Book Review | Right After the Weather by Carol Anshaw

right after the weather book cover.jpgProtagonist Cate is in her early 40’s. With her ex-husband living in her spare bedroom working on conspiracy theories, she designs play sets in Chicago and New York while seeking the woman of her dreams. After she stumbles upon her best friend being threatened by intruders, she takes surprisingly violent action from which she feels there is no going back.

Right after the Weather is framed in two stages. The “before the incident” is the first half of the book, separate from the “after the incident” part that follows. This piece of women’s fiction focuses on female characters and how they evolve through the text, specifically Cate. While the writing flows alright, I had trouble understanding why an entire half of the book needed to be devoted to what I felt was back-story. Anshaw is understandably trying to foster dynamic characters, but it just seems overdone. The characters are not particularly likable. This novel could have been told as a novella or short story. Readers who may find it most appealing would be those who have gone through an unexpected, violent encounter or those dealing with a transition from hetero to bi/homosexual in mid-life. Publication is scheduled for October of 2019.

*Fans of Right After the Weather, may enjoy After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel (2018).

I received an uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Book Review | Cygnet by Season Butler

cygnet book cover.jpgA seventeen year old girl has been abandoned by her parents. They’ve left her on an island in the Atlantic with her grandmother. It was supposed to be maybe only a week, but the seasons have changed over and they aren’t coming back. Grandma has died and the bluff that makes up the back yard to her island house is eroding into the ocean. The girl is living alone, on an island composed solely of the elderly, trying to pay rent by editing photos for $5 an hour as she waits to be collected by addict parents who will surely come every tomorrow.

Cygnet is a delight. Butler’s writing is fabulous. Certain passages are so intricately composed as to just cause the reader to marvel a bit. The story is original enough and with interesting reflective themes incorporated, providing for a good read. The plot is slightly loose, but followable. Butler would be a solid choice to watch for upcoming works. Cygnet could be considered a coming of age or YA text, but adults may appreciate it more. It could also be used in a teen book group to generate discussion. Check it out from a library near you!

Publication is scheduled for June of 2019. I received an uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Race Recap | My First UltraMarathon – Ice Age Trail 50k

IMG_4866.jpgI showed up just over an hour before the start of my race, which allowed ample time for packet pick up, using the facilities (twice), changing into last minute race clothes (shoes I wanted kept dry, compression gear, etc.), and meeting and questioning a few veteran racers. Within the last half hour before start, I drank 14oz of water with Skratch sport hydration mixed in. I felt like I had to pee, but figured it was just nerves and didn’t want to brave the last minute pee line for nothing.

The race started out pretty packed together, but once on the single track, started spreading out a bit. I was able to hop past a few runners and let a few run by me. I knew I wanted to keep my pacing very relaxed and had been advised to walk/hike the hills and highly rocky/rooted inclines. As a road runner, this slowing to a walking pace felt very funny to me. It was comical for a race, with 15 or so runners to a pack, walking uphill on a trail in the woods. I felt like we were on a camping trip and had a laugh with another runner who asked when we’d be setting up tents.

IMG_4869.jpgThe first part of the course was a 13 mile out and back to the 6.5mi turn around. I still felt like I had to pee and figured there might be a port-o at the next aid station. When the first 2 didn’t have them, I thought the turnaround would for sure. Those aid stations, I took no food and was eating the GU I had brought about every 3-4 miles. I had two .5 L water bottles in my hydration vest and cycled through one at a time, refilling when empty. I ate my SaltStick FastChews about every 30 minutes with that plain water. I felt good, but wanted to pee. I was loosing some control/feeling in my fingers and wasn’t sure if it was from being cold (I have super poor circulation, maybe Raynauds).

At the turn-around (6.5mi) I grabbed a Hammer Gel to restock and a few potato chips. I couldn’t see the port-o. A lady pointed and indicated “over there” and continued to say she peed in the bushes (opposite direction) because she didn’t want to wait. Bah, I figured I would just wait til I was back at the start/finish(s/f) at 13 mi. Ha! It became all I could think about and I looked for a nice big tree to hide behind to pee. A lady was very friendly when I popped back out from behind the tree to rejoin the course. Then since my bladder was done stealing heat and energy, my fingers started feeling better! I was also thankful I packed a wet-wipe since I wanted to eat more with those hands.

Eating boiled potatoes and Pecan Sandies as I ran made me smile as I ran toward the s/f (13mi) where I could get my drop bag. I knew the second part of the course, one 9mi loop repeated, would be less technical, so looked forward to changing my shoes. The trail shoes are great, but they caused blisters which one of the volunteers was helpful to point out in several places asking if I needed to be taped. He sent a medical volunteer over and she taped up both my feet while I rummaged through my drop bag for refill gels, salt and new socks/shoes.

IMG_0277.JPGI refilled water and, with a banana from my drop bag, started running into the woods. Felt great to be on cushier pine needles and more forgiving ground with gentle rolls. I kept an even pace, still walking up most hills as they came.

