Sunday, February 27, 2011

Treadmills and Triumph

This week, I've been working through the tired. "The tired" is probably what many people feel in the last weeks of February because of the grey, the cold, the old snow. Teachers and students feel it exponentially increased because we're halfway through the semester. Some of us also feel tired because of the constant polemics in Washington and the constant struggle to maintain rights, education, and access to  services for those who are disenfranchised in this economically segregated country. See, for example, the recent op-ed by Charles Blow in the New York Times and New York Times editorial on the Republican assault on women's and children's health.

Today I'd like to offer some hope to get us through winter running, as well as the current onslaught against the poor and particularly, women without financial or educational resources. We can triumph--with consistent hard work.

My running metaphor for the political situation is this: Sometimes the best workouts happen when I really don't want to work out. For example, three times this week I went to the gym instead of running outside. I preferred a treadmill to dealing with even the piddliest of snowflakes on the ground, grey skies, and temperatures that at 7 am did not make running outside sound fun. I am probably one of the very few people who don't get bored on treadmills--in fact, once I'm on a treadmill, I get in a better workout than I ever would running by myself outside. This is because I push it. I'll do intervals to keep the monotony away. It's mentally easy for me to run hard for 3 minutes, and then appreciate the minute-or-so recovery pace, and do it again. I like to do ladders...3 minutes on at faster-than-race pace, 1 off (x2 or 3), 2 minutes on, 1 off (x2 or 3), 1 minute on x 4 or whatever feels good. I did the ladder workout Monday, and 7- two-three minute intervals Thursday, and a short 16-minute "tempo" run Friday (10 K race pace).

Most people think of treadmills as running in place. Boring, monotonous, and horrible. But I use them to get better and faster, and re-energize my running. Sometimes the horrible (treadmills, legistlative inequities) is what pushes us to do more and build our endurance to win in the end.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What do Title IX and Title X Have in Common?

For all the current discussion on the country's budget, one critical piece that should not be overlooked is preventative care, which necessarily includes family planning. "For every dollar spent on contraception for low-income women, the government saves four dollars in medical costs within the next year by averting unwanted pregnancies," reports the New York Times, quoting Ms. Cohen of the Guttmacher Institute in an article yesterday. Critics of Planned Parenthood, however, frequently focus on abortion, even though Planned Parenthood’s services overwhelmingly involve family planning and preventative medicine. 

Title X is a $317 million program that aids family planning--and the Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed cutting it in its entirety. $317 million, in the scheme of things, is peanuts. What worries me more, is the message that such a cut sends. It is not only short-sighted, but  projects the misogynistic and fearful beliefs of a few onto an entire population. As Dan Savage frequently rails about, legislation against abortion, against family planning, against sex education, against gay marriage--really any legislation that has anything to do with individuals' sex lives and the repercussions of it at all has increasingly been a focus of the right-wing agenda. Why?  Because it is control over a person. Controlling an individual's sexuality and sexual identity and the decisions that person may make based on his or her sexual identity, is, in my opinion, tantamount to slavery. Both fundamentally seek unmediated control of an individual's body and in legislating their subjective values, an individual's freedom of thought and expression--indeed, his or her mind, and ultimately mental well-being. Although anecdotal, Dan Savage's success as a columnist speaks to how fucked up the United States attitude towards sex, health, and the undeniable connection between healthy bodies and healthy minds, is.

So what does this have to do with Title IX? Probably more people are familiar with Title IX because it is why there is women's basketball, or women's track, or name your sport for women. Basically Title IX requires that in any institution where federal funds are provided, women must have an equal access to services--or in our case, to play any sport that a male can play. Thus we have seen an explosion of women's athletics at the high school and collegiate level since its enactment in 1972. I certainly have benefited--I played softball, volleyball, ran cross country and track, skied cross-country, and even swam one season at my public high school in Minneapolis. These experiences shaped who I am as a self-actualized individual. Many women talk about how important emotionally sports are for them, and how important they can be for self-esteem.

