There Is No Finish Line

Over the past three years, I have occasionally made it out for a run, but most of the time it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Or an attractive one. I did enjoy trips to the “river path” (Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail), where I took a few snapshots of the seasons. I am ashamed to say that I put more effort into taking these pictures than I did into the actual runs. Despite my effort, they did not even come out that well, but they should give you an idea of how beautiful the tow path is.

IMG_7665 IMG_7666My whole life I have been of the opinion that nobody “actually” likes running. I am a distance swimmer at heart. Running always seemed painful and sweaty and never really appealed to me. I think that Parks and Rec adequately summarized this point of view, which was undoubtedly shared by many of us.

Jogging

That being said, I have always wanted to finish a triathlon. I have also always been impressed by people that can just go out and enjoy a run everyday. For these reasons, I made it my goal this summer to learn to tolerate running–I challenged myself to thirty days of what I thought would be endless torture. Not for distance, not for time, but to become comfortable with the idea of huffing and puffing while moving my legs really fast on the ground. For me, this was a big step. I would like to share what I’ve learned, in case anybody else is interested in doing something similar.

After my 30 days, I continue to go out on runs several times a week. I feel great, I incidentally lost “finals weight” (no thanks to you, Hansel and Griddle banana flip smoothies), I am madly in love with our beautiful school and community, and I find that I look forward to my runs. When I run I clear my head and relax. Even just 20-30 minutes between my job and homework is immensely satisfying and improves my mood. Now I look forward to increasing my speed and distance! It took a few weeks to form the habit and now I can’t get enough.

There are so many things you can experience if you just get out the door. You become conscious of the community you’re living in. You become a part of this new mysterious group of people- the “runners” that “actually” like running. If you run through parks, you start to notice the animals. Turtles, deer, beavers, foxes, turkeys… You watch the seasons bloom. You start to plan to see sunsets and sunrises. Not to mention that this is the only body you have–you might as well nourish it, take care of it and challenge it.

WHY: BENEFITS OF RUNNING

  1. Sometimes it feels like your life is spinning out of control. Maybe you’ve got too much to balance, too much to handle, too much to study. I find that even a half hour run in the middle of my day relaxes me, helps me think and motivates me to study harder, work harder, get more stuff done!
  2. Running strengthens your immune system, prevents high blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, and improves your sleep quality. Running is also linked to neurogenesis–neuronal cell formation–which is important in memory formation and learning. Instead of pulling an all nighter and cramming all day during finals, get a full night of sleep and take breaks to exercise. You’ll be more efficient while studying.
  3. Unfortunately life isn’t a pool and you can’t swim to class. But you can run just about anywhere and you don’t need any equipment (except good sneakers that won’t hurt your feet). This is a form of exercise that you can do anywhere at any time–free of charge.
  4. Fun 5ks. Rutgers has many of these throughout the year–color run, mud run, big chill, glow in the dark…
  5. There is no reason that you can’t fit in half an hour of exercise in your day. There is no excuse. Your brain, your body and your future self will thank you.
  6. Endorphins, endorphins, endorphins. Running makes you happy. This is the science of happiness. Go and grab some for yourself. It will also boost your confidence and every time you achieve a new goal you’ll feel a surge of pride!

WHERE: PLACES AT RUTGERS

  • Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail (you won’t get enough of this place, I promise)

River Path

  • Buccleugh Park

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  • Johnson Park

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  • Cook/Douglass

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  • Ecological Preserve
  • Explore, explore, explore!

MOTIVATION IDEAS

  • Find a friend to run with. Running with my best friend made an average day into one of the best I’ve had at Rutgers.
  • Make it an adventure–for example, run to the zoo in Johnson Park to feed the friendly pony a snack. Then you’re stuck because you’ve got not choice but to run back. (Yes, Rutgers has a little zoo)
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My New Friend

