Tag Archives: women’s sports

Movie Reviews: Half the Road

Last night, my husband and I got offered last minute tickets to see Half the Road, a documentary about women’s professional cycling. I had seen the event advertised but was on the fence about going because I’m not super into professional sports and I don’t really follow pro cycling.  When we were offered the tickets though, it felt like fate and therefore we went.

Well. It turns out there is a reason that I, and probably most of you, am not super into women’s professional cycling.  I thought that most professional sports organizations, the NFL excluded, sort of at least pretended they wanted to see women’s sports succeed and take off.  And then there is cycling, where actually, women’s professional cycling probably could really take off in a way that women’s basketball or soccer might not, and you have a governing organization that is actively discriminating against women in a way that makes no sense.  Like, requiring that women only race half the distance of the men in events.  (I’m not sure the exact rule, but there is also some kind of distance limit of 140 miles, and I’m sorry, but that’s just insulting because I’m pretty sure if I trained really hard I could ride 140 miles and I’m a chubby kid who was picked last in gym class.)  Like requiring that a professional cycling team have 60% of it’s members under the age of 28.  As a 28 year old, this is OUTRAGEOUS.  This, fortunately, was changed in 2013, which means that I can still dream of becoming a professional cyclist and not worrying about being too old, at the age of 29, to break into the sport. (See above, chubby kid, picked last in gym class, but it’s good to have dreams.)

There is also the issue of pay – and this is huge.  Women professional cyclists do not receive a minimum wage. Male professional cyclists do receive a minimum wage.   So most female cyclists work a full time job and they train full time to race.  Yet people are telling them that they couldn’t possibly compete in the Tour de France because it’s too difficult.  Well, maybe it would be easier for them to complete a grueling three-week multistage ride if they could devote all of their time to training.  The average female pro cyclist makes $3,000 a year from cycling.  I don’t know how much your bike cost, but my pretty basic entry level road bike was $600.

As a person who has watched exactly one cycling road race in my life, and it was the extremely exciting 2012 Olympic Women’s Road Race I will now explain why I think women’s cycling is a women’s professional sport that could really make it: it’s hard to tell the difference between women’s cycling and men’s cycling. Even the riders do not look terribly different, when they are on the road, they do not seem any less fast or any less powerful, and it’s not like women’s team sports where the big complaint is “it goes too slowly”.  It’s not like women’s ice hockey where there isn’t as much potential for dramatic fights – women crash in totally ugly ways, just as men do.  People tune into the Tour de France. There is no evidence that suggests that nobody would tune in for a Women’s Tour de France (which used to exist and needs to exist again.)  There is also no evidence that suggests that women couldn’t race with men – look at the Ironman races and Triathlons and Marathons – why do they even need to be separated by gender?  Maybe just let the women in and see how it goes?

Anyway, this is supposed to be a movie review, not just a rant about the incredible sexism rampant in professional cycling.  So, here is the review: this is a movie worth seeing.  It’s not the greatest documentary ever made, as it’s a smidgen long and at times seemed a bit disorganized, but it’s funny and smart and will make you both very impressed and extremely angry.  So! Go see it! There is probably a screening near you sometime soon.  Or order yourself a home copy once they are available.

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Race Report: Nike Women’s Half DC

I had the pleasure of running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in DC yesterday.  

Photo Apr 28, 10 13 50 AM

I had some major reservations coming into this race because: 

1) My training was hampered by a wedding and also by my own laziness, so I was concerned I would have a difficult race.
2) The race seemed pretty disorganized – our acceptance emails went to our spam folders, the website is pretty useless, and we didn’t get an email about packet pickup until the last week; the expo was in Georgetown (nowhere near the race) which is 25 minutes walking from the nearest metro and is impossible to get through on a Saturday evening.  
3) The race was extremely expensive.  Instead of a finisher medal, you get a Tiffany necklace (presented to you by a fireman in a tuxedo), and you also get a pretty nice Nike shirt, and the entrance requires a lottery, and so I convinced myself that the outrageous entrance fee might be worth it just this once.  

