New Girls’ Club #oiselleteam

One of the first things my boyfriend (now husband) bought me was a shirt that said: “A woman’s place is on top.” While some girls may take this the wrong way, and find this a chauvinistic, sexist, or insulting maneuver from a dude they just started dating, I found it admirable. You see, the shirt was referencing the author of the book Breaking Trail, Arlene Blum, who is a mountaineer and trailblazer in more ways than just finding her way to the tops of 14,000 footers. This book was a farewell gift from my roommate and running buddy, Katie, when I left Montana. And, this book has been an inspiration to me, especially during the first few years of my PhD (and as I started training and racing marathons)- and to this day. It really drives home to me the fulfillment, the strength, and the power that comes with choosing your own route, breaking your own trail, leading your own life.

photo

Some big news came a few weeks ago in the world of Track and Field when Kara Goucher announced she would be joining the flock and recently signed with Oiselle. As a member of the flock, I was obviously excited, and admittedly somewhat surprised. But hearing Kara’s story, her rationale to set flight with Oiselle and leave Nike’s support of over a decade, made total and utter sense. And when Sally (Bergesen, CEO of Oiselle) dropped this one, I couldn’t stop nodding:

“We wanted to make room for powerful women on the start line of our company. After all, while we hate to admit, we’re familiar with the stereotypes…i.e., that things get messy when you have too many strong B’s at the top. And that women often tear each other down, right when we should be building each other up. One reason we find it hard to deal with the old boys’ club is that we aren’t very good at putting together the new girls’ club. I’d like to prove that theory wrong. I want to continue building the new girls’ club – where strong yet different personalities can complement rather than compete.” – Sally Bergesen, Oiselle.com

You see, whether its business, or racing, or academia, this stereotype- that women compete and tear each other down- persists. And perhaps its more than a stereotype, as hypercompetitiveness and “catty” behavior is a contended evolutionary trait. But why? I don’t have the resources to answer that question, but I do know that- anecdotally- I’ve experienced this. I’ve been a victim on numerous occasions. But what is worse: I’ve been the assailant. Oh, how I’d love to be able to say that I’ve never felt jealous of other women in similar positions, that I’ve never said something condescending about what another woman was wearing (albeit not to their face…), or performed a side-by-side comparison of another woman’s measurable accomplishments with my own (whether it were race results, papers published, or acclaim from mentors). And why? For what benefit? To make me feel better? If anything, this behavior has made me feel worse. Whatever metrics I utilized sometimes summed to me “on top”- but often, I’d find out that the other woman (or man) was better, however measurable, or stronger, or faster. And the downward spiral would progress until I felt resentment and discomfort in my own skin. And that’s ridiculous.

Fortunately, my approach in assessing myself (and others), and my accomplishments (and the accomplishments of others), has dramatically improved when I don’t pull up a side-by-side comparison. True, it’s incredibly hard to NOT pull this trick. And many aspects of life are evaluated in list-form side-by-side comparisons. Say four people are being interviewed for a single tenure-track position. Each of their strengths and weaknesses are being assessed by a committee. Or, perhaps a hundred grants are being reviewed by a committee and there’s only enough money to fund five, maybe six. This weekend, twenty elite women are toeing the line at a 5K and only one woman can win the $1,000 prize purse. Does that mean that those “losers,” the ones who won’t get that single tenure track job at this one university or win the grant or win the race are worse candidates than the others? Absolutely not. They made it there. They toed the line. Their grant was reviewed. Maybe they just missed the cut off score for funding. Maybe they came in dead last in the race. Whatever the case may be, they were there. They put themselves out there to be judged and to be assessed. By knowing humility and confidence (and when to use it), they show strength and perseverance. And it doesn’t matter what race you’re running or field you study, those there are great traits.

And lastly: It’s ok to be competitive. Competitiveness is a trait in many of us that motivates, inspiring us to do better and be better. Interestingly, comparing our own accomplishments to that of others is incredibly easy. It’s lists and side-by-side comparisons that show A is better than B. 2 is greater than 1. But guess what? Every list is always incomplete. The committee hiring for a tenure track faculty doesn’t care what your 5K PR time is. The granting agency doesn’t care how many friends you have on Facebook. Your competitors in the race this weekend give two shits if you have to prepare for upcoming job interviews*. So maybe… maybe it’s not fair to compare side-by-side. Assume your list isn’t complete; assume “their” list isn’t, either.

