Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rocky Mountain High

Last fall I did a post wanting ideas for the annual trip my sister and I take together. We have picked a destination and a date,and plans are underway. This year we'll be spending the first weekend in March in Denver. I've been to Denver once for work, but I didn't get to spend as much time as I wanted exploring downtown (ahem shopping). We discovered that not only is Denver a really cool town, but it's really inexpensive to travel there. My plane ticket to Denver is cheaper than a ticket to D.C. which to date is one of the least expensive.

So here we go - Denver or bust! I'll be lifting my self-imposed two month travel moratorium for the trip, and I can't wait. I also just discovered that there is a half marathon in Denver that same weekend, That Dam Run, which is a great coincidence considering I need to do a 12 mile training run. I am a touch nervous about the altitude. The last time I ran in Denver, just few miles, I felt like my lungs were going to explode. It was also 100 degrees that day, but the altitude is still a challenge.

I haven't made an affirmative decision about the half (although I'm leaning towards it), but at any rate I'm excited to get back to Denver to explore the town. Any ideas of fun things to do there? 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

And now...my least favorite races...

Last week's list of favorite races would not be complete without its counter - a list of my least favorite races. I'm always glad to have done a race once, but these are ones I will not do again. Well I'll never say never, but there would have to be some changes for sure.

5. Virginia Beach Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon
I love the concept of the Rock 'n Roll series, and someday I may even give this one another shot. But when I ran this race in 2007 I was not impressed. At that time they had cotton t-shirts (which I know has since been changed). It was insanely hot Labor Day weekend in Hampton Roads, and the water and Gatorade was lukewarm. The finish was a bottle neck on the boardwalk and a total cluster. The best part was doing a race with my sister. It was pretty much the only good part. It just wasn't an experience I'm eager to repeat.

With my sister and dad after finishing the Va Beach half in 2007
4. Ele's Race, Okemos, MI
Last summer I ran the Race for Ele's Place, and I hated it. The race starts at the sprawling Jackson National Life campus. We ran and out and back through the parking lot and down some back roads surrounded by cornfields. As we were driving into the colossal parking lot before the race, there were signs saying the parking lot would be shut down for several hours. We barely got to leave after the race before the parking lot was closed; otherwise we would've been stranded there for hours. Ele's Place is a fantastic cause; it's race could use some work.
Finishing my tour of the Jackson National parking lot.
3. The Crim, Flint, MI
I know a lot of people who love The Crim. They run it every year. There aren't a lot of nationally renowned 10-milers, and this is one of them. I don't really get why. I do love downtown Flint, and I liked the challenging course. But I HATED that walkers and runners started together. I found myself dodging walkers and at times not even being able to get through. It was so annoying. Getting into town on race morning was also quite inconvenient. After waiting in traffic we had to park rather far away and walk into downtown. That was less inconvenient than walking back to the car after running 10 miles in August.

2. Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, Green Bay, Wisconsin
One of the main reasons I was interested in running Green Bay is because it generally finishes on the 50 yard line of Lambeau Field. Of course the one year I decide to do it the stadium is under construction. Of all the rotten luck. That wouldn't be the worst luck I had with Green Bay - when I got to mile 15, the race was canceled due to the heat. It was hot. Brutally hot. But I was hydrated, cool, and felt amazing. What a colossal disappointment to not be able to finish the race. Couple that with the fact that Green Bay was just kind of bleh as a city, and it wasn't the best race experience.

Soaked to stay cool during the Green Bay marathon
1. Sunburst Half Marathon, South Bend, Indiana
I really, REALLY did not enjoy this race. I can't blame the race for it being insanely hot and humid. I can, however, blame the race for running out of water in the middle of the race. I liked the start and running through downtown South Bend, and that was pretty much where my enjoyment ended. At the end of the race we met up with others who were walking the 5k and had to wait in line behind them to get water. I am not disparaging walkers in any way; however, the hydration needs are completely different following walk 3 miles in the heat and humidity and to run 13.1 miles. In Sunburst's defense after I posted my initial blog listing my disappointments, the next year they heeded walkers to yield to runners on their Facebook page. I think this race has the potential to be good...it just wasn't. Also as an aside the shirt was ENORMOUS. I got a small, and I have dresses shorter than this shirt. One of my friends who ran it with me wore her size small shirt to the hospital when she was giving birth to her second child. A bad shirt is always annoying. Certainly not my favorite race ever; as a matter of fact, my least favorite. 
Right toward the end of the Sunburst. I am barely running.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Suck it, winter.

