How I’m Doing, Really
Honestly? Pretty shitty.
Even though pregnancy takes an average of 40 weeks, Lima Bean is considered “full term” at 37 weeks today. That basically means all the important things have been developed already and now he/she just fattens up and grows hair. Lima is probably around six pounds and about the size of a watermelon. Awesome, right? Most definitely.
And this is the point in this blog that I need to provide a disclaimer. I’m going to complain a little. And I’m going to do so with the full knowledge that I have an amazing life and I’m lucky and fortunate and blessed and all that good stuff. So why do it? Because sometimes you just feel crappy even when you know logically you have no right to. Sometimes you’re pregnant and over it. And finally, because it’s my own damn blog and I can complain if I want to, and if you don’t want to read it, there’s other stuff on the internet. Click here to watch a baby panda sneeze instead.
So what’s my problem? Probably that I haven’t written about it. I always feel better when I write about things. Here I am doing this thing that’s supposed to be miraculous and beautiful and while it felt that way just a week ago, now I just feel gargantuan and emotionally unstable. People are out running on the trails in the Bend sunshine, and I hardly have the energy to leave the house. My twitter feed is full of results from amazing races and I’m just sitting here in a chair with my knees spread wide enough for my girth to rest between, itching to be out there again. Damn you Flotrack, damn you.
I don’t know what kind of crazy brain chemistry happens in the last few weeks of pregnancy, but things that were funny a couple weeks ago are infuriating now, such as:
- The fact that the baby only kicks me within a 2 inch radius under my right rib. Wouldn’t kill ya to mix it up a little before giving me osteoarthritis.
- Hiccups which used to be cute are now as agitating as when I get them myself.
- The farting. I mean seriously?!
- My gonzo breasts were awesomely sexy until my stomach became comedically huge, and now I wouldn’t even have sex with me, much less want anyone else to.
- Having to take my wedding ring off to accommodate swollen fingers was humorous until I realized I have an unbreakable habit of trying to spin its ghost.
- Anything that requires bending over, like putting on pants, or tying my shoes.
- Every random stranger telling me a birth horror story. “Oh you’re about to have a baby…let me tell you this awful thing that happened to my sister.” What is wrong with people?
At first, these annoying moments would come and go, and I could keep a healthy perspective by saying, “Ha! How weird to feel these things! Well, this is pregnancy for ya! What a unifying experience with women around the world! What a cool change from what my life is normally like!” And now I’m like, “Fuck this. I’m tired of my body being a vessel for someone else 24/7. I want my body back for my own kick ass purposes, thank you very much.”
It’s hard to talk about these things because when you are a woman, there is all this pressure to be nothing short of amazed by the beauty of the gift of life that you are about to give. And yeah, I read on Baby Center and other mommy blogs that these feelings are normal at this point in the pregnancy, but it doesn’t mean you don’t feel like a UPS* for having them yourself. I want to feel grateful and excited all the time, but shit, what are you gonna do? You feel what you feel. Should I feel bad for feeling bad? No, running taught me that much; you can’t become your best unless you honor what you feel and keep it real.
So that’s where I’m at. Three-ish weeks to go with fewer and fewer moments of feeling like my normal self. One thing is for sure, I might be totally over pregnancy, but I am super excited to meet this little fart bundle. I know I will love every square inch of Lima Bean. I already do, which is weird. I am under no delusion that I’ll be anything more than a boob-slave poop-cleaner for a few months before it develops a personality, but the thought of it having it’s own space to occupy outside my body makes me want to jump for joy. This baby deserves to have it’s own life as a liberated human. Break free of the cage Lima Bean! Let the Fleshmom run free!
Until then, maybe tomorrow I’ll try starting the day off right by wearing something besides the standard college girl uniform of sweatpants and flip flops.
If any of my pants still fit.
*UPS stands for useless piece of…
I’m still processing everything that happened but this blog is an attempt to describe my personal experience at the Boston Marathon, and how I watched my environment unfolding. I have been reading the accounts of others and want to get my experience written down. Obviously I had no idea what was coming all day, and things changed very quickly, and I’m checking the news like everyone else, in my case with inflight wireless. I’ll attempt to tell my story as it happened.
Nine days ago, I was sitting amongst a circle of my family and friends at my baby shower in Seattle, drinking growlers of limeade and kombucha and smoking candy cigarettes for a laugh. And every day since then, I have been collecting photos, funny memories, and travel stories to help chronicle the most exciting week I’ve had in recent memory, all of which was set to culminate in my first ever experience with the Boston Marathon.
And now, only a few short hours after the finish line explosions, I am sitting on a plane flying home to Oregon, unable to think of anything else but the whirlwind I just experienced, how horrible the whole thing is, and the series of things that had to happen just-so for me to have my unscathed butt in this seat right now.
Not long before the explosion, I was with my friend Shanna from Oiselle (also pregnant and due June 7th), doing our damndest to get near the finish line. We had been cheering all morning in Wellesley, and before catching my flight home, we had juuuussst enough time to grab a much needed sandwich and swing by the finish line to experience a little of that famous excitement first hand. As it turned out, the area by the finish was so packed that you couldn’t even move, and the sandwich place turned out to be on the opposite side of the finish shoot anyway which was impossible to get to. We considered staying to watch for a while anyway, but our hunger was so intense that we decided to leave and feed the babies and come back later.
Around the corner was the Fairmont Copley Hotel, where the elite athletes were staying. We had a new plan: grab some overpriced food there and visit my friend Steph Rothstein Bruce (who had finished an amazing 15th place and was the 3rd American). As we tucked into our meal with a room full of athletes, coaches, and agents, we heard a loud explosion and felt the room vibrate slightly. It was one of those Jurrassic-Park-rippled-water-glass moments and my stomach turned. It was bad, I just knew it.
