Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Books Update: Quarter 4

Congrats on making it through another year, you crazy diamond, you!

I may not have had a particularly awesome year of running, but I did read 80 books & over 32,000 pages, so yay for still being at least moderately productive. We're now at the tail-end of quarter 4, so let's talk about what I've been reading over the last three months.

As you probably already know, I've been reading a classic a month for the last two years. It started as a one-year project in 2014, but I've enjoyed it enough to keep going with it & will probably continue until it starts to feel like a chore.

These were my last three classics of the year:

October: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oliver Wilde (1890, 166 pages). 4 stars. This was my spooooky Halloween read! Young, beautiful, innocent, naive Dorian Gray sits for a portrait for an artist friend, who proclaims the painting his best work. Dorian is suddenly struck by the horrible thought that he will age and lose his beauty while his portrait will remain beautiful and youthful forever. In a fit of panic he desperately prays that his and the painting's roles should be reversed, so that the painting ages while he stays young and beautiful. Not only does his wish come true, but the portrait also begins to reflect the condition of his soul. Creepiness and philosophy ensue. The writing is clever and gorgeous, and Wilde is a master of dry wit & witty repartee, plus it's less than 200 pages so pretty easy to knock out on a plane ride or similar. But, it is worth mentioning that it's still not a light read. Some parts of it are quite dense and heavily philosophical (I found myself carefully re-reading many sections because I didn't catch or process it all the first or second time around), so definitely something to save for when you are fully alert and not distracted.

November: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (1861, 505 pages). 4 stars. This book could almost be a companion to Jane Eyre, and after reading it, I understand why John Irving featured those two books together the way he did in The Cider House Rules. I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed it. Yes, there's still the barrier of it was written in the 19th century, so not every little detail makes sense all the time (what was the deal with the green gloves at the wedding?), but it was still a really well-written story and a cleverly plotted mystery with a bigger point to it. Worth reading.

December: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey (1962, 325 pages). 3 stars. This was definitely a very clever, well-written book & I can see why it's become a classic. I'm also glad I read it because it's so iconic and now references to the story and characters make more sense. On the other hand, it dealt with subject matter that is not my favorite (mental institutions, physical mistreatment/abuse of people by those with power over them) and just was generally not really up my alley.


I have read a lot of stuff lately but here are the titles I most highly recommend:

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. (2015, 392 pages) 5 stars. Amazing. I actually think the marketing copy included a pretty decent summation: Every relationship has two perspectives, and sometimes the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. The relationship in question is that of Lotto & Mathilde, madly in love and married at the tender age of twenty-two after knowing each other for all of two weeks. The first half of the book tells the story of their marriage from Lotto's point of view, and though the writing is utterly gorgeous and the characters dynamic and multi-dimensional, it's on the darker side, without much in the way of comic relief. The second half, though, is Mathilde's story, which fills in a lot of blanks in sometimes jaw-dropping ways. (Fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, this is why you'll love it.)

The Man in the Empty Suit, by Sean Farrell. (2013, 306 pages) 5 stars. Sean Farrell is one of my favorite new-to-me authors. In this book, an unnamed protagonist time traveler decides after inventing his time machine around age 18 to throw a birthday party for himself at an abandoned hotel on a certain day in 2071, where the only guest is himself. Every 365 days (according to his local experience of time), he travels back to that particular time and place, the result being a party with dozens of guests, all the same man, just at different ages. All is well and good until at age 38, he learns that another version of himself, just slightly older than he currently is, has been shot and killed at the party. Of course, eyeing his much-older selves, the 38-year-old protagonist's first response is, "This is impossible." And theirs is, "Which is why you have to figure out how to stop it from happening." A fascinating story that I couldn't put down because I HAD to figure out what happened.

Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman. (2015, 320 pages) 5 stars. National Book Award short list. OMG, I don't really know what I can say about this book without revealing huge spoilers. The story alternates between two different aspects of 15-year-old Caden Bosch's life: His normal, 15-year-old-kid life wherein he attends school, builds video games with friends, and vacations with his family, and a more mysterious one where he is part of the crew of a sailing ship run by a stereotypical pirate captain and spends his days using his drawing skills to guide the ship's mission to the Marianas Trench. We get no explanation about the relationship between Caden's two lives for many, many creepy and intriguing pages. I was engrossed in this book from the first page and kind of wanted to scream every time I had to put it down. Also the most brilliant depiction of [key social issue/spoiler] that I've ever read.

Slade House, by David Mitchell. (2015, 238 pages) 4 stars. All of David Mitchell's books are entwined to a certain extent with many characters reappearing or at least making cameo appearances, but Slade House has a little more of a direct connection with The Bone Clocks, which is probably my favorite David Mitchell book. The book has five chapters, each of which details a particular person's experience stumbling upon the mysterious, eponymous Slade House & its eerie inhabitants. Short, quick, & gorgeously written (though maybe not quite up to his usual standard), & a must if you enjoyed Bone Clocks.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. (2006, 146 pages) 4 stars. Shirley Jackson! I am absolutely obsessed with her right now, thanks to The Haunting of Hill House and Head Full of Ghosts. After The Haunting of Hill House (which I was inspired by A Head Full of Ghosts to read), I am on a major Shirley Jackson kick. (And if you do read A Head Full of Ghosts, you MUST read this one before or after. Sisters Constance and Mary Katherine Blackwood live in their family's remote ancestral home with their sickly Uncle Julian after the rest of the family died from arsenic poisoning. The poisoning (via the sugar bowl, with berries) was blamed on Constance, and although she was acquitted, the entire town now loathes the family. Although Constance and Uncle Julian are housebound, Mary Katherine still ventures into town for supplies (thereby suffering the wrath of the townspeople). All is more or less well until the day that Cousin Charles comes to visit and changes life for everyone.

