Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Very Successful Three Day Weekend

Now that I work full time, I have rediscovered the magic of three day weekends. I will admit: at first I was nervous about taking advantage of the long weekend, afraid I might be out of practice, that I would squander the gift of these days by sitting around or, worse, cleaning my house. Friends, I am happy to report that by Monday evening my heart was full, my body tired, and my hangover surprisingly slight. Here's how I managed to have the best Memorial Day weekend ever. 

Step One: Birthday Shenanigans 

Friday night was my friend Kat's birthday, so after work we headed out - and stayed out. We started at the Husk, a downtown bar with a great outdoor area, and drank beers and tequila shots until it got dark and when we got hungry. Then we headed upstairs to Yosake, a very good restaurant (where Nathan and I decided to get married, as it so happens) and stuffed ourselves silly. We ended the evening by dancing the night away at Lula's, despite the fact that Lula's is less a dance club and more a dive bar. The other patrons might have found us insufferable; I have no idea. See tequila shots. At any rate, it was a great time and the fact that I stayed up until 2AM made the weekend seem wonderfully long. 

Step Two: Pick-Your-Own Berries  

I skipped hot yoga on Saturday (see tequila shots) but did manage to rally the troops for an outing to Lewis farms for some berry picking. Our group split up as soon as we hit the fields - half of us wanted to pick strawberries, while the rest wanted blue. Luckily Nathan and I were on different teams, so we ended up with a bucket of each. So far I've been eating a ton of berries every day, but I have grand plans to make blueberry pie and a vegan strawberry shortcake with coconut whipped cream. Will I accomplish these lofty goals before the berries go bad and/or I eat them all by the handful? Only time will tell. 

 Step Three: Breakfast Taco Party 

Finally, the moment I'd been looking forward to for weeks: BREAKFAST TACO PARTY. This party is an annual tradition that my friends K and D host, and it is exactly what it sounds like - a party, celebrating the art of the breakfast taco. There was so much food that I showed up for breakfast and stayed for dinner, because you can never have too many tacos. There was also cornhole and weird fortunes and coffee spiked with bourbon. The weather was glorious and the porch was full of people I love. The best part, however, were the buckets. Buckets are a delicious mixed drink served in (clean) paint cans. The drink contains bourbon, mint, sugar, and fresh squeezed citrus. It is then adorned with many straws and passed around family style for everyone to sip. Is it sanitary? No. Does it contain enough bourbon to kill anything that might be passed on? Probably. Did anyone care? Not when buckets are at stake. 

As you can see, it was a wonderful weekend that left me feeling pretty damn grateful for my life here in Wilmington. If the last few days are any indication, it's going to be an excellent summer. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bringing Home Our Bees, Part Two

It seems the last time I wrote about our adventures in beekeeping was nearly a year ago, when we replaced our queen bee and crossed our fingers. As you may have guessed by my year-long silence on the subject, our hive didn't make it. We didn't get the queen in fast enough, or maybe she didn't take, or perhaps the hive was already too weak. At any rate, the hive was overrun with a wax moth infestation, the whole colony was lost, and we mostly blamed ourselves. Even though we'd had that hive for over two years, beekeeping has a steep learning curve. I'm fairly certain a more experienced beekeeper would have seen the trouble sooner and stepped in before things got out of hand, but alas - we were not those beekeepers. 

And so, we've been hive-less for a year. It was a lonely time. I missed the bees, our suits, the smoke. Our yard felt empty without those white boxes in the corner, the busy highway buzzing across the yard. And then, about ten days ago, we became beekeepers again. We picked up two new hives and moved them our backyard.

It wasn't exactly a seamless process. We (and by "we" I mean "Nathan") decided to try our hand at top bar hives this time, instead of the traditional white boxes. Nathan built the new hives, but it took much longer than anticipated, because he drew up the plans himself and also because that is the nature of projects - they always take at least three times longer than you think they will. So Sunday morning (Mother's Day! Long live the queen! Also Tropical Storm Ana! What a day it was!) we spent hours hammering, gluing, and drilling. I was sure we'd never finish in time, but somehow we did it. 

