Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wow what a year

This year has been insane. Crazy. Out of control. When I look back on the amount of running I've done and traveling we've done, I realize why I'm so tired. That being said it's been incredible. We've been to some great places and spent time with our wonderful friends and family. In terms of running I set both my 5k and 10k PRs this year, and my half marathon times were pretty solid. To top it off the IT band remained relatively quiet which is an accomplishment for me in and of itself.

The year included trips to Norfolk, VA, Crystal Mountain (in northern Michigan), Morgantown, WV (four times), Washington, D.C., Knoxville, TN, New York City, Houghton, MI, Mackinac Island, Chicago (twice), St. Joseph, MI, Riviera Maya in Mexico, Boston, and Iowa City. That doesn't include trips to visit family in Metro Detroit and day trips throughout Michigan for work (not to mention a four-day work convention in Grand Rapids). It's no wonder our dogs are getting tired of going to the boarder.

All we want for Christmas is to go with Mom and Dad
This year included a lot of running too with three half marathons (Knoxville, Portland, MI and Lansing), the Crim 10-miler in Flint, one 10k and four 5ks. I also got to do fun, relaxing runs in great cities like Boston and D.C.

Every year we get busier, and I continually say next year we'll do less.  I'm already registered for a 15k in Pensacola in February and the Green Bay marathon in May. Other than that the year is open. My husband and I love to travel, and we want to make the most of this time in our life. I expect a couple of really big trips in 2012.  Tomorrow we leave for our last trip to 2011 to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Our pups will be thankful they get to join us on this one.

I hope everyone enjoys lots of Christmas treats and then runs them off. Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Lansing!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cross training with the world's toughest trainer

Let's be honest - Jillian Michaels is a bad ass trainer. Her tough love motivation totally works for me, and I dig it. The more she pushes the harder I work out. Here's the kicker - as much as I love doing Jillian's 30 Day Shred workout DVD, I find that when I'm running a lot, I don't cross train. Jillian and I need to get reacquainted.

I read Runner's World. I know intellectually the importance of cross training. With a recurring IT band injury I've been told repeatedly by my sports medicine doctor that it's important to strength my glutes and my core. Trust me - I get it. Once I start training, however, and I'm running a ton of miles, I let cross training slip. It goes out the window and I think to myself, "Look, I'm running. Isn't that enough?"

No, it's not. I know that, my doctor and physical therapist know that, and Runner's World knows it. I ignore it every single time I'm training until my IT band is screaming in pain even when I'm not running. Who else can I turn to before I start training this time but the one and only Jillian?

I'm a sporadic Biggest Loser watcher. I've watched some seasons, but once I found out Jillian was gone, I knew I wouldn't watch again. It doesn't take a fitness expert to know that Anna Kournikova is no Jillian Michaels. If anyone can keep me continually cross training, it's Jillian.

I've been doing workout videos since I was a young teenager. The 30 day shred is unequivocally the most difficult one I've done. (I've heard how hard P90X is, but I don't have that kind of time when training). Each workout is 20 minutes - and it's not easy.  When I finish my arms feel like jello and my legs are in pain. It's awesome. It's the perfect cross training to fit into my running routine. Plus it'll help me have sexy arms.

This time when I'm training for the marathon it will be different. This time I will add in cross training regularly. Maybe I'll throw in some yoga, but I promise to keep going back to Jillian. My favorite line of her DVD is "You're always told to just take the stairs. That's a false message of lethargy." See THAT is the kind of kick me in the tail motivation I need.

I had to take time off from ab workouts because of my surgery, so I did the workout yesterday for the first time in a few months.  Holy soreness - today my shoulders and quads are super sore. It feels incredible. My goal for the Green Bay Marathon is to remain uninjured.  I think Jillian and I can handle this one.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Breaking through the boredom

As much as I love running, I have to admit it can be monotonous. I know other runners know what I'm talking about - you map out a three mile, four mile, five mile loop, and then you run that loop. Over and over and over again. I have done the three and four mile loops in my neighborhood what feels like a million times. I know exactly where my IT band will start twinging and exactly how many strides I have to get to the next mile.

That is one of the major reason why I've taken to running in towns all across the country. It breaks up the routine and keeps me focused.  It doesn't always help, however, around mile four when I've got to cut back through the same part of the neighborhood to get through my five miles.

