I love being wrong

One of my favorite phrases is “never say never,” applied to everything from trying new foods, to new sports, or even dating partners. I’m pretty open to new experiences and I think everyone should be just because it helps you grow so much. You never know if you’ll like something or if something will work until you actually try it.

But sometimes I don’t live by my advice. Sometimes there are things I just don’t get – things that everyone won’t shut up about, things that I believe to be vastly overrated or dumb or trendy, things I professed for months or even years that couldn’t be that great. But then, sometimes I actually do try these things and they absolutely live up to the hype. In these instances, I love being wrong.

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Swiftwick socks

Like Experia Thorlos and anything overpriced by Nike, I thought, how could an athletic sock be any better than another? It’s a cotton tube for your foot and it just gets pressed up against your shoe anyway. I even bought a pair of Swiftwicks to try because I loved their packaging/design so much, but they sucked. They were Zeros, the no-show height, and they slid down inside my shoes. Fail.

But then … an eager sales rep literally chased me down between booths at The Running Event (a running industry trade show) and gave me a couple pairs of their compression socks. I was wearing a walking boot at the time thanks to a stress fracture, and he described what a difference socks could make with devices like that – he was right, the boot was pretty toasty.

I wore the socks for cycling a few weeks later, and with my boot, as recommended. And my mind was blown. These socks WERE different. They were smooth, had just the right level of compression (I had the Sevens, a mid-calf sock, and Twelves, a full knee sock), they managed temperature well, and they had these cool logos on the back of the calves that just felt, swag. There was something transcendent about that sock. Swiftwick, you rule.

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Bib shorts

Ah, bibs. When I started cycling in 2010, bibs freaked me out. Why? SO GEEKY. I figured they were a strange garment created only for ultra cycling dorks that served no utility because who would want shorts that go over your shoulders? I didn’t try to rectify this by asking questions, I just judged in silence.

I lived in the dark until Fall 2012, when the cycling club ordered our new kits (cycling speak for uniforms). I thought I ordered shorts, but when they came in they were bibs. I was disgusted, but with no other options I slipped into them one day for a ride. Guys, it was a epiphany. They were so … smooth. They basically go straight over your stomach so your jersey sits nicely on top. No more tugging at your shorts, no more waistbands digging into your stomach.  Finally, the boys in my club laughed at me when I said this, but here’s an added bonus: bib shorts are the Spanx of cycling (except not uncomfortably tight). They tames that tummy roll right down and just hold everything in.

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Mountain biking

I’m certain you’re bored of hearing various incarnations of this story (or maybe / you’re / not) but basically I used to think mountain biking was only for adrenaline junkies, super dangerous, and certainly nothing I would ever try. But then I started mountain biking and it was fine! I mean, it is scary sometimes, but once you learn skills you can ride a lot of stuff and it is not nearly as dangerous as it seems on the outside. Trust me.

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Strava

Strava is a social media website/app that uses GPS data to track your runs and bike rides. The social part is that it compares your efforts to other people who have ridden the same routes (or more commonly, “segments”) as you have.

I thought Strava was only for (1) overcompetitive dudes who enjoyed destroying nice, easy, conversational pace lines in group rides with quests for virtual glory. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be enjoying a recreational, friendly ride when the guys would announce, “This is a segment! I’m going for it!” and sprint off. I couldn’t keep up, and I’d sulkily pedal behind until catching up at the street’s end where they waited to regroup, panting and already measuring their efforts on their iPhones. Oh, I also thought Strava was only for (2) people who owned smartphones that could use the Strava app (no smartphone = bit of a sore spot, I like to save money OK!?!).

I was absolutely wrong about the second point; Strava is not just for smartphones. You can use most GPS watches with Strava! This is how I log my runs and rides.

And, well… I was partially right about the first point. Strava IS for overcompetitive dudes! It’s also for overcompetitive chicks like me! There are a lot of great things about Strava that don’t involve the social aspect / competition like its training log functions, its shoe mileage counter, and all the data it gives you, all for free! But my favorite part is the competition. The site shows you which people have ridden the same segments or routes that you’ve done, and ranks your performances on a leader board. You don’t get anything when you get to the top … other than knowing you’re the King/Queen of the Mountain. But excellence isn’t about rewards; it’s about knowing you’re the best!!! This site indulges my overshare/running and cycling nerd tendencies. In other words, it’s perfect.

