How I’m Training For A Half Marathon

I was always the kid who walked The Mile in gym class, bid my friends adieu while they took off on their daily jogs and generally avoided running like the ol bubonic p. In 2012 I wrote a post called “The Story of a Reluctant Runner” detailing how I got over my distaste for the activity and got myself moving, but the long and short of it is: two years later, I’m a runner.

Now I’m in the throes of doing something I never ever, ever thought I would do: train for the San Francisco Half Marathon. While I once thought I would never go as far as 13.1 miles, part of me remembers that I have biked 570 miles and completed a triathlon. Both of those two feats took training and I figured, I might as well see what this whole half marathon thing was about.

Lots of people have been asking me about how I’m training, so here’s the scoop on how I’m making it happen.

There’s An App For That!

I mean, of course there is, right? Before I even paid for my registration fees, I was hunting down the best apps to develop a half marathon training plan, basically to make sure this was even possible. I settled on MyAsics because it allowed me to customize how many runs I want to do a week (3) and what day I wanted to do my long run on (Saturday) as well as make it super easy to understand the program break down. The distances have been good, my only critique is that there are no voice cues to tell you your splits and pace while you’re running. So now I use MapMyRun while I run for the voice cues and plug all my data into MyAsics to keep me on my plan.

Here's what the app/my plan looks like.

Here’s what the app/my plan looks like.

Having Zero Expectations

I have one goal with this half marathon: TO FINISH. Aside from that, I went into this with no ideal time, pace, weight loss goal or anything. As a result, I’ve put very little pressure on myself and I’m having fun with the whole process! I’d ideally like to not walk, but hey–if that happens, cool. The bottom line is I *get* to do this.

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“Okay, but are you mixed?”

Here in the states I’ve never once been asked that question. I believe this is because the answer upon taking a casual glance at me is rather, well, black and white.

I’ve got brown skin and natural hair. I mean, hell, even my last name starts with Black. I have never not checked the African American box when filling out demographic data.

However, while visiting Lagos people frequently asked about the coily texture of my hair. When I explained to them that this is simply it’s natural texture, not a coiling technique or starting of locs their response would be, wide eyed with an air of suspicion:

“Your hair just grows like that!!?? Okay, but are you mixed?”

My response was at first always a solid “no.” I mean, I’ve got two black parents, black grandparents, black great-grandparents; I am definitely 100% black. Always have been, no question about it how I’ve identified.

Me and the great-grandparents (top)  & the grandparents on the bottom.

Me and the great-grandparents (top) & the grandparents (bottom)

However, after being asked by several people, I started to wonder where this was all coming from, if there was something to that question. This was truly a first for me and I took some time to reflect.

I would never say that I’m mixed, but the truth is that in my family we’re not quite sure where exactly we come from. There’s rumblings of Irish ancestry somewhere back in the day. Rumors of Native American heritage somewhere in there. We see a looser curl pattern here and a touch of light skinnededededness there. But in general, when it comes to skin color, the main link between we the Blackwells is that we loooooooove to be tan. The deeper, the browner the darker the better. With all those winters in Minnesota that suck the color right out of us, once summer hits, we are out there setting our tan lines to show our hard work. My mom calls it “searing” and even my grandfather finishes the summer looking like Golden Teddy Graham. But again, the last name – Blackwell – there has never been any question of who we are and how we identify.

Back to Lagos.
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Naija: I am HERE for your food

Before heading to Lagos, I squared away my necessary travel logistics:

1. Window seat: check.
2. Nigerian visa: check.
3. List of delicious things and places to eat: check.

It’s no secret that culinary tourism is one of my favorite parts of travel. It’s why I gain 15 lbs of foie gras in France and why I spent more time hunting down Oahu’s best poke and Korean butterfish than on the beach.

I landed in Lagos with a list of the most necessary Nigerian dishes to check out, curated by some of the awesome peeps in the Nomadness Travel Tribe. I didn’t know what any of the names meant–moi moi, elegusi, suya, dodo, pounded yam–but I knew I had to have it all.

