Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cultural Appropriation in Racing

I rail about the color runs and how they stole a beautiful Hindu cultural tradition for profit and how much it frustrates me that people see this profile photo and ask me about the Color Run when in fact it is from a local Holi festival this year.

But I signed up for Cinco de Miler and Cinco de Muddo without a thought about cultural appropriation. There's a big difference between appropriation and celebration; the short explanation is demonstrating respect versus mocking the culture.

I went to the Cinco de Miler for the celebratory atmosphere, cool t-shirt, and the chance to run a 5-mile race, a race distance I'd never run before. Many participants dressed up in sombreros and luchador masks, and I saw one woman running in a full-body taco costume. I was ignorant. They were mocking. The race claims to celebrate "Mexico's colorful culture," which is NOT what Cinco de Mayo celebrates, and it supported the Ronald McDonald House Charities — Dallas.

No. Just stop.

At Cinco de Muddo, we got free samples of tequila. If there was anything questionable at the event, I didn't see it. The mariachi band and flamenco dancers were gone before I arrived. This event made money off the Cinco de Mayo celebration but/and benefited the Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch, which houses and rehabilitates rescued wildlife.

The issue of cultural appropriation as related to these events only occurred to me after the fact, so I did some research. Cinco de Mayo is a small Mexican holiday with about as much fanfare as the United States' Flag Day. It commemorates an unlikely victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. In the US, we typically celebrate by dressing up in sombreros and mustaches and getting falling-down drunk on the basis that that's how to celebrate Mexican culture. It's mocking, it's rude, and it's wrong. So it's very American:
We completely forget about the true meaning behind the day. Instead, we get giant store displays of beer and tortilla chips stating things like: “Corona de Mayo” and “It’s Cinco, let’s salsa!” Because obviously the only way to engage others in this holiday is through beer and tortilla chips. I always dread the few weeks before Cinco de Mayo because of these stereotyped displays. All they do is trivialize the holiday and push people back into further ignorance about the significance of the day. Cinco de Mayo has come to be known as more of a drinking and partying holiday than anything else, which is wrong.
I mentioned the charities above because other racing events, such as Chicago's Carrera de los Muertos 5k, manage to create a race based on a cultural tradition AND support local charities that benefit the Hispanic community. Unlike the Dallas events that didn't even bother.

I'll think twice about participating next year and see if I can get in touch with the event organizers about my concerns before I do. Cinco de Miler sent out a thorough post-race survey with ample opportunity for me to speak my mind about the event. At least it's something.

It's a process, and every month I learn something new that I ought to look for in future races so I can responsibly vote with my dollars for basic respect of others.

Monday, May 12, 2014

JCC Bagel Run 5k/10k

After the DISASTER that was the Lone Star Race Series, I was devastated and panicked about finding a timed race to submit proof of time before RunDisney's June 1 deadline and scoured the web for local events. DFW is huge, and there are typically dozens of running events every weekend, but May 11 was my only race-free day for the next month, and it was oddly devoid of events.

Except for the Bagel Run.

I found this little event hosted by the JCC, Jewish Community Center, and the website noted age group divisions and an awards ceremony but nothing about chip timing. I emailed the listed contact to ask, feeling both hopeful and doubtful, and I received a response to the affirmative! I quickly registered and was doubly delighted at the $20 registration fee and close-to-home (compared to most races) event site. I usually expect to pay double or triple that for a 10k.

Sunday morning I got up early and got to the JCC with about 20 minutes to spare, having already done early packet pickup, meaning I already had my race t-shirt, bib, and timing chip in my possession and only had to line up when I arrived.

Standing in a crowd at the start line, I listened as the announcer explained that 10k runners would be running a double loop on the course and need be careful to cross the timing mats but not the 5k timing mat, and I couldn't see him from the middle of the crowd or understand what he was pointing to, so I just had to hope that volunteers and/or signs would be there.

We started out in a big crowd all together and enjoyed a nice downhill slope for a block or so at the start. I was irritated that walkers were mixed in with all the runners, because it was crowded and I was trapped behind a lot of them. It's one of my top peeves and dangerous not to separate walkers from runners at events.

