Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Summer Reads 2017

I've enjoyed reading a few good books this summer, and thought I'd post a mid-year review!

First up: The Mysteries

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – by Joel Dicker

In the first mystery novel I read this summer, a young writer investigates a murder that took place 30 years ago. The victim was a 15 year old girl and the suspect is the writer's friend, a successful professor and writer himself, who apparently had an affair with the girl 30 years earlier. In the small town of Somerset, it seems like everyone has some secrets to hide, and there are many surprises as the author digs up what happened all those years ago. 

This was a page turner, and I liked the book until the end, when there's one big plot twist that's a little too far-fetched. You also have to suspend some disbelief at Harry and Nola's relationship - a 32 year old and a 15 year old falling in love over the course of three months that summer? But it did keep me guessing and I didn't figure out who murdered Nola ahead of time. Rating: 3/5

A Study in Charlotte - by Brittany Cavallaro

This was a young adult novel, and a fast easy read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! The two main characters are Charlotte Holmes, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, and Jamie Watson, a descendant of John Watson. The two teenagers meet at a prep school and become involved in a murder investigation when they become suspects in the case. There are elements of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories that I loved, but Brittany also manages to create two unique characters that are fun to get to know! 
Rating: 3/5

Everything I Never Told You - by Celeste Ng

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." So begins this sad story. I thought it would be more of a mystery, but it was mostly about the struggles of a Chinese American family living in small town Ohio. Lydia was the daughter of a white mother who was always trying to stand out, and a Chinese father, who was always trying to fit in. As the favorite child, Lydia experienced undue pressure from both of her parents, and living up to the impossible standards led to a series of events that ultimately resulted in her death.

I found some parts to be an insightful look into racial issues, the struggles of fitting in, standing out, pleasing family, and living up to expectations... but ultimately it just seemed so melancholy and depressing. I couldn't figure out why the the parents couldn't communicate better- with their children and each other- and how they could make so many assumptions about each other, without spending the time to get to know one another's true feelings. In the end, it was a bit frustrating. Rating: 2/5

Ordinary Grace - William Kent Krueger

This is a coming-of-age story along with a mystery. Frank Drum recounts his experiences in the summer of 1961 in New Bremen, Minnesota, when he was 13 years old. That summer, death visited Frank's small town in many forms: Accident, Suicide, Murder. Frank has to grapple with the aftermath of these tragedies, and in the process learns about faith, grief, hope, and responsibility. This isn't a thriller. It's a story about family, brotherhood, wisdom, and the grace of God. There are some beautiful moments, especially between the brothers, Jake and Frank. Rating: 4/5

The Life We Bury - by Allen Eskens

This was probably the most fast-paced out of all the mysteries, but the most straight-forward crime. However, unlike a lot of other thrillers which have some implausible twists, this mystery made sense. Even though I suspected the culprit long before I found out who it was for sure, I still enjoyed reading the book. Joe Talbert, the main character, interviews Carl Iverson, a convicted murderer, and cannot reconcile Carl's heroism in Vietnam with the despicable acts he supposedly committed. I wish Joe and Carl had more interactions in the book, but I really enjoyed seeing Joe and Lila's relationship develop. This book was fun, intense, and I couldn't put it down! 
Rating: 3.5/5

The Silence of the Sea - by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

This book is a top-selling Icelandic crime novel, but I think it may have lost something in translation. The story tends to drag a bit in places, and the dialogue's a little stilted. It's a creepy mystery that vaguely reminded me of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, as the characters begin to disappear off the yacht. The ending could have been better. Rating: 2.5/5

Next: all the other books I've read so far this year

The Little Paris Bookshop - by Nina George

This book looked so cute, but it ended up being sappy and overly dramatic. There were some great quotes about reading, but the book itself lacked personality. I almost didn't finish it. As one reviewer on Goodreads said, "This novel just did not work for me. I thought it was disgustingly sweet, poorly plotted, filled with cliches and bad dialogue, and I could not finish it fast enough." Rating: 2/5

