Monday meditation

Happy Labor Day, workers of the world! Are you enjoying a well-deserved respite from the 9-5 grind? Unfortunately, Bacillus subtilis can’t read calendars: my bacteria are blissfully unaware that today is a federal holiday, which means that this plucky proletarian PhD candidate is spending Labor Day laboring.

These cultures won't grow themselves

These cultures won’t grow themselves. Good thing I wore my lucky red jumpsuit today

Today happens to be the first of September, so it seems like a good opportunity to work on myself as well as my science. As we enter the next lunar cycle and bid goodbye to summer, I am issuing myself a challenge: to meditate every day. September will be The Month of Mindfulness.

IMG_4996Now, I must admit that the inspiration for the meditation challenge comes from my rad Dad, and two of our dear family friends: MaryAnne and Christi Jo. These awesome individuals started THEIR meditation challenge at the beginning of the summer. I’ve been looped in on a group message between these fine folks as they discuss the benefits they have begun to reap from establishing a daily devotion to meditation practice.

Christi and I at the Fremont troll

Christi and I at the Fremont troll

My dad is awesome..but y'all knew that (post Seattle Half Marathon)

My dad is awesome..but y’all knew that (us after the Seattle Half Marathon)

These Baby-Boomer-Buddha-in-waitings’ devotion is impressive, but they aren’t the first in our family to find inspiration through introspection. My grandmother has been meditating every day for 25 years: she is one of the most compassionate, even-keeled women I have ever met.

10365949_10204055723262262_1529217775336371654_nAnecdotal evidence from my family is one thing, but meditation has been subjected to rigorous scientific study. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis in JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation programs are associated with relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. Randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that meditation is beneficial for treating chronic insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Meditation is WAY cheaper than Prozac...and has WAY fewer unpleasant side-effects.

Meditation is WAY cheaper than Prozac…and has WAY fewer unpleasant side-effects.

Meditation is a great adjunct-therapy for a plethora of pathologies, but healthy individuals stand to reap rewards from incorporating moments of mindfulness into their daily routines. Meditation impacts brain wave activity, neurotransmitter, and hormone levels. Meditation reduces bloodstream levels of the stress-hormone cortisol. Long-term meditators outperform non-meditators on tests requiring attention, and visual discernment. Meditation is associated with improved cognitive function, and may even heighten the ability to mount an effective immune response.

There is value in turning inwards, so that you can radiate outwards

Turning inwards can help you radiate outwards

I am currently a sporadic meditator. I take advantage of my yoga practice to clear my mind and sit with my breath. I am sometimes able to let my mind wander away into a blissful, meditative state during my most excellent long runs.

I got there this took me 16 miles but I got there.

I got there this weekend…it took me 16 miles but I got there.

However, all of the studies I cited earlier expounding on the magical benefits of meditation investigated the effects of a consistent practice. I want to incorporate meditation into my daily routine! Would any of you, my gentle readers, care to join me?

Porter is a MASTER of quiet contemplation

Porter is a MASTER of quiet contemplation

The goal of meditation is to clear your mind of all distractions and enter a peaceful state, free from thought. This deceptively simple task can be INCREDIBLY difficult: we all live in the 21st century, our to-do-lists are 10 kilometers long, and it’s only a matter of time before we start grafting our iPhones into our skulls at birth. Meditation is an attempt to let the churning cyclone of cognition go for a while, and simply BE.

Meditation is CERTAINLY safer and more effective than trepanation for quieting the mind

Meditation is CERTAINLY safer and more effective than trepanation for quieting the mind

There are two basic approaches to meditation: Transcendental (or Mantra-based)  and Mindfulness. Both are beneficial, and just because you resonate with one style doesn’t mean you are stuck with it forever. Meditation is training for your brain, and just like training your body, sometimes a little variation can help you break through a plateau. I think of the two styles as tuning OUT  and tuning IN. In Transcendental Meditation you repeat a simple mantra to yourself over, and over, and over again. By directing your focus to your mantra, eventually the distractions of the outside world slip away. If thoughts start to bubble up to the surface you gently acknowledge them, but you do not follow them, instead you return your attention to your mantra. The mantra can be anything: a nonsense word, a sanskrit word, the name of your favorite pet.  I’m a fan of the mantra: “So’ham”, which means “I am that.” Sihks use the mantra: “Sat-nam,” which means “true name.” The mantra is a tool to hang your focus on, the meaning of the mantra is almost incidental: as long as it doesn’t distract you.


so’ham…ham’so: I am that, that I am, I am

Mindfulness meditation takes an opposite, but complimentary approach. Rather than closing yourself off from distractions by focusing on a single mantra, you achieve a state of thoughtlessness by becoming radically aware of every aspect of yourself and your surroundings. Body scanning is a great way to practice mindfulness meditation: sit comfortably, and starting at your toes try to focus all of your attention on each individual part of your body, one incremental digit at a time. Spend time sensing every inch of yourself, don’t spend too much time on any particular part, and don’t attach value to any sensation: just acknowledge each feeling and move onto your next facet. Once you’ve moved your awareness through your entire body, start over at the beginning again.

Attempting some body-scanning in the middle of a handstand

Attempting some body-scanning in the middle of a handstand

Meditation is a paradox: how can quieting the mind be more challenging than conquering a marathon? Meditation is the embodiment of simplicity in the essence of complexity. It’s HARD to sit quietly, and those thoughts and to-do-lists always seem ready to spring to the front of your cerebral cortex. iCal has only gotten more out of control since April

Seriously…my iCal has only gotten more out of control

I’m viewing my meditation as training for my brain, and applying some of the same principles I use to train my body:

1) Start small. I am going to begin with the goal of meditating 5 minutes per day and work up to longer stretches.

2) Be persistent. Doing new things is hard. However, if you stick with them, you can reap the rewards. Sometimes I sit down and I cannot clear my head no matter how I try…that’s a sign that I need to try again later.

3) Be consistent. Practice makes better. When I have a day where I cannot quiet my mind, I owe it to myself to sit with myself again the next day. The more I practice medication, the easier it will become. I certainly couldn’t run a marathon the first few times I laced up my mizunos.

And I couldn't put my foot behind my head the first time I did yoga.

And I couldn’t put my foot behind my head the first time I did yoga.

Who’s with me? Can I recruit a crew of meditators? It’s easy, all you need to do is find some quiet time for yourself every day! I’d love some (more) company during Serene September! Play alone in the comments, if you want.356px-Om-1.svg


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Work-it-out Wednesday: hill repeats

Happy hump day hierophants!

Your robes are looking FABULOUS this morning

Your robes are looking FABULOUS this morning

I hope that your work-week is going well. Have you been interpreting any sacred mysteries or esoteric principles lately? My Wednesday was an uphill battle beginning to end. I spent my lunch break on the phone with Comcast in a futile effort to understand why I’m being overcharged for internet that at the present moment doesn’t seem to be capable of connecting my computer to the world-wide web.

My banana phone currently has better internet connectivity than my modem.

My banana phone currently has better internet connectivity than my modem.

I spent my afternoon isolating RNA from Bacillus subtilis cells.

