Race Recap: Run for Totality Half Marathon 2017

A month or so ago, I was researching some places to view the total solar eclipse that was passing through the country. One of my best friends mentioned a long time ago that he was interested in going to Jackson for a viewing party. When considering the map, I was pretty sure that everything west of Denver was going to be fairly impacted, so I began looking east. Additionally, since there quite a few open states on my map to fill up, I decided to look for races during that same weekend too so that I could multi-task.

Lo and behold, we found quite a race, one that was billed to be the most epic of them all – a race in Falls City, Nebraska, which terminates at the point of totality. Finishers would be able to view the totality from the finish line after the conclusion of the race. I was really excited for the race and invited my running friend from San Diego to join us for the weekend.

The three of us piled our camping equipment into the car and headed east of Denver into Kansas for the weekend. Our first stop was the geographic center of the United States. Erik had gone there on his driveabout earlier in the summer, and I was very envious. Since we were passing through anyways, we made a pit stop. It was really cool!

Along the way we passed by a few small towns sprinkled in between large farming communities. We got tired of the snacks we packed pretty quickly, so the stops served as good stretch breaks and snack breaks.

This is pretty much what it looked like until we got back to Denver. Really!

Anywho, we set up our campsite in Old Town, Kansas. It was sunset by the time we got there, so there aren’t any photos. I was setting up the tent in the wind as Erik was getting the fire going. No time for photos as we were busy swatting bugs and keeping our equipment from flying away. We eventually settled into dinner, drinks, smores, showers, and sleep. My hardy tent has now traveled to another state with me — CA, AZ, WA, WY, and now KS. I keep thinking that it’s time for a new tent, but whenever it unfurls and holds up for one more trip I put it off for just one more night.

Anyhow, we woke up the next morning to a beautiful sunrise, had our overnight oats for breakfast, and embarked on our one-hour journey to Falls City, Nebraska for our race.

The skies were looking pretty clear so we had a good feeling about the race. We got to their town square to grab our bibs and t-shirt. The field was fairly small, but everyone seemed really excited to be there. It seemed like the race volunteers were pretty new at putting on races before, which seemed normal since the city population was somewhere in the range of 4,300.

Before the race got started, we couldn’t even grab coffee in the town square. The bakery didn’t take credit cards and didn’t have a bathroom. We had to head over a few blocks to the grocery store instead.

Little did they know I’d need the well wishes for the day ahead!
Obligatory start line photo
A bunch of city hoodlums who got lost in the countryside
This was the start line of the race!

Erik and Arlene decided to run with me during this race. Maybe it was the smaller field, or the novelty of the event, or the fact that the race was going to be on a major highway for most of the way. I told them ahead of time that I was running 40 second walk/run intervals. I actually kept warning them over and over again. Erik did groan a bit after the first quarter mile but he let up afterwards. I insisted that they continue on without me but they stuck around, which ended up being a good thing because Erik got rid of his water bottle before the race and our water stations were very far away. The weather changed constantly during the race: it was cool one minute, heated up the next, with dashes of thunder and rain and sun and clouds the next. Then repeat that for the next 3 hours while having to run on and off the highway, on the road, on the shoulder, and in the adjacent trail, while dodging cars and semis. It was really quite the adventure!

Probably my best race picture ever

We finally got to the finish line, without the usual fanfare…just with a sense of accomplishment and a heaping sense of fatigue. And anticipation for the eclipse!

The eclipse itself was amazing. It lasted about 2 and a half minutes. Although most of it was obscured by clouds, we witnessed the sky falling dark, the cool air blowing through, and then dusk reappearing.

After the eclipse, we all piled into a volunteer’s van and headed the 13.1 miles back to the start line and headed home. When pulling our directions home, I looked at the Google Maps traffic for the areas in the path of the totality –

So fascinating. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime event!

Week 9 Base Training: In Memory of Ron Gehring

There was a lesson I learned not too long ago in a meditation class about presence. It wasn’t so much about being present in every moment (although that was the key take away from such a practice). No, it was more about the energy of people who were truly present in your lives. At this meditation class, our teacher talked about group dynamics. Everyone who shows up and who is truly engaged brings something completely different to the group. Much in the same way my tri training team works, everyone brings a different level of experience, a different attitude, and different goals. What happens when you single one person out into a group of one? The dynamics completely shift. When you add one more person into the mix, and then another, and then another, the dynamic that results can be powerful.

