Archive | May, 2013

We run BOS

28 May

To celebrate our third anniversary, Alex and I stole away to Boston over Memorial Day weekend (to read my post on Memorial Day check out: MainlySocialWork: Memorial Day). As I had never been to Boston I had no idea what I would want to do when we got there… other than run. I did know for sure that I wanted to run in Boston.

We stayed at The Fairmont Copley Plaza. As we got ready for our trip we researched the hotel. Neither of us had ever stayed at a Fairmont, but we figured there would be some plush amenities since Fairmont owns The Plaza in NYC. We were correct! In addition to the view of Copley Square, the hotel boasts a rooftop health club, a Canine Ambassador named Catie who you can take for walks or runs, and a fitness apparel program called Fairmont Fit.

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I was super excited to try out the Fairmont Fit program, which allows you to borrow running shoes, workout clothes, a yoga mat and resistance band, and an MP3 player for use while staying at the hotel. I emailed the concierge ahead of our arrival to reserve running shoes, apparel and an MP3 player for Alex and I. After a few false starts (they only brought Alex’s the first time, couldn’t deliver mine the second time because we accidentally left the Do Not Disturb sign on the door when we went out, and then once again only brought Alex’s the third time), we both headed out for a run in our borrowed apparel. Here is a quick review of the amenity: Alex did not like his shoes, or more aptly, Alex’s calf did not like his shoes, and they didn’t have shoes in my size. We both liked our shirts, but neither of us liked our shorts, and my socks gave me a blister. And we never did get that MP3 player. In short, if you’re at a Fairmont, just bring your own gear. The baskets they delivered it in were cute though; I’ll give them that.

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Though the Fairmont Fit program turned out to be a bit of a flop, the hotel definitely supports runners. Between the plush gym, the apparel loan system, the pup you can make an appointment to run with, being located directly adjacent to the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Copley Square, and the pocket size running map with 2 highlighted suggested routes available at the front desk, they have runners covered.

Sunday we took our Fit apparel on the road using the 2.5-mile run on our running map. The run took us along Constitution Avenue over to the Boston Public garden, around the park, and back to the hotel. We lengthened our run beyond 2.5-miles by running through the park. After checking out the wedding parties having their photos taken in the Commons, and looking at the Swan Boats we went to find the statue based on the book “Make Way for Ducklings.”

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Monday was our last day in town, so we capped off our trip with a 5-mile running tour (compliments of our running map). We ran along the Esplanade, Boston’s version of Philly’s Schuylkill River trail, which hugs the Charles River. We crossed the Harvard Bridge and ran along the Cambridge side of the river, crossed back at the Museum of Science Bridge and looped back around the public gardens. As luck would have it, we (literally, ha!) ran into fellow running friends from Philly who were also out for a run in Boston on the Esplanade. Seriously, what are the chances?

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We had a great time in Boston, we hung out with my best friend from elementary school and Alex’s best friend from college, went to a museum, did the touristy things like having a beer at the Cheers bar and having New England Clam Chowdah at Faneuil Hall. We ate Pinkberry frozen yogurt, which we wish would open a location PHL, walked past Fenway Park, and watched the Bruins win against the New York Rangers. But on the whole, it was a weekend of running. We walked through the Boston Marathon memorial setup in Copley Square, we tried a fitness apparel program, I bought a running t-shirt at City Sports (we have one in PHL, but it was started in BOS!) and we ran everyday. My goal for this trip was to run BOS, and we did.

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MainlySocialWork: Memorial Day

25 May

Note: The musings on this blog will, generally speaking, be about running and other physical well-being topics.  However, as a social worker and aspiring change agent, I will occasionally use this space to discuss relevant and topical social issues. These posts will be identified with MainlySocialWork in the post title.

As with all holidays, the start of Memorial Day brought with it social media postings to queue up the celebrations. Yesterday my dad posted a picture on Facebook of a woman weeping at (I’m assuming) her husband’s grave. The subtext of the photo was “Memorial Day: In case you thought it was national BBQ day.” It got me thinking. This weekend your Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter pages will fill with messages of “Support our troops” and “If you love freedom, thank a vet,” but what does that really mean?

This coming year I will be doing my social work field placement at Project HOME, a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that fights homelessness. I have been placed at a recovery house that provides transitional housing for homeless men with a primary diagnosis of substance abuse. Of the 24 beds in the residence, 12 are reserved for homeless veterans with drug or alcohol abuse issues.  The fact that half of the beds in this facility are reserved for homeless vets highlights two significant issues that our veterans face: high rates of homelessness, and high rates of substance abuse.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans roughly 13% of America’s homeless population are veterans. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that on any given night more than 62,000 veterans do not have a place to call home. It is also believed that another 1.4 million veterans are at-risk of becoming homeless. Some of the reasons that homelessness is prevalent among our vets are poverty, lack of social networks, dismal living conditions, substance abuse, and mental health issues [1].

Substance abuse issues among active military and returning veterans have been on the rise. A recent study screened Army soldiers 3-4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq. The study found that 27% of soldiers surveyed met criteria for alcohol abuse [2]. Drug and alcohol abuse often accompanies other mental health disorders. In a society where mental health disorders are still stigmatized it is common to self-medicate with illicit drugs rather than seek formal mental health treatment.

Current standards for mental health evaluations for active military require screenings 6 months before deployment and three times after deployment. As protocol currently stands, mental health screenings are not required while in-theater [3]. A new defense bill proposed for 2014 will, in addition to the screenings already in place, require mental health screenings every six months for deployed troops. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) originally sponsored the Military Mental Health Empowerment Act because, “We are quick to diagnose and treat service members who are injured in combat, with medics rushing to those who are struck by enemy IEDs or gunfire, but when it comes to the mental health challenges placed on our service members, we abandon them through months of deployment to deal with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts” [3].

These suicidal thoughts are important to note. When we think of the soldiers that we lose each year we readily call to mind those who’s lives are taken at the hand of the enemy. What doesn’t quickly come to mind are those who take their own lives. In 2012 more soldiers committed suicide than died in combat. We lost 1 active military member to suicide every 17 hours in 2012 [4]. In 2013, the trend is continuing, from January to April of this year we lost 161 active-duty troops, reservists and National Guard members to suicide, or one every 18 hours [5].

So this Memorial Day, I ask you to remember the messages “Support our troops” and “If you love freedom, thank a vet.” But I also ask you to remember that supporting our troops and thank vets does not just mean going to a parade to remember those who have fallen, or putting the American flag in your front yard. It also means questioning the status quo and lobbying for better care of our active service personnel and providing better access to support and care for those who have already come home. As another article put it, this Memorial Day “after you thank a veteran, also ask ‘how are you doing?’” [6].

These are the men and women who fight for our country, who protect our land, and provide for our freedom. They willingly offer up their lives to protect ours. They do not deserve to live on the street; they do not deserve to suffer in silence.

If this message resonates with you please pass it on. We need to get the word out, and what better time to do so than Memorial Day?

References:

1. http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/

2. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/substance-abuse-among-military-veterans-their-families

3. http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20130524/BENEFITS06/305240024/Bill-would-require-mental-health-checkup-every-6-months-deployed-troops

4. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/us/baffling-rise-in-suicides-plagues-us-military.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

5. http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/23/18447439-one-every-18-hours-military-suicide-rate-still-high-despite-hard-fight-to-stem-deaths?lite

6. http://www.militarymentalhealth.org/blog/2012/05/this-memorial-day-ask-a-vet-how-are-you/

Tools

24 May

I’m not always big on data. Data can be skewed and can be used to support whatever story is convenient at the time. That being said, I love data when I run. I want to know how far I’ve gone, how long it took me, and what my pace was in the process. When I first started running I refused to run outside because I felt out of control. How would I know how fast I was running, or how far I had gone? So in the beginning, my only tool was the treadmill.

But as time went on the irony was not lost on me that I was training for outdoor races by running inside. I was also getting frustrated by the usual annoyances of gym workouts: the time it takes to get there and back, the crowds in January that led to lack of treadmills, and the fact that it was always so freakin’ hot in there. I wanted to break out, I needed to break out. It was time to run outside.

If the biggest concern I had for running outside was lack of data there was a simple solution. I mean, Apple commercials have been saying it for years: “there’s an app for that!” I was still apprehensive, because I have yet to see an app that you can program to not allow you to run any faster or slower than XX miles per hour, but if I wanted to get outside I was going to have to give it a go. So I downloaded a whole bunch of iPhone apps, and tried them all until I found some favorites.

