Friday, December 27, 2013

52 More New Things: The List

As most of my friends and family know, in 2010 I embarked on a project that I called 52 New Things.  Dreamed up with the help of my former students and good friends, Leah and Siham, the basic plan was to develop a list of new places, experiences and skills, and try them -- at the rate of at least one per week.  Throughout the year the list was a work in progress, with new ideas being generated by suggestions from Leah, Siham and other friends, and all of it catalogued on this blog (the creation of which was itself a new thing). 

The list included things I'd always wanted to try, activities that had always intimidated me, places that piqued my curiosity, and new twists on previous experiences. As the year progressed, I would post upcoming new things in advance so that friends could plan to participate.  I discovered resources all around me I had never known existed, like the Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program, and the many skills of colleagues, friends, and especially current and former students who became my teachers. It was an amazing year full of all kinds of adventures, new pastimes, new insights into myself and the world, and a strengthened network of new and old friends.

In 2011 I followed the year of new things with one of challenges, and then ten months of adventure in the Middle East (teaching for the University of Jordan), and finally in 2013 a year of 5 big challenges. I blogged about all of those too. They were all great, but there was something especially powerful about the year of 52 new things.  And so, for 2014 I decided I'd like to try it again.  This time around I'd like to change the focus a little.  I'm always up for travel, but I don't plan to do as much internationally (8 new countries that year) and hope to concentrate more on my own backyard (Vermont) and surrounding area (New York and New England).  In 2010 I tried many new sports (all things athletic have always been a major challenge for me), and was surprised at some of those I took to avidly.  Now, I'm excited not only to try to do some new physical activities that still elude me (like learning to do a headstand and later, a handstand), but also new twists on activities I now participate in regularly, like rock climbing and ice skating.  I also want to push myself to give back more this time, with some new volunteer activities on the list, and to explicitly organize more activities as group experiences, such as starting a book club.

So, keeping in mind that the list is always changing and evolving, here, decidedly not in chronological order, is the New Thing To Do List that I'll be bringing into 2014:

52 MORE New Things

In my Own Backyard
1. Hike some less-travelled Vermont trails. In 2010 and 2011 I did a lot of the classics.  This year I want to hit some of those I've never gotten to in over 15 years of living in the state.  Spruce Mountain, Jay Peak, Mount Pisgah, Killington and Belvidere are all potential candidates, but I'm very open to suggestions from more experienced hikers on this one.
2. Hike one of the Presidentials in New Hampshire.  Never done any of them; clearly this one is way overdue.
3. Hike any of the 40 High Peaks of the Adirondacks. Cascade is the only one I've ever done, so any of the others is a prime opportunity.
4. Do an overnight hike.  I've done lots of day hikes, but never one where I had to carry stuff up for a night on a mountain.
5. Hike the highest peaks of Northern New England and New York.  This one was suggested by my boyfriend, Jon, and sounds like a lot of fun, especially if I could coordinate it with some friends over a specified block of time. The only one I've done is Mount Mansfield (VT).  That leaves Mount Marcy (NY), Mount Washington (NH), Katahdin (ME) and Mount Greylock (MA).
6. Visit prominent historical sites in Vermont and the region. I'm especially interested in Eleanor Roosevelt's home called Val-kill in upstate New York, and also presidential sites/homes in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
7. Visit some legendary quirky places in Vermont.  First on the list is Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont. I'm very open to more suggestions and co-conspirator offers on this one.
8. Canoe adventure on Lake Champlain.  Thanks to our friend, Lynn, I got to try canoe camping for the first time with Jon, Lynn, and Lynn's husband Ed, on the Green River Reservoir.  But Jon suggested a similar adventure on Lake Champlain and I'd love to try it.
9. Enjoy a winter sauna.  When she learned of the list, our friend Sharon offered up their outdoor sauna as a new experience.  Somehow, I always think of Finland when I think of winter saunas, but then again, winters in Vermont and in Finland are not really very different.
10. Take a moonlight cross country ski.  My former student and current friend, Michelle, suggested this one, and offered to join me, so it's definitely one I'm looking forward to on the list.

Further Afield
11. Panama. Jon and I will be starting 2014 in a new country for both of us -- Panama!  Looking forward to seeing the canal, doing some hiking and rock climbing, hitting the beach, and hopefully meeting up with some pretty birds and slow sloths.
12. Tanzania. We're also planning to go to Tanzania in late May.  I've been a number of times before, so will need to think of some new ways to experience this awesome country.
13. Eastern Europe?  Don't know if it will happen in 2014, but it's been on my list forever.  It's hard for me to imagine a new country I wouldn't want to visit, so I'm pretty open to any other travel opportunities that come my way in 2014.

