Monday, June 23, 2014

Race recap: See Jane Run Half Marathon in Alameda, CA

I am pretty darn sore today, my friends.

But I feel pretty good. Considering how yesterday's race wasn't the one I was training for and I STILL met my (very conservative) goal, I'm pleased.

So my training run for this weekend was only supposed to be six miles. (Actually, my schedule shows me it was supposed to be five - whoops.) I suppose I could've easily just signed up for the 5k and added another two miles later that day, but who wants to do that? If I'm driving all that way for a race, I might as well get it ALL done, and make the gas worth it =P

My best friend Becca and I decided to do the half, but not race it - we were going to keep up our training interval for six miles, as if we were doing  our normal weekend long run, and then take it easy for the rest of the race. With a walker-friendly four-hour course limit, I had no reason to worry. In fact, I was banking on finishing in 3:30.

So that's exactly what we did - we did a 2/1 interval for the first six miles. The course as a whole is flat and easy, aside from being in direct sunlight for most of it - that was pretty brutal, and because there was no sunscreen at any of the aid stations, we were both feeling pretty roasted by the end. (SJR - Please fix that for next time please! Sunscreen and Biofreeze at the aid stations!) If it had been overcast, it would've been PERFECT. It's a beautiful course, since we get to look out at the water for most of it. Parts of the course were the same as the Mermaid Du I just did two weeks ago, so that helped.

By that point, Becca was feeling pretty beat. We walked the next two miles, and then with her blessing, I took off on my own and mostly kept up the intervals until about mile 10, when I flip-flopped my interval, so I wasn't totally walking the last 5k. I came in at 3:29:57 (official) - not my best time, but not my worst, and considering how I haven't run a half since January, and I definitely haven't run anywhere near that much in my training for a very long time, I'm glad that I finished on my own two feet and that I wasn't in any pain. (Afterward when I got home? Totally different story. I had to stay off my feet entirely for most of the rest of the day because my bad knee was throbbing really horribly.)

The race was tons of fun - as always, it was high energy, friendly, and well-organized, and the finisher swag is spectacular. Also, I got to meet a couple of my fellow Ambassadors there at the race, which was awesome. (Special shout-out to Gaby who is not only a fellow Ambassador, but also a member of my running group on Ravelry, Running with Sharp Objects!)

It was a pleasure to represent this company and this event, and I hope I get to continue on as an Ambassador for next year!

Pre-race selfie!
Start line in the distance behind us. This is our third SJR together.
I never actually drink the champagne - I just like the glasses
The 5k medal was the same, but smaller
Post-race. I look way better than I feel.
Hell yeah!
Next up: Brazen Racing's Dirty Dozen 6-Hour Endurance Run. One of my favorite events!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ready to run! - See Jane Run Half/5k in Alameda, CA

It's on!

This weekend is the See Jane Run Half Marathon/5k in Alameda, and I am excited because I'm a SJR Ambassador, and I am happy to represent this wonderful company and event.

Earlier this week, I made my first sojourn to a See Jane Run store. I know, shameful that I've never visited one, right? The truth is, the nearest location to me is still over 30 miles away, so most of my patronage of SJR has been electronic. I was definitely excited to come pick up my packet in person and scope things out.

See Jane Run in Danville is a modest boutique in what looks to be a really opulent shopping center, and I was immediately greeted by an employee as well as a big shoe wall and a giant installation of pants. Ah... I immediately felt at home. After picking up my race packet, I wandered around a bit to explore the merchandise. It's definitely a running-focused store, with a mix of house-brand stuff as well as other big names like New Balance and ASICS, and a variety of apparel, accessories/gear (including hydration belts), footwear, and energy gels/chews. There's a small yoga section and various "lifestyle" accessories scattered throughout (like knit caps), but for the most part, the store is all about running. Yeah, definitely feels like home.

I got to meet Peggy Johnston, who runs the Ambassador program for SJR - it was really nice to shake hands with the woman who takes care of us all :) I picked up my awesome Ambassadors jacket, feeling very excited and official as I tried it on:

So, Sunday is the big day. I signed up for the half, just because I haven't done a half in a while, and while I know it will be slow-going for me, I'm still really stoked for it because I finally get to run with my best friend Becca again! It's been a while since we've raced together, and she's my running bestie/life bestie, so it's good that we'll be supporting each other out there on the course, because we'll really need it. ;)

This weekend will be more of a "fun run" for us (as much as one can call 13.1 miles "fun" =P) rather than an attempt at a specific time or goal. In keeping with the spirit of See Jane Run, we will be running in the name of fitness, sisterhood, and empowerment :)

I'd like to send out a good luck to all my fellow Ambassadors and other buddies who will be running this weekend, and I hope to see you out there on the race course!

