Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of the Year

I have fumbled with this post for a long time. Summarizing this year without saying things I haven't already (e.g., "my new job is not flexible like my old one, pays less, and my commute is two hours a day" and "I'm kinda over the running thing") is difficult, because I seem to have focused on those two things a lot on the blog.

Off-line, I enjoyed a lot of good food, worked on not being such a bad in-law, left the country for the first time, read quite a few books, listened to a lot of music, and became more cynical and, most of all, a lot more anxious.  My clothes, makeup, and running spending also hit a five-year low.

In the new year, I'm hoping for the strength to run Carlsbad Marathon and Big Sur without a feeling of torture or dread, knowing as I learned the other day that I can't even drag my body 20 miles like before.  After these races, I will be out of the marathon-ing game for a while, as I've grown tired of spending precious hours training and pushing my body to do something that it has told me many times that it can't handle too well. 

I hope to learn to relax more and finally be happy with the way I am, though not so complacent that I don't try anything new.  I plan on trying lots of new things, actually.  I'm hoping that overcoming my anxiety will help me be more of the person I know I can be.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Body After Running (a Lot)

I've been on the down-trend for the past year.

Long story short, running has become less and less fun for me, and time before more and more sparse.

As I was ramping down (down, down) my weekly mileage, I started wondering what would happen.  Would I grow a "spare tire," struggle to pick up a 15-pounder, or huff and puff at the slightest jog?

I find it laughable each time I'd visit the doctor, when the nurse would do a little intake interview, asking me about my fitness habits.  It used to be, "Oh, I work out 6-ish days per week, an hour at a time."  Then, it became, "About 5-6 days a week, 45 minutes to an hour."  Most recently, it was, "Five days a week, 40 minutes."  Luckily, the system still flagged me as "active," but in my eyes, I know better.

Over the past few months, most mornings would involve a 3.7-ish mile jog, though some mornings I'd do a 30-40 (tops!) minute workout video instead.  Physique 57, Xtend Barre, and 6 Week 6 Pack were most frequent, because more intense stuff like Insanity or Focus T25 are off-limits until we figure out a house-friendly solution to the jumping.  Some days, I'd just "sleep in" (6 AM versus something in the 5's).  Sometimes, several days would pass before I'd work out, or I'd count light yard work as a workout just to feel less lazy. 

Of course, because I still have some races on the calendar, we've been running longer distances on the weekends.  For a month, we did no long runs, so we had to back-track when starting up again, and I'll be going into my next marathon under-trained. I've done worse running-wise, but I think I was more fit overall, though.

So what has the effect been?  In short, not much.  Overall my weight has been more under control.   Granted, I know some is muscle weight, but my appetite is so much more controlled than before.  Recently, I did a long run and ate a large amount of food for days afterward, food I did not "need" calorie-wise, but I couldn't help it.  Outside of this, there is more of a natural stopping point these days, and in return, I've gravitated toward a place that I'm fine with -- losing more would mean cutting out food and working out more, which is stressful (and who needs that?!), so no.

Yes, I run more slowly now.  I was never that fast to begin with, and I'm not trying to break any PRs now.  My hilly stomping grounds, on the other hand, have helped me run more evenly on inclines and declines.  Yet I get sore from squats and lunges these days, ha ha!  In general, my legs are less stocky, yet firm.  I spend a lot of the day standing, walking in heels, walking from place-to-place, and that's a workout in itself.  Oh, and I haven't had to deal with a running injury in forever, which means I am always ready to go.

Strength-wise, I don't lift heavy anymore.  I still do push-ups and other weight-bearing exercises, but I am content with my 5-pounders in barre and sometimes my 15-pound kettlebell.  My upper body is naturally broad and bulky (like The Hulk, but not buff), so maybe this is for the best; I'm still as strong as I need to be.

In short, there IS a life after running, I assure you, and it doesn't involve eating bon-bons on the couch or whatever.  I think a lot of people take up long-distance running because they think it will result in weight-loss and that not running a ton will lead to ballooning, but I don't think that's the case for everyone.  Another percentage of people keep running because they feel it has become critical part of their identity.  I still struggle with this sometimes, but so far, it is fleeting.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Holidays (after Age 18)

Each year, the holiday season comes by more quickly.  Given our trip, a late Thanksgiving/start of shopping season, and the daily grind, I feel that it has truly snuck up on me this year.  I mean, I saw lots of Christmas decorations in Japan, but somehow, it's mid-December, and I'm still scrambling along.

