Friday, January 30, 2015

If I Stray ("Wild" Book Review)

I may be very late with this, since it's already a movie and all that, but I've already told you guys that I'm a reverse hipster — I start paying attention to things after everyone else is already onto way cooler things. (I finished Serial this week, btw. Send me your theories.)

I thought about adding Wild by Cheryl Strayed to my book list last year, but I really wasn't sure if it was my thing. I enjoy a good memoir, but sometimes I find memoir-writers to be a bit bratty and self-important and annoying, so I tend to read a lot of reviews before picking up a memoir. But my mom gave me a copy of Wild for Christmas, and I had just finished Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (Here's my review of that: Read it immediately.) and "why not?"-ed myself into opening the front cover on Christmas Day.

(If you haven't read it, there may be some slight spoilers below, but there's no big "climax" or anything like that that I'm worried about giving away.)

What's it about?
Wild is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of the summer she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the bottom of California to the Oregon/Washington border. A self-described orphan, Strayed sets out on the trail to find some sense and clarity after her twenty-something life has been turned upside down by the death of her mother, the estrangement of her siblings, the abandonment of her stepfather, and the crumble of her marriage. Throw in a few trysts with "bad news" men and the drugs they love, and Strayed is, at the outset of her journey, lost.

The memoir intersperses Strayed's on-the-trail thoughts and experiences, including an unexpected cast of characters, with her memories of the life and choices and experiences that brought her to the trail. She manages to keep the narratives distinct enough to avoid confusion and masterfully recalls the right memories at the right time.

If you're reading for the writing, it's not earth-shaking, though Strayed turns a pretty phrase and sometimes describes an experience or thought pattern or personality trait so acutely I swear she must spend her evenings peeking into my bedroom windows or into my brain. Our experiences couldn't be any different, but in reading this memoir I felt like I was reading the diary of a dear friend, a kindred spirit.

Overall, there were some passages I slogged through and some parts that were nearly impossible to read. As she recounted memories of her mother I was tempted to drive an hour just to hug my own and tell her I love her. I admit to putting the book down more than once just because it hurt to read.

I won't say this is a must-read for everybody, but I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, all said and done.

Read it if...
You're a "nature girl," you like true stories/memories/biographies/autobiographies, underdog stories, emotional reads, stories of adventure; you participate in the occasional navel-gazing; your mom bought you the book for Christmas and you have nothing else to read on your bedside table.

Favorite Passages

"I lingered a bit longer, feeling a swell of emotion over the occasion, and then I realized there was nothing to do but go, so I did."

"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me."

[With respect to the natural elements surrounding her on the PCT] "I was a pebble. I was a leaf. I was the jagged branch of a tree. I was nothing to them and they were everything to me."

"I realized there was a bull in both directions. I simply made a leap of faith and pushed on in the direction where I'd never been."

"Until now, I hadn't truly understood the world's vastness—hadn't even understood how vast a mile could be—until each mile was beheld at walking speed. And yet there was also its opposite, the strange intimacy I'd come to have with the trail."
A mile run on the roads of a New York City suburb is not the same as a mile hiked on an historic natural trail, but I know what she means so clearly here. A mile driven and a mile passed on foot are two completely different measures of space and time, and I never knew this — even as a hobby hiker before I was a runner — until I started running.

"Perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant that I too could be undesecrated, regardless of what I'd lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I'd done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I was skeptical about, I didn't feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me."

"Who would I be if I did? Who would I be if I didn't?"
It was this very pair of questions that led me to decide to run a marathon this year, after the seed of the idea planted itself in my mind a few weeks ago and left me to make something of it. Would I decide to be a person who took an opportunity to run a marathon, or would I be the person who decided she wasn't ready yet? Choosing one way or another would incite little to no reaction in anybody else in the world; it was all on me, and all for me. Did I want to become a person who ran a full marathon this year? Yes.

"There's no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course."

"How wild it was, to let it be."


