What Goes Up Must Come Down…Hopefully on Two Feet

Every time I write a post about trail running, I focus on all of the stuff we’re doing to get up the mountain, but not really even mentioning the whole “getting back down” part, even though multiple people have said that for Imogene, the downhill portion is more physically taxing than the uphill portions. I tend to think I am a strong downhill runner which almost seems like a silly and maybe even embarrassing thing to admit. It’s like saying I’m really good at the one thing in running that requires no skill aside from just being a body of mass subject to the laws of gravity. BUT at least I have that!

Not only does my pace slow down considerably while running uphill, I also feel completely miserable/tired/frustrated any time I’m faced with an incline.   I can handle flatness and seem to do ok with it as evidenced by the Chicago Marathon, even though I prefer to add little elevation changes so my muscles don’t get tired.

But when I’m running downhill everything works in conjunction to make me feel like I am the most fast, amazing runner on the planet. Stand in the way, and I will knock you down with my downhill runner awesomenss.

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So, basically I spend a lot less time worrying about downhill training because overall I LOVE it.

BUT. But.

I have noticed that this whole thing gets a little more complicated when it comes to trail running.  Suddenly being a body of mass subject to the laws of gravity seems like less of an advantage when I can’t control myself going down, and as a result my quads get a beating because they are trying to stop me from missing a switchback and ending up going a bit too far over the side of the mountain.

Also, rattlesnakes. Not having control of your body might make you run into a rattlesnake like the run we saw during our 18.5er on Saturday. This alone is reason enough to consider going about downhill running in a strategic way. photo (5) Even though downhill trail running is different than running down a street I think the general tips and tricks and principles still apply: allow gravity to do its thing while attempting to reduce the amount of “braking” action you’re doing. But on some of these trails (and apparently at the top of Imogene Pass when you first start the descent), this requires considerable bravery and skill…things I don’t necessarily have as a strict “body of mass” downhill runner.

So, we have been practicing descending upon steep downhills (mostly because once you reach the top, you generally have to get back down). For me, my most obvious weakness has been  my core.  While a strong core will do wonders for just about anything in life, a weak core will make steep downhill running without falling down pretty impossible. At least for me.

But after all the talk about downhill training, I decided to do a little bit of research in hopes that I could improve my abilities and maybe be more prepared for this race.

After reading a bunch of lists on how to improve downhill running (actually, there are like 3 lists out there about downhill running), it looks like these other things are also important:

1) Hot Potato Steps:

Remember when you played hot potato as a kid (or yesterday…) and you tried to get whatever object (usually not actually a hot potato) out of your hands as fast as possible because presumably, it was “hot.” Kinda the same thing, except your feet are your hands and the trail is the hot potato. Think of times when you’ve missed a stair and ended up going farther down than you anticipated.  It usually results in a hard landing.  This is the same type of thing. Your foot is going farther than it thinks it is going, so it lands harder.

Apparently the more you replace “pounding the pavement” (dirt?), with being light and springy, the less pressure you are putting on your legs.

2) Bend slightly forward: 

This helps you use gravity while giving you more control.  Leaning back is part of the “braking” action that increases impact on your legs.  If you’ve ever been skiing, this makes a lot of sense.

3) Trail Shoes: I went against my own advice and purchased new/unfamiliar shoes last week.  I went with the Brooks Cascadia because most of the people in the facebook group said having traction on the bottom of your shoe will help prevent sliding during the initial steep descent from the summit. Trail shoes are made for this very purpose, so it makes sense to use what tools are available.

 So, I decided to put these two secrets to downhill success to the test during our last 18 mile run on Saturday.  We ran up the La Luz trail to the Sandia Peak summit, and then back down.  This course actually has a larger elevation gain than Imogene, so it was a good training run and in the very least assured me that I wouldn’t come in dead last at the race provided I stay in one piece.
We started down where those houses were: 9 miles up, 9 miles down

We started down where those houses were: 9 miles up, 9 miles down…check out those new shoes!

So, did incorporating these super secrets for downhill running success work?

Well, attempting to focus on not tripping while simultaneously playing hot potato with my feet and remembering to bend forward was…a good way to slow down.  It was just too much for me to concentrate on at once.