We got to the start line on Sunday morning and were extremely pleased that despite the number of runners, there were more than enough bathrooms.  This is a hallmark of women’s races, I have noticed, and also something that makes me not mind a hefty entrance fee.  There was a line for the first set, but if you walked past them, you got to some very clean port-a-pots with no wait.  We checked our bags at the bag check, which was also well organized with no line, and then went to line up.  The corrals were tricky, because they limited the entrance points and it got really, really crowded.  There were waves, but they didn’t stagger the start, which worked really well.  They did require everyone to wear a wristband with their pace on it and told us that we could only go in the corrals we were paced for.  There were 15,000 runners but I didn’t see a single person with a “wrong” colored wristband in our corral, and we were with other “orange” runners the entire time.  

My only other DC race has been The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, which is a similar course, slightly smaller crowd, and similar start line Wave Start – CB has had major issues in the past, particularly with crowds and bathrooms, and I would say the Nike Women’s Half did a better job of managing the crowds.   In Cherry Blossom, runners regularly run with other waves, and also start late because they are in the long line for the bathrooms (much better managed this year though).  

Photo Apr 28, 6 40 06 AM

The course for this race was absolutely beautiful – it started off with the capitol framed in the start line, and we went under the mall in a tunnel (running through the bore in a tunnel has always been a race goal of mine, it was pretty cool), up onto the freeway, and then down around the Washington monument, across the bridge to Arlington and back, and in the direction of Georgetown, then we turned around and came back past the Lincoln memorial and down to Haines Point.  That stretch was pretty long and pretty quiet – this race in general did not have the fantastic crowd that many “hometown” races have – the Mall and sights of DC are not residential areas, so it wasn’t like people just came out to watch the race – they had to make an effort, and the race was awfully early.  There were a few “cheer stations” set up, but the ones towards the end were pretty lackluster.  After Haines point, we started to turn back into the Mall and Capitol, which meant actually getting back on the freeway (which was the WORST – it was straight uphill and it was mile 10) .  We had to go back through the same tunnel, which was a little smelly after 10 miles of sweating, but pretty energizing because the band was still going, and the tunnel was mostly downhill.  We rounded out of the tunnel and started heading towards the finish line – fortunately, you couldn’t see it, so we weren’t upset that we were so close to the finish and still had to run around the capitol.  (We were also emotionally prepared for this, since we studied the course map.)  

Mile 12 was where my body shut down a bit and I lost my pacing.  My running buddy was having knee problems and needed to take longer strides, so I told her to go, and at that point people started passing me and I was struggling.  After we rounded the front of the capitol (we didn’t actually have to run around it, which was great), we started coming down Pennsylvania avenue and you could see the finish line…which I thought would be pretty inspiring and make me run faster, but I was pretty tired and couldn’t breathe enough to pick up the pace any.  The finish line looked so small for so long – you could watch it for about .7 miles, which is a pretty long time to be watching a finish line not get any bigger, especially because the crowd wasn’t really generally supportive, it was a lot of people silently holding signs and cheering only for their own friends or family members when they saw them.  

According to my husband, who was at home, the live runner tracking software actually stopped my marker at the 20k mark until I caught up with it because I was so off my projected pace.  However, I finished in 2:07 so I’m not unhappy with my time – the last mile cost me about 2 minutes, since my friend finished in 2:05.  Still pretty good considering my 11-minute-mile pace in training runs lately.  

The water stops were pretty frequent and well organized – with one huge exception, which is that they were not on a consistent side of the road, and they were not on both sides of the road.  They were serving Nuun instead of gatorade, which made me really excited, but once we were on the course I couldn’t find the Nuun when I wanted it, and then I wound up just wanting water the rest of the time.  Mile 4 had Cliff Shot Blocks, which was awesome – they were cut into 3-block sections of a package, so really easy to grab and get out without getting your fingers sticky, and a manageable amount.  I would have been so happy if they had Shot Blocks later in the race, but instead they served mini-luna-bars, which are okay – we split one, and it was just enough for the rest of the race, and I was happy to get “real food” on the race course but another Shot Blocks station would have been appreciated.  Or a random stranger holding trays of gummy bears, but see above, not a residential race.  