Fear Factor
14. Dancing. In 2010 my friend Crystal and I took a semester-long beginning ballet class that intimidated me about as much as anything on my list, but turned out to be a great experience.  I am, however, still a terrible dancer.  My friend David has offered to give me some instruction in swing dancing and I'd like to (sort of) give it a try.
15. Introductory lessons on a musical instrument. I pretty much have no musical knowledge or ability at all.  But I'd love to at least try a little. My friend Julia has offered to give me a few piano lessons, and another friend, Michelle is thinking of trying guitar and invited me to give it a shot as well. One way or another, this may be the year to attempt it.
16. Bike and/or car mechanics. During the year of 52 my friend Nigel taught me to change both a bike and car tire, but I am sad to report, neither skill "stuck". This would be an excellent time for a do-over.
17. Things with tools. Truth is, they intimidate me a lot.  I am always sure I will break something, injure myself and/or make a general mess of everything.  But I do have at least two excellent role models on this one.  Jon is a carpenter, and is willing to teach me how to use some power tools, and Lynn, among other skills, totally knows her way around a chain saw for her conservation job. I hope to take up both their suggestions and offers of help in the coming year.
18. Mountain biking. This one is filled with visions of going over handlebars and broken collarbones, but this may be the year I finally give it a try.
19. Back country skiing.  This one combines the fear of falling/injury with my fear of activities requiring a high degree of athleticism.  With such a high intimidation factor, it's a good candidate for this year.

20. Animal shelter. A terrible thing that happened in 2013 was the death of my wonderful and beloved kitty, Peanut. I still miss her very much.  Though I have no desire to replace her with another animal friend, I think it would be great to volunteer with some cats and dogs awaiting their new homes.
21. Nature/Trail work. The year of 52 got me outdoors and I've been playing there ever since. It also gave me an appreciation for the work of people who maintain the trails and natural spaces we enjoy.  This year I want to give back a little. Lynn, who works at the Nature Conservancy has offered to help make it so, and I hope I'll be boundary marking, tree planting, trail maintaining and/or invasive species-pulling before 2014 is done.
22. Volunteering on a fun run. Last year when I ran the Burlington City Marathon (a very big first for me) I discovered what an enormous difference enthusiastic, supportive volunteers made.  This year I want to return the favor, and especially to be there for slower runners like me, for whom battling self-consciousness of our pace is as daunting as the run itself.
23. Bread and Puppet. One of my favorite Vermont events is the end-of-the summer annual Bread and Puppet show season in Glover, Vermont.  This will be the 50th anniversary year, and my friend Paul suggested this one for the list.  It's pretty far away, so I don't know if I can make it happen, but I'm definitely open to exploring the possibility, especially if I can find some friends to join me!
24. Baked Love.  I actually stole the name from a volunteer group at my school, Saint Michael's College, because I think it's so clever.  But the thought has recently occurred to me that I have never cooked as a volunteer, though my community is full of opportunities to help make, serve and/or share a meal. This year I will.

Better, Harder, Faster
This is a new category for this year's list. Here, I'm hoping to reach new levels on things I've started during or since the 2010 Year of 52.
25. Consecutive forward outside and inside 3-turns.  These are one-footed direction-changing ice skating turns.  I can do ones on an outside edge, but inside is much harder, and linking them harder still.  This year, I master them.
26. One foot spin. I can spin on two feet, but still have tons of work to get to one.  I will in 2014, though.
27. Ice dance. I'm envious of my friends in my early-Wednesday morning figure skating class who also have ice dance moves in their skill set.  This year I am going to take some lessons and learn some, too.
28. Solo or ice dance program. One of my favorite things I did this year was my first-ever ice show performance with six of the other Ladies of Leddy.  Next year, I definitely want to do another, but I want to take it one step further, as some of them have, and do a 90-second solo or ice dance performance as well.
29. 5K in under 30 minutes. As a slow runner, I am in the "run to complete, not to compete" category. But I'd like to have goals to work towards, and since I haven't run a 5k in under 30 minutes since high school, this year I will work towards it.
30. Half marathon in under 2:20. Same idea here.  I think I will try to do it with the unplugged half here in Burlington in early April.  If any friends out there want to train in tandem for this, please let me know!
31. Try trail running. Jon is a big trail runner, but I tend to spend my life searching out the flattest, smoothest terrain possible.  This year, though, I want to challenge myself and get some tutoring from him on this one.
32. Midnight run. One thing I learned in the year of 52 is that some of the greatest new activities are actually old ones, done new ways. Jon suggested this one, and I'd love to give it a shot, especially with someone else, or a small group.
33. Long distance team relay. Jon, and a number of my other friends have participated in long (100 miles or more) relay events completed by groups of friends.  If I could find a group of friends not worried about the overall time of the group, this would be fun to organize and participate in.  Maybe the Vermont 100 on 100, as Jon has suggested.  Anyone?
34. Sport lead climb at 5.6 or higher.  In 2013 I completed my first-ever lead climb, which was very exciting, at Rumney in New Hampshire under the instruction of the Wilderness Program.  It was a very easy route.  Now I need to learn to do it on some slightly more difficult routes.
35. Do a trad lead climb. Although lead climbing with bolts (sport climbing) is harder than top roping (hanging from a rope anchored at the top of the route), using traditional gear to anchor yourself as you go (trad climbing) is harder still, and I haven't done it. Yet.
36. Boulder a V2 route. Challenging as I find rock climbing, I think bouldering is even harder (and scary besides).  This one may be beyond me, but I think it's good to throw in some really hard aspirational stuff to shoot for.
37. and 38.  Two yoga challenges: crow pose and a headstand.  Can't do either, but this year I will work on both.  My friend Sharon, who is a yoga instructor, has offered to help me with the latter and in exchange I will teach her to ice skate backwards, which is on her list for the coming year.
39. Touch my toes. Here's how inflexible I am: I have never (at least as an adult) been able to touch my toes.  It's always driven me crazy, and this year I am going to get at least that flexible, or give it my best shot trying.