This kit's name is a lie. RNA is never easy

This kit’s name is a lie. RNA is never easy

My day to day research has me working with DNA on a regular basis. DNA is double-stranded and highly stable; there’s a very good reason our cells use this steadfast molecule to store their genetic code. RNA is DNA’s single-stranded, unstable cellular messenger. It degrades quickly, which makes it difficult to work with. RNA is a diva, as far as biological molecules go.

I think of RNA as the Liza Minelli of nucleic acids

I think of RNA as the Liza Minelli of nucleic acids

Onerous chemistry and incompetent customer service made my afternoon seem like a Sysyphean task; fittingly, my morning workout was also an uphill battle of my own choosing.

Remember Sysyphus? HE was a Greek dude who had to push a rock uphill over and over and over again

Remember Sysyphus? HE was a Greek dude who had to push a rock uphill over and over and over again.

This morning I deviated from my typical tempo runs and Yasso 800s to do a deceptively simple and delightfully difficult speed workout. I opted to start my morning with a series of hill repeats.

My GPS data looks kinda funny...back and forth and back and forth

My GPS data looks kinda funny…back and forth and back and forth

Hill repeats are a phenomenal strategy to build speed and power for runners. I’ve heard hill repeats called “strength training in disguise,” because the added challenge of running uphill forces your legs to recruit slow-, fast-, and intermediate-twitch muscle fibers. Running uphill is great for helping to develop your lactate threshold. Running uphill requires significantly more effort, and a higher turnover rate than running on the flats: combining the benefits of a challenging tempo run and a killer interval session into one workout. Jeff Gaudette explains the physiology (and offers up some sample sets) better than I ever could over at Runner’s World also has a great article with pointers for powering up by running uphill.  If you don’t feel like clicking through the links, I’ll break down the workout I did this morning. There are many variations, from short hill sprints, to the 3-2-1 ladder, but I opted for long hill repeats this morning. These are pretty complex, so grab a pen and paper.

I'm full of it. Hill repeats are simple

I’m full of it. Hill repeats are simple

Step 0: Warm up with roughly a mile of easy running.

Step 1: Find a hill.

Nailed it!

Nailed it!

Step 2: Run up it.

Check! (How sad that I have to start wearing my reflective gear...summer is ending)

Check! (How sad that I have to start wearing my reflective gear…summer is ending)

Step 3: Jog down the hill at an easy pace for recovery.

Step 4: Run up the hill again.

Step 5: Repeat 5-6 times.


HOW many times!?

Step 6: Cool down with a mile of easy running. 

This giraffe was living at the top of the hill. It made the repeats just a little more fun

This giraffe was living at the top of the hill. It made the repeats just a little more fun.

The workout I outlined is probably the simplest hill repeat session you could possibly do. I chose a hill that was just about a half a mile long and I ran up the whole thing four times at roughly my 10K pace. For the last two repeats I pushed my pace to a 5K effort, and only ran halfway up the hill. I consciously focused on maintaining proper running form on the downhill segments. Even though the downhills are supposed to be recovery, this isn’t an excuse to let your legs loose.

How'd my foot get up THERE?

How’d my foot get up THERE?

In fact, downhill running places more demands on your muscular-skeletal system than any other terrain. I focused on my favorite chi-running principles of short strides with a high cadence to make sure that, even though I was going slow down the hill, I was descending in a controlled manner. After finishing my workout I re-fueled with my favorite carbohydrate and set out to tackle the rest of the day’s tasks.

Oatmeal, Elvis, and fresh flowers. What more could I desire?

Oatmeal, Elvis, and fresh flowers. What more could I desire?

How was your hump day?

Hill repeats: love them or loathe them?

Could Comcast’s customer service be ANY worse?


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Motivational Monday

Namaste neighbors! The light in me honors and acknowledges the light within you.

It's OK to get a little crunchy on a Monday...look how NICE this dahlia is!

It’s OK to get a little crunchy on a Monday…look how NICE this dahlia is!

Happy Monday, gentle readers. Is anyone else’s inner light feeling just a bit dim at the beginning of this work-week? Maybe you’re still radiantly remembering your awesome weekend activities, making it difficult to sit down and shackle yourself to your desk.

If only these colonies would count themselves...

If only these colonies would count themselves…

I definitely felt slightly sluggish during my swim this morning. I started out with my go-to workout, but I totally talked myself out of doing the final kick set.


We can’t ALWAYS crush it.

I had a wonderful weekend. Friday night Alli and I got all dolled up to attend an arty-party at the Olympic Sculpture Park.


We clean up REAL nice

Every time the Seattle Art Museum opens a new exhibition they host a swanky soiree to celebrate the curated creativity. The Olympic Sculpture park just installed a new sound installation, titled “Echo,” which was the perfect excuse to dance under the stars on an August evening. These events always include drinks, dancing, performances, and interactive arts and crafts to complement the works on display.


The big red thing is titled “Eagle.” “Echo is the orange piece in the foreground.

Friday evening’s festivities included an opportunity to create watercolor beard-studies: still life renderings of the northwest’s finest facial hair.

My creation. I was, obviously, drawn to the model's impressive mustache.

My creation. I was, obviously, drawn to the model’s impressive mustache.

It was fun to dress up in nice clothes and observe the mating rituals of the greater northwestern employee on Friday night, but by Saturday I was back to my spandex-wearing self. Alli and I took a delightful bike ride around Mercer Island.


Sunday I woke up bright and early for a thrilling 13 mile run.


“Thrilling” might be an overstatement

My knees and hip flexors definitely felt a little crunchy while I was out and about on the Seattle streets. I blame Saturday’s bike excursion for the stiffness. Triathlons REALLY have the order wrong (lethality notwithstanding): “Bike then run is not so fun, run then bike is what I like.” I took it slow and gentle on Sunday’s run. I even stopped to snap a picture of the sunrise over Lake Washington as I crossed the Montlake Bridge.

I NEVER stop to take photos on the run...I may have to revise that policy

I NEVER stop to take photos on the run…I may have to revise that policy

Luckily I have a mellow Monday on my agenda. I’m gearing up to start doing some next-generation DNA sequencing this week, so I’m spending today reminding myself how to prepare DNA libraries and mixing up some of the buffers I need for these types of experiments.

We live in a world where any old yahoo with $800 and an afternoon to kill can sequence an entire genome

We live in a world where any old yahoo with $800 and an afternoon to kill can sequence an entire genome

I’ve been having fun tracking down positive affirmations and pairing them with pleasing pictures for Monday morning mantras. Here’s a few sayings I’ve been liking lately to push myself to persevere and stay positive.




How was your weekend?

What do you have going on this week?


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Things I like Thursday: special Seattle edition

Aloha astronauts! How are things in your corners of the galaxy?

In my world, Thursdays are for swimming and sharing things that I like. I got a great swim in this morning, but I’m going to flip the format from my typicalthings I like post.


Notice my super-stylish racing JAMS

Today I want to talk about my favorite (free) things to do in and around my happy little habitat: The Emerald City, Seattle.

394182_10100206004172848_1664780098_nI decided to do a post touting Seattle’s terrific tourist activities because earlier this week my dear friend from college, Casey, came to town for an all-too-brief visit.


