Like A Girl

Taking a break from my blog this week.  I didn’t want to leave you without reading material so I dug into the Funatical Runner archives and pulled out this post from August 5, 2014.   I updated it just a bit.  Happy New Year!

For as long as I can remember, I have heard people telling someone that they do something “like a girl” when they want to insult them. It can be used for anything – run like a girl, throw like a girl, hit like a girl, cry like a girl (usually directed at men). Bottom line, it is not meant as a compliment.

I was surprised recently to come across something written in 4th century BC that could be the first written evidence of the perception of girls being less capable. I was reading a historical commentary called “Aineias The Tactician How to Survive Under Siege” by David Whitehead. Aineias was one of the earliest Greek writers on the art of war and “How to Survive Under Siege” is his only surviving work. His book was based on tactics that were used at the time and probably was a very useful handbook on how to defend a walled city given the type of weapons available. Some of his recommendations seem pretty obvious like using passwords and having pre-arranged signals so you can tell a friend from an enemy.

Aineias also described ruses that could be used. One of those is what jumped out at me. According to Mr. Whitehead’s translation of Aineias’s work, when one city was under siege and dangerously shorthanded, they disguised women to make them look as much as possible like men. These women carried jugs and bronze utensils to look like helmets and shields and walked along the wall that was most visible to the enemy. In the dark, that probably worked pretty well (this was before fancy telescopes and night vision goggles). The women “were not allowed to throw anything, [however]: a woman is recognizable a long way off by the way she throws.” Yes, Aineias probably started the whole “throws like a girl” prejudice.

Always, a division of Proctor & Gamble, recently kicked off a campaign to stop the negative perception associated with “like a girl”. They created a video where they asked women, men, young girls and boys to demonstrate running like a girl, fighting like a girl, hitting a ball like a girl. All of them – except the young girls – pantomimed someone who was uncoordinated, had poor form, and lacked ability.  It was pretty sad to see how people demonstrated what they thought a girl would look like running.  But the demonstrations by the young girls showed skill and coordination.  It makes me wonder when the switch in perceptions occurs between young girls and adult women.  When do they start viewing themselves so poorly and why does it happen?

Finally they were asked what “like a girl” meant. Everyone recognized that it was an insult. At the end, even the young boys realized that “like a girl” should not be something bad.

There are plenty of female athletes who have demonstrated that “like a girl” is just stupid, including Joan Benoit Samuelson and Shalane Flanagan, two tremendously talented distance runners. In fact, it was a woman, Paula Newby-Fraser, an 8-time Ironman World Champion, who trained Hines Ward, former Pittsburgh Steeler and Super Bowl MVP, to complete the 2013 Ironman Triathlon in Kona. No, I would say that “like a girl” isn’t bad.

If you would like to watch the P&G video, click on this link.

Running the USA 2015

I have spent the last year crisscrossing the United States in my pursuit of running an endurance race in each of the 50 states.  I ran races in cold weather and warm weather, up mountains and along beaches, checking off 12 more states.  My travels also gave me an opportunity to see the rich tapestry that makes up our nation.

Louis and Clark with Seaman, a Newfoundland that accompanied them on their expedition

Louis and Clark with Seaman, a Newfoundland that accompanied them on their expedition

On my trips I took time to visit historical sites that I came across.  Both Louisville, Kentucky (where I ran the Kentucky Derby miniMarathon) and St. Charles, Missouri (MO’ Cowbell Half Marathon) had connections to the Louis & Clark Expedition.  The explorers met in Louisville and the expedition set out from St. Charles.  Each city had statues and informational plaques about their journey.  In both St. Charles and Olathe, Kansas (Garmin Half Marathon), I discovered historic sites related to the Santa Fe Trail.  When I ran the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in Springfield, Illinois, I visited all the Lincoln-related attractions including his tomb and the only house he ever owned.  The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum had a multi-media presentation that rivals anything at Disney World.  I toured the USS Midway in San Diego, California (US Half Marathon Invitational), an aircraft carrier that was at one time the largest ship in the world.  In Charleston, South Carolina (Kiawah Island Half Marathon), I made a side trip to see the Hunley, the first combat submarine that was used by the Confederates during the Civil War to sink a ship.  It was hard to believe that eight men fit inside this tiny vessel.

