Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Finishing My First 26.2

After weeks of adding mileage and focusing on my form and strength, it was time for me to start tightening up my diet and focus on "fueling". I eat Paleo about 90% of the time and due to gluten sensitives am GF 99% of the time. This created some difficulties when I needed to start loading up on carbs leading up to the race.

I picked up Runners World Performance Nutrition for Runners as a guide on recommendation from another Group Ex instructor and it was extremely helpful. I decided it was easier to incorporate GF friendly but not necessarily Paleo friendly carb options. This consisted of spaghetti with GF Trader Joes noodles, pizza from Rustico on Chickpea crust and lots and lots of veggies!

Feeling pretty good the day leading up to the race, I focused on relaxing and finding some peace about the race. As a highly competitive person, I had some expectations for the race. Primarily, finishing the race was number one. After that, I had my own personal time goals that may or may not have been all that realistic. I can comfortable sustain 9:30min/mile pace for about 10 miles. Attempting to maintain this pace for the full 26.2 or push myself any faster was not a great idea. I knew that going in this race was going to be about finishing, not trying to be the fastest out there. Knowing that and being okay with that are two very different things!

Race morning I got up at 5AM and gathered everything I was going to need for the race. At the Expo before the race I picked up a new racing belt (the Flip Belt) to use and in that I packed my iPhone (in a plastic bag just in case), two packs of Gu, my inhaler, chapstick, my ID, a credit card and a $20. Then I jumped up and down a few times to test the weight and bounce. Then I packed a shirt for after, deodorant  a chafe stick and some extra water in the bag I planned on dropping at bag check. When that was set, I grabbed my breakfast (a Paleo Krunch bar and Justin's PB&Honey pack) and headed to the metro.

This did not budge the full 26.2!

The Runners Village was just outside the Pentagon and I got there early enough to fuel, drop my bag and catch a prerace church service. At about 7:15, I headed to the corals by the start line. While waiting for the race start, two Ospreys flew overhead. 

At 7:55, the race began. With 30,000 runners, it typically takes just under thirty minutes for everyone to cross the start line. I crossed the start about 12 minutes after the race officially started. The first 5K was pretty slow and I was averaging a pace of just under 11min/mile. After a few miles the crowd started to thin out and I was able to increase my tempo. Of course that is when we hit the first hills of the race. Overall, MCM is a pretty flat course, which is why its considered a great race for first time marathoners. 

Just after mile 9 I came across my first personal cheerleader! My good friend works at a studio in Georgetown and she set up a table outside to greet the runners as they went by. I missed her, but she did leave a poster outside with my name on it!

Yay for Barre3!

Between miles 10 and 11 I found my husband and parents. That point was very close to mile marker 16, so as I made my way around the Hains Point loop, they moved to meet me there. By the time I hit mile 20, I was feeling great. As anyone who has ran a marathon before will tell you, that is where the race really starts. The longest I had run to date was 15 miles, so I knew there was a bit of unpredictability as far as my energy and strength. 

Up to that point, I was very careful with fueling and hydration. I packed two Gu and grabbed two part way through the race although I only consumed three. They gave out orange quarters about 10 miles in, sport beans at mile 20 and two donut holes at mile 24. On recommendation from another marathoner, I stopped at every water station and alternated between Gatorade and water. Towards the end I had both and a second cup of water when I could. It ended up being the perfect balance for me. I was not full enough to be uncomfortable and my energy was solid.

Unfortunately, energy is only part of it when you are running that many miles. Between miles 21 and 22, my foot swelled enough to start causing some serious discomfort in my knee. By mile 24, my gait was seriously compromised and I was slowing down considerably. It was stiff enough that I alternated between walking and running and tried to stave off the pain just a little longer. 

I hobbled across the finish line at 4:53, under my public sub 5 goal. I didn't hit my personal one, but I'm not certain it was all that realistic. The rest of the day was pretty painful, but I was able to get around. The following day was sore, but not nearly as difficult as immediately after the race.

Finisher's medal

I'm not sure I will run another one, but I'm not discounting it entirely. I have a lot of work to do on my gait and increasing my speed. Your first try at a distance is always a PR, so I have room to get that time down a bit if I put in some more speed training. I had the strength, stamina and I fueled properly. What it really comes down to is the mechanics and getting the swelling under control so my gait isn't compromised.

A marathon isn't for everyone, but I definitely recommend it if you enjoy running even a little!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Preparing for "The People's Marathon"

I picked up running last in my family. Between my siblings and parents who competed in track and field and cross country, I was simply not interested. Late in high school I began jogging for weight loss purposes but didn’t get serious about it until after college.

