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!

New year, new resolve

A year later, the heartache remains, but as with all loss, life must go on, and I know that is what my loved ones would want in any case. Every day I feel the presence of my parents, my brother Rick, my niece Melissa who we lost a year ago today, Uncle Clarence, and little Madeline. Hearts break and hearts eventually mend, and I have tried to focus on the love that was shared and that is still an integral part of who I am.  There are so many people who have touched my life and helped me move forward, I can’t begin to mention them all — from my high school friends, many of whom I have been able to reconnect with in the last few years, to my friends in Austin who have made our 11 years here so amazing.

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions because they tend to be short-sighted and hard to keep. What I prefer is to look at what I found to be most helpful over the past few years, and how I can focus on those things going forward. I have always been very disciplined about running, it is an integral part of my life that will continue, with some help from my chiropractor (Dan Powers) and massage therapist (Marshall Williams). For me it is about self-care, taking the time to be sure that I am healthy, but I also just love the feeling of running and working out, feeling my strength (kicking some butt along the way!) and reaching my goals. I feel truly blessed to be 50 years old and still out there competing as an athlete.

I have many writing projects (besides my blogs) that I hope to build on, and my students who I hope to get to the next level, whether it is an academic job or some other endeavor. I will be taking the next step in my career, whatever that may be, and I plan to focus on what is best not only for me, but for my family.

Music has always been a part of my life, and my son Brandon inspires me as he progresses in learning classical guitar (you can see him playing here). I bought myself a mandolin for my birthday and I plan to carve out time to play and enjoy making music, again it’s about self-care.

I’m looking forward to sharing new experiences with my boys, I’ll be heading to Italy with Andrew on his class trip for Spring break, and both boys will be changing schools as Brandon moves to middle school and Andrew move  to high school (!). Finally, I plan to carve out time with my wonderful husband, Mike, who celebrated his birthday yesterday. We focus so much on our kids but we always manage to squeeze in time alone together, going to see the symphony or a jazz show.

I have an amazing life, and I thank all of you who are a part of it, you are loved.


The Givens Family -- All 9 of us!
The Givens Family — All 9 of us!
Hanging out at the tailgater with friends from my freshman dorm
Hanging out at the tailgater with friends from my freshman dorm
Black Girls Run!
Melissa Marsh
Melissa Marsh

Love, Loss and Resilience

3M half marathon 2014 Melissa MarshThe day after my last post, my family experienced a horrible tragedy.  My niece, Melissa Marsh passed away unexpectedly from complications of diabetes.  Melissa was only 31 years old, and leaves behind a 7 year old son and his father. Of course, Melissa was loved by all of us in the family.  I felt a special kinship with her because we both were the youngest girls in our family and also had two older brothers who always gave us a hard time. We are still in shock at the loss of someone so young.  The tragedy is compounded by the fact that her father, Rick Marsh, passed away from kidney cancer two years ago.  Her funeral was the two year anniversary of his passing.

I had planned to run the Austin 3M half marathon, and as in dealing with past losses, I turned to running for stress relief.  However, this time around, it was more difficult to get motivated for today’s race. Some days, since Melissa’s passing, I have felt like all the energy was drained from me.  As someone who promotes health and fitness, it was a cruel irony that diabetes would be the cause of my own niece’s death. It’s only been in the last few days that I have been able to even contemplate the thought of how Melissa might want us to go forward without her. Over the last few days, I had been uncertain how I would feel come race morning.  And yet, as I crossed the starting line a single word came to mind: Love.  I realized that this is what gives us resilience during these very difficult times — love of family, and knowing that the love of those we have lost is always with us. I wore the grey ribbon that was made for Melissa’s funeral as I ran the 13.1 miles today.  This one was for her, and all those who ran with me in spirit today. I will miss her terribly, particularly her wonderful hugs but I will go on today and watch her beloved Seahawks hopefully beat the 49ers in the NFC football championship.  I know she is with the whole family today as we cheer on our team.


