Turning a new leaf over

Only minutes to go and it will be 2013.  This year has been a memorable one and I can summarize it into three important personal events: 1) turning 30, 2) getting my PhD and 3) getting my heart broken.

You may have noticed (or not) my inconsistent entries towards the second half of the year. You see, it’s quite difficult to write about what’s in your heart and mind when it is in pain.  It took a while for me to come to terms with it – the heartbreak, that is.  I decided to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I did love, I got hurt and it hurt really bad.  I saw this quote in one of my friend’s facebook page – the first line explains my heartbreak, the second is my wish for myself.

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There’s always a first time for everything and this is my first heart break.  I didn’t know that I would be affected so much by this… Outwardly, I carry a happy disposition, but internally, I am struggling not to dwell so much on what happened and to focus on the better things that  are happening.  But this struggle led to my deluding of the self that I am okay after what happened.  It only prolonged the inevitable – that I would eventually crumble my happy facade.  I couldn’t live a life like this, it was affecting my overall disposition – mentally, physically, spiritually.  It was important to acknowledge that I am not okay, that I was hurt.  This was an important first step to steer myself back to the path of happiness.

Now, that is past and we are turning over a new leaf, a new beginning.  And how apt and timely that I saw another friend’s New Year facebook status (thanks Mirang!).  I am so inspired but what she wrote and I quote her:

“The New Year, a fresh start, promises a hopeful beginning. And hope, they say, springs eternal.

But it doesn’t. Not really. It is inevitable to be disappointed when plans fall through, when people hurt us, or when we fail ourselves. In those instances, we find that our seemingly endless well of optimism dries up fairly quickly. And hope, hope withers away when there is nothing tangible to cling to.

So for the first time, I decide to begin my year not with hope but with faith.

Faith does not need reason to exist. It is illogical, often times improbable, even downright impossible. But when you have unshakable faith – whether it’s directed to a supreme being, a universal force, or to the intrinsic scientific order of the natural world – you surrender yourself to the possibilities that you cannot even begin to imagine for yourself.

This year, I will have faith that everything will work out as they are meant to work out. Faith that somehow everything will fall into place. Faith that I may not have complete control over every aspect of my life, but it will be okay.”

And there you have it.  I will face the new year with Faith.  It doesn’t need explanation nor reason.  You just have to have it.

Bring it on, 2013!!

For 140: The marathon in two photos and a short reflection

The training plan. It wasn't the best training ever (as seen by the X's - meaning runs I wasn't able to make), but this pushed me to give my best, given the other going-ons in my life - school, volunteer work, friends, family...


T-minus 140 till the big 3-0 and I finished my second marathon!  This was in Lowell, MA, the 23rd running of the Baystate Marathon.  It was definitely way better than the first one – it felt great overall, both physically and mentally.  I knew I trained well for it and I was confident going into the starting line, although I had nervousness and pre-race jitters the entire week before the marathon.  My battle plan was to just listen to my body and dedicate each mile to people who I care for deeply and to people who are a part of my New England life.  I ran without a watch and my ipod touch; my music was just the wind and random songs playing in head.  I had four fuel gels, my mile dedication list, my “let’s do this” mindset and my trust that the water stops will have the water and gatorade that I need.

The mile dedication list. I thought and prayed for each person during their particular mile. It really helped me a lot, getting "distracted" with thoughts of them and thinking about their well-being and praying for their heart's desires.

I was doing a 9:45 to 10:10 minute per mile pace based on my splits: 2:08:25 at 13. 1 mi (21.1km) and3:10:23 at 18.6 mi (30km).  Ideally, I could have pushed for an under 4:30 finish, however on my way to mile 20, the notorious “marathoner’s WALL”, I had a cramp in my left gastrocnemius.  I definitely had the wall alright, and the next 3 or so miles was a lot of struggle, mentally and physically.  I had to stop several times to shake off the cramp and stretch the muscles, and had to be satisfied with a walk-run-walk system (instead of walking only during water stops).  It felt like I let myself down for a moment, but thanks to my mile dedications, I was able to push myself and do it not only for me, but for the people in my list.  The mile dedications were also a great way to engage in my own communion of the saints, a Catholic belief that we are all one spiritual unit, and that a prayer for one resonates and becomes a prayer for others as well.  I may only have a person or two for a certain mile, but I certainly prayed for the people in their lives too, creating ripples of good vibes and prayers for them.  It really felt good doing that!  The cramp was coming and going, and eventually, I just told myself at the end of mile 23 that I will just have to close my eyes to this “tiny” discomfort and move my feet one in front of the other, doing a faster-than-walk-but-not-really-running pace.  After a final water stop at mile 25, I ran the best mile that I could at that present moment and finished with an official time of 4:50:42!  Wahoo!

