What Running 20 Miles in the Middle of the Night Taught Me About Life

Many months ago, one of my friends jumped out of bed and proclaimed (with meaningful background music), “I’m going to go for a 100 mile run this summer!”

Actually, I’m not sure how it all went down, but I like to imagine it with a dramatic flair.

Once I determined that he was still sane, I agreed to help to run a fraction of it with him. After all, this is the person who convinced me a couple years ago that I could totally run a marathon, and has dragged me through a couple so far. So, I figured the least I could do was return the favor.

And that’s the story of the (first) time I volunteered to run 20 miles in the middle of the night on the Sunrise Trail. My friend started running around 4 p.m., and I joined in from midnight to 4 a.m. (aka The Graveyard Shift). Here are a few life lessons I learned along the way:

1) Sometimes, you need to readjust. Less than 2 miles in, I got vague pain in my head. No worries, I reassured myself, this is all new territory, you had a lot of caffeine today and are running at midnight. But by mile 5, this headache had grown to epic proportions.  I didn’t want to say anything, partially because of the searing pain and partially because I felt responsible for getting my friend through the next few hours of running. Don’t be a flake! screamed the voice in my head.

And then, we made a brief pitstop to adjust headlamps (this was my first time wearing one). Almost as soon as I took mine off, a surge of blood rushed back into my head. That’s right. My headache was the result of cutting off circulation to my own brain via headlamp.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were amazing.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were this amazing.

While this was, to say the least, uncomfortable, there’s a good life take-away: as you move about your day/life in general, if you feel like your head is about to explode (literally or figuratively), then something needs to change. The answer may not be as simple as oxygen deprivation, but once you find the solution, moving forward becomes a lot easier.

2) Trading passion for glory isn’t worth it (that’s right, Eye of the Tiger). So, the biggest question people had about the whole running 100 miles was “Why?” Well, my friend basically said, “Why NOT?” It amazed me that someone could be so passionate about, well, anything. The fact that there was no tangible prize at the end of this thing baffled me. He was just doing it for the sheer sake of doing it.

This reminded me how refreshing it is to do something you love free of ulterior motives. I’m guilty of getting a bit too competitive when I run, despite the knowledge that it’s bad for my mental well-being. In this undertaking, my friend reminded me (note: he has also told me this on many, many other occasions) that relying on external factors, be they medals, praise, a promotion, etc., isn’t a great reason to do something. Do it because it’s what you love to do, and let that be all.

3) It’s an adventure! Towards the end of my shift, neither one of us spoke unless necessary (me due to sleep deprivation, and my friend because he’d been running for almost 12 hours at this point). The only noises were our feet hitting dirt, some bullfrogs, and an owl. At one point, probably around 3 a.m., it was dark- as if all the light but our headlamps had been sucked in a vacuum. And then, the sun started to rise.

Perhaps delirious, I got inexplicably excited by this. We were running toward the sun! It was all an adventure! Life is an adventure!!! My brain was full of exclamation points.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

At this point, I was reveling in the craziness of running 20 miles at midnight, and was struck with how awesome my surroundings were- the trees, the frogs, the flowers, the sky. Finding joy in the simple things genuinely makes the world seem like a better place, no matter where you are.

4) Never underestimate your friends. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again: it’s comforting to know that other people will support you, no questions asked. Even if they think you’re a little off your rocker for wanting to run 100 miles in the heat of summer. I was just one of many who participated in this run, and there was a ton of support via Facebook. Sometimes, just showing up is enough. No matter what your goals are, it’s always good to have a support team.

5) Push your limits, but know when enough is enough. Ultimately, due to the heat and humidity, my friend decided to stop running after 85 miles. It was a smart decision, anddifficult to make. Setting goals and aspiring to do things you didn’t know you could do (running 85 miles, learning how to use Photoshop, teaching yourself how to breakdance) leads to personal growth (which you probably already knew), but the tricky part is balancing this with knowing when it’s time to tap out (and not viewing it as ‘giving up’). This is something that I struggle with, and don’t have a cookie-cutter answer for (maybe because it doesn’t exist).

I’m thankful that my friend asked me to be part of this run, and am so proud of what he accomplished. It was a tremendous feat, and it all happened because, quite simply, he wanted it to happen. How many times will you get to run the Sunrise Trail at midnight with a good friend? As many times as you want.

Sometimes You’re the Windshield, Sometimes You’re the Bug


And, this past month, I tended more towards the bug.

