(Un)healthy competition I.

June 21, 2020

The notion of “healthy competition” relates to my experience as both a graduate student and a runner. In fact, there may actually be too many parallels, because I’ve been struggling to write this post for a while! Basically, my issue has been choice-paralysis between two different ideas that I couldn’t seem to mesh together but couldn’t abandon. So, I ultimately stopped trying to force it, and instead created two posts, which are much more digestible.

Post #1:

I wanted to know how other people perceive their own competitiveness in the workplace and in athletics. I used Instagram’s poll feature to gage feelings of graduate students, toxicologists, and runners that follow the PhDistance Instagram account. The questions and results of the two-option questions are below:

Instagram’s poll-feature isn’t the most robust tool, sure, but it works!

Eighty-eight percent of respondents considered themselves competitive. I thought it would be higher, given the pool of people who answered. Moreover, the 12% who said “no” surprised me because they were NCAA competitors, Ph.D. candidates, academics, and current runners.

While the majority (58%) of respondents said they view competition with colleagues as “net positive”, it was more common see this response to competition among teammates (65% said “net positive”).

Perhaps people consider competition a mutually motivating force for group success, and maybe this is easier to digest if the team atmosphere is outside of work? Who knows! As a toxicologist, I’m not exactly outfitted properly to address these questions, empirically. If any psych/soc PhD’s are in the audience today, please stand up!!

However, also as a toxicologist, I am inclined (and find it amusing) to think of competition as a toxin; the mere existence of competition is not bad, but the dosage and context should probably be considered.

“All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”

Painting by Quentin Matsys

I was especially curious to see how people responded to feeling “inappropriately competitive with a colleague or teammate.” I plan to explain further in Post II, but here I will admit that observing 70% of respondents said “yes” was validating and made me feel less weird or wrong. I do wish that I had further separated that question by work versus on a team, but I’ll leave that for someone willing to use a more robust polling measure!! 😉 

I predict that poll would indicate more people feel inappropriately competitive at work than on a team. I think maybe it’s more comfortable for people to feel competitive during an athletic endeavor than at work. In either case, I think competition is a good thing, but obviously has to remain “healthy.”

The title of these (fraternal?) twin posts is “(un)healthy competition.” The second post- which contains the idea I was trying to force into this post — expands on what I think keeps competition healthy, and shares some personal stories of when that is lost.

Thanks for reading – stay tuned for the follow up!

Image taken from here.

On virtual poster presentations

May 22, 2020 (& June 6, 2020)

As any true academic, I procrastinated something important until the last minute. Someday, This will refer to grants I write or bigger deadlines I must meet, but for this post, it regards a poster competition.

I entered a virtual poster competition that offers CASH prizes for first ($500) and second($250). This is uncharacteristic for a University- sponsored award; the unrestricted money grants me the freedom to spend money on anything I want… probably something very important like rent, food, utility bills, or 1-2 dozen slap-chops.

I implore you to Wach this TV advertisement for commercial excellence…

The stipulations for the award are as follows: 1) The student had a conference cancelled due to COVID19, 2) The poster can be submitted via PDF and 3) the student presents the poster in a .mp4 recording. It seemed easy enough. I figured that it would take a half-hour of my time – tops. Which was good – because I (thought that I) had two hours until it was due.

However – it took me about twice that length. It’s surprisingly nerve-wracking to record yourself giving an academic presentation. It took a few tries to get it right! Below is a blooper from the first of 7 total trials:

Peak derp-level achieved.

While it’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to travel to California to present my research this year at the Society of Toxicology annual meeting, it’s even more unfortunate that I haven’t yet mastered Zoom recordings…🤷🏻‍♀️

I hope you took note of the aforementioned qualifier phrase, “thought that I had.” I was wrong about the May 22 deadline (when I began this post); the presentation and associated files are actually due today! However, I’m glad I finished it then, because today, I was too busy for a last-minute submission scurry. This afternoon, I headed downtown for a few hours of protest, in support the BLM movement with my Rochester community. 🖤✊

Which ostensibly points out…maybe procrastination isn’t a good M.O. to have…

Anyway, I hope y’all enjoy this post & thank you for reading! Wish me luck with the ACTUAL submission! 🙂😂🤷🏻‍♀️

PhDistance kneads PhDough

May 16, 2020

As y’all may have noticed, I’ve been using the new PhDistance Insta account to post wayyy more about bread than running or getting my PhD… #sorrynotsorry. I can’t help myself!

To keep up with that theme, this post is also about BREAD! In part, I want to throw some punches at that persistent stigma that carbohydrates are “bad.” The Atkins diet is one of many obtuse trends we should have left back in the 90’s. Unfortunately, the restrictive line of thought continues to permeate our culture today, including among runner folk. Admittedly, I too was hesitant to eat bread, convinced that I would balloon up:

How horrifying! (and also unrealistic!)

