Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer Challenge 2010

I did it again.  I went and signed myself up for another challenge to coincide with my training for the Bristol half marathon in September.  Some of you may recall the winter challenge I did over the holiday season at the end of last year through the Burn the Fat Inner Circle online community that my favorite health guru Tom Venuto is in charge of (see picture on right).  It's simple really - I had to get my weight and body fat, calculate my lean body mass and my fat, do my body measurements, state my long and short term goals, and then take pictures of myself in my underwear from the front, side and back (lovely).  I posted this all to a thread with my name and after 98 days I do this all again and see how much my body has transformed over that time.

The last challenge was a success and helped me to kickstart my body transformation - it will take me a year to reach my goals so I am a 1/3 of the way there.  the past 3 months have seen me at a plateau - not really losing but not gaining so it's time for another kick start.

Now I have 14 weeks (98 days) to reach my short terms goals.  That involves shedding 14-28lbs (1-2 lbs a week), 6-7% body fat (.5% per week), and finishing this challenge with my second half marathon (where I plan to run the whole thing, no walking).  It's nice to have this to help me along the summer.  Usually people lose weight over the summer cause its hot and you are outside more.  The past few summers I have actually gained due to drinking in excess which leads to eating in excess. Plus I was in Michigan working on my dissertation and teaching, so being outside was not something I actually wanted to do.  My trip to SE Asia last summer left me even more depressed because I saw how much I had let myself go, making traveling more uncomfortable than enjoyable.

I learned alot from that trip and so am glad it happened the way it did - I can't allow a place to dictate my happiness and lease on life.  I was miserable in Michigan and blamed it on being in Michigan.  That was only part of it as I had said the same thing about Louisiana, Chicago, D.C. and Wisconsin - it was always the location I was in that was making my unhappy.  The real problem was that I hadn't made peace with myself - made peace with the fact that I was once very large, made peace with the fact that my dad had passed, made peace with the fact that I didn't "need" friends to rely on me for support, made peace with the fact that I am sensitive (cause I am you know).  I mean I had to make peace with myself and not take the easy way out and think once I moved/traveled I would all of a sudden be happy and lean.  Traveling through SE Asia I saw that I was miserable and my misery was of my own doing - I was hot, overweight, out of shape, hair a mess, and had pink eye (that actually really did suck).  When I arrived in Bristol none of that magically changed for the better.  I was living in a living room with Mike on a blow up air mattress with another couple who had 2 pain in the ass cats with no job prospects for Mike and no idea how to start "doing" fieldwork.  Again, my problems didn't just go away once I hit the shores of the British Isles.  After 2 weeks of feeling sorry for myself I got going with Mike - hunted down apartments, set up utilities, looked for work and got myself a gym membership.   Once I started to take care of my body again  - working it to its max and fuelling it with whole foods - other parts of my life started to fall in place.  The depression began to lift and I started to see more opportunities appear.  Thought do become things so for me working on my body connected to me working on my mind, allowing various positive things to manifest before me.

So back to this challenge - I am doing it to keep my mind and body inline with one another.  Especially now that I am starting to write up my dissertation.  Gradation is May 6, 2011 and I will be walking across that stage with diploma in hand.  The next 11 months are going to be a roller-coaster ride of writing, working, running, lifting, and traveling.  I use this challenge as one way of outlining the first 3 months of this longer 11 month journey to ending my student career.  Now, first things first - a trail run on this Bank Holiday (aka Memorial Day in the US) and then working on a grant for work.  Work it out!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Half Marathon Number 2

This week marks the start of my 4 month training program for my second half marathon.  I'll run the Bristol half September 5, 2010.  A flat course around the city I will try to beat my time of 2:52 which shouldn't be that hard to do!
Original Route Map 2009

I'm using a different training program and adding on 4 more weeks of formal training to get myself 1) in better shape and 2) a faster time.  The last race in Prague was great but my injuries flared up bad at mile 10 causing me to walk the last 2 of the 3 miles.  Mental strength was what got me through as my right side was dead on arrival once I crossed the finish line.

Now, I train!  Can't lie, my body is hurtin already so going slowly into my mileage is the plan for now.  My hips ache at night and my right arch is usually on fire and tight but my pace has picked up quite nicely and I am learning how to stretch and strengthen my weak areas.  My visa has tied up a bit of my money so extras like pilates and sport massage have to be put on hold until the middle of the summer once the visa is secured.  So until then all I can do is remember what I learned in those sessions and do them on my own.  But, it's not so bad to be honest.  Running on a schedule gives me structure and helps me balance work, school and life.  The fact that I can even still run with the injuries I have sustained makes me amazed at what the human body can heal and endure.  So I will start to update my progress once again - the ups and downs, the body fat reduction and the pint consumption (cause really you have to balance the two) until I cross that line once again in the city where I live.

