Monday, January 26, 2015

You Get What You Pay For

I love paying taxes. That's right - this girl who officially registered to vote as a Republican at age 17, worked on Republican staff and never voted for a Democrat for President until this last election (that means I DID vote for Bob Dole in 1996) loves paying taxes. Obviously I've become more liberal in my near middle age, but you can't love cities and not love all the things they have to offer. Those services and the amenities that come with living and visiting cities don't come for free. Someone has to pay for them, and I'm happy to pay my share. Great places don't become great without investment - both capital and human - and we've got to be willing to make our contributions.

I get it -  not everybody wants to live in a city. And that's totally fine. You have to expect, however, that if you want to live in the middle of nowhere, you won't get the same services. In the last half century greenfield subdivisions have exploded, and here in Michigan a lot of those people pay way less in taxes than if they lived in the city. If you want to live on a cul-de-sac in a brand new build by the freeway with a new road and new water and sewer infrastructure, have at it. But you need to pay for it. So often those homeowners are paying way less and expecting the same services.

As one who works in the legislature there is a lot of talk about whether or not to raise taxes. Here's what we ignore in the discussion: people are willing to pay more to get more. Here in Michigan nearly half of our college graduates leave the state every year. Nearly half. That's astonishing. They disappear to places like Washington, DC and nearby Chicago because they're awesome places. The cost of living in both DC and Chicago is crazy high. Nobody cares. If you show me a 22-year-old kid who moved to Chicago and has concern for the high taxes and regulation, I'll show you a unicorn. They move there because there's public transit, parks, public art, lots of things to do on the weekends. And they pay for it because it's important. They'd rather pay top dollar for a tiny apartment in Chicago than a giant new build by the freeway. Because they get it. Cities are where it's at.

If you want to live in a subdivision you can see from the freeway, I'm not judging. That's not true - I'm totally judging. But mostly because I don't want to have the added burden of paying for infrastructure and things in my community - the actual central city - because you've decided you want to pay less.

Even though I love paying taxes, curbing sprawl is a very conservative concept. We should be making the most of the infrastructure and services we have, not expanding them so people can pay less and then freeload off those of us who are paying more. 

Here's the thing - everyone deserves to live where and how they want, but we have to be realistic about the kind of development we can continue to sustain. Last year the rise of suburban poverty was all over the news from Time to CNBC to the Brookings Institution. Suburban sprawl as we've known it is not sustainable, and educated adults are bucking the suburbs and moving back into cities. We all want the biggest bang for our buck, and we should be willing to pay for the services and amenities we think are important. I know I am.     

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Famous in a Small Town

Sometimes I marvel at my love of cities. It's unlikely given that I grew up in the middle of nowhere. Although we lived in "town", I grew up in a town of around 400 people an hour from the nearest mall. To this day my hometown doesn't have cell phone service (or at least it didn't about a year and a half ago during my last visit). Even as a kid I knew that I wouldn't stay in that town when I grew up, and perhaps my love of cities grew from my rebellion against a small town. On the other hand my small town had many of the attributes I love about large cities in an improbable way.

Last weekend we went home to West Virginia to see my family. My parents moved from my hometown of Hundred to the bustling metropolis of Morgantown almost 9 years ago. I rarely visit Hundred, and that's okay with me. I lived in Morgantown for six years in college and law school, and I love it there. I'm happy that it's my pseudo hometown. 

My husband, sister, niece and I went to see country music superstar Brad Paisley at the WVU Coliseum. This isn't the first time I've seen him perform; we've also seen him in Auburn Hills, MI and Grand Rapids. He's one of my favorite performers, and he's a fellow West Virginian. While the shows in Michigan were great, there was something about Brad Paisley playing in his home state that elevated this show. I thought about him growing up in tiny Glen Dale, West Virginia, a town of just over 1,500 people (about 40 miles from Hundred). Was he always ambitious? Would he have become a superstar if he was from a larger place? Does being from a small place make an ambitious person inherently more so? Does one have to try harder and push more than someone from a place with more opportunities? Is being from a small town a hindrance or a help?

With my niece and sister at the concert
I think about my high school experience. I hear lots of people say they hate high school and would never go back. I thought high school was pretty awesome. I was popular. I dated cute boys. I was involved in every club under the sun and two out of the three sports offered for girls at the time. This is a huge benefit of a small town and school: one can be involved in everything. I felt like I could conquer the world, and I knew that would ultimately mean leaving Hundred behind without looking back. I did that, and I've never regretted it.