(Psst... it's not too late to sign up!!! Go here and use the code SJRAMB239 for 10% off your registration!)

Summer reading blitz, Sexy Supernatural Edition

This has definitely been a blitz!

First up are the Soulless manga, based on the first three books of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series - Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless. (Even though each the the mangas are called Soulless Parts 1, 2, and 3.)

This is one of my favorite book series. A quick primer: This is a Victorian steampunk universe where vampires, werewolves, and ghosts exist and are "out" in society, all trying to get along. They are considered supernatural, existing because of an excess of soul. Balancing out the supernatural are humans who are called preternaturals, and they have NO soul. They are able to render the supernatural human with just a touch. The main character, Alexia Tarabotti, is a preternatural - in addition to being a spinster, a bluestocking, and a half-Italian with a large nose and a penchant for unusual parasols and the handsome Alpha of the local pack, Lord Maccon.

The mangas, of course, cannot possibly capture all the wit and humor of the original novels, but they are definitely fun. My main complaint is that the artist drew everyone a little bit too "pretty" - it's not that Alexia, Maccon, and company are unattractive, but Alexia is a bit too narrow-waisted (her girth is something that is mentioned a lot in the books, in an AWESOME way) and her nose is definitely not big enough. (It's an important part of who she is, her only legacy from her father aside from her preternatural state.) Lord Maccon and his pack should be less, uh, feminine-looking (and by that I mean, their facial features shouldn't be so dainty), but for characters like the flamboyant Lord Akeldama and the cross-dressing Madame LeFoux, the aesthetic worked out really well. There are definitely plenty of sexy moments scattered throughout the series, not to mention the fact that there's a lot of nudity (because what do YOU think happens to werewolves' clothing when they change?), and these are definitely not left out of the mangas.

What I liked best about reading the mangas was that they helped me sort things out visually in my head. There are some parts of the stories that I had trouble visualizing (like the layouts of certain locations and some of the action sequences), so it was nice to see someone else's take on it. Also, it was just AWESOME to see the horrible hats and dresses worn by Alexia's friend Ivy Hisselpenny - in the books, her awful taste in clothing is legendary, so it was just really fun to see someone's interpretation of that.

I wouldn't recommend reading the mangas by themselves, because you'll miss out on the biggest reason why The Parasol Protectorate is good - Gail Carriger's writing! - and you'll also miss out on the last two books of the series, since the mangas only cover the first three books, and there are some wonderful relationships and revelations that form in those last two books. But as a supplement to the series? These are pretty great, and VERY quick reads.

Next up, the Black Dagger Brotherhood novels from JR Ward, books 1-4:

As you can see by the consistent use of the word "lover" in all the novels' titles, this is a supernatural romance series. I was recommended these by a friend since I am known to be a fan of vampire books, so I gave them a try, realizing quickly that these are not vampire books with some sex in them, but rather, they are sexy books with some vampires in them, if you catch my drift.

*cough cough*

So, a quick summary: In this universe, vampires are merely a separate species coexisting among humans. They have their own social classes/hierarchy, language, deities, etc. They are not created through biting and the exchange of blood, nor do they feed off human blood (at least, if they want to be truly nourished - male vampires have to feed off female vampires and vice versa, which is why the mating stuff is important at times). They take mates, they have babies that grow into adulthood, and around the age of 25, they undergo the transition into full vampirehood. But life is not so peachy - they are constantly being hunted by lessers, a race of soulless (heyIseewhatyoudidthere), formerly-human slayers who are commanded by their own dark entity to kill vampires. Luckily, the vampires have a group of warriors, the Black Dagger Brotherhood, who serve to protect them and kill the lessers. These novels are about them.

So, I have to say, I rolled my eyes a lot while reading these. The BDB consists of Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Vishous, Tohrment, and Phury, and yes, those are their names and how they are spelled. Yup. (Ward includes a glossary at the beginning of each book, and they also include words like "cohntest" and "ghardian" and "sehclusion." SERIOUSLY.) Each warrior, as you can probably predict, is excessively virile and aggressive, with large... muscles. And in pretty much each installment of the first four books (except #4, which I'll get to in a bit), they are all kind of scary, dangerous, and tortured until they meet their beautiful and perfect true loves, who are able to tame the wild beasts within (at times, literally - I'll get to that in a bit).

