Thursday, April 9, 2015

Flash Fiction: Only Two

I briefly belonged to a flash fiction writing group a while back. I only wrote a handful of pieces, and it was an interesting experience. As much as I like writing opinion pieces and telling stories about my adventures, I’ve never had any skill for fiction writing. In fact, this one’s not entirely a fictitious account. But it’s the piece of which I’m most proud and that I spent some time revising (minimally) for competitions later. I hope you enjoy it.

Prompt: Only Two
Word count: 287/300 max

Amid the buzzing swarm, the clamor of a brass band begins a gay polka, commanding—seemingly demanding—merriment of the cacophonous crowd. Southern sun and humidity, body heat and odor press against me oppressively. I shut my eyes, touching fingertips to my temples, and exhale wearily.

A long day trekking across the faire grounds leaves me guzzling bitter, overpriced mead to calm my nerves against the serious fire hazards posed by so many thousands squeezed into a few small acres, filing through rows of aging wooden shops like cattle.

I scan the horde, searching for the so-called friends who dragged me here. They went for another round of beers while I saved seats for the next show.

“Beg ’pardon, m’lady. Do ye know the hour?” asks an ineptly affected English accent in garish tights and codpiece . . . and naught else.

Checking my watch, “A quarter of two,” I reply and grimace some semblance of a polite smile. He snatches my wrist and plants a sloppy kiss on my knuckles in thanks, dashing away before I can recoil. I wipe the wetness across my jeans and tilt my head skyward, lamenting silently, Only two?

A glimmer draws my gaze to a young couple: a kilted elf and sparkling pixie, a pretty enough pair and otherwise unremarkable. They lean into each other some 50 yards off as the tedious throng parts just long enough that I see her rise on tiptoes and him bend to kiss her: long and tender, beaming in a world of their own, and achingly intimate. I share their moment of joy from afar, raptly watching unseen, the glimpse to cherish.

Then a bellowing pretzel-bearer blocks my view, and I release the breath I hadn’t known I held.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Modesty is shitty

This week I had some interesting exchanges on Facebook of the body-shaming and slut-shaming variety. A now-former Facebook “friend” posted the following status:

FFF: What's with women posting pictures featuring their breasts? Do they have so little self confidence or self respect that they really have to rely on that to feel pretty or appreciated? Please women, do yourself a favor: Have a little dignity and cover yourselves.

The comments were pretty much what you’d expect, nothing particularly notable.

Another “Friend”: So to play devils advocate here ( I Dont care either way) if a woman feeling empowered by her sexuality should feel ashamed to flaunt it in fear of other people's issues? Seems a bit narrow and small. But again, I honestly do not care one way or the other. Unless they are saggy ooky

FFF: It's not the just having them happen to show, but when the picture is like boobs only, no face, I feel like the woman is saying to the world, "hi. The only thing I want you to know about me is that my body is sexy." So far as that goes, hurrah for confidence in your looks, but its women who display themselves as sex objects like that in the name of confidence who also complain about being objectified by men. I say choose one, because it's unfair not to expect such a natural reaction: It is the human nature of mankind whether or not it is cordial or proper. That's why things like modesty were invented in the first place - not to constrict women, but to cause them to be appreciated for more than their physique. I posted this not to put down women who like how they look, but to encourage them to display themselves in a way which would cause them to be treated with more honor.

Me: Maybe women post such photos without face because they are proud of their bodies and also fear being victimized by those who would share their photos unethically, seems them to her employer, etc.

Maybe they post those photos because THEY ARE THE VICTIMS of a culture that's taught them breasts are their best feature and selling trait. Then again, why are we having this conversation without mention of dick pics?

Anyone who treats a woman poorly for her appearance is an asshole. It's no failing on the woman's part that others treat her badly and judge her based on her body.

So-called modesty was forced upon women by men who owned them as daughters and wives and wanted to maintain a premium on their sexual value for trade (dowry) and status.

Suggesting that men are incapable of viewing women as anything more than objects because "human nature" is frankly insulting and ignores/excuses centuries of misogynistic cultural socialization.
Choosing to adorn and display one's body on her own terms for her own reasons it's empowering, no matter who also happens to prefer her choice in that matter.

Jfc, this body shaming, slut shaming crap is petty 101-level ignorance.

Me: Or maybe women are unique individual human beings with myriad thoughts, feelings, and motivations who deserve respect no matter their appearance.

What in the world would motivate someone to disrespect or maltreat a woman based on her choice of appearance unless that person genuinely believes women lose value and respectability by choosing to expose their ankles, shoulders, thighs, cleavage, breasts, vulva?

Me: Attitudes like this do not protect or uplift but are the cause of brutality against women around the world.

And then she sent me a private message to inform me that she unfriended me and deleted all my comments in the flounciest of flounces that ever flounced, over which my friends and I had a good laugh and shared lots of cleavage pics:

FFF: I love that you are so opinionated and live to be so informed on only one side of every issue. However, I'm sick of you spewing your feminazi bullshit all over my posts. For this cause i am both editing and unfriending you. If you need to copy this and contort my intentions in this message to satisfy your estrogen-propelled fury as well, feel free.

No contortions necessary, dear.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A narrative journal entry about past abuse

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, for which I am participating in the Red My Lips campaign and sharing this publicly for the first time.

