On Moonshot Goals and Training Plans

Having followed Nike’s Breaking2 story for awhile now, as well as Runners World editor David Willey’s BQ efforts, has had me thinking about my own moonshot goals, especially since I’m not currently registered for an A-race. Dopey was my own moonshot goal for 2017, and maybe those only come around once every few years. My last true moonshot was Ironman Louisville, which ended up being downgraded to the HITS 70.3 Palm Springs that winter (2013). The last moonshot before that was the Athens Classic Marathon (2011). What’s next?

In my first year of running, I was really into time-based goals, and I found it a bit disappointing. I didn’t hit the goals I wanted to, as quickly as I thought I could, especially when it came to pacing. I never hit my race goals, especially when it came to marathon times. (In fact, I was way off…) Ever since what I considered a disastrous LA Marathon finish time, I swore off time goals to focus mostly on distance goals and fear-based goals. I have a few distance-based goals left, but they don’t seem as appealing right now, so my focus is a bit shifty. It turns back now to the quintessential “What’s next?”, which leads me back to the road of time goals, which is something I’ve been avoiding for 5 years now.

So, there are SMART goals, and then there are worthwhile goals. I’ve found it really difficult to discern the difference, and I think because with the latter there is a bit of a value judgement. What makes one goal more worthy of my pursuit over the other? If it were my last goal to ever pursue, would I be happy? If I were to die pursuing it, would it have been worth it? I’ve been grappling with these questions since I finished Dopey, in search for the next big goal, mostly because without that north star, it’s hard for me to focus my efforts. While yes, it’s all about the journey, and yes, some goals are so lofty that they are perpetually missed, it’s nice having that carrot there that is so almost-attainable that you can almost taste it.

I’ve been practicing my daily sevens since the last week of April, where every morning I write out my goals and my to-dos for the day, and a few quick thoughts of whatever’s on my mind. My goals have changed, week over week. The first week they focused heavily on deciding between an end-of-summer sprint triathlon, an early-summer ultramarathon, or an early 2018 goal marathon. My second week focused on deciding between the 50K and the marathon. My third week focused on breaking down time goals for a marathon or half marathon finish. This was the week that I learned that I wouldn’t be able to finish the Rock n Roll Seattle under the time limit, so I toyed with the idea of cutting down to halves completely. Then I took a break from running goals and focused on some personal finance goals for a few weeks and now I’ve completely circled back to running goals. In addition to goals, I also write down some to-dos for the day, which end up being a mile long. I find that on some days they map 1:1 to my goals. On days where they don’t it makes me question where my priorities fall on my schedule, and I try to reprioritize my time around them. I’ve recently added an area to account for gratitude, which has helped add a bit of reflection, which has been good for me.

I’ve tinkered over and over again with my training plan, but the more I look at the distances and my time goal, and when I run by feel or by dictation, I feel like I’m capable of a lot more. Perhaps on my hard days I’m not pushing myself as hard as I can and I should adjust my speed to see if that helps, before I increase volume. Perhaps I should find a coach. That was one of my New Years resolutions and I’m about five months behind on that one. However, when the inevitable question comes up — What are you looking to achieve? — what will be my answer? I think perhaps I also need someone to look over my past numbers or my current numbers to tell me what I’m capable of. Or, I could use the Galloway magic mile calculations, which have been pretty accurate too. Maybe that’s a good place to start.

Anyways, the first few runs back after my week-long cold haven’t been too brutal. Sleep has been escaping me for awhile now, and even with the increased melatonin that hasn’t been helping. I have two races coming up, both Rock n Roll remixes (5K + half marathons in succession) in Liverpool and Seattle. I’m not sure if they will be stellar performances, but they certainly will be….something, especially since they will be at sea level. I’ll have 11 weeks until Virginia Beach or 14 until Paris if I want to work with a coach or find a plan that I can stick with.

Until then, I’ve been working with my plan (one I’ve created myself based on my experience), and have been mostly waffling between 26.2 and 13.1. Maybe I could start with the Runners World run streak (where you run at least one mile a day between Memorial Day and Labor Day). I know I should add in strength training and have been doing it in bits and pieces. It would be great to have a coach that could provide some workouts in that arena too.

Race Recap: Disney World Dopey Challenge 2017

Ahhhh — For once, I’ve finally arrived at my A-race intact! Not only that, I’ve also followed my entire training plan. This entire training season has been quite the ride, and it would turn out that race weekend would still have a few tricks up its sleeve…Only in Florida.

