Thursday, May 24, 2007

"It's in God's hands now"

That's what my room mate, Gord, said to me this morning when I told him that I was done with my candidacy paper... Done as in, it's edited, in envelopes ready to be delivered to the committee members and also, done fretting.

I am a "fretter extraordinaire", type A, pathological perfectionist, relentlessly driven by (usually self-imposed) goals. I'm trying to curb this somewhat, as it takes its toll on a human soul after a while, but nevertheless, the essence is there.

When I told him I was done fretting he said something to the effect of, "Won't do you much good now, anyway". Then we both chuckled.

Since I didn't know what candidacy exams were all about before I was smack in the middle of the PhD program, let me explain by saying it's like a big-huge take home exam. You get questions that only you can answer, based on all your research and studies, so getting help is out of the question.

You go away and write. For 28 days. Solid.

For those of you who were jabbing me because I finished the first draft early, I remind you that my draft was 13 pages longer than the 40 page limit. That means, I had to spend a good deal of time cutting out about 25% of the paper. Yeah, like that's easy.

Then I had to read and re-read, since it was littered with typos and silly mistakes. I suspect there are still a few, though I should be most grateful if my committee graciously does not notice them.

The final version of the take home exam is then delivered to 5 professors. 4 of them I have met before, 1 of them I have not.

They have a few weeks to read it. Then, you have a 2-hour oral exam.

Passing or failing is a package deal. All 5 professors must unanimously agree that you pass both the paper and the oral exams, or ... well... you fail.

If you pass, then you then go from being a "PhD student" to a "PhD candidate" (hence the term "candidacy exam"). All that means is that they've decided you're good enough to go do a thesis.

That then consumes your life for the next few years.

Anyway, my paper was delivered into the campus mailboxes of the committee members today.

And I'm off to have my first meeting with my new trainer, Kevin, in a few moments. The fellow I was working with before, Chris, took a higher level position elsewhere. It's nice to see him move ahead in his career and I have to say that I came a long way training with him over these past couple of years.

I figured it would be good to break Kevin in gently. I've challenged him to train me for a half-marathon.

It's July 8. I've already registered.

Stress junkie.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A week of minor weirdness

So, this past week has been a bit unusual. Here are some highlights:

1. I got the draft of my exam paper done. Yaay! It is due next Thursday, so I'll spend a few days editing, proofing and formatting. Oh yeah... and cutting it down. It's 13 pages over the limit. Not good. Having a start-to-finish draft has decreased my anxiety levels considerably.

The massage I had today also helped to decrease my anxiety levels. As well, it un-glued my shoulders from my earlobes. They'd become somewhat fused together these past few weeks with all the studying and typing. Now you can see my neck again. Double yaay!

2. After the 5 km run last weekend, I was really missing my long run. So, I went and ran my little heart out on Tuesday. The result? 13.1 miles (21.11 kms) It took me 2.5 hours. In some ways, it felt great. In others, not so much... but I'll spare you the details. The best part? Happy knees!

3. I was coaxed into buying hair removal cream for my cyclist friend because he's training again and needs to have his legs hair-free, but didn't want the embarrassment of buying the cream himself. (That's for Robb, who's asking for advice on whether to shave his legs for his upcoming marathon or not. Go visit and give him your 2 cents worth.)

4. I went to the dentist this week and had some laser dentistry in prep for an upcoming crown replacement. Again, I'll spare you the details. Well... most of them. Let's just say that I love laser dentistry - quick, no needles (which I don't have anyway) and very precise. The smell of burning gums isn't so yummy, but hey, it can't all be perfect, right?

5. Came out of the dentist to find a big, orangey puddle under my car. It didn't look like a spilled slurpee. Called the mechanic. The fella who answered said they were booked solid until late next week. "Well, you're the only ones I trust with my car. What do you recommend?" The answer, call back in 15 minutes when the owner would be back. That's the amount of time it took me to drive the car over there and see them in person.

When I got there, the owner was back and before he could even get the hood up, another mechanic came tearing out of the bay to say, "Whoa! There's stuff pouring out of it!"

The owner promptly told me my water pump was shot, that the car wasn't going anywhere and he'd have it done for me within a day. Bless his heart. He was even better than his word and called me a few hours later to say it was done. Lifetimes of good kharma to him!

Apparently the orangey stuff was coolant, which can leak when the water pump dies. Just goes to show that you learn something new every day.

So there you are... a week peppered with odd little adventures, just to keep life interesting.

And I've been convinced that I can't die having lived a full and complete life if I have not seen Blue Oyster Cult in concert. Since they are in town tomorrow and my friend has tickets, apparently, I'm going.

The odd little adventures continue...

PS: Race photo added to previous post.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


6483. That was my number today in the Forzani's Mother's Day Run and Walk. I entered into the 5K run. I thought that would be a sensible way to start.

