Thursday, February 25, 2010


Disclaimer: This post has no main point, but I just felt like I needed to write.

You ever get that feeling of restlessness?  You know when you are kind of anxious, excited, mind racing a hundred miles an hour and you can't concentrate on the task(s) you need to do to make your life just a little bit easier.  I am getting that lately, a lot.  I get all these ideas in my head and life just seems to open up with infinite possibilities that can take me in multiple directions at the same time but I am just not sure which direction to go.

Right now life is good.  Money is a little tight, but getting better as the weeks go on.  My funding is still in limbo for next year as I wait to hear from the Ford Foundation on my dissertation write up grant, but I have 2 others in the UK pending as well that would help me in conducting a social media project on community perceptions of race, class, nation, and identity.  I have some contacts, a young Afro-Caribbean British guy from St. Pauls that is active with youth in the community and uses video as a medium to address issues and concerns amongst young people.  Everything from employment and violence to issues of skin lightening and hair.  On top of that his group, Creative Expressions, created a documentary on the history of Jamaicans in St. Pauls, Bristol - a community with a long vibrant history and a stones throw from my place of work.

I guess I am just excited to see my ideas, ones that I have been afraid to pursue in the past but am gaining confidence with and in my abilities to enact them, slowly come to life.  It makes it hard to concentrate as my once "well planned out" future is now looking more and more uncertain.  What will I do when I am done?  I have no idea, all I can do is keep on working towards the first (and not end) goal of completing the dissertation and getting my Ph.D May 2011.  I guess that in itself is a change because I always saw that as the end goal - but I'll won't even be 30 so why did I "stop" my life at the time?

 I have been reading a bit about the split and antagonism between intellectualism and activism.  I don't know if I can just "be" and intellect and not advocate for a cause or group of people.  The disconnect between the communities academics study, and the use of that data for academic gain is to much - how can I go into a community, take from it, its ideas, thoughts, concerns, joys, fears, happiness, sadness, and not contribute back?  That is something I had been thinking about more and more as I get deeper into the "thick description" of ethnographic fieldwork.  My "informants" are well versed in their rights, opinions, and placement in society and do need an academic coming in and "translating" their subjects for a different audience.  Hmmm, but then I see myself as a medium through which different ideas can be put forth in a society dominated by select voices.  I don't know and I guess that is point - I have to figure that out as I continue with the fieldwork - reading, talking, thinking, laughing, sharing, analyzing, writing in the end it will come together and be the start of a career in something.  But for now I am trying to channel this energy I seem to have obtained and finish one task that will make my life easier - a talk I am to do in 3 weeks times in London.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lessons Learned from a Trail Race

I ran a 10.4K trail race yesterday.  Well, let me rephrase that...I SIGNED UP for a 10.4K trail race yesterday.  I only finished the 5.4K part of it  - 1 loop.  The race was hard, pure and simple.  A trail run through snow and mud with the first half on an incline, the second half a decline with 2 loops to get the 10.4K (or 6.4 miles) done.

As I began the race I soon realised I was out of my element.  The people around me all had various running club t-shirts and tank tops on.  Some wore trail shoes, but most trainers.  All looked like they knew what to expect and how to run the race.  I on the other hand wanted to throw up, get back in the car, and try again another day.  As the 10.4K began and I made it to the first kilometer mark it set in that I wasn't going to be able to do both loops and would be happy just making it around once in one piece.  With no one around me (unless they were part of the 15.4 K heat and were passing me on all sides) I tried to just take in the scenery - a beautiful forest with tress shooting up to the sky, little streams on all sides trickling down from the numerous larger lakes, signs warning of wild boar and horse riders, and me in the middle of it all huffing and puffing like a 40 year-old beer bellied man (not that anything is wrong with 40 year old beer bellied men mind you).

When I made my way back after just one lap I wanted to cry - pure and simple.  My right hip was on fire, feeling as if someone was sticking a hot needle into the the hip joint over and over again.  My right knee completely throbbing, being pulled far to laterally to compensate for my tight IT band and weak inner thigh muscles.  And, let's be real, my ego a bit bruised once again as I had to admit defeat.  But, all was not lost as, on the 50 minute ride home, I realised I learn a great deal from this race.

