May 26, 2016

Fabulous By Forty

Last week I turned forty. As I celebrated, friends kept saying the same thing, "You did it - Fabulous By Forty"! As a recovering perfectionist, and someone who has trouble accepting compliments, I can't even begin to tell you how uncomfortable that made me.

After my birthday, I had my last regular appointment with my therapist. After two+ years of weekly and bi-weekly appointments, I'm transitioning to "therapy lite" (my phrase) where I have check-in appointments every couple of months. In my post-birthday appointment, The World's Greatest Therapist helped me unpack my, let's call it, less than gracious, reaction to the Fabulous By Forty accolades.

She was not surprised to learn people said loving and supportive things, nor was she surprised that I was surprised. She told me for the past two years, I've been climbing a mountain, and the entire time I was climbing, I kept my head down. I didn't look up to see how much farther I had to go; I didn't sit down to rest, and I didn't let myself get distracted. When people tried to compliment me, or comment on my journey, I shooed them away - 'Leave me alone; I'm climbing'.

She asked me, "You climbed Everest, and now that you've reached the summit, you're surprised people noticed"? I am surprised. I had no idea anyone was watching me. I just had to climb that mountain.

In 2013, when my nutritionist gave me the goal of Fabulous By Forty, I had no idea what that would look like. I just wanted to lose weight. Because of course I thought all of my problems would be solved by obtaining the body I was "supposed" to have.

That year, I did lose weight. I also lost my mind. I had a terrible job and an abusive boss, who was eventually fired after months of mediation and victim blaming. So I was skinny-ish and my boss got fired. Everything should be good, right?

One of the directors I worked with was a therapist, and a great human being. About a month after my boss was fired, there was a shooting at one of our facilities and I got triggered. I was talking to him about it and he calmly started questioning me about smells and sounds, and if I had ever talked to anyone. I said no and then said I honestly wanted to talk to someone, not about 9/11, but about why I kept ending up in jobs with abusive bosses - that the only common denominator was me - maybe I was attracting these people. Saying this out loud opened up something that had never been opened and I spent the next few days in a dark headspace. A few days later, he came by my office to check on me and I asked if he could be my therapist. He couldn't, but he gave me the name of a therapist that he thought would be a good match for me. Spoiler alert:  she was. I called and she saw me the next day. I've been seeing her ever since.

In hindsight, I'm pretty sure I had what Brene Brown calls a "spiritual awakening", or what Lifetime movies call a nervous breakdown. Regardless of what happened, I'm glad it did. I'm lucky that I don't have a diagnosed mental illness. I went into therapy because I woke up one day and saw that I was the only connection between what was making me unhappy and causing me pain. And once I saw it was me, I couldn't un-see it. You can't self-help yourself out of that. You need someone to come in and offer you perspective and options for evolving past it - a sherpa, if you want to stay with the Everest analogy - someone to guide you up the mountain and help you hold your shit when it gets too heavy.

I'm forty (I just kicked my legs into the air). Am I fabulous? I don't know. That's a weird word and it doesn't suit me. I am something though, and I'm something I wasn't three years ago. I'll leave you with the mind map I created two days before my fortieth birthday.


no apologies
worked hard
have opinions
less scared
morning ritual
write more
love more
I do what I want
gratitude practice

Thank you for watching me climb a mountain. I didn't know that's what I was doing. I just knew I had climb up out of whatever I was in.


May 23, 2016

An Interview with Public Policy Director Melanie Bull

I don't think it's any secret that my personal life and political life are connected. Today's bitch has made that ever elusive transition from work-friend to friend-friend. In 2008, Melanie interned at the state legislature, where I worked. Our professional lives have been intertwined since then, but our personal lives, not so much. But then she went to a dance class with me, and then she hired my personal trainer and started working out with me twice a week, and now we're twerking together. Point? I see Melanie in tank tops a lot (and I like it).

Watching Melanie work all these years, I knew she was smart and confident. My girl rocks a selfie like nobody's business. But what's been interesting to see as I've gotten to know her is where that confidence comes from. Unfortunately, there's a lot of stigma here around looks and marital status, and God help the female lobbyist who's in her thirties, single, and attractive because you will never get the credit you deserve for being good at your job. What I love about Melanie is how she puts her deuces up, zips up her pencil skirt, and out-works everyone who's whispering about her, #boybye. Meet today's bitch, Melanie Bull!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am the Public Policy Director at the Tennessee Disability Coalition. We are a member organization of about 45 disability groups across the state. I do state level lobbying, advocacy, and public policy work on a variety of issues from healthcare to education. 

