Cultivate Motivation: Long live the running log!

old logTraining Log, aka “To Run Always” log. See also: a great way to keep yourself motivated and cultivate a powerful desire to go run everyday!

This bit of motivational advice and the inspired running logs pictured are all courtesy of my creative mom! I noticed her updating her running log one morning when she was recently visiting me, and I was so taken by her brilliance and the simplicity of this idea, that I decided to use it for my blog (with her permission of course)!

Why is keeping a running log vital to keeping your training alive? Until about a year and a half ago, I had never worried about documenting my daily miles. Why bother? To me, as long as my feet hit the road once a day, the miles I decided to do were pretty arbitrary and based mostly on what my high school coach told me to do. When I started training for my first marathon and began to take speed and endurance more seriously, I would occasionally keep track of my weekly totals and made sure to include a long run and speed day each week. At the start of every new week, I would pretty much just do what I had done before. I got stuck in a rut!

Point #1: Running logs keep you from forgetting what you had done, and can keep you from getting ‘stuck’ if you can visually see that you do the same thing every week. 

track your resolutionWhen I sought out my coach to take marathon training seriously last October, one of the first things he gave me was a Nathan running log. I just finished it a few months ago (in October) and immediately bought another one….though I wish I had seen my mom’s idea first! I am not really a fan of this log style. There’s a big box labeled course and four squares next to it: time, distance, pulse, and weight. In the lined area is room for notes. Underneath the week is an area for totals.

I don’t like this setup for several reasons: I don’t use “pulse” I enter my avg. pace per mile there instead, I don’t need a box for “weight” so I leave it blank, and the “course” rectangle is not large enough for me. I have to write itty-bitty. It serves it’s purpose as my log…but I have a better solution for you, detailed below!

BUT: no matter what type of log you use, it is imperative to your improvement as a runner to keep one!

Point #2: Seeing your weekly miles accumulate creates a desire to improve, or at least maintain your efforts! Logging the stats from each run should become as cathartic and ritualistic as lacing up your running shoes. It’s even better in my opinion because you are already done with the run and it’s fun to privately revel in the day’s accomplishments! 

All serious runners and elites document the details of their training. In order to improve, you need to be able to see what you have been doing. If you run into an injury or have a bad race, detailed logs can provide reasons as to what might have happened. Perhaps you ramped up your mileage too quickly, maybe you did too many hard days back-to-back…whatever may have caused the problem, a detailed log will be helpful in identifying the culprit. Since this summer, I have been dealing with on and off hamstring pain and I always note which days my hamstrings are giving me trouble. Once a month I get a half hour massage for my hamstrings and low back (I would do this twice a month if I could afford it!) and I make a note of that in my log too.

Point #3: Reasons for bad races, injuries, or plateaus in running can be identified with a detailed training log. Conversely, training leading up to PR’s and amazing races can also be identified as what works, and duplicated!

In the end, no matter where your running takes you, a log will remind you how far you have come. It will become an object of sentimentalism and nostalgia to the future you, and will motivate you daily. No one likes to see empty boxes…so fill them with miles!

*Caution: There may come a time when you forget to listen to your body and start running solely for the mileage…do not let this happen! The running log is important, but don’t let it overrule what your body may be trying to tell you ❤ It is always better to be a little under-trained and fresh than over-trained and burnt out.

new logHow can you find the right training log for you? Make one! This is my mom’s new log, after her old one (see above) was filled. It’s a lot more personal and inspirational than the standard Nathan log that I use every day…I won’t be buying a new one of those, when I fill it I will be copying my mom’s idea instead!

She buys a regular undated daily planner and decorates it with things to motivate her. It’s like a vision board, except on the planner itself! When you log your workout, you will be reminded everyday of what your vision is for your fitness.

My mom also does something else pretty cool, besides just documenting the standard run stats like distance, time, pace, etc., she also treats her log like a mini-diary. In the monthly calendar panel, she writes the quantitative details of each run, but in the corresponding daily panels she makes a mini-diary entry with all the qualitative details. This is brilliant! By documenting what happened that day: bad meeting at work, terrible weather, kid got sick, etc., she can take note of how the day’s events might have affected her workout. If she can’t remember why Tuesday’s mileage might have been lower than it should have been, she can read her journal entry from the day to find out. A day’s worth of good or bad events, and your mood/reaction to them will most definitely affect your run performance!

Tip: Keep your runs more consistent by always running at the same time each day. Personally, I like to run first thing, early in the morning. I’m fresh, rested, and ready to roll! Afterward, I feel positive from the endorphins and ready to tackle the day. I don’t have to worry about “fitting in” my run because I have already accomplished it 🙂

personalize your log

New Year’s Revolution 2015! Veganuary (Yes, it’s what it sounds like)!

try vegan this jan

I think there are some mixed reviews about the Veganuary campaign, whose goal is to get people to go vegan for the month of January. There are some, like Bite Size Vegan on YouTube who makes a good point against going vegan for the new year, and others, like Kerry McCarpet who argues that it’s a good idea. Click their names to be linked to their videos! Both are extremely intelligent vegans and I highly recommend their channels, which only works if you think I am at least moderately intelligent…I overflowed my oatmeal this morning (for the trillionth time), so I might not be as smart as I (try) to sound….

I will proceed to address three points: what the heck Veganuary is, arguments for and against it, and my own POV (with a little freebie for one lucky-ish person 🙂 ). Prepare yourself fellow vegans and vegans-to-be!

