Thursday, August 30, 2012

Running & Being Vegan

This week has been a little unusual with my running, mostly because I have had some heel pain :( and to be cautious took a few extra days off.  I am still hoping to finish the week with 5 days of running because the heel is feeling much better today.

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: Tempo run, 8.65 total miles with 5 @ tempo
Wednesday: Hilly recovery run, 8.8 miles
Thursday: swim 2km

I have been meaning to write a post for awhile addressing the fact that I am vegan, what I eat and why I decided to become vegan.  To be honest, I put this off for awhile because I had no pictures of the food I cook/eat and posts without pictures are boring!  Boyfriend and I cook and eat almost exclusively at home (I really enjoy it) but I keep forgetting to take pictures for the blog.  Probably because I am so hungry by the time everything is ready ;)  Anyways, I think I have enough pictures to do the post justice at this point.  Also, I might cheat and come back and add more pictures later.  Caveat: I'm not trying to 'convert' anyone.  Veganism has become an important part of my daily life and for completeness I wanted to address how it fits into my life.

The Story
I began transitioning towards veganism about two years ago in August of 2010.  I was motivated through my desire to become a better runner and knew that eating a healthier diet with lots of plants would probably improve my performance.  I listened to a lot of running podcasts (still do) and found Run Vegan Run (no longer available), which talked a lot about running and eating vegan.   I decided to cut back my meat consumption to 1 meal a day, which I knew would force me to explore more plant based foods and get creative.  At that point, I had no intention of becoming vegan, I only wanted to consume less animal products and processed foods, which I intuitively knew were unhealthy.

Creamy gazpacho
Fast forward a few weeks and I was really enjoying all the plant based meals I had swapped in.  Cooking with meat became less and less attractive to me and the plant alternatives became tastier.  I also discovered Vegetarian Food for Thought, which is a great podcast that I highly recommend.  I started listening and thinking more about foods like cheese, butter, and eggs, how I didn't really need them and how they were linked to a lot of health issues like diabetes, cancer, heart disease and dementia.  I also started thinking about the ethics behind what I ate.  I began reading a lot about nutrition and industrial agriculture, including scientific studies and personal accounts.  I watched documentaries and undercover footage at factory farms.  It was a very tumultuous period and there was a lot of information to process.  However, I really value the ability to critically assess information and make my own choices.  The information was all pointing me in one direction and I realized that I wanted to be vegan.
Chocolate crinkles from The Joy of Vegan Baking

The Hard Parts
Changing my eating and living philosophy wasn't easy at the time.  Although in retrospect I feel the choice was obvious once I had all the information, it still rocked the boat in a big way.  First of all, I was concerned about how Boyfriend would feel.  We cooked and ate most of our meals together, and he enjoyed a lot of meat-oriented dishes.  That was no longer going to be an option for me, nor something I wanted to prepare for him.  Second, I was concerned about the reaction from my parents, especially my mother because she is an excellent cook and always goes out of her way to make things that I enjoy.  I didn't want to insult her or make her think I didn't appreciate her efforts.  Finally, I was concerned about what it would be like eating out or traveling, when I couldn't pick my food out from a grocery store and prepare it all myself.

Couscous with caramelized apricots
In reality, all of these things worked themselves out.  Boyfriend accepted my decision very gracefully and realizes and respects how important being vegan is to me.  Although he is still omnivorous, he has cut back his animal product consumption and almost always eats the vegan dinners that I prepare.  If he wants animal products, he makes it himself.  Although I got a lot of jabs (in jest) from my dad about the decision, both of my parents respect my choice and accommodate it when we are together (which sadly isn't much with me in TX).  My mom sends me great vegan recipes when she finds them and made me some of the most delicious vegan food on my recent trips home.  Eating out has been easier than I thought.  I typically look at menus in advance and if nothing is vegan, I simply ask the wait staff politely to work with me, which they always do.  I don't have ridiculously high expectations, especially if I don't get to pick the restaurant, and I am often pleasantly surprised.  Sometimes, however, it is a little boring, but I never go hungry.  Traveling has been totally manageable and fun, although it does require more foresight.  Since being vegan, I have been to China and France and managed in both!  China was actually easier (the French use a lot of animal products), but I did have to have a friend write out in Mandarin that I do not eat animals.  I speak French, so I was able to explain myself, even if the French thought I was strange.

