Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Hard is What Makes it Great

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great." Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) in A League of Their Own.

During my long run last weekend I was thinking of this quote, one of my all-time favorite quotes from a fantastic movie.  I was doing a long run in a snowstorm, taking hits in the face from a biting single digit temperature wind, yet I had a smile on my face. The run wasn't just hard; it was brutal. And all the while I was thinking that it is the hard that makes it great.

Life is hard. (I'll qualify that by saying that it's as hard as it can get living in a first world country with family, friends, a good job, and being relatively healthy.) But I mean to be a self-actualized human in this scenario, life gets hard.  We expect so much out of life, and it doesn't always cooperate.  It's what you do with the blows when they come that determine your character. Do you let them keep you down, or do you stand up and punch back?

When I think about the things in life that are important to me - my husband, my family, my friends, my career, how I spend time away from work (running, traveling) - they're all hard. Hard in a good way, but to live my life at the level I expect is difficult. It can be exhausting. Yet at the end of the hard it's always worth it.

Relationships are hard. Falling in love is the easy part; making a marriage last is what's hard. Learning to deal with the quirks of another person and make them work into the way you think things should go. That's hard. Waiting four and a half years to have a child while it's so easy for everyone around you. That's hard. But looking at the person you've married, the one who makes you laugh every day, and knowing that this person, THIS is the one you can see beside you when you're 80. That's what makes it great.

Family is hard. Every family has its own level of dysfunction, and I think mine is relatively normal compared to many. But we have our challenges and our drama, and it can be pretty exhausting. I am so grateful, however, to have two amazing parents who have always supported all of my crazy dreams, my wild ambition and have let me be the independent person they know I need to be. I have siblings (and siblings-in-law) who are amazing people. They are the link to my past, and the people who will reminisce with me when we're old and gray. I can't imagine my life without them even though there are days that I want to throttle them. Surviving various levels of family dysfunction can be hard, but that's what makes it great. 

Friendships are hard. I have amazing, amazing friends, and maintaining those relationships takes work. I've had break ups with friends that were so painful, and yet it's important to know in life when a friendship has run its course. It's important to recognize that sometimes when you grow your friends don't grow with you, and that's okay.  Even making sure the goods ones grow with you is hard. But those friends - the ones who don't judge you, who are constants in your lives, who share a bottle of wine with you - they are what make friendship so great. 

Work is hard (by definition). I love what I do. I love communities. I love the challenge of the legislative process. But it's hard. There are some days when I look at legislation we're trying to get passed or trying to stop, and it feels like no matter what I do it is a losing battle. And then I go to visit great communities like Marquette and Detroit and Traverse City, and I know THIS is why I do this. Despite the challenges and the uphill battles they keep being creative. We're creating vibrant communities despite state disinvestment, not because of it. It challenges me to keep pushing and to keep fighting. That is inspiring, and that's what makes it great.

And running...life's most fickle mistress. Running is hard and amazing and terrible and gratifying all at once. Some days I feel like running ten miles is the easiest thing I've ever done, and the next day I struggle with running one or two. I've never, however, finished a run and regretted it. For all of the hard stuff mentioned above, running is my sanity. It clears my head and helps me focus. Every single run is a challenge, and it is the hard that makes it great.

Now that I think about it, easy is boring and pedestrian. Easy is for quitters. Even though hard is relative for all of us, I'm going to embrace the hard. Jimmy Dugan was right: if it was easy everyone would do it.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

I've Got Marquette Under my Skin

In the eight years I've lived in Michigan I've done a lot of complaining about winter. Yet somehow this week I fell in love with a fabulous northern Michigan community despite the below zero temperatures. I'm not sure if it was the great downtown or the enthusiasm from community and business leaders...or it could've been the cocktails.  At any rate I'm smitten with the City of Marquette.

Marquette is a city of just over 20,000 people located on picturesque Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There's no easy way to get to Marquette other than driving across the UP. I can get to my parents' house in West Virginia in around the same time it takes me to get to Marquette. The UP is known for its particularly snowy and cold winters, and despite my general aversion to winter I was excited for the adventure.

