What 2017 meant to me – the foot story

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NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED

This post goes out to my many friends who have had physical challenges this year. As a political scientist, I spend way too much time talking/writing/reading about the train wreck that is our current political situation, so I’m definitely NOT going to spend the waning hours of 2017 giving my take on the politics of the past year. Instead, I will focus on a more personal challenge that dominated my year. For those who don’t want to read to the end, the punchline is that even if you are doing everything right, sometimes you just have to be patient. There will be setbacks and new, unexpected injuries that become part of the healing process. Image may contain: one or more people

I started 2017 with my foot in a boot after having surgery on it in early December. I had learned in September of 2016 that I was born with an extra bone in my foot, and that I had accessory navicular syndrome. The extra bone had to be removed, and I also had a few other things going on, specifically, posterior tibial tendinitis and a tear of the left plantar calcaneonavicular ligament – here’s a nice animation of the second part of the surgery that repaired the spring ligament and left me with a new arch.  After being a competitive athlete most of my life, this was the first time (except for right after giving birth to my two boys) that I was completely unable to work out for a significant period of time. Even when I was having major issues with my back in my late 20s, I found alternatives to running for a while, until I was able to get back into it seriously after my second son was born in 2003. My last serious running event was in January of 2016, a 10k, and I won a medal for my age group, something I was used to doing on a regular basis.

Although I recovered well from the surgery, and graduated from physical therapy in a

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Walking the ramparts of Saint Malo in July

timely manner, I have learned over the past year that a foot injury isn’t something that goes away quickly, even if you do everything right. I did all my foot strengthening exercises, and my podiatrist was impressed with my recovery. I was able to walk all over London, Normandy and Paris with my boys this summer. I even ran/walked a 5k for my son Brandon’s school in September. I was very cautious about returning to running, mostly walking, but the general foot pain I was having began to get more specific, and eventually I could tell I was getting swelling in one of the joints close to where the bone had been removed. My left hip had begun to bother me as well, as my limp became more pronounced. A trip to the podiatrist determined that the bones in my foot were healing well, but I was having some soft tissue issues – so back to physical therapy, almost exactly a year after foot surgery.

So I have been spending the last month doing my PT exercises, walking, cycling and I just got a new rowing machine for Christmas. I have gained weight, but hope to get back into a serious nutrition routine to match my fitness routine with the start of the new year. This has been a very unusual year for me, and I’m still processing what it has meant to go from being a serious athlete to being in recovery. I know others deal with much more difficult struggles, and I count my blessings. I wonder what I should expect from myself now that I am over 50, and I can’t do many of the things that I did even in my 40s (i.e., 4 marathons, too many half marathons to keep track of, 10ks, 5ks). To what extent did the competition help define who I am?  All I know is that I will continue to pursue excellence in every aspect of my life. I will be patient with myself as I recover both physically and emotionally from a challenging year.  After all, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Neverthelessshe persisted.” (In the end I couldn’t completely keep politics out of it 😊)

 

 

 

Fuel for running – and life

It’s been a while since I have blogged, life has been hectic as I prepare to move from Austin to the San Francisco Bay area – I’ll be the new Provost at Menlo College starting in July. As always, running is one of the ways I deal with stress, and I’ll be running a 5k this evening, the Trail Foundation’s Margarita Run. Given that it will be hot, humid and I’m tired from traveling, I have to think carefully about how I will prepare myself for tonight’s run. For me there are four distinct phases of fueling a run. The first is what I eat for my regular meals. I try to avoid running on empty – I always eat something before a race, and I’m blessed with a digestive system that can handle almost anything before a run. When I ran track in college, I would always be in the first event of the day, the long jump, and the last, the 4×400 relay, so I learned early on that I had to be able to eat and run.

These days, if it’s a morning run, I’ll often eat some yogurt and/or a banana, and for the second phase of my run, the actual run itself, it depends on how far I am going. If I’m running more than an hour, I always take water, and some gel, chew or other type of fuel. I used to drink a lot of Gatorade, but found that I wanted to control my water vs sugar intake a bit better, depending on the heat and humidity.