In the years after college but before worked out what I wanted to do for a career, I started doing this lovely six mile loop by my house in Long Beach. I would start by running through the popular Belmont Shore neighborhood then out through the Peninsula and back. I would pass these incredible beach homes and views of the Pacific Ocean. At the time, I was waiting tables at night and could wake up at a leisurely 9AM for an 11AM run. I never timed myself or determined my speed.

Long Beach Penninsula

After moving to DC, I got pulled into “work hard, play harder” spirit of many Washingtonians. Within a year, I had signed up for my first race, a 5K. After that another 5K and a few 10Ks quickly followed. I discovered two things pretty quickly. First, I love races. The sense of communal achievement, the shirt, and the post race food were all fun perks to look forward to. The second thing I discovered was that I had developed a chronic foot injury that was going to take some serious work to fix.

Race to Remember 5K
A year ago this week I had surgery to help alleviate the discomfort from my injury. To make that very long story short, I shattered a small bone in my foot that needed to be removed (anterior sesamoid). In long runs, the ball of my foot would swell and this affected my gait in such a way that I would have debilitating knee pain. Before the surgery, a 10K was my absolute limit. I had always wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon, but this would not have been possible if I hadn’t had my foot fixed.

Run for Shelter 10K
In preparation for my race, I added a few long runs and obsessed over the gear I would need and how to properly fuel for the race. Anyone who has run or considered running a marathon has heard of “the Wall” and I wanted to do everything in my power to prevent it.

As a group exercise instructor, I get in a fair amount of exercise. My challenge leading up to the race was to include enough race prep outside of my classes without wearing myself down. A typical week would include teaching two classes, a shorter run of 5-7 miles, a long run ranging from 10-15 and a JillFit workout or two depending on my energy levels. I found this to be the most sustainable for me personally.

As I got closer to the race, I started to notice minor swelling in my foot again. It was nowhere near pre-surgery levels, but I didn't want to take any chances. I ordered compression socks to help with circulation and minimizing swelling as much as possible and began using them for long runs.

Next time I'll get into fueling and the race itself!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Living with AI

I have an autoimmune disease. This does not define me. Over the last five years, it has
always been there. Not visible, but haunting me nonetheless. My disease was in remission
for close to four years. Spanning almost the entire time I have lived this new life in DC.
After that length of time the fear of a relapse diminishes. It becomes easy to believe that
the worst is behind you.

I have little to complain about. My disease is superficial. It does not stop me from
working, going outside, enjoying time with others. I don’t have to take it easy. I’m
never in pain or even uncomfortable. In many ways, the side effects of my disease are

I have alopecia areata. In late 2007 my hairdresser discovered a dime sized bald spot in
my scalp. By April of 2008, half of my hair was gone. In a few short months, I realized
how much I defined myself by my physical appearance. I began to notice how others did
as well.

I am lucky. My hair didn’t fall out because of cancer or some other side effect of a more
vicious disease. It was almost embarrassing to explain my scarf to strangers. “Nope, just
my hair. Nothing serious.” That was of course true factually. I wasn’t dying, but in many
ways my heart was broken. Not because I believed that I was now “ugly” or “unworthy”
because of my lack of hair. My devastation was because I had no answers.

I did what most people do. Doctors always have to have the answer, right? I was taught a
hard lesson that spring. After half a dozen doctors and a small fortune, I discovered why
they call doctors’ work a “practice”.

Here are a few facts:

1. There is no cure.

2. There are no universally recognized effective treatment (more on this in a

3. Stress does not cause alopecia. The exception is with individuals who suffer from depressive illness.

4. Your body begins to recognize your hair as a foreign object and rejects it
(why it’s considered

5. The cause is unknown.

6. The hair will come back.

Although I have cited sources for the facts above, all of these things I learned from
the doctors who in the end couldn’t help. Many were quick to suggest going to a
dermatologist for corticosteroid injections. Of course I did this, despite being reassured
by every doctor I encountered that it would likely not help.

Why suggest a treatment if you are certain it does nothing? For the psychological benefit
of the patient? What about the potential side effects of the corticosteroids? How is this
responsible medicine? I am no longer interested in treating a side effect before looking
for a cause.

Number six on this list is why number one will always be true.

I know that sounds a bit cynical and maybe even radical, but I believe that completely.
The dirty little secret is that when a disease has a prognosis as good as this (the hair more
often than not comes back on its own), there isn’t money in research. No research = no
advancement in understanding or combating the disease.

I have accepted all of this. Despite that, discovering that I had indeed relapsed did not
make it any easier the second time around. I have no way of knowing if this will be like
the last time. The odds are that it won’t. Most times initial outbreaks in adults result in
full recovery with permanent remission. Those who do relapse typically see flare ups that
are smaller in scope than the original.

My hair will come back. I’ve done this before. This does not require an extreme amount
of strength to overcome. Despite these facts, I can’t help but feel a bit devastated.

