God Meets Us Where We Are: On Running and Meditating

It’s been a crazy few weeks, and I know I need sit down to make some space to actually write for myself. EdWeek often takes up much of my writing time and brainspace.

Fortunately, over the break, I was able to carve out a piece to submit to OnBeing, one of my favorite programs ever. This weekend, they published my piece! You can read about running as moving meditation on their site. An excerpt:

A few months later, an acquaintance learned I was a marathoner and asked, “What do you think about while you run?” Without hesitation, I responded, “I meditate.”

I surprised myself. While I’d always considered myself a mindful person, I often had trouble meditating. I would get distracted by my phone, or bugs, or the wind, or how thirsty I was or how hot I was or a million other things. Running was not the zen, silent space I imagined I could meditate in. With my feet pounding and arms pumping, how was I finding inner calm?

I’m excited to push forward in my running, spiritual, and writing goals in 2016.

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Limitless: A CIM Race Report


 

Reflection

When I first started running, I had no idea I would ever come to love it as much as I do now. In fact, part of the reason in my life was because so many people– myself included– told me I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I don’t like being told I can’t do something. Most times, I make a silent covenant in my head and think, Oh yeah? Watch me. 

I know I’ve written about this before, but the biggest lesson running has taught me was not to limit my own potential. Once I ran my first marathon, my mindset changed from, “I could never do that,” to “I could try and do that.” It’s not about setting unreasonable goals, it’s about making a choice to test the limits of your brain and body because you want to see what will happen.

Running is about participating in a life-long experiment to see what I’m capable of. It’s about understanding that I may fail, but that I can always stop, reassess, and try again.

When I started this blog about a year ago, I was trying to get into the habit of writing more consistently. I was also hoping to document my running goal of 2015: to run a sub-4 hour marathon.

Today, I beat that goal with nearly 10 minutes to spare. 

I’m elated, for lack of a better word. While, in retrospect, my goal was fairly conservative (I’d run a 4:04 marathon last year), I can’t help but remember the girl I was five years ago, who looked at a marathon course and thought, “I could never do that.

Then, she made a choice and did. Then she did again, and again. Through blistered feet and aching legs, that girl ran. When it poured rain or she fell and cut up her knees, she put her head down, dusted off her hands, and kept running. When every voice in her brain said, “You can’t do this,” she remembered every step she had taken before, pounded her feet and roared back, “Watch. Me.”

So, when I crossed the finish line today, I was running for that girl. Me. Because I have to be honest: I’m pretty damn proud of her.


Race Report

Alright! Running! Yay! Final time: 3:50:28.

So, I’ll be honest, some of the reason I didn’t write much in the past few weeks (besides travel) was because I’ve been freaking out about this race. There felt like a million things that could go wrong, and I was worried that by setting this goal, I was setting myself up for disaster.

By the time I landed in Sacramento and got to hang with my family, though, I felt good. I’ve tried to be better about nutrition, so I’d been slowly increasing my carb intake (mostly with rice and, oddly, ramen since I was battling a bit of a cold) over the past few days. I had a small vermicelli bowl and tried to grab as much sleep as I could.

On race day, I woke up early to catch the shuttles to the race. CIM is great because you not only can get shuttled, but you can stay on those shuttles until the race starts. Warmth win!

Speaking of which: despite my fretting, the weather actually didn’t feel that cold. Certainly a few shivers here and there, but it was near 50 degrees when we started amidst some light showers, so I couldn’t complain.

The first few miles were wet and fast. It was mostly rolling hills that were clearly heading down. Still, the course was crowded at this point. CIM is a fast course, which means that while people are on pace, there was still a bit of weaving. I was trying to stay with the 3:55 pace group, but would lose track and get caught a little bit behind.

I realize now, this was probably a key struggle in my racing last year. Since I ran without a watch, I had no way to make sure I was starting my races off at a steady pace when I’m so focused on trying to get through. This led to lots of catching up later on previously. Glad I made the commitment to time this year!

Miles 3-6 were all pretty fast, and by the time I was at mile six, I realized I had long left the pacer and run an 8:30 mile, nearly 30 seconds faster than planned. Eep!