Summaries of each novel, with mild spoilers:

Book 1, Dark Lover (*cue eyeroll* I'm so glad I'm not reading in public, holding a copy of this book with the words printed on it for everyone to see) is about Wrath, the last pure-blooded vampire of them all (complete with long, dark hair and a widow's peak and everything), and the leader of the BDB. He is asked by his good friend Darius to look after his daughter Beth, who is half-human and knows nothing about the existence of vampires, but who is about to go through the transition. Wrath at first refuses, but when Darius dies suddenly, he feels obligated to carry out Darius' last wish, so he seeks out Beth... and of course, he finds his body responding in a BIG way.

Book 2, Lover Eternal, is about Rhage, whom everyone calls Hollywood because he's got movie star good looks, with his blond hair and electric blue eyes. He's an insatiable fighter and lover, but this is because he was cursed long ago, and he needs to fight and have lots of sex to keep himself from literally turning into a giant dragon thing and literally chomping on everyone around him. But he meets and falls in love with Mary, a human whose cancer has returned. Important note - I liked that Mary's body carries the evidence of her illness, and that she's not glamorous and strikingly beautiful like the other women, but she gets treated like a goddess all the same. It was refreshing to see a non-modely woman holding her own.

Book 3, Lover Awakened (seriously!!!!) is about Zsadist, who has a reputation for being the cruelest, scariest mofo among them all - not in an intimidating way like Wrath is, but in a cold-blooded way. As you can probably guess by his name, he literally gets off on scaring women. (Not something I like hearing, as a female and as a feminist.) Spoiler alert: it's all a front. The truth is, Zsadist endured years of abuse (including rape, by males and females) as a blood slave, and the result is that he has built up walls to keep people, especially females, out, because he is so traumatized that he literally cannot handle intimate contact. So when Bella, a vampire aristocrat, tries to get close to him, he ends up heaving into the toilet from the experience. When she ends up kidnapped and tormented as well, Zsadist finds himself especially compelled to help her, and the development of their relationship is extremely difficult and complicated and angsty.

Book 4, Lover Revealed, is actually about Butch O'Neal, a human detective who is/was a friend of Beth's (in Book 1), who has since fallen in with the BDB and who has left his own human life behind to fight alongside them. He falls in love with Marissa, also a vampire aristocrat, and of course, their relationship is also fraught with a lot of drama, as things are complicated by this weird thing that starts happening to Butch after he gets kidnapped and tortured by the lessers.

Okay. Geez. Lots of summaries.

I suppose it's just a convention of the vampire genre, but as with Twilight, I find a lot of aspects of these relationships and the Brothers' behavior to be problematic. You know how for whatever reason some girls found it romantic that Edward would watch Bella sleep at night? There is a lot of stuff like that - when Wrath and Beth first meet for real, he's this HUGE GUY hulking outside her door, and she's freaked out, and suddenly he beams himself inside her house, like, without asking her permission or anything, just slowly stalking towards her, and god help me, she finds herself aroused. 

When Rhage first meets Mary, his vision is hazy, but he's drawn to her voice, and suddenly he's got her pinned against the wall as he's sniffing her neck or something and murmuring stuff into her ear, and he's scaring her. And he becomes obsessed with her, and insists on taking her out on dates that she doesn't really want to go on, but he's so sure that he can change her mind or whatever, even though she constantly tries to tell him, politely, that she doesn't think it's going to work out between them.

And Zsadist, seriously... he does actually tell Bella to leave him alone, but she won't, and when she shows up in his room anyway, he tries to teach her a lesson in a really scary, forceful way, but apparently she's into it.

Butch is a human, and is different from the Brothers, but he gets fully absorbed into their world to the point that he starts dressing like them, acting like them, fighting alongside them, and yes, even having the same bonding/mating urges as them. (I'll say no more, to avoid spoilers, but I will leave you with three words: deus ex machina.)

I mean... what the eff???

Nevermind the fact that their mating process is animalistic in the sense that the males "mark" their females by leaving their scent all over them (seriously, they might as well just pee on these women) and the constant inner claims of "Mine!" like they're property, and just... ugh. PROBLEMATIC DEPICTIONS OF RELATIONSHIPS AND GENDER ROLES, AHOY.

