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Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: a year with no surgeries

Man, two years in a row with no surgeries. Who am I?
Despite that, 2016 was a pretty bad year for running: or racing, at least. I didn't run any really solid races, and had some downright terrible ones in there. But on the bright side, by and large my training and regular running went well. Here are some highs and lows from the year:

First marathon back post-surgeries: The marathon was my favorite distance before I got injured, so I was happy to get back at it at RnR New Orleans. My 3:18 was far from my best time, I hit the wall, and missed three weeks of training with runner's knee. But I raced 26.2 again!

Shoes: I discovered that I hate the Kinvara 6, love the Kinvara 5, wear a half-size larger in the Kinvara 7, and could take or leave the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante. I rotated the Zante in to extend the life of my Kinvaras, but it's not my favorite. Still, it was a shoe experiment that didn't end in a stress fracture, so apparently I'm improving my ease-into-new-shoes technique.

Worst race: This is hard to choose, since I ran a spectacularly bad Crescent City Classic, hurt my hamstring at Middendorf's, and had to walk that same hamstring at the Turkey Day race. But worse than all of those disasters was the Ole Man River half, a muggy sweat-fest of misery.
Seventy-billion percent humidity and windy enough to blow the earbuds out of my ears!

Best race: Twin Cities marathon, of course. I ran 3:12:02, not a huge improvement from my last race, but on a harder course. Time aside, I felt pretty good for this race, and my 2-minute positive split is probably the smallest I've ever run.

Hanson's marathon method: I used this over the summer, and it's the first real training plan I've ever completed. It was a big increase in miles for me, and the tempo runs in our New Orleans summers were straight up torture, but it did its job, preparing me to survive a race with a tough second half.

Injuries: Runner's knee due to stupidly forgetting to replace my shoes; hamstring strain. I never had a hamstring problem pre-hip surgeries: I think my gait changed enough to stress the hamstrings, since now I've had two strains, one on each side.

Miles: I ran 2276 miles this year, which averages out to a little over 6 miles per day! I think this is the most I've ever run - and that really surprised me. My highest month was September, with 244 miles in peak marathon training, and my lowest was 97 in June, when I was plagued with a ceviche-induced bug for the entire month. Hanson's certainly contributed to the high miles: I've never run so many 50 and 60+ weeks before!

How was your year of running? Any goals met or PRs run? 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Because 100% humidity would just be too much.

I'm SO glad it's not 100%, right?

This has been every run lately - and more, since the temperatures have been rising rapidly to the mid-70's by about 7:30 or 8:00. These runs have been suffocating!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

City Park on a Monday

Somehow - somehow! - I have been given enough power to say, "Eh. Let's close," on the Monday after Christmas. So what did I do with my glorious day off?
Well, slept in, obviously. And then I was starving and could barely finish a measly four miles without passing out, so it wasn't a big running day. 
But after that, and a cursory house cleaning, we went to City Park. We hadn't been to the sculpture garden in years, and it's free, so why not? It was a warm and humid high '70s day with lovely clouds in the sky and I enjoyed the trip immensely. 

Back home, we took out the new game I bought for us for Christmas (my parents used to do family gifts, usually a game or a science project, and I tend to do the same). It's called The Hive, and it's a game of strategy supposedly similar to chess, in that pieces have different movement capabilities, and complexity of strategy is adaptable to many ages and skill levels. It was pretty good, but I think I'll enjoy it more when I have more practice: one game wasn't enough to do much more than learn the directions. 

That night, we went on a sushi date to Ninja, the same date we went on the night of our first kiss! Oh, so many years ago! The place has been redecorated and I miss the old look. Now it's rather dark and depressing - I doubt that's the look they were going for.

Finally, we wrapped up the eveing watching some episodes of the BBC's Sherlock Holmes, one of my all-time favorite shows.

Were you off the day after Christmas? How did you spend it?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Christmas morning, pre-run

The first course of our traditional Christmas breakfast: grapefruit and avocado salad, ham with fruit compote, sausage and cheese grits, and fruitcake with coffee. Mimosas, too, naturally! 