Casey, John, the Pike Place Market Pig, and some patriotic DNA-loving freak

I love playing tour-guide in seattle; Whether I am among friends, family, or prospective microbiology graduate students, I always find something new to love about my city every time I show somebody around. That being said, I definitely have a few standard Seattle sights that I include on almost every itinerary. This city has a LOT to offer: great food, access to the outdoors, music, art, architecture, swarms of upwardly-mobile junior executives, and totally insane five-way intersections.

Seriously, what the hell are we supposed to do with this?

Seriously, what the hell are we supposed to do with this?

There’s no way I could possibly list all of my favorite Seattle sights in one post, so I’m not even going to try. Today I’m going to list some of the rocking Rain City Regions that you can roam to free of charge: call it Sam’s recession-buster-special Seattle Sightseeing guide. Click the links to get more information on any of these attractions.

1) Pike Place Market

I have to lead off with Seattle’s iconic excellent and eclectic emporium: the world-famous forum of fruits, vegetables, and flying fish.

IMG_4788Pike Place can be crowded, touristy, and expensive; however, no trip to Seattle is complete without a visit. The market is awesome. The venue is still a fully-functioning sanitary public farmers market: these local artisans earn their livelihood by selling their wares in the stalls.

IMG_4779 You can certainly enjoy the market without spending a single cent. All of the vendors will push free samples like they are working for Pablo Escobar, if Pablo had expanded into the pepper jelly and produce trade.


“Say hello to my little flower-friends”

I always have fun wandering around feasting my eyes on local art, while I feed my face a million chocolate covered cherries.

2) The Ballard Locks

locksSeattle is on an isthmus between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. The Lake Washington ship canal allows boats to pass between the two bodies of water; however, Lake Washington’s elevation is 8 meters above Sea Level at low tide in the sound. The Hiram M. Chittenden locks maintain water levels, prevent excessive salt water intrusion into the lake, and move boats from one water level to the other. The locks were built by the Army Corp of engineers, and officially opened on July 4th 1917.

ballard locksThe locks are entirely powered by water pressure and gravity. I love visiting the locks to watch the boats pass through.

boat in locksThe locks are helpful for humans in boats trying to migrate upstream. Unfortunately they could stymie salmon trying to swim upstream to spawn. Luckily the facility includes a fish ladder to help our coho comrades find their way home. The fish ladder itself is a marvel of engineering, and in autumn you can watch salmon swimming through the weirs during the annual run.

Just keep swimming!

Just keep swimming!

3) Volunteer Park

One of my favorite features about Seattle is the abundance of green spaces available to offset the urban environment. The master plan for Seattle was designed by the Olmsted Brothers (the first generation descendants of Fredrick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park). The Olmsteds laid out the city so that no house is located more than a half mile from the nearest public park. Volunteer Park, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, is “the crown jewel” of all of our extensive esplanades.

Volunteer Park is home to a historic conservatory with bounteous bizarre and beautiful botanicals on display.

20140518-212709-77229356The historic water tower in volunteer park offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the entire city, the Cascade Mountains, The Olympic Mountains, and Puget Sound.

20140518-215219-78739116Why pay $20 and wait in line to take an elevator to the top of the space needle when you can get a better view for free by climbing a few flights of stairs?

volunteer park

And you can SEE the space needle from the top of the water tower

4) Greenlake

Greenlake is a freshwater lake in the north of Seattle. During the summer the beaches are open for boaters and swimmers to enjoy aquatic activities.

My dad getting ready to enjoy Greenlake

My dad getting ready to enjoy Greenlake

There is a mixed use path circumnavigating Greenlake that happens to be exactly 5 kilometers. I spend a LOT of time running around green lake. I prefer to run at vampire hours early in the morning when the path is almost abandoned.

IMG_4600However, walking around the lake on a weekend afternoon offers premium people watching opportunities: you can observe dog walkers, rollerbladers, power-yuppies power-walking while power-sipping Starbucks, and (if you’re lucky) the resident great blue heron!

Hiroshima memorial at Greenlake

Hiroshima remembrance at Greenlake

5) The Fremont Troll

The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle is a weird, wonderful, wacky place, that calls itself “the center of the universe.” The Fremont arts council celebrates all things quirky and maintains a plethora of public art installations around the area. The troll has made his home underneath the Aurora bridge since 1989, and though he looks big and scary, he is a friendly troll who loves having his picture taken.

20140518-211623-76583371After you visit the troll, be sure to stop by the Theo Chocolate Factory  for some delectable delicacies.

Find this and put it in your mouth

Find this and put it in your mouth

Theo is a local Seattle company that crafts its confections from organic, fair-trade sourced beans. The factory offers free tours hourly, but if you’re not in the mood to wait around you can pop into their retail space and stuff your face with samples of all of their fantastic flavors. I love the 85% dark, the sea salt almond, and the fig and fennel bar most of all, but every flavor is delicious. Try the ghost-chili caramels, if you are feeling spicy!

I'm ALWAYS feeling spicy...and fruity

I’m ALWAYS feeling spicy…and fruity

I think that the activities I’ve listed could easily fill an entire day with free fun. I haven’t even mentioned the awesomeness that is The Olympic Sculpture Park, The Lake Washington Arboretum, or The Burke-Gilman Trail. There’s just not enough megabytes in the internet to list ALL of the activities available in the coffee-kingdom. I hope that my list could be helpful to anyone planning a visit to my fair city, or wanting to reminisce about past vacations.

We've also got a cool mountain named Rainier

We’ve also got a cool mountain named Rainier

Have you been to Seattle? What was your favorite thing to see? Want to come visit? You can stay on my couch and I’m an awesome cook. 




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Motivational Monday: be awesome

Guten tag groovy guys and gals. I hope everybody is starting this merry monday well rested from any weekend shenanigans. May your commutes have been as smooth as your coffees are strong as we get ready to take a big old bite out of the coming workweek.

Dog is my co-pilot...I'm totally lying, I commute by bike

Dog is my co-pilot…I’m totally lying, I bike to work

My Monday began with a typical one-two-three punch of cardio, carbohydrates, and bike commuting.

I do NOT love that the days have started getting shorter and my runs are yet again veering into vampire territory

I do NOT love that the days have started getting shorter and my runs are yet again veering into vampire territory

I DO love oatmeal...always and forever.

I DO love oatmeal…always and forever.

fuji bikeI’m recovering nicely from Saturday’s triathlon. My legs felt fine during my run and my ride: I’m a little saddle-sore, and my shins are tight, but every other part of me seems to be ship-shape and bristol fashion.

I have no idea what that means either...

I have no idea what that means either…but I’m really good at driving boats

Mondays are tough. It’s hard to get back into the groove of the week when you’re still re-living the glory of the weekend. Friday seems pretty far away when you’re behind on emails before lunchtime, and your experiments are already going wrong in new and bizarrely unexpected ways.

Lesson learned: a pyrex baking dish will NOT fit on that platform shaker after all

Lesson learned: a pyrex baking dish will NOT fit on the platform shaker after all

Sometimes I tell myself positive affirmations or mantras to chase away the Monday malaise. Today I think I’ll take a different tactic: I’m going to share a couple of stories about awesome people doing extraordinary things. Rather than dwelling on the infinite inconveniences that sap your inspiration, let’s marvel at what human beings are capable of and decide to swim upstream against what’s in our way.

