Thursday, September 29, 2011

National Take Your Daughter Running Day: October 1st, 2011

On National Coffee Day, and I love coffee, I want to announce a new national holiday:
                              National Take Your Daughter Running Day.

Hey, why not - I mean, who started National Coffee Day, or National Speak Like A Pirate Day, Arrrrr.

I say that this day should be October 1st - Which is this coming Saturday.

Why October 1st - Well, all runners know that autumn is the season of running (I think spring ranks second). We runners love the cool, crisp mornings, yellow and red trees bright against a gray sky, crunchy leaves soften each step and make us feel like kids again - Ah, running through piles of leaves. Each footfall releases the comforting, energizing, crispy aroma of fall.  And, while October 1st may not be the official first day of Fall, it still feels as though the passing of September ushers in Fall in earnest.

October 1st is also the birthday of Grete Waitz (1953) - and as a pioneer of women's running, I think this might be an appropriate honor.

There are disturbing tends at work in our culture (United States) that seem to be encouraging girls to sit back, passively and let life happen to them. It is our job to show them other, better ways. To discover and create who they are - who they want to be - to feel and know their power, their potential, their brilliance...

In a recent Christian Science Monitor article, Little girls or little women: The Disney princess effect, Stephanie Hanes notes that: "Girls are participating in sports at a much increased level in grade school," says Sharon Lamb, a professor of education and mental health at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. But, she adds, they start to drop out of sports at the middle school level when they start to believe that sports are unfeminine and unsexy.
The Women's Sports Foundation found that 6 girls drop out of sports for every 1 boy by the end of high school, and a recent Girl Scout study found that 23 percent of girls between the ages of 11 and 17 do not play sports because they do not think their bodies look good doing so.
And looking good, Ms. Lamb says, is increasingly tied to what it means to play. Star female athletes regularly pose naked or seminaked for men's magazines; girls see cheerleaders (with increasingly sexualized routines) on TV far more than they see female basketball players or other athletes...This "sexy babes" trend is a big one.
"For young women, what has replaced the feminine mystique is the hottie mystique," Ms. Coontz says. "Girls no longer feel that there is anything they must not do or cannot do because they're female, but they hold increasingly strong beliefs that if you are going to attempt these other things, you need to look and be sexually hot."

So let's all take our daughters for a run this coming Saturday - Let's show them another way - let's celebrate the energy and the magic of our girls. Let's help them discover that they are strong and can do anything they set their minds and hearts to.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Running to a Better World

I firmly believe that the world would be a better place if all people, young and old, male and female, would and could run. Now that's a fairly bold assertion, and one I'm sure many would take issue with. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, there are people who proclaim confidently and loudly that they hate, yes hate, running. They will run if chased, but otherwise, no thank you. I, on the other hand believe that the world would be a happier, healthier, more compassionate place, if more people ran. Yet, the empirical evidence may not be there to support my claim. So what are my reasons? Why stand on my high horse professing the virtue of running? Why do I feel this urge to push my views on everybody else? Why don't I just shut-up and run, and let others do as they wish?

Well, I'm not going to force anyone to run. I won't even say that you should run (and should implies an ought). But I do believe that as members of human society, we each have a right and perhaps a duty to try to persuade others to do what is good for themselves and those around them - and with that view follows the consequence, that you may feel free to try to persuade me if you feel otherwise. I say persuade - not force, badger, coerce, threaten - but simply to argue (not fight) in a search for a better life and a better world.

John Start Mill argued that when there are more happy individuals in the world there is more overall happiness. Moreover, as a Utilitarian, he argues that it is our moral duty to act in a way that creates more happiness not just for ourselves, but for everyone. Aristotle believed that as social beings we need society and depend upon it for our development and the pursuit of our ultimate end (aim or goal) which is Eudaimonia - a flourishing, complete life. As such, it is our job as members of society to encourage the exercise of the virtues. A good society and state encourages the virtues. A corrupt society and state encourages the vices. So, I'm just here to do my part, and perhaps my duty.

