Me, too

Elementary school, age seven. I am at the Smoky City Folk Festival with my mother and little brother, who is five. We are running around in a grassy area near the stage while my mother sits a bit farther back on a blanket on the grass, listening to the music. A man comes up to me and starts asking me questions, trying to lure me away. I don’t remember exactly what he says, but I have been told about strangers and what they want to do to little girls. I run back to my mother. The man follows, saying to her, “You make beautiful children.” My mother mumbles an awkward, “Thank you,” gathers up the blanket, takes my brother and me by the hands, and hurries us away.

Middle school, age thirteen. My breasts begin to develop when I am eleven years old, in sixth grade, earlier than most of the other girls in my class. By eighth grade my chest is large enough to draw attention and nicknames from boys, including “Juggers” and “J-6” (the boys think this is an enormously clever play on bra sizes). Boys call these nicknames out to me as I walk down the hall. I tell myself this is a compliment and feel vaguely popular in certain circles, although definitely not part of the “popular” crowd.

Freshman year, age fourteen. I am pursued by a senior, the lead in the high school musical. I am a late bloomer. I have never been kissed, but am bowled over by his attention. He pulls me into a dark, hidden corner in the cafeteria and all of a sudden I have been kissed. He pushes his tongue into my mouth and I feel like my body isn’t my own, like I am hovering above the action, watching some other girl get kissed. He drives me home from rehearsals and parks on a dark dead end street so we can make out, him trying to get his hands inside my shirt and pants until I finally push him away, saying I have to get home. Fortunately, he stops and drives me to my house. There will be more nights like that, frantic groping and kissing in the back seat of a car, me letting him touch me and feeling totally disconnected from what is happening with my body, wondering if this is how it is supposed to work. A few weeks later he drops me entirely, leaving me wondering what I did wrong.

Sophomore year, age fifteen. I work at a stable in a nearby town every summer. The managers have two grown sons. One afternoon the older of the two isolates me in a stall and begins kissing the back of my neck. I let him. While I don’t think I encourage him, I also don’t tell him to stop. I feel like it says something about my own attractiveness to have this older, good looking man pay attention to me. He is more than twice my age. I feel nervous and eventually push him away, walking out of the stall. Luck is on my side again. He lets me go.

Junior year, age sixteen. I get asked to the senior prom by the boy I am dating. I am still a late bloomer, though, and after it becomes clear that I am not going to have sex with him, he breaks up with me a few weeks before the prom, leaving me with a shiny strapless metallic teal ruffled dress and nowhere to go. My friend’s older brother ends up inviting me to go as his date. I accept, but spend the evening removing his hands from various parts of my body; apparently me accepting his invitation to the prom means he has expectations of certain privileges.

Senior year, age seventeen. Two exchange students from Spain called Chris and Pat come to my high school for a semester. Although I don’t really interact with these boys, my male friends quickly coin new nicknames for my breasts: Caress and Pat. These nicknames come with accompanying hand action from the speakers, first a “caress,” then a pat to my breasts. Over my four years in high school my breasts and ass are grabbed and groped more times than I can count. I tell myself that these sorts of attentions are compliments and signs that boys find me attractive.

College, age twenty. The summer between my junior and senior year of college I get a job at an Osprey reintroduction program. This is my first “real” job in my field, and something that paved the way for much that has come since. One of the project leaders is an area lawyer, in his fifties. He showers me with compliments and says he wants to help me with my career. One day at our semi-remote field site we are sitting at the picnic table and he offers to pay for something for me–it is enough money that I don’t feel comfortable accepting, and tell him that. He then offers to pay for a fishing license so I could catch fish for the Osprey chicks I am raising and asks, “Will you let me do that for you?” The price is $20; I don’t know how to say no anymore, so I accept even though I don’t want to take anything from him. I have long hair that I wear in a braid. He says, “Your hair is beautiful. You should never wear it in a braid. You should always wear it down.” I mutter something about how I always wear it in a braid when I am working and somehow get myself away from him. I keep working there all summer, but spend my time making sure that I am never alone with this man again.

Post college. I graduate and after a number of years of working a variety of jobs, I end up in southeastern Arizona. My then-boyfriend and I start a project working on conservation projects with rural landowners in northern Mexico. For three years we build relationships with people in the local communities. I teach classes in the elementary school. We take people on birding field trips. I cook with the women. They teach me how to make menudo. I teach them how to make lasagne. I babysit their children. We are friends.

One of the landowners lives in Phoenix but comes to the small town where we are working every few months to visit family and check on his property. Every time I greet the landowner, he kisses me on the mouth. When I mention this to my boyfriend, he remarks, “Yes, I noticed. Isn’t that nice? It’s a real sign of trust.” I don’t say that it makes me uncomfortable, wondering if it IS actually a sign of trust and acceptance.

The last time I see the landowner is in the living room of his cousin’s house. Also in the room are his wife, cousin, his cousin’s wife, and various children. The room is full of people. He greets me with a kiss on the mouth, but this time, he also grabs and squeezes my left breast. It happens so quickly I almost can’t believe he did it. I am so stunned I have no response at all. When I later tell my boyfriend, he says, “What do you want me to do about it? I can’t say anything–it would ruin my relationship with him. Just think of it as a compliment.” I never return to the community, but spend lots of time imagining the response I wish I had given, in Spanish and English. My boyfriend and I eventually break up, for reasons not entirely unrelated to his attitude in this situation.