I try to mix it up as often as possible, but it's so easy (albeit sometimes boring) to just jump into the same familiar route. If I'm doing more than five miles, I immediately head to the Lansing River Trail.  There are miles of trails along the Grand River, and it makes it significantly less monotonous. That being said when I run with my co-workers we always do the same run along the river it can be a little much to do it again on the weekends.  I've also had people discuss concerns with their safety when running along the river trail alone. I probably should be more cautious, but I've never been concerned about it.

I love to mix it up and do hill runs in Mount Hope Cemetery in Lansing. The first hill in the cemetery is killer - I love it. It's also right where I can pop onto the river trail into East Lansing and run on campus, another favorite run.  

One time I did eight miles on a treadmill and lived to tell about it. Never. Again. It was torture. I can run MAYBE three miles on a treadmill before I want to pull my hair out. So if it's raining or freezing cold I'd much rather be outside than slaving away on a treadmill (seriously - it feels like slaving).

This is the time in the winter where air is a little colder, the running is a little slower, and my focus is more on Christmas shopping than PRs. After the first of the year I'll be starting the training plan for the 2012 Green Bay Marathon. Until then I'll stick with my boring four mile loop and eat an extra piece of pie.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chasing Santa

What could possibly be better than a Santa sighting? How about running alongside dozens of Santas in a beautiful downtown? Now we're talking. Last weekend a friend and I headed to the quaint village of Paw Paw, Michigan to run the inaugural Santa Run 5k.  Instead of a t-shirt we were given Santa suits to wear during the run. It was a true fun run - no timing. It turns out that running in a Santa suit is hard work. 

Santas suiting up for the run
We arrived in Paw Paw when it was still a little dark out.  Paw Paw is about an hour and forty minutes away from Lansing, but we didn't hesitate when we were asked to come do the race. Sometimes you just can't (or don't want to) say no - I'm looking at you @pawpawlarry! Downtown Paw Paw is adorable. As we drove in the Christmas lights were gorgeous, and there is a beautifully lit nativity next to Grape Lake in the downtown. It was a beautiful Christmasy morning for a run.

Lovely downtown Paw Paw at Christmas (photo courtesy of the Village of Paw Paw)
We joined the other Santas at registration. This is one of the things I love about doing a smaller race - there were snacks before the race. Everyone was just hanging out chatting and relaxing before the run. When we walked outside it was raining, but the rain stopped quickly. It didn't rain during the entire 3.1 miles.

My friend Nikki and I rocking our Santa gear
We ran right through downtown Paw Paw. Let me tell you - it's the quintessential American small town. Main street has few (or maybe no - I tried to look but can't be sure) vacant storefronts. There are some fantastic looking restaurants and lots of small local shops. For a small race there were lots of spectators including a cheerleading squad. (As a former cheerleader I always have a soft spot for them).

Paw Paw is known for promoting great local businesses including St. Julian Winery. I may or may not have several St. Julian bottles in my wine rack. Seeing the downtown in person only reiterated the importance of local businesses in building communities. Paw Paw is doing it right.

As we were starting the run one Santa said "Nobody has ever run a PR in a Santa suit". While that may not be true, we'll never know for sure because the race wasn't timed. It is so refreshing, however, to run just for the fun of it with no pressure and no expectations. Plus both Nikki and I lost our Santa belts during the run. That definitely slowed us down.

I really did love Paw Paw's small town feel, and I've love to go back. I saw this cute restaurant on the race course - LaCantina - that sits right on the water with outdoor seating. I'm thinking that'd be a great place to go next summer and sit right outside on the water. I've got an August birthday, so I'll have to plant that seed with my husband.

Downtown Paw Paw in warmer times (photo courtesy of the Village of Paw Paw)

The Santa run is a really fun and unique idea.  While I love running races of all sizes, sometimes it's nice to step back and enjoy the town and have a greater appreciation for a run.  I am glad I got to see Paw Paw for the first time, and I'm thinking we must go back for wine tasting and some delicious Italian food. If you see my husband, drop a hint.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The winter running blues

Winter is kind of a dead spot for running - especially this time of year right before the holidays. I religiously scour the Playmakers calendar to find races, and in December there just aren't that many.  From April to November you have your pick, but these lonely winter months you're hard pressed to find regular running events.

Not that running in the winter is that much of a joy. I really do enjoy it when the temperature is in the 20s and 30s. I love the sound of snow crunching under my shoes and seeing my breath. But here in Michigan we have January and February, months where you're surprised if it's above freezing. Weeks where the temperature doesn't rise above the teens. Those days are brutal for running. Once I get out there I love it, but it takes a special kind of motivation to step out in your running clothes on a 16 degree (or colder) day.

