Thursday, May 21, 2015

B2B

There are very few things as truly San Franciscan as Bay to Breakers. It's a 40,000 person springtime Sunday party, a race through the city, and Halloween all rolled in to one. San Francisco is Bay to Breakers and Bay to Breakers is San Francisco.

I remember my first Bay to Breakers (B2B). I had been living in San Francisco for about five months, newly returned from the Peace Corps. I wasn't yet a runner. I had only a few friends. I wasn't a big drinker. But somehow I found myself in a Bay to Breakers group, complete with matching t-shirts, a float, and all the beer we could fit in a shopping cart. 


Our theme was the Duff beer guy

That first B2B had a lot of firsts for me. The first time I tried skateboarding. The first time I entered a race. The first time I tossed tortillas in the air and passed men and women in salmon costumes running the opposite direction. And I definitely didn't make it to to ocean (aka the breakers). Still true today, B2B 2007 was the only time in my life I have been drunk before 8am (that wasn't from the night before).


B2B costumes can get pretty elaborate. I'm always impressed.

Proudly, my Bay to Breakers 2008 was not a repeat performance. Over these past seven years I have slept through the race, watched the race in Hayes Valley with friends, driven my boyfriend to the start of the race, cheered on random runners near the end of the race, and run the race myself. I  long ago learned that the best way to avoid the late drunkenness of those walking the race with floats, yet still experience the costumes and massive groups of people, was to run the race myself. Alongside all the people. To be one of the people. To make it to the end and then hit the bbq. Because Bay to Breakers is also San Francisco's official welcome to summer.


 Racing through this amazing city with 40,000 other people is quite an experience!

Thus, as I found late May quickly approaching, I couldn't think of a more appropriate first race post-marathon. Which is why I chose to run Bay to Breakers 2015. It would be my return to running short races (a quick 12K or 7.5 miler). It would be my first race back from so many things; from the flu, from new orthotics, from running once a week, if at all. But most importantly, it would be my first race back from the marathon.


The starting line of Bay to Breakers 2015

It's a strange feeling, running a short race. I found myself exactly on pace. And enjoying the scenery. And the costumes. But I also found myself anxious to be finished already. To be at the finish line, enjoying coconut water and potato chips. To be home already and in a hot shower. But I was still in the middle of the race. But by mile six I was just ready to be finished. So I sped up.

But then I began to really think about enjoying what I was doing. To realize how fun it was to run with no preparation. How I didn't pick out a special running outfit the night before or bother with goo. How easy it was to run a negative split - finally! (A negative split means running the second half of a race faster than the first. It's always a mini-goal of mine and I knew I had done it this time!) I also knew I didn't PR, but I didn't care. Because, I realized, it was a little chilly and slightly overcast most of the way; my perfect running weather. 

 Making it all the way to the beach (in costume) is always impressive

Most days I honestly don't know if I'll ever race again. I ran a marathon, for crying out loud. What else do I have to prove? I don't know if I have the patience to start training all over again. I don't know if I can run that distance again. I don't know if I should. And I don't know if I want to.

I'm not certain what the future has in store for me and road racing. The same can be said for Bay to Breakers. Every year there are more restrictions on the race, more police presence, fewer floats. But despite the mayhem, the nudity, the drunken sh$% show that it truly is, Bay to Breakers still belongs to San Franciscans. It is still ours. For over 100 years now we've been running across town, from the bay to the breakers. And I can't imagine spending the third Sunday in May any other way.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

the end of the road

Veo al final de mi rudo camino, que yo fui el arquitecto de mi propio destino. 
I see at the end of my rough journey, that I've been the architect of my own destiny.
- Amado Nervo


I feel pretty comfortable driving in Mexico. Actually, I feel comfortable driving just about anywhere. And I'm almost always the driver. Rental cars don't bother me. I like getting to test drive different cars. Every time I've gone to the Yucatan to volunteer with Proyecto Itzaes, I've rented a car. And the only mishaps I've had have been regarding the actual renting of the car. No matter what time you arrive, the process of filling out the rental paperwork and getting to drive away in your newly rented car takes several hours. I don't exactly know why, but it just does.