Swim upstream guys. We got this!

We’ve got this.

Without further ado, here are the awesome individuals that are motivating me this week.

1) Mo’ne Davis

I love that the best pitcher in little league baseball right now is a 13 year old girl from Philadelphia. I love that Mo’ne Davis throws a 72 mile-per-hour fastball (which, because of the fact that the mound is closer to the plate in little-league, is equivalent to a 90 mph pitch in the big leagues!). I love that Mo’ne Davis’ lucky charm is to keep money in her back pocket because: “It’s just that I do well when I’ve got money in my back pocket. And I know if I ever get hungry, I know I can get something to eat because I’ve got money.” I love that she seems like a genuinely down-to-earth, well rounded kid in interviews.

2) Sage Canaday

Sage Canaday is an Oregonian trail and ultra-runner living in Boulder, Colorado. His instagram feed is a totally awesome combination of spectacular scenic vistas, and vegan food-porn. Sage Canaday’s athletic accomplishments and devotion to healthy living are always inspiring. This weekend he knocked another achievement into the upper atmosphere by leading team U.S.A to a commanding victory at the Pikes Peak Ascent Trail Race.

The Pike’s Peak Ascent gains 7,815 vertical feet over the course of 13.32 miles. That is no joke. I officially give up my right to complain about the hills of Seattle EVER again.

3) Sister Madonna Buder

Sister Madonna Buder is an 84 year old nun from Spokane who does Iron Man Triathlons. She is the oldest person ever to complete an ironman (at IM Canada in 2012), and was recently inducted into the triathlon hall-of-fame. Technically she no longer competes at the full-Iron distance (her last event was Kona, 2012), and has been using her “retirement” to focus on the marathon, and half-iron distance. In between training she STILL finds time for volunteer service, and community outreach in the pacific northwest. Sister Buder’s attitude to training and living life is exuberant and reverent. She always races hard because: “”I owe it to posterity to give it my all.” She maintains a healthy diet, but isn’t dogmatic about her choices: “I have done nothing knowledgable to pollute my body; except, maybe a drink when it’s necessary.” She sees her training and competing as an act of devotion and celebration: “As long as my body is in motion, it doesn’t matter what it’s doing … as long as it’s oiled!”

Have a WONDERFUL week everybody. Keep your bodies well oiled, in motion, and have a drink if it’s necessary. 

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Deuces Wild Sprint Triathlon recap

Here’s looking at you…gentle readers.

Play it again, Sam

Play it again, Sam

Do you remember how I wrote a really whiny post on Friday? Thank you for serving as pseudo-psychotherapists for this highly-educated, highly-neurotic endurance athlete! You really went above and beyond the call of duty, I cannot imagine how tedious it must be to wade through a thousand words of over-alliterative prose over-analyzing the disagreeable aspects of my own athletic pursuits.

"I forgive you, if you throw the frisbee"

“I forgive you, if you throw the frisbee”

Despite all of the strum und drang, Saturday’s race was a SMASHING success. I did not drown on the swim. There were no sasquatch attacks to speak of during the bike. My legs felt great during the run. I even ended up placing third in my age-group. I had a great time start-to finish. I’m sad that it took me almost all summer to finally jump back on the triathlon train: I’m already obsessively checking to try and find a few more local events before the end of the season and return of the rain.

Soooo many events...SUCH a small stipend

Soooo many events…SUCH a small stipend

Now that we’ve accepted and acknowledged that Sam is totally off-his-rocker, let’s recap this race!

As if there was ever any doubt

As if there was ever any doubt

The Deuces Wild Sprint Triathlon is put on by Joint Base Lewis McChord, an operational Army and Air Force installation one hour south of Seattle. The start was scheduled for 9:00 am so I had plenty of time to enjoy my traditional pre-race hunk-a-hunk of burning carbs breakfast.

Viva las Oatmeal doesn't quite have the same ring to it

Viva las Oatmeal doesn’t quite have the same ring to it

I topped off my bike’s tires with air, loaded up my trusty Subaru, and set off southward for a morning of multi-sport.


Still no end caps…I am the WORST triathlete, I swear.

When I arrived at the base, I was politely, yet firmly, informed that I would need a day-pass to gain entry. Apparently there are rules and regulations about exactly who is allowed to access our nation’s fully-functioning military facilities.


They didn’t turn the cannons on me, but there were men with guns

Seeing the soldiers in fatigues made me nervous. I am deeply patriotic, however I also happen to be a card-carrying, birkentock-wearing, politically-liberal, mostly-plant-based, mustachioed, freak-a-zoid on wheels. Could “excessive weirdness” get me sent to Guantanamo? How could I make it clear to the fine men and women serving our country on the base that I support THEM wholeheartedly, even if I have trouble supporting some of their organizations actions abroad? What would a triathlon on a military base be LIKE? Are they going to make me get a haircut?

Like the biblical Samson, my hair is the source of my strength

Like the biblical Samson, my hair is the source of my strength

Luckily, getting a guest-pass was a piece of cake. The main office was organized and efficient. Everyone I interacted with could not have been more courteous, or helpful. My experience at the front gate accurately foreshadowed my entire race experience; it turns out races on military bases are extremely efficient, well organized, and they are staffed by courteous people.



I easily located the starting line, and started setting up my transition.

IMG_4717Setting up the transition area always calms me down. The mindless task of laying out all of my gear just-so occupies my thoughts away from any nervousness. Seeing all of my gear nicely arranged and organized gives the obsessive-compulsive part of my brain that drives my endurance pursuits a particularly pleasing itch. As I unpack for each event I take a chance to visualize and strategize how I can run my best race. Check. Helmet? Check. Fuel? Check.

OK…shoes? Check. Helmet? Check. Fuel? Check.

Eventually I reached the point where I could not possibly re-locate my shoes, Gus, and towel into any configuration that I hadn’t come up with three times before.  I decided to take a look at the swim course. Seeing the route in person always makes the swim feel less overwhelming and intimidating.

Just out to the buoy and back? That's not so bad at all!

Just out to the buoy and back? That’s not so bad at all!

I did a quick dynamic stretching warm up (I like Matt Fitzgerald’s), pulled on my wetsuit, and headed over to hear the pre-race briefing. The pre-race briefing started EXACTLY at 8:45. The race director informed us that the courses had been measured and double-checked for distance accuracy. The race director gave us one warning about the bike course: while the volunteers had cleared the majority of visible rocks from the roads, we should keep an eye out for small pebbles that escaped their sweeping…


Look out for rocks!

Look out for rocks! Not that there were any

Did I mention how efficient, and organized this race was? These military triathletes do NOT mess around.

Unlike this age-grouper, who spends a good 90% of his day messing around...and taking selfies

Unlike this age-grouper, who spends a good 90% of his day messing around…and taking selfies

After the briefing we had five minutes before the start of the swim. I took a few strokes out and back, then got into position with the rest of the wet-suited warriors.