The Nightingale - by Kristin Hannah

The first half of the book was kind of boring and lacked character development. I felt like I didn't really know Isabelle or Vianne at all. About 150 pages in, the sisters get more involved in the war effort, and then the book started getting better. The ending was really sweet and touching. Rating: 2.5/5

The Book Thief - by Markus Zusak

This book, like The Nightingale, takes place during World War II, but rather than focusing on occupied France, the Book Thief is set in Germany and follows the story of a young girl, Liesel, who is growing up under Nazi dominance. I loved Liesel and her friend Rudy and all of their adventures together. I could have done without the parts that were narrated by "Death"; and the way the author separated out some of the text into little blurbs with a heading was just unnecessary. I liked that it was more a coming-of-age story than simply another historical fiction novel about WWII. Rating: 3/5

A Man Called Ove - by Fredrik Backman

This was such a sweet story about a grumpy old man. Ove lives in Sweden, has a short fuse, and is rather set in his ways; but there's so much more once you get to know him. I don't want to give anything else away, but this is a must-read! I loved it. Rating: 5/5

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wilmington Half Marathon

When I moved back to Virginia in the fall, I wanted to try to do as many half marathons as possible in nearby states. I needed a Delaware race that sounded fun and was within driving distance. I discovered that Delaware is a very small state, with many fewer races than Virginia, so there's not a whole lot of choices. But when I read about the Wilmington Half Marathon, it was everything I wanted!

It's only a 6 hour drive from Virginia, and about a 7 hour drive from Massachusetts, so I thought it would be a great place for me and my parents, sister, and nieces to meet up for a running weekend! I also liked the fact that it started on a riverfront and that part of the race was run through parks and along the river.

My family and I rented a townhouse right on the riverfront across from the Tubman-Garrett park where the races started. My nieces ran the kids run on Saturday afternoon, and then my mom, Leslie, Allison, and Kyle ran the 5k that evening. The only downside was that it was raining on Saturday afternoon, so the kids complained about being cold and didn't want to hang out or do any of the activities at the park. 
Lilli was the only one who really ran. Izzy cried, but was dragged along by Kyle and Allison, and Karsyn cried and had to be carried.

The next morning, Tristan and I ran the half marathon. I walked across the bridge to the start and met Tristan there. I literally left the house at 6:50 and the race started at 7am. It was nice not to have to worry about driving and parking! Tristan, on the other hand, couldn't make it to my house because of the road closures, and couldn't find parking, so she drove back to her hotel and walked half a mile to the start.

We actually started behind everybody else, because we were in line for the port-a-potty when the race started. We were in the back of the pack with a guy that was jumping rope and a guy that was juggling while running the half.

After trying so hard to break 2 hours in the Flying Pirate half and not succeeding, we just wanted to have fun and enjoy this race. And, surprisingly, I LOVED this race! Wilmington is not the best city. There seemed to be a lot of homeless people and run-down areas. But the race course went through 2 parks, along a river (my favorite part), over a suspension bridge, and through some nice neighborhoods. The weather was perfect- cool and breezy after all the rain the day before, and the sun came out at the end. It wasn't flat, but the hills weren't crazy either - and I've found that I actually prefer some rolling hills over a completely flat course.

So I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty and pleasant the race course was, and I think it's been one of my favorite half marathons so far! (Along with See Jane Run and Richmond). Besides having to run for a port-a-potty at mile 7 (only the second time I've had a bathroom "emergency" in 25+ races), the race was pretty uneventful and we kept a pretty steady pace.

Sunday was also Mother's Day, so when we got back to the townhouse, Kyle and Allison and I cooked lunch for my mom and then we rode bikes and went for a walk along the riverfront. All in all, a great weekend!

