Say Yes

IMG_0076Four years ago, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: move to London to help start a new department for the global wing of my company. I was given the opportunity to work for an excellent leader, in a challenging and growing environment, and to do it all near family and explore the world while doing it.

So, of course I said YES. But what exactly, did I say “yes” to?

As it turns out, quite a bit. I said yes to the easy things – moving my life from Chicago to London, and all that it entails. But I also said yes to learning how to listen on conference calls and in meetings before speaking my mind; to asking more often than telling; to learning about how growth is achieved around the world; and to learning how to become a stronger leader and contributor. I said yes to the travel – last year alone to 22 international trips in 365 days. I said yes to leading – to creating a team that I loved who did wonderful things for the company. And I said yes to seeing the world through the eyes of my colleagues in firms big and small around the world.

I also said yes to making new friends – to fun nights with colleagues and to a new favourite cocktail (gin and tonic FTW). I said yes to the English way of just getting on with things – including to a lingering knee injury earned in one of London’s only snowstorms. I said yes to being “on the ground” and the many nights on the road it required. I said yes to amazing new types of food; and to sub-optimal choices for my diet. I said yes to sleeping off jet lag and then some; and to easy excuses for not being more active. In the end, I said yes to a hiatus of fitness even when I wanted to say no, because to set aside the time and energy to tackle diet and exercise was energy I just didn’t have. I said yes to work and it was the most amazing four years of my career. And while I could have easily said yes to health and fitness, too – I seemingly didn’t have the strength to make myself do it.

When it came time to make my next career move, I told people the truth: I was going back to Chicago to be closer to family and friends, and to get healthy. (If Mr. Right happened to make an appearance while all of that was happening, who was I to intervene?)

And so here I am, four years later, and I find myself back in sunny, warm Chicago, where the Cubs opened the season last week and Lake Michigan twinkles at me every morning.

When I returned to the city, I decided that new choices were in order to say yes to health again.

I said yes to convenience – I now live just over a mile from my office so that i can walk to and from work with ease, and I said yes to living near the lakefront so that traffic and construction won’t impede my progress to get on a bike and ride.

I said yes to challenge with limits – taking a role in my company that wouldn’t require me to be on the road 30% of the time.

I said yes to support – I’ve re-joined my old training group to have some accountability for workouts (important when I realised the gym membership wasn’t going to do it alone).

And I am saying yes to changing my diet – to cooking real food whenever possible to avoid the trap of empty calories.

These choices are enabling decisions, each one. Combined, they remove as many barriers to healthy living that I could slay, knowing that each could make a real difference in my dedication to trying to live a healthier life, every day.

And yet the real challenge, as always, is making the best choices I can make for diet and exercise TOGETHER. For me, good diet has always followed the demands of a fitness routine – a race, a sport, a need to perform. And that’s how I’ll approach it again as I look forward to 2015: achieving one milestone for training, for diet, for health at a time. I’m signed up for two triathlons this summer so far, and hope to add more in the coming weeks.

As part of my return to training, I’ll be writing again regularly about what’s working (and what’s not); new gear updates and race reports; and responding to reader Q&A. The engagement of this community has always been inspiring and fun and incredibly helpful, and I hope that we can welcome back lots of readers and say hello to some new faces. I’m saying yes now to jumping back in, with two feet, to the community that I’ve missed so much while I was gone.

I look forward to tackling the summer racing season with you, and hope that you will join me for the ride!

Thank you for coming along for the journey, and see you on the path.
Sal

Walking and running from Florence to Pisa in six weeks. Go!

DSCN2870Every January, I try to be realistic about the kind of goals I can set for the year.  I work in consulting, where we’re encouraged to set goals which are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  That means that I know when I’m setting up a soft-ball goal (i.e. my two mile swim in June – which is the first four, but wusses out on the timing); and I know that planning to do a bike race in May is neither attainable or realistic given how much I fear riding in the London rain and traffic.

But encouraged by the Mac Daddy of routine-generating challenges which is based on the best science, behaviour modification, and coaching that money can buy – Coach Jenny Hadfield and John “The Penguin” Bingham’s 100 Days Challenge – I also know that I have a terrible secret about sticking with one thing, anything really, for 100 days:  I absolutely suck at it.

Each year I decide that I’m going to start that challenge.  And then something happens and I never do start.  Now, Jenny and John could care less when you start, and when you stop, which is why we are all going to sign up.  But I also know that doing anything EVERY day for me is, well, unlikely.  It’s not realistic – for me.

I need something with a shorter time-frame, and a more specific goal – set within the larger context of a long-term goal.  Otherwise, that 100 days feels really hard.  Really overwhelming.  And though I know, in my heart, that 30 minutes of walking for 100 days is NOT hard, and NOT overwhelming, I still need some interim motivation.

So I’m signing up for the 100 days challenge.  And for the next six weeks, I’m going to play a little mind game with myself.  I’m going to tackle those (roughly) 45  days by walking/running from the amazing city of Florence, Italy, to the incredible crazy town of Pisa.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re wondering if this awesome job I have is plunking me down in Italy for 6 weeks.  Which I’d love to say is the case, but let’s be realz, people.  Instead, I’m going to commit to doing 54 miles (the distance between these two towns) and I’m going to learn all about Pisa and Florence along the way.  Over six weeks, those 54 miles break down to about 9 miles a week, or what will be roughly 3 one hour walks (at the long end).

And I’d like your help.

Because this is my goal – but it would be much, much more fun if I had a little company.

So if you’re interested in joining me for the journey, I’d encourage you to first, sign up for the 100 days challenge – there’s a boatload of encouragement and support available on the Facebook community that will help keep you moving.

Then if you need something extra, or if, like me, you need a shorter-term goal, wander on out to Nikeplus.com – and find me, plusrunner – to join the group “Walking From Florence to Pisa” and post your miles.  As an incentive, the first person to reach 54 miles gets the PRIZE of picking our next destination to explore.  Will we go from Athens to Santorini?  From Cape Town to Victoria Falls?  Let’s use this as a way to while away the miles and explore the world without every leaving our own back yards.

I would love some company on the journey – so please think about joining up, posting your miles (the Nike+ app is free to download or you can post your miles manually).

And to sweeten the deal, each week I’ll post the links to at least four, free podcasts you can download relevant to our destination – feel free to add your recommendations in the Comments section, or on Facebook.  Do you have an Italian opera you think we should listen to? Post it! Got an Italian language practice session we should hear?  Post it! Let’s make it fun to do this while we’re out sticking to our New Year’s Ambitions.

I, for one, look forward to learning a bit more about the world while getting in my miles. I hope you do, too.

Week 1 Recommended Podcasts (Florence to Pisa)

Florence: A Renaissance Walking Audio Tour (Rick Steves) (45 minutes)

Michaelangelo in Florence (19 minutes)

The Uffizi Gallery  (Rick Steves) (49 minutes)

Italians In America (Camden College) (59 minutes)

Why do you run?

We all need a little inspiration, and as I think about gift giving this time of year, I considered that two of the best running things I ever received were from that running stronghold, Nike.  Back before they were making great inroads with footwear, they were marketing heavily to women in the apparel line, and they had a shirt that I purchased which I proudly wore until it became far too small for me.  Today, my mother wears it – and simply put, it says, in adorable purple script, that “Running is cheaper than therapy”.  Yep. I enjoyed that.

It was followed by a little clock – the kind of paper clock with hand-turned dials that you see when the pharmacy has closed for lunch or the doctor is on a break.  On the back, it had 12 lines of precious text about one topic:  Gone Running.  (Somewhere on this site, the copy still exists.)

It’s in that tribute that I provide the following bit of inspiration – mostly for myself.  I hurt my knee in January and have been mostly walking and sulking since then, trying to get back into a groove without doing further damage.  But last week I decided that even if I just walk – ONLY walk – or, maybe even walk with the occasional 30 second interval, I think I could be happy as a clam.  Because it’s not the speed or the pace that has ever mattered – it’s what happens when I lace up my shoes and get out there.  And that doesn’t change, regardless of the pace I run.

This, this is why I run.

Why do YOU run?  Share in the comments, on FB, or even on Twitter – you can find me @plusrunner.

See you on the path.

If I were Queen?

Last year, at the Royal Wedding. I was plotting even then.

We’ve had an amazing few weeks here in England, what with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the kickoff to the Olympics, and just yesterday, the Queen’s “Birthday parade” and the “Trouping of the Colour” – something akin to the Queen’s troop inspection, down there on the Mall.  As I was catching some of the procession yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of a song by the boys Great Big Sea, called “If I Were King”.  It got me wondering: what would I do, given the opportunity, to set the world afire as Queen?

Oh sure, I’d have to start with ditching the metric system.  I mean, I’m sure it’s great and all, but I’m just about done with screwed up cakes and cookies.  What? That’s too self-indulgent?  Hm.

Okay, well, then let me speak for my people.  My gorgeous, smart, sexy, stunning, dedicated, overworked, exhausted, want-to-exercise, sometimes-hate-our-selves, kick ass people.  What could I do for MY people, to make the world better, for the Plus athletes in all of us?

1. Everyone works 8 hours a day.  But only 8 hours.  This includes moms and managers, bus boys and grandmas.  We “work” in some form – but only for 8 hours a day and when it’s done, we gots time for healthy dinners and walks in the park and maybe even flirting with some hot dude in the Quickmart.  I believe that this place exists, and it’s called France, or Italy, depending on your assessment.  It’s a good place.

2. There are bike lanes in every city.  And none of this “painted” stuff – real bike lanes which prevent my people from getting hit by lorries or buses or doors from Trixies texting in one hand and checking lipstick with another.  They make it safe for all of us to ride where we want. My people, the people of occasional knee problems and a preference for non-weight-bearing exercise, they love the bike lanes.  They thrive.

3. We spend as much to develop effective Sports Bras as the lady did who designed Spanx.  The result is a wicking, separating, flattering, no-bounce dream of a sports bra which is far more comfortable and has an equal impact on the waistline as Spanx.  My people become more toned – because they are running now without threat of pain/bounce/chafe-o-rama- and get there without the aid of 10% lycra and at a cost that could (and should) be spent on LBDs and killer heels.

4. Every person who wants to become a runner gets a “runner starter kit” desgined specifically for plus-size athletes, and comes complete with a support group and coach to run their first 5k.  The starter kit has the right shoes (and of course comes with a free fitting!), shorts or capris which prevent chafing; a sports bra which neither dislocates your shoulder to put on nor leaves angry red welts to remove; and a shirt which neither clings to the boobage, the belly, or the butt, but rather skims appropriately in all locations while covering chicken wings aplenty.  It also includes a watch with run/walk intervals that you can actually USE and a water bottle pack which fits your waist – not the waist of Mary Kate Olsen (sorry, MK).

5. Running stores, retailers, apparel makers, etc. all offer at least one item from every collection up to a size 3X.  It is priced the same as the regular collection, in the same colors, and sold IN THE SAME STORES as the other parts of the collection – not online, but in a physical store. My people would get to try things on without the looming threat of yet another post office return.

6. Any store which claims to want to improve the health and wellbeing of the community around them, and which holds a license to sell sporting apparel shall hold, once per week, a workout course of some sort which caters to new athletes and only new athletes.  It is free, and it does not require the participants to drive somewhere else to do it.  It is also be realistic – no lunges, no scary shit.  Simple, effective, easy stuff.  Maybe (shock!) a walking group.  Maybe an “introduction to running” group, where you run for one minute, and walk for five.  EASY. NOT SCARY.  FREE.  Minimize barriers to entry and people will come.  HOW HARD IS THIS?

7.  All of my people learn how to swim as part of the elementary school education.  Yep. All of them.  Maybe I’d make it a requirement that you couldn’t get a license to drive if you didn’t pass a cycling test as well – because as many of us know, most of our journeys are under a mile – and why do them by car if you know how – and can physically do them – by bike?

8.  Overweight athletes are on the cover of major running, cycling, and triathlon magazines as frequent as their percentage of the sample of athletes they represent would require.  For example, runners, who comprise at least 40% of the running population (best guess, on a country-wide basis in the US) are on the cover of Runner’s World 40% of the year, reflecting the REAL look and feel of the running community.  Same for Triathlete magazine, and Bicycling (on a % basis).  Apparel stories for all magazines would include – for EVERY issue – recommendations on purchasing for Plus athletes to encourage more Plus athletes to be active.  Again, part of the social contract.   If Runner’s World, Triathlete, and Bicycling, just to name a few, can’t spare the column inches, we’d have a few suggestions for the stories they could trim down.  Just a few.

9.  Core strength for everyone! I’d enlist my former PT to run the nation’s course on “how to build a better core”.

10.  Every workplace has showers and a place to change before or after a workout.  This is good because in the Kingdom, at least once per week we commute on our own steam. We walk or run, or cycle.  But we need a place to shower or change before or after, and so we have it.  And no skanky showers, either.

Yep.  I think those are good starters for the Kingdom of Plus Athletes.  Wouldn’t it be grand?

Sigh.

For now, we’ll just have to take on all of those challenges on our own.  And yes, we can do it.  And yes, we can keep driving the bus.  But gosh, sometimes, don’t you wish it was just a little easier?  I know I do.

Back in the paddle again

It’s frequently said that the hardest step we must take to improve our health is the first one.  It’s the step up off the couch and out the door; away from the unhealthy food and towards the good stuff; and into a void that is frequently neither comfortable nor easy.  And yet, with a courage and determination that is bottomless, we do it.  But let us be clear: it is the first step (repeated, for most of us, every day) that is the hardest.

Do you look this happy when you head out for a workout? Nah. Me either. But races are a different thing

Exercise, they say, is habit forming.  But for most of us, a lifetime of bad habits are teasers, tempting us back to the easy way out.  I thought of this tonight as I got ready to head for a swim at the local rec center.  I had set myself up well today to get moving – my stuff was set aside this morning before I left the house because last night, I was at work too late to hit the gym.

So today, at my front door, were my goggles, flip flops, watch, swim cap, bathing suit, towel, and a bag.  When I left this morning, I left them there, rather than shoving them in my bag, only to have to change out of pantyhose and a dress at the gym.  That dog won’t hunt, and I knew it.  But I left work at a reasonable hour tonight, made a light dinner, did some more work at home, and at 8:00, headed to the pool.  I swam 800 meters in about 25 minutes (which included a warm up and cool down) and I shimmied into my lycra and headed home.

And yet.  The hardest step I took was walking away from work and getting out the door.

So what got me there tonight?  Three things, and if you, too struggle to stay committed to your plan, I encourage you to consider them:

1. I told at least 4 people today that I was swimming tonight.  I’m the kind of person who likes to be held accountable.  So when I tell someone I’m going swimming, you can be DAMN sure tomorrow I’m going to want to brag about it.  And right now, I’m happy to do so – because I have a race in September, and I’m making sure that I’m going to be ready.  Plus, I’m loving the endorphins of being back in training, and sharing that feeling makes me feel good.

2. My scale is inching slowly upward.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I have never been a scale hopper.  I dont’ do it.  And yet, I notice that the number is inching up, and not in a good way.  I have decided that the time for intervention is NOW and I’m not messing around.  It’s got me motivated.

3. I have a race in September.  On my birthday.  It’s an Olympic distance triathlon, and I’m not messing around with this one.  It’s in downtown London, and I am counting on the city being mostly gridlocked for 6 weeks leading into the race; so I’m getting a head start and a good, solid base before I have to get creative about training.  It’s got me focused in a way that I NEVER am without a goal.

So if I’m not the only one challenged by putting one foot in front of the other, I’ll just reiterate a few tips:

1. Tell people what you’re going to do.  Do it.  Then tell someone you did it.  The accountability (and, sometimes, the “atta girl”) will not only keep you honest, but it will help improve your pride in yourself (and give others a chance to be impressed, too!).

2. Find a metric that matters to you, and watch it.  Maybe for you, it’s not Lbs. Maybe it’s your cholesterol, or the number of drinks you have every day, or the number of cigarettes.  Find one that matters, and build it into whatever you’re trying to change.  Need help?  GET IT.

3. Sign up for a race.  I know, I know, I’ve said this before.  But honestly, if you don’t have a race on your calendar that challenges you, what exactly are you waiting for?  I heartily advocate for signing up for at least one “A” race (your BIG event); “B” race (a build-up or fall-back race”) and a few testers every season. They keep you honest and the shiny medals are good for picking up hot men.  Or something like that.

So that’s it from this side of the pond this evening.  I know, it’s not too much in the wisdom category, but hey, at least there was a workout today, right?

 

See you on the path!

 

Luck

There is something that happens when you become a regular runner.  You believe less in luck, and more in training.  Run any half marathon or marathon, and train seriously for it, and you begin to believe that with the right nutrition plan, training plan, pace buddies, shoes, gear, clothing, and attention, you can control how and when you finish that race.

For about 10 years, that’s how it went for me.  If I ran a bad race, it was usually on me – I either hadn’t trained enough, or hadn’t thought through the course.  If I got hurt it was on me.  I didn’t stretch enough, or I didn’t stop when the pain told me to.  In 2009, when plantar fasciitis reared its head while I was intermittently running (and still training), I didn’t listen up and slow down, and I paid in the end, with a two year condition that only recently healed after two bouts of PT and finally, a quick surgery.

Those of you who read regularly know that I moved to London from Chicago in 2011.  It was 10 weeks after surgery, and those first few weeks, months in London were tough.  I was in trainers every day, and the pain was still pretty regular.  By summer, it was getting better.  By September, it was gone.  I felt strong, and I had lost some weight, and I started to run again.  It was awesome.

I ran on the common by my house, and on the road when I traveled.  I ran so much when I was home in Cincinnat and Chicago at Christmas that I felt like I would never stop running again.  I felt the kind of joy that I remembered from those first days of running.  And so when, in mid-February, it snowed here, I felt like a kid who’d won the lottery – lucky, lucky, lucky to get to run on one of my favorite vistas – a park in snow.

I laced up my trainers and went out for a run.  It was a bit squishy – a bit slid-y. A bit wet.  I caught up with my brother and nephew building a snow fort, and we had a great time.  I ran home, and all was well.  And three hours later, I left my house to go to a Superbowl party, slipped on a patch of ice in front of my apartment, and felt my knee slam into itself in a way that wasn’t good.  I held up, and held on, for a minute.  Then I kept walking to the train.  By midnight, mid-way through the game, I couldn’t go down the stairs without it locking up.  The next day, I compounded the mistake in a pair of heels at work.

Six weeks later, I have the diagnosis.  I’ve been benched for that time, icing, resting, ibuprofening away here, and it’s not gotten any better.  Well, technically, that’s not true. I can now go down the stairs without flinching (but not without a rail).

I’ve managed to tear the meniscus in my knee in two places.  One on the inside left, one on the center of my left knee.  One would likely heal.  The other, not so much.  The doctor tells me that there’s an easy procedure to clean it up, a keyhole surgery where they trim down the cartilege or something and that makes it better.  I’m working out the logistics of a second opinion, a schedule, and a plan.

In the meantime, I’m pondering luck.  Maybe I’ve been lucky all these years to have so few injuries.  Maybe I’ve been stronger, and maybe now I’m just old and out of shape. I don’t really know.  I do know that this makes me want to throw things at a wall, and that’s not so good.  So I’m going back to the original plan – to have one.  Get a doc. Get an opinion. Get the surgery.  Get back out there.

Lucky as I may have been, I never saw that patch of ice, and I had no chance to adjust.  I was unlucky.  It happens.  So now it’s time to get to the pool, and walk while I can, and bottle the frustration of living in this lovely city which makes cycling a bit too dangerous and swimming a bit too inconvenient.  The excuses will have to go for awhile, while I try to get the groove back.

Luck’s a bitch.  But she’s got nothing on me, and my plan.

See you on the path….

So much to do, so little time….

I know, I know. It’s a common refrain. But these past few weeks have been a combination of screeching along at 80 MPH and then careening to a dead halt.

Mid-run with my nephew on London's Clapham Common during a recent snowstorm. The Kid and my brother certainly were fort-a-licious.

So, in no particular order, some not-so-inspirational Plus Runner updates for the week.

I might be racing on an Olympic track.I know, it’s scary.  But there’s this thing, and it’s through work, and I might just get to run a 100 meter dash on the Olympic track in London in early April.  COOL, eh???  I maintain it might be the slowest finish ever, but can you imagine???

I might be slightly hobbled in that endeavor by a torn MCL.  Yeah.  I’m trying to pretend that the screaming pain every time I step wrong on my left leg is just a figment of my imagination.  But it turns out that either a) not wearing heels for two years and then doing some downward stepathon in them might not have been the best plan or b) that sliparoo on the ice the day of our big snowfall here was worse than I thought.  In any case, I’ve been running-free for three weeks, and I am officially. a. lunatic.  Back to the pool, right?  At least till a doc gets up in there and tells me what’s the what.

Big races are lining up. Have you picked yours for the year?  More to come on this, but I did officially make the London ballot for the Olympic distance triathlon.  Here’s to recovering from whatever _this_ is and kicking butt come September.

But in the meantime, how terrible am I at 100 days of anything?  I biffed again this year on the 100 days, but MAD PROPS to Cindi Hammer and all the kids out there doing 100 days proud.  I am nothing if not humbled by your continued inspiration for the rest of us.

Tick tock. That’s the sound you hear of me eagerly awaiting the Spring 2012 Triathlete Magazine Buyer’s Guide, which should include a piece about the best triathlon apparel for plus size athletes (written by yours truly). Word’s still out on when it will hit the stands, but keep your eyes and ears peeled.

I learned how to fence last week. Gingerly, yes, but it reaffirmed my belief that you’re never too old to learn a new sport. Or to be a hyper-competitive crazyhorse who believes in fair play and rules, rules, rules.  It’s amazing they let me play team sports sometimes, I swear.  But honestly, fencing? Very cool.  And doesn’t require massive white bodysuits either, which was a refreshing realization.

We’re gearing up for spring travel around here.  Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Talinn, Estonia (not to mention a possible side-o to Dusseldorf) are all in the makings.  Got a recommendation?  A road or a hike I can’t miss?  This knee will NOT slow me down – send me your best stuff!!

And now, the good stuff.  Who needs free gear???  I have a few pieces of gear that were sent as testing pieces for this recent article, and though a few are dedicated to some of my besties, there will be at least one upcoming contest for readers….so watch this space for more news – the contest will be announced next week to celebrate the Plus Runner’s 3rd birthday!!!

Okay, gotta go get some shut-eye now.  Thanks for the readin, and see you on the path.

Oh, and one more coolest as all cool thing…my good friend Cindi was kind enough to nominate Plus Runner for a fitness magazine blog award.  How cool is she?  Very.  But if you’re feeling the luvvvvv, please have a vote.  And even if you’re not, well, thanks for stopping by…

Fifty minutes to the sea

Fifty minutes from London, there’s this place you might have heard of.  It’s called the English Channel.  This thin strip of sea which separates England from continental Europe (France, to be clear) is so thin that swimmers regularly cross it, and the Top Gear guys once built a car boat and successfully went coast-to-coast.

What amazed me this Saturday wasn’t that the Channel exists; it’s that it took me 9 months to realize it’s a fifty minute train ride to get there.  How did I not know this?  How had I wasted so many weekends in my apartment, watching re-runs of True Blood or reading the latest novel, while this gorgeous countryside awaited me?

I wasn’t disappointed in the trip.  My friend from work and I (Carolina, she of the blue top in the pics below) met up with a Meetup group who offered a guided hike (great when someone else does the navigating!).  All we had to do was show up at Liverpool Street Station at 9 a.m. I, of course, was late.  But I wasn’t so late that I didn’t make the train – and I met some really cool people along the way.  Below, a few pics from the trip (because y’all occasionally ask)!  Yes, you’ll note that I’m hiking in jeans (a first for me). I  wouldn’t normally, but it was an okay way to go, even if the mud was up to my ankles by the time we got back on the train.

And also, a word about the views – this place was really spectacular (it’s called Leigh on Sea) and it’s going to be host to the mountain biking course for the Olympics for 2012.  And the best part about it, yes, was the small sea town at the end of our journey.  Ironically, we never got to the wide open beach-type view you expect; but for a little while at the end, we stood by the sea wall, and watched a great sunset, enjoying the freshest fish and some excellent company.  I’d write more, but there’s nothing pithy or wise to say about it – I went, it was fun, and I’ll do something again. All in all, an excellent adventure for  a fifty minute train ride just East of London.

Carolina leading up to Hadleigh Castle

 

Walking into the castle grounds- it was on a fault line and shortly after built in the 13th century, began falling off a cliff. Literally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don't I look like the picture of fun? Yeah. It was pretty cool. That's the sea behind me in the distance.

Advice for the parents of little girl athletes everywhere. (Not nearly as funny as Tina Fey.)

I am not a mother.  Let me state that up front.  I don’t change diapers or wipe snot from noses which can’t create enough force to blow themselves.  I don’t have the pleasure of sleepless nights thanks to anything other than an overly hot duvet, nor do I get the reward of little arms wrapped around my neck each morning which shout a quiet “i love you” before the owner is too awake to know that she’ll despise me in a few years.   I am, however, an Aunt to two spectacular little girls.  One, I’m getting to know quite well these days, and she knocks my socks off pretty much every time I see her.  One’s just a mini-munchkin who I’ve only seen twice, but judging by her moms, she promises to have enough spirit and German engineering to set the world on fire some day.

Why am I talking about these girls?  Simply put, I think I can make a better list.  See, lately, I’ve read some pretty interesting “lists” of advice for mothers, and daughters.  There’s Tina Fey’s hysterical prayer for her daughter.   There’s the “50 Rules for Dads and Daughters” , and then there’s Sheryl Sundberg (CFO of Facebook)’s commencement speech at Barnard College last year, where she dishes out bits of advice for young women graduates (if you haven’t read it, do.)  They’re all occasionally inspiring, touching, and left me hoping that my accomodation of these lists would involve a bell curve.

But seeing as how I’m neither a highly paid comedienne, nor running the Finance function of the most successful internet company (ever), I figured I’d have little to share which might add to this ListMania.  But then I remembered (especially according to an excellent Saturday Night Live skit this weekend), in today’s day and age, I can say ANYTHING!  And it will be AWESOME  (I kid).

No, seriously.  I honestly just felt that there must be some general guidance out there for the parents of little girls who might, one day, become athletes.  There’s lots of them out there, and as a former Little Girl Who Played Sports, and adult Coach of Little Girls Who Loved Playing Sports, and as a current Advocate for Adult Big Girls Who Love Playing Sports, I thought I’d have something to add.

So here, in the spirit of the Plus Runner, is my best advice for your daughters, distilled into a few pithy comments that hopefully make you smile.  Happy Monday.

1.  Get your daughter to try every sport you can, even the ones that will make her dirty, sweaty, and scare you to death.  Every time she does, she’ll find out a bit more about who she is, and what she loves – even if it scares the heck out of you.   Also, learn early that there’s no faster cleanup than covering her in a Hefty bag while entering your car and hosing her down with the garden hose on exit.

2. Encourage her to play solo sports, and as part of a team.   Solo sports teach her that she can, in fact, be terrible and still find something rewarding in it.  They also teach her the power of her own steam and the strength of her own body.  Team sports teach her the joy of helping her friends win, crushing the opposition, and the feeling of letting a team down.  Don’t underestimate any of these things, and their role it will have in helping her join the workforce in 20 years.

3. She’s not going to be good at every sport.  Well, mostly.  Get over it.  And let her figure it out.  If she cares enough to want to be on the “A” team, she’ll practice more.  She may or may not get better, and make that team.  In either case, she’ll probably still be playing something, (a win) – and chances are she’ll probably enjoy it more than doing her homework.  And yes, she’ll learn that sometimes, other people are actually better at something than you are.  Again, a valuable lesson in today’s age.  (Oh, and when she gets cut from that team you think she should be on, DO NOT appeal the ruling.  This is not the Supreme Court of My Daughter is Awesomeland.)

4. Learn how to complement her play.  This is not to be confused with spewing BS at every available juncture.  Giving true, favorable praise will do more for her confidence than fabricated platitudes.  Learn the game she plays well enough to do this for her, and remember that for every one criticism she hears, she’ll need to hear four positive comments to counter the hit to her self esteem. Don’t let this prevent her coach from coaching her – but let the coach do the dirty work if you can.  If her coach seems unlikely to ever learn the balance, introduce them to Mr. Jackson’s program, above.  It’s pretty cool, and it works.

5. Play her favorite sport with her, even if you’re terrible.  Also, you are allowed to get dirty, and sweat.   Seeing her parents play helps reinforce the fact that you value it.  Growing up, I remember playing soccer with my father, and even golf (!) with my mother.  Neither one of them loved those sports, but they did it to spend time with me.  Your kids know you’re no Pele or Anika, and that’s okay – it’s the effort that counts.

6. CAN’T is a four letter word.  Never tell her she can’t play a sport – always, always let her try.  Even if you think she can’t hack the physical demands, or doesn’t have the coordination, let her learn the lesson on her own.  So she’s not good: put her on a lower-skilled team and let her learn.  Not fit enough?  Coaches expect this, particularly in recreational leagues today.  Let her play into shape – in the right league.  If you’re not sure how to handle it, talk to a coach, but do everything you can to encourage her to keep playing.  The longer she stays a part of organized sports, the higher her self esteem, less likely she is to engage in risky sexual behavior, and less likely to be brought down by depression and anxiety.  

7. Let her play with boys.  She’ll never forget the feeling the first time she scores a goal against a boy, fields his line drive down the third base line, or powers a forehand past him, and she’ll realize that her talent – and her drive to win and succeed – is absolutely comparable – a feeling you certainly want her to remember when life gets slightly more complicated a few years down the road.

8. Teach her that emotion has a place in sports, and sports has a place in emotion.  Let her cry when she loses and scream when she wins.  And when she throws on her shoes for a run, or turns to a hitting wall or a punching bag when she’s mad, let her go, so she learns that this healthy way of dealing with things (as opposed to The Alcohol, The Food, and The Drugs)  will always be there for her, whatever the win or loss.   Regardless of this, also make her shake hands with the opposing team, every time, no matter how angry, sad, or frustrated she is with a loss.  It is, after all, just a game.

9. Teach her that sport has no use-by date.  Find one sport you can play – whatever it may be – and play it for you.  Show her that lifelong athletics are rewarding – that sweat’s not for kids and professionals, but moms who work hard, and make dinner, and drive carpool, and still make time for tennis or soccer or running.  Show her that lifetime fitness is joyful and fun.

10.  Support girls and women in sports.  She may never have the option or the interest to go professional in Lacrosse, or Fencing, but there are college teams with Olympians and pop up pro leagues all over the world.  By supporting them, you show her that you value their athletic talent as much as men – and in today’s day and age, when we women all expect equal pay for equal work, it’s good to put our money where our expectations are.  For more information, check out the NCAA, the Women’s Sports Foundation, or the US Olympic Committee for a few ideas.

I guess in closing, the only question I have is this: how many of us can say we meet these expectations every day?  Do we all need to be graded on a bell curve? Probably.  But it sure is nice to have a target, isn’t it?

See you on the path!

Chicago Marathon 2011: Fired up to follow your friends?

Hey kids –

It’s that time again – my favorite weekend of the year in Chicago.  Alas I’m not there this season, but you can be to cheer on your family and friends at their big day.

Follow this link to the 2009 Marathon spectator guide which I threw together – just cross-reference to make sure the map is still the same for 2011 (I believe it will be fairly close, as there are few changes year to year).  And remember the rules of spectating:

1) Wear layers.

2) Be prepared to help anyone you see! Water, gatorade, pretzels, aspirin, and bodyglide are all welcome. If it’s hot, pack a cooler with ice for your runner!

3) Great signs make runners feel like you’re there just for them – add some eye contact and they’ll smile for just a minute.

4) Noise is what you need in the slow spots – after 19th Street, especially.

Good luck to all running!!!

Sallie