December 31, 2017

Closing Out 2017

I spent Christmas eve and Christmas day at a hospital, supporting family, grateful for medical care and the impressive things that can be done to save and prolong lives.  It was the first time I've ever celebrated Christmas where I wasn't at a family home-hosted celebration.  Sure, there has been the occasional celebratory Christmas eve or Christmas day meal at a restaurant, but it's always been tagged on to a gathering of either my family or E's family (and often friends as well), with the general celebration based in someone's decorated home with presents.

Christmas Eve Seafood Dinner
Mom and I left the hospital for two meals -- Christmas eve at an oyster bar and Christmas day at a Sushi restaurant.  At both places, I was so thankful for the servers, chefs, bartenders and other service professionals who worked on the holiday, most of whom wore Christmas-themed clothing and played Christmas music.  I saw many single people, sitting at bars, enjoying a holiday meal alone.  And I was so, so grateful for the people who made their and our evening out possible, as well as the great fortune I've had to be able to celebrate the holidays in a family member's home as their guest.  I teared up when I dialed in to watch the unwrapping festivities with E's family -- I very much wanted to be there. Somehow, I'd never realized just how lucky I've been to have experienced joyous Christmas present unwrapping with family every year of my life.  Acknowledging that I'd taken this amazing gift for granted was very humbling.

[Edit: E reminded me that we spent Christmas eve in Sydney and Christmas day in Wellington in 2014.  So, we have spent one Christmas away from other friends and family, I've just never done so before this year in the United States.]

Octopus Ceviche Starter for Christmas Dinner
On the running front, I am tentatively hopeful that I'll be able to continue to improve and actually complete the Kaiser half marathon.

This week's mileage totaled 20.5, almost all of it running, and definitely the highest quality week since I'd admitted my leg was injured (and probably the highest quality week for a couple of weeks before the admission as well).

Christmas day, I did a solo chilly hour along the dike of the Mississippi river, 20 easy minutes out and 40 minutes strides/walk intervals followed by stretching, rolling, and glute work.

Tuesday, I rested, and Wednesday I ran a 5K in the ATL hills @ 11:53 average pace.  Afterward, I dropped in 4 60-second strides by effort (some on hills) @ 9:34; 8:27; 9:25; 10:28 per mile pace with walking recovery.  This was, essentially, the first real "workout" I'd done in 3 weeks and I managed to roll and stretch my leg afterwards until it felt pretty good.

I took Thursday as a rest day, and headed out Friday with hopes of a nice slow 5 miler.  Unfortunately, my leg was not on board.  I did 2.55 miles @ 12:16, but then the tightness in the side and back of my leg made me think it would be best to stop to stretch out my glute and hamstring.  From there, I did some intermittent run/jogging to close out the day with a total of 5.2 miles, although probably only 3.5 or so was actually running.  Upon return to the house, I aggressively rolled and stretched and hoped for the best.

Piedmont Park is a great place for flat strength intervals
Saturday AM, my leg surprised me by feeling much better, so I decided to go forward with the planned for (very short) workout.  I did side lunges and glute bridges to warm up, then walked to Piedmont Park, and ran a mile @ 9:44.  The original goal had been 10:30, but E came along and pulled me at a faster than planned pace.  I walked the 5 minutes to recover and started up again for a second mile, but it was not to be.  After 0.25 miles of starting at 9:44 and eventually slowing to 10:11/mile average pace, I walked a bit to recover and closed out the last 0.75 miles @ 10:34.  Looks like the original plan of 2 mile intervals at 10:30 pace was the right call... BUT, I fit in some 8:45 pace strides on the way home from the park and my leg held up afterwards, so this, too, was a success.

Sunday's plan was pace agnostic -- just 3 miles to get me over 20 for the week.  I rolled and did side lunges and glute bridges beforehand and headed out with my father in law for his favorite loop, warning him that I wanted to take it very easy.  We finished 1m30s faster than the last time we'd run it together a couple of weeks ago, and better yet, my leg was barely annoyed with me.  Three 11:30 pain free miles on a perfectly chilly day including 244 ft of elevation gain and loss?  It's a great way to close out the year.

Happy New Year's Eve, y'all.  Stay safe and I'll see you in 2018!

December 26, 2017

Cozumel & Playa del Carmen (Diving and Serious Lazy Leg)

Arriving at the Ferry Terminal in Cozumel
What the heck kind of ship is that off in the distance?
How many smokestacks can one boat have?
We headed out for a test shore dive on our first full day in Cozumel -- E's cold had cleared up so we rented gear and jumped straight in to the super strong currents off of Cozumel.  We kicked against them, swam out a bit to confirm E could equalize his ears down at 20 feet (the deepest dip we could find off the shore) and then floated back without effort to our dive resort's dock.  We then ill-advisedly kept floating past it to take in a few more views, which meant a serious up-current swim to close out the dive.  In full on lazy mode, I counted the scissor kicking under the water as good hip flexor extension and stability work for my leg for the day.  I also counted the 2 miles we walked round trip to dinner, cursing our lack of foresight with respect to insect repellant, hats, and sunscreens the whole time.  For the Sabbatical year, we had a big pile of stuff we never removed from the luggage, and so, we never thought about needing to pack it.  Now, starting with empty luggage for the first time in a while, we were unprepared for some basic travel needs.

Bonus points to anyone who can name this hilarious
Classic Mexican Movie
The themes are cock-fighting, big hats, love, and betrayal.
For the shore dive, the water was as clear as promised (very!) and the number of fish right there in front of our faces immediately after shore entry was impressive and surprising.  The rest of the day was perfectly indulgent: nachos, and reading under umbrellas in front of the ocean while sipping on drinks followed by an early onsite dinner. We woke early the next day, did a 2 tank drift dive over the reefs, studied for our Nitrox certification, and went to bed early after a stereotypical Cozumel dinner at La Choza.

Gorgeous full room nativity scene at La Choza.
The next day we took our Nitrox test (passed!) and did a 2 tank afternoon enriched air dive in the currents over the gorgeous reef enjoying views of puffer fish, lion fish, moray eels, many colorful tropical fish I can't identify, as well as a trigger fish, a sea turtle (!!!), and a gigantic eagle ray (majestic span of at least 6 feet).  We didn't even exit the dive shop 'til after 7 PM, so we availed ourselves of the onsite restaurant and bar and were in bed by 10 PM.

Christmas lighted ship parade from our dive resort window every night.
Thursday, a non-diving day, I headed out for my first run since Cancun, but the heat and humidity of Cozumel coupled with my left leg/butt/hip meant that I took it easy and just did 3 miles of run/walking followed by strengthening, stretching & stabilization.  Then, we took the ferry to Playa Del Carmen, which had changed immensely since we'd last been there 10+ years ago.  We settled into the Hyatt (yay, points!) for 2 final nights of luxury before heading back.

