It’s All About Choices

Where are u going to..????

Where are u going to..???? (Photo credit: Goianobe)

During a recent run, I flashed back to an exchange I had with one of my tour guides in Scotland in April 2012. She had remarked on the size of my suitcase. It was a standard 28″ case that I usually bring on non-hiking vacations. I didn’t think my suitcase was inappropriate given that I was on a 15-day holiday so I said, a tad defensively, “I’m here for two weeks.”

To which she replied, “I rode my motorcycle all over the US for three months with just my saddlebags. When you get home, go to a BMW motorcycle dealership and they’ll teach you how to pack.” I politely smiled and nodded as I’m wont to do in situations where someone who doesn’t know me treats me with an air of smug superiority.

I smiled and nodded but inside, I was a bit irked. I know how to pack. I can go on a week-long business trip and just take a 19″ roll-aboard, which covers a different outfit each day, dinner outfits for each evening, and my running gear. And this woman, a complete stranger, was telling me that didn’t know how to pack?

I flashed back to this interaction because I had just finished packing for a 7-day business trip and had too much room in my 22″ case so ended up squeezing everything into my 19″ case.

It’s all about choices.

Could I have used a smaller suitcase for my Scotland trip? Sure. But I didn’t want to spend my vacation washing my knickers and t-shirts in the sink each night. I didn’t want to have vacation pictures with me wearing the same pullover day after day. So I chose to bring a bigger bag so that I would have more time to make memories and so that those memories would be happy ones.

It’s all about choices.

The same goes for race preparation, race training plans, and race expectations. I had to switch gears last week to a different marathon training plan because the original plan I chose was simply too intense. The workouts and the paces were such that I dreaded my runs instead of looking forward to them. Dreaded them so much that I didn’t run at all during the first official week of training.

I knew that I needed to shift gears and find a plan that wouldn’t intimidate me. I needed to find a plan that would allow me to enjoy running again and not dread it. Or, in the simplest terms, I needed a plan that fit my inner slacker – one that had just enough structure but not too much structure. So I did some looking and dug up a very basic beginner just-finish-the-marathon plan. Luckily, it was one week shorter than the other plan so I wasn’t having to play catch up right out of the gate.

Since it’s a beginner plan, the build up is gradual and seems infinitely more manageable. And I know that if I follow it, I will be able to meet my goal of improving on last year’s marathon. Of course, I’m already tweaking the plan to fit my schedule and my life. But after just one week, I already notice the difference in my attitude about running. It’s no longer, “I have to run a 5-mile tempo run tomorrow.” Instead, it’s more like, “I can’t wait to see if I can push the pace a little bit during my 4 miles tomorrow.”

It’s all about choices.

Could I have gutted it out and stuck with the more intense training plan? Adjusted the paces down a little bit to be less intimidating? Sure. But that wouldn’t have addressed my attitude about running. So I chose to find a more realistic plan so that I can nurture my love of running with less potential to get injured and a higher likelihood of meeting my goal.

It’s all about choices. In packing, in planning, in running, and in life. Make your choices good choices.

And the thought processor churns on…

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Race Report: Inaugural Edinburgh Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon 2012

The days leading up to the inaugural Edinburgh Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon 2012 were overcast with scattered showers. The weather reports predicted cold temperatures (1° C) and chilly winds with chance of scattered showers for race morning. So, of course, race day dawned sunny with not a cloud in the sky and, although a bit nippy, just the barest of breezes sweeping through the starting area in Holyrood Park.

For an inaugural event, things were rather smooth, which is a testament to the Rock-n-Roll organization.

120415 RnR Edinburgh Half Medal

120415 RnR Edinburgh Half Medal

The expo was set up in the park, right where the finish festivities – concerts and awards presentation – would take place after the race. Because of the open setup, everything was in tents. The bib and chip tent was off to the left and the t-shirt and gear bag tent was straight on so most people began by queuing in the t-shirt/gear bag line. I think better signage would be helpful in the future. Or another suggestion would be to have a big tent that starts with bib/chip pickup then flows to t-shirt/gear bag pickup and then flows to the souvenir store.