Have you read Wild, or do you plan to?
Also, yes or no on book review posts like this? I'll only write 'em if you want 'em!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Little Things

Yesterday during my short run through my snow-covered neighborhood, up and down a familiar road, with a captivating podcast in my ears, while local kids celebrated their snow day by sledding, snowshoeing, and snowball-fighting, when I saw just one other runner braving the elements, as my neighbors walked their corgis and pugs and mutts, my strides were long and easy, and short and fast, and comfortable and powerful. I felt like I could run forever.

Yesterday I slept in and worked and wrote and emailed and wrote and edited from my couch, my bed, my floor, my kitchen counter, my yoga mat, my antique wooden secretary's desk, in my PJs, my running pants, and my PJs again, with coffee, and tea, and tea again, and I was warm and calm and quiet and productive.

Yesterday I streamed Netflix in the background while I worked and while I stretched, and I tuned in and out to the background noise at the funniest moments of my favorite show, and I laughed out loud at lines I've heard a thousand times, and I got a couple of jokes for the very first time, and I felt nostalgic as I remembered when Thursday nights were for mom and me and our favorite shows, and I felt happy and peaceful and content.

Yesterday I rolled out my yoga mat and looped a strap around my foot to stretch out my hamstrings, and I swung my legs into deep stretching postures, and I rooted my body into the ground and lifted my heart to the sky, and I opened my back and my spine and my chest and my mind, and balanced on the tallest part of myself and connected my mind with the surface below me, and I breathed deeply and I felt focused and connected and stimulated and whole.

It's the little things sometimes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Line 'em Up

In 2014, I ran five races: four 5ks and one half marathon. My half marathon was the final race of the year, and was 10 months in the making. It wasn't until I ran my first race on March 30 that I knew I would love racing, let alone want to run a half marathon 10 months after my very first run.

Going into 2015, I came from two different perspectives and somehow tried to make them mesh:
1. Races are expensive, yo. And running is free.
2. Racing makes running more fun, and having a goal makes me a better runner.
Before I made my 2015 racing spreadsheet (of course I have one), I knew for sure there would be two dates to fill in: My first race last year is a 5k/10k, and it's an annual event right near my birthday. I've yet to run a 10k, so my birthday race this year was always going to be this 10k. And in May, there's a half marathon that I once thought would be my first big race.

But before I knew it, I filled in more and more lines in my spreadsheet. Because racing is fun, and runcations are part of my goal to run a race in all 48 continental U.S. states. And because running with friends is more fun than running without them.

My 2015 racing schedule has taken most of its shape at this point, but I know realistically that there's always room for another 5k or 10k to crop up. As for the biggies, here's what's coming down the pike this year:

Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon — We've been talking about this one for a couple of months already, and I'm deep into training for a time goal. I've been hesitant about putting it on the blog so far, but I'm going for it: I'm hoping to run this race in 2:00:00. Hopefully I can convince Tracy to pace me for this one ;)
Apple Chase 10k — Last year, the Apple Chase 5k was the first finish line I ever crossed, and it was great. I've yet to race an official 10k, and this year the Apple Chase falls exactly on my birthday! So on my 26th birthday, I'll be looking for a 55:00 finish on my first official 10k. It benefits a foundation in honor of a friend's mother, among other good charities, so I'll be volunteering again this year as well.

Superhero Half Marathon — I know a few people who've run this race in the past, and I hear it's a good time! It also benefits the American Cancer Society, and if there's anything better than running, it's running for a cause. I will have a time goal for this one too, but I'm waiting to see how I do at RnR before setting it.

Fitzgerald's Lager Run 5k — I ran this 5k last year (and PR'ed... by a lot.) and it was so much fun. One of the sponsors is a local bar I love and the race celebrations commenced at the bar afterward. I'll be looking for another 5k PR here, but I'm not sure what it is yet.

City of Oaks* — Since I've been running, I've wanted to race the City of Oaks in Raleigh, North Carolina. My good friends Tracy and Lisa are intimately familiar with City of Oaks, and it's just such a pretty town and big race event, and I want to be a part of it.

