Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 = one for the books

We accomplished a LOT this year. A lot of running, a lot of traveling, and all of this with two busy jobs. I ran eight 5ks, four 10ks, one 15k, one 10-miler, two half marathons and 15 miles of a full marathon before it got called for the heat.

In addition we traveled to West Virginia (7 times), Pensacola, FL, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Green Bay, Chicago, Traverse City, MI, Boyne Highlands, MI, Maine (via a road trip), State College, PA, Mackinac Island, MI and Norfolk, VA. Later this week I'll head to Tyler, Texas to see my bestie rounding out a year that in retrospect I can't believe we managed to stay sane.

After one of my 5ks. I feel as exhausted as I look in this photo.
All of this challenge and business has almost succeeded in taking my mind off our nearly 10-month wait to adopt a child. I do know, however, that we need to travel as much as possible now before we have little ones. I don't plan to stop traveling, but I know it'll be a bigger challenge.

I've always heard that life isn't a destination - it's a journey. Our journey is such an adventure, and I wouldn't change a minute of it. Looking forward to seeing lots of vibrant places and logging lots of miles in 2013. Happy New Year everyone! 

Our official Christmas card photo. We make insanity look good.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Santa? Here? I know him!

Santa and I are BFF. And by Santa, I mean my husband. This wonderful man hates buying me running stuff, and yet I always get lots of it for holidays AND he indulges me on all my race trips. My Santa kind of rocks.

I have three big races coming up in the spring - the Winter Blast Half Marathon, the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and the Pittsburgh Marathon. My trip stocking runneth over. Now I am wondering what Santa will bring me to wear in those races. 

It goes without saying that I will wear West Virginia gear in the Pittsburgh Marathon. I have three pairs of WV shorts and WVU tech pants, so I need a cute top to wear with. I am partial to the Under Armour shirts I'd gotten on some of our trips, but I can't find a WVU one like it. Maybe Santa will have more luck.

I have dozens of tech shirts, so I'm always looking for cute bottoms. I've been coveting a colorful Brooks skort for a while. I also love Running Skirts gear.

My coveted Brooks skort
But in addition to just cute gear I am in need of a new foam roller. My physical therapist has this awesome foam roller, and it makes me realize how mine has gotten a little soft. It actually has an indentation from my hips...that probably minimizes the effectiveness.

I need one of these fancy black foam rollers.
Let's be honest - I have plenty of running stuff, and my race calendar is generally out of control. I am so blessed that we get to live this life where I can ask for running stuff because we have everything we need. This holiday season I am counting my blessings along with my miles.   


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Back to normal?

I wouldn't consider our life isn't exactly "normal". Maybe nobody actually has a normal life, but ours is consistently crazy busy. I sometimes look ahead through my calendar and wonder how we'll do it all. But even with the insanity that is our life, the last six weeks or so have just been insane. Insane, unmanageable, and absolutely exhausting. It was extremely ambitious to go out of town four weekends in a row. It's a lame duck session year for the Michigan legislature, and that meant very long days and nights at work for both of us. We even had to board our dogs at one point because we didn't think we'd be able to get home and let them out.

At the end of last week, after two straight weeks of working constantly and feeling tons of stress, the legislature adjourned for the year. That means a month or so of legislature-less bliss. Except we didn't really think about timing when we scheduled our annual Christmas party the same after the party THEN we could relax.

Through all of this not only has my sanity suffered, but so has my running. The one thing that really keeps me sane has been put on the back burner because I was just tired. My body was sore, I was stressed, and I did what I always hate - I made an excuse. Tonight I laced up my running shoes for the first time in a WEEK, and yes, I apologized to my shoes. And I apologized to myself for not being true to the one thing that keeps me sane.

I'm back at it, and I'm training again. I've got a half marathon in two months, and today I found out the fantastic news that I got into the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in D.C. in April. It's one of the nation's premiere 10-mile races, and I have finally gotten in. I'm so excited to run the race and visit our amazing friends in D.C. Look out world - I'm back! Back to running, back to traveling, back to being true to myself. You're welcome, running shoes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pulling out of a running rut

I admit it - I'm in a running rut. I like to pretend like that never happens to me, but it's happening now. It's been crazy at work, and my miles are WAY down. Last week I got up early to run one morning, and it was raining. Usually I just run in the rain anyway, but I though heck with it. I'm not training for anything right now, so I can do some cross training instead. On Saturday I set off to run 6 miles in the snow and ran half that. I wasn't tired, I wasn't injured. I just wasn't motivated.

This happens to me sometimes particularly in the winter, but this is the worst rut I've had in a while. I started running in 2006, and after three half marathons in less than a year I took about two years off from running. My IT band problems were significant and not healing, and I wasn't motivated. In the four years since that significant rut I've run another seven half marathons, two marathons, and dozens of 5k and 10k races.  I need to figure out where that motivated lady disappeared to.

December is a rough month because there are few races to do. It's dark when I leave for work, and it's dark when I get home. I'd rather lie on my couch than run on a treadmill - that is torture. So here I am in a running rut. My husband and I did a few miles last night, but my weekly miles are probably less than half of what they usually are when I'm training for something.

It happens, and I am registered for the Inaugural Portage (MI) Winterblast Half Marathon in February. It should be an interesting challenge to run a half marathon in Michigan in the dead of winter. I just need to keep my eye on the prize, suck it up and run on the treadmill if I need to and pull myself out of this running rut. It doesn't matter how many miles I'm logging right now as long as I get myself out there. Running is almost entirely a mental sport, and I've got to get some mental motivation. 

Speaking of, this is one of my favorite running quotes. This should help: 
"We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves...The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, 'You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.' The human spirit is indomitable."
-Sir Roger Bannister, first runner to run a sub-4 minute mile  

Friday, December 7, 2012

European vacation

In college I did two of my foreign language requirements in the form of a study abroad program in Bamberg, Germany. At the age of 19 my German became quite fluent, and I also pushed the boundaries of my European legal drinking status. In the process I fell in love with the history and sense of community of cities in Europe - the small, cobblestone streets; the vibrant downtowns; the walkability; the public transit. I took a public bus for the first time in my entire life in Bamburg (they don't have them in Hundred, WV). There's something about European cities that is so intimate and familiar. I didn't realize at that time I was discovering my love of place and community.