I find winter a little depressing, and I have to force myself to get out there and run. I don't even enjoy my surroundings when I'm running. My focus is on just finishing.

This year I'm trying to remain more positive and find a few 5k races to pull me through. I've got some really good warm running gear, and that makes all the difference. This weekend a friend and I are going to Paw Paw, Michigan for the Santa Run. Instead of a t-shirt we will be receiving a Santa suit to run in. I'm not entirely sure what it's going to be like running in a Santa costume, but I'm excited to find out.

Marathon training for the Green Bay Marathon will start in mid-January. I'm sure those days will be difficult, and I'll be complaining every single time I lace up my shoes. But at the end of those cold winter runs I'll feel like I've accomplished something. I'll also be looking for races in warmer locales during those months. There are a lot of warm towns left for me to explore. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Running for turkey

I love a good turkey trot. I have done the one in Lansing several times, and I've been really wanting to do the one in Detroit. The last few years we've done Thanksgiving with my family in West Virginia, so as soon as we decided to stay in Michigan this year, I knew I'd do the Detroit Turkey Trot. There's something satisfying about running early on Thanksgiving morning and then gorging on an obscene amount of Thanksgiving treats.

Goofing around downtown at the Joe Louis fist statue
On Thanksgiving morning I woke up early and left my in-laws' house with my cheering section - my husband and father-in-law.  My husband's family lives just outside of Detroit so it was a short drive in. As soon as we got off the exit we realized how big this race was - traffic was entirely stopped. Thankfully we'd given ourselves plenty of time.

Hart Plaza early on a foggy Thanksgiving morning
We parked just outside of Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. I'm from West Virginia - we're not really known for our hockey, but my husband is a giant Wings fan. It was a chilly morning, so we walked quickly past the Joe into Cobo Hall where the race would be ending. 

I remember reading the turkey trot would have around 10,000 participants, but this was the largest one ever with 21,000 people participating in the 5k, 10k and 1 mile runs.  It was packed in downtown Detroit. Detroit has a renowned Thanksgiving Day parade, and the Detroit Lions were playing that same day. It's always great to see downtown so busy.

Thousands of runners
The corrals lined up on Woodward Ave near beautiful Campus Martius Park.  (As an aside there's ice skating in the winter at the park. I'm dying to go!) The race ran up Woodward Avenue and turned around. Crowds were already lining up to watch the parade, and the holiday excitement was infectious.

The Christmas tree in Campus Martius Park
Despite the corrals, there were a LOT of walkers in my corral. It makes it very difficult to get into a groove in a race this size. There were also a lot of people running with dogs. I love dogs as is clearly evidenced by my giant dog monsters. But in a race with over 20,000 runners, there's no place for your pup. I almost tripped over a tiny French Bulldog, and neither I nor the dog would've been too thrilled about that.

Looking relaxed at the start
Runners at Campus Martius
The race veered off onto Washington Avenue in front of the beautifully restored Book Cadillac before running in front of Cobo.  We then we ran down Atwater to finish at the lower level of Cobo right on the Detroit River.

I'm clearly excited to finish
I had no idea how fast I was going because the crowds were so large. There was such a great variance of speeds that I was having a difficult time pacing myself. I had a pretty decent time for me (27:40), and I loved running in the D on a beautiful fall morning.

Posing by the Detroit River after the race
I'm not sure I would do this Turkey Trot again. As much as I love being downtown Detroit and seeing those great crowds, the Lansing race is smaller and a bit more manageable. For those kinds of large numbers, however, the race was quite well organized. Despite that I did have a really fun time, and I felt much less guilty for that second helping of green bean casserole.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for running

I have so much to be thankful for.  I have a wonderful husband, great family, the best friends anyone could ask for, pets who are adorable and a job I love.  In addition to all of that I have running.  Not only does it keep me sane, but I run because I can. 

I mean really - who wouldn't be thankful for these faces?
This month Runner's World did an issue highlighting its readers. One particular small blurb on a page said that this one person was so thankful for running because someone they knew had cerebral palsy and wasn't able to run. With all the people who are in pain and hurting and unable to run, I am thankful each and every time I lace up my shoes. An aching IT band means I did it.  Sore knees means I was able to hit the pavement. For those who love to run, it becomes a salvation of sorts. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but for me the best days I have are the ones where I make time to run.

