Making the Trail by Running

I've been lax in blogging because I didn't want to leave a trail of minutia. I'm two weeks into a new semester, and the most adventurous thing I've done is grill meat 6 of the last 7 nights. Cooking with fire! It makes me proud to be at the top of the food chain.

But I spent some time today reflecting on my year. 2011 has been full of adventures, and it's been easily the best and hardest year yet. My nerves were stripped away at so many junctures--in LA for MLA, during campus visits, the waiting, the packing, the house repairs, the selling, the moving, the starting. And every time it became uncomfortable, J. would say, "This is what you came for. This is the celebration. You've trained for this."

It reminded me of a run I was on last year, as I trained for my first off-road 10K. It's a controversial statement, but I'll make it: Trail running is harder than road running. (A better way to say it: trail-running is a different kind of hard compared to road running.) Your attention is constantly focused ahead of you, you're scanning the ground for obstacles (of which there are many), you're shifting your body weight, powering up hills, pounding down them (sometimes sideways, sliding). I was running at Hastie Natural Area, a tight single-track trail with lots of rocks, about 3 miles long. And unless it's been dry for weeks, it's always a little damp. Between November and March, it's particularly tough because you can't even see the roots and rocks.

Hastie in the winter. Good luck finding the trail.

I always run with some kind of mantra. Last year, it was "Don't hurry. Don't worry. Trust the process." (Also my diss mantra.) Running at Hastie was so hard, though, I had to step it up: "Cut corners in training, you'll pay on race day." Count of two, breath in; count of two, breath out. Four full strides.

The Panther Creek Off-Road 10K (part of the Montrail Series) represented a PR for me. I'm a slow runner under the best conditions, and off-road running is naturally slower. Unlike most road courses, you're not looking for even (or negative) splits or consistent pace times because the terrain is so unpredictable. At a different race,  the officials rerouted parts of the course because a storm the night before had washed out parts of the trail, and there was standing water over 2 feet deep. (They would have kept the course, I think, if there had been only a foot of water.)  I remember feeling very light the day of the 10K, but the last mile was a slog: a long, steep uphill. I remember feeling like my lungs would collapse and my calves would explode (lots of climbing at PC), and that day my mantra was, "This is what you came for." I wasn't scared or frustrated (even though I was Dead Last Finisher), but confident and excited. And in pain and gasping. And Dead Last.

I can see threads of my physical training in my new start. Grad school: the Hastie Run (x 7 years). Having the opportunity to start this amazing new job with brilliant and kind colleagues: the race-day event. The metaphor falls apart some there at the end, but I think there's some point to it beyond the obvious. Of course grad school trains you for a job (in most cases, I think).  But it's this beauty in the struggle--both of training and racing--that stands out to me, the celebration of learning and growing and building something. Being okay with making mistakes and having bad days and feeling out-of-kilter because I'm new and learning the ropes. But I feel now like I did at Panther Creek: calm, confident, excited to be there. I  have this overwhelming sense that I'm ready for this, that this is what I've trained to do.


Falling Into Place

The first week of a new semester always leaves me with mixed emotions. I love the promise and opportunity of new classes of students, of 15 weeks full of writing and learning and thinking. I hate the shuffle of getting down a new schedule and learning how my biorhythms match up (or, as often happens, don't) with my obligations. I'm always mindful of my time, how I use it, and how I can better take advantage of my body's natural ebb and flow of energy. This recent article on Prof. Hacker detailed just how sensitive we are to gradual changes in our daily routines.

Learning my best work flow hasn't been easy. It wasn't until my third year of doctoral study that I realized I wasn't like most of my friends. Staying up until 2 a.m. to read and write was just painful. Sleeping until 10 a.m. made me cranky and sore, and I found that I couldn't think clearly for a full two hours after waking. The lifestyle of the lone, night-owl scholar held no appeal.

