Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Being okay with down time

As much as I love running, for me it's critical to know when to force myself to get up and go for a run and when to rearrange the schedule to allow for some down time. This summer has been a little difficult for me with my hip issues (I'm still in PT) and the humidity. I've taken more down time than I have the last few years, and I have to keep reminding myself that it's okay.

Other than the LL Bean 10k I ran nearly a month ago, I haven't run more than four miles at a time since the Dexter-Ann Arbor Half Marathon the first of June. I've been babying my hip injuries hoping they'll heal and also in hopes that my physical therapist won't kill me for pushing it too hard while I'm injured. It's been odd to have all of these weekends without a long run. I've even rearranged my schedule several times to take a few weekends off entirely. It's weird, but I've discovered it's important.

This past weekend I intended to do a long run on Friday, but the humidity kept me at about 4½ miles.  Instead of beating myself up, I just went with it.  On Saturday I was a bridesmaid in a really good friend's wedding, and I enjoyed way too much champagne to run on Sunday. This morning's run was the first one since Friday, and it felt good. The air is a little cooler, and my legs felt great. 

Me as a bridesmaid, prior to drinking copious amounts of champagne
I'm an extremely goal-oriented person, and I tend to push myself 100 percent of the time. It's always hard for me to be okay with taking it easy and giving my body (and my mind) a break. I'm still running four days a week. The mileage isn't as high, but I have to recognize that my hips aren't going to heal unless I take it a little easier. 

On Saturday I'm running the Mint City 10-miler in St. John's, Michigan. I obviously have not been training for it, but I'm not concerned with my ability to eek out 10 miles. I think that will officially mark the end of my "taking it easier" summer. 

I have to keep reminding myself that it's okay to not have everything planned out. I don't have to have my next vacation booked or have already registered for my next race. As much as I needed some physical down time, I needed some emotional down time too. Now will someone please pass me a mimosa? 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

U-S-A! U-S-A!

I LOVE the Olympics. I am particularly partial to track and field (shocking) and women's gymnastics, but I love watching all of the sports. When I first moved to Michigan my (now) husband and I bonded over the Olympics. Of course they were the winter Olympics which I think is just a good fix to get you through to the real Olympics, the summer ones. But any way you slice it, I love the Olympics.

I think there is also a direct correlation between place and the Olympic host cities. Look at some of the cities who have hosted the (summer) Olympics in the last few decades: Beijing, Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona, Seoul, Los Angeles.  These are all cosmopolitan, thriving places.  And this year the Olympics are in London, one of the best cities in the world.

In 2008 Fast Company magazine named its global city of the year. About this city it said: "It's shockingly expensive. The roads are jammed with traffic. The subway system's hopeless, and the buses no better. There's a surveillance camera on every other corner, and the sidewalks are strewn with litter. The biggest airport is a joke. The richest residents are fleeing or threatening to; the poorest have been chased out into the suburbs by soaring property prices. And the weather sucks."

That city? London. The article goes on to praise London's creative resurgence in art, music and diversity. This summer, as people from all over the world descend on Great Britain's capital, the city will be polished and shiny for the visitors. And people will see what they've seen in Olympic cities for decades: places they love, places they want to return to, places they fantasize about living in. 

As a runner and a city lover, I'm fascinated by the Olympic venues and the marriage of the world's greatest athletes with the world's greatest cities. I have set my DVR to record all of the track and field events. I'm cheering for our incredible American runners in every heat they run. I am particularly excited to watch the women's marathon with three of the best marathoners in the world representing our country.

Desiree Davila, Shalane Flannagan and Kara Goucher - the U.S. Women's Marathoners. Awesome.
For me the Olympics mark a time of such profound patriotism that I spend a lot of it with my heart in my throat, holding my breath, watching the athletes.  It's also a time to appreciate a world-class city hosting a monumental event that will forever change that city's place in history.  I wish all the athletes good luck, but of course I'm cheering for the Americans. And London? London is about to show other cities how it's done.   