This is how much Mexican country-side I typically drive through

But then, while driving through the Yucatan last month, my car rental luck ran out. A rock hit the car's windshield. And at the very most top part of the windshield, half on the plastic that seals the glass to the roof. But just low enough to embed itself at least partly in the glass. But just high enough that I didn't know that was the case. However, once the crack started to spread in a long line down the window, I realized exactly what had happened. In the five minutes it took us to get home the crack had successfully run the entire length of the windshield. And it was only getting longer. I panicked. I didn't know what to do. This had never happened to me before. Not even in the US. I once had a windshield bashed by some thugs with baseball bats in Potrero Hill. But never a rock in the windshield. I guess it was about time this finally happened to me.

I quickly tried to decide what should I do; get an estimate from a nearby mechanic and pay for the repair before the rental was due back? Or break down and call the rental car company, knowing it would be a long painful process. I knew I couldn't drive the car again, so I had to do something. I called the rental agency. They were so nice. Surprisingly nice. With amazing customer service. I had never experienced this before. I was still skeptical this would go off without a hitch, but the nearest car rental depot (not the one we originally rented from) would send a driver out to our home, bringing a replacement car for us. It sounded too good to be true. Especially because I had to head to a village for an appointment and wouldn't be home for a few hours. They assured me they would sent someone in a few hours. It would all work out.

When we go home from Dzemul, there it was; a brand new, identical but red (our first car was turquoise) rental car, along with two patiently waiting agents. Though I had arrived only five minutes past my scheduled time, it seemed like they had been waiting for quite a while. When I asked the rental agents the length of their wait they politely responded that they had been there for an hour. Yet they didn't seem restless. Perhaps they were enjoying the sun, sand, and ocean. Yes, they assured me, the windshield will need to be replaced. ¡Que mala suerte!

So there we were, new and improved rental car at our disposal. Which was convenient. Because we were planning to leave the beach, drive south a few hours to my favorite ruins (Uxmal), and many hours later arrive at Bacalar, situated just south of Playa del Carmen. On the other coast. It was about a six hour drive but we planned to make it into one long day of driving and sightseeing along the way. We set out very early in the morning.

And we were driving along just fine. Highway driving in Mexico is pretty self explanatory. The highways are nice and new, although mostly two lane. Since the speed limits are high (at least 110 kph), it's completely normal to pass slow moving vehicles. When the roads aren't curvy or dangerous. I'm a pro at passing cars on single lane Mexican highways. It takes a lot of patience, but you can always eventually pass.

Which is why I was very perplexed when I quickly came upon seven cars going slightly slower up ahead of me. They were clearly waiting to pass a slow moving van. Wow, I thought, they must have some serious patience to wait so long to pass. But in time, I knew, we would all make it safely past the slow moving vehicle. We had many many more hours to drive; we couldn't exactly afford to drive so slowly for a very long time.

None of the cars ahead of us were going particularly slowly, nor were they inching to pass the slowest car at the front of the line. I thought about it for a split second before heading on to pass the cars myself. There was no use in waiting, after all. Except that the roads through the Yucatan can be windy. So I wouldn't have enough time to pass all seven cars at once. I started passing them two at a time. I passed the first two cars. They seemed content to be where they were. Hmm, I thought, maybe they're driving in a line. I wonder why. I can't be sure, but it doesn't seem as if they are trying to pass the front car. So I quickly passed the next two cars, and then the next two cars. Eventually I was right behind the slow moving van. And that's when I saw it. The giant picture of the Virgin Mary staring right at me. It was posted conspicuously in the rear view window.

It looked like a regular covered truck to me

Because it was a hearse. Carrying a corpse to its final resting place. And we had placed ourselves prominently first in line at a funeral procession. I swallowed hard. Was what I had been doing wrong? Was I not supposed to weave in and out of a funeral procession? Was there some tell tell sign early on in this process that I had completely missed? Or did I not know what was going on until just that moment? And once I realized where I was, was it wrong to try to head out and pass the hearse? So I did just that. I waited for a clear view of oncoming traffic and sped over and passed the hearse. What else was I to do? They were going far and long; but they were also going slow. They didn't need me embedding myself in their mourning processional.

So we drove on. And on and on and on. We were going to take Highway 184 from Uxmal to the Caribbean coast. Highway 184 would meet up with Highway 307, the main road from Cancun all the way down to Belize. We'd hit into 307, turn right, and drive a few miles down the coast to Bacalar. We'd been driving for hours, but we started passing the signs telling us that 307 was just ahead.