When my husband and I visited Stockholm in 2009, more than ten years after my first trip to Europe, I was advocating for communities and knew exactly what I was looking for in a place. Like the cities I'd been to in Germany, Stockholm was also rich in history, walkable cobblestone streets, and green space. We stayed a metro stop away from Gamla stan, Old Town, and the entire town was accessible by public transit. It had everything one could want in a community - at least in July when the weather was warm and the days long.

I'm talking my husband into a trip to Europe in the spring if we have not yet adopted a child. He's done several trips to Europe and has seen more than I, so I'm trying to think of a place where neither of us has been. Right now we're leaning toward Spain which I have heard is just amazing. I have a need to plan a trip especially during a stressful work stretch. Seeing placemaking in action is inspiring for us both.

So what do you think...Spain? Other suggestions? We're entirely open. Perhaps London even?


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hit me with your best shot

This morning I got up early and ran a hard, fast run. My legs were throbbing, my chest was burning, and it felt amazing. Had I known how stressful this day was going to be, I would've done a few more miles. I don't know how people who don't run or work out deal with stress - it's the best way to get ready for a stressful day.

My job can be stressful, and we're in that legislative lame duck session time when days are long, tempers are short and without squeezing in a run I fear I may murder someone. It's the time when I am trying to make heads or tails or 1,000 different legislative issues, and someone (generally me) is taking a shot across the bow. It's a time where everyone is punchy, adversarial, and we're all a little short with one another.

It's this time of year that running is even more critical. It gives me time to reflect on the trials I've had in my life, and to think bring it, lame duck. Hit me with your best shot. I deal daily with severe Crohns problems; this is a cake walk. 

This is why running and traveling to new cities is so good for my soul. Nothing eases stress like a good run, and having a plan to travel to new cities to be inspired is critical for my well being. My husband and I have agreed that if we have not yet adopted a baby next spring, we are going to Europe. A good tour of old, fantastic, walkable European cities is just what I need to recharge my batteries and be inspired for what we can do here.

Until that time I will log lots of miles, dream about traveling and take deep breaths. Oh and listen to lots of Pat Benatar. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You'll never forget your first time

In college, back in 1998, I walked my first 5k. I walked it in 33 minutes (yes WALKED not ran), and I was booking it. I won first among walkers,and I won a gift certificate to Garfield's Restaurant in Morgantown, WV. Totally worth it. I didn't run my first 5k for another 8 years, until 2006, but doing that first race takes commitment, courage, and a little bit of insanity.

Last week, on Thanksgiving, my husband and I ran the Inaugural Morgantown Running Turkey Trot. It was his first 5k, and I was bursting with pride and emotion. It's no secret that I love a good turkey trot, and I was thrilled for Morgantown's inaugural event.

With my husband before the race
We picked up our packets at the WVU track. Instead of t-shirts they gave us wicking socks. As a race veteran I was thrilled to have something other than another cotton t-shirt I'd never wear again, but as a race novice my husband was disappointed to not have a t-shirt. I totally get it.

The race started on the WVU track, and I have to say the start of the race was a total cluster. People were just milling about the track with no idea really where to go, and it was a disaster. Once things got going it ran more smoothly. The first mile was downhill which is a feat in a hilly city like Morgantown. After the first quick mile we were on the Morgantown River Trail for the rest of the race.

The race was downhill and flat, and it was an impressive course for a city renowned for its hilly terrain. It was a quiet and determined run in cold but sunny weather. My husband rocked it out in his first 5k. We finished on the River Trail right behind the Seneca Center where Morgantown Running is located. 

Heading toward the finish
It was a decent race especially for its first running. The start was a hot mess, but otherwise it was okay. My mom and sister came to cheer us on, and as usual I insist a turkey trot is the perfect way to start Thanksgiving Day. We have so many things to be thankful for, not the least of which is the ability to run on Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks

I live a blessed life, and I don't forget it even for a minute. It can be stressful, it's often hectic, and it's filled with so many blessings that I feel overwhelmed sometimes just to think of them all. It's important that on Thanksgiving I reflect on the many blessings in my life.

I am so thankful for my incredible husband. I recently did a blog post about how fantastic he is, and I won't elaborate too much lest his ego become uncontrollable. I couldn't ask for a better partner in my life. He's my biggest supporter, my best friend, and my great love.  He humors me in things I find important like a photo shoot for our Christmas card. That's the kind of partner we all need.

A photo from our Christmas card shoot.
I'm grateful for my parents who have always worked so hard to ensure that I have so my opportunities.  They've supported me through all of the tough things in my life - including the worst Crohns has to offer - without batting an eye. There's no way to ever let them know how much they mean to me. I am also thankful for my siblings and their spouses and children. Our family is loud and obnoxious and crazy, and I love being part of it.

My friends are so fantastic. I am grateful to have so many wonderful friends who are supportive, loyal, fun and the best people I know. I don't know what I would do without them. 

I am thankful for my pets - my two crazy dogs and our cats. They are our fur children, and they are a true example of unconditional love. 

I love my job and am thankful every day that I do something I love and believe in. It has been hectic the last few months, and I've been overwhelmed at times. But at the end of the day I love it, and I am blessed to go to work every day to a job I love with people I love. It makes life so much easier.

It goes without saying, but I am grateful for running. I'm not the fastest runner in a race, but I am dedicated, and I love it. Even the bad runs are worth it.  It helps center me and keeps me focused and motivated.

During this Thanksgiving holiday I will count my blessings over and over again as I celebrate with my family in West Virginia. Cheers to you and yours!   


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

If running was easy, everyone would do it

Sometimes running sucks. And by sometimes, I mean a lot of the time. I would estimate that maybe 25-30% of the time running actually feels good, and the rest of the time I finish and gripe about how terrible that run was. I will say, however, that once the run is over I never regret having done it - even if it was a bad run.