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I run these corn fields?

On Saturday I ran my 4th race in the Playmakers Race Series - the Race for Ele's Place in Okemos, Michigan. Okemos is a Lansing suburb about 15 minutes east of Lansing. The race is hailed as a local favorite, so I was excited to run it.

Ele's Place is an organization offering support for grieving children. It's a great community benefit assisting children who have lost a loved one. That's been one of the best things about the Playmakers Race Series - getting to do races that benefit such wonderful causes.

While the cause was wonderful, I found the race to be not so great. Let me start by telling you a little about Okemos - "Okemos" itself doesn't exist. The postal address is Okemos, but the actual locality is Meridian Township. Meridian Township is a pretty typical, mid-20th century suburb marked by quiet subdivisions and big box stores. One of the best assets of Meridian Township, however, is its recreational trails. When my husband and I first started dating he lived in Meridian Township, and I have logged many miles on those trails. They're fantastic.

Ele's Race didn't showcase anything about Meridian Township or those great recreational trails. The race begins and ends at the headquarters for Jackson National Life. Jackson National is a huge insurance company based in Okemos. It's a good corporate citizen, and it's very generous to the overall Lansing community. It has a large campus just south of the freeway off the Okemos exit. The colossal building is flanked by acres upon acres of parking lot. I imagine (without knowing for sure) it's one of those all-inclusive workplaces with a coffee shop, cafeteria, and everything you need inside. I work in a vibrant downtown where I can walk out and interact with the world, so the idea of this sort of campus environment makes my skin crawl. I'd like to pick up those employees and put them in a building in a downtown somewhere.

As we were navigating the congestion into the parking lot around 8 a.m. (the race started at 9), there were signs that said the parking lot was closed until 10:50 a.m. Considering that I run a 5k in 27ish minutes on average, I wasn't thrilled with the possibility of being stuck at Jackson National until 11 a.m. and fighting the traffic to get out. It was a 5k, not a Justin Bieber concert.

Packet pick-up and other pre-race organization was great, and everything started efficiently. The course was an out and back. It was flat and fast, but very rural. I did discover a miniature pony farm right near Jackson National (who knew?), and there was a band on the course. There were lots of runners and walkers, and the course was easy. I like easy, but I don't really like boring. I was running by corn fields with a few volunteers scattered around. 

Michigan State's mascot, Sparty, leads off the race

All smiles at the start
This race had a number of kids running and a several people running with strollers. I love it when kids run races, and I hope when we have kids they'll want to run like mom. But here's my beef with it - kids tend to run really fast to start off and then just dead stop right in the middle of the course when they feel like it. If you're going to let your kid run, please tell him/her to move to the side if they want to stop particularly when it's a crowded course.  I almost ran over at least three kids who stopped in front of me. I was not amused.

There were a significant number of people running with strollers, and many of them were faster than me. I think it's inspiring, but just because you chose to run with a stroller doesn't mean you get to jostle and bully other runners out of the way. The out and back led to the faster runners running towards us in the other traffic lane.  At one point a guy with a double stroller was passing slower runners by running into the fast runners in the other lane with no regard. It was very irritating. It's race etiquette people. Running with a stroller automatically means you yield to other people. I feel the same way about dogs, and we all know how much I love dogs.

It was a humid morning, and I felt sluggish. I finished in 27:19 - a decent time for me but still way short of my PR. I need to do some speed work. After downing two bottles of water and some chocolate milk, we headed back to the car. 

On the race website it had indicated the parking lot would be closed off and on throughout the morning, but in reality it was closed all morning. I talked to a volunteer who agreed to let us leaving the parking lot and head out a back entrance. We ended up getting stuck in a line of cars on a dirt road LITERALLY in a corn field waiting for walkers to clear the course so we could leave. I'm not the kind of person who hangs out after a race. I'm ready to head home, take a shower and move on with my day. It took nearly half an hour to leave the parking lot/corn field.

