In Flight

I’m on a plane right now flying home from Fort Lauderdale.

I love to travel. I actually love flying and would probably go anywhere if given the opportunity. This past year has been full of road trips mostly for races aside from our trip to Arizona in February. We had planned to return to Mozambique for the 2013 holidays, but after a rash of kidnappings in and around the Capitol of Maputo, including that of a young boy who was subsequently murdered and a former Peace Corps staff person’s wife who thankfully was returned unharmed, we decided to postpone our trip. We were also keeping watch on the increasingly unstable political situation in Mozambique.

Briefly, Mozambique is set to have its third presidential election this year. All eyes are on the current president, Armando Guebuza, from the Frelimo party who will finish his second and last term as president. Some are worried that he will try to find a way to stay in power thereby defeating the democratic process and creating the pathway to dictatorship like its neighbor Zimbabwe. The opposing political party, Renamo, has been stirring up old wounds since the fall. There have been some fatalities as a result of Renamo led uprisings in the north. It’s very sad and frightening to watch from afar, hoping and praying for some resolve, but as of yet nothing has been done to stop Renamo’s actions. So for now our plans to return to Mozambique are pushed back to possibly February 2015.

In the meantime I’m just dying to get the heck out of dodge. I miss international travel, but like I said, I’ll go just about anywhere especially if air travel is involved. This little trip to Florida was spontaneously schemed up by yours truly on a hot, humid run last Friday. Carlos hasn’t seen his grandpa in a while. I had this Tuesday and Wednesday night off. My mom was also vacationing in Fort Lauderdale with her husband and my aunt and uncle. So Carlos will fly back with them on Saturday since I have to work all weekend. Hmmm how could I possibly coordinate this trip on such short notice?!  Within two hours after my run we were booked! I left work at 6a.m. Tuesday morning, took a quick shower, got dressed, threw a carry on in the car, and Carlos and I were at the airport by 7:15 a.m. Carlos is an awesome traveler and that’s how we roll!

Ok I don’t love Florida, never have, but this trip was about family and I at least got two plane rides out of it! I enjoyed a day at the beach with my dad and Carlos. I finally met my cousin’s baby. I stumbled upon an amazing organic farmers market with so many wonderful vegan treats. I convinced my dad to try a gluten free, mostly vegan organic restaurant for lunch yesterday. The Coke guzzling, meat eater actually seemed to enjoy it. I loved it!! So for such a quick trip it was quite enjoyable, but I still daydream of travels to faraway places.

My sister is a jet setting executive for a tech company. She just started this job last year late fall and she’s been traveling nonstop. I’m less jealous now than I would have been pre-Carlos because as much as I yearn to travel I don’t wish to be away from my family for more than a day or two every now and then. My sister mentioned recently that she would be going to Australia in July for work. Cue the seething green eyed monster!!

Visiting Australia has been a dream since I was 10. I had a soft fuzzy stuffed koala pencil hugger and that song Down Under by Men at Work was popular. Suddenly Australia was on my radar. I looked at world maps, dreamed about what it would be like to visit and read everything I could about the faraway nation. There was something so exotic about a place that distant.  A couple of years later, INXS became my favorite band and the fascination with the land down under intensified. It was the distance, the accent, the beaches and the mystique of the outback that sparked my interest. Oh right and I was also hopelessly infatuated with Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of INXS (don’t judge!).

My junior year of college I walked into the study abroad office at UMass Amherst hell bent on finally getting to Australia via their study abroad program. However, somehow I ended up in a short Spanish immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico which led to a full semester in Taxco, Mexico a year later. No regrets though. I developed a passion for Mexican culture, history and art and because it was relatively inexpensive to study and live in Mexico I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel around almost all of central and southern Mexico. I loved my experience there and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Fast forward to today…I have yet to travel to Australia, but I still dream of it. Later this month my dream will finally become a reality. Carlos and I will accompany my sister on her trip down under. I am still in disbelief that this is happening. The whole thing transpired very quickly. If it wasn’t amazing enough to be going to Australia, we will also be spending a full day and night in Fiji!!

When my sister casually mentioned that we should come along the old Aimee would have let jealousy consume her. In the past my side of the conversation would have sounded a lot like this:

“That’s ridiculous. I have to work. Not everyone can just take off for two weeks. Lucky you.”

Instead of playing the martyr like I used to do so often I found a way to make it happen. I never take time off from work. I fill in whenever I can for my coworkers when they need time off. I always find coverage for my shifts. So I decided to just ask for the time off and despite the short notice my boss was supportive and is really excited for me. I don’t spend my money irresponsibly. I’m a great saver. I always pick up extra shifts if I can to make up for time I miss. Sure I’m working the next 12 out of 14 nights, but at the end of 2 weeks I will live out a long time dream. This quick trip to Florida helped me to set a plan of action down on paper to organize life for the next couple of weeks. I am looking forward to sharing this experience with two very special people, my son and my sister. My sister and I have her wedding plans to discuss and I am thrilled to be able to spend quality time with Carlos on a new adventure.

Wait, what about my husband? Unfortunately he won’t be joining us. Orlando is a mason and this past winter he was laid off for months. He’s back to work and fortunately he’s incredibly busy. He can’t take time off when the work is abundant because you never know what the winter will bring. We will miss him, but he understands and fully supports our travels. He is a little envious of our trip to Australia though!

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” Napoleon Hill

Running Questions

I just returned from a wonderful vacation in Arizona with my family. We traveled to the Scottsdale area for my cousin’s wedding. I plan to write a post or two about our trip. It was my first visit to the southwest and I was blown away. I loved it!

On the plane rides I was able to catch up on blog reading. Carina answered these running questions recently and I thought I would do the same. I am still running despite the miserable winter weather. I actually have a 10 mile race today and some big plans for the year.

