Race report: VA Beach Rock & Roll 1/2 Marathon, Aug. 31, 2014

Someone once said that the better a race goes, the faster the race report gets written. So, conversely, the worse it goes, the longer the write-up takes. Seeing as how it’s been nearly two weeks since the VA Beach Rock & Roll ½, form your own conclusions.

I hadn’t been feeling too well, physically, but I was determined to do this race. I knew that, like so many in recent memory, it wasn’t going to be anywhere near competitive for me, but my primary determination for this race was to make it seem that nothing was out of the ordinary. Since I’d traveled back to my hometown, my parents accompanied me and I did not want them to worry about me. Also, I had hoped that putting myself into the right state of mind might work some miracles. Or maybe not… haha.

On Saturday, we went down to Virginia Beach so I could pick up my race packet from the expo.   I remember, back about a decade or so ago, race expos seemed a lot more fun. There were lots of free samples and info. But now, they’re just one big marketplace. It’s nauseating to see all those vendors hocking their products as if each one of them is so essential. And then people are grabbing up those products for their race the very next day, even though one of the golden rules is to never try something new on race day. Sigh… when will people learn?

I got my race packet, my “fitted” (big and baggy) tech-tee, and a couple of pics from the Brooks photobooth, and did my obligatory Expo walkaround before leaving. Back home we went.

Sunday morning everyone got up early to take me to Virginia Beach again. I have to hand it to my parents: I was such a severe inconvenience, and yet they helped me out anyway. I don’t always show them my appreciation, so I definitely need to get better at that.

Well, we got to the race site with plenty of time to spare, but then standing in the eternally-long port-a-potty line cut down that cushion. And although the temperature at pre-7am felt extremely comfortable in shorts and a tank top, it wasn’t a good thing. We all know what happens as the day goes on and as one’s running- things heat up! And heat up it did. Sunday, August 31st was a very roasty day; it was reminiscent of when I ran the LA Marathon (more than once). Sprinklers, wet sponges, lots and lots of sweat, and heat and humidity. And as I crossed the finish line (my slowest ), I did so drenched in sweat, water, and Gatorade. Typical of a race… a good race :)

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So even though it was my slowest half-marathon time ever, and even though I had to walk several times, and even though I was in excruciating pain afterwards, I put on a happy face and made myself have a good time.

Here’s hoping that one day I will be back to good physical health and happy to be racing again! Until then, I’ll just keep up a happy attitude while my body eventually heals itself.

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Race report: Luray International Triathlon, 8/16/2014

Hooray for Luray! I returned for the Luray International Triathlon after two years (since I and several co-workers had gone up to Mont Tremblant last year) and it was just as tough as I remembered it to be! Well, I guess I can really only say that for the bike course, since I didn’t do the run last time. While the run course in itself wasn’t tough, coming right after a monstrous bike ride left my legs feeling like… well, feeling like they couldn’t move after the race. It’s like that “oh it hurts so good!” feeling ;-)

I left DC headed towards Luray on Friday afternoon with a couple of co-workers and we got stuck right in the middle of rush-hour traffic. Yuck! This is what people deal with every day, twice a day??? No thank you!

Once we got to Luray, right about 6pm, we headed to packet pick-up at Appalachian Outdoor Adventures, where we were greeted by a bear, and I just had to get a picture (or two or three, as you’ll see later).

Because one can never have too many cute bear pictures...

And then we headed to our cabin. I was curious to check this place out, since we had stayed at a hotel (more likely a motel) last time. We had to drive up a gravelly dirt road, and it took a couple of tries to find the place. Let’s just it’s a good thing it wasn’t dark yet! But the cabin itself was pretty nice and spacious, aside from the sick taxidermy fetish.

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Then we went to dinner at Mimslyn Inn- I remembered seeing the menu last time and it wasn’t very vegan-friendly. Nothing had changed. A substandard vegan meal, combined with very slow service, some guy wailing on his guitar (or whatever instrument it was), and my sleepiness means that I wouldn’t recommend this place. By the time we got back to the cabin, I just put my things together for the next morning’s race and then went to bed.