I quickly revisited this lesson a few weeks ago at our first ever tri training session. My coach, William, was so incredibly excited to get us all together for our first group swim. I remember feeling exhausted from my work that morning at the gym, and my work during the day. By the time the evening rolled around, I wanted nothing to do with getting into the pool. But, because I had made a commitment to William (and effectively, the team that was just now forming), I certainly wanted to be present. I knew that the team would start off small, but in building a foundation it was important that every single piece of the puzzle was accounted for. So I showed up. Turns out, no one else showed up. It turned into more of a personal training session for me in the pool. I still benefitted from the session, and William still got to work with me, but the dynamic was completely different than if everyone had showed up. That was the power of group dynamics.

So, over the weekend, when I found out that someone from my RunKeeper circle of friends had unfortunately passed away, I was pretty devastated. RunKeeper serves as an app that helps me log my training, which is very utilitarian in of itself. However, it has grown into something more than that to me. There was a community of people there — real living beings, people with goals, just like mine. People with incredible finish times. People with incredible stamina. People who had an uncanny ability to log an insane amount of activities in each day — those very people who, in fact, had the very same number of hours in a day that I had. That’s where Ron came in.

I can’t remember when it started or who reached out to whom, but Ron was a kind soul who gently encouraged me in ways that I can only hope to help someone else. He was a constant fixture in my social graph as his enthusiasm for life, health, and adventure permeated all of his updates. This guy, in between working full time and having a family, was able to squeeze in an inordinate amount of life in between those spaces. I admired his commitment and his time management skills. His goals and achievements were incredible. I wanted to be more like him. A week ago, I had been biking along the Burke-Gilman trail just about 7 or 8 miles from home base when I thought to myself, “Wow, Ron bikes all this way to and from work each day? Maybe I could do it too.”

Fellow RunKeeper, Ron Gehring. He was always a BAMF! Who else could ever rock such an awesome race photo?!

On Friday, I descended into Phoenix Sky Harbor, looking forward to a sunny race weekend away from gray-skied Seattle. I landed quite hungry and late into the evening, and after almost an hour of driving around, I ended up empty-handed in my drab hotel room somewhere after 1 in the morning. After a quick call with my boyfriend, I comfortably drifted off to sleep looking forward to the race expo ahead. When I woke up about 9 hours later, I realized that I missed the hotel’s free breakfast so I stayed in bed to catch up with the interwebs. It seemed like a lot of people were out racing that weekend and I wanted to get a handle and see if anyone I knew was at the same race. I found myself tagged on a Facebook post, and generally one to ignore those types of things, went ahead and clicked through because I saw it was from another triathlon buddy. And it was probably the saddest post I had ever seen in all of my time I’ve spent on Facebook. Ron was gone.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was reading. I was confused. Ron was like, Superman. He couldn’t just vanish or pass away. That was unlike him. He lived life to the fullest, in such a way that people half his age probably never would. And somehow, he was involved in an accident. Initial reports stated it was a hit-and-run, but later his wife had clarified that it was indeed an accident and assured the community that no vehicle was present. In the hour proceeding that news, I had began to cry, trying to piece together what was going on and my emotions. I quickly logged onto RunKeeper to check out his profile, to see when his last status update was. I dashed off an email to the RunKeeper team about the news. I flipped to my Facebook profile to see the last time he had liked something. It had been a day or so. I remember toying with the idea of commuting to work on my bike and investing in a beaten-up roadie so that I, too, could log in some miles before and after work in the saddle. And now, this. It was a sad weekend for me. I felt helpless and very alone, crying in a foreign bed and wiping my tears with foreign towels. I called Shant and told him the news and he too was taken aback by it. He had jokingly referred to Ron as “that guy who likes everything you do” a few times. I think he was sad because I was sad, and sad at the entirety of the situation.

I went on to run my race on Sunday morning. In my race recap, I will go into more details of the race, but I thought about Ron for most of the 13.1 miles. I got choked up a few times around miles 8-10, and in racing “with” Ron I managed to shave about 16 or 17 minutes off of my last half marathon time. It was bittersweet, but I would’ve taken a slower time any day of the week if it could have meant that Ron would be able to like my post at the end of the day, and I, his.