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from the course

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from the half marathon course

I was able to enjoy our country’s varied landscapes. In Estes Park, Colorado (Rocky Mountain Half Marathon), I was treated to breathtaking views of Rocky Mountain National Park.  I enjoyed watching the shimmering water of the Pacific Ocean in sunny San Diego.  I ended the year enjoying views of wildlife, Live Oaks covered in Spanish Moss, and the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina (Kiawah Island Half Marathon).  My travels took me from sea to shining sea.

Front Door of the Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston, SC

Front Door of the Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston, SC

In addition to the natural beauty, I delighted in the art and architecture of many of the places I visited.  I love looking at old buildings to see the interesting windows, stone carvings, and decorative iron work many of them have.  In looking through photos I took on my trips, I found photos of stately old homes in Louisville, Savannah, Georgia (Rock ’n’ Roll Savannah Half Marathon), and Charleston.

I enjoyed the urban art I found throughout New York City (New York City Half Marathon), particularly in the subway stations.  I stopped in Boulder, Colorado on my way to Estes Park and came across fascinating oversized animal sculptures along a pedestrian mall.  I still give the best street art prize to Louisville for their functional bike rack art.  Close second goes to the Tom Otterness “Life Underground” Bronzes in the 14th St & 8th Ave Subway Station in New York City.

One example of Louisville's bike rack art

One example of Louisville’s bike rack art

Princeton Antiques & Book Shop, Atlantic City, NJ

Princeton Antiques & Book Shop, Atlantic City, NJ

As the funatical runner, I especially enjoy coming across the quirky things that don’t make it into anyone’s tour book.  There was my visit to the Museum of the Dog (a short drive from St. Charles, Missouri) and the Airport Art Gallery in the Savannah Airport.  I was amazed by Princeton Antiques Book Shop in Atlantic City (Atlantic City Half Marathon) where I found a fascinating out-of-print book on the history of Atlantic City.  My hotel in Atlantic City had an exhibit of shoes worn by Miss America contestants in the Miss America parade displayed in the hotel’s appropriately named Shoe Bar.

Shoes worn by Miss California 1995 in the Miss America Parade

Shoes worn by Miss California 1995 in the Miss America Parade

My favorite was Lucy the Elephant in Margate, New Jersey, just a short drive from Atlantic City.  It represents an era when unusual roadside attractions dotted the highways all over the country.

Lucy the Elephant in Margate, NJ

Lucy the Elephant in Margate, NJ

There were things I didn’t get to see.  If I had more time when I went to St. Charles, I could have visited Warm Springs Ranch where the Budweiser Clydesdale horses are bred.  I might have to go back to Missouri just to see them.  It would have been interesting to visit Bonaventure Cemetery and the 8th Air Force Museum in Savannah but again, I ran out of time.  The Steel Pier in Atlantic City had closed but through the gate, I could see a colorful old two-level carousel.  I recently read that the Steel Pier may not reopen due to financial reasons.  Even if I travel back to Atlantic City, the Steel Pier may just end up being another lost treasure.

Wherever I traveled, there was one sight that was not so pleasant. That was the number of closed businesses and shuttered shopping malls.  In some places, like Cincinnati, Ohio (Flying Pig Half Marathon), I could tell that a storefront was formerly the home of a family-run business.   When things like that are lost, they are lost for good.  I don’t think the big box stores and large national chains provide better products and service than small businesses do.  Fortunately there are still a few of them left and I try to visit them when I travel.  I stopped in an independent book store – E. Shaver Booksellers – in Savannah that was the nicest book store I have been in years.  I didn’t have much time before my flight home or I would have been in that place for hours.

The other day I was thinking again about that question “If I had a million dollars to spend…”   I decided that I would buy an RV to travel to my races.  Traveling by RV, I could see the country, taking extra time to stop and explore all the historic, scenic and even quirky sights that are out there, the part of the country that most people zip past.  Those things have made my funatical running adventures so enjoyable.

Running in the Low Country

It is pleasant to finish the year with one of the nicest half marathons I have run.  On Saturday I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina’s Low Country.  Anyone looking for a South Carolina race for their 50 State challenge should look at running this one.  It is a good one!

There were plenty of things to like about this race.  First, the race course was beautiful – shaded with Live Oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss.  (Live Oaks are considered evergreens since they don’t lose their leaves in the winter.)  Thanks to these trees, there were only a few places where the runners were out in the sun.

Second, there was plenty of wildlife to see along to course.   Kiawah Island is home to all sorts of critters including many types of birds, deer, bobcats, turtles, and alligators.   The full marathon course went past a spot known for frequent sightings of bobcats.  As we ran through the marsh land that is typical in the Low Country, I saw cranes, ducks, and herons.  A few Monarch butterflies fluttered by me as I ran.