Dumplin', by Julie Murphy (2015, 375 pages). 4 stars. Super cute YA wherein young, confident Texan woman of size and Dolly Parton aficionado Willowdean Dickson ("Dumplin'" to her mom) furiously navigates changing friendships, boys, work, body image, and her relationship with her mother. I love this book for just having a main character who is a) fat and b) does not hate her body. The author flipped the script in a few other ways too: There is a hot boy to crush on, but what sets the plot rolling is not WD pining after a dude who will obviously never like her back, but the fact that he pursues her. And, instead of the Hallelujah Chorus, Hot Crush's reciprocity incites voices of insecurity and body ambivalence in WD's head. And instead of the non-conventionally-hot girl desperately making herself over to catch a dude's eye, poor WD finds herself the object of TWO dudes' affections, which really freaks her out. Obviously, the solution to all this is for WD to enter the super-hyped-up beauty pageant for which her small town is known, and which (OF COURSE) is run by her high-strung, body-conscious mother. Hilarity and feels ensue; also bonus points for all the fun Texas details. (Except for the part about driving from somewhere in southern TX to Odessa in two hours. Just, no.)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin (2014, 272 pages). 4 stars. This short, lovely gem of a book follows the eponymous widower bookseller/book snob and sometimes-misanthrope as he meets and pursues a lady publishing rep, raises a mysterious orphan girl left in his store, brings literary culture to a multifaceted cast of characters in his tiny town, and generally negotiates the trials and mysteries of life. Reading the synopsis, I kind of went, "Oh, it's 'Up' with books," and there are maybe some parallels here & there. But, it's a lot less comedy/wacky character study (though there are moments of humor) and more a gorgeously written, beautifully crafted love letter to the world of books and reading and how they change our lives. Sad in places and a little tragic, but in the inspirational-and-uplifting kind of way, not the ugly-cry-wreck-you-for-a-day kind of way.

A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny (1994, 280 pages). 4 stars. So the plan was to read one chapter a month each night in October (as is apparently the tradition), but the early chapters are maddeningly short, so it ended up only taking me a couple of weeks. In it, Jack the Ripper & his dog Snuff spend October preparing for some sort of mysterious, supernatural "Game" which is intended to come to fruition on Halloween night. Details are slowly revealed over the course of the story. Other participants/involved persons include Count Dracula, Frankenstein & his monster, Sherlock Holmes, & a werewolf. Snuff narrates. Short, cute, entertaining, & very Zelazny.

The Accident Season, by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. (2015, 280 pages) 4 stars. Each October, an Irish family becomes incredibly accident prone, which can mean anything from a few bumps and bruises to grisly deaths. The "accident season" that Cara and her step-brother Sam are 17 & her sister Alice is 18, Cara's childhood friend Elsie suddenly begins appearing in all of her pictures. Spine-tingling creepiness ensues. A perfect October read--eerie and haunting, a mystery that grips you from the first page, and gorgeously (not to mention spookily) written all around. (THANK YOU JESUS, once again, for well-written teens.) I have a couple of quibbles with the wrap-up, but honestly, if I hadn't read so much excellent "literary YA" lately, I might have given it five stars. Curl up with this one on All Hallows' Eve if you're looking for something creepy & clever to devour for sheer entertainment.

* * *

Currently Reading:
The Monsters of Templeton
, by Lauren Groff

Currently Listening To:
, by Stephen King

Up Next:

We will see what monthly classics 2016 brings me, but in the mean time, I have the following stacked up on my nightstand and/or in my Audible queue:

Taking future suggestions as always. :)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Race Report: UCSF Diabetes Center Holiday 5K Classic

Happy Holidays!! :D

We've been immersed in wacky travel (mis)adventures for the last two days, but I've been super excited about posting this race report & really wanted to get it up before Christmas. So, enjoy!

* * *

On the last morning before my winter break, I got up at 6:30, went through the whole morning pre-race routine, & drove the three miles to my beloved stomping grounds in Golden Gate Park. My runs lately have been quite short, so I hadn't been out there in a while, and it was lovely to be back amongst all the familiar sidewalks and trails.

I didn't tell anyone about this race ahead of time (except Grace, Jen, & Cat) because whether or not I ran it would depend on how comfortable I was with how my leg was feeling, and if something felt off, I didn't want to feel pressured to do it or have to write another DNS post (because gaaaaaahhh so over that). I've been running up to 40 minutes & my leg has been totally pain free, but then a couple weeks back I crashed into a climbing wall and walloped my left leg *right* in the exact spot where I had the stress fracture, so it's been swollen and bruised and tender ever since. (NOT helpful in terms of reassuring me that the sfx is nice & healed.) But I haven't had any pain with running, so as long as that trend continued, I thought I was probably safe to race a 5K & see where I was fitness-wise after ~4 months of almost no running.

There's no shortage of laid-back, holiday-themed 5Ks in the area, but I felt like I was especially lucky to find one on my last weekend in town three miles from home on familiar terrain, with a fairly flat, USATF-certified course to boot. I stalked it for a while, not wanting to jinx myself by talking about it or signing up too soon, but when I was up to running 40 minutes just a week out from the race & feeling good, I figured what the heck & registered.

Conservatory of Flowers just west of the staging area.
Perfect racing weather as long as it stayed dry!