I'm glad I ran Ele's Race, and I'm happy to support the cause. It is not, however, a race I plan on doing ever again. I run these TOWNS, not these parking lots/corn fields.    

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Like a heat wave

I complain a lot about Michigan's weather. I love hot weather, and it doesn't often get what I consider hot enough here. This summer has been a fabulous exception, and it's been extremely warm. We've had several 100+ degree days, and it feels like I think summer is supposed to. I love it. The only time I don't love it is when I'm running. It made me realize one of the reasons Michigan has such a great running culture - it's generally fantastic running weather year round.

The last month or so my runs have been extremely sluggish. I enjoy the heat and humidity when I'm not running, but during my runs I feel like I'm running in quicksand. Other than the 10k I did a few weeks ago, I feel like I haven't had a good run in a few months. I'm learning to deal with the heat though, hydrating a lot, and just running as many miles (or as few) as I want to. This morning I ran three miles in humidity so thick it felt like I was running in a wet blanket. I had a marathon canceled because of the heat. It's been that kind of summer.

During the Green Bay Marathon - soaked from running through sprinklers for relief from the heat
I have these fantasies of moving south - to Tennessee or South Carolina or some other humid, hot summer climate. But during my morning runs this summer I've learned to appreciate Michigan's (generally) cool summer mornings. This summer has been hot nationwide, so I know I can't be the only runner struggling with heat.

This weekend I'm running the Ele's Race 5k in Okemos, Michigan, and then I've got a few weeks off before the Mint City 10-miler in St. Johns, Michigan. My training for the Mint City run has been off kilter because of the heat, but I've got a few weeks to get back on track.  But I'm just enjoying the summer and taking it easy with 3-4 days of running, 2 days of cross training and 2 days of PT each week.

Until the cooler air settles in again, I'm going to enjoy the hot weather, drink lots of water, and run more slowly and fewer miles. I'll miss this heat come February, so I'll just make up time and miles then.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who says you can't go home?

I grew up in the town of Hundred (yes like the number), West Virginia. It's in the middle of nowhere, and it's population was a booming 299 people according to the 2010 Census. Despite being from a small town, I've always been a city girl at heart. Seeing Washington, D.C. for the first time in 1995 just sealed the deal - I was leaving Hundred as soon as I could.

The August following high school graduation I headed to Morgantown, WV to attend West Virginia University and never really looked back. I had two younger brothers still at home, and I'd go back regularly to visit my family.  But as soon as I landed in Morgantown it felt more like home. I liked riding the PRT (personal rapid transit - we have a monorail) downtown to my classes, to have lunch and go out with my friends. It felt the way I thought life was supposed to feel. Bigger. 

In 2006, ten years after I graduated from high school, my parents moved to Morgantown. In the six years since I've been to Hundred maybe two or three times. Each time it seems to have gotten smaller, but it also feels pretty much the same. I've grown to refer to and even consider Morgantown my hometown.

Last weekend my mom turned 60, and my siblings and I decided to throw her a surprise party for her birthday.  It seemed easier to host it in Hundred because many of our friends and family live there (or close enough). We decided to hold it at the American Legion in Hundred because my dad is a member, drinks are super cheap, and options are limited.

Waiting not so patiently for my mom to arrive
My mom arrived Saturday evening to a room filled with family and friends. She appeared surprised although we learned later that she had known for months. Sneaky. It was a really fun night seeing people I hadn't seen in years. And while life is so hectic, and I'm so far away, in a lot of ways some things never change.

My family. We're known for our seriousness.
Growing up in a small town has really great advantages. My brother, our friends and I were free to ride bikes, play hide 'n seek with our friends, go to the community pool and really enjoy a safe community. We learned to be independent and confident.  And when I left, even though I've tried to forget it, that small town is a part of who I am.

I don't know when I'll get to Hundred again. It might be several years. It might be never. Even though I've been drawn to the city like a moth to a flame, there is a bit of nostalgia to visiting my actual hometown. Who says you can't go home?