Brand new skills
40. Archery. Yet another of my friend Lynn's unusual talents is archery.  I've never shot a bow, but she's offered to give me a lesson.
41. Do a handstand. If I can pull off a headstand, this one would be next.
42. Organize and run a book club. Bunches of friends have expressed interest in this one, so I think I just have to show some follow-through.
43. Extempo story telling. There's this great monthly storytelling competition called Extempo that moves around the state.  My friend Kate has competed (and placed second in it) and before the year is over I will try it, too.
44. Acrobat/trapeze lessons. Jon and Lynn are both on fire to try this, and I think I am game.
45. Nordic skating. This is one I cannot wait to try!  It involves skating on extra-long blades outdoors.  I want to go to Lake Morey here in Vermont and try it on their 4.5 mile track.
46. Soap making. Suggested by my excellent friend and climbing buddy, Amanda,  I'm still up for it if she is.
47. Pottery. My friend Julia suggested this in the last year of 52, and offered to teach me.  I didn't get to it, but this time I will.
48. Cut down a tree.  My friend Ed is willing to show me how and let me help do it. I think it sounds really interesting, and one thing I learned in the original year of 52 is that most skills like this are more complicated than they initially seem.
49. Paint a room. My friend Leah suggested this the first time around, and it's another one I never got to.  But this time Jon is willing to walk me through the process.
50. Knit mittens. Another one from the first go-around.  My sister Katrinka taught me and I made one, then forgot how to thumbs, so never did the other. Hopefully, second time is the charm.
51. Silent retreat. Suggested by my sister Katrinka and several others, I'd like to try this potentially coupled with some mindfulness training.
52. Preserving food. When I was a kid, I helped with canning jam and pickles and all kinds of fruits and veggies.  But now I have no recollection of how it's done and would love to learn again.

So, there it is.  There will definitely be additions and subtractions as the year progresses, and I'll probably also incorporate a practice from 2010 suggested by Kathy, my brother-in-law's step mom, to also record "serendipity" experiences that arise as the year progresses. A major key to the fun of the list last time around was all the participation by the people in my life, so I'm inviting everyone to please take a look, make their own lists, and see what they'd like to do, learn and experience together.  Here's to a great 2014!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Year of the Second Chance: 3.5 Out of 5 for a Pass!

There are multiple ways to view 2013 and my five big goals for the year.  Numerically, I'd say I hit 3.5 of the 5.  Since I'm a professor, that basically translates to a 70% or a C-, but then again, being a professor means I could just do some grade inflation, and give myself some extra points for effort or something.  In any case, this post is the last of the year's accounting of the five big challenges, so I'll start with a bit of review.  The goals were:

1. To run a marathon.  Check! Completed the Burlington City Marathon in late May, 2013 and wrote all about it here.
2. To become a better rock climber. And here "better" meant completing my first lead climb which happened on October 19 and is written about here.
3. To become a better ice skater. Being a better skater was to be marked by being able to do a very short performance before an actual audience to a bit of music.
4. To finish the book on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)  I began as a group project with my students back in 2011. The product, obviously, would be the actual manuscript.
5. To become proficient in French. As demonstrated by conducting myself in French for a weekend in Montreal,

This post is about the accomplishment on goal 3, the movement (and hence, the allocation of that teacher's best friend, half credit) on  goal 4, and the acknowledgement of abject failure in goal 5.

