Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Post-Marathon Inspiration: Togetherness

2 miles in and smiling
 The Twin Cities Marathon happened, and I finished in 4:19:54. No PR by any means, but more importantly I was delighted, awed, and inspired by two friends and runners who completed their first marathon--together.

Finishing Together
I was also delighted and grateful to be running with my kitty tank and ears, in honor of all those who donated to Cedar Bend Humane Society and Waverly Pet Rescue. I raised over $1000 for both organizations, thanks to the generosity and support of friends, family, and colleagues.

I commented on it many times over the weekend, and I'll write it here too: I am more inspired by first-time runners who set a goal and accomplish it--often exceeding their own expectations--than I am by elite runners. Watching my friends smile through 5+ hours of running fills my heart with love and joy that others are sharing this amazing sport. My heart is filled by the camaraderie that is built by such an event. These two women had met only the night before (at Dangerous Man, of course!) and yet for 26.2 miles they pulled each other along. They talked the entire time, no music necessary. Each had worries and fears, neither had run more than 14 or 20 miles, respectively. And yet they did it. They ran. Together. And loved it.

I could write about being disappointed in my mediocre time (judged against myself) and my frustration with starting too fast, with wanting to PR too much, the sadness of realization and necessary goal-readjustment when pace groups passed me at miles 18 and 20. But how selfish! How antithetical to the purpose of running these events! How disingenuous to the support I received from a whole community of people who helped me help those furry animals who can't help themselves! A marathon is all about togetherness, support, assistance, love, caring. Because it is hard, because it is impossible to accomplish on one's own. We take time from our families, loved ones, jobs etc. just to train--and in the event, we receive the support of so many individuals on the course, and those in our memories and in our hearts. I was strengthened by a friend who ran up the St. Thomas-Summit hill with me, and by knowing where I would see my parents cheering and by knowing how many people supported my running and the cause.

How much better is that than being in one's own head for two or three or four hours? The elation that is knowing it's going to happen, that you can do it is so much more rewarding and motivating than worrying about numbers and splits and breaking (personal) records. What I witnessed with these first-timers is what running is about: Camaraderie, love, gratitude, strength, and assistance; sharing the experience of a challenge that not many individuals take up or accomplish.

I joined them briefly at mile 24. I will always remember seeing them before they saw me. I started screaming their names and telling them they were going to make it, they were going to finish, that it was less distance to the finish than we had run just the day before. I will always remember the smiles I saw break across their faces. They didn't even look tired. My heart was so full it was ready to burst. That's why people cry at marathons--both runners and spectators alike--because there is so much, almost too much, love.

Marathons remind me of a quote from Marguerite Young. I have used it to critique capitalism, but it also demonstrates community love as exemplified in running: "The individual is the one illusion."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Cleaning!

I have been looking forward to cleaning today! While we acknowledge the power of worker solidarity today, I am feeling good about doing a deep clean of the house. A full day to vacuum, dust, scrub, and pull carpet!

I realized as I was vacuuming the den that it's not so much that I love cleaning as that I love two things that are cause-effect related to cleaning. I love that brief moment when everything is clean and in order--when it's all done, if for a moment, and I love the events that prompt me to clean.

This actually relates to running--I ran a good 20 miles on Saturday morning. By 10 miles in my shirt and shorts were saturated with sweat. The shower after that long run felt amazing, especially sloughing off the dried salty dirt on my skin. Saunas, hot yoga, exercise generally--it's not just cleaning the dirt and sweat off, it's the cleansing power of sweating itself that makes one feel so good.

Think about it--we all probably enjoy the things that prompt really good cleans. These are the things that are awesome and fun, often events to look forward to or work hard for. I enjoy parties, well-prepared food, house guests, 10 kittens, and good runs not because I know of the imminent cleanse, but because these provide sustained moments that refresh and re-set me. These are phenomena that I not only enjoy but that I love. And each of these phenomena require a good scrub afterwards, which for me, also leads to that brief moment where everything is new, fresh, and re-set again--be it an orderly room or a relaxed body.