Race morning, yay! I woke up early, as I always do, and got race-ready. When I stepped outside I discovered that- yikes!- it was kind of cold out there! I was definitely feeling like it should be wetsuit weather. Imagine being wet and then stepping into the cold air. Not fun.

When my cabin-mates were ready as well, we all headed down to Lake Arrowhead. We were very close, only about a mile, but the road was gravelly, and riding our bikes there wouldn’t have been smart. Lake Arrowhead, as I remembered it from last time, was still so pretty.

Looking out at Lake Arrowhead before the International race.

Ok, enough background, let’s get on to the actual race!

The Swim: The water temperature was a nice 77°F, in contrast to the 55°F air. Since the water was still within the wetsuit-legal limit of 78°F, I decided to wear my wetsuit. The past two triathlons I did this summer, I didn’t wear a wetsuit and my legs had just felt like dead logs on the bike and run, because I’d expended so much energy kicking to stay afloat. Well, I didn’t want to make that same mistake again, even though I was worried about the amount of time it takes me to get the darn wetsuit off. I’m happy to report that I swam what is very likely my fastest 1500m open-water swim ever, though it was by no means fast by other people’s standards, just by my standards. And that’s all that really matters.

In addition to the wetsuit, what helped was having the various swim waves start only two minutes apart. What that meant was that I was always surrounded by people, and oh boy I didn’t realize that open-water swimming was such a contact sport! I was jostled from every which side, even knocked on the head twice, but at least the proximity of other swimmers helped me to stay on track and not let the current carry me too far off course. Right near the end, some guy waved his arm into my face and my goggles got shoved a bit. Still on my face, but I don’t think I had a tight seal anymore, but I was right at the end, so I just kept my face above water.

T1: Oh, the long slog from the lake up to transition. The path was really gravelly (noticing a theme?), so I’d kept my flip-flops by the beach. As I got out of the water, I ran through a sandy path and put them on (so now I’ve got sand stuck on my feet, great) and continued on the path, up the stairs (stairs, in a transition!) and to the transition area. Unlike in most triathlons where I have this crazy problem of not being able to find my bike, I quickly found my bike because I’d laid a bright pink towel on the ground next to it. And I’m glad that, while my wetsuit did not effortlessly come off, my legs were only stuck in it for a few seconds and was able to pull it off. Maybe the BodyGlide helped? Who knows, but I think I need to buy a sleeveless wetsuit, because it definitely felt like a lot of work to be swinging my arms around, encased in all that neoprene.

The Bike: From last time, I remembered the bike course to be tough, but I was still rudely surprised. Especially by that last hill, er, mountain. Maybe it wasn’t that steep, but after about 25 miles of hills, it was not a pleasant sight for sore legs. The course itself was nice and scenic, though. Small homes, large farms, cows grazing by the side of the road. Of course, with animals come smells… One thing I definitely did not like seeing was a sign at someone’s farm for “Broilers”. “Broiler”, of course, means broiler chickens, which means a factory farm. And, sure enough, I saw a long, low row of buildings inside which I am certain must have been hundreds of chickens being fattened for imminent death.

Ugh. Anyways.

I can’t say that I passed many people on the bike, but at least I didn’t get a flat! At one point, though, in the second half of the course, I started to hear a flapping sound, so of course my first thought was, “Oh great, I got a flat!” But I didn’t want to stop and actually check it because, and it’s really weird logic, I didn’t want to know if my tire had started going flat. Ignorance is bliss, or something like that. Well, several miles later, the noise stopped. My best guess is that something from the road got caught in the spokes or something. I’m glad the trouble-maker dislodged itself! I’ll just say that that’s the reason I was being passed by everyone, including people in sneakers.