Why am I Vegan?
I'm not here to preach, but this is the most common question I receive when people learn I am vegan so I want to address it here for the sake of completeness.  I ventured into veganism for health reasons, but I continue to be vegan for both health and ethical reasons.  The health benefits of a plant based diet are numerous, but more importantly to me is embracing compassion and doing my best to not contribute to the harm of other animals, be they human or non-human.

Tofu basil "ricotta" pizza from Save the Kales

The Benefits
As you can probably tell, I am pretty happy with my decision to become vegan and the benefits have been vast.  I feel my ethics are consistent with my actions and that makes my interactions with animals very rewarding, including Bailey.  I am eating healthier than ever before, consuming easily 8-10 servings of vegetables and 3-5 servings of fresh fruit a day.  Most of my carbohydrates are whole grains and I buy very little processed food.  I know that I am getting more nutrients through my vegan diet including fiber, folate, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and omega3 fats.  I have found so many new foods that I enjoy including tofu, tempeh, flax, soba noodles, quinoa, kale, beets, sweet potatoes, edamame, red cabbage, arugula, and chia seeds.  I am healthier than before and hardly ever get sick.  Maintaining a healthy weight is very easy now.  My blood panel results were excellent, with low cholesterol, low blood pressure and good levels of iron.  Most importantly (for this blog at least) is that my veganism has positively affected my running.  I noticed improvements in pace shortly after cutting animal products out of my diet and morning stomach/digestion issues are a thing of the past.

Some Resources
For those of you who might want to learn more, here are some of my favorite resources.
Nutrition Facts (short videos that cover the most up to date scientific findings related to nutrition)
The China Study
The Joy of Vegan Baking
The Vegan Table
Color Me Vegan
The 30 Day Vegan Challenge
Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz
Mad Cowboy
Vegetarian Food for Thought
Our Hen House
Red Radio
Save the Kales!
Forks Over Knives

Veganism was a lifestyle I chose after carefully exploring a vast amount of information available to me.  It is a choice that I am very happy with, but it is important to recognize it was a choice.  I would not have responded well if someone tried to impose their views on me before I was ready for the information.  I do not want to impose my views, but encourage everyone to explore options and information for themselves, wherever it leads you.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Day in Echternach (& a two-nation run)

So this post is coming out a day later than I wanted to write it.  I have been trying to stick to a twice a week posting schedule.  I usually write posts on the evenings that Boyfriend has band practice, but this week the practice got cancelled.  That meant more opportunities for together time and less opportunities to be a nerd on my computer (which is a good thing).  Bailey also had a special play date last night, so there was that...
Bailey in a kiddie pool, being crazy
She really likes swimming and splashing when it is hot out.  Don't worry, she definitely got a bath after this mud-water-fest.

So today I want to write about the fourth place I visited on my Europe-trip (Biarritz, Bordeaux and Paris already recapped).  Before that, a quick workout recap:

Monday: 90 minutes of football practice (too sleepy to run in the morning)
Tuesday: 2100m swim (too lazy to get up in the morning for run, Argh)
Wednesday: 8.25 mile leisurely run
Thursday: 8.26 miles total, 3.25 miles hard on the track (3x1mile, 400m hard)
Friday: 8.00 mile recovery run over hills & 2000m swim

With that out of the way, let me tell you about my visit to Echternach.  After Paris, boyfriend and I took a train to Luxembourg city.  Why you ask?  Well, we were heading east anyways to visit a friend of mine living in Germany and we wanted to visit some interesting places along the way.  I had never been to Luxembourg and it seemed like a really easy way to add another country to the list of places I have been.  It's really easy to get to Luxembourg city, which is the capital, by high-speed train from Paris

Map of Luxembourg
Although Luxembourg city does have some stuff to see, it is like a lot of capitals in Europe and not super unusual, so instead we took a bus from Luxembourg city to Echternach, in the northeast corner of this tiny country.  It only took 45 minutes between the capital and Echternach, including many stops.  Echternach is the oldest town in all of Luxembourg and sits right on the border with Germany.  Heads up, Luxembourg city has the only train station in the country, so to get anywhere else you have to use the public bus system, which is very nice and was surprisingly easy to use.