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Growing up, I remember hearing a lot about lobbyists on TV - mostly negative (big oil, tobacco, etc.) but what most people fail to realize is that everyone has a lobbyist, and if they don’t, they need one. Part of a lobbyist’s job is to provide a seat at the table, and you know how the saying goes “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” This is especially important for groups of people that are underserved. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

This sounds absurd because I believe these are kind of basic human principles, but I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and fairness. I’ve felt a strong desire to help those who can’t always help themselves. I also believe that the world isn’t inherently fair and sometimes people need help - plain and simple. But because I don’t like getting dirty or hot climates, I wasn’t going to join the Peace Corps. 

I also love politics. I was a political science major in college and have been volunteering and working on campaigns since high school. Having had a few jobs in politics though, it wasn’t what I wanted to make a career out of for a multitude of reasons. 

At some point the job heavens opened up and I realized I can talk for a living (my one true skill) while helping others, and work close to politics but not necessarily in it. It’s truly my dream job.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I was a legislative intern at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2008. In college, I always thought I wanted to teach at a university/have an excuse to stay in school forever (I like reading!). During my internship I realized that I wanted to have some real world experience before I tried to teach college kids about the real world. I was also extremely burnt out at school and tired of reading. 

After college I worked for a fundraising consulting firm, then worked on several different campaigns. I was designed for the pace and the nature of the work, but I realized I wanted to do issue work rather than election work. I reached out to some lovely lady lobbyists and a position at the Disability Coalition had just opened up a week before! 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Ask. Ask questions, ask for advice, ask for a raise, ask for jobs, ask for help, don’t ask permission. Asking doesn’t have to portray weakness; to me, it portrays confidence. You can’t just give yourself a raise (unless you are the boss) but asking for a raise says, “Hey, I’ve been doing a really good job and I think my salary should reflect that.” When you ask you get an answer, and when you get an answer you can move on to the next thing. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

In my job, you win or you lose, and there’s rarely an in between. What’s also true is that my wins and losses are usually public. It is extremely hard to not take losses personally, especially because I often have to talk to or see a person with a disability that is affected by that loss. It’s disappointing and sometimes heartbreaking, but these losses have taught me how to lose gracefully. I won’t be able to do my job to the best of my ability if I wear my heart on my sleeve all the time. I want to be a passionate advocate, but I don’t want that passion to get in the way of progress.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Yoga, sleep, read more, go to twerk class with Kim, but TBH, probably look at Instagram. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

I love it when I have a person with a disability, or their family member, work on an issue with me and finally feel as if they had their voice heard. It’s the single greatest thing about my job. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Email (eye roll emoji).

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

During legislative session you can find me at the Oak Bar sipping a happy hour vodka soda. 

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Having to be “on” all the time. During session, I can’t close my door to my office when I’m having a bad day. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That it’s easy. People tell me ALL the time they could easily do my job. Come try it, bro.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Parks and Recreation. Leslie Knope is all that is good about government. And any kind of party dip, especially if it’s covered in buffalo sauce. 

All photos courtesy of Melanie Bull

May 16, 2016

An Interview with Librarian and Media Specialist Erin Alvarado

An avid reader, I spent a lot of time in libraries growing up. I have fond memories of the libraries, but not so much of the librarians. I don't remember that I interacted with any of the librarians, aside from checking out books. And I'm pretty sure I was scared of most of them. This is why I was fascinated to learn how Erin not only runs her library, but how she interacts with the kids. I would have LOVED to have a cool, young librarian who read the same books I did.

I've known Erin since around 2008 when John and I bought a house in the same neighborhood as our friends Mike and Amanda. Erin and Amanda are sisters and the three of us have spent many a cook-out talking about books, what we're reading, and what Erin tells us we should be reading. Without a doubt, some of the best books I've read in the past few years have come from Erin. Meet today's bitch, YA aficionado, Erin Alvarado!

