Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unexpected causes

On Saturday morning I'm running an inaugural 5k being hosted by Adoption Associates, the agency we're using for our adoption.  I never expected a few years ago that I would be an active advocate for adoption, but here we are preparing to start a family in an unexpected way, and as a result I have an unexpected cause to support.

When our case worker e-mailed us that they were holding their first 5k, I knew immediately that I'd run it. It's Saturday morning in Portland, MI (about half an hour away), and I have good luck at races in Portland. I set my 5k PR there last year.

Running my PR in Portland last year
The adoption journey has already been a really interesting one. Once we made the decision to adopt, we interviewed a few agencies, and we were not happy with any of them. Meeting with Adoption Associates resulted in an instant comfort with their team. We've been approved and waiting for five months, and we have no idea how much longer it will be. We could have a baby tomorrow or next year.  For someone as anal as I am, it's difficult to wait. I am considering this uncertainty a great preparation for parenthood.

I'm excited for the race on Saturday and couldn't be happier to support our awesome agency. Plus one of these days we're going to have a baby, and running will become more difficult logistically for a while. I've got to get in these races while I can!    


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We've long since established that running and cities are two of my favorite things. This time of year, however, brings back another of my very favorite things - college football. I am a HUGE college football fan, and this year marks the most exciting fall ever. My husband and I are are in our fifth season as season ticket holders at his alma mater Michigan State. This year we also purchased season tickets to MY alma mater, West Virginia University. Two sets of season tickets in one fall? Yes, please!

Posing with the WVU dance team at College Gameday in 2011 (WVU v. LSU)
The last few years I've incorporated my (and my husband's) love of college sports into running. I've run several races that ended in stadiums - in South Bend, Knoxville, and East Lansing.  It's become a fun game to try to find races that end in stadiums. That way everyone wins - I get to run a race, we get to travel AND we get to see a new college town and stadium.  As a bonus I have even more incentive to wear WVU gear during a race.

On the field at Neyland Staduim in Knoxville, TN in 2011
There is a magic of sorts to college towns. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when we visited State College, PA and again this past weekend as I went onto Michigan State's campus as the students are moving in. That was such a fantastic time of my life - my first independence, the first time I make my own adult decisions, the first time I could eat ice cream for dinner without anyone saying anything.  College football season brings back the novelty of that time for me every single year, even now, 16 years after I was a freshman in college (ouch).

Tailgating for the WVU/Pitt game in 2003 with my brother and friends
I love running in the fall, and the combination of college football and fall running - the chill in the air and the crisp fall smells - it pretty much cannot be beat.  I get teary eyed watching my Mountaineers play football and every time I hear "Country Roads". I get teary at the start of every race. And I have been known to find something I love in a city (I am particularly partial to downtown grocery stores) that can choke me up.  Doesn't a downtown grocery store do it for everybody?!?

Following the Sunburst Half Marathon (it ends in Notre Dame's stadium) in 2010
This Friday we kick off our college football seasons at Spartan Stadium against Boise State. I won't get to a Morgantown until the Maryland game on September 22. I will love every minute at Mountaineer Field...I can't wait to watch my team, travel to one of my favorite towns and run though it all. Let's go!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dressed for success

I'm a little obsessed with clothes. And shoes. And running clothes. And running shoes. I mean it may actually be a bit of a problem. I take a lot of time picking out outfits for work and running. If I'm going on a trip, I meticulously plan every outfit for every day. Dressing well doesn't happen by accident. It's a process.

Part of my shoe collection. It takes up some room.
I realized this morning as I was wearing a cute running outfit (paisley running skirt, strappy tank and arm sleeves) that I felt fantastic. It was a great run, and I'm quite sure it was at least in part to what I was wearing.

In life I generally feel better if I am put together. When I was running the Lansing Half Marathon in April, I had multiple people tell me that I was the "best dressed" in the race. It was almost more exciting than my PR. Almost. I have so many running clothes - at least enough shirts to wear a different one every day for at least a month. Perhaps longer. But it doesn't stop me from wanting the cutest, latest thing.

Rocking plaid arm sleeves in the Lansing Half
I am a disciple of What Not to Wear. Stacy and Clinton know their stuff. I have often said to myself and others, "It doesn't have to match. It just has to GO." I even apply this philosophy to running clothes. You may think this is crazy - I'm just going to run and get the clothes all sweaty. But it's a mental thing for me. If I look cute on a run, I'm motivated to push myself harder.

My fav shoes of all time. I love, love, love them.
There are people who think it doesn't matter what you wear, and people will judge you for how you look on the inside. And to those people I say - you're dead wrong. Eventually people will judge you for who you are, but when they first see you, that's the first impression you make. It matters - whether it's at the office, hanging out with my friends or on a race course. Not for everybody else - but for me.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No you come push it! Push it real good.