That afternoon's activities involved eating a delicious selection of skewers and going to one of 3 dive centers within 1 block of the hotel to book a cenote dive for our last full day.  We showed up Friday morning to learn we'd be diving at Dreamgate Cenote.  It was a wonderfully unique and beautiful experience -- as promised, the stalactites and stalagmites were gorgeous, and the fresh water was impossibly clear.  The one downside was that at 24C, even with a full wetsuit and a half wetsuit on top of it, after 45 minutes my fingers and toes were numb and I was shaking when we exited the water.  The difference between 24C and 27C in water is impressive!

One of many amazing views on Dreamgate cenote dive
Saturday AM we woke to fit in yet another joint weight session.  I started with 2 miles of TM intervals at 1% incline, doing the "faster" stuff in the mid to low 9s with walking recovery, and then E and I cobbled together a hodge podge circuit of leg press, incline hanging rows, tricep overhead freeweight extensions, chest press, free weight cross jabs, medicine ball squat/(jumps), medicine ball standing twists, partner leg throw-downs, side foot ab crunch taps, and (of course) the obligatory glute bridges/pulses.

Crazy jetpack powered ridiculousness
(watched from the PDC beach from afar, in awe)

E had camarones flambeado for his final meal
this Mexico Trip--deliciousness and a show
all in one
We arrived back in the US on Saturday night, but Sunday AM, I found myself headed back out to the airport for a surprise change of Holiday plans, so the hoped for long run did not materialize.  Instead I spent the day flying and supporting various family members, where my presence was very appreciated. 

And there you have it.  A gloriously perfect and decadent week of Caribbean Mexican diving, food, drink, and also lots of sleep.  Even less actual running or other workouts than planned, but I'm relaxed, and relatively pain free.  So, I'd say my "lay off the hurt left leg and take it easy 'til it heals" plan is going swimmingly... Here's to hoping that I can start to increase mileage and train next week...

December 21, 2017

Rest, Relaxation & Recovery

Monday, I walked to the ART therapist and back and enjoyed/suffered through the manipulation, massage, stretching, and releases.  My leg was definitely in much better shape after last week.  So, we discussed how I'd stay on this strengthening, stretching, rolling, and very light running plan for another couple of weeks and then see if I could start to increase the mileage.

The first run of the week was an easy 3 miles @ 11:11/mile pace on Wednesday so that I wouldn't feel like a complete sloth due to a day of flying to the east coast.  Thursday, I did half an hour of strengthening, stretching, and rolling and then ran 3 miles with my father in law on his favorite hilly loop @ 11:59/mile.  My leg let me know that it was not thrilled with two runs in 2 days on the last mile, but it held up and didn't hurt too much afterwards, so I took it as a good sign.

Friday was a full rest travel day unless you count lazily walking around the all inclusive resort from bar to dolphin show to bar to restaurant to bar before an early bedtime.  I love using hotel points for all inclusive resorts -- the good ones (great locations, views, facilities, staff, good restaurants with menu ordering, mid-range name brand alcohol included, availability without too much advance reservation planning, etc.) are pricey enough that I find it hard to justify paying real money for them.  But points?  Sign. Me. Up.

I'd hoped we could fit in a dive at La Musa, the underwater museum, but E had a cold and it was raining, windy, and overcast for most of Saturday.  (As a new diver, I'm slowly learning that there are even more variables out of your control when planning diving vacations as compared to other travel -- you have to book your lodging and location in advance and just hope that you don't have congestion or poor weather or poor seas.  Note: If you do have unexpected sickness and weather, it really softens the blow if you're at an amazing all inclusive resort.)

Instead of diving, we took advantage of the gigantic onsite gym and did a mile of elliptical warmup followed by an hour of weightlifting, which is the first time we've ever done this activity together.  It could have been ugly, but it actually went quite well.  We alternated the various recommended leg weight exercises from my ART therapist with upper body and core work.  Thankfully, we kept the weights low, so neither of us were particularly sore the next day, but I had forgotten about how weightlifting makes me SUPER HUNGRY.  Thank goodness I could find calories galore around every corner.  The rest of the day was spent on lounge chairs under palapas in front of the Caribbean Sea, reading between dips in the ocean and, of course, lots of drinks and food (teppanyaki lobster for dinner!).

Sunday, I hit up the gym for 3X5 minute 1% treadmill ladders from 6mph up to 6.4mph interspersed with walking recovery and the assigned strength/mobility for my leg.  It was the first time I've run "fast" without pain in a couple of months, so that was good.

It's been interesting to experience how we travel now, vs. how we traveled before the Sabbatical.  First, we didn't really do any true lazy beach vacations on our year of travel.  Here, experiencing this awesomeness, we're both wondering why we didn't.  Lazy beach vacations are wonderful!

This is a short enough trip that I pre-booked all of the hotel nights fairly far in advance.  But I didn't book any of the transportation between the hotels.  Upon arrival, we got off the plane and navigated the hordes at the CUN airport, briefly evaluated the transfer options, walked up to the Super Shuttle desk and ordered a pre-paid private transfer from the airport to the hotel and return transit from our last hotel to the airport. 

The private transfer simply meant that a Super Shuttle employee filled out some paperwork, then grabbed a taxi from the front of the line, directed them to us, and paid them directly with some sort of voucher so we didn't have to wait in line or haggle over the price.  The only downside was that on the way to the cab, the Super Shuttle employee turned our receipt over and started pretending to need to know our ages and other personal information about us -- ahhh, the scam/hustle is strong in this culture, but so is politeness, so a quick explanation that I didn't want to answer any more questions shut that down.  I had been fairly certain we could manage the details by the seat of our pants without too much trouble for much less than advance booking would cost, buy you never can be sure, so I was thankful that it worked out. 

The rates at our resort for transit to Cozumel were $60 per person and up.  I was fairly certain we could do better, but that was our back up plan in case we needed it.  Sunday AM, after my workout and before we fit in our last all inclusive lunch, I did a little online research and found that we could take an ADO bus from downtown Cancun to Playa Del Carmen for something like $4 each and walk to the ferry to Cozumel which is $8 each.  So, we hopped in a cab ($13) to the bus station, waited in line to buy bus tickets (note -- typical Latin America, the online purchasing system had less availability and didn't work as well as the humans at the station), bought tickets for a bus departing in 15 minutes, tossed our big bag in the luggage compartment, boarded the perfectly comfortable air conditioned bus, half-watched the Spanish dubbed version of Mirror Mirror en route, arrived in Playa, retrieved the luggage, bought ferry tickets for a ferry boarding in 20 minutes, took the ferry to Cozumel, grabbed a cab ($6), and arrived at our dive resort just in time for 2-for-1 happy hour (less than $2 per margarita?  We'll take 4, please).  After 2 days of all inclusive splurging, we were more than happy to be in a lower budget option where we had to pay for all we chose to consume.

