Thursday, March 27, 2014

Watch me.

A friend posted this quote by Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner on Facebook this week: "When anyone tells me I can't do anything, I'm just not listening any more." This is is how I live my life. Please tell me I can't do something. That simply means I'll be motivated to do it. 

I'm not a parent yet, but I really love the unsolicited advice I already get. My favorites include, "Wait until you have kids. You won't be able to travel like you do now." Or "Wait until you have kids. You'll hate your dogs." Or any variation of "Wait until you have kids. You'll stop doing (fill in the blank)."

Here's the thing people - I have ZERO illusion that having kids will upend my life in a way that I cannot even possibly imagine right now. I'm not prepared for it, and I'm pretty sure nobody ever is. But if you think that these blanket statements won't motivate me to have the exact opposite reaction, you clearly don't know who I am.

In the summer of 2000 I was very sick. I lost 30 pounds, could hardly function, was not able to eat. I went to see a surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who told me I needed surgery right away. I proceeded to inform him that I was starting law school in a month, and surgery didn't work for me. I suggested perhaps doing it over Christmas break or spring break. He laughed at me, and it turns out he knew best. I had surgery the next week. But despite his warning me that I wouldn't be able to go to law school I also did that, three weeks after major surgery. I also proceeded to have surgeries over Christmas and spring break during my first year of law school. Tell me I can't do something, and I'll prove you wrong every time.

When I started running I was amazed at how well my training was going until I started having major knee pain. It turned out to be a recurring IT band injury. My sports medicine doctor indicated that my knee cap pulls on the IT band, and it will likely never really heal as long as I continue to run. My solution? Keep running. Now 13 half marathons, three marathons and dozens of 5k and 10k races later (not to mention the training runs), I'm still a runner. I've managed to figure out how to manage my recurring injury, and I'm relatively healthy (with the occasional IT band tweaks). Tell me I'm not built for running? I'll sign up for another marathon.

Life is a series of challenges, and how you conquer the challenges is a testament to who you are.  When someone tells me something can't be done or shouldn't be done, my response is to say, "watch me".    

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Triple Crown: Bourbon, BBQ and Running

I love the south. I am a sucker for a southern drawl, warmer weather and sweet iced tea. I am pretty sure I was a true southern belle in a former life, and I'm quite certain I could rock a hoop skirt in 2014. I'd take that bet.  So when I saw the ad for the Papa John's 10-miler, a race in the south (Louisville, Kentucky) that ended at the 50-yard-line of a college football stadium (Papa John's Stadium, home of the University of Louisville Cardinals), I was in.

My girlfriend and I headed to Louisville (pronounced LOO-AH-VUL or you're clearly an outsider) on Friday morning. We eagerly drove towards nearly 70 degree temperatures. We made a fantastic pitstop in Anderson, Indiana (in the middle of nowhere) to eat a The Lemon Drop, an adorable burger place with 4.5 well deserved stars on Yelp. The place is frozen in time (including prices) and the food is delish. 

We arrived at our hotel downtown and set out to explore. There's no other way to say it - downtown Louisville is sketchy. Maybe we were not staying in the right spot, but we were RIGHT by the convention center area downtown which in theory seemed like a good spot. I do have to say that Louisville was good for the ego because we were catcalled repeatedly. One guy even slowed down his car (which was not creepy at all) to compliment us. I'm not sure if the city has a motto, but I am giving it one. Louisville: keeping it creepy since 1778?

We quickly discovered that the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown were way better, and we fell in love with NuLu, a charming neighborhood with quirky boutiques and fantastic eateries. Our first stop was Harvest, a fabulous restaurant that boasted afternoon snacks. We took them up on the snacks (beer cheese fries and chicarones) as well as bourbon flights. I had the rye flight, and it was a-mazing. 

Say hello to my little friends.
After snacks we headed to Papa John's Stadium where I picked up my race packet. It may be the first time I picked up a race packet while working through a bourbon buzz. Given how well the race went, it probably shouldn't be the last. We then headed downtown to check out the scene (surprisingly quiet) and have dinner at Bistro 301. More bourbon and shrimp and grits (delicious) combined with an early race meant an early evening.