This Thanksgiving as I am reflecting on what I am thankful for, that long list will include my ability to run. Running the Detroit Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning is a symbol for me that I'm healthy.  I've healed from my surgery, and I'm back in action. And that is something to be so thankful for.

Monday, November 21, 2011

All I want for Christmas is arm sleeves, compression socks and a race registration

It's that time of the year again when I start dropping not so subtle hints to my husband about my Christmas list. Some women want diamonds; others want pearls. I want a pair of plaid arm sleeves and a promise of a race in a sunny locale this winter. I'm totally serious.

I'll be honest - I don't even entirely understand the purpose of arm sleeves. Why don't I just wear a long-sleeved shirt? Either way they are adorable and I want a pair. Plus Shalane Flanagan wore arm sleeves when she was runner-up in the NYC Marathon in 2010. That alone makes them cool. But I digress.

My husband said to me a few years ago that buying me running stuff for holidays is boring. Sure I've got 3 running jackets in various shades of pink, dozens of short- and long-sleeved running tees and several pairs of running gloves. I do not, however, have purple compression socks. I can't think of a good reason for this oversight.
What good is adorable running gear without the appropriate place to show it off? I desperately want to do a February/March race somewhere warm. Michigan winters are brutal, and by February I'm ready to be anywhere but here. There is the Double Bridge Run 15k in Pensacola, Florida in February, a half marathon in Austin and a half marathon in New Orleans in early March. Any of these seems like perfect places to show off a snazzy new running outfit received at Christmas.

We're coming up on the winter dead spot for races. It's always difficult as a runner to remain motivated when there aren't a lot of races coming up, and the weather is just going to get colder. It helps with motivation when an argyle running skirt is part of the picture.
I really hope Santa (ahem my husband) is reading this. I mean I've already sent him the website and have pretty much handed him my Christmas happiness on a silver platter. Now it'll just be a matter of nailing down the perfect winter vacation/race locale. 'Tis the season!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back on track

Four weeks doesn't sound like a long time. For example, Christmas is what, five weeks away, and that time will just fly by.  When your passion is running, however, and your doctor tells you that you shouldn't run for four weeks, it feels like an eternity.

As someone who loves running and traveling, the last two weekends have been tough. Visiting both Chicago and Iowa City without hitting the pavement made me feel like I was missing something on my trips.  Running in every town we visit has become an integral part of going away.

And somehow, in less than six short years, running has become an integral part of who I am. I ran three half marathons in a year and took two years off from long races. Now I can't even imagine taking that kind of break from running. Running keeps me sane, and it is my time to clear my head. Without it I have felt like I've been in a fog this past month.

This morning I woke up early, put on my super cute running gear (let's be honest - cute gear is a huge motivator), laced up my fabulous purple Brooks running shoes and took off. It was a short and slow run, but it felt amazing. 

On Thanksgiving morning next week I'll be running the Turkey Trot 5k in downtown Detroit. I can't wait to be back in a race with thousands of my closest friends. Running these towns isn't something I do just for run. It's because I can't imagine doing anything else.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Visiting Iowa City

This past weekend my husband and I went with some tailgate friends to Iowa City, Iowa for the  Michigan State/Iowa game. For the first time in a long time (Chicago last weekend excluded) I didn't run while we were on a trip. Unfortunately I'm still on surgery restrictions for a few more days. I brought running clothes and considered breaking doctor's orders, but in the end I held strong and drowned my non-running sorrows in bloody marys. Oh and wine.

Iowa City is an interesting little town. Their downtown is cute - it's walkable, with lots of local shops and eateries, and a cool pedestrian mall right through the middle of downtown.  It's a small town (less than 70,000 people), and it's got a great college town vibe. Iowa City does a great job of leveraging its largest anchor institution, the University of Iowa. Like a lot of college towns (my beloved Morgantown, WV included) there's not a whole lot else there. The university is king.

Pedestrian mall in downtown Iowa City
Playground on the pedestrian mall - it's even kid friendly!
Iowa City was more quaint than I thought it would be. There were tons of local places to eat and drink at college prices. We had small pitchers filled with beer and mixed drinks for $3. As much as I love Chicago, you won't find a $3 drink in any places I've been.  On game day there were also tons of food trucks outside the stadium. It had almost a carnival like atmosphere. I'm not sure if there are food trucks in Iowa City other than on game day, but I sure hope so.

