Monday, June 30, 2008

I'm baaack (Part 2)

So my half marathon was yesterday morning. I was definitely nervous going in because I spent the previous week in the hottest place on earth and just couldn't keep my normal training routine there. I ran about 5 slow miles each day, but I wasn't running hard and the desert is actually flat, so no hill work to speak of. I'm not sure it actually hurt anything other than my confidence to have a light week last week, but it definitely didn't help me.

Of course summer finally arrived in Dissertation City while I was away, and so this weekend it was into the 90s both days. Saturday was spent guzzling water and eating carbs in preparation for the race. Saturday night I couldn't sleep from the excitement and anticipation of the race. The few snatches of sleep I grabbed were filled with dreams where I missed the start of the race.

Sunday morning I got up at 4:45. The morning was beautiful and clear. Husband dropped my friend and I off at the start line to join 5,000 of our closest friends. We waited eagerly, milling about near the banner. The elite runners were easy to identify, tall and lanky with serious looks on their faces.

I decided to run with a pacer for this race. My goal time was 2 hours, which would mean a 9:10 pace. But I was feeling ambitious and positioned myself behind the 8:35 pacer instead. The start time was delayed by 15 minutes (groan) but finally it was time to line up. The gun fired and the crowd pushed slowly towards the line, thumping their eager little feet closer and closer.

The bottleneck at the start actually dissipated fairly quickly, and I was able to start jogging within seconds after passing the line. I found my pacer and set out.

The first couple miles of the race took us across a low floating bridge, and it was a pretty incredible view. The bridge offered no shade, of course, so the sun was pretty intense. I was sweating pretty good by the time I hit the first hill at 4 miles, a long but moderate climb for about 1/2 mile. I was feeling pretty good, but the water I had picked up was already sloshing in my stomach and making me feel a little ill.

The first 7 miles went quickly and I had no trouble keeping up with my pacer, but at mile 7, the course hit this ridiculous hill. 1/2 mile long and straight up. Despite all my hill work, I simply couldn't do it. I had to walk parts of the hill because it was just so steep. It was little consolation that about 75% of the people around me were walking too... it was a real morale buster. From there on out, the course was actually quite hilly, but they were manageable hills and I was able to roll with it, but I lost the 8:35 pacer and knew I wasn't going to be setting any records.

The heat was tough, but the race wound through some neighborhoods were people were out spraying their hoses for anyone who needed to cool down. There were lots of spectators shouting encouragement and clapping. "After this hill it levels off for a bit" and "Almost to mile 10" and "Water station around the corner". It was really nice to have people out there cheering us on.

I was doing pretty good for awhile and had mentally recovered from the hill at mile 7. At 11 miles the marathoners broke off from the half marathoners and I was very glad to only have 2 miles left instead of 15. At mile 12 we were suddenly confronted with a short hill that was so steep it was like climbing stairs. For a second time during the race, I had to walk. It was a huge disappointment. But every single person around me had to walk it to, and there was a whole lot of cursing (not just from me!... some of it was me, but not all). Seriously, what kind of course designs the toughest hill of all for mile 12? That's just rude.

At the top, people were cheering for us again. "It's all flat from here!" they called, "Less than a mile to go."

Unfortunately, I had started out too ambitious, and the hills had taken a lot out of me. I didn't have anything left for an extra push to the end. So I kept an even pace and kept an eye out for the finish line.

Finally I could see the turn into the chute. The street was lined with people cheering and clapping. About halfway through the chute I saw Husband and Bean clapping for me, but I couldn't see a clock. Finally the crowd cleared and as I crossed the line I saw 1:59:11. I had beat the 2 hour mark (though just barely). I was so relieved I almost cried.

I grabbed some water and watermelon and headed out to find my little family. Bean shared my watermelon with me and was grinning a big juicy smile. We found her a balloon to play with, and she walked around the park looking for dogs to pet.

It wasn't my best run, but I learned a lot. I was too aggressive at the beginning. I drank too much water. I didn't eat enough before the race, and I could have used a sugar boast in the middle. But I hit my goal, and I can't wait for the next race so I can try again.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I'm baaack... (Part 1)

So I'll start with the conference. The conference was great. There was lots of really great science, lots of interaction, good poster sessions, and my poster was fairly well received. So that was great. In fact, overall the conference was rather invigorating scientifically... I couldn't wait to get back to work.

Unfortunately the conference was held in the hottest place on earth. It was over 110 degrees F every single day (topping out at 118 deg F). If I didn't have my race this weekend, I certainly would have skipped out on running while I was away. But unfortunately for me, my race was just two days after I returned from the conference. So instead I hauled my butt out of bed early each day and went running at 5:30 a.m. to try to beat the heat. I was unsuccessful. Even at 5:30 a.m. it was 80 degrees outside, and since we were in the desert there was absolutely no shade from the sun. Worse yet, it was 0% humidity so it was like running with a wad of Kleenex in my throat. And best of all, I caught some sort of chest cold (most likely on the plane). Not exactly ideal conditions for preparing for my race.

Husband and the Bean did perfectly fine of course. And both Husband and a friend sent me pictures of the Bean every day while I was away (the highlight of each day by far).

I brought the pump with me to keep the breast milk going while I was gone. Of course that meant the obligate embarrassing extra search at airport security.

"Um, we're going to have to search your bag here, ma'am. Can you tell me what's in here?"

"It's a breast pump."


(Louder) "A breast pump."