View of Lake Superior from the 6th floor of the historic Landmark Inn in Downtown Marquette
Upon arriving to the hotel we met the former mayor/current state legislator for a tour of the city.  Even if you aren't a cityphile and lover of all things placemaking, it's easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm that Marquette residents have for their community.  Marquette's downtown is vibrant, dense and walkable. The city boasts miles of shoreline along the lake perfect for all sorts of outdoor activities. Marquette has become known as a biking community, and I'm looking forward to going back to enjoy the summer vibe as well.

Marquette is one of eight Michigan cities who received funding for PlacePlans, a project to help cities plan and design placemaking projects. My focus was to meet with city and legislative leaders to talk about our proactive legislative placemaking agenda, but I also got to help a little with the PlacePlans project as well. I've often said that my favorite part of my job is connecting with our communities and seeing the extraordinary projects they're working on. Seeing the great things already happening in Marquette as well as getting a glimpse into the community's energy regarding the Baraga Street (their PlacePlans project) redesign was the perfect recharge I needed to take on the next legislative battle.

Walking to meetings. It was cold, but it was beautiful.
During the few days I was there I got to spend time with the city commission and city manager to hear all of the exciting projects they're working on. Marquette's community leaders have so much passion for their projects, and their placemaking vision is infectious.  We got to enjoy some of the local establishments like Donckers restaurant where I had an amazing gouda, avocado and bacon burger. Of course you can only get to the food once you tear yourself away from the homemade candy in its downstairs store.  I had several meals at The Vierling, a restaurant that has been in downtown Marquette for more than a century.  One day for lunch I enjoyed an insanely delicious muenster and tomato sandwich while taking in a view of the lake. I learned that the restaurants in downtown Marquette get their whitefish fresh from a fishery on Lake Superior just behind The Vierling. Very cool.

One night we had dinner at Lagniappe, a Cajun place (yes you read that right) downtown. I LOVE Cajun and southern food, and any place where I have my pick of ways to have my catfish prepared is an automatic favorite.  The hushpuppies rivaled ones I had in Pensacola, Florida a few years ago - mind blowing. It seems like such an anomaly to have a Cajun restaurant in a city in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but it's this type of creativity that makes Marquette work.

And then there is the Ore Dock Brewing Company which had been given more hype than the Beatles. I have to say it totally lived up to the expectations. We met with its owners and manager to talk about the PlacePlans redesign project, and of course we had to sample some of their beers to really get a feel for the place. Unfortunately beer and I are not friends because of my Crohn's, but I couldn't let that stop me from having at least part of one. They had just put their new Black Swan Java Stout on tap the day we were there, and it was unprecedented in its deliciousness. I have never cursed my inability to drink beer more than I did that day. I texted my husband from the Ore Dock to inform him that I loved Marquette, and we were moving there. The response I got was, "How drunk ARE you?" And the reality was that I was not drunk. Not even a little bit. Marquette just got under my skin.

It was so much fun to talk to the local paper about our legislative placemaking agena and meet with community and business leaders to talk about PlacePlans. My only regret is that I did not run in Marquette. It was bitterly cold, and we ended up being really busy. But I plan to come back to Marquette, and I won't leave next time without running by the lake.

I know what you're thinking - I'm kind of a romantic about cities. I fall often, and I fall hard. Marquette, particularly in the winter, was a surprise for me though.  I was a bit blindsided by this new city love affair. Strangely San Francisco left me needing more, yet Marquette, Michigan has stolen a piece of my heart. There may be hope left for this winter hating girl yet.           

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yes, I'm Taking the Biggest Suitcase

My husband and I travel more than the average bears, and I've got packing (particularly running gear) down to a science. This weekend/early next week I'm heading to northern Michigan for a work trip, and I've already packed my must have running travel gear. It takes up a lot of room, but it's totally worth it.

