Monday, April 30, 2012

Not running DC (post brought to you by red wine and gin)

I started this blog about a year ago with the story of falling in love with Washington, DC at the age of 16. It's been 17 years since my first visit to our nation's capitol, but if anything I only love it more. I'm sure my husband gets tired of me saying, "Look at this urban design! On street parking! Mixed use development!" and on and on. 

Coming up from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop where the love affair began.
This weekend we visited the D.C. area to visit some friends and relax. I did something I rarely do on vacation - I didn't run. I took running clothes, and I intended to run. But on Friday night one glass of wine turned into, um, several, and on Saturday afternoon cocktails turned into wine with dinner. I decided to relax, let go, and actually sleep in. 

We discovered a few weeks ago that flights between Detroit's Metro airport and Baltimore-Washington International are really reasonable, and we decided on a whim to book a trip. We arrived at BWI early on Friday morning and headed to our hotel on Arlington's Courthouse Road. This is my favorite area to stay - close to the metro, affordable hotels, and most importantly right next to my favorite West Virginia Mountaineer bar outside of Morgantown, WV - Ragtime. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on Courthouse, one of my favorite spots.

On Friday morning we discovered what could possibly be my all-time favorite spot in the Metro area - The Bayou Bakery. Opened in 2010 on Courthouse, it opened about a year after the last time we stayed there (we've stayed with friends our last few visits). It is just about a block from the hotel, and we stopped in for some caffeine and a late breakfast. I loved the atmosphere - it was very charming and comfortable. As we were enjoying our fantastic breakfast (the biscuits are AMAZING), I saw a guy walk by and remarked that he looked familiar. Then I realized it was David Guas, the owner of Bayou Bakery, who I recognized for being on the Food Network's Chopped, one of our favorite shows. I have to admit - I was a little starstruck and talked about it for about two hours.

Inside the Bayou Bakery. The atmosphere is so charming!
Friday was a beautiful sunny day, so we decided to do the D.C. tourist thing and walk around the monuments. We haven't been to the Mall since 2008, and we figured we should check out the monuments every 4-5 years. Despite all of my trips to D.C., I had never seen the Jefferson or FDR Memorials. We also visited the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, which was beautiful and poignant.

Visiting the FDR Memorial
The powerful MLK Memorial
One of my favs - the WWII Memorial
That evening we had dinner with friends who live near the Columbia Heights neighborhood - an area, like much of the region, that seems to have mastered placemaking. We came out of the Metro to a vibrant neighborhood and headed to visit our friends in their beautifully restored row house.  We learned that the neighborhood includes lots of family homes, rentals and retail - the perfect cocktail of mixed uses.

Speaking of cocktails, we slept in on Saturday morning after imbibing in a few at dinner the night before. The weather was a little cloudy and overcast, but we decided to chance it and meet a friend at a French Market in Georgetown. I love the vibrancy of Georgetown, but I find it is difficult to visit because the Metro doesn't extend into the neighborhood. We decided to walk over from the Foggy Bottom stop. The French Market was adorable - music, street performers, French food and sidewalk sales in the shops up and down the street. We snagged some delicious strawberry shortcake after they marked the price in half. Winning!

The 9th Annual Georgetown French Market
Lots of people and a band walking up the street
We spent several hours walking around Georgetown, including a walk over onto the Georgetown University campus. We literally walked right into the Georgetown Running Company where they had lots of fantastic running gear. After our tour of Georgetown we headed back to Foggy Bottom for drinks at Circa, a chic eatery with fantastic signature cocktails. I started with one of their cocktails - the aptly named "Foggy Bottom". I love cucumbers in a cocktail, and it was fantastic. The service was a little lacking, but the drinks made up for it.

Before dinner with friends we with popped into the Whole Foods Market next door to pick up some wine and beer to take along. It may have been all the afternoon drinking, but I was mesmerized by the market. I absolutely loved it. I am not sure if I've been to a Whole Foods before that, but I am a sucker for an urban market. Dinner was at another couple's house, and it was a fantastic affair with wonderful company, delicious food, a bottle of champagne, too much red wine to count, and fancy gin that smelled like flowers.