People were suddenly quiet, then some nervously mumbled while a few looked out the ground floor windows in the direction of the explosion. At first nothing happened and everyone just looked around at one another. Shalane Flanagan was at the next table over while her husband Steve came back to report what he could see from the window. I tried to read lips, unsuccessfully, and was too paralyzed to ask. Nobody spoke up. People pulled out their phones for information from the outside. A hum of mumblings gradually spread throughout the dining room as the sound of sirens built to a crescendo outside.
…bits and pieces fitting into a puzzle. Security people dressed in Boston Marathon yellow jackets came in the room announcing, “all elite athletes please evacuate with us to room ____.” They had to repeat it several times before anyone got up. It was as if we all thought we were watching a movie until that moment, at a safe distance, and then as soon as we started to move together through the hallway we understood that this was real life and nobody knew the ending.
Shanna and I walked briskly toward the stairs to go to Steph and Ben Bruce’s room on the 3rd floor, since they missed the announcement, and on the way there, we saw Dr. John Ball and his friend Marc who were headed to the same place and didn’t seem to know what was happening. Despite trying to keep my cool, I know I had panic in my eyes because I could see their body language change and they came right with us without asking questions.
In Steph’s room, we all checked our twitter feeds and updated one another on anything we could piece together. Shanna opened a photo of a bloody scene from one of the explosions and my eyes welled up and my heart raced. I could feel Lima Bean moving around like crazy, probably from adrenaline coursing through me, so I kneeled to calm myself down. As soon as the news confirmed the explosions down the street, I texted my immediate family and Jesse’s family to let them know that if they heard anything about a bomb in Boston, I was safe. I squeezed it in just in time; that was the last time my phone would work for the next hour. Cell towers were either overloaded or being shut down. I still don’t know which.
Marc, Dr. Ball and I had flights to catch in less than two hours, and we had to make a quick decision. It seemed as if, with every passing minute, things were getting more and more locked down. We heard our hotel was already locked to outsiders, and we feared we wouldn’t be allowed out soon. We didn’t know if we would be able to catch a taxi or not to the airport, but we decided we had to try or else risk getting stuck in downtown Boston. Now was the moment.
One catch: my bags were left at the front desk of my hotel just a few miles outside the airport, and I needed to swing through there to get them before going to the airport. There was just enough time for a cab to hypothically make the stop on the way…if we could catch a cab.
There were no cabs.
Traffic was totally backed up.
People were everywhere, in mylar finishers blankets, trying unsuccessfully to use their phones, looking confused. There was no panic, only a general feeling of What now? People seemed to be awaiting instructions from a non-existent city-wide megaphone. From a disaster management standpoint, we seemed to be at an angle of repose. We saw the train station and headed straight for it. I had a feeling that if the station wasn’t shut down already, it would be soon once everyone figured out what the hell to do.
It was open and thanks to Marc’s navigation skills, we got tickets, found our way to the correct train, and got on board. I was in a bit of a pickle because I was now on my way to the airport without any of my luggage, but I decided I would get off at the airport and try to take a taxi to my hotel and back. There was (maybe) just enough time.
When I got in the taxi, my phone finally started working again and I quickly called Jesse and very briefly answered the concerned texts from my family and friends. I got word that public transportation was being shut down in the city just as I got back to the airport. The terminal security line was absolutely slammed with people moving at a snails pace due to what I can only assume were beefed up security measures, and I never would have made it through in time if an airline employee hadn’t escorted a handful of us directly to the front. With only a couple minutes to spare, I made it onto the plane and couldn’t help but wonder if the airport would shut down before we took off.
It wasn’t until the engines roared and inertia shoved me snugly into my seat that I was convinced I was going to make it home. Only then did I take a deep breath and pull my hood over my eyes to hide the swell of my emotions.
There are so many things I want to write about the Boston Marathon. I want to write about the friendly and interesting people who came to see me at the expo, getting to know the 110% crew, the reunion with my college coach, a rare opportunity for tea with my sisters in sport from Rhodes Island, the thrill of having my column announced at the Runner’s World Party, funny observations about the culture of the event, what it was like to watch instead of compete, how much more open and happy I feel in my sport now than a year ago. I wish I could write about what it was like to watch Steph run deep in the shadows of the well-deserved media favorites Kara and Shalane, fighting for every step in her quest to reach their level where her heart tells her she belongs, even though her body isn’t quite ready yet. I want to write about so many things, but all I can focus on is the horrible thing that happened, that is in fact still happening for many people, while I stew in this uncomfortable mixture of relief and guilt that I’m lucky enough to be going home.
The Boston Marathon has so many stories from thousands of people that won’t be told , because a few people are cruel and crazy and impossible to understand, and that makes me even sadder than I already am.
Updated with Sunday and Monday times below
At long last, the big marathon weekend is here. The elite drama; the hum of nervous energy and enthusiasm of the masses; the squeakers; the history; the miles of KT Tape and gallons of Icy Hot.
The race numbers; the shwag; the last minute race kit adjustments; the obsession over details; the quiet anticipation of your family and friends that it will finally be over and you’ll stop talking about it.
I can’t wait!
I’m flying to Boston today so I can be a part of all the craziness, and I want to meet you, and so does limabean. So oh so quickly, here’s where I’ll be and what’s going on in Lauren land. If you are a Picky Club member, you’ll want to perk up a bit cuz there’s a special deal for you.
110 PlayHarder Booth: 2000 row
Saturday 2-4 and Sunday 11-2
Come say hi, take a pic, get an autograph, and check out some awesome compression gear! Picky Club Members will get a 15% discount on 110% products and I’ll be there with the list! There will be samples of Picky Bars too of course .