Fortunately, my outlook has shifted since graduating college. Bread and I are now great friends and do a lot of fun stuff together- mostly baking:

Sourdough, white bread, and biscuit trials!

Bread has also helped keep me entertained during the mandatory stay-at-home orders in NY state due to the COVID19 pandemic. Especially sourdough and documenting my adventures with it:

Checking the dough after 12 hour fermentation
Flouring the table
Kneading the dough- this one is off center- sorry!
Making the ball to place in the Dutch oven
Rise for 3 hours, bake for 1 hour- voila !

This loaf went to my friend, Jacquie, as a “thank you” for being a nurse during the pandemic. NURSES ARE TOUGH AF! 🏥❤️

With all the baking- I’ve gotten the chance to perfect my sourdough recipe, although I have certainly had a lot of failures along the way! And that’s OK- because the process is always fun! 💫🕺🏻

Importantly, I also accept bread as the dietary cornerstone that my body needs for its daily energetic demands. Training for marathons taxes my legs, and being a Ph.D. student taxes my brain. To replenish my mind and body, I maintain a diet that warmly welcomes Bread.

I feel great on my runs, satiated throughout the day, and have seen and felt an innumerable amount of other positive outcomes.

I began this post because I was really excited to share my most recent bread-making adventure with the world (or at least my small band of lovely followers!). Now, I find myself ending it with a somewhat preachy discussion. But then again, why is that so bad? Aren’t there a bunch of old dudes in pastel-colored robes going on and on about “the daily bread?” I’ve had their bread, and was unimpressed.

As it turns out, lots of people are pretty crazy about bread. American distance runner, Shelby Houlihan is known for her killer kick as well as affection for French bread.

The appropriate reward after (out-kicking Jenny Simpson and) winning the 1500m at the USATF Championships🥖

Also- Buzz Aldrin dined on bread and wine on the moon landing. My Ukrainian lab manager confirmed that in Russian, you can literally greet someone by shouting “bread and salt!” Amazing.

Because I haven’t yet made this post obnoxiously long, here are some more random bread facts I found:

  1. Sliced bread was only invented in 1928 and was referred to as the best thing since bagged bread.
  2. Feeding bread to ducks actually causes many health problems for them. – PLEASE DON’T FEED THE DUCKS BREAD 🦆❤️🙅🏻‍♀️🍞
  3. Ben Hawkey, the actor in Game of Thrones who plays Hotpie, opened his own bakery and sells Direwolf shaped bread.
  4. 1% of American’s have celiac disease, and approximately 6% that have gluten sensitivities. My heart goes out to them❤️
  5. When the buttered bread is right side up and dropped from a table, there’s an ~80% it will fall butter side down. This is because an average slice of buttered bread falling will complete a full turn in approx. 8 feet.

All right, not that we’re sufficiently annoyed, I can end this post!

But for real- thanks for reading this post to the end – I appreciate everyone who follows this blog & I hope it brightens your day! 💜I also hope that all who love bread never stop! 🍞💕

“There is not a thing that is more positive than bread.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

Making the most of it!

April 23, 2020

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I think this to myself as stare down at my soggy glop of a sour-dough starter. The pleasant aroma of my boyfriend’s starter is very different than the acrid odor of mine. Apparently, you’re supposed to taste the dough to assess it’s fermentation progress, but I’m hesitant to do so. Two sensory experiences are sufficient thank you very much! I think something is wrong with mine…The wild yeast have possibly been out-competed by the ambient bacteria, so I have some lactic acid fermentation going on rather than ethanol.

How did this fate befall my poor starter? Well, in short, I didn’t follow the recipe. Oops.

The America’s Test Kitchen recipe we (are supposed to) follow recommends a 1:1 mixture of whole wheat:bakers flour. I grabbed pizza dough flour instead, and declined to make any sort of mixture. It’s only been 48 hours, and Pizza-Starter is not doing so hot. Friends of ours have said I should name it Swamp-Ass. I think I’ll go with S.A.

Luckily, I have ten more days of “feeding,” S.A, which will allow me to titrate in some of the correct flour each new day. I didn’t want to start over, so I aligned myself with SA and will press on!

Sour dough starter in progress…

My decision to press on with this bread-making endeavor is reminiscent of what I’ve been doing as a graduate student during these strange quarantined times.

Because of COVID19, researchers like me are unable to head back to lab. Consequentially, I cannot repeat an experiment to include more animals (flies!), or set up a small pilot study satisfy a missing element of a current project. I am strapped to any past and current experimental results: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It’s really important for researchers be transparent with the fact that not all experiments pan out exactly as we wish. During normal times, we have the resources (time, access to lab, etc.) to start again, but now a lot of us must advance what we currently have.