According to Google Maps, Highway 184 bisects Highway 307

Which it probably was. But we'll never know for sure. Because we never merged onto Highway 307. We never go that far. Instead, we drove on Highway 184 until the road just ended. That's right, the highway just stopped. So we stopped. And then we looked around. There were people coming towards us on foot. They were walking over with suitcases and backpacks. They were getting into taxis. They were driving away, the only direction the road went - back to where we had just come from.

I found a narrow place to turn around. And then attempted to ask a taxi driver for directions. He and his friends laughed as us. The road didn't intersect with the coastal road, at least not yet. The road would be built, someday. I couldn't believe it. The maps/gps indicated we could drive right on through. Except that we could see right in front of us; there was no actual road. Only a parking lot. The taxi driver drew us a map; we'd have to backtrack for a while, then turn off and pass through three villages before finally hitting 307, south of where we were. But we would hit it eventually. In only a few hours time.

So then I asked about the people coming towards us, from what appeared to be the other, coastal side. No one could answer me. Apparently there was an airport some place nearby. But that didn't explain the cars and people I could see ahead of us, driving inland from the coast to meet us. Except we wouldn't meet. Because there is a strip of highway missing. That just hadn't been built. Instead of continuing on the way we had planned, we had made it to the very end of the road. So we turned around, drove back back, turned off at a random desvio, and ended up in paradise. Because that's what happens in Mexico. Paradise is always just one wrong turn away.

Bacalar

Thursday, April 23, 2015

a place in the sun

La sangre sin fuego hierve. Blood boils without fire
- Mexican Proverb

I've spent a little bit of time in Mexico recently. Actually, it's been quite a bit of time. Yet it's never enough. There are so many things I love about Mexico: the food, the ocean, the people. But I can't forget about the sun. In Mexico, the sun is an entity in and of itself. It calls the shots; when we wake up, when we go to sleep, how we spend our days. It has been both lovely for me as well as painful. My first trip to Mexico I burned my feet being out in the sun too long, and they swelled up into giant tomatoes. I learned my lesson.


I try to never miss a sunset when 
I'm on the Gulf Coast of Mexico

The sun in Mexico is almost always shining. Even when it rains, a few minutes later the sun inevitably comes out. It's a sunny place. The sun shines down upon us, a constant reminder of the heat we must endure every day in this endlessly tropical climate. So it's not really surprising what I'm going to talk about next. The energy of the sun can only lead us to one possible conclusion. That's right, I'm going to talk about solar energy. I recently learned an important lesson about using the sun's energy.

I must admit that I'm still learning about solar energy. And a lot of what I do know I learned very recently, both in a classroom as well as in practice. I have lived in a hot, tropical, sunny climate. I have left a clear bottle of water out in the sun. Heck, I've even left one in my car on a sunny day. How hot was the water? Hot enough to burn. And hot enough to cook.

This is what the local people I visited in Mexico already knew; the sun can cook things (other than just their skin). Yet, they weren't, to the best of my knowledge, really utilizing the sun's power for cooking. I needed to find out why. There had to be a reason (or reasons). But before I could find out what people knew and didn't know about the sun, what the locals were or weren't using the sun for and why (or why not), I was beat to the punch. Because a group of generous souls set up solar cookers for these same villages where I spend much of my Mexico time. 

A new solar box cooker

Don Alejandro shows off a new & highly 
efficient wood burning stove.

What have I learned since these solar cookers were introduced to the villages? The sun is hot. And everywhere. And free. Except that it's not free; not exactly anyway. There are so many costs, some I saw coming, but some of which were totally unforeseen. I have to admit I was surprised how enthusiastic everyone was when they saw a demonstration of the solar cookers. There are a few types (solar oven, solar stove, efficient wood burning stove) and they're all impressive. However, they are all small. Too small. And expensive. Too expensive.

They cook one pot of beans. Which isn't enough. We know it's not. Because we asked. And because I thought about it. I can't remember the last time I used one pot to cook a meal for a group of people. Especially one involving rice, beans, meat and tortillas. 

They are cost prohibitive. This we also know. How expensive are they? Well, using the cheapest materials we could find, they are still too expensive. Honestly, anything over thirty dollars is out of the locals' price range.

