Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Title: Inside the O'Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Gallery
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

My Review:

I already mentioned a few days ago how much I enjoyed Inside the O'Briens.  If you've read any of Genova's other novels, you know that she does an excellent job of humanizing neurological disorders--bringing them to life through stories of (fictional) families forced to deal with the diseases' consequences in the everyday details of life.  That was certainly the case in this book as well.  Before reading, I already knew the "textbook" definition of Huntington's disease, but Inside the O'Briens opened my eyes to the devastating effects that this condition has not only on the person who has been diagnosed, but on all of their family and friends.

I like that Genova chose someone like Joe O'Brien as a protagonist, as well.  He's kind of a macho guy--police officer, patriarch of a large Irish family, doesn't really wear his emotions on his sleeve, and not real concerned about his health in general.  Not someone who might have coping mechanisms already in place for a disease like Huntington's--much less know what it is.  Watching him navigate his diagnosis, as well as its implications for his family, is heartbreaking.  Genova develops his character with amazing heart.

As much as I liked this book, I did feel that it dragged in some parts.  The narrative jumps back and forth between Joe and his youngest daughter Katie (who is trying to decide if she wants to do genetic testing to reveal if she will eventually get Huntington's).  Both Joe and Katie spend a lot of time wrestling with their internal dialogue.  For Joe, it's figuring out how he will cope with the disease as he gets sicker, and how he can best support his family.  For Katie, it's deciding if she should be tested, and if so, what that means for her future.  While their respective journeys of self-discovery do progress over time, I often felt like they got a bit repetitive and "stuck", debating the same points over and over.  I don't say that to lessen the importance of their struggles, but as a reader, it did slow the plot down quite a bit at times.

That said, the strong emotions and family struggles in this book absolutely outweighed the concerns I had about the slow movement of the plot.  This is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in familial drama, neurological disorders, or who just plain wants a good tug on the heartstrings.

**Lisa Genova is encouraging all readers of her book to donate to the Huntington's Disease Society of America, to further research into treatment and a cure for the disease.  Please check out THIS LINK if you're interested!

Have you read any of Lisa Genova's novels?  Has your life been affected by a family member with a neurodegenerative disorder?

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Monday, and I promise I'm reading!

Hello, reader friends!  I know, I know...not a lot of bookish goodness around here lately!  As the mileage has increased for my half marathon training, reading/blogging time has gotten tight.  But I promise that I AM reading!  And I have so many good books on the horizon.  I figured it was high time to update you on my literary life.

As always, I was super jealous of everyone participating in Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon this past weekend...I hoped to be able to do it this time around, but then my race happened and I knew I wouldn't be able to swing it.  Maybe in the fall?  FINALLY?!?

I recently finished...

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

This book was excellent!  It follows the lives of a family when they find out that their patriarch (Joe O'Brien) has Huntington's disease.  HD is autosomal dominant, which means that if one parent has it, each child has a 50% chance of getting it as well.  The O'Briens struggle to come to terms with both Joe's diagnosis, as well as what this means for each of their individual futures.  I have enjoyed two of Genova's previous novels, and this one did not disappoint either.  Reviewing soon!

I am currently reading...

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon

I just started it, so not much to say yet, but here's a plot summary from Goodreads for you:

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn't. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school. 

Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.
As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?

My review is coming next week for TLC Book Tours!

I will soon be reading...

Grain of Truth by Stephen Yafa
I was recently offered a copy of this for review, and I could not resist the idea of some solid food science nonfic right now!

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
Picked up from the library this week because I totes cannot turn down Gaiman short stories.

Lots of books to keep me busy around here!  Hope you all are having as much luck with your reading choices lately as I am.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: Doing 5am Like a Boss

Week 7 of training for the Mystic Half Marathon is done...5 weeks left to go!

Total distance for the week: 26.39 miles

This week of training was great--I finally felt 100% after my 2-week-long cold, and I nailed my pacing for each run.  Only downside is that I am definitely starting to feel the fatigue of getting up so early for workouts!  With evening activities like Small Fry's Wednesday night swimming lessons, Mom's Night at preschool, my husband's nights at the library to do PhD work, etc. it is hard for me to run any time OTHER than 5am.  Which would be great, if I could get my butt into bed before 10-11pm each night...yeah, really need to work on that.  I struggled to wake up on a few of these days, but am proud of myself for not sleeping in and getting it done all week long.  Here's hoping I can keep that up a bit longer!