Here are the main “tools” in my running tool kit:

1. GymPact: http://www.gym-pact.com/

This app allows you to make a “pact” of how many days you’ll work out. If you don’t meet your “pact” you pay a predetermined amount of money (between $5 and $50) per time you missed. You can check-in via GPS at the gym, or count running, biking or walking with the RunKeeper app (you can also track your exercises anywhere by wearing or holding your phone while working out, but I haven’t tried that yet).

If you make your pact, you get a cut of the money that those who did not complete their pact have to pay. So over the past year and a half or so I’ve made around $75.00. The real “win” is that it’s keeping me motivated to exercise, but free money is nothing to shake a stick at!

2. RunKeeper: http://runkeeper.com/

There are countless apps that you can use to track mileage/distance/pace/time. In my time running with apps I’ve tried Nike+, Map My Run, Runtastic and RunKeeper. In all honesty, for the most part they are all very similar. I use RunKeeper because it syncs with GymPact, and not for any other reason of superiority.

3. Google Map Pedometer: http://www.mappedometer.com/

RunKeeper is great for keeping time, and it syncs with GymPact, but it’s not super accurate in measuring distance. Sometimes it’s close, and sometimes it’s WAY off, and being running data obsessed that just won’t do. So after my runs I put my route into Google Map Pedometer and figure out EXACTLY how far I went.

4. Cool Running Pace Calculator: http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/4/4_1/96.shtml

As RunKeeper often lacks accuracy when it comes to distance, its pace calculations are automatically wrong. In order to figure out pace I use CoolRunning.com’s pace calculator once I figure out the correct distance on mappedometer.com.

What do I do with all this data you ask? Well, until recently, nothing really. It always felt important to see it, but I never wrote it down or compared it to much. But that is about to change! As I get more serious about running, I need to keep tabs on how I am actually doing. So I am instituting a tracking system. I created an Excel spreadsheet to track my weekly stats. I will be tracking running mileage, times, and pace; biking mileage; number of times per week I strength train; and weekly weigh-ins and measurements. The spreadsheet is full of formulas to add up weekly and monthly totals. Here is an example of what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 12.40.00 PM A few other apps/tools that get a shout out are:

Run 5k – interval training coach + stretch program: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/run-5k-interval-training-coach/id313494823?mt=8

There are plenty Couch to 5k apps available in the app store. This is the one I used, and I liked it well enough. The main things to look for in a Couch to 5k app in my opinion are the number of times per week you run (this app is 3), the number of weeks in the program (this app has 8), and whether or not it has audio cues for when you should be running vs. walking (this one does).

Pandora: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pandora-radio/id284035177?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D2

I like music when I run, but sometimes my playlists feel stale. Pandora is great for creating a playlist on the fly when I’m too lazy to come up with a new mix.

The good old-fashioned tape measure and scale: There are no links for these, so just pull them out of your closet/bathroom/sewing-kit.

What tools do you use? Any favorite software or hardware (technological or old-school pen and a pad)?

 

Enough

22 May

I find that I spend a lot of time wondering if I am “enough.” For example, I’m often plagued with thoughts like “I am not productive enough,” “I don’t work out enough,” “I don’t eat healthy enough.” Enough, enough, enough.

I learned in my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) class that these thoughts are called “Cognitive Distortions.” These thoughts let you jump to conclusions, assume the worst, and don’t let you see the truth about your life. In other words your brain is selling you a load of crap. The definitions and titles of each cognitive distortion vary slightly depending on which source your using (Psychology Today published a list of 50, while Aaron Beck and David Burns list 15). In my CBT class we called the “enough” thinking “Making Demands: Should, ought to, must, have to.” But you might also find this simply labeled “should thoughts.”

So basically, a common thought process in my brain is: “I should be using the time before I leave for work productively, and go for a run and read for school, otherwise I’m just wasting time” and when I don’t use my morning productively and lie in bed surfing BuzzFeed I think: “I’m not good enough because I’m a lazy loaf who stayed in bed.”

Even though I know that believing that I am a lazy loaf for staying in bed is irrational and that getting up to run in the morning does not make me a better person, I am happy to report that this morning I fought off me-who-doesn’t-want-to and ran before work! (Honestly, me-who-doesn’t-want-to is a cognitive distortion too, it’s a “negative prediction.” I believe I won’t be able to do as well as I did last time, so I figure “why bother?”) Running before work made me feel good. It didn’t just make me feel good because I felt like I was “enough,” it made me feel good that I set a personal goal and achieved, and achieved it for no one other than me.