Echternach is located in the Mullerthal region of Luxembourg, which locals refer to as "Little Switzerland" because of the hilly terrain, green hills and abundant hiking.  We picked this small town to visit because it was quiet, pastoral and close to the very old and interesting Beaufort castle. The afternoon after we arrived it was very drizzly, but we took a bus to the Beaufort castle, which was quite empty and very interesting to visit.

Beaufort castle
Beaufort castle and ME!

The castle had many rooms but the torture chamber was the most intriguing

Thumb screws make me sad
After visiting the castle, we had some time before the next bus back to Echternach.  We decided to take a short hike because there was a trail head directly across from the castle.  It was still drizzling and quite wet, but the trail was beautiful and it was a nice way to pass the time.  

There were sheep grazing adjacent to the trail head.  The lambs were very cute.

Me on the trail.  Everything was so green, unlike TX
We had a relaxing and quiet evening in Echternach, which is not exactly a happening place after hours.  That was okay though because it was one of the only days where we weren't constantly in motion trying to see things.  The next day we explored the town, which is small but pretty, and visited the abbey, church and abbey museum. Then we took a bus back to the Luxembourg train station and heading back into France.

Echternach town center.  That is the original celtic cross transported to the town by an Irish missionary in the 1100s.  Also note we had a brief period of blue sky in the morning.

Of course, I started the day with a run, and it was the best of my entire trip!  About a half mile from the hotel are some Roman ruins, which are adjacent to a lake that is surrounded by green hillsides.  I started my run with a loop around this lake, about 3 miles.  Everything was green and dewy and it was early morning so it was very quiet and hardly anyone was out.  I saw little foxes bounding through the hills and it was just beautiful.  I wanted to get some more miles in, so I headed back into town and then ran along the Sauer river that creates a natural border between Lux and Germany.  This river is about 1/4 mile from the hotel with a jogging/bike path right along the banks.  Again, it was a breathtaking place to run.  Couple that with cool morning temps and I found myself running a great pace effortlessly.  I passed some cows grazing in the field and the path put me less than 10 feet from them.  I found myself extending the run farther than intended and then reached a footbridge that crossed the Sauer to meet some hiking trails.  I ran over the bridge into Germany and decided to run in two countries that day (definitely a first for me!)  Although I wasn't in Germany very long, it was a pretty cool experience.

My run in Echternach was magical, pastoral and everything I could possibly want from running in a new place.  Although not the most exciting city I have visited, I really enjoyed the day there and would recommend it to anyone venturing to Lux.  Don't forget to pack your running shoes!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Extra Mile - Book Review

Quick running recap for the week! First half of the week is here.

Thursday: 8.13 miles, tempo
Friday: 8.13 miles, hills
Saturday: 2.2 km swim
Sunday: 12.01 miles

I hit 45.67 miles for the week and 2.2 km of swimming.  I was just shy of my goal (4km swimming) because I woke up exhausted on Monday morning and skipped a run.  Because I had flag football in the evening, I couldn't get a swim workout in and I was too tired all week to do a double workout day.  Oh well, I am still very happy to have run 45+ miles two weeks in a row and the swimming is secondary.  There are two weeks left in August, so hopefully I can keep this base going!

Yesterday we had the most awesome and welcome sight in all of Austin, heavy rain!  We didn't get a single drop of rain all of August  2011, so this made for a nice change.  The rain cooled things down here considerably and it carried over to my long run this morning; I had cloud cover the entire time and the temp when I finished was 71, about 10 degrees cooler than usual.  I noticed a huge difference in the way I felt while running (better, obviously) and that gives me hope that a) I will make it through the heat of the summer and b) running will get easier and more enjoyable as the weather cools down.  Don't worry though, my clothes were still sopping wet when I finished.  It might have been low 70s, but it was still 100% humidity.

