Friday, June 28, 2013

Team Lemon

In my first half marathon I raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Team in Training. I was not a runner, and a friend convinced me to go to an informational meeting for TNT. How could I not be completely affected by the stories of all the incredible runners and survivors? I signed up for a marathon on the spot (although an injury forced me to run the half), and here I am an avid runner seven years, twelve half marathons, two full marathons, and dozens of 5ks and 10ks later.

Fundraising was hard. Not only was I learning to run and dealing with a particularly challenging IT band injury (that plagues me to this day if I let it), I was also trying to raise money in a town where I'd been living for only a few months. It was difficult, and it turned me off of fundraising for a while. As a result I always, 100% of the time, donate when someone asks me to when doing a race. I know how hard it is, and I want to help others meet their fundraising goals. 

I've been looking for a cause that resonates with me, and I found one that, while it hasn't affected me personally, the story is one that makes me want to be part of this effort.  

We watch the show Chopped on the Food Network. It's an awesome show, and during one of the celebrity competitions celebrity chef and Chopped judge Alex Guarnaschelli was competing for the charity Alex's Lemonade Stand. I remembered the name in passing, and then I was reminded of it again one morning a few weeks ago while watching CBS Sunday Morning. You can see the episode here, and I warn you that if you're not dead inside, you will cry. Alex Scott was born in 1996. Just before her first birthday she was diagnosed with a childhood cancer - neuroblastoma. During one of her hospital stays Alex proclaimed that she wanted to have a lemonade stand to raise money for childhood cancer. When Alex passed away, at age 8, she and other lemonade stands inspired by her across the country had raised more than $1 million for childhood cancer. This story is compelling, heart wrenching, and I immediately wanted to help this cause.

I grabbed our laptop and looked up the website. I saw that I could run for Team Lemon and started thinking about it. If I intended to raise money for this cause, I was going to run another marathon. You know, like I swear I'm not going to do after each one I run. I talked to my husband about it. He was cautious (mainly because he gets tired of me complaining once the long runs get real). He cautioned me about the beating running a marathon puts on my Crohn's. He reminded me of the time and energy and stress that comes along with marathon training. And I stubbornly insisted it wasn't that bad (please remind me of this in September).

But after weighing the pros and cons I knew I wanted to do it. This amazing little girl lived her short life in a phenomenal way, and I want to contribute to that. So October 27 I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC for Team Lemon, and I'll be raising money for Alex's Lemonade Stand.

I need your help! I will be setting up a donation page in the next few days which I will put out on the blog.  This cause is so amazing, and every little bit helps these incredible children.  I'm proud, overwhelmed and honored to run on Team Lemon.  I hope my small way of contributing will help these kids be able to run someday as well.    

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

One of the biggest challenges with running is maintaining interest. It can be boring to run the same loop day after day (and you know we all do it). It becomes monotonous, and therein lies one of running's biggest challenges - consistency. 

Last year during my work's board retreat my friend and I ran up the ski hill at Boyne Highlands during our retreat. It was such a challenge that we decided we'd do it again at this year's retreat at Crystal Mountain.  I grew up in West Virginia, and I'm a lover of mountains. Michigan is completely flat in the Lansing area, and the only real opportunity for any significant hill training is in Mount Hope Cemetery. I see a rare hill, and I want to climb it.

My sophomore year of college I lived in a duplex with five other girls off of Price Street in Morgantown, WV. Price Street is a very steep street, and it was a daily challenge walking back from class (especially if it was raining or snowy).  I am used to hills (or at least I USED to be used to it). I love running hills, and the ski hills in Michigan are honestly reminiscent of some of the hills in downtown Morgantown. Mountains they are not.

Fraternity Row in Morgantown, WV. Not the street I lived in, but about as steep.
That doesn't mean, however, that running up the hill wasn't hard.  At the top it was so steep there was absolutely no running - I could barely keep my footing while walking. But we did it, and it was awesome. We then walked along the top of the hill with the intent of riding the ski lift down. Unfortunately we were told the lift was only for those with injuries (that was a new one) so we trudged through tall grass back down the hill.  Anyone who runs hills knows that the downhill is harder sometimes than the uphill. This was no exception.

Later that evening, after several cocktails, we rode the Crystal Coaster down the same hill we walked down. It's this weird little water slide like ride where one sits in a little cart and heads down the hill. After two gin and tonics I was reasonably fast. After four I was amazing at it.

