Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday High Five

Every other Friday, I post a short list of five things currently making me smile. This is the latest installment. For past High Fives, click here.

1. Feeling Better + Strawberries
Even though I'm still feeling sick today, I'm definitely on the mend. That cold was brutal, but it appears to have been short-lived, so overall I suppose I should be grateful. I felt so much better today that we drove to our favorite pick-your-own farm in Wilmington. It's a bit early in the season, but there were plenty of strawberries to be had. Nathan and I filled three buckets between the two of us in less than a half an hour. My goal this year is to go early and often - I want to can enough jam to last us until next summer. Jam making will have to wait until later this weekend, though, as the outing wore me out. I'm on the mend, but not quite 100% yet. 

2. Christine Hennessey, Freelancer for Hire 
I've taken the idea of risk, my 2014 mantra, to heart, and am giving myself a year to try and make it as a freelance writer. I've already got some things going, I've been pursuing every opportunity that comes along, and things seem to be looking up for me as far as self-employment goes. Now, I can really only afford this risk because Nathan has a steady, full time job, and can fill in the gaps while I find my way. But considering I supported him for many years and through many degrees, he owes me and is happy to support us while I try to see if writing for a living is actually feasible. Right now I'm feeling positive and looking forward to all the things on my horizon. I know that's vague, and I'm sorry. I'll blog more about things if and when they unfold. 

3. Last MFA Workshop 
I had my final workshop this past Tuesday, and it was a bittersweet event. On the one hand, I love the feedback I've gotten these last three years on my short stories, essays, and novel excerpts, and fully believe that workshop is the number one thing that has made me a better writer. On the other hand, I've found the three or four readers who give me the best advice, and I'm looking forward to a future of swapping work with the people I trust most, rather than with a classroom full of people who just happened to be taking the same class. 

4. Students Who Like to Read
A few weeks ago I gave my students the first chapter of Wild. We discussed it in class, and they seemed to enjoy it. A few weeks later, one of my students told me she liked the chapter so much, she bought the book and couldn't put it down. As if that wasn't enough, she also wanted to know if I could recommend any other books she might like for her summer reading list. It's safe to say I was in teacher heaven. I'm going to put together a "Further Reading" list and give it to the class on the last day. My only regret is that I haven't been doing this from the beginning! 

5. Goodbye, Winter. Hello, Sunshine. 
I know some of you got snow recently, and for that I am very, very, very sorry. Here in Wilmington, however, spring is in full force. We've got azaleas. We've got sunshine. We've already had one 89F day. I've been kayaking and spent a day on the beach. I'm already working on my tan. I say this not to brag, but - okay, fine, I'm bragging. North Carolina isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but during this time of the year it comes pretty damn close. 

I hope you've had a good few weeks as well! Tell me something that's been making you smile, and we can celebrate together. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Belated Weekend Adventures

Let me begin with a warning: it currently feels like someone stacked a pile of bricks on my face. Yes, that's right. I have succumbed to the common head cold. Both Nathan and Erica were sick last week, so it was only a matter of time. Luckily I'm on Easter break and all the work I have to do can be completed from the comfort of my bed, plus I finally have time to tell you about this past weekend.

On Saturday night, I attended my first Seder, the ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday Passover. I am not Jewish (I was actually raised Catholic) but I've always had a lot of Jewish friends - not surprising on Long Island, where I grew up, but a bit more rare here in the south. At any rate, I was grateful to share dinner + culture with my friends. I learned so much about Passover, and loved the themes of freedom that underlie every aspect of the night. (For those of you unaware - as was I - Passover is the retelling of the story of liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.) It's a night to remember the stories that came before us, and to hold the past in our hearts as we move forward. And also to eat delicious food with loved ones and drink lots of wine.

My friends Katie and Wes hosted. They have a beautiful home with a huge dinner table, and I love feasts at their house. (We celebrated New Year's Eve there, and it was the best NYE party of my life.) Wes is also an amazing cook, and everyone contributed all kinds of traditional Jewish food, which I will not even attempt to spell here.

