Marathon training, then and now.

A woman running

One of my worst habits is that sometimes my perfectionist tendencies prompt me to give up on a project before it’s completely finished because, well, it’s not gonna be good enough anyway. But running my first marathon was such a growing experience that forever changed how I look at finish lines now.

At the beginning of 2009, I got it in my head that I wanted to run a full, 26.2-mile marathon. I’d completed a half marathon the previous year and at that point had begun my off-and-on flirtation with distance running as a way to lose weight. I figured marathon training would, of course, get me shredded from head to toe and give me some bragging rights to go along with it. Um… Not quite. (Runger is real, people.)

The problem, though, was that I wasn’t really running. I had bitten off more than I thought I could chew at the time, or at least that was the little voice deep down inside was telling me. During the early months of 2009, while I trained for the Big Sur International Marathon (chosen for its proximity to where I was living and its utterly gorgeous course), I clocked a maximum of 10 miles on my longest long run. (Runner friends reading this, are you cringing? I cringe to recall this…)

It’s easy to look at this and think, “Ugh, yeah, I just lazied out of it.” But really, it wasn’t so much laziness as it was something bigger: fear. I was absolutely terrified of this goal I’d set in front of myself. Who am I to do this? I’m not an athlete! I don’t do sports! Somehow, though, I made the conscious decision to go to the race anyway, knowing full well that it wouldn’t perfect–not even close–and that I was likely going to be veeeeeery sore the following day(s).

It was grueling. I wanted to quit so. fucking. badly. At one point, a volunteer on the course around mile 20 came up to me to tell me, “You can do it, Robyn! [my name was printed on my bib] You’ve only got six more miles to go!” Six more?! Are you freaking kidding me?! I wanted to punch them. And I probably would have were it not for the fact that doing so would have depleted my energy and left me unable to finish. I finally made it across the finish line, though, and I started bawling. I couldn’t believe it.

But I finished. I crossed the start line that morning absolutely terrified, but I finished. Was it a tape-breaking time? No way. In fact, by the time I mozied across the finish line, I’m pretty sure race organizers were beginning to take down the course…  But I was done. And I showed that little voice that it was wrong, which was worth so much to me.

Since then, I’ve finished almost a dozen more half marathons and am preparing for my fourth full marathon in a little more than two weeks. Running is not easy. But that bumper sticker wisdom of it-doesn’t-get-easier-you-get-better really is true, and so this time around, I’m actually looking forward to crossing the next finish line. The paralysis of fear doesn’t affect me in the same way because I jumped over the edge a long time ago (and for the record, yes, I was VERY sore the day after that first marathon). I know that it doesn’t have to be perfect because I already know I have done it and I can just focus on getting better at it.

So that’s the plan–to keep trying to get better at it. I’ve got my sights on a very specific finish line and now I know I have at least started down the path to get there.

Happy trails, everyone. 🙂

Image credit: Courtesy of wellnesscorporatesolutions.com.

In my classroom…

in my classroom

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I haven’t spent much time discussing what goes on in my classroom. For the first year, it was mostly me trying to keep my head above water and my students from sleeping. But this year, I’ve been working on something new.

To understand the difficulty of reaching these kids, you first need to understand how their school is set up. It’s a rough go for teenagers, to say the very least, to be educated in Korea. There are deeply rooted, strong social standards that demand rigorous education. Parents spend a small fortune to educate their kids, sometimes up to half of their monthly income, paying for private schools, tutors and hours upon hours of lessons at private hagwons (or ‘academies,’ private tutoring or education centers where kids while away the hours learning English, test prep techniques or music lessons).

Our school is a bit different. It’s a prestigious college prep school divided into three parts: the boys’ school, the girls’ school and the Global Leader Program (an international program that Jerry teaches for). I teach for the boys’ school. My students wake to a bell at 6:00 am, head to breakfast and then get ready for school. Homeroom begins at 7:40, followed by first period at 8:10. Classes finish on the hour and there are ten-minute passing periods in between. Lunch is an hour long at noon. They finish seventh period at 4:00 pm, then have a half an hour before their after school lessons start. On Wednesdays they do community service in lieu of lessons, but these lessons go until dinner time, which is 6:00 pm. (Please note, at this point in time, they’ve been up and at ’em for 12 hours already, which is a long day by anyone’s standards.)