I’ll be there with Olympian Ro McGettigan signing autographs and copies of the Believe I Am Journal. This weekend is a special price of $15 ($10 off) in honor of the marathon, both in the RW booth and online! Take advantage of this and get a copy for a friend, yourself, your lady and get it signed.
I’ll be cheering in Wellesley at Getty Gear for the marathon, hanging out with a bunch of crazy ass chicks, many of them Oiselle birdies. Everyone promises me this will be the best place to find questionable female behavior, and so of course I am intrigued and eager to partake. Alas, I won’t be joining the flashers this year; I’m not quite ready to go from never flashing anyone in public to full-on pregnant exposure. There’s simply too much going on up in there right now! There is an open invitation to join us if you are looking for a place to cheer!
Eleven weeks (+/-) to go before this baby claims its very own three-dimensional space on Earth. To provide some context, this is what I look like right now with very little clothing:
If my pregnant life were an ice cream sunday recipe, it would be three scoops of exhilaration and one scoop of terrified, drizzled with foggy confusion, and topped off with spontaneous sprinklings of f#@*ing exhausted. “FOUR SCOOPS?!” you say? I may have misjudged. Add another scoop of “what the hell is happening to my body” in there.
Muscles + Convex stomach expansion =
Those abs that everyone teases me about from the cover of Runners’ World don’t do “pregnant” very well. The individual abs that once formed a neatly rowed six-pack dispersed into separate lumps resembling fig newtons strewn atop a bosu ball. It wasn’t until I hit seven months that the newtons finally atrophied completely, allowing me to trade in my tent shirts for more fitted options befitting a smoother dome.
One cool thing about pregnancy that happens immediately is a super-human sense of smell. It’s like you’re a character in X Men, experiencing the world in an enhanced way. At first I thought I could use my skill to better mankind, or at the very least, finally detect some of those “subtle notes” that winos are always going on about. But then I remembered wine is not part of the pregnancy diet. Furthermore, one week of super-nose showed me that the world is full of WAY more disgusting scents than pleasant ones. An “inferior” nose is what allows you to focus on the words coming out of your friends’ mouths, rather than their death breath. A normal nose allows you to appreciate the historic districts of cities without being distracted by their urination history. Unless you are a crime scene investigator or work for the DEA, this super-power is no bueno.
Always use Google first
Weird shit happens when you are pregnant. Normal experiences are amplified to the point where you are convinced there is a problem. A tendency to get a tight neck in your normal life comes on like a fractured spine when pregnant. If I had used google, I could have saved myself a trip to the orthopedist. When I started sneezing LITERALLY 150 times a day and my nose turned into a faucet in what appeared to be EXTREME allergies, I spent four hours cleaning my house. When that didn’t work, I hired professional house cleaners. When that didn’t work, I hired professional carpet cleaners. And when that didn’t work, after writhing on the carpet in a tantrum of frustration, I decided to google “pregnancy and allergies” only to discover that 20-30% of women suffer from what is called pregnancy rhinitis, which described my symptoms to the tee. Lesson learned.
My husband has a secret protective side
Jesse and I have an extremely relaxed relationship when it comes to restricting one another’s activities. If he wants to ride his bike on an icy road at midnight, that’s his prerogative. I don’t let my mind worry. And Jesse has always treated me the same way…until I got pregnant. I want to go for a run at dusk? Mr. Thomas suddenly has a very strong opinion on the subject. I’m not talking about one of those suggestive comments like “are you sure that is safe?” Picture instead Jesse in overalls waving his pitchfork saying “WOMAN!! You think you goin runnin out thar with my baby?! Have you gone lost yur mind?!” I’m surprised by this, and sometimes I wave my iron skillet back at him, but mostly I’m relieved to see that even though he isn’t physically effected by pregnancy, something very real is happening in that head of his that is prepping him for parenthood, and I like it.
Running isn’t that bad
I thought that running with a 20 pound weight vest would be awful, and that my stomach would be jiggling around like an un-bound enormous third boob, but the baby is cradled in the pelvis nice and snug, and my legs have grown stronger to accommodate the weight gradually.
Sure I have to pee every ten minutes, my back seizes up now and then forcing me to take a day off, and my running pace has decreased by over a minute per mile, but running is still something I really look forward to. Since I decided to opt out of any kind of heroic pregnancy training plan, it doesn’t bother me to only run 4-5 days a week, and take walk breaks now and then. Except for those times when it really bothers me.
The key has been listening to my body, running with friends that make me focus on having fun, and wearing running gear that expands well and doesn’t make you feel like a fat cow. My next blog I’ll do a gear rundown on my favorite pregnancy pieces for anyone who is curious. Until then, go power up a hill for me, or run 6 miles without stopping. Fleshman signing off!
Every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea that makes you go
Duh! Why didn’t I think of this? How has this not been invented before?
That happened to me last December when I was in Austin for “The Running Event.” For those of you who don’t know, the event is basically an annual expo/showroom for all the new running products that will be coming out over the next year. It’s a great place to discover new innovations, and each year has it’s product trends. This year was flush with compression sock companies, all fighting for market share. As I walked past booth after booth of compression stuff, I couldn’t help but think that in two years time, most of these brands would be goners, especially since they were all doing pretty much the same thing: compressing.
Despite the fact that one of my idols in the sport popularized them, and every single triathlete I’ve ever met can’t seem to take them off, I never really took to compression personally, other than for long flights, or after the occasional leg-abusing long run or track workout. I’ve read the science, and yeah, it gets you thinking, but there is always a lot of science in sport that I don’t bother listening to. Science recommends so many freaking things, and changes it’s mind so frequently, that I tend to buffer what science says with some good old fashioned “what works for me” and “what’s worth incorporating into my already full life.” Something has to provide a lot of value for me to add it into my program.
