Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Part of 'No' Don't I Understand?

The answer to my question is all of it. The word 'no' isn't in my vocabulary. This isn't because I'm a pushover or because I think I have to be everywhere. It's because I want to be everywhere, and that's maybe even harder.  For more than half of a decade I've been at a point in my life where I was first trying to have children biologically and then have been waiting for an adoption for going on three years. In my head is always the thought, "once we have kids we won't be able to do _____ (fill in the blank) as easily". So I incessantly say yes - to work, to friends, to family. 

Last year I wrote a post about learning to say no, and I declared I would start with baby showers. That has actually been surprisingly easy. First off I don't have a lot of friends having their first children (most of mine are on child number 2 or 3 or more), so there are way fewer showers than there were for a while. I also think the people who know me and love me understand that it's hard. So I'll happily send extravagant gifts to get out of the showers. That part has been easy.

What's harder is saying no to work (in particular travel) and to all the fun things there are to do - football games, tailgates, parties, dinners, drinks, having people over in our new house. I want to do it all - travel for work, have people over, enjoy cocktails, get up and go for a run. I don't want to pick and choose. But then there come those things I have to find time to fit in, things like laundry, trips to the vet, doctor's appointments (of which I have many), reading good books, fitting in running and swimming. It's too much to do it all, and yet I keep trying. I keep pushing, and then I crash. I'll be in bed by 9:15 on the one free night I have in a week. I find it harder to do a long run on Saturday morning because I'm groggy and need an extra cup of coffee. My blood work last week indicated I'm anemic again, so I'm tired in general and pushing through the lethargy to keep going. Saying no doesn't seem like an option.

But why isn't it? I mean really...why not? This upcoming weekend I was registered to run the New York City Marathon, a feat my body decided wasn't going to happen. I said no...although not by choice. My Mountaineers play TCU in Morgantown this weekend as well, and once the weekend opened up I assumed we'd go to the game. But my travel schedule is out of control. When we were in Morgantown for the WVU/Baylor game a few weeks ago, I decided we needed to sell our TCU tickets. I needed a definitive decision about what we were going to do; otherwise I would feel compelled to go to Morgantown instead of having three whole weekends in a row at home.

We sold our TCU tickets for a decent price. The check has been cashed. Then College Game Day announces that they're coming to Morgantown. Damn it! I was immediately regretting that we sold the tickets even though I love the idea of not packing a suitcase for a few weeks. Ultimately this is the right decision, but I'm kicking myself for saying no. We went to College Game Day when it was in Morgantown a few years ago, and it was amazingly fun. I don't want to miss the fun, but I have to say no for my sanity. 

College Game Day in Morgantown in 2011. So. Fun.

It's such a simple word, but it's really difficult to say. I'm in a continually failing effort to be more protective of my time, and that will require saying "no" more often. The brilliant and incomparable Steve Jobs once said, "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that are out there. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things." Excellent, excellent words to live by.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How Samantha Got Her Groove Back

Four months of not racing feels like an eternity for someone like me who generally has races 2-3 times a month. My last race was the Tri Goddess Tri in June, and then my life ground to a halt. I've been recovering and getting back into running, and last weekend I decided it was time to get back to racing. That meant waking up at 4:45 am on a Sunday and driving to Plymouth, Michigan for the Wicked Halloween 10k

I ran the same race back in 2012, and I also ran the St. Patrick's Day equivalent (same race company, same course) in 2012.  I haven't found an overabundance of 10k races in mid-Michigan, so I was excited to get out there again. The 10k distance is perfect - enough to feel like I've really challenged myself yet short enough to be able to walk without pain the next day. I ran the 2012 Wicked 10k in 58:52, and the Shamrock 'n Roll earlier that year in 57:22. I've been having a fast year pre-surgeries/hospital stay, but I didn't expect to break my PR of 57:15. My unspoken goal was simply to run it in under an hour. 

I don't run a lot of 10ks, and the 55 minute mark has been my nemesis. I had no illusions that I would conquer it on my first run back after this summer's drama. I woke up at 4:45 Sunday morning wondering, as I always do in those wee hours, why on earth I do this. I arrived Plymouth around 6:30 am to pick up my packet.

Same day packet pick-up was pretty seamless, and I drove toward the starting line. In the past the city had ample parking, and we were warned on the website that this would no longer be the case. I ended up finding a perfect spot on the street near the start (yet out of the way of runners). It was early, and I smartly brought a book to read. I sat in my car where I could hear pre-race announcements, and headed over about 5 minutes before the race started.

