Why This Ragtag Women’s Run Squad Matters

“At the pinnacle of athleticism, endurance records are won a few steps at a time. And almost entirely, they’re held by men.” ~Megan Michelson, 2014

This morning I asked my mom to dig my high school yearbook out of the attic and snap a photo of my senior picture. There I am, bold and unafraid, all dressed up in Telegraph Avenue bracelets and jeans I decorated myself. I made up my own senior quote: “Go do something crazy.” Thanks for the advice, younger self!

At the end of July, I’ll begin a run across my home state, accompanied by two friends, Maryam Khan and Noam Argov, who are really giving me the ultimate gift: supporting me in my quest to become the fastest known woman to run across California. The known is really key there - I’ve had a hard time finding stories of other women who have attempted this. If someone faster is out there and our efforts shine a light on the story of a woman before us, that will be a great outcome because these stories should be better known. My fastest known time (FKT) run is a supported, team effort, each of us with individual goals for the journey. We want ours to be a story of female camaraderie, of going for it, of empowering ourselves, and hopefully a few others in the process.

For me, a lot of what we’re doing does not feel extraordinary. I wanted to run across a state as a way to fill time between jobs, and California proved the least daunting given that it’s close to home. We won’t be sleeping on the side of the road, and our FKT goal is far from pushing the limits of what human beings can accomplish. I am deeply inspired by those who came before us - Jenn Shelton, Krissy Moehl and Bethany Lewis come to mind - and I am aware that my FKT, should we accomplish it, is far less herculean.

And yet, what we are doing out there, it will matter. What we are doing matters because of what we are a part of - a straw into the pile of legacy before us and a stepping stone for the legends that will come after us. I am proud to play a small part empowering women in sport. Women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic marathon until 1984. A known speed record for women on the Pacific Crest Trail did not exist prior to 2013. In trail and ultra distance running events, women make up less than 31% of participants, although we are making progress to change the ratio each year. If I’ve learned anything from my time working in tech, it’s that changing the ratio and fostering inclusion is hard, hard work. Making progress and creating change requires all of us.

On a more personal level, this run honors the spirit of my family and the visceral why-not-try-it impulse I feel in my blood when I strip away societally-constructed self-doubt. On my mother’s side, my great great great aunt was the first female doctor west of the Mississippi. On initial patient visits, she was often turned away as no one believed “girls” could be doctors. My maternal grandma pumped her first gas in her sixties and started a blog at age 80. Why not? It’s never too late. On my father’s side, my uncles ran across death valley as children, they lay on the freeway when it was closed for repaving just to say that they had, and they later became elite modern pentathletes earning Olympic and world championship medals. When my paternal grandfather first heard of a new innovation called SCUBA diving, he repurposed a fire extinguisher to try it out himself. Why not? Later in life, he ran marathons, forged a trail through the Canadian wilderness with his bare hands, and became the 80 and over national champion in the 100 yard freestyle swim. As a child, these were the stories that brightened my eyes and filled my heart with pride. These are the legacies that brought me up to be that bold 17 year old young woman, advocating for craziness as I stepped forward in the world.

So, I don’t want the story of this run to be one of braggadocio. I want this run to be a footnote in the story of women’s rise to the forefront of adventure sports, and an honoring of the accomplishments of female athletes who inspire me. I want this run to be an acknowledgement of the history from which I come, an exploration into what we can accomplish together, and a celebration of our love for this land, this state, and this sport.

We are going to do something crazy (just a little bit?)! Please join me in helping to tell these stories during the first week of August. My birthday is August 7th and I’d love nothing more than to hear from you! Follow us, support us, run with us, honor the women in your lives, and celebrate the crazy!

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Ali Glenesk is an aspiring software engineer, former internet policy worker, fun-runner, and proud native Californian. For more, check her out here.

Your Hands Were My Hands

by Christine Dormer

 

We are about to take off. When the plane turns onto the runway, my heart begins to shrink. It's as if my two hands find a tight grip around my chest, and ooze the strength out of my heart.

This strength breaks apart, like soft clay disguised as rock. It cascades down each rib bone until it sits in the well of my stomach, and dissipates.

We lift into the air; I picture a collapse towards earth.
My eyes are wide open; I cannot see a thing.

But I feel something. It is your hand on my leg. 

My brain fills with fog; the anxiety medication makes my body soft. I fear splaying into a million pieces as the plane gently rocks against the currents of air. Instead, my body stays intact. And your hand stays on my leg.