Since a long absence from this blog last summer, I have a few posts elsewhere that I'll be adding and updating here as I am able. I wrote this November 10, 2014.

Not recommended for family . . . but whatever; you're adults.
CN: about 1800 words describing sexual abuse, emotional manipulation, boundary and consent violations
I’m trying to deal with something and have only spoken about bits and pieces here and there to different people. I think getting it all in one place might be helpful, though my heart now pounds furiously, just shy of a full-on panic attack.
There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you. – Maya Angelou
Not quite a month ago, I was at an event and a friend said to me, “Hey, isn’t that [your ex] over there?” Startled, I looked and quickly replied, “No, I don’t know that guy,” not recognizing him. A little while later he said to me, “Hey, stranger,” and I inhaled sharply. “Oh, I didn’t even notice,” I replied with false cheer and quickly walked away.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with my heart racing and barely fighting the urge to jump into my car and leave straightaway. I managed to avoid him for a few short hours until dinner, because then he sat with my friends. I pointedly ignored him and left early.
Before that day, I truly thought I would never see him again, and I was surprised by how upsetting his presence was. I was ill at ease me for days—two weeks—after that until speaking of it with complete strangers at a women’s event I attended on a whim, and there conceded that I ought to contact the friends who I believed brought him and ask them to let me know in advance if it happened again.
I sent a message to that effect, explaining that seeing him unexpectedly was emotionally too much to handle cold and asking if they’d please give me a heads up if they knew when he’d be attending future events. I was then informed that he’d recently been attending quite regularly at the Denton chapter again, from which he’d been absent since we broke up in 2005.
And since learning that, I’ve been seriously considering quitting altogether this organization that I’ve belonged to for nearly a decade. I’ve been fine with ignoring another ex at events all year, but the thought of seeing this one again makes me sick.
Our mutual friends know we dated in the past but didn’t know there was any problem. (They can see this, but I don't know whether they will.) I was 18, a freshman in college, and I was drawn by the allure of dating a dark and mysterious “older” guy (24). It was my first adult relationship, and I was oblivious at the time to how deeply flawed it was, having never seen modeled a healthy adult relationship in my life and never been taught about the concept of “consent.” I thought this was what a relationship was and that I was just inexperienced and immature. I was/am REALLY smart, and that sort of thing—emotional abuse—doesn’t or can’t happen to intelligent women like me, to good people like me.
He would frequently get me drunk and push boundaries because he (and he actually said this) got off on the idea of popping my cherry, though I’d told him I intended to wait for marriage. I was raised Catholic and had no such reservations about most other sexual contact, though, so we did fool around. And more than once he’d shove his dick in my face begging for a blowjob until I was literally in tears. I didn’t want to stick some guy’s dick in my mouth; I viewed it as shameful and gross because of the way men talk about it and talk about the women who’ve done it.
Throw some body-shaming into the mix: He told me I should do pushups because my pert, 18-year-old D-cup breasts were too "floppy." THEY'RE BREASTS! I was shocked, hurt, and shamed into silence. Anger over that remark has stuck with me since then.
I went to a camping event that summer with him and his friends, whom I’d barely met but were very welcoming, even if they teased more than I was used to. He served a shift one evening at admissions, and in the meantime I’d had a fantastic time sitting at the main campfire with one friend I knew there, listening to everyone’s stories and soaking up the good cheer.
His close friend rushed up to me and said boyfriend was upset and looking for me and was back at camp.
I went to find him and asked what was wrong. He was in a panic, said he’d been searching for me and couldn’t find me and thought the worst. I’d been with [woman friend] at the main campfire and hadn’t ever seen him pass by that area. He assumed I’d gone to fuck some other guy. He was hurt and scared and upset. I tried to comfort him: “What have I ever done to make you think I’d do such a thing?”
“You’ve never done anything to make me think you wouldn’t.”
I was shocked into silence, absolutely horrified. And, deeply hurt, I began to cry. I tried to get up to leave, but he held me—stopped me. (No, it wasn't like *that* I would later tell friends who suddenly reacted with anger.) He tried to explain away his words, blame his insecurities on the ex-girlfriend he’d wanted to marry before me. Once I’d managed to calm myself, I got up again to go to the bathroom I told him. “But you’re coming back, right?” he pleaded. I wanted a little space to breathe for a few moments, but I don’t think it had occurred to me not to return until he said that. And I placated him with an affirmative response.
It was a long walk and I felt numb. I saw one or two of our friends between the camp and toilet. His friend told me that boyfriend had been talking some craziness about packing everything up and catching a bus back home that very night because he was so upset, thinking I had left him. He would have stranded me. I didn’t want to go back to him, but I didn’t know what to do.
I now know that I would have been taken care of, that his friends are good people, but I didn’t then. I didn’t see any choices but to . . . I don’t know—beg his forgiveness for the imagined betrayal?
I stayed with him—we were in love, right?—but tried to break up with him about a month later. I was resolved, but somehow he talked me to tears again, reminding me that we loved one another, something crazy about emotions and not-quite guilt-tripping me into a “break.” I ultimately conceded in the hope that I could at least leave his damn house sooner. (I was living on campus but stayed over with him a lot. God, I HATED his fucking water bed. My back was always wrecked by it.)The typical pain of a breakup haunted me for a few weeks and months afterward, but I was OK then. He tried “befriending” me a few times a few years later. I took him at his word and treated him as such, but he hid his disappointment at my casual disinterest poorly.
I never wanted to be a victim. I never wanted to use that word. After escaping that relationship, I recognized and named the emotional abuse for what it was. But I never used that word. And I read a lot of stories from a lot of women very like me, but I didn’t use the R-word either. It didn’t seem to fit, and I couldn’t manage the implications if I called it that. Either I’d be appropriating a word and status that didn’t belong to me, because it wasn’t like he forced me. I eventually gave in and had sex with him for my own reasons, or that's what I tell myself. But he'd been pushing for it for several months. 
The fact is: coerced consent is not consent; resigned consent is not consent; and impaired consent is not consent (such as by alcohol).
He was always speaking of his sexual experience and prowess as if he were God’s gift to women, and I’d laugh and demure, since he knew I didn’t want to have sex with him. When we finally did it, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, if this is how great sex is, I guess I’m going to spend my life rather disappointed.” It didn’t nearly match his hype, but how was I to know any different?
Only more recently have I been able to name the manipulation and sexual abuse for what it was. I want to believe that talking about it can help. Recent events have triggered a lot of remembered hurt and there may be a lot left unprocessed because I didn’t want name it for so long.
I hear through the grapevine that he’s a different person now. There’s an unstated societal expectation that I (that anyone) should let go, forgive and forget. Our mutual friends don’t know most of this story, and I don’t know whether I ought to tell them.
Whoever he is now and whatever he’s been through doesn’t change what happened, and it doesn’t change how it’s ruined a big damn part of my past, present, and future relationships. I’m not obligated to forgive anything. Forgiveness is a gift of absolution to the wrongdoer. It doesn’t do anything for me.
From Skepchick commenter LeftSidePositive: This focus on “forgiveness” can also mean that the person who was wronged might be pressured out of making decisions in their best interest–for instance, someone might have “moved on” after someone stole from them–but by conflating this with “forgiveness” they can be guilted out of taking precautions not to let them be vulnerable to theft from that person again. And then the conflation goes the other way too–when someone in the social circle implies that the wronged person is unhealthy and hasn’t “moved on” enough when they take reasonable precautions having learned from being wronged. . . . As such, an abusive person can simply wave our cultural imperative about forgiveness and continue the cycle of abuse, all the while enablers are insisting that the wronged person is actually more “empowered” by “forgiving” and remaining vulnerable.
I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. Painful though it may be, I think that remembering all this is a necessary step in validating my present feelings and desire not to see this person or be around him ever again. (Aside: What the hell kind of fucked-up socialization does this society have that I feel the need to write 1800 words validating my fucking feelings?) But my feelings are a bit calmer now, at least.
April update: I still go, though not as often. I've had to interact with him in a professional manner because of positions in which I've volunteered to serve the organization. I'll be attending a weekend-long immersive event and will see him frequently because we're both competing in the same competition and typically camp with the same people.
I can no longer camp with my friends because it's not a safe place for me to be any more, and I don't know where I will end up this weekend. This is causing no small amount of daily anxiety leading up to it.
I expect to need a long break after the event. And that will undoubtedly hurt my opportunities for advancement in the organization. Twisted. But I have other things going on in my life that I enjoy pursuing. That's what I tell myself to lessen the hurt and disappointment.