I was moving slowly Sunday morning, but we went to the Bayou Bakery again because it is awesome. We then headed out to Baltimore to have brunch (who doesn't need two breakfasts?!?) at Spoons in the charming Federal Hill neighborhood. The service was terrible, and I'm quite sure the hostess forgot about us as we waited outside, but the food was amazing. I had risotto benedict, a delicious dish with risotto cakes, prosciutto, and then the traditional poached eggs and hollandaise. Really incredible.

LOVE these signs.
Federal Hill, Baltimore

After brunch we went to Camden Yards to watch the Baltimore Orioles play the Oakland A's. It was a gorgeous afternoon for a game, and the O's kept our trip in Baltimore fun by winning in dramatic fashion with a home run at the bottom of the 9th. 

A beautiful day for baseball

We decided to head to the Fells Point neighborhood in Baltimore just on the other side of the popular Inner Harbor area downtown. This was probably my favorite place of the trip. There were narrow streets, lots of shops and restaurants, live music, and tons of people on a late Sunday afternoon. We had dinner at Bertha's, an eatery famous for their mussels. The service was great, the food was wonderful, and the atmosphere fantastic. It was the perfect ending to a lovely weekend.

Fells Point. Love, love, love.
I'm always down for a good hootenanny.
This morning we took an early flight from Baltimore back to Detroit. Although I was tired, I forced myself to run in the lovely, rainy Michigan afternoon. This trip was one of the best I've had in quite a while. It was a placemaking bonanza!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Unanswered prayers

This year I entered the New York Marathon lottery for the second consecutive year. I'll tell you a little secret - I even splurged on the cute 2012 training shirt. I kind of thought this could be my year, and I was equal parts excited and dreading getting in. I found out today that I didn't get in this year, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

For the record I look adorable in this shirt.

Last year I blogged about the excited possibility of running New York, and it's still a dream of mine to do the race.  I'm already running the Green Bay Marathon next month, and I find that when I am training for a full I don't get the opportunity to run as many small races as I'd like.  I obviously would have run the New York Marathon if I'd gotten in, but I can't pretend I wouldn't have been a complete stress case over it this year. 

My race calendar is really starting to fill up this summer. In addition to the full next month, I've decided to run nine races in the Playmakers race series this summer starting with the Mason State Bank 5k next Friday.  It sounds like a fun way to run in Lansing and to explore some surrounding cities as well. I'm also registered for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run Half Marathon the first weekend in June. We've worked our vacation this summer around the L.L. Bean 10k on the 4th of July in Freeport, Maine. 

Let's be honest, my race card is getting pretty full. I don't have time for the New York Marathon this year. But next year - that's my year. Until then I'll just be thankful for unanswered prayers.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Running half of Lansing's inaugural marathon

On Sunday the City of Lansing hosted the inaugural Lansing Marathon. I'll be honest - I didn't have high hopes based on the organization (or lack thereof) prior to the race. I registered months ago, and I didn't receive an e-mail confirmation. Apparently this was the case for many runners according to the complaints on their Facebook page. The course changed several times, and I was concerned that the race would be a hot mess. At the end of the day, though, the race was very well done and extremely organized. I was thoroughly impressed.

5K runners in front of the Michigan Capitol Building
This was my 9th half marathon, and I realized again how nice (and convenient) it is to run a race so close to home. On Saturday my husband and I headed to Cooley Law School Stadium (home of the Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball team) to pick up the race packet. It was a cool idea to have the expo on the mezzanine of the stadium, but it was a chilly and windy day.  The swag at the expo was fantastic. The race shirt is a great - a blue, New Balance tech shirt that actually isn't enormous (a regular problem I have with race shirts). Our awesome local running store, Playmakers, had a great booth set up with Lansing Marathon merchandise. I got a gorgeous black New Balance jacket. Very cool.

Other than the Playmakers booth, the expo was a bit lacking. I realize it was the inaugural event, but I've been to a number of marathon expos. This one had just a few booths that really weren't very useful. It was a bit disappointing.

The morning of the race was FREEZING cold and very windy.  I met my friends/co-workers at our office, and we walked a block over to the race start in downtown Lansing. This was our third half marathon together, and I realized again how fun it is to work in an office of runners (well the girls at least...we still haven't talked the boys into it).     
At the start - I spotted my husband
Love this shot with the Capitol in the background
The race course started right in downtown Lansing on Grand Avenue. I had been nervous about the course due to the changes, but the course was great.  It was surprisingly hilly considering that I don't think of Lansing as having many hills. They weren't steep, but several were long, slow, slight inclines. That and the wind made the course challenging.

