You cannot run a marathon — or walk a half-marathon — the first time you step outside your door wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes and a hydration belt. Theoretically, if your life or the life of your loved one depended on it, you might try and you might even succeed. But you will hurt yourself… every runner or walker I’ve spoken to has told me that a race is a challenge even when you are ready for it. Similarly, very few social changes occur the first time an agitator stands on a street corner and proclaims that a great wrong must be corrected. Just ask Susan B. Anthony; one of her tireless efforts was writing and publishing the history of the suffrage movement.
This weekend our country began to celebrate the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. These anniversary observances are both celebrations and protests — we’ve come so far, and we’ve got so much farther to go. Jelani Cobb catches the spirit well in his New Yorker article, insisting that we have grown enough to both recognize our incredible progress and insist that it be protected and further developed. Our collective memory tends towards mythologizing strong individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and in doing so, we lose our sense of joint ownership and team accomplishment. We turn history into a series of dates and turning points instead of a flowing river of human endeavor.
Roberto and I joined the festivities for a few hours on Saturday, and it struck me that our civil rights movement is a marathon, a long-distance relay through generations that keep pointing towards that ever elusive finish line where we break through the tape of fear wrapped in ignorance with a strong dose of selfishness and finally “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
Back in his day, Martin Luther King and the men who organized the original march made their wives and female colleagues like Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks walk a separate route, away from the media. They allowed only a short ovation to six pre-selected women Daisy Bates, the leader of the Little Rock Nine who gave a brief statement(listen here); Prince Lee, the widow of murdered activist Herbert Lee, Diane Nash, a key leader of the freedom rides; Gloria Richardson, and Rosa Parks.
Myrlie Evers was also scheduled to be onstage and got a huge ovation in absentia; circumstances intervened in 1963. This year, like so many other women, she got the opportunity to speak:
I love that she encouraged us to turn “Stand Your Ground” into a positive force for change, remember the women who worked so hard for the movement, and be trees standing tall for justice.
Let’s keep standing, marching, walking — and running — together. All of us.
The extraordinary bravery of Antoinette Tuff intersects with an interesting time for America. As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it’s tempting to list our many national political failures and the continuing systemic discrimination and endemic poverty that undermine our founding principles. But then a woman like Antoinette Tuff steps into the shadow of Rosa Parks and rocks our perception. Just as Parks was not the first black person who refused to move on a bus in Montgomery, Tuff is not the first person to ever avert a shooting. But many are cheering how Tuff responded to the dangerous, gun-toting man in front of her with a patience and compassion born of faith. Parks was also a woman of faith, though hers was more stubborn and impatient to achieve justice. Her faith led her to challenge an unfair system of discrimination. As Jeanne Theoharis reports in her fabulous biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks:
…When the driver ordered them to give up their seats, no one moved. Getting agitated, the bus driver said, “You all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.”
Parks reflected to herself on how giving up her seat “wasn’t making it light on ourselves as a people.” She thought about her grandfather keeping a gun to protect their family. She thought about Emmitt Till. And she decided to stand fast. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Though she had been an activist for years, Parks had no idea or plan that her resistance would lead to a 382 day boycott that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. to worldwide attention and ended legal segregation. Likewise, Antoinette Tuff could not have anticipated a media whirlwind or a call from President Obama, but what would our world be like if we all followed her example and became “doers of the word and not just hearers?”
Yesterday at our Team in Training session I set a personal best, walking an average pace of 15:50/per mile — shaving nearly five minutes off my previous best time over 3 miles. When I started this quest, walking a mile in less than 16 minutes may as well have been walking on the moon. Now I’ve walked four and because this is called training, I’ll be walking a lot more. Roberto also had an awesome run; no one will be confusing us with the medal-winning Eatons but it’s great that we can share this experience.