Today I want to review The Extra Mile by ultrarunner extraordinaire Pam Reed.  You can find her official website for the book here.  Full disclosure, I actually read this book several months ago and hadn't found the time to write up my thoughts until now.

Pam Reed is an elite ultrarunner who lives in Tuscon, AZ.  She was born in 1961 in Michigan.  She is the race director for the Tuscon marathon and has set multiple course and world records in ultra distance events including 24 hour races.  She is probably best known for winning the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon in 2002 and again in 2003 (146 miles when she first ran it).  What is most spectacular about these achievements at Badwater is that is marked the first time a woman won the event outright.  This book details her running achievements and lifestyle up to the time it was written/published (2007).

The majority of the book focuses on Pam's running career, and especially the 5-7 years before the book was published.  There are some details about her upbringing, marriage, and family life peppered in for effect, but this plays a minor role in the book.  Pam predominantly discusses her motivation for running, interest in running long distances and then personal accounts of many specific races she participated in.  One problem I had with the book is that it is not entirely chronological and jumps around a bit.  Nonetheless, I did find her account of specific races to be very interesting and good story telling.  However, overall, I would have to give her low marks for her prose, which is choppy and very stream of consciousness.  I would say she is an average writer at best, and although all the details are there, it just doesn't read as well as it should.

The highlight of the book is definitely her accounts the Badwater Ultramarathon.  She is obviously a very talented and amazing endurance runner, which makes her a unique and admirable character in her own story, and is the primary reason I enjoyed reading The Extra Mile.  As a female runner, I am particularly intrigued to learn more about those circumstances under which women are faster than their male counterparts.  Here is an interesting article about it in Runner's World, but basically at long distances, the physical (smaller, carry higher % of fat) and mental attributes of women (better pain tolerance, focus on long term goals) become advantageous.

I would rate this book 3 stars.  As mentioned above, I had problems with the prose and quality of writing.  That being said, it is an easy read and she is an interesting character that is worth learning more about and her experiences definitely interested me.  I'm not raving about it to my friends and bugging them to read it, but I think nearly all running enthusiasts would find it enjoyable and easy to get through.

Let me know if you read it and what your thoughts are!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Passing through Paris

Paris skyline from Sacre Coeur
Today I will recap another piece of my recent vacation in Europe (4 days in Paris), but first a little running update.

Monday: 1.5 hrs of flag football practice
Tuesday: 8.66 miles, easy
Wednesday: 8.74 miles, hills

Monday night it almost rained, even started drizzling, while I was playing flag football after work.  But, it never did rain, and now we are left with even more miserable humidity than usual.  The past two mornings the humidity has been well above 90% with overnight lows around 77F.  Sigh.  August is definitely the worst month in central TX, but at least the roughest part of summer is drawing to a close.

In recent posts, I mentioned my adventures in Biarritz and Bordeaux.  From Bordeaux, I took a high speed train to Paris, where I met Boyfriend and we began traveling together, while is arguably more fun!  This was his first trip to Europe, so it was even more special.  Paris is of course a great city to start in!  The last time I had been in Paris was the summer of 2006, when I interned with the French company Air Liquide.  I was excited to be back, albeit briefly.

We spent the first day on our own and then the next 3 days (and one day at the end of the trip) with a Parisian friend of mine who I met during the internship in 2006.  We stayed in the 14th arrondissement, which is on the left bank and south end of Paris.

On our first day:

We visited hilly Montmartre

And climbed up Sacre Coeur
Climbed to the third tier of this tower

It was windy up top!
And saw Notre Dame on Ile de Cite
After our first day, and checking off some of the must see's in Paris, boyfriend was very flexible about our remaining days.  Seeing as how I had done all the major museums and touristy stuff six years ago, I was inclined to pick some less common sights that I had missed doing.  Thus, the next two days we did day trips by train from Paris.  First, we went to Chateau Fountainebleu, which was inhabited by many French kings and famously by Napoleon I & III.  We chose this Chateau (over Versailles) because it is much less crowded and tickets are very reasonable.  The estate and gardens are so beautiful and well preserved, I highly recommend it!

