Saturday, April 23, 2011

Flexibility. Or: Taking Input, Making Adjustments

Today I had what I initially thought was one of the most convoluted long runs ever. But in the multiple paths I took, I still was able to accomplish the end goal. During the run, I realized the run--as ridiculous as it seemingly was--could serve as a metaphor for other parts of life: To accomplish a goal, the planned route might not work, but if one takes in the available information and makes adjustments, the goal can still be attained!

Last night I had planned a route of 10-12 miles--a nice little jog around a lake and park, and back down the trails to my house. This morning I started out later than I had planned, and with only a few raisins in belly. I don't like to eat before runs of 7 miles or less--any more mileage than that, though, and I have learned the run will probably suck without some pre-fueling. However, I was running late (pardon the pun), and hadn't structured in an eat-and-wait, so I decided to take off anyway. 3 miles in, I was hungry. The sun had disappeared, and the wind was gusting strong from the west. (Cedar Falls is definitely the windiest city I have ever experienced--sorry Chicago!). And so I did something I have never done before. I turned around. I am not kidding you when I say I have never done that before. Some people may call my tendency to complete a task bull-headed (I prefer "persevering" or "driven"), but for the most part, this personality trait has served me well. This time though, I did not want to have a bad run. I did not want to battle the wind. So I made some adjustments.

An example of my tendency to persevere despite a bad situation: Last weekend, I had registered for a 5k race in Marion. Since it was April, I did not anticipate the weather would be what it was on race day, which included ice chunks and snow blowing horizontally. It was horrible. A horrible hour-long drive on unplowed and slippery roads led to a horribly cold race. As I was warming up (not really possible given the weather!), I said aloud, "I am crazy and must be stupid to do this." But I had come all that way, and paid ten whole dollars! So I ran it anyway. And pushed against the wind. And was the first female finisher (even though my time was easily over a minute slower than my best this year). In the race, I competed against the weather. Unfortunately, the hubris of trying to subordinate the sublime to my human will is not new for me--I have shouted on windy bike rides to Zephyrus himself, "you can't intimidate me! You're making this very difficult, but I'll show you!"

Turning around this morning was a first. I went home, and fueled up. Since I had already run 5 miles, I thought a few more would be no problem with the waffle and peanut butter in me, and a new route. So I went back out, adjusting my plans to run on a route that would be more sheltered from the wind. Even then, I truncated that plan after 3 miles. I came home again, leashed up the dog, and ran one more mile.

When I arrived home the THIRD time, Steve asked me how my run went. I said it was ridiculous. I had run five miles, stopped and refueled, taken another 3 mile route, picked up the dog to alleviate boredom and loneliness, and ran another mile. In a way, though, it worked. It wasn't what I planned at all, but I listened to my body, paid attention to the weather, and adjusted to the conditions as best I could. The run wasn't a straight line or on the path I had planned, but I still accomplished my initial goal of a long run. I even exercised the dog! Perhaps more significantly, I learned to consider a new, more flexible, way to run--and be.

addendum--9.6 miles! Thank you

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Diversity and the Heart(land)

This past weekend I made a quick run (haha) up to Minneapolis. I had things to do: visit my parents, attend a forum for the Oromo population in Minneapolis led by The Advocates for Human Rights and Oromia Human Rights and Justice Council (and my second mother, Kathy S.), and visit the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to renew my relationships with my sixteenth-century boyfriends Tiziano Vecellio and Albrecht D├╝rer. I also had the good fortune to run with my college friend Ben, who is always happy to pound out a long run at a good pace. 

Indeed, it was on our 10 miles around the lakes that Ben and I discussed some issues close to both our hearts. While the central focus of our conversation was religion, the hour-and-twenty-five minute long conversation underscored and clarified the theme of the weekend--the value of diversity. Now, working in an institution of higher ed, the "D" word is a buzz word that is apt to be overused and interpreted simplistically. However, the activities in which I participated this weekend--and the stories to which I listened--renewed my strong belief that it is only through listening to a variety of viewpoints that one can truly become a more whole and empathetic human being. This is especially salient given that it was last Friday night that Congress was at the brink of shutting down the government due to the inability of our elected congresspeople to listen and hear each other. Certainly I have very strong views about politics and the budget (cut the budget by all means--get out of foreign wars, save funding for education and health and human services like Planned Parenthood!), but at the end of the day, our politicians need to be able to hear each other. I speak from experience in saying that this is a hard skill to cultivate. It is especially difficult for those of us trained in rational discourses--the law, philosophy, medicine, science--it is hard to forgo the a+b=c logic and allow for the opinion of the heart to weigh in.