In many ways, I find that music is another way to fuel my run, so I’ll call it the third phase.  I usually listen to dance music to keep me going. Songs by Michael Jackson, Prince, or the latest pop or R&B is fine, I’m usually into my head so that I’m mostly focused on the beat.  I don’t always use music, only for longer runs. If I’m running less than an hour, I like to use the time to work through problems in my head, or just zone out for a while.

The fourth phase of my run is recovery, which starts with stretching and some drills to strengthen problem areas. This is also where I usually treat myself to a hot chai latte, or hot chocolate. I use almond milk instead of cow’s milk, but it gives me the protein and carbs my muscles need to recover from a run. I will sometimes take supplements that help with recovery if I’m training intensively, but I haven’t done a marathon in a while, and I’m sticking mainly with 5ks and 10ks with the occasional half marathon thrown in. I find that if I have been doing my training right, the recovery from these types of races isn’t much of a problem.

I always have to keep in mind that I am getting older (50!) and I have always paid attention to my back issues, meaning I have to make sure that I have strong abs. I switch up my cross training on a regular basis to keep myself from getting bored, and train different types of muscles. I have all the tools I need at home to do a variety of workouts, including kettle bells, dumb bells, a medicine ball, and I’ll even do some hula hoop when it’s nice out. I focus on my abs with some pilates, yoga and just plain old fashioned push ups and sit ups. Every few years I’ll meet with a personal trainer to get some training tips and learning the latest ideas on staying in shape.

Overall, I find that it’s important to maintain a regular workout routine to keep my energy levels up during the day, reduce stress, and to sleep well at night. I look at running as important to both my physical and mental well being. I need fuel to keep running, but running and working out is my fuel for life.

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When I'm running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!
When I’m running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!

Realistic expectations: 3M Race Report 2015

In October 2013 I set a goal for myself – as I celebrated my 50th year (I turned 50 in October 2014) I would run one race per month for the next year. As of January 2015 I have run 15 races in 16 months including 5 half marathons. My streak ends here, although I will continue running, of course. It’s time to take a break, do some other types of exercise at least until the Capitol 10k.  So here’s the report from my most recent race, the 3M half marathon on Sunday.

I had high hopes for this race a few month ago, perhaps of even running close to my previous PR of under 1:45. However, December brought the flu and a sinus infection that slowed me down.  So I lowered my expectations, focused mainly on finishing and enjoying the journey. As always, I run with my angels, and they were definitely with me. It was a beautiful morning, cool and crisp as the sun rose in north Austin. It was great to connect with my girls from Black Girls Run before the race.

Black Girls (and guys) Run!

The first half of the race was fast, I stuck with the 1:45 group for a while, about through mile 3, then watched them move ahead – the 1:50 pace group didn’t catch me until about mile 7, and given that I’m planning to focus on 5 and 10ks in the spring, I figured it was a good workout to stay close to an 8 minute pace up to that point. The rest of the race was much slower, but I finished in about 1:54, a solid time for me.

This is not me – this woman won the race, she is young and fast!

As I was going up the hill on MLK I heard a voice behind me, it was Pam LeBlanc – we finished the hill together and then I had to do my trademark finish, striding it out to the end. Every race holds a lesson for me and this one was that it’s OK to stay within your limits. Sometimes just crossing the finish line is its own reward.

Made it! And even got to finish with Pam! Race report later...
Me with Pam LeBlanc

And with Superbowl Sunday just around the corner, must do a shout out to my ‘hawks!

Can I possibly be turning 50? Yes – time to face the music (and dance!)

I will be 50 years old on October 30 (go Scorpio!) and I recently started acknowledging the fact that I’m getting old when I noticed that my feet had grown a half size, I need glasses for reading and distance, and my hormones were acting up so badly I had to buy a new facial wash. Apparently I’m not the only woman dealing with this issue, Neutrogena has a face wash that deals with pimples and wrinkles. So I decided that I would celebrate my birthday for the entire month of October, I have been posting old pictures of myself on Facebook, and we are taking a trip to Seattle this weekend to celebrate with my family (dancing will most definitely be involved) and see a Seahawks game. I haven’t been to the new stadium and I’m excited to see my team in person, even though we had to pay an arm and a leg for nosebleed seats. It’s all about the atmosphere.