I don't know what else to do. 

A Critical Email

Since my long absence from this blog, I have a few posts elsewhere that I'll be adding and updating here as I am able. This is a followup the occurred in November 2014.

I ultimately decided to send feedback about the terrible Six:02 race via email.

Hello Stephanie,

I recently participated in Six:02's Dallas event, the It's Your Time 6k race on November 15, with two of my coworkers. We had a good time running together and enjoyed the unusual race distance, but I have a number of critiques about the event and its execution.

The 6k race website encouraged participants to use public transportation, specifically the DART rail to reach the event, but the DART website has for a while shown an announcement that downtown DART rail stations are closed on weekends from October 25 to November 30. The announcement is front and center at DART's main website,, and I think it was an egregious error for race organizers to fail to research and post that information for participants; and further to fail to offer any discount on expensive weekend parking in Downtown Dallas.

Since the unseasonal cold front moved in the week of the race, I can understand that the race organizers would be caught by surprise. However, it appears as if they cared not at all about the freezing temperatures and race participants. Could they perhaps have purchased hand warmers in bulk from Sam's Club a few days before the race? Could they have sent an email to participants with tips for dressing to run in such cold weather, ESPECIALLY since there were so many novice runners and this weather is unusual for Dallas? This would have been a very simple and effective task to show some concern for participants' well-being. Could the event have offered a bag check so participants could dress adequately for warmth before and after the race and leave their layers and enormous swag bags rather than carry so much while running or trek several city blocks to their cars to drop things off?

I thought that the speakers set up along the course providing upbeat music were a great touch. Maybe your team could work on a playlist for the next race that doesn't demean women. The first song I heard on the course was literally about stalking and preying on a woman like an animal (Adam Levine's deeply disturbing song "Animals").

Lyrics include, “Baby, I’m preying on you tonight. Hunt you down eat you alive.”
The Rape, Abuse Incest National Network told TMZ: “No one should ever confuse the criminal act of stalking with romance.”