The front of the massive Chateau Fontainebleu

Hanging out on the staircase from which Napoleon made his farewell speech before he was banished to Elba

The gilded throne room of the Chateau (the inside was so beautiful and lavish)
 The next day, we visited the medieval town of Provins.  We had a lot of rain and coldness that day, but we didn't let it stop us!  This is a walled city that hosted many of the champagne fairs during the Middle Ages.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site (and sister city to Pingyao!)

Caesar's tower, the oldest part of Provins, which was first built in 1137!

Smelling some of the beautiful roses, for which Provins is well known!  We bought rose honey and mustard

The old town square

The old city walls; this is main city gate and where there used to be a drawbridge 
So in addition to all the fun things we saw, we also got to spend a lot of time hanging out with my friend and his fiance, which was really awesome!  They took us to some great restaurants and strolls through Paris at night.  Unfortunately, I didn't run while I was in Paris!  I had run for over a week straight while in Biarritz and Bordeaux and needed a little break.  I did intend to run a few times, but then I ended up staying up pretty late socializing and couldn't get myself going in the mornings.  Sometimes that happens on vacations.  Fortunately, I have run many, many times while staying in Paris in 2006.

So, after several days of not running, we got back on a train and headed to Luxembourg for the next stop in our adventures.

Have you been to Paris?  Have you run in Paris?  What is your favorite section of the city?
-I love Luxembourg gardens, which are just so beautiful and great for strolling and eating a french macaroon!

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I finished off the week with 45 miles of running and 4km of swimming; one of the best weeks I have had in a long time.  I ran 5 days this week and swam on the other two days.  This kind of balance and mileage is perfect for my marathon base building and I am hoping to keep it up through August and into September.  Once the weather cools down, I will start increasing the mileage again, but for now I hope to stay consistent.

The first half of the week is recapped here.

Friday: 8.33 miles, 3.25 hard on the track
Saturday: 12.11 mile long run, easy pace
Sunday: swam 2km

One thing that I really like about running is that participating and improving in the sport does not require a lot of equipment or money.  Compared to a sport like cycling, where the gear is very expensive and is a major factor in one's ability to improve, running requires very little gear.  I think this makes the sport very accessible and reduces the barrier of entry.  The baseline for participation in running used to be a pair of running shoes, but now with barefoot running gaining momentum, we could argue that even that has gone out the window.

That being said, getting new running gear can be really nice.  I don't do it all that often (except replacing shoes every 500-600 miles), largely because if I don't need to spend money on stuff, I try not to.  That being said, with more than 15 years of running behind me, it's inevitable that some of that running stuff needs to be retired and replaced.  I've been making a recent effort to replace the bulk of my running socks, which were cotton NB socks that are 6-10 years old and no longer resemble white.  The problem with the socks has predominantly been that they are so stretched out that they bunch in my shoes, but I digress.

Aspaeris pivot shorts
I recently decided to try compression socks and shorts, with an air of skepticism and disdain for what I felt was an exorbitant price.  Why did I want to try them?  Well, typically if my leg muscles are sore or tight, the discomfort is concentrated in my calves and hamstrings.  In April and May, these muscle groups caused me a lot of trouble, as I frequently found I had to stop mid run to stretch them out.  I waited for some online deals and purchased Pro Compression marathon socks and Aspaeris pivot shorts.  I was able to get the socks for $30 (regular $50) and specifically chose this brand because they often run discounts online (and several people had mentioned success with them).  I got two pairs of the pivot shorts for $45, regular price is $60 for one.
ProCompression marathon sock

I first tried wearing both the socks and shorts for recovery, i.e. in the evenings at home, or during the day under pants at work.  The short story is that I like both of these products and find them effective!  I always felt like the following day, my legs were more recovered than usual.  Both products are designed to be tight, which makes them a little tricky to get on, but once they are in place, I definitely feel like it hugs my muscles and increases circulation, leaving my muscles feeling much better recovered compared to an occasion when I do not use them.  

