Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I'll get back to running in the next post...

When one encounters an obstacle...
I wanted to share with you a piece that I wrote a few years ago that explains how I operate and how I continue to do what I do in all areas of my life. 

In fact, this has everything to do with running.

I hope that you enjoy this little tidbit. Although it is mainly about my first few days at Oberlin Conservatory as a freshman voice major, I think you'll be able to tell why I decided to post it here. 

*I have changed names to protect the identity of my classmates...


“No one ever passes this test, you know,” said the self-assured senior voice major as I tried to rush past him in the narrow hallway of Robertson, the building that housed most of the tiny, airless practice rooms at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
“Thanks. I’m going to take it anyway, you know, just to see what the test is all about, because everyone’s been telling me not to. It must be really hard,” I said, annoyed and waiting for him to stop blocking my way. I needed to get to the second floor of Bibbins Hall, where I would sit for an hour and rack my brains about dead European men, whose creations I seemed to have a special affinity for.
“Well, you’re wasting your time. Why don’t you just go like, practice? C’mon you’re a freshman, and you’re a voice major. Voice majors never pass the music history exemption test. Hell, they never even take it. You need to be in the practice room,” he said, shaking his head with a sympathetic smile and walking away. Continuing to warn me, he yelled, “Only like, European violinists and pianists ever pass the test. It’s their music anyway.”
Damon Purdy* was a legend at Oberlin. Everyone listened to what he had to say, even though he could be sort of a jerk. His incredible vocal talent— his melismatic gospel seemed to lend itself flawlessly to the demands of fioriture in bel canto opera—and his equally fluid keyboard skills in both styles were astonishing in such a way that one was overwhelmed simply by being in his presence. People listened to what he said and followed his advice. Even seasoned professors and professional musicians who had no need for advice from a twenty something regarded his generous running commentary as something worth lauding.
The exemption exam tested one’s knowledge of various periods in the western classical tradition, from early-medieval and renaissance idioms to modern serialism propagated by the likes of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. We were to identify each piece of music by period, composer, genre, historical context, and instrumentation.  Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss, Webern—this was the test that I had been preparing to pass for 4 years...Stockhausen. Stockhausen?  Who in the hell was Stockhausen? That part I left blank.
We can do anything and everything. Don't Humor the Haters.
This past weekend, I finished my 5th Ultra. 
Fortunately, Stockhausen’s existence and contributions to contemporary classical music did not have the disastrous effect on my exemption that I had feared. The list that was posted that same evening outside of Bibbins 206 contained my name and the names of two other freshmen, who turned out to be Hungarian and Russian pianists.
“No one ever gets out of the writing requirement at Oberlin,” said my good friend Frankie Adan*, an editor at the Oberlin Review. “You shouldn’t even try. I mean, your stuff is good and everything but don’t like, waste your time.”

“Okay, um, thanks,” I said, rolling my eyes and walking away with the paper topic in hand.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Day in the Summer Life of @THEMIRNAVATOR

Friday, July 10th

One of the great things about being a teacher is having time during the summer to focus on training  for particular events (along with preparing materials and having meetings for the upcoming school year--it's not all play so DON'T GET IT TWISTED!)

I wanted to give a glimpse of what I like to do during my "lazy" summer days:

This week I have my sister and her family visiting from New York. I love having family and friends over because they expect that they'll be really active the entire time they are visiting and they LOVE IT. We go hiking, swimming, walking. We garden (this is new to me--we're city folks), fish (I don't really fish but my sis and brother in law do!) cook great food, wake up with the sun, and relax on the porch.

My niece enjoying some time out of NYC

Today I got up at 6am. I made coffee and drank it (inhaled it, really) then did PiYO Lower Body Focus. This is a great pre-running dynamic workout that gently stretches and strengthen your legs. PiYO is one of my favorite Beachbody videos. On a typical day, I like to do a video or two to get the blood moving. Also, I just really like exercise videos because it gives me the chance to try out different sorts of physical activity without traveling to a gym. I LOVE gyms too, especially Lifetime Fitness.

Next, my brother-in-law, my running buddy/colleague Rebecca (who ran her first marathon at Tortoise and The Hare 12 Hour Ultra last month!), and I ran a local dirt road (from 3.6-4.6 miles.)

The views were astounding as they always are.

We often have very foggy mornings in the North Georgia Mountains

And then there are the cows. They are EVERYWHERE. They are gorgeous. Jealous yet?

After our run, we did a set of body weight exercises from yesterday to warm up:

25 jumping jacks
15 squats
10 jumping squats
10 pushups
10 walking lunges

Then we did 3 sets of the following:

15 Kettle Bell Swings (I love this video for a great Kettlebell Workout)
The Bro-in-law 

10 Sandbag tosses ( I love this sandbag workout)--And my sandbag is a 20 pounder)
Rebecca, my running buddy quoted in RW

Me with a post gum surgery swollen face

For many, this may not seem like a lot. But the point is to do SOMETHING everyday or at least most days of the week. Make it a habit. Make a commitment to yourself and then make an appointment with yourself.

