Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter warrior

We've discussed how I am not winter's biggest fan. Last weekend I thought I'd take it a step further and show winter who is boss by driving an hour north to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to take part in the first race of the Winter Warriors series. After driving an hour in blowing snow, winter was up 1-0.

Feeling confident/cold before the race.
Last week I discovered the website for the Winter Warriors Half Marathon series that has races in January, February and March. They hold a half, 10k and 5k each month. I thought it was perfect. It's hard to find winter races, and here are three affordable ones I can do. After last weekend's 10k, I will not be doing the other two. 

Waiting impatiently for the race to begin
I'm all about a smaller race with less pressure, but I'd still like a small race to be well organized. This race was a disaster from the moment we got out of the car. Packet pick-up was at Runner's Performance, a narrow store in a shopping plaza. There were multiple unidentified lines, and after waiting in the bathroom line for five minutes I realized there was no line at the pre-registration table. I picked up my bib and chip and headed outside into the cold.

The race got started a few minutes late, which isn't a huge deal (although it was becoming one as we were standing out in the snow). We took off and headed away from civilization. I'd love to say I ran Mount Pleasant but that would not be accurate. I ran on unpaved roads near farms in Union Charter Township. It turns out that place is a sh*thole. Literally. It reeked of animal waste. 

And we're off!
The snow and wind were pelting the side of my face leaving me to wonder why on earth I was doing this. (Winter was up 2-0.)  About 3ish miles in I came across a guy in a pick-up truck handing out eight ounce bottles of water by a sign that said "10k turnaround". I said "Oh this is the 10k turnaround?" and he affirmed. So I took my little bottle of water and turned around. The downside was that I had to carry a water bottle for the last three miles. I wasn't about to litter on someone's family farm.

I have never felt so unsafe in a race. The roads were not blocked off, and they were snowy. At one point I was running (with just a few other runners) on a paved back road, and cars were whizzing by. The directional signs were also white and snow-covered making it difficult to figure out the direction of the course.

Sprinting to the finish - the only time I've ever run in the opposite direction of Target.

Finishing strong.
Despite how sluggish I felt, I busted my previous 10k PR by 54 seconds. I think if the weather conditions had been better I could have really shaved off some time. The best part about this race was the medal with a cute snowman on it. I'm a sucker for medals. We also got a coupon that got me a free smoothie. I was also down with that.

Relieved to cross the finish line.
As my husband and I were leaving Mount Pleasant, we saw several lost runners who had completely missed the signs and were off course. Any chance of me coming back to do the other two races was completely gone at that point. I'd love to say I ran Mount Pleasant, but I didn't see any of the city. We drove the hour home in extremely windy and snowy conditions. Other than the PR, winter won this battle.


Striking a pose at Central Michigan University's football stadium

The medal was literally the best part

 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Buying happiness in running stores

Bo Derek once said, "Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping." I have taken this phrase to heart in my latest quest to visit running stores in the cities where we travel. I know, I know. It's not enough to simply travel a lot AND run in all of these cities. I've now developed quite the fascination with running stores. And let me tell you - no two are the same. We should discuss a few of my favorites.

Bo Derek knows a thing or two about running
Here in the Lansing area our local running store is Playmakers. Playmakers kind of spoils me for other running stores I visit because it's pretty great. I have purchased every single pair of my running shoes there for the last six years, and their running gear is also top quality.  A lot of our local races have packet pick-up at Playmakers which is quite genius because I cannot get out of that place without buying something. It's too tempting. From shoes and gear to water bottles and running stickers, they literally have everything. I haven't even gotten to their website - I love it. I visit it every single day.  I find most of the local races I run on the Playmakers race calendar. There are injury clinics, group training opportunities, and any other support a runner would need. Other running stores have a tough act to follow.


I didn't start running until I moved to Michigan, so it's unfortunate that while living in Norfolk, VA I didn't visit Running, Etc. My apartment in Norfolk's Ghent neighborhood was only a block away from the store when I was there, and yet I never made my way in. I made it a point to stop in when I was in Norfolk in December.  The store had lots of great running shoes and gear, and they have some really good sales. It is smaller than Playmakers, but they still have a lot of inventory. I bought a great t-shirt that boasts "Virginia is for Runners". It's my new favorite.