I also tried the socks and shorts during runs.  I didn't notice much of a benefit if any wearing the socks.  I think it probably looked cool, as the socks are super bright, but my calves would still feel achy and tight.  They did sop up some of the sweat that normally drips down my legs, so that was sort of nice.  I have worn the shorts both for a track workout and for a hilly run.  On both occasions, I liked wearing the shorts and felt like it prevented my hamstrings from feeling uncomfortable.  It made stretching and running uphills, during which I normally feel my hamstrings in an unpleasant sort of way, much easier.  I did notice that I had more trouble keeping my Nathan Speed 2 water pack in place with the pivot shorts, but it wasn't so inconvenient as to motivate me not to wear the shorts.

My pink Pro Compression marathon socks and my legs
Basically, I like both of these products and will continue to use them several times a week.  With two pairs of socks and shorts, I do not foresee my supply expanding in the near future.  I do laundry enough times a week that this should suffice for now.  I can certainly recommend these two brands, but I would suggest that if anyone is interested in trying compression gear to scope out the options and wait for a promotion, as the full price for all of this stuff just seems so high (at least to me!)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Running in Bordeaux

Running this week...
Monday: 8.25 miles, slow & hilly
Tuesday: swim 2 km
Wednesday: 8.27 miles with 5.27 at solid tempo pace
Thursday: 8.28 miles, slow and hilly

It's still central TX, so it is still hot & humid every morning, making me a hot sweaty mess <1 mile in.  Running with a water belt is definitely helpful this time of year, although I do not like the added weight.  Without it though, I really can't do more than a couple of miles.

Last post, I talked about running in Biarritz, France.  After finishing my conference in Biarritz, I met up with Boyfriend and we traveled around a bit together.  Because of the timing of flights from TX to Paris, and the train schedule, we were unable to meet up until two days after my conference finished.  So, I had some extra time and decided to visit the city of Bordeaux in southwestern France.  Why Bordeaux?  Well, all the high speed trains to Paris from Biarritz pass through Bordeaux, so it was a convenient stop over point.  Plus, as one of the largest cities in France with a rich history (mostly related to wine), I knew it would be interesting enough to pass a day.  I should mention that I speak French conversationally, so traveling by myself is not a problem!
Checking out the wine museum in Bordeaux, France
In retrospect, more time would have been very nice and I would like to go back so I could visit the vineyards and surrounding countryside.  The city was pretty, but mostly monuments, shopping, parks and history.  I only got to taste a little wine because it was a Friday afternoon and that is not a good tasting day (a lot of places were closed).

Basilica St. Michel

Fountain at Place des Quinconces

Suddenly, I was in LA!

The cathedral

So after arriving by train, I checked into my hotel (an Accor right by the train station) and set off on foot to explore the city & find food.  Fortunately, the weather was beautiful, sunny and clear skies but not too warm.  I covered a lot of ground, and even though the city has a light rail, I managed on foot, which was good because I was going to be spending plenty of time on trains.

I had some great food while I was there!  I had lunch at Viva Las Vegans, which is a vegan/vegetarian cafe in the old, pedestrian section of the city.  For dinner, I had Thai at a little corner shop that was so tiny but the food was fresh and excellent.  This choice was pretty spontaneous because I was really hungry and tired, but none of the other restaurants were going to open for dinner before 7:30pm, which is very typical of the French!

After a full day, I headed back to my hotel before dark (I was by myself after all), and got up bright and early the next morning for a run before catching the train to Paris.  Bordeaux is situated along the Garonne river, which I could see from my hotel, so naturally I ran along the river.  I like running along waterways, especially in new cities, because it reduces the likelihood that I will get lost.  Often, they have great trails/walkways as well.  I was a little disappointed by my run though, as the pathways along the river only stretched for about 2 miles on either side.  As I was aiming for 7 miles, it made things a little repetitive.  I prefer to just keep going a long ways in one direction.  Nonetheless, I did enjoy crossing the beautiful Pont Pierre several times.

