Monday, February 28, 2011

When Am I a Runner?

Last week at Outdoor Divas (a store I heart!) a woman asked me, “when can you call yourself a runner?” Her tone was tentative, and she told me that she wasn’t sure she was entitled to the moniker yet.


I was stumped.


My immediate reaction was to say, “you’re a runner if you think of yourself as a runner.” Period. End. Finis. That’s all she wrote. I wanted that woman to own her accomplishment, to feel the power of her running, even if she sometimes walked during her run or didn’t run more than 3 or 4 miles, or wasn’t as fast as lots of other people (and why should she care about them anyway?). But that answer was too facile. Too much along the lines of “think positive and good things will happen.” Well, yes, although you generally have to actually “do” something positive, too, and that’s where things get more effortful.

And once I’d thought about the question some more, I realized that I had an answer; or at least an answer for me.


Some people define being a runner by whether a person has done a marathon or not. Nope. That’s not my definition. How confining. Besides, where does that leave sprinters? Others define it by other distances or whether you race and so on.


For me, you are a runner when you do two things: First—you create an intention around running, often in the form of a commitment of some kind, setting a goal. That goal might be anything from, “I’m going to build up to a mile without walking over the next so many months.” To, “I’m going to run 30 miles a week come May.” To, “That marathon is mine.” And so on. Second—and this is where it gets picky on my part—I think a “runner” runs at least some of the time outside. Because to me, running, as a first principle, is that thing we did as children (when we were girls and boys!). Remember when everywhere we went, we went at a run? Upstairs, downstairs, across the lawn, on the sidewalk to the brink of the street; terrifying, exhausting and exasperating parents everywhere with our precipitous manner of moving through life. That was running, as we first knew it and loved it.


When can we call ourselves runners? When we hit the great outdoors, at least sometimes, with a commitment to be a runner. Simple as that.


Happy trails!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Not even halfway there...

Some days I think about how much time I have left for all the things I want to do. On dark days, it doesn't feel like enough. On good days, it feels like incentive to do it now. But the story about Ida Keeling in the New York Daily News opened a new world of possibility.

Ida just set a world record in her age group for the 60 meter sprint distance. Her age group?--over 90. Actually, she's well into that age bracket at 95.

As you'll see in the story, she's not had an easy time in life, but for the past 30 years exercise has been a true companion for her: "It's so uplifting," Keeling said. "Instead of giving these children jail time, they should give them a sentence of exercise. That would wake them up."

Hear. Hear.

As for me, I'm excited to learn that I'm not even halfway there yet. What a gift!



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bananagrams, skiing and balance

Lately I’ve been mildly discouraged by my cross-country skiing. Why am I not getting better? After all, I ski a lot for the two months I spend in CA. I’m not talking about fitness. Unlike some of the other sports I do, xc skiing is heavily-reliant on technique. The better your technique, the more efficiently you can ski, which equals skiing further and faster, with less effort and so on. So once again I’m taking some ski clinics, hoping to unearth what the barriers to improvement are for me.

Preliminary digging has unearthed the realization that one of the big ones, maybe the biggest key to unlocking any kind of step change in my skiing, is also one of my hobby horse topics here—balance. Or rather, lack thereof. On dry land, as it were, my balance is decent—I once stood on one leg for three minutes in aid of a friend’s daughter’s school project (and this in the middle of a convivial dinner). But on snow…on skis…while moving…well, let’s just say it’s a very different picture.

So I’m doing drills—all sorts of permutations of skiing on one ski (there are more than you would think), plus at the end of every workout I throw down my poles and try to lift each foot up and unclip my ski at knee level or so, instead of bending over and unclipping, with my feet solidly on the ground. Oh yes, people have wondered what I’m doing, and the only consolation is that if they try my unclipping drill with me, they mostly discover that it’s more perilous than it looks.

