Monday, December 23, 2013

2013. Mind. Blown.

I have to be candid in telling you all that despite all the fun things I'm about to talk about, overall 2013 was a rough year. My husband and I experienced surprising and devastating heartbreak on more than one occasion, and it was hard. Hard isn't the correct word to encapsulate what parts of this year felt like - more like heartbreaking and crushing and devastating. 

In the first six months of the year it felt like the blows just kept coming, and there were times when I wasn't sure I could handle it.  But if running has taught me nothing else it's taught me that I am stronger than I think I am.  When it gets hard - that's when you push the most. Even if the hard stuff is emotional rather than physical, the same rules apply.

I've dealt with the perils of 2013 in the way I deal with everything - head down, gutting it out, and keeping myself so distracted that there was rarely time to focus on what was getting me down.  I traveled all over Michigan for work (twice to Crystal Mountain, Spring Lake, Frankenmuth, a week in Detroit, Traverse City), as well as Denver, Washington, DC (six times!), Pittsburgh, West Virginia (four times), Toronto, Montego Bay, Jamaica, Chicago, Indianapolis and Norfolk, VA.  Later this week we head to California for a week's vacation to San Francisco, Monterey and finally to Pasadena to watch my husband's Michigan State Spartans play in the 100th Rose Bowl. 

Relaxing in Montego Bay, Jamaica
Along with (and often on) those trips I fit in a marathon, three half marathons, one ten-miler, two 10ks and five 5ks.  I even combined one of the 5ks and 10ks when I "Did the Double" in Indianapolis. I ran fewer races overall than last year, but I was able to remain largely uninjured for the first time ever during marathon training. While I did not reach my personal marathon goal I did take over five minutes off my marathon PR in the Marine Corps Marathon.

Post MCM
Perhaps it's cliche (and only symbolic really), but I'm looking at 2014 as a chance for a new start. It's a time to push past the adversity of 2013 and move forward.  Life is always going to throw us curve balls, and it's how we deal with them and who shares our journey that keeps us going. Here's to 2014 - I'm looking forward to making memories with you my friends!    

Look at 2014 - here we come!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Run or Drink Wine? That's a Stupid Question.

The answer is obvious - both. I love getting Runner's World this time of year with their tips on how to eat and drink in a smart way over the holidays. While I can appreciate the intent, let's be honest - I run so I can eat and drink whatever the f*$k I want during the holidays. Another glass of wine? Please. Another cookie? Don't mind if I do. In January I'll be back to eating like a normal human, but come on, it's Christmas. We socialize a lot, and I want to enjoy it. That's what marathon training is for - and that starts in 2014.

After a gathering at our house last weekend I was amused when I was taking out the recycling. It does not look like this is the home of a runner. 

Yes, yes the recycling bin does contain several empty beer growlers, multiple bottles of wine, an empty Jack Daniels bottle and lots and lots of cheese (Brie, cream cheese, bleu cheese). Now granted - there were dozens of people at our house, and I certainly didn't do all of this damage by myself. But I certainly did enough damage (and had the headache the next day to prove it).

So back to my original question - yes, I will do both. I will both run and enjoy the holiday season in excess. Life is short AND drink the wine.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

If You Pay Close Attention, Life Doesn't Suck.

Screenwriter Joss Wheden once said: "Very occasionally, if you pay really close attention, life doesn't suck.” 

Lately I've been trying pay close attention, and I'm having a hard time focusing.  At any given time I have about ten million things I'm working on. I am an excellent multi-tasker, but sometimes that leads me to be less attentive to certain projects. Running is an excellent way to help me focus and quiet my mind when there is so much running through it. Unfortunately the last few months even that hasn't helped me deal with the clutter racing through my brain.

Generally I love Christmas, and I'm easily in the Christmas spirit. This Christmas season, however, is a hard one.  I never imagined that we'd have another Christmas without a child, and it's been difficult to wrap my head around.  Despite the abundance of blessings we DO have I've been in a funk. Earlier this year around Mother's Day I wrote a blog that helped remind myself that we have so many things for which to be thankful. We're healthy, and we have wonderful family and friends. Our life without a child has been and continues to be a great adventure. Yet this Christmas I am a little heartbroken. And by a little I mean a lot.

A good friend continues to remind me that life is long, and in the scheme of it this wait is short. One day we will look back and forget the agony of waiting and only remember the joy of our family. My head knows she is absolutely right. It's taking my heart a little longer to catch up.

It takes a daily, conscious effort to be grateful. Some days are easier than others to push myself out of a feeling of thanklessness, and I have to force myself to focus on our life and appreciate the beauty it contains. It isn't always easy, but it is always worth it.

I originally wrote this blog a few weeks ago when I was in the midst of a giant pity party. Then I had a couple of things that smacked me in the face. When Nelson Mandela died I reflected on this amazing person who had dealt with unimaginable things in his life, and yet he had, by all accounts, a positive outlook on life. Then I thought about Alex Scott, the founder of Alex's Lemonade Stand. She was sick for most of her short life, and yet she was always looking at how she could make a difference in the life of others. Alex passed away nine years ago, and yet she and her family are still making a difference to so many people. 

This holiday season is about me working to be cognizant of the blessings of the season and to be inspired by those around me. That means appreciating the things I love - family, friends, my pets, running, and traveling. It turns out life really doesn't suck. 

Our photo from this year's Christmas card - so much to be thankful for.      

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bah Humbug, Winter.

This time of year it becomes particularly hard to maintain the motivation to run outside in Michigan. Take tonight, for example. It's currently dark and 23 degrees with a brisk wind. I considered going for a run. Then I thought nah I'll do yoga instead. Then I picked the best of three options - a grilled cheese made with a ton of Gouda and a few glasses of wine. This is what you drive me to Michigan winters.

Last weekend I decided to run the Scrooge Scramble 5k in Old Town, Lansing.  I ran the inaugural race for years ago, and it was relatively quiet.  This year I pulled into Old Town about 20 minutes before the race thinking I had a ton of time. There were people everywhere which is fantastic...unless you need to find a place to park. I managed to find a parking spot and ran to pick up my packet and then ran to put my new knit hat (so much better than another t-shirt) in my car.

