Monday, March 18, 2013

Does What Happens in Vegas Stay in Vegas?

So Spring Break it over.  As in done, finished, in the past, el finisho.  But the good news?  We have half a semester until summer break!  So bring it!
As some folks know, I spent most of the break at the 4C's conference in Las Vegas.  For those outside my field, 4C's is the rhetoric/ composition nerdfest of all nerdfests (4C's = Conference on College Composition and Communication).  In other words, if you are in the world of college English teaching, then this is the conference for you!  Last year, I saw little of the conference since I was on the Local Committee and was too busy directing folks from the Visitor Information Desk.  But not this year!  I got to experience the entire conference and soak in all the intellectualism around me!

And I needed this conference.  Right now I am teaching in one of the most difficult academic years ever for me.  I am teaching a 7/7 course load while trying to get my dissertation ready to defend.  For someone who has often felt like she has nothing original to contribute to the world, I have discovered that this has been more of a psychological test than anything.  So it was great to meet up with some of the great people I met at the Dartmouth Seminar last year as they were there when I "birthed" the coding categories that have become such a crucial aspect of my research.  I suppose this must be like reconnecting with a delivery nurse a year after you have had a child.  The "baby" is growing and becoming an important part of who you are!  I feel more invigorated right now about my dissertation in general and, believe me, that is something I needed as I go into the home stretch.  I was hoping to graduate in May but after consulting with my dissertation director, it is now going to be December.  I am a little bummed by that but you know, things happen.  This also takes a little bit of the pressure off of me (though I plan to have the revisions done before the start of the summer).

I hope to blog a little about some of the new ideas I encountered while at the conference but .... that will have to wait a few more days as I try and soak in getting back a regular schedule.

But here is a little:  I participated in the RNF this time (the Research Network Forum) and got some fabulous responses in terms of continuing my research on using themes in FYC (First Year Composition).  In addition, I met with an editor from Hampton Press and he expressed interest about me (Yes! Me!) creating an edited collection on this issue, something I had never considered before.  Certainly, this is a fabulous idea, especially as I think about getting myself back out on the job market in the next 5 years or so.  So I left the conference with lots of new energy and ideas for doing "something" with my research.

I also, of course, needed a break from SWIC.  Though I went to a bunch of great sessions (including several on themed courses in FYC), I also did some shopping (not so academic, eh?).  And if there is something I learned about Vegas it is that there are a lot of shopping opportunities (though most of them were out of my price range!).  So I spent an entire afternoon just wandering around the Strip in Vegas, checking out the stores and casinos while people watching.  I am super glad that I was able to hook up with my parents (who drove up from their home in Phoenix), my fabulous dissertation director at SIUC, and friends from all over the US and Canada (and for some of these folks, this conference gives us the only yearly opportunity to connect in person!).

I usually try to take a week off after a major running event and so now that it's been a week since the slightly traumatic Quivering Quads race last week, I am about to jump 100% back into my regular week.  Hold on tight!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Quivering Quads Trail Half Marathon

Yesterday was the Quivering Quads Trail Half Marathon, one of the annual races that I like to do each year (I've done it about 3 times before).  What is cool about this particular race is that you complete 13.1 miles through Cuivre River State Park (in Troy, MO) so a lot of up and down through the woods!  Every year there is usually some amount of mud -- last year there was a little, for example, but the year before that was muddier.  And yesterday?  I can't even begin to describe how much mud there was!

The day didn't start well but only because the time change happened Sunday morning and I was going to have to get up super early already.  But ... I was out of the house by 6:30 AM and made the 75 minute trek to the park.  On the way, I noticed that it was raining and for some reason I hadn't thought about wearing my rain running jacket.  But that was okay, I thought.  Surely it wouldn't rain all day and I was wearing my "St Louis Triathlon Club" shirt and I was hoping to meet some other members since I am new to the club.  Looking back, I don't think wearing a rain coat would have mattered.  Wet is wet.  (and for the record, it rained the entire day!)