What is your job title and where do you work? 

I'm a Librarian/Media Specialist at Central Magnet School.

When did you first learn about this field of work? 

My mom always made sure that my sister and I spent time in the library every week, so I grew up knowing that it was the most magical place in the world. When I was a young teen, I started volunteering in our local community library in Bethesda with the most amazing librarian, Susan Cuevas. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do? 

I’ve always loved books and libraries, but I didn’t think about librarianship as a career until I started teaching high school. I realized that many of my students hadn’t set foot in a library since elementary school, and they had no idea that libraries could transform them and change their lives. I knew that I had to go back to school and get my LMS so I could help them. 

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now? 

I studied Spanish in college and worked as a paralegal and court translator at an immigration law office. I also worked at a local business where I translated documents and sold advertisements for the Hispanic Yellow Pages. Then, I started teaching Spanish at Smyrna High School, and I figured out that teaching is what I am meant to do. After a few years teaching Spanish, I started on my M.Ed./MLS so I could transition to the library/media center. It’s hard to separate myself from my job and my students. Sometimes I don’t know where I end and my job begins. 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise? 

You’re never done learning and life should never be static. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work? 

Everything my first year of teaching felt like the biggest failure imaginable. However, there is one incident that stands out that changed the way that I saw my students. I was teaching and couldn’t find my teacher’s edition of the textbook. Since it has all of the answers to every activity, it was a big deal that I couldn’t find it. However, instead of carefully looking for it, I immediately accused the kids of stealing it. I even used those words and asked  who “stole” the book. After I tore into them, one student kindly pointed out that the TE was sitting right in front of me beside my overhead projector. I cried. That was the moment when I realized that I viewed my students as my adversaries instead of the interesting, smart, complex young people they were. I embodied everything I detested about my worst teachers. 

That incident helped me to make some drastic changes in my teaching style and the way I related to my students. I was so ashamed, but I am grateful that I went through that absolute failure. I know that it’s shaped me into the teacher and person I am today. Now I focus on teaching and working with students before I focus on teaching and working with a particular subject. That moment changed my life. 

What would you do with 2 more hours a day? 

Read more! 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life? 

Being one of the founders of the SE-YA Book Festival (Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival). This started as a seed of an idea... what if we could create a huge book festival for the young adults in our area? I think we were all a little crazy to try it, but crazy turned into amazing! We trended #5 on Twitter for 12 hours! 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning? 

Twitter, but not my personal account. I use my work account much more. 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day? 

I read and sometimes have a wonderful cocktail. 

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious? 

No day is ever the same or how I think it will be, so it can be very difficult to plan. I have to be ready to respond to any request, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Also, and this sounds crazy, but some days I hear my name called so many times that I feel like I’m going to scream if I hear it one more time. It can be difficult and overwhelming to cater to so many people at the same time, without an end in sight. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do? 

People think librarians are old ladies and “shushers.” We’re really curators of all sorts of information and have the answer to pretty much any question. Also, the library is a really dynamic place and should be noisy if you’re doing it right. Collaboration and curiosity aren’t quiet. Also, I don’t just sit around and read all day long. It can actually be challenging to find time to read, even when I leave work. 

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack? 

Parts Unknown and popcorn!

All photos courtesy of Erin Alvarado

May 11, 2016

Finding Peers Online Over Forty

Where my over-forty bloggers at? I've been wondering this for awhile now, and it keeps coming up in conversations with friends. I'm having a hard time finding people like me online, not just people who are in my situation, but women I feel a connection with. The internet is full of female voices - creatives, entrepreneurs, bloggers, podcasters - but a lot of them are younger and talking about things I've already figured out.

While I do love a millennial podcast, I would looooove to hear from women in their 40's and 50's talking about what they've learned, what they did wrong, how they overcame their failures, and how they reinvented themselves.

Where are the women who are starting businesses after leaving a 10-15 year career? Where are the women who left their careers to raise children and are starting businesses after being at home for 5 years? Where are the women who realized they were unhappy, scrapped it all and started all over, possibly more than once?

I'm not saying I don't know women like this, because, of course I do. What I'm saying is, this is not a predominant, or even easy to find, voice online, or on podcasts. Why is that? If the women I know IRL (I learned that by listening to millennial podcasts) are any indication, it's because they're too busy.

