Sunday, April 10, 2016

Austin Half Marathon Shadow (In Seoul, S. Korea)

I finished my first half marathon after having a baby yesterday. The last one I did was March 2014, so almost exactly 2 years ago, right before I got pregnant.

I had some trouble in the couple long runs in the weeks before. I had some over-tightness that led to some muscle strain in my glutes and back. The longest run that I did for my training was 9 miles. I took the long run off the week before to give myself time to heal, took it pretty easy the week before, and then ran 13 miles. 

After 7 miles in, I had to slow way down due to the pain. I was frustrated because I felt like I could have gone faster cardio-wise, but when muscles are just tightening up.. 

But I was able to finish (2:10, which isn't even my worst time), get my medal, and walk most of the way home (I was walking so slow that James carried me on his back for part of the way) and I had my favorite new fan cheering me on the whole way. 

Jensen got excited and waved at me every time I passed. My husband told me he continued to wave at me after I passed him. Poor little guy probably kept wondering why I was running away from him. 

The cherry blossoms were everywhere and they were beautiful. The weather was perfect (slightly cool and dreary, but perfect for running). It was my first half marathon in Korea and outside of the States for that matter. 

My awesome husband ran around and was everywhere on the course with Jensen, taking pictures. 

So yeah. It wasn't my fastest race, but I think it will stick out as one of my favorite half marathons. You can't help but smile (even through pain) when you have such a cute little cheerleader. 

Go MOM!!!
Going to continue to work on strengthening and stretching. For now, I'm happy with my finish and my heart is full. God is good. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Best and Worst Things About Living in South Korea

Okay. We've been here over 4 months. I think I've generally gotten the feel of living here now. So here's the best and worst, as told from the perspective of a runner, new mom, and Army wife. Let's start with the worst.

The 10 Worst Things About Living in Korea

1. Produce (and other groceries). Commissaries never seem to have great produce, and this one in Korea is especially bad. It's hard for me to get off-base to go shopping, and produce in Korea just tends to be really expensive anyway. Also, you can't always find what you are looking for.

2. Air Quality. This doesn't really affect me, because I don't have any sensitivities or asthma. But everyone always talks about it and uses it as an excuse to not go outside (or take their kids outside), even if the air quality is "acceptable." Basically if the air quality dips below a certain level, everyone will judge you if you take your baby outside for a minute. Even though it's really not that big of a deal.

3. Outside building/city appearances. Koreans take great care about their personal appearances when they are out and about. They look awesome. All the time. Also, the inside of apartments, coffee shops, restaurants, malls, etc, look great. The outside, however, doesn't always look so hot. They put their trash out on the curb, sometimes not even in bags for the trash guys to come pick up every couple days. The electrical cable management looks horrendous. This is one of the reasons that I'm glad we don't live off post. Thankfully we have dumpsters on post and good cable management.

4. Walking and Personal Space. I kind of mentioned it before, because it's one of the first things that I noticed. You get less space here while walking. Sometimes when I'm walking toward someone, I literally can't move any farther to the right and I feel like I'm playing chicken with them. Then they'll just barely lean to the side and we won't hit each other, or just barely touch. Why? Why not just move to the right and give me some space? I don't get it. Also, even though they drive on the right, it doesn't seem like it's common courtesy to move to the right here while walking. Also, if you are approaching an old person, they aren't going to move. Old people always get right-of-way in Korean culture. Period. James had Jensen in the backpack carrier while ordering a coffee and one old woman just shoved the backpack (with our baby in it!) to get by, forcing James to pivot. I haven't gotten a chance to ask a Korean friend if that was actually acceptable here or just rude. Either way, it's been the most annoying culture difference for me. </rant>

5. Mail. I didn't realize how addicted I had become to 2-day shipping until we came here. We get an APO (Army Post Office) address here, which acts as a United States address, but the USPS delivers it here in Korea. Granted Amazon doesn't usually take too much longer than a week, but not everything will ship APO. I've already shipped something home just to have family ship it to me themselves. Occasionally something will ship really slow and come here on a boat, taking about 1 to 2 months. Also, James has to pick up out mail, because it's in a clearance-only building. So if I order something for him through the mail.. it's kind of not a surprise.

6.  Hourly childcare is basically non-existent on base. Usually, I guess, you can get hourly on-base childcare for relatively cheap at most bases. Here, there are only a couple "slots" for each age group. It's basically a lottery on who calls in first to reserve a spot for the following week. Basically, you have to figure out childcare on your own.

7. Distance from family. This one is kind of a gimme. It's expensive to fly home. It's a 13+ flight just to get back to the states. Kinda sucks.