The race started at 9 AM but there were waves of 25 people every three minutes so we couldn't congest the paths in the park.  I was in the last wave -- at 9:54.  The whole time people were starting, the rain just coming and coming and coming.  By the time we started, the first stretch of the race was already pretty muddy.  For the first mile of the race, you go down a fire road for half a mile and then come back before entering the more narrow trail head.  By the time I hit that first mile marker, I was pretty muddy.  The frustration for me started once I hit the actual trail.  I discovered quickly that running was near impossible -- the mud was thick and the 400 or so people in front of me had pretty much made conditions worse.  For the first three miles or so, I followed a group of about 5 people and we did a little bit of running and a lot of sloshing in water and mud.  At some point, I found myself alone with one of the group -- Prathiba -- who became a new friend yesterday!  We made it to about mile 7, hit an aid station on the road, and remarked to ourselves that it was nice to be doing the trail with someone else as -- at this point -- we were now completely by ourselves.  Now I have to say that by mile 7, I was already feeling exhausted.  The trail itself was like a tiny creek that we were running through.  My feet were beyond wet and starting to feel super cold.  So when Prathiba and I started talking, I thought this would be a great diversion to how we were feeling.

And it was!  Prathiba and I chatted about everything as we made out way through the mud (both of us falling over every now and then when the mud would make our shoes stick) -- I was having  major problems with my shoe laces so I eventually just tied them in super knots (Jim later had to cut the shoes off my feet).  We continued on the path, maybe making it to mile 9 or so when we hit our first major creek crossing.

I am not sure if "creek" is the right word here.  We tried to figure out the best place to cross this quickly running current -- we had no idea how deep it was but we did see a yellow rope bobbing up from under the water every couple of seconds.  I went first and discovered right away that the current was strong.  I mean super strong (as in it was hard to stay standing).  Prathiba came in right behind me and we slowly made our way across with the water eventually coming to just above our waists.  Let me just say that at this point the current was strong and both of us were desperately holding on the rope.  (and the water was cold!)  As we moved slowly, we both lost our footing but I, luckily, was able to get my feet down on the creek bed almost right away.  At first, Prathiba couldn't.  She hung on and for a moment, her feet and legs went down the river and her face went under the water.  It was the scariest moment of my life.  I didn't know what to do.  I had just found my footing myself and river "fording" isn't something that I have ever really done before.  So I started yelling at her some commands (most of which I have forgotten right now) and she was able (through her own amazing strength) to get over to the muddy bank.  I knew that we were both wet (Prathiba more so because she went all the way under) so I knew we had to get up and keep moving.  There was no one else around and I wasn't sure if either of us would get hypothermia.

So after pulling ourselves off that muddy bank, we kept going, thinking the worse was behind us.  And as we walked, I couldn't get the image of Prathiba going under the water out of head.  What would have happened if we hadn't been able to get her out of the water?  Did I do enough to help her?  And then, as I was mulling over what might have happened, it came:  One more "creek crossing." The big one, in fact, was just ahead of us. Thankfully, there were a few people at this crossing (the fabulous Dave from Fleet Feet and two other racers).  Neither of us wanted to go back in the water (this crossing was even wider than the previous one).  So we were able to find an alternative route a hundred or so yards down that included climbing over logs.  Dave and the male racer were able to pull some ropes connecting the two sides of the river.  I went first and ended up falling off the log and completely underwater.  There was a small moment of panic but I kept my fear under control (not sure how!).  I also have no idea where I got the strength to pull myself out of the water but I did.  After climbing up another muddy bank, Prathiba was able to get across (and she did it far more gracefully than I did without falling in!).  We then left the creek with the other two racers and started the walk up to the roadway.  At this point, I have to be honest.  I didn't think I was going to finish.  I was worried about both of us being 100% wet and the trail was getting worse and worse and worse.  But when we made it to the road -- at 10.1 miles I think -- we decided to forge ahead.  That last three miles required a lot of digging in deep.  I followed Prathiba almost the whole time and we continued some of our conversation from before the creeks.  That helped.  It was nice to forge a new friendship and it kept our minds off the trek we were doing (not a race at this point but more of an endurance test).  We thought the last two miles or so would have no water but it almost became a comedy tour as we hit rising creek after rising creek (though none as high as the two big ones before mile 10).

We had to re-do the fire road half mile down and back before hitting the finish line. Even this road was significantly worse in terms of mud that it had been when we did the first mile five hours earlier.  At this point, there was a group of 5-6 of us walking together and we finished as a mighty force, recognizing that we were the last group across the finish line and being okay with that.  I am proud of the folks I met yesterday and I am proud that I didn't fall into a sobbing mess until I was in my car, leaving the park.  My official time was 5:38:11.  That is a long time to be out in the rain and mud! Though I still feel a bit traumatized by all that happened yesterday, I am glad to have kept a cool head when Prathiba struggled and I am delighted that I have a new friend!  (and the folks volunteering out on the course were super fabulous!)