Monday: Rest.  I've decided to replace my Monday stretch/strength days with full rest days for the remainder of training.  Now that my long runs have gotten...long, I feel like it is more helpful for me to rest the legs on Mondays rather than working them out in some other way.  (Also, I hate strength training, so this decision was not hard to make...haha.  I KNOW I should do more of it.  I know...)

Tuesday: 4.5 miles, easy pace.  Nothing major to report.  I went out at 5:30am, threw in some hill work for good measure.  Felt good!  9:37 pace.

Wednesday: 8 x 400 intervals at 5K pace.
  With my cold finally gone, this was the first speed session in a while that actually felt good!  Difficult, but good.  I was able to keep to a jog between all the intervals except the last three (I walked for the two slow periods between those).  But I kept 5K pace for all 8 and felt like a strong-arm emoji at the end.

Thursday: 3 miles easy pace.  I woke up, looked outside, and wanted to cry, because there was SNOW on the ground!!  Ugh.  Temps were hovering right near freezing and I was afraid of ice (my Stabilicers are officially retired until next winter), so to the treadmill I went.  Pretty decent for a treadmill run.  9:54 pace.  I also started watching the documentary Fed Up while running, which made me never want to eat sugar again...haha.

Friday: Rest.  I know a lot of runners that see rest days with disdain (because they'd rather be running), but I LOOOOVE rest day!  Because as much as I love running, I also love not waking up at 5am.  :)

Saturday: 5 miles @ race pace.  This run rocked my socks!  First of all, because I looked like a ninja:

I like to refer to this as my Claire Underwood running outfit (for the House of Cards fans out there).  My husband asked me if I was going to a funeral, and then I ended up running past an actual funeral at the cemetery near my house, which was awkward.

ANYWAY.  The weather was in the 50's, beautifully sunny, and by the second mile, I was able to tell (without checking my Garmin first) if I was going too fast or too slow vs my intended 9:45 pace.  I ended up with a 9:39 average pace by the end (NAILED IT!).  Holding that pace is definitely taking more effort as the race pace runs get longer, but I am really glad that these are part of my training--probably the the most valuable training that I'm doing this time around, if I had to guess.

Sunday: 10 mile long run.  I loved this run.  I was nervous about it in the morning--my stomach was not feeling great when I woke up (thanks to imbibing a bit more wine than intended the night before with friends...and also that hot sausage sandwich for dinner did me no favors), but I ate my toast and peanut butter, sipped on my water, and was feeling good by the time I left.

I experimented with nutrition again during this run.  Since I plan to eat something every 45 minutes during the race, I decided that today I would take 2 different food options with me.  At the 45 minute mark, I tried a caffeinated Gu Roctane gel.  Aaaaand commence immediate stomach cramps...noooo!  I started gulping water like crazy, and thankfully the cramps subsided.  They did come back occasionally (especially around the 7 mile mark), but never amounted to anything, thank goodness.

At 1:30, I ate half of a Honey Stinger caramel waffle.  Only half because I got so annoyed with trying to chew it, that I decided it wasn't worth it to finish!  I know several of you said you use the waffles as pre-race fuel right before the start, and after this experience I do agree that that might be the way to go.  It tasted good (almost like a Dutch stroopwafel!), but was a complete pain to eat mid-run.

Despite the stomach cramps, this run went great.  I kept a pretty steady pace, and even though I was getting sore by the end, I had a good amount of energy left in me.  I had negative splits for almost every mile (not by a lot, I was trying to keep it slow), and the fastest mile was #9.  10:20 average.  Can't ask for anything better than that!  And woohoo for double digit miles!  I haven't done that since my half last year.

I am linking up again with Weekend Update at Running 'N Reading (a fantastic blog for runners and readers alike!!).  Check it out!

How was your running week, friends?

What's your favorite time of day to run?  And do you often get to run at that time?

I love running in the early afternoon (I feel better hydrated/fueled at that time than I do early in the morning), but really only get to do that on Saturdays.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'M FINALLY DONE! Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Title: Moby-Dick
Author: Herman Melville
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: 1851
Source: received as a gift many moons ago!

Summary from Goodreads

In part,  Moby-Dick  is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author's lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor,  Moby-Dick  is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

My Review:

Time to be corny!

Moby-Dick was my white whale.  (Ba-dum-ching!)

Seriously though.  FOUR months to finish it?  Oy vey.  But it is done.