Packing and preparation

Preparation for a 4-day race was no easy feat. It turned out that this was almost more complicated than packing for an out-of-state triathlon. 4 sets of running clothes, contingency cold and hot weather running gear, race nutrition, toiletries, first aid kits, recovery items, theme park gear…you name it, we packed it. However, since I was flying Frontier Airlines, all I got was one carry on bag. I had to make it count. I also only packed one mini-costume, which was just a tutu (see below). If I actually had legit costumes, I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off at all.

It starts off with lots of quart-sized plastic baggies, and rolling clothes into them. And then rolling those bags until all the air is out of them. And then you repeat over and over until everything fits.

And that’s how you get a week’s worth of running gear into a single rolling carry-on suitcase!

Race expo

Not too much to see here – I picked up a bunch of swag since this was my A-race, and stood in a bunch of lines. This was an excellent primer for what I had in store for the rest of my week. (Just more lines.)

Race corrals and fireworks galore!

So, the thing with Disney races is that you have to get up insanely early. The races begin at 5am or so. The resort shuttles begin at 2:30am, and the last one you can hop to make it on time is 3:30am (or so). Sometimes, you’ll also stand around and wait for races longer than the actual running time too. For instance, I stood around about 2 hours for the 5K (from the time I got off the bus until I began running), even though the 5K took me about 40-something minutes. Ridiculous, yes, but I still did it.

Anywho, the pre-race festivities are somewhat mandatory – they lock you out of the corrals if you don’t show up by a certain time anyways, so it’s in your best interest to show up to drink the kool aid. There’s plenty of entertainment (DJs, announcers, characters) and other runners to keep you company, so it’s not exactly boring. It can get chilly though. This year I noticed that they actually had coffee/food tents, something that I’ve neglected to notice at other runDisney events. Maybe I was always too nervous at past events to pay attention. Downing coffee and/or hot cocoa meant a lot of porta-potty stops for the longer distances but it was worth the sacrifice.

What they also had were character photo stops. The lines were really long for them (probably 150-200 runners for each character?) so Erik and I tried to selfie one with Dopey. Luckily he was playing along…

Also, the start of each race begins with lots of fireworks. I wonder what it’s like to work as a pyrotechnic for Disney. It must be really fun to design these shows. The runners don’t all begin at once – since there are so many of them, we run in waves. I’m slower, so I’m one of the last waves. For the 5K, Erik actually finished right before I began my run. For the 10K I think he finished right when I started too. Anyways, here’s some of my footage of the fanfare.

The 5K (3.1 miles)

I used the 5K as a warmup. Technically this was a fun run since it was untimed for everyone else. For Dopey runners, we were still held to our time limit. It was great seeing everyone out there running through the parks — people of all ages, shapes, and sizes, all having a great time.

After I collected my bling, I got washed up and headed out to Hollywood Studios. I had a full day out at the park to shake out my legs!

The 10K (6.2 miles)

This morning was incredibly humid. It was significantly warmer and wetter than the day before. I regretted wearing my base layer about a mile into my run. Here, I was maybe three miles in and the sun began gleaming down on me.

I make my way to the Epcot parking lot again, where it smells like overturned porta-potties and rotten eggs. However, based on the smiles of these dudes on stilts, they probably don’t smell it, so I stop to take a quick picture with them before scuttling on my way.

I keep running and somehow I end up in a fake Chinatown. Huh?

Golden hour is still upon us. But, flame-y fire torch-y thing!

Mile marker with childhood heroine who loved reading books? Yes please!

Photos of the boardwalk. It’s so hot that I wish I could just swim to the other side. However, this is a duathlon or a triathlon so swimming doesn’t count and is probably frowned upon. I continue running.

The finish line is at the Epcot parking lot. That’s why I keep checking in to a parking lot on Facebook. However, I see Spaceship Earth. It’s so close! When do you think it’ll take off for outer space?

I whipped out my phone for this picture. I also took it while running so that I wouldn’t knock anyone down. Stopping at the finish line abruptly is rude and unsafe (and you’ll find out why here pretty soon).

Ta-da! New shiny bling for 6.2 more miles!

The Half Marathon (13.1 miles)

This was the dramatic morning that struck the entire running community. The dreaded cancelled race. Thunderstorms rolled in through the night and the morning so Disney did the right thing and pulled the plug. They even gave refunds, race transfers, and some other optional concessions, which I thought was awfully generous. I didn’t mind the cancellation — I mean, I would’ve preferred to run the race. I paid for it. However, I did not pay to risk getting struck by lightning while running. According to the route and timing of the storms, it would’ve happened just around the time my corral hit mile 8 or 9 anyways. So, in the face of the cancellation, most of the Dopeys in the Facebook group did what any other runners would’ve done when faced with news they didn’t want to hear…

They channeled their inner Jyn Erso and rebelled!