With my 20-40 minute easy runs and hours and hours of elliptical, I can't say I've really been training for this race, but I have been doing some shorter, harder intervals on the elliptical so that it maybe wouldn't be truly awful. Here's the thing, though; in the last 2.5 years, yes, I have run some races, but not once have I felt healthy and strong enough to really race all-out. I desperately wanted to do that on Sunday and get a sense of my fitness level. Thankfully all my parts seemed to be cooperating for the first time in what felt like forever, so I decided to give it a go.

You guys, I was as nervous as a virgin. It was so ridiculous. I left home probably earlier than necessary in case it was hard to park. I brought umpteen different layer options. (Rain was forecast, but it wasn't clear whether it would arrive before, during, or after the race or how bad it would be.) I brought four pairs of shoes so I could leave the decision-making to the very last minute, then changed my mind three times. (I was concerned about foot support/impact on my legs given my lack of fast running lately, and also about potentially slick ground. In the end I went with my Type A racing flats, if you're curious.) I went to the bathroom three times. I was actually even shaking a little when I finally got out of my nice warm car to go warm up for real.

Because God forbid I get it wrong...

Why was I so nervous? I think mainly two things:

1) As mentioned, I've been "training" maybe 3-4 hours a week for the last few months, mostly on the elliptical, and I hadn't run faster than maybe 9:00 pace on solid ground since July. I had no idea what my current fitness was like beyond "not great" and I was kind of terrified it might have regressed to "epic black hole." Part of me was a little afraid I would find myself pumping out 5K effort but seeing (2.5 years ago) marathon pace on my watch, and I didn't really have an emotional plan for handling that.

2) I was afraid of The Pain Cave and my ability to handle it mentally. In the past when I've been racing a lot, I feel like I've gotten "in practice" with embracing the suck in the last 25% or so of a hard race and not backing off and giving a lesser effort because it feels so terrible. I haven't been doing that much lately, so I was worried that regardless of what I was capable of physically I might not mentally be able to push myself to give 100% all the way to the end. And there is just no worse feeling in racing than going into it planning to leave it all out there & knowing you kind of chickened out when it started to hurt.

Huddling in the warm car for as long as possible.

In the past, I've learned that if I want to run a truly A+ 5K or 10K, I really need to warm up for a good half hour. I'm only up to maybe 40 minutes of running right now, though, and considering it was also going to be a much harder effort than I've run in a while, I decided to play it conservative & limited my warm-up to maybe ~10:00 of easy jogging & a few strides. I was kind of surprised to see that according to my watch I was warming up comfortably at ~7:45-8:00 pace, though, which I took as a good sign.

There were only 123 people in the 5K, so I lined up almost at the front (just behind the lanky teenage cross-country dudes). The start was a bit delayed due to some issue with the timing, and when it finally did come all we got was an abrupt "RUNNERS SET!" and then a bullhorn tone. Off we went!

I ran my PR 5K in 2012 at 6:40 pace and my PW in 2014 at ~7:07 pace (coming off my first stress fracture, incidentally), so I'd decided to try going out at around 7:00 pace & seeing how that felt. I know that I have a habit of going out way too fast in 5Ks (like, sub-6:00), so I'd reminded myself at the start that for the first half mile or so I should hold back pretty aggressively and that it should feel SLOW.

And I really felt like I was doing that, cruising along at a quick-but-comfortable clip! Until I looked at my watch & realized, nope, I was still running like ~5:50. I basically spent that whole mile trying to slow down and convince myself that no, my post-injury, de-trained ass had not been magically sprinkled with pixie dust last night and there was no way in Hades I could keep up anything *remotely* like this pace for more than the first mile and if my body insisted on testing that hypothesis I was going to have a very, very sad third mile.

I think I was running roughly 7:00 pace by the end of mile 1 but when I hit lap at the 1st mile marker (GPS with all of my Garmins has been hugely unreliable lately so I'd turned off auto lap) I saw a 6:39 split. Still, I was encouraged by the fact that I wasn't hurting yet. Around this time I found myself gradually catching up to a very young-looking girl who I thought might have been a high school cross country runner. It might have been mental but I found myself settling right in with her at a pace that felt challenging but doable, and we ended up running mostly neck-and-neck for a good while. There were times when she started to push ahead and my brain would think, "Eh, she's faster than you & starting to kick, the smart thing is to let her go."

But then, something in the body-brain complex would go "NOPE NOT GETTING DROPPED" & bump the pace up just a notch so that I stayed with her. And then some other, more conservative part would yell back, "NO NOT GOOD VERY BAD ABORT ABORT." And yet, somehow my body hung in there. It was my like my experienced, intuitive runner-brain sense of what kind of effort I should and shouldn't be able to sustain & for how long was somehow out out of sync with my body and my body was winning.

By the end of mile 2 things were quite unpleasant and I felt like I was running way, way faster than I should be and should really ease back a bit if I didn't want to blow up in the last half mile. But again, my body resisted any and all efforts to slow down. It was like someone had hacked the controls and all I could do was hang on and suffer. I was still sticking to my cross country girl; we went up a couple of short hills where I thought for sure she was finally going to drop me but somehow my legs had decided they just couldn't let that happen.

At this point, I wasn't even looking at my watch anymore because I just felt so sure I was running a completely insane pace, I was completely incapable of slowing down, and all it would do if I looked was scare the pants off of me. As mile 2 ticked off I honestly didn't feel like I could possibly run any faster and that seemed like a really bad sign with over a mile left to go.

