How yoga helped my running

A little over a year ago, I added yoga to my running maintenance routine.  I was desperate to do anything and everything I could to get myself healthy and keep myself healthy so I could stay out on the roads.  I quickly found that I LOVED yoga and it has been a consistent part of my cross-training routine ever since!

Stiff beginnings

I still remember the first time I did yoga.  I have said so many times that everything in our bodies are connected, and that idea hit home even harder that day.  I was stiff EVERYWHERE, and I knew those restrictions in my tissues weren’t a result of not doing yoga – they were all a direct result of my ITB injury.  I remember specifically one sequence that started in Warrior 2 which worked into big arm circles before ending up in a half bind.  I noticed that my entire left back side was tight and restricted when doing the arm circles (is it any surprise that my left ITB was the worst?).  That pose and lizard lunge were the two poses that really opened my eyes that day.

Keep Moving Forward (In the wee hours)

As difficult as yoga was that first time, I was determined to stick with it, work through my issues and get myself healthy (and stay healthy) again.  It was then that I decided to find a way to work yoga and strength into my schedule, consistently.  Getting in all the strength and cross training had been easy when I was out of running because of the injury.  Getting everything done when I added running back into the schedule was….challenging.  My solution was to get up earlier than usual in order to do my stability/strength and yoga before work with my runs after work.  I tried getting up at 5:00 am, at first, but quickly realized that it took me a few minutes to gain coherency <read: drink coffee/get caffeine infusion>.  I then started getting up at 4:45 in order to start the caffeination process and hopefully be ready to work by 5 AM.

At first, this transition was tough.  As time went on, however, getting up earlier got easier and I was able to settle into a routine.  My eyes even began popping open before my alarm went off!

Yoga really helps (along with NOT over-training)

Ok….probably the best thing I’ve done is to hire a coach who keeps me healthy by not letting me over-train, BUT…. yoga has really helped, too.  Doing yoga regularly has helped me dial into my body and it has helped me find those tight spots that I haven’t yet found with the foam roller.  And yoga is soooooo relaxing.  I love that loosey-goosey feeling when I am done.  Ahhhhhh.

One thing that I noticed just this week, which spurred the idea to write this post, is that I relax my shoulders much more now (while running) than I ever did before yoga.  I’ve learned through yoga that you don’t want to acquire tension in one part of your body while relieving it in another.  For me, the tension almost always accumulates in my shoulders – in yoga and in running.  Yoga has helped me become more aware of that accumulating shoulder tension (and tensions elsewhere) and my brain/body is now connecting that during my workouts.  I feel that this might be the best benefit to date.  I had been aware of my shoulders tensing up during runs and I always tried to keep that from happening.  Since yoga, it is becoming more automatic and less of a conscious action.  And that, folks, is a biggie for me!!

Favorite poses

One of my favorite poses is rag doll.  You can do it anywhere, anytime, to relieve tension and stress and just breathe for a few minutes.

I love ANY and EVERY kind of twist.  Oh, the twists feel so good!!

One pose that I don’t quite *love*, but don’t feel I could live without is the Lizard Lunge.  It is a hip opener and usually a tad bit uncomfortable because this girl’s hips are usually a little tight!

Another one is an IT band stretch.  And, well, there really isn’t any reason to elaborate on that.  LOL

What is your favorite yoga pose??

Happy Running!

Jen

Let’s talk about Dallas

Before we talk about Dallas, let’s talk training…and racing.

Believe 10K

This past weekend, my training called for 8 miles on Saturday and 20 on Sunday.  However, there is a local 10K (which happens to be the first 10K that I ever ran) that I really wanted to run.  I got coach approval, registered and all was set……until the monsoons began on Thanksgiving day.

It was COLD and it was WET…….I HATE to be cold!  But race or no race, I had to run some miles and running a race – even in wet, cold rain –  was certain to be more fun than a regular training run.  Luckily, the rain stopped just as the race started….for the entirety of the race!

My body felt really good during the race.  I was supposed to keep my heart rate in Zone 2 for the first 4 miles, but I struggled with that because there were SO MANY HILLS.  After some reflection I feel that I could have pushed a little harder on the last couple miles, but I was being a bit cautious…..because of the HILLS.  I was afraid that if I pushed too hard, too early, that I would lose steam and slow down at the end.  I’m still trying to find that magical race exertion balance.  In the end, it worked out, because I PR’d by 1:30 (my last PR was in the Spring) and I won my age group!!  Miracles never cease to happen! Let this be a lesson to all of you to always run in cruddy weather because a lot of people don’t show up!  I didn’t stay for the awards, because I NEVER expected to win my age group.  It was so cold plus the announcing of the winners was so slow that I opted for Starbucks after the overall winners were announced for the 5K.

My Major Award
My Major Award

Another cool thing about this race was that I finally got to wear my race shirt from my run club, Renegade Endurance.  The jerseys came in the week after I got back from St. Louis and I haven’t raced since then, so it was fun to break it in with a PR and an age group win!  (I was too cold to have any pics made at the race site and barely remembered to take the pic when I got home.)  #ADHDprobsIMG_6239

Last Long Run

Because the monsoons over Thanksgiving break caused some flooding in my area, I had to run my last long run on the treadmill. <sad violin music>

Honestly, I didn’t think I could do it.  My longest run on the treadmill prior to Sunday was 5 miles.  I dreaded this run on several levels.  This run was my last chance to work on fueling and hydration before the race.  The conditions on a treadmill are just no match for being outside.  I did tweak my fueling a bit and I won’t truly know if it will work until race day.  Terrain was my another issue.  There is no preparation for a road race like running on a road!  Finally, and I suspect this was highly influenced by terrain (or lack thereof), my heart rate was SO LOW.  I try to keep my heart rate low on long runs, but my heart rate was about 15 beats per minute below where it usually is.  (If you’re confused – it’s just one more way that my treadmill run differed from a road run.)   I could have sped up to increase my heart rate, but then it wouldn’t have been a long SLOW run.  During the run, I focused on the fact that, at the most basic level, long runs are about time spent on your feet.

Mentally, I battled boredom.  I watched movies, but I am convinced that was not a good thing.  As I got into the movie, I paid less attention to what I was doing on the run.  This is the precise reason that I stopped running with music – I do not need any additional distractions!

