By now I’m sure most of you are familiar with the saying “Strong is the new skinny.” It shows up fairly regularly on fitspo images and in fitness circles as a way of promoting a new standard of female beauty, one that is focused on strength and physical power instead of weight loss and restriction. The words are often accompanied by photos of women showing off glistening muscles while they pose with weights or perform feats of bodyweight strength. If you have spent any time at all in the fit-o-sphere, you’ve seen what I’m talking about.
Now, I support the general idea behind the phrase. I would prefer that women – and men, really – work to cultivate their bodies’ abilities rather than fight against them in an attempt to meet our culture’s incredibly fickle beauty standards. But I also have some issues with the execution, which, as I and many other fitness writers have argued, merely exchanges one unattainable physical ideal for another one. I mean, I might have a shot at attaining a visible six-pack, while nothing short of a life-threatening wasting disease will give me a thigh gap, but the effort required for me to get visible abs is so tremendous that I might as well not even consider it a possibility. Plus, it elevates one body type (muscles) at the expense of another (skinny), which is not exactly my definition of body-positivity.
Another issue is that when I think of “strong,” I think of it as an adjective that describes a person’s abilities. I consider myself strong because I can climb a pole or put my husband on my shoulders while we are in the water at the beach. When I see my muscles, I don’t necessarily look at them and go “wow, I’m strong.” Rather, I go, “wow, check out my muscles.” “Strong” is a word that describes actions and state of being, not appearances. Yet fitspo rarely shows women in the act of doing things that require strength, and instead shows them posing and flexing. Posing a-straddle a loaded barbell while showing some impressive underboob might make for some good cheesecake photography, but it does nothing to convey that the woman doing the straddling is actually capable of lifting said loaded barbell. Often, the emphasis continues to be on what a body looks like over what the body can do.
But recently I’ve come to realize that there’s another problem here as well. The expectation behind “strong is the new skinny” is that women who take it to heart will allow the pursuit of strength to supplant the pursuit of skinniness when it comes to their physical goals. But what is actually happening for a lot of women is that they are not abandoning “skinny” in favor of “strong.” Instead, strength has become yet another physical ideal to be piled on top of all of the other physical ideals they are already trying their damnedest to attain.
I had this realization while scanning one of the more popular healthy living blogs, in which the blogger wrote about squatting one-and-a-half times her bodyweight. Her announcement was greeted with comments from young women who wanted to know how she could lift so heavy while still maintaining such thin legs. It took everything I had to keep from head-desking myself into unconsciousness when I read that. For the vast majority of us, this is not possible. If we want to lift weights, we have to have muscle. If we have muscle, our legs will be bigger. Our thighs will be bigger. They might actually touch.
Now, I am willing to grant that it is entirely possible for a person to be capable of doing things like a 1.5xBW squat while still having almost no visible muscle on their thighs, but I think it’s also important to note that the person who is capable of doing this is not the norm. (And please know that I am not trying to turn this into a “ew skinny people are gross and weak” argument either.)
For most of us, this is just not possible. It is not possible for us to train hard without eating a considerable amount of food to support our bodies. (As a triathlete, swimmer and distance runner who lifts weights, I find I have to eat more than 2,500 calories a day just to keep my body from cannibalizing my muscles.) It is not possible for us to build muscle without eating enough food because our bodies need something to build that muscle out of. And it is not really possible for us to eat and train in such a way that we gain nothing but pure muscle. There is a reason why bodybuilders cycle between phases when they build up muscle and ones where they lean out.
Yet there seems to be a whole cadre of women out there who refuse to accept this, despite the fact that it flies in the face of everything that is known about exercise science, nutrition, sports training and biology. So many women believe even though it is flat-out illogical. And then they immerse themselves in self-loathing when they cannot attain this ideal of being strong AND skinny at the same time, feeling as though the fault lies with them for not eating clean enough or training hard enough, instead of recognizing that the ideal itself is what’s wrong.
As much as I want to just blow this off as magical thinking, I also recognize that to a certain extent, this kind of reaction is actually perfectly logical. I mean, maybe it’s not if you tend to be the kind of person who approaches things with an understanding of science, but we don’t really live in a society that values science that much (despite all the much-vaunted promotion of STEM careers we keep hearing about these days). But if you take a step back and take a macro view of all of the messages being flung every which way at women and girls (and increasingly at men and boys) and you try to imagine what it would be like to actually believe all of that bullshit…well, let’s just say that it doesn’t seem quite as illogical as it once did.
After all, we live in a society that prizes female bodies that are small and compact while still having bigger breasts (but not too big, because that’s just obscene). Women eat salads, not meat. They adhere to low-calorie diets so they can keep their “girlish” figures. Diet pills, surgery, liposuction, powders you sprinkle on your food, books and segments on daytime television, superfoods, Skinnygirl margaritas and Skinny Bitch diet books…a billion-dollar industry aimed at Fighting Fat. We are taught to believe that the content of our dinner plates dictates the content of our character. We learn that perfection is equated with self-denial and that appetites are sinful, that moral exemplars know how to exercise self-control and willpower, that only gluttons give into their desires for food, and that it is possible to determine if a person is a moral exemplar or a glutton just by looking at them.
And then you have all the lies put forth by so much of the mainstream fitness media. The gurus that promote 800 calories a day for three weeks to “jump start” a diet for adult women. The fitness magazines that lay out five-day-a-week weight training programs accompanied by diet plans that barely top 1600 calories most days. (I still laugh maniacally when I think of one diet plan’s “cheat meal” – a slice of cheese pizza and a can of light beer.) All of the photo spreads featuring figure models that conveniently leave out the fact that those women only look that way for two or three days at the very most. (And you never hear about the models and figure competitors who wrecked their metabolisms by following high-exercise, low-calorie routines.) Every single fucking magazine that promotes drinking lots of water, not as a way to keep yourself properly hydrated, but as a way of feeling full. And of course, all of the fitspo that shows these new standards of female beauty with their flat stomachs and their ripped bodies with body fat percentages in the low teens.
When you look at it like this, it’s really not surprising to see teenage girls and young women wringing their hands in anguish over the fact that they can’t figure out how to deadlift their bodyweight while still keeping their beloved thigh gap intact. The cultural conversation around bodies and fitness and health is so bursting full of internal contradictions that the only way to survive intact is to fight back. (And if you have an eating disorder, you really need to seek psychological help, NOT amateur counseling from bloggers who believe reading a few books on a subject is the same as being an expert.) We have to approach so many of the fitness-related messages we receive with skepticism and critical thought, which I know is so unfair and so tiring, and it sucks that we even have to do it. I wish this wasn’t the case.
