Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: In Joy and Sorrow

In the nearly five years(!) since I've been writing this blog, I've found it fun to reflect on the passing year before setting goals (i.e. making non-resolutions) for the upcoming year. I set a lot of goals at the end of last year, and this has been a pretty epic running year for me. It has also been the most challenging year of my life (in both good and bad ways).

On January 1, 2015 I had a two-week old baby. My eyes felt like they were filled with sand. Sleep deprivation is legit. I gained a new appreciation for all the parents I knew who appeared to be functioning like normal humans. I learned that new parents are, in fact, wizards. I discovered an all-consuming love that I'd never known. My son is a joy every single day. It's the hardest and most rewarding job I've ever done, and I love every second of it.  

With my little dude when he was about four months old. This love is the best.

I returned to work the first week in February to a new job. I am with the same organization, but I transitioned from lobbying to running our foundation. When I look back at my travel schedule this year, I honestly don't know how I did it. I was on the road 3-4 days a week to Michigan cities like Traverse City, Boyne City, Port Huron, Midland, Benton Harbor, Monroe, Freemont and Mackinac Island to name a few. I attended a great training in June in New York City at the nationally renowned Foundation Center. My new position has a lot of flexibility, and for that I am infinitely grateful. However being a Type A crazy person means I still try to cram in something into all the hours of the day plus more. But I love this job and the work we're doing for communities. I can't imagine doing anything else. 

Preaching the placemaking gospel to a legislative committee.

We had lot of personal trips too. We went to West Virginia seven times (including spending the bulk of October there). We spent a week with my family near Nashville,Tennessee, and I am so grateful for that last vacation with my dad. We attended several weddings including one in Manistee in northern Michigan. My son visited Lake Michigan for the first time on a beautiful summer day. My husband, two of our best friends and I went to New York City where I ran the marathon. My son and I went to Austin, Texas to visit my best friend/his godmother and also went to San Antonio to cheer her on during her first half marathon. Finally we spent the week of Christmas with my family in the Outer Banks. At the age of one, my son has visited twelve states. Not too shabby.

Ryman Auditorium with the fam

I've run faster than ever. I ran five 5ks, one 5k/10k combo, five half marathons, one ten mile/5k combo and a marathon. I ran a personal best at every distance including slicing five minutes off my half marathon time and a half hour off my marathon PR.  I trained less than ever, somehow miraculously remained uninjured, and I got faster. There is no scientific logic that supports what happened to my running speed this year, and I chalk it up to stress relief and pure tenacity. I'm psyched to focus on the 5k in 2016, a goal I set for this year on which I did not make time to focus.

All smiles after a serious PR in the NYC Marathon
This year wasn't all about my being a speed demon in love with a baby boy. My health took a beating as a result of stress and pushing myself too hard. I was having dizzy spells in the spring/summer, and we discovered my stored iron levels were dangerously low. Thanks to some iron infusions I've felt much better this fall. My Crohn's had a few rough spots as well, but again pure stubbornness pulled me through.

In October I lost my dad, and I've spent a lot of time talking about it. Nearly three months later my heart is still aching. If you buy into Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) I'm currently hovering somewhere between denial and anger but leaning toward the anger stage. I'm pissed that my dad isn't here. I'm pissed that I think about him so much more now that he's gone. When he was here he was just here, and I took it for granted. You expect losing a parent to be awful, but you have no idea how awful it's going to be. Then there's the bonus awful: nobody prepares you for the worry and hurt for the parent who's still with us. I worry about my mom constantly. She's a grown-up who has spent 63 years on this planet, but I find myself fretting about her all the time. This year contained both the most joyful and most painful moments of my life, and it's given me extraordinary perspective.  

I just found this photo of my dad and my son in Tennessee last summer. Heart wrenching.
I rarely say no to any of the adventures life throws my way, and the result is my constantly moving. Given the perspective of this year I don't expect that to change much. I intend to celebrate every day. I intend to drink the good champagne on a Tuesday. I'm going to hug people I love and laugh a lot. My goal is to tell people the positive things about my life first instead of the negative. I've got a great life, and there's a lot for which to be thankful. 

Let's do this 2016. Let's make this year rock. Let's remember that life is short. Let's love too much, and celebrate everything. My favorite country singer, fellow West Virginian Brad Paisley, said: "Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one." Cheers to you all my friends!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Relaxing Christmas

I don't relax easily. It's always a challenge for me to let go. After two of the busiest weeks in recent memory I was looking forward to getting out of town and leaving the busy behind. That meant one final day of driving to Ann Arbor for my work Christmas lunch, my son's daycare party in the late afternoon and then finally hitting the road around my son's bedtime.

After weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures on the day we were to leave we had the first bout of winter weather in a while. A weird lake effect system made roads icy and nearly impassable. We left around 8 pm and still had slick roads through most of Michigan. Thankfully weather in Ohio and Pennsylvania were better. As we got into West Virginia near my mom's the weather was a little dicey, but we were almost there and not really worried. My mom's neighborhood requires driving up a steep hill to get into it, and we discovered quickly that said hill was covered in ice. We discovered this as our car was sliding backward into a ditch, and there was panic at 3 am. We ended up having to get out of the car and walk (with a baby in a car seat) to my mom's, up that hill and about a half mile. So much for relaxing.

The next morning the weather delayed our departure until midday. We arrived in the Outer Banks around 9 pm. I was not relaxed. At all. We started the next day slowly, lounging in our pajamas later than normal, drinking too much coffee, and just hanging out. I could feel the stress of life melting away as I hung out with my family. 

Hanging out in Duck

In the last few days I've walked on the beach we've essentially had to ourselves, the crash of the waves lulling my son to sleep in his carrier. I've gone for a few solid runs: one with my brother and one cloaked in a blanket of humidity. After not running for several weeks my body immediately adapted to the familiar rhythm. It was like hanging out with an old friend.

It's unseasonably warm everywhere it seems, and it feels more like late spring than Christmas. While I can tolerate the white Christmas, I generally don't enjoy cold weather. I love a warm Christmas. This weather is flawless. 

