Let’s Talk About Dairy

As we enter the second week of training, I really want everyone to know why Farm Sanctuary is so important to me and why organizations such as this one need to exist.  There are so many aspects of animal agriculture and factory farming that are kept in the dark – and for good reason.  Paul McCartney once said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian.”  Well, as true as that was, he did not take into account the dairy industry.

So let’s talk about dairy – the milk in your cereal, the creamer in your coffee, the cheese you can’t live without.  It’s just a natural occurrence, right?  There is no harm in taking a little milk for ourselves… right??

Wrong.

Day by day, the the truth about the dairy industry is inching its way into public view; in fact, a popular cafe in London – one that was reportedly ranked one of the best in the city – recently announced they will no longer serve cow’s milk.  Surprising consumers, The Fields Beneath Cafe posted the following sign:

dairyscaryThe sign reads:

“LAST WEEK OF COW’S MILK

This is the last week we shall be buying, steaming and pouring cow’s milk into our espressos. We have the following alternatives:

OAT, ALMOND & SOY

OAT milk will be charged at the same price as cow’s milk, the others at 30p more as we’ve always done.

For three days from Friday this poster will be replaced with one explaining why. If you’re not going to be here for it, search on YouTube for the following five minute video:

“DAIRY IS SCARY”

We didn’t think it was either.”

The video that sparked such drastic change can be found here.

The 2015 YouTube video has been viewed more than 1.6 million times and explains the horrors of the dairy industry in 5 minutes. For those who are still with me and want the cliffnotes, here are some highlights:

  • Like humans, female cows only lactate when they need to feed their newborn.  In other words, a cow must be pregnant and give birth.  The dairy industry takes it upon themselves to gather sperm from bulls (I’ll leave the details to you, but that part is not much different from humans, either) and then insert it into the cows with their hands or a rod while the cows are confined in a “rape rack” – and yes, that is an industry term. These cows carry their babies and give birth only to have their offspring taken away within days – sometimes even hours. Males are typically sold and killed for veal since they cannot produce milk and therefore have little value in the industry, and females get to live like their mothers – confined and regularly impregnated by very unnatural means that wreak havoc on their bodies.
  • Mastitis – an infection of the udder – is so common on dairy farms that blood and pus regularly find their way into milk even after it is filtered.  This is so common, in fact, that there are actually regulations as to how many somatic cells are legally allowed into the finished product.  While these amounts differ around the world, the number in the United States is 750,000 somatic cells per milliliter.  That’s a lot of pus in each cup of milk.
  • After about 4 or 5 years of continuous milk production, cows who can no longer produce milk (called “downers”) are then slaughtered for beef.  What a life, huh?  Constant sexual exploitation, confinement, being treated as a commodity rather than a living, sentient being until their bodies literally give out.  Not to mention that the average life span of a cow is about 20-25 years and NOT  4-5 years.

The fact is that humans do not need cow’s milk any more than they need dog milk or rat milk, and data shows that the majority of the adult population is lactose intolerant anyway.  We do not need milk after infancy and our bodies are trying to tell us that.

Farm Sanctuary is home to many cows who were saved from the dairy industry – like Honey, who is living with her calf, Meredith. It is so rare that a dairy cow and her calf stay together, which is heartbreaking because cows are emotional beings who form bonds with their calves the same way human mothers form bonds with their children.  Without Farm Sanctuary, who knows where Honey and Meredith would be today.

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Please look further into this issue, as well as the atrocities of other aspects of factory farming, and donate to my triathlon fundraiser to help Farm Sanctuary: https://give.everydayhero.com/us/tri-ing-4-animals

Your donation will go a long way in helping Farm Sanctuary continue to provide  care, shelter, education about, and advocacy for animals who desperately need help.

 

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Guess Who’s Back?