  • Go to sleep in your running clothes (not sneakers). I thought this was ridiculous at first, but when you wake up in your running shorts man do you feel motivated.
  • Make it a date… unless you’d rather not present yourself in that way in which case you can…
  • … make it a bet. Challenge yourself. Challenge your friends. Hold each other accountable.
  • Follow a bunch of fitness Instagrams, Tumblrs and blogs for extra motivation!
  • Make a delicious meal before you go running, so you can eat it as soon as you get back. Hopefully your housemates won’t eat it… =(
  • Buy new running clothes. Break them in.
  • Remember that you won’t ever regret exercising. What you do today will add to your progress. A week from now you’ll be happy that you started today.
  • Create running playlists… listen to audiobooks… listen to lectures… (or the new Alesso album, to each his own). I’m always motivated to go on longer runs when I’m listening to an amazing new album.
  • Plan to watch sunsets and sunrises.
  • Watch House of Cards, be motivated by Claire Underwood’s morning runs, get your life together.
  • Even if it’s the last thing in the world you want to do, put on your running gear and sneakers. Go outside. I find that the motivation to get out of the house is the hardest part. Take it a small step at a time. Most of the time when you’re already outside, the motivation will follow.
  • Most importantly, exercise because you love your body, because you want to nourish it and take care of it. Exercise to challenge yourself and to keep your heart and brain healthy and happy.

Oh the Places You’ll Go…With a Book!

For exactly a year now I’ve been carrying around this old, faded piece of paper in the back of my equally worn phone case. I’m not sure exactly why I thought carrying a list of books was absolutely necessary (like maybe I should keep spare cash or an ID there?), but alas there it resides, providing me with fine literature at a moment’s notice.

The list in all its original glory

The back

Anyway, like many college students, my ability to consume pieces of recreational literature is sadly nonexistent during the school year. Most of the time I honestly forget about the list. But in light of the obscene amount of free time summer has granted me, in between classes and interning, I’ve revisited the paper once more and have made the executive decision to read one book a week off the list. For the past 2 weeks I’ve carried out this determined plan of action and here’s what I found:

THE GOOD:

–Reading makes it easier to travel alone–

One of the first issues I faced while embarking on this literary journey was my hatred for routine. Reading every day didn’t bother me as much as the idea of having to do it in the same place every single day. In order to combat this redundancy, I began bringing a book with me whenever I went out, whether it was to grab a meal, to run errands, etc. What I found was that with a book in hand, it was astoundingly easier to explore new places alone.

Normally, my attitude on going places by myself is usually this:

I’m the student who DREADS eating alone in the dining hall or joining a new club with strangers, and yet somehow I found it liberating exploring new places knowing that, worse comes to worst, I can just find a spot and read. As a college student, one of the greatest obstacles is learning how to be comfortable in your own company, something I feel like I’m always trying to achieve. Within the past two weeks, however, I’ve discovered a new restaurant I now adore (whose menu is entirely devoted to TACOS, I REPEAT TACOS), explored a bird watching park (which oddly had like 2 birds…), and visited a local historic fort, all in my own company. Of course there were times eating alone that I felt slightly more self-conscious or when at the fort, I became extremely cognizant of everyone else around me. However, all in all, I loved the freedom of deciding to do things I liked without the crippling fear of being alone, and being able to read a good book in the unlikeliest of places.

THE BAD

–Not all books are made equally–

One of the unforeseen difficulties I have already encountered on this venture is that not all books are meant to be read in a week. Currently, I am struggling to finish my book for week two, which is Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. After enduring 400 pages, I will once again throw the book in frustration if I have to read one more detail about the quality of soil in rural England. If there is one thing I’ll take away from this book, it is that there is a clear (and apparently important) difference between the rich, heavy clay of Blackmoor Vale and the fat, alluvial soil of the valley of the Var. This minor obstacle may make me reevaluate my time limit for each novel, especially with particularly daunting ones such as Anna Karenina and Atlas Shrugged.

Over all, setting out to read a book a week off my list has been an overwhelmingly good experience. I recommend that everyone take advantage of summer to venture off to new places with good food in mind and an even greater book in hand.

Code for Your Life (or for Fun!)

Since school ended, I’ve not only been relaxing, but I’ve also been honing my CSS and HTML skills. Specifically, I’ve been attempting to code a layout for my personal Tumblr.

And before I hear a collective groan or squeal (depending on the person), I would like to be one of the many to say that Tumblr is literally just a collection of people with a variety of interests and passions, just like college. That being said, Tumblr has an interesting platform available to those who would like to customize their themes: individuals can choose from the Theme Garden, or they can code their own using the provided codes here.

I have coded layouts in the past for other writing platforms and so, have retained many of the skills gained from coding them. Coding becomes–and I’ll unfortunately use the tired cliché here– like riding a bicycle; you never quite forget how to do it exactly. Although the cliché is tired, my passion for coding isn’t.

It began in middle school…

James K. Polk Middle School,

This is from Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, a great show from my formative years and for my generation. P.S. I didn’t actually go to middle school here, although I wouldn’t have minded if I had.