Enjoying the beach

It doesn't entirely feel like Christmas, and that's actually okay in this first holiday without my dad. We're all together, I'm relaxed, and my heart is both happy and sad. I've been eating too much (oysters = amazing), drinking too much (both alcohol and caffeine), and I feel disconnected from real life. I can say that for the first time in a long time I'm entirely relaxed. It's an unfamiliar and yet pleasant sensation. Wishing you a relaxing holiday! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It's Gettin' Kinda Hectic

For most of us the holidays are the busiest time of year. Our holidays are generally b-a-n-a-n-a-s, and I love every single minute of it. I hate it when I hear people complain about how busy the holidays are. This is the most wonderful time of the year! There are songs about it! This is the time of year to think of others, donate to charities, attend festive gatherings, wear cocktail dresses because it's Wednesday and soak in every minute of the sesason.

I recently saw someone on Facebook complaining about how they stopped sending Christmas cards because 1) they were too busy and 2) because social media fills that need. Let me just stop them right there. If you don't want to send Christmas cards then don't. But don't make excuses. The holiday season is only as busy as you allow it to get. If you want to eliminate certain traditions do it, but don't pretend you don't have time or that Facebook meets that need. It's just not the same thing.

You can insert any holiday tradition the place of sending holiday cards. I don't care what your holiday traditions are, but if you want to eliminate them have at it. But we always have time for the things that are important to us. I am slightly obsessed with my family's holiday card. I send 150 of them on November 30 every year. I spend months thinking about it. I'm probably the busiest person I know, but I make that time because it's important to me. This year I powered through addressing the cards (by hand...I don't do labels) during my son's nap time. I was so proud.

This December is the busiest we've ever had. I spent the first six days of the month in Texas. I returned home on Monday. I had my office holiday gathering on Tuesday. My mom arrived in Detroit (3 hour drive to the airport round trip) on Wednesday. On Thursday evening I had a hair appointment. On Friday I had 50 people over to my house. On Saturday I nursed a hangover and went out with my husband for our anniversary. On Sunday we hosted 25 people for our son's first birthday. Monday night was my son's one-year wellness visit (plus five vaccinations). On Tuesday evening we bought a new car. Tonight we had my husband's office (35 people) to our house for their holiday party. Thursday is a free(!) night. On Friday we have my son's daycare's Christmas party, and we leave at bedtime for West Virginia. On Saturday we drive eight hours to the Outer Banks for a week where I will sit comatose and do nothing (in my head...it won't work out that way). 

With my girlfriend at a party at our house

I rattle of this schedule to illustrate that despite how busy you are, you will find time for those things that are important. It's not a competition, but if there was a competition for busy, I'd be hard to beat. There are things I let go. I've gone for one run in three weeks. This holiday season I've let running slip. It was a conscious choice. It's not because I can't make the time; it's because I've chosen not to. I won't complain that I'm too busy for running. If it's that important to me (and this month it isn't), I'll make time for it.

I've always heard life is a marathon. I choose to live it more like the 100-yard dash. Whether you slow down this holiday season or not, remember it's all supposed to be fun. For me being that busy is fun. Don't make excuses for what you are or aren't doing. Do what's important to you and don't worry about the rest. With less than ten days to go, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! 

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Do You Measure a Year in the Life?

Before you ask let me say that yes, this is the second blog this year with a title from "Seasons of Love". I love RENT and that song...so humor me. 

Last weekend we celebrated December 13, my favorite day. On that date seven years ago I married my husband in the best party we've ever thrown. On that date one year ago our precious son was born. It is a day filled with so much love that my heart can barely handle it. 

Everyone thinks their wedding day is perfect, but mine really was. It was cold with snow on the ground, but it wasn't actually snowing that day. We had the most incredible day, and I worked hard to take in every moment. I look back at those photos and am still in love with that day. It was exactly the day that we wanted, and it officially started this adventure. 

We buy Christmas decorations when we travel, and I love decorating our tree and recalling the amazing trips we've taken in seven years: Sweden, Maine, Boston, New York, the Outer Banks, Nashville, Mount Rushmore, Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, Pensacola, Washington, DC (dozens of times), San Francisco and the Rose Bowl and dozens of small weekend getaways. We've seen concerts and had dinners with friends. We've laughed and cried and struggled through some of life's hardest losses (both of our dads). But we've come through all of it together, and we try to make the most of every moment of our life. We've delighted in the joy of our child, and I realize how lucky I am to have this husband and amazing father of my son.

Our son was born last year after years of waiting for his arrival. When we found out about Will people kept saying, "You must be so excited." At that time my overwhelming emotion was anxiety. I was worried it wouldn't work out. I was worried he wouldn't really be ours. I have spent the last 365 days loving this little boy with every fiber of my being. The moment we met him I knew he was meant to be our son. His joyous wonder in every new detail of life is infectious. He loves his dogs, balloons, cars, going for walks, his pacifier and snuggling. His smile (those dimples!) lights up any room. Sometimes I feel like my heart might explode with love for him. 

The cast of RENT was right: you measure a year in love. The last seven years have been filled with so much love, and this last year has added joy and wonder as well. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is so fun. Happy birthday little dude, and happy anniversary to my husband. Thank you for sharing this adventure with me!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Birthday Celebration

Today would've been my dad's 67th birthday. My heart hurts. My chest literally hurts like someone has punched me. I'm distracted. I'm so, so sad. What did I do last year for my dad's birthday? I don't remember, and that makes me sad. A card? Some gift that my mom suggested because Dad was impossible to buy for? A quick phone conversation because my dad hated talking on the phone even more than I did? It should've been more, right? If I had known that was his last birthday I would've done more. But how can you ever know that?

My dad turned 60 two days before my wedding. His birthday was overshadowed by my big day, but my dad never wanted anything to be about him. His focus in life was his wife and his children. He was happy to let his birthday go by without celebration. We surprised him at our reception with a cake for his birthday. I love the look on his face as he was surrounded by his family. He was looking at my mom in surprise as if to say, "Did you know about this?" 

