Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pictures from Prague

Here is a link to our pictures from Prague.  Enjoy!


I ran my first half marathon on Saturday March 27, 2010 in the beautiful city of Prague under partly clouded skies in a sea of 7500 other people.  I ran that half marathon in memory of dad who passed on March 29, 2006.  In a time of 2:52:11, I crossed the finished line tired, thirsty, hungry, and proud.  Proud that I did my training, proud that I made it to the starting line, and proud that I never let negative thoughts cross my mind as I ran in the back for the whole race.

My nerves where on edge before the run.  The day of I didn't want to eat - my stomach kept churning and my bathroom breaks became much more frequent.  I managed to eat a bagel and a banana, loading up my pockets with my trusty GO Gels and my Ipod.  With my water bottle in one hand, my Canadian buff on my head (thanks Zoe!), and my race number pinned to the front I set off, finally crossing the start line 5 minutes after the gun went off.

Surprisingly I felt good for the first part.  I ran conservatively for the first 5K, trying to keep a steady pace.  For the next 10K my pace picked up a bit.  I ran next to various people from time to time, but for the most part I was by myself watching others in front of me or passing them to the side.  As I passed each the kilometer marker my confidence kind of grew.  I was actually running a half marathon!

Then...I hit...the wall.  Or something like it.  At 15 K my right leg started to give.  My hamstrings had enough, and they were telling me in a powerful way to stop.  I hadn't run longer than 10 miles so when I hit that marker and kept going my lower body started to rebel.  My dreams of a time of 2:30 went as my run turned into a run-walk which then turned into straight walking for at least 1 1/2 miles.  The people around me were also walking, all of us just trying to finish before the emergency vehicles behind us told us to stop.

But, I never had any negative thoughts - I just kept moving.  When I saw the 20K marker I knew I was almost there so I made my legs go faster, getting back up to running pace.  As I crossed the bridge I saw the crowds cheering and the blue carpet and my legs became faster.  I was actually going to finish a half marathon, I told myself.  As I crossed the finish line Mike was there with his trusty camera snapping the oh so not flattering pictures of a face twisted in exhaustion and pain.  But, I was so happy to see him there.  I fell into his arms and said "I am never doing that shit again."

Here I am, 2 days later and still a bit sore.  My knees are a bit shattered and the right IT band is not happy, but I did it.  And, I plan to do it again in October somewhere in Europe.  That race was one of the first times  I can remember where I was just being.  Although I had my Ipod in, after the first hour I was barely listening to the music. Instead, I was taking it all in - the city, the cobbled stones (which I might add are a bitch to run on), the other runners.  I was just there and it was nice: no thoughts of papers, articles, readings, moving, professors.  It was just me, my body and mind working together to get through the race.  At kilometer 12 I remember looking up into the cloudy sky and asking my dad to help me get through the race and it hit me that running is saving me.  Running is saving me from a life of worry and sadness, from anger and self hating.  When I run I feel alive, and I feel as if I know why I live.  I am not fast now and I don't really need to be (although I will try to improve on that time cause damn it was a long time to be out there on a flat course), but I like the feeling of going out there for a long time and seeing what the body can do.   This body is made to move.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


It's been 12 weeks since I started my training program for the half marathon in Prague.  On Saturday morning, March 27th, at 11 am my foot will be on the starting line (well in the back of the pack) and I will run my first 13.1 mile race.  A flat fast 1 loop course in the heart of the city around the river, the race is suppose to have bands/music every kilometer and beer at the end (what more can you ask for).  But, as every cliche sport movies, or your old high school/college coach tells you, it is not about the destination but the journey.

My journey involved a 12 week training schedule that I started January 4, 2010.  Beforehand I was working out, trying to shed some weight from my frame and build a decent mileage base.  But once January hit I knew I had to get on a training program and then, well, stick to the damn thing until race day appeared.  I found a schedule that was do-able for a scared first timer whose longest run ever was a 4 miler, once, when I was "attempting" to train for a half marathon right before I left for a 3 week holiday to Thailand.  Needless to say a bad case of travellers diarrhoea on the way back and a long, hard, cold Michigan winter nipped that idea before it ever really got started.

