Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Obligatory End of the Year Post {2014}

I recently posted about my running goals and how 2014 did not shape up to be my year in running.

Despite all of that, though, 2014 was a pretty great year for me. It started off rough, with a breakup that I didn't want to happen, but went up from there. That breakup definitely spurred the purchase of my trip to Europe at the end of January, but I'm thankful for that relationship. We went on a couple dates when he got back from deployment, but that was two weeks before I moved to the Bahamas. It's clear there's still a connection, but timing was never our thing. Everything happens for a reason!

In February, I ran two half marathons and PR'd in both of them!

I got hurt shortly thereafter, but I passed my Oral Comps exam for grad school in April! 

In May, I graduated and left for Europe! I spent a month abroad, sometimes with friends, but mostly on my own, and had the best experience ever! 

I came back for a month, then left for Costa Rica! I was there for two weeks and then came home for two weeks...when I then moved to the Bahamas!!

It's hard to believe that I've been in the Bahamas for 4 months already and that I'm returning in a few days for six more months. 2014 has been a great year, but I'm excited to see what 2015 has in store for me! 

Happy New Year and Be Safe Everyone! 

What are some of your highlights from this year?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Turtle Tuesday #9

There hasn't been much going on lately in the turtle part of my job since my last Turtle Tuesday post. I went out last week with a visiting school group and we caught one turtle, but that was it! Most of my work has been office work, wrapping up the end of the year and doing lots of data analysis.

Because we were killing it

However, last week, I had the chance to go out with the sustainable fisheries team and do lionfish and rugosity (height/amplitude) surveys of the patch reefs off our campus. Lionfish are an invasive species; they are native to the Indo-Pacific and have no natural predators. Because they have no natural predators, they reproduce very quickly, out compete other reef species for food, and eat lots of tiny reef fish, upsetting the health and balance of the reef ecosystems. You can find more information about our sustainable fisheries program here.

It had been a few years since I had been diving, but we did 5 dives on Monday and 2 dives on Thursday (the team did 16 dives total over 4 days, but I only went out two days). I cut my hand on a coral during our first dive, and I was a bit nervous I would attract some sharks (I didn't, just some angry stingrays!) It was cold by Bahamian standards (24C/75F), with a water temperature of 21C/70F, but I was really glad for the opportunity.

I lost two hair ties during Monday's dives, so I essentially looked like a sea monster/mermaid. My hair was basically dreaded when I got out of the water and I had to brush it in the shower in order to get some of the knots out! I couldn't even get the salt out of it until Thursday.

I saw some really cool things - loads of lionfish, small reef fish, a barracuda, a couple yellow stingrays - and I got to be a mermaid again. It was lovely! The lionfish surveys were conducted on both removal (all lionfish are speared or removed from the reef) or non-removal sites (lionfish are only counted). These sites are visted quarterly and the data collected is used to see how quickly lionfish numbers increase on removal vs. non-removal sites. Pretty interesting!!

A baby yellow ray (not in the wild, born in our lab!)

Today, I'm probably going diving one last time before I head back to the states for the holidays, this time at our coral nursery! Wish me luck :D

Share some fun facts with me - about anything! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Running in 2014

This year has been a year full of ups and downs in terms of running. I started off the year fairly strongly - setting a goal to run 500 miles by the end of the year.

I stuck to that goal, training for the Princess Half Marathon and running another half marathon in the beginning of February - PRing in both those races.

I ran a sub-60 10k in training, showing some serious progress for myself and I was proud of where I was going in my training.

Then, I got hurt. I was out for nearly 8 weeks and I've just never really gotten back into the groove of things.

Although, I spent a lot of time at the gym

I went to Europe and didn't run as much as I had planned. Then, I moved to the Bahamas and still didn't run as much as I wanted to or as much as I used to. I've virtually lost the motivation I had for running before my injury. I desperately want it back, but I'm having trouble forcing myself back into the habit.
So I can drink more of these

As of the writing of this post, I've only run 358 miles. There's no way that I'm going to make the 500 miles that I've set this year. I'm telling myself that that's okay. I can start fresh in the new year. I'll keep running over these next few weeks and see where I'm going to get to at the end of the year, but I will fall short.