Why did I feel such a compulsion to read this classic novel?  I'll chalk up a lot of it to the fact that I grew up in Connecticut.  Because of course, every Connecticuter (Connecticutian?) born before the early 90's has a deep, soulful connection to the HARTFORD WHALERS!
What can I say.  My little state does not get much in the way of professional sports teams, and then they TAKETH IT AWAY.  So sad.

Anyway, the other thing is that I'm specifically from southeastern Connecticut, very near Mystic, which is home to the Mystic Seaport, a "living history" museum that chronicles a lot of the whaling history of the region.  Any kid who grew up in southeastern Connecticut went on AT LEAST one field trip to Mystic Seaport while they were in school.  Which means you toured a whaling ship and learned a lot about...whaling stuff.  All very relevant to Moby-Dick, RIGHT?!?!?

So I'm sure these are all important reasons why I made myself hang with this book for the first third of 2015.

Honestly, as time-consuming as this book was, it really was not a bad read.  Yes, there are some boring parts.  There are entire chapters devoted to whale anatomy and the proper dismantling of a dead whale and other such valuable whale-type knowledge.  There is also a lot of soliloquizing.  These sailors really like to listen to themselves talk!

But beyond that, there is also an interesting story.  Captain Ahab--you've all heard of him, but the guy is truly bonkers.  His journey to find Moby Dick is crazy and arrogant and foolhardy, which makes for excellent reading.  If you've ever heard anyone talk about this book over the years (and you likely have), you pretty much know what's coming from page 1.  But to watch it unfold is entertaining.  Figuring out Ahab, his fellow sailors, and the twists and turns of the journey itself, is certainly enough to keep you engaged.

There's also a lot of deeper meaning re: the arrogance of man, duty/honor, etc. but I'll let you hit up SparkNotes for that.  :)

I'm not going to try to go any deeper in my review about a book that's already been reviewed (and essayed, and analyzed) a billion times.  The question is, is Moby-Dick a book that you should pick up right now?  As always, it depends on what you're looking for.  If you want a classic with lots of subtle meaning, something that moves a bit slowly but still has an engaging story behind it...and you can stand all of the long-winded sections about whale biology, then I say, go for it.  I'm happy that I was able to experience this novel, despite the time it took to complete.

Have you read Moby-Dick?  For an assignment, or for fun?  Like or dislike?

This book is part of my 30 Before 35 list...woohoo!  It was also a pick from my TBR Book Baggie, so I took this opportunity to choose the next book from my bag.  The next one will be...

The Interrogator by Glenn Carle!

Stay tuned, hopefully I will get to it soon!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: Mid-Run Noms

Let's all lip sync some Jovi, because OOOOOOH, I'M HALFWAY THERE!!

Week 6 of training for the Mystic Half Marathon is done...6 weeks left to go!

Total distance for the week: 24.05 miles

Let's talk about mid-run fueling!  Fun, right?

This was a big concern of mine as I trained for my half marathon last year.  That was the first distance race I'd done that was long enough to require me to intake food mid-run.  I was nervous about this, because I have a terribly sensitive stomach, especially in relation to running.  I have had many a long run that leaves me in a fit of stomach cramps and bathroom trips for the rest of the day after it's done.  I tried a few different fueling options before last year's race, with not many favorable results.  I tried two caffeinated Gu's during 2 different long runs (both of which gave me almost immediate, horrific stomach cramps during the run), and one non-caffeinated Shot Block pack, which had better results.  So that was what I used on race day...though I admittedly got distracted during the race and did not eat enough of them (yet another mitigating factor to my less-than-favorable finish).

However, I want to explore more options this time around, because in hindsight, I suspect that my problem with the caffeinated gels was due to user error.  Specifically, that I didn't take in enough water after I ate them.  They say right on the package that you need to hydrate like cray-cray after ingesting, which I kiiiiiiind of did, but I also have this fear of having to take too many bathroom breaks if I drink too much, so I likely under-did it with the water.

I stopped in to my local Fleet Feet on Friday to grab a few options:

Two are caffeinated (a Honey Stinger gel and a GU Roctane gel), three are uncaffeinated (a Honey Stinger waffle, a regular GU gel, and a pack of Shot Blocks...the same ones I used last year at the race).  I decided to try the caffeinated Honey Stinger gel this week during long run.  Keep reading to see how that went (I know you're dying to know).  ;)

Monday: Rest.  I tried to do some strength work, but I was still recovering from last week's nasty cold and did not get much done.  Also, since my husband had to work late, I had to do it while my kids were awake.  Small Fry tried to do the exercises with me ("Mom, why do we have to do planking for so long in a row?  Can I just do it laying down while I play with my cars?") while Tater Tot jumped on my back during push ups.  Great fun!