But this time I told myself that I just had to suck it up and do the damn thing.  So run I did, along with the strength training and rehab on my hip.  With each mile I put in I discovered that I cold actually run!  It is an amazing feeling to know that the thing I see "other people who are smaller/faster/younger/older than me" do I can also do myself.

Through running I rediscovered my non academic side - the side of me that just likes to be active for active sakes.  To be sweaty and so physically exhausted that by 8pm on a Saturday night my bed looks a hell of a lot more enticing then a pub/bar, nice clothes, or makeup - and I don't feel "lame" or bad about it.  I found a new spark in life, even through the stress of fieldwork, reports, talks, and now the dreaded data analysis and write-up phase to come.  And you know what...it's kind of nice. It's nice to know that I can release from stress by putting on my trainers and going outside for a run or hike rather than sitting in a pub or in my living room drowning my sorrows in a pint, seeing the pounds pack on around my waist, and then having some more cause I feel overweight.

Now, I am not saying all is perfect in the little land of England - but it is stable and I like that.  Writing down in my running journal every run gave me a sense of accomplishment and as the weeks went on I could see my mileage slowly improving along with my times.  My feet felt lighter and my waist smaller.  The puffiness in my face began to disappear, wiping away the relics of a year of bad habits.  I found out over these past 12 weeks that I can start, and now finish, a running schedule.

So after Saturday I'll enjoy 2 days more in Prague, come back to Bristol and move house, prepare an article and a talk, and find another race to run.  Keeping the balance between career and personal life is hard at best, but I realised with the right training plan in hand all things can be possible.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Standing in front of 30 distinguished academics, researchers, community organisers, and advanced doctoral students at London School of Economics my stomach churned and my back began to sweat.  I took a deep breath and gave a short introduction, rambling on about the conceptual genesis of my dissertation project.  Looking down at my written out talk I took a seat, unable to keep myself upright as my nerves went into overdrive.   As I plunged into the paper my mouth picked up speed.  My mind kept telling me to slow down and draw out the concepts, but my mouth said "F that" and kept on going, trying to make the talk end sooner rather than later.  Then, the talk ends...I let out a breathe...and the questions begin.  5 actually, not to many but just enough to clarify points I missed.

Claps ensue and I am done, but why am I still shaking?  The organiser comes up to me and congratulates me on the talk, saying it was informative and she wanted me to go last in order to end the seminar with a bang.  I say "thanks" and then take a seat next to my friend and mentor in the UK.  She looks up and I start to cry.  Yea, I said it, cry.  Not that sobbing cry, but tears come out as all the emotions from the past month of writing, conceptualising, reading, and stressing spill out in one moment.  My friend looks at me and says "Oh, the talk was good, you just talked fast that was all but the content was good."  I look back and choke "I can't do this man, I am not cut out for this."

The next day I was fine.  After talking with my friend and then my UK advisor/sponsor I realised the talk was actually good, it was just spoken to fast and the material was to dense for a 20 minute talk.  But what really came to light was my lack of confidence in my talk, and that showed in my nerves and fast speech.  The 5 other presenters all had an aire about them - they spoke with an assurance in the voice that the material they were presenting was accurate and their interpretations valid.  Even if criticism was raised they stood their ground and delivered.  I, on the other hand, didn't have the assurance or confidence in my material - it was new and I was working through difference strands of thought in order to understand the complex processes of nation-making, racial/ethnic identity, and citizenship in Britain.

It's all about confidence when it comes down to anything.  I have to know that I CAN do something and do it WELL.  This translates into other aspects of my life - running, hiking, teaching.  From this talk I learned that I lack a little bit of confidence in my intellectual abilities.  But, if I don't believe in myself than how am I to expect others to believe in me?  It's interesting, at one hand I research and teach about the influence and psychological impact institutional racism and inequality have on people's lives and on the other hand I buy into it as I see myself as "less than" my more privileged colleagues.  It's a nasty cycle that takes time to work through.  So the power of positive thought is a privilege many of us have not learned.  We see ourselves in these negative terms that then hinders our ability to progress in ways we wish we could.  I forgot that when I prepared this talk, falling victim to self doubt that cripples the best.

