Runner Confessional #3

I don’t always love running.

There. I said it.

There’s a myth that you either love running or you hate it. I’m here to tell you that not all runners love running all the time. Yes, I love the way I feel after every run, but I rarely enjoy mile repeats and I loathe hills. In fact, for the first few miles of almost every run, I kinda hate it.

If you ask me, I will tell you that I love the sport, especially the benefits therein, but I don’t live to run. In fact, I sign up for spring and fall races as a means to keep running because if I didn’t have a tangible goal, I might not do it at all — and that would be bad.

Here’s what happens when I don’t run:

  • I feel icky and soft, and this makes me irritable.
  • The stress of raising a family, running a household and kicking ass at work builds up.
  • The excess energy (and I have it for days) starts to manifest into cleaning, gardening and expensive shopping trips.

So, while I don’t always love to run, I dislike the natural effects of not running much more. Maybe you fall into the camp of just loving it all the time, but if you don’t, you’re not alone. Now, let’s go sign up for a race. — Amie

 

Rave Run: The 606 Chicago

After five-plus years of year-round running (and training) in Chicago, I often get bored with my same old routes.

I still adore my neighborhood and have a passionate love for the city’s Lakefront Trail, but I welcome changes of scenery with open arms.

606Milwaukee

The park at Milwaukee Avenue is one of The 606’s crowning jewels.

Enter The 606.

Chicago’s newest park was created from the remnants of the former Bloomingdale Line elevated train. At 17 feet above street level and 2.7 miles long, The 606 connects the Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods.

The 606 features parks, sitting areas, multiple access points, water fountains, and of course, a trail for runners, walkers and cyclists.

And so far, I’m loving it.

The nearest access point to my home is about a mile away and smack-dab in the middle of the trail, giving me the option to go east or west. Each tenth of a mile is permanently marked in the concrete, and 2-foot-wide blue rubberized shoulders are tailor-made for runners.

The flat, fast surface, unimpeded by pesky cars and traffic lights, even lends itself to speedwork. (I’ve done “light pole intervals” a couple times with great success and enjoyment.)

The majority of The 606 goes through quiet residential areas, but even when it crosses the main thoroughfares of Western, Milwaukee and Damen Avenues, the traffic noise below is not overwhelming. It feels peaceful.

606Collage

So much awesomeness.

But it’s also tight quarters up there. The trail is only 14 feet wide (compared to the Lakefront Trail’s 20 feet), so combined with access point blind spots and overall “newness,” The 606 can be a little dangerous to navigate during peak use times. Warning signs (and even trail etiquette signs) would be helpful. I’ve also only spotted two drinking fountains — both near the trail’s mid-way point — so I’d love to see more of those. Also, the lack of shade is an issue. Those newly planted trees need to grow faster, darnit!

I realize it’s a work in progress. The 606 has only been open to the public for a month, so many of the finishing touches are still being made. Landscaping/planting is ongoing, temporary wooden railings need to be replaced with permanent fixtures, and it’s quite possible my previous suggestions are already in the works.

The 606 is already a gem, so a few improvements will really make it shine. — Mags

Gender Bender

113th Boston Marathon April 20, 2009, Boston, MA Photo by: Lisa Coniglio Victah1111@aol.com 631-741-1865 www.photorun.NET

Kara rewrites the narrative. Wear pink and kick ass.

The topic of gender in sport has been on my mind in recent weeks, and I have a lot of thoughts on the issue.