I mention the souvenir tent because I also almost missed it. The souvenir tent was a compact affair with the sample items hanging on the walls with signs indicating sizes and prices. Easy enough, right? Not if you’re queued up behind a half-dozen Italians who needed to see all the sizes available for all the items. And then, as one bought an item, another one would see it and want one just like it. Only in a different size, of course. So then the clerk would have to pull out all the sizes again while trying to wrap up the first transaction. Repeat six times before it was finally my turn.

All I wanted was my usual commemorative t-shirt plus a beanie cap. The t-shirt has become my tradition at races away from home – because sometimes a finisher’s t-shirt isn’t appropriate attire. The beanie cap was for the weather. Although I packed an assortment of Bondi Bands which could be pulled down over my ears, given the dire weather warnings on the BBC, I wasn’t sure they would be sufficient. By buying that beanie cap, I took my first step toward breaking my cardinal rule of racing.

Gear acquired, I headed back to the hotel, stopping to buy a bacon roll from one of the food vendors. I promised myself another such roll after the race. Mmm…good incentive.

120413 Edinburgh RnR City Centre Road Closures

Bus stop notice showing closures/diversions due to the 2012 Edinburgh RnR Half-Marathon

The night before the race, I listened to the weather report again. The report said frosty and windy and chances of showers. I considered my planned race outfit. I watched another weather report. I looked at my race outfit again.

The road to hell is paved with broken rules, right? My cardinal rule for races is that you don’t wear race swag until you’ve earned it. If I broke my rule for this race, who knew what other evil acts I was capable of committing?

I tried on the race t-shirt. Not the cotton one I bought at the souvenir store but the tech t-shirt given to all registered runners during packet pickup. It fit perfectly. My long-sleeved shirt went on top. I waffled but the next weather report convinced me – I needed the layer. And the beanie cap.

As noted earlier, race day weather was gorgeous – chilly for sure but I could have survived without the extra layer. And probably the beanie cap, too. Ah well, at least I was prepared for the worst weather.

If I needed a theme for this race, it would be “Chilly and Hilly.” A fellow runner I met on a day tour the day after the race commented that the hills only seemed to go up and never down.

That, of course, was a slight exaggeration. We had at least two nice long downhills – heading out of Holyrood Park into the City Centre and then the final mile back into Holyrood Park for the finish. Thank goodness the race directors weren’t cruel and didn’t plan an uphill finish.

120415 Edinburgh RnR Going Down Side of Arthurs Seat

The start of a nice long downhill

The scenery went from residential to coastal to residential to park to city to park to city to park. Running along the sea wall took me by surprise – I didn’t expect us to be that close to the sea during the race. Lines from my favorite poem, Sea Fever by John Masefield, flitted through my head during those miles.

120415 Edinburgh RnR Seaside

Gorgeous views along the Firth of Forth, miles 4 & 5.

The residential areas were another surprise. Little clusters of people gathered here and there outside their houses to clap, smile, and offer words of encouragement. Since I’m a slow runner (just ahead of the 2:30 pace group through the first 2/3 of the race) the thought that people would spend a chunk of their Sunday morning cheering for strangers was quite heartening.

As usual, the race organizers set up entertaining bands and DJs at just the right spots. The volunteers on the race course were great about managing the traffic. There was a lot of waste, though.

Instead of cups of water and Gatorade at the hydration stations, they gave out bottles of water and Powerade. I thought that was great because I took a bottle of water at the first station and carried it until it was empty and then grabbed a Powerade bottle. But other people took a sip or two and then chucked their bottles. Or, even worse, they’d grab two bottles, take a couple of sips out of one and chuck it, and then do the same with the other bottle further down the road. It was especially sad to see 500 mL bottles of Powerade – almost full – chucked in the gutter.