Running is hard. There's no magic formula to make you faster or better. You just have to keep running. Period. When I started running six years ago I was in pretty good shape, but I had never run more than two consecutive miles in my life. The only way I was able to build on my mileage was to do it. You have to log the miles over and over again.

There is no shortcut. Some days I finish running and my knee hurts, my hip hurts, I'm tired. Some days I can't get motivated because it's cold, it's rainy, or I just don't feel like it. I think it's okay to take a break, and I try not to beat up on myself. But the only way to be able to run is to suck it up and do it. It hurts. Your knees will hurt, your body will hurt, you will push the limits of what you ever thought you could do. And at the end of the day it's hard. Just suck it up and do it.

Running is as much emotional as it is physical. Having the motivation to keep going is most of the battle. I've posted before about how hard motivation can be to come by, and it's an ongoing battle. But for every 3-4 runs that don't feel the way I want them to, I have that one run - that one where I feel great the whole time and I run faster and harder than I've ever have before. That is when it's all worth it.

It takes a while to get there. You can't start running on day one and feel like Shalane Flanagan. But put in the work and the effort, and it gets easier. I promise. It may take weeks or months, but it does get easier. In the meantime buy yourself some new shoes, some cute running gear, and put your miles on the calendar so you'll be reminded of how many you're supposed to run and motivated to do the work. It won't always be pretty, but it will always be worth it. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To the Bay and back

After I graduated from law school I lived in Norfolk, Virginia for a couple of years. To me that time in my life represents my first real time as a grown up - my first real job, my first apartment alone, the first time I spent an appreciable amount of money on dry cleaning.  It was there that I realized my true mission in life was to work with cities as I worked for the city's inspiring mayor.

It's been nearly seven years since I moved to Michigan, and I have lived here more than twice as long as I lived in Virginia. Regardless, every time I go to Norfolk I feel a since of nostalgia for the time I spent there. I feel nostalgic and yet so proud of the continued revitalization of the city.  Two of my siblings still live there, and we headed down this past weekend to meet our new nephew and visit our family.

When I lived in Virginia I wasn't a runner. I spent a lot of time power walking and riding bikes with my sister, but it never occurred to me to pick up the pace and start running. Now, when I go for a visit, I have to lace up my shoes and explore. My brother and his family bought a new home a few months ago in a neighborhood I'm not familiar with, and it was our first time staying with them. Twice during our stay I headed out to run on beautiful sunny mornings that were begging me to take advantage.

As I'd never been to my brother's neighborhood, and I used a cross street as a guide as I threaded back and forth through the streets. After only about a mile I realized I was on Ocean View Avenue, a street I lived on during my last few months there (although this was quite a bit south of where I lived). I saw the walkway to the public beach access and made my way to the beach on the Chesapeake Bay.

Stopping for a photo at the Chesapeake Bay halfway through my run
No matter how much I protest that I don't really care for the beach, there is something so amazing about having the beach to myself during a deserted morning run. The sky was clear, the sun was shining, and I felt that runner's high that doesn't often come easily for me. As I headed back to my brother's house I reflected on how grateful I am to have lived in a community that has such diverse assets - a vibrant downtown, thriving neighborhoods and the natural beauty of beaches along the Chesapeake Bay.

The trip included obligatory trips to some of my favorite places in Norfolk - Ghent (particularly No Frill Bar and Grille and Running Etc) and the MacArthur Center Mall. I HAD to get my Dillard's fix. As we drove around downtown I marveled at the beauty of the new light rail and the new developments that masterfully combine mixed uses to continue the vibrancy of downtown.

I've created quite a life for myself in Michigan, and I'm happy here. But every time I visit Norfolk I realize it has a little piece of my heart and it probably always will. So on each trip I will visit my favorite places and take a quick run to the Bay and back. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Runners running for office

I've had people tell me before that I should run for office, but I have a thing that day...gouging my own eyes out. Running for office would never be my thing, and as politics has become so vitriol it's difficult to even deal with it as a spectator.

Yesterday's elections held a lot of promise. Here in Michigan a number of constitutional amendments failed, and there were other election results I consider both good and bad. But politics, like the tide, are always changing. As soon as one gets too invested in any one person or issue it's on to the next.

I'm thinking we need to ensure we have runners in office. Presidents G.W. Bush and Clinton were runners, and I'm convinced it's necessary to keep you sane.  Yesterday I had a particularly stressful day, and I immediately went for a run when I got home. Every bad day and every crisis is more manageable after a run.

Bill Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Al Gore, David Cameron, Tony Blair... all runners who've run for office
So I propose that to make our country a better place we should elect more runners to office. Choosing to be a runner requires dedication, commitment and hard work. That's something we should expect in all of our leaders. Going forward I support runners for office!*

*This does not prohibit my ability to potentially support Chris Christie despite his obvious lack of running.   

Thursday, November 1, 2012

You can flood our streets, but you can't take our marathons!

The New York City Marathon is like the Super Bowl of distance running. Nearly 50,000 runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators converge on the Big Apple for the big event.  For competitive runners it's one of THE races to win. For amateurs like myself, it's the holy grail of marathons. I'm fortunate to have registered last year as one of the last classes who will get automatic entry after three unsuccessful lottery attempts.  To me the New York Marathon represents everything that is right about running - the crowds, the support, the pageantry. I can't wait for my shot.

Thankfully I didn't get in this year. As Hurricane Sandy has ravaged NYC, the fate of the NYC Marathon hangs in balance. The New York Road Runners have committed to holding the race as scheduled on Sunday, but it's going to be a challenge for a city recovering from a devastating storm.

Crazy flooding in New York's Financial District
The NYC Marathon starts on Staten Island and runs through all five of the city's boroughs. According to the race director the course is relatively clear, but the bigger issue is getting people to and around the city. By all accounts the public transportation system is at a standstill, and that is very problematic getting runners and families around the city.

Herein lies the problem.
I'm sure to a lot of people the New York City Marathon is not high on the list of things to worry about. But this is an eve that brings in approximately $340 million in revenue to the City. That's not something you cancel lightly.  Holding the marathon is a testament to the resiliency of the City of New York and their commitment to this important event. As the city and region continue to clean up from the storm, I will keep my fingers crossed that the marathon runs smoothly on Sunday. Sandy you can destroy our boardwalks, but you will not take away our marathons!


