Archive for August, 2013

Becoming Athena

Posted on August 30, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Megan sat on the steps, fidgety and red with frustration.  She blinked back tears, too proud or stubborn to cry in public.

“There’s got to be someone,” her teammates moaned.  “Just pick a name already.”  They, too, were frustrated. We’d been waiting 10 minutes after everyone else finished for Megan to come up with a name. Just one. Single. Name.

The goal of this Girls on the Run exercise was to identify the characteristics of a good role model.  The girls were to come up with the names of women who had an impact on them.  Megan couldn’t think of anyone.

Her mother?  No.

Sister?  Didn’t have one.

Cousin, aunt, family friend? Nope.

Surely there was a teacher or coach who had one good quality Megan wanted to emulate?  Nada.

Lucy Stone, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart…anyone public, famous, renowned?  There was none.

Megan wasn’t the only one fighting tears.  The other coach and I clenched our teeth against them too.  How could a girl reach adolescence and have not one woman to look up to?  We didn’t know how to feel.  Frustrated and outraged for starters, but by the end of the day just plain sad.

The assistant coach—my sister—and I talked about this for weeks.  We dissected our childhood to come up with the names of women who had an impact on us.  We couldn’t think of many.  Our mom, an extraordinary woman, topped the list, but there weren’t too many others.  The fewer names we came up with, the more we felt the gravity of our role with this team of young girls. Whether we knew it or not, and whether we liked it or not, we were there to be role models.  Our behavior and our words mattered in ways we would probably never know.  They were watching (whether they knew it or not) to see how two ordinary women handled life.

Once I realized this, I wanted to vomit.  If they only knew how many mistakes I had made, how often I still screwed up, they’d laugh me off the playground.  But when my stomach stopped churning I recognized that this was part of what drew me to Girls on the Run to begin with.  If I had only had someone to show me how to be, how to think for myself, how to choose, perhaps my life would have taken a different turn here and there.  What I was looking for as a child was a mentor.  I simply didn’t know it at the time.

Where did it come from, the idea of the mentor?  Not from the world of business or education, but from a poem.  Remember the story of Odysseus from Homer’s The Odyssey? Odysseus went off to fight a war, leaving behind his wife and son, and after years away wanted only to get back home.  It took him nearly a lifetime to reach his destination.  Along the way, he encountered peril after peril and was often unsure how to proceed.  He needed advice and was fortunate to have someone watching over him, to help him through the rough spots:  Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategy.

When Athena appears not only to Odysseus but also to his son, Telemachus, she does not come as herself.  Rather, she takes on the guise of someone else:  Mentor, Odysseus’s old and trusted friend.  Her role is to whisper words of wisdom into Odysseus’s ear to guide him home.  It is also to help Telemachus not simply adjust to his life circumstances, but to evolve.  It is Athena’s guidance—the counsel of the goddess within the (hu)man—that sparks the courage already kindling within both men.

This is the role of the mentor:  to set someone on the path of success, of living well. Mentoring requires we give all of our wisdom, our wits, and our hearts.  It requires the mentor to reach deep inside to call on reserves she might not know she has.

I still run into Megan from time to time.  She shouts me down, waves, smiles broadly, and calls me by the nickname she gave me:  Miss What’s-Yer-Name.  She never could pronounce my last name, refused to call me by my first.  I don’t mind.  I’m just glad she remembers me.

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Observations for New Coaches

Posted on August 23, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

circle of feet

When I first heard about Girls on the Run three years ago, I knew I had to coach.  I read everything I could find and cried the whole time. Why wasn’t there a program like this when I was a kid?  It would have saved me infinite time and pain.  The more I learned about the organization, the more I knew it was for me.  Building confidence in young girls through running—could there be anything more perfect?

I now have the privilege of training our council’s coaches.  There is so much to cover on training day, however, that there’s not time to tell them everything I wish I could.  These are just a few things.

It’s ok to be afraid.

I (over)prepared for my first coaching season—6th-8th graders—but as day one approached, I was scared to death.  It was the idea of Girls on the Run, I realized, that attracted me.  I hadn’t really considered the fact that coaching meant I’d actually have to talk to girls.  But the program is experiential.  That means we have to do things together.