Thursday, July 12, 2012

PT - it's for everyone!

I realize I do a lot of raving about how wonderful running is, but there is a down side - the injury. I don't know a lot of runners who have never been injured, and the more common thing is the runners who have recurring injuries. If you're a runner and you have never been injured, I tip my hat to you. Unfortunately I am not one of those people.

When I started running in 2006, I'd never run more than two miles at a time. I was a sprinter in high school, and I decided it would be brilliant to go from not running for years to training for a marathon. I'm a genius. Four months into marathon training, in an otherwise uneventful eight mile run, I felt it - the knee twinge.

I took a few days off, tried to run again, and ouch. I went to see a sports medicine doctor (who is amazing), and he said it was IT band. What the heck is your IT band, you may ask? Good question because I didn't know then either. Now we are old friends. Basically it's the tendon that runs from your knee to your hip, and it's a common running injury.

What's the cure for this, you ask? Another great question - there is none. In 2006 I did about three months of physical therapy (PT) and then had a cortisone shot before my first half (the full marathon dreams at that point dashed). I did run two more half marathons that year, but my IT band was a nagging problem. I ended up taking a break from serious running for about two and a half years. I did some 5ks here and there, but I didn't train for anything longer.

In 2010 I decided to begin training seriously again, and that year saw the continuation of my IT band drama. The week before the Detroit Marathon I went to see my doctor who basically said I could run without irreparable harm, but it would hurt. It did hurt. A lot. After that race I ended up in PT for the third time.

Last year I dialed it back a bit. I did four half marathons, but I ran fewer training miles overall. Miraculously, for the first time since I started running, I was injury free. Other than the occasional tweak, my IT band was in check. It felt amazing.

This year the IT band has been okay as well (knock on wood). Unfortunately, in the last few weeks of marathon training this spring, I started having hip pain. Not just in one hip, but in both. It is unlike the IT band pain of the past, so back to the sports medicine doctor I went. 

Fortunately this time it wasn't IT band. In the left hip I have an inflamed sacrotuberous ligament. Never heard of it? Who has? It runs under the glutes, and it is PAINFUL. I feel like an old woman when I stand up. This will be some fun PT.

In the right hip I've got an issue with my tensor fasciae latae (aka TFL) muscle, another hip muscle. Seriously - who knew we had all of these hip muscles to begin with?!?  

As a result of these delightful new injuries, I start PT today for the fourth time in six years. Right now with every mile I run my hips are screaming in protest. But you know what? It's totally worth it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Running for lobstah

My husband and I just got back from an amazing vacation in Maine that I cannot say enough good things about. We relaxed, ate amazing seafood, and got in some great sightseeing. We took our pups along, and they loved being on vacation. To top it all off I got to run a bucket list race, the LL Bean 10k, with Joan Benoit Samuelson. Okay, not with her considering that she was 20 minutes ahead of me, but we did run the same race. Awesome.

Murphy loves vacation
To break up the 17 hour drive, we stopped overnight in Albany, New York.  We are working on seeing all of the U.S. capitol buildings, so a stop in Albany (which was right on the way) killed two birds with one stone. Albany is about what you'd expect - a seemingly sleepy town, a bit run down, and dominated by state government. What surprised me about Albany was the cultural diversity. There were tons of shops and restaurants catering to all different cultures. The main street displayed flags from all over the world. Despite its size and geographic location (kind of in the middle of nowhere), it was surprisingly diverse. 

Visiting the New York Capitol Building
We rented a quaint cottage on the Atlantic Ocean in West Bath, Maine. The cottage was somewhat isolated yet close to everything. As soon as we drove up and saw the ocean view, we knew it was the right decision.  The 3 bedroom, 2 bath cottage was just perfect for us and the pups. 

