Sunday, April 27, 2014

La Jolla Half Race Recap

I never thought I'd say this, but second place never felt so disappointing. And not for the reason you'd expect, either.

I never had any illusions about winning this race. After looking at the course and the race times from last year, I honestly never even thought I'd place at all, outside of maybe an age group award. So placing second woman overall was, frankly, a huge surprise. It was such a surprise, in fact, that it upended my plan to hurry back to my hotel in order to get ready for my (already delayed) workday. But really, I had to stay. How many times do you get to accept an award in front of an audience? Not many.

The thing was, though, I'd have gladly traded my second place plaque for a PR. I went into this race with my sights set on breaking 1:28:00, and the bottom line is that I just didn't do it. I wasn't even very close. So second place woman or not, I was disappointed.

The one thing I can say, though, is that the lack of PR was not for lack of trying. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, so it's tempting to look back and say, "Oh, at mile 7 I should have just sucked it up and picked up the pace. I was probably just being a baby," or, "I should have taken it out slower, and maybe then I'd have had more energy for that outrageous hill at mile 5." But the fact of the matter is, I gave it everything I had.

My race started before the gun even went off. I got to the Del Mar Racetrack parking lot, did a bit of warmup jogging and drills, and realized that I definitely needed to hit the Port-a-Johns or there were going to be problems. So I got in line. Fifteen minutes later, the line had barely moved, and we were five minutes away starting the race. So I did the only thing I could do: I found a nice array of bushes, wedged myself between them and, well, that was that. Then there was the national anthem, the gun--which was actually just an announcer saying "Go!!!"--and we were off.

I took it out as close to tempo as I dared, aided by the fact that the very beginning of the course tilted a bit downhill. I was feeling pretty good by mile three, pretty confident that I could hold this pace. It was a lovely day, the breeze felt great, and I was closing in on a small cluster of girls in front of me. Then there was an uphill, and the 1:30 pacer passed me, which gave me a bit of a scare. But that was followed by a long downhill overlooking the Pacific where I just let my legs spin. That put me back in front of him again, where I belonged, which would have felt nice if I hadn't been staring straight ahead at the mountain that we were about to climb. And that's when the race got hard.

I am not a powerful runner. I never have been, and I while I might be someday, right now I have a really hard time sprinting up a hill, never mind a mountain. So I compensate by taking it slow going up and then I make up time coming back down. That was my plan of attack on this course, too, but I knew that to average 6:42s per mile, I couldn't slow down too drastically. Therefore, when the 1:30 pacer passed me (again!), I decided that the least I could do was keep him in my sights. That, surely, would be good enough. But then a woman passed me, charging up the hill like it was nothing, and I began to doubt how the rest of this race was going to go.

A mile and change later, I began repeating the mantra "shut up" to my brain, which was having a panic attack over the fact that I couldn't seem to get my pace back under 7:30/mi. I had averaged something like 8min/mi up that terrible hill, and now I couldn't get it back down, even though the course had flattened out. "You're never going to make up that time," my brain kept saying, "and your legs feel like they were just beaten by heavy wooden mallets. AND you're only halfway done. How are you going to even finish the next 6 miles? You're toast." Shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutupshutup.

Around mile nine, when my brain had moved from doubting this race to doubting all distance races--"Maybe you don't have it in you anymore to run distance. Dropping time used to feel easy; you didn't even notice until you'd done it. Now you're running all this fancy extra stuff and what's it gotten you? One, maybe two minutes faster? Pathetic. You think you're going to PR in the Chicago Marathon? Dream on."--a tall shirtless guy appeared beside me. We'd already exchanged places a few times throughout the race, him passing me on the uphills and me blowing by him on the downhills, but now we were on the flat and and I was struggling to get my legs moving again. But no way this guy was faster than me. No way.

That thought was enough to help me get moving again, at least to keep up with him, even as my breathing became more and more ragged. Miles nine and ten weren't nearly as terrible as the ones before had been, and when we hit another downhill, I closed in on the woman who had passed me on that mountain. "Third woman!" spectators kept shouting, holding up three fingers. Third? Really? Me? I wasn't even running very fast!