I also recall hearing a country song about a woman 'busting out of her bikini top.' After looking online, I find that it's "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line:
Hey baby
Yeah, when I first saw that bikini top on her
She’s poppin’ right out of the South Georgia water
Thought, "Oh, good lord, she had them long tanned legs!"
Couldn’t help myself so I walked up and said

Are you freaking kidding me? It is not that hard to find music that doesn't objectify and demean women, and I'd be thrilled to share some examples if Six:02 needs help with not alienating its target demographic.

The last song I heard as I left the festival area was Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass," which has been heavily criticized all over the Internet all summer long. Sure, it's catchy, but the lyrics are pretty demeaning to "skinny bitches," like many of the runners I saw at the 6k. ( )

I was further dismayed to see hundreds of yellow, white, and silver helium balloons lining the course along Katy Trail. Helium is a limited resource necessary for crucial medical purposes and scientific testing, and there is a global shortage of it. I've run two other races along that stretch of Katy Trail and enjoyed the beautiful trail itself far more than seeing such waste and many balloons popped and littering nature along the edges.

I signed up for this race because my coworker suggested it and we were intrigued by the promised "pampering" at the finish line. The massage therapists were AMAZING. Waiting in a long line in the cold, shivering in sweat, however, was not. The massage line was consistently the longest throughout the event, and I am stunned that the 6k team didn't realize a bunch of sweaty women would not be that interested in getting their hair and makeup done after running four miles. Surely these choices of "pampering" can't be indicative of what Six:02 really thinks of its customers, I hope.

A friend of mine suggested: "If you wanted to do something 'make-uppy' how about parafin treatments for windburned hands? That would be warm at least. And MORE massages, in a heated tent of course, and on a 'take-a-number' system so people could mill about and drink hot things instead of standing in line."

I would like to suggest offering a foam rolling station with a knowledgeable trainer available to show runners the best ways to work out stiff muscles and/or a station for calf and ankle massage since we'd just run a noteworthy distance.

Though I really did enjoy the course that wound through beautiful parts of downtown Dallas, chatting with and challenging my two coworkers, I feel that my enjoyment was often in spite of the event's execution. The race's organizing team misfired in a lot of ways as far as connecting with and respecting its target demographic and failed miserably at empowering women in athletics.

Thank you for your time and consideration, as well as the opportunity to send feedback about the It's Your Time 6k event.

Moniqa Paullet


Hi Moniqa,
Thanks very much for sharing your feedback. As mentioned, I’m part of the social media team and will circle back with my teammates at SIX:02. We’ll be in touch soon.

It’s April 2015, and I have heard nothing further.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Six:02 6k race report

Since my long absence from this blog, I have a few posts elsewhere that I'll be adding and updating here as I am able. This story is from November 2014.
A race report, wherein I shall complain at length about an event targeted at women but not very considerate toward women:
Saturday morning I had a 6k race that a coworker talked me into (because I otherwise avoid women's races like the plague).
The race website encouraged participants to take the DART rail, but I found out in the wee hours of the morning that the DART rail is closed in that part of town every weekend for about two months, and this has been clearly posted on the DART website for at least a month. So I got to drive instead and pay $10 for fucking downtown parking that I hadn't budgeted for.
I had NO IDEA how to dress to run in such weather (30°F), so I gambled with many layers. I always run in Vibram FiveFingers but knew my toes would freeze painfully, so I resigned myself to trying to run in my $15 Wal-Mart sneakers that I only use for walking and that I had to buy a size big to fit the width of my foot. I got to the festival area and found myself pleasantly comfortable standing around, so I stripped off my outer two layers and put the outer one back on so I'd be comfortable to run. I feel like I was REALLY lucky that this combination of gear worked for me. I got one moderate but manageable blister on one foot, and my toes felt OK. Perhaps I ought to invest in a pair of cold-weather running pants, though I've never needed them before.
The event was put on by a women's athletic clothing store called Six:02, which doesn't actually have its own clothing line but sells all the big brands. Its marketing is so bizarre: The copy on their web page goes on about "What's your six:02 moment?" and encourages people to post and tag their #‎six02 moments all over social media (through which I won a $100 gift card to the shop, which is cool). The "Six:02" moment is a moment for yourself when you do something just for you that makes you feel good, related to fitness. It seems to me as if the company is simply co-opting the idea of "self care" and trying to slap their brand on it. It irritates me that they chose such a random time and an even more random arrangement of letters, numbers, and symbols for their brand. The branding seems entirely gibberish.
On the one hand, if the concept works and attracts more women to fitness pursuits, that's great; on the other, the company has some serious problems with understanding its target demographic. The race was advertised as having "pampering" at the end, which sounded like it might be fun. So there were four stations set up: hair styling, makeup touch-ups, manicures, and massage. Guess which one had the longest line. Who would have ever thought that a bunch of sweaty bitches wouldn't want to get their hair and makeup done after running 4 miles? We stood freezing (~30-35°F that morning) in our sweaty gear for 20 minutes to get a stupid shoulder massage, and I felt REALLY bad when I saw that the masseurs' hands were bare.
It was cool that there were speakers set up along the course playing upbeat music and really NOT cool that the first song was about preying on a woman like an animal; and the last song as I left was the catchy and oft-criticized "All About That Bass." Creating a playlist of songs that don't demean women isn't that freaking hard. Women's empowerment: they're doing it wrong.
The swag bag and items they gave out to participants were surprisingly good, and I am curious about how much money they poured into the black hole of this sparsely attended event. Registration was not expensive, and compared to other races I've attended, it's clear they lost a lot on this one. We got a nice quality drawstring bag, hand towel, water bottle, tech t-shirt, and silver medallion necklace at the finish line instead of medals.
I *really* hope they compensated the stylists and masseurs well for standing in the cold 2-3 hours serving everyone with bare fingers. There was an impressive jumbo screen and a few top athletes clearly flown in to help promote the brand, and an impressive level of videography and photography going on for future promotional purposes. It was all very over-the-top for 259 runners.
The course wound through some cool parts of downtown and had minimal hills (but several people complained about how bad the hills were). I ran with two coworkers and we each thought the other two would surely take off and leave us in the dust, but we all pushed one another harder than we would have pushed ourselves and finished with an average 11:30 min/mi pace, WAY better than any of us hoped for. One had been struggling with her C25K training and had only run a 5k race once before. The other had given up on training for several weeks or months, and I've been a solidly slow runner: I struggled through a sub-40 3-mile treadmill run earlier that week. We had a really good time together.
I understand that this was a record freeze for Dallas that swept in the same week of the race so they were caught off-guard. They were REALLY lucky that the location and course weren't windy. Could they have bought bulk hand warmers at Sam's Club to offer to participants? Could they have sent out an email with tips for dressing and running in cold weather, especially since there are so many first-timers at this event? Maybe offer leg and feet massages? A foam rolling station and knowledgeable demonstrator? A bag check so we could bring enough clothes to be warm before and after the race and not have to run while carrying all that cool swag? A friend suggested: "If you wanted to do something 'make-uppy' how about parifin treatments for windburned hands? That would be warm at least. And MORE massages, in a heated tent of course, and on a 'take-a-number' system so people could mill about and drink hot things instead of standing in line."
*Edited to add: I also remember hearing a shitty country song sung by a man crooning about a woman's boobs busting out of her bikini top.
I also forgot to kvetch about the HUNDREDS of helium balloons lining Katy Trail, many of which had popped and littered the area before I passed. Helium is a limited resource (and at a worldwide shortage) necessary in medical and other science fields. Latex is a common allergy, and littering a nature trail is fucking shitty.