1. Would you rather…run with one of your ancestors or your role models?

I would love to run with my great grandfather on my mother’s side. I don’t think he was ever a runner, but I would love to know more about him. He came to this country from Italy as a young man. He was a very kind and gentle man from what I remember. My memories are distant, but I remember going to his house, a three family home he shared with my grandmother and great uncle. He had a big blooming cherry tree in the backyard. I know he was a hardworking immigrant who prided himself on being able to speak English. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on immigration and stories of his journey by boat to the United States.

2. Would you rather…run a race that is a few hours drive but in a beautiful location or in your city with a short drive?

I love traveling to new, beautiful locations for races. I don’t care to repeat races particularly in my area. Running races has become an opportunity to travel for me and my family.

3. Would you rather…take an ice bath for a half hour or foam roll for a half hour?

I have to be honest, I’ve never taken an ice bath. I do foam roll, not for a half hour, but I would if I had the time.

4. Would you rather…have a black toe nail pulled off or have your entire back chaffed from running and be forced to shower for a hour straight?

The toenail definitely. I chafed under my armpits the other day and it is painful both in and out of the shower. Once the toenail is black it’s dead, gross but dead. I’ve had a couple of black toenails. It really irritates me that doing something good for your body has some really foul side effects. It’s just wrong!

5. Would you rather…spend an extra $100 a month given to you on running/fitness or save it?

I would save it. I’m a saver. However, I suppose I would probably break even given what I spend on races for the year for me, Carlos and Orlando.

6. Would you rather…be known for running the fastest marathon or running the longest distance at one time?

I agree with Carina on this one that I’d rather be known for setting a world record for the fastest marathon. There’s money in that accomplishment!

Though I’m sure running the longest distance comes with it’s own unique notoriety in distance running circles. I’ve grown very curious about running ultra distances.

7. Would you rather…have your medal handed to you by Kara Goucher or Shalane Flanagan?

Oh goodness they are both amazing. I really have no personal bias here. They are friends and training partners. If you are interested you can read about them here.

8. Would you rather…lick someone else’s armpit after a marathon, or lick their foot after a marathon?

This is just nasty. I would choose the armpit if it were a nicely shaved pit with a thick layer of deodorant then maybe I’d only be licking deodorant which is gross too, but a little less gross than armpit. Otherwise I’d go with the foot. Yuck either way!

And now a question for anyone who reads this. Would you rather live in Massachusetts or Arizona?

Fast Times 2013

Happy New Year! Where does the time go? I had high hopes and obviously grandiose expectations for an end of the year wrap up post, a year of races post, recaps of two late fall races and another Skin Deep post. The posts are all written…in my head. If only there was a way to synch my mind with my computer I would be a prolific blogger.

I love this blogging thing and wish I could devote more time to honing my writing and photography skills. I love the therapeutic aspect of writing my thoughts and feelings. It’s been beneficial simply to get it out, but even more helpful to hear feedback from others who graciously take the time to comment here.

I have felt very welcomed by the community of bloggers I have joined. I am reading even if you don’t see a comment from me. Technical issues took up a great deal of time in the last few months. For some reason my phone does not allow me to comment on certain blogs. I enjoy tech troubleshooting so it annoys me that I can’t figure out the problem. My 2008 MacBook has given me a run for my money this year. After countless trips to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store I installed new RAM and a new hard drive on my own. Prior to these interventions the computer ran so slowly it was impossible to do anything without being locked out by the swirling ball of frustration. It’s a running much better now thankfully so maybe I can get blog posts done more frequently.

From November through the New Year life rolled along at breakneck speed. Here are some highlights:

  • I am now the proud wearer of Invisalign braces! Long story short although I had braces at the very early age of 10 my bottom teeth have turned inward and I need to straighten them so I can finish an unresolved issue on my top teeth. I don’t believe they are invisible and though I am grateful to have the good fortune to fix this issue they are an uncomfortable nuisance.
  • I ran the Monson Memorial Classic Half Marathon (cute pics of Carlos if you click the link!) again in November. I ran it for the first time in 2011 less than two months after breaking a rib during my training for the Disney Marathon. It was my slowest half marathon time. This time I ran an unbelievable race and enjoyed a truly unexpected PR. I will eventually write about it because it’s a race I would like to remember.
  • My husband, son and I ran the Northampton Hot Chocolate 5K in early December. I first ran this race in 2010. This time Orlando and Carlos ran together with my friend Mary’s daughter. Carlos did amazing. He ran the entire race and finished in just over 32 minutes. I stayed back with Mary who hasn’t run in years and suffers from tremendous knee pain at times. This was an interesting experience for me and one I would really like to elaborate on in a future post.
  • I helped run the Secret Santa Gift Shop at my son’s school which is a three day event where the kids get to shop for their families.
  • I adopted a whole foods plant based diet aka vegan after being vegetarian for three years.
  • Carlos and I enjoyed an impromptu two days in New York City with my sister. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, walked a bit of Central Park, saw Rockefeller Center, went to the Lego Store, the Apple Store and F.A.O. Schwartz.
  • Thanks to my sister I had the good fortune of dining at the organic vegan Candle Cafe in NYC. It was incredibly delicious.
  • My baby boy turned 7. I really wish time would slow down. Legos are all the rage in his life right now. Our guest room has been turned into Lego City.

    Legos have taken over my home!

