The interwebs have been all abuzz over the Always ad “Like a Girl” that became a hit during the Super Bowl. The message has obviously resonated with many of us, myself included. After watching the full length version of the advertisement, I really got to thinking about all of my “like a girl” moments and how that phrase being used in a negative way has affected me over the years.

I mean, I think of myself as a pretty independent, strong woman, but if I’m being honest, even I cut myself down for being a girl in many areas of my life, especially in the sports arena.

One example is as a runner. I have been running for almost ten years now and am proud of how far I have come from the 25-year-old who couldn’t even run half a mile. But get me out running with my boyfriend and I suddenly become an apologist. “I’m sorry, I know I’m slow. It’s not my fault. I’m a girl. I’ll always be slower than you.” What? For years, my inner monologue has been all about how it doesn’t matter that I’m slower than other runners as long as I am getting out there and doing better each time I run, whether by running farther or running faster. Yet, here I am, 10 years in, and every time I run with my boyfriend I end up begging him to just run ahead of me because I hate the feeling that I am slowing him down. He just wants to run with me. He wants to spend time together. He doesn’t care how fast we go. But I just can’t let it go.

Another example comes from climbing. A few years back, before I started a year abroad, I began training pretty intensely as a climber. When people would ask me why I was training so hard, I would tell them it was because I was going to be traveling alone but wanted to climb, so I needed to be able to show the male climbers out there (because they are the majority) that I could keep up with them. I didn’t want anybody refusing to climb with me because they thought I was weak. Upping my climbing ability definitely helped in this area, but this fear of being seen as “a girl” made me do some climbs that really scared me. The worst part about this is that had something gone wrong, I could have been seriously hurt. Climbing is no joke. This was really brought home to me after an experience I had in Australia.

I was climbing in Arapiles with some newfound friends. Like I said, I was traveling alone, so I was always having to make friends if I wanted to climb. I was a pretty strong climber at this time, but I had never tried trad climbing before. On my third day there, one climber really wanted to try a multi-pitch route that interested me. He didn’t have a partner, so I agreed to follow him up. Everything was going OK, until we reached the first belay station, when the wind suddenly picked up and the temperature started to drop. As I was belaying him up the second pitch, I started shivering relentlessly and my hands were turning bright pink. No problem, I’ll warm up as I climb, I thought. But as I was climbing, each time I needed to remove a nut from the wall, I’d accidently jam my hands against the wall because I couldn’t feel anything. By the time I reached the belay station, I had a couple of bloody spots and a ton of scrapes. But whatever, I’m a “real” climber, it comes with the territory.

To this point, I was determined to continue. But then, as my partner headed up the third pitch, it began to rain. It was just a sprinkle at first, so he continued up, hoping it wouldn’t get worse. It got worse. By the time it was my turn to climb, it was raining hard and the wind was whipping against my face. I was shivering uncontrollably, and I was beginning to panic. As my partner started to pull the rope up so I could climb, I began to cry. “Cry now, so he won’t see you being such a girl,” I told myself. And then I sucked it up and I climbed. Again, I fumbled with the gear all the way up. I also began to strain my muscles because I was gripping everything so tightly for fear of slipping on the now wet rock. As I ascended, the panic in me continued to rise. All I wanted was to get off of that wall, but now we were 450 feet up with no repel station in sight. When I arrived at the belay station, my partner asked if I felt OK to continue despite the weather. “I really want to be brave and say yes. I don’t want you to regret having come up here with a girl, but I really don’t want to continue. I’m freaking out and I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep going. I’ll do it if you really want to, but I’ll warn you that you may have a panicked, crying girl on your hands by the end.” (Little did he know that he already had a panicked, crying girl on his hands). So we hooked in some cams, tied our ropes together, and repelled while praying we’d have enough rope to get to the first belay station, where there was a bolted anchor.