The style of my lab is to do many pilot experiments and “see what sticks.” This is possible because we’re a pretty simple fly lab. My experiments can range in length from 1 week to 1 month after I begin an exposure. This creates an environment where I can test multiple hypotheses to satisfy my curiosity of many avenues. However, the freedom to do so comes at the expense of focus sometimes. Since joining, I have matured a lot by learning to focus.

I’ve also learned to make the most of the tools we have in lab. Our “bread and butter” is something called the Gal4/UAS system, which allows us to restrict experimental manipulations to cell or tissue types of interest. I’ll spare you the details, but basically this is a very useful genetic tool. Although there are many ways one could study muscle development, I basically restrict colors to muscles I’m interested in, observe their growth, and see how a chemical exposure (methylmercury) influences the growth.

The alien-looking creatures below are images of my flies during development. Their heads are facing up. From left to right, they were exposed to increasing amounts of methylmercury, which caused defects during development of their flight muscles, which are glowing bright red.

If you line up 2 million of these guys side by side, it would cover one lap of a 400 meter track.

This is a relatively simplistic approach, compared to the strategies other labs employ for similar studies. I don’t let the comparison bother me; instead, I consider how it highlights the creativity of my lab. I’ve grown to really appreciate how far a little creativity can go in research. It’s helped me make progress on my thesis project.

For my most recent committee meeting (which was yesterday!), I presented the progress I’ve made toward my thesis project.

I was super worried about this meeting, but it ended up going well. The committee was pleased with my progress, so I don’t have to meet again until next year- Huzzah! I wonder if this will be an in-person meeting rather than via Zoom?

For the meeting, I reviewed my aims from my written proposal, presented data, and gave a self assessment of my progress. Aim 3 will take longer than anticipated, but that’s MORE THAN OK given the circumstances 🤷🏻‍♀️

Oh yeah- that reminds me. I want to briefly talk about my Zoom-based committee meeting, which was a unique experience. Well, technically every committee meeting I have had is unique, because my first one ever was last year, my second included the qualifying exam… but I digress…)

Thoughts on Zoom-based Committee Meetings:


-No need to prepare snacks and coffee

See the source image
Image courtesy of this “Careers” article in Science

-No need to schedule a room

-More efficient – we were done in about 75 minutes. I scheduled 3 hours.

-Screen-share feature on Zoom ensures everyone can make out the data and slides.


-Hard to gage body language. For some committee members, this is very telling.

See the source image
At least no committee member is as challenging as Miranda Priestly!

-More potential for technical difficulties (because now it’s not just you wielding a computer screen, it’s everyone!)

It’d be a lost opportunity to not mention how the theme of this post also applies to running. If my meandering, admittedly digressive flow has caused you to forget what it is, I’m sorry! It’s “making the most of it.” 🙂

In running, there seems to be more opportunity for us to compare ourselves to others than to reflect on how well we’re currently doing. I realized that I facilitate this too, by posting pictures of my runs on my PhDistance Insta account. My intent by posting in general is to provide a window into my life as a runner and graduate student. I want to convey that whatever I’m doing, I’m trying my best.

I like to to reflect on how my runs have progressively felt better, been quicker, or lasted longer over time. In one of the posts, I point out that the pace and distance of my runs differ by day and are very dependent on how my body feels.

My favorite elite runners include Alexi Pappas, Des Linden, and Abby D’Agostino because I like to see them perform on the track or course. But I especially love to follow them because I think they try their best to be good people. I really value Alexi’s insouciant worldview, Des’ grit, and Abby’s compassion. They inspire me to try my best to emulate their character.

From bread-making to running and beyond, it’s important to do your best. I will continue to press on with my sour dough (which today smells like banana rum!?), thesis work, and athletic endeavors. I enjoy posting about these (mis)adventures because it gives me a chance to create something humorous and fun from it. My hope is that making the best of what I’ve got can translate into an enjoyable read for you all 🙂


April 17 2020

Running remains a staple hobby during these strange, quarantined times. Many of us are increasing mileage to fill the newfound free time, or returning to it after a brief hiatus. Wherever you’re at, I’m sure you think about the main equipment used for this joyous pastime- our shoes!

There are a lot of options when it comes to what we runners put on our feet. If you’re like me, making decisions on this sort of thing can be ridiculously stressful. With that in mind, I made this post in hopes to provide somewhat of a helpful guide, or at least alleviate some stress of sneaker-shopping! 😊 This is basically a short list of what I think about, including my opinions on shoes.

To figure out what kind of shoe I’m in the market for, I think about these questions:

What type of running are these shoes intended for?

Every day road running? Trail running? Road racing? XC racing? These could all use different shoes!

  1. Road running: for every day runs on the sidewalk, road, cinder path, or whatever. These could be neutral, have a good about of cushion, and some other specs, depending on your responses to the other questions in this post.
  1. Examples: Brooks Ghost, Asics GT2000, New Balance 680v6, Topo Fly-Lyte, Topo Phantom, Nike Pegasus, Mizuno Wave Rider,

Tip #1 – many websites (like Brooks) offer a “shoefinder” feature. Try to find this.