They aren’t finished, though. After dinner finishes at 7:30, they go to ‘yaja,’ or study hall. They find an open classroom and study from 7:30 until 11 pm. If you don’t finish your homework at this time, you’re going to be finishing it after lights out at midnight.

Now, in case that whirlwind of information is a blurry timetable, it works out to mean that students get a maximum of six hours of sleep every night IF they’re finished with assignments and studying by lights out and IF they are fast asleep once their head hits the pillow until they wake up again at 6:00 the next morning. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s grueling. And it’s highly competitive. Rigid grade curves, stringent standardized tests, mountains of homework. It’s rough to watch them… I honestly don’t know how they keep up.

I really struggle with whether or not to give homework. They have enough on their plates, to be sure, and there’s definitely enough argument that kids don’t need any more homework than they already have. So I’ve started using flipped-classroom techniques in school. I release a video each week for my students to pre-teach what their content for the week is (vocabulary, chapter concepts, etc.). The students watch the video and learn at home (their dorm room) and then they come to class to do activities that reinforce what we’re covering.

I’ve also rolled out a gamified-plan to keep them engaged. Every activity they complete offers them the chance to earn points for their class. Each class is a team competing against all of my others for extra points to put them ahead. The prize at the end of the rainbow (semester)? A pizza party.

I created a website where they can check their homework every week. Fridays are video days when I post the next week’s unit video. In class, I give mini-quizzes to assess if they’re watching the video and learning. But the game is a role-playing game as well–I’m portraying the mission leader for the game, who is helping guide them to their ultimate goal: to defeat a horde of zombies.

Yes, you read that correctly.

All of their points earn them survival items, which in turn puts them ahead of other teams. Collaboration, extra effort, staying on task–all these things earn bonus points. They can even earn bonus points using Twitter to tweet challenge items with a special hashtag. For example, in our photography unit, we learned about the overlap between words and images and in one section, we discussed the meaning of “a picture is worth a thousand words.” To earn some extra points, they could tweet a photo worth one thousand words to them with our hashtag and their student number (no names because internet).

So far, the response has been a little slower than I’d like, but more positive than I feared. Part of me is self-conscious of putting my face in these videos to explain vocabulary words, but in an informal poll of my students, many identified that seeing me say and pronounce specific words was very helpful. And in situations where they might have difficulty hearing the words, being able to watch my mouth helps clarify what the word might be.

I’ll keep you posted on how this continues to go, but I think so far we’re only a few weeks in and already rolling into a good start. My students sleep less, we play more games and they generally seem to be having more fun, which is such a relief for me as a teacher who knows how much work they do and how tired they are and frankly, feels rather sorry.

After all, they’re only kids.

If you’re curious, you can check out pictures below of some of our recent classroom activities.

Small potatoes

It’s been difficult to maintain this blog, to say the least. I had every expectation to blog daily or at least weekly when I arrived in Korea and I’ve mostly found that expecting myself to update it MONTHLY has been chore enough. I assume this is because I try to be pretty transparent on Facebook, where I feel like I’m constantly sharing snippets of life here in Korea so friends back at home can see what our lives look like.

In many ways, they look the same as they did in the U.S. — we go to work, we belong to gyms, we have friends we go out to dinner with from time to time, etc. But obviously, there are unique challenges and aspects to being here.

One thing lately that I’ve been trying to do is be a bit more intentional with my internet posts. To share the fun and silly things, but also to cultivate a much more positive vibe that I can share with others and to let others see some of the work that I’m trying to do here. This has stemmed largely from feeling a bit badgered and overwhelmed by negativity in some ways, so actively working to counterbalance that and push even more positivity out there has been a goal of mine these days.