Seven years later our family is different. My brother and I both have children. My youngest brother is now married. We have new homes, new jobs, new responsibilities. In the last days of my dad's life we were blessed with time to talk to him and leave nothing unsaid. Right now I can't remember everything that we said. We just talked. If you know our family that's what we do. Talk. Generally very loudly. 

I hope we told him that he raised an amazing family. I hope we told him that we owe all of our success to him and our mom. I hope I told him that I am so glad he got to meet his grandson. I hope I told him that I am so proud to be just like him. 

Every day should be a celebration. I know it's hard. I know life bogs you down, and it feels like too much. But it could be the last birthday, the last dinner, the last time you're together. Today my dad would've turned 67, and as sad as I feel, I will celebrate. I'll wear a cocktail dress and sequined heels. I'll drink champagne. I'll raise my glass to Dad and thank him for the ability to do all of these things. Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks for the reason to celebrate. 

My all-time favorite picture with Dad

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My First Rodeo

I lived in Texas for a few years in my early 20's. I mostly remember finishing my third year of law school at Baylor and partying with my friends. We were young, had money for the first time, and the drinks flowed. It was fantastic. I've got some of the absolute best drinking stories from my time in Texas (including being kicked out of a martini bar in San Antonio...I'll tell you about it in person if you want to hear it). Those years were really fun.

The last time I was in Texas it was in 2004 when my sister and I packed up my apartment, and I officially moved to Virginia. It was a sad time with a lot of change. I mostly associate Texas with my first time really being a grown up, and I also associate it with the demise of my first real adult relationship. It's a weird connection.

Last year my best friend moved to Austin, a city where she and I have spent many nights imbibing in cocktails, dancing and singing along with the musicians in the many bars on 6th Street. I went to visit her last week, and it was a very different feel 12 years and five collective children after we were last there together.

My son and I flew to Texas on Wednesday. It was his first flight, and he was a baby rock star. A number of people on the plane commented on how good he was. I was so, so proud. Exhausted but proud. It turns out traveling alone with a baby is hard work. As we were driving away from the airport I had a knot in my stomach. Texas looks and feels like nowhere else. It's hard to explain. When I moved there from mountainous West Virginia I would sometimes feel lonely when faced with the vast expanse of space. Those first few moments were disconcerting, but it passed quickly.

My bestie and I have known one another for 13 years. Other than that first year of nights we don't quite remember in Texas we've lived far away from one another. It isn't easy. But I've been able to visit her when her kids were born. I was in Sweden when her oldest daughter (my goddaughter) was baptized. We were there for one another when both of our dads passed away. She was here in Michigan when my son (her godson) was baptized. As an avid running it only seemed fitting to be there for her first half marathon, the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio.

I admit it - I'm not a great spectator. I'm not great at planning ahead like my husband who will map out points to see me. I also find myself being a little (ahem a lot) envious of being on the sidelines instead of running. I know it's important for me to rest right now, so I was trying to keep my envy level at a dull roar.

We had a lovely few days enjoying the gorgeous 60+ degree weather. We had Mexican food outside, played on the playground and just enjoyed being together. It was awesome. On Saturday my friend and I headed to San Antonio with just my little dude. We did the typical pre-race day stuff: went to the expo and had dinner at a lovely Spanish place on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

It was weird to not be racing. I felt both calm and agitated by not running. I did get to enjoy a few glasses of wine with dinner and relax on race morning. We walked to the start, and I was struck by the pre-race energy. I love it. We took photos and I hugged my friend as she went off into her corral. I was so excited for her that I could barely stand it. The first big race is such an exciting event.
After the start we headed back to the hotel for breakfast, and I took a shower. We then walked back toward the finish to see Charlotte. Online race tracking is an amazing tool. I knew she'd be finishing just around 10 a.m. I ended up right by the finish line and got to see the first four male marathoners cross the finish. It was insanely awesome.
I was so emotional at the finish. In typical fashion my son was asleep during the chaos at the finish. I was dancing to the music, singing and cheering for runners. When I saw my friend I thought my heart would explode. I was so thrilled for her. She looked great and had a really good time.
What happens when you've spectated more races than your mom
We met her in the family reunion area, and I was just so, so proud. I wonder if this is how my husband and friends are when I race. While I love being on the course, it was nice for me to be on the other side. Charlotte had a great run, and I loved being there to cheer her on and give her unsolicited running advice.

I've run 20 half marathons, four marathons, and dozens of shorter races, but this was my first half marathon as a spectator. The atmosphere is electric. I love seeing it from that angle. I am so thrilled that I got to be there for my friend's first half. My first spectating rodeo was fun, but next time I think I'll stick to the course. I learned that I love racing too much just to watch. I'm not really a watch and see kinda girl.  
Don't mess with Texas or these dimples!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Being Present

It's December, and the holiday season is officially upon us. I love Christmas, and I've decided this year I'll really focus on being present in the season and being grateful. By "focus on being present" I also mean travel to Austin, Texas and the Outer Banks, throw three relatively large holiday gatherings at my house (including my son's first birthday party) and live the rest of my life in a somewhat normal fashion. This has been a hard year. While I may not be slowing down by my (or any) standards, I am attempting to be present during one of my favorite times of year and be kind to my body.

Being kind to my body includes a small break from running. Last week I ran my final race of the year, the Lansing Turkeyman Trot, on Thanksgiving morning. It was relatively warm, but it was raining off and on. That always makes dressing appropriately a challenge, and I failed miserably (I was way too warm). I sidled up to the start with several thousand other runners and pushed off fast. I told myself I had no illusions about this being a fast race. I love a turkey trot, but they're always really crowded. I was not going to PR. I was just taking it easy.

At the two mile marker I realized I was on PR pace, and of course I couldn't just let that go. I pushed the last mile, and unfortunately was ten seconds slower than my PR at 24:00. I finished hard, and I was as tired after as I have been after a half marathon. My body is still pissed at me, and it's time to give it a little break. Being mindful starts with being kind to myself.