Race day was warm (by Michigan standards). I easily parked and walked to the start on Third Street near Churchill Downs. The start of the course was relatively quiet. There were announcements made and the National Anthem sung, and we were on our way. The course did not have a lot of energy. It was relatively quiet given the number of runners. We headed to Iroquois Park where the bulk of the race was run. It was hilly, and it was fantastic. I love running hills, and I rocked every one in the park. Despite the relative lack of spectators (and as a result energy), it was a beautiful morning for a run. The race ended at the 50-yard-line of the stadium. After running nearly 10 miles on concrete, the turf on the field felt like running on a cloud. I wanted to just lie down on it.

I knocked 5 minutes off my 10-mile PR which was pretty impressive particularly given the hills. I felt great at the end of the race as I often do after a good challenge. The hills were awesome. The only real disappointing thing about the race (but it's a big one) was no medal. I have no idea how I missed that there wasn't one. I guess I just assumed a long race sponsored by several major corporations (Papa John's Pizza, Nike) would have a medal. I have to be honest - that sucked. I like hardware. A lot. It was very disappointing to walk away without a medal, and the free pizza did not make up for it. 

After relaxing for a bit while my friend went for a swim, we headed back to NuLu for brunch at Toast on Market. I had an amazing omelette with chorizo and white cheddar cheese and multiple glasses of sweet tea. It was the perfect after race lunch. We then popped into the adorable Taste Fine Wines and Bourbons to pick up some bourbon to take home with us. I headed out with a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel that we discovered at Harvest the night before and a bottle of Jefferson's 10-year aged Rye. 

This sign was by the register to Taste. It is the story of my life, and I want it.
We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and relaxing before heading out to dinner. We decided to head back to NuLu and go to Harvest for dinner (we were that impressed). This is what I love about the south - one of the women greeted us and welcomed us back when we sat down. That's right - she remembered us because her mama raised her right. Ah I love the south.

Harvest's bourbon cocktails were just as delicious as their bourbon flights. I also had a BBQ board with wings, ribs and sausage. It also boasted jalapeno-bacon grits, spicy slaw and potato salad. Are you kidding me, Harvest? It. Was. Incredible.  We had just enough bourbon that it seemed like a good idea to have more.

Delicious dinner at Harvest
Enter Hillbilly Tea, a trendy spot just around the corner from our hotel. We had popped in for brunch earlier, but the wait was too long. The restaurant was upstairs, and the room downstairs feels like a cozy living room. The bar is small (seriously - only two stools), and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was probably a good thing given the amount of hooch and moonshine (yes - they seriously call it hooch - adorbs) we had to drink.

On Sunday my legs were sore, I was dehydrated (thank you cocktails), and the weather turned cold. It was just the right time to leave after a great weekend. I think we missed a lot of cool things in Louisville, and I'm down with heading back another time to check it out. If the Papa John's 10-miler upgrades with a medal, I could be convinced to run it again. And then there's the bourbon...so yeah, I'll be back.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Be Kind to Yourself

Be kind to your body; it's the only one you'll ever have.This is the phrase that was repeating in my head during the third hacking coughing fit I had during my long run last weekend. It was a phrase I was choosing to ignore. I'm terrible at being kind to myself. It doesn't really mesh with the overriding need to achieve the many accomplishments that are out there. It I stop, I miss something. I have tried, in small ways, to be kind to myself. Baby steps.

Let me illustrate with a story. I registered for the St. Patrick's Day 8k in Washington, DC a few weeks ago. Michigan has a veritable race drought in the winter, and I was itching for a solid race. I arrived in DC on Friday with a slight, relatively sudden cold.  I don't get colds very often, and I don't consider them much of a reason to slow down. Who has time for that? You ride it out, take some meds, drink lots of fluids, and colds go away. 