I have big goals set for next year (in my head at least). It'll be all about translating that and putting it into fruition. I'm planning on running outside again this winter. I'm planning on getting back my motivation. My love for running is still there, I feel it every time I go for a run, so it's all about getting that motivation back!

How did your running go in 2014? What are your tips for getting your motivation back?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Turtle Tuesday #8

Tomorrow marks my last day of teaching for the semester! The students return back to the United States next week! It's hard to believe that the semester is nearly over... it seems like I just got here!

Yesterday was our final field day and we ended up catching two, brand new turtles! (I just realized that I used exclamation points for the last four sentences) It was a great way to end the semester.

Some things I've learned this semester:
-Things never go according to plan
-I can be my own worst enemy
-Having a great support team is worth more than being perfect all the time
-There will be days when everything goes wrong; accept it.
-Sometimes, students will surprise you (in both good and bad ways)

I'm definitely going to miss my students, but it'll be nice to have a bit of a break!

On an turtley unrelated note, yesterday, I went to a presentation on using science for social media. It was really interesting to hear how scientists are using Twitter and Facebook (but mainly, Twitter - it was the most active of the social media sites!) to connect with other scientists. The presenter (my co-worker) even told me that she found out on Twitter that one of her papers had been published! I guess it makes sense that science will follow in the footsteps of connecting others, but I never realized the impact that social media could have on connecting the public to science.


That being said, I made myself a "professional" Twitter (don't worry, I'll still tweet useless tweets on my personal account, as well). I plan on using this new Twitter handle to connect with scientists, follow new conservation news, and tweet about turtles. If you're interested in following my new, sciencey Twitter, follow me @RachelMillerST

Do you have separate social media accounts for your personal/professional presence?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Motivation for the Holidays

Now that the holidays are approaching and I'm STILL attempting to get back into shape/running more , I decided to create a training plan for me to stick to to motivate me to keep running. It's going to be difficult to motivate me to run when I'm visiting my parents in the snow for Christmas, especially because I'm not training for Princess Half this year, so I'm hoping that this training plan will help me maintain fitness and motivation. 

As you can see, I'm keeping the mileage relatively low. For the first 4 weeks, I'm only going to be running 3 days a week. Then, I'm going to add in a 4th day during the week. Maybe I'll eventually build back up to the mileage/fitness I was at when I got injured in February. It's really been hard not to compare myself to where I was a year ago. It's been really hard to be two minutes slower when running my easy runs than where I was eight months ago. I know it's my fault for not getting back into things right away, but instead of sulking, I'm going to try and put in the work to get back to an area where I'm happy with my running.

Also, see those "Days" blocks in my training sheet? I'm doing a 90 Day Ab Challenge. My friend is a personal trainer and created this challenge last year. I decided to do it this time around to improve my core and maybe pick up some more speed. You can find the group here if you're interested! 

How will you stay motivated during the holidays? How many days a week do you run? 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Breakdown and a Decision

Remember when I promised Turtle Tuesdays all of the time? That was before I got into my job and got busy. I had every intention of having one written for you today, but then I had a breakdown at work yesterday and my priorities were coming home and sleeping...

I think that 2.5 months of working programs, covering other people's duties, and working 12 hour days most days finally took its toll on me! I was in charge of one of our groups this weekend because my boss was at a conference. They're a great group, but I kept making small mistakes that I am beating myself up over. I got lost for 2 hours on Sunday (on my way to a new-to-me place) and then yesterday the group was late for lunch. They still had food and no one was complaining - in fact, they keep telling me to relax because they know how stressful this is. I'm the only one who is upset.