First, the so-so news.  The MDG manuscript, alas is still not complete.  But it's close, and true to its vision, it has been written by students for students, and will be posted spring semester with the help of students who were in my fall semester 2013 course and will be staying with the project to completion.  When it's up, it will certainly be linked here with a description of the process and final project.  During fall semester my MDG class voted to take up the pieces that had been written by previous students and add a few new components.  The drafts are done and now await editing and posting spring semester.
This MDG project has been a long, long time coming. On the plus side, it has allowed me to work with some very terrific students (mostly alums now) over time. Here are four of the original team -- Alexsis, Ben, Amanda and Matt -- doing an MDG session while simultaneously celebrating Free Cone Day at Ben and Jerry's.

As for the full-credit goal, that would be ice skating.  I am excited to report I have reached my first (self-defined) benchmark in figure skating -- taking part in an actual performance.  On December 14, I joined 6 other Ladies of Leddy for a 90 second performance accompanied by Aaron Neville's "Please Come Home for Christmas" in the Leddy Park  Holiday skating show. I missed a pivot and the kickline was not quite ready for the Rockettes, but it sure was fun. I'm 100 percent hooked!  We'll definitely be back again next year, and I think I am going to take a leaf from some of the others in the group and try my own solo or ice dance as well next year. 

Got some work to do on the kick line timing.

Donna and me (red sweater, courtesy of one of my fabulous students, Meaghan D.) finishing the routine.

So there it: in 2013 I completed a marathon, did my first lead climb and my first bona fide ice skating performance. inched my Millennium Development Goal student writing project closer to completion and dismally failed in progressing my French language skills. Far from perfect but hey, you can't lose if you don't play.  One of the many things I learned from my 2010 year of 52 New Things is that, for me at least, there's something powerfully motivating about publicly committing to a set of goals, And so, as 2013 draws to a close and we all start training our gaze to 2014, I wanted to close this post by noting that I've decided it's time for another year of 52. I'll be posting the list-in-development before the New Year and looking for more ideas and especially, fellow participants.  Here's looking forward to a fulfilling end of 2013 and an exciting new year!


Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Year of the Second Chance: Finally, Finally, Finally a Lead Climb

So, this is very, very bad.  I was so proud of my careful maintainance of my blog during the Year of 52 and the Year of the Challenge and the Year of Living in Jordan.  And then, as the British would say, it all went pear-shaped.  I thought I had a really great idea: the Year of the Second Chance.  But somehow, I've just done a really poor job, both in terms of moving towards my goals and in writing about them (and maybe those two deficiencies are connected?).  In any case, possibly the greatest irony of the Year of the Second Chance is that the Second Chance has just been given a second chance.  How great is that?  I am pleased to write that I have finally accomplished Goal Two. 
My first lead climb.  My friend and student Kyra is on Frosted Flake, the climb next to it top roping while awaiting her turn to lead climb, too.

Back in March I wrote a post detailing the plan for the year.  The basic idea was to take five really ambitious projects or goals I'd started in previous years and see them to completion (or at least the next level).  Each was to have a specific task or product that would signify that point.  The five goals were:
1. To run a marathon.  I am happy to report that I did it!  Completed the Burlington City Marathon in late May, 2013 and wrote all about it here.
2. To become a better rock climber. The next level point on this one was to do a lead climb.
3. To become a better ice skater. Being a better skater was to be marked by being able to skate a very short combination to a bit of music.
4. To finish the book on the Millennium Development Goals I began as a group project with my students. The product, obviously, would be the actual manuscript.
5. To become proficient in French. As demonstrated by conducting myself in French for a weekend in Montreal.

So, anyway, after the marathon, thinking about these projects, and especially keeping track of them, got away from me and might have stayed that way, except that good fortune, and in several cases, my students and Jon, have intervened. Rock climbing, the subject of this post, is a case in point. 

The thing about rock climbing is that it's a bit of a dilemma for me.  On the one hand, I really enjoy it.  Out of all the things I tried during my year of 52, I think it was my favorite, and it's certainly the one that I've introduced the most other newbies to. The conundrum comes from the fact that I don't have much natural aptitude for it, and this is compounded by the fact that I never even tried it till I was in my 40s.  All of this is a long-winded way of saying it's taken me a long, long time to get to the point of this lead climb, and there were some pretty great people along the way who encouraged me to keep going.