However, seeing the demand for the solar cookers, I saw an opportunity from my capitalistic American point of view. They just needed to set up a stove factory. I was certain the completed stoves would sell like hot cakes. As long as we could get the cost down. So we would have to be creative. We would have to use alternative, and thus cheaper, materials and buy in bulk. We would have to design an equally efficient stove using new designs. And then we would have to get the stoves to actually work. But I knew it was a good idea. Build the stoves, I thought, and they will come.

I suggested to a few local friends that they might want to be the ones to capitalize on this untapped high demand marketplace. My friends looked at my like I was out of my head (more-so than normal, as I tend to offer up pretty nutty ideas to anyone who will listen). They couldn't imagine how to make the ovens more cheaply. But I pushed them on this point. I knew it would be possible. I just didn't exactly know how.


The original design for the solar box cooker (an oven)

The materials and ingenuity question weren't actually the biggest barriers my friends needed to overcome. They first needed start-up funds; they didn't have the necessary amount of cold hard cash. So I started to channel my inner venture capitalist. We would simply search for some start-up funding. It would be easy. We knew people in Merida. They would have money. After all, we were planning to set up a small solar cooker making operation, not a high tech computer company. How hard could it be?

The answer is hard. But also easy. Because i
t turns out it is possible to cut down the cost of the cookers by using alternative materials and increasing quantity. So we don't need a lot of funds. Just a few supportive friends with a little bit of money. Which we found we have. In spades. And just how will we design less expensive stoves? Turns out we have friends who know how to do this as well. We are rich in resources. 

I have high hopes we'll be able to drop the cost of the ovens significantly. But we still have miles to go before they can become affordable to the local population. But I know it will happen. We will figure it out. It is possible. Nada hay nuevo debajo del sol. There is nothing new under the sun.

Friday, April 10, 2015

fitness therapy

Coming down from my marathon high, I had to decide where to go next. While I wasn't about to give up running any time soon, I found myself longing for something new. And because of the weight I had gained while training for the marathon, I was also looking for a way to kick start my metabolism. Years ago, running had done that. A few years ago, after settling into my running routine, I started lifting weights with a trainer and, no surprise, the new exercise gave my metabolism another nice boost. So once again I found myself at a crossroads. Where should I go next?

With no shortage of workouts available to me, I chose TRX. Or rather, I decided to give a few new workouts a try and TRX came out on top. For now. I'm not an all or nothing kind of person. While training for the marathon, I would lift weights, run intervals, climb stairs, go for (short) bike rides, and practice Yoga and Zumba. The majority of my workouts were runs, but not all of them.

The past few years I've also tried working out at home. I'm a fan of Jillian Michaels - I find her voice less annoying than others and her workouts tough. But home workouts weren't cutting it for me. I could just crap out easily and no one (except my belly) would ever notice.

I first decided to sign up for a month of unlimited classes at a nearby gym. Actually, it's a gym located directly on my commute home from work. The gym had two very important components and these are the reasons I chose it above all others. It offered classes in the evening. And it had online class registration. It was very no nonsense. You sign up. Then you go. All I had to do was go that first time (always the hardest for me).

And I went. I didn't know much about the gym or the types of workouts it offered or what I was going to experience. I did know the gym wasn't CrossFit and I had heard (and read) great things about TRX. But I don't think I really understood how tough the classes would be. I had just run a marathon, after all. I could easily conquer anything they could throw at me.

Well, this particular gym has become my sanctuary. The classes are small. Everyone knows your name. So I continue to go. And work my butt off. The gym offers a small variety of classes. The two I rotate between are HIIT (high intensity interval training) and TRX (total body resistance exercise). HIIT is basically indoor boot camp. TRX is basically a trapeze. Except not really. It's a set of adjustable stirrups used to help you throw your own weight around. It requires coordination and is not a natural fit for someone as uncoordinated as myself. Yet I find myself loving it. My own weight has caused me to work muscles in my arms I never thought existed. TRX has caused me to feel the burn while holding a plank, feet still inside the stirrups. And pressing my own body weight has caused me to spend the better part of my first week in pain. And yet, I go back for more.