I hope there's a post-race survey, or I will find another way to offer constructive feedback.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I survived speed dating

And I know you want to hear ALL about it.

Since my long absence from this blog, I have a few posts elsewhere that I'll be adding and updating here as I am able. This story is from July 2014.
I've long been frustrated at Internet dating and wanted to give something new a try out of curiosity. The event was called "Speed Dating Event For All Active/Fit Lifestyle Single Professionals Ages 26-39," which ought to have been right up my alley.
I'm told that the organization frequently used that restaurant location, but they did not bother to tell participants that it was across the street from the same restaurant's former location, now an empty building, and that Google maps only recognizes the empty one. Minorly irritating, but I found the right place and walked in the door right at 7:30, when the event was scheduled to start.
And the coordinator first thing instead of greeting me, aggressively stated, "You're late." So, instead of welcoming me as a participant and putting me at ease in a traditionally stressful situation, I was briefly panicking and believed I'd be turned away entirely after I'd already paid for the event, the information for which was very clear to say that it wouldn't begin until everyone arrived. "It's 7:30 RIGHT NOW," I retorted, not about to take that shit. One woman and several men arrived later than me; two women and three men were no-shows altogether.
The coordinator led me to my table and then told me not to follow him (presumably because it was a small space?). He had info for me and to explain how things worked, so I stood beside him waiting for him to tell me eye-to-eye before I sat down and he told me to sit down because he didn't want to talk to me face to face, instead standing over me to tell me how things worked. It's obvious bullshit macho posturing, and I do not have patience for that crap.
This was all in the first five minutes of my arrival, and the event hadn't even begun.
It was held in a loud restaurant with the tables too-close together, and after four meets, I was exhausted at yelling across the table but had five more men to meet. It was a lot of sensory overload, and I was uncomfortable and jittery the whole time. Our waitress was brand new and had no idea what to do with our group and was equally uncomfortable.
Each meeting was six minutes, which was not long enough for me to be impressed or determine whether I wanted to date anyone again, but I had a good attitude and checked "yes" for the five who were OK-ish. Hot paramedic wouldn't even look at me the whole time we spoke. (Wtf, dude?) A couple men seemed much too old for me, or maybe just old for their age.
There quickly developed a pattern that the men wanted to dominate or lead the conversation, which I found dull and difficult to let them do. Had I known what to expect, I'd have been prepared to take the lead myself. I did have a nice time chatting up the woman next to me before and after the event though, and she recommended some groups to check out that might be better for meeting people, since we were both underwhelmed by the event.
Only one man out of the nine "chose" me, and I hadn't even had the chance to tell any of them I'm an unshaven feminist to give them a reason for being put off. I did not find the one interesting but might drop him a line because six minutes doesn't count for much. I was vaguely disappointed but mostly relieved that the ordeal was over. I'd only felt lukewarm about anyone in attendance.
I had no idea what to expect going in-- whether the type of people who did this were brave, crazy, or desperate. And I guess I can cross it off my bucket list now, but it was an uncomfortable event, and I can usually handle myself well in social stuff that I choose to attend.