What is Veganuary? 

“Try Vegan this January” is a month long pledge to avoid consuming animal products and go vegan. Of course, avoiding eating animals is not the entirety of what veganism is, but it is the biggest leap into veganism that one can take. You can sign up and pledge to go vegan on their website: www.veganuary.com. You can still pledge even if you are already vegan, and I urge you to do so! Movements are much more successful when they are supported by the masses, so if you are already vegan and think this doesn’t apply, think again! We need your voice! You don’t have to change a thing (if you don’t want to), just pledge.

veganuary pig

Their website provides a plethora of helpful resources for vegans-to-be and I’ve found it pretty interesting myself! I tried to put my self back into the head-space that I was in when I first went vegan, and I appreciate all the work that went into the site even more. Even 4 years ago (when I first attempted veganism, I failed the first time) compendiums of helpful resources like this did not exist on one website.

The why of veganism is addressed from multiple perspectives: health, environment, animals, and nutrition. You can search for recipes easily, either by cuisine, ingredients, or type of food like ‘pizza’ or ‘cookies’ to easily find lots of recipes in one place. I really love the eating out tab. It links you to handy ‘cuisine guides’ for Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, etc. For each cuisine there is information about what you can order as a vegan and certain things to look out for that you may not have  known about. For example, new vegans might not think to ask about fish or oyster sauce in Chinese dishes because it is not as apparent as say, a hunk of meat or an egg in their dish. A word of caution, reading the cuisine guides will leave you salivating and craving the yummy vegan dishes they describe!

They also have a products tab under which they have everything from books, DVDs, clothes, food (tons of food), household products, pet products, cosmetics, medicine, etc. All neatly categorized for the new vegan to find anything they wish! For each product there is information about what it can be used for or how it’s beneficial, nutrition facts or ingredients (if applicable), and links to websites where you can purchase the item (like Amazon). It’s not all superfoods and junk either, it’s pretty good stuff!

There is a vegan myths tab, under which there are tons of helpful Q&A’s. One of which was what my brother desperately clung to as he was grasping for straws, and reasons to eat meat: #30 “What about all the problems facing humans in the world? Shouldn’t we worry about those first before we worry about animals?” The answer was more than thoughtful, a new vegan might not realize how eating vegan will indirectly help feed starving children.

Lastly, there is a vegan people and news & blog tab. Under the people tab, you can find examples of actors, athletes, activists, and regular ol’ people…YOU ARE NOT ALONE! The news tab keeps you entertained with interesting updates, articles, tips/guides and infographics. The website is interesting, helpful, and trust me you will learn something new, even if you think you are a ‘seasoned’ vegan. (Pun intended, can you tell I’m getting hungry?)

So, why might it be a bad idea? (But ultimately, it is a GOOD idea!)

vegan new year

The argument against it is that January is a time of New Year’s Resolutions, most of which fail…so why would this resolution be any different? Unfortunately, this is a time of fad diets and quick-fix weight-loss tricks, and some are worried that going vegan for January might get mixed up in that trend. I agree, it definitely could.

I am ambivalent about resolutions, like many I believe that waiting until the new year to make a change is silly, but that doesn’t mean that January is a bad time to make a change either! There is no good or bad time, everyday is a good day to set a goal, resolve yourself to make a change, or take a pledge! Don’t let the connotation of “New Year’s Resolution” scare you away from trying something new at the beginning of a new year.

Ultimately, Veganuary is a good idea. Unlike other “awareness-raising” months which do only that, raise awareness, Veganuary provides individuals a call to action. It doesn’t make people feel powerless in the face of statistics, it emboldens them to do something! In the process of becoming vegan, the individual will learn information concerning animal cruelty and nutrition and will be better able to navigate ethical eating. (As it pertains to animals…farm worker justice is a whole different can of worms!) The website ensures that the individual has every opportunity for success by providing as many resources as possible.

Lastly, Veganuary is a good idea because even if some people decide to do it for weight-loss or as a cleanse, many more individuals will discover the health benefits of veganism and stick with it past the conclusion of January. I think that a lot of people in society have forgotten what it feels like to actually feel good. Even if the individual doesn’t embark upon the healthiest vegan diet and relies on processed vegan foods, eschewing animal products is often enough to reap dramatic health benefits if the individual was on the standard American diet beforehand.

My personal opinion….and a surprise for you!

veganuary 2015 resolutionI believe there are two hooks to veganism: some go vegan because they love animals a.k.a the ethical hook; others go “plant-based” for their health, athletic performance, or aesthetics a.k.a. the individual/health hook. In my opinion those who go plant-based for health fall into two camps. Some will stay plant-based and their abstention of animal products will not extend past their diet, these are also the people who partake in “cheat-meals” that contain animal products…they haven’t educated themselves beyond deciphering the nutrition label and haven’t peeled back the curtain of cruelty. They are merely concerned with how they look. I think there are very few who stay this way, these people usually fall off the vegan wagon because they always feel deprived.

The rest of the people who begin as plant-based will continue to educate themselves, watch documentaries and realize the ethics behind the vegan lifestyle. They may start off only concerned with how they look or feel, but they will stay vegan because they have seen the suffering of the animals raised for food or clothes, and they empathize. These people can feel the pain of the animals and can see how the effects of eating meat ripple outward in violence, poverty, environmental destruction and starvation. These people stay vegan not only because they feel good, but because they don’t feel deprived…they feel satiated both by the food and the knowledge that they are doing good for the planet.

