Year in Blogging: 2013 Review [PLUS TWITTER!!]

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear blo-og,
Happy Birthday to you!

How does a blog celebrate its birthday?
BY JOINING TWITTER, of course!

Come twit tweep twerp eh, whatever: Run With Holly@Coach_Holly !!

The blogging leg of this adventure started one year ago, right here:  Take Your Mark, and….GO!  Since my parents were really my only readers back then, you might want to click back and check it out.  [Oh, and by the way – Dad, if you’re reading this (IF?!?!  Who am I kidding.  Dad is my biggest fan.  Love you, Dad!), is there any chance I could offer you a TimTam bribe to get you to dig that photo from Ms. Rose’s ballet class out of the photo album and scan it to me?]

And since I’m seeing an influx of new readers lately (for a variety of reasons, but especially SEE BELOW!), let’s quickly review: If you’re feeling curious, check out the About Me section, and/or a more casual collection of Holly Fun Facts.  And here’s a bit about the guy who’s often photo bombing joining me in my pictures.  Finally, the Race Reports category includes reports of all the races (except one!) that I ran this year, mostly in Singapore.

Awesome.  Now, let’s get on with the Year of Blogging recap, shall we?  The inadvertently excellent thing about starting a blog on January 8th is that your blog’s birthday almost exactly corresponds with the New Year – and WordPress’s publication of “Your 2013 Year in Blogging”.  Thus, in honor of the blog birthday/new year, and inspired by Fit, Feminist, and (Almost) Fifty‘s example, Part II of my year-end wrap-up will be blog-specific.  [Click to read the first wrap-up, Year of Running: 2013 in Review.]

According to WordPress, this blog was viewed by others approximately 31,000 times this year.  I don’t publish this number to brag or compare – but just to say, HOLY WOW.  And THANK YOU.  Yes, YOU.  🙂  That might be considered peanuts in the realm of blogging, but heck – for this tiny little corner of the internet, I’m pretty happy with that number.  My most popular posts were:

Venus Run (2013): Race Report
Stretch Those Calves!
How To Make A Really Delicious Roast Chicken
Female Endurance Athletes Are Just Like Other Women (Only Not Really)
Yellow Ribbon Run (2013): Race Report

I’ll admit that the roast chicken one makes me giggle – I had no idea it would be such a popular post.  But it is, indeed, one of the most frequent searches that lands people on my site these days.  Unfortunately, I have subsequently realized that the use of local chickens contributes to my chicken-roasting success.  Our local chickens are small, properly proportioned, and TASTY.  They aren’t certified organic/free-range/pesticide-free, but all I have to do is look at one to see that it looks…well, it looks like a chicken should.  I was really surprised the last time I was back in the US, and saw the enormous, strangely proportioned thing my Dad was roasting as a chicken.  But I digress.  [Although you should come visit, and I’ll roast you a HIGHLY delicious chicken.  I promise!]

*ahem* FOCUS, Holly.

Also – a big shout-out to fellow bloggers who discovered me, adopted me, and encouraged me when I was just starting out at the start of the year.  There are plenty of you, but WordPress reports that my Top 3 commenters this year were Amy (Run Write Hike), Meagan (Turkey Runner), and Jeano (Jogging Jeano).  Thanks, chicas!

Anyway, Fit, Feminist, and (Almost) 50 also added a cool twist, by listing the posts that she thinks were under-appreciated, and should have gotten a bit more attention.  Here are a few of my other favorites from this year:

Why Getting Started Is The Hardest Part (and what the dishwasher has to do with it)
Stop the Comparisons, and Start the Celebrations
And the entire repository of Stretches I’m starting to build

So there you have it, folks.  A summary of my blog year. You can see the  whole report for the Run With Holly blog here.  It’s big on cute graphics, and only modest in actual data – but still, it will be an interesting look back on your year.  If you have a WordPress blog, I’d suggest that you have a look at your own!

I know sometimes when I read a blog post that really hits home for me, it sticks with me for awhile.  Was there anything I wrote this year that has stuck in your mind?

Should I make birthday brownies or chocolate chip cookies for the blog?

Anyone have a #1 Twitter Tip for me?

Year of Running: 2013 in Review

About a month ago (December 9, to be exact), Miss Zippy posted her now-famous How Was Your Year of Running? post.  I am both too late for the formal link-up and too slow to publish before we hit 2014.  On the plus side, I’ve had the chance to see every OTHER blogger’s “End of Year” wrap-up (both Miss Zippy-style, and otherwise), and have chosen three to copy/share.  So here’s the first one, and the only one that is running-specific.

  • Best race experience? No question: Chevron Surf to City Marathon in Perth.  The combination of awesome weather, a perfectly organized event (There was space! Lots of space! No Singapore-style smushing in Perth!), and a faster race than I had the nerve to expect all combined to make the day an amazing one!  Plus, I got to enjoy not only the race, but also a few days exploring Perth with GCA.  On the morning of the big event:
Last race-related photo from my camera. I opted to leave my phone in the room; hence, no photos.

Last race-related photo from my camera. I opted to leave my phone in the room; hence, no photos.