Tip #2 – When I want to try a new shoe, I buy one pair of my current ones, and one pair of my old ones. That way, I’m not stuck if I am disappointed with the newbie.

  1. Trail running: for runs along trails, through dirt, mud, up/down mountains or hills, likely water-proof, probably a subdued, natural looking hue like slate grey or brown. Websites should have a tab that specifies “trail running shoes.”
    1. Examples: Brooks Cascadia, Asics GelVenture, New Balance Women’s 590v4 FuelCore, Topo trail running shoes, Solomon trail running shoes.

  1. Road racing: These shoes include “racing flats,” which tend to be flashy, attractive, sleek, and lightweight. The characteristics of these shoes aim to make us feel fast and confident during a road race. I wouldn’t really want to run in Road Racing flats day to day though; they don’t offer a ton of support.

I used to run road-races in these..

Blue cheetah-print Nike Lunaracers = confidence boost to make me super speedy

XC racing: For running cross-country (XC), I want slim shoes with metal spikes to dig into the earth and help propel myself forward. I would avoid buying these for any other purpose… Although I know people collect them!

What is the furthest distance you plan to run? How far do you run per week?

It’s good to know the furthest distance I intend to run in these shoes, as well as how often my feet will be slamming into the ground. This helps me determine how much cushion I want on them. Most people prefer to be in the middle of two extremes:

Extreme minimalist: Vibram FiveFingers

They look so silly, but I don’t know much about them. I like the idea of running “naturally,” but I wonder if this is just a marketing ploy. Regardless, they’re the most extreme example I could think of!

Extreme “Maximalist”: Hoka Graviota 2

I also think these are silly looking, but a lot of runners really love them, including my PI!

Where on your foot do you land when running?

There are a few ways to determine this one:

Option 1| Look at the wear patterns on old shoes. Follow this guide from Runner’s World Mag https://www.runnersworld.com/gear/a20835825/whats-your-wear-pattern/

Note that the article is from 2007, so a lot of the shoes they recommend may be unavailable and/or more suitable shoes for a given wear pattern may even be available.

Option 2| Use information from gait analysis programs to determine landing patterns line foot strike, turnover (cadence). The most highly rated programs for this are available for individuals (https://www.coachseye.com/package/individual), but are pretty expensive. To circumvent the cost, you can get a gait analysis done at a gym, a local running store (Well, not currently #COVID19), a physical therapist office if you see one.

What is your budget?

Shoes are an investment. Be prepared to drop some $ on a good pair, but know that it’s worth the cost to avoid discomfort or injury. Once a “staple” shoe has been identified, scour these sites (below) for that shoe. I recommend looking for the second or third newest model of the desired shoe, because these will usually be a lot less expensive without being that different from the “latest and greatest.”





I run in Topo’s. They’re a low/no drop shoe with a wide toe-box. I like the low drop because it reduces the strain on my calves over many miles, and the wide-toe box helps reduce the frequency of black toenails!

I determine a (rough) budget for the shoes I want based on my weekly mileage (see above) and cost of the shoe I want. For example, I spend about $150-200 on shoes per year because I run 50 miles/week, and each ~$75 pair stays with me through about 800 miles. Each pair is very well-loved… perhaps too well loved.

Generally, people seem to swap out shows after ~400 miles. I’ve been advised to buy shoes more frequently, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it depends on the shoe, and the wear on the shoes. My Topo’s can really take a beating:

Three generations of my Topo FliLytes. A) “dorsal” depiction of my shoes, newest on left, oldest on right. Current shoe is indicated. Circles indicate holes, arrows indicate holes with foam (because I don’t untie my shoes after each use! Oops… I’m so bad.) B) “ventral” depiction of my shoes showing wear patterns after the indicated mileage.

All-right, hopefully this was helpful. I realize that there are many people who are more well informed of this topic than me, and I totally welcome their comments below.

P.S. If anyone is interested, I have size 7.5 Blue Topo Magnify’s that I will give away to the first person who is interested 😊 Think of it as a reward for reading all the way to the end of my blog post!!

Quarantine Reads:

Hi everyone! This page is intended to help us stay entertained, informed, and/or optimistic amidst the SARS-CoV2 pandemic. Please check out the few articles and books I’ve listed here, and comment with recommendations of you own!

I’ve broken this down into the following sections:

1) Three Books

2) Scientific literature on SARS CoV-2

3) Running articles

4) Bonus section!

Three Books:

1) Jane Austen’s, Pride and Prejudice – because it makes me feel better about sitting around all day, and I find it fun to relate the characters to their modern-day counterparts. There are several excellent candidates for Mrs. Bennett.