A lot of runners live and die by a running watch. I wear one during long races, but I don't really use it to time myself. It's not a fancy watch but rather a Timex Ironman from Target. It keeps me on a general schedule. Every time I use my watch to try to get a PR I become obsessed with that goal instead of just enjoying the run. My watch's main goal is to let me know how much time is left before the race starts. I try to ignore it once I get started in a race. I take it with me when I travel, because I often prefer to run a number of minutes instead of specific miles so I can enjoy a new town.

Lots of runners use different fuel - Gu, Clif Bloks, etc. I am a huge fan of the Jelly Belly sports beans. Not only are they delicious, but they give me the perfect amount of fuel before a race. I used to eat Clif Blocks, but I found the gummy to become a little too chewy before or during a race. Jelly Belly are the best for me. On our last trip to DC I discovered the best thing - caffeinated Jelly Belly sports beans. Genius. Pure genius. There are already a few packs in my suitcase for my long run on Saturday.

Traveling in the winter in Michigan means lots of cold weather running gear. Tights, jackets, Smart Wool socks, hats, gloves. It's a lot of stuff. My husband was laughing at the large suitcase I'm taking for just five nights, but I swear it's mostly filled with running gear. That includes my travel foam roller which I have found to be amazingly helpful and compact. I don't leave home without it.

Modeling my new winter jacket I got for Christmas. It's so warm, but it takes up a lot of room in the suitcase.

Due to our extra snowy winter I also invested in a pair of Ice Trekkers for my running shoes. I'll be in Marquette, Michigan (as close to as far north as I can get in Michigan...on Lake Superior), and it will be snowy. I'm excited to try out my Trekkers before the Groundhog Half Marathon in a few weeks. I haven't used them yet, so this should be interesting.

It's hard to beat the winter blues, but even if it means I have to take the biggest suitcase I own, the running gear is coming along.  Space has limited me to one pair of heels for this trip. Oh the sacrifices this girl makes for running.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ruin Porn at Fort Ord, California

As a Detroit lover I'm all too familiar with ruin porn. If you're not acquainted, it's a form of photography that shows neglected and abandoned structures that have become our modern ruins. Detroit is ground zero for ruin porn. In fact if you google the phrase "ruin porn", you'll get lots of links to these architectural gems in the city that have fallen into decay.

On our recent trip to California I didn't expect we'd find modern ruins. When we were planning our trip and decided to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, I knew I wanted to stop in Monterey. In the late 60's my dad was stationed at Fort Ord, California and lived there.  It seemed like the perfect place to stop on our way down the coast. 

After exploring downtown Monterey and its Fisherman's Wharf we decided to drive to Fort Ord, just a few miles away from where we were staying downtown.  Fort Ord closed in 1994, and I wasn't sure exactly what we'd find.  When we arrived that late afternoon I found myself astonished by what was left.  When it was an active post it comprised 28,000 acres. Now portions of the base have been redeveloped by California State University, Monterey Bay. There is a housing development, and right between abandoned structures is a giant shopping center with a Target.

An abandoned church with the shopping center in the background.

We pulled onto a street along an abandoned row of barracks. When I got out of the car it was so quiet, and the sun was nearly setting along the Santa Lucia Mountains. I began snapping photos of the abandoned barracks, and had to stop to gather my emotions.

I started thinking about my dad as a young man from a small town who had never really been anywhere. I imagined him being young and so full of energy and the promise of an adult life coming to live in a place as beautiful as Monterey. My heart was pounding, and my throat was filled with a lump of tears.

As we drove along the post there were probably hundreds of unsecured abandoned buildings. There were missing doors, and if i were so inclined I could've just walked into any of them.  We drove around Fort Ord for about an hour, oscillating between abandoned structures and the buildings remodeled by the university. 

