Tuesday, June 19, 2018

An Extraordinary Motivational Crisis

I am a perfectionist. I do not know my limits. I push and push until there's nothing left to push, and then I push a little more. And want a little confession? I worry that I have no idea what I'm doing about 95 percent of the time. And another confession? I'm fucking exhausted.

A few months ago I wrote about the myth of work/life balance, and I've had so many people ask me about it. I've been asked repeatedly how or if I've achieved that balance. I've said some stuff that sounds good like I have to find time to myself and time to exercise and time to unwind...blah, blah, blah. Do you want to know what's actually happened? I've decided that I have to give up something, and the thing that I've chosen is running. And exercise. And it's not sustainable. A decade ago I would've been motivated to exercise at 8:30 p.m. to help rectify this problem. My motivation was off the charts back then. Tonight I'm typing a blog and drinking a glass of wine because...well because that's all I'm motivated to do. It's been a really long day.

Today I looked at the schedule for the next two weeks and felt a crushing sense of stress over how busy it is both in the office and at home. We rarely have a free evening. We're heading to West Virginia to visit my mom this weekend which I need because that is my happy place. But we leave around noon on Friday and come home Sunday so it's a blip on the radar. By my last meeting today I felt like I was swimming underwater. I rallied to take my kid to the pool for a few hours. My kid was happy and having a blast, and for a little while I felt like I had it together. 

Since college exercise has been my solace. It's been my way to relieve stress. It's been my companion. That turned specifically into running twelve years ago, and it has kept me sane. It is through running that I have discovered that my body, despite often betraying me through Crohn's, is so much stronger and faster than I could've imagined. I run to feel normal. I run because it's who I am.

And despite the bravado of my last post I'm suffering a motivational crisis of existential proportions. I've got a cough that's lingered for six weeks, and I just finished my fifth cycle of antibiotics and steroids. Yet my delightful cough is still hanging on. I tried to run last weekend, and I coughed the entire time. I feel like my body has layered on plenty of excuses for me to not run, and I've grabbed onto every one of them. 

I've also suffered my entire life from a very distorted body image, and it's probably no surprise that my lack of running has left me in the worst shape of my life. I weigh more than I ever have and can't fit into many of my favorite dresses. I obsess over how much weight I've gained. During the worst of my bronchitis/sinus infection/post-viral cough a few weeks ago I coughed my face off during several horrendous workouts. The rational part of my brain told me to stop and take a minute. I can always lose a few pounds, but my body needs to heal. The part of my brain that obsesses over my body (and generally wins most arguments) is still fighting hard, telling me to ignore reason and health. I oscillate somewhere in the middle not exercising like I should and constantly beating myself up over it. 

I've had a lot of people tell me they love the honesty in my writing, and this is about as honest as it gets. I remember the early days of Crohn's 20 years ago when I started law school three weeks after having my colon removed and hiked to the top of a mountain only to sprint down for a bathroom emergency. I have and continue to push myself, and I've let one of the most important coping mechanisms fall by the wayside. I have let my strong, amazing body become victim to that part of my brain where my motivation is zapped. 

I still want to run three half marathons this year. I want to find my way back to myself: that groove where I wake up early and run. I want to have the world to myself and lose my frustrations in the rhythm of the run. I want my pants to fit and to feel strong and healthy. Right now that all feels very daunting. 

My last confession? I don't have a thing figured out. Not one damn thing. Some days I feel like I can conquer the world, and some days, like today, I feel like I am faking every minute of the day. I objectively know how strong I am. I know what my body is capable of. I just need to take a little time today to let my mind catch up. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

My Running Break is Over

I do not have a race on the calendar. It's weird. My knee has healed, my Crohn's is in remission, and yet my race calendar remains empty. I need to change that, but I haven't been ready. I haven't been ready to commit at a time when my calendar looks like a game of Tetris. I went for a run on Mackinac Island this morning. It's 8.2 miles to run the entire Island, and even though I'm not in 8.2 shape, I thought I'd give it a shot. Even if I walked a good bit of it that would be fine.