Some even went as far as to call it the Inaugural Grumpy Challenge. Hilarious! (5K + 10K + 26.2)

Some people opted for outside runs (still) around different resorts. While that sounded tempting, I opted for an indoor treadmill run. Not sexy, and definitely not as fun. I spent six months training for Dopey on a treadmill. I didn’t foresee having to do any part of my Dopey Challenge on a treadmill, but here we were. At least I got a good pre-finish line (????) picture at my hotel.

This is technically my finish line photo. Notice my slump. This is what 13.1 miles on a treadmill does to your posture and morale.

What’s not pictured here is the luscious hot tub soak I enjoyed after my run. 🙂

The Marathon (26.2 miles)

The marathon was a beast. I was still shaking off the disappointment of my training marathon a few weeks prior. However, the conditions this particular morning were different, and for the better. Rather than being too warm, it was too cold. For some reason, Orlando finally decided to participate in winter, and this was day 2 (the day before was day 1). It was in the high 30s, and I had thankfully packed enough cold weather gear to make it bearable. I had enough rest and sleep for this race, unlike my training marathon when I was stacked with work/training and very little sleep.

As I lined up in my corral I noticed a Galloway run/walk pacer group and settled in nearby. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to try anything new on race day. Was following a pacer going to count as something new? Traditionally I never really have a strategy for races. I tend to trot along until I get tired. I then walk a bit to recover, and then I begin trotting again. I continue until I’m a mile or two out from the finish. I then “empty the tank” (as my coach used to tell me). I’ll take in some Gu/Clif gels, about one an hour, generally caffeinated ones. If there is Gatorade or Powerade, I’ll stop for it at the aid stations. However, I’ll always carry a Camelbak of water with me.

After some quick (sometimes extemporaneous) cost/benefit analyses, I went ahead with some of these new things on race day.

So, what were some of the things I did that were completely new on race day?
-Well, I wore that new Mickey beanie for the first time that day. (The trade off was cold ears, and honestly, the risk was minimal.)
-I joined the run/walk/run group and did :15/:30 intervals for the first time in my life. (Turns out it was awesome and I’m a convert!)
-I ate two whole bananas on the race course. (Not in succession, but I also never eat solid food on a race. It turns out that I can run after eat a banana, so long that I don’t run at an all-out speed and if I keep the :15/:30 pace.)
-I ran with my tutu for the first time. (I didn’t order it in time to practice with it.)
-I ran with my hat for the first time. (Same deal as above)
-I ran with my purple shirt for the first time. (Same…I know! I know!! Bad!!! Seriously…and on a 26.2 too! I really wanted to wear Dopey colors for the marathon and just ran out of time.)

Those ended up being the only two photos I snapped during the marathon. I was so exhausted. Somewhere after Animal Kingdom and before ESPN Wide World of Sports, there was a hairpin turn and cutoff point where the course turned on itself. I could see the sweeper buses and the fabled balloon ladies. I saw race security and buses close in on some people behind the balloon ladies and bikers. Those racers looked devastated. It must’ve been 5-7 miles in to the marathon already. Some of them were crying. I would be too, to see my race cut short. It definitely wasn’t for lack of trying. Everyone’s got a different story as to why they get swept. I’m not one to judge. I’ve finished dead last at a race before. I’ve never been swept but I know what it’s like to be last, and what it’s like to be tailed by security. Obvious news flash: It sucks.

Also, remember earlier how I  mentioned that stopping abruptly at the finish line could be dangerous? I almost railroaded this guy who jumped in front of me and then struck a pose for his photo finish:

I think I’ve made a pact with myself that when and if someone ever gets in my way again I’m going to make awesome faces and gestures at the camera. That way, it’s just as much my photo as it is theirs.

Anyways, back to my marathon. After 2 bathroom stops, 2 eaten bananas, and dozens of Gatorade stops, I finally reached the finish line. Do you know what it takes to run a marathon with me? Apparently it takes running it 15 seconds at a time, over and over again, until you have to stop for the bathroom. And then you start again, running it 15 seconds at a time, until you get to the finish line. What happened when I ran my marathon 15 seconds at a time was that I cut off an hour and 15 minutes from my previous marathon time. I mean, really???? My feet weren’t burning like they were in Dallas, I wasn’t demoralized, my legs didn’t feel like lead, and my time was better. This was something new I could get behind.

I was fairly elated at the finish line given my new finish time. This was now my 2nd best marathon time, which doesn’t say much given that this is my 4th marathon and two of them ended catastrophically with me in tears. However, this one was a joyous occasion, and in the few times I was almost brought to tears on the course, it was for happy reasons only. No sadness allowed!