I asked if any of the dishes required eggs and offered up my ladies' services. It turns out hard-boiled eggs are an important part of the ceremony. So I hard-boiled 14 of my best eggs, following the directions on Garden Betty. (The fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel. Garden Betty has a great trick that I am still working on mastering.)

The Seder plate has a little of everything and is set in the middle of the table. I posted a similar photo to Instagram and a bunch of my friends were confused, thinking I'd started eating meat again. Nope, still a hardcore vegetarian. Sorry to disappoint and/or worry you!

And finally, our dessert: macarons (not pictured) and this delicious flourless chocolate cake. It was so rich and decadent, and a perfect way to end a wonderful night with friends. I'm already looking forward to next year's Seder.

And how does one work off all that delicious food? By waking up early the next morning and kayaking out to a secluded island, of course. Nathan and I had plans to meet up with some friends around noon for our first kayak outing of the year, and it was a perfect day - bright and sunny, around 80F. The water was cold, and some of my friends went for a dip, but I'm going to wait until June, at least. For now, lounging in the sun and sand is enough excitement for me. 

Overall, an excellent weekend. I guess I shouldn't complain about being sick , considering all the fun I've been having, but I'm probably going to keep doing it anyway. You've been warned. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spartan Race Giveaway

Helloooo Monday! I've got a short week ahead of me because of Easter break, and I'm glad. I'm in desperate need of an extra day to catch up grading and laundry and sleeping. In the meantime, I've got a fun opportunity for anyone out there who might be interested in a cool obstacle race.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the folks who run the Spartan Race. For those of you who don't know, Spartan Race is a running race that features a variety of obstacles. They take place all over the country, and the obstacles aren't advertised beforehand, which adds to the excitement and mystery. They also have three levels of races that you can register for - Spartan Sprint, which is 3+ miles and 15+ obstacles; Super Spartan, which is 8+ miles and 20+ obstacles; and The Spartan Beast, which is 12+ miles and 25+ obstacles. 

Unlike some other mud runs and obstacle races, the Spartan Race focuses more on actual performance. Run enough races and do well, and you could win points, get ranked, and maybe even compete in the annual World Championships, which sounds pretty amazing. Unfortunately, the Spartan Race hasn't come to Wilmington yet, but I'm going to keep my eye out. I will pretty much take any opportunity to jump over a bed of burning logs, especially if there's a chance I'll look even half as bad ass as the girl in the photo above. (I got to do this during the Warrior Dash, and it was definitely the highlight!) 

While I love racing, I love reading even more. That's why I was excited when I heard that the man who created Spartan Race, Joe De Sena, has a book coming out this May. It's called Spartan Up!, and it's a guide to performing your best no only in a race, but in life. I'm going to read and review it in a few weeks, and you'll have a chance to win a copy at that time, or you can pre-order it now. In the meantime, Spartan Race has provided me one free race entry to give to a lucky reader. 

If you want to become a Spartan, leave a comment on this post telling me what you would do if obstacles weren't an issue. For example, I'd buy a farm just outside a big city and raise chickens and goats while writing bestselling novels in my private study with floor to ceiling bookshelves (one day!). Let me know what you'd do by 11:59 PM ET on Sunday, April 20th, when I'll choose one winner. 

Happy racing!

Spartan Race provided me a free race entry for a reader, but I received no other compensation for this post. All opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mysteries of the Hive

On Monday afternoon, we noticed that a bunch of our bees were hanging off the bottom of the hive in a strange way. It didn't seem like the usual bearding behavior, which we've observed before - that usually happens on very hot and humid days, and the bees will hang on the outside of the hive to cool down. Monday was humid, having just rained, but it wasn't especially hot, and the way the bees were positioned - hanging low, in a sort of cone-like shape - made us wonder if they were about to swarm. We hadn't yet had a chance to open the hive this spring because the weather had been so unpredictable, but it seemed like we were in a now-or-never kind of situation. And so we grabbed our new bee jackets, complete with fancy veils, lit up the smoker, and got to work. 