One of the best things I've done climbing-wise was to participate last Spring Break in the Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program trip to southern Utah.  We had a great group, led by Eben Widlund from Saint Mike's and Andrea Charest, who co-owns our local climbing gym, Petra Cliffs. We camped for a week at a state campsite hit a number of area cliffs.  That trip was also my first time "mock leading". 
Eben Widlund and Andrea Charest, our leaders of the Utah Spring Break Trip.  Couldn't ask for a better pair of instructors -- they even cooked great camp food!
Climbing in an area called Soul Asylum.  Long climbs, but porous, slabby rock that was "sticky" for footholds and easy to hold with your hands.

Jess, an amazing SMC climber who is now a Wilderness Instructor, and I had the job of dumping our used water every night.  Now Jess and I and another instructor, Alex, staff Saint Mike's small climbing wall on Tuesday nights.
For those who haven't tried it (yet), there a number of different ways climbers have figured out to get up something.  There is free climbing that doesn't involve a rope at all and there is bouldering, which also doesn't use a rope, but only focuses on climbs that don't go very high up, but involve lots of tough moves and strength.  The easiest way to climb with a rope is to "top rope". This means that the rope is attached at the top of the climb, and the climber is tied to one end, and the belayer (who takes in the slack on the rope, usually from the bottom) is attached at the other end.  If the climber falls, she doesn't really fall, because the rope is holding her in place vertically.  A tougher type of climbing is "lead climbing".  Here a climber is not attached to the top, but instead brings the rope up as she goes, and hooks it into the cliff, either using bolts pre-placed in the rock (sport climbing) or by inserting special gear that is inserted to hold the rope in the cracks (trad climbing).  So, mock leading like I did in Utah is top roping, but bringing up a rope to practice clipping it into the bolts.

There's a pretty big difference between climbing indoors in a gym and outside, and I have been lucky to have some awesome partners working with me on both.  My two stalwart gym partners have been Jon, who had climbed a little before we started dating, and Amanda, my friend and former student who was one of my original teachers. There's also Kyra, a current student and Wilderness Instructor-in-training who's been climbing with me both indoors and out, and pushing us both to seize opportunities to learn new skills and try new challenges.  She's really great at anchor-setting, yet another skill you have to learn to climb outside, and she's very patient with the fact that I'm not.
Amanda is not only a great teacher and friend, she's also an amazing climber.  Jon and I always talk about the way it seems like she floats up a wall.  Here she is at Upper West Bolton in Vermont.

A couple weeks ago, Jon and I also joined Dan, a former student who was another of my regular teachers of all kinds of outdoor sports during my year of 52.  He met us on the other side of Lake Champlain, and took us for a spectacular day in the Adirondacks that included another big rock climbing first for me -- my first multi-pitch (that is basically climbing up more than one routes put together with a ledge (for belaying) in between).

In the morning of our Adirondack day we warmed up on some fun climbs,  I think the one Jon is doing was called Space Cowboy.

Jon and Dan loaded up with ropes as we get ready to head up the path at Chapel Pond for our first multi-pitch climb.

The fact that I had kicked up my climbing, both indoors and out in the last month or so re-ignited my interest in taking that next step to try a lead climb, and when Kyra pointed out that the Wilderness Program was running a day of sport climbing, we signed up and went.  And so, on a lovely October Saturday in Rumney, New Hampshire on a route called Peewee's Playhouse I finally did my first lead climb. 
Not exactly what I would have expected as a moment of Zen (especially because I managed to take a fall a couple minutes before and bark my shin pretty hard), but I was a pretty happy camper, I must say.

It was an easy route, and I still have lots and lots to learn.  But for me, it was an exciting chance to realize a goal, and be reminded that it's always better to start late, and if necessary go slow, than to be so daunted that you don't even try.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Year of the Second Chance: One Down, Four to Go

My poor blog has been shamefully neglected so far this year, but that's about to change.  As I posted in the sole other entry for this year, I've labelled 2013 as the Year of the Second Chance, and identified five goals that I've started, dropped, felt bad about, and want to see to completion. I am happy to report that I have now completed one goal, and this post is about that.  I'll be doing another post soon with updates on the one that is well underway and the three that are in various states of neglect, and how I plan to turn them around, too. But for now, let's focus on the positive, shall we?  And the good news is, I have finished a marathon! The Key Bank Vermont City Marathon, to be exact.

Since I didn't actually write about the process of preparing for the marathon, I am going to attempt to do that here while also doing what I consider a public service to other newbies contemplating making this a personal goal for themselves. I am now presenting to the world (or the infinitely smaller subset of people who might read this) Ten Things Someone Should Tell You Before You Sign Up to Run a Marathon.

