Thursday, August 02, 2012

My Long and Bumpy Road to the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Like many people, I have had many moments of inspiration in which I said to myself "I'm going to run a marathon. Today's the day - I'm going to start today and run every day from here on out until I can finally complete a marathon." And usually about three days in I manage to run about 1.25 miles without stopping and that becomes my new record, which is soon followed by another few months of inactivity. And that's pretty much how my life has cycled for the past few years... until now. A few weeks ago my really good friend Taylor and I decided we were going to run a half marathon together. The difference between now and last time? We have a real deadline. Not just one we're putting on ourselves, but one that we have paid nearly $200 for and can't stop talking about. This deadline we have put on ourselves is in the form of the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon, which takes place in Disney World in November. Now I don't know about you, but personally, Disney World is just about my absolute favorite place in the universe. I would work my butt off if I knew my reward was an excuse to go there, and that's why this works. If I said "I'm going to run a half marathon that's down my street and I'll sign up for it in a couple months" then you can bet I would have given up on that already. But so far it has been almost a whole month and I haven't come close to stopping. And with that, I'd like to share a few things that I have learned over the past month of working to achieve this goal. Keep in mind these are coming from a complete beginner, not some champion who's run 37 marathons and won half of them. These are just a few things that I think everyone who is trying to get over that initial hump of discouragement need to know.

Pieces of Advice from a BEGINNER Runner

1. It's Just A Fact of Life: The First Two or Three Weeks Will Suck 

The first couple of weeks of getting into the running habit are by far the hardest - not just from a physical standpoint, but from an emotional one as well. If you can't make it that far you start to feel like this dream is so far out of reach and you'll never be able to get there, and no matter what you achieve it's not enough. I know it's hard, but try and put this out of your mind entirely! The first couple of weeks I felt like I was dying just getting to the end of my street, and now it's a breeze. I promise it WILL get easier, you just have to get through this part.

2. Try Books on Tape

Running, like all sports, is half mental: you have to be able to push yourself to keep going, when you want nothing more than to stop. Naturally, doing this is hardest when you are BORED OUT OF YOUR MIND. You could have the most pumping music in the world blaring in your ears and it's still boring and repetitive. I've recently started borrowing recorded books from like library and ripping them onto my iPod, and this seems to help a lot with the boredom aspect. It may not be quite as energizing as the latest pop or rap hits, but it can distract you from that exhaustion in your chest.

3. If It's Hot, Don't Push Yourself Too Hard

I recently read somewhere that for every 10 degrees above 70 the temperature rises, your body may run a minute slower pace than usual. This was discouraging to me at first, but then after running in 90+ degree weather for 5 days and then running in 70 degree weather one night, the difference in my distance and pace was amazing. Try mixing up the times of day that you run if you can so you aren't always in the direct sun.

4. Don't Starve Yourself, Please

Especially if you're running to lose weight, definitely don't eat less than your body needs. If you do you will feel really weak and later get frustrated about the fact that you didn't get as far or as fast as you wanted. Your body needs that energy - don't deprive yourself of it.

5. When Buying Healthier Foods, Get Something You Actually Like

I feel like I have scoured Pinterest for weeks searching for lists of good food for runners, and the responses tend to be pretty consistent: yogurt, bananas, berries, almonds, beans, etc. But here's the thing: lots of those things they suggest are kinda gross (umm Greek yogurt? bleagh!) So find versions of these things that you enjoy, and you might actually end up consuming them at some point rather than letting them rot in the back of your refrigerator. For example, I hate most any nuts. But being that almonds are supposed to be so good for you I bought one of those bags of the nasty things at TJ's and said "I can at least force myself to eat 20 almonds a day." Wrong. However, when I purchased a can of Blue Diamond Habanero BBQ almonds, I loved them, because they taste like BBQ chips. They probably have more salt and fat or whatever than plain almonds, but they have the same nutrients and those are nutrients that you'll actually consume rather than throw out in a few months when you give up on them.

6. Have a Running Buddy

Your running buddy doesn't have to be at the same level as you or even live close to you - heck, my running buddy lives 200 miles away from me. All you need from each other is motivation. If that means you drag each other outside every morning to run that's great. Taylor and I don't live near each other anymore, but we are "friends" on our running app so we can track each others' progress towards our goals and give each other encouragement. Knowing that someone else is watching what you're doing can be some of the best motivation sometimes.

7. Technology is a Wonderful Thing

If you haven't figured out already, there are tons of apps out there to help you track your progress and suggest exercises and whatnot. I personally use MapMyRun on my iPhone, and it's fantastic. It uses GPS to keep track of my location and measure my distance as well as my pace. Then it logs each workout so I can easily keep an eye on my progress. You can even log food items to keep track of nutrition and link with friends to keep an eye on each others' progress.

8. Iron, Iron, Iron!

Ever feel like you are about to pass out after just a mile or two? How about black spots in your vision? This used to be a real problem for me, and then the doctor told me my iron was low. After reading up on it later it made a lot of sense- runners need way more iron than the average person, so if it's already low that's bad news. Take an iron supplement or two every day and you'll probably be able to tell a huge difference in your overall health and performance.