Visiting Fort Ord was a surprisingly poignant experience as I found myself wondering where my dad had worked and spent time as a young Army solder. There is obviously more development on its way on the post, and I'm not sure how long the abandoned buildings will remain. But for a quiet hour in the late afternoon sun I could imagine Fort Ord and my dad as they both were in the late 60s - full of promise and patriotism and life.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

California Knows How to Party

My husband is a Michigan State alumnus and die hard fan, so when Michigan State won the Big 10 championship, guaranteeing them a spot to play in the Rose Bowl, it also guaranteed us a trip to California. Admittedly I wasn't excited about the idea of this trip given that our other potential trip alternatives were more appealing to me, but a week on the west coast in warm weather turned out to be the perfect cure for the Michigan winter blues.

I insisted, however, that if we were going to California we were not just going to go to Los Angeles. So we compromised by flying into San Francisco and starting our trip there. I've been to San Francisco once before, in 2006, to run the Nike Women's Half Marathon (my first). I fell in love with the city then (we all know my penchant for falling in love quickly and easily with great cities).  Interestingly as we've traveled more and seem more places, my barometer for what I love about places has changed.

San Francisco has it all - it's walkable, dense, great public transit, public art, lots to do and see. On paper it is the cat's pajamas. But there's something about San Francisco that isn't quite there for me. It's missing that certain jen e sais quoi that I feel in Boston or Chicago or Portland, Maine. Nevertheless San Francisco is a beautiful city, and we had a great time.

We started our first morning in San Francisco with a City Running Tour. I discovered City Running Tours last summer, and I ran one in Chicago with my co-workers. Ladies and gentlemen if you are looking for the BEST way to see a city, City Running Tours is it. We met our guide, John, at the Ferry Building and ran down Embarcadero toward Fisherman's Wharf. We stopped for brief explanations of the amazing Boudin Bakery, checked out the wharf and watched sea lions (my favorite part) at Pier 39 as the sun came up. It was the absolute best way to start the trip, and I cannot recommend doing a City Running Tour more highly.  

At Boudin Bakery during our City Running Tour
Pier 39

Fisherman's Wharf
My husband and I had three full days in San Francisco, and we packed them with activity. We walked miles and miles through the city. We stayed at the Hilton in Union Square, and from there we had a relatively easy walk (if you love hills like I do) to a lot of places in the city. We walked through China Town to North Beach, San Francisco's Italian neighborhood where we had a delicious lunch. We walked through Ghirardelli Square and then all the way to Golden Gate Park and back. We climbed more than 400 stairs to Coit Tower.  We walked up and down Lombard Street, famous for its hairpin turns. This crazy girl ran up Lombard Street much to my husband's chagrin. It was hard, and it was awesome.

Climbing over 400 stairs to Coit Tower

Striking a silly pose at Golden Gate Park
The east side of Lombard Street. Yeah...I ran up this.
We ate some fantastic food including at Tadich Grill, California's oldest restaurant. The cioppino was everything the reviews said it was - incredible.  

On our last day in San Francisco we went to Alcatraz which was an incredible experience for history nerds like us (and even non-history nerds would enjoy it too). 

I look bored in prison.
At Alcatraz enthralled by the listening tour

During the trip we fit in several good runs. It was amazing to run in shorts and t-shirts knowing that it was freezing and snowy in Michigan.

On Monday we were sad to leave San Francisco, but that sadness was brief as we began our drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. I'd heard stories of the PCH and how beautiful it is, and honestly words cannot do it justice. The views are panoramic and breathtaking.  We stopped repeatedly for photos along the way with each view more unique than the last. It was so wonderful that I regretted not having more time to leisurely make our way down the coast.

Amazing views from the PCH
Taking it all in
We stopped to spend the night in Monterey, California. Monterey was not chosen by accident. My dad was stationed at Fort Ord, Calfornia in Monterey in the late 1960s, and I thought that would be an interesting place to stop. We saw their Fisherman's Wharf, walked through a quaint and lovely downtown, and learned that I am a sea lion whisperer. We even visited the ruins of Fort Ord which deserve a blog unto themselves.

