Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Be a dilettante

In the interest of open education, I'm sharing this Guide to Free Internet Courses with you! For free! There is an accompanying academic paper which explains the concept of open education, which I will share with anyone interested. But all you really need is this list of resources to get started on your free, high-quality education.

An Annotated Guide to DIY Education Online

Apple Inc. (n.d.). iTunes U [Application]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/

From the company known for its pioneering in consumer technology, iTunes has become the standard for digital music management for Mac users. iTunes U applies that platform to educational resources available from more than 800 universities, including Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and Berkley. Content is also available from museums, libraries, and public media outlets. While the bulk of content is in the form of lectures, iTunes U also supports distribution of slideshows, videos, PDFs, ebooks, and other documents. Browsing content is as easy as choosing an academic subject and viewing the top ten resources on that subject. iTunes also has a simple search box which will yield results by category (iTunes U, music, video, etc.) Topics covered are as varied as the institutions providing content; subjects among the top ten courses are the Beatles, Einstein, Tolkien, writing a business plan, and quantum mechanics. Chosen lectures can be downloaded and played through iTunes. While not a full course provider, iTunes U’s resources are academic quality and can supplement the study of other open courseware.

Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). Open Learning Initiative [Website]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://oli.web.cmu.edu/openlearning/

Started in 2002, courses on this site are created by teams of subject experts, education experts and technology experts. Contributors are from Carnegie Mellon, University of Georgia, University of Pittsburgh, and other institutions. Visitors can “peek” into a class or create an account and track their own progress. Courses are currently available in engineering, statistics, biochemistry, economics, biology, French, physics, and more. Classes are presented as online modules to be worked through, step-by-step, using Andes Tutor software. Assessments are built in to courses and used to create feedback for improving the program. While part of the site is made up of academic courses for enrolled students, there are at least a dozen classes in the “free and open” section. What makes OLI different from other open courseware projects is its focus on creating course material specifically suited to the online environment and to independent learning.

Colman, D., E. Oberle, and F. Hsu (2010). Open Culture [Blog]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://www.openculture.com/

Colman is director and associate dean of continuing studies at Stanford University and has a long resume of work in academia. Oberle and Hsu are technical developers for the site and its associated app. The blog’s stated purpose is to bring together “high-quality cultural & educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community.” This source covers all manner of online education resources, with posts neatly archived and searchable. The main tabs for the site are Audio Books, Online Courses (250 free classes are listed), Movies, Language Lessons, eBooks, and Textbooks. A listing of browseable categories includes not only subject disciplines but also formats and platforms. The archive – dating back to September 2006 -- serves as a library for resources, while the blog is a dynamic tool for keeping information fresh and relevant. The site claims 325,000 visits per month.

Gross, R. (1993). The independent scholar's handbook. [PDF]. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press. Retrieved December 7, 2010, from http://www.sfu.ca/independentscholars/isbook.htm

A book from 1993 may seem light-years behind the rest of these resources. However, it fits into the collection for two reasons: (1) it deftly advises those students with a desire to forge their own educations; and (2) it exemplifies the open education movement by being freely available on the Web. The book also emphasizes the legitimacy of independent study as on par with university study. Author Ronald Gross is a writer and speaker on education topics including continuing education. The book includes essays from other writers in addition to Gross’s work. It focuses mainly on the philosophy of self-education, but includes advice that is applicable in today’s atmosphere of online course material. Originally written in 1982, the book was updated in 1993.

Kamenetz, A. (2010). DIY U: Edupunks, edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education /. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub.

Just released this year, DIY U provides the freshest perspective on how education is evolving in the face of technology. Kamenetz is a Yale graduate and journalist. Because the author is not an educator or education theorist, the book has a more mainstream appeal than others on the subject. In this book, Kamenetz discusses how education is evolving due to unbundling higher education, self-directed learning, and open education. Topics include a history of higher education in America, the economics of education, technology, and a resource guide for edupunks. This book is useful not only for its guidance in using open education materials, but also for its coverage of the major players in the movement and ideas for joining the community.