So, to continue: I believe the world would be a happier, better place if most/more people ran regularly. By regularly I'd say, oh, perhaps 4-6 days a week. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you run - just run (I suppose that hiking, walking, rock climbing, cross country skiing and other vigorous, yet contemplative, activities could also suffice). Why do I think this?  I'm not going to pull out the old endorphin argument - we all already know all about that. That argument only strengthens my position - but I believe I have a strong claim beyond the endorphin angle.   What I'm talking about the effect that being in and moving our bodies through the world has on us, our relationships with others and our feelings about our environment.

I know, for myself, that after I run I am much more: relaxed, energized, patient, concerned, clear-headed, motivated, focused, satisfied, etc. with myself and everyone around me. It's not like I'm a jerk before I run, at least I don't think I am, but running gives me the time and space to sort things out so that I am better able to pay greater attention to the important things in life. Additionally, I care more about my natural surroundings because I'm out there every day, in all weather, through every seasons. I'm out there when I'm feeling depressed, and when I'm feeling satisfied and hopeful. Running forces me to leave the safe isolation of my own little world. Running is also simple, and it is slow enough to allow you to really see, smell, feel, taste, and hear what is happening around you, yet fast enough to require effort and fortitude.

But - the naysayer retort - who am I to say that my experience would apply to others? This is a fair question. As a philosophy (and logic) instructor I should know better then to rely on the example of my experience which amounts to nothing more than a hasty generalization (insufficient and unrepresentative sample varieties) to advance my argument. I could try to strengthen my argument by adding the additional claim that I know a lot of runners, I'd estimate, several thousand.  But that helps little given the fact that there are around 7 billion people in the world right now.

So, what do I have left? I guess all I really have is a weak argument that relies basically on a vision, a feeling, an intuition, rational or irrational, about how people work and the sort of creatures we are - animals that need to move (among other things) - something we tend to lose sight of in our technology obsessed age. You may take it or leave it. But, I will ask the naysayers to try out my way before they poo-poo it - for their argument may suffer from similar fallacious reasoning - they haven't really given it a chance before drawing their conclusions.  I think once they really give it a try, they too will be convinced.


If more people ran, the world would be a better place because: Running allows you to run away when you need to and to run back when you are ready. Running takes you out into your world as the animal you really are and connects you to the world. You see the trees, the buildings, the people, the dogs, the birds, the sky, the cracks in the sidewalk,  - seasons change, clouds move through the sky, rivers rise and fall, snow flies, flowers bloom. You feel your own cold breath move through your throat on a frosty morning, and the heat of your blood beneath your skin on a hot afternoon. You know the warmth of the first breath of spring, and the shiver of the first chill of autumn. You smell mud, grass, smoke, dust, diesel fumes, heat rising off of the pavement, rain soaking into the ground.  In winter ice forms on you brow and the hairs of your upper lip.  In the summer you can taste the salt of your effort. You run to survive the death of a loved one, to heal from a failed relationship, and to celebrate a birth on a new life. But, you also see trash carelessly tossed in gutters, angry aggressive drivers, dead animals, feted streams, fields of wildflowers plowed under for new development.  Day in, and day out, you feel pain, power, humility, weakness, strength, invincibility, fear, hope, sadness, wonder...elation.

Running may not make you a good and happy person, but it may offer an opportunity to discover or create that in yourself. Running may just wake you up. Perhaps even shake you up, if you're paying attention.

Recently I was told that I am idealistic and unrealistic (and perhaps naive) because I believe runners should sometimes run races for charity not because they gain entry into the Boston Marathon or the New York City Marathon, but just because it's a good thing to do. I was told that people just don't do that. I don't buy it.  I believe that running has the power to wake us from our dogmatic slumber as we realize that we are part of the world community, part of the natural environment, part of our town, neighborhood, country -  and we have the ability to do some good in a world that sometimes feels so big, where we often feel so powerless. 

Running makes you feel alive. When you are running you are alive, and, you know it. You have energy and power, and sometimes you may even feel that you can change the world. So now, let's go out and do some good in the world...