T2: Nothing too memorable here, except we came in the same way we’d gone out, so that meant some of us had to cross the whole transition area both before and after the bike. Not that the race staff could have done it differently, since the other side was coming up a hill from the lake. Anyways, I was glad to get rid of my bike, but I wasn’t quite sure how I’d hold up on the run, since my legs already felt spent. But the good thing is that they didn’t feel like dead weights (as in the past two tris I did), thanks to the ol’ wetsuit. At this point I was just going on momentum, so it was easier to just follow through on the rest of the race than to consciously assess myself. That’s probably what most people do, because if we actually stopped to ask ourselves how we felt, 75% of the people would just stop and take a nap ;-)

The Run: Not too tough on its own, but after that bike course, these rolling hills were challenging. The run course wasn’t all that scenic, just basically going up and back on one road, twice. Plus a tiny detour up and down a gravel path. I’m assuming that was done to get the distance, but I’m sure it could have been done better another way. The run course was the most fun part because of all the people I got to see (most were ahead of me, and were on an opposing leg of the loop). There was a woman who called out my name—well, she said, “Heena”, but close enough—and I’m not 100% sure who she was. She didn’t have DC Tri gear on, but I have a guess as to who that was. What I should have done was emailed her this past week to confirm that!

The weather at this point was warm, but definitely not as bad as a certain other triathlon from two years ago (General Smallwood, I’m looking at you). The aid stations were still quite helpful though, since I’d decided not to carry my own water bottle. At one point I took a cup of HEED and—I don’t know what that stuff really is, and it seemed really watered down—but it tasted that unsweetened liquid cotton candy, if that makes any sense. Or, how I imagine unsweetened liquid cotton candy would taste. Yeah, um, no thanks. I’ll stick to water from now on.

The finish line was a nice site, and it’s always fun to see and hear throngs of cheering spectators. I don’t know if the announcer said my name as I approached the finish line. If he did, I’m absolutely certain he mispronounced it. The bane of my existence. Well, this makes it all worth it:

All in a day's work!

Mission accomplished. All in a day’s work.

Hey, hot stuff!

 

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Je m’ennuie, encore…

I’ve lately been feeling a terrible sense of ennui. That, in itself, is really nothing new, but the boredom has been more and more overpowering lately. It’s gotten so bad that I’m yearning to do something drastic- buy a home, dye my hair blonde, get my tongue pierced- just for a change. Of course, I really don’t want to do any of those things, and therein lies my problem. I want change, but I don’t want to actually do anything to create that change. Years and years (decades?) of post-secondary school have turned me off of education; I have no desire to learn anything new. What the heck am I supposed to do???

In a way, this ennui is just a manifestation of the feeling I’ve had since college, maybe even since high school, that everyone else’s life is moving forward, while mine is stuck on pause. Friends start dating, they get engaged, they get married, they have kids– and pretty soon their kids will start having kids!– while I will still be at Stage Zero, getting excited just because a remotely-attractive guy talked to me. Isn’t this what I should have been going through, oh, two decades ago?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really have no strong desire to be part of a couple. If I did, I’d have made more than a lousy, half-hearted effort in that endeavor. I guess I’m just pretty comfortable with the status quo and, even though it’d be nice to have the benefits of a relationship, I don’t want to change anything about my life. And hence a reprisal of the conundrum that is my life.

Not having anything changing in my life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means stability, and stability is good because it means less stress. But oh what I wouldn’t give just to shake up my routine a little! Even though day-to-day it feels like I’m doing the exact same thing at work, I know that I’m advancing. Just thinking about how much I’ve achieved in my less than 2 ½ years at work should be some consolation, but the overpowering sensation I feel is, where do I go from here? What do I plan to do with my life?

I don’t know if I’ll ever figure it out. I’m 34 and yet I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anywhere near as much as I would have envisioned when I was 18 and about to graduate from high school. There’s really no point in just sitting and complaining about it, though. I’ve got to be the change!   