I live my life in only one speed - full blast. 100% at all times. I walk fast, I talk fast, I generally move quickly. Everything has to be done, and preferably it has to be done right this minute. Resting is a foreign concept to me, and I don't do it well. 

When I fall into bed every night I am exhausted. I fall asleep almost immediately. I leave nothing on the table at the end of each day. I can't remember ever having trouble sleeping, and I'm quite sure it's because I fill each day with constant movement. I'm up at 5:45 every week day to walk my dogs a mile and then either go for a run or cross train.  I fill every free minute of every day with something. If I have a free lunch hour, I run errands. Constant movement.

There are many, many weekend mornings when I have a race scheduled, and I wonder why I just can't sleep in like a normal person. Enjoy a cup of coffee. Relax. But it's not in my DNA. Besides if I run a race at 7:30-8 a.m., I'm generally done before 10. Then I can fit more into my day.

My husband and I travel a lot. Sometimes I don't realize how much. I don't consider trips to visit my parents in West Virginia "travel", but it takes 6½ hours to get there. That's still quite a trip. We are often visiting family and friends, and we're rarely home on a weekend. When we are it's a mad dash to fit in dinners with friends, races and home projects. We've needed to replace flooring in our house for the entire five years that we've lived in our house, but instead in that time we've traveled to Sweden, Mexico (twice), Maine, Boston, Chicago (several times), DC (multiple times), Pensacola, Knoxville, State College (twice), the Outer Banks, Denver, Norfolk, West Virginia (again many times), and many other weekend jaunts that I can't even recall right now. Totally worth it.

In the last three months I've run eight races of various distances. In that same time I've been to Green Bay, Boyne, MI, Traverse City, Munising, MI, Maine, West Virginia and State College, PA. In our rare off weekends, we just try to keep up with the rest of life.

Despite the what sometimes feels like a crazy schedule, I wouldn't change a minute of it. I've got one life. I plan to fill it with travel, running, friends, family and copious amounts of fun.  

(As an aside, I love, love, love the Comcast commercials with the Slowskys, and it inspired the title of this blog.)



Friday, August 17, 2012

America's 10 best cities for runners

Last year I did a blog about great cities for running based on a 2004 list I found done by Runner's World. Earlier this year Forbes announced its 10 best cities for runners, and not a lot has changed in the last eight years. Of the Forbes list of 10 cities I've run in only four of them, so there's a lot of running to be done.

Forbes' list is comprised of some of the most vibrant communities in America: San Francisco, New York, Chicago, DC, Minneapolis, Boulder, Boston, Portland, Austin and Atlanta. It proves once again that vibrant communities attract more people including runners. An active culture is part of what attracts people to a community.

I ran my first half marathon in San Francisco, and it's an amazing city. In just a few days there I was able to see a lot of the city - Fisherman's Wharf, shopping in Union Square, the farmers' market at the Ferry Building. And I also ran 13.1 miles through the city (although I was in so much IT band pain the race really is a blur). I would love to go back to San Francisco for another visit - one where my legs aren't in a ton of pain after a race so I can really enjoy walking up and down the cable car hills. 

New York is unlike any city in the United States. There's no way to compare it to anywhere else. It has neighborhood upon neighborhood of shops, restaurants, places to hang out. It has a beautiful built-in place for running in Central Park, and it's,'s New York. There's just nothing that compares.

Chicago is one of my favorite cities I've been to in the U.S. (was my VERY favorite until Portland, Maine dethroned it). It's got miles of running paths, plus it has the beach AND the city. It's pretty much the hat trick of great running cities.

Washington, DC is also one of my favorites. On a 12-mile training run in D.C. in 2010, I was surrounded by runners, bikers and walkers. Running along the Potomac River Trail felt safe, comfortable and familiar. The city is a global powerhouse but also a runner's best friend. 

I've been to Minneapolis, but I haven't run there. As a matter of fact I've barely scratched the surface of what makes Minneapolis so great.  Apparently there are miles and miles of running trails, and for those of us who enjoy running in cold weather, this is a great location for it.

Last year I visited Boston for the first time, and it was fabulous. It was a dense, walkable, vibrant town with history, green space, and some of the best restaurants I've ever frequented. It's home to America's most famous marathon, and for runners, Boston is IT.

In law school I lived an hour from Austin and spent a lot of nights imbibing in clubs on 6th Street in downtown Austin. I wasn't a runner when I lived there, but I can imagine that with Austin's culture is a great town for runners. It's also just a cool city that feels homey and accessible. And weird...but that's part of their thing.

