What a Girl Wants

She doesn't need sparkles, she just needs a finish line.

She doesn’t need sparkles, she just needs a finish line.

If you had asked me about gender roles and differences before I had kids, I would have told you they were entirely the result of societal pressures and enforced norms. But now that I am the proud owner of two little girls, I realize, more than ever, that there is a big difference in the way boys and girls are wired.

They play differently, socialize differently and often act differently.

But while boys and girls are indeed different, there is one place where they are the same: the world of sports. The way they play them, the way they learn them, the way they love them.

Sure, women’s soccer looks a bit different from men’s soccer, but the main difference is simply that there are men on the field in one example, and women on the field in the other example.

This isn’t to say that society doesn’t have an influence on gender. I’ve become more aware (and frankly, enraged) about how society perpetuates these gender differences, especially as it relates to sport.

Recently, a series of photos of a girls’ softball team has been exploding all over the Internet. In the photos, the juxtaposition of the girls in Princess Elsa dresses wearing eye-black on the infield dirt has made a lot of people smile.

The mother/photographer who dreamed up this “Frozen”-themed softball team says, “Little girls that are in beautiful sparkly dresses are okay to look a little tough and look a little mean.”

The problem isn’t the dresses themselves. In fact, in another context, those dresses are great and fun and even empowering. But when you add them to a softball game, it makes it all about appearance and less about the game and the experience.

Sports are not about LOOKING a certain way. Sports are about DOING. About PLAYING. About SPORTSMANSHIP and TEAMWORK.

We don’t need to make sports “pretty” or “girly” or “feminine” to “help” women enjoy them.

The power of sports goes beyond that. We all rally behind a team because it makes us feel like something bigger. We participate in sports long beyond our peak athletic years because it still makes us feel strong and capable. And these things are universal and genderless.

So this year, when yet again, I saw that my Hyde Park Blast race shirt had a different design (in pink, no less) than my husband’s, I felt angry, stereotyped and offended. I’m sure no one meant to disrespect me (or the scores of other disappointed women runners) with these shirts, but, nonetheless, that is how I felt. And the Blast is certainly not alone in its unintentional sexism.

We’ve written time and time and time again on this blog about the struggle to empower female athletes, and unfortunately, that balance has not yet been found.

Ignoring the inherent differences in the genders does each a disservice, but we need to find a better way to welcome both men and women into the sporting arena.

Yes, it is possible to be feminine and strong.

Yes, it is possible to love dresses and softball.

Yes, it is possible to love the color pink and the way it feels to run a race.

However, making sport about these differences also does the sports themselves a disservice. Rather than get our daughters excited to wear an Elsa dress for a photoshoot or a tutu to run a 5K, why don’t we teach them to love the game? To love to run? To explore their physical limits in an empowering way that works the same way for men?

I dream of a world where my daughters can line up for a race and be treated like equals to their male counterparts. A place where they can run on the riverfront without fear of catcalls. A time when they can turn on the TV on any given day and see strong female athletes competing in and talking about the sports they love.

We’ve come a long way in our acceptance of female athletes. Shoot, when my mom played high school basketball, it had a completely different set of rules than the men’s game. And when I ran my first track meet, I did so in a pair of men’s spikes because women’s spikes did not yet exist. But we’ve still got a long ways to go.

Things are better. The fact that people are making attempts to find ways to get women excited about sports is encouraging, but often, they’re missing the mark. Women and girls don’t need different colored shirts, tutus at their races or sparkles at their softball games. They simply need enthusiasm, encouragement and acceptance in the same way that boys and men learn to love sports.

Let’s do better. — Aidz

Bad Angel Rule #206

Calculate how much time you REALLY need for your run.

As temperatures rise in the summer months, re-incorporating morning runs to my training is a must. But figuring out how to squeeze in my workout and still get to work on time requires a real look at how much time I need.