As Golden Girls as it sounds, I started going to bed at 10 p.m. I was in pajamas and reading by 9:30. Going to bed so early meant that I could wake at 6:30 or 7:00 without much difficulty, so I could get to my office by 8:00. I kept banker's hours, and I found that I could take weekends (yes, full weekends!) off, as long as I kept my 8-5, Monday-through-Friday schedule. It didn't appeal to many of my colleagues--just as their late nights didn't appeal to me--but I found that my work schedule was as intimate as my writing process. It had to be tailored to me. 

So this last month has been a process in refining my new work schedule, and things are falling into place. I go to bed by 10:00. I'm up by 6:30 and in the office by 8 or 8:30. I have a pretty cool YMCA 4 minutes from my office, so I can clock in my 8 or 9 hours and then go to the gym.Some days (today) it's a practice in self-talk to get there, but I usually go, and I'm usually glad that I do. I sleep better on the days I work out, and the stretching and strength and core work keep the sore shoulders and back at bay.

 New semesters are always tough, and this one is made a little tougher by the addition of new job responsibilities and a new space, but knowing how my mind and body respond to time has eased the transition.  


Unironic YMCAing

I'm a huge YMCA fan, and not in an ironic, retro tee-shirt kind of way. I sincerely love their mission and the atmosphere of their facilities.

I had it pretty good at the Knoxville Downtown YMCA. It was built in 1929, and they've kept the original facade and many of the interior fixtures. They even kept the old velodrome-style banked running track suspended over the gym. (30 laps = a mile. That's right. 30.) This place just has style.
Built four years before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened.

I visited the Y maybe 3 or 4 days a week during the spring and summer, more often during the winter. People started to recognize me. I had regular Y-friends and friends-from-school-turned-Y-friends. Erin, the fitness director, is 100 percent committed to her job, and she makes it her business to improve the lives of the members. The vibe was supportive without being stifling, and I really enjoyed my time there. I was in such a hurry to move that I forgot to empty my locker and left behind some (fairly expensive) bike shoes. They held my shoes and my lock for me. That's class.

As soon as we moved to Raleigh, I joined the Alexander Family YMCA, the main branch of the Triangle Area Y, just down Hillsborough. This building is well appointed, and I understand that it's recently been renovated. They teach more classes than the Knoxville YMCA, probably to service the campus + downtown crowd, and the only class I haven't been able to get into (because of space) is yoga.

The instructors at the Alexander Y are intense. They pay close attention to every participant and make corrections in form while also (enthusiastically, I'll say that) cheering everyone on. I attend fitness classes to have the  luxury of mentally checking out. In the past, this disengagement has led to a lot of work without much reward, since I'd be so checked out that I wouldn't do much beyond going through the motions. It's uncomfortable to be called out when I'm obviously phoning it in, but it's also beneficial. I hope this kind of hands-on instruction will take my fitness to another level.

 A different kind of retro
I'm still working out my weekly schedule, but I'm excited about the possibilities.  Class rotations begin at 5:30 a.m. run until 7:30 or 8:00 most nights. They offer sports- and fitness-specific courses (5 or 6 different yogas, a few different spin classes, a triathlon class). I would like to see a course along the lines of BodyAttack or BodyPump, but their circuit training class (45 intense minutes) comes close without using any free weights.

Outdoor activities are my preference, but there are days when gathering gear and getting to a space just takes too much (time, energy, focus). Memberships are affordable, and if you're coming from another Y, you can get a "good standing" letter from the membership director to waive the $110 join fee. They offer childcare until 6 or 7 p.m., and the facilities are always clean and stocked. Towel service is offered, and both the men's and women's locker rooms have steam rooms and saunas. In settling into life in Raleigh, the Alexander Family Y has given me something familiar while introducing me to a new group of Y-friends.


Coffee Snob

I'm not one.

Until last year, I could claim that I had never purchased coffee from Starbucks. Their hyper-consumeristic image turned me off, but not nearly as much as their $5 coffee. I received a $10 Starbucks gift card, and so ended that streak. I still only get the Cafe Americano (usually too acidic for my tastes) and the skinny macchiatos. Their iced coffees are bitter and grainy.

I much prefer Bruegger's coffee--iced and brewed--to Starbucks. And beyond purchasing coffee, I much prefer making my own. It's a frugality thing, but it's also a "I don't have to rely on you to have what I want" thing. I need a few constants to lean on.