Bending forward: I feel like I worked hard to improve my running posture and keep my shoulders up, so bending forward felt a bit counter intuitive…but it worked.  I felt so much more in control of my body than the flailing around that I usually do.

Hot Potato Feet: Just didn’t work out. I tend to really lengthen my stride which makes each foot push off feel heavier and harder, but when I tried to shake things up,  I felt like I lost control of my steps. In general I think it is too late in training to try and change my form that much, and I’d rather not attempt something this new this close to a race for fear of making things worse.

Trail Shoes: Worked well, and I think helped my feet take less of a beating on the rocks.

In conclusion….I’m hoping that by incorporating the “bend forward” technique, I’ll at least add some control to my downhill running and reduce a bit of the impact that my legs will feel.  We’ll see how it turns out during race day!

What are your downhill tips and tricks? HELP ME PLEASE! 

What is you elevation “strength?” 

I hope everyone has the most amazing Labor Day Weekend!

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Training for Imogene

So, Imogene.

(I’ve watched this video a few times to give me inspiration and to experience some of the course).

In less than 3 weeks, I will be standing at the base of a mountain before running 10 miles up and 7 miles down.

As I do with all longer races, I’ve been studying the course and memorizing tips from seasoned participants.  Instead of a regular “fan” facebook page, the run has a private “group” which acts as more of a forum with pretty specialized advice and lots of pep talking.  Ed, a seasoned Colorado trail runner, is a frequent participant!

But even with all of the studying and analyzing, I am (like usual) more than a little apprehensive about how this will turn out. I am still a pretty new runner overall (just a little more than 2 years in), so I haven’t figured out my groove, nor do I have the experience to know with certainty that I won’t die during any given race. Add a 5,000 foot elevation gain into the mix, and you get a little Amy who has spent the last month really frustrated with the process because I am uncertain and afraid of spending 17 miles completely miserable. Or dying. It happens to people occasionally.  Even with all of the reassurances, I know my fears won’t be eased until I cross that finish line for myself.

Hill sprints up this trail hill have really brought my abilities into question

Hill sprints up this trail hill have really brought my abilities into question

Initially, before actually starting to train, I set out with a goal of placing third in my age group. The last time I did an untraditionally distanced small trail race at the Bataan Memorial Death March Half, I ended up 3rd female overall, so I figured this could be manageable, even though I really didn’t know how the pace per mile differentiates between regular running and Imogene running   Based on last year’s times, to place 3rd in my age group, I’d have to run a 3:03, which didn’t seem too far fetched for a 17 mile distance.  But then someone said that your Imogene time is actually pretty close to your marathon time.

Well, there goes that dream.

So, after that bubble burst and once I actually starting to run on trails and feel the affects of limited oxygen, my goals have really switched to:

1) Don’t be dead last

2) Don’t be too miserable

I also figured that while my body can train hard and race hard, it doesn’t recover very well at all, so putting myself through a grueling training schedule in an attempt to be an age group competitor when it doesn’t appear to be realistic seems like a way to spend another post-race month trying to get my legs to function correctly without actually getting a “PR” time or even a gauge of my fitness and speed levels. No thank you?

So, with the anticipation that I will sign up again for Rock n Roll Arizona in January with every intention of a sub 1:40 time, I’ve decided to use this race (for the first time ever) as a race where I “stop and smell the roses” (or in this case, “stop and check out the view from the summit while enjoying a bowl of chicken broth). But I do also value my life and I don’t want it to end somewhere beyond the tree line with all of the mountain people mumbling about “being prepared” and “cocky road runners who think they can run Imogene.”

Looks friendly…. via USDA

So, we’ve definitely been putting at least a little effort into training for this bad boy. I won’t even pretend that we’ve been consistent or super die-hard about this training cycle.  We started training later than I wanted to, and we’ve really been skipping a lot of workouts. But luckily, I’m at least finally starting to feel faster than I had been (still about a minute per mile slower than I was last summer which is kind of YIKES), and I’m starting to gain my confidence on the trails, so overall, considering my goals, I think I will be ok.

What Imogene Training Has Looked Like: 

1) Long runs: this is still a 17 mile race, which isn’t necessarily short.  Next week we will max out at 18 miles.  Usually, for road races, I don’t do long runs farther than the race distance, but since Imogene will be harder in elevation gain than any of our training runs, I wanted to build up a strong endurance base.  Like regular races, these long runs are also key in perfecting a fuel and hydration schedule.  We’ve been incorporating some solid foods in with our ClifShots, and I’ve been working at stopping for a good drink of water every mile beep.