I digress…So during my company-spying in Austin, I walked past the 110% Play Harder booth and saw something unexpectedly different. There were compression socks hanging everywhere, as usual, but there were also these funny little calf sleeves connected to them, and what looked like ice cube trays made out of fabric and plastic, and capri tights full of kangeroo pouches, and silver insulator bags that looked like they could keep your sub sandwiches cold for days. What in the hell was going on here?
I had to ask, of course.
Rachel, (pictured kicking my slightly-more-luscious-than-usual-butt last week on a run in San Francisco,) kindly walked me through the product line and explained what the deal was: compression + ice, or heat. No more wrapping a ziplock baggie of ice to my injury with a kitchen towel or never-tight-enough saran wrap. The booth was full of products that make self-maintence easy. Gone is the excuse that you don’t have time to heat or ice something…you can do it anywhere, anytime, while doing anything else. And that was my “Aha” moment. All I could think was, Why hasn’t anyone invented this before? I really could have used these for the past 15 years. And then of course my next thought was, I wonder if she’ll hook me up with some free stuff?
She did…under the condition that I let her win all our runs together. And for three months I’ve tested the products, both as a runner and as a pregnant person, and confirmed that they rock on both accounts. Lucky for me, 110% thinks I’d be a great addition to their athlete roster of “Playmakers” so I have the opportunity to bring them on as an official sponsor. Check them out online and you’ll see that they have been featured in like a zillion publications recently and won some cool innovation awards. I’m very grateful to have their support this year.
I assume by now the suspense is killing you and despite the fact that your coffee is getting cold while you read this, you simply HAVE to know how these products caught my eye, and how I plan to use them. Well, wait no more. In six photos, you will see what the fuss is about, and will probably also smack your forehead saying, Why didn’t I think of that?
1. The Socks
2. The Inserts
3. The Unexpected
4. The Obvious
5. The Flexibility
And The Best Part:
110% is bringing me out to Boston Marathon to hang out at the EXPO and see the race, so for all my readers who are going to be there, COME SAY HI! I’ll fill you in one more details later, including where I’ll be and when, and info about a special discount for my “Homeboys” (that’s you), and other fun stuff on the horizon.
I’m 90% of the way through another blog with a more thorough update about life due out Friday, but since a press release was going out today about 110%, I wanted to make sure you knew what the deal was from my fingertips. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think about compression. I’m particularly interested in how other athletes incorporate compression successfully into their routine, and where you draw the line for use, i.e. it’s ok to wear compression gear at a restaurant, but not ok to elevate your legs on the table…
When I drove with Jesse down to San Francisco to his triathlon training camp, I did so with the intention to be a support system. At last! For one year, pregnancy means Jesse and I won’t be scattered around the country at our own separate camps, surviving on phone calls where we swap boring stories about workout splits and food misadventures. We’ll actually get to hang out!
Well my presence quickly proved to do more harm than good. Jesse could barely sleep because I kept him up sniffling with pregnancy rhinitis and tossing and turning all night. He can’t kick his cold without proper rest, so I offer to move to a pad on the floor. Then I contract a weird fever, and vertigo, and Jesse is driving me around to doctors appointments and pharmacies, worrying his head off over me and the lima bean. What am I doing here? I start thinking about flying home early.
Change of Plans
Then I get a text from Sally at Oiselle inviting me to Seattle for the weekend, to watch the indoor meet at University of Washington, have some girl time, get some medical attention from Dr. Lesko, and chill out. Considering my record so far as Jesse’s support crew, I figured he’d be better off without me for a few days. I was right, he got his best 3 nights of sleep in 2013.
When I arrive, excitement about the indoor track meet is palpable. Kate Grace, a rookie Oiselle pro from Yale, is gearing up for her first ever 3k, and everyone can feel a breakthrough coming. Kate and I both crash at Sally’s house, and I observe her pre race preparations and expertly contained nervous energy. It is the first time since the Olympic Trials I have put myself in this kind of position…to be back in the public track world.
The race is tomorrow…how will it feel? Am I really ready for this? When I walk through Dempsey among all the athletes, coaches, and fans, will I feel like I belong? Will I feel embarrassed? When I watch the 3k, will I feel a fierce desire to get out there? Or relief that it’s not me?
God I hope it’s desire.
When I laid out my four year plan for my athletic career a couple months ago, I did so by “acting as if.” I did it with the faith that after allowing my heart to mend, a hunger would come back inside me, eventually. The kind of hunger that is stronger than a fear of getting hurt again. Retrieving that passion is the only way I could ever hope to accomplish any of those goals I laid out. You can’t MAKE yourself feel it. All you can do is keep your heart open to it returning. Do nothing to prevent it.
As I walk through the glass doors of the Dempsey Center, the indoor track expands around me. With no stadium seating outside the track, all the spectators crowd inside the middle of the field, buzzing around, cheering, chatting. With Sally and Dr. Lesko (Sarah) by my side, we walk through the maze of people toward our cheering section.
In the distance, I see a white beard, a beacon in the blur of bodies. It’s Vin Lananna. We meet with a warm smile and a big hug. After poking fun at my baby bump and sharing a few laughs, I moved along to rejoin my group. Even though he isn’t my coach anymore, he knows my heart, and seeing him at my first track meet back makes me feel at home.
It’s time. The 3k women strip off their sweats and stretch out their limbs. Muscled bodies and strong legs power through drills and strides; spectators press against the flags lining the inside lane to get a better look. My heart rate picks up involuntarily. I feel the blood pumping through the thin skin of my forearms, the heat generated from my core gradually spreading outward. My legs twitch. Vision narrows. Ears hear no sound. I know what I want. I want to jump the flags and get on the track.
