Thursday, August 21, 2014

Runners Tell All: Training

I'm very excited to hear from all the different runners out there in the blogosphere today as we link up with Amanda at The Lady Okie Blog and Beka at Sunshine to the Square Inch. And hey, hey there's a running related giveaway, too! Check it out by visiting one of the hosting blogs.

August Prompt:
Training: Favorite Person to Train With/Training Routine/Tips
Give us the scoop on your day-to-day running routine. Are you a social runner or do you like to take it solo? Do you run in the morning or evening? Pass along any handy training tips or advice about making sure you get up in the morning or how to safely run at night.


I'm going to try to answer all those questions in the prompt, and I'm going to start by bragging about my awesome running group, the Huntington Road Runners! 

There are a lot of aspects I love about this city that we moved to a year ago this upcoming October, but one top reason is that there is a huge, enthusiastic and supportive running community here. In fact, Huntington is often times referred to as "Runnington". I really lucked out for someone who was training for their first half when we got here. 

I spent the whole winter dragging my butt into the cold alone to run my weekly milage. However, I never felt as alone as I did when I was running in my hometown. Here, there is always somebody else pounding pavement, too, and most the time they will give a friendly wave, thumbs up, or "you're doing great!" It is nice encouragement. When I first started running here, I felt like I was a part of something, even if I didn't necessarily know those stranger-runners.

I think it was late Februrary of early March when I worked up the confidence to join in on a group run with Road Runners. Of course, I was worried about not being as good or as fast as the rest of them…I figured they were all really serious. I was pleasantly surprise to get a warm welcome from the members, who were all very diverse in paces and motivations. Some like racing, some just run for fitness, and others are just in the group for a healthy social outlet. I was hooked on the group not only because I felt so welcomed, but also because in this group, I was running routes I  wouldn't necessarily have alone, especially the hills. For me, it really takes the support of someone else working along side, or ahead, or behind me to get me over that challenge. But because I started taking on more challenging routes with these guys, I shaved off something like a whole two minutes off my pace before my first half-marathon this past spring!

Additionally, I met some of my best friends I have in this new place through the group. I especially love running with these gals because they're positive and kind!

Here's the con to running with a group or a partner though. You get freaking spoiled! I run with the Road Runners twice a week, and sometimes a partner another day, but when I have to get out by myself, I struggle. I let myself quit more easily, and time just doesn't seem to pass as quickly. It's not because I don't have anyone to talk to because I honestly hate having a conversation while running-I'm trying to breathe up those dang hills! It's just not having that accountability and camaraderie along with you that makes it a bit tougher alone. However, I do think it's important for me to get in some runs with just myself every now and then. When I began my running journey, I began alone because I felt alone in some burdens I was facing and it was my cathartic way of working through those things…I have to come back to that. 

Everyone is different though! You may be an exclusive group or partner runner or you may be a lone ranger. 

My tips for running with or without others, but especially if you're alone, are:
  1. Someone in the group should bring a phone in case there is an emergency and 911 or family members need to be notified.
  2. Carry protection. It's a sucky truth but sometimes this isn't a nice world we live in. Dogs bite and bad people attack. There are many forms of defense that can be carried while running, but I usually bring along a pepper spray that has a hand strap specifically designed for runners.
  3. Always tell others where you will be running and approximately how long you should be out.
Now that I've spent most the post boasting about my cool running people, I want to move on to my technical preferences in training. Well, actually, I don't know that I prefer these things, but they work for reaching my goals and are compatible with my lifestyle and schedule.

As far as time of the day, I usually run in the early evening, partly because my group runs at 6 p.m. and partly because that's usually when I can squeeze in an hour or two for myself. In the summer that time of the day kind of sucks because it's usually still sunny and quite muggy (where I'm located), but during the cooler months, the conditions are awesome for running. When I can, I do love running in the morning because it makes me feel good the rest of the day. I believe that it's because of endorphins as well as not having to stress about being too tired or busy and then talking myself out of doing a run all together. 

My tips for running at any time of the day are no brainers:

  1. Wear bright and/or reflective clothing so that drivers will be aware that you're out there.
  2. Always hydrate before and after runs, but do some extra water drinking if you have to run during the hottest time of the day-you'll be sweating even more!
The last item I want to touch on concerning my training style is how much I actually train, because I think most people are looking for a magical formula. Unfortunately, there isn't one. It all depends on your goals, personal fitness, and schedule. For me, my goal is usually to finish a race strongly and beat myself. I've been successful in accomplishing those goals by running 3 to 4 times a week (2-3 shorter runs and one longer). When I'm not training for anything in particular but want to maintain, I run 2 to 3 times a week (moderate milage). Some training programs that I've had success with are the Couch to 5k plan, the intermediate level training plan found in Women's Running (from Runner's World), and Hal Higdon's programs. 