1. Your best asset is someone who knows what they're doing to help you. In my case, that was my astoundingly patient boyfriend, Jon.  He's a veteran marathoner (actually he even did a 50-miler two summers ago) and has encyclopedic knowledge on all things running.  He put together a training schedule for me, answered a million questions, and dispensed lots of advice, much of which I initially ignored to my peril.  A case in point was the battle over Gu. After we did a half marathon where I felt like I totally lost all my energy and will to move at mile 10.5 (just as I had in two previous half-marathons) he suggested it was really time for me to give up my resistance to Gu -- those little foil packets of energy gel.  But my vision in my head was that Gu resembles nothing so much as chocolate snot, so I continued my resistance.  Finally, on a three-hour run I tried one, and came back home demanding to know why he hadn't told me that it was actually a lot like chocolate frosting. We had similar bouts of me insisting that I really didn't need to carry a water bottle on long runs, and my old cotton sweats would do just fine in all kinds of weather.  If, like me, you insist on doing things as they might have fifty years ago and an expert is telling you differently, save yourself some time and take their advice.
At the Great Bay Half Marathon, where I still refused to learn my lesson that there might be a reason that runners eat Gu. On a side note, the hills on this course were horrible, but they did serve free beer at the end of it.

2.  If you sign up for a marathon held in the spring or early summer, that means you have to train through the winter. And if you live in Vermont, that means you have to train in a Vermont Winter.  My training started in early January for the Burlington City Marathon, which was held on Sunday, May 26. This leads me to point 3, which is...

3. You are about to become annoyingly obsessed with the weather. One thing about a training schedule is that you're supposed to stick to it.  Most people would rather chew glass than run on a treadmill for more than an hour, so for long runs especially, the weekend forecast becomes a huge deal. Don't be surprised if you start checking the forecast the day before a big run every few hours in the vague hope that the driving rain warning will have disappeared, or the expected temperature has gone up at least a few degrees.  You will spend way too much time trying to figure out whether it's better to be cold on the front end of your run, or have to do annoying things like carry your gloves or tie a jacket around your waist while running for two hours on the back end. Marathon day this year was particularly cruel. A week out, the forecast was jauntily predicting a partly sunny day in the low 60s, and then turned a couple of days out to rain, temperatures in the low 30s and wind in the 20ish mile per hour range.

4. You are also about to become equally annoyingly obsessed with your long runs. The average newbie training schedule is built around the Long Run.  Depending on the schedule you complete runs 2-4 other days a week.  Mine had me doing one run a week on hills (my dreaded Depot Street rounds, for those who live in Burlington), and a second day trying to work on speed (a very big problem for me as a very slow runner).  The big run would come on the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, with every week supposed to build successively on the mileage of the week before.  Again, because I am a very slow runner, I would just run for time, beginning in January running for an hour and a half and working up to my longest run in early May, which was five hours.

Here's the thing about long runs: they take over your weekends.  First, you have to carve out half of a precious weekend day to do them. Then you have to make sure that there isn't a better half-day weather-wise and rearrange if there is.  Then if that half day happens to be a morning, if you're me you have to start by getting up an hour early to eat something. Then you can go back to your nice warm bed for 40 minutes or so on some frigid February morning, and have an argument with yourself about what to wear that will be warm enough but not so hot that it will make you sweaty and then freezing when you do the part of your long run down by Lake Champlain where the wind blows a lot. Then it's 1.5-4 or even 5 hours of running while you are sure that the rest of the world is either sleeping or doing really, really fun things. Finally, you're done, but not really.  Because then you are very stiff.  You will make up elaborate plans to avoid doing any activity involving going up or down stairs, and drive other people crazy by forcing them to listen to your long run stories when they make the mistake of asking why you are walking slowly or limping the day after your long run.

5.  Your second-best asset is a circle of true-blue friends and family. The fact that for roughly five months you will think that the weather and your long runs are endlessly fascinating topics that other people want to discuss for hours brings me to this point, namely that you better have some good karma going with the important people in your life. They will need to be patient, supportive, good at pretending that they care about weather and your long runs, and willing to clear their schedules the weekend of your marathon. Unbeknownst to me, Jon put together a projected schedule of when I would be passing what mile points, and worked with my very excellent friends Siham and Amanda to make sure I'd have support at a bunch of different points during the run. (He actually ran the marathon himself, in three hours and 17 minutes, then joined Siham and Amanda on the Cheer Squad).  My colleagues Katie and Sue stationed themselves at different points during the route, Siham and Amanda popped up most memorably with Jon at mile 21 and my friend and former student Annie pulled together a crew of SMC students to cheer me near the finish.
The ultimate support crew -- Siham, Amanda and Jon -- carbo loading with me at Papa Frank's the night before the marathon.

Of course nothing spells support quite so directly as this handmade Yoda doll my sister Katrinka made for me and sent from Tacoma to arrive right before the big day.