Surf & Santa 5 Miler — This is more tentative logistically, but in my mind it's kind of definite. Because nothing says Alyssa like planning a race 12 months in advance. The thing to note about this race? It will involve a visit to Tracy's stomping grounds!

The Maybes
New Jersey Marathon Series — The weekend of April 25, the New Jersey Marathon, Half Marathon and 5k races all take place on our beautiful Jersey Shore. It's not totally likely that timing and scheduling and financials will be in my favor for the half/5k, but we'll see.

Boston Run to Remember — The week after my May half marathon, a friend has invited me to run another in Boston. It's a huge maybe but probably no, but I won't count it out yet.

Sunset Classic 5 Miler — The run shop near me is a sponsor of this June race and I thought about participating last year. It's on the maybe list for this year if I can find a date and it works out for me.

Tunnel to Towers 5k — I was supposed to run this 9/11 hero's memorial race last year, circumstances and stuff and then I didn't end up racing. It's an incredible cause and if I can, I'd like to make it happen this September.

The Asterisk*
*Oh, so you noticed that? Well, here's the thing. When I first started running, I knew race goals would help me to keep going. At the very start, I thought a 5k was impossible. Once I learned it wasn't (one year ago yesterday I ran 3 miles for the first time ever, and I knew I could cross a 5k finish line), I started dreaming a little bigger. My goal list said I would run a half marathon by the end of 2015, and a full marathon by March 29, 2019 — the day I'll turn 30.

But then I ran a half marathon exactly 10 months to the very day after I started running, and everything changed.

So this year, I'm going to train for a full marathon, and run 26.2 miles in Raleigh this November. If I pull this off, I will have gone from 0 to 26.2 in less than two years; I'll be a marathoner.

And now that I'm putting this out onto the Internet in somewhere other than an email to Kristen or Tracy, I'll be in a cold sweat from now until November. Don't worry about me.


Your turn! Go ahead and share with us anything you're working toward, and don't forget to spread some of the love around and share some motivation with others! We're here for all of you, whether you're working on your next marathon or your first 5k, whether you're up in the gym workin' on your fitness or trying to get that warrior 1 just right.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Real Ramen Is & Other Educational Things

The beautiful thing about life is that there are opportunities to learn and explore the mind and discover things at every turn. The past handful of days have brought a couple of valuable lessons that I hope to remember.

10 Things I've Learned This Weekend

1. Real ramen is worth a 90-minute wait.
"Eating ramen is guaranteed to make you happy."
2. There are some people who really, really, really can't comprehend when I say that the focus of my life has never been, nor is it now, my relationship status, and that being single has never depressed me.

3. Swapping area rugs, rearranging furniture, and cleaning every inch of my apartment is one of the best ways for me to deal with anger and frustration.

4. I will never take kindly to someone insisting they know me better than I know myself or are better equipped than I am to make decisions for me. It will never be okay.

5. It's impossible to watch House Hunters without wanting to punch somebody at some point.

6. Iowans in New York are thrilled when they meet other Iowans. (Related: Don't lie about being from Iowa.)

7. Adnan didn't do it. (I've listened up to episode 10. Stance may change in the final two eps. No spoilers.)

8. The grocery store the day between blizzards is basically hell.
9. People can surprise you at any point in your friendship/relationship with them, and it's not always in a good way.

10. I shouldn't write blog posts when I'm angry, because I'm not good at pretending not to be angry.

In spite of how points 2, 3, 4, 9, and 10 make it sound, it was a good weekend, and I hope yours was too. PS — are you linking up tomorrow?

// Linking up with Biana //

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Sweats Vol. 4

Monday: 4 miles + no formal yoga practice
Timing was of the essence. It iced all the day before, so I gave the morning a couple hours to warm up and thaw it a bit. Before the end of mile 1, it had started snowing, and by the time I walked into my building, it was hailing. I ran comfortably today, averaging about 9:25 with some dancing around ice and puddles and nursing my right hip again.

I also broke in my new kicks and put a couple miles on the shoes I'll wear for my next half marathons! (And then I got caught by another runner and a W.B. Mason delivery guy taking a shoe selfie.)