Around mile 16, my hamstrings significantly tightened up. First the left, but the right followed soon after. Advised by a fellow runner to stretch, I used a bench trail-side to do so. I figured if they were that tight halfway through I wanted to put off major cramps as long as possible so took it easy and kept up with the salt. At an aid station I refilled water and picked up a half of peanut butter sandwich and stuffed it full of potato chips.

I yoyo’d with a few fellow racers. One guy from outside of Chicago was there with his Dad running and talked about riding his bike across Iowa. We encouraged each other and he shared a salt tab with me after I was too shot to locate my bottle in my drop bag at mile 22. Big Thanks!! (This also taught me to pack less in my drop bag and organize it more accessibly.) He was also a statistician.

Maybe around mile 24 I was running down a hill and I tripped over a tree root and fell. I scrapped the side of my knee, thigh and palm. I was lucky it was on dirt and I didn’t get cut. People made sure I was ok and we all kept on. I slowed down a little on the down hills and just kept eating and drinking. When Statistician told me that we had about 4 mi (?) left and could finish under 7hrs if we averaged less than 15 minute miles I was pretty excited. Though my original goal had been 6hrs, that was prior to running more than 6mi on trail. During training my goal evolved to just finish, 7-8hrs is fine. So excited to be coming near sub-7, I forged ahead at a controlled pace and started passing people. The hills at the end were challenging, but running through the tall trees was just amazing. It was so beautiful and I knew I was nearing the end and felt strong. I encouraged other racers as we headed to the end.

IceAge-2019-5496.jpgI was actually able to pick it up a bit at the finishing stretch. When I crossed the finish line I instantly morphed into snail mode. This prevented me from walking at a normal speed, slowed my fine motor skills to a crawl, and took me to the grilled food buffet. I layered up after taking off most of my wet gear and ate a brat, potato chips, cookie and BEER! The down vest kept me pretty warm, but can’t be too hot. 6:53, I did it. What’s next?

Training Tips for Running Your First 50k Ultramarathon

My 50k ultra, the Ice Age Trail 50, took place on May 11, 2019. I started preparing for it in December of 2018 by reading Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon, from 50K to 100 Miles and Beyond.

IceAge-2019-2263.jpgI had run my first marathon in October and felt like an ultramarathon was logically the next step. Koerner’s book provided valuable insights and a training plan that I intended to follow just as I had dedicatedly followed the Hansons Marathon Method training in preparation for my marathon. However, I was also hoping to PR two of three half marathons I ran during February and April prior to the ultra, so ended up just training specifically for the halves using Hansons Half-marathon Method. This 6 day a week run training included speedwork, easy running, long runs and tempo runs. I was expecting to be underprepared when race day finally came since my longest run since the marathon had been 13.1 miles, but everything actually went really well!

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Training

In addition to training runs, I did strength work, put in time for near daily stretching and rolling and tested some fuels, hydration and gear. I also made a lot of new running friends.

I wasn’t looking to bulk up, I just used strength training in hopes of avoiding injury. Each day I alternated between 50 sit-ups and 30 push-ups. When I began marathon training, my arms would sometimes get tired, but adding push-ups every other day completely took care of that. On push-up days, I also incorporated hip strengthening work. These consist of three sets of 10 reps on each side, so 60 reps total that take about 3 minutes. Do each of the following three exercises 10 times on each side. From your hands and knees, lift your knee straight out to the side like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Then, from hands and knees, lift the knee forward and make a giant clockwise circle. Then do those circles counter-clockwise on each side. These helped prevent pain in my hips and IT band from overuse.

My stretching and rolling recovery routine takes 20 minutes.  I’ve combined common stretches that target my running related areas, foam rolling, stick rolling on major leg muscles and ball rolling on my feet. Target areas include calves, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, glutes, IT band/piriformis, insteps, and back. I hold stretches and roll each area for 35 seconds.

With fuels beside whole foods, I’ve learned to combine many different types including hydration mix-ins, gels, chews, salt tabs, and recovery bars to serve my needs. I’ve found the following products especially helpful:

Finding the right trail shoes was challenging for me, but after testing various models I settled on the Inov-8 Terraultra G 260, the best fit for my foot. Make sure you are able to test your shoes on trail before you decide whether you want to keep them or not. Check return policies at your local running store, and if they are too strict, maybe try an online seller like Running Warehouse that will allow returns on shoes after you’ve had time to try them.

When you have to run for several hours at a time, hydration is something key to figure out. Beside figuring out that I wanted hydration mix-in to fuel me pre-run and keep me energized longer, I needed a way to take water with me. Some runners like handheld bottles or waist belts with bottles that are quick to refill and don’t trap extra heat on them like a hydration vest can. These didn’t work for me in testing, so I found a vest that did. With many options out there, it’s important to find one that is a good fit and you’re comfortable with. I lucked out with the Ultimate Direction Race Vesta 4. Having the front bottles hold a liter of water and be easy to drink from while running meant I could skip the large back bladder and hose for the minimal running I was doing. It also allows me the option if I decide to train more remotely in the future. Some people don’t like the sloshing sounds that can come from hydration vests, but with these bottles I was able to run almost silently.

