Pushing Through

Today was one of those days where I woke up feeling down. I think it has to do with a number of recent activities, like having to coordinate the upcoming Mother’s Day activities, which sometimes dredges up unexpected childhood memories or family dynamics, and thinking about the illness of a close family member. My own frustration with Project X doesn’t help either; neither does an email from a placement agency requesting a list of references, another reminder that I am someone without a career at the moment (even though it’s by choice, it is still at times a difficult adjustment).

What I have learned from past experiences is that the best way to combat a downhill spiral is to make a plan (and to reach out, which I did by texting Ms. Sunshine, who as usual was full of reassuring words). Sometimes, I find it easier to have a simple to-do list. This is what I scribbled onto a piece of paper:

  1. Tape up closet doors. (Prep closet doors with painter’s tape for spray painting later.)
  2. Email W re essay. (Review application essay and provide feedback)
  3. Fold laundry.
  4. Wash dishes. (Was too tired to wash last night.)
  5. Roast kohlrabi. (Unexpected find at local produce store; been meaning to make it.)
  6. Email references.
  7. Run.

The reason that these lists/plans work for me is that they give my brain something to focus on. It worked, but only progressively. By the time 5 p.m. rolled around, I was at least able to lace up for a run at Sawyer Camp (having completed many of the tasks on my list). The run was exhilarating but tough – several times I felt crushed by sadness thinking about the sick family member, and I just wanted to sit down on the trail and cry. But each time I pushed through, telling myself, “just a little farther.” In the end, I finished my 2 miles without stopping more than once or twice. It’s not far, especially compared to my marathon training days, but it felt really good to push myself again, both physically and mentally.

When I got home, AK was doing his own workout on our elliptical machine. He said I inspired him to get on! By then I was back to being in a good mood (those endorphins always kick in). It’s a reminder to me that it is always important to push through, no matter how dark my mood, and to reach out to the trusted inner circle for encouragement.

Oh, and here’s a picture of the roasted kohlrabi sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, which we paired with the Mexican chicken AK made over the weekend (coincidentally, on Cinco de Mayo!). Both were very tasty!

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Burnt Out!

The stress of preparing for two separate international trips — a two-week vacation in France, followed immediately by a week-long work trip in Taiwan — has finally taken its toll.  Add to this my attempt to juggle my marathon training schedule, busy workload and (moderately) active social schedule (by choice – I had resolved to be a more accessible friend this year), and you have the perfect formula for mental burnout.  I feel like my life has been reduced to scheduling (social, personal, work, running) and making to do lists. I even find myself mentally checking off “fun” events so they are considered “done.”

But the day has finally arrived!  I just finished packing for France an hour ago, around 11:30 p.m., and the taxi will be taking us to the airport at 3:50 a.m. I even pre-packed for Taiwan, since I’ll have fewer than 12 hours at home before heading out to the airport again.  Unfortunately, my last run was a short 2-mile job on the treadmill on Tuesday.  However, after some dizzy spells a few days ago, I have decided to actively cut back and get some sleep (maybe it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have time to go buy another bottle of my favorite sunscreen – I’m sure I can easily locate a French substitute).  Mentally, I am just fried and unable to motivate myself to do anymore.  I find myself even doubting whether I want to go on vacation!  (Of course I want to go on vacation – I am merely fighting off my fantasy of curling up in bed and not even have to set the alarm.)

I’m hoping that this will all change once I finally land in Charles de Gaulle airport and get some sleep.  Ready or not, Paris here I come!

A Stolen Water Bottle

My beloved water bottle...now gone!

Due to sheer exhaustion from my Ocean City trip last weekend, as well as a few social engagements (dinner with Ms. Escape at Vivace Ristorante on Friday and with Ms. Lin at Marnee Thai on Saturday), I had to push my long run one day out to Sunday this week.

Having run close to 13 miles last weekend on concrete in the East Coast heat and humidity, my body felt surprisingly strong on the 15-mile run at the Sawyer Camp Trail back at home.  Although the day was hot (mid-80s, and I didn’t get to the trail until close to 10 a.m.), a gentle breeze swept in for a cooling effect, the air was dry as usual, and the trail provided a soft landing for my feet.  I thought I had done everything right – ate a large bagel with natural peanut butter first thing in the morning, a packet of GU energy gel (with caffeine) at the beginning of the run and then every 45-50 minutes thereafter, carried two 10-oz. bottles of water on my Nathan 2-bottle hydration belt, and even planted a water bottle for my return trip (the trail is only 6 miles long, so I can leave water on the way out for my return trip fairly easily).