Recently, on the Metro in Washington, D.C. I am on my way to a meeting during morning rush hour. People are crammed into the subway car, with little room to move. I am standing up, holding onto a pole in the middle aisle. A man is standing uncomfortably and unnecessarily close to me. I suddenly become aware that he has an erection, and that it is pressing firmly into my back. I move as best I can, shifting over several inches to escape him. He follows. I move again. He follows. I move a third time. He follows a third time. I get off at the next stop even though it isn’t anywhere close to my destination and it makes me late for my meeting.

Anywhere, anytime. I am running in the early morning before the summer heat gets too intense. A car drives by. The driver honks and hollers something obnoxious out his window at me about my legs and what he wants me to do with them. It is apparently supposed to be a compliment. I am startled out of my focus and the podcast I am listening to by the horn, but ignore him and try to keep running. As I continue, I look around nervously, trying to figure out my plan of escape should he come after me, plotting which house I can pretend is mine, pulling my keys out of my pocket so I can use them as a weapon if I have to. He drives on. My heart races, and it isn’t because I have been running. Maybe I shouldn’t run with headphones anymore, I think, to be safer and more aware of people like this.

Everywhere, all the time. I am walking down the street. A man I have never seen before in my life catcalls. I ignore him and keep walking. He starts yelling insults at me. “What, are you too good for me, you stuck up cunt? Fuck you! You deserve to be raped, you mother fucking whore!” I walk faster, heart pounding, hoping I make it to my destination before he catches up to me, hoping he will lose interest, blaming myself for walking down the street alone even though it is broad daylight, blaming myself for deciding to turn left at that intersection to take the short cut instead of staying on the main street.

Me, too. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too.

Some of my friends, especially those of you from high school, may recognize yourself in this essay. I invite you to read the post below by Christopher Golden and ask yourself: What have I done? How have I contributed to this situation in the world today? Own it.

If the first word of your response begins with, “But…” then please take a deep breath and be quiet.

Then ask yourself: How can I be better? How can I teach my sons, or anyone’s sons, to be better? How can I teach my children, or anyone’s children, that this is not okay under any circumstances? How can I teach my daughters, or anyone’s daughters, that they never, ever have to convince themselves that this sort of behavior is acceptable, or that it is some sort of twisted compliment, or that they are somehow to blame for someone else’s shitty behavior.

And when the women in your life tell you, “Me, too,” the response is simple. Tell them, “I believe you.” (h/t to the amazing Lara B. Sharp for this last bit, as well as the picture at the top of this post and the link to the status below.)

Unexpected in May

tl;dr: A picture of John and Nina is included in a new John Prine video! Link at bottom of post.

This February John Prine had an Instagram photo contest where he asked his fans to post photos of themselves and their significant other, with the hashtag #inspiteofourselves for a new photo video of his duet with Iris Dement of his song by the same name. John and Nina were in Turks and Caicos and had just posted the selfie below. On a whim (and without asking for their permission), on Valentine’s Day I uploaded the picture to my Instagram for the contest and promptly forgot about it.

About a week later, as it happened, I was in Greensboro for an unplanned visit (that’s a whole other post). Nina had entered hospice. She was well enough at that point for visitors. Family and friends were crammed into the room, no one wanting to leave, all of us taking comfort in being with her, and being together. I was playing guitar and we were all singing. The playlist with me, Nina, and John always includes some JP–we even sang In Spite of Ourselves. At one point during a break I looked at my phone and saw that I had a message on Instagram–from John Prine (okay, let’s be real–I know it was from his people) saying that the photo I had submitted had been selected as a contest winner and would be included in the video if I gave permission. I turned to John and Nina in excitement and told them about the contest; they were perhaps a little nonplussed (see what I did there, readers of The Bright Hour?), but fortunately said it was fine, and so I wrote back to say hells yes you can use the photo in the video.

That was the last day Nina was well enough for visitors beyond immediate family. She died five days later and once again I forgot about the contest and video entirely.

This morning I got an email from John Prine(‘s people) with a link to the finished product. Although it is tiny, it is still amazing that this photo of JAD and NER will go on, forever linked to one of our favorite musicians. As I said when I entered the photo in the contest, if anyone deserves to end up sitting on a rainbow, it is these two.

Anyway, that is a really, really long way of saying: here is the video! You have to look close (and maybe hit pause) to find it, but the picture is in there. Here are a few hints:

Can you see it?


How about now?

Now see if you can spot it in action:


Yesterday afternoon I donated blood over at The University of Arizona. As I walked back toward my office afterward, I paused at an installation on the mall–hundreds of flags represented the millions of people killed during the Holocaust. They brought in cattle cars to show how small and nightmarish it would have been to be transported in something like that. At the west end of the mall they had set up a small stage and podium, with thirty or so chairs set before it. Although all of the chairs were empty, a young man was standing at the podium reading the names of Holocaust victims into a microphone. I stood listening for a minute or two and then sat down in one of the empty chairs to be a witness. Hearing the unending list of names, ages, and countries of those who had been killed was heartbreaking. I thought about the current climate of our country, of the world, and how the horror of the Holocaust doesn’t seem that far away. How this is still happening in the world, and even in our own country. How easy it is to go on with our lives if we aren’t directly affected by the terrible things happening before our eyes. 

On a whim I turned on the recording app on my phone to capture a minute of the young man’s voice. By sheer coincidence, the next two names he read were those of three-year-old Zena Plotkin and 10-year-old David Plotkin from Ukraine. My grandmother was a Plotkin. My mother is half Plotkin. I am one fourth Plotkin.

After about ten minutes another young man came onto stage to take his turn reading names.