What prompted this particular reflection on cleaning was that we returned the foster kittens to the shelter yesterday. Feeling bittersweet about it, I took Azriel, Ike, Zeke, Miri, Debbie, Annie, Zara, Liza, Micah and mama Jessie to CBHS in the morning. Although we enjoyed watching them grow, learn and play, it was good timing that we returned them when we did. They are just shy of 7 weeks old, eating solid food, and they had made a mess of our guest bedroom in spite of my best efforts. Embarrassingly, within the last 30 hours, a few of them also somehow manifested what appeared to be ringworm (ringworm isn't a worm, it's a fungus, and it can be tracked in with dirt, or a person who had it, or whatever; so all our visitors made our kitten room like every single daycare.). The kittens will get cleaned up by the amazing vet techs at CBHS and hopefully find furr-ever homes very, very soon!

Meanwhile, while the kittens are receiving cleansing love, Steve and I pulled carpet and cleaned. Not to eradicate their presence, but to start new for whatever fun, wild, and probably dirty adventure is to come. As an aside, Lil P aka Panther is still with us.

The marathon is less than 5 weeks away! Time to get donating if you've been meaning to'!!!!! Donate here today!   https://sites.google.com/site/runningtorescue/

Sunday, August 24, 2014

18 and Counting

No, there aren't 18 kittens in La Casa Sutton/Swanson, nor are we breeding or self-promoting Dugger-style. But Steve did find his second kitten of the season, on campus early this morning while walking Thea. Panther (2) is a healthy little black kitten, about 4-5 weeks old. After some initial fear hisses, she's warmed right up to us and is exploring. She's napping in my lap as I write this.

Panther (2) August 24, 2014
Of course, we still have Jessie and her brood of 9 kittens. They will be 6 weeks on Wednesday, and are busy learning to play and climb mountains and beds and legs. Soon though, they will be up for adoption at Cedar Bend Humane Society.

All this care for little lives has taught us a lot, and one of those lessons has been our own limits and needs. We know we can't keep them all, and really, that our set up will need modifying for any larger number of fosters. We learned our limits of integrated animals (ie those in the house) with Benson this past winter. Three's a crowd, four's two many, five's not allowed! 

This posed a dilemma when we found a kitty while visiting family in Fairfield August 8-9. Near our b&b, we heard mews in the lilies, and a sweet young thing came out for us. We called her Lily, fed her for 24 hours, and worried about her, because we knew we couldn't bring any more cats into the house! Serendipitously, the evening before we were to depart, we met neighbors who were gracious,willing, and kind-hearted enough to agree to care for her until she is old enough to be spayed, and perhaps even find a home for her. They've stayed in touch, and Lily seems to be doing well. My biggest concern was her getting spayed, so as not to continue the problem. Alley Cat Allies is great on TNR education, and just recently a "planned parenthood" for animals clinic, Iowa Humane Alliance, opened in Cedar Rapids. They have very inexpensive spay/neuter services, and will do them on a pay-what-you-can scale, even if you can't pay at all.

Lily, Fairfield August 9, 2014
With this most recent black stray kitten, I reflect on the number of animals' lives saved by fostering and finding homes, just in the last four years. 18, by my count...and only one of those is a true foster-failure for us (ie: we kept her): Gracie. Since 2010, we've fostered a nine-year old papillon dog, Cody, Gracie and Willa (aka Skidmark) in 2011, the original Panther (RIP), found on campus, and Kaylee (aka Kima) in 2013, Benson, and Jessie and the crew this year (2014). I have been humbled and inspired by a volunteer foster mom from Waverly Pet Rescue, who, when we adopted Omar from her, said that her goal was one day to have people wanting a cat and having to be on a wait-list for one because supply was less than demand. The very idea that there might one day not be a pet overpopulation problem blew my mind. That is indeed, a goal that every one of us can work toward.