Unless I find an organization that offers these events for bi/gay/queer folk, I'm pretty sure I won't be doing this again for some years at least, unless maybe I lose a bet or something.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Historic McKinney Kiwanis Triathlon Race Report: Finish

I texted to ask the other woman how it went. She said she fell off her bike, broke her wrist, and didn’t finish. Holy crap. Why hadn’t she contacted me, the only person she knew in the area? She hadn’t brought her phone on the course with her and because she didn’t know anyone’s number, she refused the paramedics insistence on taking her to the hospital, accepted their painkiller cocktail, and instead gathered her things and drove herself to the ER. I felt so awful for her. If I’d known, I could have taken care of all her gear and bike, could have called my roommate to pick me up and put the bikes in either the truck or the SUV they have.

She was worried about not wanting to do the Memorial Day triathlon for which she’d won a free registration that had made me silently insanely jealous because I could never afford such a thing and it was all a random whim to her. I told her not to worry about that now but to rest and heal and think about it later, that some events allow transfers in case of severe injury, and that I might be able to pay whatever fee for it if they allowed it. Later in the day, the x-rays showed the wrist wasn’t broken. She said she didn’t realize how fast she was going and lost control on the mile 8 downhill and hit her head 3 times when she fell. Fortunately, it was right at a turnaround with volunteers and a police officer present to help her, and her helmet did its job. She got some ugly road rash on her legs and shoulder but avoided any notable bruising. She later said that she'd done the whole ride in one gear since she didn't know how to change the gears on her sweet $1200 rental.

My aforementioned fall left me with three scrapes and a goose-egg of a bruise on my knee. After eating and about halfway through the movie, I took a long, hot bath and soaked my aching back and shoulder/pec, realizing only then that I must have twisted my upper body during the fall and sprained my freaking tit. How the hell does one even do that? I took a lot of Tylenol and a 2-hour nap, woke irritated to be hungry again so soon, ate, grabbed an ice pack to hug, and went back to sleep til about 6 p.m.
I had scheduled a massage for the next morning, and though I hated waking up for it, I was SO glad to have gone. I mentioned it to my massage therapist, and he tenderly worked on the muscle, remarking on the swelling and heat that the injury produced. It really hurt to let him at it, but it felt better to be a bit looser, and I knew it would aid my healing and comfort over the next few days. It’s difficult to take it easy with daily tasks for one’s dominant arm. I was still on the fence about whether I should see my doctor for the pulled muscle. It was a weird, new pain to me and I couldn’t tell how serious it was, but I also doubted the doctor could do anything for it that I couldn’t from home. I decided not to.
I found my race results online: I finished 207 out of 209  finishers, 59/60 women, had a miserably slow 9:11 swim, just barely hit my sub-60 bike goal with a 59:22, didn’t at all believe my 39:54 3.2-mi run, and hit my total 2-hour goal with a generous 1:54:26. I am very excited to have baseline numbers for future events and have already registered for an April 14 swim + run event and an April 19 sprint tri!
Overall, it was challenging but fun and I’m glad I did it.

Historic McKinney Kiwanis Triathlon Race Report: Run

The exciting thing about the 5k course was that the first mile started on my usual trail and literally ran down my street and past my house. I took advantage of the porta-potty at the construction site across the street from my house, knowing from experience that a short pit stop could only improve my end time. My roommate was in the garage and waved as I passed. I briefly considered walking inside for a nap.

I shouldn’t have needed to pee. I needed electrolytes. The aid station only had water. I thought about the weather and the distance and figured I’d survive, but it wasn’t pleasant.

My legs didn’t seem to suffer the feelings described by other athletes as jelly or heavy. I was just so tired! I incorporated a lot of short jog/walk intervals, because all I wanted to do was walk the whole thing. But I had a time goal to meet. I didn’t know my exact swim start time, but it looked like I had about 42 minutes to finish the run. I didn’t feel like I could make that pace. I felt like molasses, like a 16+ minute mile. But I wouldn’t know until the end, so I just kept on, pushing the walks as short as I could stand to.

Around 1.5 miles, I first saw two runners behind me. Then I trudged slowly up the one big hill and told the volunteers at the aid station at the top how very happy I was to see them. One runner passed me around mile 2 and I gave him a high five. The other passed in the last half mile. I almost always “sprint” the last stretch in a race, but I had nothing left to give beyond my current pace. I asked a volunteer to point out where exactly the finish line was and was heartened to see it.

I ran to the finish, saw that the clock read 02:28 as I approached, and realized I might have actually made my 2-hour goal. I was given a finisher’s medal, water, and snack. I waited to see the friend finish, hoping to cheer her on. And waited. And waited. I had seen her bike still on the rack but not her gear. After a half hour or so, I was beginning to worry about my own post-race refueling, checking my phone, and wondering how long I should wait. When I checked again, her bike was gone. I’d been wandering the small festival area and hadn’t found her and had no missed calls or messages, so I decided to pack up and ride home.