Runners heading down Michigan Avenue in downtown Lansing
Despite the somewhat rural nature of parts of the course, there were lots of enthusiastic spectators in most parts. Playmakers did a great job of marking the course with flags to indicate water stops. There were lots of well organized water stops, and the mile markers were easily visible. That's been a problem with a number of races I've done.

The race ended in front of Michigan's beautiful capitol building in downtown Lansing. I pushed so hard during this race that I couldn't appreciate the crowds and energy of Capitol Avenue at the finish. Despite a lot of the course being away from downtown, the course still did a nice job of showing off most of downtown Lansing.

This is when we realized it was a new PR for both of us.
All smiles to the finish
Finishing strong

I decided not to wear my running watch because I find that I keep looking at it and stressing over my time. Not wearing my watch must have done the trick because I shaved nine minutes off my PR when I crossed the finish line at 2:02:24. My goal was to PR, and now I've got a new goal to break a two hour half marathon.

With my friends after the race - we all three ran PRs!
The medals are gorgeous and similar to the one I received running the Detroit Marathon in 2010.  Overall the race was well done and highlighted downtown Lansing. It didn't hurt my impression of the race that I killed my PR in rather windy conditions. I have to say from my perspective Lansing's inaugural marathon was a success.   


Thursday, April 19, 2012

To tri or not to tri?

I like to think I'm kind of a tough guy, but I admit it - I'm afraid of the swim. It's the swimming part that keeps me from doing a triathlon. It's not that I'm a bad swimmer. I practically lived at the pool in the summers as a kid, and I was even a lifeguard as a teenager. But something about an open water swim terrifies me. 

Seriously - this looks terrifying
I have friends who have done triathlons, and they're hooked. It also seems like a great way to get balanced exercise instead of just running. I keep thinking I'm going to do it, and every time the swim holds me back.  I'm also really particular about how things work, and I have no idea how a triathlon works. What kind of bathing suit do I wear? Do I change after the swim? I should wear goggles maybe? How do I get my bike to that station? Really the entire thing freaks me out.

It seems like a natural progression to go from runner to triathlete. It's a new challenge, and it's one that I think I'd like to try. At some point. Maybe I should do a biathlon? Do away with that swim all together. I find it funny that I'm not afraid to run 26 miles, but I'm terrified to even try this event because of the swim. So I need some advice: should I try a tri?

Monday, April 16, 2012

First world problems

One of my favorite Twitter hash tags is #firstworldproblems. It helps illustrate those silly things that we (we being relatively well-adjusted, happy, healthy people) consider our problems. Recent posts I've seen include things like whether to get Starbucks hot or cold or the pressing problem of going shopping and not finding anything to buy.

I've been dwelling a lot lately on what I'll call my first world problems. My marathon training is not exactly going as planned after a few weeks of struggling with Crohns. My planned 20 mile run last weekend turned into my being able to only run 13. I say "only" like 13 miles is nothing to write home about. It is - it's a big deal. And even though I am taking new meds and am coming out of a Crohns flare-up, I was "only" able to run 13 miles. I was seriously depressed after the run. It takes me writing it down to realize how ridiculous that sounds.

My husband and I are traveling to DC in a few weeks to visit friends. It's the same weekend I'm supposed to run my second 20 miler, but it'll really be my first. I really don't want to run 20 miles in DC and then be sore and tired all weekend. I want to enjoy visiting our friends. And as crazy as it sounds, I'm stressing over it - big time. My biggest problem in life right now is when to run my 20 miler. Somebody slap me please.

Today was the Boston Marathon, basically the Super Bowl of running races. Temperatures are soaring into the 80s in Boston; certainly not ideal running weather. I followed the Boston Marathon feed religiously on Twitter, and splits are certainly slower than expected. The winning male, Wesley Korir, ran almost ten minutes slower than last year's champ. The high temps even prompted Boston organizers to allow runners a guaranteed entry for 2013 if they picked up their numbers but didn't start.

Training for a marathon takes so much time and dedication, and I'm sure there are lots of people who will be disappointed with their times today. At the same time running is something most of us do for fun (save elite athletes who make their living by running), and running a marathon a few minutes slower than expected in harsh conditions really isn't the end of the world. Those running Boston today should be so proud. The time qualification alone keeps me out of the race, and I would love to be part of that event. But I know that feeling of finishing a race yet not accomplishing your goal. 

There is a homeless shelter across from my office, and some mornings when I walk into work I see people waiting outside in the cold for food and shelter and think wow, I have so much - so many blessings.  

Maybe I won't get in the solid 20 miler that I've been expecting, and maybe my marathon won't be as fast as I hope. But at the end of the day, in terms of "problems", those are pretty good problems to have.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

My place/race bucket list

The movie "The Bucket List" with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman undoubtedly has people now saying what's on their bucket list - the things they want to do before they die. For me, this includes cities to visit and races to run. Of course it includes a lot of other things too, but cities and races top the list. 

P.S. One of the saddest movies ever.
I have a dream of visiting Paris. My husband and I travel frequently to lots of different places, and somehow my dream vacation, Paris, keeps passing us by. In my head Paris is the perfect place with beautiful, walkable streets with cafes, museums and shops. When I list the eight assets that make up a 21st century community (physical design and walkability, green initiatives, cultural economic development, entrepreneurship, multiculturalism, messaging and technology, transit and education), I imagine Paris has them all. Of course this leads to the possibility that I may ultimately disappointed when I visit Paris, but I doubt it.

Paris streets. Gorgeous.
Like many people (I suspect) I have a lengthy list of places I want to visit. We travel a lot, but that only tends to expand the places we want to travel. Traveling for races has been a really fun way to see lots of different cities that often turn out to be unexpectedly delightful. I keep thinking that I need to run the Paris Marathon. Could there be a better way to see 26.2 miles of Paris than on foot during a marathon?

A shot from the Paris Marathon. WOW.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to visit Sweden for my goddaughter's baptism. I had never really thought about visiting Sweden, and it was incredible. We spent nearly a week at a cottage on an island in the Baltic Sea, and then we spent a few days in Stockholm. What an amazing trip, and although it wasn't Paris, it was one of these unexpectedly delightful places.  It made me realize that Europe is full of cities like Paris - quaint, walkable, old cities with tons of character and charm.  And with that trip the bucket list of cities on the to visit after Paris began to grow (to include Prague, Barcelona, and name a few).

The Swedish flag and Baltic Sea on a gorgeous summer day
In Gamla Stan (Old Town) Stockholm.
I haven't ventured into doing races in other countries yet because there are so many races yet to do here in the states.  That and it's not as easy to get to a race in Europe as it is in say Indiana. But I dream of doing the Paris or Berlin Marathons. And of course New York - that's the Super Bowl of races. I've entered the lottery for the second straight year, and I'm hoping this is the year. I love this site, Running Trip, that has lots of international and domestic races. Their Twitter feed is very active, and I find it a good one to look for races in fantastic destinations.

This summer my husband and I have decided we're doing a northeast road trip to visit New England and spend some time in Montreal. I hear Montreal is like North America's version of Paris, and I can't wait to go. I'm also going to fit in one of my bucket list races into this trip, the LL Bean 4th of July 10k in Freeport, Maine.  I'm so thankful that I married someone who shares my love of placemaking and humors my love of running. 

What cities and races are on your bucket list? And any ideas of ones I should add to mine?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

We all begin somewhere

I love getting my copy of Runner's World every month. It's like Christmas. I initially flip through it once and then read it cover to cover multiple times. I particularly love the ads at the end for races all across the country. That is where I've discovered several races to do including the Knoxville Half Marathon last spring and the Pensacola Double Bridge Run a few months ago.

I love this issue with Kara Goucher on the cover. She'd recently had a baby. Seriously.
In the May edition, editor David Willey discusses how we are all beginners at some point, and how runners really cheer on beginners so they can become one of us. My paraphrasing  of the editor's letter makes runners sound like a cult. And we're not...exactly.

I am flattered to frequently get questions from those who are beginners. It makes me so excited for them that they are starting, and once they get past the initial hatred of running (trust me - we've all been there), there is something about it. It's something that can't be replaced by anything else - not other cardio, not yoga, not Zumba or any other cardio fad of the moment.  Once you're a runner nothing else scratches that itch like a good, old-fashioned run.