All it takes is for the individual to simply give veganism a try. So in that sense, the more people who “try vegan this January”, the better!

2015-01-05 16.31.45And now…..Before you think my brother is all bad, he did get me a gigantic vegan cookbook for Christmas. So at least he tried to find a vegan thing for me, and I appreciate the thought! But I don’t cook, like ever. So I am pretty confident I will never use it, I haven’t even cracked it open yet. So I am giving it away, I will mail it to whomever I feel leaves the most detailed reason in the comments below, or emails me at sushitomismith@gmail.com with the reason why they would like this book! Whoever I feel wants/needs it the most based on their comment or email will receive it 🙂

I just want to find it a good home ❤

SMART Goals: Settle for Good, Get Great or Chase Perfection?

smart goals

I think modern consumerism has gone and shot itself in the foot this time. All our resolutions (or regular ol’ goals) are still fresh and fulfilled, we’re not even a week into January yet, but my local grocery store already has hearty (heart-‘y’! I seize the opportunity to make bad puns when I can 🙂 ) displays of chocolates, Valentines, and balloon hearts to smack us all in the face when we enter the store! Not that I am anti-love, but I guess the candy companies and Hallmark didn’t realize that the diet/weight-loss industry and gym chains are trying to capitalize on the idea of the “fresh start”. I don’t think candy and chocolates go together with the typical resolution to “lose weight”. Careful now junk food industry, don’t make the weight-loss industry mad!

Okay…this was not intended to be a rant, just thought I’d poke some fun before we got into the serious stuff! Resolutions, goals, or just Tuesday’s ‘to-do’ list, how SMART are you about accomplishing them? (Don’t get offended, I know you are all plenty smart…but it’s a clever acronym that you may have heard before, and that I really like!) I learned S.M.A.R.T. in high school once, and it has actually stuck with me, unlike some other useless word play designed to get me to critically think, etc.

smarter goalsI challenge you to use SMART to tackle a goal, small or big and be amazed! I actually prefer this (left) acronym even more as it includes “ethical” and “reasonable”! Never settle for just SMART when you could be SMARTER (or good when you can be great, but I am getting to that.)

My goals for 2015 are this:

  1. Bed by 9-10pm (10 at the latest): 8-9 solid hours of sleep each night.
  2. Keep my diet clean, comprised of whole foods. Low fat, all natural. Eat enough to fuel my running. *No hard alcohol, 1-2 drinks max. (Reinforced from New Years Eve)
  3. Run a 2:43 marathon! Subgoals: keep running 90 mile weeks, stay injury free, and make one of my runs my “long run”.

Basically, I want to keep doing what I have been doing, but better. Eat clean, recover well, and run more! Each of these goals are specific because I know exactly what I want, for example “bed by 10pm”. There’s nothing vague about that. “Get fit” or “eat healthier” are good examples of what not to do. My second goal concerning diet could be interpreted as vague, but I know what I mean by all natural, and it’s based on how I have documented my eating previously on my blog.

My goals are measurable, I can measure amounts of drinks, I can measure miles, I can “measure” a whole food vs. a packaged food. Are they achievable? Depends. I can control my sleep, my diet, and how many miles I run a week….but I can’t control all the factors concerning the marathon. I can only do my best to set myself up to succeed. I do think it’s realistic based on my training and previous performance.Measuring_the_Infinite

My goals are also realistic in the context of my lifestyle. I have the resources and time to eat well, run, and get to sleep on time. I know there are many people who find it a lot harder, but those people need to weigh their priorities and their “perceived” resources against what they can actually do. Don’t use lack of time as an excuse, the same goes for having a family (they need you to take care of YOU too!), or not having enough money to be healthy. If it is important to you, you will find a way. By realistic, I mean don’t attempt a marathon if you’ve never ran before. Try a half, or resolve to run 5 days a week no matter what. No climber attempts Everest as their first summit!

perfect-enemy-goodMy goals are timely or time-bound, exempting the diet goal. Diet is tricky, because unless you are on a “get-slim-quick-2-week-cleanse” (don’t do it!) diet should not have an endpoint. Diet is the foundation of the other goals you set for yourself. It comes naturally in the process of achieving the other goals that are time-bound. My marathon is a time-bound goal because I committed myself to running the LA Marathon in mid-March. So I have 2.5 months remaining to keep logging 90mi weeks and get my longest run up to where it needs to be. As the date draws closer, you had better believe my sleep and diet will be as fine-tuned and on-point as I can get it so that I can run a 2:43 marathon.

My goals are ethical my diet is vegan, and running a lot doesn’t hurt anyone 🙂 I urge you, if you are considering a dietary change this year, go vegan! It’s the best thing you can do to set yourself up for success! You also withdraw your vote of approval from inhumane factory farming practices and animal cruelty. Instead, you free up valuable resources like water and land for starving children who go without because the animals are using it instead. (Don’t worry, the animals won’t starve….instead the intense and unnatural breeding processes will diminish as consumer demand does! Farmers won’t lose their jobs either, they’ll just farm plant foods instead!)

I’ll be doing a  post on Veganuary soon, but if you want to get started now I urge you to check out their supportive website and make a pledge to go Vegan this January!

Anyway, back to ethics! *I’m skipping reasonable I think it’s a tad redundant after discussing realistic and achievable. Don’t hurt anyone or anything, including yourself ❤ ! This segues into my next point about good vs. great and great vs. perfect.