Part of me wanted to try and slow down. I’m a conservative racer and normally stay at a slower pace until the second half of the race. Most of my training splits, though, had been in the 8:30-8:45 range, instead of the 8:55 range it needed to be. I decided to see if I could stay in the 8:40-8:50 range as long as I felt good. I promised myself if I still felt strong at mile 15 (when the course really started becoming fast), I’d let it go.

Fortunately, miles 6-9 made me slow down since there were some solid hills (nothing compared to Kauai, of course, but certainly enough to make me be mindful of my running). Fortunately, I also took the time to prep this year by studying the course and had prepped for this.

All of that melted, though, at mile 10. I have to say: Sacramento’s spectators did not disappoint throughout the ENTIRE course. It was nearly as populated as LA, full of funny signs and adorable families and folks of all ages cheering us on. Mile ten was particularly dense, and as your round a small uphill, you can’t help but smile at all the amazing signs and shows of support.

I rode that energy for a few miles and ended up pacing at 8:35 all the way until the half-marathon point, including through the toughest hills on the course. This was… a calculated risk that I certainly felt later on. While I’ve been running 8:35 as my half marathon pace, I hadn’t considered it my marathon pace. Still, I decided this was the year to push myself and leave it all on the course.

At mile 14, I could feel myself start to slow, and was so tempted to listen to music at this point. I had run the entire race without music, but had my headphones in case I wanted to call someone or really was struggling.I made myself calm down and keep pushing, not wanting to call in reinforcements just yet. I ended up dropping my pace back down to 8:50 by the time I hit mile 16.

I’m a pretty nervous consumer of energy gels (I worry about stomach issues) and usually train without them at this point since I’ve had enough experience with Gu’s to know they work for me. I had taken in fuel at miles 5 and 10.5 I wasn’t planning on taking another gel until Mile 16 or 18. I decided I had more than enough gels to last, and took a caffeine Honey Stinger at mile 14.5. It worked, and by mile 16 I felt back on track.

At mile 16, I had a hard conversation with my body. “Body,” I said, “this year, if we’re leaving it all on the course, it means the next 10 miles are going to hurt a bit.” My legs flexed in momentary protest, but then buckled down and ground it out.

Miles 16 and 17 were fast for me (8:35 pace, and in the middle of Mile 18 I could feel my legs start to lock. I momentarily began to panic, but made myself calm down. “Don’t get in your head,” I thought. “You’re trained for this. Stay in this pace right now.” I took another energy gel and begged my legs to stay with me.

By mile 19, I was starting to feel it, and dropped back down to an 8:50 pace — not in my heart or chest, but in my leg muscles. I was nervous I was cramping, but kept telling myself to breathe and relax. “It’s  yours if you want it.” I kept thinking.

At mile 22, I started listening to music intermittently. I was really worried my pace was going to slow, and I wouldn’t make my goal time. Still, Sacramento’s crowds were so awesome, and the scenery so beautiful at this point, I had to stop listening and just stand in awe. I realized that I loved doing this– running– so much. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it.

I ran mile 24 a near 20 second slower (9:10) for reasons I still don’t understand. Honestly. Was it music? Was I just not focused? I am still bewildered.

When my watch showed me my pace for mile 24, I freaked a little. I decided that, in these last two miles, now was my time. I knew that, unless I walked, I beat my goal, but wanted to see what I can do. Mentally, the last few miles are so hard for me because it feels like I’m so close but take so much longer than I want them too. My legs were starting to ache at this point, but my heart and lungs felt strong and I knew I needed to just keep grinding.

By Mile 26, I pushed as hard as my stiff legs would let me, and by the time I made the final two turns I was flying as fast as I could. The ending split was confusing (why have two different endings for men and women?), but I ran to the end and couldn’t believe what I’d done.


So, What’s Next?

So, I am actually running another marathon…. next Sunday.

Crazy, I know. I saw the races on my calendar and felt bad canceling Honolulu. So, I wondered if trying to do back-to-back marathons was nuts.