And you are not my boyfriend
You are not a friend
You are not family
You are not a stranger

You are my boss. You hold my power, and now my body. Your hand is on my lap and I am frozen. My voice goes missing—my windpipe dry like bone. 

I cascade from terror of flight to numbness of assault. Your hands are my hands. Your fingers move from my leg to closer corners: places you shouldn't go, and places you do. 

We hit turbulence and phobia penetrates my heart. Panicked, I fight for each in-breath. On my shallow exhales, you say you will keep me safe.

Drinks are served. I fall asleep, and wake up with you handing me more. There is a plastic cup of gin on my lips. There is a kiss. As the plane pulls through time zones and sunsets, faster than clocks allow, darkness settles.

My autonomy is gone before we had a chance to grieve. As the plane flies over the Pacific, I need another pill to soften the terror that grips me. But each capsule makes me more susceptible to your hands. The shame of my fear, my inability to protect, ignites in the well of my hips. 

Your hands glide under my shirt and down my back. The only thing I know to do is write: 

allow, and allow
she is bold, brave, confident
azure, to crush you

at the gate again
fasten your seatbelts, hold on
Trigger Warning: sky

everything is great
the skies are black, we can't see
why yes, this feels great

why yes, here's the thing:
an onslaught of fingertips
tread lightly, hold still

on planes we are trapped
so take some gin, sleep soundly
we'll land safely soon.

We land, like planes do. Your hands leave my stolen body; you need to get through customs. My hands return to me, but I struggle to breathe. 

We traveled 9,873 miles. I realize I've survived the flight. The wheels are down, and I am protected by the ground.

When I return home, I write:

The skies are boundless
the physics of flight, to float
but to fall like that.

Sunscreen

by Sarah Weigel Lefebvre

The air smelled of sweet, smoky wood and the cloud forest chirped around us, thick with the heavy humidity of the Ecuadorian selva. I walked up the stairs to the cabin we shared. We had innocently and appropriately chosen to occupy separate floors of the jungle A-frame. I went up those stairs on purpose. My intentions were scheming, but safely disguised as professionalism and a simple need for sunscreen. I didn’t really need it- the intensity of the sun under the cloud forest canopy is hardly cause for alarm, even at the equator. It’s no big deal to step outside without it. I knew I could apply it myself, but he was up there and I was looking for a benign excuse to interact in that intimate space we shared. So I asked and he obliged, taking the tube from my shaking hands.

We stood in the bathroom in near silence, his soft hand rubbing my back. I stared down at the floor at the faded, woven, native rug, avoiding eye contact at all costs. I glanced up at the reflection of his face in the mirror, his green eyes squinting and focused across my tanned shoulders as he worked. Our skin touched, probably for the first time ever. There was no conversation, no direction. Up to this point our interactions had always been through words, joking and negotiating our way through an activity or our work together. This time we were silent.

We were friends, co-workers, traveling abroad with 15 students. I was in a shitty marriage. He was beautiful and single. We’d known each other for two years. Our friendship made me feel joy, the kind that children feel. It was pure and free of the complicated distractions and over-thinking that muddies relationships over time, even friendships. I embraced its simplicity, and I searched for opportunities to bring us together. Every interaction led to more respect, more admiration, more joy, and a desperate craving to see him again. I was adept at finding reasons to go up to his office to discuss student work, plan for next week’s lessons; these were things that I could just as easily email him about. But I wanted to see his face and be in his space.

I pulled my tank-top straps down off my shoulders (to avoid tan lines, of course). He didn’t flinch. He just kept massaging the sunscreen in, slowly and thoroughly. It was calculating and intimate in all the right ways, and in all the safe ways. It was intoxicating to feel in control, but also feel so out of control. Even this time in the jungle, it was alright as long as it was just about sunscreen. I never crossed that line. I was no cheater.  

I was so good at it- loving him when I wasn’t allowed to love him. He had no idea, and as it turns out, neither did I. We were both in the dark, thank god.  I loved the game though, the flirtation, all of it.  It led me to a happier place, a place I felt entitled to be if only briefly. I loved how I felt around him today, particularly with his hand stroking my bare back, as I tricked him into intimacy.  I didn’t really care how he felt- to this day I’ve never thought to ask. I’m sure he didn’t think anything of it in the end. Either way it didn’t matter. This was all for me.  

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Sarah is a Biologist living in Massachusetts with her husband and two kids. You can read more of her writing here.

I Tried to Go Home Last Night

by Amanda Loudin

 

I tried to go home last night. My vision was to visit my split-level, childhood home, sold by my parents some 30 years ago. I was in the general area for the holidays so I thought I’d walk up to that front door and ring the doorbell to see what would happen.