Tuesday: 4 miles, easy pace.  I was still feeling unsure about my lung capacity (this cold would.not.die.) but this run went surprisingly well.  4 easy miles in the 37-degree pre-dawn darkness, 9:39 pace.

Wednesday: Rest.
  My cough came back somethin' NASTY Tuesday night, so I promised my husband (and my mom, who was visiting) that I would take a rest day for additional recovery time.  Ho-hum.

Thursday: 3 miles easy pace.  I wasn't feeling up to doing Wednesday's skipped tempo run yet, so I kept to the easy Thursday run instead.  Not bad, still feeling less than 100%, but 10:01 pace wasn't terrible.

Friday: 40 minute tempo run.  Finally feeling fully back to myself by Thursday night, so I tried the tempo run Friday morning.  It was...hard.  Tempo/speed work is always hard for me though.  I ran easy for 10 minutes, then upped my pace slowly until I hit 10K pace around 25 minutes, held that speed until the 28 minute mark, then brought it down slowly until I finished at 40 minutes.  As much as I want to die of sweat saturation on the treadmill, I am thankful for it, because it forces me to keep the pace I want for tempo runs and intervals.

Saturday: 4 miles @ race pace.  I was SO excited for a race pace run Saturday morning.  Overall, it went well in the end, but it suffered early on from a case of Too Much Technology.  I set my Garmin's Virtual Pacer (a feature I had never used before) to 9:45 so that it would keep me on my race pace.  The VP beeps at you throughout the run to let you know if you are behind/on/ahead of your desired pace.  I thought this sounded super helpful...right?

Uhhhh...I learned quickly that the pacer annoyed me more than anything.  In the first minute or two, when I was still finding my stride, the darn thing was beeping at me every 5 seconds.  Then, once I thought I had hit a good pace, it suddenly started telling me I was way ahead of pace.  I looked down and saw that it was registering me at a 7:00 pace.  UM, NO?  I think I would know if I was running almost three minutes faster than usual.  I waited a minute to see if it would fix itself, but it didn't.  I finally stopped, paused the Garmin, then started it again.

At first, it seemed it may have fixed itself, but then I got the opposite problem: it started beeping and telling me I was behind pace, running at 12:30.  Again--I think I would know if I was going that slow.  I checked my Nike + (which is hard to do mid-run) and it confirmed that I was running closer to a 9:35 or so.

By the 3rd mile, I finally decided that I needed to just ignore my watch entirely, and try to feel out the race pace by myself.  Kind of a bummer (why did I buy this watch in the first place??) but whatever.  It did seem to fix itself by the last mile, but by then I had pretty much figured out the right speed on my own.  I ended the run at 9:34 average pace (confirmed that on Nike + as well), so I did well...I just wish I didn't have such a distraction from my Garmin for the first half!  No more Virtual Pacer for me, that's for sure.

Sunday: 9 mile long run.  An awesome long run this week!  I got up early to down some peanut butter toast (fuel of champions) before I left.  Plus, I needed time to gear up.  9 miles is when I start taking my Nathan hydration pack with me on runs, because 1) I feel like I need more water at that point, and 2) 9 milers are when I start to use mid-run nutrition, which has to be chased with a lot of water.

I ran my September half with the hydration pack on, and decided afterwards that hydration pack + armband for iPhone made me feel too unwieldy.  So today I decided to try just putting the iPhone in the back pocket of the pack.  This was okay, except for the fact that it meant I had to start Nike + on my phone well before I started running (because I then needed to actually get the pack on my back).  No biggie I guess, because I also had the Garmin for accurate tracking.  But could be a pain on race day.

Anyway, run started out great.  Had to stop for a bathroom break at 3.7 miles (the Tim Horton's in town is starting to just expect me there on Sunday mornings).  Then, moment of truth: tried my caffeinated Honey Stinger gel at 4.6 miles.  Got it down no problem (I love no-chew nutrition), chased it with a boatload of water.  Waited nervously for the after-effects.

And thankfully: there weren't any!  Around 6.2 miles I got a very small stomach cramp that had me feeling like OH NO, HERE WE GO, but it went away and was never heard from again.  I really attribute this to me taking in a LOT more water after I ate than I did last year, so yay for that.