This is a photo from the Beaver Lake Triathlon one was in their underwear at this race

This is a photo from the Beaver Lake Triathlon 2013…no one was in their underwear at this race

The swim was a mass start. I mentioned on Friday that I find the swim to be the most mentally challenging aspect of triathlons. Open water swimming scares me: under the water is dark, you’re surrounded by a frothing flailing mass of human bodies kicking, and it’s difficult to determine if you are swimming in the correct direction. I stayed with the majority of the pack as we rounded the first buoy. I appreciated that I could use the motion of the pack to chart my course, I pretended to be a fish in a school instead of stressing out about whether I was headed in the right direction. Midway to the second buoy, a guy swam right on top of me and I got an elbow to the nose. At that point I decided I was over playing anchovy, and veered for calmer waters at the outside of the pack. Swimming at the periphery was more relaxing, but I definitely payed the price. I found my flow just after I rounded the second buoy, and decided to give my swim a little stronger effort. I felt like Namor the sub-mariner for a few glorious moments util, I peeked my head out of the water to sight and realized I had veered WAY off course. I changed directions to undo my errant ZAG, where I clearly should have ZIGged. The end of the swim was a breeze. Before I knew it, I was up on the beach and into transition one.

I doubt that Namor would veer as wildly off-course as I did, though.

I doubt that Namor would veer as wildly off-course as I did, though.

I stripped off my wetsuit, velcroed on my bike shoes, buckled my helmet and mounted my trusty steed. I was SO proud of myself for being speed-demon Sam in the transition area, until I glanced at the clock and realized four minutes had elapsed.

Time is relative...dude.

Time is relative…dude.

I shook off my chagrin and started spinning. The very first thought through my brain as I got onto the bike course was: “Oh yeah, you really LIKE triathlons.” The bike course itself was flat as a pancake, smooth as glass (I didn’t see a SINGLE errant pebble), and entirely devoid of traffic. I got into my masher gear and started grinding away, quickly overtaking quite a few people within the first three miles. I was mostly focusing on the cyclists in front of me throughout the ride, but at one point I looked up and noticed we were riding alongside an artillery practice field complete with tanks and anti-aircraft guns.

No I didn't dismount and play at being a plane midway through the race...but I was tempted

No I didn’t dismount and play at being a plane midway through the race…but I was tempted

Before I knew it I was back in T1, slamming a margarita flavored shot block down my gullet, and tying up the laces on my mizunos.

Have you tried the margarita flavor? They are SO good. They have extra salt!

Have you tried the margarita flavor? They are SO good. They have extra salt!

Which mizunos?

Which mizunos?

My run felt great. I passed a few more people. I definitely had the initial jelly-legs feeling, but I was so jazzed up from the bike ride that I was able to find my flow pretty quickly. The run for a sprint is so short I don’t have time to play mind games, sing songs, or repeat mantras. I told myself: “Suck it up, sugar. This race is almost over, time to slide it in to the finish.”

All told, my time was 1:21:22: enough to earn me 3rd in my age-group. I was disappointed to notice that the guy who came in second beat me by one minute and seven seconds. One minute and seven seconds is basically six decades in the world of endurance sports, but looking at both of our splits it is clear that my extra minute did not come from the bike, or the run. Does this mean that I have to start practicing my transitions?


Do I have to start taking these things seriously now? Crap.

All in all I had a great race. I always love competing, and getting a little positive reinforcement with a cheesy bronze medal was the cherry on top of the sweaty Sunday. I needed the reminder that I am capable of facing my fears. The scary stories I tell myself aren’t nearly so frightening under the bright endorphin-filled daylight.

I hope everybody had a WONDERFUL weekend! Did anyone else race? Got any PRs or juicy stories to share?




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Friday freakout: I’ve got a triathlon tomorrow

You guys, I may have done something foolish and impulsive.

This guy? Do something foolish? Poppcycock! I am the IMAGE of rationality

This guy? Poor decisions? Poppcycock! I am the IMAGE of rationality

My Friday began with a routine six mile run.

IMG_4698I followed up my morning milage with some worship at the altar of carbohydrates.

Mother Mary, Father Elvis, Saint Bob of the Red Mill. Bless this breakfast with your carbohydrate-y beneficence

Mother Mary, Father Elvis, Saint Bob of the Red Mill. Bless this breakfast with your carbohydrate-y beneficence

I rode my bike to work, and started some cultures of Bacillus growing so that I can build a few new strains for my next project.

Hey guys! I'm going to grow you, starve you, then throw DNA at you, OK?

Hey guys! I’m going to grow you, starve you, then throw DNA at you, OK?

Suddenly, I received and URGENT bananaphonecall from my training coach.

Rainbow Dash is the fastest my little pony, she's a tough coach.

Rainbow Dash is the fastest my little pony, she’s a tough coach.

Apparently I am registered for a sprint triathlon…tomorrow.

Here we go...

Here we go…

I’m feeling apprehensive about this event.



OK- in all honesty I’m scared shitless.

I shouldn’t be so worried. This is not my first triathlon, I’ve done these before, and it’s only a sprint.

Me and my dad at BLT 2K14. Endurance runs in the family

Me and my dad at BLT 2K14. Endurance runs in the family

I’m not worried about finishing: my races this year indicate that I’ve certainly got enough endurance to see me through a quarter mile swim, 14 miles on the bike, and a quicky little 5K run. Regardless, I have been feeling a major case of pre-race jitters. I feel woe-fully and titanically under-prepared for a triathlon: this afternoon I VERY seriously considered simply swallowing my pride, eating the cost of the entry fee, and not showing up to the starting line tomorrow morning.

What are you? A man, or a mouse?

Walk away from a challenge? I am SHOCKED and dismayed in myself

I guess now that I’ve blogged about it, I have to go through with it, right? Thanks a LOT gentle readers, for keeping me accountable.

Porter is holding me to my word, too

Porter is holding me to my word, too

I’m worried about how tomorrow will go. I have not been training for a multi-sport event AT ALL this season. I have done a grand total of zero brick workouts. I’ve gotten out on a few long weekend bike rides, but I haven’t put in any serious hours in the saddle.

I don't even have end-caps on my handlebars...pathetic

I don’t even have end-caps on my handlebars…pathetic

I could keep easily spinning around on the same series of negative stories all day long:

“What were you THINKING, Sam?”

“Nice job tapering, lame-brain…how are your legs going to feel tomorrow?”

Sure. That's a taper. Let's call it that

Sure. That’s a taper. Let’s call it that

“Oh my god what if a plane from Africa crashes into the T1 area and you get infected with EBOLA VIRUS!?”

As a microbiologist I know that this is irrational...

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how WEIRD viruses are? 

There are rational fears, and irrational fears. The best way to overcome what frightens you is to acknowledge the worries that you feel, analyze the source of the anxiety, and then either face the challenge head-on or LET THE THOUGHTS GO. Keeping negative emotions endlessly bottled up inside gives them way too much power over your brain.

Keeping your brain bottled up isn't such a great idea, other

Keeping your brain bottled up isn’t such a great idea, either

The race is broken up into three parts. I’m already lying to you: technically triathlons have five parts if you count the two transitions. Elite athletes transition from one sport to the next in less than a minute; my transition times are laughably, pathetically slow, so let’s pretend that they don’t matter nearly as much as they actually do.