Well, it’s been quite the hiatus but I am back and ready to train.  The wrist is fully healed, my legs are nice and rested, and I am antsy for another go in the Hudson.  Consider this my formal promise – in writing, no less – that I will be swimming, biking, and running (crawling?) my way to another New York City Triathlon finish line in July.  And you all get first row seats to my training!  (Sorry – I’m not sure what contest you lost, but I’ve seen worse consolation prizes 😉 )

This year will be a little different.  While Team in Training remains an organization that is very near and dear to me, I will now be fundraising  for Farm Sanctuary.  As stated on their website: “We rescue, rehabilitate, and provide lifelong care for hundreds of animals who have been saved from stockyards, factory farms, and slaughterhouses. At our three shelters, rescued residents are given the care and love they need to recover from abuse and neglect. All of the animals enjoy nourishing food, clean barns, and green pastures each and every day.”

I mean, come on!  How could you not love this place??  I’ve visited their sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY and fell in love with all the animals – animals who are living the lives they are meant to be living.  Check out some of these beauties:

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What also makes Team Farm Sanctuary great is that we are a team of vegan athletes – proof that one can be healthy, strong, and competitive without eating meat or using and exploiting animals in the process.

Stay tuned!  We’re in for quite the ride together 🙂

No Guts, No Glory!

Someone once said that “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” Well, having had all three yesterday, I can tell you it is a true statement (though I prefer sweat and salt water).

Yesterday my NYC triathlon team and I took on Coney Island with a vengeance as we completed our first open water swim practice of the season.

7:30am, Coney Island, triathlete states of mind.

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(Picture stolen from TNT teammate C. Oh)

I had a new wetsuit to test out – Orca 5S, this year’s version of the fabulous one I had last year – and was excited to see how it compared.

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Just like last year, we got into the frigid water and acclimated ourselves to everything – the temperature, the waves, the murkiness, the flailing limbs around us – before we started actually swimming. And just like last year I had trouble putting my head into the water. WTF!? The amount of expletives going through my mind for the first 20ish mins was enough to make a sailor blush and I was at a total loss. I wasn’t panicking like last year, which was a plus, but I was frustrated, mad and confused as to why it was not as easy as I expected. So I swam with my head up.  Ugh.

Then it was time for a 30 minute continuous swim. Ok, I thought, do it like you know you can – like you’ve done it before – and get out of the water feeling good and confident, or continue being a scared little p**sy and this whole thing is for nothing and a waste of time. Up to you.

Good pep talk, right? But it worked and I tuned everything else out – the other people all around me (Boyfriend included because he was doing great and didn’t need me worrying about him), the waves, my foggy goggles, the sunburn that was inevitably going to be on half of my face because I am a left side only breather, all of it – and slowly but surly got my head in that ocean. And once I did, everything started working like it was supposed to. My body became horizontal which helped me to glide through the water better, my arms were calm, my legs didn’t kick in overdrive, my breath was rhythmic and natural, and I actually felt fantastic. (And that new wetsuit did an awesome job!) I remembered key swimming techniques that I had recently learned and just focused on those. By the end of the 30 minutes my hands were numb from the cold water but I felt good – which was a huge improvement from this time last year!

Little victories.  I’ll take them anywhere I can get them.

And speaking of swimming, last week Boyfriend and I spent two days at Hungry Ghost Guest House in New Paltz. Known as a vegan “active retreat”, Hungry Ghost is owned and operated by athletes/super awesome couple, Mike and Petra Trunkes, who encourage swimming, biking, running, and a variety of other outdoor activities (which happen to be a few of our favorite things!) We took about 5 hours of Total Immersion (TI) swimming lessons with Mike. Because the lessons are taught in a small pool with a wave machine that makes a current to essentially keep you in one spot, TI focuses on mindful practice so that changes and corrections in swimming can be made immediately. There were also mirrors on the inside of the pool and cameras so that we could watch our technique and immediately see what needed to be tweaked. Seriously – it was fantastic, Mike was a great teacher and the two were the best hosts!! (Not to mention Petra’s chocolate chip and banana pancakes with apple compote were out of this world!) I have a strong feeling we’ll be back in New Paltz very soon for an open water swim or tune-up before the triathlon. While we were there, we also took advantage of being so close to the mountains and ran around Lake Minnewaska. Here are some highlights:

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Ok that’s it for now! Please keep me motivated by donating to my fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as I continue to train. Right now I am 59% of the way to my goal and need your help to keep the momentum going. Let’s do this together! http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri15/Meredith

Thank You!!