The aftermath

Every mile is indeed magic here, and they never let you forget it. Erik met with me after the finish line. We struck a quick pose before carrying our stiff legs aboard our bus back to the resort.

From there, we snapped some quick photos next to the giant floppy disk by the pool of our snazzy medals. So many medals!

I laid in the tub for awhile. I brought along some suds and salts and enjoyed a hot bath for what felt like an hour. I also ate my tortilla chips and cheese thing in the tub and I didn’t care about anything because I was too tired to care. I’m pretty sure I heard Erik snoring all the way from the tub. By the time the evening rolled around, we boarded a shuttle to Disney Springs for dinner. First, we stopped by Starbucks for a quick refreshment, and I treated myself to my usual long run treat: a venti (in this case, a trenta) Very Berry Hibiscus! (Along with a sammich, since I was ravenous.)

Now what?

Well, with Dopey under my belt, I’m pretty happy with my progress. I’d say I’ve bounced back from my injuries in 2014 pretty well. It seemed like 2015 was rehabilitative and 2016 was reconditioning. Hopefully I can get in some really good training in 2017!

A few days after Dopey, I emailed my Disney travel agent and asked her when registration was going to open up for 2018. It looks like we’ll be going back next year! We have a small Dopey in our home as a reminder.

Until Dopey 2018, I’ll be working on getting into the Rock n Roll Marathon Series Hall of Fame.

That means I need to run a mix of 15 half or full marathons during the 2017 calendar year. I’ll be using them as training runs for Dopey but I’m really still trying to figure out what kind of goals to set for 2017 outside of just finishing the races.

The Dopey Challenge was really special to me — it took a lot for me to accomplish it, despite all of the difficulties and setbacks I had. I look back on my journey and all of the other major A-races I’ve trained for — Athens, Louisville (that eventually became Palm Springs), and now Dopey — and I would say that this completely dismantles Athens. This may even dismantle Palm Springs. It would take something by orders of magnitude to exceed this experience. I’m really looking forward to Dopey next year.

On to the next challenge (whenever I figure out what that is)!

2016 Retrospective: The Best Thing I Ever Did Was Believe In Myself

2016 was an interesting year, one full of ups and downs. It was filled with lots of love and accomplishments. There were a few low points, but they certainly don’t overshadow all of the high points. I’m grateful to have been able to share my happy moments with my husband, my friends, my parents (when things were still going well), and my students!

Running-related victories:

  • Ran 9 races (2 10Ks, 6 half marathons, 1 full marathon)
  • Ran my highest-elevation half marathon
  • Ran my first Disney Coast-to-Coast challenge
  • Registered for my most challenging race to date
  • Stuck with a 26-week training plan (I’ve always fizzled out early)
  • Completed every long run in my training plan (I’ve always skipped a few here and there)
  • Ran 567.1 miles (122.1 miles in 2015, 234.5 in 2014, 454.9 in 2013, 495.4 in 2012, 962.6 in 2011)

Life-related victories:

  • I fulfilled a lifelong dream of teaching
  • I fulfilled a lifelong dream of finishing grad school
  • I got married
  • The Star Wars Force Band launched
  • Amazon Go launched
  • I found myself back at Amazon
  • I established boundaries in my personal and professional life
  • Taught my best friend how to ski down the bunny hill

Some low points:

  • My resignation from Sphero
  • The passing of my uncle
  • A (hopefully) temporary fissure in my relationship with my parents

In the midst of the good and the bad, I’m hopeful for the new year. I have a lot of opportunities ahead to get involved in bigger-picture initiatives at the university and in the community. I look forward to applying my skill sets across teams at work. I’m excited to get my friends out here to Colorado to visit me (and my students, when they’re in school). I’m excited for our Rock n Roll Marathon Series tour next year (15 stops!). It’s going to be a good one.

My 2017 running resolutions:

  1. Get a running coach
  2. Run in least two race costumes
  3. Run three marathons
  4. Snap four photos per race (one being a selfie!)
  5. Run the year I’m in – focus on what I can do better in 2017 by building from my Disney World races, rather than my previous years’ races
  6. Get into the Rock n Roll Marathon Series hall of fame! (by finishing at least 15 races)

I found four athletes most inspirational this year:

#4: Joseph Schooling, the Singaporean swimmer who beat Michael Phelps, his childhood idol. Amazing.

#3. Almaz Ayana, the woman who broke the world record for a <30 minute 10K. Breathtaking.

#2. Morolake Akinosun, the woman who stopped at nothing to achieve her dream. Stunning.

#1. Erik Hulslander, my husband. He overcame his demons, survived a stroke, pulled a 4.0 GPA, and still managed to train for the Dopey Challenge. The love of my life.