It was a ridiculously cold morning, but that's why I have an absurd amount of Under Armour cold gear. The race is an out and back on the Lansing River Trail where I do a lot of my distance training.  I started out extremely fast and ended up lagging a bit at the finish. I still finished in a respectable 26:27 - still 27 seconds off my PR but not too shabby given the cold and my lack of speed work.

All smiles at the start
All focus at the finish

Saturday was also the 7th Annual Dickens Village in Old Town where the neighborhood is transformed with people dressed as Dickens characters and tons of family friendly activities. I headed back to Old Town after I showered (and warmed up) to browse at October Moon and Grace and buy a Christmas gift for my niece at Katalyst Gallery.  I love Old Town, and with all of the traffic on Saturday it felt like I was in a different city. And I dug it.

I'll be taking it easy the next few weeks before I start taking 2014 by storm with races (including the New York City Marathon!) and excessive speed work. This upcoming year is the year I will break 26 minutes in the 5k. I'm going to allow myself to be a Scrooge just for a few weeks until I push myself through the ice and snow again. Bah Humbug, Michigan winter.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Running for Turkey (again)

Thanksgiving is all about being thankful. Well it's mostly about being thankful and partly about being gluttonous. I have found there is no better way to start Thanksgiving morning than with a solid Turkey Trot. I have run the one in Lansing several times and the Detroit Turkey Trot once. This past week my husband and I ran the second annual Morgantown Running Turkey Trot.

Morgantown, West Virginia is my adopted hometown. While I didn't grow up there I did attend college and law school at West Virginia University, and my parents there now. Going back there always feels like going home. It's my happy place.  I was fortunate this year to join my entire family (including all three of my siblings and their spouses and children) at my parents' house for the holiday. It's not too often that we're all in the same place, and I was counting my blessings.

On Thursday morning  my husband and I headed to the WVU track for the start of the race. It was much colder than last year - temps in the 20s - but we were ready to go.  The cold didn't appear to deter participants, and we started out on Morgantown's best course.  Morgantown is an EXTREMELY hilly city, and I love running the hills in that town. This course, however, is perfect for those who aren't as enthusiastic about the hills. There is a solid mile down hill from the WVU Coliseum to Star City, WV on Monongalia Boulevard. The last two miles are on the flat Mon River Trail. For a hilly city, it's probably the flattest course that can be mapped. 

Me rocking the mock (with the Coliseum in the background)
Pre-race with the hubs. He loves it when I do this.

My husband broke 30 minutes for the first time during a 5k, and I couldn't be more proud. It was a tough run (maybe because we split a bottle of wine the night before), but he gutted it out. The race finishes at the Seneca Center, home to Morgantown Running. There were a lot of spectators at the finish, and it was a great way to kick off the long holiday weekend.

After gorging myself on turkey and related Thanksgiving delights the following morning I ran my favorite three mile loop around WVU's Evansdale campus. As opposed to the turkey trot course it's one of the hilliest loops I can find, and it felt amazing. It felt so good, in fact, that I ran the first (and steepest hill) twice. 

Despite my best intentions I only ran twice during my time at home. I did, however, spend quality time with friends and family. This week it's back to my regular running schedule. I've got some of my mom's delicious banana nut bread to run off.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I Am Thankful People That Read This

About two and a half years ago I was in a bit of a funk. I felt restless, and I needed some kind of focus. I've always loved to write, and my husband suggested I start a blog about cities and running. We were in Knoxville, Tennessee for the Covenant Knoxville Half Marathon. Knoxville was a random place for a race, but I fell in love with the city. It seemed like a natural fit to talk about the towns I've run in any why I love them. Knoxville was my first blog, and there have been 205 written since then.

This blog started (and continues really) as a way to give me a project, but I've been completely overwhelmed by the response from all of you. I've been in meetings before where someone I barely know mentions how much they enjoy it. I have had people mention it to me when I'm buying coffee and when I pass them on the street. It's a project I started for me, and the fact that people enjoy reading it is an added incentive that motivates me to keep running and traveling so I can write about it.

I would secretly like to be a writer, but that's not the world's most stable or lucrative career.  This adventure has been a way for me to hone my inner writer while doing two things I love - visiting cities and running. I am thrilled by the response I've gotten from those of you who read this blog, and during this week of Thanksgiving I want to make sure you know how grateful I am.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about people who inspire me, and throughout this journey I've discovered so many more. I'm inspired by my friends who have taken up running and pushed through those miserable first few months to start loving it. I'm inspired by people who have been motivated to push their limits and meet new goals, whatever they may be. I'm energized by those who recognize the beauty and importance of cities both as runners (like City Running Tours) and people who just want to be part of the revitalization of something great.

Throughout this journey I hope that I've inspired you even a fraction as much as you've inspired me.  This year has been a challenging one, yet I recognize the value more than ever of pushing my limits and living each day to the fullest. Lace up your running shoes, my friends, and/or take a trip to someplace you'd always wanted to go. Push the boundaries of what really makes sense, and be thankful for it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dear Santa, I've Been Good. Sometimes.

It's not quite Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean I'm not already thinking about Christmas. I've gotten a head start on Christmas shopping, and it's definitely time to hint to my loved ones what I want. I've written several blogs with a running gear Christmas wish list, and I've gotten everything on them. I can't believe Santa reads my blog! That is so exciting.

Here's the thing, Santa. I haven't entirely been a good girl. I try, but I'm snide and cynical. I love good gossip. And while I doubt I'm on the nice list, you can't blame a girl for trying.

It's nearly winter in Michigan, and that means I need lots of cold weather gear. Do I have lots? Well yes. But I think I need more. I hear it's going to be a brutal season, and I need to be prepared. 

I only have one article of clothing that is from Reebok, and they are the best running tights ever (thanks to my mother-in-law who keeps me outfitted in awesome running pants). I was at Dick's Sporting Goods last weekend and found the most fun Reebok tights that I HAVE to have. 