Indeed, the selflessness of others and the belief that every little bit counts when we work together toward eradicating a problem is why I am collecting donations for Waverly Pet Rescue and Cedar Bend. The marathon is about one month away, and I've raised $552! Donate today to help spay/neuter and save animals' lives!

Many of the lessons I have learned by fostering are translatable to running--really to life generally, but I'll make the link for the purpose of solicitation. Lessons relevant to every being's life can be gleaned from these on-going experiences. Trust is built from shelter, food, and care; adaptability and intelligence is manifest and encouraged by learning, exploring and growing in new environments; grieving, healing, and forgiving take time; and patience is necessary with ourselves, and them. We are each others' guardians and teachers. Throughout, I have been amazed by how adaptive animals--and all of us-- are.

Thea, Jessie, and Babies, August 2014
Thea helps get the kitties socialized and dog-friendly. Max, our 13-year old senior, has always been an ambassador, calm and curious.

Omar, Max, Benson, January 2014

Max, Jessie, and Crew, August 2014

Thanks again for reading, and for your support!! https://sites.google.com/site/runningtorescue/

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Running to Rescue...the Cycle of Life

Look at Jessie, the young foster mama! She has been with us for a week now, with her nine babies. The kittens were born July 16 and will be available for adoption in September, through Cedar Bend Humane Society.

Remember, I am currently training for the Twin Cities Marathon, and raising money for Cedar Bend and Waverly Pet Rescue. Please go to my fundraising site, Running to Rescue to donate and help these fabulous organizations in the Cedar Valley. I ran 14 miles this morning, 9:15 pace with friends, so we're on a roll! I've raised just over $550 so far, and committed to kitty ears, whiskers, and a (short) tail....let's see what else I'll have to wear/do for 26.2! Every day I run I am grateful that I am able to do so without pain, and grateful knowing so many people in the community support running for this cause.

Three events this past week have brought the cycle of life to the fore:
At the same time we have these 2-week old kittens, we also are caring for our 13 year old cat, Max, who is recuperating from a stroke.
Kitty strokes are apparently very rare. He must have had it sometime last Thursday or Friday. It's incredible that he came through it. He didn't move, eat or drink for almost 24 hours. We got him to the vet, got advice and prednisone, and force fed him--not unlike a new baby without its mother. We really thought we would have to put him down if he didn't eat on his own. Thankfully, he was eating on his own and managed stairs within 48 hours! He certainly has a will to live. We think he is blind, and his left side and back legs especially are weak, so he is very wobbly. Still, he is inspiring, and clearly enjoys being with us and being petted. He listens for us, and meows to us, even as he gingerly makes his way from room to room. He needs help getting on and off the bed, but so long as he is eating and making it to the litterbox, he's still handicapable!!

We joke we have 10 blind cats, a nursing home and a nursery all at once!

Finally, last night some friends had a Sweet 16 birthday party for their dog. 16 is ancient for a coonhound (or really, any dog)! They collected donations to Cedar Bend in his honor. What a fabulous idea! We'll have to wait 6 more years until we can throw a quinceaƱera for Thea...but we will. Maybe we'll even auction off her first dance.

Summer is a wonderful time for me to renew my service and my running. So often during the year it is hard to feel appreciated in the busy-ness of daily life. Animals--especially babies, and stroke kitties and dogs at the shelter--these animals in desperate need of attention and care clearly appreciate whatever time and resources we have to give. It's very rewarding and enhances the other aspects of my life that seem mundane and routine. In their appreciation of the moment, I have learned to try to let go and appreciate each moment, and the small gifts (of ability, motion, food, love, shelter) that we tend to take for granted.