4 months of Spanish immersion and 3 months of Latin American culture immersion have made the day-of travel processes in touristy Mexico relatively unconfusing - which was definitely not the case before last year.  There is so much less information online here than we expect in the US.  Historically, that would have made me apprehensive and I would have booked online more than a day in advance or even gone to the station to confirm the schedule and buy tickets the day before.  Now, I have a general sense in Latin American cultures that it'll all work out, one way or another, even in the absence of detailed Internet information, which is one nice benefit that I hope to continue to enjoy in the future.

Finally, I thought last week was low mileage, but this week showed me that I just wasn't trying hard enough.  The grand total in my spreadsheet is 10.8 miles with only 7 of them running.  Here's to hoping the downtime coupled with all the other stuff is pointing me in the right healing direction and to better diving luck in Cozumel!

December 10, 2017

A Glorious Weekend

Last week was an exercise in patience and working on healing my left leg.  Conveniently, the low mileage, high rolling goal meant that I could take Friday completely off my feet, which was good, since I was scheduled for an all-day conference in SF.  (Note, one benefit of the beasties is that I could fit one in my purse and slyly slide it under my leg and roll out the tightness that built up while seated at the conference table all day.)

My favorite piece from the Klimt exhibit:
An unfinished portrait of a woman.
While at the conference, E emailed me about two big errors I'd made.  First, I'd booked our flights to Mexico to last for 5 weeks, instead of the 1 week trip we'd planned (wrong return month!).  Yikes.  Thankfully, there was still availability on the return flights and I just had to suck it up and pay the change fee, which hurt, but given that the flights I was buying were *less* than the flights we'd originally booked, meant that we didn't even have to pay the full change fee.

Second, I'd somehow made Friday's reservations for dinner at Pabu Boston instead of San Francisco.  Booking at the SF location the day of was not an option, so we took the opportunity to return to Ozumo for moriawase with o-toro for dessert instead.  Date night heaven!

The Baby.  
I found this piece super creepy.
Saturday AM, I went to the hotel gym and gamefully did 2 X (2 miles in 8 min cycling at decent resistance) interspersed with all of my assigned glute activation stretching/glute bridges, lateral lunges (5 lbs), 10 lb medicine ball pony squats, captain's chair leg lifts/scissor kicks, and a few other random core stuff plus stretching.  E left for a run while I was doing all of this and I was very jealous -- I love to run along the embarcadero, but I also want to get better.  So, discipline.

Cliff House Selfie
We were able to get reservations for lunch at Sutro's before our scheduled entrance to the Klimt Exhibit, and they seated us at a window table.  Date weekend win, yet again - lunch was delicious and it was a perfectly clear day to enjoy the views.

The Klimt Exhibit was interspersed with Rodin.
They met once, in the early 1900s.

Saturday was SantaCon in San Francisco.  On our drive out to Ocean Beach, we saw some of the partiers getting started around noon.  On our drive back to the embarcadero around 4 PM, we saw several Santas who were stumblingly headed home for the day, as well as many hearty souls gearing up for a full evening of revelry.  Per the usual for this time of year, we headed out to the annual holiday party of one of my former employers who is gracious enough to invite us every year.  We always look forward to the food, white elephant fun, and seeing old friends, and as always, it was a blast.

The Virgin.
Sunday AM, we slept in and then I headed out to meet up with friend who recently moved to SOMA.  She was one of my local running buddies before they moved, so it was awesome to join her for a nice slow relatively pain-free 3 miles along the embarcadero before cleaning up and enjoying a catch-up couples brunch of ceviche, octopus, grilled veggies and cocktails at La Mar.

Happy Holidays!  We don't decorate for Christmas.
But we do travel to SF for a holiday weekend 
every year, which is an awesomely 
enjoyable tradition.
At 13.09 miles in my log, this is the lowest mileage week I've done in a very long time.  But, my leg is feeling more stable, stronger, and less likely to have a muscle freak out with each passing day.  My original goal had been to increase my fitness until running the Kaiser half marathon in February.  At this point, I'm happy to just maintain my current fitness and heal.  If I am able to finish the Kaiser half at all, I'll be very grateful, regardless of how long it takes me.

December 6, 2017

Leg Update

My ART session on Monday was amazing.  I felt so much better after leaving the therapist's office.

I'm definitely kicking myself for not trying to get some professional help with this bum leg earlier.  I discussed my issues with the therapist and he had several suggestions as well as observations.

As I'd self-diagnosed, I had serious soreness in my glute and at the site of my hamstring insertion.  After confirming this, he went to work and evaluated what else might be going on and how he might be able to help.

The first thing he noted was that my outer left quad (vastus lateralus) was quite tight.  Because it hadn't been sore (and the back of my leg had been), I hadn't noticed this.  We talked about actively stretching my quads and how tight quads and hip flexors are a classic cause of glute malfunction, which can cause hamstrings to compensate, and viola... Interestingly, he didn't say, "this is definitely what's going on with you," but rather, he just spoke in generalized terms about things that can happen to people and how that *might* be what was going on with me.

This whole conversation was happening while he was stretching, manipulating and releasing my leg, which felt wonderful.

Also, much to my surprise, he didn't say, "You definitely should not run."  Instead, he acknowledged that there were some serious differences in the textures of my hamstrings and glutes (e.g. left is much worse off than right), but said that whether I can run, and how much, and how hard, really depends on how I respond to treatment and how I feel and what my goals are.

We discussed the Kaiser half, and he didn't flinch when I told him that in a perfect world, I'd like to try to recover with lots of yoga and slowly work my way up to 30 miles a week, starting to return to long runs in the next 3 or so weeks.  I know it's not guaranteed that I'll be able to do so, and I'm definitely ready to downgrade to the Kaiser 5K if necessary, but I liked his general openness to the idea that it could be possible.

He convinced me to order some new torture devices to up my rolling game and recommended some ART-like movements I could do on my own once I get a good pressure release location with the knobs on the Beasties.

Beasties, by Rumble Roller.
He also spent at least 10 minutes working on my SI joint and having me go through ranges of motion while he worked on getting me to release.  I have had sciatica in the past (always on my left leg), but I hadn't had any symptoms during this leg issue, so it hadn't occurred to me that my SI joint may be implicated as well.