1) It's hard making races into training runs:  I intended to have this race be another training run.  My half marathon schedule had a 10-K race planned for week 10 of training.  But, since there were no races in the area at that time I had to move it up by 2 weeks.  This was not a good idea overall because I have not run a 7 or 8 miler yet - mileage that would have helped me on this 6.4 mile run on trails.  But, even if I had run this race at the "right time" is hard to make a race into a training run once  you are in the race itself.  Trying to run a slow easy pace to get the miles in is counterintuitive when everyone else around you is geared out and looking to break PBs, or get close to a PB.  Once I took off from the starting line the distance between me and the first runner in front of me was at least 45seconds to a 1 minute - a large spread that I never decreased.

2) Trail running is 10 times harder than road running:  Well this is kind of common sense but I really had no idea the effort needed to get the legs going on uneven snowy AND rocky AND muddy ground.  After 1 K my legs were already growing heavy as they were trying to get use to the more lateral motions needed to maintain an upright posture on the run. You can't use times from road races and try to make that time on the trail.  Plus 6 miles on the road is a hell of a lot easier than 6 miles on the trails.  I underestimated the amount of energy I would need to make it around this loop twice, which leads me to my next point...

3) When running trails, trail shoes are a good idea:  I had on my road shoes - a pair of neutral Asics gel shoes that I intend to run my half marathon in. I rotate between them and a pair of Brookes.  A good solid shoe with moderate cushioning, my Asics serve me well on the road.  But on a trail the thick sole and lack of traction left me sliding a bit and skidding alot.  The uneven surface made the thick sole more of a hazard - trail runners are low to the ground and highly flexible allowing the foot to move and breath and allowing you to feel where you are going.  Strong ankles and glutes are a plus then once you get more on the trails, but for me my sciatica and weaken right glutial muscles were MAD AT ME the more I ran, especially up hill, making my shoes more of a hinderance.  But, the uneven, snowy, slippery terrain did force me to make bigger strides on the downhill grades making me realize...

4) I can go faster by taking larger steps:  (This really sounds like commonsense, but as my Dad would tell me not all sense is common).  When I was hiking up Snowdonia on New Years Day I was out of my comfort zone.  On the side of the mountain, exposed all around with snow as a far as the eye could see I froze up.  On the descent my fear hindered my speed, making the downhill portion a painful experience with my baby steps and inflamed right hip.  I was afraid of taking larger strides, imagining my tall ass plummeting to my death on the side of the mountain.  During the run, to my surprise, I took bigger strides unaware and unafraid of my potential of falling face first in the snow and mud.  Although slow, I was focused on making it around the damn loop before 40 minutes - a slow enough time as it was.  In doing so, especially on the downhill, I opened up my stride and flew (well relatively speaking).  I could feel my legs turning over in a steady manner, my feet connecting with the earth in a steady rhythm, my breath keeping a nice beat.  In those brief moments I felt like a proper runner and the fear left my body.  Then the glory would fade as I realised I was being lapped again and again, which then made me realize...

5) You can't compare yourself to other people, especially to your partner: This is really a life lesson that I have to tell myself everyday, over and over again.  I can only do what my body and mind allow me to do.  Right now I am getting back into running after cheating on it with food and drink for over a year. As such running is making me earn back every last bit of our relationship.  Standing on that start line I knew I was out of my element - no where near as fast or experienced at the people around me, including Mike (who by the way ended up 3rd overall for the 5.4K).  I let that psych me out just as I had hiking in Snowdonia a few weeks back.  I can't compare myself to someone else and then expect to go out and run the best race I can run.  It is not about competing against someone else, but rather competing against myself to see where I can take my mind and body.  I realised that slowly as I came to the finish line and wanted to cry.  I knew that I had tested my limits for that day, but there there were many more days to come.  Which leaves to me my next point.

6) It's OK to walk: I had it in my mind that runners run and so there is no room for walk breaks during a run.  Well, that is kind of true if you have been running for years, have the mileage under your belt, been trained to run different events, AND know the differences between tempo, speed, race-pace, and endurance runs and incorporate them all in a weeks training.  But, when you are coming back in to the sport, or starting off for the first time, you have to get your body use to the pounding and damage you will be doing to it.  As I am heavier runner still working on loosing the body fat AND body weight with a slight sciatica problem I have to get use to incorporating walks into my longer runs until my body can handle the higher mileage.  That requires me not being self-conscious and taking the walking breaks.  During the trail run I took more walk breaks than usual, getting my legs use to the different terrain, and I didn't like doing it afraid of what others were thinking of me when they passed me.  But, like I say in point 5, I can't compare myself to others and so need to tak the walk breaks until my body both gets use to the mileage and becomes lighter over time.  Overall...