My senior yearbook photo and list of activities. 
In my senior memory book there was a page to discuss what you wanted your future life to look like. I ambitiously wanted two homes near Washington, DC, a six figure salary and a BMW. Aim high, right? While that isn't exactly what my life looks like 19 (gulp) years later, I'm still pretty ambitious. And my desire to leave that small town in the dust also had me looking for the biggest and most vibrant cities to love. My disdain for the smallness that is Hundred helped me love huge, bustling cities.

Straight from my senior memory book.
At the same time there are attributes about Hundred that contributed to my love for cities. We lived in "downtown" Hundred, and even from a small age we walked or biked everywhere. My brother and I could go to the store, the community pool or to our friends' houses on foot or on our bikes without supervision. My parents house fronted the street with an alley in the back - a great design. On a small scale, Hundred was designed like all of the cities I admire.

I love the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon. If you haven't seen it, Reese plays Melanie, a girl from Alabama who leaves her small town behind as she makes it as a fashion designer in New York City. In one scene Reese drunkenly yells to her hometown friends in the bar, "How do y'all live like this?" I'll be honest - that's how I feel when I go to my hometown. I love that it was a safe, quiet place to grow up, and it is a huge part of who I am. But I needed bigger, louder and busier, and that small town just wasn't going to cut it.

When I fell in love with Washington, DC at age 16, I never imagined my professional life would be dedicated to cities. I never imagined that a significant part of my personal life would include traveling to cities for running and vacation. When I think back to growing up in Hundred my thoughts are nostalgic. I've always known I'd need more than a tiny town in northern West Virginia. But as Jake says in Sweet Home Alabama: "Who says you can't have roots and wings?"     

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lessons on How to Relax

I'm terrible at relaxing. It's not exactly second nature to me. I keep thinking of all these ways I could relax and make my life easier, but it's not going to happen. At least it's not going to happen without a lot of effort. 

Earlier this week my husband booked a massage for me in an effort to help me relax. The morning of the appointment I was running around the house doing chores, and I shoveled the driveway. I was frantically trying to get things done so I could get out of the house and start my lone hour of relaxation. 

At the salon I was waiting, fidgeting and on my phone, thinking of some work projects coming up in a few weeks. When the massage therapist called me back I was a bundle of nervous energy, and my shoulder hurt from shoveling the driveway. It was starting out so well. During the almost hour appointment my mind never stopped wandering. I was thinking about work and my to do list and our trip to West Virginia this weekend. I was not distracted by the calming music or scented oil.

During the time where I was supposed to be relaxing, I started thinking about how that may be impossible for me. The only time I relax really well is when I'm away from home, and there are no tasks to be completed. I feel relaxed while running, but running itself isn't exactly a relaxing activity. Maybe some people just are not built to relax. I am one of those people.

One of my good friends keeps telling me she's going to give me lessons on how to relax. I'd have to relax long enough to take the lessons. Who has time for that? My life is moving at warp speed, and I'm training in vain to keep up with it. I do plenty of things to help my mind relax - the massage, mani/pedis, running, yoga. All of these things are designed to help me relax, but none of them actually help me achieve a state of relaxation.  I've come to the conclusion that relaxing is nearly impossible for me, and I've got to just embrace the chaos.

Webster's Dictionary (I literally looked this up in the physical dictionary on my desk...who does that?) defines "relax" as:  to release from intense concentration, hard work, worry, etc., give rest to [to relax the mind]. Given that definition I'm not sure I've ever fully relaxed, and I'm not sure I ever will. Perhaps I'll take my friend up on her offer of relaxation lessons. Until then I've got things to do. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Speed and Control

I'm a control freak. This comes as no surprise to those who know me or those who have read this blog with any sort of regularity. It's difficult for me when life throws curve balls and there are situations I am unable to control. I am constantly in motion, and being constantly busy makes me feel like I have everything under control. Control, of course, is an illusion, but I like to at least pretend.

Running is one thing that I can control (injuries aside). When I am running I feel like all is right with the world. Even with unpredictable elements like the weather running itself is certain.  My body gets into a running rhythm that is predictable. My mind gets into the running groove that allows me to zone out and work through the thoughts running through my head.  The wind rushes past my ears, and I am in my element. Even on days where my feet are soaked from running on slushy sidewalks or in a torrential downpour I feel like I'm in control.