I learned from fellow runners at a whisky tour a couple of days after the race that the bottled water and Powerade was likely in response to people getting sick from cups of city water at the Rock-n-Roll Las Vegas event last December. I don’t know if they ever proved that the people who got sick actually got sick because of the water but apparently the Rock-n-Roll organization wasn’t taking any chances. It’s too bad that their cautiousness resulted in so much waste.

120415 Edinburgh RnR Cowsgate 1

Perfect shot for #SeenOnMyRun ~ didn’t notice the front of the cow until I was looking at pictures for this blog post!

The end of the race was a fast downhill portion and when I turned towards Holyrood Park and the finish, I could hear the announcer greeting the runners as they covered the last bit of the distance. I made the final turn to the finish gate, looked up, and there she was – the little energetic blond from the San Jose Rock-n-Roll half-marathon. Microphone in hand, she cheered for the runners, exhorting them to smile, encouraging them as they took their last few steps to cross the finish line, and giving high-fives to everyone who swerved over to her.

As I’m writing this, I’m already looking forward to seeing her in October at the San Jose Rock-n-Roll half-marathon.

I’m also looking forward to getting my World Rocker Heavy Medal at the end of the year.

This is a good event for a newbie traveler (always easier to travel to a country where they speak English) who wants to run in an organized race event.

Happy running!

#oneword2012

English: Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

I’m not anti-New-Year’s-resolutions. I just don’t do them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve set goals for each calendar year and tracked my progress along the way. Things are no different this year.

For 2012, I identified 7 categories that are important to me and established 3 to 7 goals for each category. I know that I’ll be stretched as I try to attain my goals for the year. That’s usually what I have in mind when I go through my goal-setting exercise – things that take me out of my comfort zone, things that will make me a better person, things that will stimulate me.

As I was refining my goals, I learned about a new concept through a women’s leadership group on Facebook. The idea is that you pick one word and you use that word to guide you during the year. In her 2007 post, Christine Kane called it a Resolution Revolution. The WLI group’s #oneword2012 was gathered and turned into a Wordle.

My #oneword2012? Risk.

It’s a word that I’ve had in mind for many years because I’ve felt that as I’ve become older, I’ve become more cautious and content. It’s a word that I think of – along with “fearless” – whenever I watch young children learn new sports. Or 20-somethings who hop from job to job because they’re looking for something that their current job doesn’t give them. Or 40-somethings who leave a stable, satisfying job to pursue a lifelong passion. Somewhere between childhood and middle age we lose our appetite for risk. The risks we take become more cautious, more calculated, less…well, less risky.

So I chose “risk” for my #oneword2012 to remind me that the safe choice is not always the satisfying choice, that the pragmatic option is not always the passion-fulfilling option, that the expected decision is not necessarily the exceptional decision. As John A. Shedd wrote in 1928, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” I hope that my #oneword2012 is a constant reminder throughout the year to push and stretch myself and to move out of my comfort zone.

What’s your #oneword2012?

And the thought processor churns on . . .

Life Is a Grand Adventure

Hot Air Balloons in China

Up, up, and away!

I watched Up for the first time recently. I enjoyed it so much that I watched it a second time before returning the DVD to Netflix. It’s about a boy who dreamed of grand adventure and met the love of his life who also dreamed of adventure and exploration. They got married and grew old together without ever going on their big exploration trip. A series of incidents after his wife’s death fills Carl with determination to fulfill their youthful dream and off he goes to South America to explore.

There are a lot of life lessons embedded in the movie – persistence, the power of dreams, good guys win in the end, unconditional love, heroes with feet of clay – any of which would be a good topic for reflection. The life lesson from Up that struck me the most is that life is a grand adventure. But all too often, we get caught up in planning for our adventure that we forget to actually go on our adventure.

Think about it. Were you one of those people who created a bucket list when the movie of the same name came out? If so, where is your bucket list now? How many items on that list have you checked off? How many more items have you come up with that you didn’t add to the list? How many items on that list are left? And why haven’t you done them yet?