More baby pics!
 The babies don't yet have names...so if there are ideas, we are open to them!
And please...DONATE or visit your local shelter today! Go to: Running to Rescue

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Enter National Pride

I don't generally think of myself as very patriotic. In fact, much of my work critiques simplistic categories of social distinction (nationalism/race/class) and how news media and visual culture perpetuates simple-minded and often jingoistic and imperialist attitudes of misplaced racial/national/cultural superiority. Still, having just spent sixteen days driving across the country-- 3,177 miles and through at least 14 states and the District of Columbia later (IA, IL, IN, MI, OH, WV, PA, KY, NY, NJ, MA, CT, DE, MD and D.C.)-- I feel, oddly enough, very patriotic, proud, and grateful to be American. Let me explain by way of three of my favorite things: running, food, and art. These elements, shared with friends and loved ones, reminded me of the ideals and exceptional* qualities of this vast expanse of land and confederation of people.

Heartbreak Hill, Newton, MA June 8, 2014
The epic road trip began with a three-day stop in Chicago, and culminated in my running the Heartbreak Hill half-marathon just outside of Boston. Along the way I visited various museums, ate a variety of food with friends, and ran in beautifully managed urban and suburban landscapes. Visiting the museums was the rationale for the trip--I am conducting research on animals in the biblical prints by Rembrandt, and in paintings by Paulus Potter and Aelbert Cuyp (17th century Dutch artists). It strikes me that there are many museums with outstanding collections across the United States. These collections speak to (some) Americans' interest in and valuing of visual and material objects from across cultures and countries. Indeed, how some of these collections were shaped (for example, the Barnes in Philadelphia, Corcoran in D.C., or Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston) show how individuals thought broadly (or narrowly) and desired to share their respective privilege. While in D.C., I was particularly struck by the ideals for access to education, culture and cultural capital, information, and government. Being able to walk down the Mall and visit art museums, history museums, government buildings and memorials all for the people and paid for by our taxes--so free in that they are all our shared cultural heritage and identity and responsibility-- provided me that constant reminder of just how rich culturally and financially this country is. It made me feel proud to be among tourists speaking many different languages who had come to D.C. to see the actualization of the ideals on which this country was built.

Lakeshore Trail, Chicago. Crushed rock/dirt good for the tootsies.
I had some amazing runs while I was in various cities: along the lake shore of Lake Michigan, along the Potomac River and into the National Zoo in D.C., up and down wooded trails in a gorgeous gorge in Philadelphia, and along the Charles in Boston. Here too, our municipal, state, and federal government with the aid of our voices and our taxes--help to create and maintain beautiful trails open to all to walk, run, bike, and enjoy. It is not lost on me either, that the highways and interstates on which I drove are also a benefit of this wealthy nation and the taxes we pay. Along some of those roads--particularly old Highway 40, the vistas are truly spectacular. The Dutch must have felt a similar pride and awe in themselves and their ingenuity in diking and claiming land and building trekschuiten. Certainly such thoroughfares aid in commercial transport, and they also contribute to the transport of ideas and people who intermingle and enrich each other.

File:Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway - Dumbarton Bridge.JPG
Rock Creek and Potomac River Parkway, Washington, D.C.

(The "Forbidden Drive" recreational trail in the Valley Green section of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.  File photo)
Valley Green trail, Philadelphia
6 miles along the Charles River in Boston

Roads, managed landscapes, museums and cultural institutions--these are all spaces where many, many different kinds of people come together, both in real time (international tourists, citizens, local residents), and in museums, abstractly. Looking at architecture or at museums' variety of objects, we can trace how various peoples have interacted and exchanged ideas and shared what drives, motivates, and makes them--and how some peoples and their cultures have been suppressed, subjugated, or even eradicated. Food also tells this story of the gifts that are brought by diverse human exchange. In Chicago I ate donuts and pasta; these are not "American"--donuts, I want to say are Dutch/Scandinavian (poffertjes anyone?) and pasta of course, has origins in the Mediterranean, although today it is most commonly identified with Italy. It was immigrants who brought such delights here--and these were the cheap things to eat, for those who had little money for extravagance. I ate homemade lasagna with locally gathered mushrooms in Ann Arbor, and I appreciated the hours of labor necessary for such a meal. 