I finished the run at a good pace (10:06 overall) and my fastest mile was #7, which made me happy.  The Honey Stinger definitely kept me in the game.  Plus, I got home just in time for Small Fry to run at me, grab my face, and scream, "DADDY MADE M&M PANCAKES!!!!"  So it was a great morning for all.
He was really stoked.
I should have mentioned WEEKS ago that I've been linking up each week with Weekend Update at Running 'N Reading (a fantastic blog for runners and readers alike!!).  Check it out!

How was your running week, friends?

What's your favorite mid-run nutrition option?  What do you like the least?

Where the heck do you stow your iPhone during runs/races??  Especially those of you taking photos along the route.  I have no idea how I would ever be able to do that with my armband...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The White House + Downton Abbey = The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower

Title:   The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House
Author: Kate Andersen Brower
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family. 

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.

Combining incredible first-person anecdotes from extensive interviews with scores of White House staff members—many speaking for the first time—with archival research, Kate Andersen Brower tells their story. She reveals the intimacy between the First Family and the people who serve them, as well as tension that has shaken the staff over the decades. From the housekeeper and engineer who fell in love while serving President Reagan to Jackie Kennedy’s private moment of grief with a beloved staffer after her husband’s assassination to the tumultuous days surrounding President Nixon’s resignation and President Clinton’s impeachment battle, The Residence is full of surprising and moving details that illuminate day-to-day life at the White House.

My Review:

I have such a fascination with life in the White House.  It started with a conference I attended in Washington DC as a junior in high school (any other NYLC alumni out there??), and then was fully exacerbated by my love for one of the all-time best shows on television...that's right, WEST WING!!
How I adore a good West Wing walk-and-talk.
I am happy to say that The Residence definitely gave me my White-House-insider fix.  I've read my fair share of political biographies/autobiographies that give the nitty-gritty on the political work that occurs within those walls.  But this is a completely different side of White House life.  Brower interviewed many of the butlers, maids, chefs, etc. that worked for first families from the Kennedys to the present day.  I was afraid that the narrative could fall too far into the category of tabloid fodder--digging up dirt on the first families for the sake of entertainment.  (You may remember that this is exactly how I felt about Ronald Kessler's In The President's Secret Service .)  However, I was delighted to find that that was not the case.

The interviewees in Brower's research did reveal some personal stories about the first families, but nothing particularly shocking or damning.  In most cases, these stories just lent a bit of emotion and intimacy to the descriptions of the workers' everyday responsibilities.  Instead, the employees focused much more on revealing the hidden machine behind what makes the White House tick--the hard work of the White House staffers that keep the lives of the first families moving along, even at the most chaotic of times.

The dedication of these staffers amazed me.  Many of them spent decades at their White House jobs, often to the detriment of their family lives, but always with the best interests of the first family in mind.  Brower delves into not only the way these employees felt about their jobs, but also how they interacted with the first families, how they dealt with the racial issues within the White House, and how they handled their work in the midst of chaotic international events (9/11, the Kennedy assassination, etc).

I did feel that some of the chapters bounced around too much--the gathering of information from so many different sources seemed to create many points in the book where random anecdotes would be plunked in among other stories that were only tangentially related.  While this did distract from my reading of the book at times, it wasn't a huge detractor from my enjoyment of it as a whole.

The Residence is an excellent Downton-Abbey-esque view of life at the White House.  If that sounds like your cup of tea, then this is the nonfiction for you.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Kate Andersen Brower on Twitter.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: The Confidence Buster

Week 5 of training for the Mystic Half Marathon is complete...and it was a doozy!

Total distance for the week: 21.33 miles

I mentioned at the end of last week that I got a cold and was having a bit of a rough go.  I thought it was nearly kicked by last Sunday, but I was most certainly wrong.  The Cold From Hell stayed with me all this week, and made working out a major struggle.

Was it a head cold or a chest cold?  I couldn't really tell.  Should I stop running entirely until I was 100% better, or just rearrange the week and go easy on myself without skipping workouts?  I ended up doing the latter, and while I'm glad I was able to get all of my miles in, I was left with a week of running that basically kicked my confidence down the stairs.

Monday: Rest.  Today was supposed to be a stretch/strength day, but I took it off completely for some extra recovery time--MUCH needed.  My core training for the day consisted of non-stop coughing.

Tuesday: 4 miles, easy pace.  This run sucked all the way around.  I felt good early in the day, so I thought I'd be fine for a late afternoon run.  Unfortunately my chest congestion came back, and I ended up running slower than usual (9:59 avg), started coughing on the last half mile, and just overall did not enjoy being out there.  Blah.