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A wicked run away from sprawl

Before this weekend's 10k I was talking to another runner in the crowd who lives in downtown Plymouth, Michigan. She walked to the race and was raving about living downtown. She was telling me she's a teacher, and she grades her papers in the Panera Bread just down the street from her house. This conversation affirmed to me that this is what people want - living and working in a community they love.

Earlier this year I ran the Shamrock 'n Roll 10k in Plymouth, Michigan and loved the race. I decided to head back to Plymouth last weekend for an encore in the Wicked 10k. In March I raved about the organization of the race, but this time I was less impressed.

For starters I was running a little behind which is very unusual for me. Usually I'm an hour early for a race forcing us to wander around and find something to do. There is a random shooter along I-96 between Detroit and Lansing, and I found myself paranoid about taking I-96. Granted I've taken it a dozen times since the shootings started but I was feeling unusually anxious. As a result we took a different route adding another 15 minutes to our trip. 

Parking was a zoo, and by the time we parked it was 7:45 (the race started at 8). I headed to packet pick-up, grabbed my stuff and was pinning my number on as the National Anthem was blasting through the loud speakers. After a quick kiss to my husband I jumped into the crowd of runners. My watched beeped that it was 8 a.m., and we were standing in the cold watching a local dance company perform. Look - the kid dancers are cute. How about if they perform BEFORE 8 a.m. or for those waiting for the 5k? I couldn't even see them from where I was standing, so I was not thrilled to be just standing there waiting.

I love downtown Plymouth, but I may love the surrounding neighborhoods even more. There are some just beautiful houses, and there's a great mix from charming cape cods to stately colonials. Even the new builds (of which there are many) have character and charm. Running through the neighborhoods I found myself getting into a steady pace and just enjoying myself.

Finishing the race in Kellogg Park in Plymouth

I've set several PRs this year, and I've gotten away from just enjoying races. I settled into my pace and thanked volunteers and high-fived kids along the course. I just had fun. It wasn't my fastest 10k (it was about a minute and a half off my PR) but it may have been the most fun one I did all year. After the Shamrock Run in March water and snacks were in a pavilion just past the finish line. This time they were in a heated tent. I get the idea of putting them in a warm space, but it was very annoying. I waited in an extremely long line getting handed random advertisements and papers I didn't want just to get a water. I'd recommend going back to putting the water at the actual finish line.

Posing in lovely downtown Plymouth
As we walked back to our car I was enjoying the new condos built in downtown. I was still reveling in my conversation with the other runner at the start as we headed toward downtown Brighton, MI where we were meeting friends for breakfast. Heading out of downtown on N. Territorial Road I found the opposite of dense, walkable downtown Plymouth - instead it's suburban McMansion sprawl hell.  Tons of giant houses in subdivisions named things like "Whispering Pines" and "Happy Meadows". Okay I made those names up but they're probably close. I looked at these disconnected "neighborhoods" on cul-de-sacs completely shut off from the rest of the community, and I just don't get it. I can't think of any good reason why someone would live there instead of an actual community.

After breakfast in Brighton (another cute downtown) I took Grand River Avenue back to Lansing (again avoiding I-96). I drove through several vibrant downtowns including Howell and Williamston. There was a busy farmers' market in downtown Howell. There were people enjoying a crisp fall day at brunch in downtown Williamston. I found myself wondering what makes a person want to buy a house in the middle of nowhere by the freeway in McMansionville instead of in a dynamiccommunity. How has that become the American dream? In the bustling cities in Europe people live in the city. The suburban McMansion is a uniquely American creation. And it's disgusting.

This makes me throw up a little bit.
I'm not adverse to new housing. There were a number of houses being built in downtown Plymouth, and there were a number of recently built homes. It's not about being new but rather effective land use and building IN a community where there are existing resources instead of a field in the middle of nowhere like "Orchard Pointe".  The extra "e" makes it fancier.

I drove through the small communities along Grand River Avenue and back into my own neighborhood and was thankful for our little neighborhood where I can walk to a nearby shopping center (it's not perfect but it's there and it's something). I can run along the river in the surrounding neighborhoods and on the Lansing River Trail. There are two schools within walking distance, and parks everywhere. Yeah I'll take our little neighborhood over the McMansion cul-de-sac any day. On the bright side, there are several great houses for sale in downtown Plymouth.    

Friday, October 26, 2012

Great expectations

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before--more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

I haven't read Great Expectations since college, and this blog probably doesn't follow that quote...but who can't use some Dickens to brighten up their day? The other day I was talking to a friend and saying that I haven't been running as much this year as I have in previous years. I was complaining about my lack of motivation and how I just haven't been doing enough. Except three half marathons and training for a full marathon (and 15 miles of that race), and a mile a day run streak for six weeks and a 5k series...and then I realized how ridiculous I sounded.

I have extraordinarily high expectations of myself. Are they unreachable? Sometimes. But that doesn't stop me from going for it. I remember my mom telling me once in high school that she and my dad never had to pressure me to succeed in school or extracurricular activities or whatever I was doing because I already put so much pressure on myself.  Even in my moments of great achievement I'm still thinking of how I could've done better or how I could've done more.

I realize this all kind of sounds ridiculous, but as I've started a new position at work I've come to realize just how high those expectations are and that I need to learn to temper them in order to not go crazy.  The same goes with myself as a runner and in every other facet of my life. I'm human even though I don't want to think of myself that way. The world won't end if I don't break my PR in every race. I know...I talk a big game but that doesn't mean I won't be disappointed.

In Love in the Afternoon Lisa Kleypas writes: "You are your own worst enemy. If you can learn to stop expecting impossible perfection, in yourself and others, you may find the happiness that has always eluded you."

Preaching to the choir, sister.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who's afraid of a few hills?

This is going to sound crazy, but I love running up hills. Lansing doesn't have a lot of them, but I find hill running to be my favorite running challenge. I love driving to Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lansing to run the loop around the cemetery - it's the hilliest route I've found in the area. My first half marathon was in San Francisco, and I ran the Knoxville, TN half - another very hilly race. I don't often get to run hilly routes, but heading home to West Virginia is a guaranteed way to get my hill running fix.