2) Voltaire’s Candide – because the COVID19 situation is happening, even in the best of all possible worlds.

3) David Sedaris’, Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim – It’s a compilation of essays on his unique life experiences woven together into a single (dark) humor piece. It reminds me that although life seems nuts now, it’s regularly teeming with absurdity.

Scientific literature about SARS CoV2:

Below is a link to Nature’s pick of coronavirus papers:


I’ve selected a few of them here to point out two of the many questions I’ve had:

1) How Practical are masks?

Wearing face masks can reduce transmission of coronaviruses in general, which includes SARS CoV2. (N. H. L. Leung et al. Nat. Med. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0843-2; 2020).

2) How soon until we have a vaccine?

-A group of researchers took blood plasma from people who had recovered from COVID19, and injected it into severely ill patients with the disease. The amount of virus in the blood 70% of patients dropped after about a week. K. Duan et al. Preprint at medRxiv http://doi.org/dqrs; 2020).

Additionally, Alexandra Walls et al., have solved the protein crystal structure of SARS-CoV2. This is important because it provides accurate knowledge of the protein shape and locations important for infection. Both of these pieces of info are an essential starting point from which to develop vaccines for SARS-CoV2. Check it out: “Structure, Function, and Antigenicity of the SARS-CoV-
2 Spike Glycoprotein” Walls et al. Cell Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.02.058

(somewhat random) questions for followers:

Do you already wear masks in public? How about outside by yourself?

Thoughts on vaccine options?

Has anyone read about how our immune response to SARS-CoV2 is modulated by toxins in the environment?

Has anyone come across papers about the intermediate host species between bats and humans?

I’ve read one paper that proposes pangolins. (We should probably stop exploiting exotic creatures… *cough* Tiger King *cough* cough*) I digress. Here is the reference: Zhang et al., Cell. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32197085.

OK! Now we can move on to the more fun reads!

On running:

1) Oiselle Blog. Oiselle is a company by and for female runners. I love them because they work to destigmatize running and conceptions of our physiology (e.g. body weight, mensuration. pregnancy).

2) This piece by Talya Minsberg for the New York Times. This article seems to toe a line between encouraging and elitist, but I think it is overall optimistic.

3) How to start running: I wish everyone could discover the joy of running, but I know it’s hard to just start. For those of you who prefer a plan to adhere to, I recommend checking out the RunnersWorld article on the topic.

Reminder: adhere to social distancing guidelines for running 🙂 6 feet apart, or solo!

Bonus section!

This is important too: The article I read this morning includes some very important Q and A with advice we should all heed, “because the more everyone commits to social distancing, the faster we can all get back — and down — to business.”

What matters most during COVID19

March 31, 2020

In the second grade, my classmates and I were once tasked with making lion or lamb masks during arts-and-crafts. The purpose of this was to demonstrate that March in New York state tended to “come in like a lion and go out like a lamb…or vice versa. We were supposed to predict the outcome. I wonder if part of the activity was for us to demonstrate precocious skill in meteorology or something. Where I’m from, seeing snow midway through April is not out of the question.

The lion-and-lamb simile was so profound, that it transcended to my endeavors in higher-education. In college, if I had a bad race or did poorly on a test in the beginning of March, surely, I had to do well at the end of March!

My logic is sound!

I still think about this. For 2020, I predicted that March would come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. I was banking on this because I scheduled a lot of important things at the end of March: An international conference (SOT) in California, my annual seminar to the department, and a committee meeting. I wanted them to all go well. March had to cooperate! But, it didn’t. Darn. March ended up being extremely hectic for me, and the rest of the world. It somehow entered and left like a lion. That’s not supposed to happen! Perhaps the predictive powers are limited to the weather, after all.

In March, we saw increasingly aggressive measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus infectious disease 2019, “COVID-19.”

The actual virus is called SARS-Cov2. SARS is an acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Although some initial cases were linked to a fish market in Wuhan, China, its origin, intermediate hosts and more of transmission to humans are still largely unknown. Here is my favorite COVID19 info-video: https://ourworldindata.org/kurzgesagt-coronavirus-video

On March 6th, the University advised against travel to conferences. On March 9th: SOT was officially cancelled and by March 13th: all classes, committee meetings, and PhD thesis defenses were told to move to Zoom. On March 15th, Rochester had its first COVID-related death, which hastened the city’s efforts to limit the spread. On March 18th, research labs at the U of R were expected to already be “ramping-down” in preparation for a research lab shutdown. And on March 20th Tim and I began a 14-day quarantine in our apartment, that was advised for people in NY. The virus’ spread was exponential, and the response needed to match.

The response really peaked when I began receiving emails from places like SurveyMonkey or Gap about their response to COVID19 (*eye roll*).