Mario Andretti once said, "If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough."  This quote, coupled with a Runner's World piece titled "10 Reasons the 5k is Freaking Awesome" by professional runner Lauren Fleshman, got me thinking about speed and control. When I started running nine years ago I immediately jumped into distance. That's what you do as an adult, right? I knew I would never be competitively fast, so I went for distance. Running a 5k? Good for you. Running a half marathon or longer? You're a bad ass.

Don't get me wrong - I love the half marathon. The half marathon is my jam. I could live without the marathon, and after New York this year I swear I'm done with them. Last year, however, I didn't get to race as much as I usually do. But I was fast. I was fast for me, but I was placing and winning my age group. I was fast for most regular people it turns out. I'll never qualify for the Olympics, but I can push myself to run a pretty fast 5k or 10k. The surprise is that the speed made me feel even more accomplished than the distance.

I've run 3 marathons. (I count 3 even though the Green Bay Marathon was canceled after I had run 15 miles. The training counts!) I've run 14 half marathons, a half a dozen 10-milers (also a kick ass distance) and countless 5k and 10k races. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2013, and the last six miles were a brutal mess. I walked more than I ran. My knee felt like it was on fire. It wasn't fun. Marathons are hard on every body, but as a Crohn's sufferer and skinny person they do a number on my GI system. I have zero appetite which is a bit of an issue when you've just finished running for more than five hours. My legs were so tired that I fell down stairs at a restaurant on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, VA the evening of the race. The only really good thing about running a marathon is saying you've done it. There's nothing about it that physically feels good.

Last year I shattered my 26:00 minute 5k PR by running 23:55. It felt incredible. I won my age group. I felt like I could conquer the world. I didn't run 26.2 miles, but it felt even better. It felt competitive even though I was only competing with myself.

I want to run several half marathons a year, but this year I will join Lauren Fleshman's 5k revolution. I will be in control, and I will be fast. My goal is to break 21 minutes in the 5k, and it's going to be hard. I won't be doing 10 mile long runs (at least not until later in the year when I start training for New York), but my training will be focused and fast. In 2015 I will own the 5k. Let's do this!       

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hips Don't Lie (Nor do Knees)

If you're a runner who has never been injured, I salute you. I'm also very envious. When I started running nine years ago, injury wasn't something that would've occurred to me. This is despite the fact that I'd never run more than two miles, and I decided to sign up for a marathon. You know how most people start with a 5k and build up? Nope...not me. I went right for a marathon having never run any race distance. It was all going well until I got to my 8-mile training run. I felt a twinge in my knee that continues to twinge to this day. It is an IT band injury that also has recurring hip pain. Any time I tell my husband that my hip is hurting his response is, "You know what they say: hips don't lie." He's annoying, and unfortunately he's right (although his meaning is different from the Shakira song.)

A few years ago I wrote a blog describing my repeated trips to physical therapy since I started running. The IT band (the tendon that basically runs from your knee to your hip) struggle is real. It was the first running injury that began plaguing me early in my running life and continues to be the injury I struggle with on every run.

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from running the last few months given some health issues and crazy schedule. I've still been running once or twice a week, but it's been mostly slow and short. My hips and knee have appreciated the time off, although even without regular running the IT band pain persists.

Then, last week, I got a severe pain in my right knee. All of my IT band pain has always been singularly focused on my left side, so I was immediately worried by the pain on my right knee. It's been extremely painful in particular when I squat down or bend the knee. I ran yesterday, and running didn't feel terrible. It's the bending that is really giving me trouble.

I am trying to enjoy the fact that I'm not training for anything, so I can let the sore knee rest while I cross train. I don't have a race coming up until the Ann Arbor Half Marathon at the end of March. I have plenty of time to let the knee heal, and an appointment with my sports medicine doctor next week. 

I'll be easing back into hard core running over the next few months. The Ann Arbor Half is the only race I'm currently registered for; however, I'm considering running the Fifth Third Riverbank Run in Grand Rapids in May. I've committed to another triathlon in August, and then I'll run the New York Marathon in November after my disappointed deferral in 2014.

Despite knee and hip pain, running is worth it. It's my sanity, my biggest way of pushing myself, and how I work through life's problems. Hips and knees don't lie, but I don't like to listen to them. But this time I will - for a while at least. Besides it's 9 degrees outside. It seems like the perfect time to listen to my body for once.