For those of us to whom success comes easily--those of us who are driven, used to taking control, and who take steps towards reaching a goal, giving up control is extremely difficult. And yet it is precisely the ability to relinquish control that brings one closer to others, brings one peace, and creates peace. For some, giving this control to God is how they achieve the humility necessary to let that which is outside of their power, be. For others (myself included) it has been a process of recognizing that what I can control is my reaction to the things I can't control. In other words, I can relax. I can laugh. I can smile. I can recognize my anxiety, breathe into it, and let it go, knowing that from my place of privilege--itself a gift over which I really had no control--nothing truly bad is going to happen. I have internal, as well as external support systems.

Many people, however do not have the systems of support that I have, or the corresponding privileges. This was brought into high relief at the Oromo forum. Women and men told stories of the violent oppression, the murdering of children and family members, the fear of repercussion on those left behind in Ethiopia by the Ethiopian government that continues to haunt them even as they are new citizens of the United States. Talk about no control! And yet--what we do have control over is our actions and what we can do here. The mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak, opened the forum by thanking the Oromo people for their cultural and economic contributions to Minneapolis. He was right to do so--they have grown small business in the city, and the cultural diversity present in Minneapolis schools is in part due to the many immigrants who have come to live in Minneapolis in the last 35 years--Hmong, Somalian, Oromo, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Persian (aka: Iranian)...We have all benefited from the oppression of their homelands. 

An urban center that appreciates and encourages immigrant inclusion and economic participation certainly provides cultural diversity and helps all of us learn how to live, work, and profit from one another culturally as well as economically. For some this same eye-and ear-opening to difference is (perhaps paradoxically) also found in faith communities. As Ben and I discussed, the fellowship to be found among those who come together week after week, year after year, is powerful. Moreover, intergenerational diversity, as well as racial and cultural diversity, is often an important part of this fellowship. In my view, the space to be, the space to give and accept love, to recognize the humanity in others, to support others, should not, however, only be the purview of institutionalized religion. These spaces should be created wherever we live, wherever we work, in schools, on buses, at the grocery store, getting one's mammogram at Walgreens, and even in the evilest of spaces (for me)-- the airport. The first step to creating this space of fellowship, empathy, and humanity, though, is to listen.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Racing Season!! Challenge your Self.

It's begun! Racing season is here! I had some trepidation for the first 5K of the year this morning--possibly because of the exhausting week at school and the three martinis and gin & tonic I enjoyed last night...
but the race turned out great! The morning was beautiful, 40s and sunny. A little bit of a wind made it long-sleeves and shorts-appropriate. I was happy with my 23:08--and happier still that the field had doubled in size since 2010. That gives me hope for Cedar Fallopians who may be just beginning their running and fitness journeys.

It's much nicer to be outside in the sun among all types of runners eager to push themselves rather than in a mall under orange fluorescent lights among the super-sized zombies with credit cards. Still, it seems a lot of folks are intimidated by the notion of racing. "Fun runs" are "fun" but "races" are scary. Perhaps people are are nervous that they don't look like a "real" runner (what's a "real" runner?). Perhaps they are scared by the idea that there will be mean, competitive "real" runners  ready to call them out and finger them as shams. Or perhaps they are certain they will fail. But what is failure? Is it not self-defined? I identify as a runner. But what if you don't? Or rather, what if you haven't before? These fears, like fears and stereotypes of other constructed identity-markers-- of race, gender, ethnicity, class, vocation-- are grounded in not understanding or being able to empathize with that identity. As with anything, the more familiar one is with something, the less scary it becomes.

How wonderful that so many people came out to try something new this morning! These new runners challenged not only the physical capabilities of their bodies, but also their assumptions about themselves and others. Maybe I am reading too much into a simple event, but the very nature of a mall is that it is a place where your identity is being re-sold to you. You can affirm yourself by buying things that "reflect" who you are--hence the colloquialism to believe something is "to buy it." I like races because they re-affirm my self-identification as a runner. Going to a race for me is no different than going to a mall for most people. But I have so much more respect for people who are just beginning to challenge their identities by signing up for a race. They can't fail! The real failure is not to challenge oneself. If your challenge is simply to try something new, great! If my challenge is a time, fine--but how much lamer is that than really questioning prior assumptions? What do you think you can't do? I bet you can. Just Do it.

I hope to see many more first-timers and veterans out on the roads this spring and summer. Here's my tentative racing schedule--most of the races I find through The Running Wall.

April 2, Fools 5K, Cedar Falls
April 9, Shamrock Run 5K, Cedar Falls
April 30, Pi Sigma Epsilon 5K, Cedar Falls
May 8, Ronald McDonald House 10 mile, Iowa City
June 4, Dam to Dam 20K, Des Moines (tentative)
June 11, Viking Pump 5K, Cedar Falls
June 26, Sturgis Falls 1/2 Marathon, Cedar Falls
July 4, Cedar Rapids Fifth Season 8K, Cedar Rapids

(September 11, Park to Park 1/2 Marathon, Cedar Falls)
(October 2, TC 10 Mile, Minneapolis)