Why I March

On Saturday, I stood among half a million people of all ages, races, genders, and sexual orientations in hope of conveying a message that I believe in. It was overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating, and inspiring. It is difficult to put into words the spectrum of emotions that I took home with me that evening. Unsurprisingly, it did not take long for backlash from a slew of sources to attempt to muffle the noise the marches created.

I’ve read some articles, blogs, and comments on the march from both sides of the isle. The mixture of reactions to Saturday left me hopeful yet confused, inspired yet frustrated. I try to empathize with the views and opinions of others while I understand I  process everything through a lens of my own bias. Sometimes understanding is easier than others but no matter what, I try. 

To the women who do not support the Women’s March and its many messages, I respect your opinion and I am open to listening to your point of view. I will try to see things through your eyes and disagree civilly when we collide. I will not dismiss your opinions as stupid, uneducated, or hateful.  In return, I ask you to please offer me the same chance. Do not dismiss my opinion as whiny or ungrateful.

Productivity occurs when we engage in meaningful, understanding conversations with one another. Will we all agree on everything? No. Will we maybe agree on somethings? Probably. I will continue to read rebuttals to the march and try to see things from a new perspective, in the meantime I would like to share a few of the reasons I felt compelled to march and I hope that if you disagree you will at least give it some meaningful thought.

I march because although women in American may be equal to men on paper, we are not always in practice.

I march because I understand my position of privilege as a well-educated, white women in this country and feel an obligation to try to use it for the benefit of others.

I march because if teaching was a male-dominated profession do you really think so many of us would struggle to make ends meet?

I march because although women in other parts of the world have it A LOT worse does not mean I should settle. What kind of example does that set?

I march because although I currently have control over my own uterus, I fear that that may change.

I march because I teach in a classroom full of immigrants where SEVEN different languages are spoken and not a damn kid is bothered by another’s gender, accent, skintone or dress. I can’t see that as anything other than incredible.

I march because on a 95 degree day, I second guess if it is really hot enough to justify running in a sports bra, worrying my adaptation to the weather will be misinterpreted as an invitation for crude sexual advancements.

I march because my grandmother and my mother worked hard so that I could grow up in a more equal society than they did and although they’ve done a damn good job, we still have work to do. I march because I want my 2-year-old niece to have fewer inequalities to fight when she’s my age.

These are some of my reasons. I am sure, regardless of opinion on the march many women agree and many women disagree with my reasoning. And that’s okay. Healthy disagreement moves us forward, but only if we work at it. Only if we listen. Only if we admit when we are wrong.

We’re all trying to figure out this life thing for the first time. Listen to one another because there is always, ALWAYS more to learn. 

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Inauguration Thoughts

Two years ago I was clueless about politics. Like, CLUELESS. I will fully admit, I still don’t know much, but I’m learning. I watch the news, I read, I talk to people, I google stuff I don’t understand. I am more informed than ever before and I learn something new every day.

I think this motivation to get with the program has stemmed from a few places. First, the basic fact that I’m growing up has probably been the most significant factor. Leaving the fantasyland that is college (as an undergrad) and entering the real world forces you to open your eyes and become a real person. Next, I moved to Arlington, VA. Living (literally) two miles up the road from the Pentagon and mere miles from the Whitehouse forces you to engage in politics to an extent. You can’t have a conversation with many people in the DMV without at least some political undertones. This has its ups and downs, but if you accept it and use it as a tool, you can learn a lot. Finally, more recently, as is the case with MANY, November’s election. It was simply impossible to avoid politics this past year.

So here we are, the night before the 2017 inauguration, and I have some thoughts running through my head. Despite what my small-town, white, working-class upbringing may indicate, I (very proudly) cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, she is not the leader being inaugurated tomorrow. It hit me as I sat in a copious amount of traffic on my way home from class tonight, what an incredible opportunity living in the DC area COULD be this weekend. I wish the person being inaugurated was someone I felt pride for and would be honored to see, but that just isn’t the case, so instead I, like many others, am looking for a silver lining. It’s a bit foggy, but here’s what I can see.

First, next weekend, the DC streets and bike paths that have become my home over  2.5 years of long runs will still be waiting. I will continue to pound the pavement and work to make myself better, regardless of who is holding the power in this country.

I will cherish my own position of power as an educator and continue to teach my students positive values like respect, inclusion, kindness, and tolerance. It is more important now than ever before in my lifetime.

I will #justshowup at the Lincoln Memorial at 5:25 on Wednesday mornings to work my ass off and spread positive vibes with the incredible November Project community, all while continuing to be awed by this nation’s capitol. What a privilege it is to run this city.

I will continue to put forth my best effort in my master’s education and write the best thesis I can, in order to make an impact on the intersection of athletics and mental health one day.