I quietly stood up and walked away, wiping tears from my eyes. Although I know he continued to read names, by the time I got around to the other side of Old Main, the young man’s amplified voice had faded away. People played frisbee on the grass and walked to class.

Race Report: 2015 Nike Women’s Half Marathon

The down side to running back-to-back races is that you have back-to-back race reports to write. I am, as usual, a bit behind in blogging. Way behind.

On October 18, 2015 I ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. I’ve run the full marathon here five times, but last year they changed it to a half, so this was my first time doing the shorter distance. Although some parts of the course were vaguely the same (it still started in Union Square), it was pretty much all new. Golden Gate Park was still in the race, but we ran in the opposite direction, so parts that used to be uphill were downhill and vice versa. It was familiar, but also totally different, if that makes sense.

This was also my first time doing the race on my own and not as part of Team In Training. I found a great place to stay at the San Francisco Downtown Hostel and managed to get a plane ticket with frequent flyer miles, so even though it was an expensive race in terms of the registration, the overall cost of the weekend was pretty reasonable.

The hostel was right around the corner from both the start line of the race as well as the race packet pick up, so I couldn’t have asked for anything more convenient. I had a room that was shared with three other women, two of whom were also running the race, so that was also good. The hostel is set up wonderfully for travelers. Our room had two sets of bunk beds and a private bathroom. Each bed had a box where you could lock up your luggage (bring your own lock). The headboard of each bed was also decked out for technology, with a light, a standard outlet, and two USB ports. They also served breakfast every morning, included in the price of the room–fresh bagels, fruit, oatmeal, etc. (I paid around $50/night for my shared room–for comparison, my total cost for three nights at the hostel was less than the cost for a single night at any of the hotels in the immediate vicinity. It was a real deal). I definitely recommend it if you are looking for a comfortable, clean budget option.

I flew in the Friday morning before the race. After I picked up my race packet I hoped on BART and rode out to Berkeley, where my friend Myong-Jae picked me up and took me to his house in the North Bay for the evening. I hadn’t seen him in many years and it was great to catch up and play a little music.

Nike always does this great display on the outside window of Niketown at Union Square with the names of all of the people racing.

Nike always does this great display on the outside window of Niketown at Union Square with the names of all of the people racing.

For the first time my name was down low enough that I could stand next to it.

For the first time my name was down low enough that I could stand next to it.

Saturday morning I got up early and walked around the corner to Union Square for a Nike-led shake out run. There was a huge group there–hundreds and hundreds of women. I didn’t know anyone but introduced myself to a few people in my corral (they had us organized by something–maybe pace? Not sure). We ran a couple of miles through the streets of San Francisco and it felt good to move a little bit after traveling the day before.

I had lots of plans to visit with friends, but all of the visits stacked up on Sunday, so I spent the rest of Saturday walking around San Francisco. According to Google maps, Fishermen’s Wharf was about a mile and half from the hostel. What I didn’t realize until I was about .5 miles into the walk was that it was all uphill for the first mile and then all downhill the rest of the way. My calves were not happy, and it was probably not the smartest thing to do the day before a half marathon, but there you have it.

I just walked up that.

I just walked up that.

A bit of birding at Fisherman's Wharf.

A view of Alcatraz.

I made it to the wharf and walked around slowly–I had my binoculars with me, so I did a bit of birding, looking towards the Golden Gate Bridge, ate some ice cream, and then decided to walk the long way home, along the water, so avoid those hills. I ended up walking more than 6 miles, but I think it was better than tackling the hills again.

The route I took back to the hostel was longer, but flat.

The route I took back to the hostel was longer, but flat.

I got some takeout for dinner and headed to bed. I’d finally started reading Born To Run a few days earlier and was down to the final couple of chapters. Even though I knew I needed to get to sleep, I couldn’t stop reading it and stayed up a little too late just so I could finish. In my defense, staying up too late reading an inspiring book about long distance running the night before a long distance race seems reasonable.

Flat Jennie, ready for the race.

Flat Jennie, ready for the race.

Sunday morning dawned bright and early. I got dressed, grabbed my banana and a bagel I’d bought the day before, and headed around the corner to the start. Holy moly–so many women! I found my start corral and got in line for the bathrooms. That’s my strategy, whether I have to go or not: get in line, go, and get in line again. With about fifteen minutes to the start time I checked my gear bag and made my way into my corral. As I was standing there I noticed another woman in a Oiselle singlet–I can’t remember her name anymore, but I think she said she was from Portland. We chatted for a few minutes as we waited for the race to start.

The start line

The start line

Randomly meeting a Oiselle teammate in my start corral: fantastic.

Randomly meeting a Oiselle teammate in my start corral: fantastic.

This race was way, way more crowded than I remember any other Nike race being. It was hard to settle into my pace. I found myself weaving around people left and right, jumping over trolley tracks, and hopping up and down curbs to try to find a little bit of clear room. There were also some early hills around mile 2 that got the old ticker pumping. These miles were slower than I was hoping, but at least I was warmed up.

Mile 1: 10:28
Mile 2: 9:53
Mile 3:10:18

By here things had thinned out some and I was finally able to settle in and run my race. It helped that these miles were either flat or downhill, but either way, I was able to make up for some lost time in those first few miles. This section of the race took us through Golden Gate Park. It was definitely a part of the park where I’d run in years past, but mostly going the other direction, so what had been uphill before was downhill instead. It was still beautiful and the wide roads let everything spread out even more.