Over seven days I diligently knocked down the names on the list, discovering the flavors of tradition Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa cuisine. I also enjoyed some fantastic pizza pizza, Nutella, piña coladas and a healthy dose of wine.

A few highlights:

1. This stuff is HOT

Sure it’s 102 degrees outside, but that doesn’t stop this food from lighting up the inside of your mouth like a flame thrower at Kanye concert. I loved every. single. bite. In every meal, my eyes watered, I sucked in air (which we all know does nothing to aid the plight) and gulped down water. Nothing helped, but I kept going back for more. Lemme say this, I don’t think I tasted anything Nigerian that wasn’t spicy.

Jollof rice taking center stage

Jollof rice taking center stage

Elegusi - stew made with ground melon seeds and meat

Elegusi – stew made with ground melon seeds and meat

Moi Moi

Moi Moi

Hot Pepper Soup! So incredibly spicy. So delicious.

Hot Pepper Soup! So incredibly spicy. So delicious.

Ugba - a traditional salad made with shredded nuts and stock fish

Ugba – a traditional salad made with shredded nuts and stock fish

Efo Riro - a vegetable stew with cow leg (tendon I think) flanked by pounded yam

Efo Riro – a vegetable stew with cow leg (tendon I think) flanked by pounded yam

2. The sun never sets….

….on the British Empire. Thanks to the Imperial conquests of the Brits back in the day, there’s a lot of mixing between their former colonies. In Lagos, as a result you have a lot of Indians and Indian food. I enjoyed one of the best Samosas of my life at a rather posh restaurant called Spice Route. Also Perfect Mutton stew and fantastic tandoori.

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The Hair Culture of Lagos

Years ago, I always imagined Africa as the home of all things natural hair, the place where I could go find those magical juices, berries and maybe some sort of indigenous nut oil that would allow my hair to thrive. When we think about Africa as the place to “go back to our roots”, it would only make logical sense that the root of the natural hair movement is also found on the continent. It wasn’t until I saw this photo oh-so-long-ago that made me start to think I had it all wrong:

Young women performing in Umhlanga (The Reed Dance), an eight-day event in which thousands of unmarried and childless Swazi women travel from all over the country to perform for the royal family. (Photo by Elton Anderson)

Young women performing in Umhlanga (The Reed Dance), an eight-day event in which thousands of unmarried and childless Swazi women travel from all over the country to perform for the royal family. (Photo by Elton Anderson)

As these women perform their native tribe dance, there is nary a natural curl in sight. Not a single one.

A similar observation began even before I hit the ground in Nigeria. On my plane, I observed ZERO other natural women, only relaxers, weaves and braids. Sure, beneath those weaves and braids the hair might be natural, but the inherent impression is that of a preference for straight, long hair. If the hair is worn short, it’s done so in a way that’s much more Halle Berry-pixie than Solange-TWA.

For days, this parade of weaves and relaxers continued through our adventures in Lagos. One would think that with such a cultural prominence, the hair would at least be healthy looking and well-styled. Unfortunately the opposite: I’ve never seen so many edges ripped out, broken ends and damage. Even young girls had patches missing from over applied relaxer.

We in the west set the global trends of black culture; it’s particularly hard to stomach that this is our beauty contribution to Africa. Just like we in the States had to conform to this a Eurocentric-standard of beauty, I wonder if the pressure to straighten was even stronger living under the influence of a colonial power.

Nevertheless, we were there to provide natural hair education and to empower women to wear their own hair. As a tribe of natural hair wearers rolling through Lagos, we certainly caused a stir because it was a rare sight to see.

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Nigerian Natural Hair Show: Recap + Gallery

After months and months of preparation, last Saturday the Nigerian Natural Hair Show went DOWN and it was so much fun!!! The Kinky Apothecary team knocked it out of the park, putting together a fabulous 8 hours of educational programming and an fantastic expo. The event took place at The Federal Palace Hotel here in Lagos, Nigeria and over 200 naturalistas came from Lagos, greater Nigeria and even other African countries to learn, shop and snap selfies–lots of selfies– in their fantastic natural styles.