Overcompetitiveness aside, I love how the site can inspire you to push harder on your everyday efforts. If I find out there’s a random segment halfway through my ride, I’m going to pick up the pace next time I ride it. Nothing changed about that road from the last time I rode, except knowing that there’s a goal and an achievement at stake. But Strava changed how I ride it – the site created something out of nothing. It can also give you a feeling of community with the other riders in your area, show you popular training routes, giving you some of the experience of riding with a group even if you head out solo. That’s the power of the internet and I love it.

Re: overcompetitiveness: it’s just a fun add-on to your sport and your training. Only you decide how important KOMs and leaderboards are. In the end it’s still all 1s and 0s.

Don’t knock it til ya try it. And when you do try it, and you are wrong, admit it, talk about and spread the love so we can all learn.

ILU 4EVA, Matt! [Guest Post]

My sister, B, started running a couple years ago, and I accompanied her when she bought her first pair of “real” running shoes. We were shopping for shoes again today and reminiscing about that first trip, and she said I could re-post this hilarious entry she wrote for her own blog in 2011. 

One thing I was really looking forward to during my trip to Austin was getting new running shoes. I bought my old ones because they were the cheapest, cutest sand-proof shoes I could find, and I needed them to wear to the elementary school where I teach. When I started walking and running, I wore them because they were my only athletic shoes. I wasn’t even sure I’d keep it up long enough to bother buying real ones. Shows you how I felt about myself!

But now that I’m planning to continue running for the foreseeable future, I wanted to spend the necessary money on good shoes. Proper shoes that fit your feet and are designed for your activity are one of the only things I think it’s worth to buy the best. DVDs, gym memberships, performance wear, heart-rate monitors, ipods and home equipment can all be optional or cheap, second-hand or improvised. But not shoes! And most people need to be fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing. Since Austin has several stores with such people, and my tiny hometown has none, I was excited to get myself a shiny new pair of shoes while I was there.

My sister, obviously in-the-running-know, recommended Luke’s Locker, a new place in Austin. I instantly loved the decor and vibe, described by Cate as “Anthropologie for runners!” Hearing I needed to be fitted for running shoes, one of the young, friendly employees directed me to “Matt”, who would be “taking care of you.” Hello, Matt.

Matt was young and good-looking, but not so good-looking that he knew it and was full of himself. Yes, I knew this just from looking into his blue-green eyes. He stared deeply into mine as he explained why it was important to wear shoes fitted to your feet and to replace them as they wore out. He questioned me about my running regime and I knew that he really, really cared about my answers. He had me run inside the store for him and praised my high arches that collapsed with each step as “ideal”. As he knelt to unlace my shoe, I began to feel my level of attraction to him ridiculous for a married woman. I tried to deflect attention off to my sister, much better suited to his age, which worked fine until she got up to go look at the clothes. We were alone in a corner of the store, with him holding different shoes for my feet like Cinderella’s prince, chatting like a good salesman about why each one was perfect for me. Finally out of shoe talk, he asked me where I was from, how long I was here, and so on. It really started to get frankly uncomfortable as I became more intensely aware of how attracted I was to him and the specialized attention he was giving me. I AM MARRIED. HE IS COLLEGE-AGED. HE IS JUST TRYING TO SELL ME SHOES. STOP IT.

In the car, I confessed to my sister and reproached her for leaving me. She laughed and said that the same thing happens to her, the feeling of intimacy caused by someone who is deeply interested in your running schedule while dressing and undressing your feet. In fact, she was once so flustered that she bought the wrong shoes! She said she thought he was cute, too, but she figured I was above such shallowness. Apparently not.

When I got home, my annoyance with Matt for being so good-looking was erased as I saw he had written me a note on my shoe box, on a fill-in-the-blank form taped to the side:
“__B__ Thanks for shopping at Luke’s Locker! __Matt__ “

We’re BFFs again, Matt.