I had a conference call about a mile and a half into the route. It lasted almost 25 minutes. Then as I ran on this beautiful morning heading toward the back of the Island I realized at a run/walk pace I was going to really cut it close to meet my husband for lunch. I turned around and ended up running around five miles which, while not my goal isn't nothing. But even at five miles my body was not amused. I realized it's time - time to get back into running. It's time to get back into a routine and find my runner self again.

I don't need to run every day; quite the contrary, I will actually get injured if I try to run every day. If I run 3-4 times a week that will get me there. I've run 22 half marathons, and I'd love to run three more by the end of the year. Two years ago that goal seemed easy. This year it seems daunting. 

A wise runner/mom/kick ass city leader said to me recently that when you're a runner it's always in you even if you take a little break. The last year and a half I've prioritized health, family and work over running, and I'm okay with that. But it's time to look at my priorities. None of those things will ever be less important than running, but it's time to add running back into the mix. I know I won't be as fast for a while but it's not about speed. It's about connecting with myself and finding that space where I can let everything else go. I love the half marathon distance, and it's time to get back to it. Anyone want to run a half (or three?) with me yet this year?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

When Pigs Fly

I had a fantastic weekend in Denver a few weeks ago with my BFF. At one point as we were chatting I was telling her in grotesque detail (that I will spare the blogosphere) about my health challenges throughout the last year and a half. She got to hear the gory details of the abscess that took ten months to heal and then the meniscus surgery that followed shortly thereafter. I had a moment during this discussion where I realized how much my body has been through in the last eighteen months. 

Resetting with my bestie in Denver
If you know me you know I don't know my limits. I also tend to greatly underplay my health issues. But if I'm being honest I must admit that this is the longest it's taken me to bounce back from a Crohn's incident, both physically and mentally. The unrelated meniscus tear challenged me even more. 

During the first week of November, the week I had knee surgery and was still drugged up on narcotics, I decided to sign up for a race a few months out. Initially I was told I would be running again in four weeks, so I thought I would be back in full force within six months. I've always wanted to run the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati, and that was just over six months after my surgery. But registering for the half wasn't enough. I registered for three races: the 5k, the 10k and the half marathon, all to be run in one weekend. Perhaps it was the Norco, but at the time it seemed reasonable. 

Two months after surgery I was still not running. I had additional inflammation that was repaired during the surgery, so recovery was slower than I expected. Then on January 1, two months exactly after surgery, I started the busiest job I've ever had. Even if my knee felt up to running, my body was exhausted. Sleep oscillated between elusive and coma-like, but either way getting up early to run was not going to happen.

Finally in March I emerged from the fog of the previous few months and clocked a reasonable 27:24 in a 5k on St. Patrick's Day. It was only six weeks before the three races in Cincinnati, but I was still cautiously optimistic. I told my husband and myself that maybe it'd be extremely slow, but I could power through all three races. As the days flew by I rationalized that maybe I'd run two of the races but not a third. As much as I hate admitting my weaknesses I knew I wasn't in shape for a race hat trick.

I've been doing a lot of cross training, but I'm still not logging the miles that I'm used to or need to be in order to perform at Flying Pig. The week before the race I admitted to my husband that I wasn't ready to run the races. A sluggish 5k at the Race for the Cure the Sunday before solidified the decision: we weren't going to Cincinnati. I wasn't running the races. I was not ready.

Post Race for the Cure. Way more exhausted than expected.
 Admitting that to myself was hard. Admitting it to the world is even harder. But unlike other times I've been hospitalized or had infections I took a very significant break from running for about eighteen months. I had an extreme Crohn's infection and knee surgery. My body has taken a lot of hits, and I'm not where I was a few years ago. I'm not even close. I weigh the most I've ever weighed. While my body has healed I'm battering it every day with a level of work stress I've never experienced. I love my job, but the adjustment has taken a few months, months where I should've been training to run 22.4 miles over the course of 24 hours. 