UT's hilly campus where I ran the Knoxville Half in 2011

My husband and I headed to WV last weekend for the West Virginia/Kansas State game. (Let's not discuss the game - I'd prefer to pretend it didn't happen). On Saturday morning my husband, who is training for his first 5k, and I headed out for a run. There is a flat river trail in Morgantown, but I didn't feel like taking the time to drive there. We headed out into the neighborhoods around my parents' house, and the terrain is very hilly.

I charged up the hills in the way I tackle almost anything, and my husband rocked it as well - especially for a novice runner. It is my favorite challenge, and it's always exhilarating. One of my favorite routes to run in Morgantown is a 3 mile loop around the Evansdale Campus where I lived in the dorms my freshman year. It's extremely steep, and sometimes I find myself jogging in place gasping for air during the run. But it's totally worth it. 

A view of Evansdale Campus from the top of the hill. I lived in those dorms my freshman year.

I haven't studied the course for the Pittsburgh Marathon, but I assume it's hilly. Running can become monotonous, and hills are the kinds of challenges that keep me going. I'll be doing lots of loops around Mt. Hope Cemetery to prepare for my next marathon.

Boustead St. is the steepest hill in Pittsburgh. I don't think it's on the marathon course.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The value of a support system

My first half marathon, the Nike Women's Half, was in October of 2006. My now husband and I had been dating about eight months. I decided to start running and do a race in an expensive, far away city in an election year (we were both political staffers at the time) just weeks before the election. I told him repeatedly that it wasn't necessary that he come cheer me on. But when I crossed the finish line limping from IT band pain, I felt sad and alone knowing there was nobody there waiting for me.

At the end of my second half in Traverse City, Michigan, he was there taking photos and hugging me at the end. It was a completely different way to finish a race. In the six years I've been running my husband has only missed a few races, and he's always there as my own personal paparrazo. When I was finishing the Detroit Marathon he was able to run faster than I was and meet me at the finish. I look for him at the end of every race, and it's knowing that I will see him that helps keep me going.

There is a face behind this camera.
While running is a solitary sport for me (by choice), it takes a lot of support to do all the races and long runs. My husband has never once complained about all of the early morning races or training runs when we're at home or on vacation. He knows how important it is for my sanity. Last week, during a particularly stressful stretch, he suggested I should run more because I haven't been logging as many miles. That, my friends, is love.

He has also been supportive of working our travel schedule around races - Pensacola in February (I's a tough life), working our entire summer vacation around a 10k in Freeport, Maine. He knows that when we travel I'm always looking for a race to squeeze in. He's also totally game for seeing all the different cities and is as pro placemaking as I am. It's a perfect match.

I think this is the only photo ever taken of us together after a race.
I am very lucky to have such an incredible support system. Without my husband agreeing to let me spend our time and money on races it would be impossible. When I'm heading out at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to go for a long run, I know it's with his complete support. I guess behind every running obsessed cityphile is a great man.   


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A runner's placemaking rant

It's election season, and there is nothing I hate more than election ads. Thank God for DVR so I can fast forward through most of them. But sometimes it's unavoidable like during a live sporting event, and it seriously makes my blood boil. Luckily (sarcasm intended) in Michigan this year we have six, count them six, ballot proposals, five of which amend our Constitution. It's a hot mess.

What makes me crazy about all of them is that none of these are aiming at what will ACTUALLY bring Michigan back and make it a better place to live, work, play, visit, raise a family.  We're completely missing the boat, and there's a significant disconnect between political rhetoric and what people actually want. And economic data shows that people are moving to vibrant communities. Period.  It's ultimately not tax structure and regulatory environment that are driving the nation's economy. To quote my boss, Dan Gilmartin, in his book The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People: "It's the place, stupid!"

Kids move to Chicago out of college and wait tables because they want to live there. It's a great place to live. They don't care that the sales tax is the highest in the country at 9.5 percent. They don't care that there's as much regulation or more than in Michigan. It's a vibrant community. It draws people. And that's an economic argument. College grads are choosing where to live first and THEN looking for a job. We can talk jobs all day long, but the people who work in those jobs have to live in the community. Have to send their kids to school there. Have to have things to do on the weekend. Job creation is not on an island by itself.

As a runner I've noticed a correlation between great cities and their recreational opportunities. Having paths for running and biking - safe paths that are well maintained - are something people are looking for. Let's stick to Chicago (because it rocks) where there is 18.5 miles of lakefront bike path. Go to Chicago any day of the week and you'll see people running, walking and biking - taking advantage of those recreational opportunities.

All the while, here in Michigan, we're fighting a ballot proposal that would require a 2/3 vote of the legislature on any new tax. We'd ask our term-limited legislature to get 2/3 of its members to approve tax policy changes when it's hard to get 2/3 of its members to agree on a resolution for kittens. Come on people - THIS is what we're focusing on? 

In Detroit, one of the largest cities in America, there's a lot of really cool community activism happening. People believe in that community, and there's so much opportunity to do something great. The revitalization of the riverfront has been an amazing project, and the rebuilding of Midtown is incredible. We should be fostering and supporting these projects in Detroit and in communities across Michigan to attract and retain talent. I want the news stories to be that college educated millennials are choosing Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Marquette as their cities - not Chicago, Minneapolis and Austin.

This is the kind of stuff I stew about when I am running. I hope voters in Michigan on November 6 think about what really matters - place - but I'm not that confident that they get it yet. For now I'll continue to visit those places that get it - where I can go for a run on miles of trails and fume about it.  


Thursday, October 11, 2012

26.2: Third Time's a Charm?

I feel like I've been in a bit of a rut in terms of running new towns. Sure, I did the Playmakers Race Series, but those races were all pretty close to home. We did go to Pensacola and Green Bay this year, but it seems like it's been a while. I'm itching for a new challenge.

I want to do a race in every state, so there are a number of possibilities for races even relatively close to home. But I want to run in an inspiring city. I left Green Bay disappointed that I didn't get to finish the race, but also very disappointed with the City of Green Bay. I've been scouring running websites trying to find a spring race that will take us to a fun and challenging city. It turns out the answer has been right under my nose all along.