We don’t need a new “skinny.” We don’t need a new beauty standard, nor do we need yet another physical ideal hanging over our every thought and move like a little black cloud of doom. What we need to do is change the paradigm so that we value our bodies for all of the amazing things they let us do. We need to expand our standards of beauty to recognize that beauty shows up in all kinds of bodies. And we need to get over this idea that the most important purpose we serve on is to be beautiful for other people. We have a right to have healthy bodies, to take up space, to have appetites, to cultivate our strengths in whatever form that may take. Our time on this planet is precious and we will never, ever get it back, so let’s stop squandering it in pursuit of meaningless ideals we will most likely never attain anyway. We deserve so much better than that.
Are there many things more certain to ignite controversy among a certain class of feminists than the idea of pole dancing for fun and fitness? The controversy has ebbed somewhat in recent years, but it still pops up from time to time, usually in the form of lectures about young women searching for empowerment by posing as strippers and how they are Doing Feminism Wrong by spending their time “pole-dancing, walking around half-naked, posting drunk photos on Facebook, and blogging about your sex lives” instead of fighting for reproductive rights.
As a woman in her 30s who has been immersed in online feminist communities since I was a teenager, I’m pretty well-familiar with the arguments against pole dancing. I’ve read “Female Chauvinist Pigs” and I understood the point Ariel Levy was making. But I couldn’t really find myself getting too worked up over the fact that some women found it fun to put on clear heels and shake their butts while swinging on poles. Sure, it wasn’t something I was particularly clamoring to do, but I figured that was just because pole-dancing wasn’t in my personal wheelhouse, not because there was something fatally flawed about the entire enterprise. Live and let live, you know?
My opinion started to change a couple of years ago, when my best friend Brandi took up pole dancing. Actually, she didn’t just take up pole dancing – she got really into it. I mean, reaaaallly into it. This is how into it she got: she began teaching, she quit her job as a technical writer, she opened a dancewear-and-shoes boutique, and now she owns a pole studio in Tampa. Like I said, she is really, really into pole dancing.
Naturally, when one of the people I love and admire most in the world gets really, really into something, I am inclined to find out more about that thing (unless, of course, it involves thetans or crack cocaine or something similar). Brandi and I talked about her experiences with pole, what she loved most about it, how it changed her attitudes toward life and herself. We talked about the way so many people seemed to regard it in a variety of negative ways: silly, retrograde, damaging, embarrassing, shameful. She told me that she hated the way some people acted as though she did pole to please her husband, and not something she did for her own enjoyment.
Best of all, she shared videos with me of pole dancers doing the most incredible things, spinning and climbing and lifting themselves, and doing so in a way that was graceful and sexy and feline and powerful. I admired the aesthetic of the dancers and the way they, like so many acrobats and aerialists, were capable of exercising such exacting control over their bodies. Over time I became intrigued, and I decided that I would give it a try.
A couple of weeks ago, the pole-dance stars aligned. I am not in training for any specific race right now, and Brandi decided to offer a beginning pole-dance boot camp that lasted five weeks. I signed up. My first class with Brandi was last Friday.
I showed up at her studio, and since it was the first time I’d seen it, I spent the first few minutes squeeing with her over the studio as she showed me around. She introduced me to the other ladies taking the class, who were sitting on a couch strapping on their heels. I did not own a pair of stripper heels, so I planned to take part in the class while barefoot. I did, however, wear a pair of booty shorts, since Brandi had told me how the skin of my legs and inner thighs will provide me with extra grip when climbing on the pole.
We all took position standing next to a pole facing a wall of mirrors. We started off with some exercises to warm up our shoulders and arms, then Brandi walked us through the basic terminology and moves involved in pole. She showed us where to hold our arms and how to position our shoulders so they remained firmly in their sockets. She had us walk around the pole and explained that she would use phrases like “inside leg” and “outside arm” to instruct us. Then she had us do a couple of non-tricky moves, starting with the “body wave,” which involves rolling your body in an upward wave against the pole.
As I tried to do the body wave for the first time, I started feeling an uncomfortable sensation that I quickly recognized as embarrassment. “I feel like I should be alone with the pole for this,” I joked in a weak-ass attempt to mitigate my awkwardness. I tried it a few more times, and each time I was mortified by the way my body didn’t seem to roll as much as it stuttered, which I knew was happening only because I was feeling embarrassed and self-conscious. Brandi said it was okay, that everyone feels awkward at first, and to just keep practicing.
Next was the “moneymaker,” where we bent over at the waist and used a variety of techniques to – you got it – shake our moneymakers. The idea isn’t so much to move our actual butts as it is to make our butts jiggle. Again, I failed miserably at this. It was during my attempt to make my booty jiggle that some random creepy guy opened the front door, poked his head in and started laughing and leering at us. We all started screaming at him to get out, and I briefly considered walking over to him and physically shoving him out of the studio, but fortunately he left before that became necessary. Seriously, bro, NOT COOL. (And hello, we are in Tampa – it’s not like there aren’t places where the women are happy to do this for you just down the street. Of course, that’s provided you aren’t a cheap piece of shit and are willing to give them some money.)
After this, we moved onto spins, which are moves in which the dancer hooks one leg and her hands around the pole, then spins until she glides to the floor. At least, that’s what a spin is supposed to look like. I, on the other hand, looked about as graceful as a marionette held by a drunk puppeteer. I could not get my legs to behave. It was like my legs interpreted my attempts to glide gracefully to the floor as stumbling and falling, and bless their hearts, they were like, “girl, we’re here to save you!” and then shot out of nowhere, causing me to land awkwardly on my ankles. More than once, I banged the inside of my right knee so hard against the pole that I am still carrying around a blossom of greenish purple on my leg.
It was just a huge clusterfuck, made even more clusterfuck-y by the fact that every other woman in the class was executing the spins quite nicely. And Brandi – well, let’s just say that girl looked like she was born with her legs wrapped around a pole.
It was at this point that I noticed my bare feet were not doing me any favors when I tried to pivot, so I broke down and rented a pair of white vinyl six-inch heels from Brandi. I pulled them on, then stood up and surveyed the view from my new NBA-ready vantage point. I walked around for a bit, got myself comfortable with my altered center of balance, then went back to the spins. Finally, I almost successfully pulled off a herkie spin. Almost. Kind of. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.