Lastly, I do want to point out that there is a great group, the National Alopecia AreataFoundation (NAAF) that provides support for those living with my disease. They
have been able to raise funds to help develop “safe, effective, affordable” treatments.
Hopefully one day I can happily say I was wrong about number one.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2 1/2 to 30

I spent an embarrassingly large chunk of my life looking forward to adulthood. It was so obvious even to relative strangers that when I finally went off to college, my mom's nail lady remarked that she thought I had gone long ago. I've spent so much time looking ahead to what was next, I'm sure there is a lot I missed.

It wasn't long ago that I realized when you wait so long to be something, when you are finally there it is a little anti climatic. Now with a husband and a new home, I feel like I've finally arrived. Adulthood. I've been waiting for you all my life!

Now that I'm closer to 30 than 20, I'm starting to look forward to a new decade. As someone who has always felt older then her actual age (mentally rather than physically), I'm looking forward to this next chapter!

I've got a few years to go, but I stumbled upon this old Glamour article, recently reposted on the Huffington Post website. "Turning 30: 30 Things Every Woman Should Have And Should Know" lists some ways you can look back on your first three decades with fondness and forward with hope. I won't repost it here, but instead will be identifying how each applies to me.

By 30, I will have/hope to have...

1. A peace about my past relationships. Now that I'm happily married and have a better handle on what love truly looks like, I've been able to look back on those I invested my heart with. Every relationship had a lesson. I like to think that each one taught me how to be a better wife for Mr. Gray

2. With a new empty house, I imagine there will be a few furniture purchases on the horizon. While I do have pieces that I bought and love, since I live so far from my family, the number of items that were someone else's first is ONE. The one item that traveled 3000 miles with me is an old antique chair that definitely needs refinishing. It is something I cherish.

3. Since I tend to live in suits, I can appreciate needing that one perfect "interview" outfit. I picked that up a few years ago and it hasn't failed me yet!

4. As a frequent business traveler, I've had my share of suitcase mishaps. Its never something I thought to invest in until recently, but I'm done purchasing cheap carry-ons that seem to only last 6-8 months. Having a suitcase and purse that is constructed well is absolutely worth it.

5. This ties closely to #1. Although I raced through my teens and 20s, there were certainly missteps. I made a decision a long time ago that regret was not something I would let slow me down. I can honestly say I do not regret any decision I made getting here. My path was unique and any change would mean a life far different than the one I see now.

6. Oh the stories I can tell (and have told)! Letting go of regret has allowed me to laugh at my mistakes and turn them into entertaining tales of self deprecation. You have to learn to laugh at yourself!

7. This one is much harder for me. The women in my family don't seem to recognize the word "retirement" and I suspect I'm cut from the same cloth. As I get closer to starting a (larger) family, this will be something I will be planning for.

8. As a newlywed, I'm still making the transition to be a "MRS". Mentally this was done long ago, but financially we are still figuring out what works for us. I've had a lot of wives with married years in the decades tell me to just dump it into one big pot, but the independent side of me is rebelling against that a little. Right now I don't believe I'm compromising marital happiness by holding onto this. Ask me in 10 or 15 years if I have the same opinion.

9. For the first time, having some success professionally is relieving some anxiety about my experience (or perceived lack of). I am optimistic about this part of my life.

10. Resettling in a new part of the country has definitely given me perspective on my friendships. I've been lucky to find some solid girlfriends that will drop what they are doing to talk if I need it and vice versa. Being able to have someone you badger to move next door is a great feeling.

11. I learned a few years ago to be handy with power tools. I may not have a cordless drill, but when I got married, I'm the one who brought the tools :)

12. I can think of a few things in this category. The mission now is to stop feeling bad about frivolous purchases that have already been made and focus on smart financial planning in the future.

13. This is something I work on everyday. By making a list of my priorities and taking time every week to look at my schedule and make sure I am including things that I want to do, I am making some progress.

14. I won't say that I have this nailed, but dedicating to taking care of myself is something that I have been working on for years and is already an important part of my life. I don't need to be motivated to go out for a run or head to the gym, I'm already there!

15. Looks like I'm a bit ahead on this one :) Things can always get better and I look forward to the surprises the next few years will bring.

Later, I'll go through the things I should know by 30!

For your own inspiration, check out the article or go find the book that just released! I know I will definitely be adding this to my library!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Every few months I manage to do a great job of overwhelming myself. Here's what's been keeping my attention the last few months:

1. Mr. Gray came home from Afghanistan (of course that's first!)

This is actually from our honeymoon in Morocco. He hates snakes!

2. We are days away from being official homeowners!

We have a backyard!

and a breakfast nook!

3. My group ex class has grown and I'm spending a lot more time at the gym.

if only my roundhouse was this awesome
4. I'm running this race in two weeks with Mr. Gray, 

this race next month 

and I signed up for this doozy in the fall. 

sold out in 2 hours!