I have also discovered the joy of compression socks, and my life will never be the same. The problem is that they're pricey, so I'm looking to you, Santa, to hook me up. What preppy, running fashionista doesn't have argyle compression socks? This one.

Under Armour makes the best cold weather gear. I have three or four pairs of their pants and multiple cold gear shirts. What I don't have is a shirt with a hood. Are you getting this all down, Santa?

Finally I need someplace to wear all of this cute gear. A race perhaps? I'm thinking Baton Rouge in January or Austin in February. So realistically this gear would probably be too warm for those destinations, but I need something to wear when I'm training.

Now that I've realized Santa reads my blog I'm going to try REALLY hard to make the nice list.  I might refrain from snarky comments and gossip. Okay, who are we kidding that's not possible. Let's hope Santa has a snarky sense of humor in there somewhere?  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Embracing the Chaos

I'm a control freak. I like things my way, and I like to manage everything. When I was 19 and first became sick with what we would later discover was Crohn's, it was a giant slap in the face. It was the first time I realized that when it really matters, I don't control anything. It has only been through four abdominal surgeries and twelve years of IV infusions every six weeks (plus regular antibiotics) that I have been able to keep my disease under control.  Although I like to think that it's the medicine only combined with my sheer tenacity that has really kept me going.

Despite the evident (yet rarely acknowledged) fact that I can't control everything, I was still thrown for a loop when we started our quest to have a child.  Once we made the decision to adopt I thought I had moved past a lot of the emotional issues, and yet sometimes I am surprised by how this process can emotionally blindside me just when I think I've got it all under control. This isn't the first time I've felt antsy, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

I've dealt with all of the challenges in my life the only way I know how - head on, pushing through, and piling so many things on my plate that I don't have time to think. I just keep moving.  That includes (requires actually) taking trips and running races. Right now I feel a certain amount of panic at the thought that I don't have a long race coming up in the near future.  We also don't have a vacation planned despite my fervent attempts to pin my husband down on a trip somewhere after Christmas.

Having no travel or race plans makes me feel panicked. With the long list of things I can't control looming in front of me, I need to have something I can manage. In the meantime I'm doing my absolute best to embrace the unpredictability and chaos of life and appreciate it for what it is. Even in times of uncertainty my life is filled with blessings. This is something I have to hold onto and be grateful for.  So I will work out a little harder, attempt to stress a little less, and drink a little more wine. And scour race and travel websites for the next fun opportunity.      

This picture doesn't really go with this blog except to remind me that good friends,
a cute dog, wine and a boat ride can make life complete.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Coal Miner's Daughter

It's easy in life to forget where we came from. It's not uncommon to push so hard to get where we're going that we forget to look back at where it all started.

I grew up in the tiny town of Hundred, West Virginia (299 people in the 2010 census). My parents also grew up in Hundred and stayed there to raise their four children. I had a pretty charmed existence - a happy family, a good home, food on the table (great food - my mom is a rockstar cook). My family actually likes each other (even though we also can want to throttle one another at different times). I didn't really think about the work that it took to keep the family going. My life was great, and that's really all that mattered.

My parents are both extremely hardworking, and I didn't really appreciate it until I got older. My mom stayed at home while raising four children, and bless her heart that is probably the hardest job ever. My dad worked my entire life in the coal mines like so many West Virginians do. It's a hard career, and I'm not sure I ever really appreciated it.

When I was home last weekend I started thinking about the sacrifices my parents made to make sure my life is easy.  My dad worked afternoon shifts when I was growing up. He'd leave for work around one in the afternoon and get home around midnight. This meant we'd really only see him on Saturday and Sunday mornings and the occasional day off. Dad was a foreman and wasn't in the union, and this meant he'd have one maybe two regular days off a month.  When Dad was home he was working on something - mowing the yard, painting something, fixing something, washing the cars, keeping things working.  My dad is a restless person (in case you're wondering where I get it), and he never stopped. That's just how things were.
With my parents at my law school graduation in 2003

Ten years ago my dad had an unexpected heart attack that forced him to quit working at the young age of 55. I was living in Texas at the time, and when I got the call I packed up my car and drove back to West Virginia where I proceeded to monitor his salt intake and diet for weeks like a prison warden. I think that may be the one time where my dad couldn't wait until I left town again.

In the decade since my dad's heart attack, his health has gotten worse. I've never, not once, heard my dad complain. Just like when I was a kid and he spent his "free" time digging a ditch to stop flooding in the basement or whatever latest project needed his attention. I was spending time with Dad last weekend and marveling at how much work he's always done and how I don't know if he actually knows how much I appreciate it.

One of my fav pics with my Dad, Christmas 2005. Wow I was blonde.
Growing up I never thought about how difficult my dad's job was. It never occurred to me to appreciate it and him the way I should have. I had an easy childhood, and my adulthood is no different. My dad worked his tail off so that I wouldn't have to. On days where I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall on some policy issue, I often look at the Friends of Coal sticker in my office and think even this stressful day is easier than what Dad did every day.

Yes, I'm pro coal. Suck it.
I've accomplished a lot in my 35 years, and the basis of that is having hardworking parents to set that example. My dad is funny, he's inappropriate, he's smart, he soaks up information like a sponge, and he moves (and talks) at 100 miles a minute. I am just like him, and I'm proud of it.  As I move forward in this easy life of mine - whether I'm running a race, traveling, or working - I'm always mindful of the long days my dad spent working to ensure my life was easy.

Love, love, love this photo from my wedding
As we continue to wait to have children of our own I want to set the same example for our children.  In this world of entitled children who are indulged to no end I want our kids to know that you have to work hard for what you want.  My job isn't a physical one (unless you count running around Lansing in heels...which most people probably don't), but I work hard every day because that was my example.  I may never take the elevator ride into the coal mine, but I'm successful because my dad did.  And I am so grateful for it.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

That Time I Relaxed

After a busy week at work last week we headed to West Virginia for the Veterans Day holiday weekend. One of my co-workers asked me on Friday if we ever stay home, and the answer is no, not really. I love our busy life, and stopping really isn't an option. Sometimes, however, I run out of steam. That is what always happens in WV.