The last part of the class was an introduction to pole sits and climbs. The pole sit is a move in which you squeeze your thighs together so you end up sitting on the pole while in the air. We wiped down our poles with some rubbing alcohol, then Brandi walked us through each step leading up to the pole sit. I followed each step, then got myself into position, pressed my thighs together around the pole, and voila! I was pole-sitting! I couldn’t believe it. I had actually done something right. I came back down, then got back into the pole sit again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and it wasn’t. I could actually do it. I could even lift my legs straight in front of me.
The climb is similar in that you use your arms and legs to hold yourself in the air. Brandi showed us how to line our shin up with the pole, then flex our feet so the front strap of our shoes was gripping the pole. Then we put our hands on the pole over our head and pull ourselves up. By this time, my hands were sweaty and I kept slipping, so Brandi had me put some grip-aid on my hands. The grip-aid basically serves the same purpose as chalk for gymnasts and weight-lifters, and within a couple of minutes, my hands were dry and tacky. I got my leg into position, grabbed the pole, and pulled myself up.
And holy shit, I did it. I pulled myself right up onto that pole, and I stayed there. I stayed there long enough to see myself in the mirror, and I have to say, I looked amazing. My arms were flexed, my legs looked strong – I looked amazing. It was the closest my tall ass was ever going to get to being an acrobat.
I did it a couple more times, each time marveling at the sensation of having pulled my body up into the air like that. I would have kept doing it all night long had the class not come to an end.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the class since it ended. I’ve thought quite a bit about how much fun it is, and how I’m looking forward to my next lesson this week. I’ve thought about how I am decent at things that require brute strength (pole sits, climbs) and how I suck at things that require grace and elegance (everything else), and how the only way I will not suck at those things is to practice.
I’ve thought about how it’s possible to enjoy things you would have never thought you were capable of enjoying. I mean, I’m kind of a tomboyish jock who doesn’t really do femininity and sexiness all that well. I’m one of the last women you’d expect to see in a pole class. Yet I ventured outside of my comfort zone and found myself experiencing something quite remarkable.
And I do feel like there was part of the pole-dancing thing that was remarkable for me, and I don’t necessarily mean exploring the realm of public sexiness (with which I am admittedly very much uncomfortable). Rather, it was during the part of the class where we focused on climbs that I had an epiphany about myself. I knew I was doing something that required a considerable amount of physical strength, and that the fact that I was doing these things meant I was strong.
I am very used to thinking of myself as a work-in-progress – as someone who is trying to become strong – that I often lose sight of where I am right at this moment in time. I have a bad habit of comparing myself to other people and finding myself falling short. I don’t think about how fast I can be, just that I am not as fast as other runners. I don’t think about myself as strong, just that I can’t deadlift as much as some other lady lifters can. It’s hard for me to conceive of myself as myself, not in relation to other people.
But as I hung there on that pole, suspended in the air using nothing but my arms, legs and a strap of vinyl, I realized that there is no “becoming” strong – I already am strong. I can become stronger, but I’m already strong.
It was a tectonic shift in how I thought of myself, and it didn’t happen in the weight room with chalk flying through the air. It happened on a pole with Lucite heels strapped to my ankles and a pair of booty shorts. If you had asked me where I’d have that epiphany, hanging off a pole would have probably been damn near the bottom of the list of possible places for this to have occurred. And yet, that’s exactly where it happened.
P.S. About the shoes…they really are comfortable. I swear.
A few months ago, my husband was watching “Hunted” on Cinemax while I was puttering around on the series of tubes, and after one particularly action-packed sequence where the female lead dispatches a whole posse of would-be assassins, he says, “I don’t mean to be sexist, but I can’t believe that she can just beat up all of those huge men like that. Look at her! She’s so skinny!”
“But that’s not sexist,” I told him. “It’s actually true.”
After a few minutes, he switched over to the UConn/Notre Dame women’s basketball game and we watched that instead. At some point, UConn center Stefanie Dolson made a solid rebound, and I said, “Why don’t we ever see female action heroes that look like Stefanie Dolson? I’m way more likely to buy that she can beat up a bunch of guys than most of the actresses in these shows.”
My request was answered a few months later, after we joined the rest of the free world and started watching “Game of Thrones.” Partway through the second season, we are introduced to Brienne of Tarth, a highborn woman who ditches the trappings of Westerosi ladyhood in favor of swords and fighting and knighthood. Brienne is often the tallest person in any given scene, she wears her armor like a tank, and most importantly, when she fights off three attackers at once, you believe she could actually do it.
It should probably go without saying that I love Brienne of Tarth. Not only do I like that she kicks ass, but I like that she represents for all of us ladies who have heard over and over again that we are freaky and undesirable because we happen to be a lot taller than the average women (or average man, for that matter). I get her defensiveness and her awkwardness. I get it because I lived those things. (And I’ll admit, I totally ship her and Jaime. They are my OTP. And yes, I am aware that I am outing myself as a ginormous dork in this paragraph. But hey, at least I’m not the only one.)
But even putting aside my own personal feels on the matter – of which I admittedly have many that are quite strong – I have to say that I find Brienne of Tarth refreshing. She is the proverbial tall drink of cool water in a desert filled with size-0 actresses who prepare for their action roles with “rabbit food” diets (h/t Scarlett Johansson during a press junket for The Avengers), which I suppose is understandable considering that the actresses who don’t go the rabbit-food route are showered with criticism for looking “too fat” (as with Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games).
Hollywood’s insistence on giving us female action stars that still look rather underfed is a blatant example of pop culture-makers wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be praised for having “strong female characters,” but they don’t want to deviate too far from the ever-narrowing standards of fuckability. They want to make a grab for female fans but they don’t want to challenge the status quo too much. They want to appear modern while still clinging fiercely to outdated beauty standards.
The end result? Movies and TV shows in which we are asked to unquestioningly accept the premise that a woman with arms courtesy of the Tracy Anderson Method (TM) can throw a punch that would knock out a dude who looks like he body-slams elephants in his free time.
You know, I get that there is a certain suspension of disbelief required when you get involved with pop culture. I am not asking for perfect realism here, but some nod to the realities of human anatomy would be nice, and the reality is that anyone – no matter what their gender – who wants to be able to kick some ass is going to need some muscle with which to propel the instruments of ass-kicking. Male actors regularly spend time in the gym to put on muscle for these kinds of roles, because the role demands it. Actresses undergo training, too, but the most important goal remains making sure they still look good in their mandatory latex catsuit.