Essentially, he said that my entire upper left leg seemed to be a bit grumpy and that it's really quite hard to start picking apart the original cause of something when there are that many factors at play.  The goal is to just get all of the various parts to calm down and work nicely with each other as much as possible.  So that's what I'm trying to do.

Oh, and I realized my shoes were old.
Note the aggressive wear on the left heel...
Yeah, my gait is *not* very even.
New shoes are en route.
I felt so good after the session that I made plans to head out for an easy 30 minute run the next day.  However, upon waking, I decided to chill out and see how my leg felt after just some walking and stretching and rolling.  Realistically, it felt like I should keep myself low-key and *ease* back into things in the face of feeling better. Today, I joined the track group, did all of the drills, but just jogged the warmup lap, the cooldown lap, and interspersed a few jogged 400s with his recommended lateral lunges, runner lunges, and glute bridges between them.  I also did a nice long pigeon pose at the end.  My leg feels okay, like it is getting better. 

I've got one more ART session next Monday, and then, hopefully, I can keep up the rolling and lunges and manage to slowly increase the distance and speed without maiming myself until January when I can go back for more ART.

Wish me luck.

Update 2:  Holy crap.  50ish total lateral lunges with no weights, simply touching a line on the outside of each lunging leg in sets of 10 between jogging at the track on Wed, resulted in seriously sore medial hamstrings on Thursday (but I was able to do a nice easy 3 mile run without too much pain).  Friday, now and it's even worse -- every walking step reminds me of those lunges and that I'm sore.  Obviously, my ART therapist's recommendation was well-informed.  It's clear that I have some serious weakness in the muscles that support this motion (I can do 50 front or back lunges with 5 lb weights on each side and not have much soreness at all). 

December 3, 2017

The Slow Road Back

Instead of packing and unpacking and scrambling to figure out laundry, logistics, food, transport, etc., we've been living a very easy home-bound home-cooked healthy life for the last 4 months.  Sure, there have been drive-away overnights for work or family, but nothing that's really thrown any sort of wrench into our plans.  And certainly nothing requiring a flight.

One of many slough views from the Capitol Corridor Amtrak 
between San Jose and Sacramento.
It's been gloriously easy and relaxing.

E has been taking advantage and dropping minutes off his 5K PR every time we run one.  He's been working out regularly, alternating calisthenics and running, and coupled with our healthy home-cooked meal regimen, he has lost 12-13 pounds.  I, on the other hand, despite eating roughly the same diet, and working out probably twice as much time, have only lost 6-7 pounds and haven't come close to setting any PRs on anything... Ah, testosterone.  Such an unfair performance enhancing chemical...

The gorgeous Sacramento train station with its mural
celebrating Sacramento and the Big 4 and the role of Railroads in 
California's history. 

Anyways, I wanted to record what my slow road back to fitness has looked like since we got back from our Sabbatical, in terms of races.

Peachtree 10K 12:30/mile pace (hot & humid)
Wharf 2 Wharf 11:30/mile pace (cool & humid)
Race to the end of Summer 10K 11:21/mile pace (warm and humid)
Rock 'n Roll San Jose 10K 10:47 pace (cool & dry)
Crissy Field Park Run October 5K 10:22/mile pace
Crissy Field Park Run November 5K 9:55/mile pace
Turkey Trot 10K 11:08/mile pace (2m40s walking due to cramps)

Vacaville (literally, cow-town) from the train, as advertised.
Unfortunately, I have been suffering from a pulled glute/hamstring.  I really aggravated it at the November Crissy Field Park Run, and it definitely slowed me down on the Turkey Trot.  Since Thanksgiving, I've been doing nothing but easy slow runs (I jogged in the 13 min/mile range while watching my friends run fast at track club last week) and lots of rolling and stretching.

Wholesome Murals in Sac-town.
This left me the night before our CIM relay with 7.2 miles to go and no idea of what would be possible.  The CIM relay had a couple of things going for it -- my section looked like it had a net elevation drop of about 175 feet over 7.2 miles (garmin says 286 ft of loss and 101 of elevation gain).  I am a better downhill runner than flat or uphill runner.  Also, it looked like it would be 45F for the whole race, which is right in my sweet spot -- I can run in a t-shirt and shorts at this temperature and let my very hot operating temperature keep me pleasantly functional and warm.  Cardiovascularly, I was feeling fit.  But, in hindsight, my leg had been bothering me and getting worse on hard efforts since at least SJRNR if not before.

Brother-in-law drove me to the sunrise start
(we saw an awesome super moon, but no pics)

My goal was to keep it below 10:47/mile, which I thought I should be able to do so long as my leg held up.  Of course, I had sweetheart visions of coming in sub 10:30/mile or even having a miracle day where my leg didn't hurt and I could keep it below 10:00/mile.

@RunSRA knows how to put on a race --
check out that line of porta-potties at the start!

Folks -- I can now confirm that my left leg is officially messed up.  I had been in denial and was excited to wake on Sunday and test it out.  After getting dressed, it felt better than it had in at least a month, possibly 2.  I did some mild stretching and then made my way to the start.  Mile 1 was a nice easy downhill of reigning it in at 10:12, but I could already feel it starting to tighten.  And that's what it continued to do over the rest of the course.  I finished my relay leg at an average 10:47/mile for a Garmin distance of 7.3 miles (vs. the 7.2 if I'd hit the tangents).  But it hurt.  And 7.3 miles shouldn't hurt.

At the start, look to the left,
pace groups for every 5-10 minute finishing time.  Impressive.
Back at her house after my leg, my sister was shocked to see that I couldn't even get my fingers to within 2 inches of my toes when I tried to do some straight leg stretching towards my left foot after the race -- nothing like family who know how historically flexible you've been to remind you just how bad off you are.  I also had some nasty chafing on my right bicep under my t-shirt sleeve cut-off that stung like hell in the shower, likely from pumping my opposite arm across my chest/bodyline to try to compensate for my lame left leg.

Sometimes, our tortoise flips herself.
She struggles for a while but can't right herself.
In the wild she would die.
We flip her back over.
But, seriously.
We are all doing better than our tortoise at life.
I'm bummed about my leg.  But, reality is a thing.  So, I'm going to accept that if I want to actually heal and be able to run any faster, I need to maintain my cardio while also taking time to do some massage, yoga, time off running, and possibly PT to fix my left leg.  I even found an ART specialist to see me tomorrow, so that should be painful, but good...