Addendum: I posted the video above because I think the sentiment is spot on. I hope NIKE will practice what it preaches and promises here. Thus far, the company's record is has not been a shining beacon of hope. We runners might want to encourage NIKE to do the right thing around the world - pay living wages, provide safe working conditions, and refrain from sponsoring athletes (ie. Micheal Vick) who contradict the message they're making above (can sport please kick the ass of animal abuse too?). Let them know what you think...@

Friday, September 2, 2011

Reflections on Running and Motherhood

Sunday morning dawns like any other Sunday morning (a non-racing Sunday, that is). Sunday is normally my rest day - at least I don't run - which means I can sleep in a bit, and I'm always home to wake-up my daughter. After a leisurely breakfast with the family, I'm off for a couple hours of climbing at the rock gym. My husband and daughter join me a bit later. My daughter climbs, swings on the ropes, slides down the slide, dances around, and just has fun as I do some easy cool downs. 

On this particular Sunday a large birthday party is in the making. The rock gym is a popular kid's party option. I recognize the birthday girl and her parents, though I can't quite place them. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, children stream into the gym. Before I notice, Sophia sees some of her friends - in fact, most of her neighborhood friends are attending this party of epic proportions. One friend invites her to join - but we do not really know the birthday girl - and Sophia has not been invited to the party. She gradually begins to sense that something is not right here. Why are all her friends invited? Why isn't she invited? For the first time ever, I feel like the worst mother in the world.

One of the moms, who is a friend of mine and the mother of one of Sophia's best friends, waves and tries to talk with me. I look her in the eye and say: "I hope you can understand that I need to get Sophia out of here NOW". She nods, understandingly, a tinge of pity in her eyes, as I whisk my sobbing 4 year-old away.


So what's the problem here? Why am I feeling like the worst mother in the world? Well, I am not your typical mother. Running sometimes, just sometimes, interferes with other activities - it sometimes means that my daughter and I don't do other things. Of course choices must be made constantly, but there is still this niggling concern that I'm somehow letting my daughter down and sacrificing her healthy and happy development all to allow me to squeeze in a couple more miles. Yikes, what could be more selfish, more unnatural!

I'm a fairly committed runner (if you tell me that I shouldn't go for a run I will kick you in the shin) and by some people's standards, I might be considered a 'bad' mother because I take important time for myself. Motherdom is full of martyrs. Though it's clear from the number of "mommy runner" blogs out there that I am not alone - yet, the question remains:  Can you be a committed runner and a good mother at the same time? Well, that all depends on how you define "good mother".

                 Sophia ready to roll. This is how we loved to spend our mornings.

My daughter is very aware that mommy loves to run - in fact mommy really has got to have her run. Perhaps it's the same for children of drug addicts - there's a kind of preternatural understanding that my daughter has. She doesn't question my desire/need to run - she sees this as natural - it's all she's known.  After all, she started running with me at 5 weeks old and I ran through most of my pregnancy.

Now here's the problem: One of the things (good) mothers do, that I'm really not so into, are playgroups. I would probably avoid them even if I didn't run, but running makes it tough to get to a 9 a.m. meeting without arriving a stinking, sweaty mess. When Sophia was younger, we were often out running together during playgroup time. Sometimes we would run to a playgroup, me pushing the blue BOB, Sophia reading and snacking and napping along the way. But I always felt that I somehow violated the other moms's sensibilities, or that I was a bit of a freak, an oddity - the other moms "Ooo-and- Aaaa" over my extraordinary feat of endurance and discipline - they often commented on how they could never find time to do such a thing -  I tried to fit in, but I just didn't.

I try to fit in, but I just don't.

I never really understood that this might be a big deal - at least for my daughter (I'm well aware of my own social awkwardness) - after all she's very social - she began school at 2 1/2 because she really wanted to go to school, and she has lots of friends. But on that Sunday morning I realized that running interfered with playgroup opportunities - and in American suburbia, playgroup culture is a big deal. Moms do "girl's/mom's night out", there's the group camping trips, and, of course, birthday parties. Sophia was not invited to this birthday party because I had neglected her playgroup social development. And here it was, for all the world to see. Oh, the shame of it.

Well, we all make choices. None of us can be and do all things, and so I must accept the choices I've made and make peace with them and understand that I am doing what I believe is best for my daughter.  I believe that I am setting a good example. I am taking care of myself and her. I want her to always care for herself as well as for those she loves. I want her to be strong, to pursue her passions, to decide how she wants to live her life. I do not want her to grow up to be a woman who sacrifices all of herself for others - that just hurts everyone involved.  I live according to my principles and values.  I'm not perfect, far from it, but I try my best - it's the best I can do - and I love my daughter to the moon and back.

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