In mile 3 I started counting backwards from 400 (my best trick for getting through a hard mile). Somewhere in there my cross country girl started sucking wind pretty badly, and though I wasn't trying to shoot past her, that's kind of what ended up happening. Soon after a younger-looking boy up ahead (12-13 maybe?) that I really didn't think I would possibly catch up to started to fall further and further back. Somewhere in there I caught up, then passed him. At this point I was absolutely red-lining and the runner voice in my head was 100% freaking out, because there was no way in hell we should be generating this type of effort so far from the finish. But, like I said before, the controls had been hacked and I couldn't have slowed down if I wanted to (barring some kind of catastrophe).

I don't remember much about the last half mile or so except that I wanted so so badly to not be running anymore and obviously the quickest way for that to happen was to get to the finish as fast as possible. There was no one else even remotely within passing distance in front of me and (based on what I could hear) no one else coming up behind me. I sprinted hard for the the finish, crossed the mat, and very nearly went down on my hands and knees. I was dizzy and seeing spots and it was all I could do to stumble out of the way of other runners coming in and convince the volunteers in the chute I wasn't having a medical emergency.

At this point I had no idea what my time was, and to be honest I was just pleased that I'd managed to run so hard all the way to the end. It's been a long time since I've finished a race disoriented and barely able to see and it was incredibly satisfying! I do honestly think that a big part of why I was able to sustain such an uncomfortable pace from so early-on had to do with pushing and being pushed by the one younger girl I ran with for so long, which is one of the reasons why solo time trials will never really compare to racing. (Seriously; for entire second half of the race part of my brain was wringing its hands and going, "WOW, this SUCH a bad idea." There's no way I would have *ever* pushed myself that hard alone.)

Alas, I was so busy keeling over & trying not to vomit that I totally forgot to stop my watch, and by the time I looked at it it read 22:13. While I'm not exactly sure how long I spent stumbling around and trying to catch my breath, I feel pretty sure it was at least 20 seconds or so, so my time was probably somewhere in the 21:45-21:55 range (so, 7:01-7:04 average pace).

When I figured this out, it was such a huge relief! Like I said, I'd been dreading that I was maybe in the worst shape of my adult life running-wise, so it's good to know that I'm actually in a fairly respectable place in terms of starting a training cycle. (Not that it means much in such a small, non-competitive field, but it also didn't feel too terrible to come in 1st female out of 65.)

~15:00 post-race, mostly re-composed :)

On the other hand, there were two weird & semi-disappointing things to note:

1) None of my Garmins (even the new one!) have been anything remotely approaching accurate lately. Like, I'm finally starting to wonder if it's not the watches and there's some sort of legit satellite problem in my area that's new in just the last few months. Case in point, the (new!) Garmin I wore for this race only registered 2.85 miles, which (not gonna lie) might have ruined my entire day if I didn't know for a fact that the course was USATF certified. Even so, I double-checked the course on Map My Run, which agreed with 3.1. (Phew!)

2) When the official results were published, my time was listed as 22:37, which is obviously inaccurate. I mean. My GPS may be off lately, but I'm pretty sure it still works as a basic stopwatch. There were timing chips and a finish mat, but no professional timing service and no start mat (we only got gun times), and between that & the fact that the race started late due to issues with the timing system, it's maybe a little disappointing but not totally shocking.

To be honest, though, I'm not too hung up on not having an *exact* super-precise result. I'm pretty happy just calling it ~21:55ish, knowing I ran with heart & didn't chicken out, & feeling like I won't be digging myself out of TOO too much of a hole as I start for-realsies training again in 2016.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: San Francisco, CA (Peacock Meadow, Golden Gate Park)

Date: Sunday before Christmas (Dec 20, 2015 this year)

The Deal: Proceeds benefit research, education and patient care conducted at the UCSF Diabetes Center.


  • One Mile - $40
  • 5K - $40
  • One mile and 5K - $45
  • 1 Mile, 12 & under - $20
  • 5K, 12 & under - $20

Field Size: 123 in the 5K, 46 in the mile

Deadlines/sellout factor: People were registering morning-of, so not really an issue.


You can't park on JFK because it's closed to traffic, but that early in the morning, it's pretty easy to find either street parking just outside the park or on the nearby side roads in the Park that aren't closed off. Because these are my stomping rounds, I think I probably parked about as close as was possible (probably less than a quarter mile from the start).


The race was staged at Peacock Meadow in Golden Gate Park, just east of the Conservatory Flowers. Super small race so no bag check, but parking is so easy & close that it's not really necessary. I actually left my bag with my sweats & what not right under the volunteer table & it was fine.

GG Park has actual flush restrooms near the Conservatory of Flowers (right by the start), so that was nice. When I'm running in the Park I usually don't assume that they will be open, functional, & stocked with toilet paper, but I figure the race probably checked on that as they advertised that those restrooms would be available (which they were). I never had to wait and actually I don't think anyone else was ever even in there at the same time as me.

Bib/shirt pickup

Start area ~45:00 before the 5K

Runners finishing!

The Course:

This course was what I think they call a lollipop, basically an out-and-back with a loop instead of a simple turn-around, which I MUCH prefer over a simple out-and-back because you don't have to slow down to make a hair-pin turn & then re-accelerate. It ran maybe .8 mi west on JFK Drive, around Stow Lake for maybe a mile or a little more, & then .7-.8ish east on JFK back to the start/finish.

It's pretty flat, with a couple of noticeable but brief gentle hills. (I can think of one on JFK and one approaching/leaving Stow Lake.) JFK is closed to car traffic on Sundays so we got to run on the road (plenty of space & no crowding), & the path around Stow Lake is paved and in good shape & plenty wide enough for a field this size. All in all a pretty decent 5K course. (And, the fact that it's certified is *huge* if you're looking for a reliable time trial-type situation.)


A cotton logo T-shirt (which I skipped) & a pretty nice metal water bottle (which for a short race I will take in place of a medal any day).