Instead of being in Ohio last weekend we had a lazy weekend at home. I ran four slow miles on Saturday morning, and I tried not to think about missing race weekend. I'm still searching for the elusive work/mom/wife/runner/friend balance. And I'm not sure when I'll be back in shape to run at least 13.1 miles. It's going to be a few more months, and I'm going to try to be patient. This year marks 20 years since I first experienced Crohn's symptoms. My body has been through a lot, and realistically it's only going to get harder as I age. I want to continue running for a long time, and in order to do that I need to be patient. I need to be kind to myself. And I need to be realistic about what I can handle both physically and mentally. And Flying Pig will still be there next year.   

Monday, April 30, 2018

Get Out of Your Own Way

Last year I was approached by a work acquaintance earnestly asking me for advice for training and fueling for his first marathon. At first I thought he was kidding because I basically have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to either of those things. Then I realized he wasn't, and I struggled to give him advice. There is tons of advice on how many miles one should run weekly, what cross training is most effective, what one should eat before/during/after a run, what carb loading is the best. I ignore 100 percent of it. 

I firmly believe that running is largely a mental sport. Sure if one wants to run marathons with 6 minute miles there's obviously significant training for that. But if you're an average, amateur runner, the biggest key to getting better/faster/smarter at the sport is to stop overthinking it.

I'll give you a few examples from my life. I've done it all wrong. I've tortured myself and insisted on running every single mile of my training program. I have a recurring IT band injury, and I discovered after several years that my body can't handle running more than four days a week, and it can only handle a certain amount of mileage. So if I push too hard I will injure my IT band. Traditional training programs do not work for me, and when training I rarely run more than three days a week. Increased cross training and less running has actually made me faster. My 5k PR stood at 26 minutes for three years. I started training for a triathlon and replaced running with swimming one day a week. I subsequently crushed my 5k PR and have rarely gone about over 25 minutes since. There's no training manual that will tell one to do that, but I did and it weirdly worked.

I'm terrible at running nutrition. T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E. In my first few marathons I used sport jells or jelly beans because I felt like I was supposed to. They didn't really help. Gatorade gives me indigestion when I run. And Gu is disgusting. One time I had a lunch with two martinis and ran an awesome 15 miles later that afternoon. Not recommended by science and yet was way better than the gross Gu.  

The New York Marathon is my absolute favorite story of mind over matter. My longest run before NYC was 15 miles. I'd lost my dad less than a month before, and I didn't even come close to fitting in all my long runs. Despite my goal of breaking five hours in my first three marathons, my goal for New York was to finish. Period. I knew I was not in shape for 26.2, and I just wanted to get to the finish line. 

We got to New York on Thursday. We drank our way through the city for two days. On Saturday, the day before the marathon, I had a cocktail at brunch and glass of wine with dinner. On the morning of the race I grabbed a handful of almonds from the stash my mother-in-law had given me on the way out the door when we left for the airport. I had two cappuccinos from the Dunkin' Donuts in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. I ran 26.2 miles fueled by caffeine, adrenaline and New Yorkers. I took more than 30 minutes off my PR, running 4:44:01. That race was all me getting out of my own way. I had fun and enjoyed it. 

Obviously one has to have a baseline of fitness to be able to knock out a number of miles, but I firmly believe at a certain point the key to getting faster is to think less. If I run more I know I'll get injured. If I eat certain things that are traditionally good "fuels" they are not kind to my stomach. Breaking five hours was so important to me in my first three marathons. In New  York I pushed the goal to the side and focused on enjoying the race. The same thing happened the first time I broke two hours in the half marathon. The problem wasn't that I couldn't break the goal; it was that I couldn't get out of my own way.

Could I get faster? Could I run healthier/better/smarter? Absolutely. But I'm never going to win the Boston Marathon. I do, however, want to run for decades to come. I want to enjoy it. I want to improve and get faster, but I think nutrition and training aren't the only keys. Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't you're right." My advice? Get out of your head and get out of your own way. Hit the trails and destroy goals you didn't even know you had! I have and it's an amazing feeling.  But also: don't stop eating and drinking the fun things. Because life is short and bacon cheeseburgers are delicious

Thursday, April 19, 2018

My Race/Place Bucket List Redux

Nearly six years ago I wrote a blog about my race/place bucket list. Since then we've done a lot of traveling, and I've run a lot of races. In that time my bucket list has also evolved as bucket lists are wont to do.

