Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why I Won't Run Another Race in Ann Arbor

Dear Races in Ann Arbor,

It's not you; it's me. Nope...that's a lie. It's definitely you. Yesterday I ran my second and last* half marathon in the City of Ann Arbor. 

In November when we found out we were having a baby, I decided to register for a spring race to stay motivated. Enter the Ann Arbor Half Marathon.  In 2012 I ran the Dexter-Ann Arbor Half Marathon. While the race was well organized, I found it a little too sleepy. The course was boring with very little fan support. Fast forward three years to the Ann Arbor Half, and I'd say the same thing. This time, however, I expected more. This Ann Arbor race was very disappointing.

This was not only my first big race post-baby but was my first big race post my long hospital stay last summer. I was uncharacteristically nervous for the race. It wasn't my first rodeo; in fact it was my 15th half marathon. I was nearly as nervous as I was for my first.

My husband, baby and I headed to Ann Arbor on Saturday to pick up the packet. The race "expo" (I use that term loosely) was held at Pioneer High School. There were very few vendors. I walked in, grabbed my packet, and we left. There honestly wasn't much to look at. Disappointment number one was the race shirt. I hate race shirts that are unisex. The small shirt is huge, and I'll never wear it. It's also not a good quality drifit material. It's already in the box of shirts in my basement that I will only retain as keepsakes. 


Baby's first race expo
I headed to Ann Arbor early on Sunday morning. It was a cold day (about 16 degrees), and I was sad to head to the race by myself. It was just too cold for my husband to have the baby outside for the duration of the race. 

The race started in front of the University of Michigan's football stadium and ran into downtown. I have never, ever, done a race in a city the size of Ann Arbor (over 115,000 people) that had such poor fan support. The race ran right downtown, and I can count on one hand the number of spectators I saw in the first two miles. It was cold, but I did a race a few years ago in Portage, Michigan where it was eight degrees with more spectators. Downtown Ann Arbor was like a ghost town.

I knew the course would be somewhat rural not unlike the Dexter-Ann Arbor Half, but I thought perhaps there would be more energy. I couldn't help compare the race to other races I've done in large Michigan cities including the Kalamazoo (population 75,000) Half I ran last year and Lansing's (population 113,000) Capital City River Run that I've done three times. Honestly there's no comparison. Those two races crush the Ann Arbor Half. I expected more from you, Ann Arbor.

Much of Lansing's Capital City River Run is on the Lansing River Trail, but there are spectator groups - high school kids, MSU cheerleaders, etc. The Ann Arbor half was just dead. There were some areas with a few spectators, but overall I felt like I was doing a long run with a running club.

I knew the course had a portion that was on an unpaved trail, but I didn't realize how brutal that would be in reality. It was between miles 10 and 11 in the Arboretum, and it was rough. The course was hilly (one of the few things I loved), but transitioning to a gravel trail for a hilly mile was rough. Somehow Lansing and Kalamazoo managed to have courses with paved surfaces throughout. Come on Ann Arbor.

The end of the race ran through the University of Michigan's campus. It was a beautiful morning, and as I got into the last mile I looked forward to the crowd support to bring me into the finish. As I got into the last half mile, it was quiet. Not just quiet - nearly silent. I ran past fraternity houses that were like ghost towns. I've done a lot of races in college towns (it's kind of a thing I like to do), and there are often college kids outside on the fraternity lawns cheering runners on. I couldn't believe nobody was out.

As I turned on Main Street to the finish, there were some spectators. But for a race in a city the size of Ann Arbor it was really sparse. I expected noise, cheering and energy. It didn't happen. Last year during the Kalamazoo Half Marathon spectators lined the course the last half mile or so cheering at a deafening volume. Ann Arbor just didn't bring it. At all.

Then there's the medal. It's average. Here's the crux of my disappointment: Ann Arbor charges similar prices to races like Kalamazoo and Lansing. With a sub par race expo, shirt, medal and course, why would I pay to do that race? Why would I do this race again when there are few spectators and zero energy?


The Ann Arbor Half medal in the middle. Eh.
I parked at Pioneer High School which was over a mile from the finish. I didn't see anything on the website or at the race expo about a shuttle. The wind was picking up, and it was really cold. I walked over a mile back to my car. Just as I got to the parking lot I saw a shuttle bringing runners back. I had seen no indication there was a shuttle, and I was freezing and not happy.