And finally, I will lead by example. I will treat people with respect despite opposing opinions. I will listen to views that contradict my own and do my best to keep an open mind. I will engage in productive and meaningful discussions because I believe that is the only way to fuel change. I will spread compassion and positivity when I can and ask for help and support when I need it. I will work on myself each and every day and encourage others to do the same.

This is not the end of anything even though I know it may feel that way. If you want things to get better, be better.

Spread love.

 

 

 

 

Oh…and Thanks, Obama.

Moments

Moments. This life, our day to day existence, boils down to a collection of moments. Our moments define us. Small moments, monumental moments, long or short moments, wasted moments, forgettable moments, fleeting moments. All of our moments, pieces of a puzzle, assembled to become the image of our life. No one moment more important than its successor or predecessor, for without every piece, our puzzle shall never be complete. We hope for a greater abundance of moments and dream of longer moments. We wish our moments aways and drive them to speed past. As tragedy floods our lives, moments slow. We shiver as they breeze by with the wind in blissful times. Moment by moment, the pieces of our puzzle find their place. Every unconscious breath we take counts a moment that illustrates our life.

Every unconscious breath we take counts a moment that illustrates our life. Often, what we fail to recognize is that each and every one of us has only one puzzle. We throw pennies in a well, wishing for the pieces to another’s puzzle, not considering how they will never fit into our own. Our fate is destined in the moments we have been blessed with, it is a shame not to cherish each piece. As we wish to alter our moments we tend to forget they are not infinite. Once the last piece of our puzzle has been placed, our collection of moments becomes an image of our life.

We must hold sacred each moment we are given, for others are robbed of their pieces each day; never able to complete their puzzle. We must fill each moment with optimism and love, so that in the end, when all of our pieces fit, our puzzle is a work of subtlety flawed beauty to be admired for eternity.

Take It Easy

Distance running is obsessive. To engage in a sport that often means spending 40 minutes to 2 hours in blazing heat, freezing cold, or howling wind alone,  you’ve gotta be a little obsessed (with a side of crazy). The obsessive nature distance runners have with their sport is both a blessing and a curse.

Obsession with running is a blessing when it’s 9 am on a Saturday, but you’ve already done more physical activity than most Americans will do all week (probably an actual stat). Or when you’ve had a stressful day at work and those miles you force yourself to get out and run clear your head and refresh your mood. But the obsession can quickly turn from productive to problematic.

Despite training through 8 years of competitive cross-country and track, countless 5ks, numerous half-marathons, and four fulls, I still have not mastered the art of listening to my body but some of our most important training days are the ones that we truly take easy. It can be a struggle when training for a big race not to run every run to your fullest potential, but it’s necessary.

The most difficult part of learning when to take it easy is being able to tell the difference between feeling like crap and…feeling like crap. You may head out for a run and feel like crap because you decided to push the pace or the mileage a little bit faster or farther than usual. That is the good type of feeling like crap and that is what makes us better runners. Other days you may head out for an easy run and still…feel like crap. You may have run harder the day before, not slept well the previous night, or caught a cold. Or there may be no logical reason at all that you can think of. Either way, you feel like crap and your body is telling you something. This is when you need to listen.

I am notorious for getting down on myself any and every time a run does not go as well as planned. Today I did not let that happen. Today, I had one of those “feel like crap for no apparent reason (but probably 6-7 little reasons)” kinda of days. Often on these days I get frustrated and rather than take it easy, push my run harder and faster than I would have had I felt good off the bat. This is counter-productive. I will literally take the sign my body is giving me to slow down, cut it short, or rest and give it a big FU by doing exactly the opposite of what I need. (This is probably why I went into the Boston Marathon with a torn hamstring.) BUT, today was different.

By a half a mile in I made the decision to NOT look at my watch. I decided I would run easy and 100% by feel. I also made the decision to run one mile less than I set out to do. Finally, I decided when I got home I would stretch, shower, and eat without analyzing my splits or my distance run.

Today, my body gave me a sign and I listened. A year ago I would not have and a year ago I sustained an injury that took me out for 3 months. As runners, we need to look at the big picture. We need to look ahead to the goal that we are working towards, whether it’s a PR, a new distance, a running streak, or another goal. If you are struggling to get past a less than stellar run, put it in perspective. This afternoon I cut my run short by a mile, will that affect my time at the Boston Marathon in May? Probably not. Will if impact my ability to run Chicago in October? Maybe. Not running that mile probably did more to prevent injury and illness than running that mile would have done to improve fitness.

When you have bad running days (and you will) do not take them to heart. You don’t let every great run make you think you’re unstoppable, so don’t let every underwhelming run make you think you’re incapable. Look at the big picture, remember the goal, and take it all in perspective. Ask yourself: will running this run 10 seconds per mile slower or two miles shorter decrease my chances of reaching my goal? If the answer is no, take off your shoes, put down you watch, and be done. Tomorrow is a new day and there are always more miles to run.