That brings me here we are in the final month of the year with so many bittersweet things to celebrate and no racing. My son and I are heading to Austin, Texas this week to visit my best friend (and his godmother) and cheer her on through her first half marathon in San Antonio. It's weird for me to be a race spectator instead of running. I'm like an addict watching someone else getting high. But it's important to be supportive and my body needs a break. I keep telling myself that when I feel envious that I'm not running. 

Part of my cheering section (including my BFF on the right) before I ran the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon

I'm so excited for my son's first birthday. He's such a little love, and I am thrilled to have our family and a few friends here for the occasion. I'm heading with my family to the Outer Banks for Christmas, a trip we did four years ago as well. It's hard imagining the holidays without my dad, and I haven't really been letting myself think about it. I know it'll hit me hard when I least expect it, and I'm glad I'll be with my family for a week.

I want to focus on this little face. The best.

This holiday season I have so much for which I need to be grateful. I'm trying to remember and appreciate each moment knowing I'll never get them back. 'Tis the season - enjoy it! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hate Mail from my Body

There are a lot of reasons I love running without headphones, but one of my favorites is it allows me time to think. It allows me time to prioritize my to do list, write blogs in my head, and practice a presentation that's coming up the next week. This past weekend as I was running the Silver Bells in the City 5k it mostly gave my body time to scream at me. I ended up running a respectable 25:08, but it didn't feel good. As I was running (not even close to a PR pace) I was imagining what my body would say if I could write me a letter:

Dear Samantha:

It's not me; it's you. This year I've given you my absolute best. You've had your fastest ever running year. You've run significant PRs at every distance. You have been injury free for the first time in the decade that you've been running. I've given you the energy to keep up with an exuberant baby. I've given you the focus to start a new job. How have your chosen to repay me?

You've chosen to abuse me. At every turn you've pushed harder. Look, we've been together for 37 years. I know your style. But I'm not taking it anymore. I'm going to show you who's boss. You haven't even made it through the first loop of this 5k, but you're feeling it aren't you? In your back, your hips, your feet? I know. I'm protesting. We crushed the New York Marathon, but that wasn't enough. You had to run a half marathon the next week and schedule two 5ks in the following two weeks. I'm exhausted. I'm not just a little bit tired. I'm out of gas. It's been three weeks since the marathon, but it feels like it was just hours ago. I need a break.

I don't want to you to stop running forever, but I need a rest. Maybe you should start swimming again. Maybe take some yoga classes. I'm begging you to take a break. Otherwise I can't make any promises about my running performance next year. Remember how you want to renew your goal to shatter the 5k? If you aren't kind to me it's not going to happen. So keep that in mind, and let's regroup after the first of the year shall we?

your body

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Celebrating National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month. A decade ago I never imagined I'd be an adoptive mom. I don't know that it's something that naturally occurs to a lot of people. You get married, you get pregnant, you have a baby. That's how life works except when it doesn't. These days more and more of my friends have fertility issues, and now that I've adopted the world's most incredible baby* I find myself thinking, "Why are you bothering with all that drama? Adoption is the way to go." 

I get it - it's really hard to process not biologically having a baby. It's difficult to wrap one's mind around the adoption process and how complicated it really is. Now that we've adopted our son I cannot imagine having done it any differently. It is not possible for me to love him more.
Our first family photo when he was only minutes old.
I've never given birth to a child, so I can't compare experiences. But if I had gotten pregnant right away when we got married and had an easy pregnancy/birth experience, I don't know that I would appreciate it this much. After waiting six years for a baby I have loved every single minute. Even earlier this week when my teething dude was up in the middle of the night I looked at him at 2 am and was so happy to be there with him. I was tired, but looking at him in that moment I felt every minute that we waited for him. There was nowhere else I would rather have been. There's time for sleep later.

The wonder of our little dude only a few hours old
I still have my moments of impatience or frustration that are inevitable in parenting, but it's so easy to remind myself of the journey that got us to be the parents of this wonderful boy. He's smart, funny, and he has so much personality. He's a lot like his dad, and it doesn't matter that he doesn't share his genes. 

I've had so many people ask me intimate questions about adoption. Sometimes I feel annoyed because I think I don't ask you the intimate details of how your child was conceived (because gross - I don't want to have that image in my head). But I want people to hear our story. I want people to consider this life-changing option when becoming parents. Will has changed me in so many ways. The wait for him to come into our lives was agonizing, but he chose us. We were waiting for him, and every moment of the wait was worth it.

On the day Will's adoption was final
Our agency, Adoption Associates, was there every step of the way. Our caseworkers held our hands and had the patience of Job. I wasn't always nice. Sometimes I would call feeling very impatient and nasty. We waited three years. Other people don't wait that long. Where was our baby? When would it be our turn? Our turn came when it was supposed to, and now in retrospect I can appreciate that. During the wait I wasn't always my best self, but I realize now that all prepared me to welcome this beautiful little boy into our life.

Will is almost a year old, and he's a joy. We still make time for things that are important for us - traveling, running, time with friends - and Will has adapted beautifully to the frantic pace of our family. Sometimes it's good to remind myself to slow down. Take in the beautiful little moments that may not seem like a big deal. Every smile, every wave that those chubby little baby hands, every picky meal time is a brilliant moment. 

Baby's first road trip to West Virginia at one month old
Our picky eater's first time trying carrots. Not amused.

Adopting taught me a lot about myself, but mostly it taught me that I'm emotionally stronger than I thought.  In a month that gets overshadowed by men with terrible facial hair, please take a minute to think of adoption. Think of the parents who are waiting. Think of these amazing birth moms who are making the hardest decision they will ever make. Think of these children who are so, so loved. This November take a few minutes to think of the journey that creates families and say a prayer or send good vibes to those people. It's an incredible process, and it has enriched my life in the most incredible way. 

*I quickly realized why everything thinks their child is the most amazing: it's because they are.