In Boston last fall I got to visit a little store I loved - Marathon Sports. This store is located near where the Boston Marathon finishes. I couldn't NOT go in, right? It was small without a huge selection, but what they did have was awesome.  I scored a Skirt Sports capri skirt - one that had been featured in Runner's World - on sale for a great price. I love it and wore it just a few weeks later in Lansing's Capital City River Run. Marathon Sports has a pretty active Twitter feed, and I have a fantasy of visiting Boston and joining one of their training clinics. Hey, it could happen.


My awesome capri skirt during the CCRR
I try not to bore my traveling companions by insisting we go in every running store I see, but I'll admit I'm doing it more frequently. The only thing that makes running these towns more interesting is buying running gear in these towns. I'm pretty sure Bo Derek's famous quote was referring to running stores.


Monday, January 23, 2012

What inspires you?

As I was trudging through a miserable 6 miles on the treadmill yesterday, I decided to use the time productively to think about what inspires me and more specifically WHO inspires me. In running, my love of cities and life in general there are some people who are inspirations to me.

The summer before my senior year of college I decided to join the debate team (I know - dorky) after several years of being lobbied to join by a friend. That summer I met someone who became a dear friend - Mary Bess (now Mary Marantz). Mary and I became fast buds, and she's the kind of person who is completely unaware of her inspirational affect on others.  A few years after we met I moved to Texas and Mary moved to England to get her masters and then went on to Yale Law School. We drifted apart in the way that can happen with distance and a lot happening in life. A few years ago we got in touch again. Mary ditched the law world and has a photography empire with her awesome husband Justin. I have so much admiration for her for doing something she loves and living a life that is truly enviable. The Justin and Mary blog is awesome, and it is one of few that I read regularly. It's truly a life inspiration. 

A few months ago I saw a tweet from Meb Keflezighi (yes THE Meb Keflezighi - NYC marathon winner, Olympian, all around amazing runner) referring to a woman named Erin Henderson and her blog See Mom Run Far.  I checked out Erin's blog and was hooked immediately. Here is a woman who decided just three years ago to change her life. She started running, lost 75 pounds, and is FAST. I love running, but I'll never break a 4 hour marathon. Erin ran 6 marathons last year and just broke her marathon PR at the Walt Disney World Marathon a few weeks ago (she ran 3:27:14!). On top of all of that Erin has 12 (YES 12!) children. She and her husband have three biological children and have adopted 9 children from the United States and all over the world. She is SO inspiring, and while I will never be as fast as Erin, I often think if she can dedicate herself to running in the awesome way she has, I can push through a few more miles on the treadmill.


When I graduated from law school I fell into the awesome job of being the Assistant to Mayor Paul Fraim in Norfolk, Virginia. I was 25 years old, had no clue what I was doing, and jumped into working for a man who loves his city. His vision for the City of Norfolk is impressive. He's been on the Norfolk City Council since 1986 and has been Mayor since 1994. When I started working for him in 2004 I was thoroughly intimidated and rightfully so. Mayor Fraim is the kind of person who knows what he wants Norfolk to look like and he makes it happen. He took a downtrodden downtown and revitalized it to a vibrant place with fantastic retail - the MacArthur Center was walking distance from my office at City Hall. Dangerous. There are tons of restaurants, residential and business development as well as cultural opportunities. When I was there the Mayor visited Millennium Park in Chicago and came back with a vision. That vision resulted in a total overhaul of Town Point Park on Norfolk's downtown waterfront.  He also wanted light rail in downtown Norfolk and after years of planning, headaches and cost overruns, The Tide light rail system is now running through the city.  It's that kind of planning, fortitude and love of a community that is what placemaking is all about.