143: I love run (ning)

(Originally written on October 13, 2011)

Three more days to go before the marathon.   The last two weeks I have been tapering down, and for this final week of training, I have two 5-mile runs which I have already done and a 3-mile run on Saturday.  I’m getting a little nervous and excited at the same time.  It’s been six years since I did my first marathon and I am definitely confident I am going to finish Sunday’s marathon with a faster time.  The first one I did pretty much on a whim, although I did that with a training group through Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program.  It was really helpful to be part of an enthusiastic group of runners, all doing it for the love of running and for charity.  Our running coach, Lori Muhr, was very supportive, and up to this day, I will always remember the tips and advice I got from her, from running your own pace and running your own race to R.I.C.E. to epsom salt soaks and cold showers after a long run.  If it wasn’t for this initial running boost, I wouldn’t have taken up running at all.  I should mention that my friend, Krista, is mostly responsible for me becoming an avid runner.  She initially approached me about doing the marathon with Team In Training and we became running buddies since then.  I fell in love with running right then and there.  And like any “relationship” built with love, my running relationship is not without lows and highs.

The first few months of running regularly was literally a honeymoon stage.  My old apartment room window faced east, so the sunrise served as my alarm clock and I am usually up at 5 or 530am to run!  These were short morning runs and I was pretty much in this kind of routine for about 3 or 4 months, 2 to 3 times a week.  It also helped that I had the first marathon as a motivation.  I discovered I had weak knees and had issues during the long runs, but this didn’t stop me from completing my first running goal.  My first road race was a local 6k in Worcester and I can still remember how excited and exhausted I was – it was a 90, almost 100 degree day and we were running on hot pavement in the middle of the day.  Still, I was mostly on a runner’s high up until marathon number 1.  However, after finishing the marathon, Run(ning) and I went downhill, partly because winter was coming – I was afraid to go out in the bitter cold to run – but mostly because of advance course work and preparation for the qualifying examination left me with little extra time for other things.  I left running on the side, and I only came back for it after I passed my qualifying exam.  That was almost a year of no running at all.  It was tough getting back, and I had to train my body all over again.

Love for running didn’t come back as quickly as I hoped so, and we were in an on again-off again mode for the most part of my graduate school.  I ran 5ks and such, but it didn’t give me the same thrill and excitement that I have experienced before, and that I experience now.  I also had a knee injury that had me visiting a physical therapist for rehabilitation and it was not fun.  Then I started listening to podcasts, again through my friend Krista.  She told me about this priest who hosts a podcast and is an avid runner.  Listening to him talk about running made me realize the great things that running has to offer.  So in the fall of 2008, I decided to sign-up and train for a virtual half-marathon that Nike+ offered to those who could not make it to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Women’s Marathon in San Francisco.  I ran the 13.1 distance out and back and a couple of times over through the West Boylston rail trail.  This was the first time I trained on my own and I felt really good about it!  That was the tipping point of my relationship with Run(ning), and I’m glad I tipped over and fell in love again.  From that moment on, I set running goals for myself.  Since 2008, I ran 7 half marathons, including the virtual Nike+ run, a handful of 5ks, 10ks, and 7 milers.  I also was able to finish two sprint triathlons (this was something I really dreamed of doing).  Early this year, after signing up for a half marathon trilogy in Cape Cod, I thought I was ready to tackle another marathon.  My self-confidence to train on my own for a marathon improved tremendously when I started to run outside and train on the treadmill during the winter months.  It took a while to get used to the monotony (and the dizziness) of treadmill running, much more with running outside, with snowbanks filling the sidewalks and below freezing wind chills that numb your senses.  The moment I finished the first half marathon of the Cape Cod trilogy, running through snow, sleet and freezing rain, I knew I was ready to run another marathon.  And so here I am.

Three more days.  That is what is left.  I think I trained well, although not enough, but I’m confident I will finish.  And I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to be my last marathon.

331: Various

I’m currently in the middle of Madeline Drexler’s Secret Agents, a well-written book about emerging infectious diseases.    The second chapter described how the West Nile virus came to the Americas (sidenote: this happened in the recent past, in the summer of 1999).  One of the players in the story is Dr. Ian Lipkin, who came to our school today to give a talk about his pathogen/microbe discovery project, among others.  It was a wee bit strange that I would start reading this book on the week that Dr. Lipkin was on campus.  I knew he was the seminar speaker for this week, but I didn’t know that he will be mentioned in this book I’m reading.  Of course, I had to go to the student luncheon to meet him and ask him questions about what I read in the book.  It was an interesting discussion about the politics of science in general, and his past and present scientific endeavors.