During my first half marathon - the Nike Women's Half in October 2006
That being said I want to encourage beginners with stories of my own frustrations. Sure, I blog and post on Facebook and Twitter about how much I love running. That is true I'd say 95% of the time. Some days, like yesterday, it just sucks. Hard. I had a training run to do, and I started out after work in perfect weather (sunny, high 50s). I was breaking in new shoes that I thought would be fantastic. About a mile in I started having Achilles pain. Well not so much pain as a severely uncomfortable burning. I stopped for a minute to stretch, but it didn't help.

I ran about another mile (and by "ran" I mean "shuffled uncomfortably") before stopped to stretch again. I decided at this point I should walk again. After a few minutes of walking, I started only to have the Achilles pain turn into Achilles/shin pain. I'm pretty sure it was the new shoes (which I will be exchanging promptly), but at the end of what should've been a solid four-miler, I had run MAYBE three miles of it. Maybe not even. 

Last Friday I rocked 16 miles like a champ, and on Tuesday I couldn't even get through four. Go figure. But every good run builds you up and keeps you going through the bad ones. They certainly aren't all good. But you'll always feel better after a run than you would if you'd never run at all.

I started running six years ago in April of 2006. I remember struggling to get through those initial two mile runs. I remember that time so vividly - I can even remember the smell of spring rain during my runs. If you're just beginning I promise it gets easier. And it's rewarding. Just hang in there. And if you have to stop for a few minutes to walk, take time to smell spring.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Winning the war

I fully admit that I tend to be rather unsympathetic about what I consider minor health complaints of others. I consider things like colds, allergies, and other such ailments to be an inconvenience not a reason to stay home for work or lay on the couch. A few years ago I listened to testimony in a legislative hearing where a Crohn's patient was crying about not being able to leave the house. Come on lady, cry me a river. I've got Crohn's. Crying isn't going to make it better. And not leaving your house is just depressing.

There is no nice way to say that Crohn's Disease is a giant pain in the tail. Literally. It's been 14 years since I first became sick, and it has gotten more difficult to pretend like I'm feeling well like I did when I was 19. I think I put on a pretty good face most of the time, and people are generally surprised that I have Crohn's and run as much as I do. That doesn't mean that some days aren't harder than others.

I am so thankful for all of the blessings in my life. While Crohn's is a nuisance, it's a lot easier to deal with when you've got a supportive and loving husband, fantastic family and friends, a great work environment and good health insurance.

Last fall I blogged that I run to feel normal - that when I'm running I'm not a lady with Crohn's. I'm just a normal person with sore knees and achy joints.  Sometimes Crohn's does sideline me. A few weeks ago I skipped a long run (marathon training sacrilege) because I was having a rough week with my Crohn's. I missed a 13 mile run but did manage to get in a 10k later that weekend. Did I feel great? Not particularly. But I felt way better after pushing myself through than I would have lying around my house. 

I've always pushed myself even at my sickest. The photo below was taken in July of 2000, merely two weeks before I had my colon removed in an emergency surgery. I was hiking, and I had a temperature that day of 102 degrees. I also had a delightfully puffy face from Prednisone, but reaching the top of the hiking trail was totally worth it.
This is my face on Prednisone. Any questions?
I've gotten an IV infusion of immunosuppressant drugs every six weeks for the last decade.  It's not the most convenient thing when I'm away from the office for an afternoon and there's tons of work to be done. It is, however, the only medication that has ever kept me well.  I have a new doctor at the University of Michigan, and it's an hour to go to appointments and procedures. It's not convenient, but then again nothing about Crohn's is convenient.

At the end of the day, however, I am grateful that this is all I've got to deal with. There are so many people with cancer and heart problems and on dialysis for kidney failure. I am so blessed to know that I can deal with this. When I was at my sickest, from 1998-2002, I knew it would get better. And it did. Now when I'm not feeling well, I think back to that time and thank God that at least I'm not as sick as I was then.

In the hospital in Pittsburgh in December 2000 after my bowel reconstruction surgery - still smiling.
I missed a long run a few weeks ago, but I was back in action with a 16 mile run last weekend. My husband and I are planning multiple running trips and vacations over the summer. I never, not even for a minute, let my Crohn's keep me from two of the things I love the most: running and traveling. Life is too short to let Crohn's call the shots. 

I've learned as I get older to take a break every now and then and to realize that it's acceptable to not live my life at full speed 100% of the time. And there have been days when Crohn's has won the battle, but I am winning the war. I think I'll run in the inaugural Lansing Half Marathon in a few weeks to celebrate.