And last, but certainly not least, my current boss Dan Gilmartin. Dan is the CEO of the Michigan Municipal League, and he's great to work for. When I started at the League 4 years ago, I'd been listlessly trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. I love cities, and I want to be part of making Michigan communities better. Starting at the League was like being reacquainted with an old friend. The organization strives to create places in Michigan that people want to live, work and play. Dan is fond of saying we're creating communities for the next 50 years, not the last 50 years. He is a strong leader of this organization with lots of ideas to help our communities thrive in the 21st century.  He challenges all of us to think outside the box and to challenge ourselves. His blog, the Economics of Place, is a blueprint for what communities everywhere should be doing to create great places. It's a pleasure to work someplace where I love coming in every day and I believe in what I'm doing. It's Dan's leadership that makes this place thrive.


I think life is all about finding those people who make us want to push ourselves and be our best selves. Who inspires you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

We Built This City

I'll be up front in letting you all know that my inspiration for this post is my all-time favorite 80's song, "We Built This City" by Starship. I love that song, and it's been in my head for two days. In the process it got me thinking about my favorite cities and what makes them my favorites.



My very first blog post was about visiting Washington, D.C. at the age of 16 and how I fell in love with cities right then and there. It's ironic, really, that a girl who grew up in a town of 400(ish) people in the middle of bloody nowhere entirely considers herself a city girl. Despite my dirty little secrets of having been in the FFA (that's right -I was a state champion meat judger) and raised pigs, I have forsaken all of my country routes to wear 3-inch heels every day, love crowded cities and be a giant fan of happy hour in chic downtown establishments.

Chicago continues to dwell at the top of my favorite city list. I can't pinpoint any one thing that makes it so fantastic, but I can point to about 10 things. It's downtown is filled with people, there's tons of restaurants, shopping, bars, museums. The green spaces in Chicago are fantastic, and Lake Michigan provides an additional level of fabulous. Chicago is a runner's dream with miles of lake front trails as well as being home to one of the country's largest marathons. Honestly - what's not to love?

My first visit to Boston this year puts it at a close second behind Chicago. Boston is a large city, but it feels very intimate. It's a history buff's dream with landmarks like the Freedom Trail and the USS Constitution.  Boston feels very dense, and it's extremely walkable. Being in the North End feels like you're in a small village with numerous amazing restaurants and shopping. Boston is also a runner's dream - home to the incomparable Boston Marathon and some of the country's most active running clubs. 

Denver rounds out my top three for many of the same reasons. The 16th Street Mall downtown is pedestrian friendly with free public transportation. The restaurants in Denver are incredible, and it remains the only place I've ever encountered horseradish vodka with a pickle chaser (seriously - awesome). Denver also has lots of green space, and lots of opportunities not only for runners but for outdoor activities of all kinds.  I have a race in Denver that I'm dying to do - Fans on the Field. It's a 10k race that starts and ends at Mile High Stadium. It's on the short list.

There are so many other cities I love. Let's be honest - I don't visit a lot of vibrant cities I DON'T love.  I am enamored with everything that makes cities great - both for cityphiles and runners. What's your favorite city and why? Also you're welcome for getting Starship stuck in your head all day long.  

     

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Priorities

Both running and traveling keep me sane.  At the end of 2011, my husband and I started planning our 2012 trips. Some of them will revolve around running; some of them won't. Traveling is kind of our thing, and while we do make repeat trips to some of our favorite destinations like Washington, D.C., we're all about seeing new places. I'm all about running races in new places.

The problem with an extensive traveling/running schedule is that sometimes life gets in the way. When I had surgery three months ago, I thought I'd be up and running in a few weeks. I thought wrong. After three months I'm STILL having complications that are affecting my ability to run. I'll have a great 4-5 mile run, and then be in pain for two days. Who has time for this?

Our jobs are busy, our dogs are crazy, and life tries its hardest to keep me from running and to keep us home doing boring things like yard work and cleaning our basement. And while I may have tons of dog hair on my basement floor and our hedges are a little wild, our priority has been to travel as much as we are able in these early years of our marriage. Okay who are we kidding - we intend to continue traveling when we're old and gray.