Ok, maybe the rhyming was a bit much but you see what I mean.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I'm at work and just finished reading the "The Long Haul", an article published in The New York Times on April 8, 2010.  While reading it two paragraphs grabbed me, hit me on the head, and then placed me back into my seat with a new found reassurance in my recent decisions/revelations about my future career prospects.  Have a read:
Dr. Pannapacker has rebuked graduate schools for perpetuating a culture in which unattainable academic careers are portrayed as the only worthwhile goal, and for failing to level with students about their true prospects. With more transparency — if every graduate program published its attrition rate, average debt of its students, time to completion, and what kind of job its graduates got — undergraduates, he says, could make more-informed choices.
Academe encourages students to think of what they’re doing as a special kind of calling or vocation which is exempt from the rules of the marketplace,” he says. Those who look to work outside the scholarly world are seen as rejecting the academy’s core values. “They socialize students into believing they can’t leave academe or shouldn’t, which is why they hang on year after year as adjuncts, rather than pursue alternative careers.” 

Now, this is what I am talking about!  Over the past year I have been going through a see-saw battle with myself over my future.  I am coming to the end of a 10 year run in academics where, when finished, I will have accumulated 4 degrees in the same damn subject (but at least in different sub-fields to give myself some credit).  In that time I have been trained to think in these unrealistic, stifling, and bank breaking ways.  To mention that I MAY not want to work in academics the rest of my life left many other graduate students and some professors in a tissy - how dare I not want to work the rest of my life in an institution where I work 60+hour weeks for little pay in a competitive environment where only a few people will every read my work and I am always critiqued.  Even if I do get to the high status role as a professor I will be 60 and ready to retire since I would have had at least 1 heart attack, 2 nervous breakdowns, a head full of grey hair and a chronic pain in my ass from sitting in front a computer for my whole adult life.  Looking at it in this light I realized I am flippin crazy to invest all my time and energy into a disciple that doesn't want to return the love back.
Listen, I am not naive enough to think any career will love me back.  But I am also not naive enough (now) to think that just because I obtain this magical Ph.D after 6 years at Michigan State University I will somehow get a fabulous job in a university with my own office and instant respect.  And, I am not sure if I even want the dream to come true.  Working in the job I have now as part of my research showed me the value of my skills - those skills being reading and writing well.  It also showed me there is life and money outside academics...and I like it. I like coming home and (for the most part) having my work stay at work. I mean what a concept - most work is done at work and when you come home you can actually enjoy being at home.  I like having my weekends to myself and not worrying about the next paper deadline - ok I still worry since I am in the final year of my dissertation and I need to publish for technical reasons, but you get my drift.  I like the work I am doing and I can see the value in marketing the skills I have learned in this long ass process called graduate school.  And, you know what I actually want to make some money and do some good and not have my finances dictated by another university, period.  No, I don't feel bad about trying to make a comfortable living and enjoying my life.
I guess the point of this rant is to say that there is life outside of the academy.  If you do want, or decide to, go into academics I think you need a clear reason why and more than one exit plan once that degree is done.   In those different plans realize that non-academic jobs are out there and waiting for your CV/Resume to come into those doors.  You will be amazed at what you CAN do OUTSIDE the ACADEMY once you think outside the box. If your argument to me is that higher education breeds knowledge and eduction is the ticket to a successful life I counter by saying the real success is knowing how to use that education to YOUR advantage and not going along the same old tired ass narrative that historically and in the present day is still inherently prejudice.   Yes, I have gained plenty of knowledge along the way but knowledge for knowledge sake can be learned outside of four walls as most of the time the knowledge you really want comes outside of a classroom.    
NOTE: I do want to add - these are my opinions and I am talking about my experiences within the U.S.  I am not attempting to be comprehensive but really to work through how I am understanding my journey in higher education.  What I have learned in my time in the academy has been very valuable and I would not change it, but most of it was actually learned outside of the classroom and in my navigation of the politics and discrimination (based on class, race, and gender) inherent within the process.   The world "outside the academy" is not going to magically be better but it is a sector that I wish to explore and where I want to utilize my skills - that's all.  Having the article in the New York Times speak to issues that are talked about in lounges, coffee shops, and during breaks in class or at conferences is comforting as it lets me know that I am not crazy for thinking the way I do.  Work is work and to get anywhere in life there needs to be work done, but I want the work I do to mean something to me and not just be another checkbox on my CV.  Having seen a professor have a heart attack over the stress of the job, another be pushed out as chair because others in the department didn't like the "new guys" politics, and having been told to me face that I will never amount to anything in the academy I choose to leave it behind for a while when I am done.  I may come back, but for my own sanity and growth the separation between myself and the institution of higher education is one that needs to be done.  

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Stress is a pain in the ass.  For me stress has become one of those friends that you know you have to talk to but you really can't stand being around them for more than 5 minutes cause they have a high pitched voice that makes you just want to bash their face into a concrete floor to numb the pain from your ears...  Ok, maybe I took that a little to far, but you see what I mean.