Kate Grace ran a brilliant race, and I raced it with her from the sidelines. I felt her power. Her pain. When she beat everyone in the field except one, as a virtual unknown, running 8:55 in her first ever 3k, I felt her breakthrough. As the Oiselle cheering section flocked over to hug and congratulate her, I felt her joy.
Later That Night
Back at Sally’s house, I escape the post-race pizza party for a few minutes to unwind in my room. I am exhausted, and relieved. All this joy around me, the hum of this community stoked by the fire of athletic performance. That fire is still inside me. I close my eyes and relish in it. When Sally and Sarah pop their heads in to check on me, I share this revelation, and they look at me and smile, like they’ve known all along.
First Off, Thank You!
To the readers of the last blog, and to all the passionate people who commented, whether you agreed with me or not, thanks for engaging. As I hoped, fair play still means a lot to people in a variety of sports, professional and amateur alike. I learned a lot from the things you posted.
My statement that 99% of professional athletes compete clean has received more WTF’s than any other statement I made in my Letter to Lance Armstrong on Thursday. Part of this response is because many people didn’t realize that I was referring to running and triathlon, the groups that would be most affected by LA’s potential return to sport. I wasn’t talking about cycling (although the clean athletes in cycling deserve to be recognized). A few people took the 99% number literally, which was a hyperbolic number derived from my ass, not from statistical equations. Just to clear it up, my point was the vast majority are competing clean.
Others objected to my statement because of an overall cynicism about sports in general, citing cycling’s implosion, the BALCO scandal in Track and Field of the early 2000′s, and the weak attempts of baseball and football to contain their drug problem. People think, Why would running be any different? I can’t blame them. In the past few days, I’ve read several other blogs and articles to understand skepticism specific to my sport. If you want to chime in after reading, whether you agree or disagree, go for it!
Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World wrote a compelling piece that turned on a lightbulb for me. As a super speedy runner of his generation in the late 60′s who competed clean, and an influential voice in running today, he states that in his day he was confident nobody around him was cheating, but if they had, he could understand why it would be tempting to join them, as Lance did. Amby’s temptation would be driven by seeing only “two options: quit or join.” The third option which he later mentions as unlikely, is to choose to “be true to yourself and sport,” concluding that for most “it would make more sense to jog 20 miles a week for your health.”
I can definitely see how Amby’s stance applies to cycling, and Lance, where cheating had been so rampant at the top, and where it was internally coordinated and kept silent by all involved. Being a snitch was not a good option when the result would be the unraveling of your entire sport, the evaporation of your income, and perhaps having your personal and professional life destroyed in court by Señor Yellow Jersey. I can even see how that stance would apply to track and field at certain points in history. But the factors facing professional runners of my generation are different than those of Amby’s, and different from cycling, which leads me to a different conclusion about my sport today.[note: Amby and I have since had an opportunity to discuss our thoughts on this. You can read some of that discussion in the comments section of his Runners' World article]
The Four Main Factors that make fair play a viable choice.
First of all, it is important to point out that there are over a thousand professional track and field athletes that you will rarely, if ever, see on TV, especially if all you see is the Olympics. To get an accurate picture of anything, you need to look beyond those at the very very top. We wouldn’t judge the state of our economy on a sample group from the top 3%! Ah shit, maybe that is how we judge the economy! Let’s stick to my area of expertise.
Here are four main factors, outside of increased doping controls, that I see shaping the doping perspective of today’s generation of professional American runners, (maybe other sports, you tell me) making it easier to stay clean:
Factor 1: There are significant upsides to remaining clean.
Our sport is not so far gone that all hope of winning a medal or making a name for yourself is lost without cheating, which appears to have been the case in cycling. I personally know many athletes in my sport and in triathlon who have been top 10 in the world in their event, (myself included), and some have even won medals (most of them silver or bronze) without doping. There is still a real choice and real motivation for an athlete to remain clean.
I’ll never forget how it felt in 2005 to mourn the loss of my ultimate dream to break a world record or win a gold medal, realizing for the first time that such a thing was likely impossible without drugs. It hurt like a mofo to let that dream go, and it seemed pointless for a bit. But after a year or so I broadened my definition of success for my career based on the positive, outspoken examples around me. Most of the pro athletes I know have done the same, accepting that the playing field will never be level at the very top, but in championship style competiton, we know anything can happen.
Most of us know that hard work and race tactics can still beat dopers. Many accept that our best chance at international success is sweeping past the mentally devastated, doped athletes who fall apart in the final straightaway once they realize they aren’t going to win the gold. It’s not ideal, but it’s the attitude that has allowed athletes to move from feeling sorry for themselves to achieving their honest potential, which is the whole point of sport in the first place.
Factor 2. Financial security for a greater depth of athletes.
We do not live in a country or play in a sport where ultimate success will make you exceedingly rich and famous. With very very few exceptions, medalists walk the streets in complete anonymity, and have to get jobs shortly after retiring from professional sports. This is a lot different from other nations where a medalist can be treated almost as a deity, or from the way American athletes in other sports can reach superstar status like Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, or LaBron James. With track and field being a true international sport with limited barriers to entry (you don’t even really need shoes), even with drugs it is nearly impossible to reach the level of consistant victory and fame that would make you into the next American hero. Basically I’m saying that the upside of doping dominance isn’t great enough to drag otherwise honest people onto the dark side.
Complementary to that, when a greater depth of athletes is financially supported at a reasonable level, you lose poverty as a driving force behind cheating. I believe poverty is the primary incentive behind cheating in many countries. When the only options are “get rich by winning” or “remain in poverty,” it’s a pretty straightforward choice. Significant sponsorship dollars over the past 10 years in America, (and government funding in places like the UK and Canada) have kept our best talent comfortable enough to continue to do things the right way. They may never get rich, but they will make just enough money to justify the sacrifices and commitment required to be a pro athlete. There is a change in the industry right now that may change this for the next generation, but that’s a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that an intermediate level of support is crucial to help athletes be steadfast in their commitment to clean sport.
