New Fitness Goals: Point Lookout 5K

Once you’ve done the Warrior Dash, where do you go next?

My next personal fitness goal will be to actually run a full 5K–I’ve done two 5K races now but I’ve ended up walking portions of both, either because the hills did me in or because it was just too muddy. So I’m looking ahead toward October and planning to run the Feel the History 5K at Point Lookout State Park, which is a flat and scenic course and seems fairly low-key as far as registration fees. Running along the waterfront sounds lovely, and the area is near where I grew up, which feels fitting to me.

Training Plan: for five weeks out of the summer, I’ll be traveling for various workshops and gigs, so I’m going to have to schedule my workouts more carefully. I’m planning to hit up the water aerobics classes my pool offers and start using the elliptical machine for my cardio when I can make it to my school fitness center. I’ll be in a hotel for a week, so I’ll be using the gym/pool they offer. Then once September starts, I’ll need to continue to be protective of my scheduled “self-care” time once the hectic cycle of the years picks up again. I want to continue to do strength training along the way as well.

I’ve come to understand about myself that having a concrete goal is the key to keeping myself moving forward, and I know running the whole race will feel like a major accomplishment too.

Doing the Dash


We did it! We conquered the Warrior Dash and every obstacle in it! We had perfect weather for it too–not too sunny, not too warm or cold, with rain the night before so we got the full muddy experience, but didn’t get rained on while we were Dashing. It was a great experience, and I’m so glad we put in the training time beforehand.

For future Warriors, here’s what I remember most clearly about the obstacles (not in order):

  1. Goliath
  2. This was one of the last obstacles for us, and before you get to the plank, you have to climb a rope ladder/wall. After you’ve walked the plank, water shooting at you from both sides, you get to slide down an enormous slide. and then launch towards the last few obstacles. I imagine on a hot day, the water would be extremely welcome, but even on a more overcast day, I was thrilled to rinse off a little of the mud that was all over my face by that point. This was an extremely tough one for Warriors who were scared of heights, so several people took a long time gearing themselves up to cross over.

  3. Deadman’s Drop
  4. One of the many obstacles that made me glad I’d done solid upper-body strength training in the months leading up to the dash!

  5. Diesel Dome
  6. The trickiest part of this was trying to descend, and one of the women on the Dome with me was clearly scared of heights and needed her teammates to help her navigate down.

  7. Giant Cliffhanger
  8. This is the obstacle that gave me the most difficulty–I used the rope to climb up the first side, but on the descent, I just couldn’t raise myself up to a standing position again and ended up sliding all the way down–my belly did not thank me for that! I think my calves are stronger than my thighs at this point, so maybe increased overall leg strength would have helped me here. Fingerless gloves would be a good aid here too.

  9. Muddy Mayhem
  10. Mud + barbed-wire=Warrior! This is one of the obstacles that looked more frightening in the pictures than it was in person, for me–just stay low and accept the mud, and you should probably be fine.

  11. Pipeline
  12. My sister’s genius idea here was that instead of going through this rope-tunnel on your hands and knees (which might already be scraped and sore at this point like mine were), turn yourself around, put your butt on the rope, and use your hands overhead to pull you along, pushing with your feet too. It’s much quicker and saves your skin!

  13. Shocktop Unfiltered
  14. If you’re at all claustrophobic, this will be tricky, but the tubes are not very long, if that helps. Again, a little rough on your hands and knees.

  15. Trenches
  16. Another crawl through a dark enclosed space! I saw some people managing a forward bear crawl through some of these kinds of obstacles, so that’s something to consider if you’re concerned about pacing or think you’re up to it

  17. Warrior Roast
  18. This is the obstacle my children thought was the craziest when I showed it to them! By this point in the race, I was pretty tired, but out of nowhere, two energetic guys approached my sister and I, got us pumped up, and then we all joined hands and took the flames at a running leap–a great moment, for sure!

  19. Mud Mounds
  20. Here’s where I ate my first mud–because of the rain the night before, these were really thick, wet mud pits by the time we hit them, and the mounds themselves were so slick, we did a lot of sliding down into them. But I think having a later wave in the day helped us here, because there plenty of feet/handholds, so the climbing wasn’t too bad.