Sad face after the Green Bay Marathon was canceled
My hometown of Hundred, WV is only 77 miles from Pittsburgh, PA. When I was a kid it was intimidating to head to a "big city" so we didn't spend a lot of time there. In college we would go shopping in Pittsburgh, and I had three surgeries there - not too much sightseeing on those trips. In college I also went to a few debate tournaments there, but it's been years since I've really explored Pittsburgh. Its story calls to me - a gritty steel city who has reinvented itself to leverage its cultural, sports and natural assets to become a destination that attracts talent and has visitors going home and talking about how great it is. 

I've registered for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May of 2013. It's my third attempt at 26.2. In 2010 I nearly hobbled across the finish line in the Detroit Marathon with a severe IT band injury. This year I remained uninjured only to have the Green Bay Marathon canceled due to heat when I was at mile 15.  I have never run a marathon that I felt good about at the end, and I'm hoping to change that in Pittsburgh next spring.

The course looks like it covers so many great areas in the city, and I can't wait for my 26.2 mile running tour of this incredible town. It also looks like it runs through Pitt's campus, so you can bet I'll be wearing Mountaineer gear during this one.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A race series in review

This summer I decided instead of focusing on long races I'd instead run the Playmakers Race Series. I ran six 5ks and a ten-miler over the course of the summer as part of the series in addition to one other 5k, 10k and a half marathon that weren't part of the race series. 

Celebrating my final 5k of the series
While running a 5k is a different challenge than a longer race, I found consistent racing to be demanding. My 5k PR of 26:00 (set in June of 2011) remains unbroken although I came close several times. On Sunday I ran my final race of the series, and it was a fantastic summer.

I started the series in May at the Mason State Bank 5k. This was a Friday evening race on a warm day, and I posted one of my best times of the series at 26:33.  

In June I ran the Capitol Bancorp 5k in downtown Lansing in a time of 27:19. Still a solid effort on a very warm and sunny day, but a little further from where I wanted to be. I start going in the right direction the following weekend by running my best time of the series - 26:32 in Max's Race in East Lansing.

The only 5k I did in July, due to our travel schedule, was the race for Ele's Place. This was the one that ran around the Jackson National parking lot in Okemos, MI, and it was my least favorite race of the series. Another warm day, and another 27:19.

I hopped into the Mint City 10-miler the first weekend in August without training. I ran a respectable (for me) 1:38:27 or 9:51/mile pace. It was another warm day in one of the warmest summers on record, so considering my lack of training and the heat, I didn't feel terrible about the effort.

In September I ran the Capitol City River Run 5k in 27:01 while being disappointed about switching from the half marathon for health reasons. Surprisingly my time was good for second in my age group, so I excitedly snagged a medal anyway.

This past weekend I ran the Dino Dash 5k on Michigan State's campus - the last race of the 2012 Race Series. It was a beautiful course along the river on a chilly fall morning. It was flawless running weather. The race had time waves, and I ran in the under 30 minute group which helped keep traffic to a minimum on a narrow course. It was a fast, flat course, and I finished in 27:18, relatively consistent with my other times.

At the start
Just before mile 2
Focus at the finish
Michigan State's campus is beautiful this time of year. The trees are just beginning their fall color change, and the Red Cedar River is perfect scenery for a race. It was very similar to the route we ran during Max's race, only this time the weather cooperated so I enjoyed the view.     

The Red Cedar River
The race series was really fun. It kept me challenged and motivated throughout the summer, and I would definitely do it again. Now fall is officially upon us (I'm wearing wool coats and tights), and the race schedule becomes more sparse. But I'm riding the race series high into the season for a few more exciting races over the next few months.   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Can we all be skinny b*$tches?

Last year I downloaded the book Skinny Bitch to my Kindle. I'd heard about it and thought it seemed interesting, and interesting it was. Granted I took much of it and thought it was unrealistic for my life, but there were some things that stuck with me.

I've been known to have a *bit* of a diet soda addiction. At its worst about a year ago I was drinking 5-6 cans of Diet Pepsi a day. Every day. It was out of control. One of the things they discuss in the book is how artificial sweeteners turn into formaldehyde in your body. That's just gross. So last November I gave up diet soda cold turkey for about 6 months. Then I realized that I used diet soda as a calorie free snack. I was drinking lots of water, WAY more than before, but I was also drinking coffee and tea at alarming rates. Now I indulge in maybe a few diet sodas a week, but it's a tremendous improvement.

For the record one of their other suggestions is to give up coffee, which is less of a skinny bitch move I think than a crazy one. Look, I'm all for being skinny. I've never struggled with my weight, and I want to be thin. But come on ladies. I want to have a cup of coffee. I want to have cheese (the book insists to be skinny one must be vegan). I think if one decides to make such a life change that's awesome, but it's not for me. A life where I have to give up coffee, cheese and ice cream is one that's not worth living.

Oh and I haven't even gotten to the alcohol! They suggest drinking only organic wine.That seems extreme. The case of 2 Buck Chuck I got this week from Trader Joe's has to be good. I mean it came from Trader Joe's, right?

Admittedly I could make better choices. I'm hoping to see a nutritionist at the University of Michigan after I see my GI doctor later this month. I'm all about trying to change my life to make healthy choices that make sense for me - a woman who runs a lot, has Crohn's, and doesn't want to give up ice cream/cheese/coffee/wine. Life is short. Sure maybe the authors would argue that it'll be even shorter if I don't give up my caffeinated alcoholic dairy vises. I respect the advice dispensed in this book and certainly don't think it's wrong. But I would like to think the authors would respect my choices as well. Yup, I have more cellulite than I did at 21, and I blame it on the wine. Cheers! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The race that will not be run

Two years ago I missed the first race I'd ever signed up for. It was the Playmakers Autumn Classic, and my IT band injury kept me from racing if I was to finish the Detroit Marathon a few weeks later. I don't make it a habit of missing races, and I've only missed a couple since then due to injury or Crohn's. This past weekend I missed a race because I just needed a break.

