Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tyvek Is the New Black

I had finally crested the hill…okay, hill is an understatement, when describing a 6 kilometer climb, with an elevation gain of 395 meters. I was on the way down, a precipitous descent, during the course of which I was going to lose all the elevation I’d gained in less than half the distance. Night was falling. In the gloaming, I could still make out the Cape Breton highlands crowding in around me. The sky was pre-navy blue, with smoke-dark cloud motes. The temperature had gone from wet-chill to warm-still and cloying as we’d turned the corner and begun to lose altitude.

I was high on exertion, but I could feel my energy was leaking away, and there was no little Dutch boy to staunch the outflow. Then I saw the van-top LED display, scrolling its bright red message, just for me, “Run Like a Girl!!” And standing beside the van were my can’t-miss-them-in-those-outfits teammates, cheering me on. Just in time. I felt the swell of peacock energy that comes when you know someone’s watching; more still, I felt the grace of support, and was supremely grateful.

I was halfway into my second leg, Leg 9 of the Cabot Trail Relay. A gorgeous 24-hour, 17 leg relay race around the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, which took place this past weekend. My team, Seventeen Runners, are longtime veterans of the race, but my partner and I were newbies, recruits by a friend of a friend and so on.

I didn’t do much by way of team sports when I was growing up, and so I’m not accustomed to team events. I’ve gravitated more to solitary sports, which, I suppose, is not surprising, since I’ve also chosen a somewhat solitary career, as well. So this event was something new for me in more ways than one, not to mention that I’m not an all-nighter kind of girl either. There was more…

In the days and weeks leading up to the event, the “reply all” emails had been flying around with increasing velocity. Food. First Aid. Vans. Accommodation (other than the vans). Leg distribution. So much to coordinate. And, in the midst of the flurry, Tyvek suits—yes, full zip-up coveralls, with hoods…made of Tyvek…available at your local hardware store. Just kidding. Not. Apparently the Tyvek suits were the team signature, as it were. Plus, my partner David and I were assured, they were efficacious at warding off the damp, chill, which was about 100% likely to descend at some point during the race, if not persist for the duration.

“That is so not happening,” was my first thought. This is a level of un-cool to which I can’t sink. I read an Op-Ed piece by Jonathan Franzen today, in which he admits to being a birdwatcher, despite the pursuit’s uncoolness. I’m not sure where each of birdwatching and Tyvek suits are on the cool-ometer, but probably reasonably close to each other. David bought us Tyvek suits. I vowed to return for refund after the race. Team spirit-shmirit.

I boarded the plane to Halifax with some trepidation; this wasn’t really “my kind of thing.”

How little I need have worried. First, there is the Cape Breton landscape—impossible to resist. Then there’s the purr of the hangover Scottish accent the longtime Nova Scotians still have. Then there’s the race.

I soon realized that it was all a moveable party, progressing from one start/finish line to the next. We learned the drill (and we’ll be much better next time!) of drive, identify teammate, pull over an ample distance ahead, cheer, and repeat cycle. In between, were the “lockdowns,” when we were not allowed to drive on the course, giving the runners a chance to get into the rhythm of their legs, before the flow of cars and vans clotted up beside them. Lockdowns were a relaxing time to chat, have a bite to eat, put your feet up in the van, or perhaps find yourself dancing to the music emanating from someone’s speakers. And the Tyvek suits…it turns out that they are highly visible, night and day, a huge bonus when you’re trying to find teammates at the beginning or end of a leg, or spot them on the road. Oh, and yes, the suits were protection against the bone chilling cold and misting weather. More practical and equally as visible as the one team whose “uniform” was tighty-greenies, as I thought of them—shamrock green men’s briefs, with little else.

To spot my Tyvek-garbed team, in the waning light, as my running zeal was fizzling, was exactly what I needed at that moment. No gel or gu or fortified sports drink would have done as much for my spirit. I was suddenly all-too-keenly aware of what a privilege it was to be part of the team. To be a teammate. To be an energy-source for another person. Now that’s cool. Maybe it’s what a bird feels like when it’s being “watched,” by Jonathan Franzen, or anyone, for that matter.

I won’t be wearing a Tyvek suit around Manhattan anytime soon. But you’ll be able to spot me easily next year at the Cabot Trail Relay…just look for the strange, white coveralls.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Run Like a Girl Makes Me Think of…

On Monday night at a great event at the JCC in Manhattan, I asked what people thought of when they heard the expression “run like a girl.” These are some of the answers I got (unedited and unexpurgated):

Walk like a man. Flailing around. Inept.