What did I know about kids, after all? I don’t have any. My nieces live halfway across the country.  My foray into teaching kids lasted one morning in a preschool—3 hours of enough finger paint to shellac the entire school, more full and exploding training pants than I care to remember, and infinite Oreo cookie crumbs smeared in places that were never designed to see them.  Not for me, thanks very much. I chose to stick with teaching adults instead.

So when week #1 rolled around and I found myself facing a dozen middle school girls, I was terrified.  What if I said something stupid? Or, worse, what if one of them did and I didn’t know how to respond? What if someone came to me for help and I failed her? Would I even know they were asking—did we speak the same language?  Not English or Spanish or anything you could pick up through Rosetta Stone.  What I mean is, would we relate?

It took a couple of weeks, but I figured something out.  Everything I felt and thought and feared—they did too.  I may have had the words to express myself (or the wisdom to choose not to) where the girls were just learning.  But the main thing they needed was to be heard, to know that not only did they have a voice, but that their voice mattered.  They needed the space to take hold of their voice, and then to run with it.

As the season went on, my fear slowly subsided. I even added two words to my vocabulary:  Awesome and joy.

Be real.

Being a coach can be tough.  You’re not their mother (even if you are). You’re not their teacher (even if you are).  And—don’t panic about this one—you’re not their friend.  You are an amalgamation of all these roles and none of them.  You are there to care for, guide, and mentor the girls on your team.  You are there to serve.

Many organizations talk up “service,” a word so overused that we often take it for granted. Even McDonald’s serves.  I’ve had to ask myself what it really means to serve, and I find a clue in the first part of our mission statement: “We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident…”  To inspire means that something external activates something internal.  The internal piece is already there, whole and (im)perfect.

We are not there to fix anyone.  To fix implies that something is broken.  We are not there to help anyone.  To help implies that they are somehow lesser, incomplete, unfinished.  We are not there to save or rescue anyone. This implies that they are lost.

We are there to serve:  The whole in you, with all your (im)perfections, to meet the whole in them—mind, body, and spirit.  To do this, you must open your heart.  You must be authentic and real. Kids are smart. They can sense when someone is posing. They will accept you and like you, no matter what, as long as you are you.

If you let it, it will change you.

Coaching for Girls on the Run appeals to people for a variety of reasons.   Some coaches are parents or teachers who see the struggle of tweenhood first-hand and wish to somehow alleviate it.  Others remember it, wouldn’t go back there in time for a bazillion dollars, and want to alter the trajectory of someone else’s life, to show them how to save time and pain.  And then there are the runners.  Those of you who know that running saves lives, because it’s saved yours.

If you embrace your fear and open your heart, your life will be different because of your team.  They are wise without knowing it, and will say things that blow you away.  You will see the look on their faces when they run, and it will stop you in your tracks.  My hope is that you will come away from your experience with a new word added to your vocabulary too:  Joy.

Someone asked me just yesterday, how do you tell a girl to be confident?  You don’t.  You show her.  Not only that she can reach inside and pull out the beauty and greatness that’s already there. You demonstrate it yourself.

How incredibly fortunate we are to have such amazing coaches who can do just that.

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Tri Dog

Posted on August 16, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Queequeg cropped

Nearly two weeks ago, the morning before the Tour de Jalapeno, my dog Queequeg went tearing out the door at 4:15 am after some small animal that’d been lurking in our backyard for weeks.  She came back on 3 legs, dragging one behind her.

A torn ACL, it turns out, requiring extensive surgery to repair both it and her knee.

She spent more than a week laying around and staring at me with sad eyes, her leg swollen and bruised and ugly.  She wasn’t at all interested in toys or food or playing with my other dog, Smaug, from whom she is usually inseparable.

But then one morning as Smaug and I were leaving the house for a walk, there she was, tottering on 3 legs in front of us, wagging her tail slowly, nudging my hand and sticking her nose in the door crack.  She wanted to walk too.

I think I know how she felt.  Habit and instinct and whatever sense of fun dogs have was kicking in. A morning walk is what we do, what we’ve done her whole life.  No sooner had she started to feel even a bit better her first impulse was to be outside and run.  A dog after my own heart.