Monday, November 16, 2015

All my Memories, Gather Round Her

It's been nearly six weeks since my dad passed away, and life, as she is wont to do, continues to fly by at a rapid pace. It's been the most surreal experience of my life, but except for the rare indulgence in self pity I have mostly been okay. At least I think I have mostly been okay. It feels weird and almost a betrayal to my dad to say that. I'm not okay in the sense that everything is fine, but I'm okay because there's no other viable alternative. If I let myself have an extended stay in that sad place (instead of the occasional visit), nothing good will come of it. Of all people my dad wouldn't want me to dwell in sadness. He'd say, "Sissy don't you worry about me. You have Will to worry about. You're the sick one!" And then he'd take a drink of a beer and go back to watching football because we'd already talked about him too much. 

I feel extraordinary sadness every day, but I also feel so much joy. I have been reminded of what an incredibly supportive man I married. I have incredible friends. My husband and I enjoyed a much needed weekend away together with those of our closest friends, and I was able to laugh about how much my dad would've hated the crowds in New York. For the most part I'm able to think of my dad and what his reaction would be to something with a smile. It may be a smile on the outside while it feels like a vice is gripping my heart on the inside, but I'm able to push through.

Last weekend we went back to West Virginia for the first time since Dad died. I was feeling fine as we were driving there, but as soon as we pulled off the freeway exit to my mom's I started crying. You know the kind...big, wracking sobs. I had a few minutes before we got to her house, and I pulled it together. I didn't want her to see me being sad. Plus I have an 11-month-old baby who doesn't have time for that. He keeps the sadness at bay.

Over the weekend I spent quality time with my mom and brother (who also came in for the weekend). It was both good and weird to be back at my parents' house. Everything feels quieter. It feels tidier. I hurt the entire weekend thinking of how agonizing it must be for my mom to see my dad's things and know he's not there. For her that band-aid must get ripped off every day.
With my brother at Mountaineer Field
I didn't run while I was in Morgantown. I promised myself I'd take a week off after back to back weekends of racing, so I left my running shoes in Michigan. It was a weird and somehow freeing experience. I can't remember the last time I left my running shoes at home.

On Sunday we were packing up to head home. I was in my parents' laundry room putting something in the trash, and I was holding back sobs. I was taking shallow, ragged breaths trying to keep the crying under wraps. My mom was heading to Virginia with my brother, and our son had taken a late morning nap. They left earlier leaving us in the quiet of my parents' home.

I cried most of the rest of the time we were there. Oddly I don't cry that often. I have a dull, physical ache in my chest on a regular basis, but I tell myself I'm alright. Dad would want me to be alright. People experience terrible loss in life, and they deal with it. I can deal with it too. But this weekend my heart felt raw and broken. I could feel my dad everywhere. It was hard, but it was also oddly comforting at the same time. It made me realize that I can be both heartbroken and okay. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

There are a lot of firsts without Dad coming up this fall: Thanksgiving, his birthday, my son's first birthday, Christmas. They're going to be painful. I'll be constantly reminding myself of positive thoughts and memories, and trying to enjoy the moment we're in. If nothing else I've learned that life is short, and it's important to take a deep breath and take it all in. As my dad would've said, "Might as well; can't dance."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Lot of Work for a Free Banana

You can't have a race without the runners, but as a runner I know that you really can't appreciate a good race unless it has good spectators. I wrote a blog after the Marine Corps Marathon two years ago with pointers for spectators, and they still hold true. New York had incredible spectators. There were people everywhere, and generally they were loud and engaged. But just like there are those runners who try to ruin it for everybody, there are those spectators. 

Here are some general rules of thumb:

1. Do not cross the street when runners are barreling down on you. I get it - races are long, and streets need to be crossed. Wait until there is a lull in runners and make your move. But move fast and get out of the way. I had a woman run right in front of me in New York. I had to pull back to keep from tripping over her. I was furious. I yelled, "Really? I'm in the middle of something here!" You're there to support runners. Don't make them dodge you.

2. Do make signs, cheer and be loud. My cheering section was the best, and everyone should be jealous. But they were the best because they didn't just cheer for me; they cheered for everyone. I was a little disappointed by the crowds on First Avenue because while there were people everywhere, many were only cheering for the runners they knew. It was frustrating. We all need love people! 

My bad ass cheering section in NYC. They could write the book!
At the Mid-Land Half last weekend there were very few spectators, but some of them weren't cheering at all. You'd run by to them silently staring at you. Why are you out here to just watch and not cheer? You just made this creepy.

And my favorite signs from New York were: "If Donald Trump can run for President you can run 26.2" and "Nipple bleeding and hoo ha chafing ends today".  

3. Don't encroach the street. I know it's exciting. I know you're looking for your people. In New York I had to dodge spectators who made their way onto the race course. I'm not even sure they realized they were on the race course. Be aware of your surroundings.

4. Be encouraging. I had a spectator yell at a runner who was struggling near me at mile 20 "Suck it up Buttercup! You still have six miles!" Do you think that's helpful? Even if the person who yelled that is a runner, races are tough. Everyone's race is different. Yelling at someone to suck it up and being negative doesn't help the situation. How about "you've got this!" or something else encouraging?

I will never forget mile 20 during my first marathon in Detroit (2010). I had hit the wall- hard. I was struggling to run, and I was in a lot of pain. A spectator jogged out beside me and ran/walked with me. She said, "Once you do this, you're a marathoner. You can do anything. Nobody can take this away from you. You've got this." I can never tell that stranger how much that meant to me in that moment. Be that stranger.

5. It is ALWAYS a good idea to play Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", Cake's "Going the Distance" and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger". Always.

6. I wrote this in my last blog too, but it bears repeating. DO NOT yell "You're almost there!" unless I can actually see the finish line. Because unless the finish is in sight, I am not almost there. 

Crowd support can make or break a race, and it is definitely a huge part of what made the New York Marathon memorable. Even though no other race will likely live up to that level of crowd, spectators smaller races can still help runners feel the love. We may not admit it, but we need your help. Bring your sign, your cowbell and your happy face. It's race day baby!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Running 262 Miles

On Sunday I ran my 20th half marathon. That means I have run 262 miles during half marathon races. That doesn't include other races and training runs, but I've had some incredible experiences during those miles. I've discovered cities I loved like Knoxville, Tennessee. I became a Runner of Steel in Pittsburgh. I earned a Tiffany necklace as a medal in San Francisco. I ran 13.1 miles when the temperature was two degrees.