It’s not common, but actually not out of the realm of possibility. Emily Abbate’s story in Runner’s World resonated so strongly with me, that I know I want to try. I make these important caveats:

  1. While I PR’d here, I didn’t finish feeling so thrashed I can’t move. I spent much of the rest of today walking and feeling good, just tight.
  2. I plan to roll and ice this week to recover, with one run on Wednesday just to see how I feel.
  3. I have zero time goals for Honolulu. I just want to finish. Frankly, I might walk parts of it, and I’m fine with that. If worse comes to worse, though, I’ll drop out and not finish.

The thing is, I just really want to see if I can do this and finish, even slowly. I think I can, and that alone makes it worth a shot.

The Rollercoaster: Quick Thoughts on Body Image

Teaching Tolerance was awesome and published a piece of mine about body image. I am, as always, so grateful.

As I read the piece, I was surprised. I sound so down on my body. I wrote that piece a while back and thought, “I must’ve been in a different place when I did.”

Then, I realized if we were to check out the fitness tag, you’d see that my relationship with my body is… tumultuous at best. I go up and down– sometimes I love it (which I usually write about) and sometimes I hate everything (which I often suffer silently).

I’m glad I reread and published this piece, though. After this past summer, I no longer measure and weigh myself every day (though, I admittedly do it most days). I try not to beat myself up over calories. I am much better about not sprinting food away.

This school year, I am working to better support both myself, but especially my students and the gender expectations they face.

I am getting better, but I know I may not always feel so good. What matters is that nothing stays the same, and we always, always can get back to a place of more love and support. Even for ourselves.  

Run Your Race: Reflections After the Kaua‘i Marathon

I don’t usually write race reports, but I’m giving this a shot! It’s also included with a reflective post, so it’s less streamlined, meaty, and free-form than what I might normally post. Just to keep it clear:
Intro
Reflections
Stats and Race Report


An Intro

I landed on Kaua‘i expecting the worst.

Obviously, the island is gorgeous. It was muggy, but jumping into the car with my parents was a breath of fresh air I desperately needed. If I had shown up just to spend a weekend with them, it would have been a sense of peace, of coming home.

But there was this race to run. A marathon with a reputation: picturesque and full of aloha, but with heat and elevation that would demand your respect and push you to your limit.

So, I showed up with one goal: finish. Just get the darn race done. I was already nursing an aching left hamstring and twitchy knee. I had failed to get in a twenty-miler. This wasn’t a body built to win. I was here to enjoy the view and say I did it. If I survived, it’d be a miracle.

I’m happy to report that I survived and, surprisingly, did much better than I thought. By far the best part was having my parents at the end.


Reflection

I had a lot to think about this race. With school getting into swing, working on a number of projects, starting up The Intersection, and navigating some other life-work-things, there’s a lot of… stuff.

The Kaua‘i Marathon came at just the right time for it. Interestingly, I ran this race with almost no music playing. The only time my headphones bumped was mile 24 to 25 (a beast of a hill at the end). Besides that, I was in my own head, figuring things out and coaching myself through a very difficult race.

I usually use mantras when I run. During my first marathon, I ended up with a pacer who coached us all to chant, “I am strong, I have energy, I can do this.” I also used one from a friend, “smart, strong, focused,” to stay on track.

This marathon, I had three that have stuck with me and become part of a larger reflection I had after the run.

  • The first was “run your race.” I used this a lot at the beginning, and I’ve said it and heard it said to student runners. It’s a good reminder not to compare what you’re doing to the runner next to you, especially in an endurance race. When we see people passing us or surging, it’s natural to want to try and catch up. Sometimes, we have to fight that urge.
  • The next was a recitation of The Paradoxical Commandments, and whatever variation my run-addled brain came up with. When my adrenaline gets surging, it’s easy for me to create a competitive, even nasty internal monologue to push myself forward. I didn’t do that this race. While reflecting on some personal events in my life recently, the phrase “love them anyway” kept popping into my head.
  • Finally, for some reason, each time I went up a hill I kept repeating, “It might get some, but it won’t get me” (“It,” I’m assuming here, is the hill. Or the desire to walk up the hill? I really can’t remember.).