So, on that note, let’s give 2017 a run for its money —

Dopey Challenge Week 10+11+12+13: One Foot In Front Of The Other

Aside from racing — well, faux racing, since I’m considering them training runs — the last month of training has been going okay. I tend to have hiccups during my rest weeks because I deem them to be less serious training weeks. I need to stop doing that.

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Week 9 doldrums: I skipped my last 3 mile run. That was the day I officially resigned from work. I came back home from my goodbye lunch in a pretty dumpy mood, and my best friend came into town to visit. Her timing was great, but life timing was pretty demoralizing in terms of training. It was an easy 3-miler and honestly, it wouldn’t have taken much effort. We probably walked that much that weekend anyways.

Week 11 conundrum: I twisted my right ankle at the end of week 10 and my left ankle at the beginning of week 11. Towards the end of the week I was in Seattle for my interview. My ankles had rehabbed enough where I could walk around with ankle supports, and do my training at least on ellipticals. I also happened to forget my running shoes, which really bummed me out since I was staying at a hotel with a workout room. Ugh! Erik was pretty worried about my ankle anyways since walking around town was rough on me, so I stuck to the recumbent bike. It worked glute muscles that I forgot I had since my triathlon training days. On the bike I romanced the idea of getting back into tris again. Being in Seattle also contributed to that I think.

Week 13 stoicism: After having cut my half marathon short by accident, and with my time off coming to an end, I’ve found myself in a more reflective and downtrodden mood. There’s been a lot of change in my life over the last year — some good, some bad — and it’s been a lot to process. Over the last few days I’ve also lost my first rescue cat, Stewie. He was put to sleep due to multiple organ failure. It came on pretty suddenly. I had learned about his health decline on Tuesday, and since then my week has been pretty ho hum. I ran a 10K on Thursday before calling the vet to go over his lab results, which was double the time and distance my training plan called for. I mostly wanted to keep running so that I could put off the inevitable, but I knew that there was no escaping it.

Good and bad times, they all come to an end. I’ve spent some quality time decompressing over the last four weeks, taking care of myself. I’ve also spent it injuring myself and rehabbing my injuries. My rescue’s death is too recent and I’m still comprehending it. In searching for old photos of him I’ve come across a lot of old photos of myself during my early running and racing days. It was an interesting stroll down memory lane.

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The theme of the season still remains, though — I will continue racing to raise money for Best Friends Animal Society. I suppose now there is even more meaning to why I run. I didn’t rescue Stewie from an official charity or sanctuary. I found him in an abandoned, unused barbeque grill in my then-boyfriend’s backyard. He was cute and small and hungry so I took him to the vet for some shots and a flea bath, got him a collar, and brought him home when my parents weren’t around. My parents eventually returned from their trip abroad — they were spending time with my ailing grandmother, who had passed during their trip unfortunately. My parents took Stewie in as their own and as they moved, he moved with them. They stayed together when I moved back into the city for work, and eventually away to Seattle and then to Denver.

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I obviously continued adopting other cats but Stewie was always my first true (feline) love. I’ll miss him lots. In a sense, I grew up with him: I graduated college with him, got my first “big girl” job with him. He was around when my family went through some very rough times. He was there for my dad quite a bit. Some people say that cats are heartless, but I’m not particularly convinced they know what they are talking about. They certainly haven’t met my cats at least.

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As a natural deflection point, I’ve also decided that I really miss strength training. I’m not quite sure what to do about that yet. I’ve canceled my Orangetheory membership and I have a ton of other apps I’ve looked at. I also have a lifetime 24 Hour Fitness membership and I’ve yet to check out any of the locations in my area. I know that I need to focus on strengthening my ankles and legs in general. Road running has been really hard on my legs, as evidenced by the two Disney races and the recent road races I’ve done. Having exclusively trained on a treadmill the last year, I’ve certainly lost touch with dressing for the right weather, watching my step, and having overall strength in my legs when dealing with the road in general. I need to get to fixing that.

It feels like there’s a lot to tackle all at once. Oh well. One day at a time.

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Tomorrow I will wake up and the first thing I will do is get out for my run. And I will just keep going until I feel like stopping.
Amara-Dopey-FundraiserIf you feel like donating to Best Friends Animal Society in Stewie’s memory, you can do so here. 

Joy and tragedy

It’s been a busy month so far.

It’s hard to pinpoint the highlight of the month. Graduating was a big deal, but so was getting married. It was great to have a small intimate graduation ceremony — by that I mean having Erik and Alex along with me in Iowa for the first and last time. At the same time, it was great seeing all of my familiar LA and Seattle faces again that I missed so much at my wedding.