Mile 4: 9:33
Mile 5: 9:30
Mile 6: 9:00
Mile 7: 9:09

Things got a little weird here, as the race organizers started shifting part of the runners around to an alternate course for a few blocks before meeting back up with the main group. I was at the front of the “alternate” group, so I had the weird sensation of feeling like I was in the front of the race for a few blocks. Basically they had us run around the other edges of the block, if that makes sense. I guess it helped thin things out a bit? Not sure, but it made it really hard to stick with my pace group, which got split up.

Mile 8: 9:49
Mile 9: 10:02

Around mile 9.5 we entered the Presidio. And Mile 10? Holy moly. I knew there was hill here, but damn! This was a long, steep 1 mile climb straight up. I was thanking my lucky stars for all of the times I’d run A-Mountain and done Via Entrada repeats. I went for it, though, passing lots of people who slowed down to walk. I remembered Coach Mark’s advice from way back in 2005, talking me through the hills at Sabino Canyon and giving me tips to keep my body moving. And it helped. It was a hard climb, but I never felt like I needed to stop and when I looked at my time, I was shocked to see that I’d run it in 10:19.

Climbing the hill.

Climbing the hill.

And at the top of the hill, my gosh, what a view! The Golden Gate Bridge was down below us, breathtakingly beautiful. It was a great reward after a tough climb. I couldn’t resist and stepped to the side to snap a quick picture and then quickly started running again–this time downhill.

Quick view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the hill.

Quick view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the hill.

Mile 10: 9:30
Mile 11: 10:19

My legs were eating up the downhill miles and I ran this in 8:56. I was feeling really strong and knew I had some kick left for the final push. When I hit the 20k mark I knew it was time to kick, and for once my legs responded. I ran the last mile in 8:47 and pushed to the finish, buoyed by the cheers.

Mile 12: 8:56
Mile 13: 8:47
Mile 13.1: 2:12

The only decent race photo of me in existence.

The only decent race photo of me in existence.

Finish time: 2:07:30. Nowhere near my PR, but I was just hoping to run under 2:15 so I was thrilled with this. More than that, I felt like this was my first long race where I had a strategy and it worked–my body didn’t crap out early and I had enough kick at the end to really run it in. My last two miles were the fastest. Ending a half marathon with your fastest mile is a good feeling. There’s strategy to training and racing, and I’m still working on figuring it out even after a lot of years of running.

Goldfish crackers: an excellent post-race snack.

Goldfish crackers: an excellent post-race snack.

It was weird to be on my own at the finish line–normally I’d go over to the Team In Training tent to check in and meet up with my teammates. I got some food, picked up my checked gear, and walked over to the shuttle to take me back to the hotel (aside: they had us walk probably three quarters of a mile to get to the shuttle–come on, Nike. You can do better).

There was a beautiful view of the Golden Gate from the finish line.

There was a beautiful view of the Golden Gate from the finish line.

Although I was feeling kind of alone at the finish line, almost as soon as I crossed I had a text from my running pal Sergio. He’d been tracking my progress all morning and sent me this awesome screen shot (below), along with some wonderfully kind words. Funny how a few texts can change your whole perspective.


The rest of Sunday I spent visiting friends in the area–lunch in the East Bay and dinner down south with people I hadn’t seen in far too long.

Lunch and a wonderful visit with Jackie and Chris--too long since we'd seen each other.

Lunch and a wonderful visit with Jackie and Chris.

Bonus fantastic visit with Zobi and PJ, who had moved to the East Bay without me knowing it.

Bonus fantastic visit with Zobi and PJ, who had moved to the East Bay without me knowing it.

Dinner with Melissa and Sandy--it occurs to me that I have a lot of fantastic friends in the Bay area...hmmm.

Dinner with Melissa and Sandy–it occurs to me that I have a lot of fantastic friends in the Bay area…hmmm.

I spent Sunday night with friends in Oakland and Monday morning had time for a quick breakfast with a friend from my days in Kino. Then I got back on BART and headed to the airport and back to Tucson, just in time for another half marathon the following weekend. Race report in the works…


Race Report: 2015 Great Pumpkin Race 5k

Last Thursday evening I was faffing about on Gametiime, looking for some races to keep me motivated. I’ve been traveling so much this summer and fall that I seem to miss most local races, but I was in town this weekend, and I noticed there was a 5k on Sunday. I’d offered to drive a friend to the airport that morning, but after some quick calculations, I realized I could drop her off and still make it before the start. It only cost $15 and the race benefitted the Arizona Center for Autism. I figured that the worst case scenario would be that I didn’t make it in time to run and instead made a donation to a worthy cause.

So that’s a long-winded way of saying that on Thursday I signed up for a 5k at the last minute. I’ve mostly been getting in long miles the past month or so. I have done exactly NO speed work since…let’s see…since fall 2014. So I had no idea what I’d be able to do.

After the airport run I headed west. The race was at Buckelew Farm (west of Three Points, for those of you who know southern Arizona), so it was a bit of a haul to get there. I arrived about 30 minutes before gun time, feeling a little rushed. But I got my race number and even had time to warm up a little bit, jogging up and down the parking area.

The race started with a 1 mile kids’ run, so as that was ending the 5k runners started to make their way to the start line. I picked my way around folks to make my way closer to the front of the group so as not to have to dodge around walkers and people pushing strollers for the first mile.

500+ runners waiting for the start.

500+ runners waiting for the start. Note the corn maze on the right, which figures into the last part of this race.

We counted down from ten and were off. The route was mostly through the farm’s pumpkin fields, so it was a combination of dirt tractor roads and recently mowed areas. The dirt made for some dusty running at points, the newly mowed areas were a little slippy with all of the fresh cuttings, and the footing was a bit uneven, so you had to pay attention.