May was a difficult month for me, which included tough life events and just having a lot going on. Part of it may be considered self-inflicted, and the other part, the universe working its magic.  Here’s the highlight reel:

1. I decided to move. After living in a place I haven’t been comfortable in for almost a year, something inspired me to (finally) act. So, I talked with my landlords, and began the quest for a new castle.

And, like many things, this was easier said than done. I’d conveniently forgotten that the process of apartment hunting isn’t exactly rainbows and butterflies. In fact, the moving process in general kind of sucks. I’m not much of a planner, and ended up packing everything in my kitchen without considering how eating was going to work out for the next week and a half.

In the end, I reached out to a close friend, and will be living in new place that I’m really excited about. The moral here: it’s okay to admit you need help sometimes. People’s generosity will surprise you.

2. There was a death in my family. In my adult life, I haven’t really encountered death, and especially not the death of someone I love. Pain and hurt (and lots of tears) are all natural to the grieving process, but I also discovered the roses that come with these thorns.

Spending time with my family, even in sorrow, made me realize just how much I love and need them. Plus, I was reminded that my great-aunt was a kind, loving and overall wonderful human being who inspired many people. And maybe, that’s what life is all about.

3.  A couple weeks ago, I ran my second marathon (which had been planned since New Years). While I finished in the time range I’d wanted, I still felt a little disappointed in myself, wondering what I could’ve done differently, done better. It was almost 80 degrees that day, and toward the end, I was struggling. Luckily, an awesome friend jumped in, water in hand, and helped me get through the last push (over a mile).

After the race, I drove back to Bowdoin College to hang out with my brother, and wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to how my body was doing. I hadn’t really eaten anything, or drank nearly enough water. A few hours later, my brother and his girlfriend graciously took care of me when my body started, well, shutting down due to dehydration.

Driving home later that night, weak and exhausted (maybe a little delirious), I felt incredibly frustrated. I’m still not sure what was more upsetting: finding out the hard way what my limits are, or the knowledge that I have them at all.

4. Steve’s Graduation: Last but not least, my little brother graduates from Bowdoin this weekend (woohoo!). The only negative thing here is Bowdoin (as a Bates alum, this caused some tension during the holidays), but I can look past that, I suppose…

All of these things, good, bad, in-between, made me realize a few things. First, I had the opportunity to reevaluate some things in my life (big and small), and gained some invaluable perspective on what it is I want. Hint: it basically boils down to love and happiness.

Second, you may have noticed the general theme in all of these events: friends and family always bailed me out. Time and time again, it amazes me how many wonderful people surround me. After this month, its a blessing I’m grateful for. If you’re struggling with something in life, even if you think it’s “too trivial” or not worth “bothering” someone over, go ahead and reach out. People can be pretty amazing, and there’s someone out there who’ll take your hand and help.

I lost my debit card and spilled unholy amounts of coffee on myself in the midst of all of this, but hey, maybe in June I’ll be the windshield.

Wordcamp Boston 2013

wordcamp2013It’s not often I get to see my friend Matt in real life. We work together virtually on almost a daily basis and I consider him one of my best friends…  he just happens to live over six hours away.

So when he told me about Wordcamp and that it was 1) in Boston and pretty close for all of us and 2) that he was going, Alice and I went down to check it out.

There were around 400 people at the conference from all over the place so I didn’t expect to know anyone. Of course I am in line for sandwiches behind a guy I haven’t seen since college who now is working on a cool Wordpress plugin and I run into Tracy who I’ve only seen online yet lives in Maine.

In other words, I actually knew people! I mean, we were in Boston (very closeby) not Istanbul but still, small world.

The biggest takeaway for me? The need for fast websites. My favorite talk of the conference was by Chris Ferdinandi called ‘Wicked Fast Wordpress’ on this very topic.

As we try to make websites more interactive, interesting, and responsive to design, us website designers/developers have invariably slowed down how fast they load. If 70% of people will not wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load before moving on, that’s something we need to pay attention to. (I’ll do a whole blog post on this sometime soon I am sure.)

Year after year, website security is always a concern. No matter what the software, there is no such thing as a 100% safe website. But Sam Hotchkiss’ presentation about security was complete and a favorite of Matt and Alice (I was in another room watching a different presentation… the good news is that link goes to a video where you can watch his talk!)

And finally, there was more talk about responsive design: how to do it well, deal with issues unique to that process. If you want to know a bit more about it, click on this post we have about dealing with mobile users on your website. 

All and all, it was a great weekend where we not only got to learn new things from some very smart people but have lots of bonding time, mainly over food. We’ll be back next year I’m sure but hopefully be getting to see Matt before then.