Well, when I went into the lunchroom to see if there was any food left, the kitchen ladies told me that there was and I cried.... Then, I went back to the office and someone asked me if I was okay, and then I cried for like 10 minutes. A coworker took me for a walk and I felt better. It's not that leading the group itself was stressful, it's just that I was beating myself up over it.

A co-worker asked me today if I had ever led groups like this before, and I said "my Masters degree is in Environmental Education, I was bred for this!" To which he replied, "what I've learned by leading groups is that you're the only one who knows what's supposed to go right, so you notice everything that goes wrong." So true.

On an unrelated-but-kind-of-related note, remember how I told you that I was training to run a half marathon with the students? I've decided to sit this one out. I took a non-running related injury that's stopping me from running this Sunday. I was sprinting in the dark to catch a shuttle home, tripped over a log, face planted in the gravel, and sliced open my toe, bruised my knee. My toe is nasty looking and it hurts to touch the cut, and my knee is swollen. I've been taking it easy this week and haven't been running. I just think i'm going to be undertrained and I don't want my first "race" back to re-injure me.

Have you ever had to change your running plans? What's your funniest injury story?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Turtle Tuesday #7

I did so well one week with posting, and then I fell off the bandwagon again.

I know I say it all the time, but life is crazy. I've adjusted to the hectic schedule, but I still haven't found much time (or motivation) to blog. You guys should just all add me on Facebook to follow my adventures.

Instead of talking about all of my adventures today, I'm going to share something that I think I've shared before.

I'm definitely swimming with the current, especially with the busiest two weeks of my life coming up. I'm working on staying calm under pressure and being a good navigator. I definitely spend a lot of time at the beach and on the sea. But really, I'm just enjoying life and learning from these little nuggets:

Have a very happy Turtle Tuesday, and I hope you take some wise sea turtle's advice <3

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Adjusting to Life in a New Country

I'm going to be honest here and say that it did not take much for me to get adjusted here in the Bahamas. Having been in Costa Rica and spent some time in a very poor area, I knew sort of what to expect when I was told that the settlement I would be living in on Eleuthera was "remote and developing." Granted, I have internet and air conditioning in my apartment, but there are many things that are different here than in the States.

Most people envision the Bahamas as (I'm assuming) the highly developed Nassau or the pristine beaches that are accessible from the cruise ships. However, that is not what every single island or every settlement looks like in the Bahamas. For example, there are no stoplights on my island at all and the island is 110 miles long. There is no public transportation system here, no hospital, and two clinics. Even though I look at this view every morning when I leave my house:

The other side of the street (and the rest of the settlements I have been to on Eleuthera) looks like this:

There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, I feel like it will be weird to see my house in a few months when I go to visit my parents. I am already so used to the different way of life here, that I cannot imagine what I will feel when I go back to the States. Here is a list of some of the new "norms" I have been living with in the Bahamas:

- hitch hiking is safe and 100% normal (I have hitch hiked solo to work before)
- I am safe walking through the neighborhood by myself at ALL hours of the day (yes, men still say things to me, but I have felt safe 98% of the time. I usually have a male counterpart walk me home after parties/in the dark, though.)
- Seeing the stars CLEARLY every single night
- Losing power any time it is windy or rainy (the entire settlement loses power at one time)
- Drinking rain water (it's filtered)
- Taking "navy showers" (wet self, lather, rinse, repeat)
- No running water between the hours of 12 am and 6 am (seriously, the water gets shut off)
- Driving on the left side of the road
- Drinking rum because it's cheaper than beer (unless you win free Kalik!)

- Not having any major kitchen appliances (except for two burners and a fridge)
- Having conversations with the locals that I do not understand because they speak so quickly ;)
- Having a pack of pot cakes (stray dogs) follow me wherever I go
- Being without a cell phone (I can communicate when connected to wifi, but that's it!)