In the spirit of this, I thought about early registering for the Oakland Running Festival Half Marathon (thanks Jen for the discount).  This is because I suspect my plans for the Kaiser Half have a strong possibility of needing to be scrapped to fix my leg, and I'm thinking the smart play is to try to heal up and convert down to the 5K.  But, I decided I'm better off playing it by feel.  I do hope to complete an early spring half marathon.  Just not sure where.  So wish me luck.

November 25, 2017


We spent the holiday with family and friends and it was awesome.  E drove to my hometown (traffic wasn't bad at all) and back (traffic was 50% longer than the way there), and I am, as always, supremely grateful for his willingness to be the long distance driver.

We had a turkey trot on the calendar with friends for ages that we were looking forward to.  Unfortunately, I was not improving at the same clip as E, who just keeps getting faster with every additional week at home post-sabbatical (because for the first time in his life, he's working out 4-6 times a week and keeping data in a spreadsheet about it, and ummm... Nerds are motivated by data (in addition to other things), okay?) 

At the last Parkrun, I'd aggravated my left hamstring insertion/glute, so I'd done my best to keep training intelligently afterwards.  It was tough going -- it hurt, was obviously not great, and I didn't want to injure myself further, but it didn't hurt so bad that I couldn't go out and try something most days.  So, for about 2 weeks, the something I could handle was lots of stretching, rolling, and a weak effort at running with me calling it short or slow to protect my leg and butt.  Needless to say, these workouts looked really lame on the spreadsheet when compared against my aspirational training plan. 

Who doesn't love a hometown turkey trot?
Then, just as my leg was starting to recover, there was the green/yellow mucus producing bronchitis post-cold that I most likely got from the children at my Aunt's memorial (since many of the adults who attended and hung out with the kids developed the same symptoms as my sister's viral probe children).

In short, prep for the 10K was not *remotely* what I had on the plan.  Even so, I still headed out with a modest goal of beating my last 10K time.  It was not to be.

I went out by effort and tried to reign it in on the first mile, which I was pleased to hit around 10:15 without too much heavy breathing, but it quickly got harder from there.  My leg/butt started to tighten on the second mile, and as I made an effort to keep it reasonable, I started to slow below my target pace.  At some point after the turn-around, I got a *serious* side cramp unlike anything I've ever experienced on a run.  Oddly, it seemed like it could have been in my right intercostal muscles.  I had to stop, bend over, and dig my thumb between my ribs and then just breathe slowly, relaxing the muscle I was pushing against while walking slowly.  In all of my years of running, I've never had a cramp like this -- it was bizarre.  I walked and pushed on it and tried to relax, and finally, a little less than 2 minutes later, the tightness mellowed out and I started to run again, slowly passing folks who'd passed me on my walk.

At around 1 mile before the end, D surprised me by waving from the side and joining me.  She'd accidentally registered her son for the 5K (thinking it was a kids' 1K), so she'd done that distance with him to support him (he kicked butt!) instead of the 10K.  But, after sending him towards the finish, she'd decided to run out on the 10K course to wait for me and run the last mile in with me.  I was so happy to see her.  Thanksgiving, indeed!  Company on the last mile in a slow, struggling 10K is a wonderful gift. (E PR'd his 5K by 1'16" -- as he noted, he's probably getting to the end of his easy PR streak.)

Our holiday celebration was wonderful.  Sister hosted a party of 14 including E, mom, brother, 3 nieces and 1 nephew plus my uncle and cousins affiliated with my recently deceased aunt.  We set up a card table and people rotated through the 4 open seats to rip through a 750 piece puzzle in very few hours, which was very fun.

Brother showed up with a rotisserie machine and contributed a 6 pound prime rib roast to round out the meal primarily prepared by sister and mom and me of ham, mashed potatoes, gravy from ham drippings, stuffing, green beans and mushrooms, rolls, veggies, cheese, hummus, and charcuterie, salad, and of course too many pies (my mom bought rhubarb in Summer and froze it to make a rhubarb apple pie!) plus carrot cake squares  with cream cheese icing (cousin K for the dessert win!).

We spent 4 nights away from home for the first time since our sabbatical.  I woke and had that familiar (but now unfamiliar) sense of, "Where am I?"  "How do I get to the bathroom?"  I had it almost every day for a year, and now, we've been home, without much travel at all for almost 4 months.  It was a nice reminder of how homebound we've been and how thankful we are to return home to a place we love, where we feel comfortable, and where we can drive to share holidays with close friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 17, 2017

Female Physical Strength Privilege

(Alternatively titled: Another Reason Why Girls' Sports and Female Physical Fitness Matters)

I currently have and at various points in my life have enjoyed all sorts of privilege.  And, I'm not sure if the Female Physical Strength Privilege I want to write about here matters or is helpful if you haven't had the same privileges I have.  I'd love for folks who have opinions on this to weigh in and educate me.

I, like many women, have been reeling and processing all of these public revelations about sexual harassment (which, duh, I have experienced) and sexual assault (which I've clearly experienced at least twice in the form of an unwanted and uninvited touching of my boobs through my clothes by strangers in elevators in completely non-sexual environments). 

So, I've had it pretty damn easy compared to most of my female counterparts.

I read so many of the #MeToo women's accounts and my heart aches for all of them, but in particular, the very real physical fear many of them obviously felt.  And I feel a little guilty, because I very rarely felt that fear as a young woman, (although, as I age, I must admit I am starting to feel it more often, not in a gendered way, just in a straight up I am not as strong or able to protect myself as I once was, way).

When I think of female fear of physical violence from men, I think of the very early lessons from my mother and father (and eventually deployed against my brother when we physically fought) that said, "If someone grabs you, you bite; you pinch; you hit the groin, the neck; you scratch, you elbow; you kick; and YELL, YELL, YELL!"  I was not taught to be fearful, I was taught to be egregiously strong and a serious problem for someone who tried to take advantage of me.

When I think of female fear of physical violence from men, I think of a practice soccer game against the boys' team who shared our practice field in my tweens where I aggressively shoulder checked a boy my age and knocked him off balance (just as I would have as if he was a girl on the opposing team) before stealing the ball and passing to my forward who scored.  It was talked about at school for a few days as a big deal and I realized everyone thought it was cool that I could do that, whereas I thought it was weird that they thought it was special.  We were 12.  Boys were the same size as the girls, for the most part...why wouldn't I shoulder check him?

When I think of female fear of physical violence from men, I think of my new stepbrother at the time, who had been admitted to the Navy Seals, pounding on the bathroom door while I was taking a shower when I was 16, demanding to be let in, threatening to break down the door.  I left the shower running, put my workout clothes back on, left through the side door out to the yard from the bathroom, scaled our back fence and surprised our neighbor by asking her to call 911 and then my mother.  I never feared for anything because I knew I could get away long before he ever got in (perhaps this was not a correct assessment of the risks, but it was the one I made).  I never had to see him again.  I did, however, cut off my long hair and rock a serious short "don't fuck with me" haircut that year.