But I digress (and will further, of course)…are you familiar with Bananagrams? Sort of like Scrabble on speed, each player picks 21 letters and begins building their own scrabble-like web of words. Each time any player uses all their letters, all the players have to pick up another letter and integrate it into their word-web; and so on, until all the letters are used up. One of the keys to playing the game is the willingness to de-construct all your lovely, hard-won words and re-build from scratch. If you get too attached to what you’ve already done, you will find it difficult to excel in the game. Just so, if we become too attached to how we do something (for example, skiing), then we block our progress to the next level.

So I’m trying to think of my ski clinics in Bananagrams terms.

Our ski instructor tells us that balance is teachable. Yippee for that mercy. The downside is that generally things will get worse before they get better (uh huh, that old saw again). To construct a better technique, I first have to de-construct my current, flawed technique and build up from the basics—starting with my balance, that is. Instead of relying on my poles, or my ability to speed up my tempo to accommodate for imbalance (something I can sort of do because of my fitness level, but which is really just a crutch to avoid real improvement), I need to slow down my cadence and allow for the possibility of falling over.

Why?—because in the long run, the better my balance, the easier pretty much everything will be in xc skiing. And, as my instructor points out, the more balanced we are, the more prepared we are for all the things that throw us off balance. Is your brain tick-tick-ticking like mine over that last statement? Sounds familiar indeed. The basic principles of balance apply everywhere in life, and I really mean everywhere—from our physical pursuits, to our careers, to our relationships, to our self-efficacy…you name it. And here’s a cool thing—if we practice balance, in any of those areas, our practice will pay off across the board. As we begin to “feel” balance in our bodies, so it translates to our psyches and vice-versa.


Of this we can be certain—we will be thrown off balance, on our skis, as by life. The more we practice this learnable skill…I don’t need to spell out the rest.

Frustrating, yes. But also exhilarating; because the beauty of something that’s teachable, is that it’s learnable (okay—that was stating the obvious). There have been a few moments, nothing more than a hair’s breadth of an instant, when I’ve felt the balance I’m working toward. Each time it’s happened, I’ve spontaneously cried out with surprise. To feel yourself learning something new, now that is glorious.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

RLAG 5-Word Memoirs

Here’s a fun sampling of some great creative energy:

There’s snow stopping me now!—Kristy [p.s. you have to say it fast to hear the true beauty of this one…p.p.s. this was the random draw winner!]

Strong, steady, tough, ready – ME!—Kristen

Mental toughness shapes physical beauty—Teresa

Heart break healed by running—Karen

It is my "me" time—Riki

Coffee's best with tired legs—Melinda

Downward-dog felt good, at lastLibby

Still looking for second wind—Mindy

Fell in love with myself—Geneva

Man ahead, pass on left—Jill

And then I surprised myself—Diti

Cleared away all the confusion—Natalie

I felt an immense peace—Marcia

Joy carried my legs alongGenet

Monday, February 7, 2011

Part II: We've Come a Long Way Baby


[Previously on this blog....we left Nicole DeBoom's story just as the first running skirts were coming off the production line...]


Within twelve months Nicole had hung up her pro-shoes and switched gears to full time entrepreneur and amateur athlete.

“I was in the prime of my racing career,” Nicole says. “I could have done five more years. “

But not only was Nicole herself pro, she was married to a top-flight pro athlete, a world champion even, and she knew how much it would take to stay professional, and she knew those sacrifices (or perhaps that brand of selfishness) weren’t going to make her happy for the next years. A former competitive swimmer (she even made the ’88 Olympic trials), she loved swim coaching and getting involved with the kids’ lives. Not possible as a pro. Besides, kids are germ machines. Not just kids, their parents, and then, by extension, everyone who comes in contact with the parents. In other words, having a social life—haha, I don’t think so. As a pro, not only are you exhausting yourself with an intense workout schedule, even if you have the energy to go out, the risk of getting sick needs to be adjusted for at all times, as Nicole pointed out. You can’t even go out in cold season, and when people come over, all you notice is every time they cough or sneeze; and what they touch, so you can make a note not to touch it. Getting sick could be the end of your season. Getting sick could mean $10k down the drain, just for missing next weekend.