I'd heard it was a pretty big run, but I was surprised when they announced that there were 13,000 runners and walkers! I ran into Karen with her daughter at the start line. We were separated before the race even began and though I looked for them at the end, I didn't find them again. Before the race Karen said to me, "Oh, you need a purple heart!" And she reached down, undid a shoelace and took a clear purple bead off her shoelace and gave it to me. I then put it on my shoelace.

"For having the courage to start," she said. I gave her a hug and thanked her for the inspiration.

I also happened upon, and said hello to Dawn during the run, whom I met last year when I volunteered at the Calgary marathon.

Well, I think I can chalk this up to a good learning experience for a first run. All I've ever heard about races says, "Don't start too fast. Everyone gets all excited, starts out too fast and then loses steam."

I also wasn't sure where to place myself in the pack. Even though I train with a Garmin and I know my pace pretty well, my usual runs are quite a bit longer. I thought maybe I could do this one a bit faster, but I wasn't sure. So I put myself in with the folks at the 8 min / km marker.

There were hoards and hoards of people. Karen was right when she said that the first couple of km are spent weaving in and out of people. I tried to hold back, not go too fast, but even so, it was hard to actually run. There were just too many people walking and jogging slowly. I eventually stuck to the sides of the road and tried to keep a fairly even pace.

At the halfway mark I knew I could speed up. I felt like I hadn't even really begun to warm up! (It was just a few degrees above freezing here today and the day started off with rain, so you can imagine the cool, damp conditions.)

So, I thought, "Screw it! It's only 5 KM. I'm just going to go for it and see what I can do from here."

There was still lots of weaving in and out of people, but I didn't try to hold back any more. I just kept going. My paced picked up considerably in the second half of the run.

I don't know what my official chip time was, but my Garmin told me that I did it in 31:08. That's an average pace of 9:58 min mile or 6:11 min km. I guess I didn't need to be so far back in the crowd, but since I've never done a 5 km road race before, I didn't know.

I finished a little disappointed because I felt like I had not given it my all. It seemed like it was over before I even got warmed up. At the same time, there were so many people, it was hard to negotiate the foot traffic and I'm unaccustomed to moving through such a big crowd. On the other hand, I am happy because it is the first time that I've recorded averaging a sub-10 minute mile. Ever.

I'm not sure I could sustain that over a long-distance run, but it is a nice way to start off my racing endeavours.

At the finish line my friends, Loreto and Gord, were there with cameras (pictures to be posted in a few days) and some warm clothes, which I was very thankful for. We went for breakfast and talked mostly about training the entire time, which was a nice break from the academic head space I have been in these past few weeks, with my exams at hand.

And speaking of distractions from exams... I think I'm going to poke around on line and see what the next running event will be. I mean... after all, with a time like 31:08, it's just begging me to do another one and get it under half an hour. Don't you think?

Monday update - According to the newspaper, my official chip time was 31:03. I guess I was slow pressing the buttons on my Garmin. ;-) Full race results are available here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ups and downs

The "Up" part

I was going to give this post the title of "More than a perfect 10", since I'm thrilled that today I ran more than 10 miles for the first time since I started on this training journey.

10.22 miles, to be exact.

Or, for my fellow Canucks: 16.45 km.

It took me two hours, but that's OK with me. Thanks to my handy dandy Garmin, I noted that my average running pace was 5.7 mph. Usually I run 5.0 to 5.1 mph on longer runs, so I'm not sure where the burst of energy came from today (but probably from the fact that I had set a mental goal of running 10 miles, and when I set goals - watch out!)

At the end, my right hip flexor was quite cranky, but I stretched and had a nice hot shower when I got home and it's happy again. Happy knees, too.

Still have a yucky gut, but I do appreciate all the comments from the last post. I will continue to experiment. I suspect some of it may have to do with stress from this candidacy exam paper I'm writing.

I am working like a demon on it -- reading, taking notes and writing about 6 hours a day -- and, bizarre though this may sound, I'm enjoying it.... Kind of in the way that when I say I enjoyed today's 10-mile run, other runners get it. The rest of the world thinks you're a freak of nature. It's kinda like that. The experience has elements of being gruelling, insane, and masochistic... But some people like that sort of thing. :-)

The "Down" part

I got word yesterday that a good friend had a stroke. She's just a couple of years older than me. She has some health concerns, but this is a first.

Before my run today I went by the hospital to see her. She was, for the first time since she'd been admitted, sitting up. She was finishing off lunch when I went in, which I took as a good sign. She was in really good spirits and had already begun to recover a bit from the paralysis on her left side. The fact that she was her usual feisty self and talking up a storm were good signs, I figure.

It sucks when your friends are hit with crappiness and you wish you could make it all go away for them, but you can't. So I just tried to make her laugh instead.

Well, with that, I must return to my books... Mmmm..... books.