My Christmas morning run today was in dense fog, which means I got to try out my new gift from my father-in-law - the Nathan Lightspur Rx. It's an LED light that fits onto your heel for running and biking in the dark.
I'll review it after a few more uses!

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Recovery after a rough race

Sometimes I have a slow race and I immediately bounce back, ready to try again. Not so this week. The heat kind of took it out of me, and I needed to really recover with lighter miles and easier speed work Sunday through Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was feeling fine again, but I'm glad I didn't push anything early. I kind of wanted to, because I got anxious about my upcoming races (for which I feel underprepared), but since even the easy stuff felt tiring, I think I was smart. Despite the easier runs, I'll still finish this week with over 50 miles, thanks to transitioning into marathon training. I'm doing the tail-end of Hansons and I hope it works! I'm sure that goes against everything their plan teaches.
Have you ever modified a training plan, or done an incomplete version?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Old Man River: an 80-degree long run

I had been hoping that the forecast for Saturday's race would change as the week wore on, and it did - for the worse. By Friday, the projection was 79 degrees and humidity in the 80's and 90's. And Saturday morning was marginally worse - temperatures on the Westbank touched 80F, and the humidity at the start of the race was 98% (it dropped to 84% by the finish). Conditions couldn't have been much worse: the roads were slick and greasy, the levees warm and windy, and the sun annoyingly couldn't even stay behind a storm cloud.

David and I got to the start in plenty of time. The bathroom lines were a little slow, but I got in a half-mile warmup and took a gel with water at the start (it was 8:00 am and I hadn't eaten breakfast, so I thought that might keep me fueled until I took my planned gel on course). I'd ditched my singlet, opting to run this one in a sports bra. It was unbearably muggy, and despite our warm fall, I'm fully acclimated to 60's and below for running weather.
At the start. It was so humid that the ground looked wet: it hadn't rained, but it was damp
enough for the oil on the road to rise to the surface, making the portion on the road slippery. 

When the gun went off, at first I didn't feel too bad. I was immediately in a small "chase pack" off the large group of Louisiana Distance Project runners. I'm nowhere near as fast as they are, so I hung back and ran the 7:10's that I figured my  heat-modified pace would be. Before the weather changed, I had thought a 1:32 would be very doable, given my sort-of recent 3:12 marathon and very comfortable recent long runs. Adjusting for the weather, that gave me more like 1:34 or 1:35. But I didn't adjust enough. Despite the overcast start, the sun was lurking, and it popped out nice and strong, cooking the top of my head. I was definitely working too hard, and by mile three salt spray from my own sweat - blown by the gusty wind onto my sunglasses - was obscuring my vision. At mile five I passed a very fast local runner. "Can't do it," she gasped. "This was supposed to be a marathon-paced workout for me. But it's just too hot. I'm dying." She explained that she'd finish her long run, but at easy pace, now - any speed was too risky. I was feeling the same way. We got up on the levee at mile six, ready for seven miles of unsheltered sun and wind, and I felt terrible.

By the time I got to mile seven, warning bells were clanging in my head. My skin felt tingly, my head throbbed, and I had stopped sweating. The race had planned for three water stops, which you passed twice to make six stops, but I was having trouble hydrating. I was ready to quit. I stepped off the course and saw my fast friend approaching behind me. I waited for her, and she stopped, too. We discussed dropping out, but finally decided to finish the race at a slow, easy pace. We cautiously continued, stopping for several cups of water per stop, occasionally being joined by another runner, who sometimes dropped back for walk breaks. Basically, it sucked. I can't believe that I was doing long runs and even tempos in much higher temperatures this summer! How quickly we forget!

We turned around on the levee at about mile ten, giving us the last few miles with a tough headwind. But it felt so much better than the tailwind, just because it was so cooling. At mile 12, my friend dropped back - by now she was cramping and really suffering.  I dragged my butt across the line in the 1:42 range (so sad that I don't even know!) and kept running to get 16 total for the day.

