Wednesday, October 29, 2014

my eleven

When I'm running my weekly long run (we're talking anywhere from 10 to 20 miles these days), my guard drops and the truth of who I am and what I can accomplish comes out. I have heard too many times that running is 10% physical, 90% mental. I have found this to be the case if running conditions are optimal and I can focus on each step I take; counting as I breathe, envisioning myself making it over the hill, adjusting my gait to try to hit heel first once and a while. So yeah, every so often I find myself in ideal running conditions and I feel incredible. But most of the time, runs are hard and my body starts to physically break down. Frequently, running is just as physically challenging as mentally challenging; it's more 50/50 for me. I find myself having to push through the pain just to make it through every run.
Since there is a lot of physical strength involved in running, I take my distance run training seriously. I follow a plan. And because there is also my mental toughness being developed, I read A LOT about running. I read at least five running articles a day, covering everything from the most common mistakes runners make to how to pace yourself while training for your next long race. When it comes to running articles, I don't discriminate; I read them all. But they are all, to a degree, saying the same thing; they are giving the same tips. A friend appropriately pointed out to me that these articles are being published online as pieces from commercial enterprises; basically I need to take what they choose to write about with a grain of salt. The ultimate goal of Women's Running Magazine is to sell magazines. It's not a hidden agenda; it's actually clear and appropriate. So they post clever articles about the ten best running gadgets (really?) and what to eat the week before a marathon. And it can be helpful. But so is actually putting on your shoes (they'll tell you how to pick the best shoes for running, too) and hitting the pavement. 

Typically, a running magazine/blog/article/website will have something super generic, like this article from Active entitled, "10 tips for injury free running."

But by learning to run miles around my town several times a week, here is what I have learned (and some of it isn't pretty).

1. Sprints work. A year and a half ago I started lifting weights with a trainer. I became, and still feel, strong. One of the first and best warm-ups my trainer showed me was running sprints. Run 45 seconds on the treadmill or the pavement as fast as you possibly can, walk fast for 90 seconds, while waiting for my heart rate to drop about 30 bpm (to around 140 bpm). And then once again sprint for 45 seconds again, walk for 90 seconds, repeating this for as long as you like, for no more than 30 minutes. I typically run 1.5 miles in 15 minutes at this pace and I love it. It may at first be hard to make the full 45 seconds (30 seconds is fine, or work your way up from 20 seconds to 45 seconds with time and practice), but it has helped my race stamina tremendously. I ran a 12K three weeks ago and I was so prepared for the shorter distance race that I ran the last half mile in a full on sprint. And I crossed the finish line with a huge smile across my face. Sprinting works for me.
2. Every part of me can sweat. And it does. My elbows sweat. Okay, my elbows probably don't technically sweat, but there is a constant stream of sweat beads forming on and then shaking themselves off of my elbows. I now know that I sweat in places I didn't think possible. And you will too. My hair drips water out of my ponytail. My boobs sweat soo much they chafe. Trust me, NO ONE told me in any article about boob chafing. But it's true, we will all chafe at some point. So run out and buy yourself some body glide and don't be afraid to cover yourself with it. Because it works. "Chafing" is no longer a part of my running vocabulary. No more covering everything with band-aids - I've evolved.

3. My hip hurts when I run. Okay, this I actually did read about in a running magazine. But it's also something important that affects me. Because only my right hip hurts. But wow does it hurt. It has ALMOST caused me to stop every long run I've ever attempted. But it hasn't yet. Instead, my hip just hurts and I deal with it, typically starting mid-run. But it's only on the right side. Go figure.

4. There are runners who race. But there are other runners who don't. I race every once and a while (once or twice a year) because I love the actual race. I race to see the city in the morning. I race to experience the joy of running with total strangers. I race to push myself to my limit. And, as a novice, I race to figure out my pace; to get a sense of just how long and how fast (or slow) I am actually running. But there are many people I know who are true runners that don't ever race. Racing is not for them. But they are more dedicated to running than I have ever been. Non racers run several times a week, and have been for years. And they will continue to run long after I've given up.