A food tent on the way into the stadium
One of several food trucks
Iowa City is, above all else, all about the Iowa Hawkeyes. We had a great experience with friendly Iowa fans. They welcomed us to their tailgate and shared their town with us. It was really a fantastic experience.
Tailgating in Iowa City
A friendly rivalry
Our Iowa City visit was pretty contained to downtown and campus, but it was a nice, quick weekend. I would definitely go back and check out more of the downtown establishments. It's fun to feel like you're in college every once in a while. Plus my husband's Spartans won the game, so that made for a much more pleasant trip. Next time we go to Iowa City, however, I will be lacing up my running shoes to run the hills on campus. Who's afraid of a few hills? Not this Mountaineer.

Kinnick Stadium at the University of Iowa

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spectating ain't easy

We've already established how much I love the city of Chicago, and I was determined to run a race there this fall. One of my girlfriends suggested we run the Hot Chocolate 15k, and I was in. This idea was perfect - a girls' weekend in Chicago with a 9 mile run thrown in. The race gear includes a jacket, and the post-race party includes hot chocolate and fondue. Yes, please.

Posing at the expo with random person in a costume. I think it's an eagle?
Unfortunately my surgery saga prevented me from doing the race. I initially intended to run the 5k, but I am still on running prohibition for another week. This mean I got to be a spectator for the first time ever. My husband is always a faithful and vigilant spectator for my races, so I vowed to do the same for my friend. 

Here I am playing the role of spectator before the race

Race day was gorgeous. I was infinitely envious that I wasn't running, but even I know my limits. There were thousands of runners in downtown Chicago. The excitement was palpable. We stayed at the Congress Hotel right near the start at Grant Park. This is one of the biggest races I've ever seen - certainly the biggest for a distance less than 13.1.  

5k runners waiting at the start
After the start I decided one of the best reasons to not run was the ability to head to Dunkin' Donuts for coffee. Unfortunately I discovered the 5k ran right in front of Dunkin' Donuts. Foiled! Instead I decided to hold off on caffeine to cheer on the runners. I have to say for as many spectators as there were on the course, there was very little cheering. I was even chastised at one point because someone's baby was sleeping. Really?!? It's a race! I know from experience that cheering helps runners. 

5k runners between me and coffee deliciousness
One of the strangest things that happened during the 5k was a guy who decided to leave his parking garage and drive through the runners to get wherever he so desperately needed to be. An irate spectator ran through the race to stop the guy and an argument ensued. It was SO dangerous that he pulled out into the throng of thousands of runners.

I did a lot of back and forth during the race cheering on runners and trying to find my runner. I have a new appreciate for my husband. He always manages to get the perfect photo of me during the race and finishing. It can't be easy. 

Because I had picked up my bib and packet, I had a ticket for the post race treats. I did enjoy some of the fondue. It was awesome. I didn't run, so it's less of an issue, but I'll admit I'd rather have a medal than chocolate. Clearly I get that's part of the deal, but for future reference I'd choose a medal over chocolate.

My bib that I didn't get to wear. It did, however, get me some fondue.
Following the race we did my favorite thing to do in Chicago - shopping. Michigan Avenue has some fantastic shops, and we hit the shops hard.  We also had meals at some fantastic restaurants including Rhapsody and Park Grill in Millennium Park.   

I've blogged before about running in Chicago and how much I love that town. This time, however, we spent some time wandering around in Millennium Park. Chicago uses green space masterfully.  Even on a Sunday morning as we wandered around the park there were lots of people taking photos and enjoying a beautiful fall morning.  I've often heard people say that if a city is trying to cut money they should just cut parks. Chicago is a perfect example of how wrong that logic is. Their parks are vibrant places that attract people. They are critical to what makes Chicago wonderful.

Posing with the bean in Millennium Park
We travel a lot, and Chicago still tops my list of favorite cities. It checks all the boxes for what makes a great place. I guess since I didn't get to run this race I'll just have to sign up for another Chicago race later. Any excuse to continue this love affair...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Using R&R wisely

I'm sure it's not surprising that I'm still not thrilled to be sidelined for a few more weeks. It doesn't matter that I certainly don't feel like running, and I realize it's important to listen to my body. It's just the idea that someone is telling me I can't do something. My instinct is to push back and do the opposite. In this case what I'm doing is planning my running schedule for the upcoming few months. It keeps me motivated.

My mandatory rest time ends on November 19, just in time for me to jump into the Turkey Trot 5k in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. I love running in Detroit (it's one of my favorite cities), and I am a little disappointed that I will have to run the 5k instead of the 10k. At any rate, I am very excited to join the thousands of runners doing this race. I've wanted to run this race for a number of years, and we've been out of town visiting my family over Thanksgiving the past three years. I am so excited.