I guess that’s what my teacher had meant by presence. Ron’s absence is felt worldwide because of the presence he graced us with. He could’ve racked up all those miles without interacting with anyone. We could’ve all just existed in our own little world. But, we all came together for a reason, and even in his death, it seemed like we were coming together in droves. He meant so much to all of us collectively while he was alive and well, and in his passing, he brought out a very humble side to our training community.

That weekend, we all tried to log a few miles with Ron.

Recap of week 9 base training:

12.3 hours; 3,080 yards of swimming; 39.45 miles biking; 17.77 miles running.

Monday, January 14: Solo morning workout. Treadmill warmup 10 min, Free weights – 2x10lbs, Squats on bosu ball 3×20, Lunges 3×20, Chest press 3×20, Bicep curl 3×20, Shoulder press 3×20, Butterfly kicks 3×20, Planks 1minx2, Treadmill cool down 10 minutes. In the evening, I trained in the pool…1 hour swim with the team. Still working on my core and my stroke.

Tuesday, January 15: 1-hour core session with the team and coach.

Wednesday, January 16: 1.5 hours in the pool in the evening with the team. In the afternoon, I headed out for a run around town. 46 minutes, 4.49 miles around downtown Seattle.

Thursday, January 17: Lumped a few workouts together. I know that’s generally a no-no but I did it anyways. 3 hours on the bike, 39.45 miles. I wish I had known I was so close to 40. I would’ve wanted to round up. There’s always next time.

Friday, January 18: 1-hour core session with team and coach.

Saturday, January 19: Rest day. Consisted of eating waffles, pho, and lounging.

Sunday, January 20: Race day. 13.1 miles, 2:29:39.

Fitness Friday: RunKeeper + GainFitness 1-2 Punch!

I’ve decided in the short amount of time that I’ve been working out that there are two iPhone apps that I could not live without.

One I’ve been using for almost a year now…the other, I’ve been using for just a few days. What’s great is that I think they really complement each other.

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I use RunKeeper to track all of my activities — swimming, biking, running, walking, hiking, etc. Its GPS tracker helps give me accurate measurements of distance and pace and gives me a really nice interface to view it all in. I’ve been an Elite member since February, which means I get detailed statistics and reports on my workouts. I’ve also enrolled in a few of their running classes, which are really helpful to get you across the finish line for your first 5K, 10K, half marathon, or full marathon.

But, as you probably already know, cardio is just one fraction of the entire picture.

I’ve recently started using GAIN Fitness to help me with resistance training. All you do is put in your height, weight, where you’re working out, what equipment you have, and they’ll come up with a workout for you! They take the guesswork out of everything by illustrating proper form via video or photo.

What’s also neat is that you don’t need to have an iPhone to use their services — the basics of what both services offer are also available as a web-only component to your health and wellness regimen.

What other apps do you find motivating and inspiring?

Race Recap: 2011 Zappos Rock n Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon

What a race! First of all, congratulations to everyone who finished the race.

It was definitely a fun yet challenging course, based on all of the feedback I’ve sifted through online. All in all I think the race was a success — with 44,000 runners on the Vegas Strip at night, there was bound to be a number of problems. However, I think most of the issues that came up were all preventable if the race directors had taken the Murphy’s Law approach — whatever can go wrong, will go wrong — and anticipated these problems beforehand.

English: The strip in Las Vegas
Image via Wikipedia

First off, Vegas is a fun destination. Combine that with a race and you’re bound to get lots of excitement. Seeing as though this is the Rock ‘n Roll series, you’d think that the Vegas race would be the most special of all. I’m not sure if it was the vibe or the cold or just the throngs of people but the excitement was something that was missing from this race. (It might’ve also just been me, since I got some pretty bad news on Friday.) I’m not sure how I would’ve performed if I were running the actual marathon on Sunday but the half marathon seemed like a perfect distance and a decent workout.

Because of my experience in Athens, I knew that running in the cold was going to be very tough. I was hoping that Vegas would be a little warmer but unfortunately, when I arrived, it was pretty cold (40 degrees F) and windy. Despite my better judgement of not trying anything new before a race I went out and bought some cold weather gear. I’d rather have to deal with breaking in my equipment DURING a race than to race through very cold conditions and getting sick for a week afterwards.