Wednesday: 3 miles, easy pace.
  This was supposed to be speedwork day, but no way I was trying that yet.  I did Thursday's workout instead.  I thought I felt up to it beforehand, but yet again was left with a disappointing run that I struggled through, mentally and physically (10:06 pace this time).  The one saving grace was that I did it on the treadmill, so I didn't get as much coughing afterwards from cold outdoor air.

I know I was only a few days into the week, but by the end of this run, I was really stomping myself mentally.  How am I going to PR a half marathon if I can't even run 3 miles with confidence?  When was the last time I jumped above 10 minute miles on a 3 mile distance?  Thoughts like this plagued me all day.  It sucked.

Thursday: Rest.  I took Friday's rest day and moved it to today, in the hopes of finally kicking this thing.

Friday: 7 x 400 intervals.  By Thursday night, I really was finally feeling quite a bit better.  I told myself I was going to get up Friday morning and just kill it.  I even left myself this really super positive note taped to my treadmill:
Edited the language for delicate eyes.  Aren't I just so nice to myself?
You can also see my hash marks for counting my intervals.  It's hard to keep track of 7 intervals at 5:30am.
This was not my most amazing speed workout, but I got it done.  I did okay for the first 3 intervals, but during interval 4, I really and truly thought I was going to puke.  I usually do a slow jog between intervals, but after #4 I brought it down to a walk, and considered giving up the last three.  However, I decided to give them a go (with walks between intervals instead of jogs) you can see, I wasn't able to push myself very hard for the last three sprints, but I got them done:
(I did a walking cooldown at the end, but turned of my Nike+ as soon as the last interval was over)
This is one of those workouts that I'm not sure if I should have just skipped it for the week, or if it was good that I pushed through it (even if I wasn't at optimal condition).  But either way, it's done.

Saturday: 8 mile long run.  Friday afternoon, I found out that we were leaving for my in-laws for the weekend on Saturday morning.  Normally, my long run is Sunday, but my in-laws live in a super not-runner-friendly area (very high speed limits, almost no shoulder on the road, lots of blind turns, etc).  Plus, it's very rural, so running in the early-morning dark would have been really creepy for me.  The thought of trying to do 8 miles there was painful.  So I decided to cap off this not-great week of training with an 8 mile long run at 5am before we left for the trip.

Surprisingly--it went okay.  It was slow (10:22 avg pace) but a long run can't be too slow, right?  I went easy on myself and felt pretty good by the end.  My cold was FINALLY feeling nearly gone by this morning, so this was a better 8 miles than I was expecting.  Huzzah!

Sunday: 3 miles easy pace.  This was supposed to be Saturday's workout, so I did it when we got home from my in-laws instead.  I was feeling 100% better by this point, and told myself that I needed a run to help me get my confidence back--even if it meant I went a little faster than "easy".  I ended up with a 9:21 average pace, and that was with 3 pretty decent hills mixed in.  I was tired when I got home, but I felt GREAT.  I'm glad I pushed it a bit.  I think I needed a run solidly below the 10 minute pace mark to make me feel (mentally more than physically) like I was getting back on track.

Lessons learned this week:
1. I probably need to give myself an extra rest day or two when I get sick, instead of pushing myself too hard.
2. I have some work to do on my mental game--a few sub-optimal days during illness shouldn't be able to completely derail my confidence in my running abilities.

Let's hope that Week 6 brings a turnaround, both mentally and physically!

How was your running week, friends?

Do you tend to (mentally) beat yourself up pretty easily, or do you have a bit more mental fortitude than I??

What are your tips for keeping up confidence during a rough training week?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of  King Lear . Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from  Star Trek : "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition,  Station Eleven  tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.  

My Review:

A novel in which everyone (well, almost everyone) dies of the flu!  As a low-grade germaphobe, this book review is brought to you by my favorite little friend, Waterless Hand Sanitizer.  Which I have been using a lot more of since I read this book.
Don't leave home without it!
Anyway...another well-hyped, new-ish novel!  I just can't stay away from the New Releases shelf at my library the last few months.  Plus, this one won The Morning News's Tournament of Books (think Final Four for books) this year, so that's saying a lot.