I speak again in May at London Southbank University around the same issues and am in the process of writing a working paper to publish online that draws out these complex processes that are in my head.  As I prepare these pieces of work I need to find that confidence and believe in my abilities.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Sometimes you just have to give thanks.  I am not religious per se, but I am getting more and more into a spiritual place in order to deal with, and understand, this thing we call life.  I use to be angry - angry at life for putting me in a body I despised, angry at my mom for being so cold towards me, angry at my dad for not doing anything about my mom, angry at my finances and how hard I had to push to just make ends meet in college and graduate school while others around me had all the support they need.  Then, one day I got tired of being angry, being sad, being depressed, and constantly hiding that I was those things through fake smiles and overextending myself to self absorbed others.  I don't really know when it happened, but it happened slowly over time sometime after my father passed.  It is still happening, everyday as I learn how to turn my anger and disappointment into gratitude.  I am learning how to be thankful.

So what am I thankful for?  I am thankful I can walk, and now run.  My lower back injury left me bedridden 9 years ago in Ireland the third week I was there.  I couldn't stand or sit for seven full days.  Then  one day I was able to walk, although the compromise was a lack of feeling in my right leg.  Over the years doctors told me I wouldn't be able to run - the injury was permanent and I may never get feeling back.  But, now my base runs are 4 miles with longer runs steadily going up (I have a 9 miler this Saturday).

I am thankful that I don't take no for an answer.  Yes, the road I had to travel to get to where I am now was a long one, full of mental anguish and constant battles to be taken seriously as a researcher and anthropologist.  But it was that fight, that journey, that has allowed me success today.  Without the fights, tears, setbacks and re-workings I wouldn't be able to finish this degree.  I found out how much I wanted to get my doctorate with every grant rejection letter and snide comment from fellow graduate students and faculty.  Also, by not accepting no for an answer I am learning that my body can do things I only dreamed of a year ago.  For that I am thankful.

I am also thankful for my mother.  We have a rough relationship to say to least.  I did not have the rebellious teenage years one sees in movies or hears about on talk shows because, simply put,  I wasn't allowed.  I grew up fast as I had to learn to help manage a full house and go to school.  As the oldest it was my responsibility to help raise the 4 younger kids, clean the house everyday, and then obtain perfect grades in school. I was to be the first in my family to go to college and finish, period.  There was no room for discussion or back-talk.  When my father had a stroke when I was 16 and my mom an emergency hysterectomy and 2 knee replacements a few months later I had to run the house.  Sports became the one and only outlet I was allowed to indulge in.

College was my escape and I was able to start to figure out who I was outside of my family and my mother's gaze.  Yet, when my father died old habits came back and my mother went crazy (to put it nicely).  I was now the spawn of the devil, an insolent child that didn't help enough for, after all, that was my role as the oldest.  This time I had a voice and I could speak up, respectfully of course, and speak up I did.  We went weeks without talking.  All I wanted was a mother and I think my mother just wanted her oldest daughter.  When I moved to England something happened - my mom started to become a mom.  Since November we have been going well, with only a few ups and downs.  I have come to be thankful of what my mom went through supporting 5 kids and my dad and what she is doing now to make sure I am ok in a new country.  So I am thankful for her, for without that experience growing up I don't think I would have been mature enough to go to college, finish, and continue on.
Lastly, I am thankful to just be alive.  Running has brought that feeling back to me - something I let slip far to often in the past.  To walk outside, no matter the weather, look around, put on my headphones and feel my feet move from underneath me in a rhythmic manner.  Breathing in the cool air I can't help but smile and just be thankful to have seen another day.

So, what are you thankful for?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Music and Memories

I run to music - I use it to pace myself and to take my mind of the pain.  So, my IPod has become an essential piece of my running kit (along with the compression pants, water bottles, and food).  With the mileage increasing I am finding it necessary to put more and different music on it to keep the runs interesting and my mind guessing about what song will be next.