Ten years ago when I started running I didn't know where this journey would take me. Hundreds of miles later I have accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I've realized my body and my mind are always stronger than I think they are. Running has been my savior more times than I imagined it would. When everything else in life seems chaotic, my running shoes are always dependable. 

In my first year of running I ran three half marathons. After that I took a break and didn't run another long race for three years. I'm not sure why I stopped running for a while, but once I started again I did so with a vengeance. In five years I've run 17 half marathons, four marathons and countless 5k and 10k races. Running has become my friend and my companion. I don't know what I did without it. 

A few months ago when I realized I was 19 half marathons in, I decided (it has been suggested in an OCD way) that I wanted to complete my 20th half by the end of this year. It also seemed like a good idea to run it the weekend after the New York Marathon

My amazing and supportive friend Nikki and I drove 90 minutes north to Midland, Michigan early Sunday morning. I've spent some time in Midland the last few years for work, and it's climbing the list of my favorite communities. It's got a burgeoning downtown and focus on placemaking that is inspiring. We arrived early and easily picked up our timing chips. I was excited to get arm sleeves instead of another t-shirt to put in my basement.

We used our extra time to walk to the budding East End to see a proposed development project site. It was colder than we thought, so we waited it out in the car until the start. This race could not have been more different than New York. It was an out and back on the rail trail starting by the farmers market

Pre-race selfies in Midland
Nikki and I started fast. I was running half marathon PR pace for about 4.5 miles, and I realized my body was still too tired. I learned running a half marathon the week after PRing in a marathon means my body hasn't healed. My foot was killing me, and my hip was on fire. I slowed my pace while Nikki ran ahead.

I felt fine until around mile eight, and then it was all struggle. The course was quiet with maybe a few dozen spectators on the entire course. It was wooded and quiet, and I was alone with my thoughts. I knew it was going to be a slow race, but I just wanted to finish. I crossed the finish line in 2:04:02, much faster than I thought I was going. 

I've pushed through 13.1 miles twenty times. I've run in cold weather, hot weather, while injured and while feeling great. The half marathon is an incredible distance, and I've loved all 262 miles I've raced. I'm grateful for the chance to run even when it's hard. Thank you, Midland, for hosting number twenty. Here's to twenty more!    

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Not to be an A-hole: A Runner's Guide

I loved running the New York City Marathon, so I don't want the blog that follows to take away from that in any way. However when you're running with 50,000 people for nearly 5 hours, you notice a lot of things. For instance you notice that some people are total inconsiderate jerks. I will say it's a small percentage of people, but the bad behavior stands out. 

Let me start by saying this: unless you are an elite runner or are capable of placing in a marathon, your race is not more precious than anyone else's. Whether your final time is 4 hours or 5, everyone has worked hard. That extra 10 minutes you get by being rude to someone really doesn't matter. Everyone out there is doing their best. When you act like a jerk you don't accomplish anything. Don't be that guy or girl. 

Here are some ways to not be an a-hole while running a race:
  • Do not push someone at a water station. Again, unless you're an elite runner many runners walk through water stations. I am one of those runners. I do look around and make sure I'm not stopping abruptly in front of someone. When you run up behind me, put your hand on my lower back and push me forward (which happened twice in New York), you risk losing your hand. Your water stop is not more important than my water stop.
  • Do not stop in the middle of the road to take photos. The view of the New York skyline from the Verrazano-Narrows was amazing. It was also pretty great from the Queensboro Bridge. Some people pulled off to the side to take photos. Lots of people tried to do it while running or stopped in the middle of the race. Don't be that person. You're rude.*
  • Similarly do not use a selfie stick to take photos during the race like one guy beside me did. Even worse he decided to run backward while taking selfies and knocked into about three runners. He's good people.
  • Let's talk about walking. Lots of people walk during races. If you want to walk, look around you to make sure you aren't stopping in front of someone and go to the side to walk. Don't walk 2-3 people across. And for the love of God don't walk before mile one. I saw dozens of runners walking before the first mile. If you are unable to run one mile, perhaps a marathon isn't for you.*
  • If someone is walking in a way that is unobtrusive, let them walk. One guy ran up behind a blind runner with her guides and yelled, "Come on guys! Stop walking!" They were walking on the side and following all of my arbitrary rules above. If people want to walk that's fine. Yelling at them for walking appropriately isn't nice.
  • Ah bathroom stops. I had two of them. The lines for the bathrooms were long. People don't want to lose time, but it's a necessary evil. When I'm in the bathroom and you're outside yelling, "Hurry up people in the bathrooms!" you're not helping yourself. First off I have Crohn's. I am 100 percent positive that your bathroom emergency is not worse than mine. Second off it's not like we're all sitting in there reading magazines and taking our time. We're all losing time. We're hurrying. Shut it and wait your turn.
  • If you plan to throw a water cup that is not empty or spit please, for the love of God, look around first.*
  • New York had great crowds. There was lots of music. If you listened to headphones you should be ashamed of yourself.*
  • If you start with headphones and decide to no longer listen to them, please secure them so they aren't flying around your armband and hitting someone (ahem me).
  • Nobody else wants to listen to your music. So if you're listening to your phone on speaker or loudly screaming/singing Adele's "Someone Like You", you're a running a-hole.
Most runners were appropriate, courteous, and really enjoying the race. I loved those people. The rest...well...they just can't help themselves. Use common sense. If you're running a race, be cognizant that there are people around you. Their race is just as important as yours. Smile at them and say excuse me if you commit a running faux pas. I promise they'll forgive you.

*These behaviors are included in the NYRR Code of Conduct. See! These aren't just my arbitrary rules. They're smart!   