We all have these thought processes. Some do it more than others. Having cognitive distortions doesn’t mean you need to head off for some CBT, but understanding how your thinking affects your feelings (which influence your behavior, it’s all cyclical) can help you be kinder to yourself. Because no one needs to beat themselves up over a few extra Gawker and BuzzFeed articles or one too many games of Scramble with Friends.

Who would have thought that my social work training would be so applicable to my running!

I hate running…

16 May

I hate running. Ok, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic. I don’t hate running, I just sometimes hate running. On occasion. Perhaps more frequently than I’d like to admit… you know, since I write a blog… about running.

So, I’m going to bite the bullet and put it out there: Sometimes, on some days, I hate running. On those days I can think of about a 1,000 things I would rather do than lace up my Asics. Even the things I actually do hate (much to my husband’s chagrin), like folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher sound more appealing.

Then enters the mind games. You know those internal conversations you have with yourself. Mine usually go something like this:

Me: We should go for a run.

Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To: I don’t want to. I think we should sit on the couch.

Me: But, we like to run, we even blog about running.

Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To: I like sitting on the couch WAY MORE than running. Do you even know me?

Me: The runs we don’t want to do always end up being the best runs, let’s do it, you’ll like it!

Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To: I feel like that’s a big ole lie. What do you take me for? A five year old? Next I bet you’ll try to bribe me.

Me: There are cupcakes in the kitchen, but you can only have one if you go for the run….

Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To: What kind of cupcakes?

Me: Chocolate-peanut-butter

Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To: Fine. I’ll get the shoes.

That particular internal convo worked out alright… but, sometimes Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To wins. Then we sit on the couch. Then I feel guilty. And worse than the guilt, when it’s time for the next run, Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To tries to convince me that because we skipped the last run we really shouldn’t even bother tonight. You know, because we’ve undone all of the training we’ve done up until now. This run will obviously suck too.

Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To is a bad influence, and I’m going to have to figure out a way to send her packing. Give me some tips on how you combat your inner Me-Who-Doesn’t-Want-To in the comments!

Bike Lanes

3 May

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If you live in a city, you are probably aware of what I would like to call the Transportation Wars. If you’re a driver, you hate the pedestrians, and you really hate the cyclists. The cyclists hate drivers and pedestrians. Pedestrians hate cars and cyclists. Everyone has an opinion, and not just an opinion, a strong opinion.

As someone who walks a fair bit, drives some, and has begun to ride more frequently, I find myself on all three sides of the triangle. When I’m out for a run, there is nothing I hate more than that person who sorta stops at the stop sign, and then nearly hits me. When I’m in the Prius, god help me, or them really, if someone jaywalks in front of me. And don’t get me started on cyclists who ride on the sidewalk. But, as someone who partakes in all three forms of transportation, I do try to be mindful when I’m cursing pedestrians from the Prius, that when I’m the pedestrian I’m usually cursing the drivers. That being said, there is one thing that I really hate, one thing that really makes my blood boil, and that is: misuse of bike lanes.

I know some people, many people in fact, are not fans of cyclists. I also know that a lot of cyclists bring that upon themselves. Some do things like blow red lights, ride on sidewalks, and swerve in and out of traffic. And don’t use hand signals. So when Lucy and I are out and about, we try to be an upstanding representation of the cycling community. I wear a helmet, I use hand signals, and whenever possible I plan a route with bike lanes.

This is what bike lanes are for:

• People on bikes, in motion.

This is what bike lanes are not for:

• Cars going around a stopped vehicle

• Car parking

• People to stand in while waiting for buses

• Taxis to wait in

• People to walk through while jaywalking

• Bikes that are not moving

• Dogs, or animals of any kind

• Pretty much anything that is not a person, on a bike, in motion

In closing, bike lanes are meant to keep cyclists out of the flow of traffic and while keeping cyclists off sidewalks. It’s a win-win really. Traffic doesn’t have to slow down, and folks on the sidewalk are safe. It also lessens the likelihood that a cyclist will get hit by a car. So really, it’s a win-win-win. But this win-win-win only works, when things other than moving cyclists stay out of the bike lanes.

Please and Thank You.