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I'm a 24-year-old student scientist, budget gourmet, novice cyclist, long-distance girlfriend, and avid amateur runner. I always said I couldn't have a blog because I didn't have anything worth blogging about. Turns out, I may have been wrong...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pack Mentality

Greetings, blog folk!

On a whim, I decided to start today's post with a non-running, non-food, blog-atypical (but certainly not Laura-atypical) digression. 

Jon Stewart (whose show incidentally airs at 8:00pm West Coast time in HD but 11:00pm in regular-D - so weird), interviewed journalist Ethan Watters last week who was promoting his new book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.

Crazy Like Us has a blog, too...

Watters argues that America "exports" its concepts of mental health and mental illness to other cultures in order to sell psychopharmaceuticals (Prozac, Ritalin, Clozapine) to wider markets. These cultures traditionally view what we call "disordered" manifestations of psychological experience as being on a tail of the "normal" spectrum of behavior.  In his interview, Watters gave the example that traditional Japanese culture believes that deep sadness is a spiritual state, rather than a pathology like depression.  But, especially as the economy fumbles, drug companies are wielding increasing global influence as they expose the world to our framework for mental illness, thereby practically spreading disease. 

For me, this interview raised a few red flags, not because I don't "believe" in the phenomenon he describes, but because of the way he frames it.
  1. To be a little bit picky, I kind of object to the use of the term "psyche," which is as anachronistic and unscientific as a frontal lobotomy, and automatically discredits the author and editors in my view.  Yes, he's a journalist, not a psychiatrist, and wants a catchy title, but, if he's done thorough research, he should know better.  
  2. The spread of cultural concepts of mental health is nothing new.  Mental illness as we recognize it did not exist in America until about a century and a half ago, not because people weren't depressed, psychotic, or anxious, but because we didn't have the terminology to describe clusters of symptoms holistically.  Moreover, nobody is shocked by "awareness" movements to promote support for different developmental and psychiatric illnesses, nor do they worry about the dramatic increases in diagnosis that correlate with these movements.  Without proper resources and attention, mental illness can go underdiagnosed and untreated.  And, yes, the pharmaceutical industry profits when there are more patients to treat.  Is it ethically more reprehensible that this same pattern is unfolding overseas?
  3. How is "spreading mental illness for profit" any different than spreading any other kind of cultural value for profit?  That's what underlies all of marketing.  People will pay a lot of money for stuff that has a very low intrinsic value, but a high cultural value - Google "commodity fetishism."  Is the difference that it's causing people to put substances into their bodies that can alter their chemistry or impact their health?  What about the mass globalization of fast food - certainly consuming unprecedented levels of fat, cholesterol, and preservatives can alter body chemistry and impact health.
When the book arrives at the local public library, I'll be the first at the circulation desk, but I'll definitely approach it with skepticism (sorry, Mr. Watters).   

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Insight?  What books have you read/heard about recently that made you stop and think?

Mail call!  My week was unusually eventful in the mailbox department.

Correspondence of interest includes:
  • Member periodicals from the American Psychological Association.
  • Bicycling Magazine!  I have been sporadically receiving unsolicited issues since purchasing my bicycle six months ago... I'm particularly excited to read the articles for beginners and cyclists on a budget.
  • Bills.  Which are less exciting.
  • Tax forms.  Again, meh.
  • And, in a perfect little box, theraputic ice packs from my wonderful other half!!
After his move to school last fall, these were just laying in the basement of my Boyfriend's parents' house.  So, his mom graciously packed them up and shipped them my way!

I love these ice packs and used them religiously in DC while treating patellar tendonitis.  
They stay super cold forever, and, although they're actually designed to fit an ankle, I found that, pulled up higher, they cradle my knees nicely.

Although I still ice after every run (and most evenings), I'm very pleased to announce that my knee is feeling much better, even after a fairly rigorous training week!

Since my last few solo long runs went less than according to plan, I was hoping that bringing along a running buddy would help me finish the next one strongly.  On Sunday, Renata and I headed out into the gloom and mist for an 11-miler.  Because of the rain, I decided not to risk bringing along my camera.  We started the route with some trepidation; if we completed the entire distance, it would be the longest either she or I had successfully run in months!

We wove our way down bike trails to the Arboretum, which sports a mostly-paved, rolling path through lush greenery and stately trees along a winding creek.  As we rounded the lake at the farthest point of the trail, we came upon some very creative facilities...

Of course, we had to take a pit stop at such a fun structure.  (Photo courtesy of the interwebs.)

At some point, we made a wrong turn while exiting the Arboretum, and, although we eventually found our way back to the route, we had accidentally added a quarter of a mile to our distance!  We strided it out towards the "finish line," a stop sign two blocks from my apartment, proud of ourselves for our 11.25 miles at an 9:11/mi average split and feeling much more optimistic about the upcoming half-marathon.