I've owned every make and model of drip machine out there, from the cheapie-cheapies (Hamilton Beach produces a decent $20 maker) to Bosch and Black and Decker (more bells and whistles without appreciable improvement in coffee flavor). I've had one-cup makers: the Senseo maker produces a nice latte-like froth, but it always tastes old; the Kuerig brewed either too strong or too weak, and I couldn't "pack my own pods" like I could with the Senseo, thus leaving me 100 percent at the mercy of the maker. Try to find K-Cups at midnight in Tennessee. It's not going to happen.

My coffee breakthrough happen in terms of time and temperature. I'm intrigued by the slow-food movement (though neither green-thumbed nor kitchen proficient enough to take advantage of it). My approach to coffee may be considered part of the slow-drink movement. It's not ready in two minutes. It can't make me a gallon of hot coffee in under 15 seconds. But what it can do is produce coffee that tastes like it smells, lasts three weeks (hello, savings), and boasts 60-75 percent less acid than regular hot-brewed coffee.

I started cold brewing with a rudimentary setup: two big glass jars, one kitchen strainer, and a coffee filter. I mixed fresh ground beans with cold filtered water at a ratio of 4:1. (The freshness of the grind is IMPERATIVE. The reason one-cup makers produce sub-standard coffee is because their grounds have been sitting for months.) That's it. The mixture sat in its glass jar for 12 hours, and then I strained out the grounds by pouring the contents of one glass jar into the other, using the strainer with a coffee filter. (It sometimes took two pours to get out all the grounds.) The resulting coffee was pungent, sweet, nutty, and it *tasted* like brewing coffee smells. For hot coffee, I used the brew as a concentrate and mixed it 3:1 before microwaving. (Cold-brew coffee is less acidic than hot brew, but its caffeine content is far higher.) I didn't dilute for iced coffee.

Here, I'll pause to note that I have GERD and have to watch the acid in my food. Tomatoes, chocolate, teas, coffees, and sodas have to be monitored and restricted. Because cold-brew coffee is much less acidic than hot-brewed coffee, I can have more of it, and it lasts longer. I always hated pouring out half a pot of brewed coffee because it had been sitting for a few hours. I've successfully reheated cold-brew a week after making it.

As cost efficient as the two-jar method was, it was clunky. I don't like counter clutter, and these jars were big. Recently, though, I started using my cheapie french press to cold-brew my coffee, and it's the best solution I've found. My french press is nothing special. It came from Target, and I think it was $20. Ironically, I've been grinding Starbuck's breakfast blend (it was on sale). I always grind the beans course (so they don't slip through the mesh), and I store my beans in the freezer.

It's red because that's all they had. It looks like Christmas on my counter.

So far, so good. Tomorrow's batch will be the second one through, and the first batch overbrewed by about 18 hours. Even too strong, it was more flavorful than bitter, and I found that I could enjoy it most iced and cut with some cold water.

I'll still likely grab a Bruegger's iced coffee now and then. I like the spaces, and I like the experience. But cold-pressing coffee--even if it does take 12 hours--offers a different kind of experience, where time, materials, and chemistry combine to make something rich and enjoyable.


Ankle Twisters: Garner Rec Park

We moved to Raleigh on the 4th of July, and we've only gotten to explore a handful of new recreational places. Jason's been to Umstead State Park, we ran once at Lake Benson, and today, we visited the Garner Recreational Park. I had some concerns about moving from Knoxville--where the parks were plentiful and maintained--to a more sub/urbanized area. Our tiny old house on Hillside was perfectly situated between two parks: Hastie Natural Area (3.2 miles of top-notch off-road singletrack, slick rocks, and some short but steep climbs) and Ijams Nature Center (probably 2 miles of rolling, not-technical single and double track). I could be at the trailhead of either park in under 4 minutes. Trail running and mountain biking had become an antidote to the shifting stacks of paper. And there was something cathartic about doing it in the Tennessee summer.