This was a truly dreadful race, and a dreadful day to race. Lots of runners dropped out, and the ones who didn't posted horrible times. The winner ran 1:32, while my friend Kristin, who runs a 2:49 marathon, was second in 1:35:xx. ONE-THIRTY-FIVE. I can't believe that! The worst part is that, even though I ran very slowly, I still feel like crap now. Usually a slow race at least means a fast recovery, but the heat and sun gave me a booming headache, and I also got a pesky sunburn. My muscles feel good, but I still feel overheated.
Age-group awards I didn't stay for
Also bad? I didn't realize that the top three overall received prize money in this race. Now, there is not guarantee that I could have actually hit the time needed for third, but I think it was 1:39?! Definitely within the realm of possibility if I hadn't chosen to jog it out instead. Serves me right for not reading the website - although, the truth is, I didn't know my place in this race; so many runners dropped out that I thought I wasn't even top ten, and I think I was 4th or 5th (we didn't stay for awards and there was confusion about the finish list, so I am not sure). Anyway, it's totally counting hypothetical chickens that already hatched in someone else's coop, but yeah, I missed out on potential prize money. I also missed out on my age-group award: by the time results were sorted, I was desperate for shade and a shower, so we left!

Up next? Who knows! I really need a good race, so  might just pop into a local 5k or something some weekend. I just want to run fast for once!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

76 degrees

And 98% humidity. That's my race forecast!
I don't know why I keep drawing the short straw on race weather these days. I can't believe it will be that warm - and the windy, wet air won't help anything. I have been feeling much faster and fitter lately, but any hope for a fast race is out the window now. I am honestly considering skipping the race: I paid very little through early registration ($35 for a half-marathon!) and it's all the way on the Westbank. And I really do not relish running thirteen miles in hot and humid weather!

But I'll still do it, because David's running it, too, and why should just one of us do the race? He hasn't been running as much lately, so it took a lot of work and effort for him to get back to that mileage, so I know he doesn't want to skip the race. Not after all that hard work.

So, the race will happen anyway, and I will just have to suck it up and hope for a good race down the line. The problem is, this makes three bad races in a row: Middendorf's was a disaster, as I worsened a hamstring strain at close to the very end, and Turkey Day was one of the worst races I've ever run, running my marathon pace for five miles! I'm not normally one to get psyched out, but really - three sucky races? That would play with anyone's head.

What's the worst race weather you've ever had? I have to say, Boston in the '90s and the Publix Marathon at 85F both beat Saturday's weather!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Party weekend

The Christmas party season is in full swing!
Friday night I rushed home from a very busy workday to attend our church's Christmas party. It's always a chili cook-off, and this year I was a judge.
Receiving my ballot and judge instructions
We're a crack team of judges! 

That task necessitated tasting no fewer than seventeen chilis!
It ended up being a very long night, because I'd also volunteered to head up clean-up afterwards, and that place was a disaster after the party. We didn't finish up until midnight.

The very next night we had to drive all the way to Baton Rouge for David's work party. His employer has offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and they alternate years with location hosts, so off to the capitol we went. First we voted in the Louisiana run-off elections, making us the best-dressed couple to vote.
We voted! In cocktail attire! 

I always lean a little conservative for work parties, obviously, and found this year's dress at the Salvation Army. It's a little glittery, so it's party material, but it's not too short and, with a scoop neck and long sleeves, is pretty covered up.

Kinda shapeless. 
The drive back from Baton Rouge meant that we faced another late night, but luckily the third party of the weekend was an afternoon event: a baptism and reception for a friend's twins.
And now, I need a little break from parties. Just one next week!
How's your party schedule this Christmas?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Feeling fine

Boy, I hope I don't jinx myself, but I've been feeling just fine lately! I feel strong, rather fast, and not at all injured. Two years from my last hip surgery, I am finally starting to feel normal: not just pain-free, but comfortable with my gait and stride.

