Shades of Bordeaux: Scalloped Tank Top and Striped Skater Skirt

Bordeaux, France
college style, study abroad style
college style, study abroad style
college style, study abroad style
college style, study abroad style
college style, study abroad style
Top, Marshall's (only $3!!) | Skirt, Target | Shoes, Target | Sunglasses, China | Earrings, Forever 21

I woke up crying the other night. 

Unlike at home or school, my sobs fell unnoticed. Between my room and the house was a 15-meter walkway and a mini-backyard--my host family could've been nothing but oblivious. So instead of disturbing my brother's deep slumber or wrinkling the brows of my floormates, the cries of anguish pierced the night before the inky darkness swallowed them. 

I dreamt about home, whatever that meant. I dreamt about the fissures in my family. I dreamt of my mother's overzealous enthusiasm for buying clothes, perhaps in an attempt to ease the numbness of her desk job. I dreamt of my brother and father's cold relationship. I dreamt of discussing my concerns with them. I dreamt of tears--the very real tears that had awoken me.

I wished I had been able to patch the cracks in my three months home, to fill the empty spaces with love and resonance. I wished I hadn't been so angsty that summer, bringing only more pain to the table. 

I realized that night that I was doing it all wrong. For the majority of the summer, I wished I was elsewhere. Bearing the weight of frayed relationships and my unfulfilling cubicle job, I wanted to fast forward to my time abroad--then I'll be happy, I thought. Now in France, I caught similar sentiments seeping into my consciousness--I'll be happy when I'm in England, when I can speak again without sounding like an idiot, when I'm back to the dorm life, when I can find vegan food more easily. 

As my sobs subsided, I resolved to shed my self-hindering habit. Why did I always assume that different circumstances would absolve my problems? Why was I always waiting to be happy? There will always be obstacles, regardless of where or when we are, and that's okay. It's time to whole-heartedly embrace here and now.

*                                                                      *                                                               *

Before I left, I convinced myself that I understood the not-so-glamorous side of study abroad. Nothing, really, could prepare me for the disorientation of the first few days. In the U.S., I thought I was fairly decent at French--my accent was dismal, but I could usually get by in class. Here, as I've pledged to only speak French, I've realized how limited my vocabulary and horrifically dismal my accent are. To top things off, I was hungry-grumpy all the time since I hadn't yet found filling and tasty meat substitutes.

Today was the first turning point. I ventured to the heart of the city just to explore, found the perfect organic store (and became slightly emotional at their lovely selection of vegan-friendly food), took outfits shots in the middle of the road, and sweated my butt off at the gym. I'm a long ways from being comfortable--maybe I'll never be there--but, I'm learning. And like I said at the beginning of college: there's no growing without growing pains.

post signature

OOTD: 3 Ways to Style a Crop Top

how to style a crop top
crop top outfit
crop top outfit
crop top outfit
crop top outfit fall
crop top outfit fall
crop top outfit fall
crop top outfit
crop top outfit
crop top outfit

I snagged this crop top over a year ago in the middle of the winter (off-season shopping, anyone?). The frigid temperatures and violent snowstorms made it impractical for this gem to leave my closet that season, but once winter thawed, the top still remained more of a trophy piece than a full-fledged member of my wardrobe. 

Until this summer, I'd only worn the top one way--over a skirt--in this spring look (guilty as charged with an outfit repeat haha). But since I left a large fraction of my clothes at school, remixing was essential to avoiding regular outfit reappearances. 

The result? 3 summer looks composed of only 4 clothing items. Next up: extreme fall remixing, study abroad edition.

post signature

Artsy Endeavors + Life Updates: Catharsis

mission coffee columbus
The next week will be spent café hopping, crying over math proofs, and attempting to shove 10 months of my existence into one 50lb suitcase
paletas diamonds ice cream columbus
It's always popsicle weather
apples the strip pittsburgh
raw vegan food, eden restaurant pittsburgh
Thank you family for indulging me in my quest for beautiful vegan food
pittsburgh yellow bridge, ivy
Family trips: stopping every 5 seconds for my brother to catch Pokémon, or for me to snap photos
vegan banana pancakes
Vegan banana pancakes for dinner...while listening to Jack Johnson's Banana Pancakes
the arcade cleveland
Adventuring (the Arcade)
blackhand gorge newark ohio
Always more to explore (Blackhand Gorge)
violin flatlay
Quiet mornings
All photos from my instagram

The summer opened with a torrent of tears. 