2) Runs at elevation: At about 6,000 feet, Albuquerque doesn’t have a wimpy elevation, but we’ve had to go out of town and do a couple of runs a bit higher.  The 15 miler was at about 7,200 and the 12 miler peaked at about 11,600.  Next weekend, we’ll probably peak at about 10,000.  While none of these are preparing me for what 13,000 feet might feel like, running with less oxygen will hopefully be helpful.

15 Miler Elevation Profile

12 Miler Elevation Profile

15 Miler Elevation Profile...looks like an angry face!

15 Miler Elevation Profile…looks like an angry face!

3) Runs on trails: Almost all of our runs are now on trails. Unlike normal running, there is a constant change in direction, and you have to get used to rocks and tree roots and navigating around people since trails aren’t very wide.  It is also a bit different running on dirt than relying on the constant pushback from asphalt.  Your body is used differently for trail running than road running, so for me, getting accustomed to the changes has been a good (and I hope useful) method.  I went from a sad contender a few weeks ago to running an 8:30 trail mile (albeit, only 1) on Saturday.

Typical short trail run elevation profile

Typical short trail run elevation profile

4) Stepmill: This is that machine at the gym that looks like a staircase.  Usually, the people on it are all the way hunched over and walking very slow up them stairs.  Thanks to the steep uphill portions of mountain running, many trail steps really do feel like “stair” steps.  They really engage the quads, and I am having to do a huge push with one leg to launch the other forward. The stepmill helps stimulate that motion.  As an added bonus, (assuming you are hitting around 90 steps per minute and actually standing up like a normal person), stepmill is hard! I am completely dying and dripping in sweat after 30 minutes.

Machine o’ torture

5) Occasional speed work: We’ve done 2 track sessions and 2 hill sprint sessions.  For our hill sprints, we’ve been doing half mile repeats which are really long and torturous.  If I had to guess, I’d say that hill sprints are more valuable than track sessions for this race, but I wouldn’t say that we’re putting very much effort into increasing speed (which is really apparent with my paces).

Hill Repeats Elevation Profile

Hill Repeats Elevation Profile

The bottom of the hill, looking up

The bottom of the hill, looking up

6) The easy runs.  The relief.  The ones where you finish and you are like, I wish I could run 3 easy miles everyday and still BQ during marathons. (But not really because I know myself and I know you and we are all crazy). We had a couple of days of yoga written into our plan and we haven’t been doing a great job actually doing it.  Because trail running uses up so many different muscles instead of the same ones over and over, I really haven’t felt all that sore. I know that’s not a good excuse, but when I’m feeling good, and it is Friday night, I just don’t want to.

So, this is what a typical week of Imogene training is looking like:

Monday: Stepmill

Tuesday: 4-5 trail miles

Wednesday: 3 easy miles (sometimes on a trail)

Thursday: hill sprints followed by 1-2 trail miles

Friday: Yoga (or happy hour)

Saturday: Long Run (sometimes on a trail)

Sunday: “Long Recovery Run” 6-10 miles on the trail

Will this training plan get me to Mountain People glory? Probably not.  But I am hoping that I’m at least establishing a strong base and that come race day I won’t regret not doing more. In the very least, I have improved leaps and bounds with my trail running, I have shipped my comfort zone far far away, and I’m allowing myself to relearn everything I know about running and my personal limits. And I think for me, this time around, that is enough.

Ooo! Shiny!

Ooo! Shiny!

A Tale of Two Trail Runs

Happy Hump Day!

I’m still working on the Imogene Training Recap (detailing my thoughts of training for this 17.1 race over a 13,000+ foot mountain), but mostly working to tone it down so it doesn’t scream, “I HATE THIS RACE” quite as loudly because the world does not need my negative shenanigans.  I’m ALMOST there.

In the meantime…it was the best of times, it was the worst of times (figured with a title like that, I had to throw in a Dickens quote).