Often times, if I describe my living situation to my mom, she takes pity on me. I think it is because she has not experienced anything like this before. However, I am incredibly happy and this is my new life. I'm making do with what I have and I don't miss as much as I thought I would. I miss cooking and I REALLY miss Greek yogurt, but other than that, life in the States is slowly becoming foreign to me. I'm curious to see how it'll be when I visit my parents for a couple weeks during the winter!

Until then, I will be enjoying life as a mermaid :)

Has life in a new place ever been different than you expected it to be? Has your vision of "paradise" ever been changed after a trip to paradise?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Turtle Tuesday #6

I skipped last week again, sorry guys!

This post is going to stray away from turtles, because I strayed away from turtles this past week! This past Thursday, I went out with the lemon shark team! We released a few of the sharks they had for their trials, and we also went out seining in the hopes of recapturing two sharks that had accelerometers on them.

One of the graduate students here is studying bioenergetics of juvenile lemon sharks. Basically, he has attached devices to juvenile lemon sharks in local mangrove creeks that track changes in speed of the animal. He's using this data to determine the metabolic rates of lemon sharks.

He first released tagged lemon sharks in the creeks from which he originally collected them. Lemon sharks are born in these protected mangrove creeks and live the first 4-5 years of their lives there, so he wanted to make sure that these sharks went back to where they came from. I didn't get any photos of this because he was in a hurry and the wind was insane (aka boat was rocking like crazy).

Then, we placed the seine net at the mouth of one of the mangrove creeks at high tide. Because of the blood moon, the tide was SO high. The graduate student running this project is very tall, but when he jumped in the water, the water was up to his neck. Being the shortest person on the boat, everyone turned to me when he jumped in because we knew I would not be able to touch. Sure enough, I jumped in and couldn't touch with my tippiest of toes. I had to swim to shore and wasn't able to touch until I was about six feet from shore. It was insane!

We placed the net and then waited for six hours until the tide went out. This was to ensure that the lemon sharks couldn't leave with the escaping tide, but the water doesn't get low enough that they will be stuck in there with no water. It goes down to about 1 foot of water at the shallowest and 2-3 feet of water at the deepest, just enough for the sharks to still swim (they're small). When the tide was low enough, we formed a "scare wall" and basically just walked and splashed towards the net, while a person dragged the net to form a circle, trapping in anything that was in the path. We caught 4 or 5 lemon sharks, but they were not the ones with the accelerometers, so we released them. Sadly, we didn't get the tags back, so he had to go out the next day. He was unsuccessful then, too.

I didn't get to touch any sharks, which was a bummer, but I had an amazing day. I had spent the entire week in the office, so getting out in the field was really great. Plus, I was in great company! If you want anymore information about this specific project, let me know and I can send you a link!

Are you afraid of sharks? How would you kill six hours if you had to wait?

Monday, October 13, 2014

4 Months Post-Injury

My blog has sort of fallen by the wayside since I got injured, and to be honest, I'm not sorry about that. I still love blogging and I still love reading blogs, but my life is crazy and amazing right now, and I'm just focusing on living. I know I don't know anyone an explanation, but that's where I've been lately!

It's currently October, and it's been four months since I started running "consistently" again. I use consistently as a loose term, because I'm nowhere near the level of commitment I was before injury/during injury. We're lucky if I run three times a week now. Before, I was running five days a week, cross-training three days (because I was pulling doubles on two days), and resting one - two days.

Old training schedule for Princess this past year

My running has definitely suffered because of this lack of commitment. Surprisingly, I still have the mindset and the lung capacity to do "longer" distances, even though I was out for so long and haven't been the best runner I could be. Last Tuesday, I ran six miles, non-stop. However, it was slow for me.

When I was still running on my injured hamstring, I posted a sub-60 10k. That was phenomenal for me and gave me hopes of running a sub-2 half marathon. With the half marathon at the school coming up at the end of November (assuming I have the date right and will actually run it), there's no way I will reach a sub-2 for this half. In fact, it might be the slowest half marathon I have run to date.