You can do better, Ann Arbor races. Despite my frustration with the race, I had a decent run. I didn't train for the race (my longest run was 5 miles). I stuck with the 8:58 min pacer for the first eight miles. That would've been my PR if I'd been able to stick it out. I decided going in that I wanted to run about 2:10 given that I hadn't put the work in. I ran the race in 2:01:02, my third fastest half. Somehow despite not training and the craziness of the last few months, I still managed to run faster than I had hoped.

Today I hurt. A lot. Not training for a half makes the next day feel like I've run a full marathon. My knees, hips and quads have been screaming all day. I've definitely got to put in the work before my next long race in May.

My goal was to get back into the racing mindset, and it happened. I feel like I am back into running. It was my first half marathon in nearly a year, and I'm back. My frustration with the race only motivates me to do another race I'll enjoy more. I happen to know Kalamazoo is lovely this time of year. 

*Unless there are some serious changes made to the races, I won't do another race there.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Daily Marathon

My work wrapped up another successful legislative conference today, and my feet hurt. A lot. I was on the road Monday to west Michigan, two days at a conference, on the road to west Michigan tomorrow. I'm only in the office one day next week and am traveling the rest of the days. I set my own schedule...there's only one person to blame. There are so many meetings to be had in so little time! It's busy right now.

This week every day feels like I'm running a marathon. My feet are killing me. I imagine tomorrow putting on heels will feel like walking over hot coals. I'm still going to do it, but it's not going to be pretty.  My entire body hurts like I just finished running 10 miles - back, hips, shoulders, everything. 

I have no business running the Ann Arbor Half Marathon on Sunday. I haven't trained. My body is exhausted. It's not going to be pretty. Last year I ran two half marathons in under two hours. My goal on Sunday is 2:10. I'm not in half marathon shape, but I'm running it more for the mental motivation I'm hoping it'll spur. 

I have set a lot of lofty running, personal and professional goals for 2015. Some weeks it feels like they're unattainable. Part of running the race on Sunday is getting back into that focused mental place. Until then I'll just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other...in cute shoes of course.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

44 Years of Imperfection

Tomorrow is my parents' 44th wedding anniversary. Forty-four years is a long time to put up with another human. In a world where temporary is the new permanent, it's amazing to think they've stuck it out all of these years. 

No relationship is perfect. Whether it's your spouse, your family, your friends or your co-workers...every relationship is complex. Even the people you love the most can drive you the craziest. When I was a kid I had no idea my parents' marriage wasn't perfect. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw my parents fight. I know they did, but they didn't do it in front of us. 

When I think about the commitment of a relationship for more than four decades, it's mind-blowing. Even with all of the imperfections of every relationship, my parents have endured through four children, illnesses, annoyances, moves, and all of the other drama life throws at you. I'm sure they didn't always like each other (and I'm sure still don't always), but something always made it worth it. Now that I'm an adult I know my parents fought then and fight now. I know their marriage is far from perfect. I'm also realistic enough to know that every single relationship is fraught with imperfections. It's how we triage the imperfect to get to the good stuff - what makes it worth it - that matters. 

My husband and I have been through a lot in the nine years we've been together. It's not easy to put up with a Type A woman filled with boundless energy, high expectations and also just happens to have a chronic illness to make it interesting. The last few years of waiting for a baby and dealing with my health challenges have been exhausting. The last few months of having a baby and dealing with my health challenges have been equally challenging. In the last year we bought a new house, I spent a month in the hospital, our son was born and we both changed jobs. It's an amount of change in a very short time that is staggering. Our tempers can be short. We're both groggy with exhaustion. We crawl into bed at the (what feels very) late hour of 9 pm, hold hands, and I think "we did it". Another day on the books. Tomorrow I'll be less tired, more patient, a better mom/wife/daughter/sister/friend/employee. Tomorrow will be a less exhausting day. I'll feel more like myself tomorrow.