Official Time: 2:05:11

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Flying Pirate Half Marathon

Tristan and I decided to run the Flying Pirate half after hearing from our friends that they enjoyed it last year. We thought the Outer Banks would be a fun weekend trip too!

We got there Saturday and had time to relax by the beach and the pool. Our hotel was right on the beach! It was warm, but still the off-season, so we had the beach and the pool mostly to ourselves. It was so peaceful.

For dinner, we went to Goombays, which I highly recommend if you're in the Outer Banks! I got the jazzy chicken, which came with a pineapple coconut sauce, fresh salsa, roasted vegetables, and rice, and everything was amazing!

One thing that was nice about the Outer Banks was that it seemed like everyone catered to the runners. At both lunch and dinner, the servers asked us if we were running the next day. And our hotel opened their breakfast bar up early (at like 4am) for the runners, which is the first time I can ever remember that happening at a hotel!

It had rained overnight, and was still damp and drizzling the morning of the race. Luckily Allison was with us and dropped us off at the start with 10 minutes to spare, so we didn't have to wait around in the rain. It completely stopped raining after the first mile, but remained overcast for the rest of the race, which was nice because it was already getting humid.

The race was a smaller one. We ran along the Sound and behind quite neighborhoods. There weren't a lot of crowds, but Allison was waiting for us at several points along the course to cheer us on! Tristan and I probably started out a little too fast and we were already getting tired by mile 4 or 5.

At mile 8 or 9, we ran past the Wright Brother Memorial, which was probably the most memorable sight of the course. At mile 10, the course turned into a packed dirt and/or gravel trail through the woods, with quite a few ups and downs. They were small hills, but at that point in the course they seemed hard!

Tristan and I were still pushing the pace, because we were so close to 2 hours! But with the hills and dirt trails on the final miles of the course, we just weren't able to make it under two. At least we finished strong, feeling like we gave it everything we had! I felt like I was pushing myself hard the entire race, and I honestly don't know where I would have been able to run 37 seconds faster!

So even though we missed a sub-2 again (by what feels like the hundredth time!) we're proud of our effort on what turned out to be a tougher course than we thought!

Official Time: 2:00:37

Monday, February 13, 2017

Love Chocolate Half Marathon

This weekend I ran the Love Chocolate half marathon in Savannah, Georgia! It was a smaller, cheaper race, but I wanted to run a race in Georgia early in the year before it got too hot. I had my favorite running buddy, Tristan, with me, so the miles went by pretty fast. I hadn't run very much in the past two weeks, so I was worried that I would have to stop and walk. But with Tristan by my side, we were able to run the whole way! I always enjoy races much more when I can run with a friend!

We ended up keeping a pretty consistent pace, with an overall average of 9:33 per mile, and finished in 2:06:30. I'll take it!

The day before the race, we explored downtown Savannah. We got coffee and croissants at Cafe M, a cute little french restaurant by the river. We walked along River Street, and stopped in at the outdoor market there, where I bought a canvas for my house. Then we headed over to Forsyth Park, where we walked around and enjoyed the sunshine.

We went on a tour of the Mercer House in the afternoon, which is right by Forsyth Park. It has a pretty interesting history, being that the story Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was set there. However, the tour itself wasn't that great, because we only saw four rooms and didn't even get to go upstairs.

After lunch, we headed to a wine bar where you can swipe a card and choose your own tastings by the ounce. It was really cool! I've been to a restaurant in California where they did beer tastings by the ounce (Blast 825 Taproom), but this is the first time I'd seen it for wine! We got dinner at Kayak Cafe and headed back to the room for an early night before the race.

After the race, we spent the day at the Tanger Outlets. The Nike Outlet had some great deals and I got a few new running shirts and a pair of pants. There were a lot of other good stores, too.

On Sunday we drove back! I loved Savannah. The weather was gorgeous (albeit a little hot for a February race), and we had fun exploring Savannah and shopping at the outlets.