8. The winters and summers are bad. I'm a midwest girl, so I thought this wouldn't bother me. The thing is.. I drove everywhere when I lived in Illinois. In Korea, if we are going anywhere off-base, we usually take the train/subway (traffic and drivers are cray in the city). That involves walking and then standing on a freezing platform waiting for the train. Also, the underground stations are just as cold as the above-ground ones. Yeah, we didn't go out a lot in the winter here. Also, I haven't experienced it yet, but apparently the summers are brutal too.

We did get some snow though and that was pretty. 
9. The language barrier. Usually, it's completely okay to not be able to speak Korean (that's one of my points below). However, sometimes it's just frustrating when someone starts talking to me and I have no idea what they are saying. Also, street food. I wish I could just be like.. hey, what is that? I don't want to accidentally eat dog. Or octopus eyeballs.

10. North Korea. Do I live here in fear? No, but it's still the elephant in the room about living in South Korea. And despite our reassurances, we have family that are afraid that we are here. This is how I feel: if the United States' government really thought that we were in danger, they wouldn't be paying to move families over here to live with our soldiers while they are stationed here. It's not cheap to move a whole family and their stuff overseas. Is that an ignorant stance? I don't think so. I still pay attention to the news. We had a choice to have Jensen and I stay behind and have James do a "unaccompanied tour" here, but we chose to stay together as a family. If you want to read more, this is a good article.

Okay, enough of the negative. Here are..

The 10 Best Things About Living in Korea

1. The cafes and restaurants. Koreans know that good pictures for Instagram and Foursquare are important for business. Decor is chic and food presentation and taste are on point. They have fantastic bakeries, cafes, and all kinds of international food in the area we live (Itaewon).  They also have themed cafes, like Hello Kitty, Audrey Hepburn, Harry Potter (this one is actually in Daegu, 2 hours away by speed train, which is the only reason I haven't gone), and more are popping up all the time.

Turkish Coffee. No big deal. 
2. The Kids Cafes. This one took us a few months to discover and I'm not sure why. But these places are amazing. They are like Chuck-E-Cheese, but actually really nice. You can sit there and watch your kid play in a ball pit or jump on a trampoline while you drink your coffee or beer or whatever. It's normally the equivalent of about $4-5 per hour.

3. The Trails. In South Korea, you can bike to and from any major city and never leave a bike trail. Okay well, I haven't personally done this but we have been told by multiple people that it's true. There's a bike shop that has some kind of little passport and you can collect  stamps at different locations around the country. These are also accompanied by pedestrian trails, so it's great for running too. They also have little convenience stores with cafes very often (as much as every kilometer) along the trail in Seoul. So you can stop as often as you want for coffee and snacks along the way.

4. Race Prices. Between my husband and I, race prices normally can really start to add up sometimes. Here, not so much. The Army MWR sponsors all the races on post. We don't spend a dime, and we get a free shirt when we finish. Also, Korean races are much cheaper as well. I am running the Seoul Nike Women's Half Marathon in May and I paid the equivalent of $24. The same race is probably over $100 in the States. Granted, it's a little harder to Google information about Korean races, since they don't always show up in English search results.

5. Cheap Public Transportation. This is an awesome thing about Seoul. We're never more than about 45 minutes away from anywhere in the city by subway/train, and it will be just a couple bucks each way. Taxis are also very cheap, although we try to avoid taking them since we don't bring Jensen's car seat around with us. If we want to visit another city, we can hop on a speed train for about $40 and get there in a couple hours. The bus system is pretty good too, but honestly you are never more than a few blocks away from a train station and it's awesome.

6. Cost of Living Allowance (COLA). We get a special allowance for living here from the Army, since living in Seoul is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. We try to be pretty thrifty about how often we go out to eat and how much we spend, so we are actually pocketing quite a bit of money here.

7. The Community. We live on base here for the first time, and we love it. We have a small group with the Chapel that is all people in our neighborhood and we potluck and study the Bible together every week. I run into people I know at the commissary almost every time I go. People I know often honk and wave at me when I go running. The feel of the community here is this very small-town island (or bubble) in the midst of living in this huge foreign city and I'm kind of loving it.

8. It's usually okay if you don't speak Korean. I'm trying to learn some basic things, but honestly, most Koreans in our area speak a little English. Most signs and menus have English as well. And if they don't, there is always Google Translate.

9. No Deployments. James is kind of already deployed while we are here. He won't go anywhere else while he's here in Korea. It's kind of like a family deployment.

10. We get to live in and experience another culture (for free). There's part of me that wishes that Jensen was just a little older, because he will likely hardly remember this place. By living here, I'll learn so much more about Korean (and other Asian) culture that I would have never learned from a book or by just visiting for a couple weeks. Forever, we'll get to tell people that we lived in Korea. As much as the cultural differences are difficult, it will make me think about things much differently once we go back home. And I'll be forever thankful that we had this opportunity.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Running After Pregnancy

Okay. I've mentioned that I wanted to dedicate a post to this and this is me finally doing it, about 13 months postpartum. Standard disclaimer: I have absolute zero medical background and this is based solely on my experience. Anyway, here's the story.

