Tuesday, February 26

Adventures in Customer Service: Fab (review)

The Internet is home to a labyrinth of coupon and deal websites and services, and I thought I was familiar with most of the best of them. That was until I found Fab.

Fab is a unique version of the deal/coupon website, driven by good design (their mission). I came across the site by happenstance. I ordered a poster from LivingSocial (a well-known, mostly app-driven deal site) and the order was fulfilled and delivered by Fab. I didn't know that these services intermingled... Turns out that's kind of a like a bait and bait, instead of a bait and switch. There is no switch. Only more things to like...

Actually, since learning about Fab, I've paid more attention to what they're selling than what GroupOn or LivingSocial or Hautelook have because the organization of the website and app is cleaner and easier to use and the items for sale are generally more interesting to me because they're things I may not have otherwise found on my own. I like that.

For example, I bought a Goorin Brothers hat. These are fantastic, American-made, well-designed hats. I remembered liking them quite a bit when I visited their store in San Francisco two summers ago, but I didn't have the funds to splurge on a hat at the time. Fab brought the hats to me and, at a good price, I found a cloche I liked.

Another benefit in contrast to the other deal sites I mentioned above? The "flash sales" are a little longer. There's a little less pressure to "buy now!" and I can think through a purchase and how it will fit in my life. That's really great, considering Fab offers some really terrific options on modern-styled furniture that, honestly, I wouldn't want to get on an impulse buy... If you're giving me a good product, give me the time to make a good decision. Fab does, and they're expanding their market because of it.

So now comes my customer service story... I received a $10 credit (like a coupon) from Fab to use by Valentine's Day. I was excited about having a chance to get a little something special, so I took my time to peruse the shops, marked a few favorite items, and eventually decided to purchase the Aviary Table Lamp.* (Those of you who know me well will not find this to be a surprise at all... haha.) I was excited to include this lovely lantern in my office.

The lamp arrived, I assembled it, and plugged it in. No light. I tried another plug. No light. I tried another light bulb. No light. I tried more plugs and more light bulbs, and still no light.

I wrote to Fab to let them know that I was disappointed and that I wanted instructions on how to return the lamp for another one, or how to process a refund. They wrote back (within two hours) apologizing for my sad experience and promising to help me remedy it. The person signed with their name.

They wrote back again to say that I should keep the lamp and that they were going to send me a replacement, no questions asked. (!) Again, the person signed with their name. In my mind, I know that this is a large company, but because the person signed with their name, the personal touch made me feel like this person was taking charge of my problem and addressing it, making sure that it would be resolved, as though he were an extension of myself, solving the problem how I would solve it for myself. This is good customer service. This is the personalization businesses are missing in the 21st century.

I got the lamp yesterday morning, assembled it, and plugged it in. Light! A beautiful bird lantern! I was thrilled. It's in my office now, replacing a tired old glass lamp I had. The lantern's design updates the space considerably and I'm pleased with the amount and color of the light.

Fab went the extra mile to satisfy my needs. I'm pleased that I have a working lantern. I'm not sure what I'll do with the other one. (Maybe give it to my engineer boyfriend to look at.) But I have a working product. This all took place within ONE WEEK.

So thank you, Fab, for making my shopping and even problem resolution experience such a positive moment in time. Thanks for taking the time to not stress me out. Thanks for taking responsibility for the problem and fixing it.

Fab, you rock.

*Note that I bought this before I lost my job. Le sigh. My purchases are few and only of necessity these days.

Spring Thaw Ten Miler--my longest race to date!

February in Pittsburgh is, well, either snowy and cold or gray and cold. There isn't much variation. An occasional blue sky breaks through and delights us, but that's pretty unusual.

Saturday the 23rd was 36º and gray as gray can be. It was even threatening to rain. (Yuck. I think cold rain is just about the worst weather in the world.) But we gathered for the Spring Thaw Ten, Fifteen, or Twenty Miler. Runners got to choose what distance they were up for; you didn't have to decide before the race started.

However, I knew that I would be running ten miles. It was on my half marathon training program. I also had never run ten miles before... Only seven to that point. So this would be a challenge. Was I up for it?

Earlier in the week I had a little issue with my shoes. My Brooks Adrenalines have about 400 miles on them and have only recently started giving me little shin splints. I ordered a pair of Saucony Guides over a month ago, but the store hadn't called me, so I went to the store to find out what the problem was. Turns out no one ordered them. The store owner felt so bad that she let me buy a pair of last year's model, the 5, so that when my 6s come in I can just swap them out. I was glad to have another pair of shoes, but I was also nervous to try them for such a long run... especially since I hadn't ever run that long before.