Official Race Time: 2:06:30

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Books of 2016

Lockdown – Tarah Benner

The fourth book in the Fringe series. These are fast, enjoyable reads about a dystopian future where the earth has been damaged by radiation. I hope the author wraps up the series in another book or two and doesn't drag it out too long, but I'll continue to read as long as I care about Harper and Eli. I also love the supporting characters like Celdon, Sawyer, and especially the other kids from Harper's training class.

Series: 4/5

Moonlight Mile – Dennis Lehane

I picked this book up at a grocery store of all places! I didn't know anything about it, other than what it said on the cover - that Dennis Lehane was the author of Mystic River and Shutter Island (I haven't read either, but I did like the movie Shutter Island). I later learned that this is somewhat of a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone (I saw that movie a long time ago - all I remember is that it's about a kidnapped kid). This book takes place after the kidnapped girl has grown up, and has suddenly disappeared again. The same detective investigates, and has to deal with how he handled the case the first time. It's an entertaining story, with a few twists and turns along the way. Rating: 3/5

The Husband’s Secret – Lianne Moriarty
Big Little Lies – Lianne Moriarty

I'd heard a lot about Lianne Moriarty's books and I finally read two this year! They were both fun beach books. Both books are written from multiple characters' perspectives, and the lives of the women intersect in various ways. There are a few twists and surprises that make it a fast, fun read. Rating: 3/5
The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

This was an interesting memoir about a girl who had a rather unconventional childhood. Her father was a dreamer and an alcoholic who couldn't hold down a job, and her mother was an artistic free spirit who hated to work. The four children grew up in an unstable environment in various dilapidated houses, often without enough to eat. This book reminded me that people can be terrible parents even if they love their kids. And some people don't want to be helped. This excerpt kind of sums up the book:

I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want.”
“Are you saying homeless people want to live on the street?” Professor Fuchs asked. “Are you saying they don’t want warm beds and roofs over their heads?”
“Not exactly, I said. I was fumbling for words. “They do. But if some of them were willing to work hard and make compromises, they might not have ideal lives, but they could make ends meet.”
Professor Fuchs walked around from behind her lectern. “What do you know about the lives of the underprivileged?” she asked. She was practically trembling with agitation. “What do you know about the hardships and obstacles that the underclass faces?Rating: 3/5

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

This was a funny tale about a writer's foray into the world of backpacking when he attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail. I've read another book by a guy who actually finished the hike. While his book was informative, he was prepared and pretty much did everything the right way. Bill made a lot more mistakes and struggled a lot more, which makes his book more humorous. He also did some research on the history of the trail and includes some interesting tidbits. However, the fact remains that he gave up his goal of hiking the entire trail rather easily (but, as he points out, many people start the hike and don't finish). Rating: 3/5

East – Edith Pattou

This book was recommended to me by a staff member at the little bookstore in Maine. It's based on an obscure old fairy tale. It started out pretty good, with a daughter born to a superstitious mother who gets a prediction that her child will perish under ice and snow. However, there is no character development!! The relationship between the girl and the polar bear is never explained or explored or really written about at all! It kind of reads like a news article, just stating the facts. The advice "show, don't tell" should've been applied here. Rating: 2/5

How Not to Travel the World – Lauren Juliff (3/5)
A Thousand New Beginnings – Kristin Addis (2/5)

I read these two books about traveling while I was traveling in Italy (lots of downtime on trains and planes). I liked Lauren's book better because she struggled to overcome her anxiety, did a lot of dumb things, and eventually learned to become a stronger, more competent person due to her adventures around the world. Kristin came across as super confident and popular, always met new people right away, and was adept at fitting into new cultures, even able to bargain for the best prices like a local. I couldn't relate to her, and her book just seemed like a list of all the places she visited. Her pictures were amazing, though!