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Thank you so much to everyone who has donated so far.  Because of YOU I am 36% of the way to my fundraising goal of $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Because of YOU we are that much closer to finding a cure for cancer.  Because of YOU this lady – my grandma, my first dancing partner and swimming (among countless other activities) cheerleader – is still remembered and alive in our thoughts and actions.  (She rarely got in the pool and when she did she made sure to NEVER get her hair wet, but she loved watching us splash around!)

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If you haven’t already, please consider donating to my LLS fundraiser.  http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri15/meredith

In other triathlon news:  Swimming is about to get kicked up a notch – Boyfriend and I are going to take it to a whole new level!  Wait until you hear about what is going to happen over the weekend.  All I can say is that I am SO excited and will take a ton of pictures for you all.  It is just what we need to prepare ourselves for the first team open water swim at Coney Island that is scheduled for June 13th. (Yikes – that is coming up quickly…!)

Stay tuned!

Coney Island, Take Two: Redemption

July 19 – the second open water swim with my Team in Training (TNT) crew. We all know about the first one and how that went, so – even though I swam great in the Hudson a few weeks ago – I started the trek to Coney Island that morning with an uneasy feeling in my stomach and nerves that were acting like I was on my way to the guillotine. I originally planned to meet some TNT folks and ride my bike to the beach with them, but decided not to at the last second because I wanted to just concentrate on the swim and not worry about being tired from the ride, where to stash the bike while I swam, and the logistics of getting back to the city after the morning at the beach was over. Instead, I met other team members at the last car of the Q at Union Square at 6:30am. One of the guys on the train with me was in the tapering phase of training for an Ironman that he was doing in 8 days in Lake Placid. I guess his 2.4 mile swim was a bit more intimidating than my 0.93 mile swim. What a show-off. (Seriously though – that is so impressive and I hope to get there one day, too!)

When we got to Coney Island, I immediately wished that I had a sweater and was glad to put on my wetsuit. It was 7:20am, cloudy and chilly and I was shivering from either the air temperature or my nerves. Or both.

Such a little drama queen, right?

TNT1 (Stolen from TNT team member Karen R. S.)

We pulled on our wetsuits on the boardwalk and then headed onto the beach for a Mission Moment – a reminder of why we are doing this in the first place. A team member gave a bit of background about her battle with cancer and chemo as a kid, and then talked about how she had run into her hospital roommate years later on a subway in Boston. Both were doing well, working impressive jobs and living. She emphasized living, saying that it’s not all about the money and effort that goes into treating and finding cures for cancer, it’s also about the lives that are given back when the cancer goes into remission. The lives that can then live to do great things and potentially change the world – which is something that they may not have been able to to without organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and donations through Team in Training. And how every penny is valuable, useful and appreciated.  (Don’t forget to visit my fundraising page and read more about my story: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri14/meredith)

TNT2(Stolen from TNT team member Amanda A.)

Then it was time for the water. It was a bit warmer than last time, and this time around we just swam on our own within the group – no buddies to swim with. I high-fived one of my friends while we told each other than we would be fine and we ventured into the water, just after one of the coaches gave us all a warning that there were tons of jellyfish lurking about.

For some reason it is hard for me to breathe out at first when I put my face in the open water. Maybe it’s the cold or the movement of the current or something, but I have to really force myself to breathe that air out for the first 3-5 times before I settle into it. But I think it could also be some kind of natural response to something – I find that I hold my breath way more often than I should when I am punching in Muay Thai, lifting at the gym, or even hitting a tennis ball.

We jumped right into swimming – no acclimating to the water or slow warmups like last time. We swam in a rectangle – out pretty far, then parallel to the shore, then down toward the shore and back parallel in the shallow part until we got to where we started. To be honest, I kept my head above the water for a lot of this drill. But I concentrated on my form, specfically my arms, and slowed myself down when I felt myself overdoing it Otherwise I would be totally exhausted by the time I finished. “Keep your head down, little girl!” I heard a friend yell out to me. Oops, I had been spotted and called out. Couldn’t let that happen again! We did a few more drills in that rectangle and broke into smaller groups so that we could start in 15-second intervals like we would do on triathlon day. I was feeling alright. Still nervous, still a little anxious, but good. (And proud of myself, too.)

