Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Slaying the Dragons in a New Age Bracket

This Sunday (Father’s Day), I turned 30 and while I don’t think I felt too much angst about turning 30, it certainly gave me pause about closing out my twenties and what lies in store in this next decade. My parents came into town, and Saturday night I had a little party with them, my husband, and my closest friends from graduate school. I couldn’t help but think of Julie Powell in one of my favorite movies, Julie and Julia. While we had pizza and cupcakes instead of lobster thermidor, we were marking time in the same way. Just like Julie Powell was midway through cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I was with my friends and family midway through my dissertation. I think I love that movie so much because both Julia Child and Julie Powell have such big ambitions, but so often also had to sweat it out through the difficult changes of writing a book, writing a blog, learning to cook, speak French, etc. They both did it with loving husbands by their sides, just like I’m doing (and I also have great parents who have been cheering for me since I was in diapers). And while they often despaired and were met with great criticism, they emerged triumphant in both their personal and professional goals.
And so as part of a new age bracket and sights set on defending in Spring 2017 (less than 10 months away!), it’s time to get medieval. As much as the dissertation is an individual project, it would be impossible to do it in isolation. I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a writing group with some of my peers, and I’ve also been writing regularly with some other classmates. I think it’s really important to surround yourselves with people who won’t just encourage you, but challenge you to push harder. My best friend is a dermatologist, and was the top of her med school class, and has just worked her butt off throughout her entire career. My best friend in graduate school earned graduated with distinction, which is really hard to do, and I’ve constantly sought her advice and just tried to model my work ethic after hers.
I was listening to an interview with Lauren Fleshman (one of the country’s best 5k runners) and she said to think about it as not slaying demons, but dragons, and as a medievalist, I really liked that idea. The challenges that are ahead with writing and defending the dissertation are not insurmountable, nor are they bad. The demons are more of an internal struggle – trying to slay the doubt that comes with a challenging project.
           I managed to slay one dragon this spring. After some tough feedback on a chapter I worked on last summer, I spent the spring semester revising this chapter and submitted it in May, hoping that the revisions were substantial enough to satisfy my advisor. For the past few weeks, I’ve checked my e-mail regularly (fanatically is more like it), hoping for a response and an indication that things were moving in the right direction. Today, I received the following response, It's a big improvement over the earlier draft I read….(specific feedback about content and structure)… In any event, I think the chapter has now taken good form.  Now all it needs is a bit of prose polishing.
Victory! I nearly burst into tears with relief. I was sitting with one of my writing partners when it happened, and it was so wonderful to share it with him, because he can totally understand the trepidation and apprehension that comes with writing and revising.

There are hurdles along the way to the finish, and there is still much work to be done, but it is possible to slay dragons and conquer the castle!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Right to Run 19k - Seneca Falls, NY

So, as I said in the last post, I had done 2 back-to-back races, which I really enjoyed. Racing is one of my favorite parts of running: the pageantry, competing, being with other people, really pushing myself – it’s awesome.
My mom, who has been racing up a storm, running several awesome 2:05 half marathons this past year (and she is in the grand-master category), sent me a link about the inaugural 19k Right to Run race in Seneca Falls, home of the 1848 Women’s Convention and the future home of the Women’s Hall of Fame, with honoree Kathrine Switzer, who is an actual pioneer of women’s running and the champion of getting women into running. In case you didn’t know, 19k is about 11.8 miles and was to honor the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
It was the day before Mother’s Day, and so was the perfect reason to go home to spend Mother’s Day weekend with my mom and do a great race together. This was going to be my third race in three weeks, but I also thought that after 2 5ks, a longer rac, would be a different test of endurance. Also, it had been pouring in DC for several weeks (breaking a record), and a race in sunny Western NY (who would think Rochester would have the better weather?!) sounded great!