When I think of female fear of physical violence from men, I think of the high school math teacher who handed the guy who sat behind me a magic marker and told him to put a dot on my forehead as punishment for falling asleep, and Robert (I was told) said, "Are you kidding?  I'm in PE with her, she will wake up and kick my ass!  Do you know how many pushups and pull-ups she can do? No way.  You do it."  (I slept without interruption 'til the end of class, and heard the story after the bell.)

When I think of female fear of physical violence from men, I think of the looks and occasional compliments I got from the male athletes in the collegiate weight room -- my strength to weight ratio was apparently impressive.  From this feedback, I *knew* I could use my body in a way that demanded respect.

When I think of female fear of physical violence from men, I often wonder how awesome it must be to be *really* fast as a runner (I am not).  I have, however, outrun a few dogs and other situations, which was wonderful, and I can only imagine how safe you must feel in your own body if you are Desi, or Shalane, or Kara, or Lauren -- my "come at me mother fucker, I'll kick you!" has nothing on their, "come at me mother fucker, you can't catch me."

When I think of female fear of physical violence from men, I think of realizing that I *loved* to work with the speedbag, punch and kick the heavy bag, and eventually spar when I took up Tae Kwon Do.  I realized that I *loved* to throw hard punches and kicks and occasionally land them against opponents who were much more skilled than me -- the blows they landed usually didn't carry as much force as mine did, and the sucked in breathe and surprise at a punch or kick that fierce from a short female orange belt made me feel powerful.  It was oddly addictive.

When I think of the stories of women dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, I think of the time my boss in my early 20s made a very suggestive and inappropriate comment about my body at an after-work party and I kicked him in the chest with my knee high boots, using the Tae Kwon Do to throw him back in surprise.  I reined it in so as not to really hurt him.  But there were hoots and hollers and claps, and all the men (and most of the women) in attendance made it clear they respected me for standing up for myself.  For a long time, I felt like I was an equal.  And then at some point I realized how fucked up it was that the only reason they respected me was because I had made it clear that I was the rare women in the situation who could and would kick my boss's ass if he kept up the bad behavior.  If I was a dude, I'd probably have been fired for what I did.

In hindsight, when I think of women fearing violence from men, I think of all the times I waited alone at busstops in sketchy neighborhoods.  Or the time I was followed in Bordeaux after getting in on a 1 AM train and was asked if I wanted to be in "un film" as I walked home, but I just walked quickly away, down a one way street the wrong way and then another, heart racing, ready to sprint, but comfortable that I would be okay.  In all of these situations, I felt that worst case scenario, I could hit, punch, kick, run, etc.  It wasn't my first choice.  In fact, usually I felt quite stupid for taking unnecessary risks, but I always felt physically safe in my body.  I knew how to use it.  I could make it a weapon if necessary. I'd been playing sports and pushing my body for years, and I knew those dudes who saw me simply as a 5 foot tall woman had another thing coming.  Of course this sense of safety is ridiculous, a gun or other weapon or large human trained to fight obviously would have prevailed.

But, I do think that part of the reason I haven't had as tough of a time of it as many of my female counterparts is that I was raised to believe and have sought out activities that confirm that I am STRONG.  To this day, I know that if confronted, I can make efforts that will physically defend myself and will do so more than most people expect.  I have been told that the physical confidence I have speaks volumes and makes me seem much larger than I actually am.

To be clear, none of the situations I am describing involve career pressures (except the boss I kicked in the chest, but I *knew* that I would be buying myself serious mad credibility in the patriarchy of my workplace before I kicked... it was *good* for my career to take him down a notch and call out his inappropriateness in the pre-established professional framework of corporate folks and salespeople where physical strength and aggression was something to be respected.)

I am not positing that if only women were "physically stronger" or "more physically aggressive" we'd avoid the abuse of power by men against women.  Obviously, the structural power norms where men have more power on average than women exist in many realms, including the physical.

But I am saying that one of the big privileges I've enjoyed in my life is that of being a physically strong female.  I'm grateful for the insulation it's given me from many fears my fellow women have experienced.  And, I would argue that it's a dang good reason to put young girls in sports and let them get to know how to use their bodies with fierceness and force, if necessary.  

I don't think it's the only solution, and I certainly don't think it's the best solution, but I do think there are a bunch of people who would think twice before touching a woman inappropriately if they knew that the likely outcome was that she was going to quickly reverse punch back into the crowd and connect with a groin when they stuck their hand up her skirt (Confession -- I did this at least twice in my 20s in crowded clubs.  The guys moved their hands off my ass very quickly.)

And this is where it gets very real for me.  Because as much as I've felt safe and protected by my physical strength, as much as I have physically protected myself and taken comfort in it -- those aforementioned boob grabs in elevators? The two times I'd say I was openly sexually assaulted in a completely non-sexual environment?  I didn't do anything. 

One, because I was in Egypt and I'd already been subject to enough cultural WTF since my arrival that it had been made very clear to me that this society considered me property of the male I was traveling with, and after having been surrounded on the metro and hissed at by a bunch of men, I somehow lost my physical sense of power.  Without it, I couldn't do the math and realize that I could totally have taken that skeevy Saudi* dude in the hotel elevator who, after greeting me in English and trying to make me feel comfortable with English chit-chat in the foreign environment, subsequently grinned and grabbed my boob with a "what are you going to do about it?" look.  I did nothing.

Two, because I was at a conference to get certified for a professional skill I really needed and I was so shocked that a fellow professional would reach over, in my own country, in my own culture and grab one of my boobs with the shrugging "it's not my fault" look accompanied by him saying, as if he was actually sorry, "I just had to know if they felt as good as they looked."  It happened so fast.  He did it right before we got to his floor.  I'd like to think that with more time alone in the elevator I would have done something, anything, to assert control over my body.  But the truth is, I didn't.  It wasn't fear.  It was shock.  And a desire not to make a scene at the professional event where I was getting certified.

So, I guess the take home I have from all of this navel gazing is that sports and physicality are very good for girls and women because:

- it makes them feel physically empowered, which makes them look like less of a desirable victim, and actually makes them less likely to *be* a victim

- it makes them feel very comfortable making a scene in anything that feels like a physical contest, because they have lots of practice in physical contests, and frankly, real physical danger is a physical contest

But, after much reflection, the sad honest conclusion I've had to come to in my own personal experience, is that the Female Physical Strength Privilege, while awesome, is not strong enough to overcome the professional pressure not to make a scene unless you've already decided that the scene will earn you professional credibility or at least won't harm you.