My tips for choosing a training formula/schedule are:
  1. Research different plans and methods, so that you know your options and can match them accordingly to who you are as a runner and a person.
  2. Seek out advice from fellow runners or experts (trainers, sports physicians, ect.)
  3. Be flexible. If you're scheduled to run, but your body is telling you it's too tired, it's probably more beneficial to rest. Unless you've just got a case of the lazies, in which case, get your butt out there!
Do you have any tips to add? When, where, and how do you run?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed {No Spoilers}

This book cover had caught my eye every time I'd been in a book store since it debuted on the shelves.  The title kept taking me back to Into the Wild (a title that holds a special place in my heart's shelf). The sub-title: "From Lost to Found on The Pacific Crest Trail" paired with the muddy hiking boot sent me into that same direction, too. In fact, it's been compared to Into the Wild as the female version (similarities, yes, but they each totally stand alone).  I opened up a copy while in Books-a-Million one time and noted that the 311 pages harbored standard, yet still pretty small text for a book about being all alone in the woods. I mean I LOVE the outdoors, but I figured reading about someone else's bird watching can't really be too entertaining. Well, I was like many in this assumption, thinking that the book was all about a young woman (not but a couple years older than myself), who while pretty outstanding for her age and lack of preparation or skill, just hiked a long trail.

However, it's not page after page of the "trees were so green, and the mountains so majestic." While the reader does get a lot of description of the actual trail experience, which is far from unrelieved and is quite vivid and varied, much of the book is a collection pre-Pacific Crest Trail moments that the author revisits on the trail. Many of these moments have to deal with family members, ex-lovers, and personal demons, some of which are still haunting her to the point that she has brought them out into the physical wilderness to do away with them once and for all. 

As an aspiring writer, I am so envious of Strayed's story telling skills. The way she takes the present moment, deviates to a memory, and then neatly brings the reader back is a flawless rendering. I will, however, warn the tender skinned reader against the crude nature of some of the author's composition. Strayed is very raw in describing her emotions, physical desires, and literal actions. I personally loved this. I didn't feel like it was forced for a shock factor or overused. The story is about someone who was tarnished inside and out, physically and metaphorically, and her choice of words, though not always the most socially accepted, were fitting for the imagery she wanted to convey. 

A couple of themes that really hit home with me were number one, human experience-the personal journey that we as people have to embark on and at some point take into our own hands; and number two, the indiffernece of the natural world to our trying to navigate that experience.

I would like to share one of my favorite passages that highlights the latter mentioned theme:

As I hiked, I moaned again and again, as if that would provide some cooling relief, but nothing changed. The sun still stared ruthlessly down on me, not caring one iota whether I lived or died. The parched scrub and scraggly trees still stood indifferently resolute, as they always had and always would.
     I was a pebble. I was a leaf. I was the jagged branch of a tree. I was nothing to them and they were everything to me.

Judging from all the underlining I did, I know I will be coming back to this book again and again for both enjoyment and inspiration. 

P.S. You may have heard that they're taking Strayed's memoir to the big screen later this year. Check out the trailer below, featuring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Stayed. I think it's going to be a really, really good movie, but of course, I hope that you will read the book before seeing the film!

Have you read Wild? What did you think?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back Home from Being at Home

Well, hey! It's been pretty quiet around here. I meant to blog a lot while I was in Mississippi since my mom would only get to be off of work for one of the two weeks I was there, and I figured I would have some down time to write. BUT, after 2 years of my immune system kicking A, it gave out on me while I was on vacation!  Fortunately, it was the second week I was there and not while my mom and I were having fun. So, while I was drinking broth and popping antibiotics, I watched a lot of movies instead of blogging.


On to the next excuse for my inactivity…

Chad and I just moved outside of the city limits where yes, it is gloriously quieter, but technological connections are faulty. In other words, we haven't had any luck getting our Internet installed correctly yet, so I'm typing this up at Chad's office.

Enough excuses; here are some snapshots of what I've been up to the last few weeks.

Drinking Mississippi brews.

Day tripping to the MS Delta to reminisce my college days and Cleveland living. I was able to catch up with a few professors, theatre pals, and some of the old Hey Joe's crew.

 Getting matching in memory of my dad (Buz) tattoos with my mom (her first!)

Coffee-ing and lunch-ing with some of my best friends I haven't seen in a very long time.

Spending some quality time with my very best friend, my mama!

We also took a trip to Oxford to visit William Faulkner's grave (my pictures won't load :{), ate a lot of delicious southern fried food washed down with beer I can't get in WV, celebrated four family birthdays, and watched a lot of HGTV, Criminal Minds, and movies. 

It's weird to be traveling between Mississippi and West Virgina, because I can't decide if I'm coming or leaving home. I miss my family all over again, but it's good to be back with Chad and my kitties, too. I've got a lot to do between getting our new place in order and preparing for graduate school to start in a few weeks. 