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This week has been jelly beans week.  Our lab administrative assistant brought in a couple of bags of Starburst jelly beans, which apparently are only available during the Easter season.  My only experience with jelly beans is eating the free Jelly Belly gourmet beans that they give away during road races.  I didn’t know that there are several brands, and they come out only during this time of the year.  Another lab mate also brought in a different jelly bean brand.  All these jelly beans inspired a jelly bean experiment, where I tried three different colors from each brand to see if they are any particular differences and to figure out which one tasted the best.  According to my taste buds, the Starburst jelly beans were the best, but I liked the Jelly Belly lime jelly bean better than the green apple flavor of the Starburst green jelly bean.  So, I was a bit “weirded out” (if there is such a term) that I would see this recent comic from xkcd.com yesterday!  Then today, the grad student who sends out the Thursday social hour email sends out his announcement with this comic strip attached!  Jelly bean extravaganza!

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Pia Toscano, one of my favorite contestants in this season of American Idol, was voted out tonight.  I cried.  (I know, I’m crazy).

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I didn’t get the travel grant I applied for to attend the annual meeting of the American Society for Virology.  However, my abstract was accepted for an oral presentation.  Thank goodness!

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I did the plow pose for the first time tonight.  It was amazing!  It was the final pose I did before relaxation, so it wasn’t as difficult as it looked in the image above.  I was all warmed up and did all other poses before doing this one, so it didn’t feel like I had to exert effort.  The plow pose prepares your body for the shoulder stand and the head stand.  I’ve done an assisted head stand before (against the wall, with blankets for support and the instructor standing right next to me just in case I fall), and I am looking forward to doing a flow of the plow, shoulder and head stand in the near future.

339: Comeback kid

Spring springs back.  At least for a day.

It was blue skies, gentle breeze and in the 50s this afternoon, just perfect!  I also came back from my not so good run last Sunday.  I ran 3mi yesterday and 5 mi today. I just can’t let a good day pass without me enjoying it and I won’t let my allergy symptoms stop me from going outside.  I think part of the reason why I’m feeling under the weather the past couple of days is that the spring air makes my eyes really dry and my nose runny.  (I guess my nose won’t let my legs do all the running).  It was just glorious to be outside, running at a comfortable pace and seeing other people enjoying the weather as well.  I haven’t run this route by Lake Quinsigamond since January, when there were still mountains of snow accumulation that eliminated the sidewalks.  I also have to say that a few homes got their grills busy – I could smell the burning coals and the aroma of meaty goodness wafting through the air.  I think everyone is just living the moment right now, and it’s all well and good.  We have a snow storm forecast come Thursday night into Friday and they are saying we might get at least 8 inches to up to a foot of snow.  Whatever.  I’m just glad I took advantage of this beautiful day and made the most of it.  Let the Snow Miser take on Spring for a day.  Spring made a comeback today and we all had a blast.

And by the way, after Friday (which is April Fools – who knows this winter weather is just a prank Mother Nature is pulling on us), I’m pretty sure Spring is sticking around this time.

342: Dropping the “T minus”

I was driving on the Pike today and thought I should just drop the “T minus” in my blog posts.  I don’t know why my train of thought led me to this, but it does save me a few milliseconds of typing (!?!?!).

As for today’s adventure, it was consist of Sunday Mass, a little running and lots of laundry.  Allow me to begin with my “failed” attempt on a short run.  I was only able to run about 2 or so miles today, which was disappointing.  I was off to a good start and didn’t really mind the cold wind that was blowing against me.   However, after the first mile, I felt queasy.  This was the first time it happened to me this winter.  I’ve done a few outdoor runs over the course of winter, and even at temperatures lower than today.  It would take a while for the muscles to warm up, but I haven’t felt dizzy or queasy until today.  The fact that I almost vomited on the sidewalk made me decide to just stop running and walk back home.  I had breakfast, so it was not that my stomach was empty.  I think the combination the chilly air and super sunny skies was too much for me, making me feel light-headed, hence the queasiness.  It’s back to running on the treadmill for now.  I just hope we get back to low 40s soon so that I can get back to running outside.

Sunday Mass was at the MIT chapel.  The Filipino Catholic community in the Boston area sponsors a mass every term in MIT, and today was that day.  I haven’t sung with the choir in a while, and it was refreshing to learn new harmonies and sing with such great voices!  Of course, the post-mass refreshments is also something we always look forward to.  There was pansit and lumpia (regular fares in Filipino gatherings), along with two kinds of salads, pork loin asado, mango and orange mousse, and donuts.  I was in a table with MIT undergraduates and I had an interesting chat with them.  They certainly have that “genius” aura going for them, and I’m sure those guys are going to be somebody great some day.  One guy was a first-year graduate student doing particle physics, the girl sitting across me was a sophomore with a concentration in biology and the one next to me studies brain and cognitive science.  It was also nice that they thought I was also an MIT undergrad (which means I could pass for a 20-year old!), although my friend Ades told me when we left, “I don’t think you want to be an MIT student, they don’t look too fashionable (or something along those lines).”