A Look Back At 2012

2012 was quite a year, so we decided to make a picture capturing all of the big things that happened.

Happy New Year everybody!2012review3

How Do I Control What Comes Up In A Google Search?

I got an excellent question via email from a friend of mine. She went through a divorce and has recently started dating again. One of her dates found her divorce details via a Google search. While she is not trying to hide anything, she also understandably doesn’t want this to be the first thing that comes up about her online.

Now I used to work in the internet department of a newspaper and people would call and ask us to take out items from police reports, divorce listings, property transfers, etc. for many reasons. In all cases, the answer was ‘no’ since they were part of the public record. Even if you couldn’t find it on our particular website you could find it on the state of Maine website and other places like it. You can pretend to put out a fire by fighting it in one room of a house but really you’d have to eliminate it at the source (like the local courthouse) to truly make it go away.

If the information isn’t true, you can try contacting the website administrator, print some kind of retraction, or find out more about your rights and acceptable actions against online slander. I’m not going to pretend to be a lawyer here but know that there are steps you can take if someone is saying something online that can be defined as slander.

If the information is true, this will be a bit trickier. Sure you can still contact the website administrator but they legally don’t have to do anything about it.

What you can do is push that item to the second or third page of Google but adding some new information for Google to find about you. Think of it as adding positive things you can control to the online space. Here are some ideas:

Make LinkedIn and/or Facebook profile.
If someone Googles your name, what better thing to come up then your resume? You can create other social media profiles as well but these two are particularly effective since one page of results will show all ‘Nicole Ouellette’s on a SERP page and one page will show you. See Exhibit A:

When you looked up my name a few years ago, it was some HR person in Massachusetts. Guess who it is now?

When you looked up my name a few years ago, it was some HR person in Massachusetts. Guess who it is now?

Play nice with Google.
Google owns Google+, Blogger, Youtube, and lots of other websites. Most of these websites allow you to create free profiles. Play nice on Google-owned websites by creating profiles  since those are likely getting preferential treatment by that search engine. (sure there’s nothing offical that says this but come on, if it was you, wouldn’t you do it too?)

Guest post on some blogs.
When I look up my name, I see websites where I’ve either been interviewed or wrote an article for. If you are, say, in the medical field, offer to guest post on a related blog. Contact the blog owner and let them know you have an idea for a post. This site has a list of blogs open for guest posting:

So just a few easy ideas to make some good news appear higher on web searches. Remember, time heals all wounds, in life and online. Eventually bad news does fade away, even if you wouldn’t do anything and the latest of what’s going on with you will appear prominently. So get to doing the things in the life that you’re proud to have online. :^)

Learning To Cook From Everyone You Meet

So I have an informal goal from everyone I meet and become friendly with: learn a recipe from them. It’s not something I disclose or even have said out loud (until now) but something I’m really happy I’ve actually done over the last ten years.

It all started with Madame Granier who was my host mom during my semester in France. I really loved her cooking so about a month in, once I was a bit more confident in my French, I asked if she would mind giving me her recipes. This began an almost nightly tradition of sitting at the kitchen table with tea with Petite Beurre biscuits and Mme. Granier dictating me a recipe.  Looking back on it, maybe this was so M. Granier would do the dishes while we chatted but she seemed to enjoy dictating recipes to me. She was not expecting my follow up questions like “How much salt?” but she tried to guess as best she could. Even almost ten years later, I’m still making crepes from the original recipe along with an occasional endives au gratin and soupe au lentils. (The lentil soup involves three containers and has a drawing complete with arrows that goes with the recipe).

Ever since Mme. Granier, I’ve tried to learn a recipe from everyone I meet. And whether we become life long buddies or the relationship fizzles, I can always take something really tangible away from each person who has been a part of my life. And making the recipe makes me think of other good memories from them.

A side effect is that learning ended up being a great way to get to know people. I would have never known about my friend Alice is Armenian had she not shown me how to make her delicious version of tzatziki (served with zuchini crisped up in a little olive oil- yum!). I discovered a boyfriend’s Italian roots when he revealed his grandmother’s calzone recipe. What better way to know someone then to cook with and eat with them something that they love?

The biggest cooking experiment was the Vinalhaven dinner club. As five single women living on an island bound together by our weekday supper club, we certainly learned a lot about everyone by taking turns cooking and eating with everyone five meals a week.

I love that most of my fondest memories involve food and getting back to those times just involves an hour or so in the kitchen.

What’s your favorite thing to cook that reminds you of someone? (Share links to recipes if they are online!)

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