Or is it timing? I started this blog in 2007 when I was 31. If I had been even five years older, I wouldn't have started a blog. The women around my age who did start blogs back then are either too famous to be authentic, or found fulfillment somewhere else and left the internet. There are exceptions - Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge has been around since the beginning and is still super authentic and helpful. Also, Kim France of Girls of a Certain Age. Kim's not doling out live your best life advice, but she's a badass, she's in her 50's, and she has an strong presence online.

Speaking of blogs, there is a "how to" trend right now. Oy. I'm not saying these how-to posts aren't helpful, a lot of them are, but because they're so sharable ("click to pin"; "click to tweet"), and clicks equal money, they are everywhere. I miss storytelling and honest writing. I miss feeling connected to women's lives and struggles. There's not enough balance. The pendulum swung too far when everyone got so goddamn mean in comments sections.

I have the same issue with podcasts. I wish there was a podcast of professional women in their 40's and 50's talking about boundaries, good enough instead of perfect, saying yes to things you don't know how to do, stretching to learn new things, keeping up with technology, better ways to say no to clients, the isolation of working from home, etc.

Maybe this is part of turning 40 - realizing if I want to see a space online for women like me, I have to create it. Does this mean I have to start a podcast? In fairness, I do have a pretty solid connection to a recording engineer... (I'm not starting a podcast.)

To balance out all the shade I just threw, here is a list of blogs and podcasts I thoroughly enjoy:


A Kaleidoscoped Life
Emily Henderson
Girls of a Certain Age
Joy the Baker
Parnassus Musing
Sweet Fine Day
The Crepes of Wrath
Wholeheartedly Healthy
Yes and Yes


2 Dope Queens
Another Round
Call Your Girlfriend
Ctrl Alt Delete
Dear Sugar Radio
Fresh Air
Put Your Hands Together
This American Life
WTF with Marc Maron

Random Sheroes Born Before the Bicentennial:

Brene Brown
Elizabeth Gilbert
Jen Lancaster
Ann Patchett
Esther Perel
Ruth Reichl
Gretchen Rubin
Patti Smith
Zadie Smith
Cheryl Strayed

May 9, 2016

An Interview with Stay-At-Home Mom Chrissi Krause

You know when you work with a guy and he's like, "You would like my wife" and you're like, "No." And then you meet her and you're mad at him for not introducing you sooner? Well, that's how today's bitch entered my life. I met Chrissi in 2006/2007 when her husband and I started working together. She was the foul-mouthed jokester my life was missing, and she's been cracking me up ever since.

It's funny, I've been friends with Chrissi through some ALL CAPS SERIOUS shit, but when I think about our friendship, I never think think about that stuff, I only think about how much fun we've had talking about ghosts, assuring each other we're psychic, and laughing at our husbands' shared obsession with COPS (both the show AND the profession). I feel like that's the sign of a good friendship. Meet today's bitch, my friend, and my hairdresser that one time, Chrissi Krause!

You’re a stay-at-home mom. How many children do you have?

I have 1.5 children. We will have number two arriving at the end of this summer…. God be with us.

What did you do before you made the transition to stay-at-home mom?

I worked as a Process Engineer for a cell phone insurance company, among other things…. Originally an Army Officer, then Regional Contract Manager for a logistics company, then as the Commercial Driver’s License Assistant Director for the state of Tennessee. You know, the usual. We won’t even go into the year I thought it was a good idea to throw all caution to the wind and become a hairdresser.

When did you first learn about that field of work?

My degree is in Systems Engineering and one of my classmates from West Point thought I’d be a good fit for an opening at the company she was working for. I figured, for once, I would use my degree (most West Point graduates don’t use our degrees because we go straight into the Army as active duty officers and then once we get out, we usually transition with the help of a headhunter that doesn’t necessarily place you with your degree).

What was your path that led you to becoming a stay-at-home mom?

That’s how I was raised. My mom stayed at home with my two younger sisters and I, so I always knew that when it was my turn, that’s how I would want to do it. I had NO IDEA it would be this hard, and honestly don’t know how my mom did it with three of us. I shudder to think what will be left of me in the fall when I have two!