The day started off with a panel discussion facilitated by Nibi Lawson, Founder + CEO of Kinky Apothecary. I was honored to sit on-stage alongside an inspirational (not to mention GLOBAL!) group of women including Felicia Leatherwood (Celebrity Stylist), Obia Ewah (Obia’s Naturals), Ijeoma Eboh (KlassyKinkys), Ngozi Opara (Heat Free Hair) and Wunmi Akinlagun (Woman in the Jungle).

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I hopped on stage to present my workshop “The Top 10 Natural Hair Mistakes I’ve Made (and how to avoid them yourself)”. See, as a blogger, you’re often only posting the finished, polished and sometimes even photoshopped final photos of the natural hair journey. The truth is that going natural is HARD and even we bloggers still make mistakes, especially when starting off. I wanted to open up and give an authentic perspective on the struggle that is so real, but stand up as an example that with a bit of patience and perseverance—in the end it all turns out a-okay.

Towards the end of my talk, I also explained that one of my main goals with my blog is to meet and get the stories of naturals around the world, so I encouraged everyone to come find me and we could snap a shot with my selfie-stick. And BOY did these Nigerian Naturals sure love taking those selfies! I think I’ll write some sort of new African proverb that starts “If you give a woman a selfie stick, she’ll look as fire as the African sun.” Something like that… I’ll work out the copy soon, but for realz, people love the ‘Stick. It brought out a lot of smiles and laughs.

The rest of the day, all the other speakers hit the stage and I chatted with the local naturals, asking questions, helping them shop for products, and doing a little shopping myself (hey-o!)–I can’t leave these Ankara fabrics alone while I’m here….

Huge shout out to Nibi and team for pulling off such a fantastic event. Education is the MOST important part of the natural hair movement and she is such an inspirational example of drive and passion for providing that education to the women of Africa.

Now, without further ado, my full gallery of images:

1st Day Hair: Not My Thing (even in Nigeria)

Tomorrow! Yes, FINALLY tomorrow is the big day—the Nigerian Natural Hair Show is finally here. As a featured presenter, I started prepping my hair for said big day, well….last week.

I’ve come to realize, that I really, truly, honestly dislike my first day hair. As a Wash’n’Go advocate, I find that my freshly washed style is just never my favorite. Sure, my ringlets are fully popped, I’ve got tons of shine, my hair hangs long, but I don’t know…I just feel that I look like some sort of wet cat.

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See the displeasure in that face? Yea, that’s me.

Okay, maybe I’m not THAT upset, but I feel like my hair never hits its stride until day three or four. A few reasons:

1. It’s a little TOO perfect. I find that the beauty of natural hair is in its “imperfections”. I like a little frizz, a little gesture–it shows personality.
2. It’s too flat. It shows off all the angles of the cut, there’s no smooth, rounded out flow. I want my hair reaching for the sky.
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Lagos: The Arrival

At the end of the jetway, a man calls my name. Cassidy?

Yes?

Welcome to Lagos.

He grabs my wheeled suitcase from my hand and we take off—and I mean take off in a 0-to-60, just beneath a full run sort of way. As we zip past the people who deplaned before me, he makes conversation, politely telling me that it’s time to hustle. “I hope your flight was good. I don’t want to cause you any stress, but this is where we move fast,” he says. I secure my backpack even tighter and take my speed up a notch. We are bobbing and weaving and zigging and zagging through the labyrinth of the arrivals gates. Windows are open everywhere. It’s hot, humid and I am glad that I do lots of cardio.

We pause at our first queue. “Do you have your Ebola screening?” he asks. I do. I produce a paper on which I have made several checkmarks confirming that I have not been with a person who has died of a hemorrhagic fever in the last three weeks. Either way the agent shoots a white temperature-taking gun at my forehead. Twice. The second time asking me to move my travel-weary curls out of the way so she can get a better read. My passport is now a constant reminder of this Lagosian precaution.

