4.13.2014

Mindful running

In keeping with my new theme for the blog I thought I'd reflect on the concept of mindfulness and how it applies to running. Though rooted in Buddhism, mindfulness has been growing in the field of Western psychology over the last thirty years. In graduate school we used to joke that if you found a way to weave mindfulness into your answer you would automatically get full credit. The construct refers to a state in which one is focused without judgment on the present moment. Psychologists love it because it offers a wonderful medium between depression and anxiety; if depression is rumination about the past, and anxiety is worry over the future, then mindfulness offers the healthy compromise between the two. It bypasses overly positive and overly negative self-talk in favor of honesty and self-awareness. The four components of mindful living are said to be observing, describing, acting with awareness, and accepting without judgment.

Application to Running 


The cultivation of mindfulness allows for communication between the mind and body. The body has ways of giving feedback to the mind, if the mind is paying attention. I find this feedback most useful for the prevention of injury or over-training. I know from experience how easy it is to get swept away by a training plan. Plans are great, but they can also be counterproductive if you ignore how you feel and forge ahead to meet mileage or workout goals.

My Personal Strategies


There are four main things that I am mindful of in order to gauge my body's response to training: subjective heaviness of legs, motivation to get out the door, how winded I am when I climb stairs, and the speed of my first mile.

1. Subjective heaviness of legs. This one is hard to put into words, but this much I know: if I'm barely able to keep both feet off the ground at the same time, then I'm better off resting than putting in miles that day. Running at that point is only going to break me down further. Tired legs are fine. Having a visceral reaction to the suggestion of high-knees is not.

2. Motivation to get out the door. My daily drive to get out the door for a run ranges from "can't wait to beat all those suckers in the Inner Harbor" to "let's get this over with so I can eat." If it's taking me more than 20 minutes to get dressed and out the door for a run, I know something is off. I know myself, and I know that I'm not a slacker. If I'm having a really hard time motivating myself to go running, then I know my body needs rest more than activity. I'm better off taking the day off or cross-training. Your own personal barometer for motivation level will vary. Know yourself, know what your body is trying to tell you.

3. How winded I am when I climb stairs. I am always attuned to my body's response to stairs. When I'm fit and tapered, I take them two at a time without giving it a second thought. If I'm anemic or overtrained I may pause between flights. This is useful feedback from my body.

4. The speed of my first mile. I always end up going the same pace at the end of my maintenance runs, but how many miles it takes me to settle into that pace is a different story. My first mile is almost always the slowest, usually ~20 seconds slower than my average. Perhaps this is partially an artifact of my GPS watch, but it doesn't really matter since it seems to be reliable. If my first mile is more than 30-40 seconds slower than my average, I might make adjustments to my training to ensure that I'm getting enough rest. Again, it's all about finding your own baseline and observing deviations.

These are some of my personal strategies for achieving mindful running. I hope to share more as they come to mind and hope others share theirs with me. While it is kind of a nebulous, squishy concept, mindfulness does make a lot of sense.

4.05.2014

The A.C. Slater Stereotype: The Ultimate Personality Type for Athletes?


          If doping really is as rampant as some say, then the playing field for Olympic athletes is in danger of leveling out once again. On deck to confer the next cutting edge advantage is genetic engineering. Genetic engineering has already been used in mouse models to increase fast twitch muscles and boost speed. It's only a matter of time before the technology is applied to humans. Like Ashley Wagner and her free pass onto the 2014 U.S. figure skating team, the genetic link for traits comprising the model athlete will skate through the qualifying rounds into the genome. The traits deemed critical for making Michael Phelps the dominating competitor he is will head straight for the Olympic gene pool. Other bioethical considerations and tired sports metaphors notwithstanding, my fear is that when this happens more obscure sports like camel wrestling and joggling will be casualties of the process. The variety of traits that makes our world the colorful, absurd place it is could fall by the wayside.

A Pinch of Aggression


          If genetic engineering for athletes does come to fruition, which traits would be selected? While personality traits would not be the primary targets of this process, it is an interesting question: What personality type makes for the best competitor? The label "athlete" is usually reserved for those who participate in one of the four sports that bring in the highest revenue: basketball, football, baseball, and hockey. Inherent in the athlete label seems to be the stereotype of an extroverted, dominant, aggressive, and spontaneous individual. This stereotype may be true for athletes who play certain sports, but to lump all sports and athletes into one category ignores the beautiful intricacies and showcases of diversified strengths that make each sport special: the power required to throw a football 70 yards, the combination of grace and strength required to execute a triple salchow, the… je nais se quoi… required for camel wrestling, and so on.

            MBTI: The Gold Standard


          The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the gold standard for personality assessment, is the natural choice for measurement of the personality traits contributing to athleticism. The MBTI uses four continua-- extroversion (E) vs introversion (I), sensing (S) vs intuition (N), thinking (T) vs feeling (F), and perceiving (P) vs judging (J)-- and assigns an individual to one of sixteen types based on where he falls on each of the four dimensions. The extroversion / introversion continuum refers to the extent to which an individual attends to the external world as opposed to his internal one. Extroverted individuals draw energy from others and feel most comfortable working in groups, whereas introverted individuals are not necessarily shy but feel most comfortable working alone. The sensing / intuition continuum refers to the extent to which an individual attends to detail as opposed to the bigger picture. Sensing individuals are pragmatic; they start with the facts, information that can be gathered through the senses, and then turn their focuses outward. Intuitive individuals attend to the bigger picture first, reading between the lines, finding patterns, and seeking greater meaning. The thinking / feeling continuum refers to how individuals make decisions. Thinking individuals tend to be technical and scientific, seeking fair and objective answers to questions. Feeling individuals are more concerned with others' feelings than justice. They seek greater harmony and subjective fairness. The judging / perceiving continuum refers to how individuals approach tasks. Judging individuals are structured, decided people who may keep lists and like to plan work to avoid rushing before a deadline. Writer's note: Judging has nothing to do with being Judgmental. Writer is a J and feels this is a very important distinction. Perceiving individuals tend to be more flexible and spontaneous, working in bursts of energy and thriving off of looming deadlines.
         
          Although the MBTI is categorical, each of the four variables is dimensional, meaning that falling on one end of the continuum does not preclude identifying with the opposite pole in certain situations. For example, I am strong J but a neutral F. This means that I will behave in a way that is consistent with a designation of J in almost every situation but may fluctuate widely between behaviors representative of thinking and feeling. Still, the assignment of the label of F over T in my case is useful because it allows for the exploration of how my scores on each of the four dimensions interact to form my personality. Separately the dimensions refer to traits; together they refer to personality type. The real MBTI is 126 items and available for a fee. Administration includes skilled interpretation from a psychology professional. However, there are free, MBTI-based online instruments that offer good approximations.

            Down with the ESTP stereotype!


          Personality psychology is littered with claims that the ideal personality type for athletes is extroverted, sensing, thinking, and perceiving (ESTP). As an athlete who identifies with the exact opposite quadrant, INFJ, this notion does not sit well with me. It may be true that ESTP is the most common MBTI for athletes. It may even be the ideal MBTI for the mainstream sports typically associated with the word “athlete.” This does not imply that ESTP is the ideal type for all sports. Different sports draw upon different athletic abilities, so it follows that personality characteristics are differentially favored as well. Even within the sport of track and field, colossal personality differences exist across discipline. Consider sprinter Usain Bolt and marathoner Ryan Hall. You don’t need to administer the MBTI to see that Bolt is an extrovert. You can see it in the way he interacts with the crowd, the energy he draws from their support. Hall, on the other hand, appears to be more of an introvert, focused and attuned to his inner world. These divergent personality traits are critical to each athlete’s success in what is considered the same sport.

            MBTI Applied to Sports


          As is evident in the case of Bolt, the extroversion vs introversion distinction does not fall strictly along the line of team sport vs individual sport, although introverts are far more likely to take part in an individual sport. There are certain disciplines within individual sports, such as sprinting, in which athletes thrive on energy from the crowd. Likewise, there are certain disciplines within team sports, such as tending goal or pitching, which rely on internal attunement. Sensing refers to awareness of environment, a skill set necessary for coordination, whereas intuition refers to perception of patterns, a skill necessary for design and implementation of strategy. Therefore, sensing individuals would be ideal for sports that rely on coordination more than strategy, and vice versa for intuitive individuals. Due to preference for objectivity, thinking individuals would be ideal for sports that have absolute rules and standards, while feeling individuals would be ideal for sports that allow for more subjectivity and / or place a higher value on connections with teammates. Lastly, perceiving individuals would be ideal for sports that require bursts of energy rather than equal amounts doled out over time. Judging individuals are ideal for sports that require intense structure and discipline.

            The Sweet Sixteen Personality Types for Athletes


With that said, here are my picks for the ideal sport matches for each of the sixteen MBTI personality types:

ESTJ personalities are civic-minded, practical, conventional, and straightforward. They are more interested in routine than new experiences. The ESTJ appreciation for order and duty makes them the ideal members of a rowing crew.

ESTP personalities are undoubtedly athletic. A focus on the external world and a tendency to rely on senses translate into adept coordination. ESTP personalities are dramatic, charismatic, spontaneous, active, and effective at navigating social situations. This kind of fancy footwork makes them natural soccer players.

ESFP personalities are playful, social, and constantly seeking new experiences. They would thrive in dynamic, fast-paced team sports like basketball.

ESFJ personalities are disciplined, passionate, loyal, and responsible to loved ones. The ESFJ combination of discipline and passion would make an ideal gymnast.

ENFP personalities are creative, explosive, vivacious, and get bored easily. ENFPs would make ideal beach volleyball players. The sport's skill set complements the ENFP personality beautifully: spiking, diving, and jumping across the sand in unpredictable ways-- all while enjoying the sun and surf.

ENFJ personalities are the social butterflies, cheerleaders, and supporters of a group. ENFJs easily adapt to groups and are the quintessential team players. Every team sport needs a fair share of ENFJs, but you could argue that synchronized swimming, which requires its athletes to be highly attuned to one another, needs them the most.

ENTP personalities are intelligent, witty, resourceful, and highly verbal. While debate is not a sport in the strictest sense of the word, it is the discipline that complements the ENTP personality best. I'd provide more of an argument, but an ENTP is better suited to do that.

ENTJ personalities are independent, logical, ambitious, and fierce. ENTJs are confident and self-sufficient enough to work alone but choose to draw upon the strength of teammates. With qualities like that what football team wouldn't want an ENTJ as quarterback?

ISTJ personalities are serious, conservative, hard-working, and dependable. ISTJs may have a hard time understanding the emotional needs of others since theirs are always in check. The ability to keep your emotions in check is a critical skill for a pitcher. ISTJs' ability to reliably deliver the goods and remain unaffected by the emotions of the crowd or teammates would make them excellent starting pitchers.

ISTP personalities are explorers who easily get bored with routine and have little concern for rules. ISTPs may even be daredevils-- quiet, analytic daredevils but daredevils nonetheless. With traits like that, ISTPs would make mean downhill skiers or divers.

ISFP personalities are peaceful, easygoing, considerate, and mellow... pretty much the opposite of the stereotypical definition of an athlete. ISFP personalities would be ideal for yoga. If there was a yoga competition an ISFP would definitely win. Unfortunately, competitions are inconsistent with the principles of yoga.

ISFJ personalities are quiet, observant, thoughtful, and respectful of both order and feelings. Karate is a discipline in which you need to remain attuned to your feelings and respectful of your sport's rich cultural history. This is the perfect match for the sensitive ISFJ. Wax on, wax off, as the ISFJs like to say.

INFP personalities are spontaneous, idealistic, and loyal to those they know well. However, they can also be overly suspicious toward those they don't. INFPs would thrive in risky environments in which instincts are at premium and interactions are at a minimum. Few sports fit this bill better than river kayaking or snowboarding. An INFP would thrive at both.

INFJ personalities are value-driven, complex, and mysterious-- sensitive to the feelings of others but guarded with their own. INFJs would thrive in the role of catcher for a baseball or softball team. Catchers need to be sensitive, particularly to the emotions of pitchers, but hide their own emotions behind a mask. This role was made for the INFJ.

INTP personalities are analytical and thoughtful, preferring to work alone and relying heavily on strategy for short bursts of activity. This type of personality is ideal for curling. Curling is a slow, strategic game-- sort of like chess on ice. While it relies heavily on mental strategy, it also requires a specific kind of controlled power. INTPs were born for curling.

INTJ personalities are calculating, self-sufficient, and effective at conceptualizing complex ideas. INTJs would be an ideal match for marathon running, a sport which requires discipline and logic, tempered passion, and calculated conservation of energy for later stages of a race.