Favorite piece of advice, parenting or otherwise?

Stop trying to do everything yourself.  

Failure you learned from, or that helped you improve?

I learned quickly after having my son Max that there is zero control and zero planning. My personality and background before him don’t really mesh with the “go with the flow” attitude that you need when a little person comes along. I would get so frustrated, and felt like I literally couldn’t do anything, or go anywhere when we first had him because babies are so unpredictable. When I finally stopped trying to fight it and realized that one bad night, day, or even a few hours, didn’t translate to everything being ruined, I feel like life got a lot easier for me. Rather than doing everything myself, I learned it was okay, and completely necessary, to take one day at a time, and to ask for help when I needed it.

*I still don't ask for help as much as I should.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Omg, if I’m not being OCD about keeping the house straight, my car clean, or the yard/flower beds nice, I’d redecorate/reorganize around the house. 

Or read a magazine and do my nails. 

Or sleep. 

What is your greatest success (doesn’t have to be about parenting)?

I’m still super proud, and sometimes in disbelief, that I graduated from West Point. It was the proudest day of my life; I still think about looking up in the bleachers after our graduation parade and seeing my Dad beaming, giving me a thumbs up, and saying “way to go, Chris!” (he’s a grad, too, and my grandfathers on both sides were Army officers).  

Obviously I love Max with everything in me and he is the best thing I’ve ever done, but he’s still a work in progress…. We’ll talk when he’s 18.

What’s the first app or website you open in the morning?

Facebook or Instagram.

How do you decompress at the end of the day?

I’m really fortunate that my husband Mike is so involved and steps in once he gets home since I’ve been dealing with a small terrorist all day. After dinner, Mike usually does bath time and takes Max upstairs to play so I get to shower alone and either zone out watching TV or troll social media.

What’s the hardest thing about being a stay-at-home mom that isn’t obvious?

You’re doing it all. Well, I am. Errands, bills, laundry, dry cleaning, house stuff/yard stuff, groceries/dinner, keeping a small human alive… I tease Mike that he has a personal assistant and that I’d give anything some days to be showered, dressed, and drive away in peace and quiet each morning knowing that everything is taken care of and that Max is safe and happy.  

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about stay-at-home moms?

“What do you do all day?” Dude. What DON’T I do? I get it if someone isn’t picky about their house being clean, laundry being done, etc., but I am. I can’t stand a mess, so there’s always something to do, and someone right behind me undoing it. It's the hardest job I’ve ever had.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Well, they’re all on DVR, so I’ll have to go with the latest… The Walking Dead, but now that we have to wait until OCTOBER, I’m into Southern Charm on Bravo because it's a riot and a hot mess. I need to catch up on, oh, the last two years of Game of Thrones...

Favorite snack (keep in mind I’m five months pregnant, so it changes) is currently tomatoes and fresh mozzarella with balsamic vinaigrette. Like, errrday. My maiden name IS Cicerelle, after all. So. Mangia!

All photos courtesy of Chrissi Krause

May 2, 2016

An Interview with Labor and Delivery Travel Nurse Rosalie Hunt Gunson

The whole point of this series is to highlight women, but I would be remiss not to mention that the reason I know Rosie is because her husband is my husband's childhood best friend, and pompadour look-alike. I've known Rosie almost as long as I've known John. When John and I were dating, Rosie and her husband would come to Tennessee for Bonnaroo and hang out with us. And then we would see them when we went to Maryland.

Rosie is one of the kindest, most positive people you'll ever meet. It is no surprise that she made helping women her career. It is also no surprise that she's the kind of nurse that hospitals all over the country are vying for. In the words of Andre 3000, this one goes out to the baby's mamas, mamas... Mamas, mamas, baby mamas, mamas. Meet today's bitch, Rosalie Hunt Gunson!

What is your job title and where do you work? 

Currently I work as a travel nurse. This is where a company or hospital hires me though a nursing agency to fill in when they are short-staffed (kind of like a temp position - only very specific, for example I work as a Labor and Delivery travel nurse). It is usually a 13-week contract that can be extended if you and/or the hospital decide. It is an RN (registered nurse) position. I recently got my Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner degree and license, but my husband and I wanted to travel before I take a full-time nurse practitioner job to explore the country and find out where we want to live and settle down. The fun thing is the agency you work for gives you furnished housing and pays for your travel expenses on top of your normal pay, making your move and stay in a new city pretty easy. Also, you only work three 12-hour shifts (36 hrs) a week, so on your days off you can explore the city. 