The first mile was mostly on the dirt tractor roads. Dusty, and a bit uneven, but relatively solid. I focused on not going out too fast and settling in, getting a good breathing pattern going.

On the Oiselle Team Facebook page the other day a woman asked for advice about the best way to mentally approach her upcoming 10k race. Someone gave the advice, “Just run the mile you’re in.” Boy, that resonated with me (in running, and in life, but I’ll stick to the running for the moment). So that became my mantra.

Just run…the mile…you’re in…Jennie.

Just run…the mile…you’re in…Jennie.

Just run…the mile…you’re in…Jennie.

I repeated it in my head (and maybe under my breath a few times) over and over again.

Just run (breath in) the mile (breath in) you’re in (breath in) Jennie (breath in).

Mile 1: 8.16

My Garmin beeped to let me know I’d finished the first mile. Wow! I was not expecting it to be that fast. I quickly put it out of my head, though, and focused on Mile 2–you know, the one I was in. I was pushing a bit, but I didn’t feel like I was overdoing it.

The first two-thirds of mile 2 were more dirt tractor roads. Then the route turned into the pumpkin patch, weaving back and forth between the rows. This section was hard because it felt like you just weren’t getting anywhere. Run up one long row, down the short side, and back down another long row, times five.

Just run…the mile…you’re in…Jennie.

This is where I started muttering it under my breath. Somewhere in there I passed the mile 2 sign and shortly after my Garmin beeped.

Mile 2: 8:29

All right! Slowing down a bit, but still feeling good. These are the fastest two miles I have run since…oh, probably since March.

Mile three continued through the pumpkin rows, down the long edge of the parking lot, and back down towards the start line. Then we curved to the west and entered…THE CORN MAZE. This was both cool and challenging–lots of twists and turns so you’d go a few strides and then need to take a sharp right turn for two more strides and then take a sharp left turn for two more strides. It was hard to maintain speed.

Just run…the mile…you’re in…Jennie.

I caught a glimpse of the heels of the man in front of me a few times, and could hear the breathing of the people behind me, but mostly it it felt like I was running on my own. I passed the mile 3 sign.

Mile 3: 9:12

I made a few more turns in the corn maze and popped out to a crowd of spectators shouting, “Kick! Kick!” The finish line was in front of me. I put my head down and gave it all I had left.

Finish time: 27:00

I went into this race with two goals, goals that I barely even whispered to myself because I was so unsure I could do either of them: 1) Finish in under 27 minutes; and 2) place in my age group.

When I saw my finish time I couldn’t believe it–SO close.  The lesson learned here is that you should never, never let up. One second! Then I realized that this was 17 seconds faster than my PR, and that I hadn’t been training for a 5k, and that I was actually pretty pleased with the result. I ran a 27 minute 5k–onward and upward! I finished 105/502 overall, the 29th woman, and first out of 22 in my age group. (You can see all of the results here).

I walked around for a minute or two until I caught my breath and then made my way over to the finishers tent, got some water, and went to sit down in the shade to wait for the official times and see if I had made my second goal. I hadn’t been there long when a woman came up and moved some people out of the way, saying, “I’m not sure she can walk that far.” I looked to where she was gesturing and there was a young woman sitting in golf cart who had collapsed on the course around mile 2. I walked over to the two of them and said, “Can I help? I’m an EMT.” We walked the runner into the shade of the tent and got her lying down with her feet elevated. Now, I have been an EMT since 1999 and used to work on an ambulance, but it has been a long time since I used my skills on a daily or even a weekly basis. I was grateful for my EMT instructors who drilled those skill sheets into my head year after year during refresher courses, and my WMI instructors who taught me how to improvise in the back country when you don’t have any actual first aid equipment. I snapped into EMT mode.

The long story short is that the woman had heat exhaustion. She was dehydrated, hot, and woozy. I had a willing crew of bystanders just waiting for something to do, so I sent one to ask for a t-shirt, another for water and sports drink, and a third to grab some flyers on a nearby table. I got the t-shirt wet and used it to cool her down, poured water over her head, and had three people fanning her with the flyers to get some evaporative cooling going. I didn’t want to get her so wet that she took a chill, but she needed to be cooled. It took about 30 minutes, but she started feeling better slowly. As I was working on her I heard the race director ask over the microphone, “Will the woman who is helping  [the patient] please come up?” I was confused, because I was still helping her, but he was insistent, so I walked up to the front of the tent, where he handed me a coupon for a free pumpkin and thanked me for my help.

I went back to what I was doing. Her pulse came down and pretty soon she was able to sit up, drink a bottle of sports drink, and eat something. As we were doing all of this they began to announce the overall winners, as well as the age group winners. I was pretty focused on what I was doing, so I didn’t really hear where they were but then I heard my name. What?! I walked back up to the front and the race director looked at me like, “Yes?” I said, “You just read my name, Jennie Duberstein.” He consulted his sheet and said, “Oh! You won your age group–congratulations!”

So in addition to my Good Samaritan pumpkin, I got a plastic milk bottle-looking cup with an orange straw. But holy cow, I won my age group!

The end of the story is happy: the runner had a peanut butter GU that someone had generously given her, she finished a 32 oz. bottle of Powerade, and felt much, much better. I got to pick out a lovely pumpkin to take home, got some strangers to take a picture of me in front of a giant chair, and drove home.

Next up: The Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco a week from today.

1st in Age Group!

1st in Age Group!

Race Report: Saguaro National Park Labor Day Run

August and September have morphed into one big blur of travel. I feel as though I have spent at least a solid week in transit at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. I returned home on Friday evening, and on the last leg of my flight my seat mate asked where I’d been. It took me a minute to remember.