I'm trying not to be too hard on myself, because I am the reason why I'm not running to the levels I was running before. I haven't been committed. I have barely done cross-training (I've done yoga a few times, a run-swim once, and that's it). I haven't done any strength training. I'm not the athlete I was 4 months ago.

I have talked about recommitment here a few times, but I haven't really done it. I'm trying, I'm developing my motivation, and I hope to be there again, someday. Right now, I'm just taking it a day at a time. I'll get back there...eventually.

Have you ever had a hard time coming back from injury? What are your suggestions for getting back to where I was before I was injured?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Turtle Tuesday # 5

Hey guys! Sorry I missed last week...I was so sick that being at work drained all of my energy and I couldn't even think about blogging. I did so much field work with boogers running down my face (just what you wanted to know, right?) But, I'm feeling much better now!!

I wanted to talk a little bit about the research we are doing with the class I am teaching. As I mentioned before, I teach a class at the school associated with the research institute I work at. This semester, the students in my research class are working on finding a relationship between body condition and foraging grounds. Basically, they want to see if there is a relationship between how much sea grass is in an area and how healthy the turtles are in that area.

Looking for turtles

This means that they will have to do some habitat mapping and abundance surveys in addition to the actual capturing of turtles. When we do catch turtles, they take all of their measurements and tag the turtle. They are also examining the plastron (chest) of the turtle to see if it is concave, convex, or flat. A concave (sunken in) plastron means that the turtle is unhealthy or not getting enough food, a turtle with a flat plastron is eating enough, but is said to just be in "fair" condition, and a turtle with a convex plastron is a fat and happy turtle.

For any recaptures, we take all of the same data we took initially, but we add on the plastron examination. We measure their carapace (top of their shell), take their weight, and note any abnormalities.

At the end of the semester, the students are required to give presentations to their peers and their parents about the work that they did. This requires them to interpret data and draw conclusions! We haven't collected enough data yet to begin the analyses, but I'm excited to see what they come up with!!

What was your favorite class in high school? Do you like to give presentations?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Running in the Bahamas

Running in the Bahamas... it's been inconstant, but when it's been occurring, it's been a beautiful thing. I was having issues with the local pot cakes (the term of endearment for the stray dogs around here) wanting to play in the early hours of the morning when I would run by. They would chase me, chew on my shoelaces, pull on my shorts, and make the general effort of running extremely difficult. I was told to throw rocks at them, but I couldn't do it, so instead, I have been getting picked up in the wee hours before work and running on campus where there are no dogs!

The real reason the Baha Men wrote "Who Let The Dogs Out?"

We have a couple programs on campus right now that are training for major athletic events. Some students are going to participate in a sprint triathlon in the next month, while the students at the school associated with our research center are going to participate in a half marathon or a 4-mile Super Swim (their choice). I have decided that I want to run the half marathon with the students, as I have been lazy, unmotivated, and still trying to get back into my routine from my I've never really gotten back into the swing of things.

I have run a few times at work AFTER work, but that's a terrible idea because it's hot and sunny and I die. Instead, I have been loving the Bahamian sunrises and I think that every morning should begin this way.

Have you ever been chased by dogs during a run? What is your biggest excuse for not running?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Turtle Tuesday #4

I keep meaning to write non-turtle related posts, but I honestly have VERY little free time, and the free time I do have, I want to spend in bed with my chocolate cereal (p.s. the Bahamas is making me fat).

While most of the time my job is super fabulous, there are some times when things don't go according to plan, so that's what I'm going to touch on today :) (#ScienceDoesntAlwaysWork)

1. People using vehicles/boats that we have signed out, causing us to (usually) change our plans
----This has happened 3 or 4 times in the month that I have been here. It's frustrating, yes, but it usually works out for the best.