Then the coach told us that we would swim the rectangle for 40 minutes straight and that at no time were we to be in water where our feet could touch the bottom. I can’t imagine what the expression on my face must’ve looked like when he said that, but a wave of panic swept over me. 40 minutes? In the ocean. With the waves. In a place where I couldn’t touch the bottom. With the jellyfish. And the tons of other swimmers all around me. Ok. Maybe triathlons aren’t my thing. Maybe I got a little overzealous with this whole idea and am just not ready. Maybe I’m a duathlon girl. Let me run a marathon instead. An ultramarathon, even. Is it too late to bow out gracefully? Tell everyone that I was just kidding about this whole thing? Admit defeat and move on?

I swear I’m not always such a drama queen, but the thought of 40 minutes nonstop in the ocean brought out a 6 year old scaredy cat and I felt stuck between fight or flight. Luckily I am not one to admit defeat easily and was definitely not going to be the person to bow out. No way. I’ll fight over flight any day. The mantra that the coaches have been telling us since day one, drilling into our minds and repeating over and over again in weekly training emails came into my head. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.

I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.

I had this.

There’s nothing scary about the water. When I was a kid I would’ve given anything to be Ariel from the Little Mermaid and could spend days in the water. Maybe I didn’t have the cool mermaid tail but I had an awesome wetsuit. Lycra superhero (as one of the coaches put it). I got to the beginning of one of the lines and was in the 3rd group to enter the water. We swam out to where one of the coaches was treading water and acting as a buoy and went around him. Then all the way to the other side of the embayment where another coach was also treading water making sure that no one cut any corners. Back down the short side of the rectangle and then all the way back to where we had started. And repeat. I settled into a calm rhythm of stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe – turning my head for a breath on every left stroke. I passed some people, others passed me, but at no time did I try to compete with anyone. As far as I was concerned it was just me in there. (At one point though a family began their day at the beach and I had to swim around the grandma as she waded or did her Silver Sneakers water exercises or whatever she was doing.)

I loved being a little mermaid, but after some time I wondered how much longer until those forty minutes were up. I had done several rectangles and had no idea if 8 minutes had passed or 38. I was also a little nauseous from all the movement of the waves combined with continuously turning my head to breathe. I started the short leg of the rectangle and heard the coach whistle and yell that 40 mins were up – time to get out of the water!

Phew!

I got out of the water, quickly tried to turn my water legs back into land legs, reunited with my crew and got out of my wetsuit. I was freezing and shivering and my head was a bit dizzy, but I was smiling and ready for the 5 mile boardwalk run. I threw on my shoes, turned on the Nike+ app on my phone and ran. Since most of us had our race gear on under our wetsuits so that we could practice swimming in what we would be wearing on the actual day, the boardwalk was covered with purple LLS and TNT race tops, shorts, headbands, you name it. It was pretty amazing actually. I can only imagine how many more of us will be there on the actual day.

TNT (Stolen from TNT team member Karen R. S.)

So – the swim was a success, the run was great, and all that was left was fries from Nathan’s and a cold Coney Island Mermaid pilsner. Done and done.

Triathlon day is less than 2 weeks away and I feel ready. I am so excited to wear my purple, to jump into the Hudson, to get the adrenaline rush that comes with races (which I can only imagine is intensified for triathlons), to be a part of something bigger than I am, to swim, bike and run for my grandma, for the fighters, survivors and victims of cancer. To be able to say, after months of training, that I am a triathlete.

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Aside

Achilles Hope and Possibility 5 Miler

Sunday was the 12th annual Achilles Hope and Possibility 5 mile run at Central Park. Achilles International is a nonprofit organization that pairs able-bodied volunteers with disabled runners so that everyone can participate in main-stream athletics. I know some people who have volunteered with Achilles and all have described their experiences with them as pretty unforgettable.

The race started at 9am that morning and as of that time it was 74 degrees with a humidity of nearly 60%. As I was on my way to the park that morning, I went down the checklist to see if I had everything that I needed for this race:

– Nike+ watch? Nope.
– Phone? Still plugged into the wall and sitting on the windowsill.
– Music? Unlikely since all my music is on my phone on that windowsill.
– Earbuds? No, but I didn’t have a phone to plug them into anyway.
– Runner number 4929? Not today. I was running this one alone.
– Vivobarefoot sneakers? Of course!
– Race bib? Yes! 3667 was already pinned to my shirt.

I had the things that I absolutely needed so I was all set. No phone, no gps watch, no problem – I could rough it. It would be like camping, but with a lot more running. (Or camping while running away from a bear, maybe?) It was “only” 5 miles and I would be done before I knew it.

I got to the beginning of the race about a minute after the starting horn sounded, but there were still a ton of people waiting to cross the starting line and so I shimmied my way into the crowd and felt like I was missing something. I went to turn on my music, but remembered I didn’t have any.  My right hand instinctively went to my left wrist to start my Nike+ watch but it landed on my bracelet that I always wear instead. No sign of my watch anywhere. Alright then – I guess the only thing left to do was just run. And so I started to run.

There were so many Achilles guides in their bright yellow shirts, and a ton of runners in wheelchairs, handcycles, with prosthetic or amputated limbs. Some were training to be guides, too – there was a girl running while wearing a mask over her eyes while being helped by a guide. Kind of makes you never want to take those legs, eyes and everything else you’ve got for granted again!

The course started around 67th street on the west side of the park and went counterclockwise around the southern loop of Central Park, up the Cat Hill, through the 102 Street Transverse back to the west side, and then straight down the west side of the park back to where we started. Pretty straightforward and nothing I’d never done before.

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When we got to the Cat Hill, I happened to be near a runner whose right leg and arm twisted extremely inward, forcing him to move his body in a strange direction each time he ran on that leg. The hill must have been incredibly tough for him, but he didn’t show it. The entire way up the hill he repeated “This hill has nothing on me. It’s got nothing. Nothing on me.” Each time he said it he smiled, and he made it (pretty exuberantly, I might add) to the top of that hill. He had an energy about him that made me glad that I happened to be in that particular spot at that particular moment to see that particular victory.

Because I didn’t have my Nike+ watch and have grown very reliant on it to check my pace, I had no idea how fast or slow I was going. I thought I was taking it easy, especially because my legs were tired and kind of screaming at me after my 25 mile bike ride and 0.5 mile swim the day before, but I really had no way of really knowing so I just kept chugging along. I know that I picked up the speed the last mile or so. It was very hot and humid out and I kept thinking about the fruit that was waiting at the finish line and wanted an apple more than anything.  Seriously, at the moment, nothing in the whole world sounded better than an apple.  They ended up handing out peaches and bagels. I grabbed a peach after picking up my medal and a bottled water, and oh man – it was better than an apple.

According to the official results from New York Road Runners, I finished the 5 miles in 40:49 – an 8:10 pace. Not bad for a lazy Sunday while roughing it without modern technology! While I was somewhat surprised to see my time (I had estimated that I was around an 8:30 pace, but really didn’t know), I have also seen a big change in my running lately.  Everything else, too, but mostly my running.  Maybe it’s all the training starting to come together. Maybe it’s the whole vegan thing I’ve been doing for the last month (after months of research and a relatively slow initial transition). Maybe it’s other things. Maybe it’s all of those things.

But whatever it is, I like it.

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Made for More – Oakley Women’s Mini

Saturday was the 43rd annual Oakley Women’s Mini – a 10k that celebrates women being able to participate in races, which didn’t happen until 1972! Isn’t that kind of crazy?  That’s the year that Title IX became a law, which created a ton of more opportunities for women athletes.  I was looking forward to this race for weeks and knew I had to run it. As the day came closer, though, it felt like the elements were challenging me to see if I would really run it. Didn’t matter – I was doing it. The 101 degree fever I had a couple days before wouldn’t stop me. The never-ending cough that had been lingering for almost a week wouldn’t stop me. And the crazy thunder, lightning and downpour just about 12 hours earlier wouldn’t stop me.  Besides, I had already picked up my race packet and the dark grey racer-back tanks that said “Made for More” in hot pink were super cute and I needed to wear it ASAP!