In the end, a run is a run and when I was done, I felt VERY accomplished!IMG_62539 Days and Counting

Soooooooo, Dallas is 9 days and counting.  This time last year, I was a nervous wreck.  I knew that the race was going to be hard and terrible and painful, but I tried to hold on to that hope that my ITB would behave.  It didn’t.  I’m still shaking my head over it.

This taper is different.  Even though I spent a ridiculous amount of time recovering from injuries in 2015, I’ve also gained an unbelievable amount of fitness and strength over the past two months.  The difference is that I have been working with a new coach since the beginning of October.  In the words of one of my running buddies, “He attacked my weaknesses” and, as a result, I am running stronger and faster than ever.  In the beginning, he told me he would get me to Dallas injury-free and strong.  I didn’t believe him because at that point, I was still injured – mentally and physically.  I had spent SO much time on injury that it was becoming hard to believe that I would ever get over that hump.  I honestly didn’t believe that I could be strong enough to run the full at Dallas.  But guess what?  My coach delivered.

I am more than strong enough to run Dallas.  More importantly, I have transitioned mentally from seeing myself as weak and injured to strong and healthy.  Instead of a taper filled with anxiety and apprehension, I am filled with energy and excitement because I can’t wait to run this race!!

Happy Friday!

Jen

 

Sole sisters and beating the ITB

Friday was a really great day.  The staff at my school planned a spread just for the office ladies.  I have to admit I was a bit nervous, because spread food can be somewhat less than healthy.  Of course, everyone I work with knows my eating habits.  And this is just one reason I love working here….so many people brought “healthier” versions of food – just for me! 🙂  I was also blessed with this note from a coworker.  It completely made my day.  note

And then, if that wasn’t enough, when the mail came I was completely blown away again!sole sister

My Twitter “Sole Sister”, @karaokejennjenn had mailed me a package containing this coffee cup.  I absolutely LOVE it!!!  I have to say that I’ve had my coffee out of it for the past 3 days!

Friday evening, Alli and I made cupcakes.  One of her teammates was having a birthday on Saturday and requested our cupcakes. 🙂  She wanted red velvet, so it seemed like a good time to search for a good red velvet recipe (since I had yet to find one that I thought was satisfactory).  I am happy to announce that we found “THE” red velvet recipe.  It is soooo delicious!red velvet

I’m actually looking forward to whipping these up again, red finger nails and all!  LOL

Saturday morning I was out running at 6AM, in order to get my 10 mile long SLOW run in before the volleyball festivities of the day were to begin.  I know that no one would believe me if I told them I wore a shirt that said “Minnesota” on it, so I took a pic before heading out.  minnesota

I feel this needs some explanation…. A LOT of explanation.  Because everyone who knows me knows that I am a Texas gal through and through.  However, Taylor recently went to Minnesota to a National Qualifier with one of her club’s teams.  She found this running shirt in a store and bought it as a souvenir.  I actually really like the shirt, even if it does have a weird state plastered on the front of it! 😉

The run was amazing.  Absolutely amazing!  There really is nothing better than running when the sun comes up.  But the run wasn’t without its problems.  Last week, I suffered some ITB issues from mile 6 on (and it was a 10.5 mile run).  The rest of the day, my leg really bothered me.  I have been diligent with my foam rolling and strength training, so I tried my best not to worry.  (Those of you who know me know that I failed miserably at this attempt.)  It bothered me again just a bit on my next run, but got better each day.  This week, ITB started bothering me around mile 5.  I couldn’t believe it.  I tried not to get too upset about it, but with my history of ITB derailing my race efforts (and my first half marathon of 2015 coming up next weekend), it was hard not to let it get in my head.  However, something happened…..by mile 7, it had worked itself out.  I have NO idea how this happened, but this gave me hope that I am just working through some issues related to the distance increases.  The miracle in all this is that my legs felt AMAZING Saturday afternoon!  I couldn’t believe how fresh they felt after driving the distance to the tournament location, then sitting as long as I did.  When they still felt so good on Sunday, I really began to get excited.  Maybe this actually is related to the distance increases and not the beginning of more problems!

Alli’s team played in the North Texas Region tournament this weekend, in the 12s division.  The teams in this tournament were vying for a bid to next weekend’s Region Bid tournament, so they were a higher caliber 12s than we typically play.  The girls didn’t play well on Saturday in pool play.  We dropped 2 sets (we never drop sets in pool play) and ended up seeded 2nd in our pool, but still earned our way into the Gold bracket for Sunday play.

Sunday morning we faced the Texas Image 12 National team that handed us second place in our first tournament of the year.  They beat us 22-25, 23-25 in the finals that day and our girls were so upset!  Every single tournament, Alli has asked if this team will be playing in it because she wanted a rematch!  The girls seemed so nervous when they found out who they were playing, but they stepped up their game when they went out onto the court.  We lost the first set 24-26, after being up 24-17.  Heartbreaker….we SO should have won!!  The second set we rallied and closed out the set 25-17 to force a tiebreaker.  We went point for point in the last set, but ran out of steam and ended up losing 11-15.  The girls had nothing to be ashamed of – they were playing against giants!  playing against giants

You can see the size difference in that picture! LOL

I was so proud of Alli this weekend.  She really stepped up her game in getting to the ball and rarely called for help.  It has been so much fun to see the improvements with all the girls on the team this season!  We are now finished with USAV tournaments and can focus all our efforts toward AAU Nationals (and beating the Puerto Ricans) in Orlando in June!

Happy Monday!!

Jen

Rolling on the Diagonal

If this doesn't make your stomach do flips, then you clearly aren't Texan.
If this doesn’t make your stomach do flips, then you clearly aren’t Texan.

I’m always thinking (stop snickering….the Apocalypse hasn’t happened…yet).  Driving Alli back and forth to volleyball practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays gives me even more time to think!  What I was thinking about Thursday night was how I tend to put a positive spin on everything.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the challenges in situations – it’s just my personality to try to find the #silverlining (or #goldlining, if it is especially amazing!).  And I’ve been doing that with running.

Running has been going REALLY, REALLY well.  But it hasn’t been all roses.  I don’t like sharing the less than great stuff because I don’t want to seem like a complainer.  And I guess part of the reason I don’t like to talk about the thorns is because every runner is ALWAYS dealing with one issue or another.  It’s just the nature of our sport.  Hamstrings tight?  You focus on the hamstrings with extra foam rolling and stretching maintenance and are so proud of yourself for working through the issue.  You consider throwing a party to celebrate your happy hammies, but realize that sometime during the hammy episode your calves became as tight as guitar strings.