When I was moving to Michigan seven years ago my boss at the time, in attempting to dissuade me, said, "Michigan? Really? You know it's cold there." My last night in Norfolk was unseasonably warm - in the 70s. We even had dinner outside on the Oceanview Pier.  It's about a 12 hour drive from Norfolk to Lansing, and we expected to do it all in a single day. We had three vehicles - my dad driving my car, my mom and brother following in my parents' car and me driving the moving van. We got to the Ohio Turnpike and stopped for dinner when it started snowing. By the time we left dinner the weather was treacherous. I discovered as I was trying to call my parents that my cell phone appeared to be missing. We pulled off onto an exit and decided to stay the night. We ended up at a hotel in a room with the four of us and two cats. Quite the start of my life in MIchigan.

With my parents, siblings and niece my last night in Norfolk
When we arrived in Lansing on Super Bowl Sunday in 2006 it was 7 degrees. SEVEN. My dad looked at me at one point and said, "Are you sure about this?" I wasn't. It was freezing. But I was here, and it was an adventure. I'd been to Michigan in the winter before, and I thought I knew what I was in for. I didn't. 

In my seven years in Michigan there are a lot of things I love about living here. The winter is not one of them. I like winter until December 26, and then I'm over it. I spent this past weekend at Crystal Mountain in northern Michigan for a work meeting. I ran 8 miles on the treadmill on Friday evening because it was cold and snowy. I don't mind running in the cold or snow, but it was getting dark, and I wasn't really sure where to run. I also didn't want to get chased by a bar. So while I hate running on the treadmill, but I had to knock out a long run. 

Yesterday, while driving back from a work meeting in northern Michigan, I ended up in a white out. I was the only car on the road at multiple points, and it was stressful. Today in Lansing the temperature was in the teens with a bitter wind chill. Despite a mild winter the last two years, I am immediately irritated by the super cold weather. I have been enjoying the freakishly warm 50 degree January.

There's a lot of winter left in Michigan, and that means running in the bitter cold and working in more cross training. I am continuing my winter trend of cross training with the world's toughest trainer, Jillian Michaels. I have moved on from the 30 Day Shred to Ripped in 30. Just when I think Jillian's DVDs can't get any more difficult I discover level two of Ripped in 30. Holy wow. There are still two more harder levels. If nothing else comes from this bitter cold, my shoulders will at least be ripped. In the mean time I'll just be counting down until spring. It's going to be a while...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A few of my favorite races

I've blogged about a lot of races I've done, but there are a few that stand out in a major way. Here are the top five races I've run:

5. Capital City River Run, Lansing, MI
I've run the CCRR three times - more than any other race I've done. I generally don't like to repeat races, but I like it so much. It's a great expo, a lovely, flat course, and it always has a shirt I love (as a bonus). I've done the half marathon twice and ran the 5k last year. It's a race I always intend to do - it shows off the best of my adopted hometown. I would recommend anyone in the Lansing area do it. Excellent race.

During the 2012 CCRR 5k
4. LL Bean 10k, Freeport, Maine
The LL Bean 10k was on my race bucket list. Something about this race intrigued me, and we built our entire 2012 summer vacation around it. Totally worth it. Not only did we fall in love with Maine, but I ran in the same race as Joan Benoit Samuelson! Granted she finished 20 minutes ahead of me and I didn't actually MEET her, but whatever. Awesome race. Great New Balance shirt. Challenging, hilly course in Freeport. Downtown Freeport is quaint and fun. It was 100% worth a trip to Maine for this race.

Finishing the LL Bean 10k
3. Detroit Free Press Marathon, Detroit, MI
My first 26.2. I swore it would be my last, and here I am training again. The race is fabulous. Extremely well organized, great course highlighting the very best of one of my favorite cities. It was unequivocally the most challenging race I've ever done. As I was running around Belle Isle park in the last ten miles of the race, I was really struggling. A race volunteer jogged beside me and gave me the best pep talk. It kept me going. This is a race that encompasses the entire community, and it's fantastic.