On Saturday morning I went to Pacers Running Store in Logan Circle to pick up my packet.  It was the start of a fantastic day with my bestie. We had lunch at Logan Tavern next to the store.  Any place where I can get a bloody mary with bacon, bourbon and sriracha and pulled pork eggs benedict is cementing itself on a list of favorites. Delicious.

Check out this work of art.
We walked around the Logan Circle neighborhood browsing cool stores and chic boutiques. It was a neighborhood I'd never been to before, and it was very charming. The neighborhoods are one of the things I love best about DC - there are so many of them, and they all have unique features. I've been to the DC area dozens of times, and I've never run out of new neighborhoods to explore. One of my favorite spots we saw was an old post office repurposed as a Mexican place. What a great use of existing architecture.

I love this.
We followed 14th Street with shoe shopping at Nordstrom and ice cream in Del Ray (another great neighborhood.) As the afternoon wore on, my cold got worse. It seemed to be defying cold medicine and my sheer will that it simply leave my body.  By dinner that evening I was so stuffy I couldn't taste food, and my cough was out of control. I was lying on my friend's couch in my pajamas by 7:30 willing the pounding in my stuffy head to subside. I was asleep by 9, and I made the decision that there was no way I was running early on Sunday morning. I pushed the guilt of not doing the race aside. Look at me being kind to myself.

I was in DC for a conference, and the work events started on Sunday afternoon, After I was dropped off at the hotel I promptly took a two hour nap. I woke up feeling significantly better, but I felt less better following a reception and dinner. 

One of the things I love about this conference is its location in the Woodley Park neighborhood near the National Zoo. The neighborhood is really hilly, and I love having the zoo all to myself in the early morning. The weather was a lovely break from our brutally cold Michigan winter, and my legs felt great. My lungs, on the other hand, did not. I was repeatedly bent over on the sidewalk coughing like a maniac, and it was certainly not the world's best run. I walked back to the hotel. Again, being kind to myself.

Tuesday morning I had a 7:15 meeting, and it was very dark and very early. I decided to hit the hotel gym and do a little biking to be kinder to my lungs. It was a fun challenge and prelude to my triathlon training that I'll start in a few weeks. I also kept from coughing which was the best part.

My schedule was crazy the rest of the week, and I didn't run again until Saturday. While the cold overall seems to be much better, the brutal cough is lingering. This morning I had a bit of a coughing situation in the pool. I'm sure the other swimmers loved it, but I'm also quite sure there are enough chemicals in the pool to kill any and all germs.

I'm working to be kind to myself. Baby steps. Even the recognition that it's better for me to not run a race is a huge step toward being a sane human who knows my limitations. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves...my sanity isn't exactly within reach.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Juggling.

I have really terrible hand/eye coordination, so I don't actually know how to juggle inanimate objects like balls or oranges. I am, however, an expert at juggling about 100 different tasks at any given time. My calendar looks like an intricate game of Tetris, and sometimes I have to force myself to not look ahead. The idea of getting everything accomplished can be overwhelming.

Sure, I could say no to more things. Somehow, despite my best attempts to do so, I just keep saying yes. There's so much going on. I don't want to miss anything!  Work has been really busy the last few months, and I can't remember an evening at home without doing work. I've even been coming into the office regularly on the weekends just to have some quiet time to catch up.

Then there's the social calendar. This is where I get into trouble. Let's take a look at the next few weeks, for example. On Friday I leave for DC. I'm spending two nights with my bestie, running an 8k on Sunday morning and then spending Sunday afternoon/evening, Monday and Tuesday doing congressional visits.  I fly home Wednesday and have two regular days at work (which I guarantee will end up being crazy). We have dinner with friends in Grand Rapids on Saturday night. Monday morning I start the day with an IV infusion for my Crohn's. My work's legislative conference is Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday I go to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan for a presentation. Friday morning a girlfriend and I head to Louisville where I'll be running the Papa John's 10-miler Saturday morning. Come home Sunday, Monday go to Muskegon, MI for another presentation. 