After running the Detroit Marathon last year, I swore I would never do another full. Famous last words, right? Earlier this week I registered for the Cellcom Marathon in Green Bay in May. I am excited to get back into a marathon training schedule even though I may be singing another tune when I'm doing my long runs. I hear Green Bay is a beautiful city, and I think it'll be a nice weekend trip to Wisconsin for the race.

I started running through Team in Training, and at that time I really didn't enjoy raising the money. Now I'm thinking it would be fun to do another Team in Training race in the fall. It's such a good cause, and there is a great support system. Plus it's an opportunity to mark another cool town off my list. I'm not sure what the fall line-up will be for the Lansing area team, but the spring races include Madrid and Vancouver. Those are both towns I'd love to run and visit.

I'm not good at recovering, but I am good at planning. Next year is going to be full of races. I'll be back in action in exactly 3 weeks.


Friday, October 28, 2011

I can't run for HOW long?!?

Last week I had surgery to remove two abdominal masses. It was supposed to be a pretty minor surgery, and then my surgeon discovered two hernias beneath the masses. I am a problem patient - it's kind of my thing. I realized as I am recovering slowly that the Hot Chocolate 15k is unlikely to happen. Not a problem as I decided I could just switch to the 5k.

I just had my post-op appointment with my surgeon, and he says no running for 3 MORE WEEKS! What?!? I complained immediately and said that wouldn't work. I have a race in a week and a half. At that point he laughed and said I could potentially do "light jogging" toward the end of next week, but he wouldn't recommend any sort of race. 

That means I'll be back in action in time for the Turkey Trot in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. I was hoping to do the 10k, but that seems unlikely at this point. It's interesting that after running for 6 years, I can't even think of what other exercise I want to do. Nothing else is as fun or challenging to me as a good, hard run. Plus my husband, friends and co-workers like me better when I'm running and not grouchy. Trust me.

So fine, I'll take it easy. But for the record I'm NOT happy about it. The 15k won't happen, but the girls' weekend in Chicago will. And perhaps I'll do some "light jogging" in Iowa City when I head there in a few weeks. I think jogging these towns counts too. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Running is Pure Michigan

Michiganders are familiar with the Pure Michigan campaign - Tim Allen's smooth voice narrating snapshots of the best this state has to offer. I'd like to propose the latest Pure Michigan ad: that running is Pure Michigan.

I have a goal to run a race in all 50 states, and with only 5 states down (6 once I do the Hot Chocolate 15k in Chicago in a few weeks!) I've got a lot of work to do. As I search for races in other states I realize something about Michigan - this state is for runners. That should be the slogan: Michigan is for runners. Seriously, can I market this stuff? It's gold! I'm thinking t-shirts, bumper stickers, the whole nine yards. But I digress.

As I look for races in other states, I find that my options are limited in a number of places. I grew up in West Virginia and absolutely love it there, but I have a hard time finding races there. They are few and far between. Here in the Lansing area particularly in the spring and fall, I have my pick of 5k races to do on the weekends. It's a smorgasbord of running options.

I will admit that I complain about Michigan's weather in the winter. I complain a lot. From a runner's perspective, however, Michigan's weather is awesome. We have cool spring and fall mornings and evenings, and rarely is it too hot on a summer morning to get in a long run.  It really is flawless running weather.

Michigan is also home to some of the country's most elite runners including Rockford, MIchigan's Dathan Ritzenhein (winner of three national cross country titles) and Rochester Hills, Michigan's Desiree Davila (the U.S.'s 4th fastest female marathoner). The editor of Runner's World, David Willey, is even from Michigan.

I don't know how to make cute videos, but I think I should find out in order to submit my idea to the Pure Michigan campaign. Running IS Pure Michigan.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Running Grand Rapids

One of the best things about my job is getting to travel around the State of Michigan to various communities. I've been all over the state from Detroit to Grand Haven on Lake Michigan to the very tip of the Keeweenaw Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Despite being merely an hour from Grand Rapids, I haven't spent a lot of time there. Last week we had our convention in downtown Grand Rapids, so naturally the first thing I did upon arriving was to change and go for a run.

