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Friday, December 2, 2016

Moving Forward

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I had to run a mile for phys ed class. (Back then we called it gym.) I wasn't a good runner.

I wasn't a runner at all, I was just a kid.

I didn't know what I was doing, how to pace myself, how long a mile was. It's likely I started way too fast and I definitely battled just to finish. I remember I was crying and afraid. I remember I was struggling to breathe. (I had recently my first inhaler for asthma due to allergies).

I remember saying "I can't…I can't...."

My phys ed teacher, a woman, at a Catholic school, mocked me.

"I can't, I can't," she said in a singsong, high-pitched voice.

She did the fake  'wah wah wah" crying noises and twisted her hands at the side of her eyes.

I went from scared about my breathing to utterly humiliated. I remember the other kids didn't have as much trouble. I don't remember anyone sticking up for me.

In seventh grade, I remember running in the auditorium that was our pathetic gym during bad weather days. I remember I was at the front of the group of girls heading into a tight turn. I remember a girl in my class cut me off, tripping me. I flew forward and put my hands out to stop myself from flying face-first into a pillar. I broke my wrist.

You'd think that these experiences would be enough to stop me from ever running.

But in ninth grade, I started at a new school and I made new friends. And after we were cut from two different sports teams, a friend encouraged me to try running track with her. With her encouragement and laughter and total lack of negative judgment, I tried. And that spring I learned how to run.

And after I learned how to run, I learned many, many things thanks to running.

Kathrine Switzer started running at age 12, a little younger than I did. She wasn't any good when she started. But she got better. And she learned a lot, too. She learned that running can make us feel powerful.

Powerful enough to stand up for ourselves when we are told we can't, when we're mocked, when we're excluded, even when they try to physically drag us of the race course.

People are going to tell us those things again, many times, for the foreseeable future.

We have to be strong. We have to be strong not just for ourselves but for our friends who don't yet know how to be strong. We have to stand up for ourselves and for others. We have to push past barriers like fear and anger and violence (because there will be all those and more) and support each other as we move forward.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Truths for Parents

We just had parent teacher conferences and are heading into Open House. Parenting is a full time job. Here's a link to a fun article I wrote about truths for parents. 

What truths do you know?

Monday, November 21, 2016

I Joined an Adult Soccer Team

On Monday, a week after the election, I played in my first ever soccer game. I've coached little kids' soccer. I've watched a lot of games. I've played with my kids in the backyard, but I've never been on a team. I've made the soccerifice.

But this fall, I joined one that my husband formed at his work. We had two practices, I bought some cleats, and then got out there. It was scary. We lost 15-2, but I had some nice touches and even had a shot on goal.

It feels a little disingenuous to write about how scared I was to get out there and play soccer when our nation is facing a truly frightening future. I invested a lot of emotion and hope in our election. I just want to reassure you I'm not writing this and forgetting about everything else.

I'm writing this to remind myself that it is scary to go outside your comfort zone, whether it's playing a sport, swimming in open water, standing up to racism and bigotry, or facing up to our own prejudices and ignorance.

We have to push ourselves to do what's right.

Playing this sport will help push me will help push me past wallowing into action.

Playing on a team, instead of always running on my own, will remind me I'm not alone.

Playing and losing will remind me that we often learn more from losing than winning.

And when it comes to playing soccer and working for a more just, equal, kind culture I still have a lot to learn.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Runners (and others) With Weak Butts: Don't Avoid the Hills!

Here's some advice for runners: When you have a weak butt, don't avoid the hills.

A few years ago when I was struggling with ongoing injuries in my left leg, pain in my lower back, hip problems, etc. I was told by a doctor that I just couldn't run up hills anymore. He told me I had to do my long runs on a track or a flat road. 

A flat road?

If you run in Pittsburgh, you'll know how ridiculous that sounds. We don't have flat roads. 

Even super flat races like the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run have little hills here and there, like right before the finish line!  

I've always had IT band issues and having kids didn't help my pelvic region. And I worried I'd be stuck running six, seven, eight miles around tracks. Ugh.

But thanks to some awesome help from coaches, trainers and functional movement specialists, I'm not. And I don't avoid hills anymore. In fact, you can usually find me doing hill repeats once a week in my neighborhood. 