I have about eight different blog posts partially composed, and another eight ideas in my head, but haven’t quite gotten around to finishing anything. All that is to say: writing about my race at the Saguaro National Park Labor Day Run is a little behind schedule.

I’d been sick for the couple of weeks leading up to the race and still wasn’t feeling 100% on race day. I hadn’t run in ten days, so my goals for the race was 1) finish and 2) try to finish in under 90 minutes. It’s a hilly course, so I didn’t have any expectations of a speedy time.

My friend and running partner Sergio runs this race every year. This year he finally talked me into doing it. Saguaro National Park is split up into two separate segments, one way the heck out on the west side of Tucson and the other way the heck out on the east side. The race was along the beautiful rolling 8 mile loop at Saguaro East.

Sergio picked me up bright and early and we got to the park around 5:30. Sergio, who is much speedier than I even when I am not recovering from being sick, was going for a PR, so I found some other friends and left him to warm up and get towards the front of the pack.

There is a 5K and an 8 miler at this race. The 5k goes off 15 minutes before the 8 miler and runs counter-clockwise on an out-and-back course, while the 8 miler does a clockwise loop around the park. Summary: there were a lot of people at the start. In spite of this, I kept seeing folks I knew, which was a lot of fun.

Lori, Elise, and me before the race.

Lori, Elise, and me before the race.

The race director welcomed us. Park Superintendent Darla Sidles welcomed us (she was running the 5k). Ross Zimmerman, father of Gabe, gave a lovely speech (this race is the second leg of the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown). The national anthem played. And then the 5k runners were off. The 8 milers shuffled toward the start and before we knew it we were off, too.

Saguaro National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles welcomes racers.

Saguaro National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles welcomes racers.

The first three miles of the race are mostly downhill or flat. The sun was rising over the Sonoran Desert, and the scenery was stunning. At this point I was feeling really good.

  • Mile 1: 9:27
  • Mile 2: 9:20
  • Mile 3: 9:38

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and even snapped a few pictures of the people ahead of me as I ran along.

The light was breathtakingly beautiful. Early in the race it was cool enough and gorgeous enough that all I felt was lucky to be able to run in such a lovely spot.

The light was breathtakingly beautiful. Early in the race it was cool enough and gorgeous enough that all I felt was lucky to be able to run in such a lovely spot.

About halfway through mile 3 the big hills begin. At first I really thought I could hang. I made it through mile 4 in 11:37–definitely slowing way down, but still running. But by mile 5, which is basically all steep uphill, the two weeks of being sick and ten days with no running caught up to me and I found myself walking.

  • Mile 5: 15:40. Yikes.
The scenery was as breathtaking as the hills.

The scenery was as breathtaking as the hills.

At this point I changed my second goal. Pushing myself to finish in under 90 minutes just didn’t feel like any fun at all, so instead I decided to see how many species of birds I could spot or hear while running. That was a lot more fun.

  • Red-tailed Hawk (a pair, chasing each other)
  • Verdin
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Cactus Wren

Trying to power up the hills.

I think I can...finish this race...

I think I can…finish this race…

Runners behind me, coming up the hill.

Runners behind me, coming up the hill.

Mile 6: 11:18 (getting back into some downhill here). Mile 7 ticked away in 12:07 (rolling hills again).

  • Common Raven
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • American Kestrel

As I eased into mile 8 I heard someone coming up from behind me saying, “I’ve been chasing you for the last three miles!” It was my friend Sean–so great to see his smiling face. We ran together for about a half a mile and then he pushed ahead towards the finish.

I was almost there. I put my head down and went for it, running Mile 8 in 11:21.

This was supposed to be an 8 mile course, but when my Garmin beeped for mile 8, I was interestingly not at the finish line. My watch measured out another .15 miles before I crossed the line. Hmmm.

According to my Garmin, I ran 8.15 miles in 1:31:42.

According to my timing chip, I finished the 8 mile race in 1:32:18. (The race website said they had some issues with the timing chips, so I am leaning in the direction of my Garmin).

You be the judge.

I walked over to the finishers’ area and quickly reunited with Sergio (who had run a PR–67 minutes, I think; way to go, Sergio!), as well as a handful of other friends who all work in my building. We ate pretzels, drank water, and found a tiny spot of shade to recuperate from the heat of the morning and the run.


Historic Y Finishers! Greta, Carolyn, Joey, Sergio, and Jennie.

One of the neater parts of the race is the medal, which is the second part of the puzzle for the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown. Two races down, one to go (a half marathon in October).

Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown in progress.

Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown in progress.

I was surprised to be reasonably close to running the race in under 90 minutes given the amount of walking I did in the middle. I was even more surprised to see/hear just eight species of birds. But birding while running definitely helped take my mind off of the fact that this race was freaking hard. In fact, as I got to miles six and seven I even found myself wishing that there were a few extra miles in the race so I could see more birds. I really wanted a Gilded Flicker, guys.

Maybe next year.

A Birding Interview with Jennie Duberstein

The June 2015 issue of Birding Magazine was just published, which includes an interview with yours truly. I share the experiences that got me started in birding and bird conservation, the connections I see between birds, running, and music, talk about my work in Mexico (especially the wonderful Donate the Guia program), and get to introduce Oiselle to the birding world.

Click here to read the whole thing. As a special bonus, you get to see a picture of me from my very first bird job, back in 1994 at Moraine State Park. I still look exactly the same, right?


2015 Meet Me Downtown Night Run or “Don’t forget about the .1”

Last Saturday night I ran the Meet Downtown Night Run 5k, the first leg in the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown. The week before I’d been down in Bahia de Kino, on the central coast of Sonora, Mexico. Lo, these many years ago I used to live there, doing seabird and wading bird monitoring, as well as environmental education and community outreach work for Prescott College, who has a field station there. It was a wonderful week with some reunions with friends I hadn’t seen in four+ years, but the point of telling you that is to say that I spent all day Saturday driving home from Mexico, navigating Hermosillo traffic, waiting at the border crossing in Nogales, and making it back to Tucson in the late afternoon, just few hours before the race started. Ideal? No, but it was enough time, and enough is as good as a feast.

Ready to run? Why not?

I never know where to put my hands and always end up looking like a mannequin.

I was a little out of it after a week of early rises and all-day meetings, not to mention a full day of driving, but I quickly found my friends who were also running.


Who needs a chin anyway?

It was a bigger race than I was expecting. My friends said they’d heard there were 3,000 people registered, and it was crowded. Although the sun was starting to think about going down, it was Tucson on May 30. It was hot. I was glad that I’d arrived close to the start time so I didn’t have to stand around waiting.

Before long we all moved over to course. My friend Claudia and I planned to run together. I told her I was hoping to go sub-27. She told me that she was just hoping to keep up with me. The announcer counted down from then and…we all started to shuffle forward. It took a couple of minutes at least to cross the start line, everyone jostling for room. (It was also awesome to see Tucson come out for this race, all ages, sizes, and ability levels.)

Waiting for the start.

Waiting for the start.

Mile 1: 8:43

There was a huge crush at the start. I’m not the zippiest runner, so I didn’t push my way to the front of the pack before the gun. Because of this I spent the first half a mile dodging around walkers and slower people. Claudia and I quickly got separated, but I just kept on going. It was hot and I was suddenly thirsty. I had taken a big slug of water before I left my car, not 30 minutes earlier. It was only a 5k, so I hadn’t brought any water but I was already thirsty. Not the best sign.

Mile 2: 8:41

I wasn’t looking at my watch. I felt thirsty and sluggish and slow and was just hoping to keep my miles under 9 minutes. I wanted some chapstick. I wanted some water. Spectators were taking pity on the runners and had pulled garden hoses to the street and were spraying us as we ran by. That helped. I grabbed a cup of water at an aid station, and that really helped. I drank some and poured the rest over my head. Somewhat refreshed, I pushed on.

Mile 3: 8:53

The last mile. Time to put my head down and go for it. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. Alas, the body doesn’t always do what the mind tells it to do. I snagged another cup of water early in this mile and then with about three-quarters of a mile to go I heard someone come up behind me hollering, “Jennie!” It was Claudia, who’d somehow found me. She said, “Come on, let’s go! If we push we can still beat 27!” She pulled ahead slightly, and I did my best to keep up with her.

Mile .1: 1:00

I had been thinking in my head that three times 9 equals 27, so I just needed to keep each mile under 9 minutes to go sub 27. Funny how conveniently I forgot that a 5k is 3.1 miles, not 3 miles. The 27th minute ticked by. I crossed the finish line. My friend and coach Brian was waiting there, giving high fives. Claudia and I got some water and our medals.

I feel like the Sesame Street description of "tall" and "short" when I stand next to Claudia.

I feel like the Sesame Street description of “tall” and “short” when I stand next to Claudia.

The medals for this three-race series all fit together to form one larger medal. One down, two to go!

The medals for this three-race series all fit together to form one larger medal. One down, two to go!

The Epilogue

Finish time: 27:17, good for 15th out of 146 in my age group. I didn’t get under 27 minutes, but I did shave 20 seconds off of my time from my race last fall, so that was nice. (If Claudia hadn’t pushed me, I’m not sure that I would have done that). I have run 5k in under 27 minutes in practice, so I know I can do it. Now I just have to bring it to the race.

(Next up in this series is an 8-miler through the beautifully winding hills of Saguaro National Park in September, followed by the third and final race is in October, a half marathon through the streets of Tucson.)

On The Move

Well, true to form I entirely missed writing here in April and am on to May. I have three half-started posts and no all-finished posts. I am caught somewhere between accepting that I just don’t write here regularly and where I actually want to be (Anne Lamott’s instructions: Butt in chair. Just do it.) But binge watching M*A*S*H on Netflix every evening has won out lately. (Full disclosure: Moonstruck is streaming on my phone as I type this post on my computer, but I sort of feel like as long as I finish this, it is okay).

I am starting to feel more settled. In mid-April I finally moved my things out of storage and into my new house. Unpacking has been more than a little like seeing long-lost friends. A dear friend helped me pack back in January when I moved back to the city.  Unpacking all of the meticulously wrapped glasses and kitchen items, seeing all of the carefully labeled boxes so I could tell what was in each one, it made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a friend like that, someone who didn’t think twice about dropping everything and driving 100 miles with me to spend 18 hours packing up all of my worldly belongings and cleaning a house that wasn’t hers and then turning around to drive 100 miles back. I have learned a lot about friendship from her in the last few months.

It seems like every time I start to get in a groove with my running something happens to throw me off. March was going really, really well. Then one morning after a great 6 mile run I was in the shower. I reached for the shampoo. That’s all I did. My upper back was in exquisite pain for nearly two weeks. It was the kind of pain where I could only fall asleep for about ten minutes at a time and then would wake up because of the pain when I moved in my sleep and just cry because I couldn’t figure out anything at all to do to make it better or to be able to sleep and my god, all I wanted to do was get a good night’s sleep. It was not the most fun I have ever had. After about two weeks of this it slowly started to get better and now I am more or less back to normal, glory be. Grad school killed my upper back. (I want to call grad school a bad word, but I won’t.)