Ludlow, R. (2010). Academic Earth [Website]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://academicearth.org/

Founder Richard Ludlow studied economics and international development at Yale. His interest in open education grew from his own independent study of open courseware. Academic Earth includes video lectures in all major disciplines from the most prestigious universities: Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, Khan Academy, Maryland, Michigan, MIT, Norwich, Notre Dame, NYU, Princeton, Stanford, UCLA, UNSW, USC, Villanova, and Yale. Basic searching and advanced searching are available, or content can be browsed by subject, university, or instructor. There are also “playlists” which group relevant lectures by topic. Academic Earth’s strengths are the quality of its material and the user-friendly organization. The site has been included in “top Website” lists in Time Magazine and PC Mag.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (n.d.). MIT OpenCourseWare [Website]. Retrieved December 7, 2010, from http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

MIT’s courses are available through other sites on this list, but it earns its own entry as a pioneer in open education. OCW began in 2000 with the idea that all educational resources should be available for free to enrich the community of educators and students. All of MIT’s classes (2,000) are available for free. Basic and advanced search are available or visitors can browse offerings by department. Materials available vary by class and can include syllabi, lecture notes, video and audio resources, reading lists, assignments, and exams. There is also the option for students to join a “study group” to communicate with other people taking the course. All materials for a class can be downloaded as a package. OCW may be the most comprehensive collection of one university’s course materials available openly on the Web.

OEDb. (2007). Take any college class for free: 236 open courseware collections, podcasts, and videos. Online Education Database, 12, June. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://oedb.org/library/features/236-open-courseware-collections

This listing of 236 resources includes archives, broadcasts, directories and search engines, ebooks, encyclopedias, open courseware, podcasts, and videos. The list includes a mix of academic and non-academic resources. Each listing includes a brief description of the resource. It could be an inspiration tool for the student who hasn’t decided what subject to pursue. Despite being published in 2007, all links seem to be active. OEDb is a review source for formal online education programs. On caveat about this article is there is no information about who compiled the list or what their qualifications are. Regardless, the resources are interesting and broad, making this a good starting point for someone new to online education resources.

Open Courseware Consortium. (n.d.). Open Courseware Consortium [Website]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://www.ocwconsortium.org/

The Open Courseware Consortium is a group of hundreds of universities and organizations around the globe, all committed to freely sharing educational resources. Besides providing information about the Consortium itself, this site facilitates searching all members’ available open courseware. Advanced searching can be limited by language or university. Search results link back to the member site for accessing course material. The site also includes a list of links to member Websites. The Consortium is strongly tied to MIT’s OpenCourseWare. The board president is from MIT, while other delegates work at member universities and Creative Commons.

Peer 2 Peer University. (n.d.). P2PU [Website]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://p2pu.org/

Launched this year, P2PU is the latest facet of open education and independent learning: building communities of alternative students and creating ways to acknowledge their work. The site states it “organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements.” As mentioned in the previous paper, co-founder Neeru Paharia is an advocate for such recognition. As a grassroots organization built primarily on the work of volunteers, getting involved in the site is welcome. Slightly more organized than independent study, chosen courses are implemented on a schedule. It is necessary to sign up to see the benefits if sharing the community.

TED Conferences. (n.d.). TED: Ideas worth spreading [Website]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://www.ted.com

TED is the pop-media prince of open education. Twice a year the conference organizes big names and leaders to give lectures on current topics. Videos of the lectures are available through the Website and the TED app. TEDTalks videos can be used by students as one-time pursuits to satisfy curiosity on a topic, or they can be used to supplement in-depth study of an academic subject. Visitors can search videos or browse by theme, speaker, or title. Register on the site to become a “member” and comment on TEDTalks.