*I reference the Saudi nationality of the dude in the elevator because I think it's important to note that while I had a very difficult time with gender roles in Egypt, when it comes to actual aggression, I was only hissed at and yelled at by Egyptian males.  While I felt like the property of the friend I was traveling with, I was *never* touched by Egyptian men, there was some sexist safety in being my male companion's property that the Egyptian males respected.  Perhaps if I was in an elevator alone with both Saudi men and Egyptian men and none of them knew I was traveling with a male companion I could run a double blind study, but Egyptian men never got on the elevator except when I had my travel companion with me, so I only have my one skeevy Saudi dude who proudly self-identified as Saudi before grabbing my boob as a data point.

November 12, 2017

I Have a Right to Do Better Tomorrow

Every time I get a chance to run here, I feel so very alive and blessed.
This was a tough couple of weeks, but they were good.

This week's Crissy Filed ParkRun crowd.  Such a great community event, 
and a comforting way to start the morning of a family memorial service.
We had the big memorial for the unexpected death in the family.  All of my cousins on one side came, as did all of their children.  It was the first time we'd all been in the same place since the last three additions to the family had been born and it was wonderful. 

The Niece and Nephew *LOVE* Guito.
Of course the reason we were all gathered was sad.  But it was still so lovely to be together and share the sadness of our loss while smiling and laughing with one another and the next generation.

Check out that handsome man and his sub 9 min/mile PR!
Workout wise, I'd needed to dial it back a bit in the face of the emotional demands of the family stuff.  There were many days where I headed out for X miles and at X/2 just started walking, teared up, and tried to decide whether to turn back or stay out for some run-walking to get some additional mileage done.  Even so, over the last two weeks, I still managed to pull together 2 yoga studio sessions that left me sore and suffering for days afterwards, 2 decent track workouts thanks to the running group, one pseudo long run of 5 miles, and a few of the pre-described weird failures of the planned workouts that still resulted in some semblance of decent stuff totaling 31 miles for one week and 20ish miles this week (Note: I count a bunch of walking -- each yoga day involves 3 miles round trip walking to the studio on top of the torture time in the studio, and I also have my fancy walking treadmill at my desk).

Yet another entrant in the series titled: 
"Awkward Finishing Photos in Front of Gorgeous Views" 
Saturday, E and I returned to our beloved Parkrun.  I thought I'd forgotten my Garmin (I hadn't, but didn't realize it 'til we got back to the hotel), so we went out by effort and after about 1 mile E took off to pick people off and PR by 1 minute.  I did my best and was pleased to cross the line 1m24s faster than 2 weeks ago. 

Finally, a decent run in my log that has a single digit minute per mile time.  Sure it's only 9:55/mile, but progress is progress and I'll take it.

Thursday's roasted butternut squash and potatoes in prep for gnocchi.
Some of this improvement is definitely due to C's shoestring incident during last Parkrun, but most of it is due to increased fitness and digging deeper at the end as I passed a woman with 1/3 of a mile to go and I could hear her breathing and footfalls behind me for most of that last bit -- amazing how motivating the human competition factor can be.  It hurt to push at the end, but I was willing to hurt to avoid being repassed -- totally arbitrary, but good and fun, nonetheless.

Gnocchi dough, all peeled roasted starches kneeded with an egg and flour.

Sunday's recovery run was a non-starter.  I've been nursing a tight glute/hamstring insertion for a couple of weeks and Saturday's race followed by lots of car-sitting meant that the planned long slow run turned into 1 mile of run-walking and lots of rolling and stretching before cooking E's birthday dinner.  I hadn't made gnocchi in years.  But it was his request, so that's what I was doing.

First layer of gnocchi for the fridge, 3+ layers later at 1 AM, I called it.
Due to weekend travel obligations, I roasted the butternut squash and potatoes on Thursday and made the gnocchi that night after a networking event (I was up 'til almost 1 AM rolling and cutting).  They kept in the fridge 'til Sunday, when I finally boiled them and served them under a homemade 3-meat bolognese with a side of Brussel sprouts.

My aunt's memorial service was full of tales of her feeding and otherwise nourishing people, and it felt very right to feed E's friends to celebrate his birthday after we celebrated her life. 

Pork, Veal, Beef Bolognese cooked down for 3+ hours.
Also, both of my cousins who were her children gave amazing speeches at her memorial.  Several of the things they said stuck with me (like supermommery involving treats for sports teams magically delivered to trunks of cars in high school parking lots, or how the last thing Cousin D's mom taught him was how to die like a BADASS).  But, the one thing that stuck with me the most was when my cousin D said, "And once, after she did something that disappointed herself, she said emphatically, 'I have a RIGHT to do better tomorrow, your dad taught me that.'"

So, in honor of my aunt (and my uncle and cousins and all of us who lost her), I'm going to take that one to heart and try to remember it whenever I have a day where I don't do as well as I could (every day?). In my relationships. In my mental and physical health.  In running. In everything.

Onward. To walking and stretching and rolling today and hopefully running better tomorrow.

November 4, 2017

2017 Books, part 2

In the last 6 months, I've visually read just 5 books:

 Cryptonomicon  Neal Stephenson I started this in early 2017 -- the parts that take place in Manila were interesting to read while we were there.  It took me quite a while to get through it all, but eventually I did.  It was poppy and fun and entertaining.  Typical Stephenson.  
 Sicily: An Island at the     Crossroads of History  John Julius Norwich Sicily is the island that looks like a triangle that is about to be kicked by the boot of Italy into Northeast Africa. It's been a naval stronghold and strategically interesting target throughout history.  This book was wonderful in helping to understand just how complex its history has been.  The author is a delightul gentleman who wrote the book in his 80s after a lifetime of classical and modern history study.  At points, he'd break in and say things like, "Now, I'm sure you all know your Roman history, but just for a quick refresh, here's a quick ten page summary of all of the things that happened in Roman History that are relevant to Sicily."  Only with better words and more adorably British.  And, as he probably knows, most of us don't know our Roman, Greek, Carthigian, Ottoman, European, etc. history remotely as well as he does, but it's all relevant to this fascinating island that has been conquered and ruled by almost every powerful regime within several thousand miles of it, so he gamefully summarizes the relevant stuff and tells the sad tales of plunder, neglect, and survival of the Sicilians.
 Quicksilver  Neal Stephenson I'd read this one a decade or so ago.  I started it again after Cryptonomicon in the hopes that this time I'd like it more and possibly want to finish the whole Baroque cycle trilogy.  It immediately reduced me to averaging less than a page a day.  Still working my way through it.  Like Cryptonomicon, it's entertaining, has fun historical references, and is generally a good time.  But it's not the type of book that pulls me in and makes me read instead of doing other things I should be doing.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.
 The Almost Sisters  Joshilyn Jackson I read this in South Carolina.  I enjoyed it and thought it was a well-done story set in the South about facing normal problems (unexpected pregnancies, divorce, unruly teenagers) in the daily soup of raciscm.  I liked it more than all of the other people in my book club, most of whom felt that the treatment of the race issues was too light (I thought this was absolutely to be expected for a story set in the south) and that several of the fundamental plot points were too unbelievable to hang together.
 Homegoing  Yaa Gyasi This collection of vignettes tells the tales of two bloodlines originating on the Gold Coast of Africa (Ghana, today).  It starts with tribal warfare, kidnapping and enslavement of the captured and moves through the institutionalization of the slavery trade by the British and the Dutch with the support of various tribes.  One man walks away from a lucrative family business in slavery to become a "man with no name" in a village far away.  His life is very hard, with starvation, poverty, mental illness and loss that is experienced by many of his descendants as well.  Another bloodline follows the slaves sold to Americans and their trials and tribulations through slavery, living as freemen, being imprisoned after the war and working in the mines, and more.  This is not an easy to read book, but I'm very glad I read it.  It was very educational, but also real and quite depressing.  As one of the members of my book club said, these characters are all very flawed humans in very shitty circumstances.  You don't want to be friends with any of them.  And of course you don't.  Because flawed humans in shitty circumstances do shitty things.

In the same time period, I've listened to 18 audiobooks.

Maisie Dobbs books 2 -13 Jacqueline Winspear With each additional book, I came to appreciate the characters in this series more and more.  Set during WWI, afterwards, during the Spanish Civil War and briefly during WWII, I appreciated all of the historical details behind and around the fiction.  The mysteries in each book are not formulaic -- they are each quite different, with Maisie playing differing roles ("pyschologist & investigator, British Intelligence officer, intrepid traveler searching for meaning") in each one.  The character of Maisie always remains somewhat humanly unfinished.  Each new event in her life sparks additional changes that make her even more relatable.  She's good, but never perfect, and I would love to be her friend.  My goal was to find another series I could immerse myself into, like the Gamache series, and I succeeded.  In many ways, this series is more expansive than the Gamache series given the breadth of time and various locations that it covers.  Obviously, I enjoyed them all, as I devoured them and now I must wait until the next one is released next year...
Glass Houses (Gamache book 13) Louise Penny One of my favorite books in this series so far.  The concept of the Spanish Cobrador (shame-based debt collector who just follows people around in a costume) is a perfect anchor for a mystery. Gamache takes actions that are questionably off character for him and everyone moves slightly off their historical character norms as a result.  The entirety of the Quebequois surete is at risk more than it's ever been, but, per the usual, it's all wrapped up and finished neatly in the end.  (Sigh, no predicted date for the next book...)  
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood Trevor Noah Definitely one of those books where an audiobook adds extra dimension because of the various foreign languages and accents that I could not hear in my head if I visually read.  Trevor Noah's life is extraordinary, and these stories are funny, but also terrifying when considering how humans have treated other humans in South Africa during our lifetime.  I also definitely learned quite a bit about South Africa and South African history from this, which was a wonderful benefit. And, obviously, this book is hilarious, which is impressive given the dark content of many of the stories.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future Ashley Vance We've been fans of Ashley Vance's journalism for a long time.  And we have several friends who work for Elon's companies.  Elon is a bit of a character, and this book did not disappoint.  He's over-the-top.  Delusional at times.  Obviously on the autism spectrum.  But also, very driven.  And a big dreamer.  I found myself liking my idea of Elon more after this book, which was a big surprise -- I kind of assumed I'd learn more and like him less.  Also, oddly the second book on our US road trip about a person from South Africa, so some additional South African historical lessons were learned and others were reinforced or shared from a different perspective.
The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo Amy Schumer I felt like I knew Amy Schumer from her very open comedic performances.  But this tender, thoughtful, honest book of stories showed me that I definitely didn't understand her even remotely well.  The comedian's performances are a caricature, but the real human comes through in this book, and she is much, much more likeable, in my opinion.  If you already like Amy's humor, I'll bet you'll love this book.  But even if you don't, you may find that her perspectives on feminism, living a good life, family relations, sexuality, body image, gun control, and money and class issues in America are very intelligent and interesting.
The Cuban Affair Nelson Demille I'd read The Gold Coast, by Nelson Demille, years ago, on the recommendation of my father in law -- I'd laughed out loud on multiple occasions.  I'd also enjoyed the General's Daughter in the mid 1990s. So when I saw that there was a new Nelson Demille book on the NYT bestseller list, I figured I'd give it a try. If you like thrillers woven with research about history and international norms, this book is guaranteed to make you happy.  Mr. Demille went on a cultural trip to Cuba to research this book and wrote a curmudgeonly version of himself into the story -- gotta love the self-deprecating humor.  His explorations of the tensions between the Cuban-Americans and the Castro regime are informative and fascinating.  His very prescient assumption that *something* would likely happen to stop the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba because it was in the best interest of too many powerful organizations to maintain the status quo is eery.  And, of course, as you'd expect, it's a fun, light, fast-moving thriller with lots of action, a little sex, and just good old fashioned espionage and intrique.
The Bourne Identity Robert Ludlum I'd read all of the Bourne books in high school and I'd adored them.  E hadn't ever read them, so he did so during our Sabbatical year, and he laughed.  He laughed because I love literature, but I also love adventure and thrillers and I'll put up with less than eloquent language for a good plot.  The Bourne books confirmed this for him.  He recommended that I should go back and re-read them, and when I learned that the same voice actor who read The Cuban Affair had read The Bourne Identity audiobook, I decided to go for it (also Audible was offering the first two Bourne books as 2 for 1).  It's been an enjoyable walk down memory lane.  So much was changed for the screenplay that in many ways, the movie isn't even remotely the same story as the original book, which was published in 1980. At a minimum, think more smoking and less technology.  Interestingly, Marie is a much more fully-fleshed out character in the book, with unique skillsets that are crucial to Bourne's survival, vs. the damsel in distress they created for the movie character.  And, of course, I'd forgotten just how francophile the books are, which, no doubt, is part of the reason I fell in love with them in the first place.  Listening to the audiobooks and hearing the French dialogue (which is usually pronounced quite well by the narrator) is a bonus I enjoy every time it happens.