So what do Title X and Title IX have in common? Equitable access to services for building and maintaining physical and mental health. And we're talking not just gender parity, but class parity--because that's what Title X seeks to enable--the sorely needed medical services Planned Parenthood provides to so many individuals who in our increasingly income-segregated country cannot afford medical care. 

So today, I beg you--please take a moment and donate to Planned Parenthood (see sidebar link). Better, please take a moment and write to your House Representative and Senators telling them not to cut Title X and the incredibly important services Planned Parenthood provides. You can find your senators' contact info here.  You can find your House Representative's contact info here.

On a lighter note: Speaking of gender parity, here's where my husband and I ran today:
Isn't it ideal that a man and woman in a healthy relationship can also enjoy a sport together? :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sun Worship and Safety

Don't get me wrong, I love winter. I love cross-country skiing, that is. I also don't mind the occasional freeze-your-nostrils-shut lung-clearing cold run, either. But I loathe being cold (which seems to be my constant state if I'm NOT running or skiing), shoveling, and the short amount of time there is in a winter day to get my vitamin D from the sun. If you're in the mid-west, you know that the last two days have brought welcome warmth and sunshine, drawing many a winter couch potato out for a run, as well as those like me, who tried to get in one last ski, and then opted for to run instead.

It's a lovely thing to sweat, and it not immediately freeze or evaporate!

That said, there will still be many a day when you may be up before the sun, or out after it has set. And, the snow is still here, even if it's melting fast. I know some folks are interested in how to navigate the slush/ice/winter mix (still) on the roads. I posted a few of my winter routes on the right--they consist of well-plowed streets and/or sidewalks that 90-95% of the time are cleared. The biggest thing to worry about though is not wet shoes or a slower pace when the roads and sidewalks are crummy--rather, it is safety. Always make sure that you are visible and follow pedestrian rules. In other words, wear light or reflective clothing and/or a little blinking light (thanks to my mom, I have a sweet blinker for my ankle for those early a.m. runs that allow me to greet the dawn), and run on the roadside of oncoming traffic--you see them, they see you.

One final secret (my husband loves me for having shared it with him, and you will too):
If your shoes are wet, simply stuff them with crumpled newspaper. Let them sit (preferably by a heater) and then pull out the newspaper a few hours later. Voila! Dry (and less stinky) shoes!

Still waiting to hear on mottoes! And if  you know of any cool Eastern Iowa road races, let me know!

Given my optimistic safety advice above, this morning I am trying very hard to be grateful for my body and the run I had, even though it was full of frustrations. Slushy sidewalks and ice from folks who for whatever reason never bothered to shovel made my feet cold and wet almost immediately. Began running in the street to avoid falling on the ice and the ginormous puddles. Cop car pulls over and asks me to run on the sidewalk, even though Thea and I are on pressed against the curb on the correct (for pedestrians) side of the road. Grrrr. Then two blocks from my house, an undergraduate looking only one direction before pulling into the intersection almost hits Thea and me, even though I was screaming at her "hey hey hey!" Somehow managed to get home without anything worse than wet feet. Almost cried as I rubbed Thea down, thanking her for being a good girl, and so grateful for her silent understanding. Sigh. Some mornings are just like that I guess. You get beat down, and must count your blessings. And I have many--I love my home, my family, my animals. I am able to run. Even if there is so much ignorance and selfishness in the world, I can combat it. I can breathe, and forgive, and move on. Because the only person I can control is me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mottoes and Morality

In Europe in the early modern period (loosely defined,14th-17th centuries), humanists (ie: men--and some women--educated in the classical tradition) took mottoes from ancient moral philosophers like Seneca or Cicero that they felt defined their own personal philosophical values. These mottoes they used as kinds of identifying signatures in alba amicorum, or friendship books, that functioned in the same way calling cards did, or I suppose, facebook wallposts do now. What, you ask, do these humanists mottoes have to do with running and Planned Parenthood?

