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!

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…



How did I get here?

I have weighed in several times on the debates about “leaning in” and “having it all.” It was just about a year ago that I was asking myself “how much is enough?” Although I concluded at the time that I am enough, I continue pondering issues around women in leadership, and the hurdles they face. A recent study finds that “Deep-seated bias, not lack of confidence, knocks women off the path to success.” The findings in this study are disturbing at best, but it also makes me wonder, how have women who have made it into leadership overcome these types of hurdles. I have rarely been accused of lacking in confidence — although it’s something I gained over time as I matured, completed my various degrees and moved up the ladder of success. However, I haven’t always been aware of any hurdles in my path, which may be part of the secret of my success. I credit my mother for giving me the ability to go beyond people’s expectations and my own, to chart my own course in life, and to believe that I could do just about anything. Although she certainly tried to impose her own gender stereotypes on me, once she saw my abilities, she backed off and let me be who I was, which was many things all at once. Athlete, musician, student, writer, whatever it was, I always gave it my all. So somewhere in there, between giving it my all and breaking through stereotypes, I managed to find a path to getting the things I wanted in life. A great career, a family, keeping up as an athlete. However, I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t always striving for more. The problem has always been figuring out that next step. I realize that I have been incredibly lucky that opportunities have presented themselves, although it wasn’t always apparent at the time that it was the right step. In almost every instance of a major change in my life, there was someone who saw something in me that made them recommend the next step. I’m not particularly fond of the old chestnut “things happen for a reason” — but somehow it’s generally been true. I think I’m moving in one particular direction, and certainly in the last few years, I have found doors closing, what looked like an opportunity fading, or what I once thought was my path going into a dead end. I have made many friends along the way, and learned a great deal. I guess that is what much of life is about, learning from experiences, whether they led to the next step or not.

So I would have to say that the answer to the question in the title of this blog post is that I got here with a lot of help from others along the way. Certainly my own determination played a major role in where I am today, but I owe a debt of gratitude to the family, friends and mentors who encouraged me, and in particular those who moved those hurdles out of the way. So I will conclude with a simple THANK YOU.


The Great Outdoors

Evening light at Rocky Mountain National Park

Some of my first memories are of camping, or playing in the sand by a picturesque lake.  My father loved camping, and we would go nearly every weekend during the summer months outside of Spokane, often in Northern Idaho.  My parents weren’t much for hiking or fishing – I would fish occasionally, but mainly camping meant hanging out at the lake, playing in the woods, playing games and eating food out in the open.  Being the youngest in the family, I started camping early in life, and we all would sleep in one big tent. As I got older, the equipment changed from a tent trailer, to an RV and finally a fifth-wheeler parked semi-permanently in a member’s only campground with a lodge for dining and activities.

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park

I camped a few times in college, but didn’t get back into regular outdoors activities until I met my now-husband.  Some of the first activities we enjoyed together included mountain biking and skiing.  We hiked and even backpacked to the top of Mt. Whitney.  Mike’s love of the outdoors was definitely a mark in his favor, although I was head over heels in love with him anyway.

We have been sharing our love of the outdoors with our children since they were small, as well.  Andrew’s love of animals, and snakes in particular, encouraged us to take him on hikes from the time he was old enough to fit into a backpack carrier.  To this day, he is the best at spotting wildlife when we are on hikes or driving through a national park.  Brandon has become a champion Junior Ranger – he has earned at least 25 badges from all the parks we have been to.  I am happy that both of my boys are learning a love of the outdoors that we can share even when they are grown. We have been to Alaska, through California, and two summers ago hit most of the Southwest National Parks including the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. The photo at the top of my blog is from that trip, during our stop at Arches National Park.

Nymph Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Our current trip has taken us to Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas panhandle, then to Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park where we had a great time riding sand sleds and boards. Next stop was an amazing day of rafting on the Arkansas River in Buena Vista – our able guide Bear provided a running narrative on what we were seeing along the river as well as getting us through class III rapids without falling out of the boat.  The amazingly fresh and tasty lunch was a big bonus.  We are currently in Rocky Mountain National Park with its amazing mountain vistas, hiking trails, and wildlife. Hiking to the mountain lakes provides even more breathtaking scenery and our boys manage to make their way along the steep trails, and Brandon who never lacks in energy, even runs along the way.  As I sit out under the stars and marvel at the heavens, including the Milky Way, I can’t help but feel humbled by the immensity of the universe and our infinitesimally small place in it. Yet I feel my heart and soul expanding in a place like this – experiencing everything from the tiniest flower in the tundra, to the immense mountains in the distance, I feel at home.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Over the next few days we will drive across Wyoming and stop to visit friends in Centennial, then onto Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I feel blessed that we can take the time and energy to put this kind of trip together for us and our kids.  I admire my mother who managed to put together our weekly camping trips during the summer. I know it became a routine after a while, but I still appreciate all the work that goes into a camping trip. This time around both Mike and I have been coming off busy and somewhat stressful times at work, and those tensions showed in the first few days, but nature has its way of making all those cares go away.