The post race was relatively well organized – we came across the finish line – although this was a big first timer race and the girls in front of me got over the finish line and stopped dead, which meant I actually had to pause right before the final timing mat and then walk around them, which was really annoying.  Anyway, past the annoying girls, across the red carpet (which was a fun touch), I found my running buddy and we made our way to the food line, which was sparse – banana, fruit cup, and bagel, plus a bottle of water, and then we got our finisher T-shirts which were seriously adorable, and our necklaces (I felt so bad for the guys in the tuxes, they must have been pretty warm, although they had not just run 13.1 miles so maybe they were a reasonable temperature.)  We passed out of the official finisher area and then walked around – we got some free samples from Bare Minerals and Paul Mitchell (I could complain about the sexism of a race that caters to women, or I could enjoy my hair product samples and admit that women-friendly stuff was part of why I ran the race).  We then found the Kaiser Permanente Stretching Lounge, which will forever be my Happy Place.  They had strawberry-banana smoothies, water in big infusion jars with lemon, mint, watermelon, and basil cucumber.  We also got stretching bands, stress balls, first aid kits, and washcloths.  The washcloths were the GREATEST THING EVER.  

Photo Apr 28, 9 34 58 AM

We made our way back to the bag check, which was where things were pretty disorganized.  The crowds getting both into and out of the corrals were a mess, and then we still had to fight down the sidewalk on Pennsylvania avenue to bag check, but bag check was again easy, and there was plenty of extra water and Nuun around the bag check, which was great since I was pretty dehydrated, and there were still plenty of fairly clean and available bathrooms.  

On the metro ride back, we debated whether we would run this race again, given the hassle of travel and the extreme cost.  I tend to think that the race was definitely worth it to do once, but I’m not sure that I’ll feel a strong pull towards doing it again.  I definitely am considering the Rock and Roll USA half though -it’s earlier in the year, so less hot, and more residential, so hopefully a better crowd.  I have also loved the GW Parkway Classic in the past, which is a great race and I would also happily do again.  

Have you ever run one of the Nike Women’s Races?  What makes a great half marathon for you?

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One of the things I’ve been finding the most amazing is the sportsmanship in this Olympics.  (Also, I find myself narrating my performance in court these days.  “Vado stays totally cool under pressure, doesn’t interrupt the Judge, doesn’t correct him even though he is currently screaming at her for an error that she did not cause, and now she is going to go negotiate a settlement.”)  But my complex aside, sportsmanship.

There are certain sports where everybody hugs or congratulates each other afterwards with a look of fierce hatred or disappointment still on their face.  It’s especially painful in swimming, where athletes hug before they even get out of the pool, and gymnastics, where the cameras are right in the face and the gymnasts are really struggling not to show too much emotion in any direction.  In swimming, it’s usually the gold medalist hugging the person the edged out by a thousandth of a second to win.  The person who didn’t win is in shock and just wants to get the hell out of there, take a deep breath, and punch something hard.  With the gymnasts, there is a look on their face of “hug me , I just want to get the eff out of here.”  I totally get this.  It’s really hard to shake the hand of the opposing team and say, “good game” at the end of a game that you should have won and didn’t.  It’s even harder to walk out there and shake the hand of the winner when you feel deeply deeply disappointed in yourself.

Then you have the people who are genuinely thrilled to hug the person who won, who is the best in the world.  These are the people who are okay with walking away and saying, “I got a silver medal” or “I’m the tenth fastest person in the world”.  These are the people I find amazing.  My favorite so far is Sam Mikulak, who vaulted, realized he wasn’t going to medal, and said something like, “this guy is gonna tear it up” and then after Yang Hak Seon vaulted, ran up to him and said, “GIVE ME A HUG THAT WAS RIDICULOUS.”  There is something about getting beaten when you were at your best and the other guy was at his best and he’s just that good that it is simply humbling.  I really think it’s impossible not to feel joy at that kind of moment.  I love watching these moments.  It’s probably a big part of why I’m such an Olympics junkie.