*unless your competitors are your friends. Then, they probably care.

Advertisements

Virtual long run – One – #longrun

A very good friend of mine has maintained a rolling blog series that she calls “Sunday afternoon virtual coffee date,” where she recaps her exciting news as if she were chatting with me (one of her many beloved readers) in real life. Jenn and I used to hang out at Rockford Coffee, or The Daily, when we were both in graduate school at Montana State. We’d talk for hours, plan our next adventure, or just study together and randomly interject with crazy twenty-something gossip. Then, very abruptly (or at least, it felt that way), we graduated and moved away from Montana. Since then, over six years has passed, and we continue to keep in touch through random visits, email, and of course- our blogs. Her coffee date posts have been a fun way for me to touch base and stay in tune with her life happenings over this past year, even if we don’t email or chat on the phone for months. And it’s been a godsend, given her crazy travel schedule over the last nine months (interviewing, moving back to Montana, traveling, adventuring, etc.).

For some reason, it has taken me nearly as long to realize that this type of blog post is something I should jump in with, too. But instead of coffee dates, as I rarely find myself hanging out at coffee shops these days, I think it will take the form as a virtual long run. This rendition was also inspired by a recent Tumblr post from haute volee Oiselle runner Fast Kate on “Notes from a long run”- so here it goes.  Lace up your shoes, let’s give it a try.

If we were on a long run, I’d tell you about the wonderful food I’ve been eating as of late. It’s necessary to get back into the long runs because of all the oil, fat, and butter that goes into the meals I eat. Given Adam’s new purchase of Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home,” our dinners have transformed into some elegant comfort foods that are simple yet something I’ve never had before. He is really enjoying the pursuit of new adventures in the kitchen, and obviously I am supportive. His cooking style is evolving, and he’s really into learning new techniques and styles of cooking, and even in presentation too (we have special plates and bowls that make the meals look just about as good as they taste). Did I mention it’s really nice living with my husband? After being apart for over two years, I know that my life is just that much better when he’s around.

IMG_20131123_202839_188

IMG_20131125_215556_871

If we were on a long run today, I’d groan a little about my decision to teach and do research this semester. Oh, and apply for faculty jobs. Teaching has been a lot of work, and one of the main reasons I haven’t been out on many long runs this fall. Teaching a new class, or a class for the first time, has a steep learning curve, but I feel like I am finally at the plateau where things in everyday teaching-life are more routine. I can predict questions and answer them effectively in class and out of class, compared to when the semester first started, when I didn’t know what the students didn’t know. And we can always improve, get better, do more. Teaching is rewarding, and demanding, and humbling, but I like it. I still prefer research primarily, but I think teaching provides a medium to connect with a younger generation and see if what you’re working towards in your career strikes a chord with them. Plus, it helps with articulating what you are trying to say, which is never a bad thing to practice in a scientist’s life.

If we were on a long run today, I’d ask you what you think of the GoldieBlox campaign for girls’ toys targeting design and engineering. The campaign on Kickstarter is incredible. There is a Rube Goldberg machine, little girls in safety glasses singing the Beastie Boys’ “Girls,” and it’s just straight-up girl power coming from 6 year olds. On the other hand, here’s a toy that is still clinging to the pink-is-for-girls stereotype. When will there be gender neutrality? And when can we stop thinking of kids as little girls and little boys and start thinking of them as aspiring engineers? A friend of mine posted a thought-provoking commentary on this. But there’s also a big gap with where we are and where we want to be as far as gender neutrality goes. And maybe it’s ok that some girls like pink things, and only play with pink toys, and aren’t interested in LEGOs, just like it’s ok that some boys want to play with dolls and kitchen things. And maybe not every kid is going to grow up and be an engineer. Whatever. If it gets the toy, made to encourage spatial visualization and design and mechanics, into the hands of a little girl because her parents only buy her pink toys or she only likes pink toys, well- that’s one step in the right direction.

If we were on a long run today, I’d ask you what good books you’ve read lately. I’ve been engrossed in the Wheel of Time novels, and because I am a slow reader, I am only on Book 6, of 14. It’s gonna be a while. So I want to know what books to get on Audible, or your cliff notes of the next best autobiography. I have a terrible habit of starting books and not finishing them, especially when I feel like I have got everything out of them that I can.

If we were on a long run today, I’d want to start planning a run-cation for next year. Where to go? What to see? I hope to be traveling a bit in the spring for interviews, but I also want to go to a few conferences, and if a race lines up with a “work” trip, that would be cool. Part of me wants to race a marathon again, just to see where I am at endurance-wise and how I can do, but the majority of myself wants to just get fast. So, I think I’ll put off the marathon for a few more years, maybe until I put together a quick, solid half marathon. Plus, I want to jump on the track for some collegiate 5K races per my coach’s recommendation (why not?). I think it would be rad to break 19, so I might as well race a few 5Ks to increase my chances. Working with a coach has been a lot of fun and very educational, and it’s a topic that could take up a huge part of our long run discussion.

Since I haven’t been on a long run in a while, I’m going to stop here, stretch, and get ready for a feast. Happy Thanksgiving!

Finding my flock

Oiselle Badge_150px

I found out yesterday morning that I was officially accepted for the Oiselle Volée team.

For over the last year, I have been getting back to my roots in running, focusing on trying to reconnect, improve, and rediscover my drive to be better. Better at what, exactly? Well, better at racing, for sure. I took a few years off, as is habit for me I suppose, after ending graduate school and starting my post-doc. It was a tough few years, and it took a while to get into the swing of things, but I’ve been able to find support and encouragement from others to look ahead and see my potential. Besides, who doesn’t want to be better, stronger, faster? But I’m also striving to be better in a lot of other ways, too- like, better at balance. Sure, I want to be a better balanced runner– meaning, I want to actually be able to stand on one foot and then the other without falling over, and I want to feel strong, grounded, and connected with the earth. Better balance in the literal, tangible sense of “yoga-and-closed-circuit-exercises”-sense. But I have also been striving to find better balance between work and “life” things, better balance in – more importantly- life outside of work. I started rock climbing and strength training again, after several years hiatus, and I tag along with my husband when he goes to the trails to ride his bike, so that I can run on singletrack and hills and sand, so that I can get better and stronger and fitter. I eat better, thanks to my husband who prepares gourmet meals as if I am an athlete in the Tour de France and he’s my amazing chef. I even think better; improving my positivity and thinking ahead at my potential instead of dwelling on my shortcomings.

So, when I found out that Oiselle was bringing on some more ladies to the flock this year, I was quick to apply. It was easy for me to apply; the questions in the application were honest and my answers were honest, and the mission of the company is one that I’ve adored for years. In 2009, when my former collegiate teammates and I officially formed Team Mega Tough, I found Oiselle to be the perfect reflection of us; strong, ambitious women, brought together through running, who’ve made the most lasting friendships and have experienced the most remarkable things through each other’s accomplishments. With Team Mega Tough, and now Oiselle, it’s not about me- it’s about the flock. Sure, I want to do better for myself, to race faster and be stronger and have the most amazing balance (can I stand on my head? ok, maybe I don’t really care to do that)… but more importantly, at least to me, I want be there when others in my flock do their best. I want to be the one my teammate calls when she PRs in the 10K after not racing in a few years; when she decides she want to run her first marathon and calls me just to tell me she signed up. When an email chain between five women goes around about running a relay as an ultra team, which means we’d all run more than a marathon- and their first response isn’t: “WHAT? That’s stupid.” It’s: “WHAT? Where do I sign up?” When a friend tells me she wants to race the Leadville 100 mile run, and that she wants to win it, I’m not going to call her crazy; I’m going to buy a plane ticket to Denver and crew for her, pace her until I puke my guts out at 11,000ft above sea level. These are things I enjoy more than racing itself, but these things revolve around running, they are defined by running. And these are things that add up to way more than anything I can accomplish on my own. Running is an individual sport, but there’s so much more to it than doing it all on your own. It’s the meet-up runs in cities while traveling, its the destination races with friends to see more of the country, it’s the 3hr run “just-because” with friends you haven’t seen in months, it’s the bachelorette parties that revolve around trips to islands just to run. Running is at the center, but we flock around it like birds to a lake. It’s about having a team of women that support each other, and I’m proud to say that I run for Oiselle.