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Book #13: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

This is one of those books that you just can’t believe is really non-fiction.  Amazing, intriguing, and shocking are just a few ways to describe it.  The Amazing Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, is about a woman who’s cancerous cells were taken from her, without her consent, and used in medical research for decades.  In fact, it is very likely that they’re still being used.  

immortal lifeHenrietta Lacks was a black woman who grew up in Clover, VA (Clover no longer exists) in the years when segregation was still the norm.  In 1951, at the age of 30, she felt pain in her body so strongly that she felt it best to go to a doctor.  During the course of one of her visits, a Dr. George Gey had some of her tumor removed, along with some healthy tissue.  It should be noted that all this was done before informed consent was made law, when it was still considered ok for doctors to do as they pleased, especially when it came to “colored” people.  It is questionable whether the treatment prescribed by Dr. Gey actually helped Henrietta, or accelerated her death, but she died on August 8, 1951, her body riddled with tumors.

Well, she died, but her cells continued to live.  Her cancerous cells, that is.  Her normal cells died soon thereafter, but, as up till now not been seen in science, her cancerous cells grew, got stronger, took over other cells.  They were known by the name of HeLa, using the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last names.  Along with informed consent, patient confidentiality apparently wasn’t big at the time. 

Soon, HeLa cells became world-famous and were being shipped to labs everywhere for various types of research.  While the cells became famous, her family- husband, children, siblings- did not.  They continued living in poverty, with hot so much as health insurance assistance from Johns Hopkins University (where Dr. Gey worked).

Several decades later, enter Rebecca Skloot, a 20-something who’s just found about about HeLa and Henrietta Lacks and has a fervent desire to get to the bottom of this story.  Before Skloot can even begin her research, she has to persevere in getting Deborah Lacks– Henrietta’s only living daughter– to converse with her.  It takes over a year, but Deborah finally opens up to Skloot, little by little.  

The story is centered on Deborah’s journey to come to acceptance with her mother’s cells, and the discovery of what really happened to her own sister, Elsie.  But it’s also about the rest of the Lacks clan coming to an understanding of HeLa.  

It’s amazing to think that there was a time when patients’ rights weren’t even a thing.  Even today, it’s questionable whether a person really has any claim to tissues taken from them.  The doctor/researcher might use them for some studies, find out that they’re a cure for cancer, and then get rich immediately, yet the patient or kin might not even become aware that it was their own tissue that found this cure.  Doesn’t seem right at all, does it?  Even if there were no laws, I’d hope that doctors/scientists/researchers would be bound by some moral code of ethics to look out in the patient’s best interest.  That sadly wasn’t the case for Henrietta Lacks.  

This book is an amazing tale of the Lacks family’s journey to understand what was taken from them, how they can deal with it, and how to best honor Henrietta Lacks.  I highly recommend you read this book.  I bought this book from the local library’s booksale because it thought I’d heard about a movie with this title.  So now I should go watch the movie while you go read this book! 

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I don’t want to be alone forever, but I’m in Montreal tonight.

I went, I conquered, I returned. My trip to Montreal was really fun, and my friend was very kind to host me for seven days (and two partial days)! I had been to Montreal once before, last August, with some friends, and we had been there for about three days. I’d gotten to experience the metro system there, as well as learn that their ATMs will only accept credit/debit cards with a microchip. Of course, my bank cards don’t have a microchip, and I don’t think any/many American cards do. Why must Canadians make getting cash so difficult??? What was frustrating about this trip was that I had to take a bus from the airport, but I needed cash because of the microchip-in-the-card issue, and the only place to get Canadian cash was the currency exchange. We all know that $1USD=$1.09CAD, yet that’s not what was posted at the currency exchange. The rate listed was unbelievable, as in unbelievably bad. According to those crooks, $1USD=$0.98CAD, and then there was a $5.99CAD commission for them on top of that. Ugh, disgusting. That was the only really, really crappy thing about the trip. Note to self: next time, exchange my money in the US!!