Apart from raising money for a wonderful cause, an advantage of being a warrior for St. Jude’s was the special tent for us, which included food, water and Gatorade, tables and chairs, and private showers. I inhaled a cheeseburger and sucked down a bottle of water here right after the race, and I was so glad to not have to think about money at that moment! Rinsing off and changing helped me recover too–the showers are little cubicles, so definitely not luxurious, and we both took longer showers when we got home, but it was still a great feeling to rinse off that first layer of grime. If you’re planning on bringing children, you won’t be alone–my girls were definitely not the only or youngest kids there, and there’s plenty of loud music and mud-covered people to make for a fun atmosphere.

There’s a real community feel for the race, cheering everyone one, and very little pressure to outpace each other, in my experience. It really felt like we were all there to push ourselves, flirt with danger, get muddy and have a great time.

Mission accomplished.

Running Up That Hill

This Sunday, I ran my first 5K race–ever. The race was sponsored by my school and mapped out in the rather hilly neighborhood the school is in, so there were a few parts where I was definitely walking up that hill instead, but still–I ran. In a race. Voluntarily.


I was talking to a student the other day, and she was complaining about having to climb the massive staircase from the basement to the third floor, where my classroom is. “But you’re an athlete!” I said. “That shouldn’t be too hard for you!” “That’s totally different,” she said. “Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I like it.”

I was still thinking about what she said when I went to the gym a few days later. I’ve been using the fitness center at my school to train, which means I see colleagues and students all the time, and on my way out, I ran into a colleague who teaches physical education and was a hall-of-fame lacrosse player in college. “Ugh, I’m jealous,” she said. “Your workout is done and mine is still ahead of me.” “Really?” I said. “I thought you really liked exercise, being an athlete and all.” “Nope,” she said, “I hate the process, but I love the results.”


I have never been athletic in my life, and I think it’s because not only did I hate the process, but I never saw any positive results. A combination of poor coordination and bad vision have worked against me, true, but also my natural inclination is toward quiet things. Sedentary things. Things like reading books, and writing in a journal, and watching movies. I’ve never been that kid running around the playground who clearly has energy to burn, or the adult fidgeting in a chair, trying so hard to stay still. As a child, adolescent, and young adult, I was naturally thin, so no one felt I needed weight-loss tips or bothered me much about getting into better shape. Throw in some inadequate physical education instruction, and you’ve got a recipe for exercise avoidance.

As an adult, however, I started to feel the urge to take better care of myself. Self care has never come naturally to me, but a few years of health issues and related weight gain brought the issue to the forefront. Once my sister challenged me to the Warrior Dash, it seemed like the perfect time to kick myself into gear, and so I’ve spent the past four months training to get ready, and along the way, finding that I can enjoy the process once I see some results.

What results? Primarily, I’m sleeping better and feeling stronger, not just physically but emotionally. Finishing a race is a concrete accomplishment, in a life filled with ongoing pursuits that can seem Sisyphean, that I may never see come to full fruition. Reserving time for myself, to focus just on myself, is refreshing and rewarding in a life filled with taking care of others.

So I’ll keep running up whatever hills rise up before me, though I may never get faster, and feeling all the stronger for it.


Ready for a slice-of-life post?

  • we’re neck-deep in packing lists for the five-day outdoor education trip my girls are going on at the end of April, along with all the other 6th graders at my school; one list for what we already have (sweatshirts, yoga pants), one for what we will try to borrow (an outdoor sleeping bag, flashlights), one for what we will probably have to buy (rainboots that fit), etc etc
  • I made some predictions about how I’d like to be spending my summer, so here’s my progress: I’ve had several phone interviews with the Center for Talented Youth summer programs and am very hopeful that a job in their program will pan out, and I’ve officially been accepted to the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute! I can’t even express how much I am looking forward to immersing myself in the Library’s resources this July.
  • one of my daughters is playing lacrosse for the first time, and I’m so proud of her for jumping in and persevering; in Baltimore, many kids are handling lacrosse sticks as soon they can walk, so I was a little concerned that she would feel “behind,” especially since she’s only playing a team sport because I said she had to pick one! Luckily, our middle school athletics program is really encouraging of students who want to try a new sport, and she is gaining confidence and skills with each practice. My other daughter is gearing up for her ballet recital in June, and I’m happy to see them both building healthy habits that will serve them well in the future.
  • I feel comfortable declaring that the choices my colleague and I made this year about what to teach and why have really paid off; both Beowulf and Persepolis were new texts for us this year, and they’ve both been valuable additions to our curriculum. I also made some switches in my senior elective on Latin American literature, and those changes have worked out well too (though I’m still figuring out their final project). Like most English teachers, I put significant thought into deciding what books I want to teach in my classes, and it’s very rewarding when those choices turn out to be successful.
  • My sister and I are still training to run the Warrior Dash, which is only about a month away now, and we’ve both hit our fundraising goals as warriors for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (though I’d certainly accept more donations!). I feel more physically fit than I have in years, and in a burst of confidence, I also signed up for a 5K at my school, which is only about ten days away. Once I’ve got a few more 5Ks under my belt, I’d like to try a 10 K race next year. In addition to having a workout partner, setting goals has been a big part of actually being able to maintain an exercise habit for me.
  • current musical obsession: St. Vincent, both her newest self-titled album and her previous album, Strange Mercy