Since we are doing a mountainous trail race, we have started doing our long runs on trails, and we now have 2 under our belt: the 15 miler that resulted in the camping trip last weekend, and the 12 miler that we did on Saturday. One sucked beyond my wildest imagination (that’s way overdramatic. It obviously could have been worse, but at the time I wanted to punch trail running in the face).  The other one sucked considerably less to the point that I would say it was almost enjoyable.

Unfortunately, I took the “breath away” part a little too seriously

The 15 Miles From H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

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Last weekend, we did a 15 mile trail run near Lake Heron in the north central part of the state during the camping trip mentioned last week. At one point around mile 13, I almost started crying because I was so frustrated with the run. At mile 14, both of us did far more walking than running because we hit the wall and kept ramming ourselves back into it for more torture.

We didn’t fuel properly for the amount of time that we were out (mostly because we didn’t think it would take 4 hours and 20 minutes to run 15 miles), a torrential downpour the night before (that we experienced from inside a tent) turned the trail into a mud run obstacle course, and sometimes the trail was more of a river.  Also, aside from a 3 miler, this was the longest I’ve ever tried to run on a trail, and road running really doesn’t translate very clearly to trail running.

Among the sites, a swingy bridge and a staircase up the hill (going down was fun, but going back up at mile 12 killed my spirit). We also found a fresh track that I’m convinced was either a bob cat or mountain lion.  Because what better way to end a bad run than with a mauling?

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Climbing back up these stairs was the worst.

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Not the most awesome thing I’ve run on

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Hmm…that looks like a long way down…

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I really have not loved training for this race, but this run made me seriously regret signing up for Imogene. I’ve never considered quitting, but I did feel overwhelmed and unprepared to jump into something so different.  It’s not like ambulances are readily available at the top of mountains.

This run was also what convinced Aaron that I needed to forgo most other speed workouts and easy runs and focus on getting my body accustomed to trail running.  I don’t have the stabilizer muscles developed to glide effortlessly through frequent obstacles and changes in direction.  I don’t have the confidence in my step to not tip toe around every rock and tree root  And I don’t have faith in myself to get up the damn mountain without an emotional breakdown.

All of that needs to be fixed in the next 4 weeks.

ONTO THE GOOD!

The 12 Not As Terrible Miles

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This past Saturday, we had 12 miles on the schedule, so we headed up to Santa Fe to run a trail that ends up at the Santa Fe Baldy Peak (second highest point in the state).  Our run started at 10,000 feet and worked its way up to 11,600 (you could go even higher but we didn’t).  This trail was gorgeous from beginning to end with majestic pine trees and whimsical mushrooms (perfect for gnome houses) and babbling streams! And it wasn’t muddy which made things much easier.

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Aaron also let me in on a secret training method that really helped my approach: WALK.

So simple, yet so scary.  I have never walked during a race.  (I did stop to use the bathroom during Chicago, but I figure that’s kind of different).  In my mind, walking equates giving up, so I don’t do it (I know that is a big fat lie).

Half the time, when attempting to run up a steep hill while navigating trail obstacles, I am going about as fast as I would if I were walking, but using more energy (running is a really inefficient way of getting around).  So why would I waste more energy going just as fast (or slower)?  IT MAKES NO SENSE.

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So, with that in mind, anytime I noticed my pace dropping on the uphill, I walked until I could feel my legs relax, and then I’d run again. A lot of times this meant running for about 30 seconds and walking for about 30 seconds. I don’t think I actually ran a full mile in the 12 that we did, but I felt great, and even the high elevation really didn’t kill me in ways that I thought it would.  We did bring more fuel (this is important), and the trail was in better condition, but overall I felt so much better on this run than I did on the 15 miler.

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Weee! Downhill is fun.

I’m still not completely confident about my race performance though.  We have 2 long runs left before we taper down, and I’m hoping that both of those will help my body get even stronger.

But, aside from the misery and the extreme slowness, how beautiful is trail running?  A good portion of our 12 miler time was spent standing at the tree line, swooning over the amazing world around us.  I’ve had some amazing runs this year with some incredible scenery, but nothing quite matches the feeling of standing so high above the world and knowing your little tired (and thoroughly harassed) legs have actually carried you up there.

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At the tree line!

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And having every hiker (who were all amazingly friendly) stop to comment about how badass you are for running this trail is pretty dang cool.