Pont Pierre over the Garonne (full disclosure, not my picture)
I noticed many others out for a run, which was nice, and probably not atypical of a Saturday morning in France.  After my run, I cleaned up and headed to the train station for the trip to Paris.  I enjoyed my brief visit to Bordeaux, but intend to come back again to fully enjoy this wine region.  I think the best way to see it is with a rental car.  I can only imagine the beautiful running in the countryside...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Running in Biarritz

I didn't get as much running in this weekend as I'd like.  Yesterday I ran 8.05 miles at a leisurely pace and I was hoping for a long run of ~12 miles today to finish off the week with 5 days of running and 2 of swimming.  Sadly, I turned off my alarm and promptly fell back asleep and slept until after 9am.  Unfortunately, it is too hot this time of year in TX to run if I do not get up quite early in the morning, so there was no chance of making it up.  Boo.  But, I desperately needed the sleep.  I think what I have realized is that I cannot run both mornings on the weekend, and I should move one of my swim days from the weekday to the weekend.  That would allow me to sleep in one day, because I can't swim until after 10am (when the pool opens) anyways.  Solid plan for next week, hopefully I can execute it.

I did have the extreme pleasure of watching the women's Olympic marathon this morning, which was awesome!  I DVRed it and watched every minute.  It is so rare for marathons to be broadcast on tv, so it was a treat.  I was sad for Desiree Davila, who is my fav of the three US women.
Desiree Davila, my facebook friend! (That is actually true)

So one of the reasons I lapsed on the blog was a work conference extended to vacation trip to France in June.  I was attending an engineering conference in Biarritz, France for one week, and afterwards met up with Boyfriend to take a week and a half to explore some other places in western Europe.  I ran the whole time I was there, as that is something I love to do when I am in new places, and the running was actually great.  I had come from TX where it was already in the high 90s everyday to european temps in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Biarritz is in the southwestern corner of France, bordering Spain.
It is a very small and pretty seaside resort.  It is known for gambling, golf and surfing.  The coastline is very dramatic here and the city is small and walkable, with most of it along the sea.

Surfers, heading down to the beach
It was a great place to run!  I did six runs while here, starting with the first afternoon I arrived.  I either ran along the sea wall or around the two lakes in Biarritz.  The sea wall route took me past all the major attractions and tourist center, including the former palace of Napoleon the III (now a very expensive hotel), up to the lighthouse, and into the next town.
There aren't many pictures with me in them because I was traveling solo

View of the main beach, casino, Hotel Napoleon & Lighthouse
I stayed in a cute little hotel (Hotel Eduoard VII), which was a converted home and has 18 rooms and a beautiful salon where breakfast was served daily.  It was only a 6 minute walk from the convention center and main beach.

my Hotel

You can see the convention center on the left, which had gorgeous ocean views
Although I really enjoyed running along the sea wall, it was always a little crowded and I enjoy variety in my runs.  So, I used google maps to spot some nearby (within 2 miles from my hotel) lakes, which dirt paths around them.  I ran there half the time.  This took me towards the non-tourist center of Biarritz, which was a fresh perspective and it was always very quiet.  Sadly no pictures, because I do not run with a camera.

Dramatic rock outcroppings

Overall, I really enjoyed Biarritz.  It was quaint, pretty, walk-able and the running was a nice way to see so much of the city!  The terrain was very varied, along the sea it was quite hilly, but in the town center much flatter.  If you find yourself in SW France, definitely check it out and go for a run!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Coding like a Nerd

So I realize that it has been a LONG time since I posted something.  Suffice it to say that the glamorous grad school life has been busy and once I fell off the bandwagon, it got hard to get started again and easier to just not write.  I'm still debating if I should do this regularly, as I am getting close to defending my PhD and getting a job in the real world (i.e. real employers).