Likely you’re waiting until you retire. Or until the kids graduate from high school. Or college. Or medical school. Or until you finish your degree. Or your graduate degree. Or until you’ve paid off your mortgage. Or until you get your dream job with months of vacation and a huge salary. Or until you meet Mr. or Ms. Right. You plan and plan for your grand adventure so that when the conditions are perfect and the time is right, your grand adventure will go off without a hitch.

Conditions will never be perfect. The time will never be right. Adventures aren’t adventures unless they have snags, hitches, hiccups, and the unexpected.

So stop planning already. Life is the grand adventure. Don’t let life pass you by while you’re planning for it.

And the thought processor churns on . . .

‘Tis the Season

As I was running recently, I was thinking about how much I love this time of year. The crispness of the air, the smoky smell wafting from chimneys, the scent of evergreens inside offices and homes, the cookies, the parties, the decorations, the singing, the impression that everyone seems to be kinder – all of these are reasons I enjoy the holiday season. One thing that I really enjoy about this time of year are the Christmas cards.

Most of my friends have never been big letter writers. In the past, I was usually the one who would send regular letters. I always hoped for a response but never expected one. One time, I followed up with a phone call because I hadn’t received a letter from a friend who always responded and that was how I found out that he had died. His mom had been saving all of my letters for months – unopened – because she wasn’t sure how to break the news to me.

These past few years as life has become busier, my letters have devolved into postcards that I send when I’m traveling. It’s easy to jot a few lines on a postcard and pop it in the mail, right? Not always! Some trips, I’ve spent hours looking for postcards and post offices. When I went to Bali, I didn’t find postcards until my last day on the island so most friends didn’t even know I was in Bali until they saw pictures on Facebook. But I enjoy looking for postcards and finding just the right ones for certain friends.

I always hope for a return letter or postcard but I don’t expect one. But every Christmas, I look forward to amassing a stack of Christmas cards. Even if the card only has a signature and no personal note, it brings that friend to mind and I like that. The joy that I get when I receive real mail (as opposed to junk mail, bills, or bank statements!) has not diminished over the years.

Those Christmas newsletters that people rant about? I love them! In a couple of pages I can get updated on the happenings of my friends’ and their families’ lives. And I can do it on my own time, curled up in front of a roaring fire with a cup of cocoa at hand.

This year, I’ve gotten a couple of e-cards. And let me tell you, they don’t warm the cockles of my heart the same way a card in the mail does. They seem impersonal and thoughtless to me, more for the sender’s convenience than for the recipient’s pleasure.

But isn’t that what this season is all about? Thinking about others and doing kind things for them? So if you’re thinking of me this season, send me a real Christmas card via snail mail. I will appreciate it more than you know.

And the thought processor churns on . . .

The Joys of Business Travel

Do you travel for work? If you’re in sales or business development, no one in your office will blink an eye or make a comment when you travel. If you’re not in sales or business development, when you travel for business, your co-workers likely think that you’re going off to have fun.

Announce at work that you’re going to a conference and the first question anyone will ask – including your boss – is, “Where is it?” Depending on the location, you’ll get one of two responses. Either a disinterested, “Oh. Well, at least you’ll be out of the office.” Or an excited and slightly jealous, “That should be so much fun!” Your boss, of course, will have one of two responses, as well, also depending on the location. Either a disinterested, “Oh. You’ll learn a lot.” Or a suspicious and slightly jealous, “I’m expecting an executive summary of what you’ve learned. Which ed sessions were you planning on attending?”

As someone who travels for business at least every other month if not more often, I’m usually the recipient of the latter responses regardless of the location simply because I travel more often for both business and pleasure. Speaking from experience, as someone whose job does not require travel, traveling for business is not a cakewalk.

