Tuesday, March 20, 2018

My First Marathon: From the Stadium to the Sea with SRLA

My goal for the year was to run my first marathon with my middle school's Students Run LA team. Ever since I heard about this program, I knew the only way I would ever run a marathon was if I was training with kids. So, when our school got the grant to start a team this year, I was off and running.

All summer I worked to trim time off my 5K and 10K paces. But in January, just as the runs started getting longer, and after a brutal cold/flu hit the Nakada-Gantt household, my speed started to taper and I plateaued.

This, along with longer distances, probably contributed to the development of hip pain that started out as post-run soreness, but quickly became an injury I worried would keep me from running/finishing my first attempt at 26.2 miles.

I rested for the last couple of weeks before the race, and my massage-therapist-sister worked on my IT band, quad and knee, on the days leading up to the big day, so I felt like I could make a go of it.

With these kids pushing me, and David leading the way, I started running away from Dodger Stadium. At first, I didn't feel too bad. As we made our way out of downtown, however, I started to look forward to those downhill stretches a little too much.

By Hollywood, I was in considerable pain with each step and suffered through each mile even as I tried to enjoy it. Seeing friends and family along the route definitely helped propel me down the road and the spirit of our diverse city reminded me that I love LA! Mile 21, though? Yeah, that whole mile sucked.

But I finished. I ran slower than I wanted, (my goal was 4:20, which was the time it took Kathrine Switzer when she was the first woman to run Boston 50 years ago) and this pace definitely took a toll on my body. But with my Students Run LA team chasing me, I had to keep going.

At 5:10, I crossed the finish line, and I clearly need to learn to run more efficiently, because my running app clocked me at over 27 miles! 

I think our SRLA team is all going to run it again next year, so here's to running faster. Maybe next year I will make that time goal.

Thanks for all of the support through this long grind: family, friends, and everyone who came out to the race to support. But mostly, thanks to SRLA. This organization is changing lives. If you are looking for a great non-profit to support, head over to Students Run LA and consider a donation. Maybe you'll help some lucky kid find a coach like Mr. Tarula who will inspire you with a mid-marathon speech about marathon running as an allegory for life.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Throwing Cookies in 2017

I only posted here three times this year, but that was more than I've posted in the past three years, so that's something.

Unfathomably, the blog which has received and continues to receive the most clicks is "How to Heal an Achilles Tendon" from 2013. Somehow over 500,000 people have visited that post.

This year's posts have averaged about 200 visits each with my post about Sloane Stevens' US Championship topping the list. Then, there was my post about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, followed by my post about marathon training.

I didn't write about the Dodgers making it to the World Series. Their loss to the Astros broke my heart, and reminded me how hard it is to have a horse in the race. It's exciting, but exhausting. Still love my boys in blue, and like every off-season, there is the optimism of waiting until next year.

I've continued to boycott the NFL, and listened with pride as a student-athlete of mine wrote about taking a knee for a speech and debate tournament. Her original oratory took home first place, and hopefully inspired others to reflect on the promises and failures of our nation.

Sloane is sidelined again with a knee injury, but she posts adorable photos of her and boyfriend/soccer star: Jozy Altidore.

And I'm still training and trying to get faster. I posted my best 10K time this past week and am feeling pretty healthy post-holiday (we'll see how I feel after Cabo next week). I'm looking forward to March and running my first LA Marathon with our Students Run LA team.

SRLA Team Emerson! 
And that's about it. Oregon football struggled, but Oregon hoops on both the men's and women's sides looks promising, so I still say, go Ducks.

I also recently learned about Left Wing FĂștbol which may change my entire life and perspective on competition. Their unofficial motto is: We change the way we play to change the world, but that can wait for a future blog post. Oh, and following my niece Nicole's basketball career (she's a junior this year) is something I plan to write about in the next year. We will all have to wait to see where she decides to take her talents for college.

Monday, September 25, 2017

NFL 2017 Season: Taking a Knee and Taking a Stand

I was in the middle of my junior year basketball season when Operation Desert Storm began. It was then, as I stood for the National Anthem as a player, followed by "Proud to Be an American" (a song many of opponents played before games to show support of the troops) that I considered turning my back or sitting down before the game. My parents probably would have supported me, and some of my teammates. I know I would have met hostility from the crowd (if they even noticed my protest) but for several weeks, during every playing, by a band or something prerecorded, I stood there, wishing I was more brave, expecting more of myself. I didn't sing along or salute during this time when I disagreed whole-heartendly with our country's military action, but I didn't take a knee. I stood at attention.

I haven't been watching the NFL this season. I was inspired by this Cowboys fan who isn't watching until Colin Kaepernick has a job.

Some of you might think boycotting the NFL is no big deal. Maybe you don't watch it, or maybe you turned your back on the league long ago. That would be understandable, but until this season, I still watched. In our home, the NFL is tuned to the Red Zone every Sunday, and it's Sunday Night, Monday Night, and Thursday Night Football. But with Kap out of a job, and the league still not taking care of its aging players, (this ESPN article captures the realities NFL families face in retirement) it felt good to take a stand this season, to say, "No, I can't watch this game knowing that the league's owners and management care so little for its players."

And then Trump decided to put his two-cents in during a campaign speech.

Not only does he call protester's mother's bitches, not only does he call for them to be fired, but he also shows no regard for the health of these athletes. They are expendable. They are not worthy of constitutional rights or protection from bodily harm.