With another downhill, I caught the woman and trailed her halfway through mile eleven before I passed her . . . only to be passed by the 1:30 pacer again. "Shit!" I panted aloud. "Don't worry, I'm ahead," he shouted back over his shoulder. He'd better be, I thought, because if I finish over 1:30, I am going be super pissed. Things seemed to be going well now; I was pretty sure I'd dropped my pace back down and I could keep this up for the last mile . . . and then we hit another hill. All I could think, as I charged that hill with my arms pumping furiously, was She's right behind you. If you let her pass you on this hill, it's over. Are you really going to accept third when you have second right now?

As someone who's run a fair number of half marathons, when you're giving a race your all, that thirteenth mile feels endless. Where's godd*%$ the finish line? is all you're thinking as your legs scream and your chest feels like you're having an asthma attack and a heart attack all rolled into one. The race ended with a steep downhill, which I should have been happy except my legs felt so out of control that it was all I could do to keep them from flying out to the sides or buckling beneath me. But she hadn't passed me. The woman hadn't passed me. And now we were on a downhill. I was going to take second!

When I crossed the finish line, the clock read 1:30 and change. I was gasping; I could barely stay upright; I felt like this was the hardest half marathon I had ever run; and I hadn't even come close to the 1:28 goal I had set for myself. Awesome.

Winning 2nd definitely redeemed this run for me, because otherwise, there'd have been no silver lining. I started out feeling determined and excited, and ended feeling like crap. Still, whether it sounds crazy or not, I really do think I can break 1:28. Just not today, I guess. Next time.

La Jolla Half Marathon

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
32 / 5,891
2 / 3,058
n/a* / 543

*Note: When you place in the top 3 for your gender, you are automatically removed from the age group rankings. It's my first time to be excluded!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: Sous Chef

Sous ChefSous Chef by Michael Gibney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's important that I specify that I'm an outsider to the food industry. The closest I ever came to working in a restaurant was when I worked at a coffee shop on my college campus. While I suppose that technically "counts," it was also an insulated experience due to the fact that it was operated by the campus dining services and nearly impossible to get fired.

I enjoyed this book, but I think I'd have enjoyed it a lot more if I were part of the same insiders group as Gibney--that is, chefs, cooks, and anyone else involved in the preparation of food in a restaurant. You do get a sense of his experience in the kitchen, which is what I was looking for, but he sticks to the insider's lingo, which is alienating without footnotes to reference (I was halfway through the book before I discovered there was a glossary in the back!), and the frequent conversations the cooks have in Spanish are never translated, leaving me to guess what they might have said with the help of my incredibly limited knowledge of the language.

His descriptions of food in its various forms--packaged, raw, cut, cooked, served--are very beautiful and sensory, which is great, but for an impatient reader like me, I thought Gibney got carried away, so much so that he lost the forest for the trees. I didn't want to read a manual on how to properly de-bone a fish; I wanted a book that tells me a story. And this book, quite honestly, didn't. "A day in the life of" was a very accurate depiction, but at the end, I didn't much care about any of the characters, including Gibney himself. Sure they might be real people and this might be a real day, but I needed at least a whisper of a story in there, to keep me hooked. Instead, I was left feeling adrift as I turned the last page.

The book does earn three stars, however, because it accomplishes what it set out to do: give the reader the experience of being sous chef for a day. Complete with second-person narration and all. I read the book to understand that experience a bit better (admittedly as research for a book I intend to write), and I now feel that I do. So bravo for that. And now I'm going to go read a proper story.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: Save the Cat!

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever NeedSave the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this book! The only drawback is, well, I'm not a screenwriter. But I read this book at the behest of a friend who told me it would help me devise a strategy for working out plots, and it definitely fulfilled that promise.

My favorite aspect of this book was its tone: it reminded me of a coach giving tough-love instruction to his or her athlete. The message--over and over again--is, essentially, "You don't want to do this tedious, agonizing, impossibly hard bit of work? Well suck it up, because it's the only way to get the results that you want. So here's what you've got to do." Snyder's writing style is chatty yet informative. He offers personal experiences and notes from other writers and producers in the industry to exemplify why certain things work or don't work. Yes, at times he gets a tad repetitive, but in a how-to book, you pretty much have to be repetitive to ensure that your point sinks in. So I'll forgive that minor annoyance.

I'm excited to try some of the strategies. Now, if only someone would write this book, exactly the same, only different . . . for novel writers!

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Rutgers Recap

Let me cut to the chase: I didn't PR in the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon this past weekend. Which, of course, is disappointing.