Staying on Track: Update

This week, I logged my first official track workout in a series of speed sessions, all by myself on the St Louis Uni track. It. was. fantastic. Technically, I wasn’t alone. I showed up to the track on Wednesday night, and it was a happenin’ place, with nearly 30 kids and their parents bustling around. Six-yr-olds practicing 4×100 relays. They were better at hand-offs than some college relay teams I know. It was cool to watch as I ran lap after lap.

The workout: hammer out 12x400s with 400 rest, shooting for my 5K race pace. Truth be told, I actually broke it down a bit faster. I tried reigning it in, but no matter how much I felt I slowed down, I ran faster. When I run a big block of repeats on the track, I try breaking it down into sets so A) I don’t lose track and B) I don’t get bored/overwhelmed. For Wednesday’s workout, I broke it down into groups of 4:

First set: 1:29, 1:26, 1:26, 1:23
Thoughts: Ok, these were a little fast (the last one 10sec faster than my goal pace) so try not to implode on the next set. Stay relaxed, you have real estate to slow down a little.

Second set: 1:23, 1:22, 1:24, 1:22
Thoughts: Seriously, slow down. The last set is going to be painful.

Third set: 1:20, 1:21, 1:21, 1:19
Thoughts: Ok, well then, don’t listen. The final 400, #12, was a “might-as-well-see-how-fast-you-can-go” with the last 100 a sprint, but I never felt … tired. It was great. Very confidence boosting.

Next up, I have a 5K in mid-June (All American 5K) and I may or may not jump into a 10K in Edwardsville the weekend before. Did I mention that I’m signed up for the Fox Cities Marathon in September?

Speaking of marathons, and 12×400 repeats on the track at 5K race pace, I recently updated my marathon training library with Luke Humphrey’s new book:

 photo IMG_20130601_090853_608_zpsdc0d2875.jpgThis book was super appealing to me for two reasons: I am a big Hansons Brooks fanatic, and the methodologies aren’t too crazy off-the-wall compared to what I’m familiar with. While the 18wk plan (advanced) that I’m following just started last week, and I missed a few 6-milers because of travel to NY, I am feeling confident and focusing on being consistent and running nearly every day. That being said, yesterday’s 6-miler turned into only 2, because 10minutes into my run, the tornado warning sirens went off.

To me, the interesting thing about the Hanson’s method for marathon training, compared to other plans out there that millions of people follow (Galloway, Higdon), is the lack of mega-long runs and incorporation of consistently maintained physiological stress during the week; If I follow the Hanson’s Advanced marathon training plan as it is written to a T, I won’t run anything longer than 16 miles.  When training for a marathon, a lot of runners find this blasphemous. But truthfully, when I look at my week of training midway through the plan, I get a little excited. It reminds me a lot of training in college, under a modified Jack Daniels plan, that incorporates speed, tempo (what we referred to as Lactate Threshold, or LT), and a longer run with consistency and speed. I won’t necessarily have high volume weeks because it’s not practical for me right now (the highest mileage week I have planned is 63 miles), but I will have high physiological stress and cumulative fatigue.

In the past, I’ve cobbled together my own plans in the past based on insight from highly successful coaches (including Pfitzinger’s, Daniels’s, etc.), which follow similar methodologies and likely guided the Hansons in developing their own marathon method. Jack Daniels, an expert exercise physiologist and running coach, literally wrote the book on endurance run training (and also shifted my endurance training mentality during my junior year of college, when our cross-country team welcomed a new coach who followed his methodologies to a T).  What I didn’t embrace before, but is clear after reading the well-written book by Humphrey and reflecting on things here and there that I overlooked in my marathon training over the past five years, is that Daniels’s running methods specifically instruct runners, regardless of their goal race distance, to not incorporate long runs >25-30% of their weekly volume. Even still, I admit that in the past, I ignored this advice in order to just get that “big long run” in on Sunday morning, even if my training during the week was inconsistent, because- well- that’s just what you do when training for a marathon. You gotta have a big, long run. Turns out, actually… you don’t. Oh, and just in case you didn’t know:
 photo daniels_zpsa51dcb1b.jpg

Of course, depending on my total weekly volume, the absolute duration  my long run is irrelevant (remember: it’s 25-30% of my weekly volume at most!); if I design a training plan with the highest volume week of say 100 miles, the longest run of the week would be more than 16 miles. But, 100 mile weeks for me right now are not practical, and I’d probably get injured.