  • I always pursue equality in my life, whether in running or in general. We’ve recently posted about it on the blog, and while I think we all want the same things from our beloved sport, I come from a different school of thought. However, the one thing we can universally agree on is this: men and women are wired differently.
  • A couple weeks ago, I was in Seattle watching the ECNL soccer playoffs. At the tournament, I saw a lot of girls, from all over the U.S., playing soccer. They are the very best players in the country, and they proved that on the field. They were fierce, competitive and, yes, feminine. Their uniforms fit their bodies because they were women’s uniforms cut for a woman’s body. But my husband’s teams looked a little different. Their shorts were longer, the tops boxier. So I asked, and I found out that his girls wear boys’ uniforms. Wait, why? “To even the playing field.” Wait, what? What’s wrong with wearing a woman’s uniform? I mean, as long as it’s not pink. Right? But why is pink the enemy?
  • Isn’t the great equalizer being able to embrace our differences and share the same power? Why do we have to measure ourselves against maleness to be equal, even in sport? Why can’t wearing a pink tutu in a race be empowering, if that’s what you love? I don’t need to be like a man to feel strong, capable or competitive. I don’t need to set aside my femininity in any area of my life — sport, career or relationships — I am a woman and I seek equality by embracing who I am, not by setting it aside.

Fierce competitors, but not genderless.

  • I don’t think the world of sports perpetuates a specific “girly” stereotype to attract women. From my vantage, women’s sports are intense, powerful and exciting. Did you watch the Women’s World Cup? Have you seen Kara Goucher compete?
  • Parents don’t sign up their daughters for softball so they can wear cute uniforms. They sign them up to play softball because their daughters want to play softball. If appearance were the motivator, they’d probably sign them up for pageants. My gut tells me that these girls want to play the sport and be allowed to be girls. We can’t deny that girls like Elsa, so why not let them wear Elsa and play the game they love? Girls playing sports doesn’t lessen what is means to be a girl, and it doesn’t lessen what it means to play sports.
  • Then there are race T-shirts. We complained until we got the right fit for our shirts, but we now complain if they’re pink? It seems inconsequential to me. Sexist sayings aside, I see nothing wrong with the women’s tees being different than the men’s at the same race.

I think you can absolutely love your sport while absolutely embracing who you are, and if that means wearing an asexual outfit, great. But if you want to rock a pink shirt and tutu, you’ll still be a badass in my eyes. — Amie

What a Girl Wants

She doesn't need sparkles, she just needs a finish line.

She doesn’t need sparkles, she just needs a finish line.

If you had asked me about gender roles and differences before I had kids, I would have told you they were entirely the result of societal pressures and enforced norms. But now that I am the proud owner of two little girls, I realize, more than ever, that there is a big difference in the way boys and girls are wired.

They play differently, socialize differently and often act differently.

But while boys and girls are indeed different, there is one place where they are the same: the world of sports. The way they play them, the way they learn them, the way they love them.

Sure, women’s soccer looks a bit different from men’s soccer, but the main difference is simply that there are men on the field in one example, and women on the field in the other example.

This isn’t to say that society doesn’t have an influence on gender. I’ve become more aware (and frankly, enraged) about how society perpetuates these gender differences, especially as it relates to sport.

Recently, a series of photos of a girls’ softball team has been exploding all over the Internet. In the photos, the juxtaposition of the girls in Princess Elsa dresses wearing eye-black on the infield dirt has made a lot of people smile.

The mother/photographer who dreamed up this “Frozen”-themed softball team says, “Little girls that are in beautiful sparkly dresses are okay to look a little tough and look a little mean.”

The problem isn’t the dresses themselves. In fact, in another context, those dresses are great and fun and even empowering. But when you add them to a softball game, it makes it all about appearance and less about the game and the experience.

Sports are not about LOOKING a certain way. Sports are about DOING. About PLAYING. About SPORTSMANSHIP and TEAMWORK.

We don’t need to make sports “pretty” or “girly” or “feminine” to “help” women enjoy them.

The power of sports goes beyond that. We all rally behind a team because it makes us feel like something bigger. We participate in sports long beyond our peak athletic years because it still makes us feel strong and capable. And these things are universal and genderless.

So this year, when yet again, I saw that my Hyde Park Blast race shirt had a different design (in pink, no less) than my husband’s, I felt angry, stereotyped and offended. I’m sure no one meant to disrespect me (or the scores of other disappointed women runners) with these shirts, but, nonetheless, that is how I felt. And the Blast is certainly not alone in its unintentional sexism.