At the start of the Freep Marathon 2010
2. Covenant Knoxville Half Marathon, Knoxville, Tennessee
I registered for this race for two reasons: to tick Tennessee off my state list and because it finished on the 50 yard line at the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium. I didn't expect to fall in love with the City of Knoxville with it's pedestrian mall downtown, college town feel, delicious food, and riverfront beauty. The race itself was VERY hilly, and it was a fantastic challenge. It's a really fabulous race.

In Neyland Stadium after the Knoxville Half in 2011
1. Nike Women's Half Marathon, San Francisco, CA
You never forget your first. My first half marathon in 2006 was painful. It was emotional. It was then that I was hooked, and here I am nine half marathons later, and training for my third marathon. This race was a challenge because of the terrain and my IT band injury. But the feeling of standing with tens of thousands of runners in Union Square at the start trying to shake off my nervousness is one I'll never forget. The "ran like a girl" Nike shirt is still my all-time favorite race shirt. Plus a Tiffany necklace as a medal? Priceless. 

So, so nervous before my first half, October 2006
What are your favorite races? No favorite race survey could be complete without a least favorite race survey. Stay tuned for it...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pick a city - any city.

My husband and I play this game a lot: if we could live anywhere regardless of job or anything, where would it be? Obviously Europe is at the top of the list at least for a while, but that gets harder once you have family (soon) and four pets. So let's limit this to the United States. If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why? Here is my top five:

1. Chicago. It's no secret that I love Chicago. I love the gritty city with charming neighborhoods, tons to do and miles upon miles of running trails.  It has a vibrant, walkable downtown; arts, culture, the lake. There are running races every weekend and regular city running tours. I have this fantasy of working in a big building in downtown Chicago, walking to our fab condo that's way too small and meeting our friends around the corner for dinner and drinks. I wouldn't have to drive anywhere. Ideal.

With my sister and niece in Chicago, May 2012
2. Denver.  My husband and I have both been to Denver but not together. We both, however, fell in love with it. Denver's downtown is charming and walkable with public transit. There are again lots of things to do - arts, culture, sports, you name it. There is also a vibrant running culture.
16th Street, Downtown Denver, July 2008
3. Tennessee. Pick a city in Tennessee, and I will probably love it. We went to Knoxville a few years ago and absolutely fell in love with its southern charm, quaint downtown and beautiful riverfront. Nashville is a vibrant city that attracts millions of visitors every year. People drink sweet iced tea, the summers are hot and the winters short. I love Tennessee, and we could definitely see ourselves living there somewhere.

Market Square, Downtown Knoxville, April 2011
4. Portland, Maine. Now officially my favorite city of all time, Portland is the most charming place I've ever been. Cobblestone streets connect block after block of local businesses - restaurants, shops, bars. It feels like a village in the downtown. It's extremely walkable and has waterfront real estate and amazing seafood. I was in Portland in July, so I fear I wouldn't withstand winters there, but for that city I'd be willing to give it a shot.

Downtown Portland, Maine, July 2012
5. Boston. It's a big city with a small town feel. Again - walkable, quaint, tons of things to do. The history and cultural opportunities in Boston are endless, and it's America's quintessential running town.  Boston's neighborhoods are rich and diverse, and there is literally something to attract everyone. I could also adopt a Boston accent which I am sure would thrill my husband to no end.

Boston, September 2011
Of course to make a move to one of these cities work there would have to be a lot of real world changes - jobs, selling our house in a down market, leaving our friends and family and adjusting to a new life. I was a gypsy before Michigan, and I'm always up for an adventure.  But mainly this is an exercise in dreaming - about places where the running trails are long and the neighborhoods are vibrant.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Managing the schedule

One of my 2013 goals was to finally start a Happiness Project. For January, I decided what I want to do is manage the schedule. Be more efficient. You may wonder what that has to do with happiness. I'm anal. I like schedules. I like order. I like to have a schedule that is manageable but also challenging. Last year got a little TOO challenging. I was taking on too much, and I couldn't possibly get it all done. This year, I'm managing the schedule. 

I love this quote by Henry David Thoreau: “It is not enough to be busy... The question is: what are we busy about?” 

Here are my resolutions that will help me manage my schedule:

1. Say NO. This one is hard. Nobody wants to say no. I'm not good at it. I want to do everything at work, run every race, travel every weekend and say yes to every invitation for dinner/cocktails/coffee/shopping. It's just not possible. Last fall we traveled four consecutive weekends - three times to West Virginia and once to Virginia. It was too much. I was exhausted. I did it to myself, so the person I need to say no to the most is me.