Then I (allegedly) will have a light few weeks; a minute to breathe. I wonder how long it will take for me to fill up those days too? Somehow in the middle of all this madness I'm running three days and swimming two days a week. The thought of these crazy next few weeks makes me anxious, but I can't think of anything I would change. Someone just needs to remind me of that when I'm complaining about how busy I am.

I think of my friends who have kids and wonder how they do everything. They probably stay home on the weekends which would help me tremendously.  I do know, however, that we're all juggling so much, that some days it feels like we're juggling swords.

These are the moments where running has changed my life. There is nothing like taking off without music, without distraction, and enjoying a long run. It clears my head and helps me prepare for all of the things I've got to juggle. I've worked on legislative committee testimony in my head, told off someone who's really making me mad, and worked through things that make me sad during a good run. It's better than therapy. At the end of a good run I find myself reinvigorated to face whatever I've got to juggle that day. Now has anyone seen my flaming swords?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Appreciating Winter (No, I'm Serious)

Even if you're a fan of winter (which we have established that generally I am not), this winter has been brutal. It's the first of March, and we're expecting more snow in the morning. We have several feet of snow piled up on either side of our driveway, and I'm over it. Really, really over it. Despite that I think I've overall been a good sport this winter. I went to Marquette in Michigan's frigid Upper Peninsula in January and fell in love despite the air being so cold it hurt to breathe. In the (hopefully) waning days of winter, I will aim to appreciate what's left.

A few weeks ago I went to Frankenmuth, Michigan for work. Frankenmuth, known as Michigan's "Little Bavaria", has a German-themed charm that attracts visitors from across the country. While I don't necessarily love the overly touristy nature of the city, there was some winter charm that stuck out to me. There were huge snow and ice sculptures in the parks downtown that were extraordinarily charming. There were people everywhere despite the cold and snowy weather. Frankenmuth embraced winter, and people were loving it. Even I didn't hate it.

Last week I headed to Holland, Michigan on the west side of the state. I'd never been to Holland, but I'd heard great things. Holland, like Marquette, is one of the eight Michigan cities who received funding for PlacePlans, a project that helps communities plan and design placemaking projects. Holland's project is looking at the 8th Street corridor near downtown to better strategically connect downtown, the lakefront and historic neighborhoods. Along with my colleagues I attended meetings with city staff and a community meeting to talk about the project. We later had dinner with local and state elected officials in downtown to continue the discussion.

Downtown Holland is just awesome. It's a relatively small city - around 33,000 in the last census. It's widely known for its rich Dutch heritage and Tulip Time Festival that occurs every spring. Despite my love of festivals and tulips (my favorite flower), I've never been to the Tulip Time Festival. I have promised the mayor that will change this year.

While I knew Holland was a great spring and summer destination, I didn't realize how vibrant downtown would be on a winter evening. We stayed at the fabulous City Flats Hotel in downtown, just one street over from the main shopping district.  The variety and amount of retail in relatively small downtown is inspiring. Whatever they've done to attract so many retailers is something other communities should look at (ahem my own city of Lansing). We discovered both having cocktails at Curragh Irish Pub and dinner at New Holland Brewing Company that downtown Holland is a happening spot on a cold winter Thursday night. One of the beacons of winter awesomeness the city's downtown snowmelt (i.e., heated streets and sidewalks). As a woman who insists on rocking heels in the worst of weather and will not go out for cocktails or dinner without them, snowmelt is genius. It's also environmentally friendly because there's no need for plowing or salting. But seriously - I could wear heels without ruining them every winter.

I've worn these shoes a lot this winter. They won't make it through another one. In Holland they would!
My visit to Holland was impossibly brief, so I'm definitely due for a follow up. I didn't make time to run in the city (which snowmelt would've given me the perfect opportunity), so I'll have to run that town later this spring when I return for Tulip Time. My winter travels this year have been varied and interesting, and each one has left me wanting more. As much as Marquette got under my skin, Holland did too in the brief time I was there. I wonder what Holland is doing later this spring...the first week in May perhaps? I think I'll be back.