We thinned out and as a volunteer called out the time at the 1-mile marker, I realized I'd been going much too fast, but fierce uphill running for the next mile and a half straightened me right out. It was horrible. It was a little over 70 degrees with 95% humidity, my joints ached from running the days before and now on concrete, and I hated every step. There was a sizable bruise on my inner thigh from the previous day's mud run that stung every time my other leg brushed it, which would be a LOT over the course of 6.2 miles. I hadn't brought music, so I hunkered down and embraced the suck, focusing on my form and breath.

As I passed a pair of women walking their 5k*, I overheard one ask the other, "So what's up with those toe shoes? Aren't they, like, really bad for you?" and her friend responded, "Yeah, they are really bad for you. There are all kinds of lawsuits over it." I muttered to myself and kept running while they walked comfortably. Much as I wanted to hang back and correct the ignorami, I had a serious time goal to keep.

Later on, a pair of runners drew up beside me and one asked me jovially, "Have you heard you might be getting a refund on those?" I said, "Yeah, looking forward to buyin' even more of 'em." They laughed and we bantered about the hills briefly before they passed me.

So much suck

As I approached the 5k finish line, I heard the announcer calling out that the second place 10k runner was just finishing before I even got there. Wow. Fortunately, there were clear signs directing 10k runners around the timing mat and on to the second lap.

And then I was alone.

The final numbers aren't online yet, but it appeared that 95% of the participants were running 5k or less. It was just me and the cops and cones from there. After a long block, I drew up to a runner and passed her near the first water station. In the fourth or fifth mile, I passed a man and two women who were decidedly walking all the hills while I slog-jogged up them. After mile marker 5, I caught my second wind and picked up the pace to the end, passing one more woman and approaching another man who was still going strong.

I made my walk breaks shorter and took one more just before the final stretch but cut it especially short when I saw the pair of women I'd passed drawing up behind me and a third as well. I ran all the way to the finish, miserable, hot, dripping sweat, and certain I'd failed to make my goal. But when I glanced up at the clock, I broke into a huge grin at seeing one-some-teen, and the folks at the end cheered me as I finished. I was handed a red carnation and cold water, and I walked the length of the parking lot to cool down without puking.

I went for an orange just in time to see the child in front of me sneeze full-on the tray of oranges, so I plucked one from another tray farther away, shaking my head. I usually take off right after a run, but the announcer announced that he'd be announcing the 10k awards in about 5 minutes, so I hung out to cheer with everyone else and welcomed the opportunity to sit briefly.

"And the third place 10k Female 20-29 finisher is Mow-neeqwa Pahlit!"

"Wait. Wut?!" I actually said as I dragged myself to my feet and shuffled over to the awards table as quickly as I could. Then they couldn't find my trophy. It appeared that the 5k 20-29 third place finisher had taken my trophy by mistake! I posed for a photo with the 5k trophy, and the race organizers took down my info to mail me a corrected plaque, saying they might even personalize it with my name.

I've never placed at an event before! If I'd thought to sign up for the Barefoot division in the 2011 Merrell Down & Dirty, I would have placed third among females, but that doesn't really count. I wanted to downplay this achievement since it was such a small field, but I was in a lot of pain and really did earn that beast. Most races use five-year age-group divisions, so placing as a 27-year-old among the 20-29s is no small feat, especially since all the women I passed in my second lap looked to be in that range as well.

Freaking awesome. 1:18:23 is not exactly impressive, but it's 12 minutes faster than I could do last year, and I look forward to training and returning to this event next year.

*Not that I would ever shame someone for walking a 5k, only for being ignorant and suggesting loudly that my chosen footwear was injurious as I passed them like a BAWG.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I dig Vibram FiveFingers

Yes, I've seen the Vibram FiveFingers news going around today:
"Vibram USA, the makers of the glove-like FiveFingers running shoes, has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit against them that alleged they made false and unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits their footwear.  

"Consumers who purchased a pair of the shoes between March 21, 2009 and the date of the first dissemination of summary settlement notice or class notice, will be eligible for a refund of up to $94 per pair.


"The class-action suit was brought against Vibram in March 2012. Valerie Bezdek filed the complaint in Massachusetts and said that Vibram deceived customers by advertising that their shoes could reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles.