I knew showing up on a stranger’s doorstep came with some risk: These people didn’t know me from Adam, and they might be a little creeped out by the middle-aged woman dropping in and asking to look around. But I wanted to try.

So I parked my car in my old spot in the driveway, drew a deep breath and touched my finger to the doorbell. I was greeted by an older woman, a look of curiosity forming across her face. Asking if she could help me.

I explained to her who I was and why I was there. She asked if I was Vaughn’s daughter. I was and I said so. Turns out she and her husband purchased the home from my parents all those years ago and were still there. It felt like the slightest connection that she remembered my dad and hope took hold in the pit of my stomach that she might let me in.

She was sick, she informed me, and her husband was just getting over that same virus. They wouldn’t want to expose me to it. I was welcome to take a peek from the threshold, though, if I wanted.

We chatted for a few minutes as my eyes scanned the foyer and sought out as much of the interior as they could from the outside in. It was chilly as I stood on the concrete porch, staring past the old wooden door she held open. Most of what I could see looked somewhat familiar, if not slightly altered in the color of the walls and type of carpeting on the floors.

Soon it became a bit awkward to remain there at the door, at least for me, so I said my goodbyes and walked back to my car, past the living room’s picture window, the same one I through which I had gazed so many comings and goings over the years.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, if anything. But I know what I wanted.

I had hoped to walk into that house and revisit the living room where our Christmas tree had sat in the corner every year since I remembered the holidays. To see all the family gatherings in that room, or times when friends and relatives had come for dinner and stayed on to chat over drinks perched on the heavy, rectangular coffee table.

Or to wander upstairs and look into the bedrooms. Would my brother’s room still sport the bicentennial wallpaper and red shag carpeting? Would the windowsills in my bedroom still show my initials, which I carved in with a paper clip? How about the hall bathroom — could it still possibly be home to a pink tub and Formica countertops?

I wanted to walk down the stairs and look into the office my parents had shared, the headquarters of their own business. All these years later, I marvel at the fact that they so peacefully worked side by side, day after day. I don’t think it’s something my husband and I could sustain.

Had I peered into the laundry/utility room, would I have been able to envision my Siamese cat, curled up on a pile of shirts thrown down through the chute? Would I be able to smell the abrasive, industrial bar of soap we kept on that utility sink? Did the new family keep their various board games and kids’ instruments on the shelves for rainy day play as we had?

I wished to step into the long kitchen and look through its windows into the back yard, to know if the old A-frame playhouse my dad built us still stood at the edge of the lawn. To open the door into the garage and see if it still contained any remnants of the clutter my brother and I so expertly scattered around its perimeters. A deflated football, a red paint chip from our old wagon, or perhaps an old piece of pottery scavenged from the adjacent vacant lot. 

Not having the opportunity to do any of the above — and knowing in my heart that the home had to be different — I realized my memories would have to suffice. The warm, cozy feelings of a secure, wonderful childhood would need to sustain me.

That’s probably a good thing, I guess. Reality is, everything in that house had to be different because it was no longer ours. No matter the color of the bathroom tile or the placement of board games, it was just the container my family used to make a life. The warm, cozy feelings of a secure, wonderful childhood—that’s what would have to sustain me. 

Apparently, you can’t go home again.

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Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer with a focus on health and fitness. You can find more of her work on her website.

VAMPIRE

 

by Sally Bergesen

 

When I was 16, I dated a vampire. 

I didn't know it at the time. He was just a boy. But I loved him desperately.  like one might love a rescue team, or the last train out of childhood's refugee camp. And he loved me like one might love a potted plant, like a bit of greenery that shows up during the holidays, on the window sill with all the others.

I came to know he was a vampire like most people, with the biting. It was a sultry afternoon and he was driving me across town, the engine rumbling like desire. When I turned toward him, he kissed my neck and I felt a sharp, deep sting like that of a blood draw. I let out a cry and my fingers moved to the wet spot on my neck, feeling a small puncture and a flap of skin.

Eventually, the puncture closed. But the flap of skin never healed. When bored, or listing toward a night of newfound insomnia, my fingers would drift up and push the flap of skin back and forth, feeling its deadness against my jugular.

When the vampire moved away, I began dating someone new. A nice boy who didn't drive. And one day, the flap of skin was gone. I remember because it was right after I turned toward him and tasted his sweet, soft neck.

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Sally Bergesen is the Founder and CEO of Oiselle. You can find more of her writing here.