My parents did that with four children. My dad had a job that required him to work very long hours and most weekends. There wasn't always a ton of extra money, but we never wanted for anything. Ever. Through all of the trials of life they've hung in there together. Even during those times they may not have liked each other and patience was wearing thin they stuck together. After 44 years of imperfection, my parents are still together. Nobody makes my mom laugh like my dad (even when his kids are rolling their eyes at some cheesy joke). In their retirement I've discovered my parents really like each other even after all this time.

Forty-four years of marriage is extraordinary. These long exhausting days won't last forever. If you're lucky and work at it, the person who makes you laugh and loves you unconditionally will still be there when the hard times take a hiatus. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. Thanks for being imperfect. You've taught me more than you know!   

Monday, March 16, 2015

Running > Therapy

No offense to my therapist (she's pretty awesome), but when things are stressful and life has me against the ropes, running is the best way to work it all out. And it doesn't require a co-pay. Bonus!

Last week my dad had a health scare, my husband was out of town, and my usually super chill baby decided to scream his way to bed every night. My nerves were completely frayed. With my husband gone there wasn't time to get in a solid workout, and I have to run. A me without running is a version that is not pleasant to be around. I'm irritable and antsy. It was made even worse by the fact that the weather was sunny and beautiful for the first time in months. I didn't run in it. At all.

On Friday we headed to West Virginia to visit my parents (and micro-manage my dad...he loves that!) I was hoping to get in a run before we left on Friday morning. I even wore my running clothes to drop my son off at daycare and to drop my dogs off at the boarder. It's nearly unheard of for me to be out in public in running clothes. I knew if I didn't put on my running clothes there was no chance of me running. I ran out of time to run before we left, so my running errands in a slovenly outfit was for naught.

I took clothes to run in West Virginia. I woke up Saturday to pouring rain. I don't generally mind running in the rain, but I just couldn't. I had zero motivation to brave the weather. It didn't matter that I have a half marathon in just a few weeks. I just didn't have it in me.

Sunday was a colder day, but I had to get on the trail. My irritability factor was through the roof. Last summer my parents moved to the east side of Morgantown, and since then I've had a hard time finding a good place to run while visiting (their neighborhood is insanely hilly). When they lived on the other side of town they were right near the Mon River Trail. I did a little research and found that they weren't too far from the Deckers Creek Trail. I headed that way on Sunday morning.


I had never been on this end of the trail, and I was immediately impressed by the engagement along it. I parked at Marilla Park in Sabraton and started my run there. Marilla Park has a huge pool with water slides and a skate park. Impressive! The Friends of Deckers Creek have done an excellent job making the trail an engaging space. There was a dog park and murals painted under bridges. I ran into downtown feeling better than I had in weeks. I was running for the first time in a week in my favorite city. It felt like I was home in more ways than one.

Love this view from the trail of Woodburn Hall on WVU's campus

It's been a stressful few weeks with all of the crazy going on in my life. I know in particular with parenting it's a crazy that won't get any easier. I've got to learn to adjust and make sure I'm making time to run. I've run a lot of towns, and Morgantown is always my favorite. I discovered the Deckers Creek Trail Half Marathon in June. I think that will be my next race on the way to New York. Who needs a therapist when you've got a great running trail? 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Exhaustion Rather Than Boredom

I don't like to admit it when I'm not 100 percent, but I am forced to face the truth: I am exhausted. I once read an author describe fatigue as "hard and crumbling around the edges". That phrase describes how I feel today. My shoulders and back feel tense. My eyes feel like they're filled with grains of sand. The level of fatigue plaguing my body today is extraordinary.

Here's the thing: I don't think I can even blame it on my newborn. He's a really good sleeper. He'll be three months old this week, and he's up only one short time a night. He has slept through the night entirely exactly one glorious time. My husband and I alternate nights, so every other night I'm getting a full night of sleep. Given that why am I dragging up the stairs to bed at 9 pm? Why have my runs the last few weeks felt like I am wearing concrete in my shoes?

I know I am not the only person who feels this way, and it's a novel feeling for me to have such a difficult time powering through this fog of lethargy that is threatening to take over. I'm being dramatic. This is what happens when I'm exhausted. 

Finding out last week that I am still anemic was actually a relief because that's fixable. I'm taking iron three times a day, and hopefully that will help boost my energy soon. If that doesn't work the three shots of espresso I down before 9 am should do the trick, right?