The gentle hills that were such a struggle a mere two weeks ago were conquered without too much pain. I was feeling great and actually thought I could maintain a sub-13-minute pace, which has been the baseline for my long runs (12:xx pace was considered good, 13:xx pace was considered on target, compared to 11- or 12-minutes for my shorter runs).  As I approached the mile 10 marker, I finished the last few drops of water in my small bottles.  Then I looked under the tree for my favorite pink water bottle for another 24 ounces for fresh, cold water (I had even filled half the bottle with ice cubes so it would stay cool).  For some reason, it was not there!  Initially, I was perplexed – did I leave it under a different tree?  After a minute or two of frantic, but ultimately futile, searching, it finally dawned on me.

SOMEONE STOLE MY WATER BOTTLE!!!

It was in fact an unusually hot day, with the sun beating down on runners, joggers and walkers alike. I had finished all my water ahead of schedule, but thought nothing of it since I had prepared replenishment.  I probably experienced the typical progression of emotions when one becomes a victim of theft – first, confusion, then disbelief, followed by anger, then finally acceptance.  I guess I’ve been very lucky and can’t remember the last time something was stolen from me.  I mean, who steals a water bottle?!  It really calls into question my faith in human nature!  Feeling rather dejected and by this point severely dehydrated, I trudged through the remaining 5 miles, walking the final stretch to avoid any type of heat exhaustion.

The silver lining is that wo good things did come out of this.  First of all, after ranting about this incident on the Marine Corps Marathon First-Timer page on Facebook, I experienced first hand the incredible support of the community.  Not only did more than 15 people offer their sympathies within 24 hours, but many shared their own experiences and words of encouragement.  Secondly, with the endorsement of fellow runners on this board, I finally decided to buy the 4-bottle hydration belt (so I can carry all the water on my person). I had been contemplating this purchase this for a while, but thought it would be somewhat wasteful since I already have the 2-bottle version.  However, this incident really solidified my decision.

In the end, every bad run is a great learning experience.  Being forced to run 5 miles without water will just make my next properly hydrated run that much easier.  Looking forward to that!

A Visit to Ocean City (a/k/a Jersey Shore Lite)

AK and I flew out this past weekend to visit his parents, who are now proud owners of a new condo in Ocean City, Maryland, a small beach town on the Eastern seaboard.  It was a grueling weekend of trains, planes and automobiles!  (Ok, no trains – that was just for effect.)  Our trip began with an obscenely early flight on Friday at 5:30 a.m., which translated into getting out of bed at 3:30 a.m. (the only benefit being it allowed us to get a jump start on acclimatizing to Eastern Daylight Time!)  After a brief stopover in Detroit, with a surprisingly modern and spacious airport, and a 2-hour delay, we arrived at Washington Dulles airport ready to begin the 3-hour drive to Ocean City.  After logging more miles, we finally walked through the door a little past 9pm, and my in-laws immediately swept us away to indulge in the seafood buffet at Hall’s across the street (what is the Asian obsession with buffets anyhow?). Food was pretty decent quality, though gluttony is always mildly off-putting and tinged with regret. At the moment, however, everyone seemed happy and dazed in a food coma.

Saturday morning is usually reserved for my long run.  Not wanting to derail my training program (13 miles this week), but unable to get up any earlier, I lumbered downstairs to start running only after 9:00 a.m. rolled around.  As soon as I walked out the door, I was enveloped by a wave of hot, humid air.  O.M.G.  It was HOT!  My guess is mid- to high 80s, plus 90%+ humidity.  I have not been on the East Coast during the summer since I interned at the Federal Trade Commission more than 10 years ago, and it’s always good to get a reminder now and then of how awesome Northern California weather is and how much I love running at Sawyer Camp trail near my house!  Drenched in sweat, I run down Coastal Highway and try to greet, wave, nod or encourage other runners on the same road.  Not only is it good etiquette I’m told, supposedly it helps motivate yourself.  Strangely, the vast majority of the runners either growl or ignore me!  I reported this back to AK and he informs me that “Ocean City is basically Jersey Shore Lite!”  I do recall running past lots of spring breaker-looking types with cases of beer on their shoulders.  AK also told me about some young ladies (if you could call them that) who got smashed at a bachelorette party the night before, one of whom was so drunk that she kept tripping and falling down on the street, at one point lying on the side of the street amongst some parked cars.  Yes, college co-eds at their best!