My mom, Kathrine Switzer, and me before the race
It had been over a year since my mom and I did a race together, and 2.5 years since we did a race together in NY. I think because my running career started off when I was single and my parents were (and still are) my two biggest supporters, I still have so many fond memories of driving to races with them, sitting in the back seat while we get ready for a race. So it was so nice to do that again, and now to have them involved not just as spectators, but also as fellow runners (on this day, my dad was our dutiful Sherpa, but has been getting ready for his first triathlon this summer). The night before, my parents asked me what I was hoping to run, and I figured somewhere around 7:15 pace would be good. Last month, I did a 16-mile run at 7:46 pace (one of the best tempo runs of my life, running great negative splits and getting faster throughout the run), so I figured 30 seconds faster for 5 miles shorter would be reasonable.
We got to the start, which was near a farm in Seneca Falls – fairly remote, and flocked to see our beloved hero, Kathrine Switzer, who was the official starter of the race and was checking in on things before things started. We hadn’t seen her in 5 years (since my mom and I ran the NY Mini 10k in June 2011), but she has an incredible memory and hugged and greeted us like old friends. Like a coach, she wished us the best, then we parted ways and headed to the start. The race was supposed to start with a pre-recorded version of the Star Spangled Banner, but since they were having technical difficulties, we began to sing it as a group. It was pretty cool, and our voices echoed into the quiet landscape, and then we were off.
It is such a stark contrast to race in DC, where the route is lined with monuments, statues, tons of people, and change at every block. We took off on a small two-way road that was on the perimeter of a farm. It was so quiet: the map indicated that the majority of this race would be on rolling hills through residential Seneca Falls, and then finish downtown. There was a woman next to me, close in age, size, and physique, and so I estimated that she would be my main competition, and I was right. We took off, and we were the only two women taking it out hard, and there were a cluster of guys right in front of us. With such a quiet landscape, you could really hear other conversations, and these guys were talking about how they planned to go out at 6:00 pace and just hold on. This did not happen. We were running in the 6:35-6:40 pace, and the other woman and I were running virtually side-by-side, leading the women. I would put a little surge in, to see if she would follow, and she would either join me, or just be a step or two behind me – close enough that I could hear her breathing. I was clicking off sub 7 pace so well. And I say that being now 2 years removed from a formal training program, track workouts, etc. But there is something about accumulated knowledge/leg strength/endurance that pays off. I came through 5k in under 21 minutes, and was just feeling good, even though I had the feeling that down the road (literally), this would not be sustainable. But frankly, why not try to go out hard, and push for a good pace when things are relatively low-stakes? This wasn’t a marathon, where such foolishness is often met with such a cruel punishment, but a race where perhaps the final couple of miles would be uncomfortable but not terrible. So, there we are, me and no-name chick, occasionally picking up snippets of conversation of these guys shooting the breeze. And finally, I couldn’t take the bro chatter, and decided to push ahead, through the mob of dudes. It was definitely a mental victory, because at a certain point, listening to that was so distracting. So, I’m still sub 7, and we are climbing some hard hills, including a long segment on rocks. Not gravel – make no mistake about that, but rocks. Do you ever run on rocks? No? Shocking! Not fun, and just took some physical maneuvering to just keep powering through. It was such a relief to get back on the road, and I was still clicking off the miles relatively comfortably. No-name chick was nearby, the sun was out, and it was so quiet and beautiful. I kept waiting for the bottom to fall out, for the pace to become unsustainable. That happened at mile nine, when we had to climb a really hard hill on a mix of grass and gravel that seemed to stretch on for so long. This was my bottom, and all of a sudden, I knew I had maxed out, and I could hear feminine breathing next to me. I assumed I was ceding first place to no-name chick, but it was another woman! This short runner who looked like she was in her 40s, blew by me on the hill (which is such a crushing blow – I’ve been on the other end of this, and I know how it can be a psychological tool to defeat an opponent), and I just had to let her go. I’ve done races where there’s been back and forth, neither of us willing to yield, but not then. Not only did she blow by me, but she was quickly putting in 100, 200, 300 yards on people. Amazing and well played.