Take my quiz to find out your personality type and corresponding sport match!

Quiz: What sport corresponds to your personality type?


            Concluding Plea to Genetic Engineers


          If you are in fact hard at work building the ideal athlete (and, evidently, taking a break to read my blog), please know that ESTPs are not the only personality type to excel at sports. In fact, there is no one ideal personality type for all sports. Each combination of MBTI variables is ideal for one of the skills described above. Football is great, but would throwing an prolate spheroid-shaped ball an imperial unit of distance be as impressive if we could all do it? And what kind of world would it be without camel wrestlers?

          The ideal application of MBTI is not sport assignment based on personality type but rather the cultivation of self-awareness and appreciation of both individuality and shared attributes. Self-awareness is far more likely to contribute to success, athletic or otherwise, than correspondence between personality and choice of behavior. Knowledge of strengths and weaknesses is power-- an advantage in any sport.

3.30.2014

Zeno's Paradox for the Marathon

The funny thing about "marathon pace" (MP) is that the longer you're able to maintain it, the less likely it is to be your actual marathon pace. In other words, you could never run a 26 mile training run at MP because if you were capable of doing this, then your MP would actually be much faster. You could chase the elusive marathon pace for miles, but if you were actually able to catch it then you would be further away than you were when you started-- either because you realized that you are much fitter than your previously designated MP or because you lost your fitness to overtraining. This maddening flirtation is what draws me to the marathon. I got a huge confidence boost from my run below but need to be careful not to drift too far from my goals and risk overtraining. For this run I was scheduled to run 7:15 pace, my maintenance pace, but got a little excited and picked it up. A lot. I ended up averaging 6:47 for 13. The pace was still conversational but decidedly quicker than maintenance pace. I have to constantly pull back the reins. In late April I will let loose a little and start training in earnest for my next marathon. Until then it is all about restraint.


3.25.2014

Wilderness Therapy

Below is a piece I wrote as a freelance writer for an online therapy encyclopedia, "therapedia." It caters to a very broad audience, so it's a little watered down. I thought it might be of interest to fellow runners, as most of us are also lovers of nature. I often feel the most at peace and achieve the most clarity when I'm running. The more quiet and secluded the route the better. Of course I was spoiled with weekly long runs around Walden Pond throughout college. Baltimore has a hard time competing, but there are a few great spots in the area... Loch Raven reservoir, Druid Hill Park, NCR trail to name a few.

Check out the therapedia for other interesting links: http://www.theravive.com/therapedia/.
I wrote the pieces on Writing Therapy, Adventure Therapy, Psychoanalysis, and Suicide Intervention.

Wilderness Therapy

 Aristotle was famously quoted as saying, “In all the things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.” This idea is the backbone of Transcendentalism, the religious and philosophical movement that developed in the Eastern region of the United States in the 19th century. Transcendentalists believed that “there is an innate ability within all people to fulfill their potential, to overcome adversity, to face challenges directly, to rely on an inner voice and instinct to guide them through life. Listening to the inner voice, the Transcendentalist, at one with God and Nature, grows into an autonomous, self-reliant individual who feels no need to seek affirmation outside of him or herself” (Challman, 2008). Clearly, psychological well-being and the cultivation of adaptive coping skills closely relate to the state that Transcendentalists aspired to. Therefore, it is not surprising that the roots of the tree that is referred to as “Wilderness Therapy” are firmly planted in Transcendentalism.

Tracing the roots of Wilderness Therapy, one sees that the healing powers of nature have been romanticized in literature since the transcendentalist movement. Most notably, Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” chronicles one man’s quest to achieve a heightened awareness of self and society through a year-long communal with nature. Today, droves of Bostonians flock to Walden Pond, located just outside city limits in Concord, MA, for their weekly dose of wilderness, administered through shots of hiking, swimming, running, and kayaking. Perhaps the need for a more formalized brand of “Wilderness Therapy” has grown since the age of Thoreau. While the pond may remain unchanged, society’s faux sense of connection, conferred through constant access to the internet and social media, has interfered with the development of communication skills, attunement to changes in mood, and the growth of self-efficacy as a byproduct of outdoor play and engagement with nature. These are the goals of Wilderness Therapy.