Raleigh has parks. Lots of them! But we live in Garner, about 6 miles from the city center and maybe 20 minutes from the biggies. We set out to find a park that was both trail running and bike friendly. (They are not all so oriented, not by a MILE.)

Garner Rec Park is just that: an all-purpose recreational facility. There are tennis courts (lighted!), two baseball diamonds, the requisite playground, bathrooms and showers, and a neatly kept parking area. While the greenspaces are bordered on every side by high-traffic roads, it was possible to get submerged enough to pretend to isolated. (We passed people only at the trailhead, two men on bikes who confirmed that Umstead is the place to go but that GRA is pretty okay for local stuff.) The trails were unmarked, a major flaw, as new trails seem to be cut pretty often. The city website lists only 2 miles of trails, but we counted about 5 miles, and I don't think we hit every offshoot. The trails aren't well-maintained, or if they are, the litter-getters aren't doing such a great job. (Who litters in a PARK?)

Points lost for the lack of signage and the litter are gained back with unexpectedly technical trails. MTBers have obviously been there, because trails are cut to take advantage of natural features and to increase interest. The trailworkers have also been careful to cut work-arounds for most of the "difficult" features. Some trails were rooty ("Ankle Twisters"; see, this is where not naming each trail hurts), and I can imagine they'd be tough in the rain. (But GRP warns those on bikes to not ride the trails when they're wet, which is probably why they're in better shape than most, see also: Haw Ridge.) What I didn't expect was the complete lack of rocks and the omnipresence of pinecones. Never underestimate the trickiness of running on a trail with pinecones.

I liked GRP, and I'm sure I'll be back. Door-to-door travel is something like 10 minutes, which is acceptable. I can string together 5-mile loops, and it's shaded enough to be comfortable. I'm sketched out by the lack of signage, so I won't be running there alone until it's fixed (Jason's already working on emailing the city about volunteering to do this) or until I know the trails well enough to not get lost. It's more of a running-place than a biking-place because it's on the small side, but I think it would suffice for a short, close-to-home ride. (There isn't much elevation change, but it would offer some skills training.) I am grateful to have this little park so close to my new home!


Not an Origin Story

Welcome to my new blog, 16 Points!

This space picks up where "Dissertating is a Verb" (fedukovich.blogspot.com) left off. The two blogs have a few things in common: adventuring, movement, theorizing the everyday.Since I'm not dissertating anymore, it didn't feel right to continue chronicling my experiences as a new Assistant Professor at NC State in that space. "Dissertating" helped me fathom the experience of writing a book. I hope "16 Points" helps me balance the work/life thing that we read so much about as new TT faculty.

Something I've become increasingly interested in is the Life of the Body. We attend, in academics, to the Life of the Mind. My mindwork is often solitary and static: lots of sitting and typing and reading.

As I slogged through one bad week of diss writing last summer, I realized that I outlined chapters while I ran. At the time, I was trail running between 10 and 25 miles a week. The distance isn't any grand achievement, but the terrain was gnarly, often wet, and featured dramatic elevation changes. (Tennessee is pretty high on my trail-running list, right behind West Virginia, in terms of difficulty.)

During my hour or two on the trail, I'd switch between wondering if my lungs would collapse and strategizing my next writing day. This mind/body connection isn't new or even that particularly interesting, but it did strike me that the talk about keeping our bodies healthy (in grad school, particularly) falls away in favor of mind-care. To be a productive scholar, I had to be physically active. Beyond the activity, I needed immersive sensory input that allowed me to problem solve. I ran (though not usually on the paved trails), paddled (flat and moving water, usually fresh), mountain biked, and hiked. By honoring and remembering the world outside my office, I was able to produce more in it.

My plans for this webspace cover a great deal of ground (already with the travel metaphors):

1. Detail and review local (Raleigh, NC)  and not-so-local adventures. My definition of adventure is very broad.
2. Clear space for dialogue on new academic projects. Vet these projects with anyone willing to read and respond.
3. Act as a drop-off point for interesting links.
4. Coordinate with other adventurers.

The blog's title refers to the 16-point compass. While I've always been able to focus on a path, I like the idea of striking out without a plan, but with some solid tools to guide me.