We’ve written time and time and time again on this blog about the struggle to empower female athletes, and unfortunately, that balance has not yet been found.

Ignoring the inherent differences in the genders does each a disservice, but we need to find a better way to welcome both men and women into the sporting arena.

Yes, it is possible to be feminine and strong.

Yes, it is possible to love dresses and softball.

Yes, it is possible to love the color pink and the way it feels to run a race.

However, making sport about these differences also does the sports themselves a disservice. Rather than get our daughters excited to wear an Elsa dress for a photoshoot or a tutu to run a 5K, why don’t we teach them to love the game? To love to run? To explore their physical limits in an empowering way that works the same way for men?

I dream of a world where my daughters can line up for a race and be treated like equals to their male counterparts. A place where they can run on the riverfront without fear of catcalls. A time when they can turn on the TV on any given day and see strong female athletes competing in and talking about the sports they love.

We’ve come a long way in our acceptance of female athletes. Shoot, when my mom played high school basketball, it had a completely different set of rules than the men’s game. And when I ran my first track meet, I did so in a pair of men’s spikes because women’s spikes did not yet exist. But we’ve still got a long ways to go.

Things are better. The fact that people are making attempts to find ways to get women excited about sports is encouraging, but often, they’re missing the mark. Women and girls don’t need different colored shirts, tutus at their races or sparkles at their softball games. They simply need enthusiasm, encouragement and acceptance in the same way that boys and men learn to love sports.

Let’s do better. — Aidz

Bad Angel Rule #206

Calculate how much time you REALLY need for your run.

As temperatures rise in the summer months, re-incorporating morning runs to my training is a must. But figuring out how to squeeze in my workout and still get to work on time requires a real look at how much time I need.

AlarmAnd having a real estimate comes in handy not only for those pre-work workouts but also for pretty much any time you have a time constraint. Maybe you’re meeting someone mid-run or you’re going out after an evening jaunt or you need to be home in time to watch “Game of Thrones.”

At first thought, it seems easy enough: you’re doing 4 miles at about 10-minute pace, so that means you only need 40 minutes, right? Weeeelllll, not exactly. There are many other things to consider:

  • Do you need to eat a full breakfast, or just cram a quick protein bar down your throat? And how much time do you need it to settle so you don’t ralph a half-mile in?
  • Do you need to poop before you go?
  • How long does it take to get dressed, lace up your shoes, put on your iPod, get a satellite signal, fill up your water bottle, etc.?
  • Will you be stopping for water on the run?
  • Are there stoplights and/or traffic to account for?
  • What about a post-run cool down and stretching?
  • Do you need to change clothes/shower after your run?

All of the sudden, that 40-minute run could be looking more like 50 or 60 minutes.

I always work backward from the time I need to be out the door to the time I wake up, and I have a good estimate of how long it takes to complete each section of my morning routine. Here’s an example of my typical train of thought:

OK, I’m running 4 miles at 10-minute pace and I need to leave for work at 8:00. That means I need to be walking my dog by 7:40. Which means I need to be in the shower by 7:00. Which means I need to begin my run at 6:10. Which means I need to wake up at 5:30 … which means I need to set my alarm for 5:15 (because let’s be real, Imma hit snooze once or twice).

Making time for a run can be a challenge, but if you’re honest with yourself about how much time you actually need, I think you’ll find it a tad less stressful. — Mags

The Heat is On

My face burns with the fires of a thousand suns. I can smell the hot tar from newly paved road as it melts onto my shoes. Each gust of wind feels like the puff of air that comes out when you open an oven. Sweat pours out of every pore in my body, desperate for relief. And I’m only two miles into my afternoon run.

tumblr_n6dssam2Mj1s6bxzqo1_500

According to the calendar, it’s mid-June, but according to the recent Cincinnati forecast, it’s more like we’re trapped in a defective sauna. And since my summer schedule has been exceptionally hectic, my only option for running has been to go around 3 p.m., in the hottest part of the day.