As mentioned in that blog I ran the LL Bean 10k in 2012, and it was awesome. I ran the New York Marathon in 2015, and I don't know that any race will ever compare. In the last half decade I've completed a triathlon, and I've determined that marathons aren't for me. I may run another at some point, but for now I'm taking a hiatus from 26.2. So where does that leave me with running goals?

NYC Marathon in 2015. The best.
I'd like to run a race in every state. It doesn't have to be something significant - maybe a 5k - but I want to pin on a bib and run in all 50 states. I have a lot of work to do; I've only run races in 12 states. I turn 40 this year, and I need to up the ante and knock some more states off the list. I've run dozens of races in Michigan and West Virginia. I ran (most of) a marathon in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I ran the Double Road Race in Indianapolis, Indiana. I ran a 10-miler in Louisville and a half marathon in Knoxville. I ran a 15k in Florida and a half marathon in Virginia Beach. I ran the Pittsburgh Half and an 8k in Chicago. I've run dozens of 5ks and 10ks and other half marathons, but I've got a lot of states to visit.

Double road race, Indianapolis 2013
That brings me to my place bucket list. It's a weird list. I've been to all the big cites (New York, Boston, Chicago, LA, DC, etc), and I love them all. But now I want to focus on places that are smaller and really have been creative about creating great communities. Boise is at the top of my list. I have been to Fargo but want to go back and spend more time there. I want to visit Bentonville, Arkansas. Random? Yes. But the home of Wal-Mart is alleged to have done some fantastic city design work. 

Paris still tops the list, and hopefully if I update this in six years I will have visited there. We're heading to Napa for my 40th birthday trip in October, and that is a bucket list trip. But I'm thinking Boise Half Marathon in 2019 (it's too close to Napa to do this year), and maybe the Bentonville Half in 2019 as well (it's in April). It should be easy to add races in Ohio and Maryland in the next year. 

What I love about running and placemaking is that the goal line constantly changes. I'd never considered the Deckers Creek Half Marathon as one of my bucket list races, but it remains one of the best races I've ever run. I love the City of Knoxville, TN, and I discovered that while running. As I'm working hard to rededicate myself to this sport and my goals, i'm excited by the possibilites of the next year. Who wants to run with me?

The Deckers Creek Half is still my PR race. Love it. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Myth of Work/Life Balance

I wish I had it all figured out. I'd quit my job and be a high-priced consultant to moms and live a life of pseudo luxury. But I don't even though I like to pretend I do. I maintain that I can have it all even if that means exhaustion and spreading myself very thinly at any given time. 

I love my job. Absolutely love it. I didn't quite account for how challenging it would be with a toddler. I can handle it, but my son doesn't understand it. I'm gone several nights each week and working pretty incessantly. I try really hard to carve out time to focus specifically on my family. I'm more successful on some days than on others. 

Last week I had a rock star mama tell me that there's no such thing as work/life "balance". She said "Life is way more like a teeter totter - always more of one thing than another but occasional moments of 'balance'. Just before your ass hits the ground!" 

I love this, and it came exactly when I needed it. On Monday of last week my son's school texted me that his eye was a little red. By the time I picked him up I was almost positive it was pink eye, and I made him a doctor appointment for that evening. My husband was not yet home from Milwaukee, and this meant I would have to miss the Mayor's first budget presentation to city council.

How can this face NOT take top priority?!?
I luckily work for a good dude who's a great dad, and he told me that family comes first. I appreciated that, but it didn't make me less stressed. As a mom I knew the right thing to do was miss the presentation (that was covered by other people already) and take my son to the doctor, but as a Chief of Staff I was freaking out that people would think I couldn't handle the balance.

My husband arrived home late on Monday night and went to pick up my son's eye drop prescription around midnight. I have that kind of awesome partner. He stayed home with our son on Tuesday while I worked, and I walked in the door to trade him as he walked out the door to chair a board meeting on Tuesday evening.