Factor 3. Social Taboo
My generation of athletes was shaped by the highly publicized drug scandals of the early 2000′s. I watched Marion Jones fall from grace as the face of a much larger doping problem. I was on the USA World Championships team with her in 2003 when most of our teammates knew she was dirty, and most wouldn’t sit with her or make eye contact, a type of ostracizing that took me by surprise. Other established pros in the athlete village spoke openly about their disgust, and it was obvious to me as a rookie that fair play was taken seriously by successful athletes in all event areas of my sport. This made a big impact on my choices as an athlete.
My generation of pros watched Marion Jones’ confession on Oprah; we watched her go to jail. While many people have made a valid point about the never-ending disgusting media circus surrounding Lance Armstrong, I would argue that these types of cultural events are critical to establishing strong social taboos for future generations of athletes. The young people are watching to see how this plays out…trust me.
Factor 4. Individual Sports are Different
In individual sports like track or triathlon, we view one another as competition first and foremost, and are more likely to be whistle blowers. It would take less than a hot minute for any woman in my event area to turn me in for cheating. If I fall, I fall alone, and my competitors benefit from my absence.
Team sports are another story. Snitching on a teammate could implicate you simply by association, destroy the reputation of your coach, and adversely affect the financial backing of your team and sport. A team environment, by nature, encourages silence. With clubs being a relatively new trend for pro runners in the USA, this is something we will need to keep an eye on. The ethics of the coach are of paramount importance, and the coach helps determine how athletes view the letter of the law vs the spirit of the law when it comes to doping.
Wrap it Up Already!
I believe athletes today are faced with three viable choices, not two, when they get their ass handed to them by a cheater:
- Broaden the definition of “winning” and let go of an attachment to world records and medals.
Most are choosing #2. There are people who will view this as “settling,” and as a horrible degradation of sport – that it is a shame to let go of records and release our grip on gold and gold alone. Maybe. But it is also a necessary adaptation that ultimately opens the door for the best possible clean performances given certain realities in modern sport.
Weigh in folks! Which factors do you think help foster clean sport? Which factors threaten it most?
Dear Lance Armstrong,
I’ve been in quite a state this week, ever since you announced you were going on Oprah and word got out about your impending confession. I’ve been pacing around the house, my insides at a continuous low boil, and pretty soon I’m going to lose all my friends because my internal focus is bordering on a mood disorder. It finally dawned on me that I will get no sleep until I get a few things off my chest and into your head for consideration.
Deep inside I always hoped you would come clean. But you need to understand something. Even people who struggle to follow reality TV show story lines can see through you now. The motivation behind all your decisions is to preserve your ability to be a rich, public figure. Without an identity in sports, you can not achieve that, and for now, you are banned from sports for life, at least the ones that are governed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) like running and triathlon.
If you can change public opinion enough, you believe that you can get your ban reduced for your disgusting crimes against the athlete profession and the career trajectories you’ve negatively affected…allowing your return to competition in triathlon in a few years. Nobody ever said you weren’t smart.
If public opinion shifts enough such that you lose your leprotic status in the sports world, the governing body of Triathlon may start to view you as a way to raise the profile of their sport. They just might come to your aid, giving you the arena for athletic prowess that you so desperately need in order to remain relevant.
You know what just might make your plan work, Lance? The silence of professional athletes on this issue. Over the years, we have all been taught that taking a public position on you is a lose-lose situation. One outspoken tweet previously prompted 80 angry replies by your army of defenders. Your army was so strong that endurance athletes trying to build fledgling public identities of their own couldn’t afford to speak their minds. Even though everyone now knows the truth, we have been trained in silence. But things are going to change, Lance.
Professional athletes are going to realize that unless we speak up, the governing bodies of our sports will make the decisions for us. They will mistake our silence for approval. We have seen what you and your friends have done to the sport of cycling, and we will not trade the integrity of our sport for the media coverage that you may bring us. If our governing bodies are going to go to bat for you, they will do so knowing that they will have a mutiny on their hands.
Why would we fight so hard to protect our sports? Here’s what you have never understood, Lance, in all your years as an athlete. To you, the most important thing in sports is winning. But the central tenet of being a professional athlete is not winning; it is fair play. In your warped world, everyone is a cheater, but in reality, 99% of us are doing it right. A commitment to fair play is THE defining element of the profession. We sign agreements to it. Regularly. If you violate that, you may seek forgiveness as a person, but you need to find a new job. The public may not understand sports as a profession, which could lead them to feel sorry for you, but we will help them understand.
A doctor who intentionally harms a patient will never practice medicine again because the central tenet of medicine is to “do no harm.” A lawyer who lies under oath or commits a crime will never practice law again, because adherence to the law is the foundation of their profession. If a financial planner steals a client’s money, if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a student…each profession has its unforgivable sin, and in sports it is doping. I do not wish for you to go to hell, or live a miserable life…I simply want you, along with all the other cheaters, to find a new profession so that mine continues to mean something.
There will still be pro athletes who are reluctant to speak up, but to them I will say this: For every cheater, there are 99 of us doing it right. If we allow our governing bodies to aid in softening Lance’s sentence, we will suffer far more than we benefit. If we allow Lance to be used as a marketing tool to elevate the public profile of our sports, guess who will swallow all the appearance fees? Guess who will drain the sponsorship budgets? Do you really think you will be on an even playing field with someone who can demand that the fastest bikes and the best gear be saved exclusively for him? Guess who will cast a shadow of doubt on your clean performances? Is it worth it? If we don’t start taking a firm line on cheating, demanding lifetime bans for all athletes who intentionally cheat, then we have no profession. We must take a stand for fair play, and the time is now.