It’s no secret that my ITBs are tight.  ALWAYS tight.  I wonder sometimes if that is my cross to bear as a runner.  I’m doing all the right things: strength exercises, self-massage, stretching, and workouts that aren’t too advanced for this stage in my base building.  (OK….now that I have a partner who isn’t afraid to tell Crazy Jen ‘NO’, my workouts are appropriate.)  So I’ve been focusing A LOT on my ITBs.  I haven’t been satisfied with the results of the foam rolling and have known that something had to change.  I have known that I was making ZERO progress.  All this focus on my ITBs caused a slip in my attention to the rest of my legs, mainly my quads.  I began to realize about 10 days ago that my quads were stuck.  (And when your quads are stuck, your ITB will be as well.)  Like fused together.  Not good.  And foam rolling hurt.  I don’t remember foam rolling my quads ever hurting before.  So I’ve been rolling on the meat grinder until I get over the urge to scream.

Trust me.  It HURTS.
Trust me. It HURTS.

Luckily, Wednesday I had to take off to be home while we had a new AC unit installed.  And even luckier (#goldlining), my myofascia guy had an appointment open late in the afternoon and I was able to go see him as well.  He worked my tight left glutes (did I mention my glutes are always tight as well?  It isn’t always a good thing to have a tight ass.).  He released my ITBs.  Then he got to my quads.  He didn’t say a word.  NOT ONE WORD.  And since I’m uncomfortable with awkward silences,  I said, “Ummm, my quads are stuck, aren’t they? ”  And his reply? He just nodded his head.  They were THAT bad!!  But he was able to tear all those fibers loose in no time flat and within the hour, I felt like a new runner!

Something interesting that we discussed was the proper technique for foam rolling your ITB.  I have been rolling the “seam” of my ITB where it meets the quads in the front and hamstrings on the back.  However, I had the foam roller perpendicular to my leg.  Steve said that the only way to break the fibers loose, like he does during a release, is to have the foam roller on a diagonal to the leg.  It sounds easy in theory, but practice is an entirely different matter.  If you aren’t careful and apply plenty of counter resistance, your leg won’t stay straight and will go with the foam roller.  I used the foot on my free leg to leverage and pull my body so that the leg being foam rolled would stay in the proper position.  I could feel the difference right away!  It takes a lot more energy and focus than I generally expend during foam rolling, but I am hoping to keep those cross fibers from forming with this new maneuver.  He also mentioned that if your adductors are tight, it can cause a chain reaction that ends up in your ITB being angry.  So stretch those adductors, people!

I genuinely believe that there will NEVER be a time that I am not giving some TLC to one body part or another.  I would go as far to say that it is a mathematical impossibility.  Too many factors are at play and the top two are: over 40 and distance running.  And I am OK with that.  Because since my injury some amazing things have happened.  I have learned somewhere along the way that I don’t need to panic over every ache and pain.  I simply need to manage it wisely: scale back training when necessary and proper maintenance.  Any of my runner friends that know me realize what a huge accomplishment this really is.

And now, because I am FOREVER the optimist, I will leave you with a list of positives – things that I have been able to successfully work through in order to get to this stage in training today:

  • Tight hips:  OK, YES, I said my hips/glutes are still tight, but I’m talking left hip wouldn’t move because it was fused to my SI joint.  I did have a little help from my myofascia guy, but I have been able to keep them fairly loose since.
  • Stirrup muscle weakness:  I was beginning to have some major issues with my stirrup muscles (the muscles on the outside of calf that wrap under the foot), and their insertion at the ball of my foot.  A shoe switch is the biggest game changer, but I gave this area A LOT of extra care and attention and all of it paid off.
  • Tight calves: Ugh.  I’ve never had calf issues, but lately my calves have been so tight.  LOTS of stretching and foam rolling seems to have gotten this problem in check (for now).
  • Lats:  My lats on my left side have been sooooo tight! Tight enough that twisting my torso had been almost painful.  The entire muscle was tight from my lower back all the way to my shoulder blades.    That is terrible, people!!  I started yoga about a month ago and almost all that back tension is gone!  To further prove my point, my massage therapist was so surprised last week when she found no knots in my neck or back….she commented on how unusual that was!  I am still fighting some tightness down by my pelvis, but farther up the muscle is finally feeling OK.
  • Glutes:  My glutes are always tight, but they do not feel like bricks.  So I’m #winning

Happy Friday, All!!

Jen

Finally learned to listen to my body, but now I don’t trust it!

First of all, thank you to all who read Wednesday’s blog.  I am blown away by the responses I received.  I am so humbled that my words brought comfort to so many, although I can’t take full credit for what I wrote!  I think God may have had a little something to do with that. 🙂  It’s hard to move on and post normally after something so raw and heartfelt, but that’s what life is about, isn’t it?  Moving on, tackling those day-to-day activities until some sort of normalcy returns.  So here I go with today’s post.

During marathon training when my ITB flared up, I posted about the confusion that ensued after my flimsy attempt at listening to my body.  At that time, I thought my ITB felt fine (well, fine as long as I wasn’t on a run longer than 6 miles).  During that pain-ridden journey, I may have just achieved that elusive mind-body connection (for now, at least…until Crazy Jen comes back).

After the marathon, I seriously thought I would take two weeks off and slowly start building back.  It didn’t take me long to realize that 2 weeks would be extended to 4.  When I made the decision to extend my recovery period to 4 weeks, I seriously thought that I would be back strong in that amount of time.  In the back of my mind, though, a little voice started whispering that it would likely take 6 weeks….or maybe 12.  I knew the voice was right and somehow I knew that this time – I had to listen.

My first run post-marathon was 6 weeks in the making, and (again) I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t going to be good (and it wasn’t).  I still feel that the time was right to get out there.  I went into the run with the mindset that I needed to gather information that would help me shape my training plan going forward.  (And I got A LOT of information.)  I waited another full week before I went on my next run, which was FABULOUS!  It ended up taking me 7 weeks recovery to get “that feeling” that things were heading in the right direction.