    A new Lego truck

  • Christmas came and went with little fanfare. Orlando and I got iPads for each other. I got the mini and he got the new iPad Air.
  • I worked a lot of overtime in December. My husband got laid off on December 16th which always causes a bit of distress initially. Fortunately he started back at work the week after Christmas. This has been a very unpredictable year for him. I have been lucky to pick up overtime often, but more work means less blogging, reading and other nonessential “fun” activities.
  • Carlos got old school Battleship for Christmas and we have been having so much fun playing it together, such a great game!
  • We spent New Year’s Eve at my friend’s home in upstate New York. It was a fitting way to close the year. She is one of my dearest friends and I have been honored to be welcomed into her trusted circle of friends this year as she bravely battled breast cancer. This, in and of itself is challenging, but she did it while pregnant with her second child. She is a warrior! My friend and her husband now have a gorgeous baby girl who is healthy and so very happy. I couldn’t wait to hold her. She just sat there blissfully in my arms. As I watched my friend and her beautiful family my heart filled with so many emotions just thinking of all she has been through this year. It was an important reminder for me to not take the goodness of life for granted.

I learned a lot about myself this year. I ran a lot this year.  I shattered my fitness goals. I have taken up yoga pretty seriously and hope to continue to improve and grow in my practice.

Despite all of these milestones I have found myself in the throes of emotional eating on and off since October. Just as things improved the holidays triggered the behavior once again. I realize that my journey with weight, food issues and body image distortion are far from over. I have more tools now to cope with emotional eating so that I don’t incur a weight gain, but the fact that I’m still struggling with certain behaviors is frustrating and a bit frightening.

It’s a new year and as with the past 7 new years I intend to continue to grow, change and improve myself and my life. Having Carlos 7 years ago sparked a fire inside of me that has encouraged me to be the best person I can be. I can always be better. Improvement requires change. Change is difficult. It means facing fears, looking inside of yourself and digging up hidden truths, trying new things and most importantly it means failing.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” C.S. Lewis

Waterville Valley: Birthday and a Race

Orlando and I don’t do gifts for birthdays or Christmas for each other. We opt for a night away or a fancy dinner somewhere new. This year Orlando’s birthday fell on a Sunday and it also happened to be my weekend off. Perfect! I asked him what he might like to do and you know what he said without any cajoling or bribing? He said he would like to run a race! Well who am I to deny that wish?!! A quick search of races in New England on that weekend revealed a 5K and a half marathon in Waterville Valley, NH. The Black Bear Half Marathon and 5K description boasted  “a scenic tour of one of New Hampshire’s most beautiful towns, along quiet country roads, finishing in the center of the quaint village.” We had never visited before and it gave me the option of running a half if I needed to for marathon training.

As the day neared I was doing well with marathon training, but suspected that running a half marathon might be too much on that particular weekend. After careful consideration I opted to run the 5K alongside my husband. He really wanted to run it together and agreed to help me run a strong 5K. I really dislike 5Ks because it means basically sprinting at a fairly uncomfortable pace.

Anyway I’ll get to the race in a minute. Let me just take a moment to discuss the lovely Waterville Valley. It is a ski resort by winter and a family vacation site by summer. We got to our hotel in early afternoon. The day was gorgeous so we hopped on the bikes provided by the hotel and toured the property. There is a golf course, tennis courts, a playground, an adventure center, a beach with a volleyball net, shops, restaurants and kayak, canoe and paddle boat rentals. We saw a wedding party taking photos before heading to the reception. The resort is nestled below Mount Tecumseh and provides beautiful views in every direction.

We stopped in the adorable town square for an afternoon snack of local homemade ice cream. We meandered back to the hotel on the bikes to relax and prepare to go out to dinner. We made reservations at Lantern in the town square. We got a table overlooking the pond in the center of the village. The town square was bustling with activity at night. There was a band playing. People were hanging out eating more casual fare like pizza and burgers. Others were enjoying a beer or beverage down by the pond. We loved the vibe of the area. It was extremely family friendly. Kids were everywhere on scooters, roller blades, running around. It was such a lively environment. Of course we kept saying, “Carlos would love this.” It’s nice to have time alone, but we sure miss Carlos when we go somewhere without him.

We had a nice drawn out 4 course dinner including wine and dessert. This was a real treat for me. I enjoyed every delicious bite.

The next morning we were up bright and early to prepare for the race. I knew that morning that running the 5K was the right decision. We picked up our bibs and went for a little walk to kill time before the race. As we lined up at the start we realized there was only a small group running the race. The race organizer told us he would lead us on bicycle, and with that he counted down 3-2-1 and off we went. We ran through the resort, over a small bridge, past a small waterfall and back through the village to finish across from our hotel. There were some people cheering us on along the way which is always nice.

Orlando insisted on running the race with me. Now he is significantly faster than me so I told him to push me a little bit. It’s always nice to PR whenever possible, but as I was nearing the last weeks of marathon training I also didn’t want to risk injury so I told Orlando just to stay a little ahead of me at all times. The race course was scenic as promised and the weather could not have been more perfect. I felt really good throughout the run. I worked hard though as I always do during the shorter distances. Orlando’s long stride kept me reaching. The race ended on an uphill which is pure evil. I powered up the hill with Orlando next to me. He pulled back as I tore through the finish line. He now tells everyone that he “let me win!!” We were surprised with medals as finished. I’ve never received a medal for a 5K.  I didn’t really know my time because the clock was reading the half marathon time. They said there would be an awards ceremony in about 20 minutes, but we had to check out of the hotel within the hour and still needed to shower. We knew we didn’t win! We grabbed a snack and some water and returned to the hotel to get ready and pack up.

On the way home we stopped at Lake Winnipesaukee for lunch and a little walk to check out the lake. It was beautiful. The day was perfect for swimming and boating. We took some photos and then hit the road.