It would be tedious to post everything I did in chronological order, so I’ll just describe them as I remember them.

1)     Canada Day parade on July 1st. Canadians celebrate the anniversary of the day they were no longer ruled by France, but instead by England. Yeah, I don’t get it either. But the parade was still fun to watch, although it was really hot out.

 

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2)     Lady Gaga concert!!! July 2nd, Centre Bell. Back in April, shortly after I had booked my flights, I found out that Lady Gaga (who is totally awesome, but will never replace Britney as my #1) would be performing in Montreal while I was there. How cool is that??! So I started looking into ticket prices- turns out that the show was already sold out! But, fear not, there were tickets on StubHub. Good seats were looking pretty pricey, so I decided to hold off. In the meantime, I went to Vegas to see the legendary Miss Britney Spears (!!!!), and then came back to DC to see Lady Gaga’s concert at the Verizon Center. Lady Gaga’s concert, although I went by myself, was a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that I knew I had to see her in Montreal. So I watched and waited, and got two floor tickets for under $100USD (total). This was a new experience for me, which is great, because I didn’t want to see the exact same concert twice from the exact same perspective.

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3)     Parc Jean Drapeau. I went there three times. The first time, I swam in the beautiful, 50-m outdoor pool. The second time, my friend and I went to explore the Weekends Du Monde celebration, and ended up trying out trapeze! How crazy! The third time, we went to the beach for some open-water swimming. Ehhh, that wasn’t so pleasant. The water was cold, and full of bugs and seaweed. But at least I went, and now I know that La Plage isn’t all that great, but the native Montrealers seemed to be just fine (although most were just lying out on the beach).

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4)     I ate at three vegan restaurants and shopped at two natural foods stores. Although the restaurant prices seem to comparable to DC prices, groceries were a LOT more expensive, or maybe it’s just because I’m used to shopping at Whole Foods (of which none are in Montreal), and not at small businesses. Yes, Whole Foods is (relatively) inexpensive! The three restaurants I visited very La Panthère Verte, Café Verdure, and Propulsion Cantine Végétalienne. All three were pretty good, and it’d be nice to go back to them on my next Montreal trip, whenever that may be…

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5)      TamTam drum circle on my last evening in Montreal. It was fun to just dance around carefree. Not the kind of thing I usually do, where people are smoking whatever nasty stuff everywhere, but I figured I should just have fun.   DC also has a Sunday afternoon/evening drum circle, but I’ve pretty much never gone because it’s far for me, plus I never really knew what I’d do there. Montreal is the perfect counterpart to DC. I still doubt I’d go to Meridian Hill Park for the drum circle, but the convenience in Montreal made it an attractive option. I was just coming back from a raw vegan potluck Meetup in Jeanne-Mance Park and the drum circle was right there. Plus my friend’s apartment was only a short bus ride away (I could easily see her building from the park).

I did some other sightseeing as well, but I think those are the major points. Oh, the metro system there is very good! The buses run regularly (schedules are posted at almost every stop) and the routes make sense. I must have used eight different bus lines while I was there, many of them by myself, and I didn’t get lost even once. The bus system in Arlington (and probably DC as well) isn’t so easy to figure out. Or maybe it is, and I just need to use the bus more frequently. The metro trains also run very frequently; e.g. on the weekend, you might wait up to six minutes, but that seems to be the max. Although food and drink aren’t prohibited in the system (like they are in DC), the stations are all very clean. And extremely well-lit. A few escalators would behoove them, though. I’ve never really vocalized any anti-DC metro sentiments but, after today’s very tedious experience, I really think WMATA needs to take some tips from STM (Societé de transport de Montréal)!