Last we left off, I had a hamstring strain. It was mild enough to only make me take a few days off running (and take more easy days), but it didn't do well in races. A few weeks later, and it's feeling much better, almost unnoticeable. I bought a compression sleeve, but it improved so much by the time the sleeve arrived in the mail that I never had to use it. I had planned to use it while running, so I bought this nice Zensah sleeve, since it looked like the grippy top band would keep it in place. I'll have to report on that another time, though, since I only wore it post-long-run once and didn't need it during the run.

My training these days has been as follows:
Sunday: Easy soft-surface
Monday: Short, moderate pace with the Louisiana Running Company. This is after work, so it always feels harder, since I've been on my feet and under stress for nine hours.
Tuesday: Early track with Harrell Track Club. I skipped that this week because I was too tired to wake up at 5:00 am.
Wednesday: Easy
Thursday: Tempo. I mean, I've done two tempos. Way to go, Grace. I did five miles, which felt easy and fast at about 6:55, and seven, which was in windy weather and was a struggle at 6:57 pace.
Friday: Off.
Saturday: Long.

So, my long runs lately have been downright fast! And I've felt great for them! Last week I ran 12 miles with the final seven at 7:15, 7:17, 7:15, 7:15, 7:02, 6:59, 7:07. I didn't intend to speed up, but I did, and that single mile under seven really surprised me. It didn't feel that hard at all. Then this week I had a rough start: I got up late (I'd volunteered to clean up after our church Christmas party the night before, and it was midnight before we got home) and started feeling shaky and weak three miles in. I ducked into the house and ate a piece of cake - tada! As good as new! After that, I finished really strong, despite lots of wind. Splits were 7:36, 7:33, 7:53 (cake break), 7:46, 7:28, 7:12, 7:02, 6:57, 7:07, 6:51, 7:04, 7:15 (traffic stop slowed this mile), 6:53, 7:10 pace for final half mile. Obviously the temperatures in the 40's make a big difference, but I am still really happy without how good I've been feeling. Plus I just love winter running, especially around Christmas when all the decorations are out!

What's your winter running like? What's your favorite running season?

Friday, December 9, 2016

A nice surprise!

I knew I was third female at the Middendorf's Manchac ten miler, but when I talked to race volunteers afterward, they told me that only first overall got awards. So I went home, since I had to get ready to host a big party that night. But later, I found that first through third got awards. Another runner told me that awards were glass mugs, and suggested I email the director. I was tempted, because I do so LOVE race cups, but I never did - mostly because if the director said, "Great, drive all the way out to Kenner and pick it up" I'd feel obligated to do so, even though it would be at least an hour round trip ('s like ten miles and ten thousand cars away from my house).

Anyway...this came in the mail today!

Turns out that top three also got gift certificates, and I am very excited to take a shopping trip to Varsity Sports!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hitting five hundred

This time around, my Saucony Kinvara 5's made it to 500 miles...barely. One marathon training cycle and two washes later, they're done.
This is what they looked like at 500 miles (surprisingly clean, thanks to my final run in them including a flash flood with ankle deep water):
Most of the wear is on the inside, under my bunion :(

The sides blew out thanks to my wide feet. This happens in all my shoes.

Significant wear on the insole

So really, not that bad. Besides the typical holes at my (wide) forefoot and insole wear, they aren't really too devastated.
I barely got 400 miles out of my last pair of Kinvara 5's, and while I ran 400 in the single pair of Kinvara 6's I owned, they should have been replaced long before. Why did this pair last longer? Probably because I alternated them with my New Balance Zantes. Rotating shoes is supposed to prolong the life of the foam by allowing it to spring back.

I have to admit, while I'm glad I got all 500 miles out of these, my feet and legs are really appreciating the new pair!

How long do your shoes last? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas cards: nod to China

This year's card mimics traditional Chinese paper-cutting. It's actually just acrylics on drawing paper, with a design incorporating the Chinese character for "joy".
Working by Christmas-tree light

Traditional Christmas motifs balance a Chinese dragon
Unfortunately, this year the actual cards didn't turn out as I'd imagined. The color is off, and the ink doesn't look crisp.

