Friday, May 31, 2013

It's the place, stupid.

When I lived in the Ghent neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia, I could walk anywhere. There were restaurants, shops, galleries - everything within a block of my apartment. I LOVED living in Ghent. It's one of the most disappointing things about moving to Michigan that I'm not really able to live somewhere where I can just walk downtown must less to a downtown OR a vibrant neighborhood. 

Last fall I ranted about placemaking during all of the election hype happening nationwide and here in Michigan. In the introduction to the book The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People, my boss Dan Gilmartin goes into what is attracting people. He concludes, "It's the place, stupid." (He also has an Economics of Place blog. It's pretty cool - you should check it out.)

As my husband and I continually debate moving somewhere in mid-Michigan with vibrant neighborhoods, I flash back to the awesomeness that is Ghent and feel frustrated. Michigan is the car state, and everywhere has been built around driving to your destination. I want to walk out my door and walk a block to a variety of destinations. I want to be able to get a cup of coffee, a scoop of ice cream, a cocktail, lunch, buy a gift and spend time with my friends - all within walking distance. Is that too much to ask?

In the seven years since I left Norfolk, the city's focus on dense, mixed-use development has intensified. Their downtown is fantastic, Ghent remains a vibrant neighborhood and there's now light rail to boot. And here in Michigan we continue to nibble around the edges of public transit while pretending it won't completely change this state for the better.

More than forty six percent of Michigan's college graduates are leaving. NEARLY HALF!!! That makes me angry. Shouty caps angry. Yet we keep cutting business taxes and talking about how we need more jobs. More jobs that nobody wants to take because these talented millennials don't want to live here. It is beyond frustrating. If this state doesn't start to invest, and I mean REALLY invest, in things like public transit, walkability, dense, vibrant downtowns, and road diets, people are still going to be moving to DC, Chicago, Austin - name a cool city. BECAUSE IT'S THE PLACE STUPID.

Sorry for the shouting. I just really don't get how people don't get it. This is why I run - I've got to work off this angry energy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Drive Until the Map Turns Blue

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, and I always find myself anticipating the arrival of sunshine and warm weather. Here in the Great Lakes State it also means heading somewhere to the water. It's a very Michigan thing for families to have cottages to visit. Some people drive for hours every weekend to their lakeside paradise. Fortunately my husband's family has a place about 50 minutes from here, so it makes it an easy day trip.

The weather this spring has been completely schizophrenic. The upside is that we've had gorgeous running weather. My husband and I ran this weekend, and I wore pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Not your typical late May weather.  We originally had planned to be in Chicago for the Soldier Field 10-miler, but our plans changed. That meant heading to the lake for sunshine and family time.

It was a chilly day - high 60s - but the sun was brilliant. Despite the cool weather there were lots of people out on the lake tubing, boating and riding jet skis. The skies were crystal clear, and it felt almost like summer. Almost. 

We're planning to travel a bit less this summer so we can spend more time at the lake. It's a great way to relax without having to go too far. Once the water is warmer I look forward to getting in the water (even though I'm not the biggest fan of lakes - thankfully they make water shoes). I hope your unofficial summer kickoff was warm, sunny and full of promise. It's a great time to go right from your run into the water. Here's to summer!  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Stop and Smell the Rain

When I started running in April of 2006, it was a very rainy spring. I remember those early days of struggling through one- and two-mile runs in torrential downpours. I'd come home and dry out my shoes only to get them soaking wet again the next day. At first I dreaded those runs in the rain. Being a beginner runner is hard enough without having to dodge puddles.

I gradually began to love running in the rain. A lot of runners will take those days off, so I feel like I have the world to myself. I love the sound of rain and my feet hitting the pavement, and the quiet of a rainy spring morning. And the smell - that's the best. It's all of those great spring smells of lilacs and trees and freshly cut grass mixed with the rain. 

As life gets crazy (as it so often does), I find myself looking forward to rainy days. Obviously there's nothing like a warm sunny day to lift the spirit, but when I wake up to clouds and gray skies - those are the days when I'm most excited to lace up my running shoes.

These days my thoughts are zipping through my head like cars on the freeway, and it's hard sometimes to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Because in the words of one of my favorite songs of all time ("Take It Easy" by The Eagles): We may lose and we may win, but we will never be here again.