Touring Monterey, CA
A new sea lion friend
It was New Year's Eve as we rolled into Hollywood to prepare for Rose Bowl festivities. We attended the MSU pep rally and then joined friends for the alumni association New Year's celebration. We celebrated the new year on east coast time so we could head back to our hotel and prepare for an early day.

Game day came early, and we joined friends from our tailgate on a bus to Pasadena. My husband was in heaven with his fellow Spartans, and it was very fun day. The game was fantastic, and I am not sure my husband has stopped smiling since.

Before the 100th Rose Bowl

Victory for MSU!
It was a gorgeous sunny day in LA on our last morning. We went for a quick run near our hotel. Once again I was soaking in the warm weather knowing that it wouldn't be like that for months once we returned. We followed our run fantastic breakfast outside at Square One Dining near our hotel. A basil, asparagus, squash and goat cheese omelette? Yes please. The restaurant just happened to be right next to the Scientology headquarters which was CREEPY.  

The Hollywood sign in the distant background during my final run in Cali

So...this happened.
After hotel checkout we strolled Hollywood Boulevard to look at stars and check out the scene. I was sad to head to LAX for the red eye back to Michigan, but all good (and warm) vacations must come to an end).

Elizabeth Montgomery played my namesake's character on "Bewitched"
The trip was amazing, but it reinforces for me that while I like California weather (really...what's not to love), I am an east coast girl through and through. They should find a way to bottle that weather though. It's a runner's paradise!


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Resolved: Carpe Diem, A Need for Speed, and Overall Awesomeness

Dear 2013: it's you; not me. After a spectacularly difficult year (culminating with six days without power over Christmas), 2013 finally hit the road. In fairness we did end the year with a lovely trip to California, but I won't let that derail this important point.  But even with the highlights of 2013, I wasn't sad to see her go.

Now here we are in 2014, and this, THIS is going to be a good year. We were in Pasadena to witness my husband's Michigan State Spartans win the 2014 Rose Bowl on New Year's Day in brilliant fashion, and that's enough to keep him happy for months (which naturally makes me happy as well). During our trip to California I decided that 2014 is the year that I will make an effort to seize the moment, to run faster, and to challenge myself even more than usual (to increase my overall awesomeness quota).

I've spent a lot of the last few years putting things on hold because we might have a baby. I've tried not to do that, but it's really difficult. This year I'm going to live my life like I'm waiting for nothing. It will be two years in March since we were approved to adopt, and statistically our having a child will likely happen sooner rather than later. But I'm no longer holding my breath and saying, "Well we might do that if we don't have a baby." This year I'm saying yes to more of the things I want to do regardless of what might happen in the future. Life is unpredictable, and this Type A personality is going to embrace the unpredictable.

Speaking of - my first challenge of 2014 is going to be a triathlon.  Nearly two years ago I wrote a blog inquiring whether I should try a tri. I couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger then, but this year is the year. In June I'm registered for the Tri Goddess Tri, a women's only triathlon just about an hour away from Lansing. I've done three marathons, but 26.2 doesn't compare to the nerves I have for a half mile swim. But it's a fantastic challenge, and I'm really excited to some more comprehensive training that encompasses more than just running.

In 2014 I also feel the need for speed. My personal bests are all a little stale, and it's time to take them all out. I ran my 5k PR of 26:00 in 2011, and in 2014 I will break 26 minutes.  My 10k PR is 57:10, and this year I will break 57 minutes.  Perhaps the most frustrating PR of all is that of my half marathon. After 13 half marathons I've never broken the two hour mark. My PR is 2:02, and this year that changes. This is the year I run a sub-two hour half marathon.  And I will break five hours in the NYC Marathon in November.  This is going to require lots of speed work, but I'm up to the challenge.

This is the year that I try more, I push my limits, and I figure out exactly what I'm made of.  2014 is going to be a glorious year. I'm looking forward to new adventures and new challenges. Let's do this!

Looking forward. Cheers to 2014!