7) I like trails more: Although harder, dirtier, slower, and more unpredictable I really like being in the forest and on the trails.  I can't get too down on myself.  I ran this 3.4 miles in the same time I ran the 3.4 miler at last weeks race showing me that I am actually getting a little faster (even with walk breaks)!  But I like being in nature and seeing how my body reacts to the obstacles and challenge nature gives me.  Mike and I plan to buy a pair of trail runners and after my half marathon start working on trail running and races.  Who knows, I am turning into a runner after all...

Thursday, February 18, 2010


For those that have not noticed I decided to give my blog a little face lift.  I never really liked the colors or layout of my blog, but couldn't be bothered to redecorate.  Well, in the name of procrastination (I am suppose to be writing a talk on my theoretical framework for my dissertation for a conference at London School of Economics next month right now) I decided now was the best time for a change.  Although not quite there yet I do feel this is more my style.  So, instead of reading about DuBois and double consciousness and how I can relate that to ethnic and national identity in Britain I will prowl the web looking at templates and learning more about HTML formatting.  Damn I can't wait till this talk to be over!

Oh and give me feedback on the new look if you don't mind!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

5K for Valentines Day

I am a runner - I may be slow, knock-kneed, a bit tall, and "stocky" for the running world, but I am a runner.  As the weeks go on I am slowly (and I mean slooooowly) gaining confidence in that assertion.  To put my running skills to the test Mike and I signed up for a 5K run the day before Valentine's Day in Cardiff, Wales.

Overall the race was OK.  I never got into a rhythm so felt tired and heavy.  We left Bristol in plenty of time to find the race, get parking, and warm up.  But, construction in the area led to a change in the start/finish line.  I forgot to print off the latest race map so we had to rely on our memories to figure out where to park.  That would have been fine if there had not also been a HUGE rugby match between Wales and Scotland going on the same day in the same location, across the street from the park.  This just made us more confused as to where to go.  But I did enjoy seeing the Scottish fans decked out in amazing kilts and hats, sporting their love of the game and their team (and for some reason I find a man in a kilt very sexy...) 

 But we found the parking lot, and a map of the new start/finish line next to the pay station made my nerves calm down for a while.  That is until I realized we were walking on the other side of the river, away from the start.  With only 20 minutes till kick off I was growing cranky, afraid that we were going to miss the whole 5K.  Mike stopped another runner who we thought knew where to go - turns out she is Canadian and also a bit lost (of course we find the one Canadian in Cardiff)!  Needless to say, after a few more inquiries we were pointed in the right direction - to bad the parking lot was a mile way from the start of the race .  Who in the hell plans a race with the parking and start line a third of the distance of the whole race?   So our "warm-up" became a quick jog to the start line.   
Once there we had 2 minutes till the start.  My 1 hour free time had quickly dissipated to 2 minutes.  I don't know why but I was annoyed, agitated, and just wanted to sit down and pout like a little kid.  IT'S NOT FAIR!!!  But I got over it once the gun sounded and people took off.  The 5K "fun run" of this larger 10K race was un-chipped meaning I was not going to get an "official" time so I started my stop watch and tried to just take the run as a practice race to test my pacing and see if the illness I suffered from over the past week was going to affect my performance.

It was a nice sunny day  - windy as hell, but nice nonetheless.  I just never got into the run.  It was strange but I could feel the affects of being sick off and on for 3 weeks in my legs.  They...just...wouldn't...GO.  I was in a pack by myself with runners 30 seconds ahead of me and 30 second behind me.  I was hoping for someone near me that I could try to keep up with, using them as my pacer and, if big enough, as a wind guard.  But as luck would have it I was by myself.  After about 27 minutes I had to take a 1 minute walk break.  I couldn't see the finish line and thought I must really be slow.  By 30 minutes I was confused, knowing that the finish must be somewhere close, as there was no way I was running anything slower than 12 minutes/mile.  Then it dawned on me - the damn course was a lot longer than 5 kilometers!  At the 5K point the signs had us turning back to the finish line, another 0.5 miles away!  Including 2 minutes of walking I clocked a 34:58 minute 5K, but 40:30 minute overall race.  I was ok with the 5K time as I just wanted to get my time between 11:20 and 11:30 minutes/mile - a pace I want for the half marathon and one in which I know I can finish the race.  But damn, it would have been nice to know AHEAD OF TIME that the 5K race was actually a bit longer than that.  

