Monday, June 13, 2011

If You Like That...Then You'll Like This

I recently read Kristin Armstrong’s new book, Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run. I was moved to read the book, because in looking at my own book on, I’d noticed that hers came up as both one of the “buy these two books together” books, and as one of the “people who bought RLAG, also bought…” books. So I wanted to read what other books my readers were reading.

First, you are probably all much more “in the know” than I am, but I didn’t realize she was “the” Kristin Armstrong, if I’d ever actually internalized Lance Armstrong’s (he of so many Tour de France victories) ex-wife’s name. In fact, to own up to my exceeding dimness on the day I read the book, I thought it was an interesting coincidence that the author, whose last name was Armstrong, had a “wasband” (her neologism, which I loved), whose name was Lance. Her ex-ness is not really relevant to the book, except to the extent that she took up professional writing and serious running post-divorce, which is an impressive and happy state of affairs, for we, her readers, and, according to her in her book, for her, too; because Kristin has a lot that’s lovely to say about running and its place in our lives, or more precisely—in our hearts.

Here’s just a few bits I liked…

The expression “sweat sisters,” which she uses to describe the girlfriends we run with and pour our hearts out too and seek solace from and laugh with and give solace to and laugh with. She doesn’t mention them, but I’d add sweat brothers, too.

She refers to studies (which I haven’t yet been able to track down, but which sound intuitively and common-sensically right on) that show “that the best way to foster positive body image in girls is for their mothers to speak kindly and positively about their own bodies…” Kristin goes on to say that she is careful to make a point of complimenting her own figure in earshot of her daughters. Even better, of course, would be if she actually believed the compliments enough to say them to herself out of earshot of her daughters. But hey, I’m not that evolved yet, so I can’t demand it of others.

When talking about identity and how running can be a touchstone of identity in hard times, she writes, “[W]hen we breathe deeply into one passion, we provide oxygen for others.” Oh yes. I like that idea of oxygenating all our passions, by beginning with one.

On confidence and setting an example of confidence for others, she writes, “We have to be willing to be seen if we want to earn the relationship to be understood. If our lips are moving but our actions don’t match, we become a badly dubbed foreign film, without benefit of subtitles.” A bit of a mash-up metaphor, but very apt and effective. I remember the French-dubbed version of Sex & The City (the movie) I saw in a tiny gymnasium in Southern France. It turns out there’s not much to dubbing when a large proportion of the dialogue is just squeaks and squeals over handbags and shoes.

And on hills, “You simply cannot become soft or complacent if you seek hills on purpose. You practice something enough times when it doesn’t count, you can bet your shapely bottom that you will have what it takes when it does.” And to give context, she means more than just the hills we run, she means all the stand-ins for hills we face in our lives. This passage vividly reminded me of the repeated passages of Owen and John practicing “The Shot” in A Prayer for Owen Meany, about which I’ll say no more, for those of you who haven’t read it…except this—read the book. I read it in one sitting during law school exams, when I should have been studying, but didn’t, because I couldn’t put the book down (p.s. I did very well on the exams). Anyway, as Kristin so aptly points out, hills are a way of practicing our own “Shots,” preparing for the unexpected rigours that assail us in life.

Made me look forward to my summer runs in the mountains of CA.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Women Tell Me..

Prompted by the Today Show last week, I've been privileged to hear some inspiring women's stories. I wanted to share a small sampling.

From Gwen

“I was NEVER athletic growing up, always the last picked in gym class, etc.” As an adult in the 70’s, Gwen discovered that she enjoyed walking, and even aerobics. But still, “I never ever ran.” Then her oldest son, Danny, died of leukemia at age 25 in 1998.

Gwen told me, “I joined Team in Training and trained for a marathon! My first marathon was Dublin in Oct. 1999. I did that before I did any 5Ks or anything.” Gwen trained to walk the race, but in the midst of the race, around mile 18, she decided to run. She just wanted to get finished. Then she ran another Team in Training marathon in Anchorage in 2000, and she’s still running. Gwen is also studying and teaching yoga now. As Gwen says of her running, “OK. . . I am far from the fastest one out there but I have fun and keep going. Running has been medicine, religion, love and prayer.”