Bookish Bucket List

Inspired by a post at one of my new favorite bookish blogs, the dirigible plum, and part of The Broke and the Bookish blog hop, here’s my bookish bucket list!

Visit more famous bookstores and libraries

My favorite bookstore in the world is Shakespeare and Company in Paris, which I finally got to see in person a few years ago and is just as magical as I suspected. My favorite library in the world is the Library of Congress, which we visited a few years ago on one of the rare days when the reading room is open to the public, and which I’m hoping to revisit sometime in the near future. Future wishlist destinations include The Strand Bookstore in New York City and the Firestone Library at Princeton University, which has some rare J.D. Salinger papers and manuscripts I’d love to see.

Visit Walt Whitman’s birthplace and house

Whitman is my favorite poet, no contest, so I’d like to make some pilgrimages to places where he lived and loved. The birthplace site on Long Island seems like a good start, but I’d also like to see the only home he ever owned and any artifacts that seem significant.

Visit Edith Wharton’s legendary home, The Mount

Another of my favorite American authors, Wharton is most often associated with New York City but owned and lovingly decorated The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. The gardens look amazing, and I’d like to stroll the halls and marvel at her library, as well as the bedroom where she most often wrote, dropping the pages on the floor for her maid to collect later.

Read Bleak House

One of my favorite contemporary novelists is Nick Hornby, and he has said repeatedly that Dickens is his favoriate author and Bleak House his favorite of Dickens’ work. I’ve read Oliver Twist, Great Expectations , and A Christmas Carol, so Bleak House is next on my list.

Go to a Michael Chabon reading and get books signed

Chabon has written some of my favorite books, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content), the book I rave about to everyone willing to listen and the book I think every single person I know should read (including you!). One of the joys of loving an author who’s still alive and working should be getting to hear them read, and I’m determined to do it.

Own some bookish clothes

I own a Gatsby tote bag I love dearly and a Holden-themed red hunting hat necklace, but somehow I don’t own any t-shirts, hoodies, dresses or other book-adorned clothes. Our Lower School librarian owns this beauty of a book-dress, but I’ll probably start with this long-sleeved Little Women pullover or this pretty Pride & Prejudice peacock.

Read War and Peace

There are many, many books in the world I haven’t read, but somehow War and Peace calls to me, challenges me, the way I suppose Mt. Everest does to mountain-climbers. I bought this book three years ago and have given up twice, but someday, I’m sure I’ll conquer it.


Thanks to the comments, I’ve discovered two more goals I must add to my list: make a book purse and steward a little free library!

Fitter Happier

Hungrier. Tireder. Thirstier. Fitter. Happier. More productive.

So I’ve been consistently working out for a few months now, mixing a few days of strength training with a few days of walking/jogging each week, and I’m definitely feeling the difference. I can easily do reps of exercises now that stymied me before, and I’ve progressed from only walking laps on the track to alternating walking and jogging (soon I’ll be jogging the whole time). Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, I’ve come to look forward to the times in my day I’ve reserved for exercise–and when I say reserved, I mean that I’ve put them on my calendar each week and tried to treat them as sacredly as I would any other meeting or commitment. Recognizing and honoring my own needs feels pretty good. I enjoy getting out of my head and focusing just on my body and what it can do, and throwing a ball against the wall twenty times can feel quite therapeutic when you’ve had a rough day! I also just feel more aware of my body–all those natural needs have increased, so instead of struggling to remember to drink more water, I find myself constantly grabbing for my water bottle. Instead of forgetting to eat breakfast, I’m eating the same muffins I usually bake for my girls to eat. When 5:30 rolls around, I’m starving for dinner.