So we spent the long holiday weekend in West Virginia visiting my parents and watching Mountaineer football. Being at my parents' house is the only time I REALLY relax. When I'm at my own house I can come up with 1,000 things to do - laundry, cleaning, organizing, anything. At my parents' house I read. And sleep. A lot. It's truly my most relaxed place, and it's where I can completely recharge.

We arrived late on Friday, and I pretty quickly settled into my near comatose mode of relaxation. We brought our dogs this time, and it's the only time they get to sleep with me (my husband sleeps in the other guest room). I love our pups, but I seriously do not understand how people sleep with their dogs. I do it rarely (generally only at my parents'), and I feel like a contortionist trying to fit myself around two giant dogs. They aren't very concerned with my comfort (which is also why I will also refuse to allow children to sleep with me. I like sleep.)

Yes - this is how I slept for three straight nights.
On Saturday morning my husband and I went for a leisurely run on the Mon River Trail near my parents' house. It's one of my favorite places to run in Morgantown and one of the only places in the city that is actually flat. Despite the cold morning there were lots of runners and bikers on the trail. Unlike my other post-marathon runs it felt good to get back out there. My IT band was a little tight, but not overly painful. This run truly did feel like coming home.

Saturday afternoon mean tailgating for my beloved Mountaineers before they took on the Texas Longhorns. It was a night game, so we were able to spend the bulk of the day relaxing (i.e. me basically sleeping) before heading out. We tailgated with my cousins for several hours before the game, and it was a blast. My dad has three siblings, and cousins from three of the four kids hung out before the game. It was so much fun to see everyone, and it's definitely something we will do more frequently.  I wish I could say the game was that much fun. It was for a lot of it, but my Mountaineers lost in overtime. 

Jones cousins and Mountaineer fans
The beauty of being in town for an extra day mean Sunday was an extremely lazy day. We watched football, relaxed, and did a whole lot of nothing. I rarely do that, and it was exactly what I needed. 

That all changed Monday morning when I headed to the Evansdale campus for a run. I love running on campus because it's extremely hilly. Generally I'm running there when the students are gone, and I found myself motivated by sprinting past college aged girls up the hill to the engineering building. For the record that hill is probably a quarter mile long at a relatively steep incline. I couldn't breathe for several minutes after I got to the top, but it was totally worth it. A serious hill workout is a fabulous way to start the day. 

After my run we headed to Coopers Rock State Forest for our Christmas card photo shoot with the fabulous Brooks Photography. Lisa is a long-time friend of my sister's and of the whole family. Her photos are amazing, and my husband humored me by taking the dogs to a shoot. The dogs only lasted two photos (they don't like to cooperate), but we had a great time in a beautiful location.  I am a touch obsessed with Christmas cards, and I insist on making it a whole thing every year. And let's be honest - I love having my photo taken. It was a wonderful way to cap off the weekend.

It probably won't make the Christmas card, but it captures us rather perfectly.
We headed back to Michigan and drove into snow on the way there. It's getting to be that time of year when I'm pulling all of my winter running gear out of the drawers and going through multiple hats and gloves each week. As much as I get frustrated by the length of Michigan's winters, I do love running in the cold. It's the bright spot to every cold day.  Now it's time to plan a warm weather vacation during this winter before I go insane...yes, in November. I'm also looking forward to my next relaxation stint in Morgantown in two weeks for Thanksgiving.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Marathon Withdrawal

This morning, just over a week since the marathon, I went for my first post-marathon run.  My muscles were so sore last week that I decided to baby myself and let them heal. I was feeling great over the weekend, and it seemed like the perfect way to start off the week.

Prior to the run - rocking the mock and being photo bombed by my dog
I wish I could say something witty about my fantastic first post-marathon run. When I first started I was planning my proud Facebook status as saying how this run felt like home or something equally charming.  It did feel great for about two miles.  During the last mile my IT band tightened up not unlike it did at the end of the marathon.  It hurt. A lot. I felt like my muscles had healed, but my old IT band injury has clearly reared its ugly head.

Marathon training is so all consuming, and a week after the race I feel disappointed. After months of training and the build up to the race, it is a giant let down once the race is over. It was a fantastic experience, and I had a great weekend. Now my race calendar feels impossibly empty, and I am entrenched in marathon withdrawal.

This means only one thing - I need a new race. I need a new focus. The question is what race should I do? Michigan in the winter isn't exactly a hotbed of races. I am running the 2nd Annual Morgantown Running Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving and another 5k the first weekend in December. Other than that my race calendar is clear, and it feels disconcerting.

Running 26.2 miles is an exciting achievement, and I'm proud of it. But now that withdrawal has set in it's time to let the IT band heal and find the next race. I'll also try to enjoy this down time, but we all know I'm not good at relaxing.

Friday, November 1, 2013

If This Race Were Any Easier It'd Be Called Your Mom

One of the most important things about any race are the spectators. They can change the tone of any event, and they're part of what helps keep us runners going when the race gets tough. The Marine Corps Marathon had some of the best crowd support I've ever seen in any race. It was incredible. The fantastic crowd led me to think (and there's lots of time in 26.2 miles to think) about what what makes great race spectators.

1. Be loud. The louder and more outrageous the better. Cheer, clap, whistle, play music. You may feel stupid, but trust me - you're inspiring someone.  I love the guy who was blasting Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" from an old school boom box around mile six of the MCM. That guy gets brownie points.