I know I have often said I live my life at 100 percent, and despite my claims that I know my limits let me be honest - I generally don't. I push. And push. And push. The last six weeks have been exceptionally busy for us. Not necessarily because we've been traveling any more, but more emotionally taxing. I've never been the kind of person who brings work home on a regular basis, and it's coming home with me almost every night. I LOVE my job, but until I get into the swing of all of this new challenge, it's going to be a bit of an adjustment.

Two weekends ago we went home to West Virginia. We got back on Sunday evening, and the next week looked a little something like this:
  • Monday morning: leave the house at 7 a.m. for a 3 hour drive to Traverse City, MI to do a presentation. Then drive 45 minutes south to Bellaire, MI for another presentation. Then drive home and get there around 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday: go to work, leave Lansing at 5 to drive to Detroit for a Tigers game. Get home around midnight.
  • Wednesday: work half a day, leave early to spend the afternoon with a friend who lost a loved one earlier this year. We started drinking around 4 p.m. I got home early (allegedly) but I don't remember it.
  • Thursday: wake up hungover. Start the day with a 9 a.m. hearing that did not go as planned. Run around like crazy all day, sneak in a haircut after work, get home, do more work.
  • Friday: go to work, get home and go grocery shopping (zero food in the house). Make appetizers for tailgate at 10 p.m.
  • Saturday: up early, do laundry, head off to tailgate at 10:30 a.m., Michigan State game at 3:30, home by about 7:30.
I was registered to run the 20th annual Playmakers Autumn Classic on Sunday morning, and when my alarm went off at 6:30 on Sunday morning, there was just no way. My body was NOT cooperating. My mind was certainly not cooperating. And I turned off the alarm, slept in until 8:30 and got up to run later in the day after a few cups of coffee and a DVR'd episode of The Soup.

I felt guilty for most of the day for missing the race, but maybe I am starting to know my limits after all. Ask me at the end of this week when I have a 5k on Sunday following my work's week long conference.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I often have people ask me how I stay motivated, and to be honest - it's not easy. There it is - the secret is out. While I want all of you to think I'm super human, I'm not. Great, there goes my rep.  The secret to being motivated is...well I don't know what it is. I do know, however, that it takes hard work. It takes pushing yourself. And some days, even for me, it just isn't happening.

One of the ways I am motivated is by being public about my running and even about my health struggles. It helps keep me motivated to know that  other people are following what I'm up to. Before my Crohn's issue a few weeks ago, I was in a super motivated streak. I was working out, both running and cross training, 5-6 days a week. I was feeling great physically and emotionally. Everything was running smoothly. After my overnight hospital stay I took a week off running, and it's been slow going in the two weeks since I started working out again.

In the last few weeks I haven't had time - scratch that, haven't MADE time - to focus on running like I should.  I hate the excuse that you don't have time because we all have time. It's how we prioritize. This week I made time to go to a Detroit Tigers baseball game on a Tuesday night, and we didn't get home until midnight. I didn't feel like getting up at 5:45 the next morning, so I consciously chose not to go running. I hit snooze on my alarm and then felt guilty all day. I had the time; I didn't choose to use the time.

I consider myself a pretty motivated person overall, but some days just aren't as good as others. This week has been slow going, but next week is a new week. I just have to prioritize and make time for running. Making time for running is making time to clear my head and time that enables me to focus on everything else in my crazy busy life. 

So I'm not always motivated. None of us are. But we do the best we can and regroup when the rest of life takes the place of running or whatever your exercise regiment/me time is. Next week is a new week, but I think I'm going to need to disable my snooze button...  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recharging the batteries

Last weekend was our first chance to enjoy the inaugural season of our West Virginia football tickets, and it came at a perfect time. It's been a busy few weeks at work and at home, and I was really looking forward to a weekend away.  One of the perks of being in Morgantown, WV is that my phone doesn't sync e-mails or connect to the internet, and it's freeing to be a little disconnected.  

Morgantown, taken from Mountaineer Field
I usually take Fridays off from running, but I ran Friday morning before we left so I could take the weekend off. It's been almost three weeks since my partial bowel obstruction, and I'm still feeling a little sluggish while I'm running. I've been running low mileage, but it's been rough going. I'm hoping this week I can get back into it, but first I needed a weekend of recharging.

It was nice to be in Morgantown and be able to sleep in a little bit despite the fact that I was sleeping in a twin bed in the guest room at my parents' house with our 120-pound Golden Retriever. It's not the most restful sleep ever. It's probably a good thing that I wasn't running.

It's a rough life.
On Saturday we headed out to tailgate with one of my friends I grew up with and his wife. We had a great time, and I couldn't wait to be at Mountaineer Field for the first time this season. Our tickets are high up in the stadium (seriously - almost Heaven) but we still have a great view of the field. My Mountaineers won 31-21 over Maryland. It wasn't quite the high powered offensive showing I was expecting, but it was great to be at the game. I love football season, and being in Morgantown makes me nostalgic for college and a less busy time of life.

At Mountaineer Field, one of my favorite places in the world
After the game I found myself completely relaxing like I rarely do - basically only when I'm home in Morgantown. I felt badly not running, but I think my body and my spirit are still recovering. I start racing against this weekend with the Playmakers Autumn Classic 8k, so it was nice to have a weekend off. Now, back to the races...  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Switching gears at the CCRR

We've long established as part of this blog that I have issues knowing when to slow down and knowing my limits. I get it - I'm viciously stubborn and extremely motivated. It's quite the combination. But last weekend I did it - recognized my limits and switched to the 5k of the Capital City River Run here in Lansing instead of running the half for the third straight year.

On Saturday I made my way down to the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing to pick up my packet. I work in downtown Lansing maybe half a mile from the Lansing Center, so I'm really familiar with downtown. But on packet pick-up day all of the available parking nearby is marked "event parking" and it's a total cluster getting down there and finding someplace to park. The expo is not one of my favorites. It seems disjointed and really loud. My husband asked if I wanted to look around, and I just didn't. I just want to get out of there.