I really love downtown Plymouth. It's a great, intimate downtown with lots to do. Kellogg Park, where the race begins and ends, is a fantastic central community gathering spot. I love the race course a bit less than downtown Plymouth. It is flat but quite winding. There are dozens of turns as it twists through the city's neighborhoods. The benefit is that Plymouth has beautiful downtown neighborhoods, and there was a lot of crowd support as always.

I started the race near the 55 minute pacer, and around mile 2 he inched toward passing me. At the same time I had a runner right in front of me speeding up and slowing down, and the annoyance was enough to make me speed up again. I realized that I felt better than the pace the 55 minute pacer was using, so I decided I'd leave it all out on the course.

My running watch battery died a few weeks ago, and I have yet to replace it. I had no idea how fast I was going. I only knew I was ahead of the 55 minute pacer. I rounded the corner to Kellogg Park and gave it a last good kick. I felt incredible.

I crossed the line and grabbed my medal, winded by the final effort. I knew it was around 54 minutes, which was my PR by more than 3 minutes. I found out later that my official time was 53:26, nearly 4 minutes off my former PR. I ran 8:37 minute miles, and I rocked it out.

I've continued to remain really disappointed that I'm not running the New York City Marathon this weekend. I know, however, that there's no way my body would've been ready for it. However my first race this fall was amazing, and I feel incredible. I feel like I've got my body back. It may not be the New York Marathon, but right now it feels like it. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Just Say No to the Casualization of America

The casualization of America is gross. Seriously. The public places of America are not your living room. For the benefit of the rest of your fellow humans, please take off the yoga pants and pajamas and wear real clothes. Once a year or so I feel this blog is important to remind people that you'll like yourself more if you look cute. Trust me. I'm an expert.

I love cute clothes. And shoes. God I love shoes. I think dressing well says a lot about who you are, and you'll never (okay VERY rarely) catch me in public without real clothes. Even (especially) when I'm traveling. Sweatpants are for working out or lying on the couch clearing out the DVR. I'll wear them walking my dogs (in the dark early in the morning). But to the store? To the movies? To dinner? Never, never, never. Even when I came home from a 3-week hospital stay I asked my husband to bring me jeans and a t-shirt. Two surgeries and a blood clot? Not reasons to look like a degenerate in public. 
A rare occurrence: wearing running clothes to breakfast a few weeks ago.
 I was stressed about it the whole time.
This morning I was getting tea at the coffee shop next door to my office. I was wearing my mid-weight pink pea coat (adorbs), tights and this season's cutest booties. A stranger grabbed my arm and told me she loved my shoes. After a 2-3 minute conversation about shoes she said, "Girl you're working it today. You inspire me."'s an outfit. But it's what the outfit says about who you are and how you feel about yourself that makes others pay attention. And maybe even inspires them to want to feel better about themselves.
My fav booties this season.
I've gotten to a point in my life where I comment enough about attire that it's become a thing. I recently ran into a friend while getting my hair done. She was wearing her work clothes and flip flops. I honestly didn't even notice the flip flops; I was just glad to see her. She was mortified and posted something on Facebook about how she couldn't believe she ran into me looking like that. I felt badly because I didn't want her to think I really cared, and she looked lovely. But on the other hand? I like that I'm making people think about how they present themselves. We all should be. What Not to Wear was a hit television show for a decade for a reason. How you look matters. It matters in how others see you, but more importantly it matters in how you see yourself. I'm 100% sure nobody wears pajamas in public and thinks, "Wow I feel amazing in this outfit". It doesn't mean wearing a ball gown to Kroger, but if you look good, you'll feel good too. (As an aside I'm not opposed to wearing a ball gown to Kroger...or anywhere for that matter). I won't spend any time railing on capri pants (which I honestly hate so much) because I know so many people wear them. See...I can restrain myself on occasion.

I'll admit it - I put nearly as much time planning an outfit for a race as I do actually training for it.  It's my goal to be the best dressed runner at a race, and I'd say most of the time I reach that goal. It also helps me actually run better. I swear! Wearing something cute motivates me to work out. If you look good and feel good about yourself, I guarantee you'll be more motivated. 

At a 5k earlier this year. Running skirt, cute top, compression socks. Boom.
Life is too short to not feel amazing all the time. I love to get home from work and put on WVU sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Being comfortable is awesome. But if I'm commanding a room during a legislative committee hearing or working toward my PR at a race, it's about looking and feeling the best that I can. It boosts confidence, and I am sure helps you get closer to whatever goals you want to accomplish. When in doubt, wear the skirt. And the cute shoes.  