5. I do the Gu. At first, I was skeptical of using gels and goos. I can still not need any pre-race prep. Sometimes it's okay just to tie on my shoes, go outside, and run 7 miles. No problem. But on longer runs, I found I was always hitting a half-marathon wall at mile 11. The last two miles were always evil, and felt torturous, and were in the end just too much for me. Until I started running with Gu. Gu helps. Sugar helps. The best long run I've ever had included 2 cookies and coffee pre-run, two Gus during run, and a Gatorade post-run. This got me through my longest run ever. The Gu definitely helped.
6. And cookies help too. Before a long run, I eat cookies and coffee. I have tried all other recommended breakfasts, from bananas to dry toast, peanut butter on bagels, and energy bars. I've even tried salad (an ultra-marathoners go-to breakfast), but I'd find myself throwing up by mile 8 if I hadn't eaten anything. Until I found cookies. A cookie (or four) pre-run has enough sugar to get me through the first few miles happily and don't come back up during the last few miles. It's not the advice any magazine would recommend, but it's what works for me. So I'm going to stick with it. (Runners World actually slightly agrees with me; Eat 2 Run and everyone else does not).

7. I foam roll religiously. This little piece of PVC pipe covered in foam is one of the best investments I have ever made. I love it. I foam roll almost every day. It's not necessary, but I also can't remember the last time my quads and calves have been sore post-run. Foam rolling helps with lactic acid in my legs and helps my muscles recover faster. Foam rolling hurts, at first. But then it's wonderful and I love every minute of it. I foam roll post-run and sometimes even soak my legs in an Epsom salt bath. I have skinny little legs with almost no muscle; my pencil stick legs used to hurt every single day. Now my legs (especially my quads) never scream. Well, almost never...

8. I don't run with an iPhone. And I am in the minority. Because I run outside several times a week, I typically run laps around San Francisco and I end up passing a lot of fellow runners. 90% of those running have their iPhones on them. I, on the other hand, do not. For many simple and personal reasons. The main reason is that it's heavy and bulky. The iPod nano 6th gen (with the clip and Nike+ tracking) is a runner's dream device. I use it every day. It also has incredible battery life; my iPhone does not. It holds 10,000 songs and my iPhone most certainly does not. My iPod Nano doesn't require holding it in my hand or require me to attach a giant armband (that honestly breaks every time) to my arm. So I leave my iPhone at home. Because I do this, you also can't reach me when I'm out on a run. While no one really cares that I'm unavailable for a few hours every week, I also won't post pictures taken during a run. I'd probably like to, but not enough that I would try juggling an iPhone on my arm during a 16 mile run. I only carry my iPhone when I am in a new place, like going on a random run down the beach in Mexico, getting lost on a jog through Lima, or running in the dark (its flashlight is awesome).

iPhone 6s vs iPod Nano 6th gen
Which would you choose to carry on a 10+ mile run?

9. I do run with a safety net; I carry my clipper card. I bring my bus pass with me on every long run just in case. To date, I have never had to stop mid-run nor been stranded miles from home. But in the event that I do have to stop for any number of valid reasons, I know I can always hop on a bus and be home shortly. I did this after my 12K a few weeks ago. The race ended miles from my home and since I didn't have my iPhone with me, I couldn't call a friend or even a cab. So I took the bus. And I was home in a snap. It was awesome. Because going out on a 14 mile run is difficult enough for me, knowing that if I'm having an off day or a bad run, I can always get home. This makes me feel okay. And that takes a load off my already jumpy nerves.

10. I wish all my toenails were gone. Currently, I've only got about seven remaining. And there are another one or two that are so badly bruised they should be falling off soon. The remaining toenails I wish would just hit the road. Currently, having toenails only adds to the pain. If I didn't have any nails on my toes, they wouldn't rub in my shoes and wouldn't cause any pain. And, thus, life would be better (don't worry, you don't have to see my nail-less toes; I don't typically wear sandals). If the first thing that comes to mind when I mention removing my toenails is torture, you would technically be correct. While the ripping off of toenails has been used as a mechanism of torture, simply allowing us runners (or maybe just me) to remove our whole toenails would actually make us very happy.

11. I love to talk about running, but it's not my whole life. I also talk about the book I'm reading, the trip I'm taking, what's new with my family, how things are going with my start-up company, and some of the new volunteer projects I've got going on. But I do talk A LOT about running. I'm not obsessed, I'm just in new territory and I'm scared. It's always in the back of my mind; what does this week look like? When will I fit my long run in? What will I do for my shorter runs and sprints and cross-training? Do I have everything I need to run my best run? What are my goals for the week? These thoughts (and more) are constantly running through my mind. So yeah, I may seem a little running obsessed lately. But I'm new to the run-life balance. I'd like to think I'm getting better at it every passing week.