The Givens Family -- All 9 of us!
The Givens Family — All 9 of us! I’m the cute baby in Mom’s arms.

So posting all those old photos got me reminiscing about the past. I actually contacted my old high school principal, to let him know how successful I’ve been and the impact he had on my life (as noted in this column for Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/running/givens3). It’s a good time to reflect on how far I have come in life. I know I have many years ahead of me, but I never could have imagined how life would play out for me. I have been a successful academic, which is a huge accomplishment in this day and age of higher ed under fire. Given where I come from (see this blog post http://blog.terrigivens.com/2013/04/06/how-much-is-enough/), it’s amazing that I beat the odds in so many different ways.

My son Andrew (just turned 14) recently asked me a very interesting question “do you ever have any free time” — he was asking because he is already thinking about what he wants to do as a job. My response was that I’m usually working or spending time with him and his brother, but I love my work, so that’s why I don’t mind it. I told him I appreciate the fact that my job is flexible so I can take time during the day to pick him up from school, or go to his sporting events, and then work in the evenings. I’ve certainly been busy with all the writing I have been doing lately (one example is in Politico Magazine) as well as interviews on TV and radio. It still hurts that I can’t call my parents on the phone to tell them about my latest exploits, but as I age, I also am gaining more perspective on the rhythms of life. Nobody gets out of here alive, and this is the prime of my life, when I’m supposed to be out there sharing my gifts. As my mother always told me, “don’t keep your light under a bushel!”

So turning 50 is not so bad, I’m still in great physical shape (except for my sore achilles tendons), I have a beautiful family, a great job, and there’s so much more to look forward to…including the Seahawks making it to the Superbowl again! I’ll have more thoughts on turning 50 in the coming weeks, consider this just another step in the journey…

 

 

Belize: The Forgotten Country?

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Let’s Make Belize A Place We Can Be Proud To Call Home!!!

I took this picture during our last evening in Belize, near the light house in Belize City. This sign epitomized the feeling I got as we drove around Belize – a country that clearly has a problem of low self-esteem. As a social scientist, I couldn’t help but observe the class and race divides in the country.  One evening while we were in San Ignacio we had a discussion with the proprietors of our jungle lodge.  I asked them about the divides in the country and they noted that many of the hardest workers came from Guatemala, and the women favored these men as husbands.  The Belize of San Pedro and Ambergris Caye was very different from that of the Cayo District or Belize City.  Our hosts also noted that the people who lived in Belize City looked down on the people in rural areas, although it wasn’t apparent that the poverty in the rural areas was any worse than in Belize City.  In fact, we found it much harder to navigate Belize City without being set upon by children or disabled people begging for change.

Although Belize has gang violence, it is nowhere near the scale of that in Guatemala or Honduras which is leading to the flow of children and families to the U.S. (see http://www.immigrationtexas.org/2014/07/unaccompanied-minors-and-refugees-from.html).  A very small country, with a population of only ~325,000, and having only gotten independence from Great Britain in 1981, Belize seems to be struggling to develop a middle class.  There are expats from the U.S. and other countries who buy land and even develop businesses that employ many people, but poverty seems to be a persistent problem.

Flag of Belize
Flag of Belize

I was struck by a story from one of our guides who wanted to come to the U.S., just as a tourist. He had to save up the $250 needed for the application form, and then hope that it would be approved which it was.  Still he had to save up the money to actually make the trip, and he said it would be a couple of years before he would be able to make the trip, even though his visa had been approved.

When we visited the Belize Zoo, all of the signs were clearly written to encourage Belizeans to preserve and support their wildlife. Tourism has had a positive impact, for example, people realize they can make more money by helping breeders find iguanas for their preservation program rather than hunting them for food.

I plan to read more about the history of Belize, but given the current state of the country, the British had to have left the country in a very impoverished and under-developed state, and the country has had to work very hard to build an economy that seems to rely primarily on tourism. I felt very safe in Belize, and the people were very friendly and grateful for the tourists who came from the U.S., Europe, and even Australia. However, the border with Guatemala will be a concern as well as general economic development that can help the country build a middle class.  I am no expert on Central America, but I feel like I learned a great deal from our trip to Belize and I hope to learn more as I observe from afar.