  • Best run?  This is a tough one, and the only one where I’m struggling with the meaning of the word “best”.  I had some great training runs, but one of the most memorable actually wasn’t super awesome or easy.  It was a long, sloggy, hot training run for my first 50K (28 Miles is a Really Long Way).  I did it solo, and pulled through some pretty low points.  Ultimately, that mental training was important for helping me handle some tough moments on race day.  So even though it wasn’t the sparkliest, happiest, prettiest training run – it was one of the most important.
  • Best new piece of gear? The running towel.  Boring, but so freakin’ true.  It took me at least four months to start grabbing a towel when I went out for a long run.  Finally, I decided to try carrying one of the little absorptive towels I’d been getting in race packs.  (There must be a reason they were being put in there, right?)  So I started hooking one onto my hydration pack for long runs, and BINGO – something to wipe my sweaty hands on before I wiped my eyes, something to wipe my sweaty face on when I stopped for a drink and suddenly had sweat pouring into my eyes, something to throw over my shoulder when I hop on the bus to go home so I LOOK like I’m making an effort to manage the sweat situation.  Check out the towel, in all its glory – tucked sexily into the strap and under the hose on my vest:
Official race photo, courtesy of Running Shots.  Their dedicated photographers were braving the rain and risking their equipment to capture our day.  Thank you!

Official race photo, courtesy of Running Shots. Their dedicated photographers were braving the rain and risking their equipment to capture our day. Thank you!

  • Best piece of running advice you received? I am crushing HARD on Jay Dicharry (author of Anatomy for Runners) lately.  Reading his work has pushed me to become increasingly interested in the non-running exercises that runners can do to make their bodies better and more efficient running machines.  So the advice I’m sharing here is a direct quotation from the first chapter of his book:

“Runners run, and oftentimes aimlessly, which leads to injury or suboptimal performance.  Athletes develop their brain, their body, and the complementary skills necessary to take the right path.  Runners, it’s time to develop your inner athlete.”

  • Most inspirational runner? This is totally corny, but I’m going to say that my new runners (first time 5Kers) are my greatest inspiration.  It’s one thing for me to pop out of bed and knock out 4 or 6 miles (7-10K) before breakfast. I do it on the regular.  If I don’t want to, it’s because I’m tired or lazy or not in the mood – but not because it’s all that hard (for me).  But for new runners, every.single.step is a challenge.  NOTHING is easy.  Yet they persevere, rallying their drive, determination, and dedication to get out there for their workouts every week – trusting that one day those steps will get easier.  [THEY DO! I promise!  Ask the folks who’ve been there already!]  They are the ones who remind me to get out when I’m not quite feelin’ it.
  • If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? Sweat and hydration management.  [Pretty fitting for my first year in Singapore.]  Oh, and Run With Holly, of course! 🙂

If you haven’t taken the survey already, feel free to answer any of these questions in the Comments section.

Or (since we’re not just about running) tell me about your MOST MEMORABLE ATHLETIC ACHIEVEMENT in 2013.

Or, because I’m feeling all weekend-y, tell me what you’re most excited for this weekend.

Happy 2014 (aka Will I Stay Awake Until Midnight?)

Spoiler: I stayed awake. But my initial post-by-email attempt failed. Let’s try this again (and pretend this posted about 10 hours ago!)
For those of us who work and play in the GMT +8 time zone (Me! Me! Me!), 2014 is less than an hour away. I haven’t even had a nap yet tonight, and am aiming to make it to midnight without one bit of whining to KMN about how I’m falling asleep. This might be the first year (in the 7 years we’ve been together) that this has happened. Shocking.

And although we aren’t exactly party animals, KMN and I are celebrating the new year outside of Singapore (although still in GMT +8). You see, not even an amazing trip to the zoo on Sunday:

could convince my parents to stay on for a few extra days. To distract me, and to take advantage of the work lull for KMN (sometimes the end of the year is quite hectic for corporate attorneys; this year’s quiet was more the exception than the norm for him), he booked us tickets to Hong Kong – leaving at exactly the same time as my parents flew out to return to New Jersey.

Believe it or not, Hong Kong is a popular destination for trail running and hiking in Southeast Asia. I’ve been itching to check out some of the trails here, and this was the perfect opportunity. So we flew in Monday night, and on Tuesday morning (today), we packed up our brand new Salomon packs (Christmas present!!):

and headed out. Today, we explored Dragon’s Back and some of the surrounding trails. Despite a bit of haze, being out on the trails in moderate temperatures and beautiful sunshine was amazing!

We have another 1.5 days of hiking planned, so I’ll be pretty much MIA until Thursday evening. But I have big plans to catching up on both blog reading AND blog writing (2013 recap, 2014 goals, race and training plans, stretching, hiking in HK, a recap of our visit to Pulau Ubin, and more!) this weekend. I’ll see you there!!

(Also, in the waning hours of 2013, I’ve learned how to post by phone. I hope. Provided this actually posts in something more than gibberish. Fingers crossed!!)

So to ring in 2014, I leave you with the delicious fries we enjoyed this evening. They were seasoned with honey and some other spices, and served with mayo/sambal chili sauce:

Cheers, and Happy New Year!!!

What’s the best part of starting a ‘new year’ for you?

Tips for posting by phone? I’m a bit scared of how my photos will come out…

Five Things Friday (Unlinked)

I’m not linking up with anyone.  And it’s actually Saturday morning in Singapore.  Double fail?