Still, at 50% off plus my discount, I only paid $25 for 60 cards, so it was a deal! I always take a picture of my art and use it to create a photo card at Walgreens. One good thing this year is that the back of the cards are now a blank, matte finish, making it easier to write your message: that's an improvement, since the backs used to be just like the backs of photo prints - kind of glossy with some text similar to a watermark on the back.

What's your Christmas card this year? 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Back to the tempo grind

Realizing to my distress that I have a half marathon in three and a half weeks, I decided to flirt with injury and reintroduce the tempo run. My worstest run ever! Really. I am so bad at tempos. But yesterday everything came together for not-the-worst-tempo ever.
It was chilly, so already that was a plus. I got up early and put on my Boston shirt, which was another plus: I almost never wear this shirt, since it's quite warm, but it reminds me of the excitement of that race. Plus - how weird is this - I saw THREE other people in the park in Boston shirts! I rarely see any other Boston shirts out and about, and three in one day is a record! One of the other runners shouted, "Nice shirt!"

Then, I got to break in my new shoes: On Wednesday, I did a 8+ mile run in yucky muggy, windy weather than ended with a violent flash flood and tornado warning with just half a mile left to home. By the time I got home I was soaked through, and my shoes were waterlogged and disgusting. Luckily, I realized as I logged that run, I was right at 500 miles. Time for new shoes, anyway! I ditched that pair and enjoyed cushiony new shoes for my Thursday tempo.

Merry Christmas to me: Kinvara 5's that I bought when they were cheap
Once I hit the park, I picked the pace up and started my tempo, hoping to hit five miles at 7:00 pace. I was kind of annoyed to see that the ROTC was running - just because they take up SO much room - but it turned out to be a good thing. One of their coaches was a friend from church, so I got my personal cheering section! Every time I passed I got a "Nice job!" or "Good work!"

Five miles flew by, and I actually would have gone six, except I have run fairly high mileage and fairly tough workouts this week for someone with a bum hamstring. So I kept it to seven total, five at tempo. I will grudgingly continue these tempos until my half, but I bet they won't all be this good.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon race review

Since this race is considered one of the top ten marathons in the country, I hardly need to add my opinion, but here goes! 

Pre-race information, logistics, organization:
The event website includes info on registration, packet pickup, course, location, events, etc. I found the logistics were excellent for this race. There are detailed maps on the website of the courses and zoomed maps of the start and finish areas (also in the emailed participant's guide). Even though I was traveling for this race and have never been to the area before, everything was well-explained and the entire process was a breeze. The race was also impeccably organized. I have never, in all my life, seen such a smooth starting area. The ten mile race started an hour prior to the marathon, and once it got moving, the marathoners started to fill up the space. It was never too crowded, and there were SO MANY PORT-A-POTTIES. I didn't have to wait in line at all. No one. Nobody in front of me. The expo, race, and finish were all well-organized, too - like, Boston levels of organization. 
Expo: Easy as pie: you go grab your number, check your timing chip, grab your "free gift", and go. It wasn't a very crowded expo, so it moved fast. My brother dropped me off and circled while I got my packet, but otherwise he would have had to pay to park. That's a downside, but pretty typical for large race expos.
Cost: Kind of high. I paid $140. 
Lodging and transportation: Plenty of hotel options, many with discounts for the race, and free light rail to the start the day of the race. Also special bus rates offered. We drove, and it was easy to get close enough to the start. 
Swag: You get a finisher's shirt at the end, and the surprise gift at packet pick up was a hat - which I ended up wearing. Lucky me, I also got socks! In the finisher's chute, a young woman with a clip board approached me and asked if I could complete a survey for her. She asked questions about my opinion of the post-race food options (which was basically BARF at that point), and then when we were done she gave me a pair of socks for my trouble! Cool! 
Finishers also get a medal.
Course:The course is billed as the most beautiful urban marathon in the country, and they may be right. It's a really beautiful course, a point-to-point winding around gorgeous lakes and along the Mississippi River (may miles away, my daily runs touch the same river!). The course is really pretty, but I wouldn't say it's fast. There are a lot of small turns and curves, especially in the area around the lakes, that add to your distance / time. And it isn't the easiest course in respect to elevation.