Queequeg’s stitches came out yesterday, and the doctor gave her the all-clear.  He suggested I take her to the pool for a few days, make her swim, rehab her leg.  Looks like we’re going to have to drag ourselves out of bed earlier than usual for a while, sneak to the pool before the neighbors are up and about. Somehow I think they’d frown on a Chihuahua using the neighborhood pool, even on doctor’s orders.

I hope Queequeg likes swimming as much as I do.  Soon enough, she can walk to her heart’s content. Maybe next week I’ll get her a bike.  Before you know it, she’ll be a bona fide tri dog.

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Where’s the Margarita Stop? (Part 2)

Posted on August 9, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

pickled jalapenos

There was no margarita stop, but we survived last weekend’s Tour de Jalapeno anyway. Although this was a 26-mile race, the event lasted 2 days—at least for us.

Day 1

Saturday morning 4:15 am my alarm rattles me out of bed.  It’s the morning of my very first bike race, and I am moderately excited.  It is difficult to be extremely excited about much of anything but coffee at this very early hour, so I pour myself a cup and sit on the dining room floor with my dogs, staring vacantly into the kitchen until cup #1 kicks in.

Robert, moderately excited upon arising at 4:45 am, completely misses the fact that there is a fresh pot of coffee waiting to help him kickstart his morning.  He sees it at 5:25 am, as we are walking out the door.

We’re on the road at 5:45. Our excitement meter has moved up a notch from moderate but has not yet landed on extreme.  We at least smile but are not yet ready to chat.

We approach San Marcos.  The race day instruction sheet is in my hand, and I am reading the directions to Robert.   They are very clearly marked.  As we head east to Martindale, we both comment on how strange it is that there is not much traffic. Not one other car with bikes. We’d think by now—it’s 6:45 and start time is 7:30—there’d be a steady stream of cars down the country roads and into the parking area. There is none.

We follow the directions on the race day instruction sheet, still firmly gripped in my hand, turning left and left and finally right—and pull up to a gate. It is closed and locked.  We are confused. This is the place. Why is it vacant?

Robert slaps his hand to his forehead and swears.  I look down at the paper in my hand, very clearly marked.  The race is tomorrow.

Day 2

I wake up at 4:13 am, minutes before my alarm.  Today my excitement jolts me out of bed.  On Saturday we made the best of the day and took the opportunity to drive the route.  It is beautiful. Rolling hills, cows, mist settling on the sunflowers at daybreak.  We even spot a Mexican eagle standing in a field.  My excitement level is bordering on extreme from the get-go. CaracaraEatingSnakeTX309JT1

Now that we’re old hands at pre-race prep (even though yesterday was a false positive, it still counts), we shave 5 minutes off our prep time and hit the road at 5:40.  Before we get on the highway, we see vehicles loaded with bikes.  This is a good sign.

We chat excitedly for most of the drive and arrive at the race site 10 minutes earlier than yesterday.  A line of headlights thread through the country roads behind us as we park the car. We are in the right place, and on the right day.

We finish assembling our gear from the back of the car.  Since neither of us has been in a bike race, we watch others to see how it’s done.  I am used to pinning my race bib on the front of my shirt.  Slapping a sticker on my bike. Getting body marked.  The guy parked next to us is clearly an experienced cyclist. He is as sleek as his bike, unpacks his stuff confidently.  He is kind enough to tell me where to put things.

As we gather near the start line, I realize how different I am than real cyclists.  Like the guy parked next to us, most of the people here are sleek and have colorful clothing that inevitably match each other and their bikes.  I do not.  I survey feet and notice that I am the only person wearing bike shoes with laces.  Anxiety curls my stomach and I wonder if I should take Alka Seltzer now instead of later.

Redemption Race Productions runs unique and fun races.  This one has 4 events:  26-mile race, 26-mile jalapeno race, 26 mile tour, and 50 mile tour.  An orange wristband distinguishes the jalapeno racers from the smart racers.  We get one minute deducted from our race time for each jalapeno we eat.  We start in waves according to event—smart racers, jalapeno racers, 26 tour, and 50 tour—and I quickly fall to the back of the pack.  The first aid stop is 8 miles out.  Before I reach it I am passed by some of the tourers, including a six-pack.  I am briefly sucked along behind them as they pass me and disappear into the horizon.