I had some dismal shopping failures recently that really made my anxiety spike.  The first was at a craft store; after circling the area multiple times and getting within scary proximity of other cars with incompetent drivers behind the wheel (even more than me, which is shocking), I decided to abandon my mission, wasting 30 minutes of time that is so precious these days.  The second happened after visiting my parents -- I decided to make a stop on the way home, but as I got there, I got a "the store is closing in 15 minutes" warning, lines jutting to the back of the store.  That was definitely not enough time for me, so I started putting everything down in a panic, yet somehow still browsing until the store closed.  I've been trying to shop online more, but there are certain things that should be seen in person... within the mob circling Target.

My fancy holiday work party is this weekend, and I can't say I'm looking forward to it as much as I had hoped.  I really should have sought out a makeup artist, but it was tough to secure someone affordable.  Plus, it seems like no matter how much effort I put in, I look frumpy all the time.  My feet hurt a lot these days.  My dress was purchased over a year ago, on a whim in New York and hasn't surfaced since, so I have no idea how that will go.  Also, a lack of exercise has made changed my body shape, I think.  At least this gnarly rash I had is clearing up so that people won't wonder whether I ate radioactive fish while I was overseas. 

If only Christmas was about spending time together, baking, and watching children enjoy the holiday....  I guess I used to be one of those children, but now I'm old and don't really mind whether someone gives me something that I could probably buy myself if I needed/wanted it that badly.  Maybe this mentality will change if I have children of my own.  "The Ukrainian" asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said, "More time to relax" and "To have my friends choose any other cuisine but stinky, meat-y Korean BBQ for a gathering."  Cue Ebenezer Scrooge.

In addition, the anxieties multiply when your family grows.  When it's your biological family, it's easy to "come as you are," but once you've attended your third Thanksgiving meal, you start to feel the weight (pun intended) of having in-laws upon in-laws that require separate dinners for each subset.  Then, the "when are the babies coming?" question dampens the mood until we can brave the traffic home.  Also, time to shop for more gifts, yay.

Overall, though, the holidays are nice.  The weather is cooler, for one, and I'm one of those odd people who enjoys the sub-40s Fahrenheit that other Southern Californians find apocalyptic.  Yes, the uncharacteristic temperature have nudged me to skip workouts in a time that I already don't do enough of them, but there is something so nice about enjoying the comforts of home, seeing all the lights, and doing all that traditional stuff that brings you back to childhood.  I just wish that I had started shopping earlier, and that I could realize that being shoved into really isn't worth fuming over.

Oh yeah, I have a marathon in five weeks, and it has been a month since I've run over 10 miles.  Stay tuned for an comical/abysmal race review soon...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ten Lessons Learned in Japan

Since I returned from my 10-day (8-day without traveling) vacation, things have not been the same.  I haven't had a lot of time to process things, as I returned on a Sunday afternoon, returned to work Monday, blew through four holiday meals (without running at all), and am just coming up for air.

Things haven't been the same, because going on vacation for that long had not yet happened in my adult life.  The longest I had been off of work is 5 days , and I took 6 off for this one.  Also, this was my first time outside of the country.  That alone is such an eye-opening thing to do, and I can't believe I've waited so long to do it.  My world used to be so small because I was extremely sheltered, but that has made me appreciate everything so much more.

Anyway, I really miss Japan.  I know I only got a limited glance of the country, but already, I could see the stark differences between there and my home country, differences that make me long to be back there as I go about my day-to-day life back at home.  I'll elaborate more about this below.  Hope this doesn't seem antagonistic in any way... just observation.

Lessons Learned in Japan

1.  TMI alert! -- This didn't quite happen IN Japan, but en route.  So, this being my longest flight ever (~10 hrs), I prepped to be comfy -- glasses, Kindle, provided bedding.  Usually, when I feel nauseated during take-off and landing, I pop in a cough drop.  I was feeling fine and was even able to eat, but we hit an hour of turbulence, and no cough drop was able to keep me from getting sick (multiple times, mind you).  Since I had never been sick on a plane before, I wasn't prepared and used an inappropriate bag... which leaked.  Although I managed to miss my stuff, clothes, the bedding, and other people, I felt like the most vile person ever.  The rest of that flight was what I imagine when one would feel like in hell -- cramped, smelly, hungry, and dizzy.

