Life of Megan

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Arts and crafts

My running is on hold; my wedding is only a year away; and I am desperately trying to keep my fingers busy to avoid picking my nails. What's a girl to do? Art projects, naturally. My new interest in D&D has brought about an interesting hobby--painting the pewter miniatures used to represent the characters on the battle map. These miniature figurines are generally about 1" - 1.5" tall and have detailed features, making painting them a good and time-consuming challenge. So far, I've painted the two minis related to the campaigns I play and have started painting a third for one of Judson's characters. I will post pictures when I can get my hands on Jud's digital camera.

Meanwhile, I once again became interested in calligraphy and have espoused the idea that I can at least hand-address my wedding invitations. I have tried calligraphy several times over my life, and I've never had too much success. This time, I think I have a better chance. I have a new key weapon: the book Left-Handed Calligraphy. I have learned that I should be using special "left-oblique" nibs! So far, I have been practicing with my old calligraphy markers (for righties), and my uncials look pretty good. Soon I plan to progress to the Foundation alphabet, which should be a good base for the other alphabets I like. Michaels, A. C. Moore, and the Cornell Store don't carry left-oblique nibs, so I had to order them online. It'll be fun to see how things go once I get the right equipment.

I've watched a few episodes of New Yankee Woodshop on PBS, and now I wish I had a woodshop. I think carpentry and the desire to build things runs deep in my veins. As a kid, I used to watch This Old House and New Yankee Woodshop every Sunday. I had a toolkit and access to scrap wood in the basement. My dad was always building neat stuff. I was generally stealing wood from the good (and forbidden) pile to make my boats and birdhouses. Those were the days! Maybe if Jud and I buy a real house, I can have my own workshop. I don't think Jud would take well to my playing with tools that could easily take off my fingers, but it's hard to say.

Well, that's all I have to say about my art projects for now. I wish I had a drafting table (with its user-friendly angled writing surface), but that's something I should be able to acquire easily some day or at least to emulate. Now I'm going to head out for a long walk. *sigh*

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cheap wine!

Every week, I read the New York Times "Wine of the Times" articles and think to myself, "Yeah, right--like I'm going to pay $35 or more for one of these wines that weren't even rated 'excellent'." But wonderful something happened recently--the reviewers are trying out more frugal options. Last week, it was rioja blanco (turns out I was incorrectly correcting spautz on the spelling!). This week, the article (registration required, yada yada yada) covered wines that cost less than $10. And the result? The review board was thoroughly impressed.

As it turns out, I had to run some errands in the vicinity of our best wine shop, Northside Wine and Spirits. Naturally, I thought it might be a good idea to search out some of these good, cheap wines. I printed off the article, recycled the pages that didn't have the wines listed, and walked confidently in the store. (I may be 24 years old, but I find I have to sign ledgers and whatnot unless I can make them believe I'm at least close to my age). As luck would have it, I couldn't find any of the wines listed in that particular article except for the Veramonte sauvignon blanc, which I already enjoyed a few months ago. I did pick up the $7 Marques de Caceres 2003 white rioja that I've heard good things about lately. I've already tried the rose by the same producer (80% tempranillo/20% grenache--delicious and cheap!), so I think it'll be good. I then sought help. I put myself on the call list for their next shipment of the expensive but supposedly excellent wines from Condrieu (N. Rhone--viognier), bought an Alsatian Grand Cru Gewurz, and found another budget wine to try out in place of the Vidal-Fleury.

So here's what I bought:
  • Marques de Caceres white rioja, DOC, 2003 ($7)
  • Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles, Appellation Cotes-du-Rhones Controlee, 2003 ($8)
  • Albert Mann Furstentum Vielles Vignes Gewurztraminer, Appellation Alsace Grand-Cru Controlee, 2000, ($28)
Jud and I shared the Jean-Luc Colombo last night, and it was heavenly. Smooth, good tannins, great balance, strawberries and earth tones. Mmm.

I will update this post as I get home to see the actual vintages and check the labels and as I try the wines! This is it for now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Signs from God?