The rest of the day (and the start of my day) was delegated to a laundry extravaganza.  I haven’t done laundry in almost three weeks – the spring cleaning I did last weekend was spent sorting out the dirty clothes and deciding which ones to throw away, give away or keep.  I am now down to a final load, but because I’ve move stuff around my closet and didn’t finish organizing,  I ended up not having enough space to put the clean clothes.  Now, I have postponed doing the last load and will spend the last few hours of the day putting away some of the winter stuff to make way for the laundered ones.

And now I have to scram.  The closet is waiting for me.

 

 

T minus 349: Wannabe Soccer Mom

I have been volunteering for WRAP for about a year now and for the last few months, most of my Sunday afternoons involve picking up and driving refugee kids to play indoor soccer.  I usually pick up the same four boys every time and I love the conversations we have during our short ride to their soccer practice.  There is this one boy who is really into pop music and would ask to have the volume turned up when he hears a song by Bruno Mars or Flo.rida.  The other two boys are brothers who look alike (and at first I’ve mistaken for twins).   These three boys are among the better players in the bunch and WRAP helped out in getting a scholarship for them so that they can play in the youth soccer leagues here in Worcester (and I should say they got everyone a scholarship slot in the leagues).  Now that they have been practicing with their respective youth leagues every Saturday, they have stories of their games when they get into my car come Sunday afternoon.  Just today, they were telling me how they “smothered” the other team – 15 goals to nothing!  I feel like a proud soccer mom hearing their stories.  Then there’s the fourth one, the comic.  I’ve been warned about him being hyper and all, and they were right.  I don’t think he is really into soccer like the rest of the other boys I pick up, but he livens up the car ride with his antics (although it can get overwhelming sometimes getting him to calm down).  Today was the last scheduled WRAP soccer practice for the winter season, and the coordinator was not able to find an outdoor park for them to play.  I am hoping they find one soon, now that the weather has become more favorable for outdoor activities.  I will miss the Sunday afternoon craziness if they decide to cancel soccer practice for these boys.

T minus 354: Bursts (a.k.a. Power Law)

I’m finally down to the last couple of chapters of this book by Barabasi entitled “Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do.” I was in Borders last month looking for a gift for a friend, when I chanced upon this book in the non-fiction section.  I was looking at the name of the author, it was very familiar… it turned out that he is one of the collaborators of my previous mentor (where I did a 5-month lab rotation and was fortunate enough to generate relevant data that were included in an article published in Genome Research).  I have never personally met the guy, but I have this “thing” with physicists – they never fail to amaze me.  I read the short description on the book flap, and it really caught my interest.  However, since it was a relatively new release and only available in hardcover, I could not afford it.  A few days later, I went to the public library to return some stuff and found the book being displayed on the shelves facing the entrance!  I immediately borrowed it and started reading it that same day!  It is such a fascinating book!  I liked the way he explained complicated and technical terms by using very tangible examples, even using personal experiences and his own personal history (that dates back to the 1500s in Transylvannia) to get to his point.  I have to say, he had a tendency to keep you on your toes while reading, which got tiring for a while (I caught myself  saying – get to the point already! – a couple of times), but it was all worth it.  The different scenarios and stories he wove together in “Bursts” actually made sense in hindsight.  If I summarize the whole book, I can write it down in one sentence – one “ennui-inducing” sentence – that human behavior is not actually governed by randomness (following a Poisson or Gaussian distribution) but is defined by bursts (or Power Law), which allows us to potentially predict what one is about to do next.  Don’t let the physics terms scare you off, he did a great job in making his research focus very accessible to non-physicists (or non-mathematicians or non-statisticians or anyone not so good with numbers for that matter).  Albert-Laszlo Barabasi definitely amazed me with how he looks at the going-ons in the world.  Really cool stuff!

T minus 362: Missing a muffler

 

A couple of weeks ago, I backed up into a snow bank that misaligned one of my mufflers.  I didn’t attend to it as soon as I should have, and because I’ve been driving around the pothole-ridden streets of Worcester, it eventually came off.  Now my car makes a booming sound every time I step on the accelerator.  I planned on going to the car repair shop this morning, but the rainy, dreary weather made me change my mind and put it off (again!).  I should really go tomorrow and have this fixed.

T minus 363: It’s beginning to look a lot like Spring

 

 

The last couple days have been warmer than usual – about 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.  It is a welcome respite to the winter beating we got the last couple of months.  The snow banks have been reduced to flood and puddles, and we can see the sidewalks again!  However, this particular snow bank in downtown Worcester does not want give up and is holding its ground.  Maybe another two days of 40F will finally send it off to a liquid state.