I just needed to protect second place and try to not fall apart completely, as we still had almost 3 miles to go. We had gotten closer to Seneca Lake, which is just gorgeous, and provided some mental relief/distraction as I felt like I was plodding along, watching my times slow down. I got a final boost crossing a bridge that had a statue of Susan B. Anthony, a woman who has influenced my life in so many ways (my Girl Scout troop made a trip to her house and to the Seneca Falls Convention Center that got me interested in women’s history and ultimately led me to pursue a career in history), knowing that my small suffering on that day paled in comparison that what they went through and sacrificed to get the right to vote for women. And hearing my dad cheer me on, I pushed to the finish line, finishing in 1:22:59, 7:02 pace for 11.8 miles.
Kathrine Switzer herself gave me my medal, and a hug. I have to say, with the exception of the six marathons I’ve done, this was the hardest race I’ve done (and I think I’ve probably done close to 100 races now). The physical terrain was really rough, with those switches onto stone and grass, and the hills too made this quite a challenging distance event. I was thinking of my mom on every challenging part of the course, knowing that she would meet those obstacles as well.
I waited with my dad for my mom to finish, and we cheered so much as she came storming in (yes, storming, she totally blew by this one woman with 200 yards to go) in 1:57:23 (9:57 pace). She worked so hard on this course, and I knew that she had found the terrain be difficult as well. When I told her that it was one of the hardest races I had ever done, I know that she valued that, because to her, it offered a sense of legitimacy to her own thoughts about the race. I was so proudof her (she’s run two half marathons this year, both 2:05s, both PRs – amazing), and was so thrilled and happy to spend the weekend with her.
It was a big honor to receive my plaque from Kathrine Switzer, who is not just a champion of women’s running, but was a champion runner in her own day (with a 2:51 marathon PR). She truly is one of the most gracious people I know, and spent a few minutes talking with me and my parents, more like old friends, rather than a few people who just admire her greatly. This was a hard race (and I’ve taken it really easy in the weeks since – I really laid it out there on the course), but linked with such an important cause. As Kathrine noted in her speech on race day, many fought so hard for the right to vote, and we need to honor them. There are still many miles to go in terms of women’s rights, particularly in the area of equal pay, but with women like Kathrine at the helm, things are running in the right direction.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Back to Back 5ks: BEST Kids Superhero 5k and Race for Hope DC

I’ve been having an enjoyable spring of racing, signing up for some brand-new races, including ones I’ve had my eyes on for a few years. The past few weeks have included a few back-to-back weekends of racing, and since my training lately has been more of a steady stream of 30 mile weeks, without intensive peaks, I’ve been jumping in, racing, feeling sore for a few days, and then proceeding onward.
Superhero 5k (April 20): This was a small race out on Haines Point, a course very familiar to me. I had looked at some previous race times, and it looked like I might be able to win the race, depending on who showed up. However, on race morning, I lined up on a cloudy morning next to my friend Chris. Now, Chris and I met at a track meet in 2013, and have raced against each other probably about 10 times. And when I say raced against each other, I mean that she has beaten me handedly every single time. But, it’s still good to have someone close to my pace to push off from. We wished each other well at the start and then took off.
I'm in black with an Olympic shirt on - Olympians are my kind of heroes 
When I say that this was a small race, this should put it into perspective: Chris and I pull to the front – not the front for the women, but the front of the race, with only two guys running alongside us. We are virtually stride for stride, and I was very excited, thinking that this would help set me up for a good time, and almost assuredly, second place. Whoosh – through mile 1 in 6:20. While the race itself was so quiet (Haines Point at 8AM on a weekend is one of the quietest places in DC), I felt excited that Chris and I were running together. When it seemed like she was going to pull ahead, I would push a little, and this continued through the turn around. I pulled ahead by a few yards, knowing that if it came down to a kick, hers would be better than mine.
