Saturday, October 30, 2010

Introducing the 50 Day Challenge

Sorry I've been so absent. I haven't run at all this week (bad, I know) and I've been on vacation in the Ariège department (kind of like a mix between a county and a state) visiting our family friends Gérard and Marie-Hélène. Pics and an update on that to come tomorrow!

This is going to be a short post, but I just wanted to point out that there are 50 days! until I go home for Christmas. That said, I weighed in this morning at 75.6kg (I think the scale at the apartment must be wrong since I was 75 both here today (and yesterday) and at Sylvain's house last weekend). That said, I weigh about 166lbs... meaning I've lost nothing here so far, which is a sad reflection on my eating habits since I've been running (aside from this week) and walking everywhere.

As such, welcome to the 50 Day Challenge. I'm still trying to decide what that means since I've eliminated the official half marathon for the 13th (I really didn't want to be one of the last 10 out of 1000 participants). I get home from vacation tomorrow and then it's on (like Donkey Kong, of course) for a month and a half. I plan to make a huge pot of veggie soup and try and limit my sweets intake to only partaking when I'm with others who make special French desserts (i.e. 1-2 times a week, like the Thursday lunch with the professors of one of my schools). I'm also going to continue running regardless of half marathon status. In the end, it might be better anyway to run my first half with Jon and somewhere where my momma can watch me! I'm not a part of a gym here, so I bought a set of 3kg hangweights and a yoga kit (matt, block, strap... don't know what to use the last 2 for, but it only came as a set). Any at-home cross training suggestions or suggestions on ideas for what to do with this 50 day challenge would be really appreciated. I had most of my success losing weight back when I was lifting regularly, so I know I really need to incorporate something like that back in, but it seems so daunting with only handweights and a matt!!! Mostly, well, I'd like to lose 3lbs and get to 163... the 30 lbs mark.

So yeah, 50 days and counting!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The French Play to Win: Lessons from Today's 10k

Success! I've finally finished my first race in France with a PR of 1:15:04 (according to Mr. Garmin) with a distance of 6.5 miles exactly. Apparently it was a 10.5km race, not 10. Oops!

That said, it was a really weird experience. I had no problems getting registered (apparently the scan of my medical form emailed to me by my doctor stateside is 100% a-ok) and getting my tee-shirt etc. But, starting with the kids race and looking around, I noticed that absolutely everyone looked like a racer. Not a runner. A racer. As in wearing their specific club "uniforms" and such and just overall looking like very serious runners. I know I'm not a race veteran or anything, but at all of my US races these people obviously exist, but there's also a healthy mix of walkers, casual runners/joggers, and generally less "olympic" looking participants. So, starting early I began to get a little nervous... I mean, I didn't look like a complete outfit neophyte—I had my hydration belt, my garmin, and my underarmour—but looking around I was already getting a little uneasy. Thankfully, Sylvain and his wife were very positive (and even took this lovely photo of me pre-race... The set up was intended for the kids, but whatever):

And eventually the time came to get started. Their son, Pierre, placed 1st or 2nd in his age group's race before the adult race, so he left, but Sylvain and his wife (who's name I am SO embarrassed to think I never really learned....?) whole-heartedly adopted the role of official Nicky photographers and moved around the course and watched me pass by. That was new and fun because I always race with Jon or my friends so are either too busy recovering themselves after the race to watch me finish or are running themselves, so this was the first time I've ever had "race photos" taken.

It didn't take long to realize that I was right about the whole "racing" thing. Apparently the only French people that participate in races in France are those who race to win (or not far off). I quickly found myself nearing last place... where I would stay for the rest of the race. This was really difficult for me, actually, because I wasn't at all prepared for that to happen... Especially since I was doing so well (in my own opinion), since this was such a hilly and difficult course. I'd looked at the elevation map on the site before running the race, but wow, in person it was really hard... I'm not going to lie, I definitely stopped and walked a few steps/drank some water on these hills!

See? Check out that those two intense hills! Despite being last, the people along side (though not numerous) were really supportive, so that's nice.

Climbing up another hill

The second half of the race was better because it was mostly downhill, but from there on out, I was 100% alone... I couldn't see people ahead or the last last people behind me. Here are a few post race shots. One thing to be said about the olympians is that they did cheer me on as I came in at the end (you know, as they were all leaving).