Carlos stayed with my mom for the night and we couldn’t wait to see him. When we pulled into my mom’s driveway I spotted the balloons. We were greeted with sombreros and margaritas at our surprise birthday fiesta! Orlando’s birthday was that day and mine was three days later. My sister came out for the party which was a huge surprise because we had just seen her a few days earlier. It was just my immediate family there to celebrate. The evening was wonderful. Year after year we have had the same cook out for our birthday. I constantly beg for something different, but my stuck in her ways mom won’t budge. My sister planned the menu which included all the fixings for tacos along with guacamole, a corn and avocado salad, shrimp and fresh salsa. This took pretty much everyone except my husband, sister and me outside of their food comfort zone. It was comical. My mom and her husband were not thrilled, but my aunt and uncle seemed to enjoy the meal. Orlando and I were in heaven.

After dinner Carlos took us over to the piñata. He couldn’t wait for that part of the party. My mom and sister filled it with things you might find in a Christmas stocking like gum, lotion and chapstick. It was hilarious. We had fun going through everything once we managed to break it open.

No birthday party would be complete without cake. Again after pleading for many years for a cake I could eat without splurging on all of my calories for the day I was treated to angel food cake and fresh berries. It was delicious. I smiled thinking of how my grandmother would have loved the party as different as it was from years past. It was truly a wonderful weekend and a beautiful way to usher in a new age.

Oh sorry I forgot to mention my race results. So I killed it! Not only did I set a PR of 26:52, I also came in 2nd for the females overall and 1st for the females in my age group. OK I should probably mention that there were only 42 runners in the entire race. The first female actually won the race with a time of 20:55. It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still smiling about this race every time I think about it!

A Long Commitment

When I commit to training for a marathon I know exactly what that means. It means at least 4 months of training. Training consists of many hours each week and often daily. There is a master schedule of work outs, stretching, cross training and foam rolling. Preparation for long runs includes packing fuel for the road, filling the Camelbak, putting on sunscreen, making sure electronics are charged and running clothes are ready to go.

For training to be successful I have to analyze my workout schedule against the schedules of everyone in my family. I have to make sure I have someone available to watch my son if my husband has to work or has another commitment. I also have to be ready to tackle long runs after working all night. It happens and there is little I can do about it so I’ve learned how to do it successfully by getting adequate rest the night before, eating well and staying hydrated.

Marathon training is as rigid as it is flexible if that makes any sense. In order to be well trained on race day you have to follow your training, get the miles in, strengthen your body and mind, and stay healthy. At the same time life happen. You have to be flexible with your training and creative about how you get your workouts in. You have to roll with changes in schedules, weather and how your body is feeling.

Last weekend I went away to visit one of my best friends in the Plattsburgh, NY area. The weekend plan was made a couple of months ago. Initially I was going to bring Carlos along which would have made running on the weekend near impossible. I was prepared for that, but as the weekend inched closer my sister said she would love to have him for a couple of days. This worked out fabulously for everyone. Carlos loves his auntie and jumps at any chance to spend time with her so I knew he would have a great time. Orlando had a side job to do over the weekend and was working his regular job on Friday when I left for New York so he couldn’t go with me or be home to watch Carlos the entire time. I don’t get a lot of time to myself so this was a rare treat. Nothing like a 4.5 hour drive to belt out some tunes, chit chat on the phone and listen to podcasts!

I re-evaluated my workout schedule and adjusted it to the new plan. Instead of having to do my 20 mile long run upon returning home on Sunday I could now accomplish it first thing on Sunday morning. I even managed to get in a couple of extra short runs on Friday and Saturday.

On Saturday night I got everything ready for my early morning run. I set the alarm for 3:50am! I went to bed fairly early for me, around 9:30pm and slept like a log. I jumped up with the alarm and got rolling. I was out the door of my hotel by 4:40. The sky was still dusky, but light was on the horizon. The air was cool with only a tinge of humidity. It was perfect running conditions. One of the best things about running when you travel is being able to enjoy different scenery. I was thrilled to have an unanticipated course for such a long run.

Sunrise on the horizon over Lake Champlain

Sunrise on the horizon over Lake Champlain

Plattsburgh, NY is a bit off the beaten path for most, but my introduction to this lakeside city wasn’t a result of my friend relocating there. I first came to Plattsburgh in the mid-90s for a weekend long phish concert. It took place at the old Air Force base. Ah the memories…sort of!

In the last couple of years, however, I have gotten to know Plattsburgh quite well with more frequent visits to see my friend and also running a half marathon there back in April. I didn’t map out a route, but headed for the bike trail I remembered from the half marathon.

Running in Plattsburgh

Running in Plattsburgh

The run was going really well. I felt awesome. My pace was on target for my marathon goal. I was killing it until about mile 11 when I had to stop to try to figure out which direction to turn. I decided to back track and seek out another trail I had read about. Then I ran out of water in my Camelbak around mile 14. Luckily I came upon a McDonald’s. The cashier gave me a cup and I was able to fill my Camelbak with cold water for free.

I continued on and at mile 15 I found the other bike trail I was looking for, a little late unfortunately, but I ran on it for about a mile before heading back towards the hotel. My pace had slowed a bit at this point, but I was still going strong mentally. As I approached mile 17 my foot got caught on a small metal post sticking up from beyond an uneven patch of sidewalk and I went flying in the air before slamming on the ground on my left knee then rolling and banging down on my right shoulder. My hands landed hard enough to get scraped up and my middle finger was bleeding when I stood up. I peeled my sweaty banged up body off the pavement, wiped myself off, shifted my Camelbak back in position and turned my Garmin back on praying it still worked. It did and came right back to where it had stopped when I fell. I mean how crappy would that be to lose the ability to track my mileage with only 3 miles left to go! I have now downloaded the Map My Run app just in case.

So after catching my breath and getting over the embarrassment of wiping out, I popped my music back on and off I went to finish what I started. My knee was sore, but after a little bit it loosened up. My middle finger bled for the better part of the next mile and a half, but I just kept wiping it on my pants. It didn’t hurt at all and was just a tiny hole. Part of me felt all bad ass, the other part of me really wanted the run to end.