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Tragedy also struck my family this month. My uncle passed after a few weeks in the hospital due to a number of different ailments. In between graduation and the wedding I flew in to see him, and in between my bachelorette festivities and the rehearsal dinner I went to visit him. I knew he was close to passing, and it was confirmed when the nurse was on the phone telling his sons that they needed to get to the hospital right away since he was not going to make the night. I kissed him goodbye and as I left, I knew it would be the last time I would see him. It was hard to see him hooked up to so many machines, laying there helpless, gasping for air.

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It seems like adult life comes around full circle. You get the good with the bad. The joyous occasions mixed with the tragedies. One is followed by the other, or in this case, it’s simultaneously served. I wouldn’t say it put a damper on all of the festivities but it gave me a lot of perspective. I watched my aunt — someone who had been married for about 25 or so years, someone who loved this man dearly, hang on to the hope that he would get better. She showed up every day to the hospital bright and early, and left each night long after the sun went down. Meanwhile, amidst the chaos, she tried to forecast and balance all of the potential issues and the “what if”s. He had been hospitalized before, but this time, we all knew this was different.

Being there for his final days made me think about how my life and marriage would unfold in its final decades and years. How would I make it count? Do all of these long hours working really matter? What about the foregone opportunities to spend time with friends and family? How many times have I been absent in the presence of others? How many times have I come close to throwing in the towel in my chosen profession because I pushed myself too hard, too fast?

I’ll try to keep things in perspective. There isn’t a whole lot that is important in life outside of a few things: Have fun. Love fiercely. Do good work. Am I missing anything else?

Slowly warming up

A month or so ago, I downloaded an audiobook on kaizen, the idea of continuous improvement through small incremental steps. I listened to it on the car ride back to the airport from my parents’ house, and have listened to it here and there during my commute to work. One of the key takeaways from kaizen is that in order to take the first step towards any goal, you must break down the goal into the smallest incremental action item possible. It’s akin to flossing one tooth a night when you’re trying to build a flossing habit, or wearing your running gear to bed (like how I used to!) to be dressed and ready to go the next morning.

Since I’ve began listening to that audiobook, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I could incorporate the concept of kaizen in my training. Oftentimes I give myself monumental goals that seem insurmountable and intimidating. That’s part of the thrill — attempting something that I feel that I mostly can’t do, but somehow might be able to pull off with enough work and determination. These are things like the Ironman (still haven’t checked that one off my list…), and some of my other lofty goals.

The idea of kaizen reminds me a lot of this:

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In an attempt to employ this concept in my life, I bit off the 21-day run streak again that originally got me into the running habit. I was doing really well for a bit, until I managed to get myself sick a week ago and while I’ve been nose-trumpeting, it’s been tough getting my daily run in.

I’m trying not to come down too hard on myself seeing as though I really couldn’t help catching the cold, nor was it the lack of willpower or motivation that kept me from running — it was legitimately because I could not get myself out of bed to run, let alone to the office to work. (I did manage to work from home a lot last week in between some in-town travel, which was nice).

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It’s still a pretty impressive graph to me at least! I’m knocking off the distance a few miles at a time, but it’s been awhile since I’ve really been back on my feet in this way. These small incremental goals have been refreshing. All of this will serve as a warm up for the Dopey Challenge training plan, which is something that I’m trying to get set up on my calendar. 29 weeks of run training! Where will I fit in my HIIT? What about tune-up races? So many questions!

So, in classic Amara fashion, here’s what I’m thinking: warm up races, cross-training, and back to a more regimented training style may be in order. I’m also longing for laps in the pool and have been doing tons of research into which 24 Hour Fitness gyms around me have a clean enough pool to my liking. It’d be great to get in a few short sessions a week. Being in the water has a calming effect on me, at least when it’s just me and the lane markers. I miss my solitary midnight swims, happy hour swims, early morning swims…I guess you can just say that I really miss swimming. Being completely landlocked in Colorado doesn’t really help. However, getting back on a 30-minute swim practice, a couple of times a week, could help me brush up on some pool techniques so that when I’m ready to consider triathlons again, I can be mentally prepared for the water.

With grad school wrapped up, I wonder what is next though. What is my next big thing? I suppose the Dopey Challenge is a pretty big thing, but it still seems like a stepping stone on my way to an Ironman one day. I suppose only time will tell. I’m slowly warming up to the idea of racing again, and I’ll have plenty of things to do on my list until I get into the throes of my season. I am excited to venture down this journey again. It’s about time for a new medal rack anyways.

