I’m not sure if it comes across on this blog or not, but I like to push myself — personally, professionally, athletically. It’s a way of making sure that I’m being my best self and living life to the fullest. The upside is that it nearly always leads to something great: speaking a new language, conquering a fear, running faster. The downside is that I sometimes forget to sit back once in awhile and just enjoy what I’ve accomplished.
Case in point: after hitting a personal best in the half marathon for the second time in a row, I almost immediately signed up for the Berlin Half Marathon in March, with the express purpose of getting closer to my goal of a running a half marathon in under two hours.
But my training since then has been less than ideal. For one, it’s winter and although I was really doing my best to stick to my training plan — even in the total darkness wearing an awesome headlamp and fluorescent security vest — my motivation was not high. I was pushing myself hard at work and I was generally just worn out. Eventually I came down with a cold and took some days off. And then in the week leading up to my defense, I basically did nothing but work and sleep.
And now staring down the 4+ weeks left until the race, I know I’m in no shape to race a half marathon. But I still have this incredible desire to run it, just for the love of running. That’s something I’ve rediscovered lately and it has been my secret motivation: run just because I love it, without a watch and without any idea of my pace. Harkening back to my early days of running just for the miles and not for the time. Right now I’m stretching myself beyond my comfort zone in so many other areas of life — so relaxing into my running and enjoying it for what it is, feels absolutely perfect.
I’ll still be hitting the pavement and putting in the miles to train for Berlin, but this time I’ll be concentrating only on the love.
How do you recognize when it’s time to take a break? Would you run a race without a watch?
Over the last few months I’ve gotten to know a German expression that I’d never really paid attention to before… After submitting my dissertation in November and now finally having defended it on Monday (!), plenty of friends expressed concern that I should keep myself busy so that I don’t “fall in a hole” (in ein Loch fallen) that’s been left behind after completing a major project. It makes complete sense. When you’ve been working on something for so long and so intensely, it can be a bit disorienting to suddenly have to create new routines and remember what you used to do with your time!
I’m definitely not worried about falling in any holes, though. There’s lots of exciting stuff on the horizon and my to-do list remains as long as ever. But I am taking a few days to recover from the intensity of the past couple of weeks. That means sleeping in, going for runs during daylight hours, writing cards while sipping on a cappuccino in a cafe, and taking a stroll through my neighborhood to snap a few photos. Heavenly!
Today, Bremen offered up just about the most perfect winter day you could hope for and I didn’t have any problem relaxing in the afternoon sun…
Have you ever fallen into a hole, literally (!) or figuratively? What would you do if you had a few days to yourself?
I was knocked out by a cold last weekend and am only now starting to feel normal. This meant my half marathon training dropped down to zilch, but at least I was able to keep reading (and to be honest, I kept working too, but that’s a different story). So I guess that means it’s time for another book update!
I was pleasantly surprised by how absorbed I was by The Interestings. It follows a group of teenagers after they meet at a camp for the arts in upstate New York in the 1970s. It’s the story of their close knit friendship — and their occasional envy of one another — over the decades as they move into the present day. Although the plot line isn’t necessarily spectacular or full of twists and turns, it pulled me in just the same. I very much attribute this to Wolitzer’s writing talent. I’m keen on checking out some of her other books — any suggestions?
This famous book hardly needs an introduction. I read it either in high school or college (I don’t really remember), but truly did not comprehend the anguish contained in its pages. I was inspired to read it again — since it’s been sitting on my bookshelf all these years — after finishing Mandela’s autobiography over the summer. Paton, a white South African, was a well known supporter of the African National Congress and gave remarks at one of Mandela’s court trials. The story brought me to tears in a way that I might not have experienced, had I not already had South Africa’s long struggles in the back of my mind. Totally worth rereading!
This beloved book contains the separate stories of a German boy (Werner) and a French girl (Marie-Laure) over the course of World War II, whose paths eventually intertwine. The premise sounds almost cliche, but I promise it’s not! Werner is an orphan in the Ruhrgebiet, desperately wishing to escape the oppressive and dangerous mines which killed his father. Using his uncanny mechanical and mathematical abilities, he joins one of the Nazi training schools for youth. Eventually he numbs himself to the reality of the Nazi ideology, so overwhelming is his desire not to return to the hopelessness of the mines. Blinded as a young girl, Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris, before escaping to the seaside during the Nazi occupation, where she becomes active in the French resistance. Doerr does a masterful job of intricately weaving their stories together, so that it feels like utter fate when their paths do collide, and continue to intertwine even decades later. A wonderful read.
I think the most terrifying thing about Courtroom 302 is its portrayal of how the justice system actually functions when it functions according to the law. As in, there is something terribly unjust about the U.S. justice system (yeah, I know, news flash). Bogira spent one year in a criminal courtroom in Chicago, following the cases presented to one particular judge. I expected racial and class injustices (of which, there were many examples) and the absurd number of small time drug offenses clogging the system, but what I wasn’t at all aware of is the extensive use of plea bargaining as a means of coping with the overcrowded system.