Here I am breathing hard at the top of a hill right around the corner from my house. Not shown is the steeper portion that slopes away farther down the hill. My hill workout when I took this photo was 5x 1:15 minutes up hill followed by 6x :30 uphill followed by 15 minutes of strength. Yep, I worked my butt off.

The best part is, I know my butt is stronger now. When I'm really cruising and running well, I can feel those glutes kicking in and powering me upward and onward.

My coach Anne-Marie schedules hill work and calls it 'speed work in disguise.' She also schedules lots of strength training designed to strengthen my weakest muscles. I asked her to get tough and really pick the top 3-5 strength moves that benefit my weak backside. Here's what she said:
Wow - this is a good question to really narrow it down!  I think there's lots of good ones but here's what comes to mind... 

  • Step-ups 
  • Lateral Lunges 
  • Forward/Backward Lunges
  • Squats (with/without weight)

She's not joking. I do each of these moves at least once a week. I don't mind the squats and step-ups very much. I admit I'm not a fan of the lunges. But I will do them because I know they pay off when it comes to race day. 

I'm so happy I'm not stuck running on a track. I'd miss this cool carpet of fall leaves in the park by my house! 

So get out there and run those hills but don't forget to strengthen your butt. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Birthday Party Ideas in Pittsburgh

I am not a party planner. But our three boys love to celebrate their birthdays and each has their own preferred way. So I've been forced to venture out of my comfort zone in order to conjure up some birthday fun.

And yes, it's not even Christmas, but birthday party season is coming up for me. We have birthdays in January and February, and last year I started planning so late my oldest son celebrated his birthday in March!

Right now, I'm talking to my oldest about scheduling his party at Flight Trampoline Park in Bridgeville so we can try their new American Ninja Warrior Course

It never hurts to plan early. And I love some creative ideas. In the meantime, here's an overview of what we've done in the past.

Youngest Son

My youngest turns seven in January. His winter birthday does limit our party places. For his third birthday, we did enjoy a family trip to the Berkeley Hills Fire Company near our house. The tour was a lot of fun for everyone.

As he's grown, he has gathered a small group of good friends and he really likes to just schedule a playdate party at our house. He doesn't want any entertainment or activities.

His fourth birthday was a simple superhero theme. The only scheduled activities were coloring superhero pages and a failed attempt at a giant board game laid out in the house. After that, he told me that he didn't want me "bossing his friends around" at the party.

He does enjoy cooking, and did allow us to set up some cooking and food-based activities for his fifth birthday party. For his sixth birthday party, he deviated from his party at home theme and really had a great time at Bruster's Ice Cream. There was a lot of hands-on activity and some delicious ice cream…and I agreed he could have a smaller contigent of friends over afterward for his favorite play date.

Middle Son

My middle son loves an at home party, too, but he likes to go big. His birthday is in May so we have been lucky enough to keep his giant horde of friends outdoors. Two years ago he went somewhat small with a four person sleepover. He also helped make this impressive birthday cake.

But every other year it's been a bunch of kids in the backyard and in the park going crazy. He usually doesn't have an interest in a theme but this past year he started with Star Wars invitations and then closer to the party requested Harry Potter activities.

I searched Pinterest and found lots of great ideas, but we were starting a home renovation the day after his party, so I had to really modify to what I could handle.

  1. Wands. We bought some simple wooden dowels and let kids paint and decorate them outdoors.
  2. Potions. We gave each kid a mason jar and let them fill it with random kitchen ingredients like soap, flour, salt, vinegar, food coloring. It was a mess and they loved it. 
  3. Quidditch. We bought a soft playground ball and two hula hoops and played a sort of Quidditch rugby soccer. Yes, it got out of control and yes they loved it. 
  4. Capes. I bought 24 yards of very inexpensive fabric and each kid got a cape. (The oldest, as seen in the photo, declined to wear his cape.)

Oldest Son

Now the oldest is all about the activities. His fifth birthday was at the Children's Museum. For his sixth, we took his class bowling. In second grade, we took friends to Laser Storm. In third grade, he was the first kid in his group to have a party at Fun Slides, before they moved to the North Hills. In fourth grade his friends were flying high at the trampoline park.