What we discovered is that our bees have been BUSY. Despite the ones hanging from the front of the hive, there were tons inside both the hive bodies, too. And not only that, but we saw brood, honey, and capped cells, which are all good signs of a strong and healthy hive. 

We added a super to the hive, to give the bees more room to do their work, thinking maybe they were simply feeling crowded. When I checked the hive yesterday, the cone of bees still hadn't gone back inside the hive, but I guess that also means they haven't abandoned us completely. I have Google image searched every variation of "bees hanging from bottom of hive" that I can think of, and haven't been able to get a concrete answer to what's going on - we've had this hive for two years now, and I've never seen them behave quite like this. (If any readers can help me figure this out, don't be shy!) Then again, that's sort of the magic of beekeeping. It's always a little mystical. One of my favorite quotes about bees comes from my copy of Storey's guide - I like it so much, I used it as the epitaph of my book. It goes like this: 
Honey bees are wild creatures. They have never been domesticated. They have been kept, studied, researched, and bred for many years, and, in a sense, the species has been improved. But they have not been tamed. Left to their own devices, they live exactly as they have lived for thousands of years. Our true, long-term success as beekeepers comes only after we come to understand their intimate lives, behavior, and motivations. 
Obviously I have a long way to go before I can consider myself a successful beekeeper. For now, trying to understand them is it's own frustrating, yet fascinating, reward. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

Thesis Defense and Reading!

Sorry I disappeared last week, but I had good reason. I was in the middle of the last big step I needed to take in order to graduate in May - my thesis defense, and reading. And now that both of those things are behind me, I'm happy to report that everything went very, very well!

In lieu of a photo of my actual defense.
The Defense

Two Fridays ago, I had my defense. I had to teach two classes right before, and I'm sorry to my students, because I was very distracted and nervous, despite the fact that I pretty much knew it would go well. The thing about the MFA thesis defense is that it's almost impossible to fail. If your project isn't ready, your advisor will tell you to put the defense off a semester or two - mortifying, but better to hear it beforehand than in front of your whole committee. I knew my advisor and at least one of my committee members thought my book was solid. I knew I wasn't going to fail. And yet the idea of sitting down with three people I admire and respect, and listening to them discuss my book, was almost more than I could bare. But bare it I did. and it ended up being one of the best hours of my life, even though listening to them discuss my characters and their lives was surreal. After two years of working on this novel, finally letting other people into their world was strange - I felt protective and strangely territorial of my characters, and I haven't yet decided if that's a good thing or not. 

I'm still processing everything that was said (I took a million notes and recorded it with my iPhone) but the consensus was that I have written a good book and after one more round of edits, I should feel confident about trying to get it published. (Side note: AHHHHHHH.) I have plans and ideas and ways that I would like to go about this final revision and the submission process, and I'll write more about that later. And by more, I mean a lot more. Get ready! 

The Broadside

After my defense, I still had to design the broadside for my reading. I don't know if other MFA programs are as into broadsides as UNCW, but I hope so, because they're awesome. Basically, a tiny portion of your thesis is printed on a beautifully designed piece of paper and distributed at your reading. We have a wildly talented staff of students that work in our Publishing Laboratory, and you can ask them to design your broadside on your behalf. Or, you can choose to do it yourself. 

Because I never do anything the easy way, I chose to do it myself. I took Bookbuilding last fall and learned a little Photoshop and the basics of InDesign, and I thought, "How hard can it be?" Well. Two days, five hours, and tons of help from Ana, resident goddess of the Pub Lab, I finally had a broadside I loved. 

I ended up using one of my own photos, taken a year or two ago (you can see the original towards the end of this post). I wanted a smaller broadside, and printed it's about 8.5 X 6.5ish, which was just right. (Some people go even smaller, some choose poster size. It depends on the person and the project, but since my book is a quiet, realistic novel, a modest broadside seemed most appropriate.) Not only does it capture the mood and style of my book, but it's also a neat way to commemorate the event, and serves as a classy keepsake to send to friends and family who couldn't come to the reading. And speaking of the reading... 