32fdbd0eac41e2e876006ffb317d355cI think most people by now are pretty aware that “perfect” is an illusion. No one is perfect. For example, it might appear that I always have a healthy diet and I always run well…but of course I don’t! New Year’s Eve is a great example, I drank way too much and consequently ran like crud the next morning. I still ran the miles I was supposed to, but let me tell you…it was not pretty! But the reason we fail or make mistakes is for us to learn what not to do! I needed a firm reminder as to why I don’t really drink or party, and I got it. As long as you learn and don’t make the mistake again, then don’t beat yourself up over it. An important note, “mistakes” should only be made once…after that, they are not mistakes, it’s just you deciding against what you know is right.

There is no perfect. But there is always better. If you are good, there is always great. Don’t settle for good because it is comfortable. Being good is a comfort zone, it’s where you can hold your head up high but not feel challenged at all. You’ll never grow either. Strive to get better always, that’s where the growth happens. That’s where character is built, self-awareness is gained and boundaries are tested.

I urge you to always keep growing and striving to master your craft, hobby, and passion. Even if you think resolutions are ridiculous, you can always make goals. No one is ever done learning, there’s always room for improvement.

How can you be a better friend, family member, community contributer, runner, skier, writer, painter today more than yesterday? Write it down, tell your friends, or register for the event.

Go get it!

#VeganBloodTest Results+ Dangers of supplementation!

vegan blood test

I recently stumbled into an opportunity to take a blood test…and I got the results! This is as exciting for me as hopefully I can make it sound for you! And…medical test results seems to be the only type of evidence that is valid in “meat-eater” court. So, the jury is in….and the verdict is, ummm, interesting. 

feeling-so-special-veganFirst, how did I accidentally get a blood test?

Without going into too many private details, I made an appointment at a women’s health clinic for a routine-ish OB-GYN check-up. I’ve never had a OB-GYN appointment before (hence ‘routine-ish’), and to answer some personal questions I had about my reproduction as well as screen for STI/STDs I had my blood drawn. Since they were already drawing my blood, I decided to ask them to expand the blood test to include a full metabolic panel and I specifically asked for B12 levels as well, mentioning that I was a vegan and was concerned about this vitamin in particular. If you are familiar with the high carb vegan community on YouTube you know that B12 and supplementation is a hot topic! (I am too familiar, translation: I have no life.)

I definitely hadn’t prepared to have a blood test that day which is both good and bad. I’ve detailed before how much I despise shady scientific and medical practices, one of which is not disclosing all the information. So, in being consistent with my message- full transparency! The “good” is that the blood test results are a true snapshot of my health. I didn’t change anything beforehand to try to manipulate my blood levels because I had no advance warning to prepare. The “bad” is that since I didn’t know about the test, I did not fast beforehand which is recommended by healthcare providers to ensure accurate results, specifically for triglyceride, cholesterol, and glucose levels. So I apologize that my results may not be 100% because by 3pm of my test, I had breakfast at 10am and lunch at around 1pm. But, not fasting beforehand doesn’t transform terrible results into good results…in specific cases it does make a difference, but in general if all your levels are looking good then you are most likely in good shape!

rabbit food

Now getting to the results! I actually got  detailed voicemail message from my doctor and she specifically mentioned certain things to note that aren’t readily apparent from the paper results.

The long story short is that everything is normal! Woohoo 🙂 Except for one thing! Can you guess what that might be??? Hint: Everyone asks you about it when they find out you are vegan…Actually, that might not be too helpful! To narrow it down a little, my calcium, iron and protein levels were all in good shape!

Yup, it’s B12…but it’s not what you think!

My B12 levels were actually way too high. Like astronomically, off-the-charts high. My provider said they were almost twice what they should be, normal is between 211-911. I was 1,618 pg/mL. Oops. I was extremely relieved to not be deficient, and it’s no mystery to me how this occurred. I’ve mentioned in my “What I Eat Wednesday” posts that I supplement (responsibly, or so I thought) with a sub-lingual, vegan B12 every morning.

b12

Specifically this exact one from Nature’s Bounty, which is the cheapest vegan B12 that I can buy from my local Safeway. I had assumed since this was a sub-lingual versus a shot, and since it is cyanocobalamin which is not as easily assimilated in your body as the better form, methylcobalamin (out of my price range), it would not be a risk to take one per day (as recommended). My thoughts were that besides not being as easily absorbed by my body, and being a water soluble vitamin, if I did accidentally and improbably take too much, I would excrete it. Unfortunately, B12 is stored in your body and not excreted as readily as vitamin C (for example). Fortunately, ridiculously high levels like I currently have have not been found to be harmful or toxic. Phew! But before you ask, I have stopped taking my B12!

I have one more surprising result for you all…

Potassium! My levels are actually low, which is ironic considering that I spent the months of April-June experimenting with a “Rawtill4” high carb vegan lifestyle that advocates eating 20-30 bananas a day! And yes, I was actually consuming 10-12 banana smoothies for breakfast and sometimes lunch! Another reason this was unexpected is because I consume copious amounts of sweet potatoes everyday…usually two pounds worth and sweet potatoes are a richer source of potassium than bananas!

love hate banana

It’s not as clear to me why I have low potassium as it is that I have high B12. But I have some theories…

For starters, I used to be extremely bulimic, I spent about three years hardcore throwing up maybe 15 times a day, almost everyday. The cessation of my purging wasn’t terribly long ago, and so it could be that my body is just trying to recoup. When you throw up a lot you cause your electrolytes to become unbalanced due to all the fluid loss, the same happens with excessive sweating or diarrhea. When I was going to the student health center at Oregon State University for help, I had my potassium levels checked and they were low then. I was given a prescription for potassium chloride (which I did not take because I thought they might have calories and I didn’t care enough to get better, I wanted to die not take something to improve my health).