My TRX and the class set of TRXs

I tried a few other gyms on my quest to mix up my post-marathon workouts. From Orange Theory to track workouts, these programs involved too much running. As I runner, I know that criticism might sound strange. But running is the thing I do myself. If my goal is to work out hard, I don't really enjoy a class where half of it is spent on a treadmill (for so many reasons). I still run outside several times a week; varied short midweek runs and one long run every Sunday. This is my recovery/training program. And it feels like it's working. Every run is less exhausting than it was before. At times I even feel light on my feet.
A little motivation at the gym

Because in addition to my interval, short, and long runs, I go a small gym. Where everyone is kind. And there's no waiting in line. There are only people who swear by the TRX. I just mostly swear at it. I think I have a love-hate relationship with the suspension stirrups. But I can feel my body transforming. I can hold positions longer. I don't know how long this new fad workshop mechanism will keep me satisfied, but I'm enjoying the ride. Once over the steep learning curve, the TRX has quickly become the mechanism with which I will transform my body. And it definitely passes the time more quickly than the elliptical machine ever will. And that's good enough for now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

sustainability

Every industry has its fair share of buzzwords. From social impact investing to emotional intelligence, it feels as though more and more industry terms are being inserted into everyday jargon with each passing year. The "new" term being passed around every board room in my non-profit industry last year was "collective impact." What does it mean? Well, it means exactly what it sounds like; a group (the collective) working strategically together can create a deeper impact. In other words, it's a shared vision for change. This is not a new idea. So why all the buzz surrounding this buzzword?

The difference between Collaboration (old concept) and 
Collective Impact (new, slightly different, concept)

We are all guilty of using these terms. We buy in to the buzz. From level five leadership to leaning in, no one is immune from throwing these terms around in conversation. But do these words really matter all that much? They sound like great concepts and will most likely help a lot of people. But I still believe that actions speak louder than words. Even louder than the most popular words of the year.

Because I still believe in actual sustainability. Good old sustainability, the biggest buzzword of them all (in my industry). I'm no stranger to the term; I've been working toward sustainability for the majority of my life. It's the very basis of why I do what I do. I am constantly asking myself, "why am I working so hard for change if it doesn't turn out to be long lasting? What will my program's impact really turn out be?" Despite all the new buzzwords, these are still the main things I care about thinking through and discussing.

Every day I find myself still relying heavily on measuring the "sustainability." But what is sustainability? And why do I care so much about it? Because sustainability is still the mother of all end results; it is meant to signify success. It's meant to move the needle. It's meant to bring about change in the world.



But how does one buzzword accomplish so much? Because it's not about the word itself nor its definition. It's about the thought process. That's what all these ideas and phrases have in common. They remind us to remember to act collectively. To remember to lean in (only if you want to). To remember to measure your ROI and to present your company as a social impact investment.

I recently heard the following quote, "if you want creativity, take a zero off your budget. If you want sustainability, take off two zeros."1 This quote makes me smile every time I come across it. It's a pretty honest reminder to stay focused. To stay cheap and stick to your grassroots. But also don't forget about your sustainability plan. 

Keep sustainability in mind all the time. Even if it becomes your mantra. Even if you can't stand hearing the word even one more time. Let it guide every action you take. Don't throw a dart at a board, grab some money and run off to a place you know nothing about. Be smart. Be thoughtful. Be long-lasting. In other words, be sustainable. Be willing to change. And if you're like me, become a part of this change. Pick your passions. Start small if you have to. But don't be afraid to get big. 

I can see my big picture. I know what I want for the next generation. I want all high school seniors to graduate this year. I want every mother and daughter across the globe to get an education; the highest they can possibly find. I don't want women's rights or gay rights or minority rights to exist; can we please just eliminate the qualifiers already and look at the "rights" of all? 

Ten years later, my Honduran host brother is still studying. 
However my host sisters are not.

I can't do everything I want to and I don't plan to. If I do my piece well, then I've truly achieved something. Because perhaps through the course of my existence I'll have helped one or two or hopefully even ten people out of a vicious cycle of poverty. Because that's what is important to me. And I certainly don't work at it alone. I choose to surround myself with like-minded people; people who also want to be a part of the change. People who also thrive on this change, as tough as it may be. People who also want to watch change pass on through a few generations before calling it a success. People who want to see this change become truly sustainable. Because it means we're not needed anymore; our jobs are done. And it's an incredible feeling. One I very much look forward to experiencing one day.

For even more fun, check out this sustainability buzzword generator game.

For sustainable grassroots development, join the Peace Corps. Just kidding (maybe). 

And check out Proyecto Itzaes. The most sustainable education program I've ever come across (and that's saying a lot).

1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomwatson/2015/01/15/capacity-the-philanthropy-buzzword-for-2015-thats-missing/