So that's a look at what running is like for me. We all feel differently about running. But hopefully you too have wondered HOW your elbows manage to sweat. Or perhaps your loved ones also think that when you foam roll you're simply inflicting unnecessary pain on yourself and they will never enjoy doing it themselves. Or maybe you love taking mid-run selfies and I'm nuts to run without an iPhone (it certainly appears that way). Whatever gets you from mile 0 to mile 1 and all the way to mile 26 is what matters. For me, it involves a heavy amount of toe bandaging and dozens of sugar cookies. And lacing up my shoes for yet another 2+ hour run. And loving (almost) every minute of it.

Friday, October 17, 2014


"To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.”
― Steven Wright

I recently began applying for jobs, and I've gotten pretty good at it. I have gone through all the motions, from meeting with a career counselor, to networking myself through everyone I know (and may know) thanks to LinkedIn. I have applied for too many jobs to count, but I'm getting responses. Over the past four weeks I have averaged four interviews every week. I'm talking about all kinds of interviews, from informational to in-person.

This is a very time consuming process, mostly because each interaction requires scheduling, research, and time. I take each interview pretty seriously. Until I don't. Because, inevitably, something in the process will rub me the wrong way. No longer being interested in the position, not being able to come to a consensus on salary, or not wanting to work with the staff are all very solid reasons not to take a job. I have used all these reasons to withdraw my candidacy from consideration. But I have also come across one more reason to run away from any given job opportunity. And that is when I'm given too much homework.

I know it has been a few years since I've set out to seek full time employment, but since when has it been okay for employers to take advantage of candidates? I am actually shocked at the amount of work I have been asked to complete throughout various stages of interviewing.

Two recent instances have stuck in my craw. The first was an interview granted with a wonderful educational organization. Before I even spoke to anyone about this position, I was sent a letter (in the mail) with two items. One was a parking pass for my scheduled interview date and time. And the second was a request to give a one-hour presentation to a board of representatives at the organization. The presentation topic? A complete proposal for a multi-year $250,000 grant, based on the type of programming the organization runs. But I didn't know what type of programs the organization runs. It's not apparent on their non-existent website. I hadn't even spoken with anyone at the organization about the position, let alone what would be beneficial to it. I was extremely frustrated.

But that's not what upset me the most. The most ridiculous part of this assignment was for me to do the work for the organization. If I were to write an incredible multi-year grant proposal under any other circumstances, I would be appropriately compensated. Actually, I have been compensated for this type of work for over ten years now. I am not going to give away my secret grant-writing formula for free, no matter how much I want the job. In the end, I called the organization, left a voice-mail, and bowed out of the interview process. Mostly because I don't want to write grants full time, so it's clearly not the right position nor the best fit organization for me. But also because I was not going to do the work they inappropriately asked of me.

The second homework assignment I received recently was to plan an event for an organization I had been currently interviewing with. I understand the idea of raising the expectations for a candidate in a second round of interviews. But asking me to present my complete event proposal for an event that will be happening early next year is just an absolute abuse of power. Again, asking for all my ideas and taking them to plan an event is not an ethical way to work. It's not how I work. And I wouldn't work for an organization that treated others this way.

What is acceptable is the following: arrive at said interview with a few concrete ideas to discuss, Then, the organization hires me, and I complete said ideas. Sounds like a pretty awesome plan. On the other hand, for me to present to the organization's entire staff for over an hour, lay out how I'd secure each vendor and contact each vendor for an upcoming event is the very definition of work. Again, I'd expect to be compensated. This is true event planning/consulting work. And it is usually accompanied by a large amount of monetary compensation. 

In the end, I wanted the position at this second organization, so I did the work. I presented my event plan, complete with budget templates and event checklists. But the truth is that my heart wasn't in the proposal. No longer did I hope for a job offer at this organization. The idea of free labor is what I expected to provide over twelve years ago when I was an intern. A decade later, I've got two degrees and a world of experience.

Let me make sure I am clear about one thing: I am not saying every time I use my skill set, I should be compensated. I'm not saying that at all. Anyone who knows me knows that I use my knowledge, experience, and passion for good. I am currently writing grants, raising money, designing websites, planning events, and even training a student on the grant-writing process, all for free. I am a volunteer. I am happy to help. But there is a very distinct line for me between being a volunteer and being taken advantage of. When I'm working, there is the expectation of monetary compensation. When I am volunteering, I receive a reward of the non-monetary kind. And that works for me. But I'm not talking about the volunteer part of my life. I'm talking about my livelihood, the money I use to pay my rent, and eat, and pay the internet bill so I can afford to post this blog online.