Thursday night, I was ready to defy doctor's orders and restart my running routine (albeit slowly and with fewer miles) to help me keep my sanity as I wait for my next round of doctor's visits to roll around. I planned to get up early the next morning and coast along for 2 miles or so, taking more frequent walk breaks than normal. Later that night, I stubbed my little toe, causing it to bleed profusely, and (I think) to break). Broken little toes are no reason to go to a doctor; I bandaged, buddy-taped, and hobbled on my way. They do, however, hurt enough to keep me from running for a while.

Sunday, a bunch of us were having the old debate about whether we can really have free will if God is omniscient. I don't think it's a big deal. There are several possibilities. God could simply know us so well that he always knows what decision we'll make. God could see all possible choices, their consequences, and future choices that would arise as one huge web involving multiple people. It really doesn't matter. I can know what's going to happen without actually affecting it. I know my mom won't stop for Burger King on the way home from the YMCA, even if she's really hungry and has been craving a Whopper for months. But I'm not the one telling my mom she should pass up the opportunity. For that matter, God could give us free will, and then change the situation to force us to make a different decision. Maybe this is what happened with my toe. I practiced free will, God was like "Hold there a minute" and changed the situation. I still have free will. The weightings behind my decisions just changed a bit.

Anyhow, as all this has been going on, I've been debating whether I can really go to Martha's Vineyard for a few days with Judson later this month. I really haven't gotten as much work done as I'd like, but I've wanted to go to the Vineyard for years, and a few days won't really make a huge difference in the long run, except I might come back more motivated and more relaxed. Yesterday, my September (!) edition of Runner's World arrived. Each month Runner's World has an article about where to run in a particular region. September's location: Martha's Vineyard. Maybe it's not a sign from God, but it's good enough for me. =)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Make like a Smurf...

Jud recently discovered that my lips and fingernails turn blue when I am out doing hard or long runs. He mentioned this a few times; I blamed blue Gatorade. Then, earlier this week, I got back from a run where I only lugged water with me, and my lips were still blue. I decided this was probably something worth investigating and called the nurse at Gannett, Cornell's health services building. The nurse didn't seem concerned, but I decided I should probably get checked out just the same.

I went in to see my buddy Dr. Hughes the next day. They took my blood pressure, temperature, and had me do a peak flow test to see how my asthma was doing. My blood pressure was high, but I was feeling really nervous and had just finished off a large mug of coffee. I also started on a decongestant recently. I decided I had better address this problem first.

Dr. Hughes came in and said "Okay, why don't you tell me about your concerns, and then I'll tell you about mine." I won the guessing game, because my first concern happened to be his only concern. (Doctors never read your list of symptoms/complaints before coming into the room. I think you only list the complaints to the nurse because the doctors don't take good notes.) We discussed my family history and drugs for a while, and I finally got around to what was really bugging me--the blue lips. Now, I don't know if you've ever experienced this, but there are certain things a young, healthy person can say to a doctor that visibly shake them. "I have a migraine that woke me up and hasn't gone away for 48 hours" is a good one. "My lips are turning blue when I'm out on runs" works even better.

Soon I was given an EKG and whisked down to another floor to get bloodwork and a chest x-ray. Everything seemed normal so far. They did a pulsox, a test that measures the oxygen saturation level in your blood, and it was fine. I learned I have a small, insignificant heart murmor. The hypertension couldn't be responsible for my symptoms, but I have to change medications and get it checked out periodically before we decide if it was a fluke of nerves and decongestants or if it's an actual problem.

After almost 90 minutes of testing and waiting, I got sent down to the nurse to schedule an exercise echocardiogram, better known as a stress test. Somehow, they got me in at the hospital the following morning.

So Wednesday I went to the hospital, waited with people who were at least fifty years older than me, and got called to the lab. They covered me with electrodes and carefully explained the entire procedure. Then we got a pulsox (100%), blood pressures (resting, standing, and hyperventilating), and did the resting echo. My heart looked great, and they decided they wanted to give me contrast to see one part better. To do that, they first had to make sure I didn't have a large shunt in my heart. It turned out I have a very small one, a problem common to 10-20% of the general population. Later, I learned that up to 50% of migraine sufferers have small shunts (PFOs), so that was interesting. Anyhow, we got the contrast in, and the colors on the echo flipped, which was pretty cool. An echocardiogram works much like ultrasound on a pregnant woman. All the electrodes were for the EKG that would be going as I was on the treadmill.