Running in all kinds of weather — gotta love it

It’s well known that I love running and have been an athlete all of my life.  I rarely let the weather keep me from getting out, even the extreme weather we have here in Central Texas.  I ran the Hill Country half marathon in Marble Falls during our first bout of cold weather back in October.  It has been a season of major shifts in the weatherHC half marathon finish, with highs getting up to the 80s just a few days ago.  We are currently in the middle of a cold snap that will take us down into the 20s tomorrow (with a windchill into the teens).  Our current weather brings back memories of my days running track in Spokane, WA for the Gonzaga Prep Bullpups. There was many a track meet Terri - Stanfordwhere the temps could be in the 30s, or 40s. We learned to adjust to the weather back then, wearing heavy sweats when necessary. My first year at Stanford was lovely…until I went home to Spokane for Christmas. It was one of the coldest I could remember, temps in the 20s when I arrived, and down to negative 20s after a few days.  I finally was able to get out and run when it warmed up to the teens.  There was lots of snow on the ground, but I managed to make it a few miles.  I wore a scarf over my face to avoid breathing in too much cold air.  I was very happy to get back to California after that holiday.  I have lived in many places with a variety of climates, but Austin’s has certainly been the most changeable.  In a few months the temps will start heading back into the 80s and 90s and we’ll be back to the sweaty and muggy running days that I have learned to love.  I love to run, and have managed to figure out how to do it in all kinds of weather. Running gear has evolved to the point where you can stay warm without having to put on heavy layers, and for those hot days, they can wick away much of the sweat.  As a shop-a-holic, I love shopping for new running clothes and checking out the latest fabrics. So an advantage to living in Austin is that I get to try out gear for all types of weather!Web-Terri_Givens-8779-Edit It has been said so many different ways, “making lemonade out of lemons” etc…its all about making the best of your current situation and keeping a positive attitude.  I find that running helps me keep my positive outlook on life, and when I’m feeling down, it helps pick me up, regardless of the weather.  Whatever you do, the main point is to stick with it.  There are so many benefits to exercise, going way beyond the no such thing as bad weatherphysical benefits.  And when I really can’t get outside, I have all kinds of activities I can do, from Zumba on the XBox, to jump rope, even hula hoop!  I do crossfit a few times a week, since I’m a firm believer in strength training as cross training. So whatever you enjoy doing, don’t let the weather get you down.  Treat yourself to some new gear to help deal with the weather if necessary, or if you’re like me, just because. As the holidays approach, consider a gift of fitness for a friend or loved one.  There are lots of great groups (like Fit on Your Feet! ahfcoop.org), fitness gear from places like Texas Running Company and many others. Whatever it takes, keep moving!lapping the couch

Fitness is forever…

In the last week I participated in a 5k run (Thursday night’s Maudie’s Margarita Run) and Austin Fit magazine’s “AFM FITtest.” Both events were challenging in their own way, but they both got me thinking about how we (in particular women) look at fitness. The first event was a typical “fun” run, with about 1500 people signed up, and a few of us who were serious enough to want to know our times, and be competitive. There were likely equal numbers of women and men, Austin is a great place to be a runner, and I often see more women out on the trail than men.  Saturday’s fitness event was a different story.  This event consisted of twelve tests of strength, agility and endurance, including sprints, throws, jumps and the always hated burpees and pull-ups.  Since I have been doing cross-fit workouts for the last few months, I figured I would give it a try.  I was surprised that there were only fifteen women competitors in my age group (40-49) while there were at least 40 men in the same age group.  As my group discussed the low numbers of women, we all thought that some of the tests would be intimidating to women, particularly the pull-ups, where many women can’t even do one (I worked on this one, so I was able to do five).  I freely admit that I am a bit of a masochist when it comes to working out (how else could I handle crossfit?) but it surprises me that more men than women were attracted to this event, compared to a 5k.

This all got me thinking about how I approach fitness.  In fact, this blog post was prompted by my friend Leslie who was asking me about Saturday’s event on our “Black Girls Run!” page.  I wasn’t really sure what to say — I managed to get through all 12 events and score reasonably on all of them.  But for me the experience of the 5k wasn’t that much different from doing the 12 different tests.  They are all testing me in different ways, but in some ways it’s mostly mental for me.  Having been an athlete all of my life, I love taking on new challenges (a la my new obsession with body hooping), and I approach each challenge with a similar mental and physical toughness that has gotten me through everything from a 400m dash to a marathon.  They take very different forms of preparation, but for me it’s pretty much all the same in terms of how I approach it.  I’m sure I developed this mentality during my years of running track and other sports from grade school through college.  Having been blessed to have the advantages of Title IX and having grown up with my two brothers, I was always sure I could do anything that the guys could do.  I started lifting weights in junior high, and continued with it through my 20s.  I recognized early on the benefits of cross training, and even though running will always be my first love, I also enjoy the adrenalin (and endorphin) rush I get from being able to lift a particular weight, or complete a WOD (work out of the day). I’m much more careful these days because of issues with my back, but I have always focused on form vs. showing off how much I can lift.