Renata and I collapsed - ahem - stretching on the carpet post-11-miler.

Monday was a cross-training day, which meant yoga OnDemand!

Mountain pose.

I picked a 45-minute "yoga fitness fusion" video that combined traditional yoga poses with body-weight strength moves.  In my experience, the level of rigor of exercise OD videos is highly variable.  To my surprise and delight, this one was hard!

For the next two days, my abs were pretty sore, but I really felt the burn in my glutes! 

Tuesday, I mapped a new 3 mile route in the neighborhood, which provided some change of scenery.  I ran it at around an 8min split.

Wednesday was a rest day.  Thursday, I meant to do a tempo run, but didn't get out the door early enough, so I did the 25-minute "less is more" yoga OD video, which I liked as much the second time as I did when I tried it a few weeks ago.  I could really feel my abs the next day!

Friday morning, I knew I had to hit that tempo run or I wouldn't have enough days left to complete all of my training runs this week.  My goal was to run 4 miles at a 7:30 average split, something I had never done before, and hopefully to keep that pace steady across the entire run.  Because it was dry outside, I strapped my camera to my wrist, laced up my sneaks, and blasted out the door! 

I tried to take some mid-run photos... they're not quite in focus :)  

This bike tunnel is right behind my apartment and basically convinced me to move there.

A bunch of fluffers out for a morning sniff!

Well, I hit the halfway mark in less than 14 minutes, meaning I had run two miles at a sub 7-minute pace.  I had never ever run that distance at that speed before.  So, I was sort of impressed by this feat, but also knew that there was no way I could keep up the pace for another two miles.  My steady pace plan out the window, I finished the four miles in 29:27, a 7:21/mi average split!  Still pretty good, but next time I'll be more conscious about starting at a maintainable pace - no more mid-run burnout!

Saturday, I worked through the afternoon, and arrived home with only an hour of daylight in which to fit my "easy" 3-miler.  So, I bounced right out there with my trusty Cannon PowerShot to begin what quickly became a  "Sunset Appreciation 3-Miler!"

The run was very relaxing, the sky simply ridiculous, and, including photo op stops, I finished the route in around 27:30. 

Last weekend, I cooked up a batch of 7-grain hot cereal and stored it for pre-run fueling.  Before my Thursday and Saturday workouts, I mixed it up with naners, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, and a splash of skim milk.

Other mornings, I crafted some English muffin masterpieces:  Baneeners and a sprinkle of brown sugar, popped in the toaster oven until carmelized!

On cross-train or rest days, as well as after my runs, I stuck with my standard egg whites, and of course vanilla nut coffee every day.

This past week was definitely "pork week" in my kitchen, since lunch and dinners were both pork dishes!  Yes, extra value packs of pork sirloin were on supersale at Safeway.

Lunches this week were awesomeThai curry pork stir fry with brown rice, green beans, and Chinese eggplant!

  • 1 bottle Thai curry simmer sauce
  • 3/4 lb. pork sirloin, cubed
  • 1 Chinese eggplant, cubed
  • Big handful of green beans!
  • 1.5 cups brown rice, pre-cooked

 In large skillet, bring sauce to a boil.  Add pork, cook ~5 minutes or until half-done.  Add vegetables, simmer ~10 minutes until pork is cooked through.  Serve over rice.  Enjoy!  Makes 3 servings.

I made one batch with green curry simmer sauce, and another with red curry so I could alternate my lunches!

Dinners were smoky tomato pork loin with brown rice and roasted veggies.

Smoky Tomato Pork Loin
  • 2 lb pork sirloin steaks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1 16-oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pre-cooked brown rice
In a large pot, over hot olive oil, brown pork on both sides, set aside.  In same pot, briefly sautee garlic, oregano, and cumin.  Add tomatoes, sugar, S & P, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, add pork, covering completely in sauce, and simmer ~35 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness.  Remove pork, bring sauce back to boil, and reduce by half.  Pour sauce over rice and pork.  Enjoy!  Makes 6 servings.

Roasted Veggies
  • A ton of vegetables (here, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and crimini mushrooms)
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • Lots of freshly ground pepper
  • Sprinkle of kosher salt
Toss veggies with oil and seasonings, coating well.  Roast at 400F for ~40 minutes until browned evenly on the outsides, stirring every ~15 minutes.  These are soooo tasty!  Enjoy!  Pictured, 6 servings.

For desserts this week, I had nonfat yogurts, frozen for about an hour until solid on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Realllly tasty treat!

Starting with my not-so-steady tempo run, Friday continued to be quite the roller-coaster of a day.  In the afternoon, I was exceedingly lucky to attend a dialogue-style presentation on emotion and behavior by none other than (in)famous psychologist Paul Ekman.  Before the talk, there were free snacks, which, for me, included three cookies, two strawberries, a few blueberries, and a bunch of grapesThen, I sat down for an intellectually exhilarating lunch with the speaker (and twenty other students - details).  I helped myself to yet another cookie, three potato chips, salad greens, and a very small apple, avocado, goat cheese, and cranberry chutney sandwich on thickly-sliced whole-grain bread.