Well that's about all I've got today and I'm late for work anyway. I hope this list helps out some of you out there that are just starting like me. If anyone has any advice for me I'd love to hear that as well - I'm still learning new things every day. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

So I just found this post in my drafts that I never actually posted because the Egyptian government cut the internet off before I could post it and after that I just forgot to do it. Kind of interesting to read how not-worried I was the day before the government basically fell apart, huh? Anyway, here it is (last edited January 26, 2011):

Okay, I want to start off by getting out of the way something that is apparently in a lot of people's minds, which is that everything here is safe and sound and no, I have not been hit with rocks, rubber bullets or tear gas. Yesterday as a large group of us were exploring Old Cairo and Khan al-Khalili our trip was cut short by a couple of hours so that we could avoid the protests against President Mubarak that were going on downtown. We were then bussed out to the AUC New Campus (the campus that is in the middle of the desert where we take our classes) for a while to avoid being caught in the protests or any traffic surrounding them. So basically all is well and as always the folks with the school here have done an excellent job of keeping us safe and sound. :)
Anyway, enough about that madness. I haven't had a chance to post in the past few days but a lot has been going on. Monday night we had our Nile Dinner Cruise which was a nice little touristy break. To be honest, I'm not sure it was worth the money we paid for it since it is basically just like any other dinner cruise you could take in an American town, but it was cool to spend a little more time on the Nile anyway. The show included a belly dancer and two male dancers (I'm not sure what you would call those) who danced to Arab-style music played by a live band. My favorite part was the first male dancer who did a very elaborate spinning dance with a few different props. You might not be able to tell in the picture, but he was spinning very quickly and doing tricks with those props for a very long time, and then he suddenly took off that colorful skirt and started spinning it around his head and walked around the room with it like that without stumbling a bit. I'm still impressed!

Yesterday, as I mentioned before, we took a trip to Old Cairo.
Although not as exhilarating as some of our other trips, Old Cairo was still a fantastic excursion. We were able to see some very special and important religious sites. Old Cairo is among the few places that has a very prominent Church, Mosque and Synagogue all in one place, and the streets are all old and cobblestoned. We first stopped in The Hanging Church, a very old and beautiful Coptic Church. There are a variety of beautiful icons surrounding the inside of the Church, and it also had remains of martyrs from when the Romans attacked centuries and centuries ago. Some of the artwork was dated as early as 18 A.D. so I'm pretty sure these were some of the oldest things I've ever seen. After visiting the Church, we walked around in the old streets and saw an underground chamber-like area where Mary lived for a month after Jesus was born. We were told that that was the place where Jesus took some of his first steps.
We then moved on to see the synagogue that was built on the place where Moses was supposedly found floating in the basket. Finally we stopped by a mosque which I believe is the first mosque built in Egypt (but forgive me if I am wrong because I may have had my facts confused.) It is not to be confused with the oldest mosque in Cairo, because as the tour guide told us the oldest means it is the longest standing, whereas the first is the first one built, but may have been rebuilt a few times. You can see in the picture the rows and rows of prayer rugs on which people pray facing Mecca.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What is a felluca, anyway?

Apparently it is a type of sailboat! This evening after we had all returned from our first trip to campus, we gathered to go for a felluca ride on the Nile River. This was a great trip, because it was my first time really getting to see the Nile, which is of course huge and lovely. Each felluca held around 20 people, and had a big table in the middle that we ate delicious Egyptian desserts off of. Not much was going on, but it was a nice relaxing trip, and gave us an interesting view of the city. And finally I remembered to actually take pictures, so I will post some even though it is kind of dark. Tomorrow I'll have my Arabic placement test and a trip to Khan al-Khalili, the Egyptian Bazaar, so it should be a lot of fun!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hello from Cairo!

For those of you who didn't know already, I am embarking on another study abroad adventure, this time for a whole semester. I will be in Cairo, Egypt for the next few months trying to improve my Arabic skills, and hopefully have a lot of fun in the process! I finally arrived a few hours ago, so naturally I am extremely tired, but I wanted to go ahead and leave a quick post before going to bed. And of course, I will leave a picture of my dorm room before I have time to completely destroy it. Also, please don't hesitate to email me or something anytime, because it always helps ease my homesick pains to hear from my family and friends.