It’s not as if the female action hero who actually looks like she can kick ass is foreign to Hollywood. I mean, I can’t possibly be the only person who remembers Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2:
And more recently, MMA fighter Gina Carano in Haywire:
And what about Michelle Rodriguez in, well, everything:
Don’t get me wrong: all of these ladies are still operating very much within the constraints of Hollywood feminine beauty. All of them are slender and beautiful and still recognizably feminine. It only required just the tiniest widening of acceptable appearances – in these cases, by allowing the women to have some arm muscles – for them to become believable as ass-kickers.
Even Gwendolyn Christie, the actress who plays Brienne of Tarth – a character who is mostly derided within the Game of Thrones world as being beastly and horribly unattractive – is really quite beautiful:
As I thought about this and wrote it, I realized that I was inadvertently making the argument that I don’t think thin women can be strong or can fight, which is not my intent. Nor do I think that an actress is necessarily going to be unbelievable as a fighter just because she is thin. For instance, Michelle Yeoh may not have martial arts training but she has the skills to make her stunts look realistic, and I really liked Scarlett Johanssen as the Black Widow in The Avengers. I’m sure we could all think of individual instances in which thin actresses made believable action stars.
But the problem isn’t with the individual actresses and the individual roles. Rather, when you step back and take a look at the big picture of female representation among the fighters and action heroines of pop culture, what jumps out is the lack of diversity. It’s not that some thin, small women are capable of being believable as action heroines. It’s that we only see thin, small women as action heroines. (And let’s be real: we mostly only see thin, small women as ANYTHING in movies and television. This is a problem that is not limited to entertainment that includes violence and action. It is fucking endemic in our culture.)
This kind of lack of diversity of on-screen representation is one of the things feminist media critics address when they talk about the demographics of those responsible for making pop culture. Five percent of directors are women and most of those directors are white. Women of color are even more underrepresented. Women are also underrepresented in screenwriting, producing, cinematography, editing, you name it.
But it’s more than just the fact that white men overwhelmingly dominate the creation of pop culture in our society. After all, George R. R. Martin, who wrote the Song of Fire and Ice series, is a man, and a white one, too. Most of the directors and the show writers are white guys, too. I think it’s simplistic to say that white men are not incapable of creating art and pop culture in which women are given space to exist in a variety of ways, because they certainly do.
It’s more that a sensibility promoted by a certain kind of white guy is what dominates the way things are made. (You could call it the “Michael Bay effect,” I suppose.) It’s the expectation that the only kind of woman who should be seen on-screen should be a fuckable woman, and that what is defined as “fuckable” is a very specific kind of female body and appearance, which in turn is transmitted around the world as the standard of female beauty to which we all should adhere (whether through emulation or through desire).
And if you want to get sociological about it, we can talk about how the seeming contradiction posed by these waif-like ladies who kick ass reflects other trends in our society at large, particularly the way many women and girls feel huge pressures to be perfect at school, their careers and their families, all while maintaining a flawless appearance and making the whole thing seem effortless. “Yep, you can have it all, but you better make sure you look hot while doing it,” the overwhelming message seems to be. (In fact, a whole documentary just came out about this very thing.)
So when I think about the rise of Brienne of Tarth against this messy cultural background, the fact that she even exists feels fantastic. That she’s a total badass makes it even better. I just wish we had more of her.
The last time I did a women’s race was the 2011 Iron Girl half-marathon in Clearwater, and by the time I crossed the finish line, I swore never again. I had paid a considerable amount of money just to race as it was, but then the pre-race transportation was badly organized, which meant I was stepping off the trolley to the starting line more than seven minutes after the race started. I didn’t get to stretch or go to the bathroom or warm-up or anything, so I was already in a right state by the time I started. I was already teetering on the edge of reasonableness but then all of the cutesy girly shit that characterizes the Iron Girl franchise pushed me right over into the land of “fuck this fucking shit.”
It was the third women-only race I’d done in two years. I had also done the Women’s Running Half Marathon in St. Petersburg, which was another race I found exorbitantly priced and more than just a tad bit annoying, and another Iron Girl race. Not even the fact that I got to meet Kathrine Switzer at the Women’s Running expo could make up for the things I disliked about the race. I decided that women’s races just weren’t for me, and I haven’t done one since.
But then a couple of months ago I got an email about a race that would have seriously made me reconsider my “no women-only races” rule had it not been so far away. On June 1, the Thelma and Louise Half-Marathon will be held in Canyonlands National Park.
Okay, let that sit for a second. A Thelma and Louise Half-Marathon. A half-marathon dedicated to one of the most ass-kicking movies of the 1990s, in which the women shoot a rapist and ditch one of the women’s shitty, domineering husbands and go tearing off on a cross-country crime spree and have dirty hotel sex with a deliciously hot, young Brad Pitt. If you have never seen this movie, I insist you step away from this blog post and do not come back until you have seen this movie and can appreciate just how insane it was that such an overtly feminist movie could have ever been so mainstream (but then, I suppose, that was the 1990s for you).
If I still lived in Utah…shoot, if I lived even one time zone away from Utah, I would have signed up for this race faster than a ’66 Thunderbird could fly through the sky before crash-landing at the bottom of a canyon.
My enthusiasm for this race clearly illustrated for me that it wasn’t the “women-only” aspect of most women’s races that I had problems with. I’ll admit that part of me disliked the idea that women needed to be coddled and cajoled into doing something athletic by having their own super-speshul races, far from all the scary boys and men, but the truth is, being surrounded by thousands of women was actually one of the things I dug most about doing the women’s races.
No, it was everything else about the races that left me feeling like the human embodiment of Feminist Hulk. It was the insistence on referring to everyone as “girls.” It was the cookies and the pink shopping bags and the pink swag and the pink pink pink everything everywhere was PINK. (And I say this as a woman who actually really likes pink a whole lot. I just hate the idea that because I am a woman, I must lurve the color passionately and want everything I own to be pink.) It was the vague sense that I was being condescended to, like I was some kind of delicate little princess who needed to be praised and told how special I was and how empowered I am by everything I do.
The version of womanhood being catered to was nothing like womanhood as I experienced it. Where was all of the badassery? The toughness? The courage and the fierceness? Did this collection of living-”Cathy” stereotypes really describe the only way the race organizers could envision femininity?