I got to the starting line at 61st and Central Park West feeling as though I had gotten 45 minutes of sleep and practically sleepwalked my way through the nearly 6,000 women who were doing their pre-race preps. Some were stretching, others were running in place. Most were taking selfies, looking at the photo, shaking their heads and then retaking them.  I get it though – it’s important to have a good race day photo. I don’t usually do pre-run photoshoots, and then I regret it.  Especially after seeing the in-race pictures. Man, those are usually pretty rough.

I found my corral – yellow 2000-2999 – and wiggled my way up to the front, getting there just as the opening remarks were starting. There were several famous runners there – including Deena Kastor (Olympian who ran and won the More Fitness Women’s Half Marathon that I did a couple months back), and Lauren Fleshman (awesome runner and co-creator of Picky Bars, which are in my top 3 favorite bars of all time. Sometimes all you need in life is a Smooth Caffeinator or a Blueberry Boomdizzle.).  After the remarks a survivor of the Boston marathon bombing spoke.  I couldn’t see her from where I was standing, but what she said was short and sweet and got the job done –  we were even more ready to run! We had to wait a few more minutes though because they needed confirmation that Central Park West was closed through 90th Street.

Ok, finally – the countdown. 3… 2… And the horn sounded – we were off!! I started my Nike+ watch, coughed up a lung, and started up CPW.  As I passed the stage I saw the Boston Marathon survivor wearing a cute running outfit and a prosthetic leg.  She was so enthusiastic and telling us to have fun as we rushed by her.

I tend to have a lot of adrenaline at the beginning of races – too much maybe – and start pretty fast. Problem is, races are relatively slow at the beginning. You have to maneuver your way around everyone in front of you until you and everyone else settle into their paces and spreads out a bit, which is no easy task at times. During this race I was “that girl” – the one who definitely and annoyingly used the curb to get around a ton of people.  When I wasn’t doing that I was dodging and weaving through everyone, which had potential to catch up with me later on and I just hoped that I had the energy to keep it up and not pay for it by the end of the race. I would have been more mindful of all that if this had been a longer race or in a different location, but it was “just” a 10k around my park. I had this!

This race was interesting because we ran up CPW and entered the park at 90th Street, and continued in the park running clockwise. I’ve never run clockwise around Central Park – only counterclockwise. Every single time. It was almost like running in a new place! Running down the Harlem hill was great.  Running down the Cat Hill was even better!  Don’t get me wrong, there were other hills, but just the satisfaction of not running up those hills – being able to smile at the cat statue instead of glare or grimace at it – made any other hill totally worth it.

As I ran and continued to check my watch, I noticed that I was running much faster than expected, so I began to think that it was a perfect day for a personal record.  I mean really – what better race than this one, right?  And so I just booked it. One of my pals from Muay Thai was volunteering at this race so I made sure to run on the outside when I got near the south part of Central Park, knowing that he would be around there.  I found him somewhere just after mile 5.5 and got a big high five from him.  “Finish strong!!” he yelled after me as ran off.  “Will do!” I promised.

Before long I saw the sign saying that there were only 800 meters left.  Then 400 meters.  Then… where was 200 meters? It seemed to be taking forever!  Oh – there it was.  200 meters left!  I could see the finish line just ahead.  My Vivobarefoot sneakers pounded the ground as I sprinted the last 200 meters and crossed the finish line.  I stopped my Nike+ watch and it immediately congratulated me for breaking my previous 10k record!  I got my medal, a pink carnation, and an apple, and headed for the nearest bench.  Here’s a summary of it all:

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After that, I grabbed a Venti unsweetened green iced tea, headed straight for the nearest couch, and considered it a successful Saturday!