Master of My Domain

The running world has some interesting vocabulary words. A woman runner who is over 150 pounds can choose to run in the “Athena” division, or, according to this obviously reliable site, in some races, though not those in my neck of the woods, you only need to be 140 pounds to be an Athena.   Men over 165 pounds can run in the “Clydesdale” division.

You need to self select to be listed in these divisions, but I suppose the theory is that runners over a certain weight (no matter their muscle mass? their height?) run slower?  Not really: according to the results of a recent race, one of those Athenas outpaced me by nearly 4 minutes, though I would have placed 2nd if I ran in that division (I’m not eligible, but it wouldn’t take a lot of extra food and drink to be eligible).  BUT, why place yourself in that division for the pleasure of just being listed as having placed in that division? Or are those women (more women select that division than men, it seems) making the statement that their weight (for most, 150 at least is still about average for American women) doesn’t really hurt their performance?

Another interesting term is “Masters”: “Masters” are not the best of the best, but a division for men and women who run races after age 40.  Most races already group us by age (40-44, 45-49. etc), but for some big races, there is also a special division for all Masters.  Unlike the Athenas and Clydesdales, everyone over 40 is automatically eligible to place in the Masters division.

I’m guessing that the thought behind this category is that older runners are slower runners. Of course, in a recent half marathon I ran, the 3rd place overall finisher was a woman in her 40s! Or perhaps such a category gives hope to those who were fast in their youth, but now creaky with old age and injuries? Since I didn’t start running competitively until I was 40, this lost youth issue presents no problem for me: in fact, I’m looking forward to running and winning in the 60-65 division someday (of course, all those fast 40+ year olds will be aging with me…I may need to move).

In a recent race, I placed in the top 10 of Female Masters.  It was not my best time (damned tight quads) . It was a hot day (and I’ve been training in unusually cool weather). And, lucky for me, the really fast 40something women must have been running other races that day. But still, it’s nice to be recognized out of a crowd of hundreds of runners.

But I think Female Mistresses has a much better sound: don’t you agree?

The Eye of The Tiger

A colleague and I have been giggling for weeks over this song.  It came up during a faculty meeting, oddly, and he and I were the only other folks who remembered the Survivor tune created specifically for Rocky III: it seems our other co-workers were either not into popular culture 28 years ago, or under the influence, so to speak, and thus missed the fabulous early 80s.

Since that meeting, my colleague and I have heard this song regularly–almost weekly–on a variety of tv shows, the radio, at his kids’ concert. We call each other up every time we hear it and have a giggle over it.   It’s quite discombobulating.

But, tomorrow is the half marathon I’ve been training for, and that song is going to be on my Ipod’s playlist.  It’s the perfect running song.  So think of me running in my  running skirt, bopping along the 13.1 miles and singing:

It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the cream of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watchin’ us all in the eye of the tiger

Oh, if you missed this song, here ya go:

Running Skirts?

Last week during the Sunday half-marathon training run, the coach chatted with us about running skirts.

It seems, running in a skirt is the latest thing, and something she highly recommends, especially for long runs.

She demonstrated the “go off the trail, pretend you are stretching while what you really are doing is peeing” move that she says is a vital skill during long races.

In fact, during last year’s trail half-marathon, I do remember envying the men who blithely freed themselves from their shorts and  started peeing against a tree, not even bothering to hide what they were doing, often only a few feet from the trail.

I’m getting me one of those skirts, but I think I’ll need to practice the “pretending to do lunges” maneuver, and I assume one wears a g-string of sorts under the skirt?

Trail Running Musing

Since the fall, I’ve been running with the same training group, focused mostly on form and speed (goal: a fast 5K, then a fast 10K): mostly women, of all ages, working together to improve. The trainers were encouraging, and informative, and the runs were relaxing.

Too relaxing.

I often was forced to slow down to stay with the group, which, as you can imagine, is not exactly the best way to train to go FASTER.  I also have chosen to run the trail half marathon this June rather than the road half marathon, and I needed to find a group that practiced running up and down twisty, rocky, single track dirt trails.