Worried about equipment/clothing costs? I've acquired all of my weights, clothes and various training paraphernalia over the years. One year I bought a kettle bell from Wallyworld, another I bought some dumbbells and even got some for my birthday, and the medicine ball...well, let's just say it's on long-term loan from one of the schools I taught at. Two colleagues gave me a spin bike that they used maybe three times. I bought my first treadmill from HSN on the easy-pay plan because I didn't have a spare $600 lying around.  Another friend from college supplied me with a top of the line NordicTrack treadmill simply because I had joked online that I needed a treadmill. A few days later, my husband brought it to me from NYC.

Put it out there. It will come.

Adidas I got on sale at the New York Running Company for $50. There are sales everywhere. There are consignment shops, too. Also, there is Nordstrom Rack! If there is one near you and you need a pair of running shoes, get there immediately. They have discontinued models and big shoes for those of us that either have WIDE feet or extra long feet. I wear a size 11 and sometimes 12 depending on the shoe and many places and websites don't always carry sizes above a women's 10 (which is stupid.)

Shirt was from the Double Tap 50K, an awesome brushed cotton-poly blend that is great for working out in or wearing to Walmart.

Compression shorts are from Road Runner Sports. These shorts aren't super tight and they hold your stuff in so you're not jiggling around unnecessarily all over the place. That's not fun.

Socks are Darn Tough wool socks that I got for free at the Finger Lakes 50s event this past weekend. These socks are second only to my absolute favorite Swiftwick running socks. Sign up for an event and you'll either get a shirt, pint-glass, free socks or arm-warmers (like in The North Face Endurance Challenge) or other types of samples from sponsors.

Hat was $5 at the Finger Lakes 50s because who doesn't need another cap?

And drumroll........the BRA is theVictoria's Secret Incredible Bra (for high impact activities)-I'm not gonna lie--None of the models represent what I look like in the bra, but at this point I need a bra that works. It was also expensive but it is one of the best sports bras I've had, second only to Moving Comfort. Give it a chance ladies--I know, VS is not the brand that automatically comes to mind when one is purchasing a sports bra. I was extremely skeptical myself but decided to try it out. I was not disappointed.

Anyways, whatever you wear and whatever you do-DO IT and be LOUD and PROUD. Get your family and friends in on it and make it a party, a daily celebration of life and health.

Monday, July 6, 2015


If you are someone with a fitness habit, people notice and sometimes in creepy ways:

At Black Rock Lake in early Spring, blending in
A few months ago I took a quick break during the school day to run a few loops around Black Rock Lake in Mountain City, Georgia. The trail is fairly short, .85 miles around. There were several people out walking and fishing as it was an unusually warm day at the the start of April. My plan was to run four loops and do some sun salutations on the fishing platform afterwards. On my third loop, an older woman I had passed twice called over to me loudly,
"Four," thinking she was asking me how many I was planning to do. I was wrong.
"Well I counted THREE!" She yelled, somewhat indignantly.
"Uh, I'm doing four though. Have a good day, ma'am"
So you're counting my loops?

Some weeks after this exchange, I was at the local post office rushing to get my son's camp forms in the mail. It was already extremely hot out and happened to be a recovery day. A mail carrier whom I had never, ever seen walked into the small post office after bringing in some baby chicks that he hadn't been able to leave on the porch (I do live in rural Georgia). "Good afternoon!" I shouted.  He then looked and me, cocking his head and remarked in a gently lilting North Georgia Mountains accent, "I didn't see you out there exercising today yet. Better git out there before it gets too hot!"
Hunh? Have we met?

OK, I get it. It's hard NOT to notice me in my small town in the Appalachian foothills. I'm big, I'm black, and sometimes I run with an intricately carved walking stick.
Daily Pre-Dawn Campus Run

And this at least once a week a student says "Ms. Valerio I saw you out there again this morning. It was like 5:30. Are you NUTS?!? Don't you like to sleep?"
Get back to bed so you don't fall asleep in my class later on.

Another Gorgeous Early Morning Campus Run

If you are someone with a running obsession and a blog, people notice in very awesome ways:
    I was sitting in a gender and sexuality workshop in North Carolina (I'm also a diversity practitioner. I know, I have a lot of jobs) with a group of educators in late January of this year. The presenter had asked us to unplug from our devices while she spoke. As a mom of a kid who always happens to get sick when I'm away, I keep my phone on at all times. So like the students I teach who smile at their crotches thinking I don't know they're texting or Instagramming, I too stared at my crotch when I got an email notification, thinking it was someone from my school asking me yet again to come pick up my son because he was sick.