6. If you never thought about your bathroom habits before, you will now. Every subculture has its embarrassing questions that newbies need to know but don't want to ask.  In long-distance running that question is, "but what about going to the bathroom?" My favorite set of advice comes from a great running blog called Shut Up and Run.  The url is here:
Most people I know, myself included, have found that another part of marathon training is "getting regular" -- that is trying to establish the habit for your body so you can get everything out of your body before you set out on your run.  Works for me, but I also know people who bring toilet paper and/or know where there are toilets to use on the route.  I've heard more than one story from people who missed their goal marathon time because they just had to make a pit stop.

7. Training for a marathon might actually set you back in some of your other fitness goals. I always assumed that all marathoners were ultra-fit individuals who probably ran a marathon, then turned around and swam across a lake and then maybe won some other kind of sports championship, just for fun.  Obviously, there are a lot of uber-fit athletes among marathoners, but just because you complete a marathon, that doesn't automatically translate into other forms of fitness.  In fact, what I found was that it detracted from some of my other fitness goals for two reasons.  The first is that marathon training requires the discipline of holding to the training schedule, and the soreness that accompanies that.  I couldn't do my regular cardio class at the Y on Monday mornings because I'd still be really sore from my long runs most weeks. I did try to continue rock climbing indoors at least twice a week, but other exercise often got sacrificed to marathon training.  The other problem is that marathoners start to get pretty nervous after a couple months of training about any possible injuries that could render all that training for naught.  I didn't downhill ski this year in part because of that fear, and on a rock climbing trip in Utah I'm sure I drove the whole group crazy with my slower-than-usual hiking up and down approaches to make sure I wouldn't twist an ankle or otherwise throw my training in jeopardy.

8.  It really is true that marathon training is for your mind as much as your body. I don't think I really understood this till the marathon was over.  Jon was always reminding me that long runs are partly just about "time on your feet" -- getting your body, but also your mind, used to moving for such a long distance and knowing that it can. One of the reasons I wanted to do the marathon in the first place is that I've always had major issues stemming back to being an extremely mediocre high school cross-country runner.  I just didn't think I could do it.  But the conundrum is that in marathon running, if you think you can't, you're probably right.  I was in tears the night before and again the morning of, the marathon thinking that I just wasn't going to be able to pull it off.  Luckily, my friend and veteran marathoner Patrick told me that this is normal and would fall away when the race actually began. He was right, and when I hit the 13 mile point, where the half-marathon relayers stopped, I suddenly thought that actually, I could do this. And then when I hit the twenty mile point I knew I'd be able to finish it.
Amanda snapped this picture of me on the Burlington Bike Path around mile 24.  I had been super-worried that I'd quit in the last four miles.  But lots of people told me if you make it that far, there's no way you're willing to stop then, and they're right.

9. Marathon training starts out being about injury avoidance and ends up being about injury management. Whatever underlying weakness we have in our bodies, marathon training will pick it right up.  Although Jon kept telling me to first of all try to avoid injuries, and I did try, I was relieved when our Yoga for Runners teacher, Erika, told us that ultimately, almost everyone sustains some kind of injury training for a marathon, and that continuing the training is all about injury management.  I had some knee pain and stiffness, but the thing I didn't expect was the beating that my feet took.  After every long run I'd have a big pain on the outside of my left foot and an even worse one in a bump that developed on the back of my right heel. 

10. Despite everything in the previous nine points, knowing you've completed a marathon -- at whatever pace, in whatever way you did it -- is a truly great feeling.  I highly recommend it. When I started training for the marathon, I had goals for the time I wanted to run it in, and I didn't want to take any walk breaks.  By the time of the marathon, I knew those weren't realistic, and the only goal I kept was just finishing the marathon. And I'm so happy that I did.  Something that I've come to realize is that I don't believe in perfection.  I think perfection is the enemy of action, and that we waste way too much of our lives refusing to start something or to complete it, because it's not perfect.  My sister Katrinka sometimes reminds me to "just trust the process", and on this one she was so right. If you think you'd like to run a marathon, my advice is to do it.  It takes months to train, possibly longer if you haven't run before, and it requires a commitment to stay with the process every week during those months. But here I found the words of Earl Nightingale very useful, "Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it.  The time will pass anyway." If I can do it, anyone can.
Jon and me at a few minutes after I finished (he'd, of course, been done for ages). I really wanted to take a nap, but was also trying to figure out a way to get to my bed that didn't involve moving my legs and feet.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

2013: the Year of the Second Chance

So, I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of months now, but it just wasn't coming together in my mind.  My plan for this year is a little different than in previous years, and I've been struggling with how to think about it.  And then it hit me yesterday.  For me, 2013 is the Year of the Second Chance. (Actually, even the fact that I am writing this post on March 7 rather than January 1 tends to point in that direction).