2. Make a sign! Marathon signs are THE best. Some of my favorites:
  • My all time fav: If This Race Were Any Easier It'd Be Called Your Mom (seen at the Winter Blast Half Marathon in Portage, MI earlier this year)
  • Run Like You Stole Something
  • You're Running Better than the Government (seen for the first time at MCM - topical and clever!)
  • Make this Marathon Your Bitch
  • Go Hard - That's What She Said
  • Toenails are Overrated
  • Pain is Temporary; Internet Results are Forever
  • I'd Whistle at you but Girl I'd Never Objectify you Like That (held up by a cute guy during the MCM)
  • Sofa King Hot (a sign a guy had at the Green Bay Marathon in 2012 where it was 100 degrees)

Some awesome MCM spectators before the race
3. More Cow Bell. It's hard to keep up the cheering for hours. Cow bell is the perfect helper. It's loud, it's noticeable, and who doesn't love cow bell?

4. Bring supplies. In particular during a marathon you find yourself wishing you had things like tissues.  The MCM spectators came prepared. There were so many different snacks (I would like to thank the person who gave me Twizzlers at mile 16), tissues, baby wipes,Vasoline. At mile 24 this guy had some shots of vodka, and I have to admit I was tempted but refrained. Even if people don't take whatever you're offering, it's nice to know someone cares.

5. Be encouraging but realistic. Please, please, please do NOT say "you're almost there" until the runners are ACTUALLY almost there. If I can't see the finish line, I am not almost there. When I'm at a mile 20 and someone yells, "You're almost there" I wish I had the energy to ask if they've ever run six miles because maybe we just have different definitions of "almost".

Trust me - I know being a spectator is hard work. I've done it, and it's challenging. But take comfort in the fact that you're inspiring a runner to keep going, to push through the pain, and to meet their goals. My own cheering section and all of the spectators kept me going during the Marine Corps Marathon. And it turns out they were right - toenails ARE for sissies, and my feet did hurt from kicking so much ass.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Oohrah! Running the Marine Corps Marathon for Team Lemon

Sometimes in life something that inspires you in a way that you can't describe. The inspiration grabs your heart and takes hold allowing you to believe you can do anything.  That's how I felt when I first learned about Alex's Lemonade Stand and its founder, the inspirational Alexandra Scott. It was Abraham Lincoln who said, "It's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."  Alex Scott was only eight years old when she died in 2004. I did not know her, and yet she's touched my life and so many others in a way she probably never could have imagined.

When I heard about Alex's Lemonade Stand I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to contribute to this incredible charity that was helping children and families deal with the horror of childhood cancer.  The mission of this organization touched my heart.  Did I really want to run another marathon? Honestly I did not. But I wanted to be part of Team Lemon, and this past weekend I ran the 38th Marine Corps Marathon as part of the Team.

We headed to Washington, DC on Thursday evening for the MCM weekend. We were staying with my best friend and her family, so we were getting lots of quality time with our extended family.  On Friday afternoon on the way to the race expo we stumbled upon Zest, a cute bistro in Capitol Hill. It was a great way to kick off the race weekend. Of course I started solidly carbo-loading with a Pancetta and Asiago cheese sandwich. Delicious.

The race expo was kind of a cluster. Packet pick-up took place in a tent outside the expo, and it was extremely fast and easy. I am convinced it was to make people happy before entering the actual expo. We headed across the street to the DC Armory to get in line for the expo. Yes - to get in line to get into the expo building. They were checking bags and using hand held devices to wand people down.  Once in the expo I got that familiar race buzz.  We grabbed my awesome race shirt (#rockthemock) and set off to the Brooks store for some gear.

Hamming it up at the expo
The good news is that I ended up with a fabulous pink Brooks MCM jacket. The bad news is that my best friend and husband had to take turns standing in line for AN HOUR AND A HALF to buy race gear while I checked out the rest of the expo. The expo itself was fine, but if I had been there alone I wouldn't have had time to buy official gear and check out the booths. I can think of no good reason why it takes an hour and a half to check out. Ridiculous.

After the expo we joined our friends for an amazing bluegrass concert at the renowned Birchmere in Alexandria. The music was fantastic and the company even better. It was a lovely evening.

Saturday turned into a relaxing day just hanging out and watching football. We won't discuss my Mountaineer's abysmal loss. It's turning into a long football season. I was a bit of a mess on Saturday. I wasn't feeling great, and my nerves were out of control. I can't remember ever feeling this anxious for a race. I'm not sure why. On Saturday evening we went to Maggiano's for excessive carbo-loading.  After dinner my nerves were slightly (really only slightly) less frazzled, and we headed to bed early.

Race day is always intense, and this was no different. We left the house around 5:45 and boarded the metro at the Franconia-Springfield station, the last station on the blue line. We sat and sat, and finally the conductor announced there was a "circuit out" so we were waiting. Meanwhile the car continued to fill with runners, and I tried to calm my Type A self with the knowledge that if I ended up being late, I certainly wasn't the only one.

Waiting impatiently for the Metro to start
I needn't have worried because the Metro finally left, and we got to the Pentagon station in plenty of time for me to walk to the start (probably a mile) with 30,000 of my closest friends. During the opening ceremonies soldiers parachuted from the sky waving giant American flags. It was an amazing sight. The energy at the start was electric. I joined my fellow runners starting to finally feel slightly more calm.

Opening ceremonies

Ready to go

A howitzer blast signaled the start, and we were off. It took about 18 minutes for me to cross the finish line, and the crowd was tight. I knew it would be a crowded race, but I was essentially running in a tight pack for about nine miles. The course had gorgeous scenery - Rock Creek Parkway, the monuments and National Mall, the Capitol Building. The crowd support was phenomenal. Other than the somewhat dead spots on Hains Point (between the Potomac River and Washington Channel), the crowd rocked it out. They were loud, and they were fantastic.

Howitzer blast signaling the start

And I'm off

I was able to see my fantastic cheering section repeatedly during the race - at miles 4, 9, 14, 15, 17, 19 and 23. It kept me going for sure. I had a goal to not walk until mile 20, and despite the tightness in my IT band that began around the halfway point, I met that goal. My time goal was under five hours (and to beat my PR of 5:20). Just before mile 19 I needed a bathroom break, and the lines for the bathrooms were about 10 people deep. I needed to stop so I just sucked it up. While I was waiting in line I watched the five hour pacer run by and knew that I wouldn't be able to catch her. 