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The sprint continues onto the immigrations officials. I produce the blue arrival form Delta gave to me on the plane. A man in a tan uniform tells us that this is not the form they are using anymore, but luckily for us he has the right one. I look at the crisp blue Delta form and the wrinkled white slip this officer had jammed in is pocket. I have my doubts, but my handler nods me on to take it. So I do. I have a suspicion that without my speedy little friend this form could have cost me a pretty penny. At the immigration desk, the man takes one look at my visa, stamps my passport and we are through. I feel slightly jilted that my Nigerian visa, which took days of errands, hours of organizing and hundreds of dollars received less than 15 seconds of attention. Whatever. We are through. I am officially in Lagos.

Outside the airport, a beret wearing officer casually dangles an assault rifle from his pinkie. I’m hustled into a car with my driver and we drive into the hot afternoon sun.

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There are people everywhere. Cars everywhere. Yellow buses filled with people everywhere. People and cars jammed together in what could be a four lane highway, except there are no lanes and cars seem to drive wherever they need; diagonal if they must. People are on medians, shoulders of the road, shoulders of other people and in between the cars. Men and women walk against the flow of traffic selling peanuts, icy sodas, children’s pajamas and… is that a 4 foot poster of a Lamborgini on top of the Manhattan skyline? It sure is.

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Our driver locks the door as we enter the 4:30pm grid lock. Other cars, however, are indeed buying. One car rolls does roll down their window for a beer, the vendor strolling alongside the car while making change. A commercial comes on the radio. It’s the state traffic and roadway safety commission encouraging people not to cross the expressway and to use the pedestrian bridge. Still, outside our windows the steady stream of people flows around bumper to bumper traffic as it inches forward. Another man stops our car. He is selling chargers, I consider this a more pragmatic offering than the flannel pajamas hanging on another man’s hangers. We politely decline and he walks away. Traffic breaks and it’s onward into Lagos.

Back to Africa: The Nigerian Natural Hair Show

Early on in my days of blogging, I developed an eye and an ear for the goings on in the global natural hair community. It started with stumbling across a photograph of a super dope natural hair cut taken in Swaziland and over time has allowed to travel to several international cities in the name of natural hair.

My very first international natural hair interviews was with a Nigerian naturalista named Nibi Lawson, owner of The Kinky Apothecary. I did the interview over gChat. Me waking up early in the morning to catch Nibi, right before she went to bed. I recently dug the interview back up (you can read the full transcript here), and one of the things that has always stuck with me is Nibi’s claim that in Africa, natural hair is often seen as too afrocentric:

People tend to conform to more ‘western’ ideals. I’ve had people say I’m really ‘afrocentric’ in a negative way, which is weird as well, what’s more afrocentric than actually being african, which all of us here are. But yeah, I hope I am able to change people’s misconceptions.

To me, this concept hits at the root of everything the natural hair movement is aiming for.

Nibi and I have stayed connected through the years and I’m honored to have been invited as a guest speaker at the Nigerian Natural Hair Show!!!!!

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It’s been three years since I took my first trip to Africa during which I visited Dakar in Senegal, an experience that made quite a lasting impression on me. I start my voyage to Lagos in just a few short hours (!!!!!). but couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come!

Some highlights I’m looking forward to:

  • The hair show of course! It’s going down this Saturday. I’ll be speaking on a panel (love panels) and can’t wait to check out all the exhibitors and meet the guests
  • Eating Suya, Moi moi, Catfish Pepper Soup and Pounded Yam. Naturally, I’m right on top of my culinary research game
  • Scoping the view from the top of the Intercontinental. Lagos is one of the largest cities in the world. The view is supposed to be bomb. I will be brining my selfie stick for suuuuuure
  • Visiting the barbershops of Lagos! I’m taking a couple days to visit the men’s grooming world and document the Lagos scene for BevelCode
  • FELA KUTI DANCE CLASS!!!!! Need I say more!?!?!?
  • The markets. I always love checking out the local markets
  • Sharing the experience with YOU! Stay tuned for stories and photos from the road!