"The company has denied any wrongdoing alleged in the suit. They settled to put the matter to rest and avoid any additional legal expenses."
It sounds like an issue of semantics in the wording of VFF advertising and whether consumers followed the clear advice given to transition slowly into running in them and using a proper forefoot strike form with them.

A different piece of crap article cites a study and claims "science has discovered that barefoot running can really fuck you up."

That study used 36 participants and was pretty much designed specifically to induce injury by directing the participants to start out running 1-2 miles in their new VFFs. The conclusion of the study states exactly:
"Runners interested in transitioning to minimalist shoes, such as Vibram FiveFingers [OMG WHY ISN'T THERE ANOTHER COMMA HERE?!] should transition very slowly and gradually to avoid potential stress injury in the foot."
Fucking duh.

As for me, VFFs and forefoot striking saved my knees and made me a runner. I sprained my toe badly in 2012 while wearing a pair and suffered shin pain from overtraining in them last fall when I tried to log 70 miles in one month after 50 the month before. I did it but was off from running for a month after that.

Then I completed a 15-mile Spartan race in them in December and 18 miles of racing in them last weekend and feel great.

I know a lot of people who might try to get in on the settlement money for the express purpose of reinvesting the payout in more VFFs.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Three Races and a Wedding, Part MUD: Tough Mudder Race Report

This part is my Tough Mudder race review.

In October 2013, my company fielded a team to run Tough Mudder together with the company's logo on their shirts. It's a 10- to 12-mile obstacle race with a focus on teamwork and fun, no chip timing, and no penalties for skipping obstacles. The guys raved about how awesome the experience was and how many people recognized the brand and cheered them on. They returned to work and were showered with praise for their efforts.

I was out of town that weekend and far from ready for such a long race and was not interested in the Tough Mudder series at all, but I let the team leader talk me into registering with the group again for the May event in Central Texas. I knew in advance that I'd be attending the wedding Saturday, so I told the group I'd run Sunday since it was cheaper as well and they could register with me. None did.

A few registered for Saturday and then they all dropped out due to life, injury, and scheduling conflicts. I'd already dropped $200 ($85 registration + $12 parking + $50 hotel + gas/food) on the stupid race I didn't want to run, so I was determined to run it and get my stupid t-shirt to parade around the office.

I left the wedding late Saturday and reached my hotel after 1 a.m. Sunday. My toes were so sore on the drive that I thought they might have stress fractures and I might not run the next day. I was scheduled to run the 10 a.m. wave, though I'd requested a noon run, and I decided to sleep an extra hour because I really needed it after 8 miles of racing and no small bit of dancing at the wedding reception.

I felt much better the next morning, squeezed my swollen calves into compression sleeves and my swollen feet into my Vibram FiveFingers, and drove an hour and a half to the Tough Mudder event site. I arrived there to find the registration tables collapsed and the Start line vacant. I asked the volunteers at the info tent if there was any way they could get me on the course, even if it meant an abbreviated run, which I silently thought would be a helluva lot better than having to run the whole thing. They handed me my bib and told me to hang out for a few minutes while they radio-ed to other volunteers. I was amazed at their efforts for me and honestly expected to get my t-shirt and drive 3 hours home since I'd so thoroughly fucked up the timing and arrived an hour late. I give the Tough Mudder race two thumbs up for this alone.

The volunteer turned to me and told me severely, "RUN to bag check and RUN to the start line." I thanked her and did. Another volunteer loaded me into his pickup truck and dropped me somewhere in the second mile just after the first aid station. He confirmed that there was still lots of aid and support on the course; after all, we were only an hour into it. But aside from the aid station volunteers, this section the course was empty. I took off at a strong pace fully expecting the official sag wagon to pick me up at any moment.

It was a beautiful sunny day and a beautiful shady course at Apache Pass. We had camped right near here for Flipside in 2012. The trail was nice, flat, and well-marked. The first obstacle I came to was the Berlin Walls, 9 foot wooden walls that you had to scale without ropes, steps, or slats. There was no one in sight, and I jogged right past without even trying, knowing I had no chance of making it up and over alone.