Mile 4
Mile 14
Mile 15 - talking trash

Mile 17

Mile 19
The last five miles were brutal. I vaguely remember running through Crystal City where the crowds were fantastic. I had friends there, and their cheering helped motivate me to keep running. We ran around the Pentagon where there were more spectators and a band playing.  There were more people walking around me than running in those final miles, and I could feel us all digging deep to pull it out. 

Rocking Crystal City at Mile 23
When I saw the marker for mile 26 I knew had to gut it out and finish strong. It was only a quarter mile, and my run felt like barely more than a shuffle at that point. The crowds lining the street were getting thicker, and the atmosphere was, like all race finish lines, magical. I wanted nothing more than to walk, and at that moment I thought of Alex Scott. I thought of this little girl who wanted to help others, a little girl who will never know what an impact she has had on the lives of so many. I was in pain, and I wanted to quit. As I neared the finish I saw there was one last hill. After swearing under my breath I thought there's no way I'm walking up this hill. I would finish strong for Team Lemon. I was at a near sprint as I ran past all the other runners walking up the hill and pushed hard to the finish. As I crossed the mat I felt a sob well up in my chest and had to use all of my self control to contain it. There's no way I'd let a bunch of Marines see me cry. But I had finished 26.2, and I'd finished it for a reason.


I gladly took my medal from one of the Marines and began the long walk to meet my cheering section at the family reunion area. A 40 minute wait for the Metro and I was back at the house for a shower and a little relaxation. We ended our trip with dinner with friends at Hank's Oyster Bar in Old Town Alexandria. There may be no better way to celebrate running a marathon than with great friends, good wine, fried oysters and mac 'n cheese.

Overall I enjoyed the race, but there were a few issues. It was a crowded race, which is fine, but they need to ban headphones. There were multiple times when hand cyclists were trying to pass on a very crowded course, and people couldn't hear them. It was a really great course people. Take our your headphones and enjoy your surroundings. (On a separate note I am on a mission to ban headphones from races. It is making me crazy). I think there also should've been a guideline for hand cyclists in general with the crowded course. They were passing on different sides, and runners weren't always aware of them. A few times I actually worried about the safety of both runners' and hand cyclists' safety. 

In the end I may not have reached my personal goal in the marathon, but I did something far greater - I raised nearly $2,000 for an incredible charity. Alex's Lemonade Stand is working in myriad ways to help find a cure for childhood cancers. I am so, so proud to have run the Marine Corps Marathon for this cause. Oohrah, Alex. Oohrah.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Catching my Breath

I was 25 years old when I moved from Texas to Norfolk, Virginia. I had recently graduated from law school, and I was restless. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had no idea how I'd pay back my student loans. I essentially went to Norfolk to visit my sister, who had been living there for a few years, and I stayed. I fell into my first real job working for the mayor. It was there that I really learned about placemaking and the vision it takes to create and maintain a vibrant community. Norfolk was where I figured out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, and visiting there feels like home. I'm not sure if it's the salty air from the bay or me tapping into my inner 25-year-old, but when I'm there, I can breathe.

Last weekend I visited Norfolk for my nephew's first birthday party. It had been almost a year since my last visit, and I still believe how quickly this year has flown.  I arrived late on Thursday, and first order of business on Friday morning was a run to the Chesapeake Bay. My sister lives just a few miles from the beach, and I ran there Friday morning. It was one of those mornings where running was hard. I rocked 20 miles a few weeks ago, and yet four miles felt interminable. Despite the challenge I loved being at the beach and having the ocean breeze accompany one of my last taper runs of marathon training.

After my run I headed to my niece's school to join her for lunch. She's a student at St. Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk. The last time I was at St. Patrick's it was for the groundbreaking when I worked for the mayor. I wrote his speech and accompanied him to the event. It was one of many groundbreakings I attended during my job there, and I never occurred to me that eight years later I would be visiting my niece there. It is one of my favorite things about visiting Norfolk - seeing the realization of the community leaders' vision. 

Visiting my niece at St. Patrick's
Following lunch I headed to MacArthur Center in downtown Norfolk to get my shopping fix. I was once again struck by the textbook perfect new developments in downtown - mixed use development with first floor retail and residential, the development around light rail, new streetscaping. It was almost enough to distract me from my mission at Nordstrom. Almost.

Hey look kids! Light rail!
Friday evening my sister, brother and sister-in-law headed to Chow, a restaurant that is new since I was there. It had fantastic southern food (I am a sucker for southern food) and a great cocktail list. We had corn bread and pot liquor (essentially what's left over from the pan when they cook collared greens - amazing) and fried goat cheese. It was incredible.

On Saturday I once again ran to the bay, and this run was much easier. After I got back I ran a mile with my niece who is in the running club at her school. She told me she wants to run track and cross country when she gets older. There are fewer things that could make this aunt more proud.

My nephew's birthday party was Saturday afternoon. I'm so glad I made the trip to celebrate the little guy's big day. The hardest part about living so far away is missing all of the little moments with my family, and I make it a point to make as many of the big events as I can. There have been times in the nearly eight years that I've been gone that it's nearly unbearable to be away from my siblings and niece and nephew.  That's why I cherish these visits. That's also probably why they feel like home.

Celebrating one year with the world's cutest nephew
Saturday night we headed out to one of my favorite downtown spots - Todd Jurich's Bistro - where we joined a few of my friends.  The bartender pours a mean Hendrick's and tonic, and we had a fantastic time. After a few cocktails we moved on to Streats in Ghent (my old neighborhood). We enjoyed more cocktails, appetizers and great company. I probably could've done without the tequila (particularly given my early flight), but I wouldn't change a minute of it. We ended the night at The Wave, a fabulous nightclub. I think that's when I realized I'm not 25 anymore. Regardless it was one of the most fun nights I've had in a really long time.