Overall Assessment:

Except for the timing issue, I was pretty pleased with this race. It was close to home, reasonably priced (at least as 5Ks are going these days), well-organized for such a small race, and a pretty darn good course if you're running for time. (And like I said, I was so so excited that it was certified & honestly I would have paid $40 just for that.)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Please Stop With The Fitness Tips for the Holidays.

It looks like a smile, but it's really a scream for help. PUT THE FREE WEIGHTS DOWN, CINDY.
Seriously. You are making the rest of us so, so sad for you.

I don't know how to tell you this, but every time you start listing practical tips for staying fit & healthy during the holidays, everyone is laughing at you and definitely not taking notes.

Here is a list of real-ass "helpful holiday fitness tips" I have actually heard or read over the past week or so that have made me throw up a bit in my mouth with embarrassment for those doling them out:


In addition to maintaining your normal exercise schedule, squeeze in an extra workout or two whenever you can. You know, in all that extra free time you have around the holidays. Bring your free weights to office meetings. Do laps around the cell phone lot as you wait for loved ones at the airport. The possibilities are endless. (I prefer wine aerobics and cookie yoga, myself.)

After a midday holiday meal, convince your friends & family to go for a fun, festive post meal jog or walk. GODDDDD please don't be this person. Please. You want to go for a fun, festive calorie-burning walk/run? By all means go for it. But please don't attempt to browbeat the rest of us who kind of just want to sit on our asses and shoot the shit with a glass of whiskey with people we only ever get to see once a year. Don't be that guy/gal.

Before you go to a party, decide ahead of time to limit yourself to three bites, three cookies, your three favorite foods, etc. and stick to it. Yes, limit yourself. To three bites, or three cookies, your three favorite foods, three foods of each color, three plates of food, three foods that remind you of each person at the party, three vats of artificially colored cookie frosting, etc. Again, the possibilities are endless. You do you.

Buy a low-fat, low-sugar eggnog and skip the alcohol to save calories per cup. Or, you could skip directly to stabbing yourself in the throat. :D

Enlist a fitness-minded friend or family member to be your holiday exercise buddy! Look. Those of us who want any kind of exercise buddy probably already have one. Those of us who don't want you to stop talking about this because you're making it weird for everyone.

Instead of baking cookies or playing board games, pass the time with an active pursuit like snowshoeing, hiking, or building snowmen or igloos. Recent studies show that holiday board games are definitely, DEFINITELY a leading cause of the Obesifying Of AmericaTM. Probably also terrorism. GET OUT THOSE SNOWSHOES, PEOPLE.

Instead of mulled red wine, make mulled cider. You save the calories not only from the alcohol in the wine, but also from the added sugar, since cider is naturally sweet. You know what makes cider 'naturally sweet'? FUCKING SUGAR. See also: Stabbing oneself in the throat.

Instead of dark meat slathered in gravy, choose lower-fat white meat without the skin and enjoy it with just a drizzle of gravy made with defatted pan juices, dry white wine, and low-sodium chicken broth. If you come to my holiday dinner and start talking about 'defatted pan juices,' we are so over. SO. OVER.

Bring your own healthy snacks to the holiday party. Yes, please totally be that sad person sitting in the corner eating celery sticks and homemade GMO-free hummus out of your sad little tupperware while you gaze longingly at your Three Favorite Foods. It won't be weird or awkward for ANYONE, TRUST ME.

Skip the baking; you probably eat more cookies while baking. Fuck that noise. You wanna bake? Fucking bake. YOU BAKE THE SHIT OUT OF THOSE FESTIVE HOLIDAY COOKIES AND EAT AS MANY AS YOU WANT. You baddass motherfucker, you.

Invite holiday vacation visitors to join you at the gym or a favorite exercise class. No. NO. NOOOOOO. Trust me; they do not not NOT want you to do this. HOLIDAY. VACATION. Look it up.

Do some yard work. What?

Lace up your sneakers and powerwalk between holiday errands at the mall. This is definitely not the saddest, most depressing thing related to exercise I've ever heard. Definitely, definitely not. (See also: stabbing in the throat.)

When traveling for the holidays, bring along a favorite fitness DVD and yoga mat. ARE. YOU. JOKING.

Eat and chew slowly. Take a second to savor each bite of baked brie or scoop of spiced nuts! Oh, so it's not enough that I'm packing my own fitness DVD and drinking sad teetotaler eggnog and powerwalking the mall between murdering children errands, now I have to monitor my chew-rate? IS THERE SOME KIND OF APP FOR THAT???!?!?

Turn away from temptation by facing away from the dessert spread. Don't worry, your chew-monitoring app probably also comes with DessertCompassTM.

Choose a tall, skinny glass instead of a short, squat one; you'll drink less. Ha. Hahaha. Hahahahahaha wanna bet? (Or, maybe your chew-monitoring app also comes with CupChooserTM.)

Sneak puréed veggies into baked goods in place of butter or oil. Bitch, I will straight-up cut you.

When baking [IF YOU MUST], try subbing half the flour with whole-wheat flour to increase the fiber, which fills you up faster & makes you feel fuller longer. You guys, sorry to be the killer of dreams, but I have spent way too much time sitting in a sports nutritionist's office and the whole wheat flour thing is 90% bullshit.

