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How to Make Urban Running More Exciting January 02 2013

There are two types of runs. The ones where you can barely contain your excitement, skipping out the door with your running shoes, twirling with excitement (ok, that’s just me). But the point is that you feel great, ready to go, and it’s amazing. Then there is the other type of run. The one where you sit on the couch glaring at your shoes, wondering how much you’ll really regret it if you just totally bail on today’s run. For me, pretty much every urban run that does not involve beer or donuts is the dragging myself out the door type of run. I’m a trail runner through and through. Unless I can feed off the race day energy of a road race, I can’t stand running on the pavement. At all. But unfortunately, not every day can be a trail run so I’ve had to figure out ways to trick my mind into looking forward to urban running by creating games for myself.
 
To prevent burnout on days you can’t hit the more inspiring running areas, here’s how to keep urban running a little more interesting
  

Race Cars
I like to try and beat cars to the next stoplight. On the sidewalk, you guys. You need to stay on the sidewalk for this game. In areas of high traffic, this game isn't that exciting. On the other hand you get to enjoy the glowering faces of drivers who realize that you are going faster than they are. On foot.  
 
Embrace the Obstacles
Fire hydrant? Leap over it. Stray shopping cart? Take it for a spin. Low wall? Run on top of it. See how fast you can sprint through a crowded sidewalk. Dock points every time you knock someone over.*


Dance at Stoplights
Nothing irritates me more than being in the zone and having to break my running groove because of a redlight and an ill-timed pedestrian crossing. Inevitably I feel awkward and annoyed standing there while jogging in place waiting for the light to change so instead I do jumping jacks or, if I have my iPod, I dance. I give myself bonus points if I can make drivers laugh.
 
Stop for Donuts

Take that, trail running. I enjoy my urban runs a lot more if I know I’m going to end it somewhere fun for a hard-earned cinnamon roll or some tacos at that amazing taco truck that's a little too far from home to walk. Not the healthiest option, but if that’s what it takes to get me out the door on my 8-mile city loop then so be it. I can make my peace with that.

Join the Hash House Harriers
The group for "alcoholics with a running problem," they frequently run costumed through upscale areas of major metropolitan areas to prove that nothing forges camaraderie better than running, beer, and drunken shenanigans. Wherever you are, running with these guys is sure to liven up any urban running adventure.

Track Workouts
I know. The only thing that sounds less exciting than running the same five-mile loop you do at least twice a week is running it on a track. But if you join a track club, you can get the benefit of a varied training program (speed work, yay!), and the company of other runners. Also, no stoplights or obstacles. Unless you feel like dragging the hurdles out.

There's an App for That
It's called Zombies, Run! If you haven't already, you should download it. Urban running, training program, zombies. It really doesn't get any more exciting than that.


*Don't really do this one. While it is entertaining to pretend you're in a video game, nobody wants to be blindsided by a runner sprinting around the corner. Maybe save the speed work for the track. Unless you're being chased by zombies.


The Inner Monologue of a Runner October 23 2012

 When people tell me that they admire my dedication and willpower for getting out to go run, I smile and then I feel grateful that they can’t hear what goes on inside my head before I actually get out to run. Don’t get me wrong. I love to run. I adore it. It makes my day, it makes me happy, it empties my head and fills my heart. But I also really like my couch and my pajamas. I’ve really tried to be one of those eager morning runners, but...well, see this post.

In the morning when my alarm clock goes off at 6:00 a.m., my inner monologue looks something like this:

Me: Ok, if I get up now, I can go for a run and still have time to make it to work. Ready, body? Let's go.

Body: That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard. It's warm in bed, cold outside. Hit snooze alarm. All three of them. You can run later.

Me: Okay...

And then I go back to sleep, placating my gnawing conscience by telling it I will go for a run in the afternoon and it will be a better run than If I had gone in the morning. It will be warmer and I’ll feel more energized and ready to get out and exercise. Then in the afternoon, after I’ve had the entire day to think about going out for a run, the inner monologue starts up again.

Me: Time to get ready to go for a run!

Body: It's kind of cold. I don't really want to go outside.

Me: That’s what running tights and Hello Kitty Arm Warmers are for!

Body: I feel kind of sluggish today.

Me: You’ll feel better once you’re outside.

Body: There was a tinge in my calf. I just felt it. I shouldn't run. I'll injure myself.

Me: It’s fine. We’ll just stretch it out.

Body: Running every day isn't good for you. Maybe you should just eat this donut instead.

Me: Get the f@#& outside right now!

Body: You’re a real jerk, you know that.

And then after five minutes running:

Body: ZOMG WE ARE RUNNING! I LOVE RUNNING! RUNNING IS THE BEST! RUN ALL THE HILLS!

And then as soon as I start actually running up a hill, my body once again feels the need to provide commentary about how stupid running is and how I should walk or maybe take up something less strenuous like mini-golf, for example.

When I get to the top of the hill, standing on a ridge, looking out over San Francisco across the Bay with the Berkeley hills behind me, the sun is setting and I'm just rejoicing at the opportunity to be there in that moment, enjoying the spectacular beauty of the Bay Area.

Every run it’s the same routine.  I don’t know if I have good willpower. I’m just really good at arguing with myself. And for that reason, I am really happy nobody else has access to my inner monologue.


Five Unprocessed Running Snacks October 09 2012

October is unprocessed food month, an entire month dedicated to eating real food and becoming more aware of the frightening amount of chemicals and preservatives in the food we consume on a daily basis. Maybe I've been living in Berkeley too long, maybe I've read too many of Michael Pollan's books, maybe I just got sick of eating things with ingredients I couldn't pronounce, or maybe I ate one too many Powerbars and finally caved in. Either way, the October Unprocessed Food Challenge is a good excuse to explore living life by the law of "the kitchen rule." (i.e. "If you pick up something with a label and find an ingredient you’d never use in your kitchen and couldn’t possibly make yourself from the whole form, it’s processed.") For runners, it brings a new set of challenges: trying to find alternative energy sources for those long runs. Personally, I've never been a big fan of gels or energy bars so I started exploring alternatives a number of years ago and the following are a few of my favorites.
 
Apple Sauce
My bet is that the pre-packaged apple sauce packets that you can find at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's probably have refined sugar in them. Either way, they're still a nice alternative if you find yourself getting a little burned out on gels. Otherwise, apple sauce is really easy to make and if you can make it using only apples and honey, you are well within the "kitchen rules." I have a reusable gel flask that I use to put the apple sauce in when I run. If you have a food processor or a juicer (or a lot of patience) you can get even more creative, adding bananas, carrots, or other fruits to your apple sauce.

No Bake Energy Bites
I found this recipe on Pinterest and they've become a staple in my arsenal of running snacks. Made with peanut butter, honey, coconut flakes, flax seeds, oats, and chocolate chips (optional), they're super easy to make (no baking required) and they keep really well on the trail. Just throw them in a ziplock bag and you're good to go.

Chia Seeds

Anyone who has read Born to Run is already pretty familiar with this dietary fad, but in terms of energy drink alternatives, you really can't beat it.  I love to make this raspberry chia seed lemonade the night before my run and fill one of my water bottles with the mixture. So refreshing and a great alternative to Gatorade-type drinks.

Homemade Protein Bars
There are so many recipes out there for homemade protein bars that you can just about find anything to suit your particular taste and since most of the recipes are very substitution-friendly, it's easy to mold it to your own style.

Honey
According to Runner's World, honey is "the perfect running fuel" because its "natural unrefined sugars are easily absorbed by the body" and "the simple carbohydrates are a great source of energy." The article goes on to point out that honey was used as an energy source by runners in the Olympic Games in ancient Greece. If you don't feel like pouring honey into your own container, there are always pre-packaged options like Go Honey!

How to Run Downhill Efficiently September 21 2012

Most runners look forward to descents. Provided the hill is at a gentle angle and you haven't just had knee surgery, running downhill feels like relief. It's a chance to catch your breath and relax a little after a grueling hill sprint. Until you start mountain running. Once you hit the trails, descents suddenly become twisted obstacle courses that you stumble through on jelly legs while employing various *ahem* interesting descent techniques. One day it will dawn on you that it's pretty much impossible to look cool while running as fast as you can down a muddy single-track carved into the side of a mountain. Until then, here are some of the tried and true approaches to wrestling with gravity on your way to the finish line.
 