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Running the City of Dreams

Brace yourself. If you don't want read me gushing about my wonderful time running the New York City Marathon, my fantastic culinary/cocktail pillage of the city and my incredible spectating crew, just stop reading. This weekend was infallibly awesome.

I've been stressed about running New York. I did not train properly. My longest training run was 15 miles. I promised myself I'd just relish the city and enjoy a child-free weekend with my husband and two of our closest friends. I had high expectations for a fun weekend, and this weekend vastly exceeded those expectations.

The hubs and I arrived mid-day on Thursday. Simply seeing the city from the plane is enough to get my heart racing. We checked into our hotel in Midtown (a great location on East 51st Street) and headed out to find food. We stumbled into The Smith around the corner from our hotel. The weather was beautiful, and we were able to sit near the open doors to people watch. I devoured a pot of mussels and fries along with a few cocktails. My husband ordered the best gnocchi ever cooked, and I indulged in some even though I'm trying to avoid wheat (so boring). 

After our late lunch we walked through Central Park. The fall colors were stunning. As usual there were people everywhere. The ice rink was already up; an interesting addition to a nearly 70 degree day in the City. We walked to the marathon finish line, and my nerves were already in high gear. We walked through the pavilion near the finish, and excitement started competing with my nerves. 
Autumn in the park with my biggest fan
Lounging at the finish

My Mountaineers were playing TCU that night, and we found a West Virginia bar in the Garment District (Jack Doyle's) a few miles from Central Park. I did all the things you're not supposed to do before a race: walked way too much, drank too much, ate way too much food. It was all 100% worth it. Once things started going poorly for my team we decided to walk back to the hotel. As usual New York was still packed with people on the walk back. It's just so alive.

WVU flags at Jack Doyle's
Macy's after dark
On Friday morning I decided to go for a quick 3-mile run to shakeout my legs. I ran to the Columbus Circle entrance to the park, and there were runners everywhere. It was a perfect morning - around 50 degrees. Apparently Michigan has made me hardy because I was wearing shorts compared to most people wearing tights/hats/gloves/jackets. It was kind of amusing. The run started sluggishly, but then I hit my stride. 

Following the run (and coffee!) we hit one of my must see NYC destinations - The High Line.  This beautiful park is a perfect retrofit of existing infrastructure. The former raised rail lines are now a tree-lined walkway with stunning views of the city. I was worried that I'd find the park overrated because I was so excited to see it, but I absolutely loved it. After walking most of the trail we hopped off for brunch at Bubby's High Line. The coffee and brunch was delicious and fueled our continued walk to the financial district.

The High Line

We hit our second touristy stop at the World Trade Center reflecting pools. It is a solemn memorial, but it was such a beautiful fall day. The day reminded me a lot of September 11 itself, and we found ourselves talking about how crazy it must have been that day in such a dense space. I've had a healthy dose of perspective lately, and visiting that spot contributed to it.

World Trade Center Memorial
One World Trade Center
The race expo was on the way back toward midtown, so we stopped to pick up my race packet. The expo was both overwhelmingly large and extremely organized. We seamlessly picked up my bib, shirt and race info. The Asics store was another story. My husband immediately jumped in the absurdly long line while I went shopping. I joined him in line and we waited about an hour. I appreciate there are 50,000 people running the race, but it took a very long time. By the time I bought my race swag I was ready to leave and didn't really get into the rest of the expo. 

All smiles at the expo

We met our friends at an Irish bar around the corner from our hotels for a few delicious Manhattans and snacks before changing for dinner. It was that evening that our real New York culinary excursion began. I love the Food Network show Chopped. The judges are all celebrity chefs with distinctive restaurants mostly in New York. This summer I began my tour of Chopped judges' restaurants by visiting Landmarc in Tribeca. Restaurant number two on the tour was Butter where Alex Guarnaschelli is the executive chef. Butter has been on the top of my list of New York restaurants for a long time.    

Butter was delightful. From the dark paneled rooms and beautiful atmosphere to the delicious pinot noir and oysters, everything was perfect. I had a steak and grits, and again - perfect. Our service was impeccable, and Butter was everything I expected it to be and more. I could barely move when we left.

We left Butter to meet friends of our friends at Monkey Bar, a New York institution. It was there that Manhattans and Scotch flowed freely. Again not the best pre-marathon training plan, but it was the most fun. 

Saturday morning threatened to be sluggish, but I popped a few Motrin, drank some water and powered through. We had a quick breakfast and then shopped (okay mostly drooled/gawked) at Bergdorf Goodman. I did buy a Christmas ornament and felt very fancy carrying my Bergdorf bag around Manhattan. Next stop was hair of the dog Bloody Marys at the St. Regis, the bar that perfected the modern Bloody.   We learned that the name was deemed too racy when the cocktail was invented in 1934, so it was renamed the "Red Snapper" and has that name to this day.
Enjoying cocktails at the St. Regis with my dear friend Tonia

Cocktails and Bergdorf Goodman? Yes please!
We went from the St. Regis to Harlem for the second Chopped judge's restaurant: Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster. It is so different than Butter that it's hard to compare. The casual atmosphere felt festive, and the food was exquisite. The corn bread and mac 'n cheese were incredible. They were also worth thwarting my attempt to limit wheat. So worth it. 

Red Rooster - delicious!

Following brunch/cocktails I hit my pre-marathon wall. I headed back to the hotel for a nap while the rest of my crew rallied. We met up later for dinner. We were looking for a place in our neighborhood and ended up back at The Smith because it was less crowded. My husband and I lamented eating at the same restaurant twice in a city with thousands of restaurants, but it was really good. The food was again incredible, and our service was great. I had a flavorful paella whose rice was the perfect pre-marathon carb source. The oysters at The Smith were also delicious. I certainly got my shellfish fix this weekend.

I went to sleep early in anticipation of the 5 am wake-up call. The daylight savings time change helped, although I felt sad to miss Halloween in NYC. I slept remarkably well and was out the door by 5:30 am to Whitehall Terminal to catch the Staten Island Ferry. 