    Wait, what? Hunh? WHAT? The WALL STREET EFFIN JOURNAL? (Actual language edited for public consumption) When I got an email from Rachel Bachman, a writer for WSJ asking if she could talk to me about my blog and my experiences with running for an article she was working on, my heart stopped beating for a few seconds and this time not from some imagined heart attack. I ran out of the room hyperventilating and hastily replied in a toned down, more professional version of YES! OMG! YES! NO WAY! HOLY CRAP! ME????

    After a phone interview the very next day and the sharing of more information and photos, a short  photo shoot was set up with the enormously talented Tammi Nowack, photographer, friend and neighbor. This was moving entirely too fast.  Disbelief abounded.

    The article "Weight Loss or Not, Exercise Yields Benefits" was published on February 9 of this year, to my absolute delight and astonishment. Things started to change. Hits on the blog increased and my Facebook BLEW UP. People wanted to read what I, a fat girl from Brooklyn, had to say about running and fitness.

    I'm not gonna lie, it was very cool (and continues to be) and I was HYPE for days afterwards.

    Things calmed down a bit and I was back into my routine, training for the Lenape Trail 34 (which I DNFed because several polar vortices had decided to mess with my plans), prepping my Spanish students for their AP exam, finishing up with the school musical production, and getting ready for Spring break.

    Amenability and Anxiety
    And then on February 27th, the day before I would head back to Brooklyn for some racing and respite, this happened:

    I had just gotten ready to go for a short afternoon run when my phone buzzed with an email notification whose subject line was "Runner's World Story"; I thought that it was odd for my weekly Runner's World email to be in my work email. Hmmm? Had I signed up for more emails? I took a second look at the email and gasped.

    John Brant, the long time writer at Runner's World (who wrote that lengthy piece about the pit bulls who had attacked that family on a trail run a few years ago) had just asked me if I wouldn't mind being featured in an upcoming issue of the magazine. "Would you be amenable to this project?" he asked.


    Again, toning down what could have been an incoherently incredulous and happy response, I replied with something to the effect of "Sure that would be great-thanks and I'm so honored-let's chat next week..." not having ANY idea of the awesomeness that was to come.

    We spoke the following Tuesday, with my family in Brooklyn keeping a close ear on the barely audible conversation, something about the concrete and metal walls in the projects....

    Could he come down to Georgia and hang out for a few days, interviewing me, observing me at work, running with me? You know, fly down from Oregon? Maybe he could come and hang out with me while I volunteered for the Georgia Death Race?

    Was he for real? He was going to fly out from OREGON? To interview ME? My son wasn't impressed in his typical pre-teen way. "Runner's World? Never heard of it. And anyway mom, that's like, stalking."

    We made arrangements for him to come to the North Georgia Mountains the week before Easter break when I would have a few long blocks of time to "hang out" and run before, during, and after my work day.

    I looked forward to this meeting with both excitement and tremendous anxiety. Was he really coming? I wouldn't believe it until he actually showed up. Would he be disappointed in what he thought could be a story, but really wasn't a viable, marketable story? Would he ask me questions that could potentially make me very, very angry or insecure?

    John Brant and I after a run around Black Rock Lake
    Nothing of the sort happened. John arrived on a Tuesday night and we met for some joe at a local coffee shop in Dillard and we hit it off immediately. Conversation was easy and relaxed. What I didn't realize (but should have, duh!) was that he was observing my every mood, expression, the way I walked and talked and interacted with everyone I would encounter over the next few days. He accompanied me to Spanish class and Chorus, and then we would run in the afternoon and then again the following morning at six.

    I enjoyed the back and forth of our hours-long interview, the serious, funny, and even probing questions. The opportunity to talk about my running, musical, and teacher life with an award winning journalist and sports writer who was interested in me was thoroughly exhilarating.

    I would still be in a state of disbelief. Would he really write the article? Maybe he had just wasted four days of his life hanging out with this teacher of adolescents?

    Again, I returned to my routine. I DNFed at the Double Tap 50K, did long training runs on the weekends, got nominated for a musical director award, hung out with my boy, and prepared for the end of the school year. Two weeks before school ended, I got a call from the photo editor at RW. Would I be available for a shoot with the incredibly gifted documentary photographer Bryan Meltz the following week? Another editor sent me a 20 page single-spaced fact-checking document to look over and revise, and would I answer this question and could I verify that? Also, could I scan a million selfies and pics and label them all by yesterday?

    And it's the end of the school year and I'm totally stressed out and hubby is sick and I have a toothache and a cold and OMGTHISISREALLYHAPPENING

    Bryan Meltz, Photographer
    Somehow I managed to do everything they asked of me amid exams, final projects and papers, meetings, toothaches, writing report cards, deep cleaning of the house, and everything else that comes with being the subject of a photoshoot for a major magazine.