Running has been going as well as one might expect, given the intense heat of a TX summer.  I think I might finally be catching on to the TX lifestyle after 4 years because I have actually been pretty consistent the last month.  Here is the week so far:

Monday: swim 2km
Tuesday: 8.69 mile run
Wednesday: 8.19 mile run, including 3 miles of track work
Thursday: 8.15 mile run
Friday: swim 2km after work (planned)

I'm planning on running Sat and Sun too, for roughly 45 miles for the week.

I think I'll write more about running in upcoming posts, but for right now, I want to address my recent adventures in the land of programming.

Most of my time at work is devoted to maintaining the health and happiness of many cell lines, setting up and running experiments, analyzing very simple data about those experiments, reading research papers and responding to mass quantities of email.  In the world of science PhDs, I am known as an "Experimentalist".  This means the data I produce comes from experimental measurements.  Contrast that with the "Computationalist" who uses sophisticated computer software or their own code to model in silico (that means in the computer) how something works in real life.

I recently took on a side project at work that involves a lot of computational work.  I decided to work on this because I felt it would compliment and expand my skill set, which is heavily experiment based.  Also, Bioinformatics is a hot area in Biotechnology and I want to be competitive for the job market.  At first, it was a little daunting because I haven't programmed in a long time (about 4 years).

Guess what?  I am totally enjoying this!  I actually forgot how much I love writing code, it is like a puzzle and so logical and these are things that I love.  Of course, this shouldn't surprise me because I did got to MIT and I am a nerd (I totally embrace this).  As a freshman at MIT, I had to learn my first programming platform, which was MATLAB.  MATLAB is really popular for engineers and I had to use it all throughout my chemical engineering core courses.  I remember being totally lost at first, but by the end of that first class, I really enjoyed it.

A few years later, I was hired by a small company in Cambridge to design a database for their cell culture data, so I taught myself VisualBasic, which is the programming language built into Excel and allows you to write your own functions that run over Excel.  Pretty useful if you do a lot of stuff with Microsoft Office.  After learning VisualBasic, I made my dad a database to keep track of his wine inventory in Excel.

In my senior year at MIT, I took an intro to programming class through the Computer Science Department (i.e. people who really know how to code) and learned Python.  This class was a lot of fun because all of the assignments were building complicated games that utilized the programming skills.  It was also really well taught and covered a lot of concepts that I had not previously learned on my own.

So, when I had to write some code to analyze long sets of DNA sequence for my work project, I busted out my Python skills and am super proud of my script!  It elegantly does all of the analysis I want and then saves it nicely formatted in Excel spreadsheets for me.  I was dragging my feet getting started on this because I hadn't used Python in so long, but really enjoyed doing it.  Everyone who uses it LOVES Python.

Sadly, I also had to use another computer language for this project, the dreaded R.  Yup, that is the name, just 'R'.  This language was written by statisticians and I hate it.  The reason I hate it is that the syntax  Pretty much all the other languages I know (MATLAB, VBA, Python) and languages I don't know but hear are useful (C, C++, Perl) use very similar syntax, so it is really easy to learn them once you know at least one.

R does not follow this pattern and I have tried three times to really learn it and I keep failing.  It doesn't help that the documentation is really poor.  Everyone I know who uses R HATES it.  Sadly, I needed to use R to analyze publicly available microarray data and was forced to figure it out.  Fortunately, I have an amazing friend on campus who is pretty proficient with R and he gave me some scripts he wrote and taught me how to modify them.  So, now I am confidently using a tiny portion of R, but I still hate it.  Anytime something goes wrong, it takes me 243571x longer than it should to correct, because I only have the vaguest idea how the language works.

So now I have probably left you without a doubt that I am one of the nerdiest runners out there.  But, maybe some of you like coding?  Do you?  Please share!

In other news, today is Bailey's 2nd birthday and 1 year mark of living with us!  She is so great and makes me very happy.  And now some pictures of her, because she is way cuter than me :)

I'm super spoiled, but my M&D wouldn't have it any other way

I love my cousin Ike

I like window gazing, pillows and my personal couch.