I was decidedly not attending SOT prior to the official statement. Nonetheless, I was relieved that the flagship academic society of my discipline (SOT) was adhering to the precautionary principle. As toxicologists, the precautionary principle is canon. To not practice what we preach would be to undermine what really matters – protecting public health.

While going to conferences, performing experiments, and running marathons all matter for my personal aspirations including my career, protecting public health is #1. While trying to explain an extreme measure (the possibility of shelter-in-place) to a city in Illinois, the governor said, “It’s hard to have a livelihood if you don’t have a life.”

I agree with the governor in that I think what really matters is public health. That includes the health of all the people I care about as well as my own. It also includes hundreds of other humans who step on the line beside me before a marathon, or travel from far and wide to present their research at conferences. Whether we know each other personally doesn’t really matter, but the mutual respect we have for each other does. To care about public health is to respect the lives of other people that share the world with you.

I respect my fellow humans enough to run solo, to stay home, and to avoid expanding my network of contacts that could potentially spread the virus. This is difficult for me because it feels so limiting. When physical interaction is suddenly limited, the change is uncomfortable. The changes we’re experiencing now (the quarantine, isolations, and other precautions) demonstrate how interconnected we normally are. We rely on human interaction on massive scales for our work and play.

On the bright side, I think the changes also demonstrate how adaptive we can be. I’ve been impressed with solutions and creativity that my immediate networks have come up with during all of this.

At the University:

-Gatherings of 5 or more people no longer an option,so we transitioned to Zoom-based meetings

-University students can’t return to campus, so all classes moved online, classes have weekly check-ins for students too.

(shout out to all the responsible University leaders who decided to put health above wealth here… and shame on those who didn’t… *cough* Liberty *cough* *cough*)

-Committee Meetings and PhD thesis defenses became Zoom based

After my Zoom-seminar to my department, Presentation Pants and all💫

– Proctor exams via Zoom

-Took some of my transgenic fly stocks home to manage. I need to care for my lil fly babies ❤

Running community:

-My running buddies and I decided to run 6 feet apart or solo.

-Races that were cancelled morphed into to “virtual races”

-Races (like the Boston Marathon and some fun local races) postponed to the fall

*For those of you who had the Boston Marathon postponed – time to get HELLA fit for Fall!!


-Bars and restaurants close to dine-in, and pick up, but offer drive-through-based takeout

Still showing our love&support for Swiftwater!

– Group viewing of movies. GSS is hosting “virtual” movie nights once a week, as well as other activities.

@U of R students who read this – we have a free account on Kanopy (the video streaming service) through Miner Library.

Our apartment:

– Finally bought an Wi-fi router

– Set up our work-from-home stations

(i.e. a fuzzy blanket nest with books and coffee mugs within arms’ reach at all times)

-Baked 4 batches of granola, 2 loaves of bread

– Zoom/FaceTime hangouts with our friends

Yes, even Jakob, who lives across the street! #socialdistancing

-We created a third housemate, Cheryl, to blame dirty dishes and small messes on.

-Learned that “What do you Meme” can’t really ever be a two-person game.

– Played blockus a dozen times or so (Tim won every single time…)

I feel that I’ve learned how to be adaptable as both a graduate student researcher and a runner. The impossibility of planning for every potential outcome kind of demands that. Whether I’m managing an injury, planning when to run during a work-day, salvaging an experiment, or getting through this pandemic, learning to roll with the punches is essential.

I know many of you reading this have had your goal-races cancelled at a time when you’re feeling especially fit, and that sucks. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. The best we can all do is keep on keeping on. Reset, set new goals, and take comfort in the fact that if we do the right thing now, we can be back to running sooner. Onward & upward!

@Followers, thanks for reading this, and I hope you’re all staying safe and feeling healthy ❤

ATL Marathon

March 9, 2020

Exactly a week ago, I returned to Rochester after “America’s Marathon Weekend” in Atlanta. I met up with my friend Bri (plus her college teammates, Bree and Gronke) to spectate the Olympic trials marathon, then run the Publix Atlanta Marathon/Half-marathon the next day. The trials were impressive, inspiring, and an all around solid experience.

Since we had our own race the next day, we wanted to at least try to stay off of our feet while spectating the Trials race. For those less acquainted- to spectate a distance running race is to chase your athlete around the course on foot in order to see them a lot. We sought out a viewing spot that minimized time running/walking around the course (i.e. streets of ATL) but also maximized our view of the athletes. We settled on a corner where we cheered on the athletes on as they passed at miles 2,10, 18 one way and 5, 13, and 21 the other way.

The men’s race
The women’s race

Their course was challenging: while facing a net 1,000 feet of elevation gain (but a net downhill of 17 feet due to the proximity start and finish lines) athletes faced rolling hills as well as multiple loops. At the end of the day, the top three women were Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel, and Sally Kipyego – all underdogs. Aliphine wasn’t seeded in the top three and Molly had never run a marathon before this. In the last two years, Sally had a child, became a U.S. citizen, and dealt with a bout of malaria. Woof. These STRONG ladies will represent the United States at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Unfortunately, I worry whether this year’s Games will have a different atmosphere, given the COVID19 epidemic. The WHO has yet to call it a pandemic as of the first publication of this post).