A Happy Heart

I love writing. It's one of my favorite things to do and one of my favorite stress relievers. Unfortunately over the last few weeks it's taken a backseat while I've been focusing on everything else - work, family, college football (you know...priorities). Both writing and running have been put on the back burner while I manage my completely insane schedule. 

Last week I spent the entire week with my lover....or at least one of the many cities with whom I am in love. I headed back to Marquette, Michigan for the third time this year for my work's annual convention. I love Marquette so much I can barely stand it. Being there feels like an alternate reality. I feel more relaxed. I love everything about the city - the downtown, nature, the way the rolling hills kiss Lake Superior. I arrive in Marquette and forget that it took a nearly six hour drive through the middle of nowhere to get there. All I think about when I'm there is how much I love it, and how much I'd live there in a minute. I even thought this when I was there in the dead of winter, so my Marquette love affair is obviously very real. 

The week was busy as a week-long work event tends to be. A lot of it is just being on for days on end. My face hurts from smiling, but I love every minute of it. I love our members. I love and believe in the mission of this organization to create great places. I hear about great projects happening all over the state, and it feeds my soul. 

With a friend/colleague during our convention. The fall colors were brilliant.
Despite the socializing and myriad cocktails consumed last week, I still managed to fit in two really solid runs on Marquette's bike trail. I picked up the trail on the hill behind our hotel, and it was a beautiful path. Even though it was dark both days when I ran, the trail lights highlighted the peak gold of the autumn leaves. Even with the the busy schedule my heart felt complete.

An early morning 5-miler in Marquette
On Friday I left Marquette, and I was barely out of the city limits before my attitude changed dramatically. It was a grey, rainy and windy fall day, and Lake Superior was angrily churning alongside the road. I drove more than five hours back to Lansing feeling frustrated and unhappy most of the way. I stopped in Lansing to pick up my husband and dogs, and we were off on the next 400 mile part of our trip to Morgantown, West Virginia.

We all know how much I love Morgantown, but I found myself wondering why on earth we were going there at the end of convention week. I slept in the car most of the trip, and we arrived early Saturday morning. My brother and sister-in-law were also in town to celebrate my nephew's second birthday. I hadn't seen any of them since Thanksgiving last year, so I was excited to see family despite my exhaustion.

Saturday morning we headed out in the rain to my happy place - Mountaineer Field. The Mountaineers were taking on 4th ranked Baylor. We tailgated with one of my oldest friends and his awesome wife, and headed into the game. It was a cold and dreary day, but my team was amazing. Our defense rocked it out, and despite the cold I couldn't make myself leave. We ended up winning the game, and I had tears in my eyes as the stadium sang Country Roads after the victory. The extra 400 miles was worth it.

Tailgating with one of my oldest friends
We had a fantastic weekend visiting with family. My nephew is the cutest, and we got to hang out and go to some great restaurants. A week in Marquette followed by a week in Morgantown was exactly what my heart needed. Now if I could just blink and be in either location without the travel, my world would be perfect.

We arrived in Lansing on Monday evening, and the madness began again. This week I have three presentations - in Livonia, Sterling Heights and Holland, Michigan (all at least an hour from Lansing). My head is spinning with busy, and I find myself looking into next week wondering if it will get less crazy. Spoiler alert: it will not. But my heart is happy and full with family, placemaking and the happiness hangover from having spent a week in two of my favorite places. When the busy is over, the happy is all that is left.    

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Blessings in Disguise

This morning I woke up early and was finishing my second cup of coffee while finally watching the season finale of Masters of Sex. I wanted this lazy morning to last forever. My bubble burst when my husband walked into the room wearing his running clothes. We're running a 10k in two weeks - his first and my first race since my hospital stay this past summer. I feel ready for it, but there's no way I was going to sit home and be lazy while he ran. So I changed into my running clothes, and we headed out.

At first I felt a little resentful. It was really cozy in front of the television in my den, my Golden Retriever acting as the world's warmest and comfiest ottoman. It was cold outside - around 36 degrees. There was frost on the ground, and our breath was visible in the cold morning air. It quickly became apparent that this wouldn't be an easy run. I had side stitches early. I could hear from my husband's labored breathing beside me that he wasn't enjoying this any more than I was. I found myself wondering what the f&ck we were doing outside running instead of watching last night's episode of Saturday Night Live on our DVR.