Yale University. (2010). Open Yale courses [Website]. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from http://oyc.yale.edu/

Who doesn’t want to claim a Yale education? Short of selling the farm and moving to New Haven, taking one or more of these 25 open courses may be the best option. Covering astronomy to religion, the course offerings are broad, but not deep enough to approximate a full degree. However, combined with courses from other sites on the list, the Yale perspective would surely contribute to a DIY degree. A typical course includes an introduction, syllabus, readings, assignments, lecture video or transcripts, and an opinion survey. Course materials are dated between 2006 and 2009.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

By the Book: It's no hassle if you don't do it

I haven't been posting about cleaning, because I haven't been cleaning! Too under the weather for about a week. So sadly, I haven't yet been able to witness the cumulative effect of cleaning 45-60 minutes a day. However, I do think the strategies in the book are useful. I prefer to approach house cleaning in short bursts rather than being overwhelmed by the whole process. My favorite parts of the book are the last section which has a checklist of tasks for each room. It's not as if I don't know I need to mop the bathroom floor, but seeing it on the list is that extra bit of nagging that will make it happen.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No-Hassle??? Part 3

(Day 2 confirms it -- all I can do in 15 minutes is start a load of laundry and unload and load the dishwasher. These are things that have to be done every day and don't get faster the more you do them. If I live to be 70, I will spend another solid 133 days on this 15-minute task.)

Did you know I'm a gold medalist at Olympic Husband Steering? Like when you enter Target and he attempts to veer toward the wrong aisle? Subtle pressure on his arm can wordlessly steer him where you need to go. Also, hand-holding in public may seem super sweet, but it's also an effective method of Husband Steering.

I mention this because No-Hassle House Cleaning has inspired me to attempt a sort of mental husband steering! (This might be more effective if it were actually covert, but he may read this and rebel against my efforts.) Spence (<-- she has a blog!!!) writes, "A positive attitude is contagious." I think there's also something about how nagging doesn't work. So I'm going to keep cleaning and be all, "OH IT'S SO NICE HOW X AND Y ARE SO CLEAN! I THINK I WANT TO CLEAN SOME MORE BECAUSE IT'S SO FUN!!!!" Then Nick will be all, "HEY SWEETIE, CAN I HELP YOU???? IS THE TOILET AS CLEAN AS YOU LIKE IT? BECAUSE I WILL CLEAN IT AGAIN FOR YOU!!!"

Today's victory: it is easier to clean the kitchen sink/counter/floor when you just did it the previous day!

Advice I won't follow again: wash your dishcloth in the dishwasher so it's clean the next day. No, it's not. Every piece of gunk on your dishes will stick to the dish rag and you'll have to wash it again.

I am really enjoying this book, and looking forward to reading the author's blog. I see she posted about cleaning a clogged shower head which is a chronic problem in our house.
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No-Hassle House Cleaning Part 2

Despite sleeping only four hours last night, I took the challenge and spent a total of 45 minutes cleaning today!

The first step was to add a notebook to my maid caddy -- to write down needed supplies or big tasks to remember later. Good advice from the book which also has me a little nervous about cleaning for 45 minutes everyday. This is how it breaks down for today:

  • 15 minutes quick cleaning in the morning: a load of laundry in the washer, wiping a few things in the bathroom, barely started unloading the dishwasher
  • 15 minutes quick cleaning in the evening: another load of laundry, a little folding, finishing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen sink/counters
  • 15 minutes focus on the living room: dusting, decluttering, de-cat-hairing
Yes, I am shocked at how little I got done in all that time! I know the effects will be cumulative, but after 45 minutes of vigorous cleaning, that's it??!?! Still, I'm committed to seeing if the house stays a little cleaner after doing this for a little while.

(But would anyone with a job or kids or hobbies be able to spend this kind of time and then write about it every day? My God, how does anyone keep their house clean??)

The highest impact tasks from today were scrubbing the sink and sweeping the kitchen. I will definitely keep them on the daily list. Biggest disaster of the day -- cleaning the bathroom mirror with the wrong cleaner. Nick and I will either get used to seeing ourselves as slightly foggy/streaky, or I'll try to clean it again tomorrow.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

By the Book: No-Hassle House Cleaning

(Bookstores are choking with books that claim they will change your life! And I'm a real sucker for them. Every time I'm stumped by a problem, I think "Is there a book about this?" Starting with the assumption that any instruction/self-help/advice book is only as effective as the reader's intention to make it work, I started this project. This is the first in a series of "By the Book" posts in which I read a book, follow its advice, and let you know how it works out.)