To escape the terror that was middle school (Don’t lie! You all know of its terribleness!), I spent time learning how to design web pages. I accomplished this using a website called W3Schools, which opened an entirely new digital world to me. No longer could I just act as a consumer, but I could also become a producer. I could gain the ability to generate content and actually add to the web that I’d been scouring. Keep in mind that this is back in the mid-2000s, so this was around the time the first iPhone was released. (Wow, does that make me feel super old.) Web design was pretty far ahead, but it was not what it is now.

Coming back to the present, my challenge was to code my Tumblr layout.

Usually when I undertake a challenge such as this, I follow a procedure learned from past successes and failures.

Here goes.

1. STAKE OUT THE COMPETITION

Look at how others have coded their layouts. Often, if you like something specific on a blog, you can View Source and look at the code that spawned the cool design. By looking at other layouts, you’re basically researching the designs that you like best and would want on your own blog. However, if the author does not allow it, make sure you do not copy and paste their code into your own layout unless specified that you can do so. Stealing someone else’s hard work is obviously bad, not to mention rude.

2. CREATE A LABYRINTH TO CAGE ALL YOU OWN FOREVER a.k.a. SKETCH A DESIGN

You can literally do this anywhere. I usually draw up designs in Photoshop because not only can I easily make and outline the entire webpage, but I can also choose palettes of colors. However, sometimes it helps to use your hands so I opted for a sketchbook and a collection of colored pencils this time.

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Blueprint for my layout. Note: Clearly, I do not know how to draw trees.

I enjoy minimalist sorts of layouts, minimalist and modern. That’s why my page seems sort of bare. That, and I haven’t finished yet. Also, you can see the the palette of colors I played with on the side. I’m not going to use all of them, but it helps to see them all scribbled out next to each other.

3. CODE FOR YOUR LIFE

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. Using the resources of the internet and your own creativity and motivation, code out the layout. Then you can add embellishments, like changing the color(s) of the links.

And once you learn to code, it will no longer look like this:

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Image from the movie The Matrix, a must-see classic!

Creative Writing in England

I had been leading the group for about a mile, since we had stopped in a small town for a much-need pub lunch. Starting back up again after the juicy burger and delicious “chips” was more difficult than I anticipated. Everyone in our group, even those who had taken care to wear waterproof outer layers, was soaked from the first six miles, our pre-lunch warm up to the eighteen total miles that were on the agenda for the day. Four students had decided to return to the hotel already, tired of the muddy trails, thick fog, and wind burnt faces. Their leaving only made the eight of us that were left more determined as we set out for the last two thirds of the journey.

Just one of the many beautiful views we would have seen that day if it hadn't been so foggy! (This is from a different hike that overlapped the 18-miler a bit.)

Just one of the many beautiful views we would have seen that day if it hadn’t been so foggy! (This is from a different hike that overlapped the 18-miler a bit.)

Why were we willing to face such rough conditions? Simply because we had been looking forward to the longest walk of our program since our arrival in England! We had started with five and six mile walks, and slowly build ourselves up, until the final, eighteen-miler. The creative writing program just wouldn’t feel complete without it. We walked because studies have shown walking creates a rhythm that increases creativity. We walked because the authors we studied did, following the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, William Wordsworth, and so many others. And, at least in my case, I walked because I wanted to prove to myself that I could always reach the next bend or get up the next hill.

Just one of the many beautiful views we would have seen that day if it hadn't been so foggy! (This is from a different hike that overlapped the 18-miler a bit.)

So, fifteen days after arriving in England, I found myself, leading the remaining group, at the base of a hill. And it wasn’t just any hill. It reached steeply towards the sky, the narrow path only visible for about thirty yards before disappearing into the fog. I turned around to make sure everyone was caught up, and began what seemed like an impossible trek. The path was slick with mud and the droppings of the cows that freely roamed the countryside, and recent rain made it more difficult than usual to gain steady footing. The fog was so thick, and the hill reached so high that when we got to the furthest point we had been able to see from the group, the top was still invisible. On my left, the ground fell away from the path so steeply that I had to remind myself not to look down for nausea and fear of falling. After what seemed like forever, with quads burning and sweat and rain rolling down our faces, we made it to the top. Not only did we make it to the top of that particular mountain, but we climbed two others of a comparable height that day. We finished the hike the same way we had started the trip all those miles ago–smiling.