For the race I picked up:

  • Base layer Champion running tights
  • Base layer Nike long sleeved running shirt
  • Top layer Champion windbreaker jacket
  • Champion running beanie
  • Nike fleece gloves

During the race, I also stuck with my essentials:

  • Brooks Addiction running shoes
  • Champion thin no-show running socks
  • iFitness race belt
  • iPod shuffle
  • iPhone + RunKeeper
  • Champion technical tank top
  • UnderArmour sports bra
  • I even dabbed on a little eye makeup for the eventual finish line photo!
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 05:  Runners fill the...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I left a few hours early for the race, even though my hotel was a mile away. We parked at New York New York and LVPD had already shut down most of the Vegas strip. The start line corrals were set up and I arrived on time to watch the final marathoners take off on their 26.2 mile journey. There was a lot of downtime to head to the portapotties, snap photos, and get into the corrals. I was surprised that by the time we circled around it was not the familiar wave start I had grown accustomed to (like the RnRLA race), but rather a sequential mass start. This caused a lot of problems since the start was not particularly well policed and walkers were ahead of runners. (I think anyone could see why this would be a problem.)

The race started with a decent pace. The key is to always start a little slower than you are used to so that you keep a decent overall pace. I felt better than anticipated and tried to conserve my energy before weaving too much in the crowd. It was pretty dark on the course since it was a night race — my first! — you had to be extra mindful of every footfall. The strip was pretty well lit and it was fun seeing the spectators cheer us on. We ran down the strip all the way to Old Las Vegas (Downtown Las Vegas, for some of you) and then back to the strip again.
As a child I remember walking around and snapping photos with my family all around Vegas, so it was very interesting to see the landmarks from such a different perspective. It was my first race in Las Vegas and I have to say that I am officially hooked on destination races. I can’t wait to scope out what is available next year! Overall this race was great — I didn’t PR but I had a great run, I finished feeling great, I never once got cold, and my boyfriend was waiting for me at the end. What more could I ask for?

Let’s get some of these issues out of the way so that I can just focus on the positives of the race!

  1. Start corrals/waves were not enforced, which led to walkers and runners clashing throughout the entire course.
  2. Marathoners eventually had to merge with the half-marathoners during the last half of the race, which meant people were getting in each other’s way.
  3. Water stations were not optimally set up, so runners were having to go without water.
  4. There was a massive bottleneck at the finish line because of the small number of step and repeats (photo backgrounds) for race photography. Therefore, people were passing out and/or getting cold.
  5. The finish line festivities were hosted outside during a winter night with NO external sources of heat (i.e. gaslamps or heaters).
  6. Most of Las Vegas Blvd + Tropicana Ave was shut down so if you came by car, you were stuck in traffic for at least a few hours.
  7. Mandalay Bay was very overcrowded and could barely handle the extra foot traffic inside their casino.
  8. The staff ran out of medals, which meant that course bandits were able to jump into the race, finish, and grab medals without having registered.
  9. Swag bag was empty per usual, but at the end of the day that’s not a really big problem.
Okay, admittedly that seems like a pretty big list of bad things. However, that’s not to say that I had a decent race. Unfortunately I did not set a PR (personal record) for the race that I was hoping to but I’ve come to terms with that and a way to achieve it next time!


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Race Recap: The Athens Classic Marathon

Lets do this Memento style: start with the ending and then go from the beginning.

The giant marble stadium was overwhelming. As I neared it on the last of my energy reserves, I tried to pick up the pace but it was just unbearable. But, as my right foot landed on the soft track, I was somehow lifted by a spirit outside of me and began running towards the finish line. As I crossed the timing mat and archway I couldn’t help but think about the incredible journey I had just been on, both mentally and physically.

The morning of the marathon started as most other race mornings. I slept fitfully, waking up ten times in five hours. Most of my dreams were about the marathon, making mistakes, forgetting things, etc. I woke up sometime after 2:30am and couldn’t go back to bed so I began preparing for the race. I pulled on my running skirt, tech tank, arm warmers, socks. After that I began piling on the layers: long sleeved shirts, sweaters, scarves, anything that would shield me from the cold. I pulled my hair into a mid-ponytail, alternating between headbands before settling on the skinny one. (The other one I had was already immortalized in another race photo.)