Training for the Warrior Dash has definitely been the driving motivation, but I’ve also been influenced by our own First Lady, who’s been a fitness inspiration to all of us who want Michelle Obama’s arms or just want to celebrate Michelle Obama’s arms. Whether she’s surprising a jump-rope team, enlisting Beyonce to surprise dancing kids or slam-dunking on the Miami Heat, I love the approach she’s taken to encouraging us all to be healthier. I know that leading a healthier lifestyle has made me a better role model for my kids; last night, Lucy had me doing ballet stretches in the kitchen, and Sophie’s signed up for lacrosse (which she’s never played) and is looking forward to being able to talk about exercise the way Lucy and I do now. To be honest, Sophie is partly signing up because I told her she had to play a sport this year, drawing a hard line I copied from interviews I’d seen with Michelle Obama where she talked about forcing her kids to play sports. Apart from the actual fitness, I know that modeling self-care (a struggle for me) is another important example to give them.

The Dash is in early May, but my sister and I are already talking about our next fitness goals; someday I want to do a color run for sure. Maybe someday I’ll sign up for a softball team or be like my cousin Angie, who’s set herself a goal to climb all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks. Wherever my fitness journey takes me next, I feel stronger and more confident that I’ll able to lead the way.

Warrior Dash 2014

Mud. Barbed Wire. Fire. More mud. Trenches and rope walls and running through the woods and up hills with dozens of strangers. Did I mention the mud?

In January, my sister and I began training to run the Warrior Dash, a 3.16 mile mountainous obstacle course of a race, including twelve different challenges with names like Alcatraz, Storming Normandy, Pitfall, Plunge, and Warrior Roast. For completing it, runners receive a t-shirt, a medal, a free beer, and a Viking-style furry horned helmet.

Now, none of this really sounds like something I would do. I’m not athletic. I don’t run. I don’t enjoy getting dirty. I don’t drink beer, and I don’t wear hats. I’m not what you envision when you say, “Warrior”–but that’s exactly why I’m choosing to do it. Not because I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line, caked in mud, but because I want to be stronger, and tougher, and in better physical and emotional shape. I want to look at my arms and legs and see toned muscles, and I want to be able to run up a few flights of stairs without getting out of breath. I want my clothes to fit better, and I want to feel more energy. I want to feel the rush of pride I’ve felt before when I conquered a difficult task or dared to set out on an adventure.

To my surprise, I’m actually enjoying the training. I love the feeling I get when I add a little more weight or a few more reps to one of the exercises we’re doing, and I love holding a ten-pound medicine ball over my head and flinging it down at the floor as hard as I can. My sister and I work together and are using our school fitness center for our strength training, and I love meeting her in the gym and trying to pump each other up. We send each other emails to set up times, and somewhere in there, we always write “WARRIOR”–it’s become a rallying cry, as much as we giggle when we say it. I can tell already that my daughters think it’s a cool, though surprising, thing for me to do, and I like telling them about my workouts and cardio time. I talk to them a lot about the importance of fitness, and I force them to try different athletic activities, so I’m pleased that I’m finally modeling what I’ve been preaching.

Having the deadline of May 10th helps me stay motivated too, as one of the difficult parts of fitness for me has always been maintaining the routine. If it takes a fuzzy helmet and miles of mud to do it, I know I’ll be the better woman for it.

Predictions: July 30th

There are 344 days remaining in the year. Describe what you’d like to be doing on day 211. (Hint: that’s July 30th.)

By the end of this July, I’m hoping to have taken advantage of a few amazing professional development opportunities I’m applying for, all for the first time. While several are technically summer jobs, I think they’ll help me grow immensely as a teacher, so I’m counting them twice, as it were.