2. Eat that frog. One of my co-workers gave me a copy of the book Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. The concept is largely first thing in the morning to eat that frog: do one task that is huge and daunting. If you had to eat a frog every day and did it first thing, it would remove the barriers for everything else you had to do. The rest would seem easier. I'm not a procrastinator by nature, but I do tend to put off that one task that if I'd just do it, my day would go so much more smoothly. It generally involves calling someone (I HATE talking on the phone). On Saturday mornings I will get up and run immediately. I will eat that frog every morning.

3. Let it go.  This is hard for me. I don't often regret decisions I've made, but I will mull it over and over again in my mind and deconstruct it. This happens with lots of things - running, work, relationships. Once the decision is made, I need to accept it and let it go. The self review is taking up energy that I could put toward more effective projects.

4. Do yoga. I used to do yoga quite regularly, and once I started running I stopped. I do it every now and then, and it's a soul healing activity. Not only is it good for my body, but it helps quiet my mind. I'd like to do a significant yoga workout at least once a week, but at the very least I'd like to do some poses every day. I know it'll be beneficial in my running, and it's an important way to cross train.

My schedule may still be crazy, but I'm going to work on these resolutions to do better. It'll help me more thoroughly enjoy the trips we take and the miles I run.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I run naked.

I wonder how many people are reading this wondering if I'm actually running nude? If you are, please stop being a perv. By naked I mean without technology. Sans iPod. Sans watch. Just enjoying the scenery without musical enhancement. I am a naked runner, and I can't imagine it any other way.

I don't run with my iPod outside (only on a treadmill out of boredom), and although I've tried it a few times I'm not a fan. I like the sounds that accompany running - dogs barking, kids playing, the sound of fall leaves crunching under my feet. When I have music on I feel insulated from the world, and it feels lonely. It also feels slightly unsafe. Sometimes in the morning when I still feel half asleep I worry that someone is going to attack me from behind. If I was listening to music I'd never hear them coming.

This time of year it's a real challenge to stay motivated. It's dark when I get up, and it's dark when I get home from work. Here in Michigan the streets and sidewalks get icy, and they won't thaw entirely until spring. There's always a surprise patch of ice waiting to trip you up. My runs outside are a little slower, a lot more cautious, and they require all of my attention. Running with music just feels unsafe this time of year.

Sometimes I'll run on the treadmill, but I really REALLY hate it. I pretty much only do it when it's extremely icy or there is heavy snow or rain. Otherwise I tough it out - just me and the road with no music. 

A number of races discourage runners from listening to music, and I totally agree. I've been running behind runners in a crowded field who are listening to music and stop right in front of you without knowing you're behind them. There's a lack of awareness of the course, and it can be very frustrating. For me there's an atmosphere to race day - the magic of the start, spectators, enjoying the scenery and being in the moment. Music takes that away for me.

I know so many people who run with music and tied to their watch. We all have to do what works for us. But for me, it's definitely running naked.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A 2013 resolution: spend more time in Detroit

I am not a native Michigander. I've lived here for nearly seven years, and there are things about Michigan that I really don't like (I'd put the weather at the top of the list). There are other things, however, that I've fallen in love with. One of those gems (perhaps surprisingly to some of you) is the City of Detroit.  After living here only a few months I fell unabashedly in love with the City. Its mystery, its beauty, and even its fall are all part of what makes it unique.

When my husband and I were first dating we went to Detroit quite frequently for ball games, dinner, or just to hang out. It became more difficult after we got our dog, and these days we get to Detroit much less frequently than either of us would like. Despite that, we are both lovers of the City. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the challenges it faces, but I always feel delighted to work for an organization that will be part of its revitalization.  

My husband and I have maintained a membership to the Detroit Institute of Arts for several years, and we love going to the DIA. Just a few weeks ago we met friends at Green Dot Stables, a fab new eatery on West Lafayette. This place is DELICIOUS. It menu is eclectic, and it gives you the opportunity to mix and match lots of different culinary treats. The mystery meat of the day was kangaroo. Seriously. I ordered three sliders (the Cuban, the Lamb and the Catfish), chili cheese fries and mac 'n cheese (how I roll) AND a Moscow Mule, one of the best cocktails known to man. A trip to Detroit is worth it simply to eat here.