I ran again on Tuesday and it was another great run (as long as we ignore the heart rate issue in the first interval).  Wednesday evening I was back to see my myofascia guy.  I nearly cancelled because things had been going so well, but something told me to keep the appointment.  (It’s mind-boggling how often I have been listening to that little voice lately!)  In our pre-session debriefing, I told him that my glutes were still VERY tight, despite all the time that I had spent on the dreaded therapy ball.  He started on my hip (which was not moving in any form or fashion) and performed a release that he had not used on me before.  OH.  MY.  GOODNESS!!!  I knew my hips were tight, but I had NO idea until afterward.  Now that entire area feels AMAZING!!!

Love being able to run while Alli is at practice, even if it is only a 35 min workout
Tuesday’s Run: Love being able to run while Alli is at practice, even if it is only a 35 min workout

So it seems like things are all roses, right?  Not so much.  Let’s just call it like it is: I hate the intervals.  And I really dislike being constrained to my heart rate, even though I know that it will be good for me in the long run.  I finally admitted to myself that I don’t trust my body.  I just don’t.  I know that things are better now than they have been in months, but I don’t know what I am going to be able to push myself to do.  I want to go run a 15 miler tomorrow and I know I can’t.  And quite frankly, I don’t know if I ever will be able to again.  I am adding time to my intervals slowly in order to build my base and avoid further injury, but at the same time I’m as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof.  Every time I go out, I wonder if this is going to be the time that things go haywire again.

Even so, I will keep chugging along, because I really have no other choice.  I love running too much to give up when things get tough.  I’ll keep in mind some of my own advice: nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  So when I do actually get back out there on a run (without intervals), it’s going to be the sweetest thing ever!

Happy weekend!

Jen

The weekend from which I am still recovering!

This weekend was fast and furious, to say the least, but it was one of the most fun weekends that I have had in quite some time!

Saturday morning I was up, bright and early, for my first run since my marathon on December 14.  Six weeks of no running.  Needless to say, I was excited, but I also went in with the mindset that it would be an information-gathering run – more of a state-of-my-recovery kind of assessment, if you will.

This was the first run with my new watch and I absolutely LOVED the change.  I had created my workout and synced to the watch ahead of time, complete with my targeted heart rate zones.  I planned a 5 min walking warm-up followed by 3 repeats of 5 min running in heart rate zone 3 (130-148), then 5 min walking in zone 2 (112-129) with a 5 min cool down.  Now, I realize these zones aren’t completely accurate for me, since I am unable to figure my threshold at this point, but I think they will work until I am able to perform all the diagnostic tests.  My first running interval was 10:21/average per mile.  The second was at 10:54 and the third at 11:24.  Since my watch only showed my heart rate and the countdown to the next interval, I had NO idea of my pace (which was a VERY good thing).  I knew on the 3rd interval that I had slowed considerably, and as a result I kept trying to speed ahead but my watch wouldn’t let me!  Believe me when I say that I wanted that thing to quit beeping at me, so I did as I was told! LOL!!  Overall, it was a very good run, except the crankiness in my right ITB on the 3rd interval.  I am not all that surprised or all that concerned, as my myofascia release has been focused on my left (gimpy) side.  I will be going this week for a full body release so hopefully we can take care of some of the right side issues.  Bottom line, though, is that the run gave me hope that I CAN come back and I WILL come back strong!

The old train depot was a beautiful sight on frosty Saturday morning!
The old train depot was a beautiful sight on frosty Saturday morning!
The walking intervals, coupled with using a watch instead of my phone, gave me opportunity to snap some lovely pics!
The walking intervals, coupled with using a watch instead of my phone, gave me opportunity to snap some lovely pics!

After the run, I dashed home to stretch, foam roll and shower in an attempt to make it to Logan’s 9 am soccer game on time.  I’ll just kill the suspense and tell you that I did NOT make it to the game on time.  I made it to the soccer game just before half-time.  The morning was BEAUTIFUL!  Sun was shining, light breeze and temps warmed quickly so that I didn’t even need a jacket!  Logan even played right midfield as opposed to his usual defensive position, barely missing heading the ball in on a cross in the second half.  A fun twist was our 2-student spirit section.  They brought their drums and played the entire game.  All would have been complete, if only we had brought our vuvuzelas!  The boys ended their tournament on a win and have gone to 3-2-3 on the season, which is about 3 wins and 2 ties better than last season already!

A long-time friend of mine owns an online newspaper in town, the North Texas E-News.  He is a phenomenal photographer (well, it helps to have a high-dollar camera) and he is so supportive of ALL the surrounding schools.  I can’t tell you how many amazing pictures he took of Taylor over the years.  Now that we have home soccer games, he is braving the elements to capture those moments as well!

A pic of Logan from Saturday's game.
A pic of Logan from Saturday’s game.
Another amazing Allen Rich photo!!
Another amazing Allen Rich photo!!

After the soccer game, I rushed home to pack.  Alli’s team was playing in a tournament at the Dallas Convention Center and I had made a last-minute decision to spend the night.  I scurried around the house like a mad person packing, rushed to catch the last half of Alli’s basketball game, and we were off to downtown Dallas!

As a refresher, Alli is setter on Madfrog 10s National volleyball team.  Even though the 10s age group is growing in USA Volleyball, our girls will end up playing in the 12s division in almost all of our tournaments, and it was no different this weekend.  However, our girls have been well-trained and our coaching is impeccable.  They rolled through pool play, with a 6-0 set count to clinch 1st place in our pool and end the day.  Sunday morning we were back, bright and early, at 7:15.  We easily won our first three matches of the day to secure our spot in the finals.

I knew that the team in the finals would be difficult to beat.  Our girls don’t take into account the age of the opponent.  Or their size.  Or how well they can serve.  Collectively, as a team, they never seem to get rattled.  Of course, there are times when our serving is off.  There are times when our serve receive is off.  There are times when the pistons aren’t all firing.  But they never look defeated.  The team they played was very good, but our girls kept playing their game.  They ended up losing the first game 25-22, but still battled in the second set.  The teams traded points (point runs, to be more accurate), until the opposing team was able to clinch a 25-23 victory.  The coach of the other team even came over to congratulate our girls on the way they played and added that he hoped to never face them again.  Even so, the girls were devastated!  And I giggled a little bit inside because they were sad about 2nd place….in a 12s tournament!!  There were several moments of tears.  While all of us parents are in awe of their accomplishment, they truly believed they could win and believed that they should have won (and they were right!).  I LOVE that attitude!