The cottage we rented in Maine
How's this for a view?
Shortly after arriving we headed out to get some groceries for the cottage and to grab dinner.  We had a recommendation for Gilmore's Seafoods, so we went to check it out. Gilmore's was little more than a tiny building on the side of the road, but we quickly learned this is part of what makes Maine fantastic. We both had lobster rolls and fries - so good.

First stop - Gilmore's

Excited for lobster rolls

First delicious food of the trip
I started off my first morning in Maine with a run. I ran to the end of the road we were staying on, which turned out to be only about a quarter mile. I then headed out onto the main road to finish a route. It was so quiet - the only sound I could hear were my feet hitting the pavement and my breathing (which was haggard due to the hilly terrain). We then headed north to Augusta to visit Maine's capitol building.

Before heading to the Capitol we stopped at The Red Barn for lunch. The Red Barn is a larger eatery with ample outdoor space. I had fried clams and fries - amazing. The food was incredible, and all the positive reviews we'd read were dead on. I'd totally recommend.  

Fried clams

The Maine capitol was much more like Michigan's with a center dome and picturesque exterior. It had a porch on the upper floor that visitors could sit on (complete with rocking chairs). It was gorgeous. We then decided to walk around Augusta's downtown which was just kind of sad. There were lots of empty storefronts and a misused riverfront.  I was happy to get out of Augusta to head down to Freeport for packet pick-up.

Relaxing on the porch at the Maine Capitol
Jumping in front of the Maine Capitol in a skirt and wedges = talent.
Freeport is about 45 minutes from Augusta, and it was a quick trip. I'd heard that I'd really like the shopping in Freeport, and I'd heard right. Freeport is an outlet town, but instead of the traditional outlet set up, it has the stores arranged in a downtown fashion. The town has even restored some older buildings that now house outlet stores like Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch.  L.L. Bean is clearly a generous corporate citizen of the community.  After doing some shopping we picked up my packet.  The New Balance tech shirt is one of the best race shirts I've ever had, and the registration was pretty inexpensive. And really, it's all about the shirt.
Posing at LL Bean in Freeport

A gorgeous day
Not holding the lobster
We headed back to Bath for dinner at J.R. Maxwell & Co. in downtown Bath. I had a pasta with seafood and a parmesan sauce. The sauce was a bit heavy, but the experience was still nice. The restaurant had tall, open windows that look out onto the street.  Our service was good, and you just can't beat the price of seafood in Maine.

Wednesday morning, the 4th of July, we got up early to head to Freeport (about 20 minutes) for the 10k. We found parking easily, and made our way to the start. It was raining a little before the race, but it was much better than the oppressive heat of my last few races. As I was waiting for the race to start I heard someone say Joan Benoit Samuelson was there. Joan is an Olympic champion (winner of the first women's Olympic Marathon in 1984). She still holds the fastest time for an American woman in the Olympic Marathon and in the Chicago Marathon. She's truly a running legend, and I was completely star struck to be in the same race.

Joan Benoit Samuelson at the start (in the gray in the right side)

Me at the start (in argyle...shocking)
I ran a good race. The course was very hilly, and the rain stopped to yield to cloudy, humid conditions. I found myself praying the rain would start again. The course was very crowded the first few miles and then thinned out nicely. It felt hard - the hills really took a lot out of me. But at the end I blasted between two runners to finish strong. I took 22 seconds off the PR I set in March to finish in 57 minutes even. While that was about 19 minutes slower than Joan Benoit Samuelson, it was inspiring to just be in the same race.

Joan Benoit Samuelson finishing

19 minutes later, me blasting between two people

Strong finish

After the race we headed back to Bath to watch the Bath 4th of July parade. Without intending to we were there during Bath's annual Heritage Days - a celebration with a carnival, live music, and people everywhere. Downtown Bath is ADORABLE. It's a city with a population of less than 10,000 people, and I'm not sure there was a single empty storefront. It is a recipient of a 2012 Great American Main Street award, and it's well deserved. In the small downtown there are 2 (yes 2!!) grocery stores. There are tons of restaurants and local shops. It was incredible. The downtown was filled with people, and Heritage Days turned out to be a great display of community pride.