No way!  It’s still Friday evening in the US!!  And I’m (finally) sharing a blog post, after a week of blog-silence!  So that’s a double WIN in my opinion.  So let me ease back in by summarizing the last 5 days with 5 pictures for 5 Things Friday.  [Am I supposed to be linking up with someone??]

Sunday: My parents arrived in the wee hours of Sunday morning.  We finally got to bed around 3 AM, and when everyone finally woke up (at a much more reasonable hour of the morning!), we went for a hike at McRitchie Reservoir, and enjoyed a few minutes of breeze on the Treetop Walk.

Treetop Walk!  And a rare sighting of the RWH parents on the blog.

Treetop Walk! And a rare sighting of the RWH parents on the blog.

Monday: We took a lengthy walking tour of the historical parts of downtown Singapore.  Most of Singapore’s “historical” architecture is less than 50 years old, but we did the best we could.  We started with the Dalí sculpture in the UOB Plaza and the Fat Pigeon statue by the river, then caught the other riverside statues, the Cavanaugh Bridge, and the Fairmont Hotel.  After a quick glimpse at the Merlion, we headed across the river to the Esplanade, where we visited my cousin’s art exhibit, My Beautiful Indies: A Rereading, which will be exhibited in the Jendela visual arts space until Jan. 5 (Shameless Plug: Singapore folks, you should go! It’s free!).

We walked back around to the Victoria Theater and Old Parliament House which were, unfortunately, all covered by scaffolding and under construction.  Dad was disappointed by the crappy photo ops, but I pointed out that things under construction are the quintessential Singapore!  We assuaged him by having him pose with the Sir Stamford Raffles Statue.  We continued on to St. Andrews Cathedral, past Raffles Hotel, and on to the National Museum.  Whew!!  However, all the photos of those escapades are on my parent’s camera.  So I’ll leave you with this one, which captures how I’ve been getting in my workouts: By getting up extra early.  No one misses me then.

Bus stop at dawn.

Bus stop at dawn – on my way to the gym!

Tuesday: Christmas Eve! We hosted KMN’s family for dinner, so spent the day in a place that my family loves to be: The kitchen!  We cooked up a dinner of Asian mushroom soup, Adobo pork loin, roasted root veggies, and cranberry sauce.  I, of course, insisted on the American Christmas tradition of a cookie plate:

Clockwise from top: Gingerbread men (and women), Peanut Butter Blossoms, Ginger Cookies (the flatter ones), Molasses Cookies (the rounder ones).

Clockwise from top: Gingerbread men (and women), Peanut Butter Blossoms, Ginger Cookies (the flatter ones), Molasses Cookies (the rounder ones).

Wednesday: KMN’s family enthusiastically welcomed our whole crew for Christmas Dinner.  But before that, we enjoyed a pretty low-key Christmas day – baking pumpkin pies (to bring for dinner), enjoying a few gifts, and playing games.

Reason #529 we knew that KMN belonged in our family: He shared his box of Christmas chocolates with us during game time.  [Games + Chocolate are a RWH Family Tradition.]

Reason #529 that KMN belongs in our family: He understands the Games + Chocolate tradition, and happily shared his box of Christmas chocolates with us during an intense Scrabble session.

Thursday: We took a day trip out to Pulau Ubin, a tiny island that’s a 10 minute boat ride off the mainland.  The main attraction for us was the Chek Jawa Nature Reserve, one of the few places in Singapore where the coastline is preserved in its natural state (sand bars, sea grass ‘fields’, and protected habitats formed by mangrove swamps).  The easiest way to get around the small island is by bike.  Everyone played:

If it's a bit blurry, that's because I was taking it behind me, while I was riding.

If it’s a bit blurry, that’s because I was taking it behind me, while I was riding.

So that summarizes our last 5 days.  And now, we’re off for a few more adventures (YAY!) before my parents leave on Monday (BOO!).

What is your favorite (old or new) tradition in which you participated this holiday season?
I love when my whole family works together in the kitchen!  Food is one of our love languages.

If you could hear more about ONE of these days, which would it be?
[Sneaky way to get a quick reader survey in there, eh? :)]

Should I be linking up with someone for Five Things Friday?

Stretch of the Week: Shoelace (Hips #2/ IT Band & TFL #1)

*Apologies if you got this before it was in its final format.  WordPress recently re-vamped their interface, and I swear the “Publish” button is wear the “Preview” button used to be…

Although I haven’t made a big bloggy fuss about it, I’ve been Elf for Health-ing the last two weeks.

[What is EoH?  Basically, bloggers Lindsay & Elle organized a pretty enormous group (over 700 people this time around!) of interested folks, paired us up, and gave us one health/lifestyle challenge per day.  We support our partner, as well as other participants, through challenges like longest wall sit, Eat the Rainbow, clean out your closet, etc. There are prizes and goodies for being a spectacular elf, but for most of us, this is simply a little extra reminder and motivation to maintain good habits through the holiday season.]

Wednesday’s challenge was to Share Your Knowledge.  My brilliant plan was to write up Thursday’s Stretching Post on Wednesday, and get two birds with one stone.  Alas, I started…but got side-tracked by other projects (whoops).  So I’m not really sure I shared much on Wednesday, except perhaps some running advice with a few clients.  BUT – I’m finally sitting down to finish up that stretching post.  Here it is!