The ferry was packed, and interestingly very few people around me spoke English. It was like running a race in a foreign country (more than 170 countries are represented in the race), and I loved listening to everyone around me and feeling like I was in my own little bubble.

Once I arrived in my starting village on Staten Island I had about three hours to kill. I don't usually run with my phone, but I knew I'd be bored if I was stuck there for hours with nothing to do. I walked around the area, ate some snacks, went to the bathroom 742 times, and just waited. Finally around 10 am I headed toward the start. 
The bridge from the green village on Staten Island

I worked hard to keep my nerves in check. By the time I was at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge hearing Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York" I was ready. The crowd was excited and packed. I was on the lower deck of the bridge, and we took off right on time. The bridge was oddly quiet, but the view of Manhattan was spectacular. I kept one eye ahead hurdling clothing shed by runners and one eye on the country's most notorious skyline. 

When we got into Brooklyn the crowds were killing it. As advertised there were people everywhere. I tried to soak in everything. I high-fived every outstretched hand. I sang to songs that were playing. I read signs. I looked around. I tried in vain to remember all of it, but I'm sure I missed valuable moments.       

My husband and our friends were at mile eight. Despite the crowds I spotted them easily. I ran up and said hi and gave them my phone. Running with a phone is the worst. Seeing them gave me a boost of energy to propel me on for a few miles. 

All smiles at mile 8!
Around mile 10 I needed a bathroom stop, and it was rough because there were lines at every one. I realized I would just have to lose the time, and I made a (relatively) quick stop. By the halfway point I was starting to struggle. It was starting to feel hard. I hadn't walked except through water stations for 15-25 seconds, and my pace was steady. Despite that it was getting difficult. I made myself promise to hold on until I saw my peops at mile 18, and then I would reevaluate how I felt. 

I was sluggish for the few miles in Queens, but I pushed it out. Crossing the Queensboro Bridge was challenging because it was long and quiet, but the reward was First Avenue. First Avenue is infamous for being the biggest spectator point in the marathon. After the quiet of the bridge, First Avenue is where you regain your mojo. I have to admit I was a little disappointed at first. The crowds were large, but it felt like they weren't really cheering. I heard people cheering for their own runners, but they weren't cheering for the whole fleet of us. I get it - we were a few hours in at this point, but I was a little surprised by it. There was a water stop not too far into that part of the course, and after that the crowds seemed more lively.

My posse was in full cheering force at mile 18. I slowed to tell them I was struggling and get some much needed encouragement. In the course of 26.2 miles six doesn't seem like a lot, but it's still a long time. Luckily I had Queens coming up.

We crossed into Queens just at mile 20, and the atmosphere was electric. There was music playing and a woman shouting "Welcome to Queens!" over and over again. As I rounded the corner at mile 20 Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" was playing. I know it's cliche, but I love that song. Playing it at mile 20 in a marathon is always a good idea. I started singing along and rounded the corner to see a group of college aged kids all wearing green t-shirts and dancing. I decided it would be super fun to stop for a minute and dance with them. It was so fun. It gave me the second wind I needed.

I ran into Harlem to the tune of Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" which I assumed they were playing just for me. Right before mile 22 a guy with a microphone announced, "Miss Alicia Keys ladies and gentlemen!" I looked to my right, and it was Alicia Freaking Keys right there. I had a total fan girl moment. I knew my crew was going to be at mile 22 or 23, so I decided I needed to run really hard and announce to them that Alicia Keys was nearby. 

I ran hard until I saw my crew between miles 23 and 24. I ran up gushing about seeing Alicia Keys and feeling so excited. I still had so much energy, but I was about to hit the dreaded wall.

Mile 18: "Oh my God I saw Alicia f-ing Keys!"
I headed into the Park, and when I hit mile 24 I was struggling. Hard. My quad muscles felt like they were barely working, and it was taking 100% of my energy to finish the race. At mile 25 I started repeating "you're almost there; nice and steady" over and over again in my head. The end of that race was all mental. The funny thing about a marathon is you'd think mile 26 feels like a victory; instead it's when you realize how far .2 miles is at the end of 26. With 200 meters to go I reached deep and sprinted (at least I intended to sprint; it probably wasn't the fastest) to the finish. I passed several people and felt great. I had no idea what my time was. Clocks on the course said 5 hours and 20ish minutes, and that seemed slow. I didn't care though. I had finished the New York Marathon.

I hobbled to get my medal and snacks/water before heading off to get my poncho. It was probably 45 minutes or so before I met my cheering section at the reunion area. My husband ran toward me gleefully and hugged me shouting, "You did so great!" I looked at him and asked what my time was. I honestly had no idea. I finished in 4:44:01. Way faster than my sort of goal of breaking 5 hours and more than 30 minutes faster than my marathon PR. It hurt so good.
Love this candid moment!
Tears when I found out my time

We stopped at a street vendor for a hot dog and full calorie Coca-Cola before walking back to the hotel (about a mile). I took the world's longest shower and relaxed for a few minutes before we headed off to dinner.

Dinner at Geoffrey Zakarian's The Lambs Club rounded out our trifecta of Chopped judges' restaurants. I love duck in an obsessive way, and the duck was superb. We shared delicious sides of brussel sprouts, turnips, gnocchi and chickpea frites. It was the perfect way to end our culinary adventure.

The apex of the weekend was drinks at The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station. This place is straight out of an episode of MadMen with dark paneled walls, plush furniture, and impeccable cocktails. We could have been having drinks in New York in the 1930s. It was chic and classic. Unfortunately the day began taking its toll, and I headed back to the hotel after one drink there as our group enjoyed the last night in New York.

In heels heading out for post-race dinner
Grand Central at night
The Campbell Apartment
This weekend, like the City of New York itself, was irreproachable. The food, the drinks, the race, my husband and our friends...I wouldn't change a thing about its greatness. I am so grateful to have the ability to run and travel to vibrant places to do it. Thank you, New York, for being such a consummate host for this event. Thank you Chris, Tonia and Bob for your support and love. It is what made the weekend the best. I'm not planning to run another marathon any time soon, and I will ride this high for a while. I love New York!