Even though I am healthy now (and have the blood test results to prove it!) I still might have a hard time keeping my body’s potassium in proper balance because of all the running that I do. While I am not a heavy sweater, highly active people still lose more electrolytes that normal and so this might explain why I have a hard time keeping up my body’s needs through diet especially because right now because I am not ingesting any performance drinks or gels during my current phase of training. I don’t like to make that a regular habit anyway! My chloride was also a little low, but potassium and chloride work together in the body, that’s why I was prescribed a potassium-chloride supplement..so if one is low it makes sense the other might be too…just like calcium requires Vitamin D! It’s always a better solution to get your vitamins and minerals from whole food, plant sources, not through supplementation! Supplements isolate specific nutrients that can create toxic buildup or imbalances within the body at worst, and at best are just a waste of money if you aren’t consuming other nutrients to allow for proper absorption of the supplement. For more on how this reductionist scientific thinking creates harmful medical practices and flawed scientific study designs, I suggest reading T. Colin Campbell’s book Whole. But before I get off on too much of a tangent…

Here are the important bits! My results thus far, I’ve been a vegan for 2 years solid:

2015-01-02 10.31.33

2015-01-02 10.32.08

Here’s to entering the new year happy  and healthy! May your resolutions be made responsibly (of course I’ll be doing a post about that)!

I’ll leave you with this fun video about rice and beans 🙂 Happy 2015!

Tattoo tour contd: How tattoos help me heal

2014-12-28 13.07.47I’ve saved the best for last! And conveniently, the tattoos I’ve received since I moved to Portland last summer 2013. There are only two, but each are the most interesting in my opinion! Again, mom…if you are reading this, I’m sorry! I know you don’t like my tattoos…(because she thinks I am perfect the way I am 🙂 ) But maybe now you and my other readers might have more insight as to why I am addicted! And no, I will never regret them!

Excuse my lame flexing, but at least the picture to the left gives more context to the size and placement of some of my tattoos! Otherwise I would have to note “not actual size, enlarged to show texture” under the tattoo pictures (I’m attempting humor, lol).

My first tattoo in Portland was Ganesh (or Ganpati) the Hindu half-elephant-half-boy god on my left forearm. I got this tattoo to commemorate my month-long stay in India in early 2013. (Read this post for more about an amazing half-marathon I ran in Goa where I met a man who said he loved me ❤ ) I traveled to India with the Portland New Generations Rotary Club for two weeks, and then solo for the next two weeks, it was the most amazing experience I have had to date. I can not remember ever being that blissfully happy for such a continuous stretch of time, and it was the catalyst I needed to begin digging myself out of my depression and make some changes in my life when I returned home.

ganesh draw

Above is a drawing of a sleepy-eyed Ganesh that I showed my tattoo artist, Xavier at Black Hole Body Piercing & Tattoo in Portland, OR. There are as many variations of Ganesh as there are Hindu gods, and it was important to me to have a more classic image. I wanted to include a lotus design at the bottom as well as the traditionally depicted alms bowl and mouse, which is the animal vehicle of the god Ganesh. When I was in India I had several people teelephant campll me the story of Ganesh. I also learned that he is known as the “gatekeeper god” because most Hindu families will pray to him first before praying to their main deity.

In addition, elephants are my favorite animal…and I had a lot of fun meeting elephants in India (I also had elephants on that shirt I am wearing!). In retrospect, I hope they were treated correctly at these tourist sites 😦 The part of me that fondly remembers the experience hopes the elephants were happy, but the logical and more cynical part of me knows otherwise…

In the top and bottom right corners (of the drawing above) there are a few chalk designs that I incorporated into the tattoo design. The top one is actually tattooed directly onto my elbow…that was a weird feeling! The chalk designs are special because in India, traditionally it is a practice that every morning an individual from every household draws a chalk design on the ground in front of the door to signify that the people in the house are okay. If you are walking by a house with no design out front, then you have a reason to be concerned and should check on the well-being of the people in the house! These designs were a few of the ones outside my host family’s house.

So far, my Ganesh tattoo has required 3 three hour long sittings, and is still unfinished! The picture (left) shows my arm pre-tattoo…and covered with some henna that I got in Jaipur. The picture (below) is how the tattoo looks so far, the lighting is not the best…I’ll never be a food photographer!