I've been a runner for approximately 12 years. Prior to pregnancy, I only had a handful of minor injuries that didn't prevent me from running for too long. Then during the pregnancy, I started getting a pain that felt like I had pulled a muscle in my groin. Turns out that thanks to the wonderful hormone called relaxin, which basically makes all your muscles relax (heh) and get looser as the baby is growing, I now have all sorts of pelvic instability issues. The major issue being that one hip got higher than the other.

Running for two at 15 weeks
I started seeing a physical therapist while I was pregnant, because I couldn't even put on a pair of pants or get in and out of my car without being in pain. Not crazy pain, just pretty uncomfortable. I would see my PT and get realigned and even feel well enough to run afterwards. This PT told me that my problems should almost immediately disappear after the baby was born. I have found out since then this was NOT correct. Apparently relaxin can hang out in your body for up to 6 months postpartum. Meanwhile, I was trying to return to running as soon as possible. Not because I thought I needed to lose weight, but because I just really love to run.

So being crooked (caddywompus as my British PT called it), and then running and putting impact on my crookedness just really made everything worse. I saw a PT once after Jensen was born and then didn't get around to seeing one until a few days ago. It's hard to make an appointment with a baby, a stay-at-home job at the time, and all that moving.

The good news is that I am a lot better now. I can comfortably run 5 miles right now and I'm training for a half marathon. I saw my regular doctor about a month ago and she literally pushed my hip back up into place. After that, I've felt much better and thought I was "fixed," but she had put in a referral for PT so I went to that appointment. Aand, I've still got problems. I'm tight in some places and not strong enough in others. I've got to continue to work on pelvic floor stuff (yawn) and this tightness I've been feeling in my upper butt is related to a weakness in my back.. all somehow related back to the pregnancy. Let me tell you, I left there with a lot of feelings. It's nice to be told the plan for how she's going to fix me, but it's also hard to hear all the things wrong with me all. at. once. And on top of everything, I've got to figure out childcare with Jensen during these sessions.

However, she didn't tell me to stop running. She even gave me a support belt to wear during runs for that lower back issue.

Did I mention I just turned 28? And this was the day after my birthday? Happy Birthday to mee.

So if you are reading this and having trouble returning to running after pregnancy or running while pregnant, this is the advice I have:

1) If you have any pain at all, just go see your doctor and get a referral to see a PT.  Particularly one who is very familiar with pelvic floor issues. I can't stress this one enough. Unless it's an injury that you've had before and that you're familiar with treating yourself, just talk to the experts. Continuing to run could just be making it worse.

2) Do pilates. I have, on and off, been doing a great post-natal pilates video by Anita Seiz on the Gaia Yoga network. I think it has really helped. It is, however, in my humble opinion, really boring to do a pilates video by yourself. I really would just rather be running, but I know it's really good for all the stuff that gets messed up from pregnancy. I'm personally going to start going to a class at the gym again.

3) Don't take this to mean you can't run during pregnancy. You absolutely can, most of the time. You just have to keep an extra eye out for injuries and do it under the guidance of a doctor. I've had three different doctors and talked to three different physical therapists now (moving and Army life for ya!) and ALL of them were supportive of running during pregnancy, baring injuries.

4) Don't compare yourself to other mamas. Some women will return to running a couple days after having a baby and will be racing again a few months after. These are not the majority. I'm here more than a year later, and still having trouble getting back into it. Every pregnancy and every woman's body is different. I just had a mom tell me that she thinks she's a stronger runner since having her baby and is running longer than she's ever run before. Maybe, eventually I'll get there too.

I sometimes regret running during the pregnancy and right after (I think I went on my first run at about 4 weeks postpartum). I think I really did make things worse. But really, the thing I did wrong is that I didn't go see a doctor.

How common is my experience? I honestly have no idea. My current physical therapist told me "very common" and that she sees it a lot. I have a hunch that some women feel some pain, but just simply live with it or stop running (or were never runners to begin with!) so they are never diagnosed. I can tell you, if I wasn't a runner, the only time I would feel any pain at all is if I'm walking all day, like when we go to a theme park or spend a day in the city. So who knows? All I know is that this is what I did/am experiencing.

So there's my story and my two cents. This past year has been my happiest in a lot of ways (becoming a mom and all that) but also been full of frustration. God is definitely teaching me some patience and humility. I am so incredibly thankful that I'm getting back to being able to do one of my favorite things without pain.

Much love,
<3 Amy