I’m excited to say I’m working on something new for my students that is so challenging for me mentally, but is rewarding in others. I’m happy to report that I’m almost ready for my fourth full marathon and I expect I’ll be able to run it in significantly less time than I ran my last. I’m infatuated with our kitten, Moose–even if he is a total jerk at the moment… we’re working on correcting behavior problems. I’m enjoying my new schedule at school and the balance I’m starting to strike with my after-school lessons. I’m getting a firmer grasp on prioritizing what I know is most important to me and in the end I am getting a tad more comfortable drawing and protecting my personal boundaries. I’ve never had more on my plate than I do now, but surprisingly enough, it doesn’t upset me or make me feel terrible because I’m actually becoming more comfortable with declining the requests of others.

I’m a bit of a people pleaser who struggles with saying ‘No,’ but lately I’m seeing and *feeling* how valuable it is to say, “X came up, and while I *could* squeeze in Y, I’m going to finish X and just be done.” It’s so much more of a relief to do so. I can honestly say that as someone who is equal parts ambitious and at times so cripplingly insecure about my own abilities, it’s an odd line to walk… To want to do ALL OF THE THINGS or HELP ALL OF THE PEOPLE but feel so incapable of doing it that I often cut myself off before even getting started… or worse, I overcommit and find myself in a puddle of tears on the couch at week’s end because I am so depleted of energy and resources for myself that I just can’t do anything but cry.

I’m also excited to say that I have some projects on the horizon that I will be shifting and easing into to make this blog something to see, but it’s gonna take me some time (because of the aforementioned full plate and all…), but I’m so happy about them and think they can really be something terrific, so here goes nothing… 🙂

So between setting clearer boundaries, finding a better balance with the things that ARE a priority to me, it’s easier to spot where some of those creeping insecurities are reinforced by others’ negativity. One of the ugliest things about the Internet is how easily people can pounce with negative, hurtful remarks or offer up a snarky comment with the guise of “Just sayin’!” as a way of dismissing their behavior.

Without trying to sound like too much of a Pollyanna, I made a promise to myself that I would try to out-positive the negative remarks I see on my own feed. Or just work to ignore them.

Because all in all, it’s just small potatoes and nobody like that gets to determine how I feel about who I am, what I do and the decisions I make for myself.

(And in the immortal words of my spirit animal Taylor Swift, “‘Cause the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate […] I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, baby–shake it off, shake it off.”) 😉

Cleaning house…

For those subscribed to my blog, you might be receiving some more frequent activity notifications in the coming few days. I’m doing some digital housekeeping and will be archiving old pieces, updating the page and adding more media. I hope to give this blog a sleeker and more professional look as I aim to start keeping this site as a portfolio of my written work (eventually). Stay tuned–lots of fun changes coming!

Saipan

Saipan
Saipan

Jerry and I were able to get some New Year’s R&R recently in Saipan, a beautiful island in the Pacific. Part of the Northern Mariana Islands (which also includes Guam), Saipan was the site of a pivotal battle that secured the advantage for the U.S. in WWII. It really is a must-see if you’re a WWII history buff…

We left Seoul around 10 pm on New Year’s Eve, our flight’s pilot led the plane in counting down to midnight, and arrived in Guam at an absolutely unholy hour of the morning. After a layover of a few hours, we arrived in Saipan around 8 am on New Year’s Day. Though the time difference was insignificant, we were exhausted as we muddled through the day until we could check into our hotel (even taking a short nap on the side of a road in our rental car).

Our first stops included the Last Command Post and Bonzai Cliff, which were significant during the Battle of Saipan. The latter of which was a suicide point for thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians living on the island when it became apparent that they were not going to be victorious during battle. Bonzai Cliff is a staggeringly beautiful location, which made it rather hard to reconcile the sadness of the events that had taken place. Seeing it, you almost can’t believe something so terrible could happen when in reality, tens of thousands of men and women died there.

We made a point to stop and take in as many memorials as we could find, visit peace parks and see the tributes and monuments put up to commemorate those who served. Memorials to both Japanese and American soldiers, as well as ones for the Chamorro and Carolinian peoples, whose populations are indigenous to the NMI.