Falling
The preferred method of serious mountain runners. You can’t beat the efficiency and speed at which you descend while utilizing this technique. Side effects include broken limbs, bruised ego, and blood. Bring band-aids.
 
Waving Arms
Sticking your arms out at odd angles while dropping down a single-track greatly enhances your ability to maintain an upright position while descending. Those who aren’t comfortable with falling down the mountain generally utilize this method. For best results, stick your arms out and wave them wildly.
 
Crawling
Newbies to mountain running can be identified by their all-fours approach to descending down the rock-infested trails. With anything involving loose rocks, muddy slopes, boulders, or rain-slicked grass, beginners can be found cautiously sliding down the mountain and cursing the idiot who invented mountain running.
 
Extraneous Objects
For switchbacks, experienced runners take advantage of extraneous objects like trees, rocks, or fence posts to help make the turns. When done properly, runners hardly need to slow down as they catapult themselves around a bend in the trail. Side effects include splinters, extremely bad wipeouts,* and general awesomeness.
 
Glissade
For those snowy patches of the trail, employ either a sitting or standing glissade. Essentially, a combination between falling and crawling. Side effects include freezer burn and torn running shorts.
 
Catch Air
Leaping over uneven parts of the trail as they descend generally leaves runners feeling like they’re in the Matrix or filming the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Side effects include sprained ankles.

Walking
While not as safe as crawling, you're far less likely to twist an ankle. Side effects include public shaming as other runners bomb past you while employing "falling" and "catching air" techniques. 

 
*According to Merriam-Webster, the act or instance of wiping out: complete or utter destruction.

How to Run During a Heat Wave August 16 2012

First, look at the weather report. Notice that it’s showing a radioactive red. Consider moving somewhere else for the summer. Realize that everywhere is showing a radioactive red. Decide to take up swimming.

Head to the pool, swim one lap, become really, really bored. Try to start up a conversation with a swimmer in the lane next to you to stave off boredom. Nearly drown. Decide to try swimming in open water. Underestimate currents, water temperature, and stray leaves and/or kelp that may or may not be sharks. Realize you hate swimming.

Set your alarm for 5:30 AM.  Realize you are not a morning runner. You’ve actually known this for some time, but you’ve been in denial about it.

Decide to run later in the evening when it cools off. Realize it’s 9:00 PM and you’re still waiting for it to cool off. Decide it’s too late to run and eat a carton of ice cream instead.  

Optimistically set your alarm for 5:30 AM. Again. Crawl out of bed. Put your running clothes on backwards and inside out.  Try to convince your body to start running. Body tells you to f*@! off. Start running very slowly and painfully. Get distracted by a coffee shop. Decide running is stupid and donuts and lattes are awesome.

Resign yourself to running in furnace-like temperatures. Go for a run at your usual time of 5:00 PM. Nearly die. Crawl back home and lie in a bath of ice until your body is restored to its normal temperature.*

Purchase a gym membership. Feel really out of place in your old cotton t-shirt and tattered running shorts. Resolve to purchase matching workout clothes immediately after workout. Get on treadmill. Start pressing random buttons in an ill-fated attempt to look like you know what you're doing. When treadmill immediately starts up and kicks into highest gear, sprint and keep pressing buttons before leaping off in a panic. Walk away casually and pretend this was all part of your plan.

Buy an umbrella hat. This really has nothing to do with anything. We’re just trying to see if we can start a new trend. Is it working? Click here. How about now?

Stuff your running shorts with ice cubes. Immediately realize this is the stupidest idea you’ve ever had. Considering you once hugged a cactus (I was three, ok!), that’s saying something. 

In an act of desperation, spend a week vacationing in Death Valley. When you return, anything under 130 will feel like an Arctic expedition.

Give up running until winter. 

Start going for midnight runs. Realize you are unable to stay up past 10:00 PM. Also, it's really dark at night. And there might be ghosts. Or opossums, which are equally terrifying. 

Move to Siberia. Or San Francisco. When you arrive in San Francisco, text your friends in other parts of the country to tell them that you're back in the Bay Area and you're wearing a jacket.

Friends in Oklahoma and Texas write back, "What is a jacket?"

Once safely ensconced in coastal fog, go for run at 5:00 PM (in running tights because it's cold). For the first time in recent memory, praise Bay Area weather and vow never to leave the Bay Area again during the summer months....unless it's to visit Seattle.


*If you are actually suffering from heat stroke, please don't do this.





You Know You Work At Greenlight Apparel When... July 30 2012

We’re not your average apparel company. Aside from doing things a little differently on the business side of things (e.g. donating 25% of our profits to causes we believe in like microfinance and education), we’re a fun-loving crowd with a propensity for causing a little bit of chaos (the good kind) whenever we hit the road for race expos or get together for late night merchandising sessions. Don’t tell us you’ve never sat in an office till 9 pm with a hang tag gun and thousands of shirts. No? Hm. Maybe that's just us. We’ll put it onto the list of “things that happen when you work at Greenlight Apparel.” 

 Curious to see what else is on that list? Well, lucky you, we've got it right here. Drumroll please. 

You know you work at Greenlight Apparel when:

  • You’ve had at least one inappropriate encounter with a mannequin at a race expo. Instead of helping you out of your accidentally awkward position, your co-workers stand around and laugh or fumble for their cameras so they can get documentation for the blog. 
  • You own a Momentum shirt. Possibly two. Ok, fine. Three. 
  • When you’re out with your friends you suddenly become really excited as you point at random strangers and say “That’s one of our shirts. See it? There’s another one. The US Half one, right there!? See it?!” 
  • You have race shirts from races you haven’t run. You spend a lot of time awkwardly explaining why you’re wearing a marathon finisher shirt for a marathon you didn’t even enter. 
  • The thought of assembling clothing racks fills you with dread. 
  • You’ve raced over to IKEA and completely cleaned them out of hangers. Twice. 
  • You can explain microfinance in 60 seconds or less.
  • You use the phrases “Corporate Social Responsibility” “Fair Trade” “Organic Cotton” “Microfinance” and “I want a donut” on a daily basis. 
  • You once valeted a U-Haul van because there wasn’t any parking in downtown Sacramento.
  • You can say things like “Remember that time we valeted the U-Haul?”
  • One of the suggestions of things to do at the office holiday party was skeet shooting. The other was going to the San Francisco Academy of Sciences. Diversity is important.
  • Working includes going to the House of Air in San Francisco and jumping on trampolines. It was for a photo shoot. Honest. 
  • You are a walking encyclopedia of races around the country. 
  • You post funny dog pictures on the company Pinterest page even though they have nothing to do with running, athletic apparel, or social justice. You may or may not have also posted a video of a duck running. 
  • At race expos, you spend the entire day in the convention center and still have no idea where anything is.
  • While manning the storefront at the Costco roadshow, you make friends with all of the free food sample vendors. Immediately. 
  • You always have to explain where Fremont is in relation to San Francisco.
  • You’ve received at least one lecture on why eating sugar is really bad for you and why you should cut it out of your diet. You went for a week and then gave up. It’s important to be healthy, but after running 26.2 miles, nobody should deprive themselves of a donut. Nobody. 
  • You get to go to really amazing places like Uganda and meet with wonderful people doing incredible things to end poverty, fight injustice, and empower individuals around the world. You’re really happy to be a part of that. 
  • You like donuts. A lot.

What Pinterest Taught Us About Runners July 11 2012

Runners like state of the art running watches. They like the OC Marathon race shirts. They like that pasta recipe from Runner’s World for a pre-race dinner. They even like the inspirational quotes about never giving up and dragging yourself out bed to pursue the runner’s high.

They like Brooks running shoes, pink compression socks, chia seeds, and workout plans. They like Born to Run and epic photographs of stunning trail vistas. All of this they like. It makes them smile, receives an occasional like, maybe a repin, sometimes a comment.