By the time we curved onto the Lansing River Trail, a little more than a mile into our run, I found myself settling into a groove. We ran by the Lansing City Market, and I noticed a sign for the Capital Area Bike Share that I'd never noticed before. I started thinking about how much I loved living downtown so close to the river trail, the market, and amenities like the bike share. We rounded the corner toward our turnaround point, and I was struck by the beauty of the morning. The pedestrian bridge across the Grand River to Adado Riverfront Park looked gorgeous in the morning sun. The trees are at (or near) their autumn turning peak, and I found myself smiling despite the side stitches.

This run, like every run, was a blessing in disguise. I started thinking that less than three months ago I was in the hospital struggling to walk to the door of my hospital room. My recovery was slower than I thought it would be, but I'm back in my normal groove.

My thoughts also turned to (as they tend to do) our wait to start a family. It's easy to let myself have a pity party about the fact that we still don't have children. We've been married for almost six years, and much of that time has been spent trying to have children or waiting during the adoption process. I've had a lot of low moments in these last six years, the worst being when the birth mother who chose us last year changed her mind after having the baby.

Running, however, always helps me clear my head and provides perspective. I looked at my husband next to me and realized that lazy mornings and sluggish Sunday runs would become much more difficult once we have kids. Sure we can load them into a jogging stroller, but it won't always be easy or feasible.

I started wondering what our life would be like if I'd gotten pregnant in the year after our wedding like we'd hoped. We might not have these amazing memories of trips together - Sweden, Yellowstone, Maine, Jamaica - the list goes on and on.  

I thought back to the dinner we had the evening before, mine being a delicious steak and several glasses of a good pinot noir. We didn't need a sitter. We talked college football, and I randomly quoted the movie Sweet Home Alabama. You you do. We sang along with the singer in the bar and talked about our favorite Neil Diamond songs. The two couples at the table next to us talked incessantly about their children and respective childbirth experiences. I heard them talking and realized how glad I am that we've gotten to know each other and enjoy each other. Once we have kids I think it's inevitable that they become the conversation focus. But for now we can focus on each other and all the things we're interested in. We're not these people who have nothing to post on Facebook except things about our children. That is a blessing in disguise.

I started working at the Michigan Municipal League about a year before our wedding. Four and a half years later I became director of the lobbying team. I've been able to focus on my career in a way that would've been more difficult with a child (or children). Tomorrow I'll head to Marquette, Michigan, one of my favorite places in the world, for a week for our annual convention. I'm so blessed to be able to travel readily and focus on a job that I love so much. I've been able to put so much of myself into advocating for cities without distraction, and that is a blessing. Once we do have kids I'll have already established myself in my career, and for that I am grateful.

I honestly believe the worst thing one can say to a woman waiting during the adoption process is that it will happen when it's the right child. I know that's true, and I agree. But when friends and colleagues continue to get pregnant around you, and your 36th birthday come and goes, it sometimes feels like it will never happen.  The worst case scenario is that we never have children...and what if that is the scenario in which we find ourselves? I can't imagine our life without children, but we also have a pretty amazing life. There could be a worse situation than living my life with someone I love and with whom I have so much in common, traveling and enjoying our life. The worst case scenario isn't really all that bad.

As running is wont to do, I have more perspective this afternoon. It's a calming feeling to count the many blessings I have instead of worrying about what I don't have. Life will continue to be unexpected, and I'll continue to live every childless moment at full speed, taking advantage of all of life's opportunities. I'll watch whatever I want on television, drink an extra glass of wine, sleep in, travel and run whenever I feel like it. At some point, when we least expect it, our life is going to change dramatically. It's going to be overwhelming and amazing and terrifying. Some day we may be the couple with nothing to talk about but our kids, but that day won't be today. Today we'll talk about politics and how much we love living in downtown Lansing.  Maybe we'll take a nap. Tomorrow may be the day that all changes forever, or maybe it won't be. I promise to enjoy every mile I run. Each of them is a blessing in disguise.       

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Bikes Lanes Please

I love a good bike lane. And good pedestrian spaces. And public transit. Let's be honest - I'm a fan of anything that takes lanes away from cars. Enough with all the lanes. It makes me crazy. I get it - not every place gets it right. Here in Lansing they took away a lane of the way too wide Saginaw Street for a bike lane. The lane is a touch awkward and ends a bit abruptly, but it's about 100 times better than an unnecessary traffic lane. I'd love to get rid of another lane on Saginaw and plant trees...or add on-street parking...or build out the bike lane so it's more effective. ANYTHING to reduce all these unnecessary lanes.

I've heard people complain that bike lanes in Michigan are useless because it's too cold to use them much of the year. I'm calling BS. Places with cold weather - places like Minneapolis, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto - have vibrant biking cultures. When we were in Montreal, the bike lanes were legit. There were stop lights specifically for bikes. The bike lanes were separated from the cars with actual dividers. People bike in Montreal year-round despite the cold weather. Maybe we should get out of our cars and look alive people. 