Belize: Snakes, Tarantulas, Iguanas and Mayans

If you have a problem with bugs or lizards, the Belizean jungle may not be the best place to go – but we had a great time seeing these cool creatures (thanks Animal Planet). Last Friday was spent mostly at Black Rock Lodge, doing activities on their property, including a hike to the top of the hill, tubing on the river and a night hike to look at all the stuff that comes out at night.  One of those animals was one of the most venomous snakes in Belize, the “fer de lance” — luckily none of us is particularly scared of snakes, since Andrew was obsessed with snakes when he was younger and we all had to get used to them. However, Brandon is scared of spiders, and our hiking guide decided he was going to help Brandon get over his fear.  So he found a tarantula, and actually convinced Brandon to first touch it, then hold it – he was very brave! We saw a few more night creatures, including a very well camouflaged bird, scorpions, and various insects.

Brandon holds a tarantula
Brandon holds a tarantula

The next day we started out with a trip to the weekly market in San Ignacio. It was very colorful in a variety of ways.  Lots of produce, clothing and crafts.  Also, lots of people from different backgrounds, showing the diversity of Belize.  We stopped at one shop and bought a couple of items:

A stall at the market with nice crafts
A stall at the market with nice crafts

After the market, we went to the Belize Iguana Project at the San Ignacio Resort hotel – they do tours every hour, and it was a very hands on experience.  They started by showing us the larger iguanas, once they reach full size, they release them into the wild. We started with feeding them, and we could hold and touch them — one of them decided that Andrew was tasty!

Brandon and Andrew feeding iguanas
Brandon and Andrew feeding iguanas
Andrew gets a love bite from an iguana
Andrew gets a love bite from an iguana
Ouch!
Ouch!

When we went in to see the baby iguanas, they had one that had been born the day before, very tiny.  We got to hold the older ones (anywhere 3 to 10 months old) and Brandon held a bunch of them all at once!

Brandon covered in baby iguanas
Brandon covered in baby iguanas

After the iguanas, we headed to the Mayan archeological site that is just down the road from San Ignacio. My favorite guide on this part of the trip is Edgar Avila 501 624-2415 (a Belize number so you have to dial 011 from the US) – we met him at Xunantunich, where he offered to be our guide. This site has the second tallest pyramid in the Mayan world, known as El Castillo, or the castle. Edgar was very knowledgeable and helped us understand what we were seeing, including the numerology used by the Maya, the legends and why they built on high ground. We also hired him to guide us at the cave tubing which we would be doing on Monday – more on that later.

Masks on the side of the castillo
Masks on the side of the castillo
Looking at a stella
Looking at a stella
A view of the castillo
A view of the castillo

From Caye Caulker to San Ignacio, Cayo district

We left Caye Caulker this morning to head to our jungle adventure in the Cayo district near San Ignacio.  My least favorite part of this trip so far was the water taxi ride from Caye Caulker to Belize City.  They really pack people into the boats and it wasn’t particularly comfortable.  It made me very glad that we decided to fly from Belize City to San Pedro after we arrived last Friday.  I do have to say that the staff of the water taxi service were very nice and helped us out as much as possible, it’s just a very busy route.

We rented a four-wheel drive jeep in Belize City with Crystal Auto Rental, which is owned by a Texan who has run this business for 25 years.  They were very helpful with maps and driving rules, etc…Getting to San Ignacio wasn’t a problem, but once we got there it got very confusing very quickly – lots of road construction going on, but we made our way to downtown where we got some lunch for our hungry boys. I wasn’t particularly impressed with San Ignacio, but it is low season, and we were there during a big World Cup soccer match (England v. Uruguay), so maybe things are better there during the winter high season.

We are staying about 45 minutes outside of San Ignacio, mainly because Black Rock Lodge is waaaaay out from the main highway, through a farm via dirt road. However, once we got there, it’s a fabulous place. Lots of nice people to meet, hiking swimming in the Macal river, great food and drink.  We went for a swim in the river after we arrived this afternoon, and will do some early morning birding, hiking and tubing on the river tomorrow.

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