At the beginning of the year I scour race sites to pick the races I want to do so they will coincide with cool trips. I've put myself in the lottery for the New York City Marathon. That is a dream run/trip.  We've got confirmed trips to Pensacola, Florida and Green Bay, Wisconsin. I'm registered for the inaugural Lansing Half Marathon in April. That leaves me with at least two more race trips, and you can bet I've been searching the internet to find the right trip for us. We're thinking Montreal in September and maybe Chicago again in October. But here's the thing about running these towns - I'm only limited by myself. 

A lot of people say to me that they just don't know how I run and travel so much. At some point you've got to just do it. Sure sometimes it's nice to sleep in or stay home, but I never feel worse after a run than I did before.  So book a trip and register for a race while you're at it. Life is too short to stay home and trim the hedges. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spring fever

Mark Twain once said, "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes." Michigan weather is much like that. It can be beautiful and sunny one day and snowing the next. Fortunately Lansing is in a bit of a bubble. We generally don't have a ton of snow in the winter compared to other places in Michigan. Unfortunately what we lack in snowfall we also generally lack in sunshine as well. That makes winter in Michigan long and brutal.

This winter has been an anomaly. We had one significant snowfall at the beginning of December, and so far that's it. The temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s, and we've had sunshine every day for almost a week. It's fantastic! 

Here's the thing about me and winter - I can totally live without it. In looking at great cities and place, weather clearly doesn't matter. Fantastic cities like Chicago, Denver, Boston, New York, and Minneapolis thrive in cold climates. And while I get that concept, it still matters to me. 

I like having four seasons but four milder seasons. When I was growing up in West Virginia we'd have plenty of snow and cold, but I never recall weeks where the temperature didn't go above freezing even once. It is harsh. This winter is my kind of winter. Maybe it's global warming? I'll take it. 

This weather is fabulous for running. It's great to be able to get outside in the sunshine and get a run in. Don't get me wrong - Michigan's weather is generally great for running. I'd rather run outside on a chilly spring morning than in heat and humidity. But overall, I like it when it's warm. 

Winter is a great time to explore a warmer state for a race. I'm doing the Double Bridge Run in Pensacola in a few weeks. It's not supposed to be extremely warm there - probably high 50s to low 60s - but it'll certainly feel warm to us.

We still have months of winter ahead of us here in Lansing, so I'm taking the warmer weather while I can get it. I'm also thankful for great cold weather running gear that keeps me motivated when the temperatures drop and snow starts to fall. And through every cold run I'll be daydreaming about the arrival of spring. Only 10 weeks!



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Running the Outer Banks

When I try to think of the best way to describe North Carolina's Outer Banks, the word that won't go away is idyllic. Quaint is sticking around in my head too. I love it there. This year my family decided we'd do a Jones Family Christmas Vacation (picture the movie...and it's pretty much like that) by renting a house in Corolla in the Outer Banks. We trekked down from Michigan, my parents and youngest brother from West Virginia, and my sister and brother and their families had the shortest commute from Norfolk, Virginia. We arrived a few days before Christmas to beautiful weather (50s and 60s with tons of sunshine).

"Are you serious Clark?"
I took advantage of our close proximity to the beach to try out my Vibram FiveFingers on the sand. I got Vibrams for my birthday in August and was terrified to run in them after the salesperson told me horror stories of people getting hurt. But I figured it was at the beach - why not? I went for several runs on the beach and they were fantastic albeit difficult. The second run I did was the day after some thunderstorms, and the sand was not packed down. It was like running in quicksand. 

Running with my dogs on the beach
I ran four times in the week we were there. One day I tried out my new Running Skirts arm sleeves - they are fantastic. And they have little pockets to carry important things like snacks. I ran with my sister one day as well through the neighborhood where we were staying. We were only a few blocks from the beach, and it was great to hear the ocean and smell the sea water during a run.