ClassPass: Barry’s Boot Camp Review

I was very nervous for Barry’s Bootcamp. Very very very nervous. Everything I had heard going into this class made it sound like hell, but also those same people gave if the most rave reviews and kept going back for more. Still, I was nervous and willingly expressed such directly to BBC.

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Their tweet response actually DID make me feel a little better, you know, if I felt like puking on the treadmill then I could always just take it down a notch.

Their Promise: The best workout in the world

The Experience: Upon arrival, the front desk staff was SUPER helpful and before swinging into the lockerroom I noticed none other than a JUICE BAR where you place your order before headed into the gym so that it’s ready when you come out. I ordered up some sort of Vegan shake with a HUGE dose of protein and a healthy amount of calories. I knew I was going to need it after a sprints on a minimal breakfast.

I started off on a treadmill. The flow of the class is that you alternate between treadmill time and floor work. On the treadmills you’re going between runs and sprints, sometimes at an incline. Your recoveries are done at pace, which means you’re still running at about a 6.

I’ve always been a decent sprinter and over the past couple years I found myself enjoying a run here and there, however nothing and I mean NOTHING could have prepared me for this experience. It’s one thing to go for a 4 mile run, quite another to be sprinting at a 10 on an incline followed by calisthenics that involve a step and weights. It was the most difficult workout I’ve had to recent memory, but in one of those ways that leaves you with a sense of accomplishment.

There’s something about working out in a dark, sexily lit room that really gets you in the zone. I honestly don’t think I could have sprinted my ass off if there were lights on. It’s kinda like “what happens in Barry’s stays in Barry’s” and I left it all on that treadmill. 60 minutes later, I was worked out, worked in, worked down and even diagonally.

Chris, the instructor was 6’9” or something and SUPER awesome. I loved his energy and enthusiasm for getting us to MOVE. The weight sessions were hella tough. Nothing was ever a simple bicep curl, everything was layered on top of one and other for max muscle workage. BBC is NOT fucking around when they say it’s the best workout in the world.

Because I worked out before work, I used the facilities to shower and was *delighted* to come face to face with a suite of Malin + Goetz products, towels, and dryers on hand. Paired with that smoothie that was waiting for me, it was a perfect experience start to finish. I mean, save for that part where I almost yuked on a treadmill, but that’s part of it too. I loved that there were a lot of guys in the class too. It’s refreshing to see a gender balance in a group fitness studio

I get while people are addicted to this place. I’ll be back. Specifically 7:50pm next Thursday. EEK!

BBC gets a 10 out of 10 for sure.

ClassPass Review: Mighty Pilates

As I mentioned in my Mint Studio Review, I’m really interested in expanding my pilates repertoire beyond my springboard exposure at BURN. I decided to hit up Mighty Pilates for the sole purpose that it’s incredibly close to my house so a 6:30am class was NBD.

Their Promise: Mighty Pilates offers energetic group classes so you get fit quickly and feel empowered. Be Mighty in Laurel Heights with classes that combine stretching, cardio, and core.

You’ll work out your whole bod head to toe on a mix of the Reformers and the Towers. Power up your powerhouse in this vigorous class that mixes it up. Appropriate for students familiar with the Tower and Reformer.

The Experience: Gorgeous studio. Just gorgeous. Reformers up front, towers in the back. Wish I had given myself more time to explore the space. The instructor Sabrina, was very throrough in asking about my injury (like what vertebrae is my injury on and shame on me for not remembering). I appreciated that. We began the class doing a series of core and arm exercises on the reformers. Since I have some basic knowledge of pilates, it was easy enough to follow along, execution on these tired muscles was a whollllle other story. At first blush, pilates equipment looks straight up like torture equipment (and I guess in a way it is), but Sabrina had excellent cueing and kept us in our exercises for the perfect amount of time. I never felt like anything was *too* hard.

After the reformers, we went into the tower room and began our work there. One thing I did find impossible was our planks on an un-sprung bar. I just could not hang there. Nothing in this class was, easy. At all. But I really appreciated the pace, instruction and flow of this studio.

I give this class a 10 out 10 ten for it’s instruction, experience and space.

Next Up: Barry’s Boot Camp

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