4 MINUTES!? What the HELL was I doing in there?

4 MINUTES!? What the HELL was I doing in there?

The classic joke is that triathlons are arranged in order of lethality: you can drown while you’re swimming, a bike crash is serious business, and you can…fall over really hard and scrape you knee during the run. Each portion of the race has its own opportunity for triumph and tribulations. If you’ll bear with me, I’ll go through each section, and try to convince myself that I am capable of overcoming the challenge.

Because talking to you, my dear readers, is cheaper than talking to a shrink

Because talking to you, my dear readers, is cheaper than talking to a shrink

The race starts with the SWIM. The swim scares the living daylights out of me. I love swimming laps in the pool. My regular weekly swimming workout is six times further than the measly quarter mile aquatic adventure that kicks off a sprint triathlon. What’s there to be afraid of?

I LOVE swimming!

I LOVE swimming!

Open water swimming terrifies me. There. I’ve said it out loud. The pool is brightly lit, pleasantly warm, it’s REALLY easy to swim in a straight line in a lap lane, and you get to kick off the wall every 25 yards. Swimming in a lake surrounded by a school of endurance athletes, amidst a seething scrum of arms and legs is a whole different ball game: the water  is dark, it’s hard to see, the water is cold, and orienting yourself to swim in the proper direction is no trivial task. In my first triathlon I swam half again as far as I needed to because I just couldn’t keep myself from going crooked.

Ummm....could we get some lap-lanes up in here, please? And maybe light it? Thanks

Ummm….could we get some lap-lanes up in here, please? And maybe light it? Thanks

Now that I’ve acknowledged what worries me about the swim: how can I conquer the fear and start my race strong? Or failing that, how can I avoid drowning? I have three strategies that have helped me in the past:

1) I will hang back from the pack at the start of the race. Even though it’s highly tempting to ride the crazy adrenaline rush and swim hard at the beginning, I know that I need to conserve my resources. I also know that sticking to the back of the pack will give me more room to swim, and avoid the inevitable elbow to the nose.

2) If I get freaked out because the water is dark I will blow out through my nose and focus on the friendly bubbles in front of my face. The scariest part of the swim for me is he disorienting darkness under the water. Not being able to see the bottom freaks me out, when I’m freaked out I start breathing shallowly, shallow breathing messes with the rhythm of my swimming, which freaks me out even more. Having bubbles in front of my face gives me something to look at, instead of focusing on the inky blackness. If I can swim calm I can swim well.

3) I will sight OFTEN. Taking a short break from freestyle to spot the buoy will prevent me from veering off course, and can give me another chance at a mental re-set if the swim gets scary.

I'm totally calm about this, guys...not nervous AT ALL

I’m totally calm about this, guys…not nervous AT ALL

The BIKE worries me much less than the swim. I bike commute every single day. I can crank up a category 2 climb like Thomas the Tank engine on EPO. However, I must admit that I start to feel trepidatious on long, steep downhills.

Thomas has really started to act differently since he started hanging out with Lance the Tank Engine

Thomas has really started to act differently since he started hanging out with Lance the Postal Train

After I crest the summit, I typically get passed by a giant posse of peddlers in full aggressive aero-position, while I ride my brakes and daintily descend. Going fast downhill makes me feel out of control. I worry that an errant tree root, passing cyclist, or sasquatch in heat will come out of nowhere to knock me out of the saddle and into a body cast.

Sasquatch lives!

Sasquatch lives!

This heat map shows the distribution of big-foot sitings in the continental US. Sasquatch lives IN WASHINGTON

This heat map shows the distribution of big-foot sitings in the continental US. Sasquatch lives IN WASHINGTON

My fears in this case aren’t entirely irrational. At the last multi-sport event I participated in (The 20th and final Beaver Lake Triathlon), a biker went off course and suffered a skull fracture. Jesse, one of the WAY-MORE-bad-ass-than-me IronMan triathletes behind single-tracked mind recently posted about a close call he had on his cycle in Lake Tahoe.

However, I also know that I hold myself back, and that I could safely reach a faster speed. I think the strategy I need to get over my downhill dread is to minimize the unpredictability factor so that I feel more in control. I plan to arrive sufficiently early to drive the bike course before the race. I will also pay VERY close attention at the pre-race briefing so that I have a clear mental-map of the route. If the race director is worth his salt he will warn us about challenging turns. I can scope out the most likely sasquatch habitats during my own tour, and plan accordingly. If I know what’s coming next, I’ll be able to surrender to speed and bike more aggressively.

That doesn't look too bad...or steep

That doesn’t look too bad…or steep. The jury’s out on bigfoot

After the SWIM and the BIKE it is time for THE RUN.


This part doesn’t scare me

I like the running part. Everyone always complains about how weird and tired their legs feel during the first few steps coming off the bike. I’m usually just so happy to have survived the previous two events that those first weird-wobbly-jelly-legged footfalls feel strangely comforting. The run for a sprint is only 5K…on long run days that’s called a “warm up.” The run is my personal reward for surviving the bike and the swim. 

They should have events where instead of the biking and swimming parts, you just run for a really long time...oh wait

They should have events where instead of the biking and swimming parts, you just run for a really long time…oh wait

Thanks for reading (and serving as pseudo-psychologists for my multisport-induced neuroses). I’m going to spend the rest of the day topping off my glycogen reserves, drinking my electrolytes, and attempting to locate and pack up all of the tons and tons of ultra-light crap required to do three sports in one day.

Sure, you're never supposed to try anything new on race-day...but these are SO COOL

OK, so, you’re never supposed to try anything new on race-day…but these are SO COOL


The wetsuit is vital

Fuel, race belt, sunglasses. Yeesh. I'm tired already

Fuel, race belt, sunglasses. Yeesh. I’m tired already

Never leave home without it

Never leave home without it


Do YOU get pre-race anxiety? How do you cope?

Swim, bike, run? Pick your poison: which is your favorite? 

Does anyone have any tips on how to speed up my pathetic transition times? 


Posted in races, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Training Tuesday: Tempo-rary insanity

Bounteous tidings dear readers on this titillating Tuesday. I’m not sure what the weather is like where you are, but it has been a SCORCHER in Seattle this week.

Does El Nino have something to do with this? The super-moon?

Does El Nino have something to do with this? The super-moon?

Yesterday evening’s thunderstorm was a welcome respite from the oppressive heat and humidity for us city slickers in Seattle. However, the lightning set 51 new wildfires aflame in Oregon, and at least one new fire near Olympia in Washington. My heart goes out to the people displaced from their homes, and to the firefighters continuing to battle blazes across the Northwest. I will spare everybody another rant about climate change. However, if current trends continue we can expect to see more hot, dry summers, extreme weather events, and wildfires.


OK- I’ll step off of my soapbox, for the time being (besides, there are much more eloquent scribes than I addressing the issue: check out Timothy Egan’s take, over at the Times). This morning I braved the blistering heat for a challenging tempo run.