Nicole missed socializing. She missed having people around. And when she switched gears from athlete to entrepreneur, the #1 core value of her new company was (and still is) relationships. No surprise then that Skirt Sports’ brand mission is, “inspiring women to include fitness in their life”—because Nicole doesn’t want to just sell cool clothes (I’m wearing one of hers as I type, because I haven’t been able to bring myself to take it off yet after my xc ski this a.m.--I've even attached photographic evidence), she wants to make a difference in women’s lives.

Certainly clothes can make a difference to our attitude and the likelihood we’ll get out there—you know it’s true, when you have that adorable new something to wear, you want to get out there and feel good in it. Shallow?—maybe. On second thought, maybe not, because if it gets you out there, well that’s a pretty important result. But Nicole is not just inspiring women to get out there with fun designs, she’s taken her corporate mission many steps further.

So now the last fast forward…to 2011… After several years of bootstrapping and a couple of investor injections from family and friends, Skirt Sports is doing well enough to focus not just on improving its products, but on giving back to the community. In addition to their Skirt Chaser 5ks in Denver and Tempe, the company’s Kick Start Program gives women with barriers to fitness help in setting and reaching the goal of doing a 5k. Each of the fifteen women selected, in both Denver and Tempe (the communities where the program operates), are paired with a “personal motivator,” a women who is willing to share her energy and enthusiasm for running with the Kick Start participant, and be there all along the way providing company and encouragement.

Launching soon is the next, logical iteration of Kick Start, Nicole’s initiative called Kick it Forward, in which women who are not in one of the Skirt Sports geographical communities can also participate in a Kick Start type program, in which pairs of women, a personal motivator and one of her women-friends-in-need of support, apply together to be part of the program.

The programs are win-win-win-win (fear not—I will really cover all four wins). Women on both sides of the equation are benefiting—getting fit and feeling better about themselves on one side, and learning the important leadership skills of motivating and inspiring others on the other side—and that’s the just the first two “wins.” Participation in the program also comes with the third “win,” of the occasional discount on Skirt Sports products.

And the fourth win?—Skirt Sports is tapping into, increasing and leveraging the richest resource available to the company—“The biggest power we have found is the energy women have. They want to be a part of Skirt Sports.”

Do we have energy?? Indeed!


And, while we're on the topic of energy--don't forget to save a bit of that energy to write your 5-word RLAG memoir and be entered to win a $75 Skirt Sports gift certificate!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

First Ever RLAG Giveaway!

Win a $75 gift certificate to Skirt Sports, in the first ever 5-word “RLAG” memoir contest!


Whaa?—Based on the 5-word memoir (for example—Never finished anything except cake), the 5-word Run Like a Girl (RLAG) memoir is a new variation, centered around the theme of how, why or when you’ve run like a girl. And…what’s running like a girl? It’s being strong and happy in our physical being. It’s challenging ourselves (to do things athletic and non-athletic) and daring to fail. It’s hanging on to our Let’s-Go girl spirit, even as we are women. Here are a few examples of 5-word RLAG memoirs:


Strong legs carried me far.


Toenails fell off, kept going.


Believed I could, and did.


Fleet feet in short skirt


Send in your 5-word RLAG memoir (pictorial accompaniment always welcome) to me, at mina@minasamuels.com by Wednesday, February 9 and you’ll automatically be entered to win a $75 gift certificate to Skirt Sports (think cool, hip, cute, sexy and versatile workout clothes). Not only that, anyone who signs up for Skirt Sports e-newsletter will automatically be entitled to a 10% discount anytime—how great is that?


5-word word memoirs (and pix) will be published here. Memoirs may also be published on Skirt Sports' website or Facebook Fan page. And p.s. if you don’t already “like” our FB fan pages, do it now!


The Fine Print (except in this case bold and obvious): Please put “Skirt Sports Contest” in the email subject line. To be eligible for the gift certificate, you must have a US shipping address.