It helps so much to have teammates, mentors and coaches encouraging us. One of the mentors will be racewalking the full Disney marathon, and today she gave me some great pointers about form and speed. She also set me on a good pace that I could maintain for most of the walk; it seemed a bit brisk at first but I got into the flow and eventually became impatient at cross walks. I’m jealous of her speed, her endurance, and her fabulous running skirts. Seriously. My walking shorts are great, but sporting fashion has improved immensely with the advent of new fabrics and smarter designs.
Today we had a turnaround route, which meant we could yell Go Team at each other from opposite directions. I snuck over to kiss Roberto when he went sailing by on the other side of the street. It was really encouraging to see other team members along the way. Our coach was waiting just past the three-mile mark and walked that last stretch with me; we met up with Roberto along the way because he was sweet enough to come back for me. That was a great help; the company and the pace they set kept me from stalling as minor workout twinges set in.
And those twinges are real, so it was doubly helpful that we had another TNT coach who talked us through the issue of stretching. She’s an expert on how people hurt themselves because she fixes them in her professional life as a physical therapist. She gave us some great dynamic stretches to get us started (including some in this video), showed us essential warm-down stretches, taught us the joys of a foam roller, and helped each team member troubleshoot particular twinges. Sometimes during my walks I get a sharp but temporary pain around my inner knee, so I got some tips about stretching my hamstring and doing some butterflies after my workout to target that.
Today I definitely feel like I accomplished something yesterday; we did our twenty-minute easy walk in the mall due to rain and then my legs announced that it was time to go home. Check out the cool pictures of our Capitol Hill route and make a donation on our team page — any amount helps!
This morning Roberto and I headed to Annandale High School where we met more of our team members, mentors, and coaches. Our honored teammate, Brian, shared with us his struggle with blood cancer and, more importantly, his triumph. He was diagnosed at age 23 and just passed his five year anniversary on Monday. He credits the patient services arm of the Luekemia and Lymphoma Society with helping him and his family face the financial and emotional realities of his diagnosis and treatment. Thanks in part to research funded by LLS, doctors identified his leukemia down to the exact deleted chromosome causing trouble and planned his treatment accordingly. Today he’s grateful to be alive, part of a young adult support group for survivors, and a marathon runner.
As for me, it was a humbling moment on the track when I looked up from my Runkeeper app and realized that I had been left in the dust. Today I happened to be the only team member walking the entire half-marathon, so everyone else darted away to start their alternating run/walk workouts and I headed to the outer lanes where I wouldn’t be in the way. Yet it wasn’t a totally solitary experience; there was a cow bell and frequent calls of “Go Team” as we made our way around and around and around again. Roberto visited with me during one of his walk breaks, one of the coaches checked in with us about our shoes (which desperately need replacement) and later another coach swung in to chat with me about my goals and encourage me.
I was not the very last person to finish, mostly because the marathoners had to go a mile further than I did. That said, I’m proud that I hit a personal best with a 16:54 minute/per mile average and I look forward to making that number drop below 15 and maybe even 14 as the season progresses. I also feel a little triumphant that I walked a bit further than the two miles required because I was on the outer ring of the track. As we get deeper into the season it may be harder to get through each workout but we’re fortunate to be starting early and ramping up slowly. Two miles sounded really doable to a coach potato like me, and it was.
Today was a great day because it helped me see that I really can do a half marathon, and I loved meeting all my awesome new teammates. We had a nice warm summer shower that washed away any thought of sweat on my part; apparently the only weather that interrupts a workout is a thunderstorm or a hurricane. Weirdly enough, I’m glad to hear that, and I’m really glad that I decided to join Roberto and kick off my 42nd year with a commitment to Team in Training. Walt Disney World, here we come!
One of my favorite field trips was to Fermi Labs. To my still-developing brain, it was like visiting another planet. The awesomeness has never left me, and so I love to hear what the good people of Fermi are up to. Apparently they’ve been disrupting traffic in their quest for 50 foot magnetic ring.