And the more I saw of women-only races, the more I felt like the organizers were operating off some really limited definitions of what it meant to be a woman. Take the Nike Women’s Marathon, which touts firefighters giving Tiffany jewelry to finishers in lieu of medals. Now, I like firefighters and I like jewelry (and truth be told, if I were to do that race that would probably be the only way I’d ever own something that came in that famous robins-egg blue box), but, as Courtney Szto pointed out, the assumption that every single woman alive is going to swoon for this to be rather heteronormative. As you know, not all women like men, a fact that I would have thought a race in San Francisco of all places would have been fully aware of.
And I have seen women-only races that include mentions of chocolate and champagne in their marketing materials, and that use vaguely suggestive titles like “Dirty Girl,” and that brag about having boa-and-tiara stations, or even an event that calls itself the “Jiggle Butt” race. Shopping features heavily in the marketing, as does jewelry and princess and divas and high heels and a ton of other things that I just don’t relate to at all.
The Thelma and Louise Half-Marathon was the first time I encountered a women-only race with a concept and theme that made me feel like, hey, there might actually be a place for a woman like me at one of these things.
Obviously I know that just because something doesn’t appeal to me, that this doesn’t necessarily mean it will appeal to no woman anywhere. On the contrary, I am aware that a lot of women love these races and are signing up for them, which is why they are proliferating like sparkly viruses. And I also know that there are women out there who do love jewelry and princesses and tiaras and chocolate and that for them, this does not contradict their views of themselves as strong, capable, complex women. And I also know that there are a lot of women out there who hate all of this stuff, but they do the races anyway for a variety of reasons: it fits with their training schedule, they want to run with their friends and family members, it’s local, whatever.
But for me, it all boils down to one simple thing, which is that I dislike the fact that the women-only racing community seems to have en masse decided to create an image of womanhood using the broadest sitcom-style stereotypes of frivolity and consumerism, then to exclusively cater to that image without seeming to consider the possibility that a lot of women – like, uh, me – find the pink-princess-shopping-champagne-diva stuff rather alienating.
I want more women to feel comfortable enough to get out and race, but is this really the way to do it? (Evidently road-racing isn’t the only sport whose gender-specific marketing has left some, in the words of Sam, a bit “queasy.” Check out her post about Cupcake Races and Heels on Wheels in cycling, in which she brings up some of the same issues I talk about here, except she does so in her very scholarly, smarty-pants way. Oh, and read Tracy’s post about why she doesn’t think women-only races are inherently sexist, too. Good stuff as usual from these two.) Surely there has to be a way to organize women-only races that isn’t based upon lowest-common-denominator stereotypes ripped from the pages of Cosmo.
What do you think about women-only races? I know y’all have opinions, because a few of you have asked me to write about this in the past. Spill ‘em in the comments below.
The St. Anthony’s Triathlon is a BFD, both for U.S. triathletes – as it is one of the few races to be held continuously for the last three decades – and for my city, which often doesn’t find itself in the spotlight of anything, despite being totally adorable and cute and downright lovely in so many ways. Among local triathletes, it’s the Big Race. “Are you doing St. A’s this year?” everyone asks each other. Naturally, now that I’ve managed to get my hands around this whole open-water swimming thing, I decided to sign up. It would be my first Olympic triathlon: a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike ride and a 10 km run.
THE DAY BEFORE
We did our packet pick-ups at Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg, then spent some time checking out the expo – where Brian snagged some discounted K-Swiss kicks and I grabbed myself a TYR one-piece for a ridiculously low price – before taking our bikes a couple of blocks away to Vinoy Park. The race organizers had put some security measures in place in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing – because all it takes is one or two jackasses doing one horrible thing one time, and then the next thing you know, you’re taking off your shoes for airport security for the next several decades – and so we had to check in our bikes AND our transition gear in clear plastic bags the night before the race.
The transition area was massive, easily the biggest I’d ever seen. I stood in the middle and looked around at the millions of dollars worth of expensive bikes and fancy tri gear and felt the first flutters of anxiety. The other competitors were serious as fuck about this. Like, take this guy who racked up next to Brian. He had a Cervelo P5 – which is a bike that costs $10,000 (omg) – and he had just gotten back from running Boston, where he completed the race in a little over two and a half hours (omg x 2). Non-racers act like I’m impressive just for completing races, but the reality is that I’m nothing compared to a lot of the other people out there.
Next we went to check out the swim course, which is in Tampa Bay. As I looked at the long string of buoys, in one place stretching far away from shore, that flutter of anxiety turned into full-blown nausea. I had spent a lot of time in the pool, and I’d done some longer open water swims, but this was going to be the first time I’d raced at that distance…and it looked so long. When a pair of wild dolphins surfaced a few feet from the sea wall, I tried to take it as a good omen, because hey, dolphins! But the truth was, I was feeling pretty scared.
I spent most of the night and the early morning hours giving myself a pep talk. I knew I could do it, especially if I just hung out near the back and took my time, but good lord, that didn’t keep me from feeling scared.
We arrived at the race site and quickly learned that the water temperature had mysteriously dropped five degrees overnight (a development I call “mysterious” because we’d checked the water before leaving and it was definitely a lot warmer, but hey, I wasn’t going to complain), which meant the swim was wetsuit legal. Fortunately we had our wetsuits in the car, so we ran and grabbed them, then suited up for a warm-up swim.
I’ve come to love the pre-race warm-up swim, where most of the triathletes are out in the water getting ready. There are a couple of reasons why I love it. One, all the people scare away the wildlife, so I can hang out in the water without ever giving a single thought to a fish or a crustacean or anything. Two, the sun is usually just coming up, and so the swim is tinted pink and purple and orange, and it’s just a lovely sensation all around.
However, I have been spoiled by swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly the sandy bottoms and the clear water. The water in the bay was murky, the bottom felt like slimy mud and the sea grasses made me feel a bit like I was swimming into acres of fishing nets. I found it totally gross. Like I said, I’ve been spoiled.
Shortly after the pros took off for their swims, the organizers made the announcement that they were cutting the swim leg short. Some pretty strong winds were coming off the bay and it was kicking up quite a chop further out in the water. (Later, the pro male athlete who won said he had a hard time with the swim and that he was feeling bad for the age-groupers behind him.) In recent years, people got into some serious trouble during the swim leg, so I think the organizers were playing it safe, which I appreciate. Of course, it didn’t keep the he-man elitist triathlete bros from grousing all over the comments of the local newspaper’s website approximately 0.24 seconds after the race finished.