My energy flagged after about a mile of strong running, so I began to take short walk breaks. But I could see the truck nearby that had dropped me off and felt obligated to prove myself worth the hassle. At about 5k, I caught up to the stragglers in the Mud Mile and we helped one another through.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

I skipped the very last largest mud hill because I was tired and didn't want to bother and wasn't entirely comfortable relying on other runners to haul me up when I had no way to offer help in return. I trudged on and quickly got over that feeling when I approached The Pyramid obstacle. Teamwork is the whole point of the Tough Mudder race series.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

Some lovely gentlemen and women helped me up and I professed my love for them, which was returned in kind. I hung around a few minutes to ask if there was any way I could help, but everyone there had it covered and did not soon need a replacement, so I moved on.

I was eager to Walk the Plank, got up there and remarked, "Whoah. That's kinda scary, huh?" I assured the volunteer I was good; I just wanted to wait a moment for anyone else to climb up and jump with me. I'm not really afraid of heights, but that's a serious drop. And a kid my age died on that exact obstacle a year ago.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

I jumped. I screamed. I held my nose. It was good. And just after that I had the chance to avail myself of the porta-potties. I'd had to go since I arrived on site but hadn't time at the start and didn't want to go at the cans right by the first water station because I was so far behind already. They were a hilariously muddy mess, and I was very glad to be an adept squatter from all my years of camping.

One "obstacle" required runners to pair up and take turns giving one another piggy back rides for a certain distance. I eyed the guy nearest me and decided to wait for the next group to catch up. I paired up with one of the women and she carried me first. But when we tried to switch, I simply could not lift her. I don't think I've ever given an adult a piggy back ride before, and I was surprised to find that I was completely incapable. A couple of her teammates had blown past us and then came back to pick us each up after depositing their partners.

It was a neat experience, but I don't like relying on others so much. I jogged and walked the rest of the course, thankful for the lovely weather, cool breezes, and flat terrain.

I skipped the Balls to the Wall rope climb because I was really tired and really intent on finishing without injury. I'd done so well at the previous day's 5-miler and didn't want to be on this course in the first place, so I felt I had nothing to prove. I completed the Spartan Beast in December, obstacles, penalties, injury, and all, so I definitely had nothing to prove here.

I hooked up with another team on the last four miles who were moving at a pace I liked, though slightly slower than I probably could have managed. They were friendly and sympathetic to my being abandoned by my work team. We pushed each other on each interval to jog a little farther than any individual wanted to. One of our party attempted the Funky Monkey angled monkey bars, but she didn't make it. I knew I wouldn't have though I can get through horizontal monkey bars usually.

Near the end, we approached the Arctic Enema, an obstacle consisting of a rectangular Dumpster full of ice water that you have to swim across long-ways. I'd been excited about it because I did a smaller version at a hot summer race a few years back. This was much worse. It's five feet deep, so I had to swim it and could not push off from the bottom. There's a plank at the midway point that you have to dunk your head under.

I was doing okay until I was about two or three strokes from the end and my body seemed to move in slow motion no matter how hard I paddled. It's a lot harder to move through ice than regular pool water, especially when you're literally seconds from going into shock. I reached the edge, flung my arm over, and hauled myself out. I paused at the top. "Wow, that was really unpleasant." The pain wasn't over and I realized I needed to quickly dash down and "keep moving, keep moving, keep moving," I told myself. My fingertips burned and there was a lot of ice trapped in my hydration pack. I tried to shake it all out but couldn't really feel anything. We were lucky it was a warm day.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

The final obstacle was the infamous pass through dangling live wires. I knew from the start that there was no way I'd be walking through that. The rest of my pickup team did, though. One woman blacked out and another emerged crying hard. I'm sure I would have cried. too.

And that was it. We finished, got our headbands, got our delicious Dos Equis beer, got our picture taken together, got our t-shirts, and got hosed off. Tough Mudder had a great shower setup with crates to keep you off the muddy ground and excellent water pressure. We'd run so slow that there wasn't a line and we took our time cleaning up.

And then I got to drive 3.3 hours home. I stopped off for food and got home around 7 p.m., groaning as a I pulled my stiff limbs out of the car. I took a long, hot bath, washed my hair twice and it was still filthy, and went to bed.