A couple of strides away from the finish line
Apparently Donte Stallworth recognized me from a
previous race I had won - and I had no idea who he was
until the race. He asked me for some advice as he was
debuting in his first 10 mile race the next day,
which he finished in 1:21:56
Before we hit the 2-mile mark, Chris pulled ahead so strong, getting probably 30 yards ahead of me. It was such a strong and decisive move, and I could not respond to it. I slowed down to about 6:26 pace, feeling tired and now running basically solo, watching Chris pull ahead from me. As we rounded the bend with less than a quarter mile, I figured I’d miss my sub 20 by a little, but that this was overall a good pace. I saw Chris slow down, and then stop for a second, which was strange. She then picked it up again, but this unexpected hiccup was not normal for her. As I started to gain on her and pass her, she stopped again. I went on to win in 20:15 and Chris came in a minute later. I was worried, as I had never seen her looked that pained. She had had a problem with her inhaler and just lost it at the end. It took her a while to recover afterwards, and I felt really bad seeing her look like that. So while it was a win for me, it didn’t really feel like I earned it, mainly because Chris can kick my butt any day of the week. But a win, $100 gift certificate, congratulations from former NFL wide-receiver Donte Stallworth, still made for a good day.

Rain wasn't going to keep 1,200 runners away!
Race for Hope 5k (May 1): This was a race that’s been on my list for a long time. In 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting BethAnn Telford through the Pacers Ambassadors program. Not only is BethAnn a multi-time Boston Marathoner and Ironman finisher, she is a brain cancer survivor and pediatric warrior ambassador. Everything she puts her mind, heart, and body to, she does so with single-minded focus and determination. I'm so proud to know her. I was so proud to run on her TEAM BT Race For Hope at the Race for Hope DC 5k. The stars aligned this year, I signed up, even did a little bit of fundraising in memory of a friend (Tonya Burek Dubeansky – here is a link if you wish to contribute to this great cause). I knew that this was a massive race, with a lot of vibrant teams dedicated to this important cause. And when I say dedicated, it was pouring rain on Sunday and that did not deter many people. Jumping around, running around, trying to stay warm, I went to the start. At the start, they did a survivor walk, and nothing puts a lump in your throat like seeing so many determined survivors participating, while also know that in their absence were so many who did not make it. It was very emotional, particularly to have a friend involved, and with that spirit, we took off.
It was so cool to be so close to VP Biden and hear
him speak on such a personal topic
Similar to the week before, I pulled up to the front, this time with the goal of breaking 20 minutes. I had raced on this course just 5 weeks earlier at Scope it Out, and was hoping to better plan a tactically-smart race this time. The rain is pouring and we are running, and two girls are running alongside me, one who looks like a teenager, and one who looks fit and amazing. Sometimes you can just tell in a short glance if someone is really speedy. Yes, part of it is often the outfit, but she looked fast, and in fact, she was. The three of us ran together for about the first mile (6:30), and then they pulled ahead. I figured I would just run my race, and try to catch them, and maybe a guy or two throughout. The speedy-looking woman must’ve took off, because I could see that the teenager was within reach at the turnaround, but speedy chick was very far away. At around mile 2 (6:25 – so very close to being on point to break 20), I passed the teenage girl, offering her a few words of encouragement), and just racing for the clock. I also received a boost by all of the walkers (and there were thousands, clad in ponchos, walking in the pouring rain) who were on the other side of the course cheering as I raced toward the finish line. The home stretch is down Pennsylvania Ave, literally racing toward the White House. Not totally thrilled that a Trump building is going up next door to it, and I was glaring at it as I raced to the finish line. I ended up in second in 20:05, which I was pretty happy about. Sure, it would’ve been nice to knock off a few extra seconds, but those time goals can be fairly arbitrary. So anyways, a time is a time, and while hitting those benchmarks sound cool, it is more about the experience anyways.
But I digress. Afterwards, they announced that they had a special guest who would speak to everyone on behalf of the fight against brain cancer. It was Vice President Biden who lost his son Beau to brain cancer last year and has made it his moonshot mission to pour more money and resources into fighting cancer. His speech was so moving, and despite the pouring rain, everyone was so attentive and excited that he was there. And, it turned out that the speedy chick who beat me was not just speedy, but super speedy. Heather Hanscom is actually a formerMarine Corps Marathon winner and placed 6th in the 2004 US Olympic Trials, and and is a brain cancer survivor. Wow. So, it was a big win in the fight against brain cancer that weekend, and the Race for Hope ended up raising $2.1 million. Wow!

I thought a back-to-back weekend of racing was tiring, but a few hours later decided to go from the double to the triple. Stay tuned.