With my siblings at The Bistro

With my SIL at Streats
My life has changed a lot since I lived in Norfolk, but the city remains a part of me. It's gotten its southern hooks in me, and when I'm there I feel like a more alive version of myself. Maybe it's seeing my family; maybe it's me looking back to a time when my life was less complicated. Either way it's where I can always recharge and catch my breath.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An Attitude of Gratitude

Last weekend during mass our deacon gave a homily discussing the need to have an "attitude of gratitude". The gist was that we are always looking for the next exciting thing instead of appreciating and enjoying the blessings we have in our own lives.

I have to admit that lately I have not had an attitude of gratitude. I've had an attitude, but it's been surly and impatient.  I realize that it's happening, but I've been powerless to stop it. Instead of being grateful for the many things I have in my life, I've been restless and testy. I've been ignoring the grace that already exists in my own life and have been looking for something more. I don't know what that something is, but I've been going out of my way to find it.

We've been waiting for 19 months in our adoption process. I'm restless and frustrated and just wanting to DO something. I know there's nothing we can do but continue to wait, and the wait feels interminable. Overall it's been about four and a half years of waiting to have a child. And holding my breath. And hoping, although hope is more fleeting these days.

Therein lies my problem. Yes, we're waiting to have a baby, but we have the opportunity to adopt. We have great jobs, the most supportive friends anyone could imagine, loving families, pets we adore. We're at a place in our life where we can travel any time we want to. We have the freedom to come and go as we please, and we do. It's incredible to have the ability to travel like we do. Have I been appreciating it? Not like I should. Traveling is necessary for me because I'm a restless person in general, but I haven't been appreciating it.

Our adoption agency tweeted this picture. Something I need to keep in mind.
The message hit home for me, and I realized what a brat I'm being.  That doesn't mean it will always be easy for me to accept the inequities in life, but I'll be trying. I'll be working hard to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Sure, some days are harder than others for all of us, but there are blessings in every one of them. I've got to remember to count them.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dealing with Life's Distractions

I am an incredibly social person.  Our dance card is almost always full, and it's not unusual for us when trying to make dinner plans or something to look a month or further into the future to find a free weekend. I love being busy, and I love spending time with our family and friends. I have a hard time saying "no" to anything that sounds fun.  Despite my social nature I also crave alone time, and that's why running is the perfect fit for me.

When you're as busy as I am sometimes it takes a lot to really disconnect from the natural distractions and interruptions of life - from work, from household chores, from the drama that life can naturally contain.  I love to read, but when I'm really busy I find that I can't disconnect from the thoughts racing through my head to appreciate a good book.

Running is the best way (really the ONLY way) for me to deal with life's distractions. I'm not necessarily escaping them, but it helps me process them and work through anything that is eating at me. I've left for a run before feeling very agitated about something, and by the time I get back I've worked through it. You've heard about runners getting into the zone, and for me that happens the most when I'm working through all of the stresses of life. This is also why I run naked (without music), because for me being present during a run is an important part of the experience.

Last weekend I was feeling particularly distracted and antsy about the next few weeks. The Marine Corps Marathon is rapidly approaching, and I want to beat my PR. I will be out of town four out of the next six weekends. Work is always busy, and I want to make sure I'm on top of everything. I set off for my first taper run feeling agitated. Life had gotten under my skin.

It was still dark, and the world was blissfully quiet. The only sound was my feet hitting the pavement.  I watched the sun come up as it turned into a beautiful morning. As the miles mounted, my agitation melted away.  Toward the end of my run I was running on fallen autumn leaves.  There is nothing quite like the sound of leaves crunching under my feet and the smell of fall to propel me through the end of a long run.

Life is full of distractions, and running is how I deal with them. My run may be the only time during a day when I really get to have solitude and time for reflection, and it's integral to restore my soul. It also helps me to prepare to get distracted all over again.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Vision (for Communities and a 20-miler)

Vision. We all know those people who have it - who can assess a situation, figure out how to make it better, and work hard to achieve those results. Vision can exist in a number of situations, and in my life I see it as part of my job working with communities and as a runner where I am constantly challenging myself and adjusting my vision of what I expect to achieve. One of the best parts of my job is being consistently surrounded by people who have vision.  Our community leaders have to make the best of every situation. They fight through significant revenue reductions, change in local leadership, local politics. And through those challenges so many communities find a way to not only persevere but to be creative in creating places where their residents want to live, work and play. Places they can be proud of.

Last week I visited one of our member communities, the City of Auburn Hills, for a ribbon cutting of a new project in their downtown. Auburn Hills is located north of Detroit, and it's a relatively new city (incorporated in 1983). It is the home to a lot of business including the world headquarters of Chrysler as well as four higher education institutions (Oakland University, Oakland Community College, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School).  A little over a decade ago the City designated a downtown, and their vision has resulted in the creation of a vibrant downtown with new projects revolving by their education partners.

The City redeveloped a log cabin structure from 1836 into the DEN (Downtown Education Nook), a creative space for studying and relaxing.  Next to the DEN is 97 new apartments (they're gorgeous) with first floor retail space wrapped around a parking deck. The parking deck is one of my favorite parts. Instead of having the deck front Auburn Road in the downtown (or take up valuable riverfront space like we like to do here in Lansing) it is contained behind the residential units just like parking should be. The final piece to this new development is their University Center which is a new educational facility that provides classroom space for both high school and college students.  We visited this project last year when the University Center was a bar and restaurant that had seen better days. The revitalization of this structure is amazing. When we were there last year I couldn't see the vision, but fortunately for me the staff at the City could.

Auburn Hills is just one example of the many communities in Michigan doing cool things. Vision is the bedrock of any successful community, and I'm so proud to be associated with these communities and amazing projects.

And speaking of vision, I gutted out a fantastic 20 mile run on Saturday. I had a lot of time to think about all of our communities and the work their doing during the three and a half hours I was running. I realize it makes me a dork to think about placemaking while running 20 miles, but it does make the time go by more quickly.  I'll bet our members didn't know that their vision is not only helping their residents, but it's doing wonders for my marathon training.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bacon Cheeseburgers are Delicious and Running is Hard

Last weekend while at my parents' I read a story in Reader's Digest about the fight between big food and organic.  Organic food is all anyone is talking about. The subtitle of the piece is "Have the elite hijacked healthy eating?" It's a legit question.