But, according to our Pinterest boards, what runners really like are margaritas, donuts, and references to zombie apocalypses.

We’re not surprised.

Here is a list of the things we’ve always suspected about runners, but needed Pinterest to confirm.


Runners Prefer Margaritas to Gatorade

We’ve had our suspicions about this one for awhile, but we chalked up the Berkeley Running Club’s propensity for margarita-flavored Shot Bloks to...well, being from Berkeley. But apparently it’s not just us. Margarita-flavored Gatorade, anyone? 

 

 

Runners Generally Prefer Any Alcoholic Beverage to Gatorade
Not seeing too many Gatorade pins on Pinterest. Just numerous references to IPA being the best recovery drink for ultra runners. If you run with the Hash House Harriers they might kick you out for choosing Gatorade over an alcoholic beverage. Just kidding. But you don't get the "alcoholics with a running problem" shirt. 

 

 

 

Runners Like Cupcakes.
“You know what I really want after this 15-mile run? A kale salad.” - said no one ever. We want donuts, ice cream, potato chips, french fries, chocolate and an IPA to wash it all down, thank you very much.





Runners Might Possibly Be Zombies
Ok, this one was surprising, but our most popular pin/Facebook post of all time was a shirt referencing a zombie apocalypse. We suggested it as a training shirt for long runs or maybe a race day shirt. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought that was the. best. idea. ever. Who knew? Maybe runners secretly relate to zombies. Halfway through 26.2 miles, you pretty much feel like one. Minus the whole feeding on other people thing. That hasn’t really caught on. Must...refrain....from....bath....salt...reference.

 



Runners Like Photos of Cute Dogs
Because who doesn’t? Runners are human after all. Maybe. We might also be zombies. In that case, zombies also enjoy photos of cute dogs. You learn something new every day. The most popular photos for runners/zombies portray dogs sticking their nose into the camera with a caption along the lines of “it’s 6:00 a.m. You’ve slept long enough.” Anyone who has trouble getting up early for a morning run should invest in a border collie. Or three. 

 



...Not as Partial to Ducks
Not one like or repin on a video of a duck going out for a run? Really, you guys? Really?! We’re disappointed.

Runners Like Motivational Posters Advising Them to Run "Like You Stole Something”
With the number of likes on this motivational race day message, it would appear that a large number of runners have experience “running like they stole something.” Such a deviant crowd. Guess that’s why we’re runners and not ballet  dancers. Nothing against ballet dancers. It’s just that, with the exception of Black Swan, you’re not exactly known for being the wild and crazy ones at the party.


Runners Like Being Reminded to Give 100%
Except when donating blood. They say running can kill brain cells so it's important to have these reminders about not giving away all of your blood. There are cookies involved when donating blood and it's common knowledge that runners can get carried away when it comes to cookies. After 26.2 miles most are on the verge of selling their soul for a cookie. Or a beer.


10 Reasons You Should Join A Running Club June 22 2012

 

Remember when you ran in high school and college, loading up in the van and driving to afternoon cross country meets? You’d be wedged in between two of your friends, juggling bottles of water, and pleading with the coach to pull over because one of you has to pee. Again. Somebody in the front seat would burp really loudly. The coach, who was usually someone’s Mom or Dad, would pretend to be annoyed. Everyone else would laugh. You’d swap Powerbars, trading a peanut butter bar for wild berry. You’d make faces while eating the banana that had been squashed in your bag all day and you’d speculate about the chances of stopping at In ‘n Out on the way home after the race. You always had someone to run with, someone to complain with, someone who made you laugh, and someone who totally understood the runner’s high and the runner’s low.

But then you graduate.

You leave high school and college teams behind. You vow to keep running. Every day you lace your running shoes up and head out the door. You start doing the same loops over and over again. The scenery is boring, your pace never changes. It becomes harder and harder to get out the door. You rely on your headphones, you consider joining a gym. You pine for the days when you always had someone to run with and then, you think, wait...a running club! There must be one, and there is.

Here are ten reasons you should consider joining it.


Freeeee
Ok, not all running clubs are free. The more competitive clubs usually have some sort of membership fee, but it's generally not that expensive. The majority of clubs are absolutely free.

Someone to Run With
Remember what it feels like to be so absorbed in conversation while running that when your running buddy announces the eight mile mark, you say “what?! no way!” Yeah, it’s a good feeling. Not only is it nice to get out and connect with people who share your passion for running, they’ll help motivate you to get out when you don’t feel like it and they’ll help you to stick with a training plan and run your best.

Running Club T-Shirts
Who doesn’t love a running club t-shirt? Especially one that's Fair Trade certified, made from recycled or organic materials, and helps support microfinance and education programs! That’s called winning. You’re welcome.

New Loops
Raise your hand if you’ve done that one loop by your house more than three times this week? Yeah. Totally been there. Mapping out new routes and exploring new territory (especially with trail running) can be daunting when you’re all by your lonesome. Joining a running club will inspire and encourage you to get out and explore your city and its surrounding area. You’ll get to see something besides your neighborhood and that’s always fun.

Carpool
Nobody wants to get into their car and drive to go on a run. It’s a little counter intuitive. Still, some of the more amazing runs out in the woods, the hills, or along the coast require a little bit of freeway time. While it sucks to do that on your own, it can be a hell of a lot of fun to pile into a car with your running buddies and head out on a Saturday morning. Running mix CD? Check. Coffee? Check. Awesome running vibes? Absolutely.

New Friends
It’s pretty hard to meet up with someone two to three times a week, run 10 miles through the hills, exchange chia seed recipes, and complain about chafing without making a new friend or two.

Race Buddies
“So, what race are you doing next?” The most frequently asked question in a running club. Seriously. You will hear more about local races than you ever imagined. If you’re looking for new races or training buddies for the races you’ve already signed up for, this is the place to go.

Fun Runs
Runs that end at a bar? Because IPA is the best recovery drunk. Or how about a run that ends at a food truck event or a farmer’s market? Saturday morning run followed by brunch? You got it. Not every run has to be about personal records and negative splits. Sometimes they should be about beer and banana splits. You earned it.

New Drinking Buddies
Let's face it, IPA is the best recovery drink. Running and beer go so well together that there is a running club dedicated solely to combining the two. Their motto? Alcoholics with a running problem. 

Safety
Mountain lions, rattlesnakes, heckling, runaway dogs, and traffic. Runners face a lot of obstacles on the trail and on the road, and there is definitely something to be said for safety in numbers. Joining a running club ensures that you'll never hit the trails alone (unless you want to) and that you'll look super cool charging down city streets in a pack of five, ten, or twenty runners. 


Six Gross Things That Runners Do May 24 2012

 

Something happens to me when I put on my running shoes. Normally, I'm a pretty respectable citizen. And by respectable I mean someone who follows traffic laws, says "please" and "thank you," and doesn't think it's appropriate to urinate on the subway system (yeah, that happened). When I step out for a run, however, my mentality shifts. Suddenly I'm trotting through downtown in a spandex ensemble that rivals anything I've seen in the Castro, using my t-shirt to wipe the sweat off my face, and viewing bushes as prospective pit-stops. I don't know why, but running enables my "anything goes" mentality and when I say "anything goes," I mean anything.

Snot rocket
When else is it appropriate to blow your nose without a handkerchief? Not only is shooting snot out of your nose totally acceptable while running, fellow runners will actually comment on your technique. I've even heard runners bemoan the fact that they can't effectively use this technique and have to a) use a Kleenex or b) their shirt. (Gross)

Treat Bushes as Restrooms
It would be really nice if there were restrooms along the trail. Unfortunately there aren't any. Just bushes. If you're lucky. This is where the argument for urban running is at its strongest: public restrooms.

Swallow Bugs
It happens. Occasionally. In our defense, we don't swallow them intentionally. It just happens. At least we're not alone. Cyclists have this problem too.

Spit
Well, you have to get the bugs out of your mouth somehow. Sorry. Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead spitting in public, but once again, while running, I don't really give a damn. I blame exhaustion-induced delirium. That sounds legit, right?