But I couldn’t ride straight home because that was the run course for the kids triathlon immediately following the adults. I resolved to go the long way around; it was only a mile. Ouch, it hurt to sit. Luckily, I found a road that cut through and saved me a hill. I warmed up some burritos and watched some of A Knight’s Tale.
Fed, I wondered about my friend and how I’d missed seeing her at the end.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Historic McKinney Kiwanis Triathlon Race Report: Bike

Cyclists were already returning to re-rack and head out for the run. It made me chuckle. I took my time at the transition to make sure I had everything I needed and walked my bike out. I’m still a bit awkward getting my second toe into the cage, but I managed and set off. I stopped less than a mile in because I was parched and my hydration pack bite valve wasn’t working. I’d used hydration packs for foot races before and tested the new bladder at home, but it was determined not to cooperate on race day. I had to pull off the valve entirely and sip straight from the tube. Whatever.
On the road again . . . The course began with a slight but not unpleasant incline for most of the first 2 miles with a lane closed entirely for cyclists in the first mile and police officers at each intersection to hold traffic and wave us through. The first turn carried me out of city traffic and onto empty country roads. The weather was PERFECT: the night’s low had been 42°F and the afternoon high climbed to 82°F. leaving a perfect morning breeze once the sun came up. There were several blind turns, but few houses and zero traffic on an early Sunday morning.
One hill at the end of mile 4 was a bit difficult, but I made sure to take a lot of speed into it and actually passed another cyclist on the up! Badass. I maintained that lead for almost 3 more miles until a long, pleasant decline over most of mile 8. I wasn’t used to carrying a lot of speed, but I did enjoy myself. Turning around and huffing back up mile 9 was less fun, but it was all downhill from there back to the high school.
I had no reference to gauge my level of exertion on the bike compared to running and swimming, but it was the easiest leg for me that day. I pushed myself to comfortably middling exertion, knowing I’d need to maintain it for an hour and not wanting to kill my legs for the run.
At the transition area, I switched to an 8-ounce handheld water bottle since I knew there would be aid stations at every mile. I had brought toe shoes and an extra shirt to give myself the option of changing, but for a mere 5k, I can tolerate sneakers, so I wore the same shoes as I had on the bike. I walked out to the course start, which was kind of weirdly across a section of grass instead of using the existing paved trail but I suppose minimized collisions for all the fast people who’d already finished.

Historic McKinney Kiwanis Triathlon Race Report: Swim

I stuck a toe in to find the water was nearly as warm as the 85° temp of the senior pool where I trained. I opted against warming up in the pool because it was crowded with swift swimmers doing just that, and swimming really wears me out. Shimmying my hips and shoulders and swinging my arms around would have to suffice.

We were instructed to line up by the pool in numerical order by our bib numbers, which were supposedly seeded by the estimated swim times we entered at registration but became quickly apparent were not, which was confirmed by a relay participant sitting nearby who told me the relay racers had been thrown in willy nilly with the rest of the mix. We instead waited on the bleachers for 200+ athletes to go ahead of us and jumped in line with the last dozen. The race website had said swimmers would be spaced out by about 10 seconds each. I counted 5 seconds between starters. Watching the swift swimmers in the water and the traffic jams when many tried to pass the swimmers ahead of them was chaotic, a bit scary, and intimidating. Boom! Did you see that? One guy just got punched in the head while trying to pass.

Diving was forbidden and I’d never practiced a jump start. It wouldn’t have mattered because my training pool is shallow and the race started in the deep end. I jumped in, held my nose, and began kicking, disappointed to see how deep I sunk and how long it took me to recover, reach the surface, give a weak kick off the wall, and get going. I tried to remind myself to slow down and go strong and steady. I struggled to align myself in the lane with the deep end strip dropping away and spent many strokes sliding against the ropes and hoping I wouldn’t kick anyone in the next lane or get hit with a penalty for it.

I paused briefly for a breath after each length, having never learned the flip turn, and checked to see if anyone needed to pass me. For three laps the space behind me was all clear. But suddenly at the end of the third lap, four guys were piled up behind me and I stopped for several seconds to let them all pass, preferring to lose time over the thought of otherwise being kicked or elbowed.

I struggled and swam several lengths on my back, trying to catch my breath. I don’t know why I feel so good in training laps and yet flounder at races. I didn’t count the lengths, only my strokes and breath: one, two, breathe, one, two, breathe, one, two, breathe. . . . This was probably the first time my goggles didn’t fog up. Eventually I reached the end of the 12th length and pulled myself up the ladder out of the pool, slowly walking where everyone before me had jogged out, even though I would like to have enjoyed the short stretch of barefoot running if I’d had the energy for it.

What I didn’t see was the photographer shooting me on the ladder, hunched over, dead-tired, without an ounce of pep or joy. I’m pretty disappointed at how remarkably terrible these race photographers were since I happened to care about my time and didn’t stop to take any pictures at this event. Oh well, no race pictures for me.