Stand up to "food pushers" -- Just say no, over and over and over again! Is this, like, the grown-up equivalent of the war on drugs? You would actually think it's that serious, based what WebMD has to say about the matter: "Despite your best laid plans, your holiday food goals can still go awry thanks to 'food pushers' – friends, family members, and co-workers who refuse to take 'no' for an answer when they're offering fattening treats. These are the people who, for whatever reason, seem to believe that their holiday celebration just isn't complete until they get you to give in to their food weaknesses.' YOU GUYS, DON'T GIVE IN TO THEIR FOOD WEAKNESSES, NOOOOOOO! J/K, you eat WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT, you baddass motherfucker.

(RealTalk: OK, sure, I agree that this is SUPER weird behavior that some people definitely engage in, but it's not limited to the holidays, and part of being a grown-ass adult is learning how to politely say 'No thank you' with a lovely smile plastered on your face when a thing is not your jam. So, like, stop making it weird, WebMD. This is not about Teh Holidayzzz or getting fat.)

Instead of trying to squeeze exercise into your schedule, take other things out. Like parties. And alcohol. And baking. And free-form chewing. Basically, anything that might bring you joy for half a second.

Skip the savory finger foods, creamy dips, and fried canapés, help yourself to a small handful of nuts, reduced-fat cheese and fresh fruit, or chilled shrimp. I have an idea, what if you helped yourself to whatever the fuck you felt like eating and didn't make a big deal out of it?

Honestly, you want my tips for staying fit & healthy during the holiday (AND I THINK YOU DO)?

  • Eat like a normal person most of the time & have a tasty holiday treat or two when you goddamn feel like it.
  • Do your normal exercise when you can but do not feel bad & flagellate yourself if you are sometimes too busy kissing under the mistletoe or slapping under the slappy spider or just feel like today you're more interested in wine/pie/polishing off that whiskey advent calendar.
  • Stop talking about it like it's a thing. Everyone is laughing at you.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Shoe Review: Saucony Fastwitch 6 (+ Saucony Discount Code)

(PREFACE: Gracie, if you haven't tried this shoe, give it a shot!)

Why Saucony Fastwitch?

During the Thanksgiving break, I ran across a Saucony discount code ("26STRONG" good through 12/31/15) & obviously had to at least LOOK and see if they had anything I couldn't live without. (Obviously.) None of the clothes did much for me, but I decided to check the shoe section just to see if by some miracle there were any Kinvara 5s or Type A5s left in my size. (There weren't.) Still, they had some pretty big sales and Sauconys usually fit my foot pretty well, so I perused the selection just to see if there were any models on sale that sounded like something I could maybe use.

Which is how I ran across the Fastwitch 6. The Saucony page described it as light and stable (just a hint of stability) and easy on the cushioning ("fast and responsive"), and most of the reviews I read called it a solid racing shoe up to the marathon distance. Given my disappointment with the new Kinvaras, I was intrigued.

The reason I like both the Saucony Kinvara (my favorite long run/marathon shoe) and Saucony Type A (my current go-to track/speed shoe) is because a) they fit the shape of my foot, b) they're 4mm drop, and c) they're made like a traditional running shoe, but on the lighter, more stripped-down side. Normally I wouldn't buy an unfamiliar shoe without at least trying it on, but the Fastwitch seemed to have a lot in common with the Kinvara & Type A & like it probably slotted right in between them in terms of weight & cushion. Plus, the new version is out, so they were on a big sale, and with 20% off on top of that, I think I ended up paying like $50 out the door.

Saucony Kinvara 6

Saucony Fastwitch 6

Saucony Type A5

Realistically, having gotten them home, the Fastwitch is actually pretty similar to the Kinvara weight-wise as different pairs and different versions of the K's I've owned have run between 6.4 and 6.6 (though it's worth noting that I took the internet's advice & ordered the Fastwitch up a half size, so it's not exactly apples to apples).


From what I've gathered, it seems to me that the Fastwitch is Saucony's attempt at a light-weight racing shoe for those who don't *quite* want to go full neutral.

The upper is made mostly from lightweight breathable mesh. The midsole is made from Saucony's Super Lite EVA blend which they say "maximizes rebound and durability while minimizing weight."

There is a plastic heel counter (for stability?) but I haven't even noticed it while running.

The outsole is made from XT-900, a "premium carbon rubber outsole material that offers exceptional traction and high-wear properties." As always, it's hard to evaluate this before you've got at least a few hundred miles on the shoes, but there is more carbon rubber (read: hard, as opposed to the softer, lighter blown rubber) on the Fastwitch than on the Kinvara, so I'd expect the soles on the Fastwitch to last longer because of that.

LEFT: Fastwitch 6 (green = hard carbon rubber; white = soft blown rubber). RIGHT: Kinvara 6 (teal/yellow = carbon, white = blown) & 5 (dark = carbon, orange = blown)

The added stability is achieved by means of a Midfoot Support Bridge, which runs from the heel through up to the midfoot.

It's a little hard to tell in the picture but the striped purple part is the hard plastic bridge.

It's worth noting that most running shoe companies (I'm told) are moving away from this method of providing stability & instead looking to denser foam materials which they can stack strategically through the midsole in order to provide a little pronation control without as much added weight or the stiffness that a plastic post or bridge can cause.

It's also potentially interesting to note the drainage ports, which, from the Saucony site, seems like it's intended as a perk for triathletes (you soggy things you).

(Though part of me hearkens back to the Mizuno Wave soles that mostly just seem to get little rocks stuck in them. We shall see.)

Sizing & Comfort

Like I said above, after reading some reviews online, I got the impression that the Fastwitch tends to run a bit small as most reviewers ended up going with a half or whole size up, so I ordered a size 8 rather than my usual 7.5. The 8 feels maybe just a *touch* big (like, maybe I really needed a 7 3/4?), but not at all sloppy or uncomfortable, and I always prefer slightly more room in the toe box than slightly too little.