I have not been to Boulder, Portland or Atlanta, but from everything I've heard they are amazing cities in other aspects but also for runners.  There does appear to be a direct connection between cities that are able to attract and retain talent and the same list of the best cities for runners. What about your city? Do you consider it a great city and a great city for runners?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The value of community spirit

Last weekend my husband graduated with his Masters degree from Penn State. As we headed to State College on Friday for the graduation ceremonies, I was excited to get back to State College. We went there in 2010 for the Michigan State/Penn State football game, and it's a great town.  It's basically in the middle of nowhere, but the campus and town are a thriving community. I had a bit of trepidation, however, because of all the drama that's happened at Penn State in the last year.

Tailgating with Penn Staters and Patron in November 2010
As my husband has been a student at Penn State, we've regularly gotten communication from the university about the scandal of the last year. There's no way to right any of the atrocious wrongs that were committed, but Penn State confronted it head on. They ousted those responsible and came together in a unified front to support their university and community.

On Saturday morning I got up to run on campus. The last time I ran there it was November, so this was a much nicer day. The sun was shining, and I had campus to myself as I headed out on College Avenue from our hotel, The Atherton. College Avenue is an ideal downtown street with lots of shops and restaurants. Most of the shops are local, and the streets are very walkable. Campus is relatively dense with gorgeous old buildings mixing with newer architectural pieces. Even in the summer bars and restaurants were crowded with people.

Downtown State College
During my run I found myself thinking of Penn State's struggle in the last year. While nothing can ever make up for what happened, probably 99 percent of the faculty, students, and community had nothing to do with the actions that took place. Imagine if that happened here in our university community - East Lansing. We, as community members and my husband as an alum would be shocked and appalled. But it wouldn't change the way we feel about our community.

Businesses on College Avenue all boasted signs from the Downtown Development Authority that said, "Proud to Support Penn State Football". Some windows proclaimed that they "Billieve" in "O'Brien's Lions", a vote of confidence for incoming coach Bill O'Brien.  And everywhere in Happy Valley the community is trying to move forward in the wake of unspeakable actions. I'm sure they're angry, but what stood out the most to me as an outsider was the community spirit to move forward.

There are communities across the world who have been faced with tragedies - perhaps economic, perhaps natural disasters, or perhaps crime like these. And the mark of a great community is its people and how they come together to make their community a vibrant place.

"Keep Calm and Fight On"
Downtown State College hums with anticipation of the upcoming school year and a new football season. For the first time in more than half a century, the football season will start without Joe Paterno at the team's helm. And yet this community is ready - ready to move forward in a new era. Ready to heal together. Happy Valley will be happy once again. 

My husband and me at the Lion Shrine

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Good Form Running

Do you remember the episode of Friends where Rachael runs with Phoebe, and Phoebe's running style is crazy? My form is certainly not as bad as Phoebe's, but there is always room for improvement. My physical therapist recommended I attend a Good Form Running class at Playmakers, our local running store, so I finally got it onto my schedule this week.

There are four steps to good form running: posture, mid-foot, cadence and lean. None of these concepts seemed to difficult, but in running practice hard work to implement them. Posture is just what it sounds like - straight posture, knees soft, feet straight ahead. Seems pretty simple, right? They video taped us running before and after the class, and I've discovered I have excellent posture. Almost too excellent. My back is so straight that it creates tension in my shoulders and neck when I run long distances. Definitely something to work on.

Step two encompasses striking the ground at mid-foot instead of on your toes or heels. I tend to run more on my toes, and that probably explains some of my hip/knee problems. The third step is cadence or rhythm. Ideal cadence is around 180 steps per minute. We ran to a metronome to get the correct cadence. I had short legs and a short stride, and I thought cadence would be an easy one. But especially when I'm tired my legs don't turn over as quickly.

The final step is lean, leaning into a run from the ankles not the hips. I find lean the most challenging part, but as we worked on it I realized that the Olympic runners I've been watching have the lean down. In yoga you lean forward onto the balls of your feet in a forward bend. This kind of reminded me of that, and it's going to take some getting used to.

Yesterday was my first run implementing the good form running techniques, and it's going to be some work. But it's worth it if I can minimize my hip and knee injuries. That is something I'm definitely looking forward to.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Running the Mint City

After effectively taking a summer off of serious running, last weekend I decided it was a good idea to jump into a 10 mile race without training.  On Saturday I ran the Mint City 10-Miler in St. John's, Michigan, a small town about a half an hour north of Lansing.  St. John's is known for its Mint Festival, held each summer in its city park and adjacent county fair grounds.  Like any small town festival, it hosts a variety of events from a petting zoo to hot air balloon rides.