I turned on my phone and called my boyfriend. We had said that we’d video chat before I left for the race since I wouldn’t be broadcasting my run live. A few quick exchanges were made and then I was off.

At five in the morning, the city of Athens is unseemingly quiet. The entire city was asleep. I neared the ticketing machines since I had misplaced my 7 day metro pass. As I fumbled with my 50 euro bill in between different machines that lacked change, I began to get worried that I might miss my shuttle to the city of Marathon. As I began punching buttons out of frustration, a kind British gentleman offered to pay the 2 euros or so for me since he was on his way to the marathon too.

We boarded the shuttle together among the hundreds of other runners. We talked about running, triathlons, work, traveling, global crises, the age skew in the shuttle. Eventually the conversation dwindled down to silence as we kept going on this windy road to Marathon. I muttered something about how far we had driven and he referenced something about not training enough for hills. The windshield wipers were clearing a thin layer of water from the morning’s drizzle and the driver kept pressing on.

We reached the stadium of Marathon and headed towards shelter. On our way there, I noted the rather large number of portapotties. As we tried to make headway, the wind was resisting us. Volunteers were passing out large plastic bags to help keep us warm. By the time we reached the waiting room, we made our way to the corner to take advantage of the body heat and to eat some breakfast.

I can never handle solid food before a race so I broke open some Clif gel blocks. We chatted a bit more when I asked him for some first timer tips. All he gave me was, “Don’t start off too fast.” Point taken. He asked me about some of the apps I had worked on at work so I pulled them up on my phone. Soon enough the girl next to us began joining in on the conversation. She was training for an ultramarathon and was currently working at the US embassy in England. The three of us eventually made our way to drop off our gear bags. In between trying to stay warm, we moved between different locations, eventually finding a nice hideaway with about a hundred other runners behind the torch.

We made it to our starting block. I marveled at the sheer numbers of the race. Next to me were two runners from California as well: San Francisco and San Diego. I thought back to the two other runners I had met at the Acropolis a few days before, Alexander from Ukraine and Andrew from the Philippines. They called the waves one by one, and before I knew it we were off.

The first few kilometers I had to get used to the fact that they were indeed going by kilometers. The marathon course is 26.2 miles, but when converted into metric measurements, it comes out to something more like 42.195 kilometers. Mile markers come less frequently than kilometer markers naturally, so it was important to do math on the go. As we circled the tomb of Marathon at around 5k, I was feeling good since the hard part was over…or so I thought.

As we entered small cities and villages, crowds were cheering us on. People of all ages were clapping, handing out olive branches, and taking photos. I saw a few warriors running in costume, some old, some young, some barefoot. Some power walkers were older than runners. Some looked like they were in agonizing pain and some looked lost in the moment.

There’s this thing I do when I run. I think of my swimming and my biking. When I swim, to help me count my laps, I think of the lap number and try to remember what happened to me when I was that old. I begin thinking of the people that entered my life and what I was doing. By the time I pass 27 I begin projecting into the future. So, naturally, I started down that rabbit hole. I began thinking of everything and everyone I had met and experience that led me up to this moment. I thought of all the good things that had happened to me. I thought of all the friends I had made over the years. I thought of all the times I was sad. I thought about the continuous abuse I had suffered at the hands of my brother 20 years ago and the violence I endured 10 years ago. I thought back to a time when I preferred to end it all, I thought of the time I felt like the people I loved most were turning their backs on me, and I started tearing up…and somewhere before the 20 kilometer mark I snapped out of it. Somewhere in my mind I had recounted events and people up to around age 23 or 24, and then things began looking up.

I thought about art school and my art school friends. I thought about how my parents finally came around during that time. I thought about how I began understanding the world a little differently after studying nursing and anthropology. I thought about how excited I was to begin working at the ad agency full time. I remembered how much I wanted to design for mobile. I remember getting filmed for my university, gushing about how much I wanted to start my own design business and travel the world with it. I began thinking of my friends, old and new. I thought of my supportive boyfriend, my gassy cat, the guy who sold me my running shoes. I thought of all the kind people I had met on this marathon and triathlon journey and about what cause I wanted to fundraise for when I begin my 70.3 training.