2nd place overall, 12s Division American Volleyball Challenge
2nd place overall, 12s Division
American Volleyball Challenge

Taylor’s team was also playing in this tournament, so I was able to watch her team play when Alli was off.  She is such a good coach and I am very proud of her!  She is the type of coach that finds something to say about every single play.  That kind of coaching is what develops great athletes.  I have no doubt that she will enjoy many successes in her volleyball coaching career!Coach Taylor

 

Now for the non-sport activities!

Taylor stayed in the hotel with us Saturday evening.  On our way to the hotel after our afternoon of volleyball, we stopped at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas (to eat from the food trucks – don’t judge!).  This is a beautiful space that was built on top of a freeway.  Klyde Warren park

 

The REAL reason I wanted to eat at the food trucks was because I saw the Trailercakes truck.  How I have managed to live this long without having one of their cupcakes still boggles my mind.  Sadly, they only had coconut left, and we all know I have sensory issues with food – shredded coconut included, so I had to pass.  We finally decided to place our order at Butcher’s Son.  (OK, YES, the name grossed me out, as I couldn’t shake the vision of all the meat chopping going on in there, but the girls’ votes over-rode me.)  I ordered chicken quesadilla.  Safe, right?  WRONG.  THIS is what was inside:sausage quesadillas

CHICKEN SAUSAGE!!!!  I thought the meat poking out the side looked funny.  Then I thought the meat tasted funny and had weird/wrong texture.  Then I looked at the meat.  In case you don’t know, I have minor issues with meats that have been ground up and shoved into some sort of casing.  Yes….me.  I know it’s difficult to fathom, but go ahead and fathom it.

When we made it back to hotel, I stretched and rolled my ITB out with my trusty, portable friend, The Stick. (And then I read my Kindle 🙂stick

By the time Alli and I started making our way home Sunday afternoon, it was 3:30.  We were both starved and exhausted.  But, I had promised her Buffalo Wild Wings, so BWW it was.  Normally, we wouldn’t order appetizers and our meal, but, hey, her team had just ended up in 2nd place and she worked hard!  So we did order appetizers and when she had finished eating this happened:BWW

She actually laid down in the booth while I finished eating.  Winning wears you out.  Literally.

I am still dragging this morning, but she woke up refreshed and ready to conquer the week.  Oh, and she expressed the need for a medal hanger – like mine that I hang my running medals on, except volleyball.  Apparently she is planning on earning many more medals!

Happy Monday!

 

Watch out World, Jen is back!

Wednesday was a BIG day in the World Of Jen.  But, before we get to that, soccer.

I know I have said before how proud I am of our soccer team, but I REALLY mean it!  Remember, our second-year program is in its infancy and we live in an area removed from the metro area which means we have ONE player who plays club soccer.  One, out of the 21 on our roster.  Logan has played since 4th grade, but I could never talk him into club (he was only interested in playing with his friends).

The #1 ranked team in our region came to town on Tuesday.  Honestly, my only hopes for the game was that we could contain them defensively (somewhat).  Our boys played AMAZINGLY!  We actually kept possession of the ball for a good chunk of the game, AND we scored TWO goals on them!  One was a beautiful shot from 35 yards out.  Logan said that on the field it looked to be going out, then curved into the goal.  It really was a mouth-watering play.  Our next goal came off of a corner.  There was a disputed play in which our fans (and coach) felt a goal was made, but it wasn’t acknowledged by the official.  And then there was that missed Penalty Kick.  The score ended up being 2-6, but the level of play that our boys displayed still has me beaming with pride.header

Logan headed this ball in the right direction (can you feel me smiling?).  I was beyond proud of the way he played Tuesday evening.  He played all 80 minutes of the game and did a great job at defense!  I do think my camera may be sick, however, after using it in the freezing cold last week.  I’m going to see how it acts during the daylight and decide if I need to take it to the camera doctor or not.

I think we all know by now that I have a serious peanut butter addiction.  I bought a 40 oz jar and opened it on Monday.  It’s 1/4 gone already.  In 3 days I have managed to consume 10 oz of peanut butter.  (That’s not much, right?)  I bought this recently but didn’t crack it open until yesterday (mainly because it required stirring). PB crack

OH. MY. GOSH!  I have admitted my weakness for all things caramel.  This combination is just unfair.  The only thing that may save me from devouring the entire jar in one sitting is the sweetness of it.  It is VERY sweet.  (I may or may not have dipped into it twice yesterday.)

Now for the News of the Day!

Yesterday was a BIG day for me.  I had my appointment with my myofascia guy.  We always talk beforehand….he wants me to give him my personal assessment of where I am and let him know what has been going on.  Then, the real test is if I have managed to interpret my body’s signals correctly.  Well, folks, I PASSED!!!  Maybe I actually DO listen to my body?  He agreed that my ITB was much better.  He agreed that my glutes were not as tight.  My tissues released MUCH easier and more quickly than in the last visit.  I know I still have a battle ahead of me to get things working smoothly again, but there was something even MORE exciting that I didn’t even expect….

He always tests my glutes to see how they are firing, since the glutes tend to “go to sleep” in long distance runners.  And….mine are usually “asleep” when he checks! LOL!!!  (He has this resistance thing that he does to “wake them up” and wants me to do it at home but it requires a partner.  So far, Taylor is the only person in my family who has been able to do the partner part correctly…and she is usually away at college.)  Back to the glute test….  I have never seen him as excited as he was after the test.  He said that my glutes were stronger than he has EVER seen them!!  Do you know what that means?  All this strength work IS making a difference!!!

At the end of my visit, I asked him if he thought it was time for me to get back on the road.  He said YES!!  Of course, he emphasized to take it easy and I explained my “start-from-scratch” plan.  What does this all mean?  I plan to run on Saturday!!!!  I’m excited, but anxious.  And I solemnly swear to take it easy!

Happy Rainy/Snow Mix Thursday!

Jen

Using my kids’ sports to keep me sane!

It’s been 3 weeks since my marathon.  My ITB is not much better, but it isn’t any worse either.  We (my ITB and me) seem to be having a stand-off as to who is going to cave first.  I don’t really know if that is the way to describe it, since technically I’ve already “caved” and have been babying it in a way that I’m sure no one who knows me can believe, even now….three weeks in.  It became clear to me this past week that running after 4 weeks is NOT going to happen, so I decided to adjust to a 6-week recovery program.