Picking up a running buddy, or six, was also incredibly helpful to my training. There will definitely be days when you don’t feel like getting out to run. Having a friend to chat with or just quietly brave the bad weather together will be a huge benefit. Training in the northern midwest in winter meant we were out running in 7 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can’t find someone to run with in your neighborhood or through a group run at your local running store, check out Instagram. While this may sound far fetched to some, I was able to pick up some awesome run buds there who were not specifically runners within my normal circles, but people training for an Ironman who were more than glad to have the company on run day. Switching up buddies can help vary paces, conversations, types of runs, and run locations, all of which will serve your training well.

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Using a race as part of your training can be super helpful. I used the Free State Trail Half Marathon in April to test out my trail shoes, my hydration vest, my clothes, my combined real food and crazy running fuel routine and just running a race on terrain similar to the big race. I found out I needed to make a few changes and learn how to deal with a few issues. Make sure you are equipped to handle hot spots and blisters on your feet, any chafing from clothing or gear, and how to quickly access everything in your drop bag. The drop bag part I didn’t get to mess up until ultra day.

Prepping for Race Day

Use the week prior to your big race to get all your ducks in a row. Read through the race rules, they probably aren’t very long and will give you helpful information. If you find out you have questions, you’ll have time to work out where to get the answers before race morning. Talking to people who have run the race in previous years can be very helpful in reducing race day jitters. I was super lucky to have a friend who sent me photos from the course and explained the terrain so I knew what I would be running despite having never been there before. Obviously, training on course or the terrain you can find that will be most similar to your race course will be most beneficial.

  • Be familiar with the course, terrain, elevation changes and aid station locations
  • Prepare what needs to be in your drop bag(s) and where on course you need them
  • Make sure to have all the fuels and hydration supplies you need ahead of time
  • Have warm clothes available for yourself at the finish line
  • Know who and where your supporter crew will be, they make a huge difference
  • Sleep, eat and hydrate all week. Try to minimize stressors.

Race Day!

Hopefully you will feel prepared and excited going into your first ultra. Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude. The Ultra community is incredibly supportive and your shared passion with the strangers around you will turn you into comrades, if not friends.

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Race recap to come in the next post!

Huge thanks to Mile 90 Photography for providing all of these awesome images.

Book Review | Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

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Three generations of Lee women occupy Oyeyemi’s latest novel. Perdita is a high school girl in London. Her single mother Harriet teaches classes at a night school to support them. Grandma Margot is a strong willed interior designer of sorts. Gingerbread focuses on a brief retelling of Harriet’s childhood. Growing up in a sort of fantasy land, she is “rescued” from her poor crop farming family and whisked away to the big city where she becomes a “Gingerbread Girl” in a tourist attraction. From there she again needs rescuing and is brought with her mother Margot to London by their benefactors.

This is the straight forward part of the story. Talking dolls, semi-imaginary friends, and powders that allow travel between the real/non-real world are some of the aspects of fantasy Oyeyemi employs. There are also family quarrels, mysterious characters and a few loose ends. The text is well written, and the plot can be followed, but it may leave the reader wondering what the point really was. Probably best to judge for yourself, check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Kids These Days : Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcom Harris

kids these days book cover.jpgHarris has written a well researched piece about the woes of the economical and political environments in which millennials exist. The book gives an explanation for how and why millennials have turned out the way they have. Harris provides sound, well-backed arguments in a thought-provoking text. There are many footnotes and an extensive notes section at the end with source details. This said, a reader must be open to hearing new ideas and appreciate a non-fiction, research piece in order for this book to be a worth-while read.

The subtitle of Kids These Days was changed at some point from “The Making of Millennials” to “Human Capital and the Making of Millennials”. The description also changed slightly to emphasize the socio-economic focus of the text. Without this information originally, this book was not what I had been expecting, but I was able to appreciate it for what it was. There are similarities in reading this book for leisure and reading a research paper in grad school. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Book Review | Family Trust by Kathy Wang

family trust book cover.jpgPerhaps rather than Family Trust this novel should be called Family Drama. Wang’s book centers on the Huang family in the Bay Area. Patriarch Stanley has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and his time is drawing near. His two children, Fred and Kate, from his first wife Linda are very interested in finding out about their inheritance as they have their own problems with which to deal. Mary, Stanley’s second wife and caretaker, has been told that she’ll be well taken care of. As chapters alternate focus among these central characters, their issues are revealed in detail.

This story could have been told in possibly half as many pages. There are many superfluous details included and few of the characters’ sub-plots are of much interest. This type of book may be appropriate for fans of soap operas who appreciate melodrama and self-absorbed characters. Maybe it would be a good book for women to read at the beach if they are trying to pass lots of time… You can see if it’s available from a library near you!

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.