Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A wicked run away from sprawl

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing the race in Kellogg Park in Plymouth

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Great expectations

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching to the choir, sister.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who's afraid of a few hills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The value of a support system

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A runner's placemaking rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 11, 2012

26.2: Third Time's a Charm?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A race series in review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Can we all be skinny b*$tches?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The race that will not be run

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

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

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

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