Of course, there was another problem we had to deal with. You see, we had ordered nucleus colonies from our local bee guy. If you're keeping Langstroth hives like most people in the USA, nucs are very easy to install. Just drop the frames of bees into your box and voila - you're done. Because we're doing top bar hives, however, we (and again, by "we" I mean "Nathan") had to trim the frames (while they were full of bees!) so they would fit in our boxes. This method of beekeeping is said to be gentler and kinder in the long run, but the installation process was a bit traumatic. Or so I heard. Unfortunately Nathan had to do this part Monday morning, alone, because I had to go to work. Oops.

At any rate, the bees made it into the hives, Nathan only got stung once, and a week later we opened them up for the first time since their move-in day to see how things were progressing. And things were looking great! The frames that the bees arrived on were still heavy with honey and brood, and the bees had already started building a lot of comb on the empty bars we'd placed along to the top - AKA, the top bars. It was actually pretty incredible to see how much progress they'd made in just a week, and made me wonder why Langstroth hives are so popular in America. Clearly, the bees know what they're doing, and even though this was my first time inspecting the bee in a top bar hive, the process felt much simpler and calmer. The bees didn't seem to mind us either, which was a nice change.

While one of the hives appears to be thriving, the other one is a tiny bit slower. Hopefully it'll catch up soon and everything will even out. In the meantime we'll keep checking on them, adding bars as needed, and doing our part to keep them comfortable.

Welcome home, bees! We missed you. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Not Quite Beachy Keen, But Close

Good news, y'all: summer is here. This is partly why I've been a terrible blogger (or at least it's my latest excuse). Every evening when the day is over, Nathan and I retreat to the back porch until it gets dark, to sit in the fading sunlight while sipping white wine. (White wine! How I've missed you!) While this has been a truly lovely routine, it doesn't leave much time for blogging, especially after working all day, writing all morning, and occasionally working out at night. A small price to pay. As we all know by this point, I love summer more than any other season, but somehow experiencing it anew each year is still such a pleasant surprise. 

To celebrate the unofficial arrival of summer, we headed to the beach this past Sunday. This wouldn't normally be a huge deal, because we live exactly seven miles from the ocean. This trip, however, was a little more interesting because instead of driving to the beach, fighting for parking, and coughing up $2.50 an hour for the meter, we drove to a marina and stepped onto a lovely little boat. 

One of our new friends just happens to be a captain who works at a marina, and he has access to the boats when he's off duty, which is pretty much the best job perk ever. We took a boat up the Intracoastal Waterway, out past Figure Eight Island, a private island accessible only by super rich people, and anchored ourselves just off Lee Island. Then we spent the whole day in the sun and surf, boogie boarding, eating Snapea Crisps, and drinking a cooler full of beer. It was pretty much perfect, despite my slight sunburn and the terror I experienced every time the boat went around a bend. Mostly, though, it was perfect. 

Other than going to the beach, life has okay. Honestly, the last two weeks have been really busy and I've felt a bit overwhelmed. This probably has something to do with the fact that school ended and now I'm actually working 40 hours a week at the marketing agency - I hadn't realized how much I cramming into those two free mornings, and I've yet to find a way to balance all the components of my life. Yes, I've been pretty good about writing first thing in the morning, but I'm only working out half the time, and cooking anything has been hit or miss. I'm hoping this is the week it all starts to click, because life is pretty good right now but I can't quite enjoy it as fully as I'd like. Once I get some semblance of a balance back, I'll be better equipped to make the most out of each moment. Until then I feel a bit like I'm treading water, waiting for my turn to use the boogie board. 

In the meantime, I need to finish this cup of coffee and go to work. If all goes well and everything falls into place, I'll visit this space again on Friday and tell you all about our new bees (!). 

Until then!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Goodbye, College. I Mean It This Time.

Last week, I submitted grades for the class I taught this past semester at UNCW, which means my short-lived career as a college instructor is officially over (at least until I'm famous). It's a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I'm glad that now I only have to focus on one job. I won't miss waking early to plan lessons, or grading papers on my lunch break, or responding to a thousand student emails asking a million questions, the answers to which are clearly stated in the syllabus. On the other hand, I will really, really, really miss teaching. 