Present Over Perfect – Shauna Niequist

I normally don't read many Christian self-help type books, but I'd seen this one pop up on the internet a few times and thought I'd give it a shot. After all, who doesn't want to learn about how to live in the present over seeking perfection? Shauna talks a lot about saying no to good opportunities and finding peace in the quiet, but never really addresses how to be present in the moment, other than to say we should sit down in the middle of the mess and realize this is actual life, rather than waiting around for fantastic. She talked about learning to appreciate stillness even though she's an extrovert. (As an introvert, I've always appreciated quiet time away from people). I thought the most poignant part was in the beginning, when Shauna realized she was living a life she hated. That was a good reminder to me to make choices with a big-picture perspective. In the end, Shauna mainly talked about slowing down and that could've been a blog post rather than a book. Rating: 2/5

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

This was a pretty good thriller/mystery. Not great, but good. I was intrigued by the idea of a woman witnessing something unusual from the train. It sounded like an Agatha Christie mystery at first. It was more of a thriller and a page-turner. I figured out who the culprit was, but I'd rather have an answer that makes sense than some random twist that doesn't make sense at all. This kept my attention and was a good distraction for my plane ride. Rating: 3/5

Audiobooks - do these count?

Winning Balance – Shawn Johnson 3/5
Wild – Cheryl Strayed 1/5

I listened to these two autobiographies on long car rides. They could not have been more different. I love gymnastics and I follow a bunch of the gymnasts from the past two Olympic teams. I really enjoyed learning about Shawn's story, especially because she didn't take the typical route of an elite gymnast. Her parents wanted her to have a normal life, so she still went to school and trained about half as much as other elite girls her age. When Shawn came on the scene at competitions, no one knew who she was at first! I also liked hearing about her experience on Dancing With the Stars - I didn't realize she competed on the show so soon after the Olympics were over!

Wild was kind of boring, and I probably would've stopped listening - except I had a 12 hour drive and it was something to do. Cheryl was pretty selfish and stupid, both in life and on her hike. The fact that her backpack was so heavy she couldn't lift it to swing it onto her back should've been the first clue to get rid of some junk. Also, shooting up heroin right before the hike probably wasn't the best idea. As for her personal life, she inexplicably left her husband even though he was seemingly the one person who was reliable and genuinely cared for her. 

Overall, I'm slightly disappointed in the books I read this year. Most were average: entertaining or interesting, but nothing captivating or ground-breaking. A few were real duds. I hope to find more 4 and 5 star books in 2017.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Richmond Half PR

I ran Richmond for the 6th time this year! It's the race I keep coming back to year after year. Even after living in California for most of the year and taking a trip to Italy for the month of September, I managed to end up back in Virginia in November for my go-to race.

I had really wanted to break 2 hours this year, but after a terrible race in Lake Tahoe, I didn't think it was going to happen. Tristan (who has run this race every year with me) and I made a pact to stay together and enjoy the race!

We started off easy and then hit a moderate pace. I was feeling pretty good and relieved that my body felt so much better than it had at Tahoe. There was no pressure to get a time goal, but about halfway through I noticed that our pace was right on track for around 2 hours. Still, I didn't want to get my hopes up, or start pushing the pace only to bonk later in the race.

We kept a steady pace and talked. Richmond is just so much fun, especially Pope Ave and Fauquier, running past the Fall colors. During the last 3 miles, I still felt good, and saw that a sub-2 was still possible, but didn't stress about it. If we got a few minutes over or under 2, it didn't matter either way. I still tried to push a little harder in the last few miles, because I like to have a strong finish and get the best time I can on that day. Tristan and I stayed together and finished strong.

And we did it! We finally got a sub 2 on the Richmond course! The best part is it was such a fun and enjoyable sub 2 race! I wasn't feeling miserable at the end like I was after Tahoe. We barely got a sub 2, but it still counts! I got another Richmond blanket to add to my collection and we rewarded ourselves with some peppermint mochas at Starbucks. Richmond never fails to disappoint, and I love coming back to the city that originally made me fall in love with running.