In Born to Run, McDougal says, “the reason we race so much isn’t to beat each other but to be with each other.”  This is so true, and I think it leads to true sportsmanship.  When you are one of the best athletes in the world, there are only a few other people who can play at the same level, who can do what you do, and who know what it’s like.  So to get to compete in an event with all of them must be a pretty cool opportunity.  When you cross the finish line, the only people who know how insane what you went through is the other people who crossed behind you.  I keep going back to the women’s road race, when the women all finished and it was just a giant hug fest.  I imagine them saying, “this rain is insane! how do you train in it?” to the British athletes and, “amazing strategy!” to the Dutch riders and “crap timing!” to Shelley Olds, for whom a flat tire pretty much kept her from medaling.  Maybe they were all saying, “Bitch, I hope you die”, but if anyone is that good an athlete and that good an actress, well, it’s just impressive.


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Olympic Fever!

Seriously.  I love the Olympics.  This is for several reasons, but the biggest one is really this: it’s the only time that women’s sports get almost equal billing, get equal viewership, and a whole lotta press coverage.  Sure, it’s also the only time of year that you see handball on TV.
Day to day, women’s sports don’t make it onto ESPN.  It’s possible that they do, and I just don’t know about it, but we all know that nobody watches women’s soccer and softball and that all the NCAA bracket pools are for Men’s.  I don’t really follow sports, except football, and sometimes women’s basketball, so it’s possible that they do get more coverage, but I doubt it.
The other great thing about the Olympics, besides the fact that my morning Chobani is a reminder that I too, could be an Olympic quality athlete, is that we finally get to see really strong women also being billed as totally magazine worthy.  Every few years I seem to get stuck with a subscription to Vogue (it might actually be every four years, because this last happened in 2008) and this year included a cover spread with several female olympic athletes.  And finally, women are famous for more than playing tennis or golf while looking hot.
Take, for example, the women’s cycling race.  This was aired on Sunday morning, and I spent two hours watching it with my jaw open, and then I cried at the end.  68 women cycled for 140 miles, working together as a team, which is really pretty darn awesome.  I didn’t know that about women’s cycling – that it becomes about working together and strategic drafting and cycling of the riders to give each other a break.  The three women that broke away with 30 minutes to go worked together to increase the distance between them and the “Pentalon” (main group of riders), and the Pentalon worked like crazy to try to close the gap.  And the announcers were soooo into it.  It was two men, and they kept talking about how cool and impressive these women were in a really respectful way, which is hard to find in women’s sports, where normally men complain about how boring it is and how slow they are.
Do you have any favorite Olympic sports?  Are you a total junkie like me?  I’ll watch pretty much anything except vollyball, handball, and water polo.


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Race Report: Shamrock Marathon Virginia Beach

We picked the Shamrock Marathon for a couple of reasons:

1) It was in March.  We wanted to train in the winter and run a springtime race because it wouldn’t be so hot to train for or run.
2) It is a pretty big race. We wanted a good crowd of people to keep us going.
3) It was flat.

I’m really really happy we picked Shamrock.  Mostly because of reason number 3, because reasons 1 and 2 turned out to not be so true.   I’ll start at the beginning.

When we woke up, it was pretty mild out.  We got dressed in shorts and t-shirts for the most part, because it was warmer than even the weather report had called for.  We made our way to the start line, which was pretty well organized and had pacers marking every 30 minute interval.  Two of us lined up with the 3:25 group and three of us lined up with the 4:30 group.  There were four starting corrals, but it was unclear what it meant or how they grouped us into them, but it helped keep stuff relatively organized.