Lesson learned: no matter how well you prepare, or how many shorter similar experiences you've conquered, your body can rebel.  Oh wait... I already learned that with running!

2. Japan is a place with endless beauty, a mix of the old with the modern.  We could all learn to bridge tradition with everyday life... an eternal struggle.

View during breakfast one morning: Atami, Japan.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Kimono Show @ the textile district in Osaka!

3. Ramen.  Need I say more?  Speaking of ramen, check out the eggs that I ate in Japan -- the chicken yolks are SO orange and tasted GREAT.  It seems that something is definitely wrong with the U.S. food supply, so we're planning on switching to organic eggs after we run out.

Found this gem at Tokyo Ramen Street

EGG (Ichiran Ramen in Kyoto)

Hot spring egg at the Imperial Tokyo Hotel

4. Japan is SO clean.  You'd think with so many people living in a country the size of California, it'd be riddled with ickiness, but that simply wasn't true.  There was hardly any leftover gum on the floors, no dirt-covered cars driving around, no trash on the floor, and public places/things were... clean!  Even the homeless kept to themselves and didn't smell of urine and weed.

It seems like littering and such is just in bad taste over there, and people have so much more respect for property than in the U.S. (I was told crime rates there are pretty low)  Take note, Americans -- "freedom" doesn't mean you should make a mess!

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Also, even in crowded places, there was order in the madness.  It seems that people understand that rules exist FOR A REASON.

5. Going out of the country means trying new things.  Although meat is not something I willingly eat, I decided to try Kobe beef, knowing that this was probably the best and everything is "downhill" from that.  Again, something is wrong with the U.S. food supply.

Kobe beef

6. That being said, in spite of my theory that I would one day return to meat-eating permanently, I don't think I'd want that.  Yes, I had actually considered it for a while, but for one thing, meat is generally fraught with yucky things, so I'd only eat it if my parents made me or if it became medically necessary.  And even then, I'd limit it to necessity.

Todai-ji Temple: Nara, Japan

Besides, Kyoto (a region in Japan) has AMAZING tofu -- and tofu soft-serve.  I mean, the stuff in the U.S. is just not the same...

Tofu at the Miho Museum in Kyoto

Tofu soft serve in Arashiyama, Kyoto

7. Try new things.  Going this far away was new, but I'm referring to everyday things.  Like putting on a necklace to work, which I never did because I thought it'd give muggers on and en route to the train yet another thing to grab me by (seriously). In the short time since I've returned, I've met up with an old colleague that I didn't know very well, got into skin care masks, bought an AppleTV, and started eating rice for breakfast.

Oh, and singing karaoke in a yukata robe is definitely a new thing.

8. Simple things... are great things.  We stayed in a ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) for a few nights, and although sleeping on the tatami floor wasn't reminiscent of a Sleep Number bed at all, my back did like it at times, and on one of those nights, I was sleeping to the sound of waves crashing.

And let's face it... I can sleep practically anywhere.

You also don't need a zillion pieces of pasta to feel satiated.

And when it's just you and your food, you can focus on its inherent flavors so much more.

Ichiran Ramen (Kyoto)

9. I will always be a child at heart.  I don't have a huge number of pleasant childhood memories (not that it was all horrid, but generally mundane), but as an adult, I can still get excited about going to a Pokémon store and pose the original "starters" together for a group shot.  I wanted to take a lot of these home, but I've been so anti-clutter these days that this did not happen. =/

Pokémon Center at Osaka Station Mall

10. At the end of the day, or when you wake up in the middle of the night, it's nice to have a warm place to go.  Enough said.

(On a related note, I did use the non-Western style toilet, and it really wasn't that bad.  Kind of more natural, actually.)


I'm so glad I had this opportunity, and I will try not to stew over our pesticide-ridden food, dirty trains, or lack of manners too much as I await my return visit.  I will treasure my vacation photos (these were just a small percentage of the 1100 I took!) and the few souvenirs that did make it home as a reminder of something I will look back on when I'm on my deathbed.

And you can bet that I won't be littering any time soon (not like I was, but now I'm extra-conscientious).