Sweat Profusely
We sweat. A lot. And it's not the cute pseudo-sweaty glow that people in color coordinated jogging suits sport when they jump off the treadmill after two minutes. It's more like, "Wow, I just got caught in a downpour and could easily wring out my t-shirt" kind of sweat.

Eat GU and Shot Bloks on a Regular Basis
At least they have a variety of flavors? Man, you know you've gotten in over your head as a runner when someone asks you if you want a margarita and they're not referring to a drink with tequila.


I'm Not a #@&%!$! Morning Runner May 18 2012

 

Dear alarm clock,

I'm worried about you. Every morning, you display the same dogged determination in trying to get me up and out of bed before 6:30 a.m. I'm concerned you might be delusional or suffering from memory loss. I've tried everything I can think of and while I'm not proud of the times that I physically and/or verbally assaulted you, I can honestly say that my aggravation stems from a serious concern about your mental well-being.

Over the span of our 15-year relationship, you have never given up on me. I appreciate this, but now I wish you would really just let it go and accept me for who I am: an afternoon runner.

I know that I'm partly to blame for your neurotic obsession with getting me up and running by 6:30 a.m. I always made sure to be in bed by 10:00 p.m., I set out my running shoes and clothes the night before, I arranged to meet fellow runners, and then I told you to please make sure I was out of bed by 6:00 a.m...6:27 at the latest.

As you are no doubt aware, I am fully capable of getting (mostly) into my running clothes and out the door within three minutes. By the time I am awake enough to notice that my sports bra is on inside out or that I forgot my shorts, I'm too oxygen-deprived and exhausted to care.

All of that aside, I've come to terms with the fact that I will never be a morning runner, and now I think it's time for you to accept it too. We both know I've tried. I suffered the early morning cold, fumbling for my keys while trying not to wake my roommate, slipping my feet into stiff, cold running shoes and then trying to coax my grumbling muscles that, like it or not, we're up, we're here, we're running. And then the, oh no we're not actually running because said muscles are angry and stiff and so instead of leaping down the trail like a gazelle, I'm lumbering awkwardly down the path like an overweight Dachshund with three legs. I apologize to overweight Dachshunds everywhere, but let's face it, you're awkward.

I repeatedly endured the chipper, perky, bouncy morning runners who have clearly consumed about five cups too many of some highly caffeinated substance and spend every morning run taking advantage of my pre-dawn confusion to talk about how much they love everything and how lucky we are to be alive.  These are not things I disagree with, but I prefer to discuss them no earlier than 10:00 a.m.

Alarm clock, the reason that I have kept both of us going under this delusional dream is the fact that running in the morning is supposed to make me feel great and energized during the rest of the day. Usually I just feel annoyed that I left my bed an hour earlier than I needed to. I keep waiting for myself to become habituated to running in the morning so that I, too, can eagerly leap out of bed like a gazelle being chased by a lion.

But since it didn't happen yesterday, it didn't happen today, and it's probably not going to happen tomorrow either, I think it's time to throw in the towel.

I'm an afternoon runner. I have absolutely no self-discipline, am incapable of getting out of bed before 7:00 a.m., and prefer not to talk to anyone until I've gotten over my initial irritation on being out of bed in the first place. I'm not any more ashamed of this than you are of the fact that you're an out-dated relic from the '80's. And since, I've accepted your beige, bland, rectangular body with the red numbers against the black background, I think you can extend me the same courtesy of acceptance.

So the next time I ask you for a 6:00 a.m. wake-up call, would you please have the courtesy to either smack me in the face or reset your alarm to a more reasonable hour.

Thanks, little buddy.

 


OC Marathon Highlights May 15 2012

Even though it's exhausting being on your feet all day, I really do enjoy it when we get to head to race expos to man the Greenlight Apparel race merchandise booth. A few months ago we were at the California International Marathon, then there was Pat's Race in Arizona, and last weekend we headed to southern California for The OC Marathon.

Aside from getting to hang out with a bunch of runners and enjoy the warm southern California weather, our trip included the following highlights:

 

We Rented a Truck
Yeah, I know that doesn't sound that exciting, but look at this thing. It was enormous and slightly unwieldy. The shocks on this 13-foot beast were shot to hell so we spent most of trip bouncing along highway 5. On the plus side, none of us got carsick and we did get to experience the novelty of truck stops as well as going through the scales on the freeway. It's the little things in life. Next time we're getting a radio.

 

The OC TasteFest
Anything that combines a running event with a food event has my full support. Also there were coconuts. Although the straw wasn't particularly useful in trying to get at the actual coconut. They should consider serving it with a machete. I'm just saying.


In 'N Out
They have a vegetarian option. Mind blown.

 

Army Strong
Sunday morning we needed help setting up. Monika said an army of volunteers was on their way to help us out. I didn't think she meant it literally, but within five minutes a dozen uniformed soldiers were breaking down stands and moving race t-shirts and mannequins. It was kind of amazing.

 

Awkard
And then this happened. In my defense, those mannequins are a little awkward to carry around. On a less awkward note, the OC Marathon shirts turned out great.


Notes on Running Naked April 24 2012

 

One day after a long run, I was standing near the trail head happily emptying the contents of a box of Annie's Bunny Grahams when a fellow runner pointed at me and said, "Nikki runs naked, too."

I'd only been half-listening to the conversation of congregating runners, but now my head shot up. Wait. What? I know my shorts are short, but I definitely have clothes on. Right? I start second guessing myself. I did leave the house without coffee so it's entirely possible that I just forgot to put shorts on. I looked down and breathed a sigh of relief. Yep, definitely have shorts on. Whew.

Laughing at my obvious confusion, my accuser then looked at me quizzically, "You don't wear a watch when you run, right? I've never seen you wear one."

Ohhh, that kind of naked running. Got it. Nope, no watch. I don't keep track of my miles, my times, or my climbs. I just get up and I go. I stop when I'm tired and I go when I'm feeling good. I wasn't always watch-less though.

Before my freshman year of high school, I ran because that was the perfect physical expression of my joy and enthusiasm for life. When I started racing at the high school level, people noticed me. They said I was fast. I broke records, won races, and suddenly the peace I derived from running was replaced with pressure.

By sophomore year of high school, I was terrified and miserable. Everyone expected I would continue to run faster and stronger. People jokingly asked when I was going to start training for the Olympics. I cried myself to sleep at night, desperately afraid that my freshman year was just a fluke and I wouldn't be able to keep up my winning streak. I suffered severe anxiety attacks before races and wondered if I would ever enjoy running again. I tried to quit several times, but never had the guts to go through with it. Running was the one thing I was very good at and I derived a lot of my self-worth from my ability to perform on the track.

Another six years went by before I reached a breaking point. After years of constantly monitoring splits, personal records, and lap times, I had forgotten how to be motivated by joy. I quit running for my university and vowed never to sign up for another race again. It would be five years before I broke that promise. In an attempt to distract myself from a broken heart, I spontaneously signed up for a small local race. Unfortunately, I won. Suddenly my running buddies were speculating about other local races I could be competitive in if I started training seriously. I found myself once again ducking conversations about splits, personal bests, and training theories on how to shave seconds.

After the race I sat at home running my fingers over the finisher medal and staring blankly at the bouquet of flowers I'd received on the podium. Then I made a decision. I put the medal in a box, gave the flowers to my roommate, and took the batteries out of my running watch.

I stopped wearing a watch. I stopped planning runs. I stopped worrying about times. I started "running naked" and I never looked back. Now I lace up my running shoes and I run as hard as I can for as long as I can. I don't worry about a damn thing, and it feels good. Fellow runners ask what my times are and I'm happy to tell them, "I have no idea." Maybe some day I'll dust off my running watch, but for now I'm happy to leave it at home.

My only motivation is the motivation I started with: the pure unadulterated love of running. There is nothing to distract me from admiring the adrenaline surging through my veins as I come up over the crest of a ridge, Berkeley at my feet, San Francisco in the distance. The sun is setting. We throw high fives and drop back down the trail at a blistering pace. At least, we think it's a blistering pace. Without a watch, we'll never really know.

And, frankly, that's fine by me. Viva the naked runs.