B and me at the Austin Marathon (we did the half) in  2012

Fall 2013: the year of the mountain bike concludes + other updates

Behold, Fall 2013:

Shooting off "hospital hill" at Flat Rock Ranch

Shooting off “Hospital Hill” at Flat Rock Ranch

1. Rode my mountain bike a lot

The sport of mountain biking got the most love from me this semester. I went all-in, traveling and competing with my school’s cycling club to seven USA Cycling collegiate races. We had a blast camping and competing at venues across the state against other collegiate teams.

I put all my focus on biking this fall because it’s my last semester at Baylor and my last chance to be a member of the school’s team. Since I don’t have any NCAA eligibility anymore, and no urgent running goals other than get back into training, I figured this was a good time and maybe the only time to really get some good riding in before I make running everything again.

I freaking loved this season! Biking is obviously much lower-key than NCAA Track and Field, and while I took the races seriously I didn’t have any outside pressure to perform. Mountain biking is similar to running in that you have to stay mentally engaged, it challenges you aerobically, and you get to be outside competing in beautiful places. But it’s different because the fittest girl doesn’t always win! It’s also about finesse – your technical skills on the trail can take you a lot further than interval training. My technical skills are MUCH better than last year though, after all my summer practice in Austin, and it was really satisfying to actually be able to use my aerobic fitness and push myself in a race. It was great to try to work into a new sport, where a different required skill set challenged me in new ways.

I crashed every race weekend at least once, but I got up and finished all the races. It wasn’t too bad, and wearing my scrapes and bruises to class the next few days after a race always made me feel so hardcore.

I was happy with the season – I got 2nd or 3rd in all my races, depending who showed up. It was a huge improvement from last year, and I ended up qualifying for and getting to race at collegiate nationals in North Carolina! I got 45th/80 there, which I am proud of because one year ago I was 100% brand new to this sport.

Beech Mountain, NC.

Y’all it was beautiful but FREEZING

2. Baylor Cycling Club: a new athletic and leadership experience

As much pride as I drew from being an athlete at Baylor for five years, I have to say people in the cycling club and other club sports are the real “student-athletes” on campus. The NCAA athlete experience was fantastic at Baylor and I wouldn’t change it. We were treated very well and our coaches had high expectations from us – often I felt like a pro athlete who did school on the side. Club athletes on the other hand have to run the team themselves, without the help of athletic scholarships, coaches, and an entire athletic department dedicated to their success. They organize the club, buy equipment, plan trips, register for races, host competitions,  raise funds, participate in the community, keep up with their studies, and most importantly, COMPETE year-round.

Team at conference champs - 1st place DII and 3rd place overall

Team at conference champs – 1st place DII and 3rd place overall

I’ve been in the club since Fall 2012, and became an officer last spring. It’s really cool to have been part of the leadership, and see how the student leadership has matured, grown the club, and shaped it into an organization that provides so much fun and so many opportunities for its members.

3. Running is still #1 in my heart and my future plans

I’ve heard a few folks ask me if I’m still running, or just mountain biking now.

My response to this is Think I give up that easy!? But I guess I haven’t been vocal enough about my goals. Or I can just blame Facebook (which is ironic because I’m still not actively using the site right now), because I think I’ve been tagged in a bunch of  biking photos this semester. Guess I need to start sending selfies from 6:30 a.m. practice at Cottonwood. Sorry, I know, Facebook is the easiest way to get this gestalt idea of how people’s lives are going, and I can see how my profile would be misleading.

But still. No. Just no. I still run. I still love running. I still want to run for a post-collegiate team. I still train. I’ve done a few races this fall.

Me and one of my running buddies this fall

Me and my running buddy David at Belton’s Trails of Hope 5 miler

This semester I’ve trained with my old XC team, and did a meet with them (the HBU Invite, ran an XC 5k in 17:30 woohoo). Feeling my fitness returning after 6 months off due to injury last school year is simply exhilarating. I’m experiencing the purity of running, re-discovering the joy that it is to feel my legs turn over, to have to dig again, and to be able to open up and run uninhibited by nagging pain or heavy legs. I can feel my talent asking to be unleashed, running these workouts and races months earlier than I thought I’d be able to. It’s weird and awesome and I love it.

4. I’m graduating grad school in December!

I love my school and my faculty but I’m ready to be done! And so is my bank account. Hoo boy. I am experiencing the typical pre-grad anxiety of oh em gee there is a lot to do before December, but whenever things get too bad I can always count on a run to bring me back to feeling alright. Something about that physical effort just pushes all the other thoughts out of your brain. This semester, more than any other in the past, I’ve experienced running as a drug that gives me a high, and an escape from my own negativity.