I suppose that Station Eleven could be summarized as an apocalypse novel.  Catastrophic flu, 99% of the population dead, bye bye Internet, etc.  If you're into that sort of reading, you'll certainly find it here.  However, that simple description also does the book a bit of a disservice, as it has a lot of the literary merits that might be lacking in a more action-based novel.  It's not entirely an Oryx and Crake, or The Road, but it's also not The Hunger Games or Feed .  Somewhere in the in-between.

I loved this book.  Mandel wrapped me into the post-apocalyptic world that she created right from page one, and I never wanted to put the book down once she did.  Though truthfully, I'd be lying if I said that it left me feeling happy at the end.  Bereft would be a more likely descriptor.  There's just so much sadness to process here.  Of course, you have the devastation of the pandemic, but then there's all of the interpersonal relationships between the characters--lots of divorce, death, abandonment, violence.  Don't get me wrong, the book is amazingly well-written, it's just not a feel-good story by any means.  I was deeply affected by these characters by the end of the book, flu pandemic or not, which says a lot about the quality of the writing.

I can't pinpoint the one thing that made this book great for me.  It's just all of it...the alternating storylines (which cover both pre- and post-pandemic), the world building, the story-within-a-story (as the title comes from a comic book that is introduced in the novel)...this book is a puzzle that Mandel put together perfectly.  I can't think of an adult fiction reader who this would not appeal to in some way.  (Unless a germaphobic-reader-who-only-loves-happy-books is out there...then by all means, avoid.)

Station Eleven.  Read it.  Love it.

Be honest, people--based on your survival/sanitation skillz, what are your chances of surviving the flu-based apocalypse??

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: Ridin' Solo

Happy Easter, friends!  Week 4 of training for the Mystic Half Marathon is donesies!

Total distance for the week: 20.19 miles

I'm pretty new to the world of running blogs (I just started following a few when I started this weekly feature 4 weeks ago), but one thing I've noticed is the large number of runners who consistently run with a partner (or partners).  As you may have noticed, I am not one of those people.  99.9% of my runs are done solo.

My friend Mandy will tell you that I almost have a phobia of running with others (in a non-race situation).  It's kind of a joke between us now.  When she first realized that I run, she offered to meet up with me for runs tons of times.  I gave excuses every time, until I finally 'fessed up that I just feel better running alone.  I can think of a few reasons for this:

1) I am kind of a late bloomer to running (didn't start until I was 22, and even then I didn't get "serious" about it until I was closer to 27-28) and before that point, I was never under the impression that I was any good at it.  I had a friend in high school who was a bit of a track star, and he happened to be at the track one day when I was making a halfhearted attempt to start running before I left for college.  He made a lot of probably-well-intentioned-but-not-well-received remarks about my awkward running form...aaaaand that was the last time I ran in public for a good 3 years.  I've obviously improved since then, but there's a lot of self consciousness there.

2) I am always afraid that running with others will cause me to a) have to slow way down in order to keep their pace or b) slow down the other runner because they are faster than me (the more likely scenario).  Again, this is based on personal experience, as I went running with 2 friends once in college who I could tell about 5 minutes into the run were completely annoyed with my slow pace.  And again, it was the last time I ran in public for quite a long time.  Even though a lot of time has gone by since then, I just don't want to have to worry about matching my pace so much during runs.

(Reading this back to myself, I am realizing I have an awful lot of confidence issues with running!  Maybe I'll talk more about that next week...)

Anyway, nowadays I have gotten better at running, but I also have the added factor of time: running with others would require me to meet up with them somewhere to run, and 9 times out of 10, I am bolting out my front door to do my runs in the neighborhood in the tiny amount of time that I have commute required.  However, I have reached a point where I would love running with others if I could.  I think it would push me a little with my pace, and also give some nice conversation to these long runs!  We shall see.  Mandy is currently 26-ish weeks pregnant, so I'd have to find some others willing to come along.  :)

Anyway, on to my workouts!:

Monday: Stretch and strengthen.  I didn't get to do quite as much as usual, because my husband was out of town all day (successfully defending his doctoral dissertation proposal, woohoo!), so I had to do my workout quickly, after Tater Tot and gone to bed and Small Fry was watching some cartoons on my phone.  I laid on the floor to do some crunches and he joined me:

I did get my usual planks, push ups, squats, etc. in, just no Jillian Michaels like I usually try for.

Tuesday: 3.5 miles, easy pace.  9:34 pace outside in the evening, felt great!  Nothing too remarkable to report.