During our stay we were able to get out to The Grotto, a cave accessible to the ocean where we participated in a guided snorkeling tour. We ultimately did a fair amount of snorkeling and saw so many fish during the three days we did so. Our other adventures included parasailing (eek! so fun!), ocean kayaking, and a Polynesian dance show. If you ever get out to Saipan, I definitely recommend making a point to go to Managaha, an itty-bitty islet in the Saipan lagoon where you can walk the perimeter in about 20 minutes and see some incredible fish and machinery.

One of the most interesting things about Saipan is how much of the machinery is still left around the island or in the water on the beaches, rusting away as the ocean waves lap at it. Tanks stuck in the sand off shore, artillery, a tank with a tree growing through it–ghosts of the once shiny and impressive fleets that did battle on the island and a strong reminder of the location’s importance.

Some photos below, but you can see the full album on Facebook. I can only hope these pictures do justice for how beautiful of a location it is–and I’m really glad we could take a trip where we could absorb some history as well.

Last Command Post
Jerry looking around inside the Last Command Post
Parasailing
Sadly, I only have an ‘after’ photo from our parasailing excursion, but what fun!
Snorkeling
One does not ‘look cool’ with snorkel gear on one’s face…
Machinery
Old machinery, still stuck in the water. You can wade or swim out to it for a better look.
Bunker
Discovering a bunker en route to a hidden beach–can you see me? 🙂
Polynesian Dance
Jerry was called up to participate in a Polynesian dance show.
Old Man by the Sea
Old Man by the Sea is a rock formation on the island–a short hike down a hidden path will get you to the secluded beach area where you can see it.
American Memorial Park
Visiting the American Memorial Park
Sunset
Our last evening in Saipan we caught this beautiful sunset

Cooking abroad

Thought I’d share a weeknight win from our kitchen. I made this soup this evening, and everything came together so easily and deliciously.

Jerry and I were planning on hosting a meeting at our apartment, so on Sunday, when I meal prepped for the week, I threw the potatoes and onions in a gallon-size plastic zipper bag and tossed in the vegetable crisper. This morning, I dumped the contents and water into our faithful slow cooker (easily the best purchase we’ve made here) and set it on low. When I got home, I drained a little bit of the water and added the milk, butter and bacon (I’d cooked and cut this up on Sunday as well, but kept in a separate bag so it wouldn’t become soggy).

Holy moly. Big crowd pleaser.

I made a few modifications, chiefly that I multiplied the recipe quantities to accommodate the number of people present and instead of dill weed (which I have never found here), I used dried rosemary and a bit more parsley. It was perfect.

Who says cooking overseas can’t bring you the familiar comforts of home?

Potato soup, spinach salad.

Adventures in DIY

In many ways, living in Korea is a lot like living in any major U.S. city–things are fast-paced, high-tech, industrial. But in other ways, it’s obviously very different. The culture is very patriarchal and conservative, deferential to elders–and let’s not forget that the language is a difficult one to boot.

However, in the food department, one challenge I’ve found myself up against on more than one occasion is finding specific, familiar foods or products. Not knowing what to even call something in Korean to ask at the store can be difficult as well. On a shopping trip to eMart last year, Jerry and I were looking for broth to make soup. I used the Google Translate app to try to convey what I was looking for and was promptly taken to the case where bagged, premade soups were sold.

Fail.

We’ve since learned the word for broth, though (육수 “yook soo,” if you’re curious). But there are still things I look for, need or just want to have but can’t find readily. Thus the DIY challenges I’ve undertaken…

In the last year or so, I’ve made my own:
– canned tomatoes/juice
– evaporated milk
– cottage cheese
– broths/stocks (even though I’ve since found these and know where to get them, homemade stuff just tastes better!)
– granola bars
– various sauces and dressings that are not as easy to come by (or, more often than not, done in a different manner than I am accustomed to or prefer)

There are other odds and ends attempted as well, but this covers the ones that have been most useful for what we cook. I’m really proud of the granola bars as Jerry and I often lament that we don’t really keep snack foods in the house. The granola bars are SUPER tasty (recipe here) and easy to make. (Note: We don’t know how to find molasses here, and short of ordering it and waiting a week for iHerb to get it to us, I just added a bit more honey and a tad more peanut butter. Everything came out fine.)