So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about: If we know who we are and trust in our abilities, there’s no reason to seek approval or validation from anyone else on the course who hasn’t earned that privilege. I wrote about this recently, but I’m beginning to trust myself a little more and have a better sense of what it means to follow my own instinct and integrity.

The Kaua‘i Marathon put these ideas into physical practice: I had to settle in and run my race. It would have been easy to give in to the desire to be angry or frustrated while in pain during the race– lots of people do. By refusing to give in, I  stayed true to myself and was able to stay positive throughout the race. I ran nearly all of it with a smile on my face (something spectators lovingly noticed, which pushed me to keep doing it!). That’s the kind of person I want to be and be remembered as.

When we choose to put ourselves out there online (or in any space), there’s a natural tendency to seek validation or acceptance. Many of us share our voices because we hope someone else as felt what we have, or appreciates what we have to say. When that doesn’t happen, it can be very tempting to beat ourselves up or change who we are (or the persona we put out there) in order to be easily categorized and, therefore, appreciated.

At the end of the day, though, the best we can do in any situation is seek joy and truth in being wholly and completely ourselves. As silly, angry, bubbly or blunt as that may be, as unlikeable as those people sometimes are, at a certain point all we can do is run our races, love and move past those who don’t like it, and try not to get pulled away from our own course. 


Stats and Race Report

Warning: This is long and was mostly a nice exercise for me to reflect on the technical aspects of running this race.

So! I finished:

  • 29th overall (out of 255)
  • 9th female overall (out of 20)
  • 2nd in my division (F25-29, out of 11)

Honestly, Kaua‘i was one of the toughest marathons I’ve ever faced. I really had no idea how difficult it would be until I was in the middle of it, fighting through.

My parents and I got to the race at 4:45 AM, a little over an hour ahead. Like I’ve mentioned, having them there was a huge upside to this race, and they walked with me to the start line as I tried to get calm. I was worried I had entered this race day all wrong: my body still hurt, I had eaten late last night and was worried my stomach would be tricky, and I didn’t know if I had properly trained for this.

Still, the darn thing had to get done. I crammed a quarter bagel with PB into my mouth, tried to use the restroom, and said good-bye to my parents.

The race started beautifully, with an ‘oli celebrating and thanking the island for hosting us. I was struck by how marvelously small (and well-run!) the marathon is. With only about 1,500 participants for the half and full race (and only 300 for the full marathon!), the setting was far more intimate and grassroots– and completely unlike the mayhem and glitter of the LA marathon.

We were sent off, and the first few miles were spent just trying to get into my body. My left hamstring began feeling tweaky immediately, but I did my best to breathe through it and not let it rattle me. The sun came up around mile three, and the only thing I kept noticing was how beautiful and green the scenery was.

At mile five, we entered the tunnel of trees. I had driven this part with my parents and remembered my dad’s wise word to “mind the potholes!” A few folks didn’t and tripped. There really aren’t words for how lush, spiritual, and breathtaking running quietly through these trees was. The only thing I noticed was the breath of my competitors, the sounds of beating feet, and the wind in the leaves.

Around this point, though, is when I noticed people beginning to drop. Surprisingly early, even for half-marathoners, but I have no doubt the heat played a role in that. This was my initial reminder to breath and run my race. The first six miles were all a gradual incline, which had seemed terrifying. They actually weren’t that bad. I like hills, and the slow climb up let me find a rhythm to move forward

The race then leads through a net-downhill. First, through some gorgeous farm land, then through a residential neighborhood where locals very sweetly cheered us on and clapped for us. I really started to find my groove here. I was smiling, thanking volunteers each time I grabbed water and was surprised that I hadn’t felt compelled to listen to music yet.

Around mile 8, I also popped my first Gu. I know, about 40 min late. I normally train without water or fuel in case I need to run during a zombie apocalypse or actually forget gels. This also helps make sure that my races are always better than my practice runs (I’m not recommending that to anyone, though. You should always stay properly fed and hydrated).