Motivation wall at the Expo – try to find mine!
Hanging out on the sidelines during the Trials
My new favorite snack

Although we tried to stay off our feet on Saturday, we ended up covering over 12 miles. Moving so much was probably unavoidable, since we all flew in Friday night and had to get our racing bibs from the Expo on Saturday afternoon, ran a ~4 mile shakeout to scope out the starting line area, and went to the grocery store twice. Nevertheless, we tried; at one point we Lyfted 0.4 miles to avoid a sizeable uphill effort. Kind of embarrassing, but hey!

The pre-race dinner: We cooked our own meals at the Air B&B and just chilled the night before the race. I cooked Tim’s brussels sprouts recipe everyone, and was v proud that I didn’t burn them or anything. Bri made Linguini and alfredo sauce with chicken for herself, Bree, and Gronke, while I made my own special pasta and red sauce (#Veg).

The last supper
Beautiful Brussels

After dinner, we stretched and talked, and set up our racing outfits for the next day. I learned from Gronke I’m supposed to call my outfit setup “Flat Ashley.”

Race-day! Below I tried to outline the progression of the day; first, by time up to the start of the race, then by mile since I kind of lost track of time for the ~3 hour race.

5:30-7am: Woke up, Bri made everyone coffee (#angel), and I ate breakfast (granola, banana, and almond milk). I drank a lot of water too – which I ended up kind of regretting during the race. More on that later…

6:15am: We all jogged our warmup to the starting line, less than a mile away. Bree and Gronke were running the half, but the half and full marathon start together for this event.

6:45am: Bree started her half-marathon

7am: Gronke starts her half, Bri and I start our full marathons. Side note- Bri was actually supposed to start at 6:45am too (her PR is 3:14! #damn), but she decided to stay back to start with me (my previous PR was 3:18) ❤

7am-10:10am: Runnin’- finished at 3:10-28, which is an average min/mile pace of 7:16.

On the line

Recap of select/noteworthy miles:

Mile 1-4: This is so much fun! These hills aint no THANG.

Mile 5: Bri and I accept and share a solo cup of beer from spectators offering along the course. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Mile 5-10: cruisin’ with Bri and this girl Leanne we befriended.


Mile 11: lost Bri and Leanne, circle back and get Bri.

Mile 12: lose Bri again but keep going this time. I was clicking off consistent 7:18’s (minute/mile pace) and felt like I could keep that up.

Mile 14: Porta potty stop! Remember when I said I drank too much water? Yeah, I was about to pee myself at mile 14, so I stopped for exactly 35 secs #speedypee

Mile 15: Phwew. So relieved, still feeling good. Hills are kind of hard now.

Mile 16: Wow 10 more to go. Lots of hills. Woof. *Miley Cyrus “The Climb” echoes in my mind*

Mile 17-21: Caught up with runners from the first corral (these athletes had a faster entry time). I try hold the pace I’ve been going. I’m passing a lot of people, but it’s hard to keep my pace because the flow of runners is a lot slower at the back of the first corral group than at the lead of the second corral. I picked up a Clif- energy shot packet at mile 17, which I kept in my sock. I know what you’re thinking: “What does she mean, kept in her sock?!” Here is a photo of me mid race, which may help clear that up:

High fashion.

Mile 23: Start to feel like I could hit a wall, so I swallow more Clif energy shot that I’ve kept in my sock-glove. Pause to stretch my calf then keep going. The middle-aged guy I am running with at this point praises me for “adhering to the precautionary principle.” Thanks, dude.

Mile 24-26: I am very ready for this to be over.

Mile 26: SO. CLOSE.

Where is the finish??!

Mile 26.2: Heck yes- done!!

Posing in Centennial Park with our metals

Mile 27: Wahlburger for a well-deserved (vegan patty) burger and margaritas with the girls!


All in all, I felt great during this race. I felt like I was well hydrated, in shape, and so happy to just be out there racing. This is my first marathon back from injury, and I was grateful to just be able to run and be healthy. The course was fairly hilly, but they were rolling. Whenever there’s an uphill, there’s a downhill, eh?! It got pretty hard at mile 23, because there was a sizeable uphill effort and my legs were getting tired. Other than that, I felt strong on this course and ended up with a big PR from the race. I ran 3:10:28, which qualifies me for Boston 2021 and gives me an auto-qualification for NYC marathon in 2021 as well.