There are minor hills throughout, with a significant hill straight up from mile 20-23. The course gains a net 850ish feet, mostly due to the ~1000 feet gained during the hill at mile 20. This is a challenging place to put a hill, obviously. 

The most amazing thing about the course was the spectators. This city really, really supports the race, and the crowds lined every inch of the course. It was impressive, second only to Boston in my experience. 
Aid stations:
Plentiful and well-manned, but the only fuel was at mile 17 (Cliff gels and shot bloks - plenty of them, which is good, because I always get nervous about missing a gel on the course). I definitely wish the gels were earlier on the course, though. The aid stations start out as every other mile, but at mile 20, there is fluid every mile. I think that's a great idea and I took full advantage to stay hydrated for those tough final miles. 
Finish line / post-race: It was a beautiful day to sit out by the capitol building and listen to music and drink a beer, but a. that beer was about 98% hops and not my favorite, and b. I was totally zoned out post race. I got some chicken broth down, and attempted (and failed) to eat chips. They also had some fruit cups, but no utensils, which looked hard to eat. I had dropped a bag, and bag pick up was easy and smooth. In fact, the volunteers had my bag retrieved and ready before I even got up to the pick up area! It was also easy and fast to get my shirt, which I promptly put on (I was cold, despite the sun).
 The race offered athlete tracking, but apparently it didn't really work. David got just one update, and then my reported finish time was wrong. The app told him 3:18:xx, and David assumed I'd be upset since that was my time for my last race. But the math also didn't add up from the text he got, so he doubled checked the website, where my time was correct. There were race photos available for purchase, and two free videos at the finish line. I really liked the stats provided post-race: detailed splits and passing data. 
Suggestions: It's a pricey race, but as it was so well-run and so beautiful, it's absolutely worth it. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

China: our tour guides

We arranged our trip to China through China Highlights, a travel agency and tour company. We booked a private tour to assist in travel arrangements and ticket purchase, and while this tour was very controlled and offered almost no scheduling flexibility, I was really glad we had used a tour. Not only would the language barrier proved difficult, the total lack of available information would have left us wandering uselessly around, learning nothing. 

In Beijing, our tour guide was Cindy. Cindy has a husband, a two year old boy, and a huge girl crush on me. It was super flattering: Cindy wanted to BE me, which is cute, like I have some fairytale life. I do have it pretty easy (good, reliable job; great church and friends; darling husband; low expenses), but heck, I've had some pretty rough patches, too. I didn't have the happiest childhood, and I had to work my way through college, which were some lean years. But overall, I have had incredible opportunities simply because I live in a country with vast freedoms, and if anything, I've squandered them. Hearing Cindy wish she'd had so many choices in her life made me feel a little ashamed of choosing the easy road so often! 
Cindy was especially surprised that I started out as an art major, then changed to chemistry and went to pharmacy school. She said that some colleges are more relaxed now, but when she went to school, your high school grades determined what narrow choice of major you could select (she could choose from four or five fields in the hospitality industry). That major, declared in high school, could not be changed. She said that this process is still very difficult, if not impossible; even if a college claims that a student may change their major, the school may not have the resources to allow additional classes and support, and the request will be denied. 
Cindy was happily deceived by her government in some aspects - ie, "Beijing is very safe, there is no crime. No need to worry about your door locks" - but other things rankled her. She was annoyed by her limited social media choices (although she refused to look at David's Facebook - available on his Google Fi service - while our driver was in the car with her!) and very bitter that, while she was allowed a second child, it was virtually impossible to do so. She commuted two hours one way on three buses for her fairly low-paying job, and because you have to own and pay taxes on a home for five years to send a child to school in Beijing, her child would have to move away and live with relatives a 20-hour train ride away. I felt sad telling Cindy goodbye - she seemed so wistful and really wanted, well, more freedom.