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Overall take-aways for long trail runs:

1. Even though I can sustain myself on 1 ClifShot during a regular 15 mile run, trail running takes a lot longer and requires different fueling needs.  Having a sufficient fuel stash ready will help make those last few miles much less terrible.  Also, low glycogen levels actually spin your emotions out of control, so not fueling properly might actually make you cry.

2. Walking is cool, especially if you are going the same speed that you would be while running.  And walking uses less energy while allowing for a bit of recovery.

3. These training runs at elevation are important! I am so glad that I didn’t go into this race without practice because I don’t know if I would have been physically ok to do it. I still don’t, actually…

4. Mantras are just as helpfult, but for me, they need to be a bit different.  “BE THE GOAT” is what seems to be working to get me up the hills, but it wouldn’t make any sense sprinting down a city street.

5. CORE STRENGTH and strong quads:  These are always a big deal for runners, but when you are going down a steep downhill stretch, gravity will throw you off the mountain if you don’t have a fine tuned brake system. I’ve had more scares than I care to admit.

Trail Running: Love it or hate it? 

Favorite trail running shoes?  I’m likely going to go with the Brooks Cascadia, but I could use suggestions for a more supported trail shoe.

At Least the Lake Was Pretty

I don’t like camping.

It’s not so much the eating hot dogs in the wilderness or the smell of campfire, or even the prospect of getting swept up in a giant rain storm while sleeping in a tent.  I can handle all that, and mostly even enjoy it. But I truly detest not having an actual toilet for longer than a race morning (and a sink to wash my hands), and sleeping in a little cramped space on mere mat padding for an entire weekend.

Call me high maintenance if you will (mostly every one does), but I want a bathroom and bed. If camping included those things and combined the greatness of the outdoors with human comforts, I’d be willing to go every summer weekend.

I want to camp HERE!

I really try to be a good sport about it though. It may not be the way I want to spend my time, but I try not complain…at least while we’re there. Just, you know, on the blog after the fact.

Aaron on the other hand, is a mountain man.  He even considers “car camping” to be a lesser form of the activity.  He’d rather back-pack into somewhere and live off of the land with whatever supplies he can fit into his sack.

Look at all that camp gear!

During our first few months of dating 5 years ago, I consented to go camping (gotta impress), but other than that, I’ve kind of managed to avoid this whole hobby of his.  But that means that he hasn’t gone either. And while I may hate camping, I also don’t want to deprive poor Aaron of something he truly loves (but kind of, because BATHROOMS).

Long story short: we went camping last weekend. We’re getting to the peak (hehe) of our Imogene training, and we’ve been trying to get some higher elevation mountainous trail runs in, and all of those trails are closer to camp grounds than actual cities, so there you have it.  Leave it to running to break my non-camping streak. Our trail run was 15 miles, and afterwards I wanted nothing more than to prop my feet up, and sleep in a very comfortable bed. But, it is what it is.

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That car (which isn’t ours) shows how close our neighbors were

We went up to the North Central part of the state to a place called Lake Heron which is almost more of more of a resort campground where you have people on either side of you, lots of happy Forest Ranger friends, a latrine style toilet (which was ok on Saturday morning but downright disgusting by Sunday morning with all of the use and ten million flies swarming).  The next cluster of sites next to ours even had a camp host and showers (which were actually pretty decent). IMG_7335 - Copy They even had daily activities like ukulele lessons and snake education.  Aside from the fact that we could hear everything our camp neighbors were saying (and every scream of the sick toddler they brought with them), having a shower, and something resembling a toilet was nice. But I was mostly obsessed with the lakefront property. I spent the weekend taking pictures of our amazing view.  And enjoying the water since it is mostly non-existent in Albuquerque.  IMG_7321 - Copy IMG_7301 - Copy

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View of the lake from inside the tent

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The water levels statewide are ridiculously low right now, so the lakes (I think all of them here are man made) are having to let out a bit to provide water for the rivers.  It looks like they just did a major water lowering a couple of weeks ago, so the shore right by the lake was not only very muddy in a “hasn’t been dry in decades” type of way, but also filled with treasures.  And by treasures I mean really old beer and soda cans.

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I was also amazed at how many fossils I found right next to our campsite.  Nothing too amazing like dinosaur skeletons or fish bones, but plenty of sea shells!  Considering the number of people who hang out there, it looks like I’m the only person who has ever rock hunted.