How did I prepare for this marathon? I kept it very simple. I ran, stretched, ate well and slept well. In a sense, this training cycle was a bit of an experiment in that I didn’t do workouts and didn’t lift or do anything I didn’t consider enjoyable. I maintained a fairly consistent long-run schedule with Jacquie, which made me look forward to each long run. I especially looked forward to the end of each long run because we go to Timmy Hoes for Ice Capps. My other running buddies in Rochester (s/o to Laura and Erin) helped me rise early to get runs in before work, or motivated me to get the run in after work. I like to think of my runs as just hanging out. TBH, I feel like I have better conversations while running. I’m committed to making running my stress relief as close to 100% fun as I can. I keep pretty busy, which is stressful, so I like to keep running relatively carefree.

Nevertheless, I do keep track of my miles I log. My “system” for keeping short-term track of my runs is to record weekly mileage on the whiteboard in my apartment. Serendipitously, I had been taking photos of each month for a scrapbook I’m planning. So, I actually had a way to retrospectively calculate my mileage, which is below:

Taper and qual exam noted with red arrows.

Long runs too:

Half marathon was Winter-Warrior (see other post). Peak long run was 22 miles. Race day was March 1st.

This training cycle was all about having fun, staying healthy, and listening to my body. One thing to glean from the graphs is the oscillatory profile over time. It reflects low-mileage weeks when I felt tired or was busy, while high-mileage weeks represent times I was able to run longer because I had less on my plate.

I’ve yet to pick a Fall/winter Marathon, but I feel good and want to shoot for one. @Followers, I am taking requests! 😊

Shout out to ATL track club for taking many of these photos!

“I run because it always takes me where I want to go.” – Dean Kamazes

Writing pro(gr/c)ess

February 26, 2020

Happy Wednesday! I’ve had a few writing projects other than this blog for a change (i.e. my first paper – more on that later), which have occupied a considerable amount of my time. I aspire to have the writing endurance that I think many PI’s have, but I’m not there yet. Or maybe I’m just giving them too much credit. Nevertheless, I try to write as much as possible. The more practice you get, the better, eh?

This blog is not the same as academic writing, by a long shot. PhDistance is more fun and a much more appropriate space for my off-the-cuff style that I think is my emerging writing voice. By the way, @followers, what do you think is my writing voice? It’s hard for me to tell, since I am both the speaker and the audience in my own head. I probably hear myself differently. Hello?? I digress…

So yes, back on track to academic writing. I’m writing a paper about my favorite protein called, Kon-tiki, and how it mediates methylmercury toxicity in Drosophila muscle development. Seems like a lot to unpack, I know. Let me explain…

First off, methylmercury is an organic form of a naturally occurring metal in our environment. It is exceptionally toxic during development in many species; from humans to invertebrates like the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Drosophila are the “model organism” I rely on to help answer my research questions about developmental toxicity of methylmercury. I use them because they have short life cycles, have a well documented development, and are relatively low maintenance.

The fly is also optically tractable, which is essential for most of my imaging-based experiments. What I do is visualize muscle development in flies that have been exposed to methylmercury, and then try to explain the underlying cause of the pathology I observe. The most striking feature is a muscle detachment from tendon. I think that the fly myotendinous junction is failing during development, such that it detaches and recoils away from the site of attachment, similar to a stretched rubber band that is then cut.

This concept is also a runner’s nightmare: this is what happens with Achilles tendon rupture. The Achilles tendon connects the Gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) to the calcaneus (heel bone), and when it ruptures, the muscle literally recoils away. Last year at this time, I was nursing some Achilles tendinosis. I had to take time off of running and missed Boston, but that was minor compared to a full-on rupture that others have experienced . When I count my blessings, I count each individual fibril of tendon, twice 🤷🏻‍♀️

Achilles’ tendon rupture

This brings us to my friend, kon-tiki, which is a key component of the fly muscle-tendon (myotendinous) junction (or MTJ, academics love acronyms…). A major difference between flies and humans is that the MTJ of the former connects muscle to tendon to exoskeleton, whereas the latter have an “endo”skeleton. Nevertheless, many of the other important things that comprise the MTJ are strikingly similar. My research hypothesizes that the reason that methylmercury causes muscle detachment in the fly is because kon-tiki is affected. I do not necessarily think that this is what happens in humans, but I do think that developing tissues which express the human version of kon-tiki may be extra sensitive to methylmercury toxicity.

The paper I am writing will make this idea “real.” I won’t post any pictures on here – sorry! But I will try to when it is published 😊! The paper is progressing well, but it’s pretty hard, in my opinion. Like I said, academic writing isn’t fun. I still try to make it fun, but then I get these sorts of edits back from Matt:


The hardest things for me during the writing process have been 1) not taking edits too personally 2) crafting figures that are aligned properly and 3) sitting down to write. The last one seems silly, but I think sometimes it’s hard to just start.

@academic friends, what were hardest for you?

@runner friends, I apologize for any injury-related PTSD this post may have caused.