No idea what I was thinking! 

5. I started and stopped this program twice now. Hoping for a more successful go after my race in a few weeks!

6. Oh and I chopped all my hair off!

7. This article is AMAZING. Stop what you are doing right now and read it. Ashley Judd manages to nail a topic I've been thinking a lot about lately. Hoping to really tackle this in the next few weeks with a post.
Friday, January 6, 2012


Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda is often biased, with facts selectively presented (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. (Wikipedia)

Propaganda is a funny thing. It’s very sneaky, and tends to surface in places you may not expect. Being the jaded political wonk that I am, I’d like to believe I have a degree of immunity towards the most blatant propaganda. Getting a degree in Political Science tends to help facilitate that. Living in DC and working in policy doesn’t hurt either.

I want to break down the definition of propaganda above. There are few key points that I really want to highlight. We all know that propaganda tends to be biased, but it is more important to remember that it is created to incite an emotional response. Why is this important? People can have a difficult time thinking reasonably if they are bombarded with images like the one below. Also I want to point out that an emotional response does not mean there is an absence of rational thought. I think it’s important that people are at the very least aware of this response. Take a look at a famous ad from the 1964 Presidential Campaign. This is Daisy.

Yesterday a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook. This video contained images of happy, Iranian people skiing, playing with their children, eating in cafes and living their lives accompanied by a peaceful song by Yusef Islam. It was prefaced by a quick shot of text, reminding the viewer that “These are images of Tehran, Iran that you don’t see every day.” Every few seconds another slide of text with a provocative quote by a Neo-con surfaced, promising war with Iran any day now.

But then, the video takes an interesting turn. I suspect that many of the people who commented on my friend’s posting were tricked by this provocative tactic. Halfway through the clip, the image below flashed on the screen.

What so wrong with this? Well, I have been conditioned to be highly suspicious of numbers like this, especially when they range from a few thousand to half a million. But let’s assume that the range is correct. This is supposed to be a video about the Tehran you don’t get to see, and that is a statistic about the Iraq war. A war that for a very, very long time has been extremely unpopular and is a hot button issue for many people. Now, if the video had a narrator or maybe more text making a connection between what happened in Iraq will happen in Iran, I wouldn’t be so bugged by this. However, the five seconds this appears may not be enough to most people to separate the two. If you don’t read it carefully enough (and I watched the video multiple times to make sure I didn’t miss anything) it easy to miss “Iraq” and assume that this statistic deals with the happy individuals you are currently viewing.

Another statistic carefully worded to incite an emotion response. The producers want the viewer to see happy people, remember how horrible Iraq was and hear how all these evil Neo-cons want to do the same thing to Iran. Therefore any strike against Iran will = Iraq. The creators assume that the viewer doesn’t know much of anything about Iran, the current escalation between us (and France and the UK). It’s easier if you, as the viewer, just buys into what they are selling you. War sucks and we’re a bunch of bullies that kill innocent people.

I’m not going to get into the Iranian issue here. It’s complicated and that isn’t my purpose here. What I simply want to do is illustrate how easy it can be to illicit a passionate response. Being tuned into this will help you to determine what the creators are trying to encourage you to feel and then be able to decide for yourself. If you are still interested in taking a look at the video, you can see it here.

If you are interested in learning more about these issues, I recommend picking up the books below. Each of them I have personally read and found to be informative and interesting.

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

Osama Bin Laden by Michael Scheuer

The Devil We Know by Robert Baer

And for kicks, Google "Cold War Propaganda" and check out the images. Great stuff.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things to be Thankful for...

Even though this Thanksgiving didn't exactly turn out the way I expected, I have many things to be thankful for...

I'm thankful for my amazing family that didn't bat an eye when I came up with the totally bonkers idea of moving across the country on my own three years ago. Their continued support of me from 3,000 miles away has helped make me the woman I am today.
I'm thankful for my loving husband even though he is REALLY far away right now and already celebrated Thanksgiving twelve hours ago. I'm thankful that our time apart is coming to an end in 7-8 weeks.

Last but certainly not least, I'm thankful for my friggin awesome girlfriends I've made in the District. Their combined spirit, loyalty, confidence and inner beauty is another constant reminder that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. They know exactly when I need some champagne and a fun night in with Zombie movies, a night out dancing downtown or company at a group ex class to work off some extra energy. And also to tell me to cool it and take a break when I need it most.

Looking back, this year was crazy and unpredictable and busy and all the adjectives you can use to describe your life when it takes an important turn. I'm a wife, a friend, a sister and a daughter and becoming comfortable with all of those roles has been a learning experience. There a few things I can imagine would make this day better, but if next year is half as incredible as this one, Thanksgiving will be just as awesome.



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