As the kilometers ticked off one by one, I was getting increasingly sore and tired. I thought of my fundraising efforts and all the women who needed the help of Dress for Success to transition from welfare to work. As the run got harder and harder — theres a 13 mile hill climb, if you didn’t know — I thought of those mornings where Shant would lead a run on his bike and I would try to keep up. I played that game a bit in my head. When I ran out, I switched it to my first 6 mile run around Lady Bird lake with my friend Barce. When that was over, I began thinking of my group training runs with my friends at work, who always managed to head out for a post-work jaunt around the neighborhood with me. I can remember days where I felt like slacking but everyone got me out of the door.

Somewhere along kilometer 35, it became quiet in my head. I had finally emptied it of all thought and ideas. It was just silence for awhile. I was actively ignoring the music blaring in my ears. I had passed a beautiful Greek countryside with rolling hills and small villages. I passed a small industrial area and now was in the suburbs. The buildings began getting closer together and the rain and wind became significantly stronger. I pulled out the plastic bag I had neatly tied away at kilometer 5. My fingers were tingling, my legs were numb, and I was shivering. Thinking it was dehydration I took some sips out of my hydration pack and concluded that it was really because I was cold. Running in 40 degree weather with wind chill, drizzling rain, and California summer weather running gear will do that to you.

At around kilometer 39 or 40, I was met with a foil blanket from a nice emergency guard who had lauded my accomplishment thus far. As he wrapped the shiny blanket around me, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Now, go finish the race you started.” I was finally in downtown Athens and it looked similar to the morning after a rainstorm in Bangkok. The roads were closed, and people were on the sidelines clapping their hands and yelling “Bravo!”. To my recollection, the only other person to have ever said that to me in that way was Shant’s mother.

I neared a familiar sight, the Syntagma Square and the House of Parliament. I ran under the first inflatable arch right after kilometer 42. I tried to pick up the pace as I saw the next arch and was only able to pull off a small trot. As I passed the second metal arch, what came into view was absolutely beautiful: the giant Panathenaikon Stadium, in full marble, in full glory. By that time, I could feel the pain leaving my body — if only temporarily — as I sped up to a run. Volunteers were cheering us on and as I crossed the finish line, I could not believe the journey I had just gone on. My energy was spent, I was shivering, but I finished the marathon with a smile on my face. After months of planning and training, it was all I could ask for.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Back sometime in April I had made a conscious decision to put my 30-day-turned-60-day challenge to good use and to give myself some long term goals that were a little less about vanity and a little more about substance.

That was seven months ago. I cant relieve the transformation that I have undergone in such a short period of time. Although many parts of my life remain constant, the more important things have changed. Instead of spending all of my brainpower on things like work (admittedly very important), I began spending time with scene very important, someone who had been neglected for a very long time…myself. My times I argued with myself, pushed mueslis self, belittled myself, and perhaps even surprised myself.

Running has given me yet another lens to view the world. Before I started training for the marathon and triathlon, it seemed as though most things were out of control. Most of the time, I was reactionary to external stimuli. I had a lassaize faire attitude with my business, my startup, my pursuit of higher education, and my relationships.

Ελληνικά: Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες 1896, Η είσοδος το...
Panathinaiko Stadium, Athens Classic Marathon Finish

I have to say that I am somewhat of a different person now. Im a bit more compassionate and empathetic of the struggles people go through in their daily life. I am constantly surprised by the depth of human emotions and motivation. I learn new things about my friends and family in little ways everyday. I can step outside of my ego and learn to take feedback for what it is.

When I started training, I made a pact with myself that I would take things slowly. I would carefully plan out my training schedule and races so that I could maximize my efforts while always seeing a constant improvement in performance. I understand that things wont always be that way, but you have to start somewhere. For me it started at a small 5K, progressed to 10Ks, and then to half marathons. At many points I questioned my motivations and my ability, but all I really wanted to do was prove to myself that I could commit to something and see it all the way through, no matter what it took.

In a few days I will get my chance to celebrate this transformation and achievement in Athens. I never thought I would be here today, typing up a blog on a plane ride across the world to finally see this goal all the way through. I hope that in achieving my goals I can gently motivate others to approach their aspirations with the same level of commitment and gusto!