Unfortunately, AK’s dad’s original plan of commissioning a boat to go fishing in the bay was foiled (shady bait-and-switch practice by the outfitter), so we sat out by the dock and enjoyed the view.  Even had time to take a few fun photos!

After getting back to the condo, the afternoon sun lulled me into a long nap, during which time AK and his sister (CK) went crabbing with the dad.  I did not know it was so easy to catch a crab in Maryland!  The family trio was only out for about an hour, and they caught 4 large crabs (anything smaller than 5 inches needed to be tossed back)!  It appears that all one had to was to put out a crabbing net, some chicken neck (not sure about the origin of this bait), and BAM! Crabs just show up.  This is how I know that there aren’t too many Chinese people living in the area because all those crabs would be gone, haha.  The claws of the crabs really are so blue!

Maryland Blue Crabs!

The next morning, we had to hit the road at 10:00 a.m. to rush back to Washington, D.C. for our afternoon flight.  We actually got back into town early enough for a detour to one of President Obama’s favorite burger joints – Ray’s Hell Burger!

We ended up going to Ray’s Hell Burger Too a few doors down because it served burgers of a smaller size (the “Little Devils”).  I ordered the classic burger grilled medium rare, with lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, pickles, cheddar cheese and Ray’s special “heck” sauce.  We also shared an order of sweet potato fries.

AK ordered the normal size burger – you can tell how much larger it is!

The burgers were juicy and delicious, though I probably prefer Umami Burger in Los Angeles/Hollywood because of its more tender patties and spongy buns (apparently crowned GQ’s Burger of the Year in December 2010 – see story here).

Although it was a compact trip, I felt that we actually did a lot and enjoyed the company of family.  The trip also made AK’s parents really happy, so I would say mission accomplished!

Ray’s Hell Burger
1725 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209

Ray’s Hell Burger Too (4 doors down)
1713 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209

(703) 841-0001
http://rayshellburger.com/

An Indian Feast (Alhamra in SF)

Last Saturday, due to a stretch of sleep deprivation and excessive outings (see here), I barely survived my long run of 10 miles.  It was such a tough struggle that I decided that I’d better shape up for this week.  Thankfully, increased sleep and consistent running really helped me conquer the hills this morning – I even felt strong for a brief moment in time!  (That is, until the next set of hills popped up, at which point I began silently cursing again.)  I’m up to 12 miles now.  Yay!

Despite my best intentions, the entire afternoon was spent lying around recovering from the pain.  My body ached all over, my legs were sore, and I had no desire to stop my marathon session of “The Millionaire Matchmaker” (no pun intended, though that’s a marathon I can get behind any day).  After lying around for hours (one of the few times where I actually had a legitimate reason), I was finally motivated to vacate the semi-permanent indentation on my couch to grab some dinner.  AK and I decided that this would be an auspicious day to visit Alhamra in San Francisco, an Indian/Pakistani restaurant recently featured on an episode of the PBS/KQED show, “Check Please,” a constant source of new restaurant discoveries (see episode here).

It was just a short drive to the Mission District in San Francisco.  As an aside, I’m always a little bit torn about this area – of course there are just so many fabulous eateries in this small 2-square mile plot of land (Tartine Bakery, Delfina, Bi-Rite Creamery, Four Barrel Coffee, to name a few places where there is always a ridiculous line out the door), though I wonder about the effects of gentrification on the entire neighborhood (e.g., affordability for lower income people), while at the same time worry about my own safety when I end up parking on the wrong block of Mission Street and have to walk past unsavory characters and homeless people.  Very conflicting emotions.

In any event, when we finally arrived at the restaurant, it is very unassuming – definitely a hole in the wall.  (These pictures are from AK’s Droid phone – I forgot my camera (again) but thought these were decent enough to use.)

The inside is very sparse as well, although the open kitchen is very inviting, and you can see the chefs hard at work.  This layout reminds me a little of the delicious breakfast places in Taiwan.

Watch the Chef Poke a Stick Into the Tandoori Oven!

I’m usually not a huge fan of samosas, but since they are one of AK’s favorites, we ordered a small plate as appetizers.  They were actually super delicious!  The skin is very thin and crispy, unlike the much more doughy versions that I’ve had before, and each samosa is bursting with ground lamb stuffing.

I was especially impressed with the tandoori chicken, built out to be one of their specialties.  Typically, even at excellent Indian restaurants like Amber India, the tandoori chicken is too dry and not flavorful enough.  However, here at Alhamra, it was juicy and flavorful!  We wished we had ordered more than one drumstick!  (This photo is a little blurry and does not do it justice.)