When you are a young, otherwise healthy runner, they do not give you the treadmill portion of the stress test the same way they give it to other people. Oh, no. That would be too easy on me. They started me at a fast walk at 10% incline. Every two minutes, both the incline and the speed increased. They wouldn't let me use my inhaler before the test. I still managed to last 15 minutes before they decided my pulse was close enough to my maximum heart rate that they should stop the test (you have to hold your breath afterward, so it's hard to get you to your max because it just wastes your energy). Over the course of the entire test, my pulsox plunged 8%, which is "abnormal," but might only have happened because I didn't have my inhalers. At one point, my pulse was around 144, and I decided to try to slow it by 10 bpm. I had it all the way down to 136 when they decided they needed to make the test harder a little early.

My post-exercise heart also looked great. So, as far as we all know, my problem is pulmonary or some other "peripheral" problem, as the cardiologist mentioned.

I now have an appointment to see a pulmonologist to try to figure out if the cyanosis is related to my asthma, and my doctor still wants me to have a regular visit with the cardiologist.

For now, I'm not allowed to do any exercise that might cause my lips to turn blue. In a way, I think it's a good thing because I had been training a little too hard, but I am also frustrated. Running is my major method of dealing with stress and sorting through my day. I feel confident that this whole thing will be cleared up soon. I don't think I could run 17 miles at a stretch if there was anything seriously wrong with me, and at this point, my heart has essentially been cleared. I hope they let me get back to training within the next few weeks!

Until then, just call me Smurfette. =)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Free couch!

My advisor sent everyone in our group an e-mail earlier this week letting us know he had two sofas he was giving away free and would be sending to Salvation Army if we didn't claim them. I thought I had to act quickly to claim them and replied right away. As it turned out, the other guys in my lab weren't interested. The couches would be mine.

This brought up one small problem: transportation was up to us. We researched U-Haul. They have a rental place in Ithaca. Problem solved. We brought Jud's roommate Mike along, since he's 25, just in case. The rental cost us $20 plus $0.79/mile. The three of us squeezed into the cab (three seatbelts made this seem like a good idea) and headed over to Dr. Zabaras's house.

I don't know where Dr. Zabaras was, but his wife Beatrice, who's really nice, was out waiting for us. She helped us get them loaded in the truck and treated us to lemonade.

Now we are the proud owners of a sleeper sofa and a love seat that are both in excellent condition for a total of $37. They aren't ugly, but I'll probably want slip covers for them eventually.

Here's the sleeper-sofa:

And the love seat:

Here you can see the setup from a distance:

Here's how we'll eat:

Maybe to really understand how great it is, you need to see how comfortable we are...

Here's Jud getting ready to play Guild Wars:

And now he's ready to play!

This was a great gift from my advisor and will be much appreciated when Jud and I finally get to live together. Fortunately, I spend enough time at his apartment to enjoy my new furniture. =)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Where and when should I do my long run?

I have to run 17 consecutive miles one day this weekend. It will be hot, so I'll have to get up early. Now my options are to run either Saturday or Sunday, and either in Ithaca or along the Outlet Trail.

Which day should I run? Well, Saturday is my typical long run day. It lets me rest and gives me ample time to cross-train on Sunday. When I do my long runs on Saturdays, I return to running on Mondays. On the other hand, the race was on Sunday, and now I am off by a day. I typically rest on Fridays, but tomorrow, I'll be cross-training 40-60 minutes in place of a 4-mile run (I want to take it easy tomorrow). If I run on Sunday, I will probably have more sleep, since I typically go to bed later on Fridays than on Saturdays. But running Sunday means I will have to run Monday as well (I have trouble maintaining a schedule otherwise).

Where should I run? The Outlet Trail will be more interesting, more sheltered from the sun, less hilly, and better on my legs. It is 16 miles out-and-back, so I would only need to run one extra mile. It's also a 45-minute drive from Ithaca. Running in Ithaca is more convenient and lets me sleep later. On the other hand, I'd be more exposed to the sun and would have to contend with more hills.