Pictured: a sweaty scientist finishing a rough workout

Pictured: a sweaty scientist finishing a rough workout

A tempo run is deceptively simple: you run for an extended period of time at a “comfortably hard” pace. While comfortably hard may sound oxymoronic, you’re shooting for an effort that is challenging, yet sustainable. You should be struggling, but not so much that your eyes are bleeding. There are many metrics to figuring out how fast that should be (Runner’s World, as always, has a great article on tempo training). The easiest way to undertake a tempo run is the “Talk-Test.” You should be working hard enough that you can’t complete a sentence, but not so hard that you can’t even spit out a single word. For me, my tempo workout looked like this:

I ended up going 8 miles total. Let's play "spot the hills in Seattle based on Sam's pace"

I ended up going 8 miles total, using the last as a cool-down

The point of a tempo run is to increase your lactate threshold. When your muscles are working hard, they burn a lot of energy, in the form of a fantastic little molecule called ATP. Cells make ATP using glucose. We as endurance athletes burn a lot of glucose, and thus pretty much need to be oozing carbohydrates from our pores at all times.

Bless these carbs, oh mighty elvis. Let my training be as smooth as your voice

Bless these carbs, oh mighty elvis. Let my training be as smooth as your voice

Your cells’ favorite way to make ATP is by a process called oxidative phosphorylation, using the electron transport chain and the TCA cycle. Oxidative phosphorylation gets a lot of bang for its buck: 32 molecules of energy-giving ATP per glucose burned.

Is anybody else having nightmare-flashbacks to biochemistry?

Is anybody else having nightmare-flashbacks to biochemistry?

Oxidative phosphorylation, as its name suggests, requires a lot of oxygen. When your muscles are working hard your blood can’t deliver oxygen to the cells fast enough, causing anaerobic conditions. Luckily, there’s a back-up plan in place: your muscles also can make ATP by a process called fermentation.

OK- I'll stop with the chemistry. I promise.  Source:

OK- I’ll stop with the chemistry. I promise.

Fermentation is less efficient (a paltry 2 molecules of ATP per glucose), but it keeps your muscle fibers firing when times get tough. In addition to being inefficient, fermentation produces lactic acid as a byproduct.


Pictured: another fermentation byproduct. Yeast produce ethanol under anaerobic conditions…humans haven’t figured out that trick quite yet…probably for the best.

Lactic acid is NOT what makes you sore after a tough workout. Your gym teacher lied to you about that one. Your cells are able to clear lactic acid and even use it as an energy source under normal circumstances. However, when lactic acid builds up faster than it can be cleared away, your body begins to get nervous and starts putting in place mechanisms to protect itself. This is called the “lactate threshold.”

It's pretty amazing what a few billion years of evolution can come up with!

It’s pretty amazing what a few billion years of evolution can come up with!

A lactic acid build-up in the blood indicates that your muscles are burning through glucose like it’s going out of style. Our other organ that needs a constant glucose fix is the big Homo sapiens brain. Your brain is a glucose JUNKIE. In order to protect its stash, the brain will send signals to your muscles to tell them to simmer down and stop working if it thinks that they are getting glucose-greedy. This manifests as fatigue in the muscles themselves.

Such a diabolical, glucose-addicted, fiend! (image via creative commons)

Such a diabolical, glucose-addicted, fiend! (image via creative commons)

The circuits leading to muscle fatigue are there for a good reason: to prevent you from literally exercising until you die. However, your brain is SO fiercely protective of its glucose reserves, it likes to send the fatigue signal to your muscles cells FAR before there is any danger of running out of fuel. The lactate threshold is higher than it needs to be.

Hey Kenny Loggins, we aren't anywhere NEAR the Danger Zone

Hey Kenny Loggins, we aren’t anywhere NEAR the Danger Zone

Tempo workouts have you performing at the lactate threshold for an extended period of time. Forcing your muscles to keep firing, even as the brain senses lactic acid and is sending messages to the cells to STOP, has two benefits.

First: Tempo workouts teach your muscles to effectively use lactate as a fuel source, clearing it from the bloodstream. This alters the physiological lactate threshold: reducing the rate of build up in subsequent workouts, letting you push harder for longer.

Second: Tempo workouts prove to your brain that you can keep exercising YOU WILL NOT DIE even when lactate levels are high. This alters the psychological aspect of the lactate threshold: getting your junkie brain to simmer down and stop sending fatigue signals at the first sign of strenuous effort. Training your brain is just as important as training your body.

Tempo workouts are hard, and they are hard for an extended period of time, but they make you a better runner (or cyclist, or swimmer, or whatever). Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable, but pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is the only way to make progress.

I'm uncomfortable with this lawn statue

Porter used to be uncomfortable with this lawn statue, now she’s brave!

One of my favorite running bloggers, stuftmama, recently shared the brilliantly simple mantra: Make yourself do hard thingsI gotta admit, every time I do a tempo workout, I have to tell myself these very words when I’m tempted to slack on the pace.

I give myself pep-talks via banana phone, obviously

I give myself pep-talks via banana phone, obviously

Tempo workouts are hard, but they are effective and that makes them great! Check out some of those links!

HAVE a SUPER Tuesday. Train hard. Have fun. 





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Moonstruck Monday mantras

L’Chaim lunatics!

Did everybody get a chance to enjoy the super-moon this weekend? Apparently yesterday’s perigree full moon (the fancy technical term for when our sultry satellite swings closest to the Earth along her elliptical orbit) was the most-super super moon of the whole year! I couldn’t resist snapping a quick shot of this lovely lunar display during my morning run.

That moon is certainly super...the sunrise is nice, too

That moon is certainly super…the sunrise is nice, too

My weekend was delightful. I took a trip to the Olympic Sculpture park.


“Wake” by Richard Serra

I (finally) repaired the wheel on my bike, so I am no longer a slave to the tyrannical schedule of King County Metro for my morning commute.

Guess what I like to do

Guess what I like to do

Alli and I educated Porter about the importance of proper athletic footwear.

Now Porter, those might be OK for speed work, butfor higher mileage runs I really recommend the Mizuno Wave Inspire

Now Porter, those might be OK for speed work, but for higher mileage runs I really recommend the Mizuno Wave Inspire

I also squeezed in 13.5 miles out on the pavement. I was shocked to discover when I finished my morning rambling that I completed this gentle, easy, no-stress, not-hard-at-all training run AT THE SAME PACE as the half marathon I ran (and placed a disappointing 6th in my age group) last weekend.

What the what?

What the what?

There are three interpretations for these data:

1) I was having an off day last Saturday.

"But COACH, that race felt really hard"

“But COACH, that race felt really hard”

2) Hydrating, reducing my mileage, carbo-loading, hitting the hay early, and generally going taper-crazy doesn’t do a DAMN thing. I might, in fact, be better served by drinking Rose until 11 pm, rolling out of bed at 5, shoving half of a piece of toast in my mouth, and heading out the door half-groggy for a pre-race strategy.

My new pre-race magical elixir?

My new pre-race magical elixir?

3) The Super-Moon



I’m going to go with option 1) or option 3). I know that as an over-educated academic who lives and breathes experimental biology for my living, I shouldn’t put too much stock astrological superstitions. Moon-induced malaise CERTAINLY cannot fulfill Koch’s postulates for causality.