And for his fifth grade birthday, he had an incredibly fun party at Sports and Courts. I think Sports and Courts might have been his favorite party, but anything that lets him and his friends run around and be active, he loves.

So we've had some excellent birthday parties. In 2017, I'm thinking about a party at ATA Martial Arts in Wexford for the middle, but he might prefer the video game truck followed by playing in the park.

What's really exciting is that one of our favorite summer camps, Hi-Tech Learning now offers birthday parties! They can bring Video Game Design or Minecraft Workshop to your house. I can see the all three kids wanting to have this.

The oldest really enjoyed paintball at Steeltown but his winter birthday makes activities like this tough to plan. The youngest is getting older and might like a laser storm or bowling party. I also learned that the Goldfish School offers swimming birthday parties, and that could be really fun in the middle of winter.

Art parties are pretty popular and Dots and Doodles and Katie's Clay offer those.

I think a cooking party would be a lot of fun, too, but I've never been to one. We loved our class at Yvonne's, but that's more of a small family style place. Gaynor's could be a good option.

I also know kids have had fun with parties at Highmark Stadium with the Riverhounds, but we'd have to wait until late March for the season to start.

So what's your go to birthday party idea? What have your kids loved? And what hasn't been a crazy hassle for parents?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

#imwithher. Thank you, Hillary.

We worked hard. And she won the popular vote. But that's now how our system works. And now she's not our president. I'm still in shock, but you know who is helping me handle this? Hillary. 

She stood up against one of the biggest bullies in the country. She spoke up. She was brave and kind and strong and inspiring. 

She hasn't been rude once. She even offered to help

And I will try to do the same. 

If you didn't watch her concession speech, you should watch it. 

If you don't want to watch it, read it. 

And when you're done crying, stand up and take action. 

If you need help with a social justice issue, please let me know. Because #imwithher, but I'm with you, too. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Run the EQT Pittsburgh 10 2016

This Sunday, I will run the EQT Pittsburgh 10 Miler . I ran it last year and was basically at my goal time of 90 minutes. I actually finished in 1:30:35, so that's pretty darn close. I started faster than my goal asked me to, and yes I struggled with those last two miles. But I told myself those fast early miles put some time in the bank for me. 

I really like the ten mile distance. I like how easy it is to calculate pace from your finish time. I like the 10K and 5K, but they have a .2 and a .1 tacked on to the finish that throws off your pace calculations a little. But the 10 mile is nice and even! 

My first ten mile race was the Annapolis Ten was back in 1998. And while cleaning out the basement, I found an old training log from the week before the race!! 

Yes, this training log is from 1998, almost 20 years ago. And I did a 400s workout a few days before the race. Check out those times! 89, 89, 89, 89, 91 and 89! Not too bad. Is it weird or exciting to think that I've been doing 400 workouts for over 20 years?

I ran a 1:26:57 in the 1998 Annapolis 10. That would be a sweet finish time for a ten miler for me now. It's not my best 10 mile time, but it's close, about 2 min off. My best 10 mile time was from the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in 2012.

Here's a 400 workout I did last week. As you can see, the interval times are little slower than 20 years ago.

I didn't do these on a track, I actually did them on the street in front of my house. My odd number intervals (1, 3, 5) were all mostly downhill and I ran them in 1:53, 1:50, and 1:48. The even number intervals were uphill. Not a crazy uphill but a definite slope and they were 1:56 and 1:55.

Honestly I'm pretty proud of those times. And I don't mind doing intervals on the roads because I'm racing on the roads. I need to be ready to tackle hills during the race.

Coach Anne-Marie encourages me to have several levels of goals so I can celebrate something even if other things go wrong. So since I've been suffering from vertigo caused by labrynthitis over the past several weeks, my most basic goal is to feel well enough to start and finish the race. My next level goal is to run with the 9:00 min/mile pace group and finish around 90 min. And then my stretch goal is to run with the 9:00 min/mile pace group and if I feel good, speed up a little on the last few miles and finish faster than 90 min.

The race is in a few days, so wish me luck if you see me out on the roads!