Plus, it's not an all or nothing job interview homework mentality I'm holding. For instance, I am not against skill set exercises. One company asked me to complete a data merge and collate said data, drawing conclusions based on the data. This exercise took 20 minutes and I was happy to do it. Apparently my Excel skills passed the test, because I was asked to come in for a second interview. Score!

But what surprised me about this data collation activity was the simplicity of the exercise. Granted, I needed to use equations across multiple spreadsheets, but in the event that I wasn't sure how to do this, I could have always used Google. It is common practice for most people I know; if you don't know something, or need to fix something, or have a general question about how anything works, you get on your computer (or phone, or tablet) and Google it. Then you have your answer. I suppose a better test of my skills as a potential employee would have been to ask me, "if we asked you to create pivot tables in an Excel document and you don't know how, what would you do?" I could quickly answer, "I'd Google the question and teach myself the answer." There you go. Clearly I can learn anything I don't know how to do. I am industrious. I will make an awesome employee.

I have used this tactic before. Haven't we all? During a phone interview I actually said I knew how to create pivot tables. The night before I went in to the in-person interview, knowing I'd have to speak specifically on the pivot table topic, possibly even tested on it, I taught myself pivot tables. I know how to use the internet, a skill which will, no doubt, help me secure my next full time gig. In the meantime, just don't ask me to solve your company's issues for free. You'll have to hire me first.

Here is Forbes Magazine's approach to job interview homework:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

read on

“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.” 
― Douglas Adams

I've been long overdue for a post about digital books. I don't know why I haven't written about this hot topic yet. Digital books, e-books, i-books. Whatever you want to call them, they are now an integral part of my everyday life.

So why have I been avoiding the topic? Because I don't have any hard set opinions on which is better. 

Here is where I'm coming from (and what I'm debating).

1. I am completely undecided about digital books vs actual books. Because I read both. I know this may be hard to believe, but I currently have two hardcover books checked out from the public library, along with an audio book (which I refer to as a "cd on tape"), and at least a dozen e-books on my iPad (by way of the Kindle app). Yep, I've got books in all formats. So which is my preferred method? I still don't know. I read them all, with no major problems. +0

2. I do not believe there are any long range studies that conclude without a doubt anything about the use of e-books. How can there be? The internet/e-book world hasn't been around long. I'm not saying I don't see any studies posted. I do. It's just that every week a new study comes out, typically contradicting last week's study. How about we hold off on any e-book "conclusions" until significance has been taking into consideration? +0

3. The data does show, however, that reading online does not damage your eyes. I heard this rumor throughout college, as my classmates found themselves needing glasses more and more. This is not the fault of reading on computer screens. This is a result of aging and lots of reading in less than ideal circumstances (too close, not enough light). And I speak from experience: in the fifteen years that I have been reading 8+ hours a day on screens of all shapes and sizes, my eyesight has never gotten any worse. I will need "reading glasses" in a few years, but that's from the decrease in elasticity in the crystalline lens in my eyes, not from a lifetime of reading online. +1 digital reading.

4. I had a horrible first experience reading online. It was in the form of the GRE exam I took my senior year of college. I didn't know until I went to register for the test, but the only way the test could be taken was on a computer. Not a huge deal for the vocabulary section, but a horrific way to attempt to answer the questions about the passage. This was over a decade ago; reading online was not interactive at all. You couldn't touch the screen, let alone highlight a word, see the whole passage alongside the questions, or go back to the passage. You had no choice but to read the passage as it was printed on the screen, half at a time, and then answer the questions on a new page. No exceptions. No underlining, no going back, no fun. It turned me off to reading online for a long long time. +1 actual reading. 

5. The book writing and publishing industry seems to be doing okay with the mass switch to digital books/reading. Unlike the music industry, it's a lot harder to pirate copy a book than a song. I have yet to unlawfully obtain a digital book. It's not a battle I see being waged. If anything, we are seeing more books because of digital publishing. Case and point: Fifty Shades of Grey. Sigh. Not a selling point for digital books. +1 actual books.

Is this what the library is starting to look like?

In summary, the digital world has yet to win me over. But it's not because it's bad for me or my eyes. It's more a behavior change. I mean, eventually my computer went from my desktop, to my lap, to my hand. It appears books are following this same course. I have found that e-books travel well. Although computers/phones/tablets eventually run out of power. And they are hard to take to the beach. And I can't exactly read them in the bath. But they're portable. And they contain entire libraries of books in one single click. So, I'll give digital reading another go around. But for now, nothing beats turning the pages of an actual book.

Final count: 
Actual books/reading: 2 points
Digital books/reading: 1 point

Conclusion: Reading always wins