Do they get a pass because they're a vampire society, and not human? Lots of Twilight apologists claim that we're not supposed to mimic Edward's behavior because, duh, he's a vampire and we're humans, and their world is fiction and should be treated as such, but I defy you to tell that to the scores of girls who have grown up believing that they will someday find their own Prince Charming after growing up on Disney cartoons. We identify with protagonists, which is why, in the BDB novels, we see the vampires as sympathetic and the lessers as evil, and even though these Brothers engage in some seriously reprehensible behavior, their women ultimately end up swooning in their arms.

To be fair though, the female characters are interesting on their own, and thank goodness for that. Beth is a reporter dealing with oppressively a-hole-ish human males, and Mary has a core of steel after surviving cancer and her mother's death, and Bella is spunky and knows her own mind, and Marissa (who was the least promising character to start with) ends up leaving behind the glitz of the vampire aristocracy to open a shelter for abused (vampire) women and children. That's pretty good, I think. All four of them, when pushed by their mates, push back - there is lots of "Don't you dare assume that you know what I need better than I do" and "If you want this to go anywhere, you have to be honest with me" and stuff like that. Which is good.

On the other hand, from both sexes, there are a lot of corny exchanges of "Oh, my love!" and stuff like that. The dialogue in general was off-putting. I mean, I guess I can put up with this "My lord, my master!" stuff, but the bro talk ("What's doing, my man???") was just... yeah, ugh. (Do guys really talk like that? Human or vampire?)

And the subplots involving the new trainees and the lessers and stuff don't really interest me one bit, but there are other side characters (like Bella's brother Rehvenge) who strike me as interesting. (I know he's got a book later on, devoted to him.)

So why did I keep reading, and why WILL I keep reading this series? While the novels can't seem to avoid the bodice-ripping conventions of its genres ("vampire" and "romance"), there are some things that interest me, and I want to see how they play out. For example, as mentioned above, the roles of the women in the stories and how they function are interesting to me, and I hope they start to get more weight (although, since each novel focuses on a different Brother, the only female perspective we get is from the love interest for that specific novel). I am also interested in seeing how the Vishous' story plays out (he's the focus of Book 5), because Book 4 kept teasing at his attraction for Butch, and I like that their complicated friendship is treated with delicacy. Book 5 will most likely pair him off with a female, but if there might be another non-hetero pairing later on in the series (and my friend tells me there will be), I am glad that there is potential for it to be handled well.

I will keep reading, not because of the sexy times so much (because, seriously, at times they're so over the top that I'm afraid my eyes will start hurting from all the eyerolling), but because I'm interested in character development. Books 1 and 2 didn't impress me so much in that regard, but Zsadist's arc and the arc that is being teased for Vishous are good so far, and I hope there will be more of that - something more complex than "big manly man takes beautiful woman to bed." I do not deny that there are a lot of problematic elements (and again, I'm sure it's just part of the genre), and I am not ignoring those problematic elements, but I'm interested in seeing what IS worthwhile about this series.  So I will keep on going.

Summer reading tally: 9

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summer reading blitz, books 1 and 2

Now that it's summer vacation, I've got a lot more free time on my hands to read (as opposed to "time I should be doing something else, but I'm going to read instead anyway"). I have a pretty lengthy to-read list, but I sat down and narrowed it down to these, and I'm hoping to blog as many of them as I can along the way. Of course, I will end up adding more, I'm sure - I'm always getting book recommendations left and right.

The reviews below are spoiler-free.

First up is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I had read Eleanor & Park earlier this year and thought it was just AMAZING, and this book has been on my radar a while as well, so I really wanted this to be my first read for summer.

Short summary: Cath and Wren are twins who've just moved away to college for the first time. Wren is the one who cuts her hair short and suggests living separately, throwing herself into college life and frat parties with aplomb. Cath is a popular fanfiction writer for a Harry Potter-like series, and the fandom is her haven to which she retreats when the pressures of college life and feeling abandoned start to be too much.

It sounds silly and happy (because that's what you think of when you think of fangirls, right?), but in true Rainbow Rowell fashion, there are parts of this book that will break your heart. Cath isn't just a fangirl for no reason - it's her coping mechanism, just like drinking is Wren's, and the issues they are dealing with go much deeper than having to deal with strange roommates and drunk college guys.