  1. I’ve applied to teach in one of the Center for Talented Youth summer programs, run by Johns Hopkins. I went to a creative writing summer camp through CTY the summer after 6th grade, and it really altered my perspective; I came home and told my mother, “There are other kids like me!” after getting to spend a week immersed in classes on poetry, fiction and playwriting with my awkward adolescent peers.
  2. Also through CTY, I’ve applied to teach at one of the amazing Civic Education Project summer workshops for 7-12th grade students. In graduate school, I got to do some service-learning work with my classes, and it really enriched their understanding of the multicultural issues we had been discussing.
  3. Finally, and what would really be a dream come true: Summer Teacher Institute at the Library of Congress, learning how to use primary sources more effectively in the classroom. I think this could really benefit how I teach my Persepolis unit, but also, getting to spend five days immersed in the Library’s resources would just be fantastic.

I don’t know if I’ll be accepted at any of these programs, but after taking a few summers off from intense PD, it’s energizing to be thinking about ways to sharpen and enhance my skills, as well as challenge myself in new professional areas. Of course, I’m also planning to soak up plenty of poolside sunshine, see friends and family, maybe take a trip or two, and do all the other teaching work and reading I usually tackle during the summer. But by July 30th, I’m hoping to feel like I’ve leveled up as a teacher, no matter how it happens.

Year of the Clean Person

Do you have laundry sitting in your living room, either waiting to be put away or waiting to be washed? Are there dirty dishes in your kitchen every day? Do you have invisible corners in your house? Do you need to clear a space on your table every time you sit down to eat? You might be a Messy Person then; come sit by me, I’ll move these books and things so there’s space on the couch.

Most important question: does it bother you to be a Messy Person? For years, decades even, it didn’t bother me at all; just ask my mother, or my old roommates. But the clutter and messiness in my surroundings has been increasingly bothering me for years, and so I’m trying to change my habits for the better. To make a resolution stick, it helps to have these four strategies: a concrete plan, something you value on the line, bundled temptations, and social support. I’m going to follow the 2014 Cleaning Calendar from Jolie of Ask a Clean Person fame, and I’ve followed Jolie on Twitter to help keep myself on track. She’s stirring up the social support for her project there, but I’m going to add regular check-ins with Unf*ck Your Habitat, and following them on Twitter too, to help with that aspect. Maybe I’ll try some cleaning checklists. I’ll be keeping my posting about my efforts mainly to Twitter, since that seems like the best venue for it, but if it seems successful, I’ll update you here too. I think the calendar will help me not feel too overwhelmed; I don’t need to worry about cleaning out my car yet, because that’s on the schedule for June! I’m also looking forward to replacing “cleaning marathons” with UYH’s “20/10″ concept, which seems more conducive to keeping on top of things.

One big strategy I’m going to try also is to recognize that I’m the person in my house most bothered by the clutter, and that therefore, I need only focus on my own efforts to get it under control. Badgering my family about it doesn’t make my house cleaner; it just makes me feel angrier and more resentful, and I don’t need that energy in my life. So for 2014, I’m going to take whatever steps I can to make my environment more pleasing to me, and recognize that’s all I can control.

Review: Odd Girl Out

Do you teach adolescent girls? Do, or will, you parent adolescent girls? Do you have any adolescent girls in your life that you care for or about? Then you need to read Odd Girl Out, Revised and Updated: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.

Author Rachel Simmons has done an amazing job here in outlining just why the adolescent years can be so difficult for girls, particularly from grades 5-9 or so, the ways in which girls are socialized to be particular kinds of aggressive with each other, how parents and teachers unknowingly feed into the cycle, and concrete ways we can try to support our girls as they navigate these treacherous social and cultural waters. She talked to several hundred girls, in various locations and settings, and includes frank discussions of cyberbullying, as well as how race and class interact in these dynamics. She also weaves in her own memories of middle school and beyond, carefully including not just the times she felt bullied or excluded, but her own roles in these toxic scenarios, emphasizing throughout that every girl has the potential to be the “mean girl” as well as the “odd girl out,” and that we need to acknowledge just how complicated our daughters are. Simmons builds on classic texts like Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development and Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, but in my opinion, Simmons’ work is fresher, clearer, and more immediately useful to parents and teachers.

I expect Odd Girl Out to take its place with books like The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children as books on parenting that I’ll consult and rely on for the next few years to guide me as I try to parent as thoughtfully as I can. As a teacher, I’ll be recommending it to everyone I work with, and thinking about how to best inform my teaching with Simmons’ work.