Before coming to Wilmington, I'd never been a teacher. I'd led a few workshops about social media and given some library presentations, but this was a completely new experience. At first, I was very bad at it. I was nervous, I stuttered and fumbled, I painstakingly created lesson plans that broke my class down into five minute increments because I was terrified of finding myself in front of my class with nothing to say. Four years and twelve classes later, I'm a completely different teacher. I still get nervous, but my students don't seem to notice. (In fact, when I told them that public speaking still terrifies me, they refused to believe me until I held up my hand so they could see that it was indeed trembling.) I no longer over-plan my classes - I have a loose idea of what I want to teach, and I'm able to tailor it in the moment to the students, their mood, and their contributions. This, I think, has been the most exciting evolution of teaching - learning to create a lesson with my students, rather than plotting one out for them. 

While I didn't love teaching First Year Experience the way I loved teaching creative writing, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and so did my students. None of us were passionate about the subject matter and there were many occasions where it may have seemed like a waste of time. But we made the best of it and we had a lot of fun. I like to think I taught them something about life and college, and that they were able to think critically about who they are and what they want out of their time on earth. We asked hard questions, we dug deep, and we got really, really personal. Maybe too personal. I have a hard time holding back. 

This semester was particularly interesting because a few of my students were dealing with some big things, which they revealed to me in their weekly journal entries and in conversation. I felt privileged to be someone they could confide in, and I took the role seriously. This class in particular is supposed to help students adjust to college, to make a smooth transition from their old life to this new one. While my laid back teaching style probably wouldn't have worked in a more academic setting, it seemed to set the right tone in this one. For the first time ever, a number of my students hugged me on the last day of class. And not even for extra credit! It was humbling and lovely and even though we were standing in the same classroom, I already missed them. 

I hope that one day, I'll be back in a classroom, helping a group of students become better writers and maybe better people. Fingers crossed. Until then, I have plenty of work to keep me busy. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Oak Island Half Marathon

Oak Island Half Marathon

Just about a month ago, I ran the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon and set a new PR. (Huzzah! Still excited about that.) In fact, I was so excited and felt so good that I (along with my training buddies, Katie and Nathan) decided to immediately sign up for another half marathon in April. Once my runner's high faded and the soreness set in, I began to question the wisdom of this decision. Wasn't one half marathon enough? I already PR-ed - what did I have left to prove? Can't we just stay up late and spend Sunday morning lazily drinking coffee in our bathrobes instead of going for yet another long, slogging run? 

Needless to say, I wasn't excited about the Oak Island Half Marathon - especially once I realized I double-booked us, and that we would be driving 3.5 hours after the race to visit friends in Winston-Salem. Skipping the race wasn't an option - I'm a stickler for following through on things, and anyway, we'd already paid the registration fees. So on Saturday, April 18th, we woke up early, drank coffee, picked up Katie, and headed south to Oak Island. 

Spoiler alert: it was a really fun race and I'm so glad we ran it! 

This race was smaller than the Wrightsville Beach race, which I liked - about 1100 people signed up, the course wove through some very pretty neighborhoods, and we ran over a very long, fairly steep bridge not once, but twice. The race had a later start time - 8AM! - which I worried about, but it ended up being fine. The day was very overcast and a bit rainy, and it was easier to maintain my pace without the sun beating down on us. As we toed the start line, I told myself that this race was just for fun, no pressure. I set my PR (1:56:28) less than a month earlier, so my goal for Oak Island was to enjoy a new-to-me-race and take in the sights. Of course, once we started running that all went out the window. I wanted to finish in less than two hours, which is always my not-so-secret goal, so I found the 2:00 pace group and told myself I would hold on as long as I could, one mile at a time. 

While some of those miles felt much longer than others, I was able to hold on and even pull ahead. I ended up finishing the race in a very respectable 1:58:42, with an average pace of 9:02. Here are my splits, via my Garmin, for those of you who are into running and numbers: 

Mile 1: 9:09
Mile 2: 9:01
Mile 3: 9:02
Mile 4: 9:03
Mile 5: 8:55 (took a Gu right around here) 
Mile 6: 8:56
Mile 7: 8:57
Mile 8: 9:03
Mile 9: 9:21 (slowing down, so I took another Gu) 
Mile 10: 9:04
Mile 11: 9:06
Mile 12: 9:02
Mile 13: 8:35 (sprinting toward the end and passing tons of people!) 
Mile .1: 7:15

I'm really proud that I kept my pace so consistent (though honestly that was thanks to the pace group leader - she was awesome!) with the exception of mile 9. Thank goodness for Gu! As for my training partners, Katie finished less than a minute before me and Nathan ran a 1:49, which is awesome. Not a PR for him, but better than last month's race by a full five minutes, so he was happy. All in all, a great morning and a fun race. I'll definitely be back next year. 