It started raining as I neared the hotel, but it felt good. Despite a slower pace for the last 5 miles I managed to pull it out and complete mile 20 in under 10 minutes for a strong finish.

Victorious! Scrapes and all

Victorious! Scrapes and all!!

Summer Fun

Slow down there summer! You had only just begun and now suddenly it’s the second week of July. The days go by so quickly. Home from work, change into running clothes, bring Carlos to soccer camp, run/work out, home, shower, change, pick up Carlos from camp, home, lunch, play outside or read with Carlos, swim lessons for Carlos in town, home, sleep, up, get ready and go to work. Phew I’m exhausted writing all of that and I didn’t even mention the play dates, strawberry picking, trip to Maine, a visit to Boston for a Peace Corps conference, long runs, walks to the library. These are the kind of days I don’t sit down because there is too much to do, too much fun to be had.

We spent the Fourth of July at my cousin’s lake house in Maine. It was a quick two night getaway, but much needed. This was the kind of vacation that made me remember how exciting summer was as a child. We went tubing, kayaking, I ran, the boys fished, we chatted, rested and most importantly we relaxed. I stayed on track with marathon training mostly because I was so excited to run in a new, beautiful locale. My training runs were challenging hilly jaunts along the lake, but I welcomed the change of scenery.

Scenes from my run

Lake view

Harbor view

Harbor view

Our meals were simply prepared with no fuss yet they tasted exceptionally delicious. The first night we had a cookout complete with hamburgers, hot dogs, a Mediterranean grain salad, and regular salad which was mostly for me. The second night was even more of a treat. My cousin has a “lobster guy” who supplies him with freshly caught $5 two-pound lobsters. Seafood is what keeps me from becoming a true vegetarian. We feasted on lobster, corn on the cob and my black bean salad at the picnic table on the shore of the lake.

At night fall on 4th of July we ventured into the quaint downtown of Damariscotta for the fireworks. For a small town they put on a great fireworks display.

Downtown Damariscotta

Downtown Damariscotta

Damariscotta

Damariscotta

My son soaked up every single moment of the weekend. He was in the water within minutes of arriving. He went tubing for the first time and roped me into it too. It was so much fun, but a little wild at times. His tubing mottos, “the faster the better,” and “falling off is the fun part!” Who is this child?! He hopped into a kayak and took off for the first time like he had been kayaking for his entire life. He finally gave me a try in the kayak and I fell in love. It is one of the most peaceful activities I have ever done. We went out on the motor boat, in the canoe, and the kayaks. My cousin’s teen sons were so kind to Carlos and made sure he explored as much of the lake as he could in the short time we were there.

IMG_2784

Summer Smile

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Carlos in the kayak

At peace

At peace

On the way up to the lake we made a pit stop to Cabela’s to buy Carlos a fishing pole. Have you ever visited this store? It is an enormous mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. We could have spent hours in there, but we were so anxious to get to the lake we made our purchase and left. Carlos could not wait to go fishing. The first afternoon we were there he quickly learned how to cast his line, but had no success catching anything from the dock and was up at the crack of dawn the next day to try his luck out on the lake. I received this photo from my cousin via text at 6:20 a.m.

First catch of the day

First catch of the day

Maine is one of those places that begs you to wind down, relax and smell the proverbial roses. Though we had WiFi at the lake and I brought my computer, I never opened it. I was content to just sit by the lake enjoying the company and my tranquil surroundings. On our last morning my husband and I went out on the lake in a canoe. We paddled to a small island where we met up with Carlos who was paddling around in a kayak. The three of us sat there for a bit trying to concoct a plan to never leave! We drove home on Friday afternoon feeling as though we recharged our batteries, reconnected with each other and really truly relaxed for the first time in ages. It was much needed.

How was your 4th of July? How is your summer going so far?

The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love

While still in my undergraduate years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst I decided I wanted to join the Peace Corps. I was young, idealistic with a penchant for traveling and not a clue what I really wanted to do with my life. I finished my undergraduate degrees in History and Spanish after spending an incredible semester abroad in Taxco, Mexico studying a little and mostly exploring as much of Mexico as I could get to on the cheapest buses possible. Oh how I loved Mexico. It is a gorgeous country with an incredibly rich and colorful history. I visited places like Palenque and San Cristobal in Chiapas, Oaxaca City, the Puuc Route on the Yucatan, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Puebla, the quaint colonial town of San Miguel de Allende and of course pyramids at Teotihuacan just outside of Mexico City. I lived with a Mexican family for part of my semester. I became a part of life in Taxco as opposed to just being a tourist. I knew I wanted more of this type of experience.

Upon my return from Mexico in June 1996 and after literally crying for weeks because I missed it so much I decided I would set the wheels in motion to apply for Peace Corps. The amount of time it takes to get into Peace Corps varies for each volunteer. For me it was an 18 month process including an in person interview in Boston, a complete medical and dental screening, background check, paperwork and more paperwork.

Typically once you are cleared by medical and dental you receive an invitation to serve in a particular country with a program that fits your qualifications. I knew I would be teaching English and could be sent anywhere in the world except the area I most wanted to go, Latin America. The reason being, there are no English teaching programs in Latin America. Despite popular belief that Peace Corps just barrels into third world countries and imposes its authority, the country actually selects the program. I was told that I could be considered for a position in Bolivia if per chance I had bee keeping skills. Um no I don’t! In retrospect that was a blessing in disguise.

My course did not go quite the way it usually goes. I was actually rejected by dental, but was unaware because I never received the envelope they sent me complete with my dental x-rays and instructions of how to proceed. Instead I called to check the status of my application and was told that I was being invited to serve in Armenia. It is almost unheard of to be told of your invitation over the phone, but sure enough the invitation arrived in the mail later that week. In the meantime I had numerous conversations with the dental unit. Turned out I had an old root canal that needed to be repaired because it was done incorrectly years prior.