When we made it down safely, I apologized for making it so he couldn’t finish his climb. I’d known he’d really wanted to do this climb and he would be bummed not to have finished it. Surprisingly, he told me he was glad that I’d said we should come down. He had been afraid to continue also, but he hadn’t wanted to admit it. Later, when I told some other climbing friends about the incident and told them how embarrassed I’d been about panicking and wanting to go back, they also surprised me with their response. “Climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. If you feel something isn’t safe, you should always say so. Nobody would say you’re afraid because you’re a girl – and if they do, you shouldn’t be climbing with them anyway. When someone literally has your life in their hands, you have every right to say that you think something is unsafe.” This statement is so true, and yet I’d let my fear of being seen “as a girl” almost put me into a potentially dangerous situation.

To put it mildly, I hope the “Like a Girl” ad and others like it can really change how we treat girls and women and think about how much words can really affect us. Sticks and stones and all that, but words really do hurt too. And they are so much more lasting than broken bones.

Great Wall Marathon 2013, originally uploaded by bexadler.

This past weekend I ran a half marathon on the Great Wall with some friends of mine from Shenyang and thought I should post something about it since this is one of those destination type races. I figure if there are any of you out there who want to do it, maybe I can offer some advice for how to train.

I trained for this race for 3 months, but still ended up with super sore legs. This is because I was lax in my stair training. I kept telling myself that I’d do stairs, but then I’d do two flights of stairs, maybe three and give up. I would not recommend my approach. No matter how in shape you are for the running portions, if you do not do some hills and stairs before the race, you will be sorry. The race begins with 3 miles (5KM) of uphill running that takes you onto the wall for about 2 miles (2,582 steps). The views are beautiful and it gets crowded here, so you may as well stop and take a couple of pictures. The stairs are steep so the traffic is stop and go for most of the wall portion. Just to illustrate, these first 5 miles (8KM) took me 1:20 to complete. Normally I finish 5 miles in about 45 minutes.

After you leave the wall, the course is straight and flat for a couple of miles and it is a huge relief after feeling like you can’t move on the wall. It also will give you a chance to regain some of your lost time. However, there are some rocky dirt roads about 3 miles (5KM) into the flat portion, along with some more hills, so I would recommend doing some trail running as well. I was definitely slowed down by the rocky terrain and worried that I’d twist an ankle. This portion, however, is one of the best parts of the race because it goes through a small Chinese village.

The village children and many of the adults were outside watching all of us crazy laoweis running on a chilly Saturday morning. Some were cheering and some were just there to watch the spectacle. The children were my absolute favorite part of the race and kept me smiling throughout. There were some who sat alongside the road and shouted “Hello!” at each runner who passed (I shouted back “Ni Hao,” which made them laugh), while many others held out their hands to give high fives to the runners. Some of the adults even got in on the action, shouting “Zai Zher! Zai Zher!” This is the Chinese equivalent of “Go!” I was personally shocked to see so much support from the community, but also grateful that they were there. The race does not have many outside spectators because the organizers charge an entry fee to be a spectator, and it is a steep fee, so it was nice that the community got involved and cheered us on. No race is complete without spectators to help cheer you on, especially near the end.

For those of you interested in the full marathon, be aware that you must do the wall portion twice. My friend did the full and he said it was one of the hardest races he’s ever done. He added a full hour to his best finishing time and finished in 4:30. He said the difficult part was that you get into a good rhythm on the flat portion and then when you get back to the wall and have to start on the stairs it makes you light-headed because you feel like you come to an almost complete stop. Even though by then the wall was not crowded, he was still slowed by the stairs because of their steepness, which made it so he had to really concentrate on watching where he was going. This is also at mile 20, so you’re already exhausted at this point.

Despite the difficulty, this was one of the best races I have ever run. It was incredibly well organized and included a lunch and showers afterward, which was a relief since it was a 2.5 hour bus ride back to Beijing after the race. The only disappointing thing was that it was almost exclusively foreigners running it. As I’ve written before, the Chinese aren’t really runners. Still, I’d hoped that there would be more locals participating. Anyway, I would definitely recommend this race to anyone who is considering doing a destination marathon. Just be sure you train properly for it. Also, for those of you who are expats, be sure to email them to get the resident price, rather than paying for the full tour. It’s an expensive race regardless, but no need to pay for a week-long tour of Beijing if you’re already living here.