I have easy access to a gym and a treadmill, but let’s face it, I know I’m not going to enjoy myself in there, so begrudgingly, I’ve been soaking in the heat. At first, it was unbearable (and most likely, unsafe). But now, I find that while it’s still not as relaxing as going for a run in the crisp fall air, I actually don’t mind the overbearing heat and humidity. I guess I’m finding some kind of zen in the sweltering temperatures.

In a mere 30-minute run, I feel like I’ve completely exerted myself. I probably haven’t run that fast or that far, but as I come inside to the blissfully cool air conditioning, I feel satisfyingly exhausted and depleted.

I thought I was just being desperate, but I might actually be training kinda smart. As it turns out, your body does quite a few amazing things to help you acclimate to exercise in the heat. And since I’m preparing for a notoriously hot race (the Bix), these fresh-from-the-oven training runs may do me more good than I originally thought.

Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. Right now, I’ve been swapping my regularly scheduled tempo runs for “heat work.” It’s less of a conscious decision and more based on my inability to maintain any kind of speed in the heat, but I’m going to stop beating myself up about it and try to reframe it as a positive thing. You know, like altitude training.

And I’d encourage you to do the same thing. If you’re slated for sweltering summer races this year, get out in the heat and get yourself acclimated. The body can do some pretty amazing things. — Aidz

 

Bad Angel Rule #205

Runner Doctors Are the Best Doctors for Runners.

“Running is terrible for you, so my diagnosis is that you need to stop running.”

Ever had a doctor tell you this? (And did you refrain from punching him/her in the throat after uttering this nonsense? Congratulations!)

Chances are, the M.D.’s who say this don’t actually know much about running because they aren’t runners themselves.

So when searching for a specialist of any kind, consider adding “runner” to your checklist of requirements, right alongside “in-network” and “convenient location.”

  • General Practice: Want to PR? Logging crazy high miles? Feeling run-down? Struggling with your weight? For all of these issues and a million more, a general practitioner who runs will help you achieve your goals (because he or she understands your goals) without sacrificing your health or sanity.
  • Podiatrist: Odds are, that if you run, you’ll get custom orthotics at some point. You need a doctor who understands that you’ll be RUNNING in these orthotics, not just wearing penny loafers around the office. Plus, a running podiatrist can help you find a running shoe that makes sense for your feet.
  • Orthopedist: If you find yourself in the ortho’s office, your injury likely has gone from minor annoyance to full-fledged problem. A runner orthopedist knows the tell-tale signs of common running ailments and knows there are few “career-ending” injuries when it comes to running. They also understand the mental struggles associated with long-term time off and will handle your fragile running ego with kid gloves.
  • OB-Gyn: Pregnant? Want to be pregnant? Ever had a baby? Get a doctor who knows that a woman who runs is a woman who is healthy. The last thing you need when you’re knocked up is someone else judging you for the choices you make. An OB-Gyn that runs understands the importance of running, and by extension, the importance of your and your baby’s health. And they won’t give you a song and dance about waiting six weeks after childbirth to wait to go for a run unless it’s REALLY necessary.
  • Dermatologist: If you run in the sun, the running dermatologist understands — and knows where to keep an eye out for trouble spots. If you have to have something removed/biopsied/poked, the running dermatologist will let you know when you can safely resume your running routine.
  • Physical Therapist: If you’re in physical therapy, you’re recovering from an injury. And if you’re recovering from an injury, all you want to know is how quickly you can get back to running. If your PT is a fellow runner, he or she will do everything in his or her power to get you back to pounding the pavement as quickly as possible.
  • Dentist: Actually, DO NOT go to a dentist who is a runner. Having a lengthy running discussion while you have three gauze pads and a metal scraper in your mouth only makes your cavity filling take twice as long.

When it comes to doctors, running matters, but don’t forget, when it comes to running, doctors matter. Yes, running is a healthy activity, but the sheer act of doing a healthy activity does not get you a free pass to good health. Visit the doctor regularly, get check-ups annually and allow specialists to tend to your injuries. And while you’re on the examination table, you and your runner doctor will have plenty to talk about beyond your health. — Mags and Aidz