Please help me decide. I get tired of making these decisions for myself. =)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Big day at the Boilermaker

The day began at 3:15 am. I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, put on deodorant, took my medicine, and managed to put in my contacts without poking my eyes out. So far, so good. I spread Bodyglide over every area that has ever chafed and threw on my running clothes. The coffee pot started brewing (automatic timers are amazing things), and I realized I had enough time for a mini-nap. A few minutes later, I was sipping coffee, checking over the directions to Utica.

At 4:15 am, I met up with Jud and Jordan, got everything in the car, drove a block to pick up Sally, and started the drive to Utica. We were there by 6:25 or so and had figured out where to park by 6:30. You would think that at a race with over 10,000 runners, things would be pretty busy 90 minutes before the start, but you would be wrong. The buses had just started arriving with runners who had parked at the finish line. We chatted briefly with the runner who parked next to us and got a feel for logistics. It turned out we had chosen a great parking spot. It was less than a five-minute walk to the packet pickup area. The four of us picked out a meeting spot and headed back to the car to smear on sunscreen, secure our chips, and try not to be nervous.

At 7:15 we headed back toward the starting area and joined the porta-potty lines. These were a bit intimidating. There were actually lines for the nearby woods. We made it though the lines just before we needed to line up for the start, so timing all worked out well. They went with color-coded bib numbers. I was dark blue--second from the back. I entered my corral at 7:45 and continued the search for my bib buddies. These are the people whose bib numbers are sequentially next to yours. I didn't find mine, but I did find someone whose number was only 4 away. Not bad. It was already hot, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. This race would be a boilermaker, indeed.

The National Anthem was played by a trumpeteer and sounded beautiful. Then we had an invocation and an introduction to our mayor. They announced we would be started using the blast of a cannon. I thought they were kidding. They weren't. Later, talking to Jordan and Sally about it, I learned Jordan had been standing near the cannon and had been wondering why all the nearby runners were covering their ears. Judson, who was nearby, said the historical re-enactors we had seen when we parked were the ones firing the cannon.

Ten and a half minutes later, I crossed the starting line. The race was on! The course followed rolling hills through the early miles as we enjoyed signs that said things like "Beer: eight miles that way!" The neighborhoods in Utica were having a competition to see who best entertained the runners, so locals were out enmasse to cheer for the runners. Everywhere, they offered nice treats like flavorice, popsicles, beer, and coffee. The nicest locals handed out ice cubes.

For weeks, I've heard about the huge hill runners must face between the third and fourth miles. This hill was along a golf course and had a nice downhill leading up to it. Looking out to my right, I saw the runners who were ahead of me going up the hill. It did look intimidating. As I approached the hill, however, I saw it wasn't bad at all. My training in Ithaca had paid off for me. This hill was just a slight incline, something to be muscled through quickly. The tricky part of the hill was getting around the other runners who were used to flatter conditions. For me, the reward for the hill, a long downhill portion of the course, was the most painful part of the race. The combination of steep slope and cambered road inflamed by IT band and actually allowed thought of DNFing to enter my mind. Knowing that you can't do real permanent damage to the IT band by running through pain, I pressed on, and the pain subsided.

Miles 5-7 were tough because there wasn't any shade anywhere. Starting at mile 6, there was a slight incline that lasted all the way through mile eight. Ordinarily, it wouldn't be a big deal, but with the sun, those two hilly miles seemed to take forever. As I approached each new mile marker, I saw that I was maintaining my pace, and this encouraged me to run harder. Just as the race and the heat were getting to me in the last 1.3 miles, someone gave me much needed encouragement and passed on that I was only about 0.3 mi from the finish. This turned out to be mostly true--I think I was actually 0.4 mi away--but it was all I needed. I ran strong through the end and finished within 30 seconds of my "if I had a perfect day" goal time. My final time was 1:35:24 for an average pace of 10:14 min/mi. After I crossed the line, I was awarded a very nice finisher pin. I'm not quite sure what to do with it, but if I get more of these finisher pins, I'll start a corkboard display.