In the meantime, I'm pretty much done racing for the season. I always get to the point immediately after (or, let's face it, just before a race) when I long to do something different for fitness. I want to start weight training again, but I need to figure out a new routine since the YMCA is still operating on skeleton hours after the fire earlier this year and I'm currently between yoga studios. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy a few lazy Sunday mornings drinking coffee in my bathrobe. I've earned it. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Flower Girls

Well, we did it again. I couldn't resist the siren peep of baby chicks and just like that, we doubled our flock. Hello, sweet girls. Welcome to the family.

Okay, so it wasn't quite that spontaneous. We actually discussed whether or not this was a good time to get more chickens, and came to the conclusion that yes, it most definitely is. (Hey, I didn't say it was a long discussion...) Here are the facts: I just started a new job and have no vacation time for  the first three months, so we're not taking any big trips. Our coop is very large and can easily hold up to 15 chickens, and we only have six in there right now (RIP, Alice and Georgia). And it's time to add some spring chickens to the mix, as our existing chickens are two-three years old, and egg production will eventually begin to slow. Plus: CUTE BABY CHICKS!

I consider my chickens pets (though not on the same level as the dogs, whom I consider family members) so naturally they all have names. I can tell the chickens apart, but Nathan can't, which is fine with me. It means I get to name them whatever I want. Previously, I'd been giving my chicken old-fashioned names - Hattie, Ruby, Louise, Olga, and Polly are scratching in their run as I type this. To differentiate between the two groups of chickens, the older hens will henceforth be known as the Old Ladies (due to their names, and because they are old). The new chicks will henceforth be known as the Flower Girls, and each one will be named after a bloom. I already picked out the names but I haven't yet figured out who's who - the chicks will have to let me know as they develop their personalities. (So far, only Violet has claimed her name - Daisy, Lilly, Clover, Poppy, and Iris have yet to be determined.)

Since the chicks are still brand new and all haven't grown their feathers yet, they have to live inside, under a lamp, in my office. We've also rolled the space heater in here, so it's nice and toasty. While I don't mind sharing my office, I will be excited to move them into the coop. Since the weather is getting pretty warm in Wilmington, I'm hoping they'll be able to go into a cordoned off section of the run by the first week of May. (We can't fully integrate the flock until they're full grown - chickens are pretty vicious and the Old Ladies will likely attack the Flower Girls, so I easing them into a shared space will be a slow and necessary process - more on that later!) 

All in all, this has been a pretty exciting spring, and it's only just begun! Next month we're beginning a new adventure in top bar beekeeping, our garden is beginning to gain some ground, and the weather is warming up. I hate winter so desperately and love summer so much that sometimes I forget the sweet, albeit short, spring season. This year we seem to be lingering in it, and for that I am grateful. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

March Reads

I only managed to read three books in March, and almost all of them were read in the first half of the month. This is because I started my new job half way through the month and WOW a full time job will really cut into your reading-for-pleasure time! Now that I'm settled in and used to my new schedule, I hope to get back into the habit of reading every day. I've missed giving myself that precious time.  

That said, the three books I did manage to read last month were pretty good and very different from one another. Here are my reviews (longer versions are on Goodreads, as usual!). 

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

I fell into this book and wasn't able to look up until I finished. Even then, I found myself still lost in the pages, thinking about the characters I'd grown to love, wistful that I'd reached the end and there weren't more chapters to spend with them. So, yes, I really, really, really liked this book. 

In Americanah, Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves her home country (and Obinze, her college boyfriend and her first love) to finish college in America. Obinze is supposed to follow her but after 9/11, he can't get a visa. Ifemelu has a harder time adjusting to America than she thought, becomes depressed, and cuts off contact with Obinze, even though she still loves him deeply. When the book opens, we learn that Ifemelu has just closed her very successful blog, about race in American from a Non American Black's perspective, and is returning to Nigeria - and, of course, to Obinze, with whom she hasn't spoken in 13 years. 

