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.