The Crystal Coaster. Fun times.
The next morning we headed to a high intensity interval training class that left my abs sore for three days. My friend and I were the only ones in the class, and it was thankfully only a half an hour. But it was definitely high intensity with lots of individual attention. My calves were still a little sore from our little hill run the day before, and this class only kept the pain going. Regardless it was an awesome way to start the day.

Yes, running can get monotonous. But mixing it up a little bit - running up a steep, Morgantown-like hill, taking a fitness class - helps me appreciate those regular old boring loops I've done 1,000 times. Now off to find my next challenge...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


This year has been one full of intense challenges. From challenges with our adoption, my taking and failing the bar exam (again), having to put our 15-year-old cat's been six months of a lot. This is on top of the regular stresses of life with work and my Crohn's. And through all of it I've been very mindful to count our blessings. If nothing else the first six months of this year have taught us that life is short. Life is challenging. And we should embrace every single moment. 

When we had to get away to Toronto a few weekends ago it was not just a fun vacation. For us getting away is part of who we are; it's a necessity. Of course it is fun, but it's getting away, traveling, experiencing is how we deal with life when life gets tough.

When I get up and head for an early morning run, it's not just for my health. It's for my sanity. My husband has been really coming along on his own running plan, and now that he's starting to enjoy it I find that I really love sharing it with him. I've always enjoyed running alone, and now I'm finding that having someone to join me is even more fun.

I haven't done a race in over six weeks, and it's time that I start competing again even if it's just with myself. We've had a lot going on, and it resulted in me canceling the 10-miler and half marathon I was planning to do at the end of May and beginning of June. But now I'm getting back into the swing of things. I always find training difficult in the summer with the heat and humidity, but I'm ready to to take the humidity on.

It's now been nearly 16 months since we've been waiting in our adoption process, and there are times when the wait is so difficult that I feel like my heart might explode. Then I force myself to enjoy those moments of quiet, dinner out on a whim, walking the dogs, going on vacation. We decided since we are still childless we are heading to Jamaica in two weeks. We considered Europe, but then we thought not a lot sounded better to revive our spirits then sitting on the beach drinking pina coladas and mojitos and just relaxing. Having no agenda with our smart phones tucked away in the hotel room safe for five glorious days.

Life is full of challenges for all of us. I choose to greet them head on, my fabulous husband by my side, working through them on a run, and topping it off with a cocktail. Here's to conquering challenges!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Toronto: We've Been Expecting You

After living in Michigan for more than seven years, I've visited Canada one time. Okay "visited" is too strong a word. I ran there during the 2010 Detroit Marathon. Up until this past weekend it was my one and only time on Canadian soil. My husband loves Canada, and it's become a bone of contention that I always want to go SOUTH instead of north when we travel. This past weekend, after a rough few weeks, we decided to head up to Toronto.

Toronto is just over a five hour drive from Lansing, and we needed a change of scenery. After over a month of not traveling, including canceling two races and two trips, we needed to get away.

It was mid-afternoon when we arrived in Toronto. Our random hotel pick the night before turned out pretty well. We were right near the St. Lawrence Market/Old Town area. We dropped our bags and headed out to explore downtown Toronto (just over a mile away). Our first stop was the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those of us who are not Canada-literate) store because it was closed on Saturday. We bought a few small things and then back to the St. Lawrence Market. It was amazing. It was unequivocally the best city market we'd ever seen. There were so many vendors selling everything from meat to desserts. It was fantastic.

National Geographic agrees with my assessment!
We had a cocktail and then headed out to Richmond Station for dinner. This place was INSANELY good. I had a delicious cabernet and the special - duck confit. It was the best food I've ever had. Ever. It was amazing. Completely worth every penny. The atmosphere and service was also fantastic. I would highly recommend to anyone going to Toronto.

We ran a quick 3-miles on Saturday morning through the streets of downtown. It is the most diverse city I've seen - people of different cultures everywhere. It was evident during our run how many different cultures were represented in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. There is also public art and green space everywhere. 
Toronto is a city that is very welcoming to other cultures and displays it everywhere. Banners on street lights have a slogan I love: we've been expecting you.  Toronto attracts all different types of people and it's part of what makes it an amazing destination.