They MUST see these things every single day. They should know by now exactly what a Medela Symphony looks like... and yet... "A breast pump?" Followed by a complete wipe down and testing in their machine. Sigh.

I got back on Friday, just in time for the arrival of my buddy Wom who flew in from Chicago and did the half marathon with me. Which was successful, btw, and I'll post about that tomorrow. But for tonight, I'm going to veg on the couch and then go to bed early. I'm beat!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Send Off

This morning, perhaps as part of her "Miss me while you're gone" send off, Bean grabbed a pair of my underwear out of the laundry. Naturally she put her head through the leg hole. Husband saw her first.

"Bean!" he exclaimed, reaching for her.

"Eeeeeee!" she squealed as she bolted out of reach, underwear flapping behind her.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Off to Academic Conference, so probably won't be posting all week.

I'm really sad about leaving Bean for 6 days. Tonight I got all sentimental when I went to pick up her shoes. It was totally a Made For TV Movie moment where I sat there pondering the size of her shoes and how quickly she's growing. Then I snuck into her room to watch her sleep. I am so corny. I would totally make fun of myself if I weren't so bummed.

*Ta-ta for now

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Failure in Science

Candid Engineer in Academia has a great post up today about failure in science (which, btw, if you're not reading Candid Engineer yet, you should be... she's your snarky friend from grad school). Candid Engineer, it seems, has the resilience-in-the-face-of-failure gene. I think pretty much all successful scientists must have this gene.

In science, it's pretty much guaranteed that approximately 99% of the work you do will end in either:

A) Human Error-related Failure... you spend six days working on an experiment and end up sucking your DNA pellet into the vacuum line, or you drop your gel into the sink where it shatters into 18,000 pieces

B) Technical Failure... the experiment was a good idea in theory, but in practice the technique doesn't have high enough resolution, or the mutants you want to test have no phenotype, or your screen isn't stringent enough

C) Systems Failure... because maybe E. coli doesn't like having extra copies of your gene of interest (at least not in that orientation), or the double mutant you want to test is actually dead, or your strain gets suppressors faster than you can test your mutation

And there are some people, like Candid Engineer, like Husband, who take all of this in stride. They have the resilience-in-the-face-of-failure gene, and they know that failure is just another day at the office. I think the reason I have such a hard time with bench work in the long run is that experiment failure always feels like personal failure. And I hate feeling like an idiot all the time.

Maybe it's time for me to look into gene therapy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Deadlines, etc

This week I have approximately 80,000 deadlines at work. Actually, specifically, all my deadlines are on Friday. Just before I leave for a week long scientific conference. And 36 hours after I return from the conference I'll be running a half-marathon. This is making for a very stressed out ScienceMama.

I agreed to go to this conference several months ago because I figured it'd be a good way to rejuvenate the science love. And it will. I love listening to talks, I love thinking about different kinds of research. I think it will be great for the Science half of me. But the Mama half of me is totally pissy about having to go. Six days is a long time to leave my child, especially when we're still nursing twice a day (which means I'll have to bring along my pump and since I'll have a roommate at the conference, pump in the bathroom... um, suck much?).

The conference is also coming at a time when I couldn't be feeling more behind in pretty much every aspect of my life. My house is a filthy mess (if we weren't dirt poor right now, I'd be ready to give in and start paying someone to come in and sweep). I have the aforementioned 80,000 deadlines. I'm barely keeping up with my experiments. And I feel perpetually guilty for not having the time to be more creative cooking for Bean.

I'm really sad about leaving the Bean. My only consolation is that I'll probably be so busy at the conference that time will pass quickly (I hope).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This is bullsh*t

It is cold here in Dissertation City. Not just today. It has been rainy with highs in the mid 50s for over 2 weeks. We have not had one snippet of sunshine this month. And it's frickin' June here people. June. We have the heat on. It's June.

This is when Dissertation City gets me down. Everywhere else in the darn country it's 80+ degrees and sunny. People are in tank tops. People are BBQing. People are out hiking and biking and walking in sandals. Not here. Here we are still wearing wool sweaters. "Happy October" the weather man joked. It wasn't funny.

They say the Inuit have some impressive number of words for snow. In Dissertation City, the weather man has 57 different pictures to represent different kinds of rainy days. "Rain in the morning, showers in the afternoon" is a big rain cloud with more rain on the left and less rain on the right. He has another 36 different pictures of clouds covering a sun. You're supposed to interpret the number of rays and the color of the clouds to divine how many seconds of blessed sunlight you will get during the day.

"Sunbreaks"... this is a word I never heard before I moved here. We're so pathetically sun-deprived that it's big news if there is going to be a break in the clouds for the sun to peak through for a few minutes. "Expect a few sunbreaks late this afternoon" the weather man says. Growing up in California all the weather man had to say was cloudy, rainy or sunny. Here the weather man has 93 ways to tell you how bad your day is going to suck.

There are times when I love this town. Most of the year, in fact, I love this town. But from March through June I'm about ready to chuck my life in the trunk of my car and head for sunnier pastures. The first 6 months of rain were enough. I don't need the extra 3.

Sigh. If I win the lottery (which I won't since I don't play), I am totally going to Hawaii.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

New Online Journal!

A hilarious new journal for science nerds, MusculusMag.

Here's my May horoscope:

Due to an unexpected interaction between the Sun and Saturn, you will have to do all of your genotyping on the day of the half moon. Any attempts otherwise will lead to fur mites. In the event that you aren’t working with mice: Look out. You will be soon.

Guess I'd better stop leaving out cheese and rat poison on my desk at work.