Wednesday: 35 minute tempo run.
  On the treadmill.  I learned during my last tempo run that I was better off doing all speed work (not just intervals) on the treadmill, much as I dread it.  My pace is too hard to consistently control when I'm outside--the treadmill keeps me on track.  This was a tough workout for sure!  I built gradually up to 10K pace and held it for a couple minutes before cooling down.

Thursday: 3 miles easy + strength work.  IT WAS 66 DEGREES TODAY.  I wore SHORTS.  It was AMAZING.
Chillin' in my shorts post-run.  Do not zoom in on that photo.  My legs are in a questionable state of shaved-ness.  Give me a break, it's only April, I've been hibernating since November.
Only downside was the 30mph wind gusts that alternately made me feel like I was standing still, or flying (depending on if they were in front or behind me).  But I will take it! 9:22 pace (9:02 for the first mile, word?) which was a little faster than usual, but I just felt great.  No sense fighting it.

My strength work consisted of my usual stuff, except I also ended up unexpectedly doing a few planks with a 35 pound child on my back.  So that was fun.

Friday: Rest!  And thank goodness, because Thursday night is when little Tater Tot developed an ear infection (read: no sleep for anybody).  By Friday morning, Small Fry and I were both coughing like crazy.  A good day to skip on the running.

Saturday: 3 miles easy pace.  Feeling a little better than Friday, but it was still 3 miles with a head cold.  Blerggggg.  I almost skipped it, but forced myself out the door.  Slow for real at 9:52 pace, did not feel great, but I got it done.

Sunday: 7 mile long run.  You know it's going to be an interesting run when your pre-fueling plan includes a Sudafed 1 hour before run time.  Yeah, I was not feeling super before this run either, but I knew I wanted to get it done anyway.  I read somewhere that as long as your illness symptoms are from the neck up, you're okay to run...and so, out I went.  I kept my pace very slow though, and really made sure not to aggravate my cold symptoms.  In the end, I felt awesome!

The run started in the snow (WTF, snow?), but thankfully it stopped about 2 miles in.  Just me and a lot of wet roads.  I had to stop at home around the 5 mile mark for a quick bathroom break (also took time to throw down a few jelly beans, because EASTER), which probably explains why my last two miles were the fastest.  I ended with a 10:07 average pace, and honestly felt phenomenal when I got home.  My stuffiness had lifted a bit, and I had zero soreness.  Perhaps I need to learn from this and go easier on myself during ALL my long runs.

And with that, week 4 is done.  Here's hoping this cold finishes with me soon, I have more running to do!

How was your running week, friends?

Do you tend to run solo, or with friends?  Any particular reason why?

Do you run when you get a cold?  Or are you a good little patient and take a few days off?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Did Someone Say Bradley Cooper? Serena by Ron Rash

Title: Serena
Author: Ron Rash
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: October 7, 2008
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:  **kind of spoilery**

The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband's life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons' intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.  

My Review:

I gave a spoiler warning for the book description on this one, because when I read it after finishing the novel, I realized it basically outlines the ENTIRE thing, except maybe the last 10 pages.  What's the fun in that??  Read the first two sentences of the description and that's enough to get you started, I'd say.

Serena is the latest novel chosen by my MOMS Club book club.  We decided to choose a book that is being/has been turned into a movie, so that we could both read and watch and then compare.  We had a lot of good options on our final voting list, but let's be honest--we all knew the ladies couldn't resist a Bradley Cooper movie, AMIRIGHT??

We have yet to see the movie (I'm still not entirely clear when it's being released--apparently this was a real disaster of a film project?), but having recently finished the book, I'm sure we'll have plenty to discuss!

I'm happy that I didn't read the entire description of this book beforehand, because I was able to go into the novel with a fresh look at all of the characters.  On page 1, I loved Serena.  I thought she was one seriously bad-ass bitch (especially given the Depression-era time period), and I couldn't wait to see what she had up her sleeve.

The book moved a little slow after those initial pages, but bit by bit, I started to see what Serena was really all about.  First I just had some doubts about her, but then...well, they became much more.  The best part of this novel is definitely watching Serena's layers unfold.

Another plus: I like how the author occasionally relayed the story from the lumber workers' perspectives, especially when Serena and George did something...unsavory.  It gave an outsider's view to their actions that made the narrative much more colorful.

Overall, I'm happy to say that this book was a hidden gem for me.  I wasn't expecting much (especially because I had never heard of it before my book club voted for it), but it's an excellent story with some truly twisted characters--much more of a psychological thriller than I thought I would get from this historical fiction novel.

What's the last book-to-movie adaptation you read?  How did the movie compare?
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