Mile 11 is where the course splits between the half-marathon and the full marathon. I joked with the volunteer and asked if I could change my mind. He laughed and said to stick to my race.

I understand why I needed the reminder. As soon as you make the right turn and decide to run the full marathon, the course slaps you in the face with a brutal half mile climb that was best run as a “slog.” It’s empty, and so there’s no one else on the course but you, the other runners, and everyone’s collective pain. This is where, mentally, mantras became huge.

After a half mile to recharge with a flat and an aid station, the course beats you up again with another hill! It was mentally so hard to push past this point, but I kept deciding that I would not get bogged down by the hills (though I did walk a few times). I eat hills for breakfast, I thought as I padded up. This is where I started passing some folks.

At the half-marathon mark, we enter a gorgeous, cool flat. A timer marked us on the course, and after yelling out my half time (2:01), one of the race directors shouted, “You’re thirteenth female overall!”

I was taken aback. I had never been anywhere near top ten in the overall female division of any race. “Seriously?!” I called back.

“Yes!” he laughed, “so keep moving!”

I thanked him and kept pushing forward. I felt positive and wanted to stay with that feeling and not get caught up in competing.

At mile 14, we hit another admittedly beautiful hill, and the woman in front of me was in sight. I was determined not to surge. She was walking, so I decided to just keep my pace and see what happened. I was able to catch up, and she congratulated me as I did, saying, “you’re running strong. Great work.”

I was so thankful for her kindness in that moment. I returned the sentiment and kept moving.

I don’t remember much about miles 15 through 18, except that it was hilly, brutal, and beautiful. That, and the spectators and volunteers truly make this course fantastic. They played music, had signs, clapped for us, set up how made aid stations, music, and were so full of generosity and love. One aid station played “Eye of the Tiger” as they strummed air guitars and took my photo.

Another interesting note: because the race is so sparse (300 total participants!), there were long stretches where I was running alone or was the only person at an aid station. This made it feel awesome and personal though occasionally made me worried I had gone off course!

After reaching the top of Kalaheo, I was able to catch my breath a bit and start back down hill. The course meets back up with itself here, and I began to run into folks at the fifteen-mile mark of their race. Many congratulated us as we ran by and encouraged us to keep it up, or told me to keep smiling. I did the same and was reminded how strong and open the running community can be.

At mile twenty-one, I went past the half-marathon timers. They took my time again, and told me I was now eleventh overall female. I was thrilled but knew I needed to not let my excitement force me to burn out in the last five miles.

Another big hill followed, and another racer and I exchanged encouragement as I pushed past him. Hills really are where I come into my own as a runner, and I’m glad I trained on them so much these past few months.

I don’t remember much until mile 24 when the last big hill happened. This is one of the first years I really studied the course and its elevation, so I knew this was the final hill. The tenth place woman was in sight, and as we came into the aid station at the top of the hill, I gulped down water and knew I had to get moving if I wanted to at least keep my place. With the last two miles ahead, I decided now was the time to let myself get a little competitive.

We coasted down towards the finish line, and I eventually caught up with the woman ahead of me. She congratulated me, but I told her we still had a few miles to go. She pulled ahead, and I knew her pace was just fast enough to edge me out. I decided I was okay with that. As we hit mile 26, people cheered us on and I yelled for both her and I to finish strong.

The end in sight, I began to try and kick as much as my body would let me. I had spent everything on this course, though, and it was only seeing my mom and dad frantically waving at the end that brought me speeding in with a smile on my face.

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After, I looked up and saw that I had come in at 4:07. Only 3 minutes over my PR! I was ecstatic, and really believe that keeping a positive outlook got me there.

Overall, this race went well. No stomach issues, fueled consistently every 4-5 miles, stayed hydrated and cool, and followed my normal strategy of a conservative first half and a faster second. This time, the training paid off.


*phew* Okay, that was longer, but way more fun than I thought it would be to write. I may need to try and do this again.

You Actually Don’t Have To

Wait, why am I doing this again? I thought to myself. It’s a thought most athletes know well.