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I learned about travel nurses in nursing school in 2005. We had a travel nurse come speak to our class to show us some of the different types of nursing available. I knew I wanted to work in women’s reproductive health before I went to nursing school; it was why I went to nursing school, and I knew I was interested in traveling.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do? 

I love working with women and children and educating people about their health, wellness, bodies and options. Through nursing and direct patient care, I find you can really change peoples lives through education and health promotion. There is so much research done stating if women are living healthy, happy lives, so will their children and families. I fully believe this and knew from college this is where my passion lies and where I wanted to focus my career.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I went to nursing school at Johns Hopkins and graduated in 2005. In school, I worked as a nurse aid and scrub tech (assisting in cesarean sections) in Labor and Delivery. Once I graduated, I started working Labor and Delivery as an RN and did that for about 10 years. I began travel nursing in 2009 and went back and forth between traveling and working as a staff RN. Once I decided to get my Nurse Practitioner in women’s health from the University of Pennsylvania (graduated in 2015 with a master’s degree), I worked part-time while in school and also worked at a fertility clinic, which was an amazing experience to work with people at the beginning of their journey to parenthood. I became certified and taught childbirth education and prenatal yoga on the side. I have worked in a few different states:  DC, MD, NY, PA, and now CA. 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Surround yourself with people who inspire you and challenge you to step out of your comfort zone. I have had the most amazing teachers at Hopkins and Penn, as well as fellow nurses I have worked with, who are at the forefront of the nursing practice. They are writing textbooks, giving lectures worldwide, and challenging me to stay up to date on the most current evidence based practices, and to go above and beyond the norm. The people you serve deserve the best, so it is our job as providers to make sure we can give them that. I have had many times in my career where I could have decided to stay where I was and keep doing my same job, but instead I decided to step out of my comfort zone and strive for more (example: further education, yoga certification, childbirth education certification, travel nursing), and those experiences helped me grow so much and give back so much more. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I learned that you have to take time for yourself. I do this now by doing little things (yoga, a massage, reading a good book). As a health provider, you can give and give and give and forget about yourself. I learned from experience that no one will look out for you if you are not looking out for yourself. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but in a sense that if you are living a healthy, balanced life, you can live by example and help others do the same, and actually provide better care.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I would take an art class. I love art, painting, drawing and art history, but don’t usually give myself the time to do that. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

I feel getting my Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner degree from Penn has been my greatest success. It was rated the #1 advanced practice nursing school in the country the year I graduated, and as someone who only had average to good grades in high school, going to an Ivy league college and completing my degree while working (even though it took me 4 years) was a great accomplishment. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Twitter or Facebook. I use Twitter to get my daily news since I follow a lot of organizations and news sites, and Facebook to connect with friends and family. I am part of a Facebook group called “gypsy nurses”. It is full of travel RN’s and they are always posting awesome pictures of the places they are (Alaska, the Keys, Virgin Islands, pretty much every state), and giving each other tips and motivation.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

I love good food and cooking, so I try to cook or go somewhere fun to eat with my hubby. I am close with my family, so giving them a call on my way home even if it’s only for 5 minutes makes me feel happy and grounded, especially when I am living out of state. Also, I practice yoga and meditation regularly and that helps me to decompress.  

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Sometimes, both in Labor and Delivery and as a women’s health provider, you see people at one of the best moments of their lives (having a baby can be so wonderful and exciting), but sometimes, not often, but sometimes, it is the hardest day in someone’s life, and when there is a tragedy, or circumstances that are sad, it can be hard to stay strong and professional for the patient. This sort of thing used to make me very uncomfortable as a new nurse. I did not know what to say or do. I have learned now mostly through doing and working with some amazing nurses, doctors, and midwives how to help people through difficult moments, and now I find peace and purpose in doing so. As a nurse, you see and are a part of people’s most private and intimate moments, literally life and death, and learning how to navigate that in a way that honors and respects the individual and being able to do that and then go home and live your own life is something I am always working on.  