Peace Corps is very sensitive about sending volunteers to post with any outstanding dental issues because historically dental care in third world countries is either very poor or nonexistent. I quickly set out to have the issue repaired so I could meet the deadline for my service in Armenia. It was March 1998 when I received my invitation for the group leaving in May 1998.  After a few trips to my incompetent, money-sucking, smelly dentist (sorry but it’s true) it was determined that I needed periodontal surgery done by a specialist. The periodontal surgery cost a mighty penny considering I had no dental insurance and was making a pittance at my job as an administrative assistant at UMass. In the end I had to back out of the invitation to serve in Armenia because dental refused to clear me until they received word from the periodontist that I was completely healed. About 2 weeks after the group left for Armenia I was cleared by dental.

Truth be told, I was not distraught about missing out on the opportunity to travel to Armenia. Through my research on the country I learned that winters were extremely harsh and people subsisted on cabbage and potatoes. I was in contact with a few Peace Corps Volunteers already in Armenia thanks to the budding internet back in 1998. I am certain I would have been just fine, but it never really felt like the place I was supposed to go.

In my job at UMass I did a lot of work with the Afro-American studies department including coordinating trips for my boss to Durban, South Africa where he was involved with a scholarship organization to help young black South Africans study here in the U.S. One morning I called my recruiter at the Peace Corps headquarters in D.C. His name was Dan. He was very nice to talk to and seemed supportive of my situation. He said he would do his best to get me another invitation as soon as possible, but he couldn’t promise me anything because they had just evacuated 4 countries due to political strife. His priority was to re-assign any volunteers interested in going elsewhere. I understood completely. I would want Peace Corps to do the same for me if I were in that situation. However, Dan made the grave mistake of letting me in on a little secret about a new program Peace Corps was opening in Mozambique in October 1998, just 4 months away. OK it probably wasn’t a huge secret, but I was instantly intrigued. I had heard of Mozambique and knew a little about the country because of my boss’ travels in Southern Africa. I begged Dan to tell me more. I told him I wanted to go, had to go there. He then apologized for getting my hopes up and told me there was no way I would be included in the inaugural group of Peace Corps Volunteers being sent to Mozambique.

Dan didn’t really know me. I hung up and called my boss immediately. We wrote a kick ass letter about why I should indeed be sent to Mozambique and I faxed it almost instantaneously. I waited and heard nothing. So I made a firm decision, if Peace Corps wasn’t going to send me to Mozambique then I wasn’t going to join Peace Corps. I had already done some research on teaching opportunities in Central America. I had applications on hand and I was prepared to act. I wasn’t trying to prove a point. I simply wanted to move on with my life. I needed to get out there and see the world. I was almost 25 years old and I knew the clock was ticking on my student loans.

After waiting long enough I called Dan. I thanked him for all of his help and told him that I understood he had a job to do, but I also had a life to live and at that point I had put my life on hold for almost 15 months. I told him I was incredibly disappointed about not being selected for the Mozambique program and although I would graciously accept an invitation anywhere I had to proceed with other plans at that time. I left the door open by saying that should an invitation arrive before I pack my bags I will most certainly consider it. That afternoon I received a call from Dan inviting me to serve in the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers ever to serve in Mozambique. I was in my office at UMass. I remember jumping up and down with such delight. I celebrated after work with my co-worker/friend/mentor who just so happened to be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer herself.

A week before I left for Mozambique my mother brought the mail in and handed me a large manila envelope. It looked worn and old. It had the Peace Corps logo and return address. I knew what was inside. It was the package dental had sent to me nearly 10 months early with my X-rays. The package had arrived but got stuck behind mailboxes at my mother’s condo complex. We laughed about it and decided there must be some great reason why I was going to Mozambique. Little did I know.

In October 1998, I left with two big duffle bags and a carry on for what would become one of the greatest adventures of my life as well as my destiny. Why am I telling you this story today? Well it just so happens to be Peace Corps Week and part of the goal of Peace Corps is to bring our stories back home to the U.S. During the month of February I am often invited to speak to local girl scout troops as part of their World Learning Day celebrations. I did only one presentation this year. I’m always happy to share my experience. It’s been 10 years since I returned home to the U.S. and I miss it everyday.

Bilene Beach, Mozambique

Bilene Beach, Mozambique

Redefine Possible

If you read my last post  then you might be wondering what I decided to do the morning of the marathon. Having never visited Philadelphia and staying about 15 minutes outside of the city I was concerned about finding somewhere to park. The marathon website had some information about road closings and parking options. I found out that the train stop closest to the hotel didn’t begin operating until 8 a.m. – no good. The woman at the hotel desk suggested maybe calling a taxi which would have cost a small fortune. With about 30,000 runners set to descend on the city I didn’t know what to expect the morning of the race so I decided to err on the side of caution. I set my alarm for 3 a.m. and drifted off to sleep.

All too soon I was up, showered (yes I shower before races) and ready to go. I checked out of the hotel and hit the road Philly bound. I was armed with 3 sets of directions to various parking lots just in case. There were few cars on the road so I made it into the city in no time. After a couple of missed turns I finally found one of the parking lots. The woman at the gate welcomed me with her raspy good morning as she blew cigarette smoke in the cold air. She said I could park all day as long as I had exactly $8 because she had no change. For someone who never carries cash I had thought ahead and lo and behold I had $9 in cash in my wallet. I paid up and pulled into a parking spot.

Soon other cars began to follow suit. We all stayed in our cars to keep warm. I ate my pre-race bagel, banana and peanut butter while listening to comedy on Sirius radio. Around 5:20 I decided to walk over to the starting area to find a port-a-potty. A perk of getting to the race early is still unused port-a-potties. Thanks to the flashlight app on my iPhone I did not have to pee in the dark.

I walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where many runners were stretching and warming up. I climbed the famed “Rocky Steps” and took in the early morning view from the top. Sadly I have no photos as it was still too dusky to capture the scenery. I found a secluded spot to do some stretching and tried to channel my own inner Rocky. I told myself to just enjoy the day, do my best and smile along the way.

Around 6:30 I called home to say good morning to Orlando and Carlos. Wow I missed them so much. Carlos is a bit (understatement of the year) of a mama’s boy. He was happy and sad to talk to me. He told me to hurry up and get home because he missed me too much. Orlando wished me good luck. I hung up and walked around the starting area in search of my corral. I was in the orange corral, second to last corral to start. I found a spot and waited.   I listened to lots of stories around me. There were a few first time marathoners and two women who were supposed to run the NYC marathon a couple of weeks ago before the destruction of Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the marathon. Philadelphia opened up a lottery to welcome 3000 runners registered to run the NYC marathon. All throughout the race it was great to see the outpouring of support for those runners most of whom were wearing their orange ING race shirts making them easy to spot.

At 7 a.m. the race began…for some. It took nearly 30 minutes before I crossed the starting line. We moved in slow motion it seemed. The sheer volume of runners was massive. As we left the starting chute the road swelled from side to side with people trying to run. It was difficult to get any sort of momentum because of the crowd. Eventually I was able to get into my groove. As always the supporters along the course especially in the beginning and at the end make me smile from ear to ear. I get such a kick out of the signs along the way. Here are a few that I remember and enjoyed:

“WTF, Worst Parade Ever”

“You’re a better running mate than Sarah Palin.”

“If you were Paul Ryan you’d be done by now.” (somewhere not too far from the beginning)

The miles began ticking by and I was feeling great. The weather was perfect. I was comfortable in my pace. I knew I was holding around a 10 minute mile. Suddenly I saw the 4:30 pacer not too far in front of me. I know the pacers are out there, but I’d never actually seen them. I managed to catch up to the runner holding the balloons with the 4:30 sign which meant he would finish the marathon in exactly that time, 4 hours and 30 minutes. Hmmm I thought if I stay ahead of him I might actually beat Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 from her one and only marathon the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994. It’s all in good fun to try to beat celebrity times. I’ve already surpassed Katie Holmes, Al Gore and Kate Gosselin (of John & Kate Plus 8).

At mile 13 we bid the half marathoners adieu as they turned to the right to finish their race. The marathoners veered to the left and enjoyed a bit more open space on the road. Let’s do it all over again I thought as we headed into mile 14. I couldn’t believe how great I felt though. I think one of the best parts about doing a new race in a new place is that the course is a total surprise. I never get bored because I’m not sure what’s coming up. We passed Penn and Drexel universities. We ran past the Philadelphia Zoo and down Landsdowne Drive, through the Manayunk District and alongside the Schuylkill River. There were historical landmarks, a park, a bridge, shops, cafes and skyscrapers.

Somewhere around mile 17 my legs began to ache. I stopped for a Clif Shot and water. I walked through the hydration station and as I started up again I saw the 4:30 pacer ahead. Damn it! I stayed at a steady pace waiting for my legs to ease up in hopes that I could manage a fast spurt to catch up to the pacer once again. It never happened. He was gone, lost in the crowd and out of my view. OK I thought move on and keep moving.

From mile 18-26 the name of my game was just keep running no matter how fast or how slow. And just like that my marathon went from the best race of my life to a mental challenge. Oh how those last miles dragged on by, each one seemed longer than the last. Finally I was at mile 24. I kept telling myself to run and if a hill came I could walk it. I’m not sure why I thought there would be a hill ahead, but there wasn’t. No hill appeared so I kept running…slowly. My legs were sore and my feet hurt. Despite the pain never once did I contemplate quitting. Then in the distance waved the Mile 25 flag. I smiled knowing it would be over soon. As I passed the mile marker my pace kicked up a notch.

For the previous 6 miles or so fan support was thin but I could hear the crowds cheering as I got closer to mile 26. As I rounded the bend and the Museum of Art came into my view along with the last mile marker I felt a force surge through my body. My legs started to move like I was running my very first mile. The emotions welled up and I fought back the tears as I sprinted the last half of a mile to the finish line. I was by myself. People cheered for me by name reading it off my race bib as I passed by. I crossed the finish line and blinked back the tears as I wrapped the foil blanket around my shoulders. When the medal was placed over my head I could no longer hold back and I cried tears of joy, disbelief and awe.

As I walked through the crowd I was overwhelmed by the way I felt. I didn’t even know my time yet. It didn’t really matter because I knew I did exactly what I had set out to do…run MY best race.

In 2012 I have:

  • Run 2 full marathons
  • Run 2 half marathons
  • Run 2 – 10Ks
  • Successfully lost 12 pounds and counting (more on this soon I promise)
  • Spent 3 days roaming around Atlantis in the Bahamas in nothing but my bathing suit (a skirt tankini mind you but can I get a holla for improved body image!)
  • Applied and was accepted into Graduate School
  • Attended a Zumbathon
  • Took ice skating lessons
  • Hiked
  • Traveled to new places

The Philadelphia Marathon’s slogan Redefine Possible couldn’t be more fitting to describe my year and what this race meant to me. However, I almost think redefine impossible would be more applicable. In this year alone I have truly redefined what I always believed was impossible for me.

Philadelphia Marathon Finish

My official time for the Philadelphia Marathon was 4:38:52. This is almost 10 minutes better than my Disney Marathon time of 4:48:19.

I set running goals this year such as running a 10K in under and hour and for fun to beat Oprah’s marathon time. I haven’t accomplished either goal yet, but you better believe I will.