Other projects to try…
— homemade cheese (Korea is not a place for dairy lovers… About 75% of the cheese you find here is super processed, tastes like plastic and comes in two flavors: Kraft single or “pizza cheese”–a mozzarella-like shredded cheese that takes too long to melt and isn’t terribly good. The worst part? It’s CRAZY expensive!!! We’re talking about $8 for a two-ounce shaker of wannabe parmesan cheese. There is a small-yet-growing selection of semi-decent cheeses to be found, but I miss the days of being able to pick up Humboldt Fog goat’s cheese at Whole Foods and eat it with crackers and good wine.)

Confessions of a recovering control freak

One of the biggest challenges I frequently encounter is how to keep my routine without being too rigid about it. Teaching has been one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done, hands down. But finding routine and rhythm in the middle of the epic to-do list and other demands in life WITHOUT driving myself insane in the process has become a holy grail quest for me.

Lately, I have been working to be more intentional with my time–to use what breaks, gaps I have to do something that will make it just a little easier to relax at the end of the day, or that will help bring that end closer faster.

A few things I’ve picked up along the way have been ideas like batch cooking. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind eating the same meal a few (several?) days in a row, doing one round of cooking on a Sunday afternoon will save so much time during the week. I like hard boiled eggs at breakfast, so cooking a dozen or so on Sunday takes me 10 minutes and means I don’t have to really make myself breakfast on school days when I’m just trying to stumble out of bed. I’ve also portioned out oatmeal into small containers to take to work–I use the hot water in the water cooler and in a minute, I’m eating breakfast at my desk while I open up my work for the day. It doesn’t seem glamorous or exciting by any stretch, but simply not having to think about what to do about breakfast is easier and feels like less of an interruption to my already-struggling-to-wake-up brain.

Gretchen Rubin is an interesting thought leader that I’ve really appreciated over the last couple of years and her one-minute rule has been invaluable. Essentially, if I can do it in less than a minute, I don’t delay. At the end of the day, I spend less than a minute going to the closet, grabbing an outfit that looks good and putting it on the hook next to my bed. Or I throw baggies/containers of my pre-cut veggies, pre-made meals and throw them in a bag in the fridge so all I have to do is grab them on the way out the door in the morning. I don’t know exactly how much *time* I’m necessarily saving, but it makes my mornings smoother, which speaks for itself.

The part where I struggle, though, is in feeling not-so-flustered when something (inevitably) crops up and rustles the apples in the cart. I take a backpack to school that usually has my computer, datebook/notebook, iPod, exercise clothes, and any resources I need for any tutoring or lessons I might have that day. The day goes: walk to work, teach classes, read or study Korean at lunch, finish school, go straight to the gym, exercise and shower, go to tutoring and then come home to practice guitar/read a book/watch some TV with Jerry. At least, that’s the ideal routine when I’m not realizing that I’ve forgotten a sports bra (BIG FAIL) or left my breakfast at home (minor fail).

Blame my control-freak, anal-retentive tendencies. I like to think I thrive on routine, but when something throws me off of the routine early in the week, it feels like the consequences ripple all the way through to Friday. If I don’t spend time doing my meal/snack prep on Sunday, by Friday, I’ve gone a week with running to the on-campus convenience store for string cheese and an apple, which means time lost for things like answering questions my students approach me with between classes, or not being able to print homework assignments between classes and then realizing the printer is now occupied by another teacher with two reams worth of work being spit out… You get the idea.

Mostly this is me being a little too Type A for my own good. Ultimately, the copies will be made, but maybe it means I come to class a minute or two late (something my students don’t seem to have a problem with). The fact that a convenience store exists on campus and that it is just downstairs is actually kind of a saving grace–on the mornings where I’m wiped and can’t make coffee or have forgotten my snacks, it helps to know that that resource is there and I don’t have to go through my day decaffeinated or hangry. (Ultimately a win for myself AND my students.) But I have to work on the attitude problem that makes me feel like I’ve somehow failed or am sucking at life for not being totally “together” at that moment.