If you’re new to the stretching series, then check out the Stretch of the Week: Start Here!.  Also, take note: Some stretches aren’t right for some people.  If you are in pain, or something feels wrong, just stop.  There will be another stretch next week.  If you don’t feel anything, that’s fine.  You don’t need the stretch.  Move right along, and have a good day.  If you love it – bookmark it!  If you bookmark your favorites, then in 6 months, you’ll generate enough stretches to easily assemble a post-workout stretching routine (or two!).

Background: As I’ve said before, requests for hip/piriformis stretches are, by far, the most common request I receive.  So I’m aiming to do a sequence of 5-8 hip stretches, to help you all get started and find a few that work well for you and your body.  I won’t differentiate too much between the hips and piriformis – some of the hip stretches may do a great job on your piriformis, others may not.  But there are lots of small muscles in your hip area, and the tight muscle(s) you are feeling may or may not actually be (only) your piriformis.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter – we’ll stretch them all!

Depending on the relative tightness of your hips, and the exact geometry of your body, you may also feel this stretch extend down from your hips along the outside of your leg.  You probably call this your “IT band”.  Quick note: Your actual IT (iliotibial) band is connective tissue, which can be stretched just a little bit.  But if you feel a stretch in the upper third of the outer thigh, then the muscle that you are feeling stretch is most likely your Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL), which ultimately inserts into your IT tract (band).  Runners, especially, often use “IT band” to refer to the whole length.  Regardless, the stretch is the same – just trying to add some education into our stretching sessions!

Contraindications: Nothing major here.  This stretch puts less pressure and potential twisting on the knees than the other hip stretches I’ve shared – but if you have knee issues, move in and out of this pose cautiously.  But generally, this pose is quite supported and stable.

Set-Up:

Sit on the floor (slightly soft surface)
Center weight evenly on sitz (sitting) bones (the bone in each butt cheek that you sit on)
Bend knees, soles of feet on floor
Stabilize core, sit up straight

Relax outside of right leg onto the floor, as though coming into cross-legged position
Adjust right knee to be centered (left-to-right) with respect to torso (move right foot further out and/or behind to get proper knee position)

Position right leg

Position right leg

Bend left leg and stack over right leg (knee over knee)

Position left leg on top

Position left leg on top

From the front, you’ll look something like this:

View from the front.  Don't mind my furrowed brow.  It was sunny?

View from the front. Don’t mind my furrowed brow. It was sunny?

Stretch: You may feel a stretch simply sitting up straight.  For a greater stretch, start by lifting your spine straight, then tipping forward from the hips (with a straight back).

Tip forward with a straight back

Tip forward with a straight back

Remember to relax your hips.  Your hips want to protect you – and themselves – so they may tighten up when you lean forward.  Think about relaxing them and gently easing yourself a bit further down.  Stop at the point where you feel a moderate stretch.

Length of Hold:  I start this stretch sitting tall and consciously relaxing my hips.  After about 15-20 seconds, I am relaxed enough to lean forward a bit.  I continue this process, tipping a bit more as I am able, for 1-2 minutes.

Release: Use your hands to gently remove the top leg.  Be careful, as your hip(s) may feel quite fragile.  Set both feet on the floor, hip distance apart (or wider), knees bent.  Lean back slightly onto your hands, and move your legs slowly in whatever motion seems comfortable: Rock knees from side to side, straighten legs out in front, pull legs in to chest – whatever feels best to YOUR body.  After ~30-45 seconds of recovery, repeat with the other leg on top.

Variation: After the straight-back position, try releasing your spine and curling forward over your legs with a rounded back.  I find that the stretch isn’t as strong in this position, but it is considerably easier to relax my hips.  Play around and see what works best for you.

Folded forward

Folded forward

This stretch is a variant of the Box Position from a few weeks ago. Some people prefer one over the other.  I use both, but usually only one per stretching session.

How did the stretch feel while you were doing it?  How did your hip area feel afterward?

If you tried both stretches, do you prefer the Box Position or Shoelace?

Take it, or leave it?
[This is for my own data gathering purposes.  I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.]

Like this one? Check out more Stretch of the Week posts:
Feet
Hips
Twists

“Welcome to Les Mills RPM. My name is Holly, and I’ll be guiding you through your workout today!”

It’s been a bit of a long road…

But after taking my initial training module in July,
Then waiting for gym-specific training in September,
And waiting our turn to Shadow and Team Teach,
Going away for two weeks,
And returning to unexpectedly learn that I could clear RIGHT AWAY (due to some scheduling changes at the gym)…

I’m a Les Mills certified, Fitness First-approved RPM Indoor Cycling Instructor!

Post Spin

Relaxing Stretching after today’s final Clearance Exam!

This has been a fun side project for the last few months.  I’ve been challenged in new ways athletically, learned a bit more about how I hold and move my body, and figured out how to adapt “run coach” to “indoor cycling coach”.  The training journey has been fun, but I’m happy to be bringing it to a close and continue my journey, learning and growing with my own classes.  Thanks to a series of fortunate events, it’s highly likely that the opportunity will come sooner, rather than later – I’ll be taking on my first classes starting in January!

So Fitness First members in Singapore who work/live/play/gym downtown – stay tuned, because I’ll be coming to location near you in just a few weeks!  I’ll share the details once everything is officially official.