Player two has entered the game

Before I move on to my actual race report, I should tell you about someone else. I wasn’t sure whether I should share this, but it significantly affected my race. I didn’t know how I should frame it, so I’m going to take my time, watch my language, reread, and mostly try to withhold judgment.
A person who runs a lot and was training for—and dropped out of—a half marathon last year decided on a whim to register for the sprint triathlon with me, thinking it would be a fun challenge like the 5k Color Run she’d be doing the day before the triathlon.
A week and a half before the race, she asked about transporting her rented bicycle, and I offered her the loan of my trunk-mount bike rack for the race since the event was close enough to my house to walk.
Four days before the race, she started asking me questions about how it would work and if there were changing rooms. I explained: No, there are no changing rooms; yes, you have to complete the whole event in wet clothes; many people wear triathlon suits, but they are expensive; here, for example, I’m going to swim in my sports bra and compression shorts and then put on padded bike shorts, technical fabric t-shirt, and tennis shoes for the bike and run; well, *I* need padded shorts because *I’m* new and still get bruised from riding; yes, you really should get goggles; well, since it’s an indoor pool, we’ll jump in one at a time and swim a snake route, up one lane and back, under the rope, up the next lane and back, and so on; no, this one is 300 meters, it said on the website; hey, there are a whole lot of articles online for novice triathletes that you could check out; here is a link to the swimming technique YouTube videos that have helped me; here is a link to my 30-item race-day prep list on Google Drive; well, you know how to ride a bike, right? so I’m sure you’ll do just fine; make sure you get some practice on your bicycle rental the day before the race, but don’t go very long because you don’t want to be sore for the race; no, they won’t close down streets for us, but it’s a Sunday morning so there won’t be much traffic, and there will be police officers at most major intersections; yeah, I scouted the run trail and it’s really nice with only one hill; and no, I haven’t had a chance yet to check out the bike trail, but it’s supposed to be on some nice country and farm roads with not many hills.
The race organizer was hosting dozens of clinics that week at several locations for new athletes to ask questions and learn more about the race. She did not attend any. I went to the one in my town on Saturday morning the day before the race and am SO glad I did.
There I learned how to rack and re-rack my bike and that there are time penalties for doing it wrongly, where the transition area’s ins and outs were, where the mount/dismount line was, to stay left on the road to avoid blocking, how to navigate the pool, the drafting rules (in a word: don’t), how many other participants would be there (200-300), not to wear earphones at all, and that no one would be allowed to retrieve their things from the transition area after finishing the race until the last bicycle was in, among a dozen other pieces of information. I felt a bad at having to text notes to her non-stop during the presentation because that’s rude to the speaker and I could not otherwise have remembered everything to relay to her. I even sent pictures of the example racked bike.
On the day of the race, she arrived at my place five minutes early and texted “I have a situation.” I was still gathering my things but walked out to see what was up. She’d forgotten her race bag at home 45 minutes away with her bib numbers, hair bands, bandanna, hat, water, sunblock, towel, and fuel. I told her to go ahead to the event to see if she could get a duplicate bib number, and I’d grab extra gear for her.
I rushed to gather my last few things and then fill water bottles and collect the other things for her and stuff them in my backpack and left several minutes later than I had planned for. I’d planned to walk to the event but instead had to ride in the dark for the first time and without yet having acquired appropriate bike lights (I know), but I run that short path all the time and know it well enough. I rolled up to the event and then panicked that I might get in trouble for a safety violation of riding my bike up to the transition area when I couldn’t see the dismount line, stopped quickly, caught my foot in the toe cage, and promptly fell on the ground from a complete stop. Scary.
A dozen or more people saw me and called out to ask if I was okay. “I’m good!” My hands stung from hitting the pavement but hadn’t been scraped. My knee was scraped but not bleeding. I knew it would stiffen up overnight, and I’d hate life tomorrow but would get through today. I was twice as stressed as I ought to have been going into my first outdoor tri, but I told myself that getting the fall out of the way early in the day could be a good thing for my psyche since I’d been scared and anxious and fretting about falling in the days before because I’m not as comfortable on the bike as I’d like to be and suffer anyway from anxiety and several people in my family have had severe road cycling injuries and my best friend was hit from behind by a car pretty badly and the driver didn’t even stop and I am SO scared of pain if nothing else in the world—
I picked myself up and found my rack and began unpacking my bag. I was concerned that I hadn’t yet seen the friend who drove here ahead of me, so I paused frequently to check my phone. She called a few minutes later to ask where I was since she’d just arrived at the transition area. I walked over to meet her and found that she was able to get the bib numbers taken care of but wasn’t ready and wasn’t coming in yet, was getting help from a volunteer in adjusting her bike seat to the correct height and needed to go ride around the parking lot for a few minutes to get some practice in because apparently she hadn’t done so the day before. After a few minutes, I was able to disengage and return to setting up my things. I saw her later walk over to her assigned rack and I showed her how to rack her bike and where to put her things. I gave her the extra sunblock and water bottles, learned then that she also needed a towel and fuel, of which I had fortunately thought to pack and purchase extra and offer to her. She mentioned that she’d not eaten breakfast.

I felt a sharp pain on the left side of my chest, high near my shoulder that spread through the entire muscle under my breast. I wondered if I’d slept badly and what the hell was going on with my body. I figured that if it were a heart attack, I probably wouldn’t feel up to starting the race, and that wasn’t the case. The pain restricted my stretches and hurt like a real motherfucker. I’d brought a tennis ball to work on a knot in my back and applied it to my pec, trying to loosen the weirdly painful cramped muscle. I ended up putting more bruises on the muscle but loosening it up enough to be able to swim.
We finished setting up and went inside the natatorium. She asked about my swim cap and whether it was required. No, I told her, it was only a matter of personal preference. No, I don’t use earplugs either, and so she decided not to try them out for the first time on this swim. I learned that she’d not done any swimming for this event. She knew how to swim, but she’d not gone anywhere to do any swim training and didn’t believe me that it couldn’t possibly/probably wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes for us really slow swimmers to swim 300 meters.

Stay tuned! The next post will be my race report about the race itself.