Cath is sensitive and cynical, and the chapters that are her stories are interlaced with excerpts from Simon Snow books and fanfic (which, of course, Rowell wrote herself). I love the dynamic between her and roommate Reagan, and of course, the love story is real and adorable - Levi is charming and gentlemanly, but he also makes mistakes, and I appreciate that. This book definitely made me cry in certain parts - at some point, I shook my fist at the sky and said, "OF COURSE Rainbow Rowell would upset me with this book too!" - but it ends on a positive note, and I definitely saw a lot of myself in Cath - me at that age, and me as I am now. I really liked this book, and I've decided that I will now pretty much read anything else Rainbow Rowell writes - FAN FOR LIFE. Her other two books have been added to my list.

For a complete change of pace, I then decided to read Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As with many others, I was drawn to its creepy cover, and as it turns out, Riggs used a bunch of vintage found photos to shape the story. I then decided to buy the book in hardback because I liked the idea of physically turning the page and being able to touch the photos in paper form. This book has been on my list a while (I even already have the sequel, Hollow City, even though I hadn't read the first book yet), and I was glad to be able to finally get around to it.

Short summary: Jacob has spent his whole life listening to his grandfather's stories about the children's home he escaped to at the beginning of WWII. Each story is more fantastical than the last - his grandfather would talk about fighting monsters and then he would pull out his old photos featuring the strange children he grew up with - an invisible boy, a girl who can levitate. Jacob stopped believing the stories eventually, but when Jacob actually SEES the horrific, tentacle-mouthed monster that actually eviscerates his grandfather, he decides to honor his dying wish and seek out the children's home on a remote island in Wales...

Again, Riggs incorporates vintage found photos into the narrative (he's also a photographer himself), and these photos are pretty eerie. I'm not sure to what extent they were doctored (either originally or for the story), but they are absolutely fascinating, making each page turn exciting. As you can probably imagine, there are moments that made my heart pound and there are moments that made my skin crawl. As you might not have imagined, there are parts that are also rather touching - at one point, Jacob reflects on the lineage of emotional trauma inflicted by the Nazi persecution of Jews, and how the fact that his grandfather had been hunted by people he didn't know led to the emotional estrangement between his father and grandfather and his father's feelings of inadequacy, which in turn led to Jacob's own emotional turmoil and the fact that he's now seeing a psychiatrist about his nightmares.

There are some moments where I side-eyed a little bit (like how he treats his father, but I know not everyone has a good relationship with their parents), but overall, it was a really entertaining read. I'm probably not going to jump into the sequel right away, but I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ipsy bag, June 2014 - "Pretty in Paradise"

I haven't blogged about my Ipsy bags for a while - to be honest, my bag last month was completely underwhelming, between the canned water, fragrance, and subpar eye shadow. However, the items in my bag this month seemed rather promising, so here I am.

June items, and me wearing them
First of all, the bag is a Rebecca Minkoff design. I don't actually know anything about Rebecca Minkoff aside from the fact that one of her bags was given away on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I assume she's some fancy designer line? My bag has a negative-image of pineapples or something. *shrug* Last month's bag was cooler.

I got a Jesse's Girl Cosmetics liquid eyeliner pen. I thought it was a felt-tip liner, but on closer inspection, I found that it wasn't actually felt.

I think they actually are really sleek, stiff bristles. I really liked the application, but the liner wasn't really anything to write home about - I love a dark, inky black liquid liner, and this one was just okay. It took a few passes to get it looking like what my preferred liquid liners can do. I would love to know if this formula is waterproof - that would really elevate it, in my opinion.

I also got Be a Bombshell's Lash Out mascara. (I didn't photograph it.) Again, it wasn't really special. The formula seemed a little on the dry side to me (I prefer wetter mascaras), and a couple coats didn't really add much to my lashes. Wah wah. (But it does not flake off into my eye and irritate me, so... that's a plus. My lashes feel soft.)

I was super excited to get a tube of NYX's Butter Gloss! I've heard good things about their Butter Gloss and Butter Lipstick, so I'm glad I got one to try.

The shade I got is called Apple Streudel, which is really confusing to me, because it looks like it should be called melon or coral. It is the color that you see in the tube, because the tube is actually clear. However, when I swatched and applied it, it wasn't that beautiful coral color, but just a pale pink. So I'm not in love with the color (especially for summer, when my skin gets darker and therefore I REALLY can't pull off pale pastel lipcolor), but the formula is nice - soft, slick, not sticky. I may at some point want to pick up a Butter Gloss in a color more suited to me.