When life is passing you by at warp speed, put on your running shoes. And don't forget to stop and smell the rain.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dog Days of Running

May 19-25 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. (I know...that's actually a thing.) I'm pretty sure there's a week to commemorate everything, but that's a topic for another blog. I was bitten by a dog when I was 8. I was playing with my uncle's German Shepherd mix and things went poorly. I don't remember it extremely well, but I do remember trying to get a frisbee from the dog when she bit me. I remember the blood pouring from my face and an ambulance ride (which in other circumstances could have been exciting). I remember having to eat only liquids with a straw because of all the stitches in my lip. So I get it - I'm familiar with dog bites.

I spent several years quite afraid of dogs, and then I dated a guy in high school who had a black Lab. I learned to get over my dog fear, and now I don't even remember it. I love dogs. I have two - they are our babies, and they are giant love bugs. Every now and then once of them will do what dogs do and get territorial over some toy or treat, but I've never experienced real fear with either of my pups.

Look at these faces - ferocious.
I do not, however, love a dog when I'm in a race unless it's a specific race whose goal is to raise money for animals or some sort of canine cause.  There is nothing more annoying to me than running a race and dodging a dog or leash or human with said dog and leash. A few years ago during the Detroit Turkey Trot a girl with a retractable leash didn't see her dog stopping and the leash almost tripped me. I was so irritated. (I also HATE retractable leashes and think they are for irresponsible dog owners...but I digress).

I think it's awesome to run with a dog. For me, though, running is MY time. Our dogs get plenty of exercise, and they're not missing out by not running with me. I've thought about taking our dogs to a race, but during a race I think it's poor race etiquette to have a dog unless it's expressly encouraged by the race. 

I'll give my dogs some extra treats and snuggles to show my gratitude for their being good dogs during this commemorative week. If running with your dog is your thing, run it out. But I'll be lacing up my shoes and leaving the pups behind. They're spoiled enough as it is.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Does my new nutrition plan include tator tots?

A few weeks ago I posted about my work with a nutritionist, and after a few weeks of making some small changes I'm starting to notice a difference. We hit up Trader Joe's last weekend to stock up on all these weird things I never thought I'd eat - sprouted grain bread, organic peanut butter, almond butter, and of course a case of Two Buck Chuck Cabernet (okay that's NOT on the nutritionist's list, but it's on mine). 

The first few days of the diet I actually felt worse. I was not tolerating some of the changes (I blame the bread), but it is slowly becoming easier. I've also given up diet soda (again), and she recommended I give up coffee. I'm not a huge coffee drinker (I drink Earl Gray tea most mornings), but I am giving myself leeway to have a cup of two on the weekends. This goes in line with my trying not to be an annoying food zealot. 

What I love about my nutritionist is that she wants to slowly implement changes and not just throw me into the deep end. As someone who loves delicious things like coffee and dairy, I appreciate this approach. She wants me to start with healthy breakfasts because that is one meal I regularly eat at home. My job as a lobbyist means I eat out nearly every week day, so that will be a more significant challenge. I've been eating sprouted grain bread toast with almond or organic peanut butter or free range, organic eggs with organic spinach for breakfast. I've found that I am way less hungry mid-morning than I have been ordinarily. Usually I'm ready for lunch by 9:30 a.m.

So in the first few weeks my rules include eliminating dairy, giving up soda and coffee (mostly), and eating healthier breakfasts. I'm not sure how she'll feel about my having tator tots for lunch today...but I'm quite certain she has not said "eliminate tator tots". I'm pretty sure she thought I was kidding when I told her that I eat like a 7-year-old.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Of Mothers and Mothering

Last year over Mother's Day weekend we set up our nursery. It was early - only two months into the adoption process - but I'm anal and wanted to have it set up. It's a beautiful room that we've continued to fill with little touches to make it perfect. The only thing missing is a baby. I remember thinking over that weekend in 2012 that this would likely be the last Mother's Day in which I didn't have a child, and my heart was filled with hope.

Yeah - our nursery IS this cute.
A year later over this Mother's Day weekend that room remains empty. And it's harder than it was last year even though statistically we HAVE to be getting closer to getting our baby. I've heard all of the words of what are meant to be supportive: "It's God's plan", "There's a baby out there for you", "It'll happen when it's supposed to happen." And all of those people are right and well meaning, but it doesn't make it any easier when the days, weeks, and months pass without our adoption placement.

We have an amazing life. I love traveling and running and hanging out with friends any time we want. I know it'll be a colossal adjustment when I'm the one paying for a sitter or having to leave early to pick up the kids. So I've been trying my very hardest to enjoy every single minute of our child-free life knowing that it will never be the same again once we have kids. I recently had a girlfriend who is pregnant for the second time say to me, "You guys are so lucky. You have such a rock and roll lifestyle." And I was looking at her cute baby bump thinking she is the lucky one.