AlarmAnd having a real estimate comes in handy not only for those pre-work workouts but also for pretty much any time you have a time constraint. Maybe you’re meeting someone mid-run or you’re going out after an evening jaunt or you need to be home in time to watch “Game of Thrones.”

At first thought, it seems easy enough: you’re doing 4 miles at about 10-minute pace, so that means you only need 40 minutes, right? Weeeelllll, not exactly. There are many other things to consider:

  • Do you need to eat a full breakfast, or just cram a quick protein bar down your throat? And how much time do you need it to settle so you don’t ralph a half-mile in?
  • Do you need to poop before you go?
  • How long does it take to get dressed, lace up your shoes, put on your iPod, get a satellite signal, fill up your water bottle, etc.?
  • Will you be stopping for water on the run?
  • Are there stoplights and/or traffic to account for?
  • What about a post-run cool down and stretching?
  • Do you need to change clothes/shower after your run?

All of the sudden, that 40-minute run could be looking more like 50 or 60 minutes.

I always work backward from the time I need to be out the door to the time I wake up, and I have a good estimate of how long it takes to complete each section of my morning routine. Here’s an example of my typical train of thought:

OK, I’m running 4 miles at 10-minute pace and I need to leave for work at 8:00. That means I need to be walking my dog by 7:40. Which means I need to be in the shower by 7:00. Which means I need to begin my run at 6:10. Which means I need to wake up at 5:30 … which means I need to set my alarm for 5:15 (because let’s be real, Imma hit snooze once or twice).

Making time for a run can be a challenge, but if you’re honest with yourself about how much time you actually need, I think you’ll find it a tad less stressful. — Mags

The Heat is On

My face burns with the fires of a thousand suns. I can smell the hot tar from newly paved road as it melts onto my shoes. Each gust of wind feels like the puff of air that comes out when you open an oven. Sweat pours out of every pore in my body, desperate for relief. And I’m only two miles into my afternoon run.

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According to the calendar, it’s mid-June, but according to the recent Cincinnati forecast, it’s more like we’re trapped in a defective sauna. And since my summer schedule has been exceptionally hectic, my only option for running has been to go around 3 p.m., in the hottest part of the day.

I have easy access to a gym and a treadmill, but let’s face it, I know I’m not going to enjoy myself in there, so begrudgingly, I’ve been soaking in the heat. At first, it was unbearable (and most likely, unsafe). But now, I find that while it’s still not as relaxing as going for a run in the crisp fall air, I actually don’t mind the overbearing heat and humidity. I guess I’m finding some kind of zen in the sweltering temperatures.

In a mere 30-minute run, I feel like I’ve completely exerted myself. I probably haven’t run that fast or that far, but as I come inside to the blissfully cool air conditioning, I feel satisfyingly exhausted and depleted.

I thought I was just being desperate, but I might actually be training kinda smart. As it turns out, your body does quite a few amazing things to help you acclimate to exercise in the heat. And since I’m preparing for a notoriously hot race (the Bix), these fresh-from-the-oven training runs may do me more good than I originally thought.

Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. Right now, I’ve been swapping my regularly scheduled tempo runs for “heat work.” It’s less of a conscious decision and more based on my inability to maintain any kind of speed in the heat, but I’m going to stop beating myself up about it and try to reframe it as a positive thing. You know, like altitude training.

And I’d encourage you to do the same thing. If you’re slated for sweltering summer races this year, get out in the heat and get yourself acclimated. The body can do some pretty amazing things. — Aidz

 

Bad Angel Rule #205

Runner Doctors Are the Best Doctors for Runners.

“Running is terrible for you, so my diagnosis is that you need to stop running.”

Ever had a doctor tell you this? (And did you refrain from punching him/her in the throat after uttering this nonsense? Congratulations!)

Chances are, the M.D.’s who say this don’t actually know much about running because they aren’t runners themselves.

So when searching for a specialist of any kind, consider adding “runner” to your checklist of requirements, right alongside “in-network” and “convenient location.”