I also received a deluxe sample size of Marc Anthony Dream Waves Beach Spray. It's to help me "create sexy, tousled beach waves all year long." Unfortunately, I have stubborn-as-hell stick-straight hair in a pixie cut, so... yeah, I'm gonna give this to someone who can actually use it. (Enough with the hair products, Ipsy! There's a reason why I left Birchbox years ago!)

Lastly, and perhaps most intriguingly, was this deluxe foundation sample I received:

The brand is called Laneige ("neige" is French for snow, isn't it?) and it's some sort of BB foundation. I'm definitely always curious about these. The pack came with samples of all three shades (light, medium, dark) as well as a mini "puff" (which is really just a sponge, not puff-y at all).

It says something about a patented cushion, and indeed when I opened it, there was a little spongy thing inside the pan. I guess the sponge holds all the product and helps you dispense the right amount.

Clockwise from the top: Sponge, Light, Dark, Medium
FYI: I took this picture after I applied the foundation, so that "puff" has been used by me. It didn't arrive all dirty =P

Is that really a patented thing, just to stick a sponge in your liquid foundation? *shrug* I figured I was closest to Medium, so I applied it to my face using the "puff," and then I decided to use my fingers to apply Dark as a contour and Light as a highlight.

I thought it was rather frustrating to pick up product from the "cushion" using the "puff," and infinitely preferred using my fingers. Also, in recent years I've grown accustomed to blending my foundation with a brush, so... yeah, I wonder how compatible this "cushion" is with using a brush.

The color match wasn't too bad, but to be honest, a Medium-Dark option would've been better. I felt like the Medium was a little on the pale side for me. It gave a light-ish coverage. Although, since I was just testing it out, I wasn't piling on a bunch of it or anything.

The scent is really strong, and I don't love it. As I ate dinner afterward, all I could smell was my foundation, which is no bueno. However, I don't feel it on my face, so I guess that's a plus?

Me wearing everything except the hairspray. No powder or primers or anything. Face was clean pre-application

If I sound unimpressed by my bag this month, it's probably because I am. I don't hate anything I got this month, but I didn't love anything either - I'm always up for trying new products (which is why I'm still an Ipsy subscriber in the first place), and sometimes you get a hit, and sometimes you get a miss. They're not bad products, and as you can see, they don't look terrible on me (at least, I don't think they do) - it's just that I already have a lot of products in exactly these categories (foundation, lipgloss, mascara, and eyeliner) that are SUPER good, so it would take a lot to impress me.

Bottom line: Decent products, though not exceptional. The combination of products really makes for a nice little "kit" - as you can see, I was able to create a decent look with just the items from my bag (which I can't always do with my Ipsy bags), and I really appreciate that. A cute little bag with everything I need for a quick look is always appreciated. (Though, the foundation samples were single-use, so... yeah, I guess I can't create this look a second time necessarily.) With the exception of the NYX Butter Gloss (which I had already been wanting to try before this month), I don't think I'd purchase any of these items for myself, but again, that's because I already have go-to products in these categories.

If you're interested in subscribing to Ipsy, feel free to use my referral link here.

*EDITED TO ADD* My Ipsy Glam Room tells me that the liquid liner IS waterproof, so there you go. I like it better already. :)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Race recap: Mermaid Series Duathlon in Alameda

Participants' shirt
In the grand tradition of all things Thu, I signed up for this race on a whim. A friend whose opinion I trust assured me that I was in good enough shape to complete this race even without any bike training, so... I decided just to do it and see.

As you know by now, I'm a big fan of Mermaid races - they're well-organized with a great, friendly atmosphere, and the race swag is just awesome. However, I've never cycled competitively before. I mean, I know HOW to ride a bike, but bicycles to me are indelibly associated with summertime trips to 7-Eleven for slurpees and roaming the neighborhood with my third-grade friends. I don't even have a race bike - I have a cutesy pink cruiser that is better suited for trips to the farmer's market in search of organic cilantro than for racing. I might as well just attach a wicker basket to the front.

Racked and ready
But, here we are. Nevermind that I haven't actually ridden this bike in YEARS and had to fish it out of the storage shed at my parents' house for an emergency checkup at REI. It didn't even have a water bottle holder before last week. And nevermind that the only preparation I actually did was to watch Youtube videos on how to set up my bike on the rack and how to get in and out of the transition area. (Which was actually really useful, by the way.)

I just went for it. After a bad night's sleep due to nerves, I woke up at 5am to make the long drive to Alameda alone so that I would have enough time to set up my gear and then freak out and then calm down before the race started.

Thank god for the Mermaid people - everything was really clearly marked, and the volunteers are always helpful and friendly, and best of all, the other participants are so friendly. The woman who had her bike racked next to mine was much older than me and (as I later found out) a seasoned veteran of the multi-sport scene (she must have been in her 60s, and she TOTALLY smoked me), and she was so encouraging and sweet, and she even found me at the start line later and gave me a hug. She also told me where to put the labels on my bike and helmet, so... yeah, that was really helpful, because I totally had my helmet sticker in the wrong place.

The duathletes were the first to go, with our wave starting at 7:30. I could tell it was going to be a warm day because I was standing around outside in a tank and not feeling chilly whatsoever.

The 1st leg was a 1.5-mile run - not anything scary, but of course, my knee's been giving me problems lately. I started out with a brace on, but after about 3/4 of a mile, I stopped and just took it off, knowing that I could drop it off when I got to my bike. My knee usually only hurts for the first half mile or so until I get warmed up anyway, so I was mostly fine (with a few twinges and aches) for the rest of the race. Run time: 20:24

The 2nd leg was a 12-mile bike ride (actually, a 6-mile loop done twice). It wasn't easy, but it was SO much fun. I'd forgotten how fun it is to ride a bike - like I said earlier, it reminds me of my childhood. It was beautiful and sunny and there was the gentle breeze in my face (when ELSE will I ever experience what it's like to do 5-minute miles in a race?) and though my legs felt burn-y and my butt bones felt achy, I really, really enjoyed biking. I should really bike MORE. Bike time: 56:58

The 3rd leg was a 2.5-mile run, and this ended up being the hardest part of all - not the bike ride that I wasn't trained for, but the run that came after. As soon as I dismounted and re-racked, I found that my legs were flopping all over the place. It was like I couldn't remember how to run. And when I tried to run - well, let's just say my legs were used to the speedy turnover from pedaling, so I was having problems controlling my pace at first. It definitely felt grueling - it was aggressively sunny, considering how early it still was, and I just felt totally beat. I ended up breaking up the run into micro-intervals, running between cones or lamp posts or something, but I did jog the finish chute, coming in just under two hours (1:55:38), avoiding the mud piles and finally nearly twisting my ankle stepping into a large hold in the dirt on my way back to my bike. (It's okay, I'm fine.)

Celebratory chocolate chip pancakes
So yeah, I did it! I wasn't fast or anything, but I totally finished strong, and I definitely got teary-eyed because I really was quite scared when the morning started. I guess it just goes to show - I'm stronger than I think I am. (But also, I should really train next year.)

Finishers' necklace
Next up on deck: See Jane Run Half Marathon (for which I am an ambassador), also in Alameda.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pain demands to be felt: Initial thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars movie

There's something beautiful and lovely about sitting in a huge room and crying with a large group of people. All around me I could hear sniffling and whimpering and people's breaths hitching. My own shoulders shook and my eyes poured forth fresh streams of tears as scenes from my #4 Favorite Book played out before me on the screen.

I got tickets to tonight's special event, The Night Before Our Stars, which was the first official showing of TFIOS simultaneously all across the country (so for me, it was at 5:30pm), followed by a live Q&A with the cast, director, producer, and John Green. We also got a cool limited edition poster and charm bracelet :)

The movie concluded three and a half hours ago (as I begin to type this), and my eyes are still swollen from all the crying. (It could also be that I've spent the last few days grading hundreds of writing assignments.) But of course, I had to post something because a movie this wonderful based on a book I hold so dear? Needs to be discussed. I was (I am) very keen on sharing the TFIOS experience with everyone I know just... because. Because I don't want to experience this kind of emotion alone. 

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

This is something Hazel says in the book. It's how I feel about TFIOS itself, and I think I feel the same way about the movie. (Spoiler alert: this line isn't actually in the movie, btw.) For my friends who are waiting to hear my opinion about the adaptation, let me put your mind at ease right now: it was spectacular. I heartily give it a stamp of approval, but to be honest, I never really doubted that I would, considering how John Green has been very vocal about giving the movie his stamp of approval, and if it's good enough for John Green, it's good enough for me.

*** Warning: spoilers for the book and the movie below ***