My husband is out of town for a few days, so I'm on solo baby duty. Again Will is a super easy baby, so it shouldn't be that big of a deal. For me it's a bigger deal to try to let things go instead of staying up to wash bottles, pick up the house, or fold another load of laundry. This morning, for example, I set the alarm for 5:30 am. I reluctantly got up and showered. The baby slept until 7, so this enabled me to let the dogs out (twice) and feed them, scoop the litter box, make the bed, fold a load of laundry and put away three loads (I was a bit behind), start another load of laundry, wash bottles and THEN feed my son and get him ready for school. When I drop him off at daycare and get to the office, I am already falling into my chair with exhaustion before starting to do the job I get paid for...hence the espresso.

In fairness I did this much work before leaving the house prior to my son being born. I also fit in a run and walked my dogs. But I was also regularly getting 8 hours of sleep and could grab a glass of wine and chill when I got home from work. I haven't had a glass of wine in days...I don't even remember the last one. What is my life coming to?

One of my favorite quotes is from Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle said: "I've got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom." I LOVE that quote. It's pretty much how I live my life, and thus far it's worked well for me. Now I've just got to work on finding that balance as a new mom who would like to also be a functioning human.

When my mom was visiting in January she tearfully told me of her worry that I would push myself too hard and end up back in the hospital. My health is a real concern, and I've worked hard over the last seven months to be kinder to myself in that regard. However I really only know one speed. I think what is most important to me is not beating myself up when everything is not done perfectly. I've actually gone home during my lunch hour to wash bottles and empty the dishwasher because the idea of those things not being done was making me crazy. I know everyone says you have to let those things go once you have kids, and I am really not able to. Letting some things go is going to be my biggest challenge.

Despite everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph, I'm thinking about and training for my next races and wondering when our next vacation (even if it's just a weekend) is going to be.  At least in the short term I've got to figure out what things I can let go in order to still find time to do the things that are important to me...things like running and traveling and reading a good book. Long term I've got to realize how to balance all of the new challenges that come from being a mom who has a chronic illness. I refuse to think of myself as as sick person, but I have to be realistic about what happens if I don't take care of myself...particularly now that I'm a parent. This balance comes ultimately comes with the caveat that when I think back on my life, I would rather be exhausted than bored. Now I need to figure out how to make this work. I think I'll start with the espresso.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Quest to Destroy the 5k Continues

I've very publicly set a lofty goal of breaking 21 minutes in the 5k in 2015. It is going to be haaaaaaaaard. I'm two 5ks in this year and nowhere near breaking that goal, but I'm still overall faster than I've ever been. Your fitness declines as you age, but I am not good with accepting limitations.

I sat on a 26:00 5k PR for three years. That time mark was my nemesis, and I felt like I couldn't break 26 minutes. Last year I shattered it by running my current PR of 23:55. It was really hard, but it felt amazing. Since then I've run under 26 minutes several times. This past weekend I jumped into the Steps to Freedom 5k at Lansing's Hawk Island Park. It was a small race, but I just needed something close by to run and motivate me.

It was the first really pretty day we've had this spring. The sun was shining, and temperatures were in the mid-20s at the start. Given that we've had several months of regular sub-zero temperatures, I was thrilled with the weather. I shot out quickly at the start and felt good for about a half a mile. 

When I saw the one-mile marker, I honestly thought about walking. My body was so tired, and I could feel myself slowing down. I found out last week that I'm still anemic, so my physical exhaustion isn't just from parenting a newborn (which is what I'd been blaming it on). Despite taking iron three times a day, I feel like I've been running in slow motion.

Hawk Island is a great park, and the Lansing River Trail loops around it making it a perfect spot for a 5k. My breathing was labored at mile two, and I had no idea how fast (or more likely slow) I was running. I refused to let myself walk and pushed through to the finish.

A sunshiny finish.

I was shocked when I arrived at the finish in 25:17. While not close to breaking 21 minutes, I was still well under the 26 minute mark that remains symbolic to me given how long it took me to break it. I didn't feel like I had run that fast, and given how tired I was, I took it. It was good enough for 2nd in my age group.