Downtown Grand Rapids
We were fortunate enough to visit Grand Rapids during Art Prize. Art Prize is a public international art competition displayed throughout Grand Rapids. The event, in its third year, draws thousands to Grand Rapids to view amazing public art and vote on the winner. As I ran on a gorgeous, unseasonably warm October afternoon, the streets were packed with people viewing Art Prize. Downtown Grand Rapids was hopping on a Tuesday afternoon.

LOVE this Art Prize piece with the monkeys on the bridge
While visiting we had dinner at Tre Cugini, a local Italian restaurant. If anything the crowds grew throughout the evenings.  Another night we visited Hopcat, a great bar with about a million beers on tap. I exaggerate, but seriously, it was a lot of beer.

Grand Rapids has utilized its river front beautifully with accessible trails and pedestrian walkways crossing the river. On my final morning in the city I woke up early to run at sunrise along the river. It was a warm fall morning, and though the city was sleeping, I felt extremely safe. It was like having my own private viewing of Art Prize.

Running along the river at sunrise
Grand Rapids checks many of the boxes of what a great city needs - a vibrant, walkable downtown, green initiatives (GR has been recognized nationally as a leader in pursuing renewable energy), cultural economic development (hello Art Prize!) and entrepreneurship, to name a few. 

As someone who immigrated to Michigan, I'm often intrigued by Michigan's east side/west side divide. My husband grew up in Metro Detroit, and we always head to Detroit for entertainment, dinner, etc.  It's interesting that many people here migrate towards where they're from - either GR or Detroit. We've been to Grand Rapids a few times for concerts, and we've always enjoyed being in town. I know we'll continue to go to Detroit regularly, but I think it would be fun to add a little GR into our lives as well. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What are we running for?

I've heard runners say that if you have to ask why we run then you don't get it. It sounds very arrogant, but it's true. That being said, nobody loves running when they start. Trust me. It's not like you lace up yours shoes for the first time, start out, run 5 miles and it's glorious. It hurts, you're out of breath after half a mile, and it's hard. It's always hard, but when you start it's brutal.  That begs the question what keeps us going?

I run to feel normal. Normal is relative to everyone, but for me I get in that running zone and it's when I feel the best every single time. I ran track in high school and lived at the gym in college, but I only started running 5½ years ago. I always loved the idea of running, but made lots of excuses. Then I got sick, and that was the best excuse of all.

When I was 19 I started having some health issues. Mainly stomach problems. I went to a specialist, and they couldn't figure out what was wrong. When I was 21 years old I had three major surgeries and was subsequently diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. I went from being healthy and muscular to losing about 30 pounds in a few months. Who needed to go to the gym? Who needed to run?

I spent several years doing yoga sporadically and walking, but exercising was not my focus.  Getting through each day was my focus. There was no way I could run - it upset my stomach. Runners are notorious for having stomach issues. It's the focus of many Runner's World articles. Having Crohn's makes that worse. Seriously - running just wasn't for me.

When I signed up for a marathon on a whim over 5 years ago, I knew it would be hard. What I didn't expect was that once I built up mileage and got into my running groove, I felt normal. Normal for me means I forget that my stomach is upset or whatever other unpleasant Crohn's symptom is bugging me that day. For those 3 miles or 5 miles or 13.1 miles it's just me and running. Sure my knees hurt, my feet hurt, and I'm tired. But that's normal. I'm a runner.

I used to be the kind of person who never ran on vacation. Vacation was just that - a break. Training for a race changed all of that. I'll never forget the first time I ran on a trip - on a hotel treadmill in Alexandria, Virginia. I did 8 miles on the treadmill. It was 95 degrees and humid out, so the treadmill seemed like the best option. After that running (now more frequently outside) became a highlight of every trip. Now I can't wait to hit the road in another town. Running shoes are a required packing item. They aren't always the easiest to fit in a suitcase, but they're a necessity.

There are days when I just don't feel like running. And as perfectionist with a Type A personality, it's hard for me sometimes to realize that it's okay to take those days off.  But sometimes fighting through that doubt and hitting the road is the best cure for any ailment.  I'm often asked how I deal with having Crohn's and doing all that I do. There are two ways I can live my life: I can either be sick or I can push through it and live the best life that I can. I only get one shot at it.

I'm heading to my work's convention this week in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my suitcase is bulging with my running shoes in the front.  So...what are you running for? 

(As an aside, I now have Pat Benatar's "Invincible" in my head. It's a do or die situation - we will be invincible!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Country roads, take me home

I went to college and law school at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. I moved there in 1996 and lived there until 2002. My parents live there now, and after 9 years of living elsewhere, I wonder every time I visit when it will stop feeling like home.