So I struggle with how I can pass on the passion that I feel about fitness to others.  How do we get more women to come out and compete in the FITtest the same way they do in the 5k?  I have been blessed to see the blossoming of our Black Girls Run! group — getting more black women out and running has been a wonderful thing, and we were even highlighted in an article in our local newspaper: tln-black-girls-run-03

So if we can work on changing black women’s ideas about running – how do we go about changing women’s attitudes about other types of fitness?  Does it matter?  I know that I’m an outlier when it comes to fitness, particularly for my age. Do men and women like me get a fitness advantage from the types of weight bearing activities we do? I don’t feel like I have an answer at this point, but it does make me wonder…it may be a natural shift as younger women start to do more activities and see themselves as competitive athletes, just as I lived in a very different world of athletic opportunities as compared to my older sisters. In any case, I hope I can be a role model to women of all ages, because for me, fitness is forever…

Terri - AFM Fittest

Life, death and the journey forward…

2012 got off to a very bad start.  My oldest sister lost her husband after his 3 ½ year battle with kidney cancer.  His brother died from kidney cancer a month later.  It was the end of a string of family losses and crises that continually challenged my equanimity. I’ve written about much of this before, but now I’m looking at it after a fairly calm semester, and I’m just beginning to realize the impact that the last couple of years had on my career and productivity.  It’s a good time to reflect on the past year, lessons I have learned, and issues I think will be important in the coming months.

It has become clear to me that I was running on adrenaline for the past year.  I had way too  many projects, I ran a half marathon in January, the marathon in February and a 10 miler in March.  I had a lot of anger, grief and pain to run off.  I’m still working out this year, but I don’t have any races planned, I’m skipping the 3M half marathon for the first time in years, and I’m trying to focus on spending more time with my husband and kids.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot going on — besides my regular job as a university professor, I’m on four nonprofit boards, many committees, and my big project Take Back the Trail is taking off after much hard work.  I love working in the community, but sometimes I feel like I’m learning to breathe again.  Sometimes I cry for those who have gone ahead.  I hope to eventually work on a book about my mother and our relationship, but that will take time and more healing after her passing 2 1/2 years ago.  I’m learning to have patience with myself and to try to not be so hard on myself when I can’t do it all.

In the next year I have a variety of goals, I’m becoming more politically active, particularly on women’s issues (check out our FB page Austin Women for Political Action ) I hope to finish a book manuscript or two, but I’m going to make sure I take time for those quiet moments that help to re-energize me.  I almost never take time to watch TV, except for the occasional football game, so  I’m going to pick one of the new series to watch on a regular basis — I just started watching Downton Abby with Mike.  I’m going to try to see movies in the theatre more regularly, and not just kid movies. We are good at getting out to concerts, so we already have that outlet, and the regular date night.

So the main lessons I have learned over the past few years, is that you can live with heartache, it’s not good to drive yourself too hard, exercise is a good thing in moderation, and the most important thing of all is spending quality time with the people you love.  Unfortunately none of us will be around forever, and watching my kids grow up and being a part of their lives is one of the most rewarding parts of my life.

Taking time to breathe before going skiing with the family with a view of Lake Tahoe
Taking time to breathe before going skiing with the family with a view of Lake Tahoe

Getting my groove back in my fitness routine

One year ago I was about about 8 pounds lighter and doing hard core workouts 5-6 days per week.  I ended up running a half marathon and the Austin marathon in the spring with a few 5ks and 10ks sprinkled in for good measure.  Running has always been a way of dealing with stress for me, and the last 2 years have been some of the most stressful in my life, mainly due to the passing of several friends and family members.  Now I’m finding that my legs feel heavy when I run, I’m often tired, and end up walking towards the end, regardless of the distance.  I’m sure it’s partly due to a bad allergy season, but I also know that it’s probably time to take a break from running.  I’m not particularly worried about gaining a few pounds (although I wouldn’t mind losing a few before my reunion in a couple of weeks), I’m still well below my high point of a few years ago, but I also know that the body needs a break from doing the same work outs all the time.

The basic gist of it all is, I need a change-up in my routine.  I’d still like to run the half marathon in January, but I’m definitely not doing the marathon and I’m not going to put any pressure on myself to run specific times or distances during my work-outs.  Exercise was a big help as I dealt with my initial grief, but now it’s time to ease up on my body and focus more on my mind.

Today I was able to get out to the lake and do 50 minutes of stand-up paddle board.  It was definitely a nice break in the routine, and I hope to be able to get out there once or twice a week, as weather permits.  I’m also going to fix up my bike and do some road cycling during the week.  I’ll probably continue to run 3 days a week, since it’s still my favorite sport, but I think it’s time to join a running group to keep me motivated and distracted during my runs.  I’m also planning to get down to the track and do some sprints and short runs, which I actually enjoy 🙂

Just like my writing (see my recent  Inside Higher Ed column) I know that my workouts occasionally need a reboot, and a change of pace/scenery does me a lot of good. Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m ready for a new approach to staying healthy.