Trials, and especially trials by juries, take an inordinate amount of time and energy, of which the overworked judges have absolutely none. With this in mind, public defenders and defense attorneys often encourage defendants in criminal cases to agree to a plea deal. In other words, pleading guilty to a charge in exchange for guaranteed probation or less prison time. A plea deal quickly wraps up the case, avoids a lengthy trial, and lightens everyone’s workload. Of course the issue is: not every defendant is guilty, but many are coerced into accepting the deal by threats of long(er) prison sentences if they would be convicted. Meaning they could walk free on probation if they accept the deal (tempting right?) or serve a minimal amount of prison time — but they will be forever branded as a convicted felon, making it difficult to (re)enter the legal labor market in order to get out of the spiral of crime. See where this is going?
Bogira tells of an informal system of punishment inflicted by the judge if a defense attorney can’t sway his or her clients to waive their right to a trial — resulting in harsher sentences for those defendants who insist on trials. Maybe I’m just naïve, but I found this completely shocking! The book was published in 2003, based on observations from 1998, so I have to hope some of this has changed in the meantime, but I sincerely doubt it. Does anyone with a law background have insights they could share on this topic? I’d love to hear them.
At the moment I’ve just picked up Gawande’s Being Mortal, and of course, I’m completely loving it. What are you reading?
Just like last year, I signed up for Bremen’s winter running series to help keep me motivated and running throughout the winter. My plan is to use the monthly progression of races (10K, 15K, and then 20K) as training runs in preparation for the Berlin Half Marathon at the end of March. I’m looking to whittle down those 4:30 minutes standing between me and a sub-2 hour half marathon.
The first of the races — the 10K — took place last Sunday, on a gray, cold, and rainy morning. As I hopped up and down at the start line, trying to keep myself warm in the several minutes before the start, the January wind was howling and rain started to fall. I thought to myself for the millionth time, “Wow, I must be crazy.” And it’s true. Me and the hundreds of other runners who voluntarily gave up their cozy Sunday mornings to push their bodies through the cold miles are indeed crazy.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of kinship I experience at races, even in a crowd of runners I don’t know. These crazy people are my tribe. These are the people I understand, and who understand me. They know what it’s like to train in the darkness, through the freezing cold winter, and they know why I do it. They know that sweet taste of personal victory makes it worth all the blood, sweat, and tears — and they understand what kind of sacrifices you have to make to get there.
These are the thoughts that kept me occupied during last Sunday’s 10K. My aim wasn’t to see how fast I could race the distance, but rather, to meet the more relaxed pace laid out in the first week of my 12-week training plan (9:57/mile). So although I started out too fast in the first miles, excited to be among other runners, my pace evened out eventually and I ended up with a finish time of 1:01:11 and an overall pace of 9:54/mile. I have to admit that even though I was using it as a training run, it didn’t feel as easy as it should have, given that I ran an entire half marathon in October at a significantly faster pace. It’s such a cruel reminder of the truth of “use it or lose it” in fitness. You can’t coast along on your current fitness levels for very long without putting the effort in.
The beginning of new training cycles always feel a little bit like starting over for me, with the very big difference of knowing in my mind what my body is capable of accomplishing. When the physical seems impossible, my mental strength jumps in to remind me that I’ve done it before and I can do it again. And that little piece of knowledge seems to make all the difference. So here’s to a new year and new beginnings and a new training cycle! Let’s see where this takes us!
What are your plans for the new year? What are you excited for in 2015?
There’s nothing I love more about starting the new year than looking back over the books I’ve read, and putting together the (long) list of books I hope to read in the year to come. So many books, so little time! Since receiving my Kindle for Christmas last year, I’m reading a lot more than I have in ages, simply by virtue of being able to carry it with me where ever I go. As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I never would have thought that e-books could win me over so easily. But hey, if technology can persuade me to love reading even more, then who am I to say no? On that note, on to the lists for 2014 and 2015…
Read in 2014
I really adored a lot of the books I read this year, but my top three favorites were: The Goldfinch, A Tale for the Time Being, and All the Light We Cannot See. I even gave two of them as Christmas gifts this year, I loved them so much. They were each beautifully written in their own way, and drew me in from the very beginning.
Now that I’ve handed in my dissertation, and I theoretically have more time for reading, I’ve set myself the challenge of doubling the number of books I read in 2015. Below are the 24 top books on my Goodreads to-read shelf. Some have been there for awhile — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Joseph Anton — while others I just added yesterday while combing “Best Books of 2014″ lists on the internet — Lila, Euphoria, The Bone Clock, Redeployment. I’m not limiting myself to only these books specifically, but they certainly serve as an good inspirational starting point…
When I first started thinking back over 2014, all I could see in my mind’s eye was the dissertation. But when I actually really looked back — month for month — I was surprised by how much I accomplished above and beyond wrapping up my PhD. Like visiting three new places (London, Malta, and Langeoog), setting two personal records in the half marathon, and relearning how to swim. Turns out, 2014 was a fantastic year for me!