Hot, salty streams flowed fiercely upon my cheeks hours before I even left the airport to return home from school. The thick storm clouds trailed me on the flight, their morose presence permeating every aspect of my being. The dark fog of my mind starkly contrasted with the majestic, fluffy dreamland I had encountered on my last return. These clouds were relentless. They were heavy with regret, tainted by finality, unyielding to my resistance.

In returning to my hometown, I was leaving home. And this was no "see you later"--this was farewell. Home was college, where I had forged a place of my own--where I dove into resonant disciplines, where I trained along vibrant New England landscapes, where I worked as a math teaching assistant. It was where I had struggled, bawled, roared, and triumphed. It was where I no longer floated among separate spheres, always belonging but also never. It was where I had found my first family of friends.

The bleak showers continued weeks after my return. I bawled after rude encounters, I bawled after reading poignant Thought Catalog articles, I bawled after watching inspirational America's Got Talent episodes, I bawled after chatting with my friends. I bawled because I wasn't ready to let go of my family at school, who would graduate the year I was abroad. I bawled because my cubicle internship felt isolating and unstimulating. I bawled because I yearned to explore, but I was confined to family life in my all-to-familiar hometown. I bawled because I was terrified of the upcoming changes to my environment, relationships, lifestyle. 

I was determined to find myself again. Training for triathlons became my catharsis--I channeled my anxiety and fear into swimming longer, lifting more, biking faster, and running stronger. I turned my tedious workplace tasks into an efficiency game--how quickly could I complete a project without sacrificing accuracy? I read books whose messages inspired me to create my own peace (The Count of Monte Cristo, Adventures for Your Soul, Wild). I adventured to new places in my home state. I learned to embrace the course of the universe and really trust God's plan. (I did not learn how to be less cheesy).

The steady rain dwindled to a drizzle. The drizzle eventually dissipated altogether. The storms returned occasionally, but I was ready--no raincoat or umbrella necessary. After months of attempting to resist the inevitable, to shield myself from pain, I learned. Beneath the violent skies, I laughed this time as water streamed down my face.

post signature

Marathon Training: 4 Tips to Rebound from a Serious Injury

marathon training for injury-prone runners

The MRI machine whirs, clicks, and shakes ominously; I try to keep still.

A few days later, I find myself confined to a walking boot and crutches, diagnosed with a metatarsal stress reaction. I'm only a few weeks out from the full marathon I'd dreamed of racing, I'd already completed the 20-mile training run, and this was my second attempt to train for a marathon after surrendering to a knee injury the season before. 

This was my spring 2015. Even worse, three out of my four most recent training seasons had ended in overuse injuries. I was frustrated and dejected--it seemed as if I had already done all I could. After my first unsuccessful marathon attempt, I dedicated half my workouts to crosstraining. I was averaging under 30 miles in running most weeks, yet I still managed to hurt myself. I began to wonder whether my body could even physically handle chasing my long-time marathon dream.

After meeting with the training center doctor, I limped back to my dorm. You'll need to take at least two and a half months off from running, he had said. I wanted to cry, but I was too numb. 

My full marathon would have to wait, and it would have to wait for a long time. Quick calculations told me I'd be far from ready for another attempt in the fall. Delayed gratification, delayed gratification, delayed gratification...I repeated the words in my head like a mantra.

Then, I hobbled back to the gym for a workout. 

My doctor recommended no lower extremity exertion for at least two weeks. The arm bike in the training room, however, was safe. My scrawny limbs pedaled furiously in attempt to quelch the inky sadness of yet another unattained goal. 

"Lily, this tells me a lot about you."

I looked up--it was my doctor. 

"The fact that you're back here training after what I just told you tells me a lot. I have no doubt that you'll run your marathon before you graduate."

I smiled, thanking him. 

And just one year later, I ran that marathon.