My first impression was that the toe box was super roomy (in a good way), and after a little A/B testing with both the Kinvara & Type A, I'm solidly convinced this is just a roomier shoe in general (with the Kinvara being slightly narrower both in the midfoot and toe box, and the Type A fitting like a typical racing flat). Definitely a plus in my opinion.

Another thing I noticed right away was the difference in cushioning between the Fastwitch & Kinvaras. I've never thought of the Kinvara as a particularly squishy shoe (I tend to avoid those like the plague), but next to the Fastwitch, they felt like soft little pillows. This isn't to say the Fastwitch was at all uncomfortable; they're just more intended as racing shoes I think, which almost always means less cushion => more ground feel => (hopefully) more snap/responsiveness.

In terms of cushion, the Fastwitch felt more like my Type A5s, which I wear mostly on the track. But as I said before, whereas the Type A5s are pretty snug & form-fitting (see: racing flat), the Fastwitch is a bit roomier, particularly in the toe box. (The Type A5 is also just closer to the ground in general, where I think both the Fastwitch and Kinvara are 14mm/18mm.)

Flexibility & Support

Besides the snappier ground feel, the first thing I noticed when I hit the pavement in the Fastwitches for the first time is that they're a fairly stiff shoe, which isn't surprising, given the plastic Midfoot Support Bridge running from the heel to the midfoot for pronation support. Reviewers seemed torn on whether this was a good thing or bad. Some felt it left something to be desired in terms of smoothness of the ride and also made toe off feel not quite as clean at faster paces. Others felt the stiffness added to responsiveness/snap off the ground. My feeling is that it probably just comes down to personal preference.

Definitely not super flexi, though if you really work at it, you can get a bit of movement there.

Type A5 for comparison.

Not a ton of torsional flex either, FWIW. Type A5 on the right for comparison.

I used to run in stability shoes, but in the last four or five years I've gradually come to prefer a neutral shoe most of the time. With this whole left foot issue I've been dealing with lately, though, I'm not sure a little extra support would go amiss, and I have to say that I found these a little more comfortable than most of the other pairs I've been wearing lately.


Far and away, what stood out to me the most with these shoes as appeared to the Kinvaras was the difference in cushioning. If ground feel (though maybe not racing flat levels of ground feel) is your jam, you might enjoy this shoe a lot. If you prefer running on soft, squishy pillows, you're probably going to hate it.

In addition, I can also say I've definitely noticed the traction from the copious blown rubber (I've been running on rain-soaked sidewalks lately) and also the lighter mesh uppers (there's a bit of a noticeable breeze).

But guys. I've been wearing these shoes almost exclusively lately in order to be able to write about them with some small amount of familiarity. There is one small problem with this when it comes to ride/feel, though, and that's that a few minutes into my run, they completely disappear off my feet. Like. They become completely invisible to my brain, and I just totally forget to pay attention to and think about them at all.

For me, this is pretty much the highest compliment I can give a shoe that I've only put a few dozen miles on. If I'm thinking about the shoes while I'm running, that's a bad sign. In that way, the Fastwitch reminds me a lot of the Mizuno Wave Musha (may it rest in peace) and more recently the New Balance 1400 v2s I was wearing a lot this past year. We'll see how they hold up for faster & longer running when I get to that point, but for now, I've been super happy with them and look forward to doing some low-stakes racing in them once my legs are up to it.

Bottom Line

For me, the Fastwitch does kind of feel like the perfect cross between a racing flat and a lighter-yet-traditional distance shoe like the Kinvara. They are light and responsive enough to be a great option for the track or racing a 5K, but substantial enough to be a solid call for day-to-day training or racing a half (provided you're a ground feel-kinda-gal/guy & not a foot pillows-kinda-gal/guy). The support bridge makes it potentially viable for folks who live in that in-between realm of not quite wanting a neutral shoe but not wanting something with a giant medial post in it either. Personally I would not race the mile or a marathon in it, but for the super-efficient, biomechanically elite among us, marathons are probably not out of the question.

For a while now, I've been pretty staunchly of the opinion that I prefer completely neutral, more flexible shoes, but you can't really argue with performance, and I have to say the stiffness of the Fastwitch has not bothered me. In the long-term I've also felt like stiffer shoes are probably not great for day-to-day use because it means you're using your foot muscles less, but maybe while I work on getting my left foot in order, wearing a stiffer shoe with more stability from time to time is not the worst idea anyone ever had.

Not photoshopped, I am not even joking.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2016 Classics: The Contenders

In 2014 and 2015, I chose one classic book to read each month. It doesn't feel like a chore yet, so the tradition lives on for another year.

(If you're curious to see what I've read in past years:

The Classics: 2014

The Classics: 2015)

The hardest thing both years was narrowing it down to 12, so this is the time of year when I solicit input from the peanut gallery.

Here are the current contenders:


    Death Is a Lonely Business, by Ray Bradbury. I love Ray Bradbury.

    The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Recommended by someone.

    The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. Recommended by lots of people.

    Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist was on my list last year but I ended up reading Great Expectations instead because the consensus seemed to be that Oliver Twist was not his best. David Copperfield also came up as a better alternative, so maybe that. Or maybe since I just read Great Expectations I'll give Dickens a rest this year.

    The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Gushed over by so many people, including several of you.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. People keep telling me to read this. It sounds like a fast & entertaining read.

    Middlemarch, by George Eliot. Gushed over by several good friends. I'm thinking seriously of including this one this year, especially since I don't think I've ever read any Eliot.

    Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Heartily lobbied for by several of you last year. Same as above.