We had agreed to start at a 10 minute pace, and we did.  We chugged along nicely behind the 4:30 group and skipped the first water stop (it was on the left, we were on the right, and we didn’t notice it.)  Somewhere around Mile 2 or 3 was the Bridge.  The bridge was the only real hill we encountered on the run.  We were told in advance to not be the sissies that walked over the Bridge, but after running Uwharrie, that bridge was a piece of cake both times we ran it.  After the bridge, we got to the next water stop, where we stopped and noticed that we were already sweating.  There were water stops every mile and a half, which seemed excessive when we first read through the book, but on race day, they were necessary.  The first ten miles took us south of VA beach, through one of the military bases that was there.  This was one of the coolest parts of the race – we got to run past crazy helicopters and all of the enlisted men came out to cheer us on and give us high-fives.  They were fantastic and totally made my day – I always consider military folk to be absolutely the most hardcore, badass people I’ve ever met, and here they were acting like we were awesome.

Around 9.5 miles, we hit the bridge again.  My friend J. fell down and S. stayed with her while I stayed with our pace group (I was too in the zone to see J. fall and we had agreed we would stay with the 4:30 runners and catch up to it if any of us fell behind at a water stop, etc.).  I was still feeling really good at this point.  We ran through downtown Virginia Beach again, through the boardwalk and then out onto Atlantic Avenue and hit the 13 mile mark.  Shortly after that was the 13.1 mark, and we started looking for S’s parents, who were cheering from the sidelines and waving giddily at us.  S’s mom joined us for a few short moments and checked in on how we were all doing.  Once we left them, we started looking for my sister, who I knew was going to camp out around Mile 14.  At Mile 14, there she was, with my husband and my brother-in-law.  I grabbed a handful of gummi bears from them, because my husband was on the other side of the course with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I was able to hang-ish with J. and S. for another two miles, but around Mile 16, J. and I went to the bathroom.  I could feel myself falling back, and I knew I was through the toughest part of the race and it was downhill from there, and I could do it on my own, so I told J. to go ahead and that I’d see them at the finish.  As I powered through Mile 16, I thought about my iPod Shuffle which was in my SpiBelt.  I had put together a playlist for the race, since I knew I would be running at least a portion of it on my own.  I decided that I would break out my shuffle at the next water stop if I really needed to, so I ran for the next mile, enjoying the cheesy shamrock and leprechaun jokes that were on the sides of the race course and enjoying the company of the crowd.  At mile 17, I had a bite of my cliff bar, but couldn’t even get it down because my mouth was so dry and I didn’t have enough water yet.  Around here, I passed the Lululemon race station, which was awesome and they were blasting music and waving signs and cheering everybody on, and we all picked up the pace for a bit at that.  At this point, I settled into a groove, but it was hard to ignore how much I was hurting.

Thanks to an utterly fantastic tape job on my knee by E’s husband, my right knee, which would usually be bothering me by now, wasn’t at all, but everything was just starting to hurt.  I was pleased to notice that my toenails weren’t hurting yet, which was good.  At mile 18, I thought with relief, “ah, only 6 more miles” and then realized that I cannot do math.  Around here, we went through Ft. Story, which my friend warned me was really boring.  It was true.  There was virtually no-one here, and we were all low on energy and just trying to get through to the end.  And it was HOT.  It was really hot out.  It was whatever my temperature threshold where I have to run slower because I get sick running fast in the heat.  One rest stop around Mile 20 had a table of food, including bananas, which I snagged, and jelly beans, which I tried to eat but instead got rid of.  I started walking at the water stops plus a bit at this point, because I was just feeling so leaden, but I realized pretty quickly that my body hurt more if I tried to walk than running, but my lungs hurt more if I ran.  So I kept running.  And I ran most of the way until Mile 23, which I knew would put us back on the crowd-heavy part of the course.

Around Mile 22-23 we came out of Ft. Story and back into the residential part, which wasn’t nearly as crowded as earlier – because a lot of people had finished, and even more people had gone to watch their racers cross the finish line, but I knew that my team was still going to be at Mile 25, so I kept going.  I wanted to look strong for them, and I felt like it was very important that I not let them down by walking the last three miles.  I felt my toenails and my feet felt so swollen.  My back had started to hurt, and my calves and hamstrings were incredibly tight.  I was running at the same pace that several people around me were walking at.