Could I have run faster? Maybe. Should I have gone for broke at mile 10 and seen what happened? Probably. Can I come up with a thousand other excuses? Well let’s see, there was a lack of sleep the night before, a severely abbreviated warm-up before the race, and oh yeah, the fact that I raced another half marathon just seven days before…. But plenty of other runners have run under these—and worse—conditions and still PR-ed. Maybe I just wasn’t mentally prepared to run my best race; maybe I was ready to accept a lesser performance, because I had all of these excuses already in the back of my mind.

Regardless of why I ran a slower race, here’s what did go well:

The weather was perfect. (Sunny and warm enough to wear a singlet and shorts but cool enough to be comfortable at the start and finish lines.)

I had friends cheering me on.

I got to cheer on my friends (two of whom were running their first half marathon!).

I finished within the top 10 women running the race.

Best of all, I kicked it at the end and finished five seconds in front of a woman I had been trailing all race. It might sound evil, but there is no feeling like burning someone at the finish line. After all, that’s what makes it a race.

Rutgers Unite Half Marathon
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
66 / 3,131
6 / 1,604
2 / 285

Friday, April 11, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Five stars for concept. 3 stars for execution. 2 stars for pacing.

I will say up front that I can absolutely see why so many middle schools and high schools choose this book to include as part of their curriculum. As I was reading, I could imagine the types of essay questions that English teachers love to pose just springing out of the text: Choose a literature quotation from the novel and discuss the role it plays in developing the novel's themes. Discuss differences between dynamic and static characters in the book. Write about two of the following symbols: the Mechanical Hound, the salamander, fire, the subway, the sieve and the sand, the river.

However, I didn't read this book as part of my secondary education. I read it for pleasure. I read it because I was recently impressed by what I read from Bradbury, and this was one of those books of "classic literature" that was missing from my repertoire. And so many people love it!

Which brings me to a real problem: I hate when books (or movies, or anything really) are hyped before I read them, because I'm almost always disappointed. Farenheit 451, alas, was no exception. The concept was brilliant, and remains amazingly relevant in today's society. With our smartphones and video game consoles and computers and reality TV, our attention spans are shorter than ever. We want the condensed versions, and Reader's Digest won't do; say it in 140 characters or less, or no one will listen! We're all about headlines and captions, videos instead of articles, television instead of books. Poor books. They always seemed so threatened.

However, the main character's shift into rebellion happened too soon for me. I wanted to know more about how he became a firefighter, what his life was like before and why he was so contented with it before he met Clarisse. Why couldn't he just dismiss her as a silly little girl? Well, presumably because he was already on his way down the mental path of subversion, so what got him there? Unhappiness? Mildred was clearly unhappy, but she managed to wall herself in (pun intended) with distractions and diversions. What was so different about Montag?

Then, I assume that Montag's murdering Beatty was the climax, but then maybe that happened when the Mechanical Hound caught the other poor soul instead of Montag, so he knew he was finally "free." Or when the nuclear bomb went off? I just never felt the arc of the story quite vividly enough, so it prevented me from caring strongly what happened next. And for such a short book, there was so much rumination! I feel like so much that is there could be condensed, while so many details and scenes could have been added.

As a wise and reflective writer, Bradbury addresses some of these points in the Q&A that comes at the end of the 50th Anniversary Edition I read. And he's right: you shouldn't go back and change up the book when you're older and wiser. It needs to stay true to itself. So I'm not sorry I read it. I'm just sorry it wasn't quite the novel I thought it would be.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I badly want to give this book five stars, because I think it does what Bryson set out to do: it gives an accurate and entertaining depiction of his experience hiking the Appalachian Trail, and it educates the reader along the way about the trail in its current state along with copious historical context. However, Bryson is just so funny when he wants to be, with his fantastically dry wit and spot-on descriptions of both the mundane and the extraordinary, that once I got a taste, I wanted more. I wanted to be entertained. I wanted to keep laughing, to keep spending time with the people he encountered along the trail, to revel in his unique perspective on the whole experience.

But this book admittedly wasn't meant to be about the people Bryson met on his journey. He didn't intend to keep me laughing throughout. He was going to educate me, whether I liked it or not, and so I found myself about two-thirds of the way through the book, slogging through pages and pages of history that, frankly, I didn't want to read. That's a risk you take when you embark upon a journey with a non-fiction writer.