Showing off my celebratory flower and bottle of wine

All in all, it was really weird (and difficult mentally) knowing I was 4th to last in the race. They even started opening up the roads as we were still running by, so occasionally on the big hills, we got passed by cars. I actually had to move once to let one go by on a narrow street. (Very discouraging, actually). As such, I fought with myself the whole way and even though I'm really pleased with how I did (you know, setting a PR and all on a difficult course), it's a bit bittersweet. It's also making me reconsider sending in my registration for the half on Nov. 13th... I can't stop thinking that if I finished 4th kicking my butt on a 10k and they were already closing the course, what's going to happen during a half marathon where my A-goal is 2:30:00? I already looked and the half seems pretty flat, but there were also (based on the 2009 results only 10 runners (out of the 961 listed) who finished the race with a 2:30:00 time or above... Yeah. It's not looking good folks. What do you guys suggest?

PS- To make matters worse, I saw that Sylvain and his wife had an electric scale, so I decided to get a more exact reading to confirm my 73kg weigh-in (and my 160 -30lbs goal conversion as a result)... and I weighed in at 75.5. Just to add insult to injury. Ulgh. Not a good day, despite PRing. At least Auburn beat LSU last night! #1 in the SEC!

23 miles = One French Meal?

And here it is... my first French school vacation. After a mere two weeks of teaching (plus a few of training), I have a week and a half for the "Toussaint" or All Saint's Day holiday. Originally, I wasn't going to go anywhere, but I found a cheap 33€ round trip train ticket, so I'll be visiting some family friends for a few relaxing days near Carcassonne.

Vacation started a bit earlier than anticipated, since I sidelined myself Thursday after teaching two classes due to a stomach bug. I thought I'd be able to pull through after being up all night sick (since I didn't really want to flake out on them on my second day in that school—I only see each school 1x/week), but, in the end, I had to come home and put myself to bed. Well, that is, after missing the bus by 10 minutes and thus being forced to wait 2 hours for the next one... Yeah, so I fell asleep on a bench like a hobo, whatcha gonna do about it? ;)

Anyway, after eating only 8 points yesterday, today was looking a bit iffy for my long run (I moved it to Friday so I could do the 10k Sunday pain-free). Thankfully, I woke up feeling 100% better so I decided to venture out. I tried to keep an really slow pace (13 min/mile) so as to not push it too much and, due to time constraints more than not feeling well, I only ran 8 miles instead of the anticipated 10. But, it was worth it to me because I wanted to make sure I was home in time to skype with Jon and his parents before the 'rents left to drive back to Alabama! I won't "see" them again until I'm home for Christmas. Due to the slow pace, it was a really easy run, actually. I'm not used to thinking that I'm capable of running 8 miles without dying, so it's pretty surprising to realize. Very cool. I was talking with my dad over the internet today and he mentioned that I'm probably in the best shape I've been in my entire life... and, you know, he's right. So odd to think about really. I'm also finally getting used to where I run so I can better plot out my routes distance wise. That was another problem with today's run--I overestimated the distance and got home with 2 miles left to go!

Saw this when I was out for my easy 8-miler. Bonus: in English!

Other than that, I experienced both ends of the food spectrum this weekend. Classy, traditional French dining with my friend Christèle and then tonight's homesick McDonald's with Claire:

Classy dinner. Main dish: Duck with potatoes au gratin and green beans

Moelleux au chocolate... as in a brownie that's melty in the center

McDo outing. I'm the tiny diet coke, the pineapples, and the mini mcflurry (well, that's regular size for France)

I opted for a Happy Meal...which is, much to my dismay, DEFINITELY not worth how many points it ends up being...

The top meal was worth more than all the APs I'd earned running this week (I think I also may have over-estimated) and the bottom was worth at least half... Verdict: McDonald's is SO not worth it... but that first meal SO was! I don't eat like that often at all, but it was really nice catching up with an old friend over a good meal, and I had the APs to do it!

And now, I leave you to go run the 10k! I also leave you with another interesting article on these French strikes... Oh and WAR CAM EAGLE! What a game last night!!!!

Oh, you know just some striking.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Salads, Strikes and Tangents

Well, as I'm sure most of you know, a large part of France is on strike (including the post office... meaning no mail for me!). It's really quite irritating, but it could be worse... I could live in Marseille, where the trash hasn't been collected in over a week!. I have friends working there and I've seen photos... So bad. Luckily all the strikes haven't messed up my buses or my work (yet), but there are quite a few assistants who haven't been working in their schools due to the "grèves".

In running news, how have I never heard about running tangents? I stumbled across the idea while reading another blog, and seeing as this is the course for this weekend, I'm looking forward to trying it out. It'll be good practice for the half!

Speaking of good training for the half, I had a great run yesterday. I decided to do a 5-miler with a goal of trying something "tempo-y" since I've never done a real tempo run. I randomly threw out the goal of a 11:15 average and ended up with a 11:22! Not too shabby! Plus I found a new path to run on that's 5 miles out and back and goes all alone the edge of the river! Really nice!