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Book#12: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton

This latest book, while quite small and short, took me a while to read. Part of the reason is that I was on vacation for over a week (and correctly figured I wouldn’t have the time or desire to read), but the bigger reason is that it just wasn’t a story, as I would have liked. Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, wasn’t supposed to read like a story, but, silly me, I saw a book written by a Clinton and grabbed it. Now, I’m not saying that this a bad book, because it’s very informative, and Clinton obviously put a lot of thought into it, it’s just not, say, the type of leisure book you might read to pass the time on your commute (assuming you’re taking public transportation!).

So what is Back to Work all about? Well, Clinton talks about how our country, our economy, our collective well-being, has been crumbling under the hands of ardent anti-government interests. Obviously a Democrat, Clinton advocates for a strong government, but he also advocates for a strong private sector. He sees a balance between the public and private sectors as the only way to raise our country out of a rut and get us back on track to being the most successful nation in the world.

In this book, he presents several ideas which are very well thought out. He recognizes the need for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to work together for the betterment of everyone, for us to adopt the “we’re all in this together” attitude and shun the “you’re on your own” mindset.

Even though the book was published three years ago, it’s still relevant to today. Barack Obama is still President, and Americans in general is still struggling with the weak economy. So the ideas presented here by Clinton are still important and necessary.

Reading about how people are struggling makes me very thankful that I not only have no student debt (or any debt, really), but that I also have a secure, well-paying job that I enjoy. Maybe one day that will be the standard, but right now it’s not, so I consider myself very lucky.

By the way, I just have to say that Bill Clinton is aging very well :) And the vegan diet is certainly helping. His cover photo looks very good…. just sayin’.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

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Book#11: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larsson

So I finally got around to reading the third book of Steig Larsson’s popular trilogy!  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was a great continuation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, which I reviewed here and here.  I found the previous two to be excellent books, page-turners that would keep me up late in bed reading, and this latest book was no exception.

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Hornet’s Nest (as you can see, I’ve shortened the title for the sake of brevity and to avoid tongue and finger fatigue) begins where Fire left, with Lisbeth Salander in a hospital with a bullet wound in her skull.  Mikael Blomqvist, her ever-present friend, is fiercely working behind-the-scenes to uncover and expose the truth about the conspiracy that led to her being persecuted.

This conspiracy, it turns out, is mind-blowingly huge, intricate, and covert, and centers on  Salander’s father, Alexander Zalachenko, who turns out to be admitted to the same hospital as Salander, just two doors down from her.  Salander, who is kept locked in her room, deduces this fact and prepares to defend herself in the case that he ever makes it into her room.

That never happens though…. but I don’t want to give the whole book away.  As a side note, it was nice to be reminded of Lisbeth Salander’s birthday: April 30, 1978.  Same as mine, just two years earlier :)  It makes me feel like I have a little bit of a connection to this cool girl.

All this time that Blomqvist is helping Salander, he is never actually able to see her or talk to her in person.  Through a bit of ingenuity, and the help of Salander’s doctor, Dr. Jonasson, he is able to communicate with her online, although that is there little secret.  And having online access allows Salander to do what she does what: hacking.

The hacking and the communication is all in preparation for Salander’s trial, since she is being charged with attempted murder of Zalachenko.  The trial is, to say the least, interesting.  Salander’s lawyer is Annika Giannini–Blomqvist’s sister– who isn’t a criminal lawyer but a women’s rights lawyer.  Everyone else seems to think (inlcuding Giannini herself!) that Giannini isn’t the right lawyer for this type of case, but Salander stands firm on her decision.  And, as you’ll see when you read this book, Giannini is definitely the right person to take on this case.

Is there justice for Lisbeth Salander?  Will she get over the hurt that Mikael Blomqvist caused her when she saw him with Erika Berger?  You’ll have to read this book to find out!  I’m telling ya, it’s a page-turner, and if you liked the first two books, you’ll definitely like this one as well.

My next book is one I picked up from the most recent Arlington Library book sale: Bill Clinton’s Back to Work.  I got the book for the sole reason that it’s Clinton is the author.  I gotta say, the man is aging well and his (mostly) vegan diet is working out well for him!

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