It occurred to me that this was maybe the good omen I’d predicted after seeing the dolphins: a wetsuit legal swim that was way shorter. I was relieved but also a little bit disappointed. One of these days I will actually complete a full Olympic distance tri, but Sunday was not to be that day.
The swim leg started out in the water, which was a first for me, as I’m used to beach starts where you all charge into the surf and then dolphin-dive until it gets deep enough to start swimming. I noticed after I joined my wave that I felt like I was getting sucked away from the shore and that the bottom quickly left my reach, which was a weird feeling. Fortunately we weren’t out there for long before they blew the horn, and then we were off.
I was right in the middle of the scrum from the very beginning, and all of thirty seconds had passed before someone kicked me right in the mouth. It was a hard kick, so hard that I actually checked with my tongue to make sure I hadn’t lost a tooth. A few seconds later, I got elbowed in the back of the head, and then I felt someone clawing at my legs. The sense of having to fight was draining my energy, which I knew I needed for the swim, and so because I couldn’t get out of the middle of the pack, I did the next best thing: I started throwing elbows left and right. My elbows made contact a few times and suddenly a space opened up around me, and I could actually swim!
Once that happened, I began focusing on my stroke, reaching forward, sweeping my arm so my thumb brushed my hip and keeping my head down so I didn’t create a lot of drag with my lower body. By focusing on each stroke and not on the buoys, I was able to cover the distance in what is a personal best for me: 15:54. This is hardly what many people would call a fast swim, but I always remember that this time last year, I wasn’t even capable of making it to the swim buoys without breaking down in tears, and so the fact that I can do a half-mile in open water would be remarkable, even if it took me an hour.
The bike course started off well enough, with me pedaling furiously for the first ten miles while I caught my breath from the swim and the 500m run to transition. I was able to pass some people, although I also got passed by many people on those crazy tri bikes with the disc wheels that make a bike sound like a freight train. I was feeling pretty good..until I hit mile 15. My quads were burning, my bike felt heavy, I had no idea what my pace was because I’d lost track of my splits on my wristwatch (and my bike, being old – excuse me, vintage – didn’t have a bike computer) and frankly, I didn’t even know how to pace myself.
It was at this point that I had to be honest with myself – I was horribly undertrained when it came to the bike leg. I mean, sure, my bike had steel components and it didn’t have aero bars and it’s actually older than some people reading this blog, but the reality is that those are all just excuses. The biggest problem is that I just did not put my ass in the saddle. I went for swims, I went for runs, I lifted weights, and yes, I did some shorter bike rides, but I could never quite muster the enthusiasm necessary to go out for multiple 30+ mile bike rides. More about that later.
I could have probably dealt with the burning quads just fine, but what I could not deal with was a long multi-mile stretch of road so bumpy, it felt like someone had taken a hammer and started pounding my genitals back into my body. I got out of the saddle, I adjusted so I was back on my sitbones, but it was only when I started riding on the little strip of white paint on the outside of the road that I found any relief at all. This is a consistent issue for me, and part of why I don’t find riding a bike as enjoyable as I do the other things. Yes, riding a bike can be fun, but riding a bike at high speeds for two hours makes my crotchal area feel like tenderized steak. No me gusta. (And I’m really not interested in building up callouses. I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate.)
What was even worse than the Agonies of the Vulva was the hit my ego was taking, especially after I saw woman after woman, ages 30-34 inked on their calves, pass me on the bike. It made me so angry that I had outswam these women – I, who is not even that good of a swimmer! – only to have them pass me on the bike with five miles to go. It was so frustrating, but no matter how hard I pedaled, I was no match for them. I promised myself that I could make it up on the run.
By the time I dismounted and switched my gear over for the run leg, it was about 10:30 in the morning. I had been part of the 20th wave, so by the time I even getting in the water, there were pros who were already starting their run. And it wasn’t just any 10:30 in the morning, but rather a 10:30 on a hot, sunny morning, with absolutely no cloud cover. If I’d had to guess I’d have said it was in the 80s, and I later learned I was right.
My run started out decently enough, although my legs were feeling a bit chunky from the bike ride. I’d slammed an energy gel and a swig of Powerade, so I had fuel in my system, and it was just a matter of working out the legs. I covered the first mile in a little under nine minutes, which I hoped would bode well for the rest of the run. Alas, I was about a quarter-mile into the second mile before the heat got to me. I realized I could try to run as long as I could and run the risk of being forced to walk the rest of the way, or I could switch to a run-walk early and save myself some energy. I opted for the run-walk. I was not the only one. I saw a lot of really fit looking people out there who were also walking. It was just so hot.
Fortunately for me and all of the other runners, the residents of the neighborhood had turned out in full force, bringing out stereos and spraying us down with hoses. They had chalked the street with signs telling us that runners were hot and instructing us to run like we stole something, and a few of them offered cups of beer and Jello shots. (“Meet me in about two miles,” I said to the girls with the Jello shots.) The water stops all had cold water and Gatorade, and even better, ICE, which the volunteers dumped on us by the cupful. I was so grateful to every single volunteer I encountered, and when I came upon friends of mine from the running community, I wanted to weep with relief at the sight of a familiar face. The heat, the fatigue, the pain had depleted me. I was barely holding it together, and seeing my friends really helped me keep going.
The crowd support even from the people I didn’t know was tremendous. When I hit the last mile, the street was lined with people cheering us on. A coach from a local tri team said, “In about 50 yards, you’re gonna be so happy!” and sure enough, in 50 yards, there was the mile-6 marker on the ground. I could hear the crowds screaming just around the corner, and I started to weep with relief.
And then I saw her. A few hundred yards ahead of me, I caught sight of a lady with the number 31 inked on her calf. I was already dealing with some pretty negative feelings about my performance during this race, and I knew that if I let someone in my age group beat me by such a small margin, I was going to be even more disappointed. I couldn’t let that happen. I summoned up whatever little wisps of energy I had left in my legs and began running as hard as I could. I ran so hard that I thought I was going to throw up. I ran and I caught her and I passed her, just a few feet ahead of the finish line. It was a tiny little triumph in a day that had thoroughly humbled me.