The race, on the other hand, I've always loved. It's the perfect time of year for a race, and the weather held true to form in the low 60s. It was gorgeous. The 5k and half marathon had simultaneous starts at 8:30 but going in different directions on Michigan Avenue. The 5k ran west down Michigan Avenue towards the Capitol building and run down Ottawa to the north of the building. I LOVE the view of the Capitol as you come up Michigan Avenue. It's my favorite view in Lansing, and it never gets old.

At the start and runners heading toward the Capitol Building
After running the first mile in 7:53, I realized I had done the same trick I've been guilty of all summer - going out too quickly and then fizzling out at the end. The course cut in front of the Hall of Justice that is home to Michigan's Supreme Court and east on Allegan on the other side of the Capitol. It's a familiar course in that I am downtown every day, and it's also the same loop we did in the Capitol Bancorp 5k in June (only this time with much better weather).

Just past the two mile mark we headed down on Museum Drive and onto the Lansing River Trail, a familiar course because it's where I do the bulk of my training runs. The last mile was a struggle due to the aforementioned going out too fast in the first mile. My watch beeped to signal 25 minutes which has been my goal all summer. I knew I wouldn't make it to the finish in under a minute to beat my 26:00 PR.

I crossed the finish line in 27:01, more than a minute slower than my PR and about 40 seconds slower than I ran a three weeks ago in the Adoption Associates 5k. It just wasn't my day, but considering that I was in the hospital two weeks ago, I'll take it. When I saw the table with medals I found myself really sad that I wasn't running the half and getting another medal.

Later Sunday afternoon I was checking my chip time online and discovered I was second in my age group with over 50 participants. The best part - the top 5 in each age group receive a medal! So I headed over to Playmakers to get my medal. Even though my time wasn't my best, I was still excited to have finished so well in my age group.

The Murphster and me showing off my medal
I love the CCRR and will hopefully be back to running the half marathon next year. But for now, I'll get back into running more distance to prepare for the next long race. It turns out that sometimes switching gears unexpectedly pays off.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where should we go?

After living in Norfolk, Virginia with and then near my sister for a few years in the mid-2000's, I moved to Michigan seven years ago.  I felt homesick leaving Norfolk, and I still feel a strong connection to the city having worked for the Mayor and with my brother and sister still living there. Being 12 hours away requires extra work, so a few years ago my sister and I decided we'd do an annual sister trip each year - just a long weekend with no real agenda other than to hang out. Last year we met in New York City for a long spring weekend, and this year we went to Chicago.

At Madame Tussauds in NYC, April 2011
Now we're looking to plan out 2013 trip, and we're a little stumped. I mean this is what happens when the possibilities are endless, right? It would be fun to go someplace neither of us have been, but we both travel a lot so that becomes more difficult.

Taking photos of ourselves at The Bean in Chicago, May 2012
I've been wracking my brain for cool ideas, and I have maybe come up with a few. I went to Denver for work four years ago, but I'd love to go again. It's just fantastic. I was also thinking potentially Providence or Newport, Rhode Island. I've heard both are gorgeous, and I love New England. Then in a complete change I was thinking potentially Sedona, Arizona. I've never spent a lot of time in the southwest, and Sedona is supposed to have beautiful scenery and relaxing spas.

All of those sound great...but am I missing an idea? Maybe an off the radar destination we have to visit? I have discovered that the Sedona Marathon is in February. There are lots of 5k and 10ks around Denver. And there is a half marathon in Providence in May.'s not necessary that I do a race during a sister trip, and I haven't yet. But *if* the timing works out, it wouldn't be the worst thing. 

This is a busy fall with a new job for my husband and a promotion for me, so we don't have any trips planned other than to Morgantown for West Virginia football. I'm also planning a trip to Norfolk to see my new nephew who will be born in October. I'm itching for a trip and in a far away place. So what do you think? Any ideas for a good destination for sister trip 2013?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I'm not good at living my life within its limits. I am constantly pushing harder, pushing to do more, do better.  And sometimes my Crohns prohibits me from pushing, and it is still, after 15 years, always a surprise.

Early last week I woke up like any other morning, put on my running clothes, and took off with my husband to walk our dogs. About a block into the walk, I doubled over with abdominal pain. We cut the walk short, and I headed home and collapsed into bed, quickly shooting an e-mail to the office that I wouldn't be in.  I'm a tough guy, so I figured whatever it was would just go away within a few hours.

A few hours later I had to get out of bed because I was in too much pain. I restlessly ambled around my house trying to get comfortable - watching TV, walking around, lying down. Nothing helped. Around noon I called my husband to tell him it hadn't gotten better, and I was swallowing my pride and saying we had to go somewhere. Initially I suggested urgent care, but I know how these Crohns things work. We went to the ER instead where I settled in for what I imagined was going to be a long wait. 

After a few hours and my new symptom, vomiting, I was finally seen in the ER, got an IV, and got some morphine. They ran all the tests and determined that I had an ileus, which is a bowel obstruction. They weren't sure of cause, but suspected scar tissue and adhesions (which just sounds gross). Thankfully there didn't appear to be a blockage which meant no surgery. I ended up in an observation unit overnight, and I was discharged late the following afternoon.  My husband said he realized how sick I was when he saw me put my fabulous new Kate Spade purse on the floor in the ER. That, my friends, is sick.

My fab Kate Spade bag tainted by the ER
I'm on a limited diet kind of until further notice, and it's difficult for me. A lot of Crohns patients are on limited diets, but I have rarely limited myself even knowing that something wasn't good for me. Now I realize I need to rethink my nutrition. I'm working through trying to figure out what I should and shouldn't eat, and it is not easy.

I am registered to run the Capitol City River Run Half Marathon on Sunday for the third consecutive year, and despite my disappointment, I am going to run the 5k instead. I am still hoping to do four half marathons this year, so that means I will need to run two more before January. But this will give me time to heal and figure out this new nutrition scheme before jumping into another 13.1.

People who know me well think I don't know my limits, and while it may appear that way it isn't true. I KNOW my limits. But after 15 years of dealing with Crohns, pushing my limits is part of the strategy. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. This weekend I'm taking 10 miles off my race despite my disappointment. But once I'm back to 100%, those limits had better watch it.