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

I think people assume that nursing is all manual labor skills (cleaning people up, helping people to the bathroom, etc). They may not realize how important using your brain is in this profession. Nurses get a bad wrap in the media and on TV. I think that is changing, but it is something we still have to fight. Nurses catch medical errors and their advocacy for patients is so important in preventing bad outcomes. Also, many people don’t know the role of a nurse practitioner. They do not know that nurse practitioners are also known as mid-level providers and can prescribe medications and basically see patients the same as a physician in an office.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

My favorite TV show right now is VEEP. I feel like I know DC so well and I like seeing shows that poke fun at it. I also like House of Cards. My favorite snack is chips and hummus or nachos. 

All photos courtesy of Rosalie Hunt Gunson

April 29, 2016

Half Ironman 70.3 Brick Workouts

Remember that song by the Commodores, "Brick House?" Well, if you're a triathlete, your "brick house" is going to be built with a lot less dancing and a lot more pain.

In the last post, I talked about gear and how much you should borrow. Today I'm covering brick workouts, or bricks, as most of us call them. And just like the Commodores, I "ain't holding nothing back."

Bricks were one of, if not my biggest, sources of anxiety when I was training for my Half Ironman. How many bricks do I do a week? How long should my bricks be? Are they all going to feel terrible? Will this ever get easier? Am I really going to be able to run a half marathon after a 56-mile bike ride?

10-30 minutes

If you go back to my post on a 20-week training plan, you'll see my actual training plan, and you can see the brick workouts I did. I did a short brick during the week and a longer brick on the weekends. Everyone you ask will have a different opinion on the effectiveness of bricks. I think they're a must, otherwise your legs are not going to understand what you're asking them to do when you get off the bike on race day.

Scene: Race Day, mile 55 of bike course
Legs: WEEEEEE! One more mile to go. That wasn't so bad. You're welcome!

Scene:  T2, changes into running shoes
Legs:  Wait. What are you doing? Why are you changing shoes? You want me to do what? Bitch, I just rode 56 miles!

Because there are so many different schools of thought on bricks, I thought I'd bring in reinforcements. These are the people I went to during my training, to ask about bricks, and at least a hundred other things.

Also, you know if you're riding your bike this much, it needs regular tune-ups, right? Red Kite is my bike shop. In addition to keeping Truffle Butter (my bike's name is Truffle Butter) in tip-top, Shannon suggested purple handlebar tape for my race, which is hands-down the smartest thing anyone recommended to me. Out of 3,500 racers, I was the only one with purple handlebar tape, which A) made it easy to find my bike in transition, and B) afforded me lots of "Good job, purple handlebars!" during the bike portion. And if you know me, then you know how much I needed people to talk to me during that race.

Okay, on with the show.

Patrick Harkins
Co-Owner, Red Kite Bicycle Studio
Ironman Chattanooga 2014

As amazingly sucky as bricks can be, we need them for a couple of reasons. First, you just have to get your body used to running off the bike. That sensation you get the first time you run after riding - super heavy legs, like something is wrong, or that you've just made some terrible life choices? That actually goes away. Well, it gets better - much better. But, like anything else, you have to do it to get used to it. One thing that not a lot of folks realize about triathlons is that it doesn't matter how well you run. It matters how well you run off the bike. You may get close to running as fast off the bike as you do normally, but you have to practice and let your body adapt. 

The second, and maybe more important argument in favor of bricks has to do with energy allocation. A triathlon is an exercise in allocation - the more energy you use on the bike, the less energy you have left for the run. I learned this lesson in a very painful way while training for IM Chattanooga with my girlfriend, Wendi. Wendi is... let's just say she's the athlete in the family. She's an accomplished ultra-runner, but less experienced on the bike. We'd go on long training days together, and I learned that, if I tempered my effort VERY CAREFULLY on the bike, I'd be able to just barely hang on to Wendi during the run afterwards (seriously - barely). But if I went too hard on the bike, a couple of things would happen: 1) I'd be too tired to run well afterwards, and 2) Wendi would be mad, which made #1 a whole lot worse. I won't lie, there were tears. Luckily for me (and our relationship), I eventually learned my lesson and it served me well on race day. So - you need bricks because... if you learn to ride like there's a run afterwards, you'll be a lot happier. Just ask Wendi. 