Oh yeah - this happened.
We headed to the DIA to see the Faberge exhibit, and it was amazing. The museum is always a great treat, and the exhibit was everything we could've imagined - intricate, mysterious and haunting. 

As we were leaving we both marveled at how great it was to spend a day in Detroit, and how in this new year we resolve to do it more frequently. Detroit is like a mistress - sexy, mysterious, a little naughty, and something you just keep coming back to. I love watching the city gradually change through all of the grassroots and community efforts. We're 90 miles away, and we don't really get to be part of it in the way we'd like. But we're always pushing for Detroit, and placemaking is spreading across the city like a wildfire. It's a brilliant thing to see, and it's one of the many reasons why we love the D.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Well hello there 2013

So 2012 was a pretty awesome year. How can I top that? Assuming we adopt a child in 2013 (which is a likely assumption but we could still possibly wait longer), this could be the most life-changing year we'll ever have. Here is the huge benefit of a runner adopting a child - I don't have to stop running even for a minute. I won't miss a beat. That is pretty exciting my friends.

The end of this year found me running less and stressing more, and my goal for 2013 is to continue to set challenging goals and find ways to de-stress. It's difficult for someone with my extremely anal personality to not want to excel at everything 100 percent of the time, but that's not realistic. I need to set challenging but realistic goals and push for them.

Goal number one is a bit outside my reach. After trying for several years to conceive a child, we made the decision at the end of 2011 to start the adoption process. We're ten months into that process, and I am hopeful that this is the year we will become parents. I know it will change everything in the craziest and most exciting way, and I look forward to it as much as I look forward to the many miles I'll have to run to maintain my new mom sanity. I realize it's harder to make the time to run once one has children, but I know fantastic and dedicated running moms who have done it. I will seek to follow in their footsteps.

Goal number two is The Happiness Project. A few years ago my BFF bought me the book The Happiness Project for Christmas. It's an absolutely eye opening look at achieving one's true happiness and what that takes. After reading the book I decided I'd do my own happiness project, and then I just kind of didn't. I let it slide, and I underestimated how much that project could change my life. This year I will work on my own happiness project. Stay tuned for more on that.

Goal number three is to leave work at work. I love what I do. I believe in it, I live it, and I put 120 percent into every single day. And night. And weekend. I bring work stress home not because it's expected but because I don't want to let anyone down. Not my members, not my co-workers, and most importantly not myself. But here's the thing I've come to realize in the last few weeks I've been away from work - work is not my life. I've let it become my life and define my life, but my successes and/or failures at work should not define me as a human being. I should not stress with a gut wrenching knot in my stomach about the decisions I'm making every day. A wise boss told me a few years ago that in our line of political work - nobody dies. Most failures can be fixed or at least mitigated, and in a few years there will be a new battle that makes this one seem insignificant. I've got to leave it on the field.

Goal number four is be part of change. I work in a job where placemaking and vibrant communities is what we preach. I live in Lansing, and I'll be honest - I don't love it here. But I want to be part of the change that creates vibrant communities aside from my job. While in Detroit a few weeks ago to visit the Detroit Institute of Art I marveled in how much promise is in that city and how much I want to be part of that change. I'm 90 miles away, and that makes it harder. But I can be part of the change in my own community. The question is how, and that is a question I'll work on answering.

Goal number five is run. Run regularly, run hard, and continue to set new running goals. I want to break five hours in the Pittsburgh Marathon. I want to break a two hour half marathon. Maybe this is the year I'll try a triathlon, but I won't make any promises. At any rate I'll knock a few more states off my list of where I've done races, and I will reach my goals. 

Goal number six is to be a better wife, a better friend, a better family member. In the last year I got really involved in my work, my stress, my own cocoon of what I felt I needed to do. Most of my conversations revolved around said stress. This year I'll say yes more often to that impromptu glass of wine with my neighbors. I'll call my parents and siblings more. I'll stop doing housework to watch one of our favorite television shows with my husband without feeling restless. This year I live for now and enjoy these moments.

Last year one of my girlfriends got me a cute little catchall that I keep on my dresser. It says, "Enjoy the little things in life for someday you'll realize they are the big things." That is my mantra for 2013.