Fives Reasons to Run in the Rain April 13 2012

 

So we've had a little bit of rain in the Bay Area over the past few weeks. Actually, that's an understatement. If it rains any more, I'm going to build an ark and start collecting animals. Not that I'm any stranger to rain. I went to school in Humboldt County. Alright, alright. That's enough. If you've got any "Did you study botany?" jokes in your system, get 'em out now. We good? Ok, continuing. So it rains a lot up there, and while running through the redwoods never gets old, running in perpetually damp shoes is enough to make even the most gym-averse individuals consider investing in a treadmill.

Still, there is something amazingly fun about running in the rain. Remember when you were a kid and you would beg your parents to let you go play in the pouring rain? It was liberating to stop dodging raindrops and start jumping into puddles, shrieking with delight as the rain splattered on your bare skin. Running in the rain allows you suspend your grown-up self for a few hours and enjoy the sort of weather that sends everyone else scurrying indoors, shaking out their umbrellas and bemoaning the darkening skies. If you're looking at the weekend weather forecast with a sinking heart, scroll down to remind yourself of a few of the reasons why running in the rain can be pretty fricking awesome.

You Get to Jump in Puddles
CANNONBALL! Ok, not quite. If you can cannonball into a puddle, it's no longer a puddle. More like a pool. Running in the rain gives you ample opportunity to get in touch with your inner child and jump as hard as you can into puddles. So, go ahead. Start a splashwar with your running buddies. The key is to jump in the deepest part at a little bit of an angle. You want to get that wall of water headed straight for them. If that sounds like too much work then just go with the more traditional heel-strike hit in the middle of the puddle. You'll get wet, but you'll take everyone else down with you.

Remember Slip and Slide? 
Here is where I insert some responsible comment about being respectful of the trails and staying off of them when it's muddy because of erosion. Ok, now onto the fun stuff. Running along a muddy trail brings the kind of adrenaline that has you cackling like a madman as you challenge gravity while surfing the rain-slickened surfaces of your favorite switchback trails. Watch those corners.

Embrace the Mud 
It gets everywhere. Squishing into your shoes, splattered onto your legs, smeared across your shirt, and caked along your face. When you get home and look in the mirror, it will look like you took a belly flop straight into the mud. Guess what? It's because you basically did. We spend too much of our lives trying not to get dirty. Running in the rain gives you the chance to shout "screw that" at the top of your lungs. Sometimes you just gotta get a little muddy. Embrace it.

Stop, Accept, Enjoy
When was the last time you just stood in the rain and relished the feeling of the rivulets making their way down your face, beading along your waterproof jacket, and dropping to the ground? Take a deep breath. Notice the steam curling off of your body. You feel invigorated, alive, and happy...like the rain is renewing you, washing away your stress and anxiety. Feels good, doesn't it? It's raining and you're outside enjoying it. Life is good.

The Post-Run Hot Shower
Does anything feel better than a hot shower after a long run in the rain? No, no it doesn't. Unless it's a donut after the hot shower after the long run.


Yikes! Vibram in Hot Water April 11 2012

 

A few weeks ago reports surfaced that Vibram, the company that sells the FiverFinger footwear and champions minimalist footwear, is facing a federal class action lawsuit in Massachusetts. The plaintiff is arguing that the company has greatly exaggerated the benefits of its products and says there is no proof that running in a pair of FiveFingers will improve posture, promote spine alignment, strengthen muscles, or reduce injury.

So, what do you guys think? Any barefoot/minimalist footwear runners out there who would care to come to Vibram's defense? Anyone side with the plaintiff? Though I definitely bust out my running shoes for longer runs and haven't quite made the transition to 100% barefoot or minimal footwear running, I've been integrating short barefoot runs on grass, tracks, and beaches for years and have found it to be pleasant...perhaps even beneficial. Or, at least, I think it's beneficial. I don't really know. All I know is that I've been running since the age of 13 and (knock on wood) have never had any serious running related injuries. And that's the crux of the argument isn't it? We don't really know.

There are plenty of people who will testify that barefoot running has been an integral part of warding off or eliminating nagging and painful running-related injuries like Plantar fasciitis, but on the other hand, there isn't any real scientific evidence to back up the claims that barefoot running is better for the body or that it prevents injuries. Vibram saw a niche and went for it (clearly there are a lot of people out there who find that running in minimalist footwear works for them and appreciate having the FiveFinger option), but perhaps they got a little overzealous in trying to promote the benefits of their product without any heavyweight scientific data to back them up?

The plaintiff in this case, a woman from Florida, is arguing that running in Vibram's footwear may increase injury as compared with running in conventional shoes or barefoot. The lawsuit accuses Vibram of propagating a "false and misleading advertising campaign" that has allowed them to "reap millions of dollars of profit at the expense of the consumers they have misled."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out although, I have to ask, was it really necessary to take the barefoot running debate to court? What do you think? Legitimate lawsuit or another case of the McDonald's coffee was too hot?


Why Kids Are Awesome (And Why They Should Stay in School) April 06 2012

 

Every time I look at this photo, my heart turns inside out. I miss this little bit. She's three. She doesn't say much, but she likes to hold my hand and sit in my lap while just staring at me. While sitting on the grass watching the women play netball, Robyn and I find ourselves encircled by children. I give up trying to watch the game and look down to find this little bit of a child crawling into my lap with a giant, if not mischievous, smile.

She melts my heart right then and there. Her tiny hand grabs two of my fingers and her other hand fiddles with my bracelet. She never takes her eyes off me. When I smile, she doubles over with laughter. My heart feels like it's expanding in my chest with the intention of holding her firmly in its grasp, to shield her from anything that would wipe that smile off her face. I don't want anything to ever hurt her, make her cry, or deprive her of anything.

We find a mutual reassurance in holding hands and she trails slightly behind me as we walk through Buyobo, our natural strides compromised as we try to walk in sync.

She follows me into three new classrooms that have recently been constructed. Animals are painted onto the walls of one classroom. I point at one animal. "Crocodile." She giggles. "Crocodile." I'm delighted by her mimicry. "Bird," I point to a large, white bird. "Biiiirrrrd" she shrieks backs. Suddenly there are five or six children circled around me, echoing the English words I give them. "Water, tree, fish, sun, sky" They shout back the words at me and their thirst for knowledge makes me hungry to teach them, to pour anything I can into their open hands. Their curiosity and enthusiasm is infectious, and it's frustrating to reflect on the number of children who do not have access to the education they deserve.

Every child, every individual, has a right to education and to the opportunity to empower themselves and their communities with the resources necessary to defend themselves from the onslaught of disease, corruption, dubious ethics, unprincipled economics, well-meaning but ineffective foreign aid, and unscrupulous laws. There is so much wrong in the world, and so many suggestions on the where, why, and how of what went wrong. I am reluctant to oversimplify the myriad of complexities that contribute to poverty's entangling web, but I feel strongly about the role education plays in shaking loose its fetters. One's access to financial resources should never dictate the level and quality of education one receives, not in Uganda, not in the U.S., not anywhere.

This is why I smile when almost every single woman we speak with in Buyobo informs us that being a WMI borrower has enabled them to help pay their children's school fees. More than one woman tells us that her child is now first in their class. When I think of my life and how privileged I am, the shining star in my memory is the level and caliber of education I received. Education yields change. There are so many components to breaking the cycle of poverty and there is no quick fix, but surrounded by children pulling at my clothes, reaching for my hand, eager to absorb my words and teach me theirs, I am struck by their curiosity. There are any number of academic theories on development and poverty and why children should remain in school. Running down a narrow path with a dozen laughing, happy little kids, those theories suddenly mean very little to me. The desire of these children to learn is enough to solidify my belief that it is also their right.


In Defense of Trail Running March 30 2012

 

I spend most weekends slipping down muddy trails chasing after nothing in particular for no reason in particular. It's called trail running and most of the people in my social circle seem to think it's an activity that is best left to the insane, masochistic, and stupid. I'm not even going to try to defend myself against those accusations, but trail running. This I have to defend. From an outside perspective I can understand how running twenty miles early on a Saturday or Sunday morning might be considered insane. I realize that those looking in from the outside see only a bunch of exhausted human beings covered in mud with faint lines of blood scratched across their legs and arms as they stagger into a parking lot mumbling incoherently about the beer they've been dreaming of for the past ten miles. And yes, that does seem like grounds to institutionalize someone.

But you have to dig a little deeper. Last week while sprawled out on my living room floor watching The Big Bang Theory, a friend asked me to name two things, family and friends aside, that I simply could not live without. Massaging a sore calf, I went through my mental checklist of guilty pleasures before decidedly giving an answer: trail running and potato chips.

Apparently this is an amusing answer because it took him a few minutes to stop laughing.

"Nikki, you are an oxymoron."

"I resent that. And I'd rather be an oxymoron than just a moron."

"Nice."

"Thank you. And I'm perfectly serious. I could not live without trail running."

"Or potato chips"

"Right"

And then I tried to explain.

I live for running, but not just any kind of running. I have to drag myself out the door during the days my evening runs are confined to the city streets. Considering that I live within minutes of the paved Bay Trail and in one of the most running friendly cities in the East Bay, this gives some indication of my reluctance to slamming my feet down against pavement. Basically, I hate it. But come Saturday and Sunday when I am free to spend hours roaming the trails in Tilden Park, Redwood Park, or the nearby Muir Woods, I am transformed into a 6 year-old who runs for the sheer joy of it. I run because my heart is so happy to be outside that the only thing that can adequately reflect that happiness is running.

Imagine dropping down into a ravine on a single-track trail enveloped by redwoods. Your feet are moving faster than your brain, your reflexes kick in and you're amazed at the fluidity of your body. Your buddy in front of you lets out an adrenaline-induced whoop. You respond by hollering. Suddenly seven runners are dropping down a trail at a breakneck speed while shouting and singing just because they're happy to be there. Hikers flash you bewildered and startled glances. You respond with an exhausted smile and try not to splatter them with mud as you race past. When you stagger back to the parking lot twenty plus miles later, your body is battered and your legs having nothing more to give, but your heart is full.

When I'm trail running I'm so happy to be out there, to be alive and moving that nothing else really matters. My world could be crashing down on top of me, but when I'm running, it doesn't matter. And when I'm running with people who understand that, I'm even happier. Maybe it's nothing more than the sense of camaraderie that develops when the world thinks you're crazy, but you know you're not. Or maybe you are, but you don't really give a damn. In a world of spectacular technology and perpetual connection, it's nice to be unplugged and connected to someone in a completely different way. Whether you spend ten miles talking or ten miles running in comfortable silence (well, minus the occasional interludes of "Want a shock block? Margarita flavor?" or "Wait? Is this the right way?") you're 100% in that moment with those people. You feel your connection to the people and place around you and at the risk of sounding like someone who has clearly lived in Berkeley too long, that interconnectedness is invigorating and comforting in a way that Siri simply cannot comprehend. Mostly because, let's face it, she doesn't really comprehend anything.

All I'm saying is that it's hard to knock something that involves mud and ends in beer because trail running, if done properly, always ends in beer. And potato chips. What can I say? We're a bunch of health nuts.


Motorbikes, Mbale, and Microfinance March 23 2012

 

I'm sitting on the curb when the shopkeeper at the fabric store shuffles out, dragging a chair behind her. She smiles encouragingly and I dust myself off before accepting the chair. Perry is perusing bolts of fabric in this closet of a fabric shop. It's a sensory overload with bulging rectangles of color shoved into every available space. Incense permeates the air as it burns steadily before a statue of a Hindu god and the sound of scissors slicing cleanly through fabric punctuates every word. It's intoxicating, but I'm not a shopper and before Perry has had the chance to pick out even one style of fabric, I'm already bored. I retire to the plastic chair.

Dust hangs in the air, muting the colors of Mbale. Its sharp colors, loud noises, and pungent smells are faded, like laundry hanging on the line after too many washes. The sun hits the crowded streets, holding them haphazardly in its light. Smudged white buildings are adorned with rough log scaffolding as taxis, overburdened with trunks and rolled up mattresses, rock precariously over the deep ruts in the road. Children are on their way back to school and their pressed uniforms seem out of place as they walk past the street vendors selling stack of pineapples, leather sandals, used clothing, and avocados. Two women load an enormous bundle onto the head of a young man. He steadies the load with his hand and slides forward through the crowd with an ethereal grace.

Ugandans walk past me, occasionally slowing down to gaze curiously at the mzungu occupying the cracked plastic chair in front of the local fabric shop. I gaze back at them unperturbed, strangely appreciative of our mutual curiosity.

Mbale has an inexplicable appeal to it. It's not Buyobo, but the chaos of its streets is something you can slip into. There is a rhythm here, a beat of the drums that locals instinctively move in time with while foreigners rock awkwardly back and forth, feeling the pull of it all, but unable to move as effortlessly in time with its music.

I first notice this while riding on the back of a motorbike, stuttering through the stop and go traffic. Chickens, pedestrians, trucks, motorbikes, buses, taxis, goats, and cows all fight for the right of way on the pockmarked roads. Eric constantly reminds us to watch out for the motorbikes as they leap forward into the narrow pockets of space between the buses and taxis. Frequently spinning out against the flow of traffic, they cause a high number of traffic accidents, and getting on one is tempting fate. It's also exhilarating, liberating, and perhaps the most authentic way to experience the busy streets of Uganda's prominent cities.

Sitting on the back, bouncing awkwardly behind the driver, dust flies into my eyes and mouth as I clench my hands and attempt to reassure myself with the fact that the driver has left at least two inches between my leg and the massive truck he's currently speeding around.

As I wobble precariously, I watch women weave through the traffic balancing enormous bunches of matoke on their heads. It's just one more reminder that I lack the grace and adaptability to slip effortlessly into the streams of people pushing their lives forward amid a slough of improbable odds.

Perry steps back out into the street with an enormous bag of brightly colored fabric, bold prints that defy the drab reality of a life tangled in poverty's grasp. They're the prints the women in Uganda favor and it emboldens my heart to believe in the chance these women have to extricate themselves from that cycle and build a reality more in line with the brilliant and bold patterns they adorn themselves with, a reality underpinned by choice rather than circumstance.

Back in Buyobo, Olive, Jacqueline, and Allan are demonstrating to me that hundreds of women, like them, within their community, are changing the game. With WMI's help, they're sending their children to school, they're expanding their businesses, they're running for office, and they're feeding my cautious flicker of hope diminished by years of watching firsthand how useless and inappropriate many top-down development programs can be for communities ravaged by war and poverty.

Making our way up the path to the comfortable house alongside Buyobo's main road, a little girl sitting in the dirt smiles and waves. As the evening light recedes from the valley, I wonder what her life will be like in ten years. It's hard to promise anything in this world, but as I look over my shoulder at Olive--strong, beautiful, and determined, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if the women in this community have anything to say about it, this little girl will be offered every opportunity. I smile back, offer my thanks to the world that women like Robyn and Olive exist, and let myself into the house.


How I Was Nearly Mauled by an Ant: A True Story February 28 2012

 

In the grand scheme of things and of all the creatures that could have bitten me in Africa, I recognize that an ant is probably not that big of a deal. It could have been a crocodile, a lion, or a malaria-bearing mosquito...just to name a few. However, I'm not going to let a little detail like reality get in the way of my dramatizing an account of my near death experience. Despite what my Mother has to say about the matter, I don't have that many of them so I like to make the most of the ones I do have.

And these African army ants aren't your average ants. They're pretty much the size of my iPhone and also possess huge fangs. You just Googled that, didn't you? Dammit. I hate the Internet. Fine. They're slightly larger than normal ants. Maybe about the size of a dime, but not as fat. Not sure about the fangs. That could be true.

Apparently, these army ants are capable of eating entire chickens or goats. They just swarm the animals, bite them till they bleed to death, and then consume everything but the bones. Freaky, right? I didn't even believe that was possible till one bit me. Eric told us that they're fully capable of killing humans so you see how close I was to death?

It all started when, after a week of being in Buyobo, Perry and I decide to take a trip to Sipi Falls for a day hike. Eric comes with us, ostensibly to visit Sipi Falls, but really he's there to ensure that Perry and I survive the expedition. I stupidly wear flip flops because I'm from California and that's as close to real footwear as we get. Occasionally our guide turns back to us and points menacingly at the ground. Eric explains to us that this gesture means beware of ants. The first few times I hop nimbly over the line of streaming insects. The last time I'm not so lucky and despite an elegant leap over the savage beasts, one clings to my sandal and sinks his fangs or whatever into my toe.

I never imagined that something so small could cause so much pain. Within seconds one little black ant is causing a searing pain that pierces my entire foot, rushes up my leg, and sends adrenaline shooting through my limbs. My heart is beating rapidly as blood begins to trickle steadily from my toe. I hit at the ant furiously, but the thing is latched on firmly. I grab its body and pull its biter thingeys (technical term) from out of my flesh.

Eric and the guide are up ahead, looking back at me with mild concern. Fortunately, this mzungu was able to wrestle the vicious beast to the ground with very little blood loss. Frankly, the only reason I'm still alive is because I'm so hardcore. Anyone else would definitely have cried a lot more. I'm always impressed by my ability to rise to the occasion and handle these chaotic near-death experiences with so much poise and strength. Most people just fall apart. Not me. I kill the ant, pour some water over my toe, and despite injuries sustained during the attack, I soldier on for the rest of the hike.

I only complain for 3/4 of the rest of the way as I limp stoically back to the car. When I get back to Buyobo, I prepare to wash and dress my wounds, but first I want to show them off to everyone. Unfortunately, there isn't even a mark. That's probably just because I heal so quickly. I'm like some kind of mutant. It's possible that I have titanium bones. That at least would explain why I always set off the metal detectors in airports. They're always telling me it's because of my belt, but they're probably just trying to be polite by not calling attention to my mutant status. TSA, always so considerate.

At any rate, I'm currently in the process of pitching my story to all major media outlets. So far nobody is that interested in buying the rights, but I hear this kind of rejection happens frequently to those with my superior caliber of intellect and strength. That's cool. I wrestled an ant to the ground. I don't need anyone else to tell me how badass I am. I already know.


The Donut Dilemma February 19 2012

 

Standing at the donut shop in my running tights, I’m reasonably cognizant of the fact that I stand out. My kind aren’t supposed to frequent donut shops. We’re supposed to be standing in line shouting over the din of the blenders at Jamba Juice or sipping non-fat lattes and nibbling primly on bran muffins at a local coffee shop.

But I like donuts and Sunday is donut day. I end my long Sunday morning runs at the donut shop around the corner from my apartment. There is an organic, vegan donut shop a mile down the road, but this one is closer so I shoulder the guilt and fiddle with my watch as I slip into the haven of fried dough and frosting.

The smell of fried dough clings to everything. Twenty years from now that smell will still be hovering over the walls and floors of this place. The woman behind the counter is standing over the trays of donuts with a pair of tongs in hand, waiting for me to make my selection.

I point to a chocolate donut with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. She grabs the one without sprinkles and I correct her. Then I indicate a regular donut with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. Again she goes for the one without sprinkles and again I correct her. After the third time, she looks at me curiously.

“They’re for the kids,” I blurt out. “They told me to get donuts with sprinkles.”

I don’t have kids.

I just really like sprinkles and I’m feeling guilty about getting donuts in the first place. One of the reasons I like having my long Sunday runs to myself is that I always end at the donut shop. If I ran with someone else they might suggest the local, healthy, totally sustainable café next door that serves steel cut oatmeal and toast with herbed butter. All of which is delicious, but it’s not donuts.

I tell myself that if I don’t workout then I don’t get donuts, and try to use it as a devilish sort of incentive, but I know it’s all a farce. I would eat donuts regardless and I run because I love to run. I love the time to myself. I love the wind swishing around me. I love the heat rising in curling tendrils from my body when I stop to stretch and look out over the Bay. Marin is in the distance, then the silhouette of the Golden Gate, and the San Francisco cityscape presiding over it all. I love the inspiration that rises to meet me when I take time to let it. I like feeling healthy. I like pushing myself, the slight burning of my lungs and muscles. But mostly I just love that something inexplicable about running. It’s the purest expression of that sudden, spontaneous joy that rushes through me at the oddest moments.

I don’t need the donuts as an incentive, but it’s taken me awhile to get to that point where I can admit to my donut obsession without needing to offer a justification. I'd like to be more responsible and healthy and eat carrots for breakfast because I prefer carrots, but I don't. Not on Sunday.

When those voices rise up and tell me I should feel guilty for putting all of that useless sugar and fat into my body therein counteracting all the good I did for it by running, I simply shrug my shoulders and lick the frosting off my fingers. My mental well-being is important too, and my mental well-being delights in pink frosting and puffy, sugary fried dough with a slight crunch.

I’m glad that more and more people are aware of what they’re putting into their bodies and the terrifying amount of absolute sh*t that is labeled as food and put on shelves. But when I’m sitting with friends who are deliberating on whether or not they should order dessert, I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “Shut-up and order the damn chocolate cake!” And when the guilt creeps in as I'm examining the irony of a runner ending her long run at the crowded donut shop next door to an oatmeal and toast kind of place, I want to kick myself in the shins for being that girl.

I grab my white paper bag, grease leaking through, and sit on the curb. My feet, clad in battered running shoes, tap happily on the pavement as I bite into the dough. Rainbow sprinkles fall to the ground and I take a sip from my milk carton, school cafeteria memories surfacing rapidly. I'm a runner. I love donuts. Judge me. Your oatmeal looks boring and my sugar-induced delirium doesn't care that it's healthier. This donut is fricking delicious.


Running in a Circle? I Totally Got This February 17 2012

 

Have you guys seen this?

I like the last one. It basically sums up a) why I started running and b) why I avoid the hurdles. While I find Prefontaine especially inspiring, the real reason I started running has a lot more to do with my ineptitude at other sports than any real running talent. Let me explain.

Sitting on a rooftop in Bethlehem one night, looking out over Jerusalem in the distance and enjoying a bottle of the worst wine known to mankind, my friend lights a cigarette and asks why I run.

Given that I had taken to hitting the road at 5:00 a.m. in order to get a run in before the desert heat made even breathing uncomfortable, her query appears far more rational than my running habit.

Taking a sip out of a chipped plastic cup, I consider my answer.

When the call to prayer ricochets off of the hills and reverberates through my apartment at dawn, why don't I just pull the cover over my head like everyone else? What possesses me to lace up my running shoes and join the ranks of the devout, albeit for a completely different kind of prayer?

I try to explain that I love the quiet that hovers over the hills in the early morning stillness. I love the sound of my running shoes slapping down on the pavement and I love greeting the day at the top of a hill, my heart racing, and sweat beading on my skin. When these words tumble out of my mouth, none of it makes any sense. Running has become so habitual that I realize it's easier to answer why I started rather than why I can't stop.

It was in junior high. Despite my general athletic prowess, I'm not good at sports involving extraneous objects. I have this annoying habit of ducking whenever anyone throws or kicks anything at me, and while this is a completely rational response, it discourages  participation in most sports available to junior high girls. After I had exhausted volleyball, basketball, softball, and soccer, my Dad suggested that I try track and field, stressing the "track" component of that phrase. I think he was concerned I would attempt the javelin.

I considered it carefully. "So, all I have to do is run in a circle?"

"Yep. That's it."

"And nobody throws anything at me?"

"Nope."

And that was that. I signed up for track the next day and for over 15 years, I've run with a religious fervor matching that of the devoted Christians, Muslims, and Jews populating Jerusalem's surrounding hills.

I've traveled all over the world, lived in five countries, and everywhere I go, my running shoes go with me. Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, France, Switzerland, and Germany my running shoes have seen the streets of them all and then some. So when I found myself in the West Bank, I didn't question whether or not I would run. It was just a question of how and where. And this is what I told my friend that night. "It's a habit, an addiction. Just like your damn cigarette, I can't give it up, even if I wanted to."

She tilts her head and laughs. "Just like my damn cigarette?"