Our Xi'an guide, Rocky, was an interesting mix of super pro-communism and occasional honesty. Rocky did NOT like you to deviate from his plan, so as a tour guide, he was kind of annoying. Like, we biked around the city wall in the rain, but went to indoor tours in clear skies. My suggestion for swapping days was met with a sudden inability to understand English. When I told him in the Xi'an museum that I was not interested in the prehistoric exhibit, but would like to begin with pre-dynastic China, he was shocked and offended and bluntly told us he'd wait outside. Thank goodness. We needed a break from his dry commentary, and the information in the Xi'an Museum is in English and Chinese. Rocky told proud stories about his country...but he kept letting it slip that he had left Xi'an, his hometown, because he was starving. He was older - over 60, I estimate - and he told us that, when he was a child, there was never enough food so that the children would fight over any noodles they had. He moved back recently so he could retire near home. Rocky's the one who cheerily pointed at seven nuclear reactors, belching toxins, and told us that China used all clean energy, and that was natural gas! 

Our last guide was Chris. He was young and charming and reminded me of my brother Abe a little. He was from Shanghai, and spoke English fluently. Chris gets super high points in my book for the personal touches he added: something we found rare on this trip.
  • He came an hour late after our flight from Xi'an didn't get us into Shanghai until 5 am.
  • He stopped for coffee! 
  • He detoured to take us to our landlady's house in Shanghai, which was very important to us.
He has also spammed me almost daily since then asking for a Trip Advisor review! Which I finally completed! We only spent a few hours with Chris, but he had a sweet personality and was thoughtful.

Overall, I am happy with our choice of tour company, and I enjoyed getting to know our guides. I didn't really get to know, or even interact with, any Chinese people: well, there was Judy, the owner of the shop where I bought pearl earrings for my coworkers. She owned her own shop in Shanghai and we talked business. And then there was our hotel maid, who we actually had to write a note to - IN CHINESE! - to ask her to get someone to fix our broken sink in Beijing. She must have been able to read it because she took care of it! 

But really, our guides were the only Chinese people I truly talked to, so they offered a window into everyday life in an unfamiliar culture. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

A little late!

We kicked off Thanksgiving with unequivocally THE WORST race I've ever run: our annual Turkey Trot, in which my hamstring spazzed out immediately and I had to stop and walk in a five mile race. Finished with a nice 36 minute race - you know, slower than I sometimes run five miles for fun.

My hamstring is just a problem racing, pretty much - not that it's perfectly pain free all the time, but it's manageable. It's doing really well when I stretch it a lot (and run at a slower pace!).

We spent Thanksgiving weekend putting up our tree. While I often do decoration themes, this year we're repeating our travel tree, mostly because I brought home several Chinese-language newspapers to use for wrapping paper. Most of the ornaments are ones we picked up on our various trips, and this year we added this cute dragon from China:

And this Chicago flag:

Saturday evening, friends came over to decorate gingerbread houses. I normally make the gingerbread myself, but this year I bought kits - and while it was easier, it was a little boring. I also discovered that the frosting that came with the kit never hardened, so I had to make some royal icing instead. My friend's little girl has been participating in this tradition for four years now!

I also learned a lesson this weekend: don't run down stairs in socks. I fell down our entire flight of stairs, landing stunned. I was alone in the house, and a few minutes later, our landlords rang the bell to check on me! They heard me fall, and then - silence. Once I cleared my head I realized that I had a nasty egg on my elbow, but little else. However, Sunday morning I awoke feeling stiff all over, like I'd been beaten up. It's mildly better now, but man, this elbow is tender.

I expect to be swamped this week, since it's the week after a holiday and doctor's offices were closed for several days, plus one of my techs has jury duty. Not at all my favorite combination: busy plus short-handed. But we'll survive. Anyone else dreading the return to work?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hamstring and health update

My hamstring:
  • Still tight and painful
  • I've run - slowly - a little on it (3 and 4 miles).
  • I've been gently stretching and doing a little ice with alternating hot water bottle
  • I can't do a deadlift yet
  • My next race is on Thanksgiving (5 miles). Oh, joy. That should go well.
My health:
I decided to go and get sick Friday. So after spending all Saturday throwing up (like, all day, and it's not something I ate because David and I ate the same thing. Just routine germs), I'll be off running a few days this week, anyway. I'm going for the run less, run slower thing. I'm marginally better today, but I was so weak and sick yesterday that the two things I want to think about the least are running and big meals. Thanksgiving sounds like a terrible idea right now.