Last night I decided to update the play list so went searching on ITunes for more jams.  To be honest, music right now kind of sucks - it all sounds the same no matter what genre you go under and the lyrics are less than motivating or inspiring (well, the new Maxwell and Anthony Hamilton are damn fine pieces of work and I have to admit I am a Lady Gaga fan - don't hate).  So I started to type in artists I use to listen to back when buying a CD was cool and one of those artists was Wynonna Judd.  Going through the songs I came across That Was Yesterday from her 1993 Tell Me Why album.  I downloaded the song and put it on my country play list.

Today, about 4 miles into my run the song came on and as her powerful, soulful, country voice went through the song I suddenly had a flashback to Christmas morning circa 1993 or 1994.  My dad had surprised me by getting me a new CD player and 3 (yes 3) CDs!  A big deal at that time I was excited as I could finally say I had a CD player. The 3 CDs were a compilation of the Beatles, Billy Ray Cyrus' Some Gave All and Wynonna Judds' Tell Me Why album.  I didn't care for the Beatles that much but I played that Wynonna Judd CD over and over again, soaking in her voice and wishing I could belt it out like her.

Although I grew up on the Far Southside of Chicago everyday going to school in my dad's FORD (Fix Or Repair Daily as he told me on more than one occasion) van we would listen 99.5 US99 - the country station.  So my love of country grew at an early age as my dad would tell me about growing up in Southern Illinois and then moving to Oklahoma for a while.  I loved it and I loved him so I associated (and still do) country music with my dad.  Today, as I continued on in my run a smile crept upon my face as these memories flooded back into my mind.  It's amazing how music can bring back memories, both good and bad.  I'll keep this song on my IPod (and keep on running) and hold onto it as another memory of a man I miss everyday.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Thoughts on the road

I run to clear my mind.  I run to strengthen my body and mind.  I run to just get away from it all, from the expectations of school, others, even myself.  I run even when it doesn't feel good because I know in the end it will feel great.  Every time I run I learn more and more about myself, both the good and the bad.  As I love to put things in lists below I lay out a few of the lessons learned on today's 4 mile tempo run at The Downs.

1) It's not a good idea to eat spaghetti right before a run:  Now I realize why people carb load the night BEFORE a run.  I wasn't intending on trying to carb load before a run but I was hungry and the pasta was cooked.  It tasted good going down but man after mile 1 my stomach was rebelling as a nice cramp made its way right in the center of my midsection making the run a painful one for the first 20 minutes.

2) Sciatica sucks: Today was actually suppose to be my 8 mile slow run and tomorrow a 4 mile tempo run but after mile 2 (once the stomach stop rebelling) the hip and knee on the right side just had to kick in.  A warm burning sensation made its way from my right glute down the lateral side of my leg and wrapping around the knee, continuing on down the lateral side of the calf and ending at the toes (the picture is a great representation of this).  With every step the pain became greater, but with every step my mind grew stronger, cancelling out one another long enough for me to finish the first loop.  As I began to worry about not being able to run 13.1 miles I remembered that just a week before my 5 mile tempo and 7 mile endurance run went well, reminding me that..

3) Not every run is going to be great, but at least I got out: Pain is in the mind, just as much as it is in the body.  Every run is different - some are great and I seem to glide on air as I up my mileage while others hurt from step one and don't get any better as time goes on.  Either way, I have to learn how to maintain when the not so great runs come along and make adjustments.  Like any sport, most of the race/game/event is in the mind more so than the body.  Everyday I imagine myself at the start line, taking off, running the 13.1 miles and ending with a strong stride and smile.  Today, after the run I told myself there is always tomorrow and at least I got out and finished the run today.  Then, looking down at my finishing time I soon realized...