*                                                                       *                                                             *

So if an injury has postponed your race ambitions, I know exactly how that feels--I've been there several times. In a few months, however, I'll have been injury-free for a year (minus the little aches that don't upset training). Here's what I did to finally conquer my long-time goal, and stay as healthy as possible.

1. Get a gait analysis.

Since I'd significantly reduced my mileage but was still getting hurt, I figured something must be inherently wrong with my biomechanics. So, I made an appointment with my local sports medicine team to have my running form analyzed. My two-part analysis totaled about $250; while it was definitely an investment, my MRI was even more of an expense--I knew that if the analysis were effective, I could save hundreds of dollars on medical bills from injuries. 

In the first part, my physical therapist performed a strength evaluation. After completing several resistance exercises, I learned that my left hip was weaker than my right, potentially resulting in compromised form.

In the actual gait analysis, I ran on a treadmill as my PT videotaped me. I learned that my knees turned in, straining my lower legs more than necessary. I also learned that my cadence was a little low and that my arms swung across my body. My PT taught me how to run more efficiently, and showed me strengthening exercises for important muscle groups. A year later, I still complete these exercises several times a week.

After correcting my form, running felt different. It felt lighter and freer. Consequently, I ran faster--in fall 2015, I broke my half-marathon PR by 5+ minutes, averaging 7:57 a mile.

I never realized how crucial form was to healthy running--heck, even breathing patterns can make a huge difference! Other sports preach technique, but I rarely heard my coaches offer informed biomechanics advice--with so many runners, the focus was always on running harder and faster, not on running more efficiently. 

I can't attribute the past year's running milestones to only one source, but implementing what I learned from the gait analysis definitely tops the list. Proper form really is the foundation of successful running, and with a strong base, I was finally able to build to my dream distance.

2. Cross-train to maintain fitness.

Exercise is my antidepressant. As a student at a selective college, the workload and self-imposed pressure to perform well can be suffocating. Without workouts, I'd have long since fallen apart--training is like a separate world, one where deadlines are inconsequential--it's just sweaty me and my desire to become stronger. And this summer, when I was trudging through bogs of emotional unrest, training brought me peace and purpose. 

I know it's easy to fall into a funk after learning unfortunate news. It's easy to feel discouraged and to wonder whether your goals are even attainable. 

So what better time to dive into a new discipline than post-injury diagnosis? (Obviously, only if it's safe). Of course, take a couple weeks off completely if your body needs to repair from a season of exertion, but really do consider crosstraining if you'll be out from running for a long while. 

At a time when you're questioning your body's ability, there's nothing more empowering than tackling something new. I'm a firm believer that unfortunate circumstances are so capable of becoming something positive, but only if we use our disappointment as an impetus to improve. 

After my stress injury diagnosis, I decided to train for a triathlon. Then, I was a horrible swimmer--I could only doggy paddle, and going just one length of the lap pool felt excruciating. Today, I'm still pretty horrible, but I've made massive strides--I'll tell you more when we get to tip #4.

3. Create a more gradual, balanced training plan.

I trained for a marathon running only 2 days a week.

Yes, you read that right--only two. My workouts, however, covered a full six days a week, plus one rest day.

After my first triathlon, I decided to maintain my multi-discipline schedule, even while I prepared for running-only events. For instance, here's what I did from 3/6/16-3/12/16:

Sunday: 24 lap swim (3 warmup + 1 kickboard + 8 + 8 + 1 kickboard + 3 cooldown)
Monday: 45 minute run (about 5 mi) + strengthening exercises + core
Tuesday: 27 minute outdoor bike + 10 minute tabata + strengthening exercises
Wenesday: rest
Thursday: 35 minute spinning workout + strengthening exercises + lifting + core
Friday: yoga
Saturday: 3 hour 30 minute run (21.59 mi) + strengthening exercises

Running fewer days a week allowed my body more rest between high-impact training--my other disciplines (swiming and biking) required less pounding on the legs. While I'm sure experts wouldn't recommend fewer than 3 days a week for marathon training, 2 days worked just fine for me--it was just enough for the critical long run a week plus one regular run. I had gotten my stress injury running only 3 days a week, so I wanted to be as cautious as possible the third time around. 