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Aside from our 15 mile trail run (more about that on Monday), other activities included drinking wine, playing with the camera, bike riding, kayaking (oops…forgot to take pictures), middle of the lake picnicking, and exploring. We even saw a herd of deer! (hopefully they were not caught by the gang of howling coyotes that woke us up later that night…).

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If you look closely, you can see the train of ants

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The drive to and from Lake Heron was also quite beautiful.  We were surrounded by dramatic cliffs and Northern New Mexico landscape.  We also stopped by a small town called Abiquiu to take a picture of this neat mission church built in 1920.  IMG_7377 - Copy IMG_7232 - Copy

Overall, if this is something I can get away with doing once every five years (heck, I’ll even make it four!), than I think I will survive. As always, it was nice to get out of town and do a long run on a new (yet ridiculous) trail.  The weather here is already starting to cool down (sadness), and our warm summer weekends are numbered, so just getting to spend time outside might have even been worth some of the yucky parts of bonding with nature. Maybe.

Love camping or want to join me in the whimsical canvas tent and king bed resort place?

Favorite camp food? 

HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND!  It’s turned into an unofficial holiday around these parts because of the Breaking Bad premier on Sunday.

Five Things aka I’m Not Dead!

So, uh…HI!

I have somehow have managed NOT to write a blog post in over a month.  I also bought bright pink skinny jeans yesterday (Gap clearance!).  I don’t even know myself anymore.

I do promise that I’m doing well (and that I’m not pregnant), but “adventure” as opposed to “computer” has been the word of the summer.

Adventures like riding a bike for the first time in 15 years on a Bike and Brews tour!

I HAVE been working on a post about my training for that crazy uphill 17.1 mile race I’m doing in 5 weeks, but it isn’t finished yet.  However, I figured I should produce something before I disappear from existence completely.  A little “fluffy” if you will.

photo (4)PROOF!

Luckily, a few weeks ago, I was tagged by Danielle to do this Five Things survey.  I mean, it isn’t much (and I only say the word “marathon” once), but I do love me some surveys. So, here is my Five Things Friday.

5 Things I have a passion for:

1. My  husband and my family

2. Treating people with developmental disabilities with dignity and respect

3. Promoting healthy habits (good nutrition, physical activity) in children (SAYS THE LADY WITH NO CHILDREN)

4. Books in actual paper form (although I did download my first eBook and felt very, very dirty)

5. Funding Arts in Education (choir kids need support too!)

 5 Things I would like to do before I die:

1. Run the Great Wall of China Marathon (I will settle for just seeing the Great Wall of China)

2. Get a Pilot’s License

3. Ride a Vespa around Rome (preferably behind Gregory Peck)

4. Go on a safari in Africa

5. Donate enough money to my college to get a building named after me.  (“Where are you living this year?” “Oh, I’m in Amy Hall.”)

I mean, could life be any more perfect?

5 Things I say a lot:

1. “California” (usually in a sentence such as, “Oh, I lived in California!” anytime someone mentions the state)

2. YAY! (in reference to anything I find remotely exciting)

3. “Hmmm…I don’t know…” (in response to anything I don’t know. Which is a lot).

4.  “That’s yucky.” (referring to anything…well…yucky).

5. OH MY GOD (can really be applied to anything).

5 books or magazines I’ve read lately:

1. Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

2. Souls of Black Folk

3. Marathon and Beyond (magazine)

4. Wine Spectator (magazine)

5. Once a Runner

5 Favorite Movies:

1. Breakfast  at Tiffany’s

2. Sabrina

3. Roman Holiday…apparently I like Audrey Hepburn

4. It’s a Wonderful Life

5. Love Actually  (I have easily seen this movie 50 times…5 of those times during December finals week my freshman year of college)

5 places I would love to travel to: (I haven’t done a lot of traveling)

1. Florence, Italy (and Rome, and Tuscany, and Venice)

2. Paris, France (and all wineries in France)

3.  Thailand

4. Egypt

5. Machu Picchu

*SLIGHTLY RELATED: There is a Mermaid School in the Philippines! While I don’t think it makes it onto my top 5 places to travel, it makes my heart happy just to know that such a place exists.  I want to be a mermaid (guess I should learn to swim first though…)

I hope everyone has an absolutely wonderful weekend!