IMG_3479It was lovely to see all the creatures.  I decided that a place like that was probably also home to snakes – and lots of them.  There were signs to stay out of the water because of the alligators but nobody ever mentioned snakes.  I hate snakes.  This was not a race where I would ever think about going off into the woods or bushes to go to the bathroom.  Who knows what kind of creatures would be in there!

Next, the course was the flattest that I have ever seen.  My Garmin said that the elevation gain was only 20 feet.  Compared to running in Estes Park, Colorado, that is nothing.  I have had my share of running hills this year.  A flat course was a great way to end the year.

Now that is flat!

Now that is flat!

Finally, the runners were treated to a big post-race party.  Under a huge tent, the runners enjoyed a buffet of several different pasta salads, quinoa, cornbread and bean soup while a band provided entertainment.  It was a fun atmosphere to celebrate the end of a busy racing year.

I want to ring the bell!

I want to ring the bell!

I have run several races this year where there was a bell at the finish that you could ring if you set a new PR (personal record).  I have wanted to ring one of those darn bells for a long time.  The Kiawah Island race had one, though I didn’t see many people ringing it.  I decided when I saw that bell, my 2016 goal will be to set a new PR for the half marathon.  I am not sure what race I will be able to do that in but my running coach is ready to up my training to get me in shape.  Yes, goals are good.

Thinking of running in Kiawah Island?  Take time to visit Charleston, a fascinating city with a rich history.  I also recommend making a side trip to see the Angel Oak – a Live Oak believed to be over 1500 years old, perhaps the oldest Live Oak tree in the country and possibly the world. 

IMG_3463

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EPSON MFP image

Source: Childcraft Poems of Early Childhood

When I was a child, my mother read poems to me before I went to bed.  One of my favorites was a poem called “The Animal Store” by Rachel Field.  It was one that was easy for me to memorize.  When I got older (and the cost of animals increased with inflation), I changed the opening line from “If I had a hundred dollars to spend…” to “If I had a million dollars to spend…”  I figured that I could buy quite a few animals plus have money left to feed all the animals and pay vet bills.

I read recently about a woman who is going to participate in January in the World Marathon Challenge, which consists of running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.  The cost of this challenge is nearly $40,000 plus costs for food and flights to/from the start and end of the event.  The total cost is probably over $50,000.   Thinking about this, that poem popped into my mind – if I had a million dollars to spend, would I spend it on the World Marathon Challenge?

I visited the World Marathon Challenge website to learn more about this crazy adventure.  The challenge, first held in January 2015, is limited to 15 people who, if they successfully complete the challenge, become members of the “exclusive Intercontinental Marathon Club.”  According to the web site, there are only 10 men and one woman who are in the Intercontinental Marathon Club.  (There are also two runners who are Intercontinental Half Marathon Club members.  This is one time that the expression “only half crazy” seems very appropriate.)  The current record for the fastest time to complete the challenge is held by Richard Donovan who did it in 4 days, 22 hours, 3 minutes.

The challenge starts at Union Glacier in Antarctica a few hundred miles from the South Pole where the expected temperature is a frigid -4 F.  From there the runners will fly to Punta Arenas, Chile for the South America race followed by more flights and races in Miami (North America), Madrid, Spain (Europe), Marrakech, Morocco (Africa), Dubai, UAE (Asia), and finishing in Sydney (Australia) where the expected temperature will be a more tolerable 77 F.  During the 168 hours of the challenge, the runners will spend approximately 59 hours in the air and run 183 miles.  The time clock for the challenge starts with the start of the first race in Antarctica.

Photo courtesy of Transition Triathlon

A NormaTec Recovery System in use (Photo courtesy of Transition Triathlon)

I thought about the challenge and whether it would be something I would be interested in (assuming that I had the money to do it).  While the runners fly business class between continents, I would really need something like a NormaTec Rapid Recovery System to use on each flight.  Otherwise, I don’t think I would be in top form for the next race.  The muscles in my legs and hips would be taking a beating.  Compression socks just wouldn’t cut it.  Plus I can’t imagine the fatigue I would have from all those time zone changes.  Physically, I would probably be done by the time I hit Miami.