Last week I purchased a book which has recovery plans for injuries.  However, the main reason I bought it is because it has a detailed stretching regime, strength and cross-training guidelines, nutrition and, of course, training program for runners.  I want to use this time off to form a solid framework for balanced training going forward, so I’m doing my research!  (Although I’m currently spending A LOT of time in the rehab section.)  I don’t have pain with my ITB (ONLY because I’m not running right now), but I am still so tight and knotty all over, especially my ITB and especially after I sit for periods of time.  The book suggests a 6-week no-run program for the level of pain I was experiencing post-marathon (lucky, for me, I had already decided on a 6-week recovery program).  However, in one section, the author suggests that a rule-of-thumb would be 2 days rest for every day that was run in pain.  For me, that equates to 10 weeks of no-running.

Added pic of new book so that the post isn't completely void of photos.
Added pic of new book so that the post isn’t completely void of photos.

I realize that the old Jen would have begun hyperventilating at the mere suggestion of a 10-week no-run period.  But this is really-hurt Jen and the Jen that wants nothing more than to completely heal this big ‘ole band of fascia so she can run healthy from here on out.  Another thing is…..I don’t even have a desire to run right now.  (I did have difficulty admitting that out loud.)  To me, that screams that my body just isn’t ready and it’s telling me so.  I don’t think mentally I am ready, either.  But, I WAS ready for this, and so excited when it finally arrived last week!

Now, if Alli would stop rearranging the medals, which simultaneously activates my OCD because she never puts them back in the right order!!!
Now, if Alli would stop rearranging the medals, which simultaneously activates my OCD because she never puts them back in the right order!!!

I made another purchase last week…..I bought a Garmin!  I have been wanting to play with heart rate training for quite some time.  My family even purchased a heart rate monitor to pair with my Nike watch for my birthday (last June!!!) but I could never get it to work properly, so I returned it.  Still couldn’t shake the urge to use a watch and ditch the phone app, so I gave my Nike watch to Taylor and got the Garmin (compliments of my friend who offered to use the employee discount at their place of employment.  No names or genders are being divulged to protect the identities of those involved! LOL)!  My plan is to use the data gathered to see what my heart rate ranges are in different types of runs, then gradually use it to plan my training.  I know that I have been running my long runs TOO FAST and my speed work has basically been running hills.  Not sure I want to change that, but I can always feel my heart rate spiking on them and always wonder if I’m too much in the red zone!  I’m looking forward to being able to set a heart zone or pace and have something else (other than the voice in my head – which I NEVER listen to) telling me to slow down!  Now all that needs to happen is my successful rehab and return to running!

Logan, my middle child and only son, plays soccer for his high school.  Last year was the first year of the program and we had NO home games because artificial turf was being installed on the field.  In addition, last year we were 3A classification in UIL, but the only soccer divisions were 4A and 5A.  This meant we were placed in a district with 4A teams (except for one other 3A team that was well established).  We did not win any games.  Not one.  However, watching the growth and development throughout the season was nothing short of inspirational.  The team that ended the season was not the team that started the season in any sense of the word.  We have a top-notch coach, but we also had amazing kids out there working their tails to the bone!!

So soccer started up again this past Friday.  I did not go to the out-of-town scrimmage held in pouring rain with temps in the 30s.   (I am a fair weather fan!  I only brave those conditions if I’m running!)  But I would not have missed the Saturday morning scrimmage for anything!  The game was held in OUR stadium!  This was the first time our boys were able to wear their home jerseys and the first soccer competition ever held on our field!  They lost the first match 0-1, but came back in the second game with a 3-0 win.  And even though it was a scrimmage and it didn’t count, it was a WIN!!!  Logan has been playing defense and midfield….this momma sure does love to watch her boy in the midfield!

Penalty kick.  Logan is on the right - white jersey #2.  I swell with pride when he pushes other players!
Penalty kick. Logan is on the right – white jersey #2. I swell with pride when he pushes other players!

Taylor and I were killing time in Academy while Alli practiced on Friday and I noticed that they had a jumbo pack of hand warmers.  I kept thinking there should be some way in which I could put them to use, but could never think of it.  Well, I thought of it Saturday while I was sitting out in the freezing weather watching the soccer game!  On the way to Alli’s tournament Saturday afternoon, I stopped again to buy not one, but two, packages of hand warmers for soccer! Then I got on Amazon and ordered some mittens with hand warmer pockets sewn in.  WHY did this not occur to me last season?  I sat in the stands and literally thought my toes were going to fall off.  Not this year!!!

Alli’s played in her club volleyball opening tournament this weekend.  She plays for Madfrog Volleyball on their 10 National team.  Generally speaking there are only a handful of 10s teams and not many more 11s teams in our region, although the age group is growing quickly.  This means, though, that in most tournaments we play against 12s, because the tournament directors almost always combine 11 & 12 divisions.  This weekend, though, we played in the 11s division.  The team went in as the 2nd seed in our pool and 4th seed overall.  Our team went 3-0 for the day, ending up 1st in our pool with a spot in the Gold bracket on Sunday morning!

Alli is the setter (#2), near the net on the right side.  I loved finding this picture because the technique is almost perfect!  We have worked so hard to get her to step forward with that right foot!
Alli is the setter (#2), near the net on the right side. I loved finding this picture because the technique is almost perfect! We have worked so hard to get her to step forward with that right foot!

Sunday morning we were back at the facility bright and early with hopes of making the championship match. We easily beat the first team we faced and secured our spot in the finals.  The girls struggled in the beginning and fell behind a few points.  Personally, I think they were intimidated by the girls on the other side of the net, because they knew this was the top 11s team from another club.  Our girls never gave up, though, and kept chipping away at the deficit in the score.  When the score was 21-24, Alli re-entered the match to serve.  I would be understating my emotion if I said I was a nervous wreck.  Alli’s serves were inconsistent on Saturday, and she had netted every serve on Sunday morning, up to that point.  She didn’t let the pressure get to her and served 5 points, giving us the 26-24 win.  I expected the other team to rally in the 2nd set, and they did.  We found ourselves in a 6-16 deficit.  I figured we were doomed to go to a deciding 3rd set, but our girls kept chipping away, one point at a time, until we got on a run toward the end.  I remember that we were 18-22 and kept serving away and winning points.  When the score was at 24-22, we lost serve, making the score 24-23.  The server for the other team served the ball into the net, and effectively handed us 1st place!  It was SO EXCITING!

Our girls, Champions of the 11s division!
Our girls, Champions of the 11s division and went 5-0 for the weekend!