Today, out of growing anxiety that I'm not a good enough housekeeper, I picked up No-Hassle House Cleaning by Christina Spence. The first challenge, it seems, is to admit I'm "a happy slob and proud of it." I'm guessing a proud, happy slob would not worry the Borders cashier is judging her for needing a book to clean the house.

I was happy to discover in the first few pages that I'm already doing some things right! From Spence's list of ways to make cleaning fun:

  1. Music
  2. Use a timer -- 15 minutes at a time is my personal limit.
  3. Have a cleaning kit -- I love my little cleaning caddy; it makes me feel like a real merry maid.
The next step is to keep reading and clean something... tomorrow. For now, I have an assignment due for my academic library class.
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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Feeling Good

Today is the official first day of my self-employment after the long weekend. I have exercised, studied, read, finished sewing the quilt top for Lori's baby, and folded a good deal of laundry. Productivity is obviously a key component of my sabbatical.

Over the next six months, I will take seven classes and finish my master's in library science. I will also be writing, sewing, and getting into shape for a half-marathon in November. If the weather's nice I'm going to get a good tan. If the weather's not nice, I'm going to spoil my cats. I'm going to take vacations and read a couple of books a week. I'm going to cook Nick's dinner and keep the kitchen clean.

If life starts to feel too domestic, I'm going to spend a day at the coffee shop, writing. It's the happiest time because I can do what I want, be what I want. What do I want to be? A student, an artist, a writer, an athlete, a hippie, a person of great wit and depth! I want to be all the things I admire in the people I know.
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

An embarrassment of riches

I have a friend who has the rare dilemma of choosing between two great job opportunities: one would divert his career path but put him closer to family; the other is a "dream" job that is considerably further away from family.

Career vs. Family -- Does the phrase suggest an ambitious woman deciding whether to have children or go for more job responsibility? Does it make you think of the woman who must choose between putting her kids in daycare or going the stay-at-home route?

I am thinking of neither of those scenarios. This is about the 20- and 30-somethings who have to choose between living close to their parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends -- or moving farther away and facing isolation from the people they care about.

I know I feel a lot of guilt for living 12-hours away from my family. A few days ago a friend asked me how often I visit Atmore and I said, sadfaced, "Only a few times a year." He laughed and said "ONLY? That's a lot!" There are those independent people who are content to only see their families at one major holiday a year. I am not one of those people for so many reasons. As I said I have guilt for being away from family and friends, but we are here for Nick's career. And our future hometowns will likely all be chosen for Nick's jobs. I will try to guide those choices, but opportunities will arise where they will. To live in Atmore, I wouldn't have to choose a different career, I'd have to choose a different life, with one less husband.

This is another one of those conundrums faced by the overprivileged with opportunity ("Oppies," to coin a new word): do we follow that awesome ambition, or do we stick close to our loving and supportive families? It's an embarrassment of riches. One that I have time to contemplate because I don't have any "real" problems.

We know for a few decades, women have been choosing between career and children, or trying to have both. And we Oppies are choosing between our far-flung ambitions and our families back at home. You could even distill that down and say our choice is between work and home. Choose work and you're not going to your niece's Thanksgiving pageant, but you'll go with her to breakfast with Santa when you visit at Christmas. You'll find out your mom went to the emergency room three days after the fact because you talk to her twice a week instead of seeing her every day.

You sometimes wish you could give up every other part of yourself just to be the daughter/son/aunt/uncle who is there everyday for trips to the park, but that would mean... giving up every other part of yourself. If everything that makes me happy is a piece of pie, I have a whole pie -- one slice is just in a different state. My metaphors are starting to drift. What I'd really like to know is whether the Baby Boomers faced this same sort of choice and which choice ended up being better in the long run.

Anyway, there are two things I know I will not stop hearing as long as I'm away from home, making this life: (1) "we're so proud of you" and (2) "we miss you -- when are you coming to visit?"

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

making my confession

Last night I did something I feel pretty guilty about. (Bear with me, because it's not about what I ate.)