Hopefully, the Internet will be working soon and I'll get another post up in the near future. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Runners Tell All: Fuel/Nutrition

I'm very excited to hear from all the different runners out there in the blogosphere today as we link up with Amanda at The Lady Okie Blog and Beka at Sunshine to the Square Inch.

July Blog Prompt:
What's your go-to fuel to optimize training and get you through race day? Do you have a race-day fueling strategy? What about training runs? Do share!

Pre-race I usually have a simple dinner the night before like a piece of grilled chicken with pasta and light sauce and for breakfast half a bagel or toast (with a side of…ahem, Imodium for the nerves). I really don't have any magical potions when it comes to fueling, but I have some guidelines I stick to when it comes to diet and my running routine.

1. Eat light to run light because you are what you eat. I don't mean to starve yourself; I mean having small healthy portions and snacks every couple hours. When my meals are huge, heavy, and full of bad stuff like bad fat, grease and sugar, I feel heavy on my runs, too. That's not to say that I don't indulge occasionally in all those wonderful things that are the likes of pizza, Mexican food, and ice cream though. I have a very work reaps reward type of thinking so if I run an 8 miler before the sun comes up, you best believe I think I deserve to have a cupcake that night. Others are much more disciplined than I am, but it gives me a balance that I'm happy with.

2. Hydration is a daily priority. Err'y day I'm sippin', Err'y day I'm sippin', Err'y day, Err'y day, Err'y day, Err'y day! I drink probably between half a gallon and a gallon of water everyday. I also am a strong believer in coconut water. I use it in smoothies and will drink a tall Vita Coco brand water right out of its carton on running days because they have delicious flavors like lemonade, mango, and orange. I also try to squeeze in herbal teas, too because I believe that they do detox the muscles and of course we want to keep those working well when it comes to running.

3. Little fruit chewies can help on long runs. Jelly Belly Energy Beans and Stinger products are what I sometimes pack in my running belt. I'm not really into the consistency of Gu or similar fast fueling products, but I have had success with energy beans and fruit chews. I like them because they're not too sugary (Stinger uses honey), which can upset the stomach. I don't really think they are necessary for the type of running I do (moderate milage), but if I have long runs planned I do usually take a pack of beans or chews with me. Even then I don't always use them, but when I'm struggling they do help. The trick to using these items is consuming them with water.

What's your fuel?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thoughts on YA Fiction

 Young Adult Fiction. People either love it or hate it. The literature people--professors, publishers, and self-proclaimed bookworms--are the most critical, of course. I have read many articles as of late that either defend the general quality of the YA genre and its authors, praising it for its influence on its audience of ALL ages or on the other side, condemn its more mature audience for embracing literature that is below their presumed intellectual level.

My opinion? I like YA and appreciate it for what it is. I'm somewhere in the middle, I suppose. I agree with both sides of the argument I have cited. While I think that most successful YA authors really have a special gift for telling an engaging story especially crafted to spark the emotions of youth, I also think that more mature readers should branch out a bit from reading YA exclusively. Mind you I recently finished the Harry Potter series for the first time and was completely consumed with Rowling's magical tale. I am not saying that adults should absolutely NOT read YA…I think that it is completely acceptable and even believe it can be downright enjoyable; I just think more challenging reads should also be in the mixture, too.

I especially enjoy reading YA books because it takes me back to a time when I was swept off my feet by books, to a time when this romance caused exhilarating, even mind-changing and life-altering philosophical epiphanies, and to a time when my eyes were opened to a larger world that reached further than the boundaries of my hometown and high school. I assume others like reading YA for the same nostalgic reason.

Beside these personal grounds for partaking in the YA culture, I also feel like I have a responsibility to keep up with what's popular in YA lit as someone who champions youth and young adult literacy. With teenagers and college students preoccupied with social media, television, and video games (which is all fine in moderation, but that's usually not the case with these addicting lifestyle distractions), it is important to me to be able to recommend and discuss books that speak to that generation. Books can be addicting, too, and though I may be biased, I would say it's a much healthier addiction than those I mentioned above. I like to think of YA as the "gateway" to heavier stuff. However, I also want to make it clear that while I definitely think that YA has a certain role in the development of a reader, I'm not trying to undermine the quality of the work of YA authors. I truly have enjoyed the literary aesthetics of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the Harry Potter series, and The Fault in Our Stars as an adult reader.

I'm beginning graduate school next month, and one of my first courses in the program is a special topics class on YA. I'm excited about discovering some new stories because I only have read one of the books on the list of titles we are going to read this upcoming semester. I'm looking forward to not only reading some good stories, but also hopefully being inspired to write something of my own for young audiences as well.