Here is my contact information:
Skype: virginiasparks

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don't Cry Over Spilt Paint

I've never been an expert on household cleaning tips, but today I had an experience that definitely made for a lot of learning in the cleaning department. I was cooking lunch today when my large football-player brother came thundering into the kitchen with the most worried expression I've ever seen on his face. "Virginia, can you help me?" he asked as tears welled up in his eyes. I knew something had to be wrong because it's not every day that my monster of a brother admits that he still needs help from his big sister. I looked down and saw that his hands were covered in what appeared to be some kind of paint. He then explained to me that he had accidentally knocked over one of the cans of paint that was stacked in my parents' room and it had spilled onto the floor. When we made it back to their room I was horrified to see a thick puddle of white wall paint soaking into the dark green carpet. I thought to myself there was no way that was ever going to come out of the carpet, and told Orin the floor would probably have to be replaced, but we were going to do what we could. I first had him fetch me a serving spoon from the kitchen, and spooned the bulk of the paint into a bucket. Then we finally broke down and told Daddy what had happened, and when he got over the initial shock he advised us on what to do. And thus comes todays home cleaning lesson of the day.

How to Clean Wall Paint Out of Carpet:
Step 1: Start by getting the bulk of the paint off without spreading the stain. Spoon it, scoop it with your hands, wipe it up, it doesn't matter. Just get the carpet cleaned to a stain, rather than a puddle.

Step 2: Whatever you do, DON'T let the paint dry! Once it's dry, it's all over. Luckily the paint is water soluble, so it's important that, after blotting up as much paint as you can with dry towels, you wet down the area and sort of flood it with water using a wet towel.

Step 3: Scrub the area with the wet towel and get out as much paint as possible, then rinse the towel and repeat. (We worked with a system in which he scrubbed while I cleaned out the towel, so we had 2 towels going at one time. That way the stain can't dry out while you're rinsing.)

Step 4: Work this way until you feel like you've gotten as much paint up as you can, and the floor is fully saturated with water. Then use dry towels to absorb excess liquid.

Step 5: After following these steps you should eventually reach a point at which the stain is invisible, or pretty darn close to it. Turn on the fan and let it dry out so the water won't damage any wood beneath the floor.

So there you have it. It is in fact possible to remove an entire can's worth of spilled wall paint out of a carpet. Hope this helps!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Best 4th of July Yet

For the 4th of July this year I was lucky enough to be able to spend a long weekend with my boyfriend, Nicholas, and his family in Wilmington. I must admit that while on the train from Charlotte to his hometown of Goldsboro, I thought to myself that there was no way this year's celebration could outdo the crazy cucumber and pizza eating, tennis competition watching, loud American song singing party I took part in last summer in Thailand. But like the great boyfriend he is, he proved me wrong. And I was able to experience more of the beautiful atmosphere of the historic town of Wilmington, which made for an excellent celebration of our country's birthday.

We started off the weekend by going on a dinner cruise Friday night for his grandparents' 50th anniversary. This particular boat is called the Henrietta III, and it was a lovely ship with good food and a fun and romantic atmosphere. The actual "cruise" lasted about 2.5 hours and we went up and down the river and watched a beautiful sunset.

Nicholas and me aboard the Henrietta III.

Saturday we spent the day at the beach and putt-putting (of course you can't have a beach trip without that!) And Sunday we relaxed until the evening before going downtown to watch the fireworks. We went early to get a parking space, and wandered around for a while, which was nice because downtown Wilmington is a beautiful place. Then Nicholas surprised me with dinner on a private balcony at The Riverboat Landing, which is a very nice restaurant overlooking the river. I've wanted to go there ever since I first saw the place years ago, so this was one of the best surprises I've ever gotten.

All in all, we had an excellent weekend, and I must admit that last Summer's awesome 4th of July may have been outdone. :)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Very Cozy (Belated) Father's Day

So last Sunday was Father's Day, and being the slacker of a daughter I am, my dad has just now received his Father's Day gift (only 6 days late). Anyway, since Daddy is an avid tea drinker, I decided to knit him a tea cozy. I bought a copy of Tea Cozies 2, which contains 30 adorable tea cozy patterns. It was difficult choosing which one to knit, but I finally settled on this simple yet unique pattern by Paula Coyle entitled "Purple Berry."

When knitted with purple yarn this cozy resembles a blackberry (hence the name), but I chose a different color combination to use some of what I had in my stash, and to make it a little more gender-neutral. The patterns in this book are designed for standard six-cup teapots, and since Daddy's only holds four cups I altered the pattern a little bit in order to get the right size. So if anyone is looking to knit this pattern for a smaller teapot, I would recommend casting on 29 stitches instead of 39, only working the Butterfly stitch pattern once, and the rest is pretty self-explanatory. Additionally, I did find a few errors in the pattern, so here are the changes I made in case if anyone should have a use for them. (Note: These corrections occur at the top joining stage).

Row 1: K2, *(sl5wyif, skpo, k1, k2tog); rep from * to last 7 sts, sl5wyif, k1, sl 1, k1 from holder, psso, k1, cont across sts on holder, rep from * to last 7 sts, sl5wyif, k2tog.
Row 3: *(sl5wyif, k3) rep from * to last 6 sts, sl5wyif, k1.
Row 4: Purl across.
(Complete rows 3 and 4 as opposed to repeating rows 1 and 2 as stated in the pattern.)
Omit row 9.

Apart from these small errors I really loved this pattern, and found it relatively simple to knit while still not being boring.

Happy Knitting!