We were driving home from Denton and it was time to stop for dinner. I was holding out for Schlotzskys because I've been dreaming of a Cinnabon! (No, really, my guilt is not about that.) Finally we stopped at an exit that happened to have a Schlotzskys, so that's the good news. The guy at the counter flubbed our order a little and said "sorry, it's been a crazy night." No worries, but I thought it was a strange thing to say since there weren't many people in there. It was maybe 10 minutes later when the red flags started to go up. I heard a customer complaining that she had waited more than 30 minutes. Uh oh. Not what you want to hear when you are trying to get through a 5 hour drive before midnight.

I listened, amused, and started to wonder if I should worry about our order. I saw that a customer who ordered after us was bearing down at the counter and actually getting her order. I thought, ok this is how you have to do it, just go complain about waiting and it will get made faster.

I stood there watching about 10 minutes before I said to the sandwich-maker, "Do you know what the status of my order is?" She asked what we ordered. I told her, but what followed was an exasperating back-and-forth about which sandwich was ours and how it should be made. She asked me, what's supposed to be on this? (Nick's pastrami and swiss)"

I said, with plenty of attitude, (this is the sinful part), "I don't know what's on it! I don't work here!"

Sadly, that didn't really have a motivating effect. I think the woman was pretty downtrodden already because of the building chaos of 20ish people waiting for orders and complaining openly. No I didn't handle it with kindness and I still feel bad about it.

Ultimately we were in the Schlotzskys for an hour and didn't get home til after midnight. Another exasperated worker said they only had four people working and they were all new. By the time we left customers were demanding their money back and walking in and leaving without even ordering. I know I didn't help the problem by being rude, but whoever made that schedule and left those people to flail on a Saturday night should be fired.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

No one is looking at you

Dear Diary,

I waited almost a week to tell you about my last 5k!

Every one of these experiences comes with its own lesson, and this one was clear from the beginning. This is me when Nick and I pulled into the parking lot at 7:30 Saturday morning:

Hey, do you want to just save the entrance fee and go do our 3.1 miles at the park?

And we would be done faster because we wouldn't have to wait til 9 to start!


He got really frustrated with me and said, "If you don't want to do it, just say so!"

He forced me to realize I did want to do it, I was just afraid. Afraid of being chased by jackals? Afraid of the ground swallowing me up? (No joke it happened very nearby not too long ago.) I wasn't even afraid I couldn't do it because 3 miles is no big deal anymore.

I was afraid people would look at me funny! With there little beady zero-body-fat eyes! Look at that girl! She got lost on the way to IHOP this morning! I HATE that kind of judgment, but I am the one visiting it upon myself most often!

I'm going to make this little note to myself really bold so maybe I can remember it:


Right? Is that guy in the professional racing gear thinking about whether I fit in or about his own goals? Yeah, probably not me. I just always get so nervous thinking I'm going to be humiliated or made fun of. To my knowledge, this has never actually happened.

The race turned out pretty great, a sunny walk/run through UTSA's campus. And if you remember from about a month ago, I'm logging miles to earn a treadmill. I now have 62/100!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

junky secret

I'm working my program at Weight Watchers, as you may know. I say "working my program" because that's the way they say it at Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction programs. I've never been to AA, but I know enough from pop culture to see the similarities. We show up for our meetings every week (more often if you're really struggling), tell our personal tales, get stickers and trinkets for passing milestones. I'm ok with the analogy.

So I'm working my program, tracking everything, using the motivational tools. But I have a dirty little secret. My secret is the junk I eat on the way home from work when I'm stressed or upset.

You can find the evidence of my secret in my car. The garbage in my car at the end of the week tells the complete story of how bad my mood has been. This week you would find a KING SIZE Reese's wrapper and a bag from Sonic (with clearly visible tater tot residue).

When I stopped at the grocery store Tuesday, the thought of an illicit REGULAR-SIZED Reese's was just not enough. I had to have the double shot, please, and I ate it before I was even out of the parking lot. The tots-urge hit me today. I actually have oven tots at home, but my mood wouldn't tolerate the delay.