The next day I went into the office and brainstormed how to announce my run without calling the rest of my coworkers a bunch of losers for bailing out. I sent out this mass email and received lots of kudos in reply:

Hello everyone!
[We] fielded a team this weekend for the Central Texas Tough Mudder, a 10-mile mud run and obstacle race. Because of scheduling conflicts and plain old life, it ended up being a team of one: me. Even so, I drove down to Rockdale and ran my first Tough Mudder solo yesterday, May 4. It was a beautiful sunny day and a fun and challenging course. Not only that, but I ran the 5-mile Cinco de Miler at Fair Park and 5k mud run Cinco de Muddo in Pilot Point the day before on Saturday, May 3!
Finish line selfie

Post-hose selfie in a clean Warrior Dash t-shirt

Monday selfie for work

The owner asked me to send over a muddy picture of myself like the one of the guys from the October race hanging in the hallway, and I explained to him that I don't have one because I ran ALONE.

And, no, I will NOT be running this thing again in October with the company team. I will be running a local trail race I love, the Rugged and Raw 10k/20k, that exact weekend.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Three Races and a Wedding, Part 3: The Wedding

This post is about the wedding and not any of the races.

After Cinco de Muddo, I got home with just enough time to shower, eat, and dress before heading out to the wedding. I was held up by a traffic accident and arrived just in time to stand in back and watch the wedding party enter before the ushers found me an extra seat.

My legs trembled on my simple pumps (basic high heels) and I suffered as the priest gave a long introductory speech before directing the congregants to be seated. I couldn't make it and sat down gingerly, lucky enough to be seated on the far outer edge. I worried whether the groom's family would judge me for it, because my appearance was that of a healthy young woman, but there was nothing I could do. I'm friends with the bride and know she'll be tickled by the whole story when she returns from her honeymoon.

I successfully suffered upright through each subsequent standing portion of the especially long Catholic ceremony given in both English and Spanish in turn. It was the first time I can remember attending a Catholic wedding (though I was a flower girl at one as a toddler), and it was certainly interesting to sit silently by having honestly forgotten the appropriate responses to the readers' and priests' cues after each section. I stopped attending church in college and have identified as atheist for a little over a year. I wondered also what people would think if they saw the "At Gods We Chuckle" bumper sticker on my car.

I struggled as the guests all stood waiting for the wedding party to exit, unsure whether or when we were also permitted to file out. I finally ducked out the side aisle, quickly kicked off my heels, and trotted through the grass and up the long drive to snag the sneakers in my car while the guests availed themselves of the light refreshments provided. So much for formal attire. I had tried. The people who knew me didn't care one whit and were surprised that I was even present after telling them about my two morning races.

The bride was resplendent and reminded me of Giselle from Enchanted in her princess-y gown and flowing red locks. We laughed and ate and dance late into the night. I had asked if I might bring my dance flags and such to use when the dance floor was empty, and two little girls laid claim to them, spinning and leaping more brightly than I could manage. Even so, I was surprised at the energy I had to dance when I did. Later I pulled out my white fan veils and directed the bride through a rushed lesson for the photography, who I'm sure got something lovely from it.

I struggled to tear myself away, knowing I had a long drive ahead of me, but eventually departed after the cake was cut.

Click here for the final chapter.

Three Races and a Wedding, Part 2: Cinco de Muddo Race Report

Here's my Cinco de Muddo review.

I signed up for Cinco de Muddo this year because I had heard such good things about last year's event. I transferred my 9:30 a.m. Cinco de Muddo registration to noon when I signed up for the 8:30 a.m. Cinco de Miler so I could make it to both races.

Two days before the race, I received an email confirming that my noon registration had been changed to 11:30, a request I'd not made, and I sent out an email and a Facebook message to the organizers asking WTF was up. I got a response on Facebook with a direct email to contact but never heard back from anyone with Cinco de Muddo or host TNMRA about why I was bumped, whether there was still a noon wave available, and whether I'd be permitted to run it.