As running has been to so many women.

From Anne

At 64-years old, Ane is a 27-year, 9 time breast cancer survivor. She says, “I have it now - but I refuse to let in run my life. I have been extraordinarily lucky!”

In 1992, after a very debilitating second bout of cancer, Anne built up to walking in 5K races. Then, in 1998, a friend challenged her to walk a half-marathon. And Anne walked the Disney half in January 1999. I am currently training to race walk my 7th half-marathon in Portland, Maine on October 2 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.” Anne’s goal is to finish the 13.1 miles in less than 3 hours.

Anne says, “I firmly believe that this exercise and all the challenges have helped me so much with fighting this terrible disease.”

Well I, for one, am not going to argue with her on that point.

From Kristina

Kristina’s father always told her that she "ran like a girl," and he didn’t mean it the way we do, he meant it in, as she says, “a sort of sexist/joking/condescending way, which I didn't realize was demeaning and damaging to my self-esteem until recently. I actually always participated in the joke.” And why not?—we are programmed to believe our parents, at least for the early part of our lives. For the first 28 years of Kristina’s life, she “HATED” running. In fact, she reports that she spent her twenties in a drunken supor and gained 50 pounds. She had created her own perfect catch-22, in which she hated herself for being fat, so she drank, which caused her to get fatter. I think that defines a vicious cycle. As Kristina says, “my depression got the best of me and I did all the things girls with poor self-images do.” But luckily for Kristina, somewhere underneath the weight of depression and despite the fog of alcohol, she decided to join a weight management program at a local hospital. Finally, this year, after one false start, she started to taste some success. “I went on a strict 1200-calorie diet with no exercise other than my part-time weekend job as a ski instructor. I also stopped drinking. My ski buddies (well, drinking buddies who skied sometimes) told me I was no fun anymore and gave me a very hard time about my efforts to get healthy.” Not only was Kristina’s lifestyle change difficult, the "loss" of friends took its toll. If that wasn’t enough, Kristina was dating a condescending marathon runner (it’s sad, but true, not all runners are nice people). Her boyfriend told her that if she really wanted to lose weight, she ought to register for a 5k. He may have been condescending, but his advice wasn’t wrong. The guy I was dating at the time was a marathon runner (and the condescending guy you describe in your book) and he said, "If you really want to lose weight, register for a 5k." Kristina asked her mother what she thought about her daughter running a 5k; to which her mother helpfully responded, "you'll never be able to run a 5k."

I don’t get it—what’s to be gained from diminishing one’s own daughter in that way?

No matter. Kristina told me, “I've now run three 5k races, and a 4-mile race, and I'm registered to run the Falmouth Road Race (7 miles) in August. In less than four months I've lost 38lbs and I'm happier than I've ever been. I'm still counting calories and working on losing that remaining 12lbs. My relationship with food has changed dramatically and I'm growing veggies on the back porch of my apartment, getting organic produce delivered to my house weekly, and learning how to cook. It was empowering to get rid of the mean boyfriend, but I am still grateful for his advice. p.s. When I finished my first 5k I sent the photo to my dad with a note that said, ‘I still run like a girl.’"

Indeed, she does.

From Suzanne

Suzanne is the CEO of an agency in Florida and has been trying to lose weight, mend a broken heart, generally get her life back, but it simply wasn’t happening; or at least not until she started training for the SheRox Sprint Triathlon in August 2011. Training, as she says, “thinking all the time that I couldn't do it.” Wrong. In fact, Suzanne proved the opposite to herself, “I can not only do it, but I am good at it. Now, my confidence level is through the clouds into space, my weight is going down, my workout buddy and I have signed up for other events here in Florida and other states, I am so much better at my job and finally...FINALLY healing.”

Gwen, Anne, Kristina and Suzanne are showing us all what it means to run like girls.