Thursday I ran five miles on the treadmill in these shoes. Not bad. I didn't hurt from them, so that's nice. I was still nervous about the race, so I put my SuperFeet insoles into the Guide 5s to help them have a more "worn in" feeling. That did the trick.

My first five miles in the race I ran without stopping. I slowed down for hills a little, but that's not unusual. I crossed the five mile line at exactly 1:00! Five miles an hour! I felt wonderful and was excited that I felt good enough to keep going.

I made it to seven and a half miles and I started feeling a little weird (dizzy/nauseous), so I slowed down and actually came to a complete stop at one of the aid stations. I joked with the ladies there that I felt it was very considerate of me to *not* pass out. They laughed in agreement. I had been taking the sports drink at every station and took gels when they were offered, so I'm not sure why I felt like that, but I'm glad I rested to get my wits about me.

Once I felt more like myself, I continued running. The ninth mile I mostly walked because I had a cramp in my left calf that wouldn't go away. It felt like someone stabbing me. I met another gal and started talking with her. She jogged with me to the finish line--how nice was that?! :)

I crossed the finish line at 2:08:29. I felt like my legs were gelatinous, and I definitely needed to eat something, but I was thrilled with my finish. I was so happy! I did it!

I went home and rested completely on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. I started feeling stiff so I iced my legs. I got a little worried that I was hurt, but I decided that I would wait and see before I got worried. It's now three days later and I feel fine, so I'm delighted that I'm not hurt. I still have some minor soreness and aches, but it's nothing I haven't felt before.

I've got a PR to beat now! I also know that adding another three miles means I can meet my goal of a half marathon! It's in May, so I have more time to train and get stronger, but I'm really thrilled with how this race went since it felt like a real test of my strength and ability.

Friday, February 22

Safe Strides: Self Defense for Women Runners (by Pittsburgh Marathon)

Last night women packed into Bakery Square to hear self-defense expert Craig Douglas discuss a topic we all know about, but frequently want to ignore... because it's uncomfortable and makes us uneasy... and it's scary. Douglas talked about women being attacked while running.

Pittsburgh Marathon has held some really stellar sessions for participants over the past few weeks. I attended the injury prevention clinic in January and the nutrition clinic earlier this month. (I didn't get to blog it in a timely fashion because of life events that came up.) There is an excellent blog post over at InsideUPMC covering the main topics from the nutrition clinic.

The self-defense event launched into the tough stuff right away with a real victim and her very, very real story.

After learning her story, we couldn't help but feel.

Feel angry or sad that it happened.
Feel angry or sad that women have to worry about these things.
Feel angry or sad that every woman--mother, grandmother, sister, friend, aunt, cousin, daughter, granddaughter--could feel threatened or be attacked at some point in her life.

The good thing is that anger and sadness can motivate us. We can feel compelled to act, to do something. As long as we don't allow ourselves to feel helpless, we can learn from what has happened and, hopefully, learn how to protect ourselves.

That's what Douglas was there to help with. Awareness, he said, is a state of flux. When we're running, we're often paying attention to multiple things--our bodies, breathing, music, worries, temperature, people we might be talking to... But we need to be aware of what's going on around us.

Monday, February 18

Character and Uncertainty

I'm less in shock today than I was on Friday, but I'm still reeling from losing my job. It's really difficult to process. One day you're getting up at 6 o'clock and slogging along through rush hour traffic and the next you're wide awake and 6 o'clock sobbing because you're not quite sure how things are going to work out.

Today I'm looking around at my suddenly unplanned life and trying to lay tracks where they were recently dug up. I'm trying to find strength to reclaim my own fortitude because I know it's there. I do. And those of you who've told me to take heart--thank you. When facing the shock of sudden and pervasive uncertainty, it is inherently difficult to take heart in messages that appear to completely invalidate the situation, its seriousness, repercussions, and pain... however unintended the invalidation might be... it's still invalidating and, therefore, more painful.

But I'm terrible at processing uncertainty. It's probably my greatest weakness. When it comes to planning ahead, thinking things through, and organizing, I'm your gal. I can really set things in motion and lay down a path for success. In fact, I'm convinced that is what made school so easy for me. The path was laid out--different grades with classes to take, tests to pass, papers to write. All I had to do was show up, try my best, and win the day. Frequently I did just that. It was so natural.

Now that I'm not in school (finishing grad school threw me for a loop, trust me!), things are less clearly defined. There are no definitive achievements (like diplomas or degrees or year-end grades) unless you set them for yourself. There are no organized portions of the year (like semesters and breaks) unless you organize them for yourself. There are no measured or predetermined activities unless you choose them for yourself.