I’m so glad that soccer and volleyball seasons have started, because now I have something to do other than think about all the running I’m NOT doing!

Happy Monday, all!

Out with the injuries, in with my healthiest running ever!

Disclaimer: This is a kind of 2014 recap/2015 goals post all in one.

In debating the format for this post, I decided to go with “the list”, because goals are a version of a list after all.  And, instead of rehashing all the stupid things Jen has done in 2014 in the name of the run, I won’t be detailing my mistakes here…..only lessons learned.  This is, in part, to avoid sounding like a broken record while simultaneously beating a dead horse.  But, for the most part, this is an attempt to spare the 4 people who read my blog the agony of reading, yet again, about my “lapses in judgement”, as I affectionately refer to them.  Let’s just hope that reading my blog is one of your 2015 goals. 🙂

2014 Accomplishments

  • Suffered my first running-related injury and lived through it!  (It was quite the drama at the time.)  Seriously, it was great experience, looking back.  It only served to make me a more seasoned runner.  And now that I’m going through injury for a second time, I feel I’m growing wiser! (And, boy, could I use some wisdom from the gods of running!)

    No caption needed really, but I've covered the stupid part, now on to the wise!
    No caption needed really, but I’ve COMPLETELY covered the stupid part, now on to the wise!
  • PR’d by over 5 min at Cowtown Half in February, in grueling (for me, anyway) conditions of sticky humid and 60s.  I thank my lucky stars that the sun didn’t come out until mile 10.  I would have melted.

    My (former) running partner and I running through the Ft Worth Stockyards.  LOVE Cowtown route!
    My (former) running partner and I running through the Ft Worth Stockyards. LOVE Cowtown route! We were discussing strategy for THAT hill! 🙂
  • After recovering from my injury, felt stronger as a runner than I ever have!  Seriously, my best running to date.  I love that healthy, strong feeling.  I will run strong again soon.
  • Ran with Taylor, one of Taylor’s former club coaches at Plano Balloon HM (confused yet?).  It was his first HM and he didn’t train the way I told him to, but he finished!  So honored that he asked me to do it with him. (May I just say that advising him on training made me realize how stubborn and frustrating I must have been to my friends that helped me through my injury?!? #twopeasinapod #hardheaded #stubborn #wedontlisten)

    So proud of this guy!  He wasn't as excited about the hills as I was. ;)
    So proud of this guy! But I was sad that he wasn’t as excited about the hills as I was. 😉
  • Finished my first marathon, for which I trained twice! (Humor of Mother Nature is all that can explain that!)  Initially I was disappointed with the result, but a little perspective has made this day one of the sweetest of the year!

    Taylor snapped this beauty of a pic through a fence.  Be jealous of her skills.
    Taylor snapped this beauty of a pic through a fence. Be jealous of her skills.

2014 Lessons Learned

  • Rest days are good and necessary.  In fact, I learned that I am able to go on the no-running/no-workout/anything but walking 2-week DL AND still remember how to run/am still able to run when I’m reactivated.  And those first runs after the forced break were ahhhhhhh-mazing!!
  • Cross train, cross train, cross train.  I added cross training/strength training and biking in after my injury, but life and marathon training took over in the fall and I gradually did less and less.  Paid the price for it, too, during my marathon.  But I promised not to go there, so…..  Suffice to say that I believe this is the part of the puzzle that helped me run so well early on in the Fall.
  • I CAN run by myself.  I have become a better, stronger, faster, more confident, mentally stronger runner on my own.  This isn’t a negative reflection on my former partner, rather, running alone required me to develop those skills in order to be successful.  However, I didn’t spend as much time injured when I had a partner…..coincidence??
  • Just because I have “that feeling” in my gut does not mean that I need to run my long run as fast as I possibly can, or run when I should be resting, or do any other stupid thing just because “the feeling in my gut said so”.  (For me, this leads to injury.  EVERY. TIME.)
  • Just because I CAN run a 1,000 mile year doesn’t mean I SHOULD.  (I joined a 1,000 mile challenge early on in 2014.  Injury caused me to miss the goal by 55 miles.  However, I was so focused on that, at times, that I failed to focus properly on my rehab.  For me, this is a distraction that encourages me to run junk miles.)

2015 Goals

  • STAY HEALTHY!!! I am working on making my ITB as happy, happy, happy as it can be and once I achieve that, I want it to stay that way!!
  • I will not focus on mileage in 2015.  I will, instead, focus on quality runs.  My runs will be intentional and planned.
  • Cross train, cross train, cross train.  Enough said.  I will ensure that I get my cross training in, even if it means I have to skip a run.  (Those of you holding me accountable might want to bookmark this one.)  I would rather skip one or two runs than sit out for a few weeks to rehab a preventable injury.
  • Sub-2 Half Marathon.  I KNOW this is achievable, since I ran a 2:04 HM during a marathon training run.  (Let’s not discuss the stupidity in that…the PB during a training run.  Reference 4th bullet under Lessons Learned.)
  • Cowtown Marathon 2016.  Of course I want to run another marathon!  If my body had been ready, I would have run another the very next weekend.  I felt like running the full at Dallas next year might be too soon for me (because I want to build my base back slowly), and I’ve already mentioned how I LOVE that Cowtown course, so this seems like the perfect next-marathon for me!  I list this in my 2015 goals because I will begin formal training for it before 2015 comes to a close.  I am REALLY excited about this one!!!

I hope your 2014 was at least half as amazing as mine was!  I was blessed in so many ways during the year.

Here’s to an even better 2015!

OF COURSE my wine glass has Texas on it!!  What kind of Texan do you think I am?
OF COURSE my wine glass has Texas on it!! What kind of Texan do you think I am?

Thanks for reading!
Jen

Marathon miracles and mistakes, and trying to keep my glass half-full.

In all honesty, I’ve been writing this post for weeks.  I figured out most of the mistakes I made BEFORE my race, but AFTER too much time had passed for my body to adjust and heal properly.  Before we dig into the meat of what the universe is attempting to teach me (and, boy, do I hope I FINALLY learn the lesson this time),I feel compelled to share some positives from the race.  There were A LOT of positives and I am trying to keep myself focused on them.  I understand that you may be are asking yourself WHY I made these mistakes if I figured them out before the race?  It is a valid question to which the answer is that I am most likely certifiably insane, not to be confused with certain types of insanity.

Miracles first (if I were Catholic, this could be grounds for sainthood): I DID NOT CHAFE.  Not one bit.  Not at all.  ANYONE who runs long distances realizes that this was probably an Act of God.  (I doubt it had anything to do with the 1/2 jar of Vaseline that I slathered on pre-race in each and every possible chafe zone.)  To further prove my point, the weather was muggy in the 60s, cloudy with misty or rain the entire time, so I was very sweaty and ended up very wet.  I should have been chafed from head to toe.

On a scale of 1-10, my muscle soreness is around 3-4 (muscle soreness, not ITB related soreness).  I kid you not.  It boggles my mind, as well.  I can only think of two possible explanations: either the Sport Legs pills I take hourly during long workouts really work or it was due to the walk breaks I was FORCED to take.  It was probably the walk breaks.  Funny how humbling 26.2 miles can be.  HUMBLING.

A text from one of my volleyball-parent friends.  I had a discussion with her husband this summer when I was able to clear up that 13.1 & 26.2 are not, in fact, non-existent radio station stickers.  (Yes, he is an Aggie)
A text from one of my volleyball-parent friends. I had a discussion with her husband this summer when I was able to clear up that 13.1 & 26.2 are, in fact, running distances and not radio station stickers. (Yes, he is an Aggie)

The next isn’t a positive as much as it is down-right funny.  Parents from Alli’s volleyball team were cheering me on and later saw my Facebook post about my ITB.  Apparently a group discussion ensued because no one had ever heard of an ITB, much less have any knowledge of it.  I’ve been told a couple of moms confused it with IBS and they were not only concerned about me, but the runners behind me. (Although this was never said in so many words.)  Thank goodness they finally consulted Google in the matter.  I assured them that not every runner suffers from ITBS but every runner has gut issues, so IBS could have totally been appropriate…..especially in a marathon and if Mexican food was involved the night before. (If you don’t get the Mexican food reference, you haven’t been running long enough.)

Dinner last night, celebrating the holidays with Alli's team after practice.  This is for those of you who think I don't eat.  Trust me, I had PLENTY of chips and salsa to accompany these tacos and nearly asked someone to roll me to my car.
Speaking of Tex-Mex…. Dinner last night, celebrating the holidays with Alli’s team after practice. This is for those of you who think I don’t eat. Trust me, I had PLENTY of chips and salsa to accompany these tacos and nearly asked someone to roll me to my car.

If you have lived under a rock for the past 6 months, you might not know that I went into this marathon training coming off an ITB injury.  I pushed my body too hard after the injury, experienced a setback and was just able to start the training plan fairly healthy.  Now on to the lessons this journey taught me.

  • My training plan was too aggressive for my stage post-injury.  OK, I knew this before I started.  I added drop back weeks in between long runs to help with recovery, but it was still too aggressive.  Intellectually, I realized this might be a problem, but I have a brain/body disconnect sometimes (OK…ALL the time).  I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted training to look like and was convinced that it would TOTALLY work. BUT I am actually glad I used this plan.  (May I interject that before my body started breaking down, my runs were ahhhhhmazing!!)  It may not have gotten me the best results on race day (the results were actually TERRIBLE), but I now have a better idea of the mileage windows in which I need to run to remain a healthy runner.  I am sitting down this week to roughly outline a new training plan for the next marathon before I put a complete mental block on everything that happened the past 5 weeks.
  • I didn’t have enough time.  Isn’t this always the case?  I had the time, in that I had 16 weeks to train, but time within my day-to-day activities was the problem.  I am over-scheduled.  Training this year has been a catalyst for me to begin thinking about how I can change.  (This is a GOOD thing!)  I worked full-time, drove Alli to volleyball practice (1 hour each way), officiated volleyball twice per week (and some Saturday tournaments) and STILL managed to squeeze in my runs.  I am looking to make some changes in 2015 that will allow me more time to train to hopefully avoid injury.
  • I didn’t foam roll or stretch enough.  This is a constant battle for me, which dovetails back into the time issue.  Even though I get up at 5am every morning to stretch and foam roll, when I was in the meat of training all I wanted to do was sit and wake up with a cup of coffee.  So many times I just sat and drank my coffee.  There were days that I was sooooo tired. (Actually, during the last third, I was ALWAYS tired.)  Plus, when you are feeling healthy you let some things slide…..like foam roll and stretching.
  • I slacked on the strength training.  Once again, a battle of the schedule…..and I just don’t like it.  During training for my next marathon (OF COURSE I’m going to run another!) I am going to try to clear my schedule as much as possible.  Marathon training is a full-time job, if one does it properly.  (I’m nothing, if not proper….but perhaps would be better said, I’m nothing, if not Texan.)
  • When I had a hard time believing in myself, my running friends (all my friends, really) carried me.  This happened all throughout the year, not just during race training.  The amount of support that I received when I was injured and during training was nothing short of AMAZING.  I would put my network of running buddies up against ANYONE.  The messages and well wishes I received in the days leading up to the race was mind-boggling.  I am still in awe of all the people who took the time to reach out.  And, for this tough Texas girl who never sheds a tear, I found myself with eyes-watering each time I read a tweet, Facebook post, email or text.  STILL. IN. AWE.

    This is the banner I spoke of in my last post.  Just looking at this picture warms my heart.
    This is the banner I spoke of in my last post. Just looking at this picture warms my heart.

Usually, I would be so angry and upset with myself for making these rookie mistakes.  (I am a little disappointed.)  However, I am trying to learn the lessons so that I can apply them to my training.  I want to continue running for a long time and there is a delicate balance between training effectively and pushing yourself to the next milestone versus over-training.  Now I know where some of those boundaries are and, hopefully, can apply them successfully to run injury free in the months to come.  My biggest obstacle is myself and the battle that I fight within to do the necessary things I don’t like to do….like strength training.

Try as I might, I am not satisfied with Sunday’s performance.  (I KNOW I ran a marathon and SHOULD just be happy that I finished, but I am not satisfied.)  But, like I said, I am focusing on the positives and I WILL be a better, stronger runner on the other side!

Intellectually I know I didn't "fail", but this spoke to me because I need to train more intelligently.
Intellectually I know I didn’t “fail”, but this spoke to me because I want a better result and I need to train more intelligently.

Happy Hump Day everyone!!

I only have 3 more days of work until a 2-week Christmas break!