The other dishes we ordered were the aloo saag (spinach and potatoes) and the chicken tikka masala.  I enjoyed the aloo saag, which was surprisingly spicy, but thought the chicken tikka masala was just average.  What truly blew me away was the naan bread!  It had an ever-so-slightly charred smoky flavor, with a thin, crunchy exterior and soft, chewy bread inside.  You can tell that the naan came from a tandoori oven, similar to how you always distinguish pizza that came from coal-fire ovens.  I would come back just to eat the naan.

Overall, it was a great meal and an enjoyable end to an otherwise strenuous day (well, morning).  I would highly recommend this restaurant if you find yourself in the city!  (Note:  Because we arrived before 7:00 p.m., there was no wait.  But the restaurant quickly filled up when we were there, and by the time we left it was packed!)

Alhamra Restaurant
3083 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103-3420
(415) 621-3935
alhamrarestaurant.net‎

The Lifestyle of Running

Growing up, I had always thought about runners as a separate breed. The concept of running for enjoyment was quite foreign to me, and the peak of my running probably happened in 8th grade, when I was finally able to run an unimpressive 8-minute mile after suffering through a full school year’s worth of weekly mile runs.  From adolescence to law school, I didn’t have any memory of lacing up to go anywhere.  I just was not one of “those people.”

It was not until law school when I became intrigued by running for the first time.  My good friend Willis had competed in cross country at the college level, and he spoke of running with such enthusiasm, love, and conviction that I thought to myself, “maybe there is something to this.”  When I told him that I might be interested in running, he volunteered to take me shopping for running shoes.  Imagine my shock when he asked me to run in the shoes at the local Lady Foot Locker (?!) – I was definitely the only person doing that and was mortified – and we winnowed the selection down to a pair of hideous shoes with purple and yellow stripes (I know these are Lakers colors, but that was just not enough for me to overcome how ugly the shoes were).  Although I could not keep up my consistency in running after graduating, I had broken my mental barrier to at least be able to pose as one of “those people.”  (For that I will always be grateful to Willis.)

Since committing to marathon training, which consists primarily of 3 consecutive days of running from Tuesday to Thursday (short/medium/short runs) followed by a long run on Saturday, I noticed that I have had to adjust my lifestyle.  If I have a scheduled run the next day (which is pretty much most of the week), I think through my day to figure out how to get it in.  If I have lunch plans, I try to get up early to run before work at the nearby Sawyer Camp Trail.  If I had a busy day, I plan out a local route after dinner.  If I can run during lunch, I pack my clothes for the gym.  Most of this, of course, is motivated by panic.  I can only imagine the pain of trying to finish a marathon without having trained properly (I’ve heard of people who cannot walk the next day).  Swapping tips and encouragement with my sister also helps tremendously, especially since most people would not be interested in hearing my opinion about whether GU gel or Clif shots taste better (they’re energy gels) or whether compression tights actually improve performance.

It has not been an easy two months (I’m not counting April and May, when I was very flaky).  To make things even more difficult, I have not been able to have a glass of wine on any Friday night, one of life’s great pleasures.  Saturday mornings are now reserved for long runs, and I was not going to risk a poor night’s sleep or fatigue by indulging in alcohol.  Sigh, what has happened to me?

The upsides are intangible at this time.  Despite the increasing mileage, I have lost zero pounds since starting my training so there has been no side benefit of weight loss.  All I can hold on to is the satisfaction of pushing myself past new limits every week (for example, I ran 9 miles this past Saturday and did not pass out).  Maybe some time in the future, I can become a true runner.  But for now, this will have to do.

Road to the Marathon – The Beginning

After my ill-prepared half marathon a few years ago (the poorly attended SF Half Marathon), I had sworn off distance running. By the end of that race, I was exhausted (without the much promised exhilaration) and had developed a horrible blister on my left foot, thanks to new orthopedic inserts that were never broken in.  I limped home without having experienced the so-called “runner’s high” and thought to myself, “never again!”

Fast forward to February 2011 when my sister Sherry called me excitedly about the Marine Corps Marathon in DC on October 30, 2011.  “It’s super-organized!” (No surprise there, since it’s run by the military).  “It’s packed with spectators!”  “Men in uniform!” “It’ll be fun!” Having entered a new phase in my life where I am determined to begin tackling mental, psychological and physical hurdles, I reluctantly agreed.