I beg you Lance. Do the right thing tonight. True forgiveness comes to those who not only apologize, but stop contributing to the problem. Make a career for yourself as an advocate for cancer, or pour your heart into a working class job like your clean competitors have had to do to make an honest living. Real people are hurt by cheaters, and a person who was truly regretful would see that. We compete clean. It is our hippocratic oath; our swearing in. Our profession will never be a true profession until we draw a hard line protecting what we stand for. You have an opportunity to do something noble tonight, Lance. Retire.
Professional runner drawing a hard line for #FairPlay.
Everyone was talking about it. Ashton Kutcher was doing it. I finally signed up. I didn’t get it.
So when someone followed me, I’d scan through their tweets to get a feel for how other people were using it…a quick way to learn the nuances of how to use a scant 140 characters to be useful, interesting, pointless, hilarious, narcissistic or snooze worthy, depending on what you’re going for.
Then one day, I came across this chick:
And then there was cyberstalking
Sally Bergesen is CEO and founder of her own women’s running apparel company in Seattle (Oiselle), mom, runner, and creator of a string of hilarious, witty, and thoughtful tweets. I followed her back, hoping I could learn a thing or two about using twitter, and since Picky Bars was just getting going, maybe learn about running a business while I was at it. This is what I learned:
Pretty soon Oiselle people seemed to be all over the place. I’d see a random graphic tee I liked on some chick, compliment her, and she’d go on to tell me that it’s made by this women-run business in Seattle, blah blah blah, Oiselle. I realized some of my favorite ALF readers, commenters, and twitter personalities happened to be Oiselle brand ambassadors, and then there was more evidence of awesomeness:
Before long, major Girl Crush, and brand crush.
A fantasy took shape about an alternate, impossible life where I’d get to run for a company like Oiselle, and work closely with the people that were featured on Sally’s Instagram. But that would never, ever happen.
At the end of 2010, Oiselle was a small brand. Nike probably made more money on winter glove sales in California than Oiselle did on their entire line that year. And running a small business of my own, I knew that sponsorship beyond a little bit of free stuff is impossible until your company gets to a critical point of growth. I’d tell myself,
Maybe in a couple years when my contract with Nike is up, they’ll be big enough. Maybe it’s possible. Maybe…
But there was no way.
In 2011, the crush just got worse. We hung out at a few running events. They kept coming out with awesome, creative products. For the first time, I became jealous of another brand’s stuff. Their tweets were too funny. They were too talented. They followed and supported the entire women’s running world, regardless of what brand the women wore. These Oiselle people were clearly crazy. They were having too much fun.
An unofficial visit.
By the time the end of 2012 came around, I was a goner. These clearly insane, fashionable women…they were officially my friends, in real life. With my contract coming up in a few months, it was time to explore the real possibility, so I went to Seattle to check out my new friends’ operations and feel things out for a long weekend. Surely they couldn’t be this cool in their natural human environment, they’d let me down gently, and I could finally put this fantasy out of my head.
We ran, we talked, we did yoga, we worked on our respective jobs, we giggled like teenagers. I spied on everything in their office, the office I’d only seen bits of in pictures, and got a feel for the inspirations that moved them. My creative energy was flowing and I was in awe. I stayed with Bob and Sarah Lesko, new twitter friends who were ex Yale student/atheltes, previous Gag’s runners, track fans, and Oiselle investors/super fans. We boated in the autumn sun, played guitar, sang songs, and stayed up past 1am talking every night.
Everyone I met was even better than what I imagined from the internet. I’ll never doubt eHarmony again.
Putting it out there
As Sally and I picked sushi off the conveyor belt during our final lunch, we talked about our visions for the future. I didn’t feel guilty about wanting to take a year off to start a family. I felt supported when I talked about the uncertainty of the future, and my commitment to a balanced life, even if that results in 5 seconds off my ultimate super-human 5k potential. Sally talked about her dreams for Oiselle, her passion for her family, a vision of collaboration, and a desire to help shape the sport she loved. Things lined up, dream for dream. We didn’t know how it would work out exactly, but we knew we wanted it to.
At the Running Event in December, I wanted to take one final opportunity to see how Oiselle stacked up next to every other brand that was there, but I couldn’t get myself to do more than browse elsewhere. I tested the gear and hung out with the team. I quizzed all the sales reps that I could, and scoped out the line for 2013. Winner: Oiselle.
So today, Jan 1, of the year “Lucky ’13,” Oiselle and I tie the knot!!! I am so freaking fortunate, grateful, and excited. Sleep has been impossible.
Oiselle’s Official Announcement Video!
To all the Oiselle Ambassadors and fans who have been nudging me (whether you meant to or not) this way for the past couple years…I’m honored to join your team. To the group of women in the Seattle office who make all the magic happen: Sally, Mac, KMet, Kerr, JJ, Czabrina…it’s your fault for being awesome and causing my heart to stray. And to the Lesko’s, all five of you, for being fans, supporters, investors, advisors, and friends: thank you for keeping it real.
And finally, to my family, friends, my ALF readers, commenters, pro running peers, fellow writers, tweeps and internet peeps…thanks for all the inspiration, the sense of community, and for encouraging me to follow my heart.
As Desmond Tutu says,
“A person is a person through other persons.
None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are…”
“Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Press release with more info can be found here!
So I’m in our Picky Bars staff meeting a couple weeks ago.
The way it works is, before the meeting, we all post an outline of the topics we want to discuss on one shared Google doc, and then we work our way through it one person at a time. I’m scanning through the agenda and get to Polster’s section, (our marketing and design guy pictured throughout this blog,) and suddenly blow orange juice out my nose:
Item 7. Media update: hilarious rant on website message board about Lauren leaving Nike because she is making 5 million a year on Picky Bars. Unless of course there is something you should be telling me?