This is probably why running makes so much sense to me. There are achievements, seasons, and activities and I just have to choose to take part in them and *voilà!* predictability!

But the uncertainty of life on a larger scale--the grand scheme, the big "What If," which not even running can pretend to answer--is what makes me crazy.

I like plans.

I like plans so much that yesterday I made a list of projects that I can do around the house while I'm unemployed. I like plans so much that I bookmarked a bunch of job search websites and have blocked off a few hours each morning to go a-hunting. I like plans so much that I am trying to organize and reorganize my life in order to give me solace during this time of chaos.

Today the chaos really resonates with me. It was ten years ago today that my family's house burned down. I was a senior in high school, there was a two-hour delay because of a sparkling blanket of snow covering the school district, and I met up with a photographer to have my senior portraits taken. Those portraits are the last moments of "normal" or "calm" that I remember. After that, I smell smoke, I see soot and burned memories, and I feel hurt so deep it rocked my core.

That was ten years ago. Since then, my family has overcome many more tough times. Maybe none matching the magnitude of losing your home to fire, but certainly tough times attributable to personalized suffering through myriad pain. Most families have, but I tend to think that my family is tougher than most. I don't care if that's a little egotistical. We're hardy.

So I know I'll come out on top. I know I'll find some other job. I know I'll take uncertainty, whip it into my own personal mold, and eat it for breakfast one day. I know I can do it. I just might need you, my friends, to remind me once in awhile.

Friday, February 15

How to Change Your Life in Two Easy Steps

This week completely changed my life. How? you ask. Two easy steps.

  1. Have a sister with epilepsy who is having brain surgery.
  2. Lose your job.
There you go! That's it. Simple, right? Don't ask me for the details because there are none! You just have a sister with brain surgery and then show up at work to learn you're done! Easy stuff.

So my life is completely and 100% different now than it was Monday morning.

Happy Friday!

Monday, February 11

Adventures in nutrition: Premier Protein shakes (review)

In January, I won a "Protein Pop" box prize from Premier Protein via Twitter (@PremierProtein). In the box I found two chocolate shakes, two vanilla shakes, and two of three different flavors of bars: chocolate deluxe, chocolate peanut butter, and yogurt peanut crunch. (See my review of the bars here.)

I decided to take about a month to try all my samples and see what I thought before writing my reviews. That way I could see how my body liked them in addition to how much my taste buds liked them.

The shakes: Until this point, my experience with protein drinks has been mostly negative. I would mix powder with water or milk and meet with dietary suffering like chalky texture, insolubility (read: chunks of gloppy powder), overbearing taste, and unpredictable body responses--bloat and nausea being the most common.

The Premier Protein shakes were none of those.They come as liquids, not powders, which I think helps solve the problem with taste quite a bit--it's controlled by the company when the beverage is packaged. I'm not measuring and mixing and hoping I get it right so I taste what someone else deemed to be acceptable...

The vanilla is like a liquid version of vanilla yogurt. It goes down easily and mixes well with berries in the blender. (Definitely a delicious way to incorporate the shake into my diet!) It's not overly sweet and has no yucky aftertaste like other vanilla protein drinks (powders) I've tried.

The chocolate is even more delicious, however. One of my favorite post-workout treats is chocolate milk. While milk is a great source of nutrition in general, I know that adding sugary chocolate syrup makes the treat just that--a treat. But Premier Protein's chocolate shake is delicious in its own right, and is more nutritious than my chocolate milk in numerous ways.

The shakes come in paper cartons like a juice box (think of when you were a kid!) with a top that opens by unscrewing the lid. (I had a defective lid that popped off the carton, but I poked open the foil cover and used a straw instead. I had another lid, though, that didn't seem attached properly because it dribbled on me...)

So outside of the minor issue of the lids, I give the Premier Protein shakes my highest recommendation.

Adventures in nutrition: Premier Protein bars (review)

In January, I won a "Protein Pop" box prize from Premier Protein via Twitter (@PremierProtein). In the box I found two chocolate shakes, two vanilla shakes (read my review of the shakes here), and two of three different flavors of bars: chocolate deluxe, chocolate peanut butter, and yogurt peanut crunch.

I decided to take about a month to try all my samples and see what I thought before writing my reviews. That way I could see how my body liked them in addition to how much my taste buds liked them.

Here is my review of the bars... 

Double chocolate crunch bar: (top left) This tasty treat comes packed with 30g of protein. I was pleased with the texture of the bar. It wasn't gritty. It wasn't so chewy that I wore out my jaw trying to eat it. But it was easy to swallow because of its flavor. Chocolate-on-chocolate foods can't really go wrong. Premier Protein takes chocolate to the next level, though, by making your daily dose of chocolate a better source of protein for energy and everyday nutrition.