Jan van Eyck, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, St. Bavo's, Ghent, Belgium c. 1432

 Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man, c. 1433. National Gallery, London

Last night, I was teaching my students about Jan van Eyck, master of the Ghent Altarpiece and eminent court painter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Jan is also well known for his contributions to portraiture. In the Portrait of a Man, almost certainly a self-portrait, he inscribed in pseudo-Greek letters "Als ich kan"--"As I can" on the frame. This was the first part of his personal motto, "As I can, but not as I would." Such a motto suggests the virtues of duty and humility. In discussing the portrait with my students, I mentioned how I wish I had a personal motto...and quipped it would probably be "Just do it!" But bummer! As we know, Nike got to that one before me!

Still, it got me to thinking. I've always found something compelling about the distillation of philosophy into a one-liner. Really, shouldn't how we want to live our lives be easy to remember? I've been drawn at various times to the now cliched "mens sana en corpore sano" "sound mind in a sound body" (now co-opted by the running shoe company Asics), as well as the less well known personal motto of sixteenth-century Dutch physician and collector Bernardus Paludanus (Berent ten Broecke) "pers angustus ad augustus" "through difficulty, wisdom." As we know from our contemporary politicized media spectacle, the quip, the sound byte, the one-liner can make or break you. Words, as many others have explicated, can be mightier than swords.

Mottoes and parables are indeed meant to be easy to remember, and often memory is prompted by visuals. That's why we find them throughout history and across cultures. Pieter Bruegel painted the many Netherlandish proverbs, and Akan cultures like the Asante use the verbal-visual nexus to instill moral virtue in their communities.

When I was in Ghana in 2010, I particularly liked the proverb told to me by the carver pictured above--"one cannot reach the top without help from below."

For me, these mottoes and proverbs are encapsulated in running and in the support services provided by Planned Parenthood. It's no wonder that Nike and Asics have appropriated mottoes as advertising slogans. Yet there is a moral purpose to many of them that should be made explicit. It's not just about being one's best, or leading the virtuous life for oneself. As the Akan proverb demonstrates, one cannot go it alone. This is true in running, and in life. Perhaps running is the distillation of a life--hard work, pain, success, joys...all in an environment over which one only has limited control, and which one shares with many others. Planned Parenthood provides services and resource to raise up people to be their best, both in mind and body by providing the information to make smart choices to have a high quality of life for oneself--and for one's partner(s), and whatever offspring one might bring into the world in the future.

So--after all that....I'm still left with the problem that came up in class last night. What should my personal motto be? I solicit your suggestions!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Welcome and Rationale

Welcome to my first blog. If you've come here from a link I sent, many thanks. The reason for my creating this site is twofold: First, I want to add meaning to my training and racing by providing monetary support to one of my favorite organizations, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Now, more than ever, PP is under attack for the much-needed services it provides to anyone and everyone. Siege of Planned Parenthood
PP is not *just* about abortion--PP is about family planning, about providing health facts and information to teens and others who don't receive information in school or from home, it's about providing a safe space for teens to ask questions about sex and sexuality, and it provides support groups and counseling for the underserved--be they underserved because of economics or because of location or marginalized by their sexual identity.

My second reason for creating this site is to share with friends and supporters my training progress and thoughts on running, injury prevention, nutrition, and the meditative benefits of sport. I registered for the San Francisco marathon, (July 31, 2011) yesterday. I hope to be running it with my brother and my husband. My preferred training plan is this one, Runner's World Marathon Training that focuses on speed and long runs. I like the freedom! I don't feel obligated to run everyday--or even more than three days a week. I'll do a race or speed workout, a mid-distance run, and a long run, and cross train or rest the other days. It worked for me for the Twin Cities marathon in 2010, where I ran a 3:53, a personal best!

That said...I am under no illusions about obtaining a PB for the SF marathon. I live in Iowa, and there aren't that many hills! But instead of focusing on me, I want to be inspired by a more selfless cause than personal bests--so I am soliciting donations to help out Planned Parenthood. This will not only inspire me to keep training, and to "pop the top" of those SF hills when I'm tired and ready to be done, but I hope it will also inspire my readers to push their own limits of physical fitness and selflessness.

If you want to support me and Planned Parenthood, please donate to Planned Parenthood directly via the link, or the permanent link at the right. If you prefer to send me a check, I will forward them to PP.
Thanks for checking out my first blog, and more soon!