Marne McLyman
Ironman Lake Placid 2008
Ironman Louisville 2009
Ironman Florida 2012
Ironman Chattanooga 2014

The term "brick" couldn't be more accurate for this type of workout. You hop off your bike after riding several hours, ready to run with the grace of a gazelle in the African plains. Your foot makes contact with the pavement and you start running only to discover that you are running more like a hippo in a mud bath versus that gazelle on the plains. THIS is a brick workout. It is evil. It is necessary. A traditional brick workout consists of a bike ride immediately followed by a run. The combo of distances will vary depending on what you are training for, but the bottom line is if you are signed up for a triathlon, a sprint distance to an Ironman, you should do at least one brick workout a week. I'm currently training for Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. I do my brick workout on the weekend as part of my long training days. I'm about a month out from race day, so my brick workout is about a 55 mile bike ride and a 2 mile run. In the past when I've trained for Ironman races, I have done shorter rides with longer runs to mix it up. The main goal of a brick workout is to get used to that feeling of running right after you finish your bike ride. These workouts are also great for mental training because 9 times out of 10 your legs will feel like bricks... that hippo running through mud. You need the mental toughness training to gain the confidence that you can get through those first few miles. Your legs will wake up and that inner gazelle will come out. And if it doesn't... don't sweat it. Just put one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time. Ain't no shame in the Ironman shuffle!

Daniel Hudgins
Coach, X3 Endurance
Ironman Wisconsin 2013
Ironman Texas 2014

Brick workouts provide some benefits in training for any distance triathlon. Three great reasons to do them: 1) physical adaptations, 2) an understanding of how to run once you get off the bike, and 3) mental toughness. The cycling portion should contain periods of aerobic and anaerobic work. This will really provide some good strength since cycling requires a little more muscular strength than running. Reaching a high heart rate and high gearing combine to create a great cycling workout. The run portion will teach your body to transition properly from the very quick turnover of the legs in cycling to the slower turnover in running. A lot of triathletes tend to get off the bike and run too fast. I encourage people in training to start out much slower than they think they should on the run. Then pick up the pace. Aim to negative split the run, and you will do it in your race as well. In terms of mental toughness, cycling combined with running creates a really gritty mindset, too. It will leave you feeling like a champion just knowing you can run - and run well - once you get off the bike. 

I typically give my athletes one or two brick workouts a week.  

When: Mid-week
What: Bike to Run Brick
The Workout:
45-75 minute hard cycling session (preferably indoors on the trainer to ride hard enough consistently)
20 minute run, negative split (run faster the last 10 minutes than the first 10 minutes)

When: Two or three times near the middle and end of a 20 week training period.
What: A multi-brick workout on the weekend in place of a single long ride and a single long run. 
The Workout:
(3x brick) 
Try to ride and run smart - slightly increasing the pace each time.
Ride 20 miles, Run 3
Ride 20 miles, Run 3
Ride 20 miles, Run 3

Meg Willoughby
Ironman 70.3 Augusta
Ironman 70.3 Muncie
Beach2Battleship 140.6, 2013
Ironman Chattanooga 118.4, 2015 (inside joke alert)

Bricks are definitely not fun. No one looks forward to them. But I think it IS important to do them for whatever distance triathlon you are preparing for. People new to triathlons just don’t realize how odd it feels to get off a bike and start running. Your legs don’t know what to do. You’ve been sitting and using a certain set of muscles for the bike, and suddenly you are running and engaging another set of muscles to run. And your legs feel like jello. EVERYONE’S legs feel like jello. But doing bricks helps you to prepare for this feeling (and not mentally FREAK OUT) and learn how to push through. Because after about 10 minutes, your legs start to work again and you can find your stride. Bricks teach your leg muscles to transition, but they also give you confidence and the mental training to push through that crappy feeling on race day. Even running 10-15 minutes after a ride is good for a shorter distance triathlon. For a half or full IM, 30min - 1hour is good.


I hope this helps! I know bricks are what people have the most questions about when training for a triathlon, or at least I did. Post your questions and comments and I'll make sure you get the answers and information you need. And go get your bike tuned up!


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