I am keenly aware of the lack of diversity when I go to a National Park.  I know that camping and the outdoors isn’t for everybody, and frankly, our national parks are already straining under the weight of the amazing numbers of people who want to visit them.  However, even a day trip to a nearby lake or a hike on a trail within the city limits can provide a similar connection to nature. Groups like Outdoor Afro and Black Girls Run are doing what they can to get more of us outside. I can’t say enough about what getting out into nature has meant to me, and I strongly encourage all to give it a try.

At the top of the world


Intersectionality — it’s a term tossed around in academic circles, feminist discussions, etc…however, this past few weeks has led me to see and feel my intersecting identities in a very intense way.  As a woman not of, but in Texas I have been dismayed by the legislature’s attacks on women’s health, yet buoyed by the sisterhood shared in the protests, rallies, and marches.  As a black mother with two young sons, I feel betrayed by our system of justice that allows a young black boy to be murdered with no penalty to his assailant– a man who carried a gun and followed him without any indication that he was suspicious, except for the color of his skin.  As a political scientist, I have been fascinated with the development of a potential movement, the way that politicians on both sides of the aisle have tried to capitalize on a hotly contested issue, and the potential fallout for future elections.  At times I haven’t know whether to laugh, cry, or start writing. In the end, I will do all three at various times.

I have read so many articles and commentaries about the situation for women in Texas, about Trayvon Martin and the trial that set his murderer free — in general, I’m a political junkie.  In his commentary this past week, Charles M. Blow talks about how the system failed Trayvon and us — but the political system over the last few years has also failed women, particularly poor, rural women in Texas.  The system has made the private political in a way that damages us all. I am black.  I am a woman.  I am a mother.  I am an academic.  I care about access to healthcare.  I care about choice.  I care about my sons.  I care about the direction this country is taking.  Yes, we must have all of these discussions about race, about gender equality, about overall inequalities…but as a political scientist I know it all comes down to power.  I feel the main way to generate change is at the ballot box.

So I will work on registering voters, encouraging friends to be politically aware, and if they have the time, involved.  I will continue examining my own role as a citizen of a country in turmoil.  I will continue to talk to my boys about  the world that we live in and how they may be perceived because of the color of their skin. But most of all, I will try my best to keep these words from the Roosevelt memorial in my heart:

Awakening the giant…

On November 6, 2012, my friend Dean Lofton and I decided we’d had enough of the war on women and we wanted to start a group that would encourage women of all political persuasions to get involved in politics.  Thus “Austin Women for Political Action” was born on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-Women-for-Political-Action/114614922031858?ref=hl).  Little did we know that this would become the summer of women’s discontent in Austin.  The legislature avoided issues related to abortion (although not women’s health) during the regular session, but then came the special session.  The stories of the first special session have been well documented by people like Jessica Luther in this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/13/07/use-your-voice/277481/  Wendy Davis’ filibuster helped to mobilize a group of women, including many in our own organization, that had stood on the sidelines while the Texas legislature passed laws during the last session, like the one requiring sonograms before an abortion.  Many of these women had never been involved in a political protest or rally before.  I was in Europe for a conference that fateful day, but I followed the events as closely as I could and many of my friends were tweeting and posting the latest details on facebook, so in many ways I felt like I was a part of the action. Those who participated were encouraged to wear orange, and the rallying cry began as “Stand with Wendy” and has morphed into “Stand With Texas Women” (#SWTW on twitter).

I returned to Austin last Thursday and got caught up on the latest, including the fact that Governor Perry had called a second special session. I was able to join the large protest at the capitol on Monday, July 1st.  It’s very likely that the abortion bill will pass but the most exciting part of all of this has been the energy that has been created.  This is about much more than a law that will limit abortions.  It’s about women’s access to healthcare, which has already been limited by Texas’ decision to turn down federal funds.  This will impact women across large parts of Texas.  It’s also about the democratic process, and allowing women’s voices to be heard.  Referred to as an “unruly mob” this is much more than that.  In what can only be described as a nearly spontaneous outpouring of frustration, Texas women have finally said “we’ve had enough!”  Here are a few images from Monday’s rally:

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