When I get to the first stop, many of the other jalapeno racers are still there.  A ripple of excitement stirs the crowd.  Some brave person has already stopped in, devoured 20 jalapenos, and moved on.  Volunteers meet each of us with a cup of 5 pickled jalapenos. I quickly consume the first cup and ask for a second. To my surprise, it’s not that bad, even if there are no margaritas. I pause after the 2nd cup and wonder if I should take another.  Although I feel fine right now, we have 10 miles to ride to the next stop and I have never eaten anything hot before riding. My stomach may be OK now but may very well rebel somewhere between here and there.  I drink water, get my wristband marked, forget to wash my sticky hands, and ride on.

The jalapeno heat actually feels good as I ride and probably makes me pedal faster.  My stomach is holding out just fine.  I cruise past the sunflowers and try to remember which field we saw the eagle in.  But somewhere around mile 13 the pickled part of pickled jalapenos gets my attention.  I don’t feel sick, but I can taste pickledness.  I push on to the next stop, just before mile 18.

The brave racer-eater has cruised through long before I get there, devouring 15 more jalapenos.  That’s 35 jalapenos he has eaten. I bow my head in admiration and take 1 cup.  I try to calculate my pace, the number of cyclists I’ve passed, those who have passed me, and realize that racing, jalapenos, and math do not mix.  I stop at 1 cup—5 jalapenos—and move on, happy that I can eat 15 jalapenos and still ride my bike in the hot sun, up the rolling hills we now face.

Before this race, the longest distance I have ridden is somewhere between 22 and 23 miles.  I hit mile 23 at the bottom of a very big hill, which I whiz down so fast smiling so big that a bug may be lodged in my teeth. It is difficult to tell.  It might very well be a jalapeno seed I feel instead. I am so excited when I reach this point—rolling into uncharted territory on my bike—that I forget about the jalapenos and the race and the eagle and simply ride.

The race ends in the gated community where we started.  It’s a long haul around the lake to the back of the neighborhood, about 1.5 miles with a headwind.  I am pedaling as fast as I can and out of the corner of my eye notice someone not too far behind me.  I pedal harder. I can’t let whoever this is pass me at the finish line!  I push myself as hard as I can, the taste of pickled-sourness rising in my throat, and cross the finish line first at 19 mph. I am stunned and wonder if I should eat jalapenos every time I ride.

Robert is waiting, smiling, having finished at least 10 minutes and 20 jalapenos before me.  We rack our bikes, rummage for the bottle of precautionary Pepto Bismol, and mingle at the after-race party, fully stocked with jalapeno kielbasa.  We are incredibly excited to find that we both medaled in our age group.

We are determined to be back next year. At least now we have a jalapeno training plan—and a year to find a portable margarita machine.

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Where’s the Margarita Stop?

Posted on August 2, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


It’s official. I am entering my very first bike race ever, this Saturday:  The Tour de Jalapeno in Martindale, Texas, a little town I had never heard of until yesterday when I pulled out the race instructions to figure out where the heck I’ll be going.

The Tour de Jalapeno is a 26-mile race with a twist.  Pickled jalapenos are offered at each of 2 aid stations.  Eat as many as you want—you get 1 minute deducted from your race time for each jalapeno you swallow.  But there’s a hotter twist.  Mixed in with the pickled jalapenos is the real thing:  Big ole jalapenos spicy enough to blister your tongue.

Who would be crazy enough to eat spicy peppers in the middle of a race?  Particularly in August–in Texas–when it’s supposed to be 100ish degrees?  I don’t know either, but I’d like to find out. Which is why I’m doing it.

That’s not entirely true.  I do know one person who would do such a crazy thing.  My boyfriend.

Robert bought his very first bike about a month ago, and he loves riding.  So much so, that he clocked in more miles in July than I have all summer.  So much so, that it was his idea to enter this race.  Not necessarily because it is a race, but because it is a race with jalapenos. (On a stick?) He is one of those crazy people who eat all kinds of hot and spicy things, just for kicks.  It’s a wonder his taste buds aren’t seared right out of his mouth.

The Tour de Jalapeno is not only Robert’s first official bike race, as it is mine, but it is his first official race EVER.  It’s been interesting to witness the nervous excitement that precedes someone’s first race.  It’s making me nervous and excited too, but I think for different reasons than his.

I keep worrying and wondering—will there be aid stations for the margaritas? How else will we wash down all those jalapenos?

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