So a few weeks ago I switched, not without a little guilt, to a new training group, and believe me, no one is telling me to slow down.  Now, I am forced (by my own competitive spirit) to run faster each week to stay within eyesight of the true speed demons (this is somewhat important, since I do not yet know the trails and standing around waiting for the slower group of runners to tell me where to turn isn’t fun).  The weekly group runs are no longer relaxing, but I love being pushed to go faster each week. 

Several of the women in this group were students of mine 10 or more years ago, and remembered me (I suppose that’s flattering?), but for the most part, I don’t know anyone yet. The coach, however, makes it a point to chat with each of us before or after each run—she explicitly says she wants to make sure everyone feels connected.  It works, too: although I joined the group after they had already started running for a few weeks together, and thus they had begun to bond, the coach works hard to include the few latecomers in her one on one and group talks.  A lesson for any professor: That’s what all students want, don’t they? To feel connected.

Each week we run on a different trail near town, so I’m finding new routes, and becoming a connosieur of trails and a bit of a trail running snob (I know this is no surprise):

  • First, whose idea is it to put those damned blue stones on a dirt trail miles from town? Running on those stones requires intense attention to avoid slipping. And they are loud to run on, too, ruining the whole communing with nature part of the run, forcing me to up the sound on my ipod.  My favorite trails are dirt–pure dirt–especially dirt beat down by other runners.  My least favorite are those with the damned blue stones (and those with bike ruts–those are much worse). 
  • Why do slower runners or walkers refuse to move over the approximately 6 inches or so it would take for me to pass them without knocking them over?  Yes, I know they can’t hear my “on your left!” over the din of the blue stones or their ipods, or because they are chatting away two abreast, but I do yell loudly.  [I’ve no doubt that the mountain bikers sharing the trail have similar complaints of even fast runners, but since they cause the bike ruts, phooey to them.]
  • Why do so many runners have those very cool GPS watches?  Such watches tell them how fast they are running each mile, how many miles they have done (difficult to guess, even if you know the trails, when our own signposts are trees), and later when they upload the information, they can see the elevation of the trail, and how they slowed down or speeded up at certain intervals.  At the end of the run, all the GPS owners get together to share their data, and argue over the pros and cons of their individual GPS watch systems.  There are debates about whose watch is most accurate (some say we ran 6 miles today, while other scoffed at that and said it was only 5.88). Let’s just say I used to have Ipad envy, but today I have serious Garmin envy.

Otherwise, running on a trail for miles and miles, even when it’s cold in the mornings as it has been, is pure pleasure for me.  It’s what made my Sunday a little brighter today, despite the grey skies and the paper grading that needs to get done.


  • for finals week to start, then be over, all 80 essays graded.
  • for spring break to begin so I can get some non-grading work and reading done.
  • for a break from all that spring break work so I can blog about the absolutely hilarious faux pas I’ve come across in the cover letters I’ve been reviewing for our open positions.
  • for a letter telling me whether or not my NEH summer seminar application was accepted.
  • for warmer weather, so I can start half marathon training again without freezing toes (2009 post half marathon training injuries all but forgotten).

Child’s Pose

Since the running injury in the fall, I’ve been forcing myself to take yoga at least once a week (well, usually only once a week, though I also practice by myself once a week).  I’m still forcing myself: I’m not particularly excited about giving up a morning of running or rest for a morning of contortions and bad music and namastes.  But I push on, mostly because, well, it works. I tend to feel better after a yoga class: my injury feels healed, I’m more flexible, and I usually run very well the next day.

But the other day was different. The yoga class I go to is very, very beginning, and I like that. Also, the instructor focuses on different areas of the body, addressing the needs of several of us in the class (I’m known, not always so fondly, as Annie’s Hip Day).  But it seems she now wants us to actually advance to more difficult moves, so the other day was Inversion Day: poses that required us to trust our balance and our core or arm strength, and not accidentally break our necks.