The Reading

What can I say? It was awesome. I read this past Thursday night, with six other amazing writers who I've been working and writing with for the past three years. I was the first reader of the night, my thesis advisor gave me a touching introduction, and I made it through my thank yous without crying (shocking, I know). I always get nervous before a reading, and my voice will often go shaky at least once, but not this time. Maybe it was all the love and support in the room. Maybe it was the generous gin and tonic I drank in the sunshine earlier that evening. Whatever it was, it worked. I was so happy to be standing behind that podium, sharing my work with friends and colleagues. A great night, and a wonderful way to end the thesis process. 

What Next? 

Well, I'm still taking one class (fiction workshop, which I'm loving) and I'm still teaching two undergrad classes. The last day is April 30, and then there will be a million end of the year events and going away parties and a graduation ceremony and all the tears I didn't cry during my thesis reading. For now, I'm going to soak up these last few weeks of MFA life and do my best to worry less about what's next. <3

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Cooking in Bulk for Two

Once upon a time, when Nathan and I both worked traditional schedules (8AM-5PM, Monday-Friday) making dinner was fairly easy, at least in retrospect. Get off work, maybe go to yoga or walk the dogs, then settle in with a few beers and whip up a fast, healthy dinner. 

Now, neither of us has a traditional schedule, and we probably never will again. Nathan's job as a paramedic has him working rotations that include 24 hour long shifts, and my schedule changes depending on the day. Which means I had to figure out a new way to get fast, healthy dinners on the table (or at least in our bellies) without resorting to take out, frozen veggie burgers, or the Whole Foods hot bar. Enter: cooking in bulk. 

Now, I didn't invent this system. It's been well documented on the Internet and in cookbooks, but the idea - in case it's new to you - is that you dedicate one day a month to high intensity cooking and meal prep, then freeze everything to consume later, at your leisure. (Ashley over at (never)homemaker recently did a great series on this for vegetarians - her tips and tricks gave me the confidence to give this a shot, so check them out at the end of this post). 

Every family has different needs and resources, so I had to adjust the bulk system to best serve us. We don't have a big freezer, so our space was limited, which meant I couldn't do a month's worth of dinners at once. That was fine with me - I like cooking, I just don't have the time or energy to do it every single night. I decided to focus on the days Nathan is at work. He averages about ten 24 hour shifts a month, so that's ten dinners to prep, cook, and freeze in individual servings. Twenty, really, because when he's not home, I generally default to cereal and popcorn for dinner. Having ready-to-go meals would force help us both to eat healthier. 

For my first attempt at bulk cooking, I kept things simple. A double batch of spicy black bean chili in the crockpot, a double batch of cornbread muffins in the oven, and a double batch of chickpea cauliflower coconut curry on the stovetop. I also chopped and roasted a few sweet potatoes for the week, because I like to throw them into omelettes. As things finished cooking, I portioned them out into individual, reusable containers (BPA free, y'all!) and let them cool completely before sealing them up and stuffing them in the freezer. 

I'd also planned to make a red lentil veggie pot pie, but I ran out of freezer space sooner than I thought. No big deal - I'll just make that mid-month, once we've freed up some space. And while there are only two options right now, I don't mind eating the same thing two or three times a month, especially if it's spaced out. And Nathan doesn't really care about food like I do - if he could get all his nutritional needs for a daily pill instead of actually eating, he would. Sad but true. 

So far, the experiment has been a success. I've had both the chili and the curry, and they freeze and reheat really well. (Though I would add a little more spice to the curry next time). The best part, of course, is that by the time I get home, all I have to do is reheat and eat. No cooking, no clean up, and very little patience required. I'm hoping that this cooking in bulk thing will save us time and money, and I'm already bookmarking things for next month's offerings.  

Have you ever cooked in bulk? Any recipes to recommend? I have a feeling chilis and stews will be our go-to, but I'd love to find other vegetarian meals that freeze well. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Long Distance Relationship

Apparently, the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon was a great race not just for me, but for everyone in my running group. A week after the race, we met up for our weekly trot around the lake, an easy four since most of us hadn't run since Sunday's 13.1. We talked - again - about how much run the race had been, whether we should aim for the full next year (I voted yes!), and when we could run another. Someone mentioned a race on nearby Oak Island in mid-April, someone else said they thought the half only cost $45, and later that day we were passing around the registration link, trying to decide if we should go for it. 