So, why "Second Chance"? The plan for this year is to focus on five big goals.  All of them were begun previously, some in the previous years of New Things (2010) and The Challenge (2011), and some even earlier than that.  But all required a level of commitment that I just haven't been able to muster to see them through, and so they are back, like bad pennies, waiting for a real plan to get them to completion.  Here's the list of goals and why to me they represent Second Chances:

1.  Become a Better Rock Climber. When I was in high school and college (in southern Idaho and northern Utah respectively) I had barely heard of the whole idea and definitely knew it had nothing to do with me.  But during the year of 52 New Things, from the first time I tried it (in a climbing gym in Nepal, of all places) I was suprised at all much fun I thought it was, and now I'd actually like to work on getting better at it.  The amazing Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program gave me my big Second Chance on this one, and on Saturday I'm headed back to Utah to have the spring break I never did when I was an undergrad at Utah State University.

I have lots and lots of people to thank for taking me climbing and giving me lessons, but probably the biggest thank you goes to Amanda, who graduated in 2011 but has stuck around Burlington to do outstanding work in combating gender-based violence and also coach her former professor on rock climbing.

2.  Run a Marathon. I imagine this one's on lots of people's life lists, and I had big plans to do it during the Year of the Challenge in 2011. But a mishap on an ill-advised run well above my pay grade at Mad River Glen that year put an end to it when I ended up on crutches.  This year, the gods smiled on me again, first by having one of my best friends and fellow New Thing/Challengista, Siham, decide that this was the year we must do a marathon.  Though it's now an open question whether she's still going to be able to complete the training with everything else on her plate, I also lucked out in finding the best possible personal coach in my boyfriend, Jon.  He's a lifelong runner and veteran of several marathons and even a 50 mile trail race, and a font of wisdom in all things running-related.  So, this is the year.  I'm signed up for the Burlington City Marathon, following Jon's  training schedule with a minimum of whining, and hoping and praying that I can finish 26.2 miles.
Jon's a good multi-tasker.  He's my boyfriend and my get-me-through-my-first marathon coach. Here he is showing me how far he expects me to run on our last day in of our recent quick trip to Puerto Rico.
 3.  Become a Better Ice Skater. When we were in elementary school in Michigan we skated on our pond and I loved it.  On and off over the years I've taken a few lessons, but something always seems to come up just when I'm starting to get a few more advanced skills.  This is the year I want to stop making excuses and make the transition to actually stringing some of those things I've learned into a sequence I can do all at once. 

4.  Finish a draft of the Millennium Development Goals Book. This is another project begun in the year of the Challenge that I managed to grind to a halt when I headed out to Jordan for the year.  Right now I'm doing an independent study with four students, one of whom was on the original student team, and we're getting a few chapters, as well as the case studies into draft form.  After that we'll be seeing if any of the other original writers can come back in for some more writing work. 

5.  Learn to Speak and Read French. I took French in 9th and 10th grades in high school, for two semesters in college, and as an audited course at Saint Mike's.  I seem to be permanently in an Intermediate French class cycle, but my hope is to use summer and fall as a time to focus more academically on goals 4 and 5.  Though Siham doesn't know it, she is part of the plan, because she is going to agree to correspond with me in Facebook in French as part of my regular practice.

When I picked these goals for 2013, the plan was to work on them all simultaneously, but in a matter of weeks I learned that was basically impossible.  So, the current working plan is to try to keep them all at least minimally in play, but focus on different ones at different times.  The order of the goals above is roughly in line with the new chronology. Each goal has some kind of built-in deadline or event to test my progress, beginning next week (March 9-16), when I head to southern Utah for a week of outdoor rock climbing with the Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program.  After that, the Burlington City Marathon is May 26.  There is a built-in deadline for a draft of the Millennium Development Goal book in that I am teaching the course that will be using it in the fall, so it has to be completed so we can use it as a text and also critique it.  French will be a focus in the fall, and will culminate in a week or weekend in a French-speaking place.  I'd like to reach my figure-skating goal in December, but still need to figure out exactly what form that would take (figure skating friends, I'm open to suggestions!).

The plan for the newest incarnation of the blog is to help keep me accountable and on-track with these goals.  I plan to write a post at least twice a month, with a focus on one or two of the goals and at least a brief statement on where the others are at.  I've talked to a lot of people who helped me out in the original Year of New Things and Year of the Challenge, and many of them have goals of their own that they're working on this year.  So, I'd like to make a request that if people have their own goals, that they write in on this post and list them, and also use the blog (or their own) as a way to keep track of their own progress.  And of course, anyone who is sharing one or more of the specific goals listed above, by all means, let me know so we can figure out how to do some work on them together.