hennaIn person this is a beautiful tattoo! There are so many little details, and the colors are amazing! The jewels, especially in the crown contain lots of little highlights that really make everything pop. The tattoo goes all the way around my arm, Ganesh’s 4 arms are in traditional mudras and he also holds a lotus flower and hatchet, commonly depicted with Ganesh. The unfinished part is at the bottom near my wrist, it probably requires another hour and a half to two hours, and a couple hundred more dollars. I definitely need to have it finished, I’m not the type of person who is okay with uncompleted projects…I need to see things through to the end! But for now it doesn’t look too bad. It celebrates the amazing adventure I had in India, and all the wonderful people I met and the friends who helped me make it happen…

ganesh tattooThere is also one more very significant reason that  chose to cover up my left arm. I mentioned that going to India helped change my life, and here’s why: Pre-India, I had been in Corvallis for a couple of years going to school and I was deeply darkly depressed. I failed a couple of classes because sometimes I just didn’t have the willpower to leave my apartment. For awhile I lived alone, and trust me, that just made things worse. I would binge and purge, and then I would cut because I hated myself for binging and purging, failing school, lying to people and my mom on the phone (I was not doing well…but I lied and made everything seem okay). I hated myself for not running, not having friends, and for binge drinking with people I didn’t even like just to feel accepted and less alone. I did want to die…but I didn’t want to do it myself. I wished that my heart would explode (or esophagus would rupture) from all the purging. I would fall asleep at night and wish to not wake up. On days when I never left my apartment and spoke to no one, I felt worthless and disposable. No one would miss me if I were gone. I just hated the thought of wasting everyone’s time and money with my death. If only my mom and a few others didn’t care about me, then I could kill myself guilt-free. But I didn’t, I felt like a coward, instead I just cut…a leftover habit that began when I was thirteen and then went dormant during my anorexia, only to re-emerge because I never dealt with anything. Because I am right-handed, the majority of my scars were on my left arm. The ladder-rung appearance of self-harm scars are pretty identifiable, and I felt embarrassed and stupid anytime someone asked me what happened. I lied with the stereotypical, “my cat did it” (the last year I lived in Corvallis, I lived with a roommate who did have a cat).

Post-India I began making changes. Galvanized by the experience, I kept volunteering in Corvallis and really tried to stay healthy (I had regained energy and some weight in India). I decided to move to Portland with my (not) family from Corvallis for the summer a few months later and I got a job, met some people and felt so much happier that I transferred to Portland State University and made the move permanent. That same summer I got my Ganesh tattoo.

My experience at Black Hole was awesome, the artist was really cool! The first time I went to get the lines done for Ganesh, he gave me a used bike to help me get around Portland when I told him I was new to the area! How Portland and friendly is that?

gazelle sketch

This is my latest tattoo, I just got it this summer. And, it’s running related! I knew you were wondering why I didn’t have any running tattoos 🙂 I got this tattoo at Hawthorne Ink by Memo. It took two sittings about three hours each, plus a touch up sitting. But, this by far is the best looking quality I have received for the lowest price. I know price shouldn’t be a factor, but I was pleasantly surprised by the cost so I thought I would mention it!

2014-12-28 13.06.30This tattoo also helped me deal with a (slightly) traumatic ordeal. One week after my Newport Marathon finish, I injured my hamstring. This was the first time I had ever been significantly injured, I literally could not run for a couple of weeks. After that, I could still only hobble a few slow, painful, and wary miles for another month. I had to seek physical therapy…and I realized that being a runner comprised about 95% of who I am (I know that is not healthy). If you have any running friends, you know we get a little crazy when we can’t run…and I felt myself sinking back into my depressed place. Without running, it’s hard for me to continue to wake up early, eat healthfully and take care of myself…it’s hard to stay motivated, my mind would ask me, “What’s the point?” At first I was an over-zealous injured runner trying to recover…but that zeal left when I didn’t see results. I kept plugging along….and got this tattoo as well.

When I was in high school, my coach was fond of this African proverb. Even though I wasn’t fond of my coach, the proverb has stuck with me and I can recite it almost verbatim:

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I identify more with the gazelle…I’m not a meat-eating killer, king of the jungle. I’m introverted, shy, and am happy to work in symbiosis with mother nature. I detailed my vision of a portrait of a gazelle, framed by foliage and backed by a huge, rising sun to my artist. We also included lion paw prints to symbolize the lion. And I tattooed it on my chest. As you can see, it came out beautifully.

Running is my heartbeat.

Happy Birthday Tattoo Tour!

2014-10-18 13.17.43

So how many tattoos do I really have? Why did I get them? Do they have a meaning? Here’s where I do a little sharing: I’m 21 years old and I got my first tattoo for my 17th birthday (thanks mom!) I’ve been addicted to tattoos ever since!

It’s almost my 22nd birthday (January 1st!) so it’s an appropriate time to share the milestones that my tattoos commemorate considering my first one was a birthday gift. Actually, when I was 16 I harassed, pleaded, cajoled and begged my mom for a tattoo that year…and she did say yes, until the day before when she (as a responsible parent) changed her mind. I think I got my first laptop that year as a gift instead (a Dell mini which survived 5 years of abuse and multiple college papers). But I was pretty crushed that my mom reneged on her permission, and the following year I wheedled again…this time she relented, reasoning that when I was 18 I would get a tattoo anyway so what difference does a year make? (A lot.) I also paid for my tattoo…the gift itself was my mom’s presence and approval in the tattoo shop.

In order, my first tattoo was the phoenix to the left of the sun, moon, and stars. In hindsight, this tattoo shop (I can’t remember the name) was pretty sketchy. First off, I was a walk in appointment, the artist made my mom and I wait for almost two hours while he drew it, I had brought in my own rudimentary sketch. While we were waiting, my mom grew more and more tense, I remember sensing the anxiety coming off her in waves…it was palpable. But I finally got my tattoo! It wasn’t as painful as I had prepared myself for, in my opinion the back and shoulders are the least painful places to get tattooed. However, as my artist was working his buddies were busy bringing bags of betel nut (aka Areca nut) into the shop and drinking. When the tattoo was finished I wasn’t given any aftercare instructions and was charged a measly $50 (very cheap). My mom was really happy to get out of there.