No formal yoga practice today; just some deep stretching and stim before and after my run.

Tuesday: 3 miles + short free flow + medium relaxation yoga practice
I'm back in beast mode. My miles weren't particularly fast, but they weren't slow either, and they all felt GOOD. By the end of my 3 miles I could have gone for another loop. I still nursed some psoas pain but it was noticeably less than the day before.

I bookended the day with a short stretching free flow in the morning and went for a deeper relaxation bedtime yoga practice. I've never done yoga with one of Adriene's videos before this, but oh man, I loved this practice. I liked her style and will be incorporating more of her videos for home practice days I think.

Wednesday: 0 miles + morning stretch flow + long studio yoga class
Rest day from the road, but I opened up in the morning with some gentle stretching poses.
Wednesday night I took a studio class for the first time since college (with the exception of my awesome three-day workshop with Erin in the fall).

I checked out this studio I've heard good things about and man, oh man, was it great being in class again. The teacher was amazing, and it's the type of studio I like. You don't need to chug a green juice before you go in and no one said the words "drum circle," but there were a lot of "if it's in your practice" and "yogi's choice" type of things said. Even though I'm personally not a beginner, I want to be in a yoga community that is welcoming to all levels and doesn't perpetuate that cliquey, mean girl, you-have-to-be-an-expert-already environment. That so not Raven "yogic," and that's not my style. Anyway, Donna taught a great class, was warm and gentle with her adjustments, and kept class fun and grounding at the same time.

Thursday: 3 miles + short hatha yoga practice
Nothing special, but a good run. I'm organically getting faster, just as I was last year in training, without much exertion or effort. I was just over goal race pace, so hopefully some real speed training combined with race day adrenaline will get me where I want to be for RnR.

For my morning practice I covered a quick 15 minutes with Adriene.

Friday: 0 miles + short stretching yoga practice
Rest day from the road, but I started my morning with another stretch-focused practice. I love Erin's hamstring videos, and thankfully she has a whole bunch for us runners!

Saturday: 0 miles + short stretching yoga practice
I was planning on getting my long run in Saturday, but an overnight snowstorm gave us a couple inches and my super wasn't exactly on his snow removal game. I spent a few minutes stretching out sore hamstrings and working some movement into my back, but other than that, Saturday was a rest day. If you count moving every piece of furniture and cleaning every piece of your home as "rest."

Sunday: 8 miles + no formal yoga practice
I ran slow today, nearly 10 minutes per mile, but I'm not mad about it. I'd shave off, if I had to guess, at least 30 seconds total in time I spent waiting to cross the street or trying to navigate snowy/icy shoulders with traffic. There were also the huge ice patches I had to practically crawl over and the black ice I wasn't about to bet on. I ran a hilly route, which I never mind slowing down on, because I know the hills are better for me in the long run. Overall as good a long run I could have hoped for in the conditions given.

I've had no formal yoga practice yet — just some yoga-inspired deep stretches, but no pranayama so it's really just stretching. I may take a relaxation practice later if I have time to squeeze it in before bed.

Weekly Totals:
Running: 4 runs, 18 miles
Yoga: 7 practices

Running with a podcast is absolutely wonderful for my consistency on the run, but I'm still starting out too fast. Mile 2 is always my worst because mile 1 is always a little too gung-ho. I'll finally be budgeting in a Garmin next month and it'll be my priority to make sure I start out a little bit slower and keep a consistent race pace on my longer runs. And maybe negative splits, but let's not get crazy now. :)

Getting back into the studio was a very welcome change this week. I do very much love my home practice and will continue to visit my mat at home daily, but if I want to teach (and I desperately do, and soon) I need to be back in the studio. This center also offers YTT and is definitely a community I want to be a part of. I'm glad I let go of my complacency in home practice and got back out into the world, and I can't wait to take another class with Donna. (Thank god for the amazing deal this studio has on Groupon right now, f'realz.)


Don't forget to link up your training goals with Tracy and me this week! For the first Training for Tuesday of 2015, it's the best time to map out your goals for the year. Grab a button & join the fun!