I've been working with a nutritionist for several months, and it has been hit and miss in terms of how I think her recommendations work. One thing she has said repeatedly is to only buy organic everything. I've done it, and the only place I've really noticed a difference is with meat. I've noticed a HUGE difference in how organic and free range meat tastes. I get it. We buy mostly organic veggies too, but at some point the gluten free, dairy free, all organic diet she wants me on not only doesn't work with our lifestyle, but it sucks. I talked it over with my GI doctor who thinks gluten free and dairy free are certainly unnecessary for me. So I'm back again to my own trial and error and figuring out what works for me.

My nutritionist also said that if I'm eating fresh, organic ingredients that I shouldn't worry about calories. At all. Easy for her to say when she wasn't the one who pretty quickly gained five pounds on her "don't worry about calories and eat organic" diet. That made the Reader's Digest piece even more interesting to me as it compares the amount in calories in organic versus processed food. Eating organic is certainly not always the least caloric option.The article also expressly states, "The fact is, there is simply no clear, credible evidence that any aspect of food processing or storage makes a food uniquely unhealthy."  Does this mean we should eat only processed foods? Probably not. But for me it pokes some holes in all of the dialogue surrounding what we're supposed to eat and the "horror" of processed food.

After I had my colon removed I was tipping the scales at not quite 100 pounds. I lost 30 pounds in about three weeks, and I was having problems gaining weight (a problem I wish I had now). I ate a double quarter pounder meal from McDonald's every single day my first year of law school. Seriously - every day. And it helped me gain back at least some of the weight I'd suddenly lost. And we all know my not so secret love affair with McDonald's. It never occurred to me that eating like that wasn't a good idea.

The idea for this blog was solidified when I read that one of my favorite runners, hurdler Lolo Jones, is eating 9,000 calories a day while training to be on the Olympic bobsled team. Granted we're not all training for a targeted purpose, and that many calories would be a tragedy for most of us. She, an elite athlete, talks about eating four double bacon McDonald's (processed! the horror!) cheeseburgers a day. My favorite line from the article is: "It seems like if you aspire to be an Olympian, you should focus your efforts on the sport that allows you to eat four double bacon cheeseburgers. Bacon cheeseburgers are delicious and running is hard."

In the last blog I did about nutrition I mentioned eating tator tots (because they are delicious). I got some pretty snarky comments about that nutritional choice. Here's the thing - I think if you eat only organic food and that is what works for you then that's awesome.  Frankly I think everybody should just do whatever works for them. I've heard that runners are judgey (well I am but not just because I'm a runner), but I'm pretty sure there is not a class of people more judgmental than the anti-processed food people. How about we all just do what's best for us accept that it'll be different for everyone?  And, let's be honest, bacon cheeseburgers ARE delicious.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Happiest Place on Earth

When an athlete wins some major event, they're fond of saying, "I'm going to Disneyland." Disneyland is supposed to be, after all, the happiest place on Earth. For me any place with thousands of children, Florida heat and lines for hours sounds like torture, but to each his own.  When I think about my happiest place on Earth, it's unusual, but it's obviously Mountaineer Field at my alma mater West Virginia University.

Me + Mountaineer Field = Happiness
I think many people who grow up in West Virginia are Mountaineer fans, and I can remember expressly when it happened for me - while watching WVU play Notre Dame in the National Championship when I was nine years old.  It's certainly easy to start loving a team when they're playing for the game's top prize, but it's certainly not easy being a Mountaineer fan.

When I was applying for colleges I really wanted to be a Mountaineer. I turned down a full scholarship to a smaller, nearby state school. I realized even then that I bleed old gold and blue, and the passion for my team has only intensified as I've gotten older.  When I talked my husband into buying WVU season football tickets last year, I couldn't believe it was actually happening. Despite the fact that we already had Michigan State season tickets and it is a six hour drive to Morgantown, season tickets aren't necessarily the most convenient thing. But given that Mountaineer Field is my happy place, it's totally worth it.

Rocking our Coach Holgerson faces before the big win
Last weekend we headed to Morgantown for our first game of the year to see my Mountaineers take on then-11th ranked Oklahoma State.  After being shut out by Maryland the previous game on the road I was less than confident about our game against the Cowboys.  Despite my football trepidation, I was thrilled to be back in one of my favorite places.

Morgantown, West Virginia has consistently won awards as one of the nation's best small cities. Most recently it was ranked number seven on Kiplinger's 10 Great Places to Live in July 2013. It is a fantastic small town that has leveraged it's largest anchor institution (WVU) beautifully. It has a thriving downtown, tons of green space, lots of cultural and arts attractions, and of course WVU sports.  When I think of great places, Morgantown always pops in my mind.

A view of Morgantown from the stadium. I heart mountains.
Seeing that Mountaineer Field is my favorite place and I have such an affinity for Morgantown, you may be wondering why I don't live there. That is an excellent question to which I don't have a great answer. Eleven years ago when I moved away from West Virginia part of me felt like I had to move away in order to feel like I'd accomplished something. More than a decade later I feel like I have. The problem is that once you've accomplished something it makes it harder to give up a professional network to move not to mention the family and friendship ties. 

That means I continue to get my Morgantown fix in small snippets while visiting my parents and attending WVU games.  I get admittedly nostalgic anytime I'm on campus or in the stadium, and perhaps that's amplified by my less than frequent visits there. Mountaineer Field is truly my happiest place on Earth, even when my team is not winning. Fortunately for me this past weekend I was able to scream like a 13-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert watching the 'Eers pull out an upset. For me it is truly almost Heaven.

And in a scene that should give all Mountaineers chills (and maybe tears in your eyes too), here is our team singing Country Roads in the stadium after the game - one of my favorite Mountaineer traditions. Let's go!