Because I can't help myself, I want to give you just a taste of the writing that kept me plowing through this book, looking for more. Here are a few excerpts:

"What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children's parties--I daresay it would even give a merry toot--and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag."

"Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wiley and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old."

This is my second Bryson book (my first was I'm a Stranger Here Myself, which I read when I returned from studying abroad in England and adored), and I will undoubtedly read more. He is an excellent writer, and I love a good humorist. However, I'll probably steer clear of A Short History of Nearly Everything. That sounds like it will be far more education than amusing. But if anyone who has read it can tell me otherwise, I'm happy to give it a go!

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Monday, April 7, 2014

A 4th Place Finish - No Fooling!

I must admit that coming into this weekend, I was a bit apprehensive. I had originally signed up for the Atlantic City April Fools Half Marathon  because the open invitation sent by a few fellow Gotham City Runners made it sound like it would be a team-centric, fun-filled weekend. We'd all go down on Saturday, hang out, race Sunday, and go back. Together. As a team.

However, things didn't quite work out that way. For starters, everyone booked a different hotel. Or, more accurately, everyone booked the same hotel, which was different from the hotel I booked. But okay, no big deal. This wasn't supposed to be a slumber party anyway. But then, at least by email, no one committed to a particular departure time, and since I don't see any of my teammates during the week, I booked my own ticket, assuming that we'd all meet up when we arrived. Which brings me to the final snag:  I don't have a smart phone and would therefore be sans email as soon as I left my apartment, so I sent out an email saying as much, expecting to get phone numbers in return . . . and got exactly one phone number in response.So with a sense of foreboding, I added that number to my contact list, picked up my duffle bag, and headed to the Port Authority.

Things didn't seem any more promising once I boarded the bus. It was completely full, which wasn't a problem except that the man who sat down next to me must have been at least 6'4" and 300 lbs. I generally have no problem with large people unless they decide to sit down next to me in cramped quarters. Then I'm not such a fan. On top of everything, the man smelled sort of like a three-day-old cheeseburger, and he immediately started talking--to me--the moment he sat down. This did not bode well at all.

Fortunately, once the bus started moving, the man stopped talking, and I pulled up my hood and slept. When we arrived, I was feeling in a more convivial mood, so when he tried again to strike up conversation, I humored him. As it turned out, he was on his way back from Brooklyn, where his parents lived, to Atlantic City, where he had moved about five years ago. He gladly gave me directions when I asked how to get to the Revel casino, and to my utmost surprise, when I told him I was in town for a race, he offered to buy my casino voucher off of me. I am decidedly not a gambler--I simply don't see the fun in it--and I would have happily given him the voucher for free, but he insisted on paying me its worth, so I happily walked away from what I had worried might be a miserable bus ride with an extra twenty-five dollars in my pocket.

Things after that went very smoothly. I picked up my race packet at Revel, was allowed to check in early at my hotel, got my shake-out run over and done with, browsed some outlet stores, and met up with my teammates for a pre-race pasta dinner at Angeloni's II (not to be confused with Angelo's Fairmount Tavern, our initial choice, where we wouldn't have been seated until after 8pm). Then I walked back to my hotel, chatted with a few friends by phone--which saved me from staring mindlessly at bad TV--and went to bed by 11:30pm.

So, the race. I got down to the starting area about thirty minutes prior to the gun time. I ran a mile, did the drills I knew I was supposed to do (although I have to say that skips on a boardwalk feel really weird) and then jogged back to the start, only to run directly into J___, a teammate, and follow him on his mile warmup. I figured I had time to spare, so why not? Then I inched my way toward the front of the crowd. There were no corrals, so I found the elite runners (you can always tell who they are) and positioned myself a few rows behind them. Then the national anthem was sung, the starting horn sounded, and we were off.

Because I was already so close to the front, I didn't have to do the dodge-and-weave that is usually involved with starting a race. This was nice, especially because I was terrified of starting out too slowly and not being able to make up the time later in the race. I quickly locked in behind a group of three runners--two men and a woman--and when we hit the first mile in about 6:53, I knew that I had chosen well. This would be my pace group.

All of which seemed like a great plan until one of the men sped away within the second mile. I had been using him as a sort of windsheild, since the Atlantic City boardwalk was pretty blustery, so I locked in behind the other guy, until at mile four, he too sped away. Then it was just me and the woman, and I simply didn't trust my own mental status if I were to run beside her for the rest of the race, so I picked up my pace just enough  that eventually, her shadow fell away and I knew I had effectively passed her.