Finishing time: 3:09:49 (my worst finishing time since my first half 6 years ago).
Next up: Dingle Marathon in Ireland!

*laowei – foreigner
*Ni Hao – hello

Last year when I was training for that half marathon and got injured, I posted about how much I disliked cross training. Mostly this had to do with not feeling like I was getting as much of a workout from cycling/swimming as I do from running, but since my injury I’ve been forced to take on other forms of exercise (either that or gain twenty pounds). What I’ve found is that the more I do those other types of exercise, the more I like them.

I’ve been doing spin class at the gym, which finally taught me that I can sweat just as much (if not more!) by cycling as I can with running. I’ve also finally added in weight training three times a week and a swim or two here and there, along with rock climbing and tennis at least once a week. As I’ve said, my running has been toned down to about three short, easy runs per week because I’m so afraid of getting those shin splints back. So far, I’ve been in good shape on the shin splints. Luckily, I haven’t really had any reoccurences of shin splints and I think that’s due to having so many cross training activities mixed into my week.

But what really made me a believer was the 5K I did last week. My pace has really been increasing lately, despite my running less and less each week. I thought this was just because I was doing shorter runs (usually 2 miles), but when I ran that 5K on Thursday I beat my best 5K time by almost 2 full minutes – down to 30:20 from 32:01. My pace has never been consistently below 10:30, but lately I’m typically running at about 9:45. I truly believe this is because of the cross training. Last summer I couldn’t figure out why my times weren’t getting much better each run. Now, I think the reason was that I was running every day and not giving my legs a break in between. My legs were still doing the work, but I think they were too tired to try their hardest. When I get to run these days, my legs are pushing harder and harder each time because they’re rested and ready to work. It was seriously a great feeling to get so close to that 30-minute 5K time. It’s something I’ve been wanting for awhile but never thought I’d get. Now, I’m so close, and I definitely think it’s thanks to my cross training. I am seriously one of the biggest fans of cross training now that I’ve actually tried it.

What about you? Has cross training helped you in your running?

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted to this blog. I’ve been super busy with grad school and what-not, but I am definitely still running. I’ve been putting in about 10 miles per week, which is a huge step down from my training days, but it’s the only way I can continue to run without getting shin splints. I haven’t done any races in a while though, so that’s going to be one of my goals in the next couple of months. I really want to get excited about running again and I think that signing up for a couple of races will be a great way to do that.

For those of you who live in Sacramento, there’s going to be a FREE 5K at Sacramento State on April 16th. I love anything free, so I’ll definitely be doing that one. I’m also signing up for the Nike Women’s 5K at the capitol again this year. It was one of my favorite races last year AND they have tons of great goodies. I use the gym bag I got there last year all the time.

Even though I haven’t been running quite as many miles, I’ve had a breakthrough in my running: I finally beat the 10-minute mile. Never in my younger years did I think I’d ever run faster than a 14-minute mile, yet here I am running a consistant 10:30 and finally beating that 10-minute marker that has plagued me for months. I think I posted about running a 9:59 a couple of months ago, but last week I ran a 9:36! For you faster runners this may not seem like a huge deal, but for me it’s mega huge. I’ve always been a slow runner and I take these milestones with me like trophies. Anyway, I’m super excited to still be improving my pace even with only a couple of 3-mile runs per week.

How about you? Any new milestones in your training?

I’ve been slowly moving my ancient MySpace blog over to wordpress, which will now be the home of my personal blog. Reading through these old blogs have been fun – kind of like going through an old diary. Among the hundreds of blogs, I found this one from October 2006 about my first ever race and 5K, so I thought I’d share:

I ran a 5K this weekend with Steph, Sofia and Beth. It was SO much more fun than I thought it was going to be. AND I managed to run the whole thing!

I placed 425 out of more than 800 people so that made me feel good despite having an 83-year-old man pass me on the course. Time was 38.44. I’m going to try to do another one with Sofia soon. Hopefully I’ll beat my time.

Shout out to Sofia and Beth, who whooped me and Steph, making it in 30 minutes: Good job ladies!

OK. That’s my update for the day. This weekend nearly killed me because I had so much going on, but I’m glad I managed to have a little fun too. What’s everyone else been up to?

