Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The East/West Divide

I'm not a native Michigander, and there is one thing I find completely fascinating about this state- the east/west divide.  Those who are from the southeast part of the state (i.e., Detroit and all suburban communities) totally gravitate towards SE Michigan. Those who are from West Michigan spend time at Lake Michigan and tend to head west on the weekends. These people are also often Cubs fans versus Tigers fans (a sacrilege in my house). 

My husband is from the Detroit suburb of Livonia, so if we are heading somewhere for the weekend, there is a 99.9 percent chance it is somewhere east - to visit family, to go to a sporting event or concert, head to a cultural institution (we maintain memberships at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and the Detroit Institute of Art), or hanging out with friends.  We've been to a few concerts in Grand Rapids, but we've never once, in the entire seven years we've been together, gone to West Michigan to the beach. We've gone for two concerts and a few weddings, but that's it.  It's the east/west divide at its finest.

Everything I've learned about West Michigan I've learned through work.  I've gone to meetings and events in beautiful coastal communities.  I've learned about communities whose housing stock is comprised largely of second homes. I've discovered that the southern part of western Michigan is essentially a Chicago suburb (hence all the Cubs fans). I've realized that while the east side will always beckon us, there's a lot to be said for heading west.

Last week I visited the small village of Three Oaks, Michigan in Harbor Country. The region is dubbed Harbor Country for its proximity to Lake Michigan and the vast stretch of coastline that encompasses the various communities. Three Oaks is a small locale, but it is one of the most charming communities I've been to in a long time. It's downtown has very few vacancies, and it is filled with beautiful old buildings that have been converted to stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. One of the hallmarks of downtown is Drier's Meat Market, a butcher shop that over 100 years old and is a local institution. 

The coup de grace of the community is the revitalization of the old featherbone factory. It was discovered in the late 1800s that instead of whalebones in corsets the turkey feather bone was a more cost effective alternative.  The factory, once a large employer in the region, has been repurposed into a very cool home and garden store, a community theater, and Journeyman Distillery.  We toured Journeyman, and aside from being a really cool space, the whiskey is delicious (of course I bought some). It was a fun day in Three Oaks.

Distilling at Journeyman
Decor at Journeyman Distillery. Check out the actual Featherbone Factory workers in the pic.

Community theater in the repurposed Featherbone Factory
The next day I headed to Spring Lake, Michigan for a presentation. Spring Lake is part of the greater Spring Lake/Ferrysburg/Grand Haven community region right on the shores of Lake Michigan. Upon arriving I laced up my running shoes and ran my week's long run on the lakeside trail.  It was a beautiful view, and I largely had the trail to myself. The trail abutted a dog park, children's park, and a marina. It was a beautiful way to explore the community.

I've visited a few west Michigan communities for work (including St. Joseph and Grand Rapids - check out the blogs).  There are a lot of amazing towns west of Lansing, and I look forward to exploring more of them. But don't look for me to cheer for the Cubs anytime soon.

On a more serious note, with the recent troubles in the City of Detroit, the east/west divide is in some ways troubling. If West Michigan communities (or all Michigan communities) think the plight of Detroit doesn't affect them - they're dead wrong. I'm not from Michigan, and I know that when non-Michiganders look from the outside in, Detroit is the face of Michigan. We should all be working together to support Detroit to being a city that is a vibrant place that attracts and retains talent. Right now, we're all east siders. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Running for Fame

This weekend my husband and I ran the Run for Fame 5k and 10k with proceeds going to the Lansing Sports Hall of Fame which includes sports greats like Magic Johnson...and other people. It was a bit of a last minute decision. I needed a race boost to start getting into marathon training, and my husband needed another 5k to keep him motivated. This was the perfect race for both of us.

The race began in front of the Lansing Center on Michigan Avenue. It was a relatively small race, but that was nice given that it was largely run as an out and back on the narrow Lansing River Trail.  

I love the River Trail. It's 13ish miles of fantastic trail that is perfect for training. I do most of my long runs on the trail, so this felt like a normal training run with several hundred of my closest friends. After jockeying around at a bit of a tight start the race the crowd thinned out as we got to the trail.

The race was relatively quiet (the river trail isn't conducive to lots of spectators), but having run miles and miles on the trail I was comfortable and the course was fun. After a week of brutal heat in the Midwest it was the morning of bearable running temperatures. It was fantastic.

As I neared the finish I saw my amazing husband, who had completed his first ever 5k without me, waiting to take photos of my finish. It motivated me to charge the final hill and finish strong.

All smiles seeing my husband.

It wasn't my fastest 5k nor my slowest. After a strong finish we headed home where I logged a few more miles to get in a sufficient long run.  The best surprise of the weekend was that I placed second in my age group, and my husband placed third in his! Sure it was a light crowd, but I will always take a medal. Always. 

A super strong finish
 Overall I really enjoyed this race. It was well organized, well done, and ran my favorite course in Lansing - the river trail. And of course I love a race called the "Run for Fame". I've had the "Fame" theme song in my head all week. I'm gonna live forever!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A City Running Tour

Last week I was fortunate enough to visit Chicago, one of my fav cities, for a National League of Cities conference. For those of you not familiar with NLC it's the nationwide organization that represents cities in Washington, DC. It's essentially the organization I work for at a national level, and it's pretty cool. Their conferences are always very informative, and getting to go to Chicago is just gravy.

My co-workers and I decided to begin our first morning in Chicago with a City Running Tour. I've been following City Running Tours for a while on Facebook and Twitter and have been dying to give one a try. They are tours that point out sites in various cities - while running. We signed up for the Grant Park tour which started in Millennium Park (at the Bean) just near our hotel.

Our group starting our tour at the Bean

If you follow weather at all you'll recall that last week was a scorcher in the Midwest.  The temps topped out in the 90s with extraordinary humidity, and even at 7:15 in the morning it was sweltering. This didn't stop a motley crew - three city advocates from Michigan, a married couple from Calgary and a woman from New Zealand - from braving the heat and joining our rock star tour guide, Michael, through Grant Park.

Jumping for joy as we run by Buckingham Fountain
I learned a lot about Grant Park. I didn't realize that it is a large park system that includes Millennium Park (they are not separate entities). I also didn't know that Lake Michigan reached all the way to Michigan Avenue until the lake was filled in by debris from the Great Fire of 1871 creating the area now known as Grant Park.

A beautiful view of the skyline from the south side of the park
Millennium Park is considered the world's largest "green roof" as it was built on top of a parking structure. It is due to the amazing vision of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (who we heard from during the conference) that this world renowned park came into being. It's quite an extraordinary place that is always filled with runners, walkers, families, just people enjoying the park. If there is ever a doubt that parks are an important facet of placemaking, Grant Park quashes it.

Our entire group
On the tour we saw a lot of the park including a dog park, tennis courts, baseball fields, community gardens, and public art. It's got everything a vibrant park needs.  There is even a dance floor set up for dancing events in the summer where I got the opportunity to break out my epic running man. 1994 called, and it is jealous of my awesome moves.

Work it, work it.
The tour ran by the famed Art Institute where we got to examine the four differences between the lions that guard the building (I'd tell you the differences but don't want to spoil it for those of you who might be visiting). We then ran by the incredible Crown Fountain where on any given summer evening hundreds of people are enjoying this great piece of public art. I proceeded to just get in the fountain which was perfect on a hot summer morning.

Checking out the lions at the Art Institute

Crown Fountain
We finished where we started, by the Bean, with a 5k photo finish. Our tour guide was energetic, knowledgeable, and somehow managed to tote around a backpack and sprint ahead to take photos on a brutally hot day. It was a really fun experience, and I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in running or cities. I honestly can't wait for my next City Running Tour!



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons

I've shied away from fundraising for seven years. I ran my first ever race, the Nike Women's Half Marathon, for Team in Training (for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society). It was an amazing experience, but the stress of training to run my first race along with the stress of raising money was overwhelming. I've continued to be an avid runner in the last seven years but had not ventured back into fundraising. 

That changes now. I discovered Alex's Lemonade Stand, an incredible charity that raises money for childhood cancer, through unlikely sources - the Food Network's Chopped All-Star Challenge (celebrity chef and Chopped judge Alex Guarnaschelli competed for them) and CBS Sunday morning.  The story of Alex Scott, this incredible brave and selfless little girl, is one that tugs at the heart strings. It's also one that inspires me to venture back into raising money for a fantastic cause.

In October I'm running the Marine Corps Marathon as part of Team Lemon to raise money for Alex's Lemonade Stand. I need your help!  Please check out my Team Lemon page and donate online. 

I always swear I won't run another marathon, but I think about these children like Alex who have struggled with childhood cancer. It's the LEAST I can do to push myself through another 26.2 and raise money for this cause.

Please help me reach my goal and donate to Alex's Lemonade Stand. I'm so excited to head to DC to run one of our nation's most storied marathons, and running on Team Lemon is such a privilege. 

Who can say no to this Team Lemon Golden Retriever?

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Living in this crazy digital world it's so easy to be constantly chained to our smart phones or tablets or laptops. I could let myself easily be sucked in every night to constantly checking Facebook and Twitter and email (both personal and work). I'm attached to my cell all day during work, and when I get home I make a conscious effort (on most nights) to put my phone on its charger upstairs in our bedroom and leave it. The ringer is on vibrate, and if you call me in the evenings it's very unlikely you will get in touch with me. 

This is a very deliberate decision on my part. I love the internet. I love checking to see what my friends and family are up to on Facebook, scrolling through Twitter to check sports scores and news stories. I would say that 95 percent of the news I receive I get through Facebook and Twitter. I very rarely visit news websites, and I next to never watch the news on TV. Despite that (or maybe because of it) I also recognize the need to walk away from the smart phone.

When we went to Jamaica last week we completely disconnected, and it was so freeing. Nobody could get in touch with us (although my mother-in-law did have the direct number to the hotel in case of emergencies), and it was amazing. I read five novels. I napped. I watched the world pass by and felt like I was part of it. I realize I need to do it more often.

I was absolutely astonished at the number of kids and teenagers at the hotel in Jamaica, this gorgeous resort in paradise right on the ocean, sitting in the lobby (where there was Wi-Fi) texting or playing on tablets. Perhaps my husband and I will be the most unpopular parents ever, but it wouldn't fly. If you're on a family vacation, BE on a family vacation. Be together. Get in the pool. Play on the beach. Sitting in the lobby and watching a show on the iPad while the Caribbean sits outside the door? Completely unacceptable.  I wanted to walk by all of this kids and smack the devices out of their hands. (Actually that would have been hilarious).

Check out this view, kids. Get off the phone!
We have a rule at our house that there is no cell phone use during dinner. It doesn't matter if it's work or family or anything. Nothing interrupts dinner time together. This will continue once we have kids. If we can't walk away from technological interruptions for a half an hour to eat together and talk, that is sad.

This month's issue of Fast Company magazine has a piece about Baratunde Thurston, CEO and cofounder of Cultivated Wit, disconnecting from the Internet for 25 days. No check-ins, no status updates, no tweets, no email. It's a fascinating and eye opening piece. It would be hard to do, but also wouldn't it be kind of amazing? I'm not suggesting we all disconnect for the better part of a month, and frankly many of our jobs wouldn't give us the luxury. But trying to disconnect from technology on a regular basis would be a good idea for all of us.

The ability to disconnect is one of the reasons I run naked (i.e. without music).  Even if it's a low mileage week, I know that for at least a few hours that week I am completely in tune with my surroundings. Nobody can call me. Nobody can text me. It's fantastic.  I get why people run with music, but I think everybody should run naked at least occasionally. There's a whole world out there when you're running - you might want to enjoy it.

We've become a world so fast-paced and crazy, and yet we're missing so much. Maybe we should all take a page out of Baratunde Thurston's book (or at least dog ear the page) and #disconnect.    

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

No running? No problem.

My husband and I decided we would celebrate America's Independence Day by celebrating our right to leave the country, so we headed to Montego Bay, Jamaica for a much needed getaway.  It's hard for us to disconnect. We are the typical busy, always working, political couple checking emails/texts/Facebook/Twitter on a regular basis.  We do a relatively good job of trying to disconnect when we're at home together in the evenings, but work and social media tends to creep in anyway.  One of our favorite things about heading to another country is that we don't have (and refuse to get) international cell phone plans. Our phones were turned off from the time we left the United States until we got back. It was glorious.

We do a lot of busy weekend trips for races and to visit family, and we decided we needed a real rest and a legit disconnect. Our travel agent found us a great resort in Montego Bay, so we booked a relatively last-minute trip.  We've done a few all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, and we love the complete and total relaxation of walking into a room and putting our cell phones and wallets in the safe. Our biggest decision on any given day is pool versus beach.

This week I start training in earnest for the Marine Corps Marathon (and raising money for Alex's Lemonade Stand - stayed tuned!) but in Montego Bay I took it pretty easy. Okay REALLY easy. We stayed at the beautiful Iberostar Rose Hall Suites Hotel.  Unlike Mexico where we can run up and down the beach for miles, Jamaica is a little more limited. There are rocks jutting out into the ocean to keep out those who are not resort guests. The expanse of beach on which we could walk, while beautiful, was probably not even a half a mile long.  

So beautiful.
The resort has a gorgeous infinity pool that looks out onto the azure waters off the Jamaican coast.  We spent a lot of time at the pool's edge, looking out onto the beach, drinking pina coladas and mojitos. It was the ideal way to spend a relaxing vacation.

That's quite a view.
We decided to treadmill it up during the week instead of heading out of the resort to run.  It was quite warm, and it just seemed easier to hit the gym. I've gotten to a point in my running life where a treadmill is essentially torture, so I would run for 10-15 minutes and then do some high intensity interval training for 15-20 minutes. I didn't log a lot of miles, but my abs and glutes were feeling it from the workouts. It was perfect to head back to the pool for some more relaxation and cocktails after a hard workout.

Jamaicans are such a relaxed and friendly people.  I generally move at about 100 miles an hour, and it took me a few days to walk a little more slowly, be a little more patient, and just enjoy the moment. I left Montego Bay feeling tan, relaxed and happy.  I will be doing my first long training run for the MCM on Saturday, but for now? I'm enjoying my relaxation hangover. Yeah mon.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When Running is Bigger than Me.

Last summer, while participating in the Playmakers race series, I discovered my favorite Lansing-area race: Max's Race.  Max was only seven months old when he was diagnosed bacterial spinal meningitis, and he passed away from complications of that condition at age six.  I did not know Max, and yet this story compels me to run this race.  The story is a heartbreaking one, and yet Max's race feels like a celebration. It's a race to honor this little boy and raise money for causes hoping that no other family has to suffer this kind of heartbreak.

This was only my husband's second 5k, and I was excited for him to run this great race.  The course winds through his alma mater, Michigan State.  We started at the beautiful MSU Auditorium and were cheered on by the MSU cheerleaders and Sparty. It is a nice size race, but it's also not too large. Unlike last year there was plenty of cloud cover, and the air felt almost cool for the end of June.

A beautiful morning - why wouldn't we be smiling?
Despite the cool temperatures it was rather humid, and it's always the humidity that slows me down- physically and mentally. Just after the second mile I saw Max's mom on the course cheering on runners. I met her last year, and I'm not even sure she remembers me. But when I saw her it spurred me on to push harder and dig deeper. Stories like Max's are ones that push me to run harder for all of those who can't run.

Once again Max's Race had the BEST volunteers. It's got some of the best volunteers of any race I've ever done. They are everywhere, they're friendly, and it makes the course feel even more fun. I thanked nearly each volunteer that I passed. It is always a thankless job, and these volunteers in particular should feel the love.

We broke my husband's 5k PR, and I am so, so proud of him. He's been running consistently, he's gotten healthier, and I think he even likes running...something I never thought I'd see. Last year's race was really fun, but this year was even better having my husband running with me.  

Still smiling at the finish
It had been nearly two months since my last race, and I came up with a lot of excuses for why I wasn't running. Some of them were logistically legitimate; others not so much. But Max's race reminds me to dig deeper, push harder, and run because I'm blessed that I can.