Who wouldn't want to run here?
The Outer Banks is made up of about 200 miles of barrier islands, and unfortunately in a week there's only so much you can see. We stayed in Corolla toward the northern end of the OBX. It is a tiny little town with some cute shops and restaurants. Some things were closed for the season, but we were still able to do some shopping and enjoy the sights. Our house was close to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The lighthouse was also closed for the season, but the fence was low if someone was so inclined to jump the fence and almost get caught by the sheriff. Which may or may not have happened.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse
The Town of Duck is just a short drive to the south.  We spent a good bit of time in Duck because there was great local shopping and restaurants. It's also home to the Outer Banks Running Company where I purchased an awesome new water bottle that will be perfect for marathon training hydration. 

We had lunch one day at Aqua, a chic eatery right on Currituck Sound. The food was fantastic and the scenery beautiful. My biggest beef was they didn't have sweet iced tea. It's North Carolina! That's an abomination! I'm still not over it.

A view of Currituck Sound taken from Aqua during lunch
We loved the shopping in Duck. There were great local stores with tons of goods to choose from. We may have gone a little crazy getting art work, Christmas ornaments, and other Outer Banks goodies. But what fun is a vacation without bringing some things home?

Shops on Currituck Sound in Duck
I'm a city girl. Or a town girl in this case.
We did venture south to Kitty Hawk to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  Wilbur and Orville Wright were successful launching their first flight from Kitty Hawk, NC, and the memorial is impressive. We love history, so it was great to add this to our trip.

Wright Brothers Memorial
We had gorgeous weather except for one rainy day, when we drove down to Nags Head to do some shopping at the outlets there. The outlets were small, but they were great for a rainy day. The highlight of that outing was a stop at Sweet Frog, a yogurt bar where you pick your yogurt and pay by the ounce. So what if my yogurt cost $9.00? I think that's a good thing.

Who doesn't love a giant Adirondack chair? They're everywhere!
I didn't love it as much in Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills. Those areas were much more commercial. Once you see an Applebee's and an Outback Steakhouse, you know it's all over. Duck, however, continued to impress. One night we had dinner at The Blue Point, and it was fantastic. My husband raved about the pork chop (and I do mean raved - for hours), and I had a white wine that was delicious. I could've just drank it out of the bottle. After dinner at The Blue Point we stopped at Metropolis, a tapas bar with an urban flair in Corolla for cocktails. It was okay but a little pricey.

Corolla is also known for its wild horses, and we went on foot to see what we could find. You can do tours to see the horses, but after finding that the tours were very pricey, we decided it wasn't worth it. Unfortunately we didn't get to see any wild horses, but the beach was beautiful that day.

On the hunt for horses
There is a lot we didn't do in the Outer Banks, including visiting Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Roanoke Island. But what fun would it have been to do everything in one trip? Besides we had important things to attend to like drinking, playing games and relaxing. Maybe next time.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Non-resolutions

I'm not a big fan of New Years resolutions. I feel like they're something people say they intend to do, and 99.9 percent of the time they don't follow through. I am more of a doer than a declarer. I like to think of myself as a Doozer (for fellow Fraggle Rock fans) If I intend to do something, I don't need a new year to come around to do it.
Damn those Fraggles always messing with the Doozers' hard work
2011 was an excellent year. We traveled a ton, and I did lots of races including three half marathons. This year my goal is to do at least four half marathons. I've already registered for a full and a 15k, and I think it's completely feasible to fit in four half marathons as well. I also need someplace to wear my awesome new running gear I got for Christmas.  I told someone this week that one of the keys to keep me running is cute running gear. Hey, whatever it takes.


I got my arm sleeves for Christmas! Seriously adorable.
While I don't like to use the word "resolution", I do have lots of goals for 2012. In addition to the number of races, I vow to cross train more, keep my IT band healthy, and travel like it's going out of style. My husband and I returned from a week in the Outer Banks about 36 hours ago, and we're already planning our 2012 trips. We don't have it all figured out yet, but it's going to be fantastic.


I was in church this morning with my heart nearly bursting with gratitude for all that we have. Traveling and running are two of my great passions, and I am so blessed to have the ability to do both. So here I come barreling into 2012. I hope it's ready.