According to my program I should take this time to examine what is behind the transgressions and implement new coping mechanisms. The truth is I don't understand the connection between a monumentally shitty day (year) at work and craving junk food. I just wanted to start by making my confession and exposing my hiding place. If you're ever in my car, please insist on examining my garbage.
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wake-up call/Plan B

The blue circle symbol used to represent diabetes.Image via Wikipedia

I went to the doctor today. I haven't been in months because I kept canceling appointments. Pretty much from June-December I pretended I didn't have diabetes. Now I guess I'm reaping that foolishness. I told the doc, "I'm going to Weight Watchers, I'm back on track, I still believe I can do this on my own."

My doctor, always supportive but frank, said, "What is your goal?" I told him my goal is to lose 50 lbs by this fall.

"That is a good goal, but only you can hold you accountable for it," he said. "You have to have a goal and a plan, but when a plan doesn't work out, you have a Plan B. Plan A is preferable, but if you don't reach your goal with Plan A, you move on to the backup plan. This is not a threat, but it is your second-best option. You have a progressive disease and you have been here since 2008 without much improvement."

My doctor is not gruff or callous. But he is frank. Maybe you can't guess what Plan B is, but I bet most of you can. We'll talk about that another time. For now, the focus is on giving Plan A one last shot, with every form of support in my arsenal: Weight Watchers, nutritionist, therapist, running for a treadmill, weight lifting, medication. Like I told Nick earlier, this is every technique short of moving to the Biggest Loser Ranch. If Plan A doesn't work for me under these circumstances, it doesn't have a chance.

So here we are, answering the phone for the wake-up call. 239 days to lose 54.6 lbs. or else we move ahead with Plan B to save my pancreas, my heart, my nerves, my arteries, my old age.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I got a medal!

Last Sunday, Nick and I participated in the 3M relay half-marathon in Austin. He took the first leg -- 6.4 miles -- while I did the second leg -- 6.7 miles. The morning started about 6, still dark, very cold and windy. After an hour delay, the first half of the race finally started and I just had to wait for Nick to show up and tag me in. I was so far from confident.

Thankfully, Nick was faster than either of us expected, giving me a good lead time. You may remember my last race experience, the San Antonio Rock N Roll Half Marathon in November. The heart-breaking truth of that race was that I was too slow to stay ahead of the sweepers and got pushed out at mile 6. I know I didn't get any faster since then, so I was expecting the same sort of thing.

Did I mention it was pretty cold Sunday morning? Exercising in cold air tends to give me asthma. Half a mile into my leg of the race I was having an asthma attack, and everyone around me was passing me. I stopped at the portypots to call Nick and essentially tap the mat. "I'll keep going, but I have to slow down. I don't know how far I'll get." He admitted later he was disappointed in me, sure I would psych myself out.

Boy, I tried. I spent the next mile expecting my inevitable collapse to cause me great embarrassment. I thought about EMS for an inhaler, but thought that would surely get my pulled off the course. Then I hit the 8-mile mark and I looked at the clock. The race organizers had clearly mislabeled the course because the last mile had been too short! But it was warming up and my breathing was easier, so I kept moving. Then the next mile? Also much shorter than I expected! My fourth mile was the fastest mile I've ever done! EVER.

But let's be clear, I had not sprouted wings on my heels. I was struggling. A woman behind me declared that she smelled bacon cooking in the vicinity and I assured her it was just my feet sizzling. I ran and ran and ran, but it must have actually looked like a zombie shuffle.

I found myself the target of frequent encouragement from racers passing me (and there were a lot).

We got this.

Just remember you can do it.

You're almost there!

I assume I draw attention because I don't look like people who run races. I look like I need lots of extra encouragement. And that's ok, because I do need it.

I finished, and not dead last. I got my medal, a cup of water, and the final indignity of having to climb a hill to get on the shuttle bus! While the other runners on the bus chatted about their third place medals and their 20th full marathons, I begged my legs to be capable of standing when the bus stopped.

Reader's Digest version: ouch, limp, massage, slightly better, ok good.

Next challenge, a 4-mile race on Feb. 6. No problem! Intermediate challenge: Nick said after I run 100 miles I can have a treadmill!!

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