Chocolate peanut butter bar: (not pictured) Again, nothing wrong with 30g of protein in a small package! The chocolate peanut butter bar was a little too sweet (even by my standards, and I like cake flavored ice cream). I ate this bar slowly and tempered the sweetness with a nice glass of milk to wash it down. I still enjoyed the bar, but I didn't taste so much peanut butter as I did very sweet chocolate.

Yogurt peanut crunch: (bottom left) I'll admit it--this is my favorite. Perhaps because it's completely different, perhaps because I haven't tasted anything like it before, or perhaps because I loved the crunch of the peanuts... But no matter the reason, this was the best thing I received from Premier Protein! I loved the mellow sweetness of the yogurt coating paired with the oh-so-slight saltiness of the peanuts inside. I ate this one faster than the other two... and now I wish I had more!

All in all, I think the Premier Protein bars are a great value (check out their website for pricing) for as much protein as you get in every bar.

Friday, February 8

A really, really good run

Oh how I needed a good run. After a few weeks off from those dratted stitches then a few bad runs full of huffing and puffing and walking and worrying, I truly needed a run to remind me why I do this.

It came to me last night.

I came home from work and had almost gotten to that point of settling in and not wanting to go to the gym... It's cold outside. I need to buy gas. I don't want to leave the dog again. I'm tired. I haven't had a good run in weeks. Why am I bothering with this when I can't hit my miles and I can't make it to my training group?

Then I remembered that I had a few things in my RunnerBox that I had been meaning to try. I got myself a packet of a drink mix (which I will later review!). I made the shake and drank it mindfully. Then I got my butt in gear. I changed into gym clothes, took out the dog, and I was off.

I'm a treadmiller. It's how I cut my teeth in running. I have the uncanny ability to stare at the awning of the grocery store across the street and listen to my music and get into a zone where I don't even recognize my own name... (It's happened. My boyfriend has come to ask me something and I'm just completely zoned out.)

It wasn't easy--no, don't mistake this as a simple feat. This GOOD RUN was hard earned. I had to continually fend off anxious thoughts about my asthma, my slower-than-snails pace, my heart rate, my feelings about my out-of-shapeness (in comparison to others), and my lack of enthusiasm thanks to all of the above.

I let the thought enter my mind, acknowledged it, and then let it go.

That is SO effing hard. Especially if, like me, you're used to dwelling on things like those I listed above and letting them drive you into WorryWorld, population: 1; being your own worst enemy is awful. KNOWING that you're your own worst enemy is worse. Knowing that you're your own worst enemy and letting yourself continue to beat the pulp out of yourself--that is the worst. That. Is. The. Worst.

So I started running. I had to keep dropping those worry thoughts like they were razor-sharp, lava covered, disease ridden hot potatoes. (Trust me, you wanna drop those.)

I fell into my playlist and forgot about my pace (which I've been fretting). I got the three miles I was after and felt great when I was done.

Sense of accomplishment? You bet. And thank God, because I remembered that I started running because I was a worrier... and worrying about running? Yeah, that needs to stop.

Thursday, February 7

Get noun

The verbing of nouns is nothing new. This poem, which, according to this post, was originally published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, provides myriad examples of the English language's morphology.

Did I lose you? Morphology happens every day, like when you make up a word by using parts of existing words. This is just a drop in the ocean compared to what English has been through over the hundreds of years of its linguistic development.

Today it seems we're verbing nouns at what some linguists find to be an alarming rate. Words like "PDFing," "texting," and "staffing" come from a PDF document, a text message, and a staff for a business/event. But these are now things we can also do.


Without further ado, I present to you the Verbing of America, an unsigned poem.

Wednesday, February 6

A Teaview: Get Burning, by Republic of Tea (review)

I just returned from the southwest where chili peppers are king with a capital K. I tried both green and red chilis in my enchiladas, my breakfast biscuits, my fudge candy, and my coffee.

I had to come home and dig into my RunnerBox to get red chili in my tea. The pop of flavor in this tea isn't just red chilis, though: in each sip you're greeted by ginger, cloves, and black pepper, which I never thought of as a tea flavoring until trying this blend. (See below for full list of ingredients.)