We decided to go for it. 13.1, I'll see you again in three weeks.

Running is an odd animal. Despite the fact that I've now completed 7 half marathons and 2 fulls, I still consider myself a beginner. I ran my first full mile six years ago, when I put "Run a 5K" on my list of goals for 2008. With the help of a few friends and the Couch-to-5K training plan, I accomplished that goal just a few months later. I haven't stopped running since. 

While I've written reports for nearly every race I've completed, that first one is just a memory. I ran it with my friend S., it wove through the SFASU campus, and I finished in 34 minutes on the nose.  I remember wondering if I'd be able to finish. I remember not wanting to throw my paper cup of water on the ground because I didn't trust race volunteers to clean up after us, and ending up carrying my paper cut through the finish line. I remember how S. and I ran side by side until the very last moment, when she sprinted ahead and beat me by three seconds. (NEVER FORGET, S.) And I remember calling Nathan, who had to work that day, and reporting, proudly and with mild disbelief, that I had actually done it.

Compared to some of my other running milestones - my first sub two-hour half, my first marathon, that time I woke up early to run 10 miles and still made it to work by 8AM - a 34 minute 5K isn't especially impressive. And yet, it's the race I remember most clearly, most fondly. Probably because it was during those 34 minutes that I managed to shed all the preconceived notions I had about myself. At the start line, I was a non-runner, a non-athlete, a non-racer. By the time I crossed the finish line I was all those things, and more.

That's what I love about running races. Not the training, not the medals, not the PRs or the post-race brunch or the friendly competition (though all those things are definitely perks). What I love most are the minutes and hours between the start and the finish, and all the ways we are tested, challenged, and changed while running through the course. A race - whether it's a 5K or a marathon - is a journey in the truest sense, a story that can't be told through numbers alone.

Well. That post went places I didn't expect. But reading it again, it's exactly what I didn't know I wanted to say. Running will do that to you. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I can still remember the experience of reading Karen Russell's first collection of short stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. It was a Tuesday in 2006 and I was working at a bookstore in Nacogdoches. Tuesdays were my favorite, because that's when the new books came out. I always worked the morning shift, so I was the first one who got to see what new prizes awaited the reading public. Those mornings, I balanced my cup of coffee on a nearby table while reading the inside cover and first few pages of everything before I shelved it. When I got to St. Lucy, however, I couldn't stop. I took the book home, and I've loved Karen Russell ever since. 

(Side note: I really miss working in a bookstore. Never before was I so up-to-date with the publishing world, so aware of what was being bought and sold. All writers should, I think, work in a bookstore at least once in their life. It's almost as enlightening as reading slush for a literary journal.) 

Since that fateful Tuesday, I've read and reread St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. I've taught the title story to all my fiction classes. I read and had mixed feelings about her novel Swamplandia!. And now I'm back to loving her again, this time for her new collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  

Vampires in the Lemon Grove recaptures what originally drew me Russell's writing by making the mysterious strangely and satisfyingly mundane. When I teach her stories to my class, it's always in conjunction with a lesson on magical realism - that is, a genre where an otherwise realistic world is home to a single magical, fantastic element, shining a light on our lives the way purely realistic fiction can't quite. The stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove accomplish this beautifully. They're about vampires, and young girls transforming into silkworms, and US presidents reincarnated as horses, and memories changing under a masseuse's hands. But they're also about relationships ending, and learning to live with regret, and our expectations of the afterlife, and how much of our present we owe our past. In other words, these stories are about life as we know it, despite the magic woven through them. 

My favorite stories in the collection were "Reeling for the Empire," in which young Japanese girls are held hostage, forced to spin silk for a factory while slowly transforming into silkworms - a disturbing but apt metaphor for the sweat shops still rampant today. The narrator struggles with guilt and regret, but it's only when she decides to face her past that she unlocks the key to saving her future. It's got a great first person narrator, prose that feels nearly lyrical, and a not-so-subtle feminist thread (pun intended) that had me cheering through my gasps of horror.