Moments before, I was mud-surfing down a hill in Hawai‘i’s Kualoa Ranch for the third year in a row. My finger was sliced open, bleeding, and covered in mud. My legs ached. Right when I was feeling a little more steady, my feet gained more speed than my center and flew out from under me. *SPLAT* My entire body weight landed on my left hip, and the rest of my limbs followed and smacked into 4-inch thick, shoe-sucking mud. I grunted, looked at the walls of green foliage surrounding me, and knew I had no choice but to get up and keep moving.

After picking myself off the ground and out of the mud, I hit a mile or so of gorgeous, hilly, single-track trail running. Without thinking, I began a slow, steady trot, passing people who were using this as an opportunity to rest. Oh, it hit me, this is what I love doing! I should do more of this! 

Then, I realized that I could focus more on my running. I had only signed up for this race to prove that I could do it…to… who? Not myself, since I had already done this before. Whose approval was I seeking? Why would I show up again the next day to do it all over again? Last year, I had been excited at the prospect. This year, I only felt annoyance and frustration. Why was I doing this? What was I trying to prove?


After a few years of running and racing, this weekend marked a bit of a small, strange milestone for me: I chose not to run a race. 

In my six year relationship with fitness and running, I’ve never signed up for a race and not done it.

I’m a pretty stubborn racer, so that means I’ve raced in some not-so-great conditions. I did the 2011 LA Marathon with food poisoning. Last year, I completed the Spartan Trifecta (all 3 distances) over one weekend, and was out of training for two weeks. I have occasionally embodied the mindset of, Do it even when it hurts. Do it BECAUSE it hurts.

This mantra is useful for lots of athletes: we have to push past the initial walls we set up for ourselves, outside of our comfort zone, to achieve something physically greater than what we could the day before.

Still, the more I’ve come to understand myself physically as an athlete and just as a human, I have to ask: Why? Why am I pushing this hard? Is it worthwhile to do this?

And it often is for many athletes. We set goals for ourselves, we make a commitment, we get something done.

I think it’s important, though, to keep asking and reflecting on the “Why” of what we’re training for. Last year, I was training to be able to complete the Spartan Trifecta, and I did. This year, however, the Trifecta was a pitstop on the way to other goals, and I was consistently balancing getting ready to do the Spartan Race with my desire to run a good marathon. Yes, I know they’re not mutually exclusive, but I honestly didn’t feel particularly excited about doing another Spartan. I felt like I had a strange, internal obligation to do it, instead of an actual desire. So many people I knew were signing up for the race or assumed I was doing it, I figured I had to do it too.

Here’s the great thing that I think we forget as athletes: we own our bodies and we can actually do whatever we want. Just because everyone around you is saying you need to go hard, or run fast, or push yourself farther than you want to doesn’t mean that you should. You actually don’t have to.

Maybe it’s the FOMO aspect of my generation, but an important part of growing is learning to stand up and walk away from something when I don’t want it in the first place. It’s important to stop and figure out what I actually want, and anything that doesn’t align with that probably isn’t worth pursuing.

I finished Saturday, had a solid time (and, to toot my horn, finished 3rd in my category so heeeyyyy), and got to finish with my boyfriend watching and cheer some friends as they finished. The next day,  instead of showing up and doing a race I didn’t want to do for little more than bragging rights (especially upon hearing that the race ran out of medals for the second year in a row), I woke up, cuddled with my guy, and did an easy 7-miler.

I couldn’t have been more content. Is this adult-ing? Maybe. If so, I quite like it.

dancedance

Post-Spartan dancing, taken by my guy.

Aches and Breaks

I heard the boy before I saw him again.

We had started up the backside of Diamond Head at roughly the same time, though he had likely run more miles than me. Gleaming with sweat in the humid afternoon, he ran with his hands behind his back for reasons that still escape me (is he training for some kind of twisted “prison” inspired race? Is that a military thing?). He looked 22, like he could’ve been a former student, and wore a “don’t mess with me” look on his face.