We headed back to the cottage to rest for a bit, but not before stopping at Plant's Seafood for lobster roll #2 of the trip. I liked Plant's WAY better than Gilmore's. It had less dressing on it, and the lobster tasted fresher and less chewy. Two thumbs up. The only downside is that Plant's serves their lobster rolls with chips instead of fries. I did miss the delicious fries we got at Gilmore's.

That evening we came back to downtown Bath to ride some carnival rides. I admit - I am a sucker for carnie rides. We rode the ferris wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, and my favorite, the Scrambler, twice. I was laughing so hard that my stomach was sore and my face hurt from smiling. I can't remember the last time I had that much fun.

This is my face on the Scrambler. Classic.
On Thursday we decided to head down to Portland. I'd heard Portland was a vibrant city, and I was not disappointed. There were people everywhere, and we had a difficult time finding a place to park. We headed first to get some lunch at Gilbert's Chowder House. I had the special - chowder and fried Maine shrimp. I'm not so sure why I was craving so much fried food, but it was worth it  (and vacation after all). We then walked around downtown Portland.

Some shots from downtown Portland

For years I've held Chicago on a pedestal as my all-time favorite city, and after only a few hours, Portland unceremoniously knocked it right off.  This city has placemaking down. There are blocks upon blocks of stores, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops. I'd say 95 percent of the businesses we saw were local. The streets were narrow and walkable (and cobblestone!), and there were shops EVERYWHERE. I was delightfully overwhelmed at what to go see next. Even the alleys had shops and restaurants in them. It was just unbelievable. We went in dozens of stores, and I could not get enough.  

More from downtown Portland
We decided to take a mid-afternoon breather and stopped at The Thirsty Pig, a bar that has a plethora of pork options on its menu and lots of beer selections. They had a mimosa special, so I decided to indulge in a few. We walked around Portland a bit more after a few cocktails. I loved Portland so much that I feel inadequate to describe how fantastic it was. There were so many people, it was so vibrant with green space and just life. It was amazing.

A chalkboard for public use! Wonder who wrote this?
Exposed brick, great atmosphere

After our visit to Portland we headed back to the cottage where we could look for jobs in Portland. I was assured by the bartender at The Thirsty Pig that Portland winters were brutal, but I figured they couldn't be much worse than Michigan's, right? (Please no one burst my bubble.) Okay so we're not moving to Portland. But it's fun to pretend.

Friday morning we started our last day in Maine. My husband and I went for a short run and relaxed a bit.  We decided to head up to Boothbay Harbor, an area about an hour north of us. We'd heard it was gorgeous spot, and we thought it would be fun. First was lunch at Kaler's, a place hailed by the locals. Then we just walked around and enjoyed the shops and harbor views.

Gorgeous Boothbay Harbor

We drove around a bit and got lost, but then we discovered we'd arrived at this peninsula (honestly I don't even know where we were). We went to a town pier and it felt like the world had ended. The ocean views were sweeping and just incredible. We walked around a bit and took some photos.

Amazing, amazing views.
After we finished packing we headed out to Solo Bistro in downtown Bath for our last dinner. This was another spot with rave reviews. It had an extremely chic interior and delightful menu. I had a lobster pot pie which contained an entire lobster's worth of meat. It wasn't heavy nor was it baked. It was topped with a crispy piece of phyllo. The pot pie, along with the two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, made this the perfect last night in Maine.

Enjoying the sunset on our last night in Maine
In case you haven't realized it yet, I am in love with Maine. Every town we visited was incredible, and Portland just blew me away. The LL Bean 10k was one of the best races I've ever done. I've never really been sad to leave a vacation before, but I admit that I cried as we drove away from our rented week-long home.  Whatever you've heard about Maine is likely wrong. Maine is better than whatever you've heard.