I guess the old adage is true that the grass is always greener.  Mother's Day this year was not easy for me, and yet I have to continue to be mindful of all my blessings. Every time I hear a baby screaming in the store I think that will be me soon enough, so enjoy my time shopping alone. I can take off and go for a run at a whim. We can (and do) take off for weekend trips without a care in the world. We're planning a big vacation for this summer. Those things will get much harder once we've got kids.

I am also blessed by all the awesome moms who are role models in in my life - my mom, mother-in-law, my grandmothers-in-law, my sister, my bestie who couldn't be more like my sister if we were actually related and all of my friends who are such wonderful mothers.  

I have to continually remind myself that life is for living now - not for worrying about what will be. Running is the best way to put myself in the now, live in the minute and enjoy the world around me. Running these towns is my sanity these days, and I expect it will be even more true once I have children.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Back Away From the Headphones

As much as I loved last weekend's Pittsburgh Half Marathon, there is one thing that continues to irk me about crowded races - the inconsiderate people with headphones. I know this post is going to ruffle some feathers, but in large, really crowded races I think headphones should not just be discouraged but banned.

Other than on the treadmill I've never been a fan of running with music, but I get why people want to. I'm not opposed to training with music or even using iPods or phones during a small race. But in the last month I've done two very crowded races, the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in DC and the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. The Cherry Blossom race prohibited headphones even though I did see some people with them. Fortunately there were way fewer people with headphones at that race.

First off a runner should never EVER be talking on their phone during the race. It's bad enough that I have to listen to your private conversation while I'm waiting in line at the bank, post office, store, insert other waiting location here. But shouldn't a race be the one time where you can be unreachable? To the guy who was weaving back and forth over the West End Bridge in Pittsburgh talking on his cell phone - I wanted to punch you in the face. As I was trying to pass him he kept cutting me off. Of course he didn't know I was there because he had headphones on and was oblivious to his surroundings. The course was so crowded that there wasn't a lot of room to pass. I finally got around him and shot him a dirty look. Of course he was too busy on the phone to notice.

During the race I was bumped HARD by several runners with headphones - they were just not paying attention.  I find it disheartening that as a society we are so obsessed with being distracted that runners are unable to unplug for a few hours to run a race. Unlike a lot of races where the energy level is low, Pittsburgh was rocking the entire time. There was plenty to see and hear along the way. I feel sorry for the people who were listening to music - they missed an amazing experience. 

I think these crowded races should just ban headphones period. There are few feelings better than taking in the crowd, the atmosphere and energy of a race. I would encourage runners to unplug, enjoy your run. Your soul will thank you.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Am a Runner of Steel

This past weekend we headed to one of my favorite cities, Pittsburgh, so I could run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. This race marked my 12th half, and it was, unequivocally, my favorite race I've ever done. I had some challenges along the way, but there is nothing I would change about the race.

We arrived in Pittsburgh around mid-day on Saturday. Our hotel, the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, was nearly a mile from the expo. We headed downtown from our hotel as soon as we arrived. I had a stellar cheering section - my husband and my parents. As we neared the expo we realized just how huge this race was going to be. There were so many people, and the expo was packed. That being said it was the best expo I've ever seen. There were so many vendors, and despite the crowds everything was extremely well organized. I left with both my purse and race bag full of goodies and new race ideas to try. I also snagged a "Boston Strong" headband I decided to wear during the race the next morning.

My parents and me with our chocolate milk mustaches from the expo
I hadn't been to downtown Pittsburgh since law school, and even though I'd always liked it, I fell in love with it all over again (I know what you're thinking - this is just me with another city love affair). It's a very dense and walkable downtown. There are hoards of restaurants and shops. It also has several colleges, professional sports teams and numerable cultural institutions. We only had one night in Pittsburgh, but we could've spent days and still not done everything.

Race morning came early as I woke up at 5:30. My husband and I walked over to the start. Security was tight due to the Boston bombing, and that made it seem a bit strange. I completely understand and appreciate the need for increased security, but it was weird not to have my husband near me at the start. The race started right on time. I was in Coral C, so it was a few minutes before we passed the start.