Life is setbacks and mix-ups and messiness and dealing with all that that entails. So learning to give myself a bit of grace to relax and realize things are not nearly as stressful or flustering as my knee-jerk reaction tends to assume goes a long way to keep a mental peace sustained through the week. I’m starting to ‘get it.’

And though it be instant, even convenience store coffee is still coffee and let us all say a prayer of thanks for that… Now, back to lesson planning for me.

Playing catch-up

I think some time ago I promised that I wouldn’t go too long without updating again. Looks like that endeavor may have failed…

In the last six months, I have finished the ultimate frisbee season, had to cope with the sucky-ness of good-byes to friends I’d become close to in my first year in Korea, finished my first semester at Bugil, sprained my ankle… badly (thus derailing my hope to train for this fall’s Seoul Marathon), traveled back to the U.S. for a month-long summer break (visiting about five states in the process), returned to Korea to start my second semester at Bugil, started getting to know the new wave of teachers that have arrived, resumed Korean lessons, picked up new students to tutor, gone on my first hike in Korea, and we’re back again at midterms season for the fall. Did I miss anything?

Oh, right! Annie’s visit!

My good friend Annie came to visit me from California, which was awesome. She was in Korea for about a week, and in that time, we hit Busan and Seoul, Suwon and the island of Muuido. There was a lot of food, a lot of traveling and a lot of fun, especially since it was all condensed into one week. My tour guide skills are now sufficiently up to snuff…

But now fall is settling in and the air has a crisper feel to it. I no longer sweat my makeup off as I walk to school, so it really must be getting colder. Spring and fall are brief, however, so I’m scrambling to work on some knitting projects to prepare both myself and Jerry for the bitter winter, which stretches on endlessly, it seems.

I have also picked up a guitar. Seriously. Apparently, I’m going to learn. Stay tuned for that one… 😉

Cherry Blossoms

Spring descended on Korea recently with a burst of warmer weather and absolutely gorgeous flowers. Magnolias on campus bloomed first but were quickly followed by the beautiful and locally famous cherry blossoms. Bugil is known for these blossoms as trees line the main walkways up to the school and fill other areas with slightly-blushing blossoms for about two weeks in early spring.

Jerry was in Australia when they first came into bloom, but thankfully there were enough left by the time he returned so that he could enjoy them briefly before they were gone. Many of the blossoms have already fallen, but some still cling to the trees. Below are just a few pictures I snapped of how lovely they look(ed).

No sooner than the blossoms began to open and the campus became a destination point for locals wanting good pictures. Jerry and I took lunch outside one day and enjoyed an impromptu student performance on the lawn–guitars, some percussion and even some singing. Absolutely lovely afternoons!

Every year, Bugil hosts a famous Cherry Blossom Festival. Food vendors set up at the base of the hill, near the entry way and Hanwha (the company that invests in the school) sponsors fireworks for the evening. Initially, I was really upset because my ultimate frisbee schedule was going to mean I would have to miss the festival, but luck was on my side–the cherry blossoms bloomed early and the school rescheduled the festival to accommodate more people being able to see the blossoms before they completely disappear.

The fireworks were spectacular–better than any I’ve seen in the U.S. and the show was inclusive of other pyrotechnics and lasers, all coordinated and timed to music. Really cool. I was glad to have been able to go. Some friends and I met up with a potluck picnic and made an evening out of it, which was really nice. Hanwha did a great job putting the show together–though I would really hope that they would considering the company began as an explosives corporation before becoming the conglomerate that it is today.

Fun fact! My new favorite Korean word is 불꽃 놀이 (bool-goht nohl-ee) — it is the word for ‘fireworks’ and the parts of the word translate to ‘fire flowers playing.’ It just creates a pretty picture in my mind, so I really like it.

Happy Spring from Korea!


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