    The photoshoot was an experience like none other. My own personal paparazza! SHIT JUST GOT REAL (in your best Kevin Hart voice...) Bryan arrived at 5:45 in the morning and almost immediately started clicking away while I ran with colleagues and students, and then stayed for almost 11 hours artistically documenting every aspect of my day. What an absolutely heady experience!

    Fast forward to a few days ago when someone on the NBMA (National Black Marathoners Association) Facebook happened to post a pic from the magazine and asked if the person in the article was part of the group. I responded with a a resounding YES! That's ME!

    The response both in real life and on social media has been incredible and overwhelmingly positive. I am on cloud nine, and cannot sleep yet again because of the excitement. A few people on the trail at the Finger Lakes 50s this past weekend stopped and asked me if I was the one in Runner's World. One even asked to take a selfie with me! Wow.

    John Brant's ability to tell my story in such an exceedingly honest and beautiful way tugged at my heartstrings. His writing is evocative and descriptive, giving the reader a real window into someone who loves running for the run of it but, non-traditionally so. I love that he did this for me and for all of us who need to see more people that look like us in both print and electronic media. I love that the Wall Street Journal AND Runner's World took huge risks in focusing positively on people who are not thin but are seriously active nonetheless.

    I am truly grateful and humbled beyond words.

    Photo by Bryan Meltz

    Wednesday, July 1, 2015


    At the Catamount Ultra 25K

    This summer is my summer of ultra running. I completed my third official 50Kish at The Midsummer Night's Dream Hourly Ultra in Canton, GA and am aiming for the fourth ultra distance at the Finger Lakes 50s 50K this weekend in Hector, NY.  My legs have been burning since I started training in mid-May, but the whole of me is super-excited to push my body beyond its perceived limits. These were some thoughts that I had during the Catamount Ultra 25K this past week---(ok not an ultra but that's what the shirt says so I'm going with it!) and other recent races/training runs:

    An amazing aid station at the Catamount Ultra
    • Oh, it's a short long run this weekend- only 15 miles. And tomorrow only 10. Whew!
    • Time for a TRAILFIE
    • I need a sandwich, like NOW. Preferably a turkey club on GF bread, with mayo.
    • OMG how many miles til the next effing aid station??? Oh, only five? Ok.
    • They're just miles. They're just miles. Miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.....
    • I think that's a moose. Nope it's a branch. Nope it's a moose. A branch. A moose. A branch. Oh, it's a shadow.
    • I could run forever.

    • If I die while doing this, I'll die happy. And sore.
    • When is this going to end???
    • Where can I poopwhereccanIpoopwherecanIpoop? Oh! That tree looks good.
    • UGH! People pick up your gel packets!!!
    • Ooh! An unused Honey Stinger gel! Haven't tried this flavor yet...
    • That 70 year old lapped me. Again.
    • Time for a TRAILFIE.
    • OOOH! A puddle. I think I'll try to clean the mud off my Altras/Brooks/Hokas/Skoras/PIs/Salomons/Merrells
    • Mud, mud, mud and more mud at the Catamount Ultra
    • I love this mud. I LOVE IT. Wait, where's my shoe?
    • Rain? What rain? This is not a downpour and no thank you, I do NOT need a ride.
    • I'll do 10 more tomorrow so I can get in some more miles.
    • That is such a beautiful CAIRN! Where's the trail?
    • Oh no! A downhill. A hill would be so nice right now.
    • Will I sweep this or that race? OF COURSE! I need the miles!
    • Gross. A sock
    • Blackniss Eboneen is my new trail name. Yep.
    • You don't want to come with me? I'm only running for three hours today. In and out. Real quick.
    • More mud? WTF?
    • I need bacon. Like, NOW.
    • I'll take a short break after I reach 26.2.
    • Food is so gross. Water is gross. Everything's gross. I'm gross.
    • I might just die, right now. 
    • I'm the black Scott Jurek. I'm the black Scott Jurek. I'm the black Scott Jurek.
    • "Sometimes you just do things."
    • That is such a beautiful CAIRN! Where's the trail again?
    • This is great. 
    • This is SUCKTASTIC.
    • TRAILFIE time!
    • This is absolutely the worst run ever.
    • That had better NOT be a snake. IT IS! Time for a snake pic!
    • This is the most PERFECT run EVER.
    • I've only done 17? WHAT?  Oh, 17 laps you mean....
    • What a sufferfest.
    • I only face-planted three times! Nice.
    • This is AMAZING.
    • I wanna die.
    • I LOVE THIS.
    • The finish line. I could totally do another loop. 
    • Where's the free beer?