Thanks for reading this crazy long post. Now go redefine your possible!

Philadelphia Marathon Plans

I registered for the Philadelphia Marathon on April 1st. That seems so far away now. I can’t believe the weekend is finally here. I’m as ready as I can possibly be to run this race. However, the long family weekend I had planned has turned into a solo trip. A lot can happen in 7 months to change even the most well thought out plan, but our plans were actually derailed in the course of the last two weeks. It’s for the best that I go alone, but that decision was not made lightly.

I’m disappointed that my husband and son will not be with me, but it is because of their unending support and love that I am able to go to Philadelphia this weekend to run my second marathon. Over the past 5 days I booked a flight, rented a car and reserved a hotel room. I have set up directions to and from places in my phone. I have inquired about race day transportation from the hotel to the starting line. I have given myself countless pep talks to counteract the negative thoughts of guilt swirling in my mind.

As I sit here in my tiny hotel room trying to figure out the best plan for the morning I’m still not sure I made the right decision. However, I’m here and I’m going to give it my all tomorrow.

Summer Races: Lake Placid/North Elba Half Marathon

Maybe if someone had told me that I could combine travel and running I would have began running much sooner. I had mentioned back in the spring that I would be running a half marathon at the end of September in Lisbon, Portugal. I was so psyched to run an international race. We planned to combine the experience with a week of travel in Portugal. Unfortunately we discovered that my husband would need to go through a lengthy process to secure a visa. He is a permanent resident of the U.S. and we have never run into a situation where he required different travel documents. We also found the flights to be offered at extremely inconvenient times resulting in the loss of 1-2 full days due to travel. The flights were very expensive and seemed to increase in price every time we checked on them. For a couple of hundred dollars more we could fly to Mozambique to visit my in-laws.

After much deliberation we decided to forego the trip, rationalizing that it was not practical nor financially feasible for only a week away. We were both really disappointed, but the shorter trip we have planned in early October is undoubtedly going to be a huge hit with Carlos. We are pretty excited about it too, but more on that in a couple of weeks.

Since I wasn’t going to be running the half in Lisbon I began looking around for another September half marathon to include in my marathon training plan. I found one in a place I’ve never been and always wanted to visit. Another bonus was being able to coordinate a visit to see my friend and former Peace Corps site mate, her husband and their adorable baby boy. Without hesitation I registered for the 42nd Annual Lake Placid/North Elba Half Marathon on Saturday, September 8th.

We headed up to Lake Placid late in the afternoon the day before the race. By the time we got to the town it was dark. I arrived with just enough time to grab my race packet. We continued on to our hotel, the beautiful, rustic White Face Lodge. Upon arrival we were told we were being upgraded to a Deluxe One Bedroom Suite and it was gorgeous. The bedroom was on the second floor. There were two fire places, a balcony, full kitchen, and a bath and a half. We want to live there.

Yup I’m that person who takes pictures of bathrooms

The bed was so comfortable and the room very cozy

The Whiteface Lodge

The morning of the half marathon I was planning to have my usual banana and peanut butter toast. The breakfast buffet was included with our room. Everything looked and smelled amazing, but lo and behold no bananas, no peanut butter and no toast. Well there were bagels and I probably could have asked for peanut butter. Since I was already short on time I broke rule #1 of running a race. I abandoned my running rituals and did something different on race day. I ate a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and nuts (gasp!). Oh and I also wore a new shirt which I love by the way, but race day is not the time or place to be trying out new running apparel.

A little blurry, but we got the pre-race photo!

The race began at the Olympic Speed Skating Oval. Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Pre-race I had some time to walk around the oval and read about the olympians who skated there. If standing on the same ground Olympians once stood on isn’t inspiring I don’t know what is.

This was a small race with only 192 participants. We set off promptly and ran up Main Street through the center of Lake Placid before circling Mirror Lake. The weather was absolutely perfect for running, high 60s and overcast. The course was revised this year and followed a different route from past years. We ran past the Olympic Ski Jumps. Orlando and Carlos toured the ski jumps while I was running. From just before the ski jumps the course followed an out and back course. It was beautiful with the colorful autumn leaves, surrounding mountains and a rambling river.

As the ski jumps came into view on the turn around the wind picked up in our direction. It was forceful and felt as though an entire football team was trying to keep me back. It slowed me down some, but I kept pushing through. About a quarter of a mile before the end we had to climb a pretty big hill. I knew it was coming because we had already run down it miles before. I conquered the hill as quickly as possible but that basically amounted to a really fast walk.

The race ended at the North Elba Horseshow Grounds. As I rounded the corner into the parking area on the grounds I could see the people cheering. This race was not a spectator race, but not unlike the finish area of most races this one was lined with cheering spectators as well. Having people clap and cheer as you run by never gets old! I spotted the time clock ahead. Up until this point I had absolutely no idea of my time.

Recently Marion from Affection for Fitness wrote about fitness magic. Did you know that chickens could fly? I didn’t. Marion asks if you ever felt like a chicken who couldn’t fly. I think I have been feeling that way most of my life especially when it comes to fitness.  I was never inactive per say. I’ve always been a hard worker, but I wasn’t ACTIVE. I am the girl who almost failed gym because I wouldn’t participate. I remember going for walks with my college roommate with the intent of exercising, but we smoked the entire way. I have joined countless gyms in my life. I have tried various activities to incorporate exercise into my life and most have lasted oh about 3 days.

Running is what finally gave me my wings and during this particular race I felt my fitness magic. Perhaps it was the Olympic spirit present in the air, but when I crossed that finish line in 2:10:12, a full 4 minutes 35 seconds faster than my last half marathon, I felt like I was flying for the first time in my life.

So like Marion asked in her post have you found your fitness magic? If not would you like to?