    The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. See "mysterious mystery." Though I think this is actually pretty short so it may not warrant its own month.

    Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. I like to read one or two sci fi classics per year & sort of can't believe I haven't read this.

    The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Everyone says this is great, plus it's like 300 pages.

    The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith. This one just sounds intriguing. Bonus points for a female author.

    The World According to Garp, by John Irving. Another one lots of friends have recommended. Then again I've done Irving two years in a row so maybe I let someone new have his slot this year.

    Ulysses, by James Joyce. I should probably be terrified of this one but I'm oddly intrigued.

    Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. After One Hundred Years of Solitude, I still kind of feel the need to try another GMM. Or not.

    East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. Several friends have been telling me for years to read this one. I haven't been big on Steinbeck in the past but I'm willing to give it a shot.

    Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. See sci fi classics. Also Journey to the Center of the Earth was unsatisfying.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five is one of my favorites.

    All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. I find the summary intriguing. This one is one of the leading contenders, I think.

    The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. Recommended by several of you in previous years.

    A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. I've never read any Tennessee Williams & feel kind of ashamed about it.


    Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I really just need to suck it up and finally read this. I even own a copy that someone gave me for Christmas when I was like, 14.

    Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. I saw part of the movie which for a long time convinced me that this book was Not My Thing, but lots of people have said it's super good, so maybe I'll give it a shot.

    Far From The Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy. Also many rave reviews.

    Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. I've heard that this is actually a well-written book, in spite of the decadent subject matter? I am definitely going to read it one of these days.

    The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. Lots of people have raved about it and said it actually does not necessarily make you want to shoot yourself in the face.

    The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. I keep forgetting I've been meaning to read this.

    To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. I've never read any Virgina Woolf and that seems like something that should be fixed.

    Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Morbid curiosity, I admit.

    Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. Love me some Rushdie.

Thoughts? Which would you vote for? Are any of your desperate favorites missing? Anything from which I should flee while there's still time? MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Night is Dark and Full of El Niño

At different points in my life I've taken planned or unplanned breaks from running, and it still never fails to shock me how quickly your body gets un-used to running. In July I did three 20+ mile runs in four weeks and never felt the least bit sore; 4.5 months later, my first three-miler without walk breaks post-stress fracture left me so sore the day after that I was actually laughing about it.

The good part is that because I've kept up my cardio on the elliptical reasonably well, running doesn't feel hard in that way. (I was actually a little surprised to see that my nice, easy, comfortable pace has been 15-30 seconds faster per mile than it was in the summer, though that may be a function of the temperature outside more than my fitness.) However, I can definitely tell I need to get back in the gym & back on my strength work (particularly all the hips & glutes stuff) ASAP so that I don't hurt myself again as I start to increase time on my feet.

In related news, last Thursday we got our first serious rain storm in like a year or something, and I took to the dark, soggy streets sporting three new pieces of hawt gear:

A (kinda) New GPS.

After some investigating, I kind of decided it was probably going to come down to buying another cheap Garmin or shelling out for a Suunto Ambit & just sucking it up & learning a new device. I have to say, I'm super intrigued by the Ambit & was pretty tempted to give it a try. But, it sounds like you can only have three data fields up at once, which is one of the things I dislike about the FR220 (I really want four; it's a mental thing), and that combined with the price tag kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm.

In the end, I bought another FR310XT (number 3) from a woman on Amazon Marketplace who said she got it as a gift and used it twice, but has since come to terms with the fact that she is just probably not going to use it ever again. It was basically new in the package with all the bits & pieces for $85 & seems to work just fine, so I felt like I made out okay.

Here's the funny part, though. Remember how the problem with my current FR310XT is that it wouldn't turn on or charge? Well, just for kicks I put it on the new charger, and it turned right on! So, either you could say I probably could have saved myself maybe $60 or so & just bought a new charger, or that I basically went from zero functional Garmins to two for just $42.50 each (on average). Yes, the 310XT still takes an annoying amount of time to find satellites (which is why my general strategy is to never turn it off & just stick it back on the charger after every run), but to be honest that's a problem I'm not really willing to shell out $150-250 to solve. (After all, I have races to sign up for, hopefully.)

Some Long-Overdue Safety Gear

It is now that time of year when more often than not, I end up running in the dark or almost-dark (ie, fearing for my life). In past winters I have tried to be a good pedestrian and be sure that I was wearing a white or bright-colored top if I was running at night, but I don't have tons and tons of those and also personally I have almost hit dumb pedestrians in my car on occasion even when they WERE wearing white/bright things. (Fun fact: The 2010 NYC Marathon shirt is the *exact* color of dusk. Thanks, random moron who jumped out in front of my car in the dark!!)

So, this year I finally bought myself a reflective vest, which means never having to think about this issue ever again. (Also, it will make my mom happy.)

One of my many, many favorite long sleeves
not suitable for night running (also the color of dusk)

Nifty New Puddle Jumpers!

Most of the time we don't get enough rain here to be worth worrying about, but there were a few weeks last winter when we got a bunch of rain storms serious enough that I finished a bunch of runs with my socks absolutely soaked. So, earlier this year when the Kinvara 6 was released and all the 5's went on clearance, I picked up a pair of Kinvara 5 RunShields, which is the water proof version.

We've had a super dry year, so up until Thursday they'd stayed in the box in the closet, so it was neat to finally open them up & take them out for a test drive:

Shock of shocks, they feel a lot like Kinvara 5's!

Like everyone else in California, I've still got my fingers crossed that the crazy El Niño everyone's been predicting will finally show up. Then again, with my luck, I probably jinxed the whole thing by buying waterproof shoes. (Sorry) :-/