I was so bummed and sore after Lake Tahoe. It was nice to have a good race so soon after that. It made me realize I haven't lost all my speed and fitness; I just need to train better and stop thinking I can run a half marathon as a "fun run". I don't always want to push for a PR, but that doesn't mean I can slack off and not train, because the pain during and after the race is not worth it! If I stick to a training schedule, I can run a very enjoyable and "easy" half marathon, but if I don't, I can spend the next 3 days barely able to walk and struggling to go down stairs or sit on the toilet. The training is more important than any of the conditions on race day!

Running Richmond got me excited for all the races I want to run in 2017! My training typically slacks off a bit in the winter months, but I hope I can do a little better this year and not get derailed by the holidays. I want to focus on getting faster in 2017!

Mile        Pace
1              9:22
2              9:10
3              9:15
4              9:05
5              9:09
6              9:09
7              8:57
8              9:22
9              9:02
10           9:15
11           9:13
12           9:04
13           8:30

14           6:59

Official Time: 1:59:54     Overall Pace: 9:08

Friday, October 21, 2016

Emerald Bay Half Marathon

Or the race I thought would be easy and wasn’t.

I always say this: A half marathon is never easy.

But the Emerald Bay half marathon at Lake Tahoe was advertised as a net downhill run so I didn’t think it would be too hard. Even though I had barely trained and had just come back from a month long trip to Italy, I still thought I could run this race in close to 2 hours.

Boy, was I wrong.

My mom and I took the shuttle to the start at Inspiration Point and waited around for an hour in the cold that was quickly becoming not-so-cold. I ended up shedding all my layers and running in a t-shirt. It was unseasonably warm for October.

The race started out downhill. My plan was to take advantage of the downhill and bank some time, ignoring the other piece of advice I normally adhere to, which is “don’t start out too fast.” I ran the first two miles in close to 8 minutes each, and by mile 4, I knew I was in trouble. I felt terrible. It felt like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I felt nauseated. I had to stop and walk by mile 4. I don’t think I’ve ever had to walk that early in a race before!

I ended up walking a little bit each mile from 4 on. I just couldn’t run an entire mile for the rest of the race. I continued feeling poorly the whole time. The course was a nice path along a bike trail but I couldn’t really enjoy it. All the great views of the lake were at the beginning of the race. After that, we ran through woods and then along the road until finally turning towards the beach!
I was just so ready for the race to be over! I made my way to the beach and sat down for a long time to recover. I still felt nauseated. I made it back over to the finish area just in time to snap a picture of my mom as she finished! (My mom did great, and did not have the problems I did).

On the way back to the car, I felt so sick, I had to stop several times to breathe and quell the nauseous feeling in my stomach. I threw up on the car ride, then immediately took a two hour nap when I got home. I’ve never felt so bad for so long after a race was over! I blame the exertion at altitude along with my insufficient training. It was my worst race since Michigan.

It was one of those races that shredded my muscles and I could barely walk for the next 3 days. I had muscle pain in my left IT band and hamstring with every step, along with some calf soreness.

So the lesson here is that I need to go back to my original game plan! No race is easy, and I need to be consistent with my running. Some people can run races without any training, but I can’t. My two most miserable races were the ones I trained for the least. I don’t like being sore and unable to walk after a race. When I train adequately for a race, it’s much more enjoyable both running and recovering!

Even though it was a terrible race for me personally, it was a fun laid back race with gorgeous views at the beginning, a later start time, not too crowded, and it is a net downhill (though after the first 3 miles, it's rolling hills with plenty of up AND down). My mom and I enjoyed exploring Lake Tahoe. We got to check out the restaurants in Heavenly Village and do some sight seeing during the off season when crowds were at a minimum. Lake Tahoe is beautiful and peaceful in October!

Official Results: 2:18:16