So, this week, what is it, week 3? I still didn't watch, but I am proud of all of the players who #StandwithKap and #TakeAKneeNFL because police brutality in America must be addressed. Our country needs to do better. It isn't about the flag. It isn't about the military. This is about a country that is denying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to Black Americans, and if you boo people exercising their right to protest, if you don't understand why this is important, you haven't made an honest effort to consider what it is like to be Black in America. They are taking an enormous risk, and knowing how I struggled to take a tiny one as a high school athlete, I doubt they are taking this lightly. Just listen to Dolphin's Safety Michael Thomas.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Running for Time

My fitness goals last year were to shed the last few pounds of baby-weight from Gabe, and to improve my speed and strength. I wanted to try to do this while writing and reading more, working full-time, and parenting. So, this meant running 2-3 days a week (some days pushing the double-wide stroller) and playing while coaching at work.

Thankfully, Mr. Tarula joined our Sports Academy last year, and he started a running club. We trained a couple of days a week and ran a 10K in Santa Monica this past December. This helped me get more runs in and get my pace down to 9 minute miles.

This year, Mr. Tarula wrote and obtained a Students Run LA grant. This amazing non-profit helps middle and high school students prepare for and run the LA Marathon. Yep, you know what that means: I will be training for my first marathon with a bunch of middle schoolers, and on March 18, I will run 26.2 miles. So, I've been running, trying to get down to an efficient running pace, so that I can complete the marathon this year in 4 hours, 19 minutes (that's just ahead of the time Katherine Switzer, first woman to run the Boston Marathon fifty years ago.)

I've got six more months to train and a team of middle schoolers to help get me there. Strength training and yoga will hopefully help me avoid injury and make me faster and stronger. I'll let you know how this aging athlete, Achilles-repaired late-to-running runner does. Wish us all luck!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

U.S. Open Champion Sloane Stevens

A teenage-Sloane in 2010. 
During the summer of 2010, I had the chance to go to Wimbledon. It was my first visit to a Grand Slam event, and although I didn't have a ticket to see Serena in her semi-final match, I did have the chance to catch an upcoming American on one of the outside courts.

Sloane Stephens lost in three sets that day, but I've been following her career ever since. It also helped that I met her mom and taught her brother who attended my middle school several years ago. Her brother has a big personality, and I got to coach him in baseball, teach him English, and help him plan for the future in our Emerson Sports Academy. 

That spring, in 2011, Sloane climbed the ranks and qualified for the main draws at the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. So, when I saw her outside of my school on a spring afternoon, I congratulated her on her success. She smiled and was kind, and I continued to be a fan. I watched her beat Serena at the Australian in 2013, and hoped that would be the moment when Sloane would break into the top 10 to stay. But Sloane was inconsistent and struggled with injuries. 
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Her brother came back to visit a couple years ago, as he was graduation from high school and heading off to college. He wrote me a note using the Cornell Notes we'd forced them to do in Sports Academy. It was one of those wonderful moments in teaching when you get to see phenomenal growth in a young person.

So, this afternoon, after 11 months away from the game, I cried watching Sloane climb into the stands to hug her coach and mom after winning her first Grand Slam title. Her journey has brought her maturity and positivity on the court that she was missing earlier in her career. It was wonderful to see such phenomenal growth in Sloane. I hope this is the first of many victories for her. As always, I'll be pulling for her!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Happy National Championship Game Day!

A year ago, I was so stressed out about our Ducks being in the National Title game. The victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl was awesome, but then there was that long wait for a match-up against Ohio State. There were suspensions and endless commentary and then the game itself got out of hand early.

It was no fun. I'm sure if we'd won I'd be nostalgic about the whole thing. But we lost. So, this bowl season I really didn't care all that much. Even after that oh-so-painful, triple-overtime, Alamo Bowl loss, I was like, "Meh. It's just the Alamo Bowl." It might have actually been harder if Vernon Adams hadn't gotten hurt, if we had continued to roll making me wonder, what if Adams had been healthy all season? Could we have made the playoffs with just a loss against Michigan State? But Adams got hurt, and Oregon's second string drop off is Grand-Canyon-Lethal.

So, tonight I'll sit back and watch Clemson and Alabama after getting the kids to bed. I'll root against the SEC and enjoy the spectacle. This season I've realized that sometimes it's a whole lot easier not to have a duck in the fight.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Oregon Football, Jameis Winston, and Institutional Handling of Sexual Assault Accusations

Jeff Gross/Getty Images 
While basking in the last few minutes of the Oregon victory over Florida State in the first college play-off game, I posted this article from The Nation: A Reality of Their Own: Jameis Winston, Rape and Seminole Fandom at Florida State. I was proud of Oregon's win, but I also felt so relieved because finally the good guys won.

Then, as the Ducks celebrated, they were criticized for chanting "No Means No" to the rhythm of the Seminole war chant. Coach Helfrich stated these players would face discipline and although I haven't heard what discipline would be given, it's ironic that these players, who were celebrating a victory by rubbing an opponent's face (not very sportsman-like) and weren't likely providing a display of support for Winston's victim, will face more formal discipline than Winston ever will.

I wish I could say these players, and the Oregon fans who also chanted "No Means No," were providing a thoughtful critique of FSU's mishandling of rape accusations and their use of a racist chant, but in this testosterone charged college football bowl game atmosphere, this was likely more fueled by alcohol and adrenaline than political commentary.

Still, at Oregon, students and student athletes are well-aware of what sexual assault accusations look like and how they can be handled. U of O students protested and forced the hand of administration to  act on sexual assault charges brought against three U of O basketball players. Just like the Winston case, the district attorney never brought charges, but that is when the athletic department and University stepped in. Not only were these three players were dismissed from the team, they were later suspended from Oregon for as long as the victim attended.

Our colleges and universities and their associated athletic programs have a great deal to learn about how to create safe campuses for women, but at least U of O is moving in the right direction. Once again, go Ducks!