In a lesser writer's hands, this book would not work as well. I loved it, but there were moments where I worried that the conversations were going on too long, that some of the characters were caricatures, representatives of ideologies instead of individuals. If you don't like thinking or reading about race, then this book might bore you and also you should check your privilege, as they say. I, for one, thought the conversations were fascinating, and especially loved that Americanah looks at race in America from an outsider's perspective. Mostly, though, I cared so much about Ifemelu, was so invested in her life and relationships, and was happy to read as she talked, blogged, ate, loved, and discovered things about America and Nigeria and, of course, herself. I was anchored in this book in the best way and reading it reminded me what a powerful pleasure a great book can be. 

Mermaids in Paradise, by Lydia Millet 

In this book, Deb and Chip get married and go on a tropical honeymoon, where wild and crazy things happen. Deb is a great narrator - she's funny and sarcastic, and the whole first half of this book seems like a fun and silly romp, light hearted, with many reasons to laugh out loud. (Which I did. And I hardly ever laugh out loud while reading books!) Then they discover a pod of real, live mermaids swimming near their vacation resort, and that's when things get dark. There's a murder mystery, an evil corporation, a minor conspiracy, and a mostly-happy ending. 

And that's all I can say, due to something happening at the very end (like, in the last three pages) that would ruin everything for the reader if I even hinted at it. (In fact, I may have said too much already.) If you have read this, let's go to the comments and express our feelings there. 

Family Life, by Akhil Sharma 

For some reason, I was under the impression that this book was going to be full of "dark humor," which I love. Instead it was just really, really dark. 

In it, a family - Mom, Dad, and their two sons - moves from India to America, hoping to better their lives. Instead, shortly after their arrival, the older brother, Birju, has an accident in a swimming pool that leaves him brain damaged. The book is narrated by the younger brother, Ajay, and this is where most of the humor begins and end. Ajay is about ten when the accident happens and his voice and observations are funny, sad, strange, and often unexpected. He's not very likable, which the reader forgives because he's young and his life has taken a very bad turn. When it becomes clear that Birju will never recover, never walk or talk again, the family falls apart. Mom becomes Birju's caretaker, focusing all her energy on him and neglecting Ajay. Dad becomes an alcoholic who can't deal with the terrible way all his dreams have been crushed. And Ajay is adrift, torn between loving his brother and hating him, a sad boy who grows up to be a sad man, incapable of true happiness. 

In the end, this isn't a book about redemption or acceptance or anything even remotely resembling optimism. It doesn't have to be, of course. I don't read books because I want a happy ending or a Lifetime moment. But it's rare for a book to feel quite so devoid of hope as this one does. Even An Untamed State, arguably the most horrifying book in recent years, was more uplifting that this quiet tale of a family fallen apart. While there were lovely moments and the writing was beautiful at times, the ending felt incomplete, as if the book had been building toward something but never quite reached it.

And now, for some awesome things you can read right now, written by people that I know and love! 

Tonight the Stars Are Strung Up Like Elegies and Khepri, by Sally J. Johnson
Gorgeous and beautiful and perfect and painful - but would you expect anything less from Sally?  No, you wouldn't.

Choreography for Brief Flight, by Hannah de la Cruz Abrams
This piece is so weird in the most lovely way. I have read it six times now and it gets better each time. 

Home Sonnet, by Kathleen Jones
Shakespeare is totally jealous right now. Also: what a perfect portrait on love and relationships and anger and hope. 

Speaking in Tongues, by Kerry Headley
This essay is sharp and funny and sad and necessary. But mostly it is pure Kerry, and that's why I love it. 

Happy reading! 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Sunday Food Prep

I've been working full time for a week now (I know, big deal, but humor me here) and so far, I appear to be surviving. I'm still trying to settle into a routine that includes working AND writing AND exercising AND eating decent meals. On Monday I was able to hit the holy trinity by writing 1,000 words in the morning, working from 8AM to 5PM, and going to yoga in the evening. I felt unstoppable and on top of the world, but I haven't been able to do it again since. Baby steps. 

Because there is so much to do during the week, I decided to try the whole "Sunday Food Prep" thing over the weekend. I went to Trader Joe's on Saturday (and promptly thought to myself, "Where did all these people come from?!" as I am used to grocery shopping on, say, a Tuesday afternoon). On Sunday, I spent about three or four hours in the kitchen, chopping, cooking, mixing, and freezing various snacks and meals for the week. 