Cell phone shot.

That evening, grad school friend Mark hosted a game night at his apartment, which included Taboo, Pictionary Man, and "Celebrities."  Much laughter and good times ensued.

Mark "buzzing" Maria in Taboo.

Pictionary Man!

Edibles included tofu sushi pocket things, corn chips and salsa, amazing veggie pizza on whole wheat crust, and fabulous fudgy homemade brownies.  I enjoyed several helpings of each of these.

I also savored two Pyramid Apricot Ales.

While hanging out with my cohort, a group of enormously diverse, generous, and dedicated graduate students, I was struck by the camaraderie in the air.  In Pictionary Man, as well as in our academic pursuits, there's a real sense of, "We're all in this together."  I started to think about how important it is to have other people by your side to undertake challenges with you. 

Take running.  Please!  Kidding, kidding.  But seriously, folks, one of the first things I learned about running is that a run is a lot easier, and a challenging goal a lot more attainable, when you have running buddies!  As I've mentioned before, I never could have completed my first half-marathon without my "team," consisting of then-roommate Sara, then-coworker Lauren, and myself.  They were there to motivate me when I felt like slacking, and they shared my excitement and anxieties about the challenge ahead.  

When I moved cross-country, all by my lonesome in a brand new town, one of the first things I did was sign up with a training group at my local running store.  It was great to have people to talk with on my long runs, and, because we ran at a similar pace, I was able to forge friendships with two other members, Kevin and Amanda.  Eventually, we began to meet up outside of the training group for weekday morning runs.  It was really nice to feel part of a running community again.
Unfortunately, since school began (and the training group ended), I've fallen out of touch with these two runners.  But, upon reflecting on the importance of the running community, I'm determined to reestablish these connections.

The newest and coolest additions to my running community are two of my cohort members!   Both Jin and Emily H have been training to run their own first half-marathons - and we'll all be at the starting line a week from tomorrow!!  I'm so thrilled for both of them, especially since, even before running this race, they're already talking about the next races they want to run!  Way to go, guys, I am so impressed!

I also greatly appreciate having found - finally! - a reliable, interesting, strong and steady running buddy in Renata, who is both my co-worker and Emily H's roommate.  We've only been on two runs together, but we're already planning future routes!  Not to get ahead of myself, but I think this might be the start of a beautiful relationship :)

In the buddy system of life, I'm partnered up with my Boyfriend - and we make a formidable team.  In grad school, I have my cohort to cheer me on.  But, in my sport of choice, I have something a little different - I run with a pack

Wolves come in packs!  My favorite is the black one at the bottom who is howling.  
And the grey one over his right shoulder who is like, "Yeesh, you howl really loud."
On a side note, a Google Image search for "wolf pack" yielded almost as many pictures of Taylor Lautner as it did actual wolves.  Shudder.

Runners definitely have a pack mentality, and this is never clearer than during a race!  There's a natural order that arises from the chaos of the starting gate - in no time, you're in sync with the runners around you, a dynamic system working towards a unified goal.  You find yourself part of a living river, legs and breath rhythmic, flowing down the racecourse.  Yes, it's a competition as well, but the communal energy during a race is truly palpable.

My frst race: The 2009 No Rail on the Trail 10K.  Lower right corner, elbow with pink and purple sleeve = me!

Starting line of the 2009 Davis Turkey Trot 10k

The 2009 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon - a sea of runners.

Thinking about what it felt like to run in a pack of hundreds or thousands of fellow runners in these races makes me wiggle with excitement for next weekend's half-marathon!  No matter how hard it has been to train, or how long 13.1 miles may seem, I'll be able to go with the flow and enjoy the run when my community, my pack, runs with me!

On the docket for the coming week:
  • Sunday, a 12-miler with new packmate Renata.
  • Taper week!  Two three-mile easy runs only.
  • Yoga, most definitely.
  • Taking my bicycle into the shop for a tune-up and investigation into a certain component upgrade... More details to follow!
  • My first fillings :'(  I'm honestly pretty scared...
  • Lunches: Some kind of quiche?
  • Dinners: Something fun from Trader Joe's?  Recipes TBD, but deliciousness guaranteed!

Today's Question: What do you look forward to the most about a race?  Conversely, what makes you the most nervous about a race, and how do you overcome those nerves?

1 comment:

Tyler Ramey said...

My 2nd Half Marathon is next month in Florida, and I am already getting nervous. I think what always worries me most is the fear of the unknown. Also, that 3 or so minutes standing at the start, WAITING on the final countdown...I can literally feel my heart beating in my neck, it's crazy! A rush, but in a good way!

Loved this update!! I had some brussels for dinner tonight too! And an amaaazing dessert. You gotta try it!