A common misconception is that we need to build more infrastructure. STOP. THE. MADNESS. We don't need more traffic lanes - particularly here in Michigan. We need a culture shift away from the "cars are the only way to move around" mentality. Let's discuss US-23, a road I take frequently while heading to our Ann Arbor office. US-23 is a two lane road in each direction, and it's backed up many mornings and evenings. I've heard so many people say it needs to be widened. I haven't heard a single person suggest that perhaps they should carpool. Maybe we need to have a serious discussion about a rail line between Lansing and Detroit (that goes through Ann Arbor). Maybe we don't need hour-long commutes. Those discussions aren't happening. Let's just widen the road. Boom. Problem solved. 

This is what they've done in places like Atlanta, and it's gone just beautifully. Traffic volume is so much better. Do you see what I did there? Sarcasm. It we widened US-23, the extra lanes would be clogged with traffic. It would not solve the problem. A culture shift and different modes of transportation would solve the problem. We are not even having those preliminary conversations on a broad scale here in Michigan. That, my friends, is a problem. If I've learned anything from new urbanist texts like Jeff Speck's Walkable City it's that adding more car infrastructure isn't the answer. Period.

Multi-modal transportation options aren't just important to ease congestion and road rage, but they're critical to attract and retain talent. Millennials want to have multi-modal options to choose from. They don't want to drive to work. I mean maybe they do, but they want to have flexible options. Here in Michigan the options are few. As long as that's the case these kids will continue to move to Washington, DC, Chicago, Toronto and Minneapolis because transportation options are important.

The attitude toward the bike lane on Saginaw Street in Lansing is a symptom of a bigger problem. I won't disagree that from a design perspective the bike lane could use some work. But it's a start. Maybe we should start having a different conversation too. We want people to stay here and move here. If the conversation doesn't change, we lose. Let's not be losers, okay?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Running for Your Inner 7-Year-Old

Remember when you were a kid, and you'd just take off running? You'd run for no reason other than just because you could. It felt amazing. There is something about that childlike freedom that feels so liberating. There's no miles to be logged, no PR to set. I would run just for the sake of running.  When I started running track in high school, I recall how tedious it made running. Miles and miles of laps. Stairs. Running with parachutes. Practicing hand offs. Don't get me wrong - I LOVED being on the track team. But there's something about the tedium of logging miles and working towards a time goal that can really suck the fun out of running.

My senior year track photo
I started training for my first marathon more than eight years ago, and I've logged hundreds and hundreds of miles. I've done the same 3 mile and 4 mile and 5 mile and 12 mile loops over and over again. Sometimes I get done with a loop I've done countless times and actually don't remember traversing the same paths because it's so automatic. There are times when the alarm goes off at 5:45 am that I dread going for a run. I shrug into my running clothes and groggily take the dogs for a walk. I try to find lots of excuses to get out of going for a run. Sometimes my brain wins, and I don't run. Some of the time, however, I slog through 3 or 4 miles mechanically, mentally congratulating myself for not quitting.

Every now and again I try really hard to tap into my inner 7-year-old and remember that it is a joy to run. Every mile makes me stronger, healthier and happier even if they feel tedious at the time. Racing, however, keeps it fresh. I feel that childlike sense of excitement and nervousness each time I race, whether it's a 5k or a marathon. 

Sometimes I find myself wanting to take off running for no reason. I'll be walking back from the mailbox or walking the dogs. I'm generally not dressed to run. Sometimes I'm wearing flip flops. Yet my inner child decides I should take off and run as fast and hard as I can. I'm not worrying about time or distance or form. I just want a few moments of that pure joy of running.

A few weeks ago I bought a pair of wellies to wear while walking to work once the weather becomes less than desirable (yet before snow boots are needed). This past weekend we were in northern Michigan for the wedding of some good friends. It was a chilly and rainy weekend, and I busted out the wellies for a spin. We drove to nearby Grand Traverse Lighthouse to check it out. 

I ran out into the water in my wellies to ensure they were actually waterproof. It was such a freeing experience to stand in freezing water with dry feet. I had this moment of childlike exuberance that reminded me of running for the pure joy of it. I told myself that I'd do this more often - tap into my inner 7-year-old and do things for the pure joy of it. I'll run and jump and enjoy sunshine, rain, autumn leaves and snow. 

The next time the urge strikes you be sure run or skip or stop to admire the world. Your inner child will thank you.