First there’s all the preparation involved with business travel – estimating travel costs in order to pull together the travel request, requesting approval to travel, and making the travel arrangements (registering for the conference/workshop/meeting, making hotel reservations, making airline reservations, and making ground transportation arrangements). Then, there’s all the extra work that needs to be done to tie up as many loose ends as possible before the trip. Newbie travelers often skip this step because they figure that they’ll have access to email and voicemail and can always call the office. More seasoned travelers know that skipping this step means that their trip will be peppered with constant interruptions, crises, and emergencies.

Then there’s the actual travel itself. Since 9/11, traveling has become more onerous because of the increase security. The airlines haven’t helped much because of their new ways if generating revenue – on-board food sales, baggage fees, etc. So now, it’s no longer enough to just throw some clothes into a suitcase and head to the airport because airlines charge for checked bags now. And if you choose not to check a bag, then you need to consider your liquids and gels because security limits what you can bring in your carry-on bag. Most airlines have reduced the number of flights so now just about every flight is completely full, which makes for cramped and uncomfortable flights.

What most people don’t realize is that going to a conference or workshop or meeting or site visit is really work. If you are doing it right, it is work. If you are taking advantage of the opportunity, it is work. And often it’s not 8 to 5 work.

It starts at breakfast and usually goes through dinner and on through the hospitality suite. Can you imagine being “on” from 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. or later for 3, 4, or 5 days without a real break? I’m often more exhausted when I come back from a conference because I’m involved from Friday through Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the conference.

Coming back to the office after a trip is almost harder than leaving. When you get back to the office, everyone who was left behind wants to know about your trip. They want to know what fun activities you participated in, what foods did you eat, what goodies you snagged at the exhibit hall. They don’t want to hear about all the stuff you learned or the people you met or the products/services you think might be good for the company. Then you have to fill out and submit your expense report. If you don’t travel often, this can be a project in and of itself.

And finally, the catch up. Even if you brought your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you really wouldn’t have had the time to stay on top of everything that was happening at the office or at time while you were away. So you often come back to the office with hundreds of emails in your inbox, dozens of voicemails on your phone, and a lot of mail in your mailbox.

The point of this story is that traveling for business is not all fun and games. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent, things like video-conferencing, webinars, online courses, and the like are slowly taking the place of business travel. However, technology cannot take the place of connecting with someone in real life. The relationships that you build when you go to a conference or workshop are worth the difficulties that come with business travel. So if you have the opportunity to attend a conference or workshop or meeting, make the most of it!

The thought processor churns on . . .

Race Report – Wahine Half Marathon

Sunday, April 17th was the Wahine Half Marathon in Honolulu, one of the races in the Diva Series. This was the inaugural running of the Wahine Half Marathon, which means that kinks are to be expected. Before I go any further in my race report, I do have a couple of disclaimers as these incidents may (or may not) have impacted my race experience. Disclaimer number 1: I was scheduled to arrive midday on Friday, which would have given me a day and a half to relax and prepare for the race, but my flight on American Airlines was canceled and the earliest that I could get to Honolulu was midday on Saturday. Disclaimer number 2: My training fell off in April. So with those disclaimers, on to my race report!

Packet pick-up was in the Sheraton on the second floor. Signage could have been better but perhaps the Sheraton didn’t allow the Divas Half Marathon Series put up directional arrows. The volunteers were great – enthusiastic, warm, friendly. I felt truly welcomed to the event after talking to the volunteers in the packet pick-up area. The boutique and expo was – in a word – weak. I was happy to see BondiBand there, though. They were at the San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon expo last October and I bought 3 headbands there. I had hoped to see them at the Big Sur International Half Marathon expo last November but they weren’t there. I bought 3 more headbands to ensure that my headbands will match just about any running outfit I wear.

The hotel I stayed at – the Sheraton Princess – is not one that I would recommend, but that’s a different topic. The Sheraton Princess is about 1.9 miles from the start line so it was a good warm-up to walk from the hotel to the start line on Sunday. There were no port-a-potties at the start line. The nearest toilets were about 100 yards or more away from the start. While it was nice that they weren’t port-a-potties, there simply weren’t enough stalls – even though we used both the men’s and women’s sides – to handle a crowd of 2,200 or more.