My success and failures in marathoning thus far hinges on cumulative fatigue. Last year, I was ill-prepared for the St Louis Rock and Roll marathon and switched to the half… during the race… even though I ran several long, 3hr+ runs. But I lacked consistency, with typical weeks of training only consisting of 4 days of running per week, and I didn’t accumulate physiological stress to adapt and be faster for longer. The best marathon I’ve had I raced 5 weeks after my first Ironman triathlon, and the accumulation of training 20-30hr weeks with one stellar (albeit forced) taper during post-ironman recovery served as a fantastic tuning for a fast and – most importantly – fun marathon.

Stay tuned for a post about writing your own plan for your goal race while taking into consideration your physiology. It involves one of my favorite hobbies: Doing the research!

Run on. #bostonmarathon

The Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of American running. For practically any runner who has ever ran a marathon, it’s a life goal to make it to the start line.  Heck, it’s a life goal for tons of people that have never even run a 10K. It takes months, years, decades even, massive amounts of time spent training to trim down times in order to toe the line. And getting to the starting line isn’t everything; there’s the whole thing about running yet another grueling 26.2 miles on asphalt, your knees aching and lungs burning, up Heartbreak Hill and across the city of Boston, just to cross the same finish line as tens of thousands of people just like you- some faster, some slower.  It’s the same course every year, the same neighborhoods. Sometimes even the same spectators. Yet it draws the attention of all of us every year, whether we are runners, or not runners, if we’ve raced it before, or if we never will. It’s a race that is alluring, motivating, and inspirational for everyone.

The Boston Marathon has always been a lot more than just a race. It’s the months of diligent training. It’s the races that came before, the race that garnered a qualifying time and the many other races that didn’t. It’s the stories that were picked up along the way in training, in traveling, in life, that get you to the start line, those aspects of our lives that mean more than the race itself. Just starting, just toeing the line.

I have never raced the Boston Marathon. To be honest, it has always intimidated me. So many people, so much excitement. It’s just. So. Big. I suppose that I should have raced it by now; I have been fortunate to have run fast enough times and to have qualified with each of the five open marathons I’ve run. But even though I’ve qualified, when it comes time to register, I have just never even tried to sign up. When the time came, I just wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t excited, or I wanted to switch gears and focus on other things. For five years, I have always made excuses.

But now, everything is different. After the bombings on Monday, after worrying about my friends who were racing and spectating, after seeing the photos online of those injured and those crying. Watching the runners come down the finish chute, not to finish the race but rather to escape whatever exploded less than a block from the end. Watching runners and volunteers go backwards on the course, toward the blasts, towards those in need. Helping, or trying to help, anyway. Yesterday, there was little glory in finishing the biggest marathon in the world. For so many, there wasn’t even a finish line.

I set a goal back in 2008 to run a marathon in each of the fifty states by the time I am 50 years old, and planned to make sure that each one was a BQ. My ultimate goal? To run Boston as the final marathon- maybe not my final marathon ever, but rather the last in the series. Racing Boston would be the peak of this accomplishment, the culmination of what I hoped to accomplish over a period of 25 years. But now? I don’t know that I am going to stick with that goal; I don’t know that I want to.

What I want to do is race Boston now. I want to toe the line, I want to huddle next to other nervous runners just like me, waiting for the gun to go off. I want to stand next to my friends and strangers, the ones I trained with and the ones I met that morning. I want to shout “hiya hiya!” as the elites take off, and as I pass other runners, and as other runners pass me. I want to find my rhythm, maybe I even want to lose my rhythm. I want to feel the crunch of paper cups under my feet and hear the whirrrrr of crowds as I run by. I want to high five the cheering spectators lined up along East Main and Waverly Street, all while wearing a big grin on my face. I want to laugh at the cowbell ringers and people with awesome signs. I want to thank the volunteers for being out. I want to run as fast as I can when I turn onto Boylston, giving it my all, not holding back. Just raw, pure running, unhindered and unadulterated. What it’s supposed to be, and what it is to so many of us.

I want it, now.