Speaking of horror, "Proving Up" was one of the most tense and horrific reading experiences of my life. I won't say much more about it, expect that I fully expect that story to haunt me for as long as I live. There are other great stories as well - the title story, for example, and "The New Veterans" are definitely keepers. I wasn't crazy about "Dougbert Shackleton's Rules of Antarctic Tailgating" - it felt like a McSweeney's piece that goes on a bit too long. And "The Barn at the End of the World" was a little slow, but that might be blamed on the fact that I kept trying to read it right before bed. 

Overall, I loved this collection. It was weird and wonderful, classic Karen Russell. I was about to say I can't wait to see what she writes next, but then I remembered she has a digital-only novella called Sleep Donation out this week. If you were wondering what I might read next, don't bother. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some downloading to do.

Have you read Vampires in the Lemon Grove? Do you have a favorite in the collection? If so, let's chat about it! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday High Five

Every other Friday, I post a short list of five things currently making me smile. This is the latest installment. For past High Fives, click here.

1. A J-O-B. 
First thing first: I got a job! It's only part time, much like my freelance gig, but I'm starting to think that if I can piece together enough of these part time and work-from-home jobs, I might be able to support myself after all. The best thing about this particular job is that it's at UNCW. I'll be teaching one section of what they call "First Year Experience" - a kind of "welcome to college" course required for all entering freshman, designed to help them make a successful transition into their shiny new lives. While the job won't start until the fall semester, I'm so excited to remain a part of the college, even after I graduate. I've been working on university campuses for seven years now (!!!) so I'm happy to continue my streak.

Yesterday was the first official day of spring, and what a day it was! Sunny, lazy, and in the mid 70s. Listen, I know plenty of people in parts of the world that are not coastal North Carolina have it worse, and I know I grew up in New York and thus should be "used to the cold" (HA!), but believe me when I say that I. Hate. Winter. Cold, dreary weather affects me deeply. I become unproductive, sad, and desolate. That all changes the moment the sun comes out. It's like my heart thaws and I can love again. Yesterday, I celebrated the beautiful weather and the new season by hanging laundry to dry, going to hot yoga, and drinking a smoothie. It was glorious. Spring, don't even leave me again. (Unless, of course, you're making way for your even sexier sister, Summer. In that case, bye bye!)

3. Beer Bread. 
Last winter I went through a serious bread baking spree, and it was delicious. Then I made a sourdough starter, and it was semi-successful. Then it died/I killed it, and I haven't baked bread since. Until my friend Katie brought a homemade loaf to a meeting, I ate half of it, and begged her for the recipe. "It's beer bread," she said, and I jumped for joy. How could I have forgotten about beer bread? I've made this recipe twice now, using our own homebrew, which probably crosses some kind of hipster homesteading line, but I don't care. Beer bread! I won't forget you again.

4. Reading for Days. 
There are so many good things to read right now (and always, really, but I've been making time and that's the difference). Right now I'm in the middle of the novel Flight Behavior (so good!), the short story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove (OMG), and a borrowed issue of Creative Nonfiction (I need to write more essays). I also joined my first ever actual book club. We've had two meetings so far, both in wine bars, so you know it's the right group for me. I'm trying to make some non-MFA friends, so that when we graduate and everyone I love moves away and leaves me in Wilmington, I have a community that is not tied so exclusively to the college. Book club has been an excellent step toward that goal.

5. Fluffy Chicken Butts (and Eggs!)
I mentioned that our chickens were finally laying again (I'm not the only one who loves Spring) but since then, they've been laying so much we've actually been able to sell a few cartons to friends. I posted a photo of our eggs on Facebook last week, and within an hour I had a long wait list and lots of eager customers. We're selling them $4 for a dozen, $2 for six, and our goal is simply for the chickens to pay for their own food and straw. It's also been really gratifying to spread the chicken love through my community. I like to think that every egg that comes from my yard is one less egg that comes from a large commercial operation, and in that case my hens are doing important work. Keep it up, ladies! 