I chose a phoenix because of it’s symbolization of rebirth, I was a pretty depressed and angst-y (and eating disordered teen) so it made sense at the time. I also included a cross and a banner that read Habakkuk 3:19, citing a passage from the Christian Bible that reads, “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” I chose this because I had read about a rugby player who wrote the chapter and verse ‘Habakkuk 3:19’ on his cleats before games to invoke strength and speed. I hearkened it to running, and so sought solace in this verse.

The quality of this tattoo is not satisfactory, you might notice how light the lines are compared to the sun and moon next to it. It’s not a good tattoo, but I like it because it was my first.

sun and moon tattooLittle did my mom know of the consequences of her decision to let me get a tattoo at 17. Much like my ear piercings (I have 8 on each ear) once she said yes to one she could never say no again! But before I got the sun and moon and stars (my second tattoo) I did way more research. I went to Low Tide and presented my design to the artist, one guy who lived/owned a small studio over a bar in Tumon (Guam) on Hotel Row. I scheduled an appointment for later and gave him time to professionally draw it out. This time I also opted for color, though I was pretty scared of looking like someone had taken a neon sharpie to my skin. It was a 3 hour sitting and ended up being $300. I’m a gypsy at heart, and I’ve always loved sun and moon designs. My mom never stuck around to watch any more of my tattoos after the first one. I think the needles, ink, and blood (yes, blood!) grosses her out a bit!

OM tattooThe OM was my next tattoo, and I was so happy with my experience at Low Tide that I went back there again for this one and my next one. From my first tattoo to my koi fish tattoo, I got them all within the span of a year! For awhile I became enamored with eastern religions and so I got this tattoo, the main symbol is an OM which is a mystical sound found in Hinduism and Buddhism, it is the sound of the universe. It is also one of the most beautiful designed I have inked and is a representation of a lotus, a beautiful flower that comes from mud. The Tibetan Sanskrit script above supposedly reads, “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ” which doesn’t have a direct English translation though some sources translate it into ‘the jewel in the lotus’. I know it is commonly chanted when monks spin the prayer wheel and send the vibes (?) out into the universe. I was fascinated with the premise that everything was impermanent, and the Buddhist religion of letting go in order to have more capacity to care about others and do better to be reborn as a higher entity on the path to enlightenment. And yes, I recognized the paradox of getting a permanent reminder tattooed in my skin to reinforce the concept of impermanence! 

koi fish tattooMy koi fish was my last tattoo at Low Tide, and was my last tattoo at 17. By this time, my artist and I had a great repertoire and I was sad to be moving away. Finding an artist that does good work definitely helps put to rest the nervousness that accompanies permanent ink. I chose a koi fish because I wanted a tattoo that represented the Japanese/Asian culture because I am half-Japanese! I only chose to have the cherry blossoms colored and left the rest simple with a little shading. This was, by far, the most painful tattoo I have gotten to date. But I sat through it like a champ, I can usually tolerate up to three hour sittings and I never cry!

this too shall pass tattooMy next set of tattoos were inked in Corvallis, the college town of Oregon State University. Located right off campus, High Priestess Piercing & Tattoo is the place for newly autonomous young adults to make irreparable decisions 🙂

I was often in a dark and depressed place in Corvallis, and my tattoo decisions reflect a lot of my mental state at the time. The fact that I managed to scrounge up money for tattoos while I was broke also makes clear my issues with money management. But, I love tattoos. In my opinion, there are only a few permanent things in life that money can buy: education, travel, & tattoos. With each of these comes experiences and knowledge that no one can take away from you! Very few things in life are as enduring. I chose to have “This too shall pass” tattooed on my collarbone to remind myself that the depression I felt would not last forever.

spanish tattoos

The next few tattoos at High Priestess were all of Mexican culture, done in a traditional style design. The Calavera or sugar skull, which is part of the tradition of Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico is done on my left shoulder. This tattoo was my reward for completing my first trail run 50k. I felt like a bad-ass, and I wanted a representation of that. The most kick-ass thing I could think of was a skull and crossbones….except that I am very much not a skull and crossbones type person. So I got a sugar skull instead, this was actually a lot of fun to choose because sugar skull designs allow for a lot of creativity!

The other two are a pair, and are especially beautiful. To the left is a moth, the banner reads “muerte”, or death in Spanish. Moths are nocturnal creatures and so symbolize the darkness of night that comes with death. They are also dusty, grey and papery…like ghosts. In the middle is a bee (not a butterfly!), bees symbolize life because they are “busy bees”! The banner reads “vida” or life in Spanish. The delicate face on the bees midsection is so perfect in person, especially because it is only about an inch long in real-life!

wrist rose tattooMy last tattoos in Corvallis were a rose on each wrist. I only have one pictured here, even though they aren’t the exact same on each side but the other one has gotten engulfed in my Ganesh tattoo on the other forearm. I got these because (and I haven’t mentioned this much, but I will in the continuation of this post) I used to self-harm a lot…having red roses on my wrist still gave me the gothic visual of blood red on the inside of my pale wrists, but without the harm to myself. I think that this tattoo symbolizes my desire to harm myself, but my ultimate victory over negative actions. I guess I choose life.

Many more tattoos to come! Because I want to articulate the story behind each one, this tour is going to be divided into two parts…that way I don’t exhaust you all! If any of you have questions about tattoos, feel free to ask in the comments!