With this master’s degree, I will become the most educated child in my family. This is a total joke because my siblings are all quite brainy (engineer, special ed teacher / 4.0 UT grad, and a legit accountant-in-training) and I’m pretty sure they’re going to be more well-read, well-written, and/or well-paid than me in the future. Naturally, I’m planning to milk it for all its worth over Christmas.

WHAT’S NEXT? : the question of the hour for any soon-to-be-graduate.

In January-May I’m going to move back to Austin (hey parents hey), work a part-time job, and visit / interview with the post-collegiate running teams I’m looking at. I’ve had conversations with a few coaches, but most of them asked me to visit before we discussed anything serious. Since I spent all fall cavorting around to my mountain bike races, and most of the team contracts begin in June, I decided to do visits in the spring with the goal of joining a team in the summer.

Um yeah I might not leave Austin. Ever.

TL; DR: This fall, I rode my mountain bike, got back in shape as a runner, I will graduate in December, and move to Austin in January.

Getting your face off Facebook

The irony here is that since I turned on the “publicize” feature of my blog, this post is going to be posted to Facebook. Ha, don’t be deceived friends, it’s an auto feature; I didn’t have to log on.

Since I got Facebook in 2007, it was evident the site was a tool that could be used for good … and for evil. Everyone laments that they spend too much time on there, but I really had a problem with it. The site also enabled my bad behavior like procrastinating homework, getting jealous of or criticizing friends and acquaintances, and comparing myself to others.

ImageHowever, as the site testifies, it allowed me to connect with friends both old an new, keep up with more people overall, and even to build professional relationships – which is why I could never rationalize deleting it completely. Plus, I hate it when there’s someone you really need to talk to but their Facebook is completely gone. Thus the addiction and its detrimental effects wore on.

The solution:
In August I finally figured out a way to deal with it all. It’s not permanent; I’ll need to use Facebook again at some point, but it’s better than what I was doing before. I still have my page up so that I can log in if I absolutely have to, and I can be tagged in photos. I have my cell phone number in the “about” section so people can contact me. But I got my mom to change the account’s password and now I don’t know it, so I can’t check my page unless I’m visiting home. One of my friends told me you can also do this trick sans-mother by changing your password to something random (use a password generator), writing it down, and hiding the piece of paper.

How’s that workin’ out for ya?
I have seen the light. Coming from a person who loves Facebook, this is a big deal. The biggest difference of not being on Facebook is that I surf the internet less overall, because there’s less instant gratification for me to seek. This is the root of my time-wasting problem; I face something hard that I don’t want to do like schoolwork, then turn to the internet to entertain me and hit that pleasure center on my brain (SCIENCE: Why is Facebook So Hard to Quit, 5 Scientifically-Proven Reasons to Ditch your Facebook).

The smaller differences are subtle and unexpected bonuses. It’s been about five weeks since I logged off for the last time, and though I’m having so. much. fun. in daily life the time has also been just inching by! It’s weird. The days have been so rich. They don’t blur like last year; they’re full and joyful. Maybe that has more to do with my awesome new roommates/living situation in Waco, taking that sweet trip to Big Bend National Park with my family, and getting to run again, which are all hugely positive. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t used Facebook to treat my boredom or desire for significance and have been forced to be fully present in the world I’m in right now.

Regardless, not being being on Facebook is allowing me to live a fuller life.

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Quote that, suckas.

Substantive Updates – Summer 2013

I get tripped up deciding what to post on here, bouncing back and forth between “here’s what I’ve been doing” posts or “here’s how I feel” posts. The former can be boring to read and are sometimes hard to write because life’s constantly evolving – how do you sum up events in storybook chapter? But you can’t only write reflective “here’s how I feel” posts without the context of the “here’s what I’ve been doing” posts.

So, this is a “here’s what I’ve been doing” post, or rather “here’s what I did.” Deeper thoughts and insights to come. And this is still 1000 words long :( I’m sorry. I do a lot of stuff.

ut austin 1
Summer school at the University of Texas!