The Quiet Danger of Distance Running

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Distance running isn’t a dangerous sport by nature. Although I do not think I could name a single runner (including myself) that hasn’t suffered an injury, minor or serious, it doesn’t conjure up the same “being carried off the field on a stretcher with a broken (insert body part here) or concussion” image as say–football. Despite the ingrown toenails, iron deficiencies, stress fractures, and sprained ankles that plague so many of us,  I’d be willing to bet any (albeit slightly overprotective) mother would take distance running for their offspring over football or alpine skiing any day.

In contrast to the mental image of a happy-go-lucky runner crossing the finish line grinning ear to ear, there is a hidden danger in distance running. It is rarely talked about and as a result, rarely treated. This quiet danger of distance running is disordered eating.

In that happy-go-lucky runner image you have in your head, you’re probably picturing a rail-thin man or woman with defined quads and unstoppable abs. I do too. This is the norm. The problem is, for many runners (females especially) there is a misconception that in order to the best runner you can be you must be the thinnest runner you can be. That is bullshit.

Let’s take a step back for a second and talk about eating disorders. Eating disorders (ED) are a serious mental illness that disturbs a person’s eating patterns and encompasses anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and eating disorders not otherwise specified. The National Eating Disorder Association estimates at least  30 million Americans (20m females, 10m males) will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. It is also important to note that many ED’s are undiagnosed and more often than not, due to any number of reasons ranging from the stigma associated with ED’s to insurance issues, ED’s go untreated. If it doesn’t seem like a big deal yet, I’ve got one more startling fact for you; ED’s have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. I hope by now you understand how serious and dangerous an illness it is.

When it comes to running, disordered eating is too often common practice. The jury is still out on whether or not athletic status is a risk or protective factor for disordered eating, but research has demonstrated that lean sport athletes (like distance running, gymnastics, ballet, etc.) are at higher risk for ED than non-lean sport athletes or non-athletes. Some studies have demonstrated an eating disorder prevalence rate among athletes as high as 35%!

Many runners truly believe they are skipping this or that meal because they are doing what is best for their body. Running is a mental sport and if eating 1000 calories a day while running 60-mile weeks makes you think you are running faster, you’re probably going to do it. If the girl who wins the NCAA championship in cross-country is underweight, it is easy to internalize a belief that if you were her size, you’d be winning races too.

It is a slippery slope in the competitive world. You may start by cutting out that extra slice of pizza on Saturday post-race or by not eating ice cream in-season to be healthy. You may run an extra mile here and there and follow long runs with unscheduled gym sessions because you want truly to get better. You will probably see results too, your times get faster, you teammates notice you look a little fitter, and your coach praises your dedication. Nothing about it seems negative until it’s spiraled out of control too quickly to stop it. Suddenly you become obsessive and unhappy. Nothing seems to go right no matter how much more effort you put fourth, your performance declines or you become injured, and if you’re a female you may experience the Female Athlete Triad (energy deficiency, amenorrhea, bone loss).

Far too many runners experience a similar spiral from working hard to be healthy and become the best runner they can be to a having a full-blown eating disorder. Even runners without a disorder by clinical definition often have seriously unhealthy relationships with food or their body. It is important to understand how serious the mental side of an eating disorder is and not allow it to be swept under the rug.

There is no easy solution to this problem, but I believe talking about it is a good place to start. Recently, one division one standout Rachele Schulist did just that, taking to her Instagram to share her story. Her story went viral in an important first step to fuel a conversation so many runners can relate to. I have a similar story that I will share in a later post.

It is also important to talk among teams. Coaches must talk to their athletes and be a source of support when someone is struggling. As runners, we need to talk to each other. And more importantly, we need to talk to each other in a positive way. I can only speak to the interactions of a female team, but girls love to talk crap about themselves to other girls. We put ourselves down constantly. We feed off one another’s crap-talking and before we know it we have all pointed out every detail that we hate about ourselves instead of appreciating the fact that we are intelligent, kind, hardworking beings that probably woke up and ran 12 damn miles 3 hours before the crap-talking session ensued.  I do not know you, but listen to me when I say this: you are not fat. I know how hard it is to believe that some days, but if you are running 5-6 days a week at a high-level, you just can’t be (science) and if you think that, please please please reach out for help.

Help yourself and your teammates. Start a conversation even though it may be uncomfortable at first, you will find solace in the fact that you are not alone. Seek help when you need it. As athletes, it is hard to feel weak and vulnerable, but seeking help is strong and brave. We are beginning to destroy the stigma around eating disorders and other mental illnesses, do not be afraid to aid in that process.

If you have a story, share it. If you’d like to chat about the topic, I’d love to. If you need more information on eating disorders following one of the links below or reach out-I have found my fair share of literature on the topic. And if you are struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help or at the very least confide in someone who may be able to support you.

National Eating Disorder Association 

Eating Disorders Coalition

National Institute of Mental Health

The Female Athlete Body Project

NEDA Helpline: 1-800-931-2237