So here I am.  Training for my first marathon.  Ahhh!!!!!  Learning from my past mistake, I began by getting a training schedule to methodically work towards the daunting 26.2 miles.  Sherry had suggested Hal Higdon’s 30-week “Novice Supreme” schedule and so far, it’s worked well.  After a fitful start – half-committed in April but non-existent in May – I have finally settled (resigned?) myself into a groove and have been doing 90% of my runs since the start of June.

So here’s to my new-found determination for this endeavor and hoping that I’ll cross the finish line before the straggler bus (yes, that is the official name…the Marine Corps is not messing around) scoops me up!  Cheers!

Manhattan Beach 10k Run – Postscript

Manhattan Beach 10 - Ready to Run for Obama!

Despite a somewhat rough start, my sister and I finished the race without a hitch!  Best part: We did it wearing Obama shirts!  Woo hoo!

As first time participants in the MB 10K, Hui and I did not realize that we needed to allot extra time for catching the shuttle to get to the actual race.  When we arrived at the off-site parking lot approximately half an hour before the 7:30 a.m. start time, there appeared to be only 2 (yes, count ’em – 2!) small school buses shuttling people every 15 minutes.  I don’t know whose idea it was, but this was the epitome of bad logistics planning since there were at least eighty people shuffling around anxiously.  We ended up arriving at the starting point long after the race had already begun.  Worse, the bus had to drop us off several blocks away due to road closures – which means that we had to first run in reverse back towards the starting line to activate the special tags attached to our shoes (part of the electronic timing system) – enduring taunts of “hey, you’re running in the wrong direction!” along the way – then retrace our steps to run in the right direction.  Ugh.

Our running strategies differed – Hui was a believer in the alternating method (run 1 mile, walk 1 mile) as to maximize energy conservation, while I was in favor of the push-yourself-for-as-far-as-you-can approach.  We came to our first juncture after Mile 1 when she wanted to take a break and I wanted to continue.  Hui graciously urged me to continue without her.  After running for another 2-3 blocks, however, I decided that I much preferred to stick together.  I turned around to look for her, but she was nowhere to be found!  I stood at the same street corner for at least 10-15 minutes, but still no signs of Hui.  I couldn’t understand why she was not coming up – I was at most only a couple of minutes ahead of her (turns out she had taken a wrong turn because the course was not clearly marked).  It was also increasingly more difficult to spot one individual in the ever-growing swarm of runners.  As waves of people pushed past me, I panicked and wondered if we would be able to find each other at all.  I had no money, phone or ID on me.  Heck, I barely knew where I was.  I guess my best bet was to keep running and hope to find her at the finish line.

Now running alone, I tried to push aside my misgivings and focus on the run.  I have never really run a race before (except for Bay to Breakers, but that’s more of a SF-style parade of outlandish costumes) and had never realized how much the encouragement of strangers cheering along the way could be so incredibly energizing.  With adrenaline pumping, somehow I managed to push myself to continue to run without stopping, except for a brief break at the gentle slope of the “sand dune.”  At Mile 6, I turned the corner and caught my first full view of the ocean – it was breathtakingly beautiful.  All I could hear was the lapping of the waves and the loud cheers of supporters standing along The Strand (a nice piece of boardwalk along Manhattan Beach), yelling “You’re almost there!” and “Doing great with your morning jog!”  As I crossed the finish line (at 1 hour and 5 seconds – not bad considering our late start and waiting to find Hui at the beginning), I felt exhilarated.  In fact, I think I may have become addicted to race running!

Of course Hui and I eventually found each other and ate lunch at the ensuing Hometown Fair with AK.  I am so glad to have run this race and happier even for having done so with my sister!  It’s not every day that we get to do these types of activities together (side note:  our “time together” was further prolonged by a fateful decision to walk back to the parking lot several miles away and then getting lost. . . but I digress, haha).

P.S. Lots of people commented on our Obama shirts, so I guess we did our job in getting the word out!

Manhattan Beach 10K Run

I’m flying down to LA this weekend for my good high school friend’s wedding.  Hui suggested that I should join her at the Manhattan Beach 10k Run Saturday morning.  Somehow I was talked into this…never mind that I have never run a 10k before, and I have a wedding to attend that afternoon.  Since she is wearing her official Obama t-shirt, I decided to also place a rush order for my own (see photo above).  I didn’t realize that he has become quite a fashion icon!  Urban Outfitters carry a whole line of shirts featuring his likeness, and Cafe Press (where I placed my order) has literally tens of thousands of designs – check out the selection here.

Will let you know what kind of reception we get on the day of the run!