I am planning to write a post reflecting on this training journey I’ve been on for the last several months – but for now, I’m exhausted.  In addition to standard holiday preparations, it’s been an exciting but busy few weeks for Run With Holly.  So I’m celebrating my new “Instructor” status by treating myself to a (relatively) early bedtime.  And heck, the weather is so beautifully rainy and cool tonight, we might even open the windows in lieu of using the air conditioning (don’t tell the bad guys)!!

What was the last project you embarked upon that really taught you something (or several somethings) about yourself?

My friends who Indoor Cycle: What is the #1, most important, not-to-miss quality that YOU think an instructor should possess?

Culture Jolts (“Jolt” is less than “Shock”, right?)

A few days ago, I had lunch with my second-cousin-in-law.  [Yes, that is a relationship – and yes it is the same s-c-i-l who shared his NYC Marathon race report last month.]  As some of you may recall, he’s a Kiwi who relocated to the US about six months ago.  One of my favorite parts of lunch was pestering him with all the questions people have been asking the adjusted version of questions I’ve been fielding for the past year:

What do you miss about New Zealand?
What is the silliest question someone in the US has asked you about New Zealand?
What is the silliest question someone in New Zealand has asked you about the US?
What was the hardest thing to adjust to in the US?
What surprised you the most about the US?

This conversation – comparing our answers and experiences – finally prompted me to sit down to write this post.  Each time I’ve been back in the US, I’ve intended to write something similar.  I’m often asked by folks in both the US and Singapore what I find weird or strange about going back “home” (meaning the US – although Singapore is my home, too – I have LOTS of homes!).  I’m often asked: “Do you have culture shock when you go back to the US?”

And the honest answer is no – I don’t experience culture shock.  Singapore really is a genuine “East Meets West” city, and on the surface, it bears a lot of similarity to the US and Europe.  Of course, when you live here for awhile, hang out with Singaporeans, observe carefully, and take the time to dig deeper – there are plenty of subtle differences.  But nothing is strong enough to make me feel “shocked”.   I do, however, experience a more mild version – one that I’ll call a “culture jolt”, when I return to the US.

These “jolts” are usually times when I am struck by all the small changes I’ve made to adapt to life in Singapore.  These are things that I no longer consciously think about doing or seeing in Singapore – they are just a seamless part of my life here.  But when I return to the US and forget to recalibrate, I have a little jolt (and usually a good laugh at myself) when I realize I’m acting or thinking Singaporean in America.  Here are five of the most common jolt-worthy situations:

1. Crossing the street.  Singapore’s history as a British colony means that traffic drives on the left.   I don’t drive in Singapore, but when we first moved, it took me about 2 months to reliably convert my “left-right-left” traffic check pattern to “right-left-right” when crossing the street.  [My husband habitually kept a tight grip on my hand when we were out walking in the beginning, and pulled me back from an oncoming car more than once.]  Switching back in the US proved way too complicated, and I ended up standing on the street corner, trying to reason out which way to look.  This is ridiculous, so in NYC, I always obeyed the Walk signs, and everywhere else (out for a run near my parent’s house), I just checked back and forth about three times, really fast – then crossed the street quickly.  Thankfully, I lived to tell the tale.

This lefty “driving” habit extends to escalators.  I first learned city escalator etiquette in Singapore: Stand to the left, walk to the right.  Well, on this most recent NYC trip, I was startled several times to realize that I was clogging up the “walking” side of the escalator – the left side, in the US.  This makes sense.  In US driving, we pass on the left.  Ditto for escalators, of course!  Duh.  Sorry NYC, I’m not ignorant, I’m just becoming a lefty.

2. SPACE.  I haven’t forgotten about the vast areas of green, and space between houses, and American driving distances, so these don’t “jolt” me.  But I am suddenly very aware of how much space, and personal space, matter in the US.  I used to be rather sensitive to crowded, busy places – but as I mentioned in this post, going to the supermarket with my Dad a few days before Thanksgiving didn’t bother me one bit.  The US supermarket didn’t even feel full!  I had space to steer a cart, two carts could pass easily in an aisle, and I wasn’t dancing around or leaning over someone to grab an item off the shelf.  Even crowded supermarkets and busy streets in the US feel enormous compared with their counterparts in Singapore.  Aisles in stores are spacious, parking lots are big (and spaces are WIDE), bathroom stalls are large enough for a dance party (trust me, I found them so comically large that I tried), and tables in restaurants feel like they are miles away from each other.  I was in the US for two weeks, and I didn’t have to use my “lift your bag up, suck in your tummy, shuffle sideways between two seated patrons” move once – not once.

3. The two-handed pass.  In Singapore – and much of Asia – handing over money, a credit card, or a business card is often done with two hands, as a sign of respect.  Before moving to Singapore, I’d always hold my wallet in one hand and pass money with the other – so I had to learn a different sequence of movements to use at the cashier in Singapore. This was awkward at first, but is second nature now.  In fact, it’s so natural that I found myself making a two-handed-money pass to countless cashiers in the US, and chuckling every time – “He must wonder what’s so special about my credit card, the way I’m reverently handing it over!”  [You don’t think you have a payment-motion habit?  Put your wallet in the other hand the next time you pay for something, and see what happens.]