Oh, and finally, I have a new vegetable love: beets. Why have I never bought them before? They're so gooood! Just check out today's lunch: a huge salad with beets, corn, peppers and a hard boiled egg. YUM.!

Anyway, just trying to keep eating healthy and running. I'd LOVE to see a difference when I get back on the scale in the States at Christmas... I know I can weigh myself here, but in kilos, it just isn't the same! I have plenty of points saved up for tomorrow aka the big lunch with the profs from one of my schools. It should be delicious. I actually changed my weigh-in day to Saturday in hopes that having my POINTS reset during the weekend will keep me accountable and make me less likely to give up at the end of the week and stop tracking (since they used to reset Monday morning). We'll see! More later! Tomorrow's Halloween lessons round 2!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Surprise 10k!

Today began my second week actually teaching classes and I think it went really well. This week's theme: Halloween! For the older kids, I based the lesson off of a clip from Charlie Brown and even though they didn't understand a lot of the words, they still thought it was really funny!

On another note from today, at recess (or "récré[ation]") it came up that I'm a runner. Apparently, there's a local 10k going on this Sunday in the nearby town (village) of Saint Saturnin Lès Avignon, which is a hillier course that goes through a few tiny towns and gives a good view of local scenery. Sylvain, the director of one of my schools, suggested that I run it and then he'd pick me up (his son is running it too) and then invited me to come after the race to his house for Sunday lunch. 6.1 miles seems like a good training run (and it'd provide me with the hills I need to cross train) AND I was flattered by the invitation so I quickly said yes to the plan.

But wait, it gets better. Sunday's run is sponsored by St. Sat's local running club (every town in France has a running club)... and they're called "Les Baskets fumantes" (literally "The Smoking Sneakers")... How could any club have a better name that that? Oh, and the 10€ registration fee covers a tech shirt AND a bottle of wine at the finish... How French is that?! I'm so psyched!

Other than that, the rest of my weekend was made up of run recovery (thankfully my knee is feeling better now!), a trip to the market (and for the weekly pain-au-chocolat indulgence with a few of the other assistants), and a "hot skype date" with Jon and Auburn Foodball:

All of this (fresh lettuce, radishes, grapes, red pepper, green pepper, mushrooms AND broccoli) for only 5€ from the produce stand in Les Halles (an indoor independent market in Avignon)!

The best produce stall ever. (I'm now biased)

Looking very "French" with out baguettes under our arms and our bags of fresh produce!

See? I REALLY wanted to see the Auburn v. Arkansas game, so Jon and I got to hang out "at home" and watch it! Best boyfriend ever pointed the computer at the TV! Best, blurry football game ever! War Eagle!

Most of the aforementioned veggies went (in part) into making tonight's delicious dinner creation: Homemade pasta sauce with organic mini cheese raviolis! (Did I mention my roommate works for an organic pasta company in France and brings yummy things home from work?):

I actually will admit... I called Jon via skype to ask about his normal sauce recipe. Since we started dating, I haven't made my own spaghetti sauce. His are really good, so he gets spaghetti and pancakes as his "signature" dishes.

Voilà! Really delicious, if I say so myself!

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the 10k on Sunday. I might move my long run to Friday instead to give me Saturday to recuperate and get over any possible knee pain again, but other than that, it looks great... Well, minus the 30% chance of "scattered showers" for Sunday... Here's hoping the ridiculous, shutter-shaking Mistral wind will blow those rain clouds away!

Saturday, October 16, 2010


WOO! Big news! I was going to post about how I was displeased about my eating this week and how I resolve to do better this week, but then yesterday happened! What happened, you ask? Well, yesterday was my FIRST double digit run!!!! I set out to hit 9 miles in training, but I felt so good that I pushed all the way to 10! I'm really surprised because I spent all day being lazy in pajamas and REALLY had to work to pull myself off the couch to do this run, which is why it ended up happening at sunset.

Autumn is finally "bien installé" (very present) here in Avignon, as can be seen by the enormous amount of Mistral wind we've been having the past few days. The Mistral is a particularly southern/Provençal wind that can blow consistently for a day or for weeks... Very fun. As such, I have already bought gloves and and ear-covering headband that I feel like I'll have to start using soon! Yesterday's run was the first one with my winter tights and I'm very pleased that they cut the wind really well. I'll definitely need to get another pair because wearing the same pair 3x a week is going to be a bit difficult. Although sometimes it felt like I was running against a wall of wind, I think the cooler temperature did help me a bit on this run. Anyway, here are the photos from the run! One great part of having Claire with me is that she gets to be the official photographer on our excursions and I just get to keep on running!