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Reviving the blog

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten the chance to sit down to reflect about all the change and upheaval in my life over the last year. I finally feel like I’m a point where I’ve settled in to my new city, Denver. I am wrapping up my final WEEK of grad school. Work is all over the place but when isn’t it? Life is moving pretty quickly and I’m getting married in a few weeks, and I’m pretty excited about that.

There has been an intense sense of irony in my move to Denver in that this has been the least active I’ve ever been. I was really excited to move to Denver because I thought I’d get out (as in, outside into the wilderness!) a lot more often, and I’d be able to focus a lot more on my training. That hasn’t quite been the case since I’ve moved here. The first month or so I was able to get quite a bit of time in, mostly because I was here a month before I was set to begin working and before Mr. was permanently moved in. I spent that month detoxing from prior work stress, only to slide in to another rinse-repeat cycle. It has since been compounded and relieved a few times over, mostly due to the ebb and flow of my work and the types of opportunities come my way. I’m trying my best not to overcommit but it is easier said than done.

That said, I am really looking forward to striking a better balance between all of my competing priorities. When grad school took over the scene, a lot of my training time disappeared. How, with grad school practically out of the picture, that should open up a little more time for training. The amount of training I’ll be able to do will depend on how much teaching work I’m taking on outside of my normal 9-5 (if you can call it that). I think that this is the typical story of the average adult though — we all have aspirations, and we’re all overextended. No part of this struggle makes me particularly special. However, in articulating this, I hope to find some sort of clarity in how I’ve structured my time and how I will go about my training in the future. I’ve failed miserably at having a regimented schedule, and I’ve also failed when having nothing on the calendar too. What’s seemed to have worked in the past is a mix of having a goal, having a semblance of a plan, and having some wiggle room along the way for training augmentation, rewards, rest, and the like.

What I’ve found to be the biggest barrier to my training over the last two years since I’ve been in grad school, and while exiting my position in Seattle, and while launching my first product at my current job and now working on the second launch, is that the cognitive stress from my work really does take a physical toll on my body and my energy level. I’ve spent countless weekends trying to recover from them. It feels very similar to having raced without the proper amount of training. I have the mental strength to pull myself through those prolonged periods of stress but it’s in no way healthy to continue to do so.

There are a few changes that I am making…

For one, I’ve switched out the domain — from Ironwoman in Training to Amara in Training. I’m not quite sure if I’ve completely shelved the idea of completing an Ironman. At the moment it’s hard to fathom being able to find the time to commit to that kind of training again. I don’t necessarily feel that my window has passed, but perhaps my motivation has. Maybe it’ll one day return. Nonetheless, the domain address didn’t seem as fitting anymore, so I switched it out to something that was a little more enduring. It seems as though I will always be in training, so this one seemed to have fit the bill.

Second, I’m on day 13 of a 21-day run streak. (I had to take one day off this weekend because I was at the height of my cold, unfortunately.) My goal has been to get at least 30 minutes of running in a day. I’ve identified a lot of false obstacles in my way, one in particular being a HIIT gym schedule that I try to adhere to. When I haven’t been able to make my classes, I tended to write off that day completely. Now, I’ve been prioritizing my runs and I haven’t been trying to schedule any days at the gym. (A part of me is still torn about whether or not to keep the membership, but that’s another discussion completely.)

Third, I’m trying to be somewhat more conservative with my race calendar. I’ve historically registered for lots of races up front, only not to make it to the start line for a myriad of reasons. By being a little more methodical up front, I think I can probably save myself a lot of money and a lot of disappointment. I’ve committed to a fairly large goal in early 2017 — the Disney’s Dopey Challenge — so there will be plenty of warm-up races and training pains to discuss!

When the unthinkable happens

For most of my adult life, I’ve lived with the motto memento mori etched at the back of my head where it meets my neck. I traced the letters from Andy Warhol’s various illustrations — someone who was rebellious and poked fun at conventional living. The placement of my tattoo is particularly symbolic in that this idea is something that I keep in the back of my mind every day.

Memento mori and Andy Warhol come together in an interesting way. Memento mori is a statement that literally translates to “remember that you have to die,” which is a phrase that helps one reflect on personal mortality and what it means in regards to vanity, earthly life, and the transient nature of the people and things that surround us. One of my favorite quotes by Andy Warhol is, “Sometimes the little times you don’t think are anything while they’re happening turn out to be what marks a whole period of your life.” These two elements came together in a natural way for me, and as the idea hit me, I ditched class to work on the design of the tattoo during the daytime and had it etched into my skin later that evening.

On Saturday, one of my esteemed colleagues lost his life on a major Seattle freeway to a young 20 year old man who decided that his phone was more important than anyone else’s safety or life. Granted, maybe he was getting a very important message or call, or perhaps he had just learned some very bad news and was distracted. It is worthless to speculate the what-could-have-beens, but regardless of that young man’s circumstances, he should’ve prioritized life over whatever communications were coming his way.