What's your take on Young Adult Fiction? 
Do you have any favorite YA reads? 
What makes you love that particular book even as an adult?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Unconventional Moving and a Lighter Life

I'm experiencing a non-traditional moving experience in the sense that we haven't blocked out a Saturday to pack our entire apartment into a U-Haul in order to transport it all over to our new home. Instead, we've been packing a few boxes at a time, and driving a car load over every day or so. I've finished up with my work in the office of the College of Liberal Arts since I'm transitioning into graduate school in about a month, so I have the time to go about transferring our stuff like this, even putting things into place in the new house as I go. I actually really like doing it this way because moving all at once and then having to unpack a million boxes at one time can just get overwhelming.

The unconventional way I'm transporting our possessions isn't even the strangest part about this move; it's the fact that though we have much more space to fill in our new home, we are making intentional efforts to downsize on the quantity of our home and personal items. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am after the simple life which means pruning the excess. In other words, do I really need two noodle strainers? 8 different winter hats (which I rarely wear, anyway)?

The hardest part has been minimizing my wardrobe. I love fashion. I have a weak spot for cute clothes and accessories, especially the unique pieces that stand out in all their one-of-a-kind glory, but unfortunately are not that versatile. The truth is as much as I have prided having this kind of stuff in my closet, I don't lead a lifestyle that allows them off the hangers too often. I am realizing that I appreciate the art of fashion and how it looks so great on photographed models, but I'm happier going to the office, or grocery shopping, or any of the other average gal going places in more functional clothing.

I've donated, consigned, and passed along, but not without gritted teeth. However, once it's out of my closet and out of the house, I feel lighter and even a bit happy. How is it that stuff that you are convinced is bringing you happiness by the sheer fact that you posses it, that you have it, actually feels good to let go of? It's very strange to me, but I'm going with it.

But what about having more space in our new place and less stuff to fill with it? Well, I'm embracing the Feng shui philosophy and also looking at the space as having "so much room for activities!" I'm sure it will be very advantageous when Chad and I get the occasional "fever" for a dance party.

If you're thinking about getting rid of some of your stuff too, but aren't quite sure you can part with some items, I suggest packing up those "maybes" for a set amount of time-perhaphs, a month or so- and if you don't miss them, then it's probably safe to say that you CAN do without them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I didn't review the last Harry Potter book before I took my studying hiatus, so I suppose it is time now. Of course, I really rather avoid doing so because I don't like that closing the book feeling (literally and figuratively) on the whole experience. And as other fans will vouch, reading the Harry Potter series is just that--an experience. And also as others who have experienced Harry Potter would probably agree, even though you are actively done with the journey of reading through the books, the adventure and all its applicable motifs live on in the heart well after turning the last page.

We could easily drop the "hallows" part in the title since death is certainly one of the biggest themes not only through the whole series, but especially this last installment. Of course, I won't say who she does in, but Rowling has a killing off fest in this book. As much as it hurt to see some of my favorite characters destroyed before my very eyes, I really love that she has a no-mercy-attitude in writing this plot. You see, that's what I've always loved about good books: there's almost a taboo nature to them. When I was younger, I loved reading stories that dealt with topics that were more "hush, hush" and "look the other way" in the day-to-day normality of my youth.

I enjoyed seeing characters from the earlier books resurface in the conclusion, as well as get even deeper details that explain some prolonging mysteries. There isn't this sense of feeling like Rowling had to try to work in these puzzle pieces in order to make everything appear to fit; all the details just do because the story was crafted as a complete legend, and then obliterated into a complicated mass of jigsaw pieces for the reader to mend together.

Love, loyalty, friendship, desire, fear, and pretty much any other raw emotion you can come up with is sprinkled throughout the plot and confronted upon uncomfortable and fantastic backdrops.

Then there is the epilogue. I have this love-hate feeling for it. After all the reader goes through, it's nice to get a tidy little summary of what the lives of the survivors look like. However, after all the readers go through with the characters, it also feels like Rowling is bilking us a bit. It's too concise after the long drawn out 7-installment story. However, at the end of the day, I just end up trusting Rowling. I decided I really cannot criticize her decision after what she has labored over. After all she went through as god of her creation, I am assured that the ending is right.

It was so hard to avoid finding out anything I didn't want to yet know as I read the series, because HP has been out for awhile and the following is still so strong that it's Potter-galore all over the inter webs. As much as I want to go into spiraling detail about how I felt about each and every chapter, I want others to have the same virgin reading that I had. It's truly magical, and for that reason, I simply have kept these "reviews" to short vague reactions to each of the books.

To my nieces and nephews, I deeply wish you would pick these books up because I know that it would no doubt cast a love spell for literature on your minds. To the young adults like me and those my senior, too, I am confident you won't be sorry or even feel silly to be reading this series once you begin.

So, you can admit it, you want to read Harry Potter, for the first time, don't you? 
And for those of you who have, what is it about the story that you carry with you and somehow apply in your own life even now?