On the menu: vegan three bean chili and cornbread (frozen for dinners); salt and vinegar roasted chickpeas (for snacking); and mac, cheeze, and peas, made with leftover Noochy Sauce from Veganomicon (for lunches). Obviously this isn't all we're eating this week, but it was a good head start. 

While I certainly like having ready-to-go meals in my fridge and freezer, I'm not sure how I feel about spending the bulk of my Sunday in the kitchen. I think getting into the habit of maybe cooking double batches of everything and freezing half might be a better system for me. Sure, it would be a little more work in the moment, but I could slowly build up a store of extra meals instead of trying to do it all at once. I will certainly keep you updated on this most fascinating struggle. 

In the meantime, if you have any favorite vegetarian or almost-vegan meals that travel well, let me know. I prefer to bring my lunch from home because $$$, and a human being can only eat so much mac and cheeze. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Another New Beginning

This photo is relevant, I swear.

Last week I interviewed for, and was offered, a full time job. After a week of weighing the pros and cons, doing more math in one day than in the last decade combined, and making many hard decisions, I decided to take the job. I started on Wednesday and any fears or reservations I had disappeared - this, I quickly realized, is where I'm supposed to be. Thus, it's official: I'm no longer a freelance writer. 

I realize this may come as a surprise to some of my readers. When I wrote about freelancing on the blog, I was usually upbeat, enthusiastic, and positive. This wasn't a lie, exactly. I loved nearly everything about freelancing. The variety of work, my wonderful clients, the freedom of making my own schedule, the joy of working from home, the pride of owning my own tiny business. I felt good about freelancing, even when I alluded to its ups and downs, irregular paychecks, and ridiculous tax burdens. So why am I giving it up? 

In the end, it came down to money. I simply wasn't making enough. I had some really good months, which buoyed me and gave me hope, but those months were few and far between. Most of the time, I made a pretty great part time salary. The only problem was, thanks to five years of graduate school, crushing student loan debt, and a tenacious credit card balance, part time wasn't cutting it. And so I started looking for full time work in my field, which, I'd decided, despite having no degrees or credentials, was content marketing. I recognize that my greatest strength is my writing, and content marketing is a way to use that skill and get paid pretty well for it. (Hardly anyone, it turns out, pays very well for fiction. C'est la vie.) Since I was still freelancing, I didn't rush my job search. I waited for the right position to come along. And then it did. 

My new title is "Content Marketing Specialist," and I'm working at a digital marketing agency in Wilmington, in an office full of smart, creative, and friendly people. While I'm giving up some of my freelancer freedoms (not wearing pants is the main one) I'm also gaining some pretty neat stuff, like a bigger paycheck, health benefits, and a team of talented folks that I'm excited to work alongside. I feel really lucky to have landed this job. As far as marketing goes, I'm self-taught and I know I have a ton to learn. I'm excited that my weird assortment of skills (writing, research, communication, and the Internet) have finally come together in a career that makes sense. And I can't wait to go to the dentist. Seriously. It's been over five years. 

The thing I was (and am) most worried about is acclimating to a 40 hour work week, and still having the time and energy to write. The last time I worked in an office I barely wrote, and quit to go get an MFA. Now, I am telling myself, things are different. I just spent three years in an MFA program. I've already finished writing one book. I've sunk a lot of time and energy into this writing thing, and I know how to prioritize it. Also, if I don't keep writing, I have a number of great friends and a supportive husband who will yell at me until I start again. And so I will start again, and again, and again. 

I spent ten months supporting myself as a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Even though it wasn't a sustainable career, it was an amazing experience. I learned so much about myself, what I want to do, and how to work really, really hard. I chased down leads, got over my fear of talking on the phone, cold-called editors and businesses, never missed a deadline, put together an impressive portfolio, and paid my bills. All of those self-taught skills helped me land this job, and I'm excited to see how far I can take this career, especially now that I have the support and guidance of an actual agency.

Upward and onward!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon

Yesterday I ran the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon for the third year in a row. A local race that starts less than ten miles from my front door, it offers a full and a half option, but I've always opted for the half. (And will continue to do so, since the full course seems repetitive). The race begins at the beach, includes two bridges that you cross during sunrise, and ends along a busy road (cordoned off for the race, of course) lined with spectators, funny signs, and plenty of dogs. (Nathan counted 51 spectating dogs during the race; I lost count after the first eight because I was too busy trying to maintain my pace). 