That's the latest in my life. What good things have been making your day? 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Race Report: Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon 2014

Yesterday I ran the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. I haven't tackled 13.1 since last year's race, and I was a bit rusty, which wasn't helped by the fact that I'd slacked on my training, as usual. I feel like the last few races I've signed up for have been half-assed attempts. I begin with grand plans, and then other things - graduate school, getting married, writing a novel - get in the way. But, since those things getting in my way are more important to me than a PR, I'm okay with this system. Until, of course, I'm standing at the start of a half marathon, wondering how on earth I'll make it to the finish line.

In addition to the thesis ruling my life, my training was also affected this time around by my back issues. I've been going to the chiropractor weekly since November, and while things are much better (I can now walk and run, for example) I still have a mild but persistent ache in my left hip, worse after a run and requiring lots of crescent lunges and pidgeon poses. Still, I was terrified that I would reignite whatever issue had kept me bedridden for ten terrible days last fall, so I trained very conservatively for this race. Two runs a week (sometimes less!). No speedwork. Tons of yoga. And a weekly long run around Greenfield Lake with friends who were also training for the half. We started the first week of January with four miles, and then added a mile each week until we got up to ten. Honestly, if it wasn't for these running friends, I doubt I would have kept up with training at all, and probably would have had to drop out of the race. There is something especially motivating about having people counting on you. Plus we got to gossip while we ran, which is really the best part. That and the big breakfasts after you're done.

L: Best friends cheering for us! R: Katie and I zooming by!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So there I was at 6:45 in the morning, standing in the dark with a throng of people, waiting for the race to start. My friend Katie and I decided to start with the two hour pace group and see what happened. The gun went off, we started running, and it felt fast but not altogether too terrible. The sun came up as we crossed the bridges out of Wrightsville Beach, which is my favorite part, and the temperatures were perfect - high 50s and overcast. I felt good. 

Then we saw our friends Erica, Sally, Katie, and Dory. They'd made signs the night before, then gotten up before dawn to cheer us on. It was so exciting and so motivating to see them at mile 3... and at mile 6... and at mile 11. Each time, their cheers gave Katie and I (who were still running together!) a bust of energy. We couldn't see the pace leader, but I knew from my Garmin that we were going to come in pretty close to two hours anyway. Between our nonstop conversation and our amazing friends, I felt strong and fast almost until the end.

I say almost, because shortly after we saw our friends for the last time, Katie and I became very quiet. Conversation ceased and all I could hear was my own labored breathing. At mile 12 I told Katie that I had to pull ahead - I was feeling nauseous and dizzy, and I needed to be done ASAP. Plus I could see that I was so close to a sub-two hour half, and I wanted it, even though I hadn't trained for that kind of race and didn't deserve that time. I started running faster, I passed people, I rounded a long corner, then another long corner, and then the finish line was in sight. I crossed it, grabbed my medal and a water, and weaved around the finishers chute until I saw Katie come in about a minute later. We high fived and then we found a port-a-potty, because a runner's life is glamorous indeed. 

After we'd all finished the race, we headed straight to The Dixie Grill for huge plates of Dixie benedicts - a biscuit, topped with scrambled eggs, fried green tomato, and vidalia gravy. Also hashbrowns. And blueberry pancakes for the table to share. And coffee, coffee, coffee. It was amazing, and made all 13.1 miles well worth the effort.

As for that sub two hour half I was hoping to capture? Not quite, but really, really close. It makes me wonder, as always, how well I could do if I trained consistently and really pushed myself. Maybe in November. My Sunday running group is already eyeing a half in the Outer Banks, a few hours north of us - a sure sign that we had a great time and a fantastic race. 

Official stats:

Time: 2:00:20
Pace: 9:12

Overall place: 698/1810
Overall female: 300/1136
Age group place (30-35): 52/167

Thanks, as always, to the organizers and the volunteers for putting on such a fun race, to my training buddies, to our cheering squad, and to The Dixie Grill. Maybe next year I'll sign up for the full...