Part I: We've Come a Long Way Baby


Or so Virginia Slims claimed quite some time ago…and now we really have.


Evidence?


Well, I’m currently reading Gail Collins new book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present, an in-depth look at the history of feminism. The book is a reminder of what we fought so hard for. I was struck, for example, by an anecdote of a woman who was kicked out of court (traffic court, no less, where she had gone to pay her boss’s traffic ticket, to add insult to injury) for wearing slacks (I love that word—it’s the one Collins’ uses in the book) instead of a skirt. The incident happened in 1960. Fast forward thirty years…I worked for a law firm in the early nineties that would not allow the women lawyers (i.e. me) to wear pants to work. The day I quit that job, I started wearing pants almost every day, until the day I left. Nice pants. Slacks even. Pants that went with my jacket to complete my “suit.” And yet, that act felt thrilling and defiant, even though I had nothing to lose, since I’d already quit.


So for me, skirts, as much as I love (and loved) them, were always a bit of a sign of weakness, or imposed femininity.


Fast forward some more, but not really that much, through a generation of women slightly younger than I who enjoyed the benefits of Title IX and growing up with the feeling that they could be and do anything they wanted, and that being feminine, did not exclude being independent, that running like a girl, in other words, meant being strong. Now, instead of shying away from skirts, as we did from the expression “run like a girl,” it was time to reclaim skirts as part of our power.


We’ve arrived at 2003. Enter Nicole DeBoom, professional triathlete, Title IXer (that's her in the pic, smoking the boys on bikes). She’s out for a run one night in the dead of winter and catches sight of her reflection in a shop window as she passes by.


“I look like a boy,” she thinks.


Then, “Why can’t I look pretty? There’s nothing wrong with looking pretty while running.”


Nicole cuts her run short and goes home, her brain doing PR mile splits. On a piece of paper she writes, “women’s fitness clothing that you look and feel good wearing.”


Now Nicole knew a thing or two about fitness clothing. As a pro athlete she got a lot of free shwag from sponsors and other clothing companies. But mostly what she got were men’s size XS clothing, or women’s clothing that looked, or felt, like it was made by men. Sure there was some cute stuff, but that was all the apr├Ęs workout gear, as if a woman changed her nature once the workout was over. Forget that age-old (and hopefully dead) dichotomy of Madonna-Whore, now it’s Athlete-Feminine, as if those two are an oxymoron.


Nicole’s speeding brain pauses briefly to consider the example set by Juicy Couture, a company that had managed to make sweatpants, the least sexy of all apparel, actually look hot. And she thinks about how busy most women who workout are, how much they’d like versatility in their workout clothes, so they don’t end up doing errands in their running tights or shorts.


Where to begin? Well, with Nicole’s least favourite of all running gear—shorts. The options available, before Nicole mixed in, were spandex shorts, which required physical perfection, which meant they could be worn happily for about a one minute window a year; and regular shorts, which rode up, or looked …well…you know how running shorts look, there’s a good reason why you don’t see that silhouette spilling over into other fashion arenas; and what’s with that strangely baggy underwear?


Nicole moves from dream to reality. She hires some people she can barely afford to help with sewing. She sketches her own designs (and no, you didn’t miss the part where she studied drawing or clothing design). Her first running skirt (likely the first ever running skirt, period) is made with regular lycra from Joanne’s Fabrics, no athletic grade, fancy tech wicking, four-way stretching, or performance compression.


In September 2004, after run-testing a few prototypes, Nicole debuts one of her skirts at Ironman Wisconsin, wins the race; and would have won best outfit on the course, if that had been a category. Not to mention that she blazes a whole new direction in how strong women are going look in the heat of competition.


A week later she places her first order for skirts and Skirt Sports is born, launching in early 2005.


STAY TUNED...TO BE CONTINUED...


In the meantime, if you're checking out Skirt Sports' website, check it out a little more closely, because you might have a special opportunity to pick out something fun for yourself. Details of a contest and giveaway of a $75 gift certificate to Skirt Sports coming in a blog post shortly!