Delightful donuts in Chicago

Purely homemade mushroom lasagna in Ann Arbor
In Cincinnati, I enjoyed a tamale with fresh corn and tomato salsa-corn and tomatoes are "new world" crops--and so here too, food is an indication of the richness of the land and indigenous cultures, that while co-opted and often suppressed, still have hugely influenced "American" immigrants' diets--and diets around the world because of exchange and travel.
A delicious summer tamale at Senate in Cincinnati
More recent than the European immigrants of the sixteenth- through nineteenth centuries are immigrants from Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia--the list goes on. I enjoyed Ethiopian and Thai food in D.C., and Philly too. Access to such a variety of food is largely taken for granted in these urban areas! Yet its availability is a result of our rich cultural diversity and relies upon the many different peoples who make up this nation, and broaden and enrich all of us even more.

Spicy and healthy Ethiopian food in D.C.

These reflections on trails and food speak to community and the importance of coming together and sharing the variety of qualities and ideas that fill our hearts and minds and enable each of us to "pay it forward" in turn. My trip ended with the half-marathon in Boston. I ran the Heartbreak Hill half because I wanted to run part of the Boston marathon course. I was deeply affected by the bombings at the marathon in April, 2013. I used to work in Watertown and many of my friends and family have run Boston. During the national anthem before the race, I actually got a little misty-eyed. This is not like me at all. Then, and as I climbed that last uphill before the finish, I thought of the tragedy a year earlier. Really, I thought of how resilient runners--and people generally--are.** The runners at this race were so very nice. I felt more community here than I have at events much smaller. It was as though, unspoken, we all were bonded by our awareness of the emotional and physical pain of the past that had been inflicted on some by others who had somehow lost hope, or felt disenfranchised. There was hometown pride from those running who hailed from surrounding communities, like Shalane Flanagan from Marblehead, and there was national and international pride as well. South Koreans waved flags, and I heard Spanish cheers on the course too. It is truly awesome that Meb Keflezighi won the Boston marathon in 2014-- an immigrant from Eritrea, he draped himself in an American flag at the finish. We all meld and blend and enjoy life in the throng of people together, running, cheering, encouraging, supporting. This throng, this strength in community, in our differences as well as our shared will to help each other--with food, hospitality, encouragement up a hill--this is why I feel so proud.

What can a road trip do? It reminded me of how interconnected and interwoven my identity is with every other person's, and that all of us are part of each other. We all know it--the major religions theoretically mandate it-- we must care for, respect, and love each other as we would care for and love ourselves.
Meb Keflezighi after winning the Boston Marathon, 2014

*That's not to say one should trot out American Exceptionalism in self-righteous explanations for unequal, unfair, exploitative, or bullying policies and practices around the globe.
** Read Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell. Review

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Furry 5K!

Furry 5K 2014. Thea chased these cats!
Today marked our second running of my favorite race!! The Furry 5K! This 3.4 mile run (2x around Big Woods Lake) benefits the Cedar Bend Humane Society. Steve and I have been volunteering there for about one year--and fostering kittens from there for three years. We are so grateful for all they do for the animals that come their way. I ran the race as kitty-cat bait--I led most of the way, but ended up second, fittingly behind a dog named Tucker, in 23:50. Steve and Thea weren't far behind.

The race is heartwarming--not only because it's exercise--but because we get to see quite a few pooches running with their adoptive guardians. One pitbull in particular, Charlie, happily jaunted around the lake with his guardian. He had been the longest resident at Cedar Bend. He spent the first three years of his life in a shelter and was just adopted in April. To see him out and happily enjoying the morning at the lake, the people, and all the other dogs was so gratifying. Pitbulls especially often are misjudged and often wait the longest for their furr-ever homes. From personal experience with Thea, our 8-year-old pit mix, and from walking all the pits that rotate through the shelter, I can tell you they are the smartest, sweetest, and most energetic dogs. Some have issues, but they're issues developed as a result of people mistreating them. To judge a dog just because of its breed is, in my mind, equivalent to judging a person by his/her race. Such judgments are based on stereotypes, assumptions, and misinformed fear, not reality. (Annoying statements Steve and I hear frequently: "I've got nothing against pitbulls, I just wouldn't want one." and "I wouldn't want a pitbull next door." Sound familiar to racist speak? If you don't want a pitbull, ground it in something logical, like "I wouldn't be able to exercise him as much as he needs" or "A big dog isn't a good fit for my lifestyle.")