I've got a long way to go and a lot of speed work to do to meet my 5k goal. The Ann Arbor Half Marathon is coming up in a few weeks, and I remain woefully underprepared for the race. I know I can push through 13.1, and that's not my goal this year anyway. It'll be good to get back into racing a large race on my way to my 5k speed goals. Who wants to make some signs and be in my cheering section? I'd owe you one. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Desire.

About once a year I write a post asking who stole my motivation. To date nobody has fessed up to it. As I was thinking about my current lack of motivation I started thinking about running the way I used to think of it - as a fickle mistress who warrants my desire despite her capricious nature.

Ultimately being motivated to run comes from the desire to run. I am forced to examine what I get out of running that makes it worth it. On days when I'm exhausted and days when it's cold and windy, what makes it worth it? What makes it worth it to get up early on a weekend and drive an hour for a race? What makes it worth it to log hours of training each week? What makes it worth it to have achy muscles and crash on the couch in the middle of a Saturday afternoon after a particularly harrowing run?

Dictionary.com defines desire as "a longing or craving, as for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment." Let's be honest - running doesn't always bring satisfaction or enjoyment. Sometimes (even often) it brings frustration or disappointment. But even on the worst days I always feel better going for a run than I did skipping it. Yesterday I was going to go for a run with my coworker, and my lingering cough made me skip it. I moped around the rest of the evening frustrated that I let a relatively warm, sunny day go by without running. I know it was the right call to give my lungs a rest, but logic isn't something that always applies to how something makes you feel. Desire is not necessarily logical.

Back to my earlier question: what makes it worth it? I don't always crave going for a run, but I crave that feeling of accomplishment that comes from pushing myself. I crave the adrenaline. I crave the triumph of shrugging off the doubts and making myself better. I may finish a run that felt sluggish or unsatisfying at the time, but I will always feel accomplished knowing I pushed myself.



This weekend I will do a long run, and I will run my second 5k of the year despite this nagging cough. This is the weekend my motivation returns even if I have to find it somewhere in the deep recesses of my psyche and wrestle it out. Beverly Sills said, "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." Good advice. Now where did I put my running shoes?
Sometimes when you need motivation most, the universe responds unambiguously.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Trendy Brunches and Being Showered with Love

I'm going to rename this blog "I Brunch These Towns" because right now I'm doing way more brunching than running. I blame the small human that has taken over my life. I'm also blaming a nasty chest cold that kicked my tail last weekend. Less than a month before the Ann Arbor Half Marathon, and I'm woefully unprepared. I know I can power my way through it, but it's not going to be pretty. 

I was planning to do a long run on Friday evening, and decided to take the boring way out and listen to my body which was enjoying coughing every 2.3 seconds. I was in bed early completely exhausted with an achy body. Having a newborn and a cold isn't for the faint of heart.

On Saturday morning we headed to Detroit to brunch with friends at Selden Standard in Midtown. The restaurant was named the 2015 restaurant of the year by the Detroit Free Press. I didn't know that when we chose to meet there that it was so fancy, but our friends live in Detroit and thus know all the trendy spots. We just follow them there. Brunch was awesome. It was filled with great company, delicious food, and trendy brunch cocktails. When my husband and I first started dating we went to Detroit all the time, and we go less and less these days. Each time we go I kick myself for not spending more time there. Selden Standard was worth the hype. I highly recommend the cheese grits.

After brunch we walked around Canfield Street looking in the shops that weren't even there a few years ago. On my first date with my husband we went to the Traffic Jam and Snug on the corner of Second and Canfield. At that time it was the only thing on that street. On Saturday we went into several different shops including a running store where you know I had to buy a "Run Detroit" shirt. I had a lengthy chat with the owner about races we are running, and he invited me down for several events that I promised I'd come to. It was a great way to spend the morning followed by an afternoon of quality family time.

The next day three of my fabulous girlfriends held my son's baby shower. When you're adopting it's recommended you don't have a baby shower until after things are more official. It was an absolutely fantastic day surrounded by my amazing friends. My son is a lucky little guy with lots of people who love him, and his mom is a pretty lucky mom with the best friends a girl can have. 

With my fancy little man at his shower
Two weekend days, two eating/drinking extravaganzas, zero long runs. I'm running a 5k this Saturday, and I'll be back to running more than once or twice a week this week. I promise. (I'm only promising myself, but can someone please hold me to it?)