I knew because I often wear the same look, but today it was for very different reasons. I was dripping sweat and snot, my body rebelling after too much travel and not enough sleep. After finally accepting that I had a nasty cold, I had decided that I wouldn’t run that day. Rest days are necessities for all runners, and this would be one of mine.

Still, sitting at Kapiolani park, knowing I had all my gear if I wanted, I couldn’t help it. I had spent all morning thinking and talking about my love if running, and I was too fired up. I decided I’d run Diamond Head– a few miles– just to sweat it out.

And, man, did I do that. I sweated. I sneezed and hacked up whatever is sitting in my lungs and had to execute more than one Farmer’s Blow (I know. I’m sorry). I stopped a lot on the way over, and once I had come to the other side, I tried to catch my breath and whined a little.

After a few minutes, I was faced with the thought most runners encounter at some point in a bad run. As much as you are so over this, you also know that the darn run isn’t going to finish itself, and you have to get home.

A bit more rejuvenated, I started back up the hill. That’s when I saw the boy. We paced together until he had to stop for water, but I saw him look up and give me an all-too-familiar glance. You’ll see me again.

I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t aggressive, it was something I think a lot of us do: you build a story while you run. You, silently, let out your inner competitor and you desperately want to “win.” I’ve done it often, and certainly don’t mind when others do the same. I kept climbing and crested the hill, just happy to have found my stride.

Five minutes later, I heard his steps behind me. I moved to the left so he could pass, until something kicked in my own head. Not today, kiddo. I snatched my self-pity, my resignation to a crappy run off the mat, and threw them out the window.

I picked up my stride and began to pump my arms a little more. Push push push. My back straightened immediately, and I heard a former coach’s voice in my ear, launch yourself to the next step! I bounced and hopped my way down Diamond Head, determined not to be passed. My breath caught in my throat, but I let out a quick, sharp growl and swallowed it back down.

Then, my hips clicked. Something happens when you’re body finally snaps into gear and matches what your brain is asking it to do. The muscles that were saying What the hell brain? We can’t do this! all of a sudden let go. For me, it’s in my hips. They spread wide along my back, and my body opens up in a way that propels me forward.

You. Shall. Not. Pass. my inner Gandalf screamed as I pushed forward. I pounded the pavement harder.

Suddenly, I am all fire. My lungs burning, my feat beating the ground like a fiery drum. I am molten fire streaming down beaches towards the ocean. I am streaks of gold off Apollo’s chariot. I am rage at student walk outs. I am fury outside city hall. I am my mother’s heart beat when she brought my into the world. I am my father’s arms as he holds us both. I am what you don’t see coming next.

I am all these things, welded into the fibers of my muscles, glowing in the sparks and charges that keep my body moving.

I get back to the grassy park, slow down, and look behind me. The boy is gone. I never looked to see if he was even really there.


If anything, the breaks we are forced to take make us much more grateful for the miles themselves. I didn’t run more than those few yesterday, but I am reminded that even when everything aches, and it feels like things are breaking apart, glimmers of golden, crackling joy are still there, deep inside us.

Waiting for Approval: Bodies in Swimsuits

[I’ve been on a bit of a body-image/fitness kick lately. Maybe because it’s summer. Not sure.]

I am waiting for a man to approve of my body. How did I get here?

That’s what kept running through my mind a few days ago. I was laying on my couch feeling a weird mixture of rejected, angry, and confused. I had submitted for a job, and knew my ability to do it would be based on whether “the client” approved of my “look.”

For context: I occassionally am a promo girl. Nothing crazy, but sometimes I dress in cute outfits, put on make up and hand out fliers and samples. I also get paid $15/hr to do it, which is comparable to what I made as a tutor for a large test-prep company. Plus, student loans.

For the most part, I like my body. It’s not perfect, but (especially after the last post) frankly, I am generally feeling myself. I put hard work into it, and beyond aesthetics, I just like what it is capable of doing. So, when I submitted to work a job for a large sun screen company, I wasn’t concerned. I had worked for them before and it had been a shorts-and-tshirt deal. Easy.

Then, I discovered it was actually a bikini job.