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As a human being in general, we have a certain amount of responsibilities to ourselves and other people to not put them in harms way. I give this young man the benefit of the doubt that whatever he was distracted by was important enough to him that he needed to take his eyes off the road. Given the outcome, I hope that he would’ve done things differently.

Not a lot of good can come from someone’s death in such a tragic way. However, I hope this lesson reverberates with this particular young man, his family, and his extended circle of friends. I hope that this is a lesson that others will learn from, so that my friend’s death was not in vain.

With regards to Sohel Ahuja, I met him in 2012 when I first considered moving to Seattle to work at Amazon. During my interview, he grilled me on how I would work on improving the team’s current product suite. When I was eventually hired, Sohel helped me feel at home, often swinging by my desk to reminisce about In-N-Out and the now-defunct Chano’s Mexican Food joint right outside of USC. Over happy hour, he oftentimes recounted the story of how he and his wife met. I’ve probably heard that story a dozen times. Every time he told that story, it was as if he was falling in love with her all over again. He also had a penchant for appletinis (of which the team relentlessly made fun of him) and whirlyball (something that became an annual team tradition).

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On a small design project, he and I tag-teamed on a few different tasks as our other engineers were busy launching another product. He was earnestly learning from our senior managers what it meant to truly lead a team. Learning as you go, you make a lot of mistakes, but then again, who’s perfect anyways? His efforts did not go unnoticed because no matter what he worked on, he never half-assed anything. Even if he weren’t 100% perfect at what he did, he gave 100% of himself to it. That was the Sohel I knew first-hand.

In early 2014, I had made the difficult decision to transition to another team at Amazon. Sohel took some time out of his insane work schedule to write out an 8-point bullet list that outlined all the reasons why I should stay. The first four were about my career as a designer and how I was a valued person on my team. The last four were, “5. The team really likes you. 6. Steve really likes you. 7. Katie really likes you. 8. I really like you.” I still ended up transferring out but would run into him every once in awhile around South Lake Union. We would quickly exchange pleasantries but dash off to another meeting. Such is life at Amazon.

Sohel played a supporting role during a huge phase of my life. He and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things, and eventually my focus (and reporting structure) was moved over to other people and projects. However, it is was the little ways in which he participated during this phase of my life that stays with me. He left us in the most tragic of ways, but I’ll try to remember the ways in which he genuinely tried to make someone feel like a part of the family.

My time in Seattle has come to an end…for now

I came to Seattle a few years ago, completely burnt out on the idea of being a designer.

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In fact, when Amazon recruited me, I was freelancing to make ends meet but was saving up to go to med school. I got the call to come in for an interview, and eventually got an offer, and so I took it. I figured that this was going to be my one last shot I would give design, as a profession, before I swore it off completely. I rationalized with myself that I could always quit if I still found it awful or boring. I didn’t know a soul, and I figured that it was half of the fun of coming to a new city. I flew in the night before I was slated to start my job, overslept, and nearly missed my new hire orientation the next day. I think I drove to the office that morning and forgot what parking lot I had parked in, and spent the better part of that evening checking all of the underground parking lots in South Lake Union.

After my first week in Seattle, I knew that I had finally found somewhere that I belonged. Over the course of the next few years, I learned a lot about myself and what it meant to me to be a designer. Each quarter, as I reviewed my professional goals at work, I always made it a point to list out a few personal goals for my own edification. They included things like, “move on from the boyfriend who doesn’t treat me the way I deserve,” “go back to grad school and finish the damn degree,” “solve real problems,” etc.

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I’ve spent the better part of three years in Seattle deconstructing my identity and rebuilding it in the image of the person that I thought I’d grow up to be: someone who would put others above herself, someone who would give back more than she took, and someone who prioritized people over artificial/created problems. I can say with a clear conscience that I unabashedly gave myself to my work, my craft, and my tribe.

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A lot of people have asked me about what my greatest accomplishment was during my time here. I had launched quite a few products and helped on projects across a lot of different teams. It’s easy to define yourself by the traditional markers of success — what you launched, how much you made, etc — but for me, success is a little different. What I consider my biggest successes are the three people I helped mentor in to new roles and positions. Of all the projects I worked on across all of the different parts of the company, I found that helping these three specific people achieve their goals was singlehandedly the most important thing I could’ve ever done over these past three years.

I leave Seattle knowing that I’ve done my best, in all aspects. I left no stone unturned. I’m looking forward to coming back to what I’ve already dubbed as my forever-home in the near future. Until then…

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Looking forward to what’s next!