I still remember how much fun I had at that first race and – aside from running most races solo these days – I still get the same excitement on race day. This is why I run (when I’m allowed to run – sad face).

Overcoming the Tough Stuff is the theme this week over at Runner’s Lounge and it really got me thinking. For me the hardest thing about running has not been running itself. The hardest thing is convincing my brain not to give up. I even looked into the subject and found this fab book: Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald. I haven’t read it, but I’m definitely planning to.

My brain has been my biggest obstacle in a lot of things, but especially in sports. In high school I was on the diving team, which was the most challenging sport I’ve ever participated in. Every day I had to wrap my brain around what I was trying to accomplish and convince myself to get up on that diving board regardless of how many flops I made before completing a good dive. I watched as other girls on the team picked this up seamlessly and I was really discouraged for a long time, but it didn’t keep me from coming back (despite my ever-growing repertoire of bruises from WATER). For me, running is pretty much the same thing.

There’s less fear involved in running (and less bruising, which I like), but the mind game is constantly there. I have to convince myself to get out the door despite the ever-increasing temperature in summer (or the rain in winter). I spend half my repeating this mantra: “You’ve ran this far before. This is no problem. You know you can do it so don’t you dare stop now.” Every run. You’d think after more than two years of running my mind would know that I can complete this mileage, that I’ve got what it takes. But each time I’m out there I’m talking to myself, convincing my brain not to give in.

I think getting through the tough parts of training are different for everyone. For me, it’s reminding myself that it’s not really as hard as I think it is. It’s convincing myself that if I just get up and get out the door, I’ll be able to make it to the end. Offer yourself a reward if you have to. Set small goals so you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment each time you get out on the running trail. Get a buddy so you feel obligated to run. Keep track of your times/paces/mileage if that’s what encourages you. Anything to help your mind get through this crazy running thing you know you love – get out there and do it.

P.S. Want to read about someone with serious mental strength and endurance? Check out Dean Karnazes. This dude ran 50 marathons in 50 days! Now there’s something I can’t wrap my mind around.

P.P.S. Still no running for me. Managed to sweat it out on the bike two days in a row now. My leg was feeling better this morning, but it was a fake-out.

I’ve been training for a half marathon. Being that my last attempt was mediocre at best (since I didn’t train, got only 4 hours of sleep the night before and showed up hungover). So this year I decided to do things differently. I decided I was going to actually train for it. I gave myself 18 weeks to train (I’m currently in week 7), which I thought would give me plenty of time and help me to make it to race day injury free.

I’m here to tell you that’s just not the case. I can barely walk today. I’m pretty sure I have a stress fracture in my right leg, although I’m telling everyone it’s just shin splints so nobody gives me too hard of a time when I still go out for a six-mile run on that practically broken leg.

The pain started midweek last week and has only gotten worse. The good news is that the pain goes away while I’m running. Although I guess that could be bad news because it only encourages me to keep running on it and will probably make the injury worse. I should probably slow my roll, but I was doing so good! I don’t want to stop now. I feel like I’ll have to start over from square one. But I guess if this injury gets worse I really will have to start over. Or worse, I’ll have to forgo the race all together.

I’m super sad about this new development.

On the bright side: I now have a bike and am moving close to the river so I’ll be able to ride/run to my heart’s desire with no interruptions from mean old cars who try to run me over (I actually kicked the car of a lady who nearly ran me over while she was talking on her cell phone this weekend).

I haven’t been up to much else. I’m going to a job interview next week for a position with the school district as a substitute teacher. It’s actually not a “position” per se, but it works fab with my grad schedule and pays really well, so cross your fingers for me on that front.

Oh, and at my new place I planted basil, mint, oregano, cantaloupe, pumpkins, garlic, tomatoes and chili peppers. I’m super excited about that for sure. I wish I had more space (and more money) so I could grow all of the delicious things I love buying from the farmer’s market. When winter hits I think I’m finally going to join a CSA…that is if my cooking habit continues in our new place. Tony’s parent’s kitchen is very conducive to cooking. Hopefully that will be the case in our new place as well.