I’m not particularly conservative (I live in Hawai‘i, and swimwear is pretty common around here), so I don’t have qualms about being seen in a swimsuit, but I also don’t have a “typical swimsuit model body.” My stomach is toned, but not always tight. I have short legs. I have smaller boobs for my frame.

The marketing company that I work for asked me to send photos of me in a bikini to send to the client (standard practice). Oomph. It was mid-afternoon on a day where I felt bloated and gross. Still, I changed, took the photos, and was waiting for someone to approve of my body for work.

A part of me wanted to be full of indignation: how dare these people get to pass judgement on me? How dare they feel as though they can decide if I’m “good enough” for the job?

Here’s the thing, though: I had agency and choice throughout this entire process. I submitted for the job initially. When I found out it was a bikini job, I could have said no, or that I wasn’t comfortable, and my employer would’ve been totally fine with that. If, when they asked for photos, I had said no, no one would’ve been salty.

So what do you do when the agent forcing you to validate to your body is no one but yourself? How do you battle all the voices screaming at you to look a certain way when their only yours? If “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” as Elanor Roosevelt is quoted on millions of magnets and tshirts around the world, what do I do when I’m not just giving consent, but I’m the one with the megaphone to my ear yelling, “Stop eating that caramel corn!”?


I spent much of the rest of the day waiting around feeling sorry for myself. Finally, my boyfriend surprised me with a rose and banana lumpia, my favorites. He lovingly listened to me rant all the way home, as I tried to figure out who I was angry at. Then, he said something enlightening:

“The thing is,” after he heard me rant about parts of my body (like my thighs) that I knew wouldn’t change, “most swimsuit models aren’t super ‘ethnic’ or even muscularly built to begin with  especially when they’re Brown. They’re white or, here, maybe Asian, and their the stereotyped versions of that: thin, small…”

“…willowy,” I filled in, a word often used to describe Asian female bodies.

“Right,” he said.

I wasn’t sure, but then I remembered that I was also going to flat-iron my hair for the job, since my curls didn’t “fit the look.” Now, it had me asking “whose look was I trying to fit?”


As we push to become more “diverse,” it’s important to remember that diversity isn’t just shades of color on our skin. It’s all aspects of loving and valuing different, perhaps cultural, parts of our bodies: including hair curls, thick muscular legs, and the softness of hips. We cannot keep letting society exoticize brown skin in advertising without accepting the fact that the brown bodies inside it may not match the shape that mass consumption thinks is “right.” I wasn’t the only one yelling in my ear to look a certain way, it was my voice backed with decades of cultural indoctrination that has told me I should look this way.

In some ways, though, I think the work starts with us. I think the work is internal, as it always begins.

If, as Tatum says, racism and its beliefs are the smog we breathe, that means we also have to know when to look at our bodies after a big, heaving breath to clear out our lungs from the toxic beliefs we’ve taken in. If I’m believing societal things about what my body “should” look like in a swimsuit, then they’ve already won half the battle. It doesn’t start with me raging at a company for making me feel this way, it takes me finding the strength to tell anyone that they don’t get to make me feel this way. It takes me choosing to not make myself feel that way.

So some of it starts with me, internally doing the work and perhaps unabashedly going out in a swim suit or a sports bra and being okay with that. I love that other women are out there, doing this. Hopefully as it happens more, it will mean that advertisers catch on, and at some point the “look” will expand far beyond what we’re already seeing. We have to be able to challenge those negative thoughts when we have it, though.


As for my “approval,” I was asked to be a back up for the job. I laughed after finally getting word, bemused at how riduculous I had been about the whole situation. I respectfully declined (and it wasn’t a problem) and got up to look in the mirror. Above it, is a race-medal hanger PJ got me that says “Run Like A Girl.”

Thank you legs, I thought, thank you thighs and feet and arms. Thank you grandma for the hair and mom for the eyes and family for the caramel skin and generations back for this body that runs, that moves, that works. Thank you Lord, for the blessing of a working body at all. Thank you. Thank you. May it always be glorified, just as it is.