Running around the Ile as the sun sets = gorgeous

Apple orchards... We borrowed a few apples... I doubt they'll be missed

I'm running so fast I'm a blur! (Har har)

On the way home... Sunset over the Rhône and the palais des papes

Mile 10 was a lot slower because I paused to play with this vicious beast. I miss Sahara.

WOO! 10 miles!

See? Mr. Garmin has the proof (plus some extra walking!)

I felt great after the run, and I'm really pleased with the splits, since I made myself slow down in the beginning so I could have a more consistent pace. The only downside today is that my left knee REALLY hurts a little bit underneath it on the outside, so I'm definitely going to have to start doing the exercising again! As long as I can run pain free, I'm feeling REALLY good about next month's half marathon! I can't believe how far I've come!

Oh, and aside from running, here's me a bit more cleaned up at a really classy bar in town for Rosie's 21st birthday! What a great get together! It felt like all of the assistants who live in Avignon were there!

Jess, Me, and Rosie all dressed up!

More later! Tomorrow's lesson with the kiddies is on Halloween, so I hope it goes well!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First "Mini-Weekend"

I'm continuing to get settled in and to attempt to develop a regular schedule. So, my schedule in France is pretty sparse so far, meaning that I only teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving me with a weekend in the middle of the week. As a result, I'm going to try and use that time to finish my grad school applications (already turned on in to Vanderbilt), read up on the subject I'm proposing to study, and to get a good amount of running and training in for the race.

Monday was my first day at school and I can honestly say I think the kids really liked me (see photo). I taught my first lesson on the USA and its states. We listened to the song "50 Nifty United States" and then played US State bingo. With my older kids, it was a hit, but, since I didn't know I was going to have the K-3 level kids at my second school, I wasn't really prepared for them. I'll be better next week.
During rainy recess, my CM1 (i.e. 5th grade) kids drew this on the board for me. I have a few photos of them all posing with their art, but I don't really feel right about putting their photos on the blog.

Yesterday was my day off, and I'm not going to lie, I did lounge around quite a bit. After the strikers woke me up from my daze, I did convince myself to get in the 5 mile run I'd set out to do yesterday.

Yesterday was a national strike in France. One thing to know about French people is that they are very active when it comes to striking and protesting. Here's a quick shot from my bedroom window as the "grêve" (strike) passed by, singing, chanting, and yelling. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I don't actually know what they were striking about.

Here's the run. This is the same area I ran on Saturday, only today's run was shorter (and by myself). It was a beautiful afternoon and I had to keep reminding myself to really enjoy and take in the scenery rather than to just focus on the run. It's just so pretty here.

Did you see these splits? I just want to make sure you see that they're all sub-12-minute/mile splits. For a 5 mile run. This is definitely a new personal best there. I shaved around 2.5 minutes off my average 5 mile time (I believe). I'm pretty excited. Also, on a sidenote, I'm REALLY happy I bought the water belt. I know it probably makes me look like inspector Gadget when running, what with my garmin, my ipod, and now a belt, but it's so nice to have out here, especially since there's absolutely no where to get water on the island.

Remember how I said how pretty it was here? Here are a few photos I snapped on my phone during the run. I need to go back and get some of these with my real camera... once I find a converter so I can charge it.

Here's the path next to the Rhône river I was running on on the ile. Up ahead is the bridge I use to cross over from Avignon to the Barthelasse.

Avignon's two most famous monuments: the Pont d'Avignon (I'm sure some of you have heard the song, right?) and the Papal Palace. I really wish I'd had my real camera for this photo.

Me. Post run in the elevator back up to the apartment. Yes. After running 5 miles, I did stoop to taking the elevator home. Oh well. PS, see what I mean about inspector gadget?

Oh, and to add, two photos from Claire's phone from our outing (my run/her bike ride) on Saturday:

Taking the ferry over to the island for our exploring fun run over there.

Claire decided to bike ahead and get my photo while running. I think this actually might be the first anyone's ever taken of me (aside from the ones you have to buy from race photographers)

Well, there you go. I'm so glad Mr. Garmin didn't give me any trouble uploading this particular run. I was SO freaked out when I thought he was broken... I don't know what I'd do without him!

Oh, and last night, I went with some of the girls to the CUTEST restaurant I've been to in Avignon: Ginette & Marcel's. While the one lady was really bitchy to us, we had a great time at this tartine restaurant. Definitely click on the link and check out the photos. It's the most adorable and quaint place. I got a smoked salmon/cream tartine and a small slice of chocolate/pear tart. Very reasonably priced and delicious. Can't wait to take any of my visitors there when they come to see me in Avi!

Anyway, I'm off to run some errands. Tonight, Claire is taking me to go meet the landlords of the apartment. Woo. Have a great dayyyyyy! Happy Hump Day, all!