After the race, I collected a popsicle, some orange wedges, some free Saranac beer, and my goody bag before finding my group's designated meeting spot. Jordan and Sally were a lot faster than me, and Jud wasn't allowed to go spectate at the finish line, so they were all there. Other than Jud's frustration with spectator management, all of us had a great time. The goody bags were also interesting. Normally, race participants receive cotton shirts with the race theme, which are then somewhat useless except to wear on casual days to show off the fact that you're an athlete (cotton being an eschewed material for running clothes these days). We Boilermaker runners, on the other hand, were given Boilermaker-themed pint glasses. This way, when I am drinking a beer and eating a burger, I can show people that I deserve to be eating like a pig because I run. Pint glasses also make excellent soda and water glasses, so no one is left out. And there are no sizing concerns to consider. Are themed pint glasses the race souvenir of the future? One can only hope.

We didn't stick around for much of the post-race party because as nice as it sounds, beer really doesn't taste that great after a run. Jud drove us back to Utica, stopping once to get some coffee and a donut. We spent the rest of the day in a zombie-like state, trying to get through our D&D session, eat dinner, and stay up until a somewhat reasonable bedtime when we were too sleepy to do any of these activities well.

All in all, it was a great race. Where officials made it difficult for non-local spectators to support their friends and family, they made it easy for the locals. There was more music along the course than there was at the Rock'n'Roll Arizona half marathon. The volunteers were helpful and friendly. And it was nice to say I ran with the Kenyans, even if they had passed the two-mile marker before I had even crossed the starting line. Next year, I'll be returning. But this time, I'm going to stay in a Utica hotel the night before.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Before the Boilermaker

The Utica Boilermaker is tomorrow. Because of race logistics, we are leaving Ithaca at 4:15 am so that we can arrive at the race by 6:30 or so. From there, we will be able to pick up our race packets and start waiting in the porta-potty lines, killing time until we arrive at the 8:00 start time.

This race is supposed to draw more than 10,000 runners, including a number of elite international runners. Kenyans have won the last several Boilermakers. The draw for Americans is the post-race party, which features plenty of free Saranac beer. The distance also makes the race appealing to runners training for marathons who like to run longer races as planning/pacing runs.

I am really happy and excited about the race because Judson volunteered to come along. I already convinced my friend Jordan to do the race so that I wouldn't have to go to Utica by myself. I picked up another carpool/running buddy, Sally, a Cornell student who needed a ride. I figured the start time would be prohibitively early for Judson. Besides, what would he do while we were running? But knowing how early we will be leaving and how boring the wait will be for him, Judson volunteered. It's great to know I'll have my own fan out there waiting for me, and it means so much to me that he wants to support my running and make sure I get back safely. This is a nicer gift than any flowers, chocolates, or teddy bears would be.

Well, I need to work on hydration and relaxation today. I'll post a race report tomorrow evening or Monday.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Passage from India

I share my lab with two Chinese guys and six Indians. They're all very nice and patient with my persistant questions that do little other than to prove I am incapable of correctly pronouncing Ganapathysubramanian, Pundar, and the Chinese word for "goodbye" and that I stubbornly refuse to believe that no Indians ride to their weddings on elephants any more. Sometimes, I learn about strange holidays that, say, celebrate reading by encouraging everyone to abstain for the day. This would never work in the US. Of course, India's president is a nuclear scientist. Culturally, they may be a bit nerdier than we are. I now know that Southern Indians have long last names because they like to incorporate the names of Hindu gods. Now, there are approximately one billion Hindu gods. This is seemingly because the same gods keep dying and being reincarnated as different gods. The population of India is also around one billion. So they could have one god each, but they share. Hindu religion classes must be complicated.

All the Indian guys attended the same undergraduate university, IIT. They all seem to agree that the hardest part of their education was working to get accepted there. They are all quite brilliant, but sometimes it's hard to keep up with them, especially when they get excited and start speaking too quickly for me to understand their accents, or, if they really feel passionate about the topic at hand, in Tanglish (Tamil + English).

So Sethu just sent me this article. The author has exaggerated a bit, but the basic themes are more or less correct. Enjoy!