Sunday, June 21, 2015

Owning Up

As I expect it did for all of you, the loss of those nine lives in Charleston, South Carolina this week has shaken me to my core. By no stretch did I imagine that we actually lived in some kind of a dream "post-racial" society, but I've now been forced to acknowledge that race relations in the U.S. are far worse than I had been willing to admit. On a day-to-day basis, the struggles of people of color are not on my radar, unless I go looking for them. Nor are the challenges of the poor, those without U.S. citizenship or a strong command of the English language, the LGBT community, or those with intellectual or physical disabilities. I'm a social worker, and I understand the issues faced by disenfranchised groups academically and intellectually. But I don't live them, and they're easy to simply not see.

No, I don't blame myself or feel guilty about my position of privilege as a white, middle-class, English-speaking, heterosexual person without disabilities. But I do believe it's important to acknowledge the advantages I've been afforded through these basic facts of my life. As Robin Diangelo* eloquently summed it up earlier this week: "I did not set this system up but it does unfairly benefit me and I am responsible for interrupting it."

As these thoughts have churned over the recent months, and in these especially difficult past four days, my impulse was to write about them, a self-soothing activity when I am in pain. And as the thoughts churned further, I was struck by the fact that my outlet for writing is a blog that is (sort of) about running. Talk about living a life of privilege! I not only have the resources, capacity, and ability to run, but I also have the resources, capacity, and ability to then turn around and write about the fact that I run. What I think is missing from the distance running and blogging community's well-intentioned and near-constant expressions of "gratitude" for the "blessings" in our lives is the uncomfortable truth that most of us are not merely lucky or blessed. We are privileged. Yes, some of us have worked hard, we may have put ourselves through school, cultivated careers and relationships, and taken care of our physical selves. But most of us started out with - and continue to live with - at least a few advantages. We hint at this self-knowledge with our ubiquitous #firstworldproblems, #whitepeopleproblems, and #runnerproblems hashtags, when we have to wake up early for our weekend long runs, or when Whole Foods is out of organic kale. But let's be willing to dig a little deeper.
When I open a running magazine, 
or scroll through social media,
I see people who look like me.

When I open a running magazine, or scroll through social media, I see people who look like me. On a 20-mile run, I'm often carrying more calories in my pack than some people will take in all day. When I go to an expo, or line up on race morning, no one notices me as an exception in the crowd. I've got more articles of running clothing in my closet than many people have of the regular clothing they need for school or work. When my husband cheers for me on the sidelines, and kisses me at the finish line, no one looks twice with interest or judgement. Every morning I run through the quiet streets of a neighborhood where I feel safe, and where nobody wonders what I'm doing there. If a police officer stopped me in the park to ask me a question, I would not be afraid. I have time to run for pleasure, and the energy to write about it, because I only need to work one job in order to survive. 

My identity as a runner is an important part of who I am, and it's made possible through much more than a willingness to wake up early and put in the miles. I don't know how to close the great divides that separate us, but I know that I've got a role to play. I've identified and am owning my positions of privilege - at least the ones of which I'm currently conscious. I'm committed to being conscious of them as I move about in the world, and as I observe and make judgements about how others move about in the world. It's not enough, I know, but it's the only way I can think to start.


*For more reading on this important topic, please see Dr. Diangelo's excellent post from earlier this year on The Good Men Project, "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tater Trot

The only thing I love more than a marathon is a small, local marathon. And the only thing I love more than a small, local marathon? A small, local marathon that gives you a baked potato at the finish. I've got no beef with the corporate behemoths, by the way. I've not yet run a Rock 'n' Roll Marathon personally, but that's only because I've had so many interesting options from which to choose in the cities I've visited so far. The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, runDisney, and other such groups have changed the lives of many thousands of people through the proliferation of road racing, and I'm grateful for that. I've run a few very large races, including one of the "majors" (Chicago), and I've enjoyed them and look forward to doing a few more. But give me a few hundred runners hitting the streets of a small American town any day of the week. I love when my entry fees are going right to a local charity, who's out there in droves on race day to cheer us on and thank us for the support. I love an aid station being staffed by the junior high school with some kids' garage band rocking out on the sidewalk behind them, and hand-painted mile markers with our times being called out by the local cross-country kids.
And I love a fully-loaded baked potato.

For all of these reasons and more, I've looked forward for many years to running the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon, held every May in Boise, Idaho. I actually registered for it last year, but got sick with pneumonia and had to back out. This annual fundraiser for the Treasure Valley Family YMCA is sponsored by the Idaho Potato Commission, and in years past finishers got a bag of potatoes in lieu of a medal. Those days are gone -- now you get a medal and baked potato. (A race has to got to keep up with the times, I suppose.) But this race absolutely didn't disappoint, and had all of the small-town charms I hoped it would.

As I described in my last post, I had just registered for Boise when I made the decision to sell my business and change careers in February of this year, and with all of the long hours, stress, and upheaval in my life, I lost focus on the marathon. I never stopped running entirely, I just didn't actually ever really start training. I threw in a long-ish run here and there when I could rope a friend into it (one 16-miler, and one 18-miler), but for the most part was just doing two or three short and leisurely morning runs per week, no cross-training, no strength-training, no speed work. There was no focus or intention to what I was doing, I was just running for running's sake. And as the weeks ticked by I began to debate whether I really had the marathon in me. By the time my life had stabilized to the point that I could have started training, race day (May 30) was only about a month away. I did some weighing of my options, and decided that piling on the mileage for a few weeks would probably not yield much in the way of results, and would probably be more likely to result in an injury than just showing up on race day and going for it. So I just maintained my status quo, turned it into a fundraising race (raising nearly $700 for my favorite charity that oh-by-the-way happens to be my new employer), bought some motivation in the form of a cute new pair of shorts, and got on that plane.

Boise turned out to be one of the loveliest towns I've ever visited. We had pleasant weather, fun with friends, potatoes in every form imaginable, and lots of good beer. And the race, which travels along the Boise River Greenbelt, was one of the most beautiful and enjoyable I've ever run -- well-organized and run by some of the nicest staff and volunteers I can remember encountering. I ran the race as slowly as leisurely as I could, and managed to maintain a steady and comfortable pace throughout. A friend from San Diego who has family in Boise and runs the half-marathon every year was there, too, and because the full and half runners start at the same time and run the entire first half of the race together, I had great company for the first 12.5 miles, which was huge. I certainly could have run a faster race if I had trained for it -- but I probably couldn't have run a more enjoyable one.
After the heartbreak of last year's race at Ventura, the pure joy of the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon healed my marathoning wounds once and for all, and proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am in fact, a legitimate distance athlete. Lumps, bumps, dirt, and all.

A few photos:

It was so great to have a buddy for the first half!

It was long, and it was slow ... but a finish line is always FUN!
Nature's post-race ice bath, the Boise River
Finish time: 4:47. A full half-hour slower than my last race,
and a good hour off what I'd like to be running these days.
But it felt great, and was fun as heck, so no complaints here!
The Famous Idaho Potato Marathon was my 18th full marathon, and the 15th state in my quest to run a marathon in every state. Here's the status update, for those who are keeping track at home: