I really enjoy racing, but very infrequently do I run all-women’s races or races that are heavily marketed to women. More often than not, I usually feel that all-women’s or heavily-marketed-to-women races almost distract me from the racing experience and sometimes even leave a bad feeling in my stomach. It’s tough for me to describe why I feel this way, and though the explanation comes up a little short due to my inability to better elaborate, suffice it to say that I often think that all-women’s/marketed-to-women races come off as more misogynist to me than supportive, celebratory, or competitive.
Don’t get me wrong – I totally get that many women don’t feel safe or comfortable racing amongst men, that they’re self-conscious or intimidated or whatever – but I don’t see where the connection comes to trading in the “community” aspect of running with mostly women for the weird marketing insinuating (or explicitly stating) that finishers will receive their race premiums “from hot firefighters” or that “sweating is sexy” or stuff like that. [In full disclosure, in the hundreds of races I’ve run over the past decade or so, very few of them – maybe 5? – have been of the all-women or mostly-all-women variety. Maybe I shouldn’t make blanket statements about races that have a more “gendered” focus than the standard garden variety, but I don’t know. I guess I’m just extremely selective with my races and think it’s
kinda weird bullshit that I have to accept my racing medal from a half-naked dude or that for some godforsaken reason, my athletic endeavors – things I do to take care of my body and to maintain my health – has to be sexualized (you know, “sweating is sexy,” “fit is the new hot” and the like.]
Anyway, not long after I moved to the Bay Area, I learned about the Run She.is.Beautiful 5k and 10k (and accompanying “baby mama” stroller divisions) that takes place down in Santa Cruz, just over the “hill” (the Santa Cruz mountains) from me. In 2015, when I was promoting the now-gone ZOOMA Napa Valley race, at around 5 months pregnant, I ran the “baby mama” 5k stroller division, pushing my eldest, and we won. It was so much fun, and I vowed to return. Similar to the ZOOMA race series, with s.i.b., I immediately noticed that while yes, it is an all-women’s (or heavily-marketed-to-women”) race, it is absent of all that nonsense that I just alluded to; in 2015, when I first ran it, there were no undertones linking (or explicitly stating) how or why running/being fit/being healthy to being “sexy” or “hot,” nor were there clads of half-naked dudes waiting for eager and willing (and sweaty) female participants to get selfies with them post-race. In fact, I’d venture to say that s.i.b. is kinda like the antithesis of the all-women’s racing in that regard. Sorry, tangent. Back to 2016. This time around, with an ultra-cheap $29 registration fee (early bird pricing FTW), I ran the “baby mama” 10k stroller division while pushing the baby; big sis was out having the time of her life at a friend’s house/easter egg hunt/birthday party, so I’m pretty sure she didn’t mind.
It has been years since I raced a 10k, and since I was just six days post-marathon, I knew my legs weren’t going to be fresh for this race. Plus, who am I kidding? I’m running (or “racing,” note the quotes) with a freakin’ stroller. For those playing along at home: the single-BOB stroller is about 30 pounds, the baby’s about 20, so yeah – running one-handedly while simultaneously pushing about 50 pounds. Not easy. Just like at last year’s s.i.b. race, I wanted to have fun and to enjoy the wonderfully supportive and uplifting environment and immerse the baby in it, even though she’d be pretty oblivious to the entire thing – and the entire morning just ended up being one of those “ahhhh, this shit’s so good for my soul” type of days, thanks to the beautiful weather, the camaraderie of running with so many of my teammates, the super-encouraging-and-still-competitive environment of the race, and the small fact that I had a kiddo in tow. It was a great combination. I didn’t have any time goals for the race, and my only soft goal was to try to place in the top 3 for the “baby mama” division (and maybe repeat my ’15 “baby mama” win), but again, with post-marathon legs (and a right hamstring that was still in post-marathon purgatory,), I didn’t set anything in stone.
Santa Cruz is Meg land, so baby Spike and I got ourselves to her house early, nursed, played, and chilled before we three ran about 1.5 miles over to the new starting area at the Santa Cruz boardwalk with another Wolfpack runner, Meg. There were about 6,000 other (mostly women) runners who’d be doing the 10k, 5k, or corresponding stroller divisions, but the organizers did a top-notch job of getting people where they should have been. New for this year, too, were self-seeded start waves, so unlike last year, there wouldn’t be a sea of humanity running anywhere from 5 minute to 25 minute miles starting altogether. (Kudos to you for implementing this much-needed change, RDs. I came so close to clipping so many ankles last year).
I audaciously lined up about 6 inches from the starting line – I didn’t want to repeat last year’s experiences of getting blocked in and accidentally take out anyone with my front wheel during the first half mile – and luckily, when the gun went off, people spread out fairly quickly and I didn’t have to do virtually any dodging. Santa Cruz is such a beautiful place to run, and as we ran by the boardwalk and up a little hill (stroller running feels like running uphill, so when you actually run up a real hill, it gets challenging quickly), we were on the super-scenic west cliff drive and were treated to beautiful ocean views. I laughed to myself, thinking only in a race in Santa Cruz will I see a bunch of surfers in wet suits yielding to runners on a Saturday morning. Aside from the race starting at the boardwalk, the rest of the course was about the same as I remembered from ’15: running along west cliff and connecting through neighborhoods before turning for the finish at the lighthouse.
Since I was running the 10k, I had the pleasure and incredible pick-me-up of seeing the 5k racers hit their turn-around to home, and so many in the top 10 or so were fellow Wolfpack ladies who were just flying and smiling en route. Between seeing so many of my teammates racing well and in the top ranks, and enjoying the super-encouraging s.i.b. motivational race signs (one thing, among many, that the race is known for) adorning the sidelines, I was just so fucking happy. I was having fun and racing as hard and fast as I could, given the post-marathon-legs and the small fact that I was pushing more than a third of my body weight, and quite surprisingly, my watch was indicating that I was running at basically the slow-end of my tempo/right around my steady-state pace. Well then!
The 10k wraps runners around and through the Natural Bridges state park area for a couple miles, which was a new experience to me this year. It was pretty and idyllic, though a couple hills in the park (around mile 4, I think) felt gargantuan. By the time we got dumped out of Natural Bridges, we were back on west cliff, next to the ocean, and making our way to the finish line at the lighthouse about a mile and change or two miles away.
The trickiest part about she.is.beautiful, depending on your race distance, is the final mile and change/two miles. As I was trying to come in hot on that final stretch, the sea of humanity who had been run/run-walking/walking the 5k was suddenly ahead of me. What made things even trickier is that the road was already divided, so there was a solid sea of participants still on the “out” portions of their 5ks/10ks on one side of the road, and directly ahead of me was still another sea of participants finishing the “back” portions of their 5ks. It quickly became a game of frogger and an incessant chorus of “on your left!,” “stroller back!,” “watch your ankles!,” because I wanted to finish my race as strongly as I could and not interfere with anyone else’s race. Fortunately, I was able to weave – a lot – between participants, some walking/running/run-walking many people wide or abruptly stopping to take pictures, and only a few times had to dodge into oncoming people traffic (!) because I didn’t have enough clearance. West cliff isn’t a wide road in the first place, so I’m at a loss as to how the RD could better manage the people traffic on the “back” portion. Maybe cones could partition a lane for the 5k participants and another for the 10k participants? I’m not really sure. Even the wave starts this year didn’t seem to account for the faster 10k runners coming hot onto the heels of the 5k participants.
At any rate, though my pace remained surprisingly strong for post-marathon-legs and for stroller running – I’m pretty sure I’ve never posted those splits with a stroller before, ever – I was getting tired and toasty (for once, it was sunny in Santa Cruz), making the forced-slow-down from all the necessary people-weaving somewhat welcome and definitely not the end of the world. Tons of participants cheered me on, telling me I was first stroller for the 10k, which was a huge boost. I hadn’t seen any other strollers ahead of me for the entire race, both in the 10k and until the 5k/10k split, but with the crowd of people over the final mile and change, it was hard to tell. I, too, threw out tons of encouraging remarks to the other runners (good for the soul, ya know), and as we inched closer to the finish line (and things got a little less people-dense), I tried to throw down one last time for the final stretch.
Man, that was fun, and even though my (and most everyone else’s) watch had the course a little short (6.01 by my Garmin), that was among one of my stronger 10k races – which is bizarre, given the aforementioned post-marathon and stroller aspects. 10K races are grueling, and I tend to go out like a bat out of hell and die a slow and needlessly long death. By and large, I felt pretty strong for the entirety of this almost-10k, and I was genuinely surprised to see my splits at the end of the race. This makes me think that maybe I should shoot for some shorter racing this autumn and shelve an autumn marathon. (I can’t believe I just wrote that; I’m reserving the right to change my mind later…).
I soon reunited with Lisa, Meg, and many of my other teammates for celebratory pictures and vendor sampling, and we’d eventually learn that many Wolfpack ladies finished in the top ranks overall and/or in their age groups. I learned that I won the baby mama 10k division – my reach goal for the morning, hooray! – and for my efforts, I earned a shiny new BOB Revolution SE stroller. I can’t complain: I paid not much money to run fast with my baby in a beautiful location; I got to spend the morning with many teammates; and I earned myself a stroller that’s worth about $450 retailand, later in the raffle, another baby sling carrier (worth about $150; man, baby stuff is expensive!) that I gifted to 5 mos. pregnant Meg. It was a good morning.
I had a ton of fun at the she.is.beautiful race. I really dig and appreciate the race’s message and positivity, and I absolutely love that I can participate in this with one or both of my daughters – as I have for the past two years – and still be competitive. S.I.B. is all about self-love and compassion – and being a good human being – and I love that I can come down to Santa Cruz and take part in a race that gives me the opportunity to run “fast and free” but also contribute to such an incredible environment. What I will always remember about S.I.B. though is that in ’15, I got to race it pregnant, while pushing Big Sis, and in ’16, I got to race it again, while pushing Little Sis, and both years, my performance surprised me and any expectations I had for myself that day. I guess that’s the funny thing about racing; sometimes we don’t know what’s there until we try – obviously. I doubt I could have run those paces just on my own accord on Saturday morning. This year’s s.i.b. shirt design’s message was that “your journey matters,” and without a doubt, it is this type of positive messaging that sets apart s.i.b. from other women’s-y races.
She.is.beautiful is a locally-run organization and only has two races each year – one in Santa Cruz and one down in Santa Barbara – but if you find yourself in California during either race’s weekend, I definitely recommend participating. My shitty descriptions are failing me now, but out of all the racing I’ve ever done, I don’t think I can say that I’ve walked away from a racing experience feeling like I did both something wonderful for my body (racing, running) and something good for my soul. She.is.beautiful gave me both this year (and last), and I look forward to doing this race for many more years.