On Saturday we discovered a fantastic city event - Woofstock. Woofstock is North America's largest festival for dogs (and in our case dog-loving humans). They closed a large part of Front Street near downtown and there were vendors and dogs of all shapes and sizes crowding the streets. We all know I'm a dog fan, and I loved it. We have huge dogs, and I couldn't get over how many giant dogs there were - Mastiffs, St. Bernards, Great Danes. It was awesome.

A Bearded Collie rocking the obstacle course at Woofstock

I love the dogs that got in the fountain.

We had lunch in the Distillery District just outside of downtown. It was a very cool space that was repurposed into restaurants, shops, galleries and other cool spaces. And we walked. And walked, and walked, and walked. We covered miles of downtown Toronto, and we loved every bit of it.

Shots from the Distillery District
Saturday night we had dinner closer to the hotel and stopped for gelato and espresso on the way back. It was an early evening, but after all the walking we'd done we were exhausted.

On Sunday morning we went to mass at St. Michael's Cathedral near downtown. The church was ornate and I was once again struck by the diversity represented in those attending mass. Afterward we walked around the corner to The Senator Restaurant, an adorable diner that boasts being Toronto's oldest restaurant. Our food and service were both fantastic. 

Before we left town we headed to the old Maple Leaf Gardens where the Toronto Maple Leafs used to play. We didn't even realize that we had unknowingly run by it the morning before. It was my husband's birthday, and I think it was his favorite gift to get to go inside the Gardens.

Toronto is a great city with so much culture, diversity and things to do. We could've spent weeks there checking everything out.  After a rough few weeks I really needed a vibrant city, some good food and time with my great love to get my groove back.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pack Your Patience

My bestie's husband is from Texas. On a visit there a few years ago she posted on Facebook that a woman on the radio in Dallas advised everyone to "pack their patience" to deal with the traffic. Such a delightful saying, and much to my husband's chagrin I say this all the time (I'll admit partly because it annoys him.)

This would give me extreme road rage.
Here's the thing - I'm not very patient. I'm not good at sitting back and waiting for things to happen. I'm a doer. I MAKE things happen. That's one of the ways both running and traveling are good for me. I'm restless. I need to get out, see things, keep moving all the time. If I stop...well, stopping is just not an option.

Traveling to vibrant cities is critical for my well being. I get my public transit/walkability/density/vibrant neighborhood fix and then come back here and continue to work at the Capitol hoping that one day I'll be sitting in committee hearings where everyone is arguing about place instead of fighting over who knows what bill that really doesn't move us forward.

And running? Well that's my salvation. A good run is a way to solve any problem, celebrate any victory and burn off impatience that eats away at me on so many different levels with so many different issues - work, waiting for a baby, frustration about something or someone - you name it. A run never disappoints you. It never hurts your feelings. It never makes you wait. A run is the one thing that will always be there waiting for you when the dust settles and you can get out there again.

The last 15 months have been the ultimate test of my patience, and it's taught me to relinquish control (albeit unwillingly), live in the moment and enjoy every single day before life changes. Then we will enjoy every day of the new challenge that's thrown at us. So when I'm traveling, running or just living I'm always mindful to pack my patience.

Monday, June 3, 2013

When Cross Training Goes Bad

You all know I'm a huge fan of Jillian Michaels, the world's toughest trainer, as a form of cross training. My Jillian DVD collection has grown, and I love every one of her workouts. This weekend I was doing a kickboxing DVD with high knees (always fun). I felt a tweak in my knee, but I didn't think much of it at the time. It turns out it is always difficult to do a DVD in my house while dodging the 200 pounds worth of dog who like to lie around me.

The culprit
The knee was slightly sore on Saturday, and by Sunday it was extremely painful - especially any time I bend it. And it turns out that in order to function bending my knee is kind of a key component. Walking down stairs is the worst. I've suffered with IT band pain on my left leg, and this is nothing like that. This is an intense pain on the inside of the right knee cap. Fun times.

So my running has been taking a hit anyway in the last few weeks due to the craziness of our schedule, and now this. I'm still scheduled to run the Lake Stride Half Marathon in Ludington, MI this weekend, but that's looking less likely. Knees aren't something one should mess around with, and I'm trying not to 1) overreact or 2) underreact. So I'm I do.

I'm going to give it a few days to see how it feels. I'll take a few days off running and concentrate on yoga. I've been really stressed for the last few weeks, so it wouldn't hurt me to do some yoga anyway. Jillian really IS the world's toughest trainer. Just ask my knee.