I went here because it’s in my hometown, and it was cheaper than Baylor (wrote more on that here). I wanted to go here for college my whole childhood, and I almost did – but I got waaay more financial aid at Baylor so I went there. As much as BU has tried to indoctrinate me, I’m still not able to hate the Longhorns, so getting to go here for a summer was its own special gift of status and achievement. Of course, after being at Baylor I didn’t really care anymore, but in high school this was something I really would have cared about. Even though that dream’s about five years expired, it makes me proud to say I was good enough to be a Longhorn this summer.

I completed three graduate-level classes – an Educational Psychology course that covered statistics, testing and measurement, and two advertising electives (creative insights and consumer insights). The ad classes were online, so my real stint as a UT student on campus lasted just 6 weeks. I went to school Monday-Wednesday, from 9-12. I’d ride the bus to campus, grab lunch with my dad (a time-honored Westenhover tradition began by my older siblings who used to go to UT), and sometimes study with my classmates on campus or just ride the bus home.

sanchez

In contrast to that burnt orange blaze of glory in the first photo … this is where I actually went to class. Yay Sanchez Building.

Some of my UT friends asked me if UT was harder than Baylor and perhaps making implications about the relative rigors of these two institutions. Ok, so I had a small sample size obviously, but the answer is a resounding “no.” It was higher ed and it was exactly the same.

  • We had class in a building built in the 1970s
  • There were some motivated, smart students who wanted to be there, and there were some slackers who complained.
  • I went to class, took notes, studied, and took my tests.
  • I had to do homework assignments, but nothing exorbitant or challenging
  • Sometimes my teacher encouraged my thinking on a subject and sometimes I was waiting for the lecture to end because I was bored.

EXACT SAME.

The best part of going to UT, even more than the prestige of attending the biggest school in the state, was getting a semester of grad school done in one summer … leaving just ONE semester at Baylor. I really think I can swing it. Graduation with a master’s in 5.5 years from a private school, debt-free. Praise God! Next up …

 

rogue cpJob at Rogue Running Equipment

I only got to work here 15-20 hours a week, and I had to quit in August when I went back to school at Baylor, but it was good while it lasted.

Since I already had run specialty experience from working at Waco’s On the Run store last year, a friend of mine got me an interview for the Cedar Park store, and I got hired in June! Rogue is  a company with a lot of integrity – stating their values and following through with them. They seek to build the Austin running scene on all sides, through their own training programs, sponsoring events, sponsoring their own post-collegiate professional team, and of course providing the right equipment through what we sold at the store. I have a lot of respect for the organization and it was so cool to be a part of that machine.

pirate run - azul ox

Pirate Run … yes, I did run 6 miles with a Beanie Baby pinned to my shoulder. (photos by the talented AzulOx – click for link)

Also, Rogue knows how to par-tay. I had a blast at their events like the Pizza Pirate Costume Run and the Sayonara Shuffle Pub Run.

rosslyn

Run Pro Camp in DC

This three-day conference was the real-life manifestation of RunPro.com, which is geared toward post-collegiate runners who want to continue their running careers and figure out the nebulous world of professional distance running. This is exactly where I’m at, so you can imagine how excited I was to meet other athletes like me dealing with similar challenges.

It was hosted by the Road Runner’s Club of America, and they brought in speakers on subjects that surround pro distance running on all sides. We had sessions on choosing a training group, finances, road races and appearance fees, avoiding injury and nutrition, building your personal brand, community engagement, not doping (thanks USADA!), USATF involvement, and USATF Foundation initiatives.

I felt outclassed by my fellow attendees there – they were all fresh off the USA Championship or at least the NCAA Championships – whereas I was like “I ran one good 5k race in 2012!” But hey that’s the power of the internet I guess – I applied in the spring and they accepted me. All the travel, hotel and food was covered. It was crazy hospitable! They wanted it to be a professional event, and that’s what professionals would get, so I guess it worked.

This was also an awesome trip because I got to stay a couple extra days with my friend/teammate from undergrad, Kristen! I’d never been to DC before so she played tour guide for me. Catching up about our Baylor days was pretty special too.

But back to Run Pro, the whole experience was eye-opening. It was a reality check that confirmed to me the goal of pursuing professional running would be more difficult than I realized, as in you can do everything right and still fail… but that it’s still worth pursuing.