For one thing, I have no IDEA how to grow moonlight in pure culture.... Source:

For one thing, I have no IDEA how to grow moonlight in pure culture….

Nevertheless, I feel like the full moon puts me on edge–as if chaos is lurking around every corner. I end up with an excess of creative energy, which is delightful but can drive me to distraction if I lack direction.

Tom Robbins has this to say about the purpose of the moon (from Still Life with Woodpecker):

Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear and sent it to Marilyn Monroe. 
          The severed ear reminded Marilyn Monroe of a crescent moon, and for hours she contemplated it by moonlight. 
          She telephoned Vincent van Gogh. “Does the moon have a purpose?” she asked. 
          Vincent van Gogh considered her question. He decided it was silly. 
          Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not. 
          Tom Robbins wrote that the only serious question is whether time has a beginning and an end. 
          Camus clearly got up on the wrong side of bed, and Robbins must have forgotten to set the alarm. 
          There is only one serious question. And that is: Who knows how to make love stay? 
          Answer me that and I will tell you whether or not to kill yourself. 
          Answer me that and I will ease your mind about the beginning and the end of time. 
          Answer me that and I will reveal to you the purpose of the moon.”

I can’t tell you how to make love stay. I can’t explain why some races go better than others. What I can give you are some positive affirmations and some nice pictures to look at. Mondays can be tough, here’s a few more mantras to remind ourselves to have a wonderful week.

IMG_4532IMG_4533IMG_4531IMG_4534What did you get up to this weekend?

Does the full moon create chaos in your life? Or are you more inclined to notice chaos when the moon is full…

Posted in motivation, Positive vibes, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Things I like Thursday

Konichiwa my kick-ass readers! I hope all of you stalwart samurai out there are having a wonderful week, and a thrilling Thursday. My morning started with a mile of freestyle.

Splish, splash!

Splish, splash!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “things I like thursday post,” mostly because I’ve been busy making up recipes, learning about DNA, running races, and setting my august goals. My go-to sources for interesting information have been replete with distressing and depressing dispatches (my sources are The New York Times, and…The New York Times Editorial page…I could probably stand to add some variety to my media menu). Between the African Ebola outbreak; the continuing crises in Ukraine, Gaza, and Iraq; our legislature’s inability to accomplish ANYTHING of substance before adjourning for the summer; and the continuing career of Kim Kardashian…it can be difficult to maintain a sunny disposition.

I am assuming she still has a career?

I am assuming she still has a career?


Seriously Kim…go away

However, even though the world might seem like a cavalcade of chaos, there are always awesome things to be stoked about. Here’s a few bits of flotsam and jetsam that are brightening my life, lately.

1) Puppy Popsicles.

These exist. Really

These exist. Really

Last weekend I did something stupid: I grocery shopped hungry. Impulse-control is not my strong suit, and low blood-sugar brain-fog does not aid my decision-making process. Somehow these ridiculous canine confections ended up in my cart. I was ashamed and feeling buyer’s remorse at what a sucker I’d been as I unloaded the mountain of dry goods and sundries I’d selected: Puppy Popsicles are a ridiculously unnecessary, bourgeoisie purchase. Puppy Popsicles also happen to be Porter’s new favorite thing in the entire world.



How can I argue with something that brings about so much bliss?



2) Washington Governor Jay Inslee is doubling down on climate change.

I love our Gov!

I love our Gov!

Ocean acidification is causing a massive oyster die-off along the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Governor Inslee, correctly noting that climate change is both an economic and environmental issue, has teamed up with the billionaire climate advocate Tom Steyer to bring this issue to the forefront in Washington. Together they are pushing for statewide caps on carbon emissions. Jay Inslee is awesome, I love that Washington has the opportunity to lead the nation on important issues.

3) Maggie Vessey’s awesome racing outfits.

Maggie Vessey is a middle-distance track runner from Soquel, California (just up the road from my Alma Mater, UCSC). She was sponsored by New Balance, but when that relationship ended she took matters in her own hands and began collaborating with a designer to create her own kit. Her unique uniforms are eye-popping, brightly colored, and one of a kind. In addition to looking fly on the field, she’s fast! She ran a personal best at the 800m and placed second at the USATF open this past summer.

I think Maggie’s outfits are fantastic. I love that she is expressing her individuality and athleticism.

4) PickyBars.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 12.11.49 PM

I dig these ingredients

Most protein bars, packaged food products, and convenience snacks freak me out. Usually they are loaded with artificial ingredients, or saturated with added sugar. Even some of the “natural,” “healthy” bars in appealing pastel packaging don’t really stand up to scrutiny: they usually are pretty stingy with the protein, or heavy on the honey. I recently discovered Picky Bars, and I’m totally hooked.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 12.12.00 PMLauren Fleshman, the runner, and her triathlete husband, Jesse Thomas, are the brains behind the company. Lauren herself is an awesome athlete (if you haven’t read her insightful article about on keeping it real and body image yet, go. Now. I’ll wait). These bars are an awesome product. A single bar clocks in at 200 calories, with 28 grams of carbs and seven grams of protein from whole food sources. They’re organic, gluten free, vegan, and super tasty. BooYah.

That medal aint comin' off ALL day

Post race Picky-bar

5) The Spandrels of San Marcos and the Panglossian Paradigm.

Where the hell is he going with this and what the hell is a spandrel? It's architecture!

Where the hell is he going with this and what the hell is a spandrel? It’s architecture!

This is a classic paper in the field of evolutionary biology. It uses architectural metaphors to explain some fundamental concepts in adaptation and selection. It’s an entertaining read, full of two-dollar words, and it’s helping me frame my thinking in my own research.

Pictured: my thinking cap. The chicken helps too

Pictured: my thinking cap. The chicken helps too

The title refers to an architectural feature called a spandrel: the little triangle junction when a dome gets propped up on top of an arch. Spandrels happen to be a perfect place to add embellishments, and they make a building beautiful.

These are the spandrels of San Marcos. Pretty, eh?

These are the spandrels of San Marcos. Pretty, eh?

However their original intended purpose is architectural, not aesthetic. This paper makes the point that, when thinking about evolution, it’s easy to assign significance to a trait when in reality there is none. In the case of the spandrels it’s tempting to convince yourself that the building was designed with the spandrels in mind as a place to display artworks, when in reality that is simply the necessary shape to support the roof of the building. In other words: just because a trait is used for a particular function, that doesn’t necessarily mean that selection acted to generate that trait. There’s a temptation to see adaptation in everything, when, in reality, some traits simply arise due to genetic drift. Darwin himself said: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main, but not the exclusive means of modification.”

My hero

My hero

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how bacterial genomes are organized, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of the spandrels. I think that bacteria put their genes in specific places for a very specific reason: so that the genes mutate faster and the bacteria can evolve. However, the possibility remains that those genes are have remained where they are and are mutating faster just because there hasn’t been any reason NOT to mutate those genes. It’s always good to second guess yourself, and this paper has been a fun new way to frame my thinking. I’m still pretty sure that I’m right about the genomes, though.

Hey friends!

Hey friends!

I think that’s enough out of me this week.

What are YOU enjoying these days? 


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