2. Sunburn.
--- I have raccoon eyes and a permanent watch tan line

3. Unwilling participants/volunteers
---- My first week on the job consisted of working with volunteers who did NOT want to be there. It was a tough first week, but it really made me appreciate all of the people who DO want to help us out.

4. Stings, bites, and bruises
--- My poor legs look like they want to fall off. I'm covered in bug bites (my legs look like I have chicken pox), I've been stung by a jellyfish twice, and I have bruises all over my arms and legs from boat mishaps, equipment, or something turtle related.

5. Boat malfunctions
--- In the past week, our boat has broken down twice and we have had to be towed in. Today, our research class was on the boat with us, but they got a good snorkel in and eventually got to see some turtles, and that's all that matters!

Honestly, these are the "worst" parts of my job so far. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, I work a lot (today is my first day off in 9 days.... and I work 14 hour days). But, it's fabulous and I'm lucky to even be working a job like this and having the opportunity to touch and catch turtles. Life is good in the Bahamas.

What's the worst part of your job?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Turtle Tuesday #3

This post is gonna be short and sweet today as I don't have a lot of time!

One aspect of my job includes co-advising a research project for the school that is attached to the research center I work at. Research classes started on Friday, so I had the great opportunity of helping co-lead my first class! I also had the opportunity to teach yesterday and lead a big chunk of the background information provided to the students about sea turtles. I covered the sea turtle life cycle as well as the grazing habits of green sea turtles, as that is the species that we are studying. Throughout the semester, we will lead the students through the scientific writing/discovery portion. They will also have the opportunity to catch and tag turtles, as well as count sea turtles to estimate their abundance in specific locations. Our main focus is determining how healthy the turtles are in the Bahamas, so our students will give a huge presentation during Parents Weekend. We have a great group of students and am excited about the rest of this semester!

If you can't tell by the smile on my face, I think I'm fitting right in here.

Source: CEI

Teachers: What is your favorite part of teaching? Would anyone like for me to cover bits about sea turtle life history (life cycle, threats, etc.) on days like this where my posts are shorter and less exciting?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Turtle Tuesday #2

Well, I wasn't intending on taking a week off in between posts, but I worked 14+ hour days every day last week (including Saturday and Sunday), so that's what happened! I had such a great response to the first Turtle Tuesday! I'm so excited to share what I've been up to this past week!

Turtle Tagging

Last week, we went seining for turtles in an area called Winding Bay. A seine net is a net that has two poles attached to the ends and is dragged along the bottom towards the shore. 

Source: VIMS

Our seine net was about 100 yards long (maybe longer) and we had 7 people total working on either pulling the net, ensuring the net doesn't sink below the surface or leave the sea floor, or scaring turtles into our net. On our first seine, we caught one turtle, a juvenile green sea turtle who is incredibly happy to see me (also, ignore the fact that I don't have pants on)

Whenever we catch a turtle, we take a series of measurements. We begin by taking the straight length of their carapace (top of their shell), followed by their width, the curved length (using a tape measure) of their carapace, their weight, we make notes of any scars or abnormalities, and then take photos of the shell and flippers. 

 Measuring width of the body

 Measuring body depth (or how chunky this lil bugger is)

 Weighing our little guy (he came out to be around 6 pounds)

Photo shoot!

This was a brand new turtle (to our project), so before we released him back with his friends, we attached tags to the rear flippers. Each flipper gets a tag in between the second and third toe on the flipper. The tags have numbers that are recorded and this will help us see how this turtle moves and grows during the time it spends in the Bahamas! After we catch a turtle and take measurements, we also attach a biodegradable, red string to the flippers so that we can tell which turtles we've already caught within the last few days so that we don't stress them out too much. Then, we release them back into the water (that's the turtle's favorite part).

Even though it's been a really hectic and crazy first week, I'm loving it so far and am learning a lot! I start teaching this Friday, so that'll be a new and exciting adventure! 

Have you ever gone seining (or fishing)? How big do you think turtles get?