The Furry 5K is one of my favorite events because it's a great way to show people that shelter dogs are amazing. I saw one black pooch, Darla, just loving her guardian-for-the-day, pressing into her caresses. Darla had a great walk, and in that short time, bonded and trusted with her walker, gratefully accepting the pets and hugs, and giving affection right back. The dogs can be a handful at the shelter, but wouldn't you be too, if you were confined most of the day? All of the dogs still in the shelter who ran or walked had a great time. They were all so good. This event demonstrates that exercise is good for the soul--animals' and humans'. 

Want to help animals? I'm fundraising for Cedar Bend and Waverly Pet Rescue as I train for the Twin Cities Marathon! Click my link-> Running to Rescue

Sunday, April 20, 2014

New PR and Getting Back into Racing Gear for 2014!

I hit an all-time new PR yesterday of 21:38! That's 5 seconds faster than one I had held since 2008.  It was at the Cedar Falls High School Tiger Trot. I'm thrilled. I felt good. The weather was nice. Sunny, if a bit breezy, on an out-and-back from Pfeiffer Park, so it was very flat too. It didn't feel like a PR! My goal was to go under 24 minutes, and this was under 7 minute-mile pace.

I had had a pretty decent half marathon with Steve in Charleston, South Carolina in January, 3 minutes off my PR at 1:46--Steve PR'd, and I was so happy for him. Considering the past year of injury and recovery, and it having been January, this is all great for a start to 2014.

The PR yesterday I attribute to a few things that I have changed and grown from over these last months. As all of us living in the midwest know, the winter of 2014 was brutal. It consisted of long, record-breaking cold, and tons of dark. It was depressing to be inside all day, running on a treadmill and then in an office. Fluorescent lights are soul-sucking!

However, it also probably helped keep me from injuring myself by running too much. Also, on treadmills I am able to push it, because I don't want to be bored (see earlier blog post "Treadmills and Triumph" from 2011).

More significant factors were, I think, running with my new friends on UNI FASTR (Faculty and Staff Team Running), having gone over a month without sugar, and adding more yoga to my training.

With FASTR, I've been running a better pace, more consistently--ie: 8:30 miles, which aren't that hard to sustain, rather than 9:45 miles, which is what I do alone, because I just do. :)

AND we have fun! This photo is at the new mayor's bridge in November, 2013:

With respect to cutting out excess sugar, my acupuncturist had suggested that some of my circulation problems and tightness were caused by stress and sugar. Of course, my quip was that the two go together as a vicious cycle! However, after a last cupcake and m&ms March 15, I stopped eating the cookies, cakes, cupcakes, candy that before I had always gone to as a reward for running, or because I was bored, or needed a break from my office at work. With one day of falling off the wagon because I was starving and brownies were present, all in all, I've felt a lot better. AND I really don't crave it anymore, either. It's true--the more sugar you eat, the more you want it. Of course, I still eat tons of carbs and sugar is in them--bread, raisins, etc., but I truly think that some excess, some thing that was holding me back, weighing me down, or keeping my muscles/circulation/VO2 from being efficient was too much junk. And I've always considered myself healthy! Vegetarian, tons of fruits and vegetables...Perhaps the next step will be veganism, a la Scott Jurek.

The added yoga--I'm trying to get in at least twice a week--has also helped keep me loose, relaxed, and stretched out. That, and a foam roller and The Stick!

Stay tuned for what I hope will be more insights from successful training. I've got the Twin Cities Marathon in October, and the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon in Boston coming up in early June!