There are some very interesting destinations on this itinerary.  Given the time limit, there wouldn’t be enough time to experience any of the places where I would be running.  As soon as I would finish a race, I would need to head off to the airport for the next destination and the next race.  In Madrid, for example, I would want to see the flamenco dancers and dine at Botin, recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest restaurant.  In Marrakech, I would want to explore the souk and wander the city to take in all the unique architecture.  While I guess I would get a good tour while running through the city, there certainly would not be time to linger anywhere.

I don’t understand the desire to blow through all these places in seven days.  It is the equivalent to killing seven birds with one stone – one week, one trip, all seven continents.  Check.  That saying “take time to smell the roses” comes to mind.  There wouldn’t be time for that unless the roses were in a shop at the airport.

People who are interested in physical and mental challenges like these amaze me.  I can only imagine how incredibly strong and dedicated they must be.  As for me, I am happy to slowly chip away at my 50 State Endurance Challenge and my goal of running all 6 World Marathons.  I can enjoy each of the places I visit before or after I run – savoring the sights and flavors that each one has to offer.

Interested in learning more about the World Marathon Challenge?  Check out this video about the first event.  You can also visit their website for more information.

Uphill or Down?

I am always on the lookout for a new way to add adventure and exercise to my life. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy running but sometimes I wonder if there isn’t something else that I could be doing. My husband likes to bike so cycling adventures frequently catch my eye. Recently I came across two that astounded me.

Most runners that I know hate hills. In fact, many of them will go out of their way to NOT have to run up a hill. The cyclists competing in the “Dirty Dozen” bike race in Pittsburgh make all those anti-hill runners look like a bunch of wimps. The Dirty Dozen is an informal (i.e., no entry fee) race up 13 of the most grueling hills around Pittsburgh. The race has been going on for the last 33 years – always the Saturday after Thanksgiving. What surprises me the most is that each year more and more people show up to do the race. While the route is only 55 miles, the climbs up the Pittsburgh hills will kick the butts of even the most experienced cyclists. There is one hill on the course with a 37 percent grade that the city claims may be the steepest paved urban street in the world. The hills are so steep that it is not unusual for bikers to fall over as they try to climb them.

I grew up riding a bike in Pittsburgh. I remember riding my bike from my home in the suburbs into downtown Pittsburgh. It was a great ride downhill into the city. I barely pedaled after I crested the hill, though I was riding the brakes a bit at some places. Coming back home was a different story – I never pedaled so much in my life and my thighs were burning. From my firsthand experience biking in Pittsburgh, I am amazed that people travel from all over the country to tackle the Pittsburgh hills two days after feasting on Thanksgiving dinner. Purposely seeking out hills to bike up sounds a bit nutty to me but if everything was just smooth, flat road, life wouldn’t be as interesting or challenging.

Cyclists who prefer going down hill can head to South America and Bolivia’s Yungas Road. The 35-mile road connects La Paz in the Andes Mountains to the Yangas rainforest area, descending 11,000 feet along the way. Much of the road is only 10 feet wide – for two-way traffic too – and unpaved. There are no guard rails and drop-offs of up to 2,000 feet. The weather conditions can make traveling this road even more dangerous – rain, fog and runoff during the rainy season, rockfalls and dust that limits visibility in the summer.

As one might expect, 200-300 people were killed in accidents along the road each year, resulting in the road being called “Death Road”. The road was cited by the Inter-American Development Bank as the most dangerous road in the world and funding was secured to build a safer road. The new road was opened in 2007 and took most of the traffic with it. That was when bikers from all over the world started showing up, attracted to the challenge of riding down Death Road. There are about 30 tour companies in La Paz that organize bike trips down Death Road. The names of the tour companies give you a sense of what sort of challenge awaits – Mayhem, Vertigo, Black Widow, and Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. Every year more bikers come to take on Death Road. Bikers haven’t fared any better than people in cars, trucks, and buses. Over 22 bikers have died since 1998.

I know a few bikers who would probably love to tackle Death Road. I will pass on this challenge. Just watching videos of people biking down Death Road makes me uncomfortable. Climbing up the Dirty Dozen has more appeal than zooming down an unpaved road with sheer drop offs. You can always hop off your bike and walk up the hill, though that seems to defeat the purpose. Come to think of it – I will stick to my running shoes.

I found this interesting video by WQED (the PBS station in Pittsburgh) about the Dirty Dozen bike race. I guarantee you won’t complain about biking up another hill after you watch this.


You have to see video of biking down Death Road to appreciate how scary it really is.

I thought this BBC Top Gear episode where they went up Death Road was amusing but I still don’t want to go there.