As I crossed the finish line I saw Mike there holding a red gift bag.  I came up to him and asked if we got a prize at the end of the race and he looked back at me, smiled, and said "No, I won the 5K and so got a bottle of wine!"  At that moment all the annoyance, tiredness, and fatigue left my body and I gave him a big ass smile.  With a time of 27:36 Mike had managed to cross the finish line before any other 5K fun runner.  Even though I was disappointed a little with my time and the organization of the race, I was so happy for Mike that all that went away.  So I come back to where I started and say again that I am runner.  Although I am slow, knock-kneed, a bit tall and tad "stocky" I can run with the best of them (even if it is a few minutes to the rear).  But Mike gave me some perspective in his victory.  A volunteer made a comment to Mike as he stood waiting for me to cross the finish line.  The guy was excited that Mike won cause, as he put it, "it's nice to see a bigger guy with speed winning these things."  Mike does not have a "typical" runners body.  Although he is leaning out Mike still carries alot of muscle which adds more weight to his body and should, theoretically, slow him down.  Yet it doesn't - the muscle actually gives him endurance and power to kick through a race, making him a serious competitor in sprint races (and I am also a little bias cause I kind of like him).  When I see Mike running with other skinny medal winning runners I think to myself, "self I can run a little bit faster."  So next race I am going to try to do just that and not place myself in this box that says tall, stocky, knock-kneed people can't be good runners.  I'll let you know if it works:)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Health while running

I have 6 weeks until I go to Prague, put my foot on the race line, and attempt to run 13.1 miles in 2 1/2 hours (my goal).  Now, over the past few years I have wanted to do a long distance race.  Don't ask me why but it has always been a dream of mine to compete in endurance races.  To test the limits of my mind and body.  For so long I participated in team sports with games every weekend and practice everyday - a constant state of competition, against other teams in the hopes of a victory and against teammates to keep a spot on the court rather  than the bench.

As I approach 30 years of age in a year I realize I am tired of competition.  I have to compete for funding to do my research, compete to gain and then retain a job.  I don't want or need to compete in sports as well, I just need to push my own limits and "compete" against myself.  What can I do?  How far can I go?  Will my body hold out?  Call me crazy but this excites me much more now than lacing up my gym shoes and stepping onto the volleyball court and proving myself to others.  I miss the sport, don't get me wrong, but my mind and body are just not there anymore.  At this time I find the lure of half marathons, marathons, trial races, ultra races, mountain hiking exciting - I can't suppress the smile as I think about this.

But (and there is always a but) it also seems as if my fear and apprehension is also impeding these dreams.  A few years back I began to train for a marathon while studying in Baton Rouge for my Masters.  I  had begun to focus on my own personal health, loosing weight and taking up running.  But as I began to slowly increase my miles my fears played up and I became "sick" - my body slowly taking on aches and pains that "forced" me to stop running.  Stop I did.  Then in the second year of my Ph.D I began to run again, signing up for 5Ks whenever I could.  I was lean, mean, and tan (well until the winter came) - but again I became "sick."  After a trip to Guatemala I came back and found out I had a parasite that left my stomach in knots - not pretty but not really life threatening (just the runs from time to time).  The doctor said I could run, just not long distances because of the stomach and the fact that my body was not "made" to run.  My knock-knees and tall frame were seen as abnormal for the running world so I gave in and stopped.

Now, I am down 10% body fat and 2 stones (about 28 lbs).  I have been running since September along with weight/bodyweight training and rehabilitation to strengthen my core.  Overall I feel stronger, look better and am enjoying my life.  But (and there is always a but) it seems as if a part of me is trying to sabotage my own goals.  For the last 3 weeks my body is rebelling - first random bruises on my legs and excessive tiredness, then an increased resting heart rate (from 49 to 79), then a sore throat and sore ears with a cough (that likes to kick in when I am sleeping), and today nausea, upset stomach, diarrhoea, and achy joints (I sound like a damn Pepto Bismol commercial).