This time, I also increased my mileage more slowly--coming off of a peroneal tendon injury from the fall, my first marathon training run on 12/5/15 was only 10 minutes long. I increased time in increments of about 5 minutes until I reached 60 minute runs. After that, my increments became 10 minutes. Once I hit 2 hours, I began increasing by 20-30 minutes. 

Spacing these longer efforts was also crucial--once I hit runs longer than 2.5 hours, I realized that my body could no longer handle weekly long runs, especially if I were to keep building. So, I scheduled some lighter weeks with no long run at all, allowing me 2-3 weeks of relative rest between these big endeavors. 

Beginning training almost 6 months in advance also allowed me more cushion for unexpected changes, such as illness, aches, or burnout. I adjusted my training plan countless times based on my physical and mental condition, which ultimately made a huge difference. Leaving ample time to train well really alleviates the pressure to complete a workout when your body may not be ready. Because of fewer time constraints, I was free to focus on building my body, rather than forcing arbitrary milestones upon myself.

olympic distance triathlon

4. Embrace the detour and keep pushing on.

As I mentioned in #2, my stress injury took me on a triathlon detour, and I wouldn't have it any other way. In spring 2015, swimming was a monumental task--just a few laps depleted me. 

Last week, however, I competed in my first olympic-distance triathlon, swimming 1500m (.93 mi) in the open water. I never would've imagined being able to swim over 40 minutes straight in a pool, let alone in a murky Midwest reservoir. Yes, I am still a far-from-stellar swimmer. Yes, it's still not my favorite discipline. But I've learned to appreciate the sport, and I find it empowering to have tackled what I used to fear, and to have improved. 

My injury led me to run more efficiently, freely, and gratefully. It led me to plunge into new disciplines, and to become stronger physically and mentally. 

Unfortunate circumstances don't need to be tragic endings--a lot of times, they can push us to grow in ways we never expected.

Train happy. Dream strong.

post signature

Summer Basics: Pineapple Print Shirt + Maroon Skater Skirt

Market Square, Pittsburgh
college style, pineapple shirt outfit, vintage coach crossbody
college style, pineapple shirt outfit, vintage coach crossbody
college style, pineapple shirt outfit, vintage coach crossbody
college style, pineapple shirt outfit, vintage coach crossbody
college style, pineapple shirt outfit, vintage coach crossbody
T-shirt, Kohl's | Skirt, China | Bag, vintage Coach from Poshmark | Shoes, thrifted | Earrings, Forever 21
Photos by my brother
(Whoa, two ootd's in a row?! What is this sorcery?)

In episode one of my soap opera life, I spent the better half of senior prom waiting for the police on the curb of a bustling downtown street.

In episode two, a knee injury foiled my fall 2014 marathon plans. In episodes three and four, I completed my longest training run of 20 miles for a long-awaited spring 2015 marathon, only to be sidelined by a stress reaction.

In episode five, I broke my half-marathon PR by 5+ minutes. In episode six, I fell in love. In episode seven, I was accepted to study abroad all of the 2016-2017 academic year. In episode eight, I finally ran that damn marathon. In episode nine, I bid an indefinite goodbye to my upperclassman family at school, including my first love.

Now, I linger uncomfortably between seasons. This summer itself could warrant several episodes of its own--I lost close friends who'd I assumed would always be around, I took my first short but solo roadtrip, I experienced the numbing cubicle life, I discovered that one of my permanent teeth may fall out in the very near future and cause complications while I'm abroad (you know, that's what wisdom teeth are for--but joke's on me, because my wisdom tooth just on that side ain't coming down). 

It's tough to have hope when life throws nasty obstacles your way. It's tough to have hope when the worst-case scenario becomes reality, but the worst-case scenario is even worse than you envisioned. It's tough to have hope with the inevitable tragedies of a soap opera-esque life. 

But these challenges have built me. They have forced me to re-evaluate and reform. They have pushed me to become stronger, more efficient, and more real. They have empowered me.

And ironically enough, they've made me happier. After all:

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die...that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life. 

Live, then, and be happy...and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, 'Wait and Hope.'”  --Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

I will wait (actively) and hope. Next up, season two.

post signature


© imperfect idealist. Design by Fearne.