The race started early, at 7:30 a.m., and I was grateful due to this summer's heat and humidity. Unfortunately even at the race start it was already steamy. The race had a bit of an unceremonious beginning, but it was a small race and it's what you expect for a race that size. The Mint City race was my 5th race of the Playmakers Race Series.

This is me telling my husband there was someone we knew at the start.
We began by running down a country road, through a few subdivisions, and by mile 3 we were running on a dirt trail surrounded by a corn field on one side and a field of mint on the other.  The scenery wasn't so bad, but there was zero shade. By mile four I was wondering if I would have my first ever DNF - did not finish - in a race.  My face was pounding, and there had only been one water station. I was struggling.

Fortunately the race took a turn for the better onto tree-lined neighborhood streets. St. John's has some gorgeous Victorian homes in its downtown. Some of them are honestly breathtaking. I was enjoying the trees, the beautiful houses and the many cheerful volunteers stationed all over the course.  

This is a house in downtown St. John's. INSANE.
Just before mile 6 we headed through St. John's' lovely downtown. It is a traditional downtown with patriotic flags lining light poles and lots of local shops and eateries. There were a surprising number of retail shops in the downtown - even more than we have in Lansing.  There was a water stop just past downtown, and thankfully they had cloths soaked in ice water. They felt fantastic in the heat. In the neighborhood just past downtown residents had bottles of water and hoses. I gratefully dumped near two bottles of water over my head and took a blast from a water hose. I was soaking wet, but I felt ready to get through the final three miles.

Downtown St. John's looking toward the Clinton County Courthouse
The last few miles were uneventful, running through more neighborhoods and through the city park and fair grounds (where the Mint Festival is held). I finished strong, carving about five minutes off the ten-miler I ran last summer, The Crim in Flint.  

Being insanely goofy

The race was a great mixture of showing off downtown St. John's, the lovely neighborhoods and the more rural aspect of the community. I got to see what I suspect is the bulk of the city, and once I was hydrated and a little cooler, I actually enjoyed it. The race was very well organized, and I really enjoyed doing a smaller race. I placed 4th in my age group, and I realized that if I had run the same pace I ran in this year's Lansing Half Marathon, I would've won my age group. That reminded me of the need to train and step it up.

Important things in life - hardware and chocolate milk
I really, really enjoyed the Mint City Race. It was low key, but the organization and changing scenery kept me engaged throughout the entire race. St. John's is a quaint, lovely community, and I am happy to have gotten the full tour.

How would I rate the Mint City 10-Miler? A (I liked it so much I might even do it again.)  

How would I rate St. John's? A (A great small community) 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Love me, love my scars.

When I ran my first half marathon in 2006, I ran with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. To run the Nike Women's Half in San Francisco the fundraising minimum was sizable - around $3600. It was a lot of work to train for my first race as a novice runner while fundraising. I was overwhelmed, had an IT band injury, and I was just generally overwhelmed with fundraising even though it is an amazing cause.

Running for Team in Training. Such great support.
As someone with Crohn's, I think a lot about running for a cause again. I considered doing Team Challenge this year for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, but none of the event dates work in our schedule. Believe me when I say my life is tightly scheduled months in advance. It's a little ridiculous.

I have a lot of friends who do Team in Training or run for other worthy causes, and I donate 100 percent of the time because I know how difficult fundraising can be. I haven't turned down a single ask for money for runners in the last six years. I'm a sure thing.

I've been thinking a lot lately of how to link my running to a good cause. Maybe it's for Crohn's. Maybe it should be for an organization that supports communities like the Michigan Municipal League Foundation (who I already donate to anyway). I run a lot of races, and it seems that I should be putting all of this energy to good use.

Yesterday I came across a campaign (thanks to the networking wonder of Twitter) called Scars R Sexy which helps people embrace scars as part of their story. I was watching the videos and reading the stories, and it was inspiring. I had me thinking of the many, many scars I have and how they affect me as a person. As an accident prone child I had stitches in my face three times before I was 7 - in my chin from it's contact with a dresser, in my forehead from contact with a coffee table and in my lip from a dog bite. I've had four abdominal surgeries, and my once flat, beautiful stomach now looks like a road map. I had melanoma removed from my shin and numerous other moles elsewhere on my body. Those scars tell the story of who I am.

This campaign made me think again about how to use my running for the greater good - how to inspire people and make the most of something I love. When I did Team in Training I couldn't help but be inspired by the amazing people involved in that campaign.  There are so many people and organizations that inspire me - whether they are overcoming adversity or working to make their communities better. Now I need to dig in and figure out how to make the most of running these towns.