At Mile 25, I was relieved to see that my sister was dressed in her running capris and her green t-shirt from our wedding weekend 5k.  She had told me she was bringing running clothes in case I needed a pacer, but I wasn’t sure she’d be ready.  I’ve never been so happy to see her, and as I passed them, I said, “are you coming?” and she jumped out to join me.  She gossiped with me, let me complain about my back, ankles, feet, legs, everything else, and got me through the last mile.  As we tore towards the finish line, she hopped off to the fenced in spectator areas and I crossed at 4:55 clock time (4:48 chip time) and hobbled to pick up my medal, hat, sweatshirt, and then got handed water, gatorade, a banana, and a shamrock shaped cookie.

I expected to feel something huge and powerful after finishing.  I expected it to feel as emotional as finishing Uwharrie.  I expected to let an incredible sense of accomplishment wash over me.  Instead, I just felt tired, and I felt a desperate need to put on the crocs I knew were in my dry bag.  My sister met up with me and got me my crocs and then we walked over to the beer tent and met up with everybody else.  Team in Training was selling cokes and I bought one and downed it, and after that I started to feel better.  We all hung out at the tent for a bit and then hobbled back to our hotel (Holiday Inn Express – can’t recommend it enough – clean, reasonably priced, nice showers, comfortable beds) where three of us made quick work of a bag of potato chips (my favorite post-race food, and especially important for our gluten-free friend.)  We also realized that we were all sunburned and chafed (I will write more about what to pack in your marathon race bag later.)

So that’s that.  I get to check it off my 30×30 list, and make a nifty race-medal/bib shadowbox, and put a sticker on my car, and all of those other annoying marathon-y things that people do.  And I think, much like being married and being a lawyer and being 26, being a marathon runner is something that I have to settle into a bit, because it is kind of huge.



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Women, Sports, and Religion.

I came across two articles shared by friends on Facebook this morning – one about the Iranian soccer team, and one about an Israeli basketball player.

The t-shirt one is just a stupid rule, since our college basketball team definitely had a guy who wore a t-shirt under his basketball jersey for non-religious reasons, and as long as the t-shirt is close fitting, it can’t possibly pose a safety issue.

But the poor Iranian soccer team!  Women’s soccer is fascinating to me, not as a sport, but as a marker of success in a society.  That the US Men’s Soccer team is somewhat considered a joke, and everybody is surprised if they win anything; but the US Women’s team is one of the best teams in the world and continually dominates other countries?  That’s not a demonstration of our soccer prowess, it’s a demonstration of the status of women, and more importantly, women’s sports in the US.  Without Title IX, our success in women’s sports wouldn’t be possible, and that’s not a realization other countries have come to.  (I desperately want to do more research into this issue, since I find it fascinating.)

The other thing that bothers me is the “safety” concerns.  Women all over the world play sports wearing headscarves, and although many have been banned for safety concerns, I could not find a single incident report in which a headscarf actually caused an injury.  The commenter on this Daily Mail piece says that the headscarves could get twisted around the women’s necks, but if you look at the pictures, the head covering doesn’t go around their necks.  The worst that could happen is the covering falls off on the soccer field.  It also would fall off immediately if it was grabbed by another player – but female soccer players do not, to the best of my knowledge, engage in hair-pulling, so there is no reason to believe that they would engage in scarf-pulling either.

The thing about this that is kind of funny to me is that I play a sport in which wearing head coverings is totally encouraged.  We wear helmets, and under our helmets we wear bandannas, beanies, headbands, or other coverings.  (I myself am a huge fan of Bondi Bands.) However, it’s probably not that possible for the women of Iran to take up ice hockey because it allows them to cover their heads.

The ban is also on “religious dress”, which just seems bigoted to me.  It seems to me like the officals are trying to punish the government and the women for being Muslim to force some kind of change.  Ironically, if you encourage women’s sports and women’s empowerment, you do create change in the social structure and eventually the government.  But FIFA doesn’t seem to care about that.

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