Later, after I’d caught my breath and had some chocolate milk and a couple of beers to recover (what? beer is good for recovery, it says so in a study commissioned by the University of Me), I checked out my legs and had to laugh. Rivulets of dried salt ran down the insides of both my legs and all around my thighs, making me feel like the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The truth is that this race was only marginally less difficult for me than a full marathon. When it was all said and done, I had been out on the course for nearly three hours – 2:48:49 – and I had worked my whole entire body into mush, not just my legs. Two days later, I am still dealing with full-body fatigue, soreness in my calves and shins and tightness in my back and shoulders. Never again will I underestimate you, Olympic distance triathon. Never again.
POST-RACE PROCESSING – THE BAD
There was no way around it. I was undertrained and underprepared for this race. I had hit a serious psychological wall after doing the Bahamas Marathon in January. I had been in a cycle of training and racing for a few years, with no real break, and the demands of work and buying a new house and trying to keep up with my blog/zines/relationships all kind of crashed down on me at once. (There’s a reason why the updating schedule on this blog has crawled to an abysmal once-a-week, is what I am saying.) I knew I needed to train hard but I couldn’t quite summon the energy or the desire. So instead I did the absolute bare minimum I could manage, which in retrospect was still kind of a lot but not nearly enough to be successful at such a challenging race.
This is an ongoing bad habit of mine, by the way. I still remember how I used to coast through high school, content with my solid B average, and how I was so confident that I’d be able to pull the same thing off in college with limited effort, only to have reality come crashing down on my head in the form of a GPA that was so low I’m still ashamed of it. It wasn’t until I returned to college as an adult that I realized that only by putting my natural intellect together with hard work was I ever going to get results I could truly be proud of.
There’s still a part of me thinks I can get by with half-ass effort when it comes to athletics, even though I have seen what happens when I train hard and compete hard. My husband is fond of pointing out that I am naturally gifted enough at my chosen sports that I don’t have to work hard to be above average. But then he always follows it up with a dose of truth that stings, which is that if I could put that together with consistent hard work, I could be so much better. And I know that he’s right. I worked hard to get myself to this point, and with even more work and consistency…well, let’s just say that I know I am capable of achieving even more when it comes to racing.
I have no upcoming events after this race, perhaps the first time in several years that I can say this. I plan to take at least a month and just do things I enjoy without worrying about how this is going to fit into my schedule or will this be enough to get me to my goal. Then I’ll re-assess and see where I’m at. Maybe I’ll do some shorter races, maybe I won’t race at all for a while. We’ll see.
POST-RACE PROCESSING – THE GOOD
It wasn’t all bad, though. First of all, the stuff that I labeled “the bad”? Is actually not really that bad. It’s bad only in the sense that it exposes a bit of a flaw in my thinking and way of conducting myself, and no one likes to think of themselves as having flaws. However, the reality is that we all have flaws, we all have weaknesses, and so the question is not about not having them in the first place, but rather how you deal with them when you are confronted with them. I’m at a point in my life where I would rather use these kind of experiences to become better and stronger, as opposed to hiding in my little emotional cave and never coming out ever again.
Another thing that was good was my swim leg. I cannot overstate to you just how terrified open-water swimming used to make me. The fact that I can even do it now – and that it was even my strongest leg in this race, with me coming out of the water 38th out of 86 women – never ceases to be a source of amazement for me. The development of that skill set has come with a lot of work, though. Laps in the pool, swimming in the gulf even on gray and blustery February mornings, reading books and watching videos about technique, even doing drills that I know make me look ridiculous. I’ve been working hard at swimming, and it shows. (Now, to translate that work ethic onto the bike…)
Finally, the best thing about the race was being surrounded by some incredible female athletes in their 30s, 40s and 50s, women who were just kicking my ass left and right on the bike and run course. I mean, yeah, I saw Mirinda Carfrae in the transition area and I know Paula Newby-Fraser was running around coaching Hines Ward, but I’m never going to be at that caliber of athlete. The pros are inspiring in their own way, but seeing women who found a way to juggle kids and jobs with their sport is another thing entirely. I may never be as single-mindedly focused on my sport as some of those ladies are – and in fact, I doubt I ever will be – but I find them amazing anyway.
So there’s that. And now let the recuperation and recovery begin.
Earlier this week, a video produced by Dove was making the internet rounds and sparking all kinds of debate in its wake. In it, a sketch artist drew two versions of the same woman – one as described by herself and one as described by her friend. The resulting disparities between the two sketches were meant to show how skewed the woman’s perspective of her appearance is, and that she is more beautiful than she thinks herself to be. If you are one of the five people on the internet who has not seen the video yet, you can watch it below.
Response to the video quickly fell into two camps: one that found its message inspiring and uplifting, and one that found its message troubling. (I am not going to rehash the criticisms here. Instead I will point you here and here and here.)
Now, I have a confession to make. I did not care at all about this ad. I only watched it after people began criticizing it, and even then it was just to understand what was going on. Perhaps this is a function of what Autumn at the Beheld has termed “beauty privilege,” in that I adhere closely enough to our culture’s beauty standards – tall, white, thin, blonde, able-bodied, etc. etc. – but I don’t really feel a lot of anxiety over my beauty or lack thereof. (I know, a woman who likes her face and admits so in public, on the internet even, SOMEBODY STONE ME, QUICKLY.) I suspect this is why I didn’t really feel the need to watch a video that was all about how I am more beautiful than I know, and why even after watching it, it didn’t really do that much for me.
But that doesn’t mean that I am some kind of superheroic media critic who can fly faster than a viral internet advertising campaign and deconstruct the semiotics of a print ad in a single bound. It just means that the Dove campaign didn’t hit me in my emotional sweet spot. On the contrary, if we had been talking about Nike’s online campaign aimed at female athletes, I would have had a totally different reaction. Take, for instance, their series of videos showing female Olympians training in a CrossFitt-esque setting while the Noisettes’ “Don’t Give Up” plays in the background. Check it out:
I eat that shit up with a spoon so big the Statue of Liberty could use it.
And what about this print ad campaign from 2006?
I know that I’m not the only woman who loved this series of ads. The ads took attributes that we as women are used to hearing need to be changed – big butts, thunder thighs, “manly” shoulders – and instead, it celebrates them.
So I get why the Dove ad campaign was celebrated by so many women. To be exposed to advertising is to be forced to weather an onslaught of fear and anxiety and messages about how we all but flat-out suck and the only thing that will save us from sucking so hard is buying these shoes and that cream and this diet food and so on and so forth. As result, when any advertiser presents us with a message that deviates from that – and not only that, but actually goes a little further and praises us – well, it’s not hard to understand why so many of us have positively rosy feelings towards these corporations.