  • General Practice: Want to PR? Logging crazy high miles? Feeling run-down? Struggling with your weight? For all of these issues and a million more, a general practitioner who runs will help you achieve your goals (because he or she understands your goals) without sacrificing your health or sanity.
  • Podiatrist: Odds are, that if you run, you’ll get custom orthotics at some point. You need a doctor who understands that you’ll be RUNNING in these orthotics, not just wearing penny loafers around the office. Plus, a running podiatrist can help you find a running shoe that makes sense for your feet.
  • Orthopedist: If you find yourself in the ortho’s office, your injury likely has gone from minor annoyance to full-fledged problem. A runner orthopedist knows the tell-tale signs of common running ailments and knows there are few “career-ending” injuries when it comes to running. They also understand the mental struggles associated with long-term time off and will handle your fragile running ego with kid gloves.
  • OB-Gyn: Pregnant? Want to be pregnant? Ever had a baby? Get a doctor who knows that a woman who runs is a woman who is healthy. The last thing you need when you’re knocked up is someone else judging you for the choices you make. An OB-Gyn that runs understands the importance of running, and by extension, the importance of your and your baby’s health. And they won’t give you a song and dance about waiting six weeks after childbirth to wait to go for a run unless it’s REALLY necessary.
  • Dermatologist: If you run in the sun, the running dermatologist understands — and knows where to keep an eye out for trouble spots. If you have to have something removed/biopsied/poked, the running dermatologist will let you know when you can safely resume your running routine.
  • Physical Therapist: If you’re in physical therapy, you’re recovering from an injury. And if you’re recovering from an injury, all you want to know is how quickly you can get back to running. If your PT is a fellow runner, he or she will do everything in his or her power to get you back to pounding the pavement as quickly as possible.
  • Dentist: Actually, DO NOT go to a dentist who is a runner. Having a lengthy running discussion while you have three gauze pads and a metal scraper in your mouth only makes your cavity filling take twice as long.

When it comes to doctors, running matters, but don’t forget, when it comes to running, doctors matter. Yes, running is a healthy activity, but the sheer act of doing a healthy activity does not get you a free pass to good health. Visit the doctor regularly, get check-ups annually and allow specialists to tend to your injuries. And while you’re on the examination table, you and your runner doctor will have plenty to talk about beyond your health. — Mags and Aidz

Bad Angel Rule #204

RAWR! Angry dinosaur coming through!

RAWR! Angry dinosaur coming through!

Get a Peer Review.

We were just two-and-a-half miles into the Madison Half Marathon when Maggie asked me, “What’s going on with your arm?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what are you doing with your arm? Do you always do that? I’ve never noticed it before, but it looks like a T-Rex or something.”

“Oh yeah, that. I do that when I’m fatigued. Is it that noticeable?”

I knew right then and there that if I was already slipping into my sloppy habits, so it was going to be a loooong 13.1 miles. But more than that, I was suddenly hyper-aware of my running form. You see, we had just watched Maggie’s Video Gait Analysis, and while I was thinking about my legs (because Maggie’s problems are lower-body-related), I hadn’t thought at all about my arm swing.

Arm swing is something I do really poorly. It’s something I’ve always done really poorly, and it’s to point where doing it correctly feels odd, forced and unnatural. I need to fix this — STAT! My arm swing affects everything from my posture to my foot strike. And if it weren’t for Maggie casually commenting on my Jurassic arm, I might never have consciously made an effort to do something about it.

And that’s what friends are for.

Now, I don’t necessarily recommend asking a friend for a running form analysis in the middle of a race, but I do recommend that you ask the people you run with often to tell you how you run. Odds are that they know exactly what your sloppy habits are, how your form changes when you get tired, and the ways you compensate when you’re injured.

So ask a running buddy for a performance review. (No, it’s not nearly as thorough as a Video Gait Analysis, but it’s a good place to start.) Just being more conscious of your own tendencies and quirks can help you make small adjustments that can make a big difference in the long run. — Aidz