 It could be I am overtraining or that my drop in body fat is leaving my immune system weak during the winter.  Who knows, but what I do know is that I don't plan to give in.  I paid the entrance fee, bought the plane tickets, booked the hotel, have the training journal with a 12 week plan, and have the drive to finish.  So I guess there is still a competitive edge in me - I can't stand to give up on something that I told everyone I am doing.  Therefore, I'll keep posting on this blog, on Facebook, in emails, on the phone and in person that on March 27, 2010 I will be running a half marathon in Prague with the goal of finishing and proving to myself that I am a runner.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Yesterday I attended a workshop in London centered around research focusing on mixedness.  The aim was to gather Ph.D students and junior faculty and have this group discuss, both in a large group and smaller seminar groups, methodological and conceptual issues that arise when conducting research around mixedness.  Needless to say the workshop left me tired, annoyed, pissed off (rather than pissed on), and with a headache that only a nice cup of tea, a warm chair, trash tv, and some sweatpants could cure.

The concept of mixedness is a troubling one to define - but a definition or mutual starting point is necessary in order to have engaging and meaningful conversation(s).  That was the first problem with this workshop - it was open to various disciplines with numerous definitions and focuses (or none at all), with a lack of focus on how to talk about research that uses mixedness as a conceptual tool.  Whereas I examine how mixedness is used in the recreation of British national identity, and the implications that has on the ground with ethnic/racial identities, others at the conference were interested in motherhood experiences and having mixed race children, single mothers with mixed race children, mixed disabilities households, mixed religious households, psycho-social and clinical experiences of mixedness, and to top it all off one woman was interested in examining the mixing of paint and other artistic materials in the creation of expression (yes, she was serious and at this point even my ass was hurting).

Now, I can handle this to a certain extent.  But what really troubled me was the presentation given after lunch and before we were to split up in our small groups once again by an older mixed race sociologist/clinical psychologist on the pain of being and claiming a mixed race identity.  Her 20 minute talk outlined the stuggles, negative experiences, confusion, societal disconnect, and overall pain and suffering of individuals who are mixed race black/white.  In her conceptualisation of mixedness she focused on the horrors of black/white mixed race experience, her own pain evident in her shaking hands and strained voice, drawing on sociological and clinical theories and research that back-up and support this dominate paradigm.  As I sat there listening to her dismantle the validity of self-identifying as mixed race because it undermines the unity and strength of blackness I felt me chest grow tight and may hand form into a fist.  

Does mixedness automatically mean mixed race and mixed race experiences?  Why, why do we have to rehash this same old tired story of pain and confusion when we talk about mixed race?  Why does mixed race mean only black and white? Why if you are of this mixture must you identify as black or be seen as a race traitor?  More importantly - why is there no interrogation and/or reformulation of blackness that allows a place and space for mixedness in its construction (along with homosexuality, femininity, rural life and a host of other aspects of identity)?  

Growing up in the far South side of Chicago with a white stay at home father and working black mother I saw my difference as part of who I was.  But in reality my mixedness was, and is, only one aspect of who I am - as it is with anyone else.  Identity is a tricky complex thing that no one has a clear head around.  So to hear a mixed race woman who identifies strongly as black because of her inaccessibility to mixedness as a identity is sad - but it is not the only story of mixed black/white individuals, and that lens in not the only way in which to understand, interrogate, research, and disseminate mixed race experiences.  The narrative of the tragic mulatto must change if we want to expand research and really engage with current processes of racial identity.  Yesterday's workshop made that very clear -  so I can say confidently that I identify as mixed race and black - the two are not mutually exclusive and they can and should share the same space, especially within the context of America (that is a whole other discussion for another time).

Within research we need a rigorous interrogation and examination of the various ways in which the concept of mixedness is used - not just dismiss the issue as unimportant or make the concept so big that it includes everything from identity to paint.  So I hold onto mixedness as a conceptual tool and I seek to understand how the state (the literal government and not some postmodernist idea that says you can't define it cause if you cant define it why look at it?) uses mixedness as a political tool to re-imagine and redefine Britishness in order to make Britain a fair equal society while at the same time legislation is making many within black and ethnic minority communities feel more excluded.  So, when focusing on mixed race experiences please let us move the conversation on, allowing space for issue of pain when needed but also of acceptance and just the everyday.