Who wants to run like a man? All I imagine is a Vin Diesel or the Rock, huffing and puffing. What a gorilla! I’d rather be a girl.

Reminds me of my dad saying, “It’s a good thing you don’t run like a girl,” perplexing to me when I was a teenager.

When I was in middle and high school, the most popular girl, Denise, was a total jock—and a great runner (and v-ball player). I envied her, and that’s one thing I think of.

I think fragile—in part because of the skinny, colt-legged 8th grade girl runners, who look so fragile, but really, they’re pretty fierce.

When I was a young girl, running like a girl meant to pretend to run but to make sure to look good at the same time and not mess my hair and dress sexy at the same time.


In school, I hated gym, pretended to have cramps as often as possible and now I am a committed runner and biker. What happened?

Run like a girl implies youthful exuberance, letting go, achieving an early goal---being an achiever right from the start. I see a movie with a young woman out on a broad swath of land, running down a lane, the wind in her hair…she is happy and so are we joyous watching her.

Makes me think of running wispily, uncoordinated and sort of mincingly. Reminds me of my daughter playing basketball in middle school and they were crying and playing at the same time.

Makes me think of a non-purposefully kind of gangly running. Not goal oriented.

Reminds me of running so fast that my feet barely touched the ground. I was thirteen, skinny and never so free. Reminds me of when I was in 8th grade, and I beat all of the boys on the high school track team in the 100 yard dash. But there was no girls track team for me, the girl who could outrun all the boys.

Being weaker, or made to feel weaker—even though you know you can do it better, just lack confidence.

Trying to keep up with a man. Walking quickly while wearing heels. Elementary school relay races. Anti-gay slurs.

Reminds me of relay races in grade school. Girls weren’t as fast as boys, and never would be! So why ever try to win?

Running freely, like a seven-year old.

I once had a t-shirt that said, “whoever said last man standing wins never asked the girl to play.” I wore it till it shredded.

Makes me think of an uncoordinated, legs and arms, flailing, clumsy girl—trying to run, but barely doing it.

Youthful, carefree, bliss, yet vulnerable.

Makes me think about my jogathon when I ran 9 miles in 2 hours. I was one of two girls that ran this much. I felt proud, and I showed the guys that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Then: Endless summer afternoons playing kickball with the kids (boys and girls) on the block. The losing team was subjected to the paddy-wack treatment by the winning team before the winners pranced around the losers “running like girls.”

Do not look butch. If you are running for your life, run like a guy.

Reminds me of what my ten-year old serious softball playing daughter is learning to do: throw like a girl! And that is meant in a good way. She has had the good fortune of wonderful male and female coaches and we’ve watched many high school and college softball games. The upshot—she’s learning to throw like a girl—and she’s got a bullet!

Gawky, aimless and silly.

Clumsy and uncoordinated.

Run freely, with wind on one’s back.

When I was told that I run like a girl—it meant that I did not have good running form. Anyone could run faster than me. My arms were all wrong.

I remember 10-12 year old kids making fun of a boy who “ran like a girl.”

Reminds me of the term “take back the night” From the marches of the 80’s—it’s about reclaiming something that was taken.

Being so confident as to be able to overcome cultural bias—without blinking—and just do it!

I picture a woman with a very short skirt, high heels, probably drunk, running to try to get a taxi.

Means…watching an Ethiopian or Kenyan woman win the marathon. Game on men!

Run like girls, emphasis on the plural—there is something magical, unique and indescribable about the sisterhood between female athletes. Rock on title IX.

Running feels like freedom—like being a kid again—joyful…

Reminds me of being made fun of by the older kids on the playground in school.

Forget the “like a girl.” Just RUN.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Got ambitions?

A friend of mine recently had the good fortune to participate in a women's leadership forum. As part of the materials, she received the transcript of a fantastic speech, given by the woman in whose name the forum was founded; a speech, which eloquently defines the challenge women face when it comes to ambition.

Highly recommended reading: Judy Elder's speech; given to the Toronto Board of Trade as part of the Women's Television Network 'Gift of Wisdom" series. To view the speech, click the link here and then the second link on the page you will land on, which is titled "Mothers, Fathers, Men, Ambition."

Own ambition audaciously!