4. Oh, the politeness!  “Hi, my name is Lisa and I’ll be your server today! Can I get everyone started with some drinks?” *big smile*  On this recent trip back to the US, I couldn’t help giggling every time a server introduced him/herself, thanked us for placing an order, checked in on us, and brought over refills or extras without being asked.  I equate most service in Singapore with New Jersey diner service – you usually feel like you’re slightly inconveniencing your server, who is perpetually somewhat annoyed at you.  And if you feel like your food is being flung down on the table?  Totally normal.  I don’t feel bothered or offended by this service in Singapore, but I do find that service in the US feels so over-the-top polite that it’s funny to hear the things they say, oh-so-cheerfully.

For example, I went out to eat with my parents a few nights before I left, and our server wasn’t especially awesome.  She was totally unhelpful, mixed up the menu, and was rather rude.  My parents were definitely displeased – but it wasn’t until I saw the annoyance on their faces that I realized how inappropriately she was acting – for a server in the US.  It appears that Singapore has significantly lowered my standards for service.  This is a good thing…I think?

5. “Is it?” This is an expression that Singaporeans use approximately the same way Americans use, “Oh really?”  It serves to acknowledge that someone said something, and to indicate a bit of surprise or mild skepticism.  It could be interpreted as a request for elaboration or further explanation, depending on the circumstances.  For example:

Friend: “And tonight, I’m driving all the way to *random location 5 hours away*.”
Me: “Oh, is it?”

I generally try to curb my Singlish-speak in the US, but this phrase snuck in a few times when I was back this time.  And it’s an especially funny one, because to an American ear, this sounds like an incomplete sentence.  I’ve even had a few people respond, “It is WHAT?”  What’s slightly funnier (or scarier?) is that it takes me a few seconds to realize why they are confused.  Whoops.   [There are one or two other Singlish-isms that sneak into my American vocabulary, including “Can” and “How do you call this?”  But neither elicits the same confused look that, “Is it?” does.]

So there you have it: A summary of my “culture jolts”.  I think tomorrow I’ll do a quick wrap-up of Things I Miss.  But for now, it’s after midnight – and I’m feeling sleepy.  After just 24 hours back in Singapore, this is quite an accomplishment. Singapore time and EST are 13 hours apart, so jet lag can sometimes be quite pesky.  So I’m going to roll with this sleepiness, and head to bed.  ‘night!

Ever experienced any of these “jolts”?  How about any other “culture-jolt” type situations?

If you’ve traveled internationally, which country that you visited reminds you most of your home country?  Which seems the most different?

The Guilt Cycle and Weekly Workout Round-Up (Nov. 25 – Dec. 1)

It’s a vicious, self-imposed cycle.  I know you’re familiar with it.   There’s something in your life – some task, chore, or even fun activity – that’s best when done regularly.  As long as you stay on top of it, things roll along smoothly.  You don’t mind doing it – and perhaps even find it enjoyable – and attending to it regularly keeps it from becoming too overwhelming:

Managing your RSS reader.
Calling your good friend.
Writing in your journal.

But sometimes life happens, and you start to fall behind.  Then, you fall more behind.  And the task keeps piling up, getting bigger and bigger:

200+ blog posts in your RSS reader…
SOOO much to tell your friend that you’ll have to set aside 2 hours for the conversation…
Three weeks of journaling to “catch up” on…

So you start avoiding it – finding excuses, filling your time with other tasks or projects.  The thought of “catching up” feels so overwhelming.  And just like that, something you love doing has become something you dread.

So what do you do?

You break the Cycle of Guilt.
You let go.
You start fresh.

You “Mark All As Read”.  No one will begrudge you a few missed comments.
You call your friend.  Tell her you only have 20 minutes, but wanted to check in and say hi.
You write down today’s date and let the words flow.

Basically, you be kind to yourself.  You treat yourself the way you would treat a friend.  You STOP letting your regret and your list of “should-haves” drag you down, and you START looking toward the future.  You make a plan.  You forgive yourself.  And then, you move forward.

And no matter how tightly you were holding on to that thing you HAD TO do, I promise you’ll feel better, lighter, and freer once you let it go.

I let myself become a victim of the Cycle of Guilt far too often.  But today, I’m standing up to myself.  I’m making a choice – I’m choosing to excuse myself.  November’s Workout Round-Ups just won’t get written this year. I’m so far behind, the notes in my workout log aren’t even familiar any more.  And although I have the actual workout data recorded, I’ve lost a lot of the funny anecdotes, back-stories, and extra info I like to include to make these posts less boring.  I know that none of you are losing sleep over this, so although the “completeness” freak in me is rebelling, I’m choosing to move on too.

I’m starting fresh in December – so I’ll start with last week, which was mostly November, but also included a tiny bit of December!  [Spoiler: There wasn’t much in the way of working out going on last week…]

Monday: Gift & Food Shopping Marathon with Dad

We have a few family members with “Thanksgiving Birthdays”, so we did some shopping for gifts, then hit up the supermarket for Thanksgiving groceries.  Thankfully, living in Singapore has dramatically raised my tolerance for crowded, busy stores.  Navigating the grocery store on the Monday-before-Thanksgiving felt like a breeze, compared to my weekly shopping routine in Singapore.  [I had no idea that the aisles in US supermarkets were so.freaking.huge!]