Woodburn Hall, the centerpiece of WVU's downtown campus.
I really didn't run in college. I was a crazy gym rat and worked out almost every day. I would walk miles on the track on campus and on the trail by the river. But running wasn't really my thing. I even walked a few 5Ks in college (one in 33 minutes...that's some fast walking.)

Now that I've been running for nearly six years, I love to run while visiting my parents. Morgantown has so many great places to run - on campus, downtown, on the rail trail along the river. If you're up for challenges, Morgantown's hilly terrain provides lots of them. There have been times where I've gotten to the top of a hill and have to just stand there gasping for breath. It's awesome.

Yes - hills like this on North High Street in downtown Morgantown.
In terms of place, Morgantown is a fantastic small city. It's won many accolades including Forbes' top ten places for business and careers (2010) and one of Budget Travel's top eight college towns (2010) to name a few. (You can look at a more comprehensive list of awards on the city's website.)

Morgantown does a great job of leveraging its anchor institution - WVU. WVU and the city are interchangeable. Downtown Morgantown is effectively an extension of campus with bars, restaurants and shops.  The amount of growth in the city is staggering. Every time I go home (every few months or so) there is a new apartment complex, new restaurant or new shop. The city seems to be bursting at the seams while still maintaining the feel of an intimate small town.

College GameDay visits WVU. Thousands of fans crowd the Mountainlair Plaza
The scenery in Morgantown is second to none with Mountains, the river and a gorgeous campus to tie it all together. Coopers Rock State Forest is just a few miles away, and the views there are just outstanding (particularly in the fall). 

With our Golden Retriever, Murphy, at Coopers Rock
WVU is divided into several campuses, and a monorail (the PRT) connects the campus. The PRT is an old school public transportation system, but it's critical to get students to the various campuses.  

I'm so proud to consider Morgantown my hometown, and I wish there were more running races to do there. Every time we go home I scour websites for a race, and I'm frequently disappointed. Until I find one that meets my schedule I'll continue my favorite runs along the river near my parents' home and on the hills of the Evansdale campus.

Plus I'm going to have to burn off the French fries from my favorite restaurant, The Boston Beanery. Who says you can't go home?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Running my adopted hometown (again)

It's not a secret that I'm a fan of the Capital City River Run (CCRR). I blogged about last year's race with glowing praise. I don't generally like to repeat a race I've already done because there are so many races, and I can only do so many of them. There is, however, something very nice about picking up my packet and starting a race less than two and a half miles from my house.

Michigan Avenue, Downtown Lansing
I decided to get to the expo early this year - as soon as it opened. It was not yet crowded, and I was able to check in for the race in less than five minutes. Once again the race had an excellent New Balance long-sleeved technical shirt.  Awesome! 

The weather for this year's race was once again perfect - high 40s at the start and in the low 60s by the finish. It was beautiful weather for a 13.1 mile tour through Lansing and East Lansing. Most of the race course was the same as last year highlighting some of the Lansing area's best attractions - Michigan State's campus (briefly), the River Trail, Hawk Island Park and downtown Lansing. 

Lansing River Trail
This race does a great job of energizing the entire course - there are spectators and music even on the quietest portions of the River Trail and water stations liberally placed throughout the course.

The race organizers made a wonderful change in the last mile by keeping runners on the River Trial. Last year the race ran up a hill in the last mile onto Michigan and then Washington Avenues. This year we remained on the River Trail until the end where we finished on Shiawassee Street at Riverfront Park

About to finish the race on Shiawassee Street
My one large complaint would be lack of water at the end of the race. In other half marathons I've done, you finish the race, grab a medal and then grab a bottle of water. This race had small cups of water, but I grabbed the last one. There were other tables with cups of water further in from the finish, but there was a noticeable absence of water at the end.

Finishing my 8th half marathon
There were tents with food in the park, but we didn't linger. Perhaps those tents also had water, but at that point it was easier for me to drive 2.3 miles back to my house to drink Gatorade from my own refrigerator.  

Clearly the CCRR course agrees with my times because I was only one minute off my PR time from last year. There aren't a lot of races I'd repeat, but I definitely plan on doing the CCRR next year.

Posing in front of Michigan's State Capitol in Downtown Lansing
How would I rate the race? A- (the water thing = the minus)

How would I rate Lansing? B+ (I know Lansing got an A last year, but in the last year I feel like more progress could've been made in more economic development in and around downtown).