"But healthier."

Looking at me out of the corner of her eye, she says "I don't know. It makes your thighs too big."

I consider this. She twirls an unlit cigarette in her fingers. "So you started running because you weren't good at anything else?'

"Basically."

We sit in silence for a few more minutes. I stare down at my legs.

"Really, it makes my thighs too big?"

She pours me another glass of wine and shrugs. "Don't worry, habibti. Some men like that."


Ten Things We Learned in Uganda February 08 2012

 

1. Perry needs a tracking device. Or a leash. The most frequently asked question on the trip was "Hey, where's Perry?"

2. When crowding into a shared taxi to catch a ride to a nearby town over miles of uneven dirt road, try not to sit next to the lady with the three chickens in her lap.

3. Ugandans are universally friendly. Everyone went out of their way to answer our questions, help us figure things out, and just generally make sure we were enjoying ourselves.

4. Winning a barefoot race in a small village with everyone shouting "Go, mizungu, go" makes all of those early morning workouts seem more worthwhile. Forty years from now when my grandchildren ask me for my best story, that will probably be it.

5. Riding on the back of a motorbike with all of your luggage through rush hour traffic in Kampala is not a good idea. It doesn't even sound like a good idea.

6. If you cry at Disney movies, sappy love scenes, and/or inspirational speeches, be sure to wear dark glasses when listening to WMI borrowers tell their stories about how a loan has helped them turn their lives around. Frankly, my inability to turn off the waterworks is getting embarrassing.

7. The Lonely Planet East Africa guide's top picks for hotels in Kampala leaves a little bit to be desired. I've slept comfortably in some pretty shady hotels, but that one was pretty bad. Some hotels seem to be under the impression that if they put a tv in the room, travelers will happily overlook other deficiencies. Trust us, we'll take clean sheets over a semi-functioning tv any day of the week.

8. Ants in Uganda bite really, really hard. I'm not even kidding, you guys. They draw blood. I still have a bite mark. Apparently these ants can devour entire chickens and goats. I didn't believe it until one bit me. Now I believe it.

9. Chickens here run wherever they want, however they want, whenever they want. Well, at least until it's time for dinner. It's not uncommon to see a chicken happily perched in a classroom or a cow wandering nonchalantly across the soccer field in the middle of a game.

10. Cancelled flights are not fun, but free upgrades to business class are. Another glass of champagne? Why, thank you, don't mind if I do.

 


Microfinance: What's the Deal? January 18 2012

 

As Perry and I get ready to embark on our adventure to Uganda for the Women's Microfinance Initiative graduation ceremony, you might be wondering what's up with microfinance and why is Greenlight Apparel supporting it?

Both good questions.

The deal behind microfinance if you're not already familiar with it (or even if you are) is that it provides micro loans to those individuals who otherwise wouldn't be eligible for credit. When you think about the times in your life that you've had to rely on credit (whether it's through a family member, friend, or professional banking institution), it becomes pretty obvious that most of us need some assistance from time to time. Essentially proving the old adage true that it takes money to make money.

I for one would not have been able to get where I am without the assistance of loans and the fact that I am eligible for a loan already puts me ahead of millions of poverty-stricken people around the world.

I don’t like describing anyone as poor. That’s not an adjective that should define anyone. Poverty is a circumstance, not an identity. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. The cycle of poverty is cancerous in nature, spreading quickly and becoming more and more difficult to tackle the longer it's left untreated. Tackling poverty requires a various set of tools, some more effective than others. Microfinance is one such tool that, when done correctly, we believe to be exceptionally effective at curbing the cyclical nature of poverty by giving people practical tools and training they can utilize to create sustainable businesses.

It's not that we don't believe in charity or in giving to those in need. It's just that we don't see it as an effective tool to ending global poverty, and ultimately that's our goal. It's also the goal of the Women's Microfinance Initiative, a DC-based organization that works primarily with women in Uganda and Kenya. There are numerous microfinance organizations out there and a lot of good ones doing some amazing work. So, why did we decide to partner with WMI?

Good question.

Here's why.

WMI targets women in rural areas who struggle with barriers to credit that those living in more urban areas don't always face. Individuals who have a difficult time getting to urban areas to access financial services are more likely to succumb to credit abuse. We also like that they target women, who have been shown to take loans more responsibly than their male counterparts and who are more likely to use the money they make to support their families and their communities, creating jobs and sending their children to school. WMI provides the training necessary to help women manage their businesses and to ensure that those women successfully pay back their loans. They have 100% payback rate and women who graduate from WMI's loan program are able to then move toward independent banking.

We tackled the apparel industry because we believe that we can do it better. We believe that you shouldn't have to decide between good athletic apparel and supporting a company that offers something good from start to finish. We believe in more than just the end result and we feel strongly that WMI has a similar philosophy. They're concerned about more than just the end result of whether or not someone pays back their loan. They invest in the training and support of women who have all of the talent, ingenuity, and drive to make their ideas work, but need a little access to capital and a little bit of training.

That's something that we feel is sustainable, practical, and addresses the long-term needs of these communities. We're incredibly excited about teaming up with WMI and Perry and I are beside ourselves at the opportunity to head to Uganda in order to get to know these women better and celebrate their incredible accomplishments! We leave Sunday and we'll be blogging about it while there so definitely stay tuned for more.


Next Stop, Uganda Please January 13 2012

 

Next week, Perry and I will board a plane where we'll probably arm wrestle for the window seat before buckling in for a flight that will take us to Entebbe, Uganda.

Uganda. I keep rolling it around on my tongue, trying to imagine what it will feel like to be there.

I've read so much about it that I can close my eyes and feel the colors of it. The red Earth, the fluorescent green, the heat hovering gently over the treetops, the deep blue of the sky, the rising mountains. It's all just a picture painted in my head spun from the words of too many books. When I was younger, I'd perch myself on a rooftop, a fence, or a tree branch. With a book in hand and anything I could scavenge from the kitchen, I'd read so much that I'd convince myself I'd been to thousands of places around the world throughout varying points in human history. That's how I feel about Uganda. I'm craving to know the country beyond the superficial painting I've created in my head.

I'm eager for the noise and smell of the country and the palpable manifestation of its soul hitting you from every angle as you sit, sticky and sweaty, crammed in the back of a bus while the country rushes in at an overwhelming pace. It's a sensory overload that leaves you reeling before you clamber out of the vehicle and into a small village where the reeling stops and the country settles into you. You grasp the hands of those around you as introductions are made. Palm against palm is a far more intimate gesture than we give it credit for. Eyes are laughing, gazes dancing back and forth, and your soul will rush forward in a moment of pure joy. It's good to be alive. It's good to be in this place, with these people. It's good to hear their stories, to collect them, and secret them away for another time.

A collector of stories. That is essentially what I am. I carry the gazes of people within my heart and when it becomes too much, they spill from me and onto paper. I tell their stories. I close my eyes and nestle myself within the sound of their voice, the lilt of their accent, the low of their sorrows, and the high of their joys. I read them from cover to cover and then I translate it.

Uganda. I am aching to have its stories poured into me. I am excited to go somewhere new, to travel, to explore the meandering roads cut through a nature so wild, it roars forward and will not be subdued. But mostly I am excited to meet people. To sit, rocking back on my heels, my mouth half open in a moment of self-forgetfulness, listening to the tangle of life experiences pour from the mouths of those around me.

And Perry? Well, in the unlikely event that I am able to peel his camera out of his hand for two seconds, he just wants to tumble over the treetops of the Impenetrable Forest in a bush plane manned by a ruffian pilot with a heavy Russian accent, a penchant for Vodka, and a disdain for safety. I used to think that it was me who instigates these ridiculous situations while traveling. Now I realize that it's not me. It's these lunatics I keep traveling with and my inability to say "You know, actually, that doesn't sound like a good idea." So if anything insane happens on this trip, blame Perry. I just wanted to sit and talk to people.


This American Life: Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory January 13 2012


 

Apple addict? Yeah, us too. We're also a fan of fair labor practices and This American Life. If you haven't caught this show yet, we recommend it. It's hilarious, heartbreaking, and thought provoking.