As it turned out, my announcement that I was “peaceably parting ways with Nike” led to several interesting speculations as to why and how it went down.
Let’s back up a second.
Loren’s discovery came form Letsrun.com. It’s the most comprehensive running website with up-to-date news, and the Johnson brothers do a good job of representing both the female and male sides of the sport. The message boards, like all anonymous comment forums, are another story all together.
Stanford had a “no posting policy,” but I used to read the boards in college before I knew better, mostly for a laugh. At first it’s this amazing discovery: People are posting about my sport! They have strong opinions! People actually care! But the second you become “fast,” people start posting about you, with everything from opinions about your training, to a litany of reasons you should be dropped in the middle of the Sahara to die, to debating whether you are “hot,” “cute,” or “lucky to get laid by a zombie.”
At some point, every pro runner decides its best to stay off the boards completely. Six years on the wagon now and I’m not missing anything, I can assure you. That is, except for the gems Polster shared with us.
Back to the Meeting
Polster is not a runner and has no idea what Letsrun is. He stumbled upon the message boards after getting a Google alert and couldn’t believe his eyes. As I mopped the OJ off my laptop, Jesse and I had him read out loud some of the speculative comments so we could have a good giggle. Now I will summarize my favorites and share them with you.
Why Fleshman Left Nike: Myth Busters
#1: She’s making about $5M/year from Picky Bars so she can just run for fun now.
This is the one that resulted in the orange juice nasal squirt. Don’t get me wrong, Picky Bars is doing great but it takes startups several years to be profitable, particularly for the founders. Since the inception of Picky Bars, I’ve made a whopping ZERO dollars. Of course, we hope it leads to something, but for now, it’s not financing my running career.
#2: Her dad works in Hollywood so she has lots of money.
Another classic. Yes my dad worked in Hollywood, as a prop maker. Translation: construction. Translation: working class family living in a 1000 square foot house 50 miles outside of Hollywood with a bitch of a commute. Translation: my inheritance will consist of a sweet 1996 Bose surround sound unit and a potty mouth.
#3.: She’s Jewish.
I assume this is also to imply great wealth. The Fleshman’s may have been Jewish at some point, but if so, it was prior to 1717 when they took the boat from Germany to America as indentured servants to the English Governor of Virginia. True story. But thanks for all the mozel tovs anyway! I’ve considered converting; the Maccabiah Games, AKA Jewish Olympics, are an Olympics I just might be able to qualify for and medal in.
#4: Nike dropped her because she’s pregnant.
This one is partially true: I am pregnant and pregnancy is not part of Nike’s bread and butter marketing plan. But no, there was no dropping, firing, axing, canning, etc.
What Really Happened, The Three Reasons for Moving on:
1. Planning for the future
I’m 31. I don’t bring that up because it means I’m over the hill; I know plenty of 30 somethings who have set PR’s, made Olympics, and kicked my ass when I was in my 20′s. I bring up my age because I’m entering what will be the last stage of my running career, and the prime of when my physical development and career experience overlap. This last contract is special. What will I be left with when it’s over? Bottom line: I want to put my heart into something with more of an upside.
2. The Missing Piece
Nike was a good fit for me for a long time. They supported me financially, gave me world class equipment, and I was part of an elite group of over 200 sponsored track and field athletes and runners worldwide. It was amazing in so many ways. But there was always one area that never quite fit. I’ve always wanted to do more for the sport off the track, helping to make it more accessible…and while there were individuals within Nike who championed that with me, the structure simply didn’t exist to make it happen. Believe me, we tried, multiple times. But the system and complexity of Nike’s structure always got in the way. That’s just part of being a big company. Bottom line: I want a smaller work environment better suited to collaboration.
3. A Philosophical Shift
Lastly, I started to develop a divergent philosophy about sports marketing from Nike’s sports marketing department. My first few years, Nike seemed to value athletes based on a mix of performance, personality, and accessibility. But in the past few years, things shifted. Places and times, records and medals, meant everything. This philosophy makes it easier logistically to manage a budget and create a consistent standard for 200+ athletes and angry agents, and maybe it’s the only way you can manage a group that large. It is undoubtably a fair system. But I think it creates a culture of fear and insecurity rather than enthusiastic, loyal brand ambassadors in a sport where you will always have up and down years. Bottom line: I want a more holistic marketing philosophy I can invest myself in.
The Decision Is Made
All things considered, I survived quite well at Nike. I won two US Championships, made 3 World Track Teams, finished top 5 at the World Cup and top 7 at the World Championships. I ran between 14:58 and 15:02 for 5k 4 times, and under the current Olympic A standard (15:20) 16 times. I also led the USA to a team Bronze medal in XC. But, I had three bad injuries at the wrong time, which left an Olympic sized hole in my resume.
With my 2012 contract coming to an end, and a baby on the horizon, I approached Nike several months ago to talk about my future and my goals. They expressed an interest in keeping me on, at a lower, but still decent salary with room to grow. A good situation. But something had changed. Based on those three main things, I couldn’t get excited about it. Ten years had changed me, and I realized it just didn’t fit anymore.
I have been so lucky to work with incredibly smart, talented people at Nike that I respect immensely. These people blew me away with their creativity and passion, and some will be my friends long after my running career is over. Change is scary, and leaving good people is the hardest part, but developing a vision for what I wanted next helped give me courage.
When I finally got up the guts to tell the boss at Nike, he didn’t put up a fight; he wished me well. The time was probably right for him too. I am, afterall, 31, pregnant, and a pain in the ass. We had a special relationship but I’m sure he won’t miss me always trying to push Nike’s boundaries. Or who knows, maybe he will, just a little bit. Everyone, deep down, wants to be missed.