Wilderness Therapy has emerged out of the need to provide individuals with the opportunity to strip away the blinders of technology and connect with themselves, each other, and nature. There are three main kinds of therapeutic wilderness immersion programs. Depending on the kind of program, Wilderness Programs are used when there is a desire to promote appreciation of nature and sense of community or a need to promote self-esteem and / or self-control.

The first kind of Wilderness Therapy is based on education, often of children and young adults, in conservation biology and preservation of natural ecosystems. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are prime examples. The goal of these kinds of programs is to promote proactive and supportive attitudes toward wilderness protection through ongoing engagement throughout adolescence. The second kind of wilderness program is based on personal growth and organizational development. Within this type of program, individuals are challenged to reconsider their preconceived notions about their own limitations and strive to achieve more, for the greater good of themselves and the organization. Team-building corporate wilderness retreats have grown in popularity in recent decades.

The third kind of program involves the use of the wilderness as a backdrop for individual and group therapy. Within this type of program, exposure to nature—and limited access to technology—can accelerate the process by which issues are unearthed and addressed. These types of programs can range from day trips away from residential treatment facilities and into the wilderness to expeditions led by therapists lasting up to 8 weeks in duration. Clientele for this type of program is typically patients with behavioral issues, such as anger management, or patients with substance abuse problems. Research on effectiveness indicates that this type of program can increase self-esteem, boost self-control, and promote abstinence from substances. 

While Thoreau may not have envisioned the need for formal Wilderness Therapy treatment programs, he was onto something with his retreat to Walden Pond. Nature-based programs seem to have unique healing properties that standard treatment programs set in hospitals, clinics, or offices do not. However, access to these programs can be limited. So how can one harness these properties in daily life? Here are a few simple ideas:
 - Take up gardening. The process itself is meditative and the sense of accomplishment involved in helping something grow and thrive can build self-efficacy.
 - Go for a hike at a local park. Bring a loved one / pet or go by yourself. The combination of exercise and connection to nature can be highly therapeutic.
 - Work can become such a routine that we go about our business mindlessly, almost as if on auto-pilot. Break up your work day by taking a walk on your lunch break. Even if your work place is in an urban setting, the fresh air could help you reconnect to your body and your surroundings.
 - Take off your headphones, put down your phone, and stay attuned to your environment as much as possible. You might learn something about yourself or the world around you.  

 References Challman, R. (2008). Transcendentalism: Essential Essays of Emerson & Thoreau. Clayton, DE: Prestwick House, Inc.

3.21.2014

Perils of Positive Thinking

I've always been a rather stupidly optimistic person. It's part of the reason I've been in a running slump for the past 4.5 years. I've managed to talk myself out of being discouraged when discouragement could have forced me to make the changes that I needed to. I could blame psychology or cognitive-behavioral therapy for teaching me about the power of positive self-talk and the deconstruction of cognitive distortions, but the reality is that it goes much deeper that that. I want to believe that situations will improve, that people are basically good, and that hard work is rewarded. The sun will come out tomorrow and, worse, Ignore it and it'll go away are part of my schema. There were obvious factors contributing to my struggles that could have been addressed fairly easily but I chose to ignore: debilitating iron-deficiency anemia that left me chronically fatigued and lacking a competitive spark; a toxic work environment that sucked up what little oxygen my blood deigned to carry to my organs; fairly nonsensical, haphazard training that greatly favored quantity over quality, which was particularly ill-advised given my issues with anemia; a paradoxical decision to allow negative, emotionally abusive voices into my life...

Positive thinking on its own could not make these things go away.

In a strange way, positive thinking had become a cognitive distortion, paralyzing me into inaction. I have to credit my sister for making me realize that I needed to make some changes. My sister has always been one of my running inspirations. She qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon in 2004 and 2012 and recently qualified for 2016. Last fall she was gearing up for the California International Marathon and, based on her training, had every reason to believe that she was fit enough to run well under the standard of 2:43. In the weeks leading up to the race she developed bronchitis. A lot of voices told her to race anyway. It'll be fine once you get out there and It's just nerves, don't psych yourself out. She was able to drown those voices out and listen to her body, which was telling her that now was not the time. In an incredibly brave decision she decided to risk her fitness and delay her attempt at the qualifier for another 6 weeks. She then proceeded to race the Houston marathon and hit her time with about a minute to spare.