I am in the process of organising my first conference.  Collaborating with a senior researcher from London Southbank University  we are putting on a conference called: Exploring Race and Ethnicity through the Arts on June 10th.  I will be debuting my first short story called "Uncomfortable" which Samantha Moy and Celeste Ramos have both helped tremendously on in editing and fine tuning.  I submit the story to an anthology of short stories about the experiences of mixed race women in North America.  If I am accepted it will be my first published piece!  If I am rejected it will be my first rejection of a short story that I submitted as a published piece - so either way a milestone is done.

On top of that I am working 3 days a week for an organisation as a researcher/grant writer/policy analysts/office bitch (oh did I say that), drafting another version of a working paper for online publication, coming up with ideas for an article that I have to submit to a journal within the year as part of my obligations for student visa, and still working on my dissertation which is now going to have be done by May 2011 since one more of my committee members is leaving Michigan State to go onto greener pastures.  Then I decide to take up running as a personal sport so am training for another half marathon with a marathon in the works for next March along with trying to shed the last of this baby fat that has been clinging onto my body since birth.  Damn, I am tired just thinking about it.

But with all of this comes my good old friend stress.  Now I have had a long and hard relationship with this beast - at times it has motivated me and gotten me to finish that last assignment, submit that last grant, or complete that last requirement.  Other times it has given me headaches and stomach problems, made my hair start to turn grey, and made me want to go to sleep and not wake up in the morning.  Right now stress is making its way back into my life, but this time we need to re-evaluate our relationship.  I know people say you should meditate, do yoga, work out, or not take things so seriously.  But you know what that advice can flippin annoying sometimes.  What if you do take things seriously?  What if finding your "chi" is not everyone's cup of tea?  I do take things seriously - it is who I am.  If I do something and my name is attached to it then damnit I want it done well and with quality.  Working with other people to accomplish this will lead to a bit of stress as you negotiate between different perspective and ideas.  I do run, but you can only for so damn long in a day before you get tired and running everyday is not an option.  Meditation is cool, but I don't do it properly and I can't get my mind to calm down long enough to just "be".  Yoga - ah look at my other posts on yoga.

I have to accept that I am a person that can get stressed out, but through the stress I get things done.  Now, I am just trying to redirect my stress and not let others dictate where and how I can and should get stressed out.  By this I mean I can't let someone else freaking out then freak me out so we are two freaked out hot messes.  Trying to email people and negotiate with them on their ridiculous demands and questions can be a stress but I can't let that stress ME out.  I'll try that thinking for now and see how it goes.  If worse comes to worse I'll go off and find an abandoned log cabin somewhere in the woods and just "be"....for at least an hour and then come back to my email.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Sunday afternoon I spent in the woods.  With trees all around me and Mike in front of me we walked for a little while through a small part of forest on a massive estate in Bristol called Ashton Court.  Although slightly hungover I found the forest to cure my stomach pains as I took in the scenery all around me.  The trees were grand with the leaves starting to come out again and the flowers beginning to bloom.  A faint smell of lavender hung in the air and the trails were compact enough to walk on having dried up from the rain.  And the best part was that we didn't run into a single person while in the forest - only when we were in a clearing and on the open land did we see families with kids and dogs going for a "Sunday stroll" or runners braving the windy conditions to get the miles in.  But once we receded back into the forest it was as if time stood still and the only people in the world were Mike and myself with some trees.

It's funny, growing up outside a city made me think that I would only every like city life.  The concrete jungle with all its noise, shops, bars, people, stuff seemed like my idea of heaven on Earth. I was to be that city girl with all the bangs and whistles (or something like that).  Then something slowly started to happen - I got sick of being around a bunch of people in a hot ass city with no circulation because of the tall ass buildings that looked into other tall ass buildings.  I got tired to the price of rent for a box that may or may not include a damn bathroom or kitchen.

But I also began to run and running in a city with nothing but buildings all around you and concrete sidewalks underneath you gets boring and painful real quick.  And I moved - moved to a place where the countryside is at my backdoor and I found I really liked it.  My stress goes down and my face lights up once I am outside and surrounded by the beauty of a forest.  Mountains are cool but to be honest scare the shit out of me.  I will still hike them and attempt to climb them but my fear sits at the top my throat and my feet become more hesitant as I am exposed to the harshness that a mountain can bring.  But in the forest I am surrounded, embraced really, by the dense trees, grass, and wildlife that creates the landscape.  In the abundance and richness of the colors and the peaceful sounds that are produced I find that I am...happy.  HAHA.  It's a funny thing to just be and then to just be happy and content but on that short walk through the forest I found myself just happy to be where I was.  It was nice to know I can go back again and again (with over 850 acres to explore) and its only a 10 minute drive away.