As usual, our training for this race was sub-par. Every year I swear that I will run at least three times a week, do speedwork and tempo runs, and smash my PR. Every year I run maybe twice a week, do a little bit of speedwork, and cross my fingers. I used to race and run a lot more, in my mid-twenties. I'm not sure if my desire to do things other than run (such as a drink an afternoon beer, read a book on the back porch, and watch Netflix) is a sign that I am too busy for all that running, or just too lazy. Either way, the idea of running a marathon these days seems insane. You can phone in the training on 13.1, but 26.2 is not so forgiving. 

Though maybe it's me who needs to be more forgiving, because - spoiler alert - I managed to PR yesterday! I suspect this is because, even though I am not running as much as I did when I was 26, 27, or 28, I cross train pretty much all the time. Tons of yoga, lots of kettlebell, and at least ten miles of dog walking each week. It all adds up, as this race proves. 

As for the race itself, I ran it with Nathan and Katie. We'd trained together for the last few months, meeting every Sunday for a long run around Greenfield Lake. Last year, Katie and I ran the race side by side until mile 11, when I pulled ahead and finished a minute or so before her. This year, we split up at mile 3 because she was running a faster race than me and I knew I couldn't keep up. Nathan did the same, because he's always faster than me. So I made sure the two hour pace group was behind me (breaking two hours is always my secret goal) and settled in. 

At around mile 7, Nathan suddenly appeared beside me. He'd had some stomach issues and took a detour in a port-a-potty. We ran together for a few miles, then he pulled away. At around mile 10, I saw Katie up ahead, but she was holding steady and I decided not to try catching up. I was having a hard enough time holding on to my pace - I'd been averaging sub 9 minute miles the whole time, much to my own surprise, and knew that if I could just keep it going until the end, I would break my personal record. I ended up crossing the finish line 11 seconds after Katie, and two minutes after Nathan, for an official time of 1:56:28, an average pace of 8:54, and a new PR. Not bad for a Sunday morning. 

After the race we went home, showered, and then met up at the Dixie Grill for our traditional post-race breakfast. I always order the Dixie Benedict, which is a biscuit, topped with a fried green tomato, covered in scrambled eggs, and smothered in Vidalia gravy. I want another one right now just thinking about it. Later that day I took a nap, drank porch beers with friends, and went to bed early. In other words: a perfect day. 

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

This part of the post is for running nerds who like stats. I set my previous half marathon record FIVE YEARS AGO, in 2010, at the Davy Crockett Beach Chase, with a 1:58:21. (Which is still one of my favorite races.) As for the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon, last year I finished in 2:00:20, and the year before that in 1:59:31, so a 1:56 finish is a pretty big improvement! 

I wasn't sure I could maintain a sub 9 minute mile pace for so long. In training, I can usually bang out three miles at that pace, but it's never easy. I think the difference during a race is that I have an extra dose of adrenaline, I taper so my legs are well rested, and I take GUs, which I rarely use in training. The extra shot of energy (I took a GU at miles 5, 9, and 11) made a huge difference. In the end, I kept it steady around 8:50, and my pace was consistent throughout. Here's my mile-by-mile breakdown, according to my Garmin: 

Mile 1: 8:57 (crowded at the start, so we were slowed down) 
Mile 2: 8:37 (trying to keep up with Katie) 
Mile 3: 8:48 (came to my senses and settled in) 
Mile 4: 8:50 (goodbye, beach!) 
Mile 5: 8:47 (ogling many dogs) 
Mile 6: 8:59 (waiting for GU to kick in) 
Mile 7: 8:49 (miles 5-10 are through a fancy gated community, which is sort of dull) 
Mile 8: 8:47 (hi, Nathan!) 
Mile 9: 8:53 (bye, Nathan!) 
Mile 10: 8:56 (get me out of this rich neighborhood!) 
Mile 11: 8:58 (free at last!) 
Mile 12: 8:50 (so close...) 
Mile 13: 8:50 (so close...) 
Mile .1: 7:29 (sprint to the finish!) 

All in all, a fun and successful race. I'd love to hang up my medal and my running shoes and rest on my laurels, except we accidentally signed up for another half marathon, on April 18th. I don't know if I can PR twice in one season, but if this race has taught me anything, it's that you never know. Also that the post-race brunch is worth almost any distance. 

Until next race!