Tuesday: Run (5.5 mi)

This day was pretty ugly, and what started as a gentle snow turned into pelting sleet by the halfway mark.  I remembered why a cap with a brim is a good idea, even in the winter – It keeps all that stuff out of your eyes.  The run was *ahem* refreshing, and I felt like I got a bonus microderm abrasion.

Safely sheltered under the porch roof.  In the overexposed background, note the snow/ice on the ground.

Safely sheltered under the porch roof. In the overexposed background, note the snow/ice on the ground.

Wednesday: Cooking

My sister and brother-in-law arrived late on Tuesday night, so I spent Wednesday morning hanging with them and doing some work.  In the afternoon, some dear friends came over and we had a big cooking party.  It’s amazing how quickly the work gets done when 4-6 adults are working in the kitchen!!

Thursday: Eating, Hosting, Partying

Yep.  Besides passing the appetizer plates, pouring wine for guests, and lifting trays of food in and out of the oven, I didn’t do much physical activity.

Ta Da!  Thanksgiving Plate!  Not pictured: Applesauce & Cranberry Sauce, which get eaten AFTER all of the non-fruit food.

Ta Da! Thanksgiving Plate! Not pictured: Applesauce & Cranberry Sauce, which get eaten AFTER all of the non-fruit food.

Friday: Run (7.5 mi)

This is the one that I detailed in yesterday’s Join Me On This Run: Sussex County post.  It’s also when my IT band starting tweaking a little bit, reminding me that stretching is important, even in the USA!

Saturday: Goodbyes and Hellos

My sister and BIL left on Saturday morning, but in the afternoon, we went to pick KMN up from the airport.  He missed Thanksgiving, but coincidentally has business in NYC this week – so he stopped in New Jersey for the last of the leftovers.  Good thing, too – he entered just as everyone’s enthusiasm for turkey and gravy, stuffing, and green beans was waning.  What a champ! 🙂

Sunday: Travel & Cheese

Some food should be eaten, not photographed.  [The flash didn't help.]

Some food should be eaten, not photographed. [The flash didn’t help.]

KMN headed into NYC in the afternoon, and I decided to join him in the city for a day or two.  Although he’ll be busy during the week, he had some free time on Sunday night, and we snuck out for dinner at Amali.  The lighting was insufficient for good pictures, but the meal was amazing.  From the huge chunks of feta mixed with pistachios and grapes, served over chicory all the way to the ricotta donuts served with honey whipped ricotta, the meal was amazing.  And although I am happily married, I was contemplating a proposal to whoever made the divine ball of burrata cheese we enjoyed spread on crispy toast triangles.  I’m tempted to go back to enjoy a whole ball for myself, for lunch…

You don’t need an advanced math degree to calculate this one: 13 miles, just over 2 hours of working out this week (includes three days of stretching, which I don’t usually note in my day-to-day break down).  Obviously, this was a week for friends, family, and eating – not a week for working out.  But that happens once in awhile, and I’m not stressing over it.  This upcoming week will be back to normal (at least, non-gym normal).

In December, I’m looking forward to running, getting back to spin, and setting up my race calendar for the first half of next year.  I dragged my feet on this for awhile, but am now feeling excited about it – a sure sign that it’s time to pull up the race calendar and get out my credit card!!

What task/job/pastime quickly becomes overwhelming for you when you fall a bit behind?  How can/do you break the cycle?

Are there any Cycles of Guilt in your life right now that can/should be broken?  DO IT!  [Yes, like, RIGHT NOW.]  Then tell me about it, if you feel comfortable sharing.

Join Me On This Run: Sussex County, NJ

It’s no secret that I love to run.

I love running in Rochester…my running family is there, and the city has some incredible parks to explore.
I love running in Los Angeles…the sun is always shining, and there’s an odd beauty to the dusty, dry mountains out there.
I love running in Singapore…gear requirements are minimal and the same all year, the rain is NEVER cold, and I know that running in the humidity makes me stronger.

But my favorite place to run is…New Jersey.  Sussex County, to be specific.  This is where I grew up, and where my parents still live.  Any season, any time – it’s impossible for me to run here without a smile on my face.  While I’d love for you all to come visit me, so I could take you on a running (or walking!) tour, I know that’s impossible.  So instead, I’m bringing the run to you!

[Note: I got my first Smartphone after moving to Singapore.  A year later, and I finally realize: DANG those things are pesky in the cold weather!  I had to pull my gloves off every time I wanted to take a picture!]

I figured that 6-8 miles would be a good distance.  So we headed down the driveway:

Ready to rock & roll.  See that enormous pine tree behind me?  Trees just aren't that big in Singapore.

See that enormous pine tree behind me? Trees just aren’t that big in Singapore.

I decided to take a picture at every mile.  In retrospect, I should have run this route backwards, to save the best photo for last, rather than for Mile 1:

Culver Lake.  I think there's a #lakelove Twitter hashtag floating around somewhere for pics like this....

Culver Lake. I think there’s a #lakelove Twitter hashtag floating around somewhere for pics like this….