All smiles! Even after 18 miles!

All smiles! Even after 18 miles!

Going to England to hike and write for sixteen days taught me more about myself as an individual than I ever could have imagined. In that short time, I maturely dealt with losing my luggage, I read my poetry aloud to a group for the first time, I hiked more than 125 miles in total, and I successfully navigated the English rail and underground systems.On a deeper level than any of those things, however, I made great friends, and realized that I was capable of a lot more than I initially thought. I am beyond thankful for all the the experiences I had on the trip and I can’t wait to see what opportunity Rutgers throws at me next!

MedLife in Peru

Two days after finals ended, instead of basking in the freedom of summer like all of my friends, I instead saw myself rushing to JFK Airport at three in the morning, heaving two heavy suitcases up numerous escalators and stairs, and trying to navigate the unfamiliar territory of flying internationally alone. Just two weeks before, I had spontaneously decided to fly to Lima, Peru with MedLife, an organization that provides and improves access to medicine, education, and community development in low-income communities globally, which additionally Rutgers just started a chapter of this past semester. I decided to do this trip because it was a way to satisfy two of my biggest passions: travelling and helping people. However, after just ten days in Peru, I can definitely say that my experience working with the children, the patients, and all the different types of people I met while on the trip helped me way more than I helped them.

Monday through Friday in Peru took me to different communities in the densely populated settlements on the outskirts of the city known as “pueblos jovenes” where millions of people live in conditions of extreme poverty. These communities were like nothing I have ever seen before: barely-sturdy wood and tin siding made up tiny shacks that housed families and these little shacks took over the entire skyline of the area; trash of all sorts was strewn around everywhere causing the air around us to reek of decaying food, animal feces, and just general poverty.

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We learned that most people had extremely limited access to electricity and water, and when the water trucks did come, the prices were so hiked up—due to the corruption of most government workers and officials—that many cannot even afford to buy that water. Just working in these areas every day put so many things into perspective: we take hot, safe, and running water, air-conditioning, clean food, and so many other little things for granted. We do not think twice about these things; we expect our access to them to be unlimited, just because we have never had a reason not to think that way. However, working for a week with little kids who ran around smiling and laughing with nothing but each other and the dirt on the ground for entertainment, who never complained once about their lack of everything, completely dumfounded me. Every local was so happy, so content. At the end of each day, the community leaders of where we worked would express to us through translators just how thankful they were of our organization taking the time to help them. We provided doctors for their sick, educators for their children, and volunteers for construction, specifically to build staircases and preschools, proving that no one was forgotten.

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The end of the week totaled in staggering results. Just five days of providing medical clinics, including doctor check-ups, dental care, cervical and breast cancer check-ups, and education pertaining fitness, nutrition, and diseases benefitted 1862 people in those communities. We provided medical attention to 573 adults and 468 children, and taught 821 children how to properly brush their teeth. We built, primed, and painted a staircase that will benefit hundreds of people to come, as these communities are built on such high, steep, dangerous terrain. Hearing this information made our results tangible—it made it so rewarding knowing that we were making a difference and touching lives, no matter how rusty our Spanish skills were or how many times we had to ask a local to repeat themselves.

Being back in my air-conditioned, comfortable home in a clean suburbia of New Jersey, typing away on my laptop while my brother, intently focused on his FIFA match on his Xbox, sits next to me, with bags and bags of groceries just piled on the floor in the kitchen next to me makes last week seem like it never even happened. But it did. And it impacted me and all of the people I met while on the trip, in a way that no dictionary has the words to describe. Just ten days in Peru turned my entire world upside-down; it made me so much more appreciative of what I have and made me realize how lucky I am to live the life I do. It also made me realize that I want to go back to Peru and other impoverished areas globally in the future and do more. I owe so much to MedLife: not only did it allow me to make a difference in other people’s lives, but it also exposed me to the injustices of healthcare present in so many communities that we do not necessarily see and ignited a spark in me to work to fix that. This organization also allowed me to explore, go sandboarding and dune-buggying, and learn about a rich and beautiful history of a beautiful country.

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So I encourage you go on MedLife’s website, donate what you can, and/or sign up for a volunteer trip yourself. No amount of words can express just how life-changing of an experience this was and I strongly urge everyone to experience it for themselves. You know that poverty exists in places both nationally and globally, but you never truly know the real extent of it until you see it through the eyes of a child who knows of nothing else.

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