I have a serious problem with any pose or activity that requires me to be upside down. When I was in elementary school, the gym teacher called my mother up (those were the days) and complained that I refused to participate on rope climbing AND tumblesault days.  Well, being an ex-jock, this truly disturbed mom, so she spent an entire evening trying to show me how easy a tumblesault was. 

I refused.

She got so angry (and this is now family legend) that she threw one of her high heeled shoes that just so happened to be lying near us into the wall, creating a lovely hole (we were renting at the time making the hole particularly problematic for my not very house-savvy single mother). 

After the high heel hole incident, mom gave up trying to teach me to tumblesault, and I gave up ever trying to do one. To this day, still haven’t. The gym teacher must have just given up on me, too.

So, when the yoga instructor tried to convince me that the crow (pictured above) or the tripod were very easy poses, and that I certainly had the strength to do them, I rebelled and sulked in child’s pose for the rest of the class. 

My inner elementary aged child took over.

Gonna Fly (and apologize) Now

Woke up to a sunny, almost spring like day in Philadelphia, and went for a little run.  Ran to the museum (there’s the Rocky statue), then through Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River Trail for a few more miles (if you were there, I was the one smiling tourist-like at all of the amusing statues along the way, and saying “good morning” to the other runners, who either smiled back or looked at me oddly).  Did you know you could run all the way to Valley Forge along that trail (20 miles)?  Maybe next time….

Then I treated myself to 2 scoops of ice cream (cookie dough and peanut butter swirl): really, it’s that warm outside (in the sunshine).

I”m now at the Convention Center picking up my plastic badge holder and using the free (and fast) wi-fi along with about 30 or more others dressed in various shades of black, just as I am, and I must use this opportunity to apologize to Rosemary Feal and all those Twitter fans who I believe were annoyed at my previous Twitter-doubting post of just a few days ago.  Clearly, it’s easier, faster and actually a little fun to post status updates while traveling. My FB friends are loving those quick updates  if we can go by the comments already posted there  (a lifelong dream to visit Philly? why did you get boring cookie dough? where is the picture of YOU with Rocky).  And for those that don’t know: status updates are pretty much the same as tweets (though I can go on longer than 140 characters, thankfully). 

Blog posts, however, just take longer to compose, and really, I haven’t said all that much more.

Running in Philadelphia

Christmas shopping,  done.  Drinks or coffees or walking dates every day with friends I’ve neglected during the term, ongoing.  Syllabi for winter quarter, done.  Tree up and decorated, done.  Cookie bake off,  planned. 

So it must be time to think about the 2009 MLA Convention: Which sessions will I plan to go to? Am I ready for my session? Which friends back east will I get together with in Philly?  Which cocktail parties shall I attend? Can I fit 3 fat novels, my netbook, winter boots, dressing pumps, running shoes, and actual clothes in my carry-on luggage?

And, most importantly, where can I RUN in Philadelphia? 

Since I’ve become obsessed with started long distance running, whenever I travel now I seek out the prettiest running trails (though I’m quite partial to my own local river trail).  And clearly I’m not the only one since most cities now have websites devoted to runners, including Run for Fun –

If all that snow melts by the time I get there, I hope to run in Fairmont Park or this 8 mile run that will take me at some point to the famous Art Museum steps (remember Rocky?). 

In June 1870, a young Kate Chopin was on her extended honeymoon with Oscar, and they stopped for a few days in Philadelphia.   Biographer Emily Toth notes that the city itself didn’t thrill her at first, but Chopin conceded in her journal that “Fairmont is pretty though, a very pretty park, and I hardly think we will see any lovelier view in Europe than we had from the rising ground of the park, of the Schyulkill River, bright and sparkling–with its picturesque little boat houses–the city–like Campbell’s mountain looking more enchanting in the distance, and the full round moon staying the departure of twilight.”

Well I probably won’t be in a romantic mood at MLA09, and it will be just a bit colder in December than in Chopin’s June (despite global warming) but the next full moon does peak next week.