The course was an out-and-back, so as I approached the turnaround, I began counting women running back the other direction. Well, actually, I wasn't counting at all, because for a solid mile or two, the only people I saw were men. I knew there were other women ahead of me--I had seen them ahead of me at the starting line--and so I was actually relieved when I finally saw a cluster of three coming toward me. I couldn't even see the turnaround at that point in the race, so the pressure was off; even if I were able to dead-sprint the rest of the race, there was no way I would catch them. However, when the turnaround finally came into sight, I did see one more woman, clad in a bright yellow top, ahead of me. So I was in fifth. Fifth! J___ had told me he expected me to make the top 10, and here I was in fifth!

That was a nice mental boost, and it's good it came when it did, because the trek back was, to put it mildly, really really tough. First there was the wind. It wasn't coming in torrential gusts, the way it had on some of my training days, but it was most definitely there and blowing in the wrong direction. Under other circumstances, I would find a runner, preferably male, and use him once again as my windshield, but unfortunately for me, the next cluster of runners was a good ways ahead of me, and expending the energy I'd need to catch up to them at that point in the race would leave me truly suffering at the end. So I buckled down and set my sights on that yellow top so many yards ahead of me.

When I finally reached that yellow-clad woman, around mile nine, I discovered that she too had been dropped by the pack. She was running beside a man in a neon green shirt, clearly pacing off of him (or he off of her), and that was it. There weren't even any other runners in sight. I hung in behind them for about a mile until we hit a water station at mile ten. They both stopped for water, and I kept going . . . and they never caught me again. Which, in theory sounds great, but in reality left me running those last three, horrible miles all alone. Actually, I wasn't entirely alone: there were pedestrians all along the boardwalk, people out for a smoke or just stumbling back to their hotels from night-long gambling binges. Most stared at me with glassy looks before stepping into or out of my way, although I got a few cheers here or there, which were nice since I knew they weren't from people who had explicitly come out to see any sort of running event.

At mile eleven, I wanted to stop and walk. Badly. My right knee was hurting, and there was literally nothing to keep my adrenaline high. All I could think was that if I had wanted to run a bunch of hard, fast miles by myself, I could have stayed in Jersey City to do it. But there were only two miles left, and I was still in fourth place, and I did really want to PR, so I kept going.

Finally, when the finish line came into view, I managed to dig down and find that one last gear. As I sprinted those last two hundred yards and crossed the finish line the same way I had run the last three miles--alone--the spectators lining the route gave out a cheer. That cheer was hands-down the best part of the whole race, because I knew, without one shred of doubt, that that cheer was for me. I had crossed the finish line alone.

Atlantic City April Fools Half Marathon
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
28 / 1,455
4 / 889
1 / 260

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: The Divorce Papers

The Divorce PapersThe Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll preface this by saying that I'm giving this 4 stars within its genre, which is, to say, something I rarely (if ever) read: chick lit. Ordinarily, I would even give a book like this a second glance, given that it's not only part of a genre I never read, it's also written in a style I usually dislike: epistolary. However, I received this book as an ARC and needed something light to follow up my last book, so I decided to give it the old 50-page try.

The topic itself--divorce--rendered from a lawyer's perspective, along with Rieger's expert knowledge and ability to convey that knowledge are what drew me into this story and kept me reading. Blessedly, I know virtually nothing about divorce, and so even just for purely educational reasons, I was interested in the topic. That being said, I'd never in a million years pick up a law book. Rieger skillfully interweaves the technical jargon and documents in between casual memos, emails, and notes between characters so that I did feel like I was learning something, but I was also somewhat invested in the characters, as well.

The book should have ended earlier than it did--as most books should. Sophie's personal love life should have had a more satisfying arc (why couldn't she have ended up with David? I guess he was a bit too fatherly....) and some of the subplots felt a bit too tangential (e.g. Sohpie's terror that her mother was having an affair with David, her boss). But, all in all, I did read straight through to the end, with a good deal of amusement no less. (I love Mia Meiklejohn. I wish I could go out to dinner with her and just listen to her talk.)

I honestly didn't believe semi-educational chick lit existed. And now I've been proven wrong. If Rieger will promise a more satisfying love story as part of her next book, I'll read it gladly.

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