4) Hot Damn I am getting FASTER: That's right I said faster (not fatter)!  As I have mentioned before, I do not have a runners body...and I don't want one.  I am looking to lean out, creating strength and definition in my body along the way.  But, I am slowly understanding that not having a runners body doesn't mean I will be a slow waddler.  During todays run Mike looked at me and said "nice pace."  I said to him (or rather snapped cause I was flippin tired and didn't want talk) "well I'm trying to keep up with you!"  He promptly replied "um no I am keeping up with you."  At the end of the loop I realized that I cut over 45 seconds off my mile time, including a 5 minute walk around 29 minutes to stretch out my hip.  My pace is picking up naturally.  This is causing my hip to flare up when I am on hard surfaces as my cadence increases.  Hence, the 8 mile endurance run today turned into a 4 mile tempo run.  Where I could have found a disappointment I actually found out more about myself - I can run and do it a bit quicker.  I can keep this up as long as I stick with my new best friend...

5) The foam roller: My new best friend is my trusty foam roller.  I get on this baby 2 times a day, laying on my side and rolling over my tight as hell IT bands.  By doing this I am trying to loosen up and elongate the essential muscles needed to power through runs.  The tightness in the right hip is my body trying to compensate for weak glutes and inner thighs.  The pilates and strength training are working, but nothing beats the foam roller.  When I neglect it my body pays the price.

Seriously, I am learning to like and love myself again.  Running is making me see I can do the things I only dream about and more importantly that I am worth investing in.  When I "let myself go" a year ago I was in a dark place (maybe I will write about that more, I am not sure yet).  I didn't see my body as a space to take care of because my mind was all over the place, trying to please other people and live up to their expectations.  Now, every step I take in my running trainers shows me that I am capable of more.  I see my body as a space and place of caring and warmth, not one to dump trash into and destroy.  Running is keeping my mind strong, my body lean, and my spirit alive.   That was a nice revelation on the road today.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

27 days and not a drop to drink

In 24 days I run my first half marathon.  After a good 7 mile run last Saturday and a consistent 3 times a week running schedule (mid distance tempo run, sprint session, and long duration run) with 2 weight training and 1 Pilates sessions a week I feel good about my chances of finishing the 13.1 miles.  I am loosing fat and gaining lean muscle and overall feeling much stronger and fitter.  But, I have a vice that I find hard to ignore in times of stress, happiness, sadness, celebration, defeat...hell in anything really that I can use as an excuse.  Some of you may be thinking cigarettes - no, don't touch the stuff and get sick from smelling it.  Others of you may be thinking sex - again no, like doing it but to be honest I can't be bothered sometimes cause I just want to sleep and not put to much effort into it (sorry Mike!).  

My vice, my sweet vice is in the form of strong Belgian beers, good smooth wines, and the occasional Scottish mid-price whiskey on the rocks with a dash of coke.  Ahhh. liquor how I do love to conversate with you from time to time.  Now, I don't actually drink that much anymore - after two I get a bit tipsy and by my third I just want some Chinese and the bed.  But, I do like a drink now and then and once that Belgian beer, in all its hoppiness and bite, hits my lips and makes it way down my throat to the pit of my stomach, I am in heaven (well, I am at least happy and wishing I was in heaven).  But, lets be real - the older I get the more liquor affects my performance (mentally and physically), and the more in shape I am the harder liquor hits me.  One or two innocent drinks on a Friday night leave me in hung over, stomach aching, headache land the next morning.  Trust me smelling last nights drinks during an early morning run sweating out through your pores is not a pretty thing at all - especially when the mileage keeps going up and all you want to do is lay down in the middle of the road and hope someone comes by and just runs over you to make the pain go away (ok, maybe I exaggerate a little, but it still sucks).

So, my lips shall not touch a drink until the half marathon is complete.  Honestly, this may be a bigger challenge than the half marathon itself!  Yesterday walking past a pub after seeing a few houses all I wanted was a pint.  Just...one...pint - but I said no and walked on pass and had sushi and green tea instead. 

Some of you may be saying - why put yourself through this?  Just have a damn pint!  But, I want to test myself and see if remaining dry for 27 days helps my performance.  Commonsense says it should, but remember Papa Truesdell always said not all sense is common.  I guess this is a little experiment of sorts.  How good can/will be body feel after not touching booze for an extended period of time?  They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit so after 27 I should be in the "habit" of not drinking...or it will just make that first sip of beer so much sweeter.