The elite runners at the start
And me...several corrals later
I loved, loved, loved the energy on the course. There were engaged spectators EVERYWHERE. I cannot even remember a quiet spot along the way. There were bands, cheering and energy at every turn. I loved running across the beautiful steel bridges in Pittsburgh and through all of these vibrant neighborhoods. I actually feel sorry for the runners who ran in headphones (or worse - who were talking ON their annoying). That energy is part of what makes this race incredible and all of those runners missed it.

Around the 5k mark I realized I was going too fast. I forced myself to slow down and felt better when I saw my husband at mile 4. Unfortunately I had to make several bathroom breaks which never happens to me during a race (despite my Crohn's.)  By the 10k I knew I had started off too strong, and I dialed it back significantly. While the race was not as hilly as I expected given Pittsburgh's terrain, there were several really long,slight inclines that were challenging.  I saw my husband again at mile 9 and told him I was struggling. Seeing him helped keep me going.

Looking for my husband at mile 4
Pushing through it at mile 9
At Mile 11 it started to get real. My body was so tired, and it didn't want to cooperate. I started thinking about those who had died or been injured at Boston. Those people will likely never run again. I could endure a little pain for a few miles. Thinking about Boston helped me push through. Runners are resilient - the way the running community has come together since Boston proves that. 

Whoever designed the end of the course - a significant down hill stretch in the last mile - is a genius. I would like to kiss him or her on the mouth. I was so pumped running downhill toward the finish. The marathon winner finished just a few minutes before I did, and the roar of the crowd was amazing. I can't say enough about this race's energy - just fantastic. 

The marathon winner. I love all the half marathon runners cheering him on.

I've got to be smiling after that downhill finish
Final surge
After sprinting to the finish I collected my medal, heat sheet and two Eat 'n Park smiley face cookies. Doing a race in Pittsburgh was like coming home - we used to go to Eat 'n Park in college all the time (generally at 3 a.m.)  I met up with my husband and parents, and we headed back to the hotel with a detour to Dunkin' Donuts. I don't eat before I run, and after 13.1 miles (plus a mile walk to and from the hotel) I was starving. A Boston Kreme doughnut and cappuccino were exactly what I needed. I'm not one of these people who runs a race and then eats healthily. Give me a break. I just ran 13.1 miles. I wanted a bloody doughnut, and I was damn sure going to have one.

Dunkin' Donuts...serious business.
It was a fantastic weekend spending time with my family, reacquainting myself with the Steel City, and running the best race I've ever participated in. It wasn't a PR, and my body was not thrilled with me. But I loved it nonetheless. Anyone can run a race when they feel great. It takes a Runner of Steel to push it. Push it real good.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Are you a REAL runner?

When you start running it takes a long time to feel like a "real" runner. It's hard at first, and every day feels like a struggle. The little secret though is that sometimes even after you've been running for a while you think you may not be a "real" runner. I read Runner's World every month, and the people featured are often people accomplishing major feats in running. Where is the feature of the person starting out who is 40 pounds overweight, and every day it sucks? Or the person who consistently runs a 10-minute mile and is thrilled with it? (That person is me on a lot of days).

Last year Runner's World did feature some regular (i.e. not professional) runners on its cover, but even the "regular" people were faster and more motivated than the average bear. After more than seven years of running and countless races, I know I'm a real runner. But what does "real" mean for each person?

I'm never going to qualify for Boston. I'm not fast enough, and honestly I really don't want to. I don't love running marathons. The training is too much, and I find that I just don't enjoy it (hence why I switched to the half marathon in Pittsburgh this weekend). After 12 half marathons, my half marathon PR is a 2:02. That's respectable, but I can't seem to break that two hour mark. My health issues have made my training for Pittsburgh sporadic at best. If I break my PR this weekend I'll be shocked, but considering my body's betrayal of me the last month or so I'll be happy with a 2:10 or 2:15 race.

I'm generally content with this year's low expectation approach to race season, but every now and then I think a "real" runner would be doing more speed work and pushing harder.  This type of thinking certainly does me a disservice, but it also does a disservice to all those people who are starting and even those who have been running for years.

I have several friends doing Couch to 5k, and I am SO proud of them. I know it's a struggle; I remember those days of starting.  Even seven years, twelve half marathons, two marathons and dozens of 5k and 10k races, I have runs that suck. The key is getting out there. This week I've had to be at work early a few days and haven't had time to get in a decent run. I've done only two miles on those days, but at least I've done something.

Every person who laces up their shoes and does it is a real runner. It doesn't matter if you walk sometimes, if it feels too hard or you want to quit. You're doing it. And that is awesome. So here's to all of those people who lace up their shoes and hit the streets. We are all, my friends, REAL runners.