After standing in line at the toilets, I made my way to the start line. We had to cross a little bridge and climb over a wall to get to the start line. Of course the bridge was a bottleneck and that’s yet another reason that some port-a-potties ought to have been set up at the start line. It was pretty amazing, though, to see this sea of women in mostly black and pink gathered there at the start.

The start line itself was disorganized and chaotic. The pace corrals were not corrals at all, meaning that there was no demarcation between corrals like there is at the SJRnR Half and the BSI Half. The pace markers were about four feet apart, which means that most people ended up lining up after the pace markers because there wasn’t enough room in the “corrals” for people. The race started late because the organizers wanted to be sure that the fire dance happened – not that many of us could see the fire dancers anyway. Then a recording of the national anthem was played – without any announcement, especially an announcement to remove hats or show some modicum of respect for the moment – and the recording crapped out midway through. What was uplifting at that moment, though, was that the crowd picked up the anthem without missing a beat and even though hats weren’t removed and hands weren’t over hearts, it was an emotional experience to hear 2,200+ women’s voices lifted in song. With all that chaos and disorganization, it should come as no surprise to note that the race started more than 10 minutes late.

The race route was horrible. It was a mixture of an out-and-back and loops and u-turns. It would have been better if the race were simply 13 loops around Ala Moana Park. At least we would have had shade and regular water stops. As it was, there was a space of about 3 miles – between mile 4 and mile 7 – when there wasn’t a water stop in sight. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it was overcast, cool, and breezy but it was sunny, hot, and humid. This was also the first half-marathon that I’ve ever run where there was no energy gel stop during the race. I think the race directors should reconsider the route so that they can plan regular water stops and water stops that can do double-duty.

The last mile, which should have been celebratory, was miserable because you entered the finish area with all the music and announcements and people . . . only to be told that you had to circle the peninsula – another three-quarters of a mile – to get to the finish line. It was disheartening and discouraging to be so close to the finish line and yet so far. Even though I had seen this on the race map, I didn’t expect it to be as discouraging as it was. I think part of the reason that it was discouraging was because the last 5 miles had been a miserable slog and I just wanted to be done. But I know that I wasn’t the only runner who was disappointed with the finish as I talked to a number of women who expressed similar sentiments. The race route was also longer than 13.1 miles. My Garmin showed a distance of 13.37 and again, I was not the only one who experienced this.

The finish area was a bit more organized than the start line but then again, that’s not saying much. There was sparkling apple cider to celebrate with but since there were three lines for finisher photographs, two of the lines never even got near the sparkling apple cider. I, of course, chose the line that went by the sparkling apple cider table so I didn’t miss out on it! After the finisher photos, people just milled around because they weren’t directed to the post-race food line. They certainly didn’t miss much – plain bagels, bananas, fruit bites, and cookies. I’ve seen better post-race spreads at smaller races.

The volunteers along the course and in the finish area were amazing. They were always smiling, always shouting encouragement, and always positive. I think the volunteers were the best part of this race and the Big Sur International Half Marathon could take a couple of pointers from the Wahine Half Marathon volunteers.

The boa and tiara station was a fun stop. And at this stop I realized the power of having your name on your race bib. As I took the tiara being handed to me, the volunteer called me by name and encouraged me to finish strong. As I took the boa that was held out, another volunteer called me by name and told me I was doing great. It’s amazing to hear your name after 12 miles of hot, sweaty work. More spectators along the route after the boa and tiara station were calling out encouragement to runners by name and every time I heard my name, I smiled and appreciated the personalized race bibs.

Would I run this race again? I’m not sure. All in all, it was an expensive venture what with the airfare and hotel expenses. And since I didn’t have a positive race experience, it’s hard to say that I would come back next year. If you enjoy going to Hawaii for a vacation, this would be a good race to have on your calendar. I hope the race directors ask for feedback and listen to feedback from participants.

Happy running!