Her decision to listen to her body over positive self-talk motivated me to make some changes. I went to the doctor and learned exactly how anemic I was. My ferritin, a measure of the amount of iron in your body, was 6. Normal range is 18-160 for females, but runners should aim for the higher end of the range. My doctor joked that she didn't know how I could run to catch a bus much less train for a marathon. Drastic times called for drastic measures. I began taking a combination of liquid iron and pills (iron elixir and vitron C), which were hard on my stomach but well worth the digestive issues. I had already left my job and found one that is more fulfilling and allows me to lead a much healthier lifestyle. I feel very grateful for that because I know that this is not always so easy to find. I started training with my sister's coach, the RunCoach.com program. It wasn't difficult to buy into the program because my sister has had so much success with it. It's a little different from what I'm used to--lower mileage, faster maintenance runs, shorter reps mixed with long tempos, and drills--but I follow it religiously and believe that it works. I cut out other toxic influences in my life and tried to surround myself with loving people who want the best for me. My friends and family make this easy. Again, I am very grateful.

It's been 2.5 months since I made these changes. I'm not back to where I was, but I'm close enough that I can allow myself to start thinking positively again. We'll call it positive thinking tempered with self-awareness and mindfulness. I'll get back there-- and possibly even further-- if I continue to listen to my body and drown out the negativity.

11.09.2009

Mandy Moore, you were worth the wait

Last Sunday my brother Ed called to see if I wanted to do a half-marathon benefitting the Gynecological Cancer Foundation (GCF). He’s a gyn-oncologist and was coming to DC for a conference and the inaugural GCF half-marathon. I wasn’t very enthused about the race at first because I’m trying to build my mileage and focus on workouts right now. I ended up deciding to do it as a marathon pace run rather than a race so that I didn’t have to back off before and –hopefully- won’t have to miss any workouts this week. Plus, I was powerless to say no when informed of the race’s two main draws, the deep prize purse and appearance by Mandy Moore.

When I arrived at the course I saw swarms of Africans standing around the registration booth. I was hoping that some of them would be doing the 5k but no such luck. Still, prize money went 10 deep, $1000 down to $75, so I figured I had a good shot at earning back my entry fee at least (figuratively speaking since Ed had sprung for it. Thanks, Ed). The start was delayed for a few minutes to accommodate a “special guest.” Mandy Moore had apparently taken a last-minute bathroom break. I forgave her though because she was very well-spoken at the awards ceremony and seemed like a really nice person, passionate about the cause, etc.

My marathon goal time is 2:46, so I decided to try to run 1:23 (6:20/mile) without going too far out of my comfort zone. If I felt like I was pushing too hard to run that pace I would slow down; I really wanted it to feel like marathon pace. I started off at 6:30 for the first three miles and felt relaxed. I gradually dropped down to 6:20-5 for the next 7. I really locked into this pace, coming through 5 in 32:08 and 10 in 64:12. I finished up the last 5k in 6:20s… Everything went pretty much according to plan! I’m tired but not too much more so than I am after my usual long run… Poor Ed is a different story. He trained seriously for a triathlon this fall but hasn’t run in the six weeks since. He hit his goal time of 1:55 (8:45 pace) and placed 13 out of 52 in the gynecological surgeon category but is really paying for it with soreness. Luckily his spirits were lifted at the post-race brunch after seeing Miles the dog rocking a pronounced limp, Elizabethan collar, and elaborate bandage around his front left paw… it could always be worse.

My dad won his age group in the 5k and Kristi was in the top third of her age group.


STATS
Weekly Mileage = 80
Cross-training = 2 x 1 hr elliptical
Workout 1) 2 mile cutdown (starting at 95 and ending at 80), 3 x 1200 (starting at 85 and ending at 82/83).
Workout 2) Half-marathon at marathon pace. 1:23:55 (6:24/mile), good for 6th and $250 in prize money.

10.13.2009

Mardi Gras, maybe

My sister and I are trying to decide which marathon to do. We'll both be going after the B Standard, 2:45:59. She qualified in 2004 with a 2:43, so I'm hoping she'll have a handle on the pacing. So far Mardi Gras (2/28) and Napa (3/5) are in the running. I'm pushing for Mardi Gras because it is pancake flat... and it's Mardi Gras. We'll see. I did my first marathon pace run last Saturday-- 7 at 6:20 in the middle of 14-- and felt great.