The doctor said my son only needed to stay home 24 hours, but his eye was still really red. I didn't want to risk him potentially spreading it to other kids. Unfortunately my husband and I both had busy days, and I needed to figure it out. My husband's aunt came up for part of the day on Tuesday, and I was home for part of the afternoon. My husband relieved me for an afternoon meeting and then we switched again as he headed off to another board meeting.

It was during these two days that I realized how true those words were. We had occasional moments of balance, but I can't count the number of times my ass hit the ground. It's weeks like those that I feel like I'm failing at everything. I'm not giving my total focus to work or my family, and the lack of balance is staggering. Things like exercise aren't even on the radar which creates another issue given that it's my outlet to relieve stress.

Over the weekend we went to my mom's in West Virginia, and our police had an incident I was monitoring remotely. I was texting and calling people back in Michigan all while my husband and son were coloring Easter eggs. I hope my son remembers that I was there not that I was texting the entire time. The impact on his psyche remains to be determined. 

Only egg dying is in the photo - not Mom's crazy working.
I know being a mom is hard whether one works or stays at home, so I'm not trying to make my life sound harder. I'm only speaking about it from this angle because it's what I know. I want to have it all. I want my son to see me being successful in my career. He knows I work for the Mayor. He's been to events (some more fun than others) and meetings, and he knows that both of us go to work every day. Some days he fights us, but some days I want to fight going to work too. 

I left work just before 10 pm last night after being there since 7:30 am. I came home, folded several loads of laundry and collapsed into bed. I set my alarm for 5:20 am to work out, and when it went off my son started yelling asking to come snuggle with me. I did not work out this morning. I snuggled my little buddy, and I don't regret it. I firmly believe we make time for what's important, and these days that's more important even if the result means my dresses are getting a little tighter. 

Three months (officially) into this job I'm realizing that I can do it all, but it may never be perfect. The balance may always be slightly off, and I'm the one who's going to have to adjust. I'm also going to have to give myself a break. The women that I admire most are boss career ladies mostly with older children who adore them. I'm sure they beat themselves up and didn't have it all figured out, and nobody knew. Their kids turned into successful, adventurous, well-adjusted humans even with busy moms. I am my own worst critic for sure, and I need to be willing to accept that true balance doesn't exist. And go with it. 


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Grit and Liquor

Those who know me know what I expect in the cities I love. I want a place that feels authentic. I want a place that has just the right amount of grit. What is that amount? I know it when I see it. Last week my husband had a conference in Milwaukee, and I was really excited to go. People seemed surprised by this excitement, but it's a Midwest industrial city on the water that's famous for making beer. What's not to like? Plus I could walk around with the Laverne & Shirley theme song in my head for four days.

I flew from Lansing with my champion toddler traveler to meet my husband who was already there. We were on our way downtown from the airport when I was already raving about street design because that's what I do. We stayed across the street from the convention center which was surprisingly cute. My experience with convention centers is they often look like a building out of a horrible Soviet Union photograph from 1987. Milwaukee has managed to break the horrible convention center mold. 

The weather was really cold and windy, but per usual I insisted we would walk everywhere. Thank goodness our toddler is adaptable. We did some kid-friendly things like the zoo and Discovery World. 

Toddler snacks in Discovery World

We did more parent-friendly things like day drinking and visiting their amazing city market. The Milwaukee Public Market is an anchor in the Third Ward neighborhood, filled with shopping, dining and a fantastic people-centered street. I fell in love with the market and the entire neighborhood.

The market inside and out. Fantastic.
We had to do a little searching to find creative (i.e. not pub food) dining options. The best food we had was lunch at Story Hill BKC a few miles from downtown. The restaurant has a little market, delicious cocktails and unbelievable food. It was definitely the culinary highlight of our trip.

Milwaukee is known for alcohol, brats and Bloody Mary's, so it's my kind of town. We had plenty of all of the above. A friend told me he thought I'd enjoy Milwaukee given the grit and alcohol that is around every corner, and of course I'm all about grit and liquor. People know me so well.

I got one quick run in during our time there, but I was woefully under dressed. The wind won. I have to say Milwaukee didn't start a love affair, but I'm intrigued by it. I'd definitely go back (preferably when it's warmer). I think a Bloody Mary on a patio could push me over the edge into true love.

Holy wind.