But on a larger scale, my heart aches for friends and loved ones who have suffered this year. It also aches for the state of the world that my nephews will inherit from us once they’re grown. In one way or another — either by action or inaction, by speaking our minds or staying silent — we are all responsible for its creation. I console myself with the thought that my work, which I don’t talk about in detail on this blog, is my contribution to making the world a better place. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough, and this is what I will carry into 2015.
So on this last day of the year, for what it’s worth, here’s my little review of what’s happened in my small corner of the world during 2014…
Even though February was a short month, a lot happened! In addition to running a 15K race as part of the Winterlaufserie in Bremen, I also started taking weekly swimming lessons to overcome my fear of the water. A major highlight was heading over to Hamburg for my first ever Instawalk, where we Instagrammed what felt like the whole of Hamburg’s public transport system. I’d love to get an Instawalk organized in Bremen — who’s in?
All of my free time in July (and large parts of June) was unsurprisingly devoted to watching the World Cup. It was beyond fantastic to be in Germany when they won the final match, and I will never forget the euphoria of those moments, dancing in the street in a crazy downpour! I also did a bit of exploring through my neighborhood, appreciating the local architecture.
In August, I took another quick trip to Berlin, but otherwise kept quiet and put my nose to the grindstone and worked intensively on my dissertation.
As part of my preparation for the upcoming Bremen half marathon, I participated in a small local race: the Frauenlauf 10K. Also, emboldened by my successful swimming lessons at the beginning of the year, I participated in a day-long course to learn the crawl stroke. I definitely didn’t master it, but I did make significant progress with my breathing technique. And combining my dissertation writing with all this running and swimming was no coincidence — the mind-body connection helped me stay sane in 2014!
Before this year, my half marathon best time hadn’t budged for about 10 years. You know the story — I kept doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. But after a summer of intensive speed training, I set another personal best at the Bremen Half Marathon — taking a total of 9 minutes overall off of my half marathon time in 2014! It was really tough, but SO satisfying. All of my other energy, however, went into focusing on the final weeks of writing my dissertation.
To round out the year, I got ready for the holidays, showed my parents ALL the Christmas markets during their visit (including side trips to Lüneburg and Worpswede), and celebrated all three days of Christmas with friends in both Hannover and Bremen.
2015, I’m ready for you! How was your past year? Are you happy or sad to see the new year arrive?
So much running happened in 2014! I trained throughout both the winter and summer, and participated in six races total, two of which were goal races. It was so satisfying to see all the hard work pay off in huge fitness gains and personal records — I took nearly 9 minutes total off of my half marathon time this year! Running was also what kept me sane and helped me avoid being swallowed up by my dissertation. So like last year around this time, I’m reflecting back on my year of running…
Best race experience? It’s hard to decide between the Bonn Half Marathon in April and the Bremen Half Marathon in October. They were both emotional and challenging races, and I saw 4- and 5-minute improvements in my finish times in each race. But if you’re going to make me choose, I’d have to go for Bremen, because I laid everything out on the line from start to finish and was really proud of what I achieved by doing that. It was also pretty awesome to have so many friends lining the course for moral support.
Best run? On one particularly humid and hot evening this past summer, I got caught in a crazy thunderstorm about a mile and half away from home. I sprinted home through the downpour and got absolutely drenched and enjoyed every second of relief from the terribly hot weather.
Best new piece of gear? My new Mizuno Wave Riders 16 carried me through both of my half marathons. I had so much spring in my step when I wore them! Now it’s about time to invest in a new pair.
Best piece of running advice you received? To trust in myself and in my training. So many times I doubted that I would be able to hit my goal paces, but all the training and the hard work always paid off in the end. That’s a lesson I hope to carry into 2015.
Most inspirational runner? This year, I was incredible inspired by watching Kara Goucher run the New York City Marathon. The conditions were terribly windy that day and she clearly struggled throughout the race and was disappointed with her performance. But despite all of that, she gave the race absolutely everything she had, and it brought tears to my eyes watching her cross the finish line to take 14th place.
If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? Hard work.
I’m aiming to achieve a sub-2:00 half marathon in 2015, and thanks to the drastic improvements in my running this past year, I actually think it’s a real possibility and not just a pipe dream. So far I’m signed up for the Bremen Winterlaufserie again and for the Berlin Half Marathon at the end of March. Can’t wait to see what the year has to bring!
What was your favorite run this year? Do you have running plans for 2015?
Make sure to check out Miss Zippy’s post for more great 2014 reflections from other runners.