trail
We did do two big hikes - one on the hiking trail called the Bottom Mountain trail, which took us from our hotel into Windwardside. We then climbed to the top of Booby Hill outside of Windwardside and ended our day watching the sunset with a beer at a hotel called the Shearwater. A perfect ending for sure.

Our second hike was on a trail called Sandy Cruz, which took us around the back of the island above the airport, through rainforest and cloud forest, and finally back to our hotel. I have to say, this was challenging. The steps and rocks were slippery. I was glad I had purchased hiking shoes from Zappos at the last minute before we left (in fact, we had to wait to leave to go to Dulles until my shoes arrived via UPS).

And then, there was the food. The meals on Saba were pretty good. Our resort was home to the restaurant known to have the best food on the island. We ate there several nights, enjoying Beef Wellington, pork tenderloin, fish and shrimp. They had lobsters, but after a bad experience eating lobster in 2002, I rarely order whole lobsters. I did have a lobster sandwich for lunch, though.
Todd relaxing in the hot tub
in our room

We also enjoyed some more casual dinners at a bar called swinging doors. It's known for its BBQ and steak night. Steak night was pretty fun, because steak is quite literally the ONLY thing on the menu - the waitress asks you how you want your steak, that's it. Another night, we went to the Ecolodge and enjoyed a spectacular shrimp dinner after watching a presentation about the environment and forests on the island. The true stand out was Eden, which is a French restaurant in Windwardside where I enjoyed my favorite food item of the week - strawberry balsamic pepper ice cream. It sounds strange, but it was phenomenal.

It was a great week. Saba is absolutely a place that I would return to, given the opportunity. We had a great time. The only downside (besides the weather) was how expensive everything was - cab fare from our hotel into Windwardside was $25, and eating in our hotel was pretty pricey. So, we ended up spending a lot more on food, etc than we expected to.

We still had a great time, and I can't wait for a chance to go back.  (Of course, I mean who wouldn't want to go back?)

I am hoping that some more of Todd's photos are coming, but he's taking his sweet time processing them. I wanted to get this posted, so I didn't wait.

Todd and me after our hike at Shearwater



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