Get Burning by Republic of Tea is an herbal tea for boosting metabolism. Gluten-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, zero calories, kosher, and certified organic, this tea is for everyone.*

Thermogenesis is the metabolic principle at work, by boosting the body's core temperature with ingredients like chilis and rooibus (pronounced roy-bus). Other herbs in the blend boast fat oxidation for weight loss and claim an increase in cellular energy production, supporting health and boosting metabolism.**

While I can't speak to the efficacy of the herbs, I can agree to their tastiness. The sweet taste makes the tea smooth and easy to sip as a warm drink and as you swallow the liquid, the warmth only increases as the heat in the chili peppers is activated on your tongue. The overall experience is quite pleasant and much different than most teas I've had (and I'm basically addicted to tea; ask anyone who has seen my pantry...).

I waited a few hours after trying the tea to post this blog because normally I get headaches from Stevia. Since Stevia is an ingredient in this tea (see below) instead of an added sweetener from a packet, as one might expect with tea, I was a little nervous about how I might react. I drank my tea four hours ago and I don't have a headache. Hopefully that bodes well for my experience with Get Burning (and Stevia at large, though I am not a fan of non-sugar sweeteners in general, artificial or natural; they all seem to bother me).

Overall reaction: go get yourself some hot Burning tea! The pep from the peppers is a delicious and welcome change of pace.

Ingredients: organic green rooibos, ginger, cinnamon, holy basil, black pepper, cloves, chili peppers, cordyceps extract, stevia and natural sea buckthorn flavor

*Except pregnant or nursing moms, who should read the warning here.
**These claims are not evaluated by the FDA and the product is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease

Tuesday, February 5

Returning to Normal: Travel, Altitude, and Attitude

Oh my goodness, how a little travel can throw things into a frenzy! I was on business travel last week and took the weekend to stay with a friend and run a race with an Oiselle pal.

The race went as well as I could expect... It was my first time racing at altitude--about 5,400 feet.

So let's get this straight: if the NFL makes a big deal about Denver's Mile High Stadium (with a mile being 5,280 feet), then I have rights to make a big deal about running at just over a mile high.

Finishing a 5k in 36:14 isn't fantastic. I know that. But my lungs didn't burst, I didn't pass out, I didn't let myself get overwhelmed enough to require medical attention, and--most importantly!--I finished the race!

Ayesha, who had just set a PR, met me with about a quarter mile left to go and ran with me. I was really touched by that. We had just met. Sure, we're part of this awesome team, but still... we just met. She came back for me and helped encourage me until I sprinted for the finish line. I felt a great sense of accomplishment crossing the finish line because I overcame the pain my asthma caused me.

Since running that race, I've taken some time to learn a little more about why it was so difficult for me to run that day.
  1. Acclimatization - I arrived on Friday afternoon, but ran on Sunday. That's not enough time for my lungs to acclimatize to the environment. Even if it was, a practice run would have given me a great deal of information about what I could expect to experience in the race.
  2. Allergies - Almost IMMEDIATELY after the race, I was a sneezing, sniffling mess. I had to get allergy medication to address my symptoms. I am normally not a very allergic person, but running and breathing in all that dry desert air brought me allergens my body wasn't familiar with, and I learned that in addition to having an asthma attack, I may have also been reacting to the allergens. Well, isn't that nice?
  3. Dry and cool air - While 40 to 50 degree days in Albuquerque were certainly warmer than the 15 to 20 degree days I left behind in Pittsburgh, the air was still cool. Moreover, it was drier than I was used to, so even though I was completely comfortable in the temperature, the dryness may have affected me.
  4. Quick ascent - I flew from Long Beach (sea level) to Albuquerque (4,900 - 6,700 feet above sea level; airport at just about one mile above sea level), which was a direct ascent. No stop along the way to acclimatize, nothing to ease my lungs into the environment of high and dry... Just *bam* walk off the plane and I'm on higher terrain than I've ever been before.
It's true that even if I had time to acclimatize, had a slower ascent, got used to the dry air (or maybe used my face mask since the air was cool AND dry), and took some allergy medication before running that I may still have been sucking air...

But knowing why I struggled to keep going at least helps me put the mental aspect of the race in perspective: this wasn't my worst 5k (my worst was in 37:27 after having the flu and coming back from an injury!), I finished (booya!), and I was 171/247 people total. Not bad. At least, that's the attitude I'm taking.

I'm really tired from my travels, but I'm hoping to hop back on my training schedule. It's been tough to make the training group meetings on Tuesday evenings... and I didn't get to do many of the Saturday long runs in January... so it's time to buckle down a little. My Brooks' Adrenalines are covered with Chaco Canyon, NM, so I think they're okay to get a little wet or dirty in the awful weather Pittsburgh is having... (Yes, I've been resistant to messing up my shoes... even though they're just shoes... but mostly because I need dry shoes to pack in a suitcase.) I need to create "normal," and then get back to it.

So here's to February and a full three months till my first half marathon...!