New Year, New Me (academically)!

how life is supposed to beMy life update: I graduated from college! I’ve earned the right to update my short bio widget on the sidebar to say “Currently, I hold a 2:53:30 marathon PR and a Bachelor’s of Science in Community Health Education.”

Fall term 2014 ended on December 12th and it’s officially noted on my transcript (unofficial screenshot below) that I was awarded my degree the next day from Portland State University, specifically the college of Urban & Public Affairs. I even went out with a bang, and made the Dean’s list for my final term…I used to be an over-achiever! (I was my high school salutatorian and graduated in 3 years.) But still, my first 2 years in college weren’t stellar, I believe I received two ‘F’s and too many ‘D’s and ‘C’s to count before I transferred to PSU from Oregon State University.

Incredibly, it’s been exactly four years since I began college. I was admitted to OSU for the Winter term starting January in 2011, and now I have finished in December 2014. But guess what I am starting next? There’s no rest for the weary, and I was officially accepted into the Graduate School of Education’s Graduate Certificate in Addictions Counseling program at PSU last week…school starts like it never ended, the first day of Winter term 2015 is January 5th.

degree

To be clear, it’s not a Master’s program, but I am applying for the Grad School of Ed.’s Master’s in Counseling program with the hopes of beginning in Fall 2015. I will have to choose a specific track, and currently I am leaning towards Marriage, Couple and Family counseling to become a licensed LMFT. I will be able to complete both the grad certificate and the Master’s degree at the same time, and it’s designed to take three years.

Where will I be in three years? What do I want to be doing? I don’t know. Four years ago I had just moved to Oregon and when I reflect upon all the things that happened between then and now, there’s no way I could have predicted where I am now and all that brought me here. It’s true, but worth saying again: Life is unpredictable. I have also heard, and find this to be true: People are very bad at knowing what they want.

things will work out quoteI believe both. In the past 4 years I’ve come close to suicide and been depressed; lived in hovels and homes and moved multiple times; met amateur drug dealers, a homeless teen mom, and the most wonderful family who saved me; attended counseling, group therapy, and saw a psychiatrist without my parent’s knowledge; tried drugs, got blackout drunk too many times, and ended up with alcohol poisoning in the ER with a hefty fine and a court summons from that ill-fated night; almost moved to Hawaii; almost lost my marbles and went insane…at least that’s how it felt. I over drafted my first bank account, I had my first credit card debt turned over to collectors…I made too many bad decisions. I had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow, good things happened too. I went to India for a month, I moved to Portland, I met people who cared about me and my running. I made better choices, I learned a lot. And now I’ve graduated, I’m running 80+ miles a week on a healthy, whole foods vegan diet chasing the qualifying time to the 2016 Olympic marathon trials. I’m going to grad school!

Am I a good person? Or a bad person? I don’t know. Have I been “successful”? That depends…

There will be new experiences, opportunities and obstacles in 2015. I don’t know what will happen, but I can handle anything. So bring it on. Below is my personal statement essay that I needed to include in my application to the addictions counseling program: (I’m verbose…and the 500 word limit was a challenge!)

sinner-pastGraduate Certificate in Addictions Counseling: Personal Statement

I lived through addiction and managed to climb out of the dark hole alive and in one piece. Now I have a moral imperative to help others avoid the same suffering. From adolescence, I would read autobiographical accounts of addiction and mental health journeys of others. I understood that every individual’s circumstances surrounding their addiction was different, and I needed to read them all. In my late teens, I suffered from an eating disorder. I was addicted to food: I isolated and daily activities became impossible. I became a person I hated: a liar, a thief, depressed, angry, guilty, and suicidal. I sought counseling and treatment for my problems, and now that I am recovered I know I need to help others avoid the crippling grip of addiction.

My early exploration of human experiences via literature and my history with food led me to study health. I will receive a BS in Community Health Education by the end of Fall term 2014 from Portland State University. My health education and personal recovery journey have taught me of the important connection between the mind and body in health. Physical and mental/emotional health are inextricably intertwined, but I have education in only one side of the coin. I know that true health cannot be achieved without understanding of both. I want to help others achieve total well-being. To fulfill this goal, I need to learn about the other side of the coin, mental health.

My life’s purpose has evolved as I’ve sought to be of service to others. During my disorder, my dominant feelings were of guilt and worthlessness. I believed that I was a waste of space and so my desire to refute those feelings through service to others bloomed. I wanted to be useful. I volunteered with Portland’s New Generations Rotary Club, at Oregon State University, and at a low-income childcare center in Corvallis. Recently I interned at Friends of the Children, a life changing mentoring organization serving children which was founded by Duncan Campbell, whose childhood was characterized by alcoholic parents. Duncan’s childhood motivated him to help at-risk children with experiences similar to his own. Like Duncan, my experiences have left me with no choice but to help others avoid the same pain and misery that I know addictions can bring.never-be-afraid-to-fall-apart-rae-smith

I would be an effective addictions counselor because of my personal experience and my health education background, to better understand the physiological components of addiction that accompany the mental and emotional aspects. I know I can relate and inspire sufferers to overcome their addictions. Mirroring my philosophy about physical health, I believe in self-empowerment. Self-work is imperative to total well-being of the mind and body. It’s a lifelong process, not an end. I will be there for anyone who has made the decision to get help. It is my calling to help others get better and get healthy.

A New Year, A New Me? 

Every day is a new day and I am an accumulation of all of them! Stay tuned for a post about my blood test results! You will be in for a surprise… 😦 or 🙂 ???