And now I am off to enjoy a hearty breakfast of Gatorade and one cracker.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

China: it's still communist.

Before visiting China, I had this confused notion that communism had been dialed back so far in China that it was almost more of an appreciated ideology than a practiced form of government. In some ways, especially economically, that is true. But the Chinese people, I discovered, are still very much oppressed in their everyday lives. We have so many freedoms in the United States that we take for granted - freedoms that many Chinese have never even considered available to them. Two particular freedoms stood out to me: freedom to gain access to information and knowledge, and freedom to own property.

The dearth of information available to the Chinese was constantly apparent. Right off the bat, there is the tiny little problem of all Google products being blocked. I had to use BING. The ignominy of it all. Then, of course, Facebook is blocked, too: just in case you run into someone else's opinion and it doesn't match Mao's (that also meant that my Instagram pictures had to wait until we got home!). The most frustrating blocked website, though, was our library site. I couldn't check out an e-book because heaven forbid you access any old non-approved library! A government that won't let you seek out information from non-vetted sources - whether it be from other people, writers and politicians, or whoever edited Wikipedia that morning - has something to hide from its people. This withholding of information was also demonstrated by the complete lack of signage around historical sites. I have been to empty battlefields with more informational plaques than in the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square combined.
The effect of this lack of outside written information is that the Chinese struggle to represent information accurately. The accepted propaganda-style writing bleeds into a variety of publications. I was reading a Chinese/English airline magazine during the flight from Beijing to Xi'an, and in an article about Frankfurt, Germany, the over-the-top language and hyperbole was rampant. Frankfurt was blithely called, "The financial capital of Europe" and "The most beautiful city in Europe", and some bit art conference was called, "The largest". The article wrapped with a story of a man in a German grocery store approaching the writer with sparkling eyes, tearfully telling him of how Merkel had just visited China, and the countries were friends, such good friends.
I have grave doubts any such grocery encounter occurred. It's like fact-checking doesn't exist. You don't question what you read, so why verify what you write?
I also noticed that the news is not only saturated with propaganda and the same overly-positive, nothing-bad-happens here style, but it's also obsessed with the United States. The bitter mentions in both the English language newspaper and on the news were constant. I watched a story that lasted about 15 minutes, focusing on blurry footage of Newport News. Clearly, it was supposed to be secret film of a new naval ship being built. After a while covering that, the footage switched to huge, glorious Chinese Navy ships steaming through the seas. All well and good, but the constant comparisons to the US just surprised me. They care about us way more than we care about them!

Everything is gray.

The "nice" apartments. All ugly to me. 
The issue of property ownership fascinated David and I because it relates to David's line of work. He's a property attorney, and much of what he does involves the government taking or obtaining use for land for the purpose of public health and safety, like levees or sewer lines (mostly levees, obviously. It's Louisiana). The endless legal research, negotiations, and payments are what gives him a job: but in China, they just take it. Each city we visited had some example. In Xi'an, Rocky, our guide, told us proudly that the farmers took up too much space in their own homes. So the government moved them all to giant high-rise apartments, farmed all that nice land their houses were taking up, and made all the farmers take buses to the fields every day. Brilliant! We heard similar stories in Shanghai and Beijing, and like I mentioned before, the Communist-Gray high rises were everywhere, stuffed with people whose houses or neighborhoods were demolished for new developments. In Shanghai, this occurred to allow the government to sell the property to a developer who planned a giant tower - not even anything to do with public welfare!

Towers of farmers
Those two issues are what really grabbed my attention, but there were other ways that communism reared its head; all of which combined to make me grateful to live in the U.S.A. It's a privilege.