This photo was taken just after 1 PM.  There were some dark clouds around, but the afternoon didn’t feel quite as dark as this photo looks.  Mile 2 shows the lighting a bit more accurately:

A bit brighter.  And look - telephone poles!!!!  [All cables are run underground in Singapore.  It's easy to get used to NOT seeing this cluttering the roadside.]

A bit brighter. And look – telephone poles!!!! [All cables are run underground in Singapore. It’s easy to get used to NOT seeing this cluttering the roadside.]

I was running next to the highway at Mile 3, so I didn’t stop for a picture.  But here’s a picture from Miles 4 & 5 (a one mile out-and-back):

Not quite the angle I wanted...but I didn't feel comfortable asking someone if I could climb on their roof for a better shot. :)

Not quite the angle I wanted…but I didn’t feel comfortable asking someone if I could climb on their roof for a better shot. 🙂

Look what coincided with Mile 6!

Nature is powerful...

Nature is powerful…

At Mile 7, I was surrounded by naked trees on both sides, so I snapped a picture of the road I was running along, to show you how empty it is.  This wasn’t a coincidental shot – except for the short highway stretch, this is what all the roads I ran along looked like:

Rolling rural roadway....

Rolling rural roadway….

Up some hills, and half a mile later, we were done.  Good thing, too – because the cold weather and a lack of stretching (bad Coach Holly!) tightened up my IT band.  Gotta take care of that right away!!

Thanks for joining me!

Thanks for joining me!

Thanks for joining me!

Thanks for joining me!

Anyone else enjoy a nostalgic and awesome run thanks to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday?

How are you returning to your workout routine, on this (for some, post-holiday) Monday?

Do you enjoy this kind of “Join Me On This Run” posts, or think they are boring?

Stretch of the Week: Side Twist (Twisting #1)

I expect that this post finds you, my American friends, stuffed and perhaps just a little bit uncomfortable after a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.  [Unless you’re in that weird “we eat super early” group, and are now heading back to the kitchen for seconds.]  Anyway, I decided that today would be a great day to share a nice, passive twisting stretch.

Safety note: Check out the Stretch of the Week: Start Here! if you haven’t already – and remember, some stretches aren’t right for some people.  If you are in pain, or something feels wrong, just stop.  There will be another stretch next week.  If you don’t feel anything, that’s fine.  You don’t need the stretch.  Move right along, and have a good day.  If you love it – bookmark it!  If you bookmark your favorites, then in 6 months, you’ll generate enough stretches to easily assemble a post-workout stretching routine (or two!).

Background: Yogis will tell you that this stretch will “massage” your abdominal organs, including your digestive tract.  Personally, I prefer to think of it as a stretch to increase mobility in your spine/back, and I think it even helps me relax my shoulders and neck.  Regardless, “I’m stretching” is a great excuse to lie down on your back and relax after a big Thanksgiving meal.

Contraindications: This is actually a very easy pose to enter and control.  If you have any issues with your back, enter cautiously, use modifications (see Modifications, below), and stop if something feels off.

Set-Up:

Lie on your back on a comfortable surface
Bend your knees, put feet on ground

Lie on your back, feet on ground.

Starting position

Keep your knees together and slowly lower your legs to the left (right hip will come off floor)
Check leg position: Knees stacked and pulled up high toward hips

Important: BOTH shoulders should be on the ground at all times!  Adjust leg position if necessary to keep shoulders down.

Drop legs to the left - right shoulder stays on the ground

Drop legs to the left – right shoulder stays on the ground

 

Relax.

Relax.

Open arms wide
Gently turn head to look to the right

Stretch:

This is a passive stretch – just relax!
Inhale: Check position (knees, hips, shoulders, head)
Exhale: Relax deeper into the twist

You will probably feel some discomfort or stretching in your mid- to upper- back.  You may also feel a stretch across your chest, if your pectoral muscles are very tight.

Length of Hold: I usually hold 1-3 minutes; but your tolerance for the stretch will depend on your flexibility. I find that the first 10-20 seconds are quite uncomfortable.  Then, I enjoy a minute or two of release and relaxation, before experiencing a growing feeling of discomfort in my twisting mid-back.  I suggest starting with 20-30 seconds for your first few attempts, and increasing later if desired.

Slightly different view.

View of the stretch from above.

Release: 

Turn head back to neutral
Bring arms in slightly (optional)
Lift knees, keeping feet on floor
Lie on your back for 15-30 seconds, feeling the “rebound”

This stretch can cause a rather strong rebound feeling, so just lie back and let the sensations wash over you.  When you feel ready, repeat the stretch on the other side.

Modifications: If you cannot keep both your legs and shoulders on the floor, use a blanket , towel, or pillow to prop your legs up.  If your arms are uncomfortable stretching out, keep them at your sides or reach overhead.  If turning your head to the side is uncomfortable (your neck is sore or stiff), go only as far as you feel comfortable.  Prop your head if necessary, so you can relax completely.

This stretch can take 6-8 minutes total, depending on how long you hold the twist and how long you recover inbetween.  It’s not a particularly great stretch for your running muscles when you’re in a hurry, but it’s a wonderful, relaxing, passive stretch to enjoy while you digest a big turkey dinner!  [It’s also a great post-shower, before-bed stretch for Singapore – it won’t make you sweaty!]

So find yourself a spot on the floor and give it a shot!

How did the stretch feel while you were doing it?  How was the rebound?  How did your back feel afterward?