I was running late leaving Cinco de Miler because of the long walk back to the DART station and wasn't sure I'd make it in time to run. Thank Hermes for light traffic on the DNT. I arrived at the given address with 10 minutes to spare, spent another 5 searching for the entrance, paid, and parked. I caught the last shuttle from the parking lot to the event site, arriving at 12:05. I jogged up the path and asked if they'd still let me run. The waiver people said yes. The registration tent volunteer advised me to wait until 12:30 to run with 4 other volunteers.

I got my race packet, went to the bathroom, and heard the announcer call out that if anyone else wanted to run, they needed to jump on the course in the next 10 minutes. I didn't want to pay extra for bag check, so I pulled out my race t-shirt, dropped the plastic sack under a tree, and tucked the shirt into the back of my pants figuring I could probably run with it well enough.

I didn't want to wait around, so I jogged to and through the start line a few minutes behind a trio ahead of me and am pretty sure I was the last runner but for the volunteers running later. It was hot, dry, and dusty that afternoon, but I slogged through and soon caught up to and passed a few other runners. I completed most of the Cinco de Muddo obstacles but skipped a few wall climbs because I was tired, had nothing to prove, and wanted only to finish without injury so I could run again the next day.

The aid stations were nearly out of water when we approached, and the last one on the course was abandoned and dry. Between the heat and my own fatigue, the course seem to drag on under the Texas sun, and I looked forward to the mud crossings, even though they smelled awful. There were two nice and cool water slides (plastic sheeting and hoses atop dirt hills) and little cactus to dodge. I passed a dozen people because of the two obstacles I skipped and a handful of others because I'm a solid pacer before finally crossing the finish line to claim my medal, tepid beer, and warm tequila shot.

I asked a woman I'd passed back and forth on the course to snap a photo for me since I was alone and hadn't a camera, and she sent it to me by text message. How cool is technology? It was an alright little event, I suppose, but pretty lackluster to run solo. I'm glad it supported the Sharkarosa Wildlife Preserve. At least I got a medal.

Then I had just enough time to drive an hour home and clean up before the wedding . . .

Monday, May 5, 2014

Three Races and a Wedding, Part 1: Cinco de Miler Race Report

I ran three races this weekend. Here's my Cinco de Miler Dallas review.

Saturday morning started with the Cinco de Miler run at Fair Park. I was really only gonna run the Cinco de Muddo on Saturday, but when I saw how cool the Miler t-shirts were, I couldn't resist. The race organizers had sent out multiple emails last week warning participants about Fair Park event traffic and strongly encouraging us to bicycle or carpool. Since I live 27 miles away and would be running alone, I made sure to pick up my race packet earlier in the week and chose to ride the DART train to Fair Park.

Bad idea.

The Cinco de Miler start/finish line was over 1.5 miles from the nearest train station, so I and several other participants got a helluva warm-up before the start. Several of us noted that EVERY OTHER RACE held at Fair Park began near the entrance and near the DART station, such as the Hot Chocolate 5k/10k, The Ugly Sweater Run, The Electric Run, and so on. Not cool, Cince de Miler, not cool.

I hoofed it and got there with just enough time to use the port-o-cans, which were clean and stocked with paper, and to snap a quick photo before lining up and taking off on the 5-mile course.

The course was pretty ugly, winding mostly through housing near Fair Park, but I'd brought music with me, including the girl power set-list from our V-day performances. The weather was nice and dry, and I felt good. I think I smiled through the whole course. A police officer monitoring the course cheered and offered high fives and another clapped for us further down. The course was mostly flat with a long downhill slope near the end. I finished in an unlikely 1:00:29, about 5 minutes faster than I expected.

Registration included a free finish line beer. While I stood in line, a man came by to check IDs and pass out wristbands for over 21s. When we got to the front of the line, they made us fish out our ID again for proof of age and handed us each a can of Corona Light, only 99 calories. I had thought Corona was a light beer. Obviously Cinco de Miler knows nothing about running. I took two sips and chucked it in the garbage. No wonder they have to give it away for free; Corona Light is fucking awful.

There was little going on at the post-race "party," so I trekked back to Fair Park Station as quickly as I could, joints aching. I just barely missed the train and had to wait 20 minutes for the next, worrying about whether I'd make my next race at all.