Let us not forget that these are still corporations, though, and what they are aiming to do is sell us on their products by associating something more ineffable with them: an image, a sensibility, self-esteem, physical empowerment. The idea is that if that association between the ineffable and the concrete product becomes strong enough, we will become loyal customers. We may not want to financially support companies that can barely disguise their loathing for us, but we will buy beauty products from the company that thinks we are beautiful just as we are (which, surely I am not the only one to note the contradiction in terms here?) and we will buy shoes and t-shirts from the company that wants us to feel like we can kick the world’s ass with one hand tied behind our backs (even as a Nike-contracted factory in Indonesia literally kicks its workers’ asses.)
That we might come away from consuming these marketing campaigns with feelings of inspiration and excitement is secondary to their ultimate purpose, which is to get us to buy things.
The reality is that the things these advertising campaigns want us to experience – physical power, self-esteem, accomplishment, self-love, a sense of self-worth – these are things that cannot be purchased. It does not matter if you have more money than George Soros and the Koch brothers combined. The emotional states these advertising campaigns are trying to arouse in us cannot be bought, not if we want them to count.
And that is the real problem with positive advertising, the reason why part of me will always cut major side-eye to even the most inspirational marketing campaign. At its core, all advertisers want us to do is buy into their mythology and their self-generated images, which they hope will in turn become profits to add to their bottom line. They enlist brilliant creative minds and psychologists and research teams, all with the goal of making the dollars flow from your bank account into theirs.
Now, does this mean I think that we should never buy anything? Nope. Does this mean I think we should never allow ourselves to feel anything when we watch advertising? No way. (Seriously, I defy anyone to watch this legendary VW Cabrio commercial and not feel the goosebumps raise all over your body.) Just as some advertising can be utterly revolting in its gross offensiveness, other advertising can be funny or beautiful or even touching, and it’s okay to feel that way about it. But just because an ad is able to make us feel good and beautiful, it doesn’t mean we should allow it to overcome our ability to think critically about it.
I usually don’t write when I am exhausted and crying because I feel as though the blog – and you, the readers – deserve better than that, but the fact is that I cannot think about anything but what happened yesterday in Boston. And when I try to write, the words just feel so small and inconsequential compared to the enormity of what happened. But I’m going to try.
For those of you who don’t know, my day job is working as a web editor and producer for a 24/7 cable news network in Florida. Normally my job means writing quippy news pieces about idiot criminals – which, like sunshine and alligators, is one of my state’s most plentiful resources – and copy-editing to ensure all commas are in the correct place and that everything meets the standards of the almighty AP Stylebook.
For the most part I handle myself with the emotional distance that is characteristic of people who work in news, but sometimes a story penetrates my carefully-constructed defenses and I’ll find myself with tears streaming down my face as I write. Newtown was one of those days. So was the day we learned a 14-year-old girl had allegedly given birth to a baby boy in her bathroom, and then strangled the infant and hid its body in a box in her room.
Yesterday was another one of those days. I cried when I saw photos of the wounded. I cried when I realized that the clock showed 4:09, and that I am a 4:08 marathoner. I cried when I learned people had lost their legs. I cried when I learned an 8-year-old boy had died while waiting for his father to finish. By the time my shift ended after a long 14-hour day, my tear ducts were burned out and my ears felt numb to the sounds of the screams and explosions coming from the television I keep on my desk at work, but that numbness didn’t keep me from dreaming about smoke and blood last night.
Perhaps it affected me even more than most of the worst stories I deal with for the simple fact that the bombers, whoever they are, hit right at the heart of one of the things that I, as a marathoner, hold most dear in my life, that inchoate jumble of pride, suffering, triumph, exhaustion and exhilaration that comes in the last mile of a marathon. That place is sacred to me. It is in that last mile that I have experienced one of the most transformative moments of my life, the moment at which I ceased to see myself as a puddle of a human being, a mess of weakness and flaw, and instead began to regard myself as something much more powerful, as someone who could tackle damn near anything and find a way to come out on top
Strength, resilience, courage: that’s what the final mile of a marathon means to me.
The marathon – the 26.2 miles between the start and the finish lines – offers us who run it a safe space to test ourselves, to see if it is true, that we are made of stronger steel than we ever could have thought possible. We are given a place to embark on this quest where we are supported by volunteers and cheering crowds and also the ghosts and memories of all those who have run before us. But in Boston, that safe space was obliterated in the space of twenty seconds.
It makes me sick with anger and grief that some cowardly individuals, whatever their motivations, whoever they are, chose the final mile of the Boston Marathon as the place to play out their twisted little petty drama. I take it as a deeply personal affront, not just as a human being, but as a marathoner.
I am choosing not to dwell on that, because in the midst of all the blood, smoke and terror, the reality is that the bombs could not annihilate the humanity that makes the final mile of the marathon so special. Indeed, in the midst of the tragedy, the best of humanity could be seen everywhere: in the first responders and spectators who ran toward the explosions to help, in those who helped pull people to safety with little regard for their own safety, in the medical staff who clicked into emergency gear with astonishing efficiency, in the thousands of Bostonians who offered their couches and beds to marathoners in need. It was not difficult to do as Mr. Rogers suggested, to look for the helpers, because they were everywhere.
Certainly this will not bring back those who died. Nor will it restore lost limbs or make people psychically whole again. I, like everyone else, would have rather yesterday’s marathon been a peaceful, uneventful one, that the human dramas that played out be constrained to the artificial limits of the race course, that the worst injury a person could have expected was a lost toenail or a pulled IT band. That is what should have happened, and what did not.
So instead, today I will think about the heroes of the Boston Marathon, not just the Kathrine Switzers and the Dick Beardsleys and the Alberto Salazars, but the Carlos Arredondos, the Joe Andruzzis, the countless first responders and medical professionals, the thousands of people who added their names to that Google spreadsheet, the runners who finished their marathon and kept on running to Mass General on legs that were most assuredly so tired they felt like marble, just so they could donate blood. I will think about them whenever I feel despair, and I will not allow the courage and selflessness of thousands be overshadowed by the evil of a few.
The marathon may have been disrupted in a violent, gruesome way, but the spirit of the marathon lives on in the hearts of every Bostonian today. I hope one day I will be fast enough and good enough so I can run the streets of Boston, and when I do so, it will be an homage to all of those who exhibited such magnificence in the midst of such horror.