I almost always start a blog post with a bulleted list of things I want to include and then fill things out from there. As I was doing it this time, I realized that just about every single one of those bullets could be a blog post of its own. Butt in chair, J-Dubes. Come on, now.

For tonight, because I am also a firm believer that sometimes you just have to put something out there in the world even though you know it isn’t finished, I’m giving you some short bullets, along with pretty pictures.

So here is the abridged version what I have been up to in the last month and a half:

I’m a regular blogger over at the Leica Birding Blog. In early April I wrote a post about taking my nephews birding for the first time. I meant to share that back when it happened, but I procrastinated and then they published another post I wrote about local patch birding. So I guess that while I haven’t been writing for my own blog, at least I have been doing a little bit of writing somewhere.

I babysat my friend’s accordion for four years and finally was able to give it back to him. It was a beautiful instrument, but too big for me to play. I was really glad to be able to take care of it for him and give it back, even though he didn’t give it to me with any expectations of getting it back.


We found out that we received a Heritage Fund grant from Arizona Game & Fish to put together a series of monthly field outings for young birders in southern Arizona. Here’s a picture of a trip we took to Pima Canyon last month–everything was in bloom. Amazing.


I took a tile paver workshop at Santa Theresa Tileworks. Everyone was so complimentary when I shared the pictures that I feel compelled to explain: I didn’t make the individual tiles. I did do all of the design and…I don’t know what you call it–construction? Once I decided on the design I cemented it it all in place and did the grouting.


I traveled to San Diego to the Trilateral Committee for Ecosystem and Wildlife Conservation in San Diego. I gave two presentations, including one to the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Director of the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Director General for Wildlife for the Mexican Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources–more than a little nerve-wracking, but I think it went well. I also got to spend an afternoon/evening wandering around the San Diego Zoo–I have mixed feelings about zoos, but this one is pretty special. I got a little goofy with some of the statutes. #flystyle with an extinct prehistoric bird. Fun times!

Can you believe that something like this used to exist?

My management board met in San Diego right after the Trilateral.  There are some major changes on the horizon for my program, but I feel fortunate to get to work with a lot of really amazing people, doing a job that I love.

SJV Management Board

I took an incredible science communications short course from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC). I definitely have a longer post coming about this experience. The workshop days were long and full, but we still had a bit of time for some evening and early morning birding.

Me, Danielle, and Alicia

NCTC has an Eagle Cam for the nesting pair of Bald Eagles on their property. My friend Danielle and I went birding one morning before class started and saw this guy (gal?) and it’s mate come into the nest with a fish, as well as an interloper young bird that this one chased away. Digiscoped with (Danielle’s) Leica APO-Televid 65 + iPhone 5s + Phone Skope Adapter.

Bald Eagle

I’ve been in a good place with running for the last month. I hit my monthly mileage goal for the first time this year in April. May is also off to a good start. My travel and field work schedule between now and September is ridiculous, but I’m looking around for some races to put on the calendar. I got in two runs while I was back east last week, including a gorgeous seven-miler along the trails and roads at NCTC. (I stopped for a quick picture with the Potomac River behind me.)

Mid-7 mile run, with the Potomac River behind me. Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

So that’s the medium-form version of what I’ve been up to lately. My goal for May? Butt in chair. Keep on running. More writing. Less Netflix. Bird by bird.

Embracing the unexpected

I’ve started to write this post about twelve times but just haven’t been able to finish it. I’ve barely been able to start it. 2015 has not started out as I’d pictured it. I’m dealing with some big, unexpected changes in my life and have been spending a fair amount of time just getting through the days. January and February 2015 can suck it, frankly. I am still on the fence about March and April, too. 

But sometimes the way to get going is just to get going. You have to embrace the unexpected. Since I can’t seem to construct coherent paragraphs, I’m going to throw some bullets out there and see where this goes.

  • December was one of the very best running months I’ve ever had in my life. I was excited to start 2015 strong. But I guess the universe thought that was funny, though, because the reality has been that I haven’t been doing much running in 2015. My goal for March? Try to change that.
  • I figured out today that it is a 2.5 mile run one way from my new house to the path where I like to run. I stretched it into a 10k this morning and it felt great.
  • Netflix has been my close friend in 2015, with a special shout out to sitcoms of the 1980s. M*A*S*H is still awesome. Cheers, too.
  • I’m expanding my podcast horizons. Today I listened to Dear Sugar, the episode called “The Family We Carry.” I really liked it and was simultaneously frustrated by parts of it. I think I need to listen to more.
  • I moved in early January and my stuff is still in storage due to a combination of circumstances that is too boring to describe. I’m looking forward to unpacking, which I hope will happen by the end of March. On the plus side, living with one suitcase of clothing and none of my books or records has helped me realize that I really can get rid of a lot of my things and I wouldn’t ever miss them. I’m planning on doing some serious downsizing when I finally unpack.
  • I forgot how wonderful the public library is. There is a branch right down the street from my new house and I’ve been going every week to check out music, movies, and books. I can even download eBooks to my Kindle. It’s kind of great.
  • Three cheers for the 2015 ABA Young Birders of the Year! We announced the winners this week. I judge the Conservation & Community Leadership module and am in awe of the things that these kids accomplished.

Okay. According to my word counter, I have written over 400 words. That’s an acceptable amount for a blog post, right?