Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Springtime Downtown

While it's always awesome to live downtown, spring is reminding me why it's really great. We walked to work this winter, but walking somewhere in the winter in Michigan is about survival. You put your head down and trudge into the wind just wanting it to be over. Now that the sun is shining, the days are longer and the trees are budding, it's a beautiful time to live downtown. This evening as I walked home from daycare with my son in the stroller I marveled at how incredible it feels to pick him up and just walk home. I don't have to get in the car and have a long drive. He's smiling and talking in the stroller, and we're both loving being outside in the fresh spring air.

Spring also means race season. In this year, my self-proclaimed year to own the 5k, race season begins in earnest.  On Sunday I ran the Race for the Cure to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research. It's one of mid-Michigan's largest 5ks, and it's always an inspiring event. As a bonus it starts and ends at the state capitol building which means I can walk there. My husband (my biggest cheerleader) and son accompanied me to the race. It was Will's first race of what will be many during his lifetime.

Already a perfect race spectator
It was a perfect spring day: temperatures in the 50s, sunny, gorgeous. The crowd was large and energetic. I ran across the starting line at a near sprint, working hard to beat my goal of a sub-21 minute 5k. I was running a 7:10 pace at the first mile. I was also coughing and feeling lightheaded. If I'm to break a 21 minute 5k several things need to happen: training and my being healthy.
Rounding the corner to the finish

Despite the last two miles being rather painful, I finished in 25:05. Not terrible but very far from my goal. I've got to log some serious speed work in the next few months to get there. I'm now realizing that it's quite a lofty goal, but I'm not backing down from it.

Finishing strong (and showing off cute new pants!)

The Race for the Cure is one of the most energetic 5ks I've ever done. There are spectators everywhere. There are bands, cheerleaders, tons of people. It's inspiring to see all of the women who have survived breast cancer and all of the families who are there to support. It's always a fantastic event.

My son was a rockstar race spectator, although he was fussy by the end. I'm hoping he'll be a trooper in a few weeks when I run the 5k/10k double of the Grand Rapids River Bank Run. I switched to the double last week when I realized I am not in 25k shape. I made it through the Ann Arbor Half last month, but I need to baby myself a bit to not be injured before the New York Marathon in the fall.

With my fussy pants spectator after the race

Spring downtown is even better than I imagined. Patios are being opened at downtown restaurants. Temperatures are anticipated to be in the (or near the) 70s by the end of the week, so it's looking like porch weather for the weekend. It's also perfect for the St. Gerard 5k on Saturday. At the risk of jinxing it, I've even taken my winter jackets to the dry cleaner. Spring, my friends, has sprung. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015


You may not know this about me, but I tend to be a nostalgic person. This is the paradox that is Samantha: being a tough guy without feelings and at times being extremely nostalgic and sentimental. My eyes will fill with tears when I hear the first notes being played by the West Virginia marching band at a football game. My family lived in Madison, West Virginia for less than two years in 1986-87. When I hear any song from that time (my siblings and I call them "Madison songs"), I feel a tightness in my chest (especially if it's Broken Wings by Mr. Mister.)

Now that I have a child I find myself being more nostalgic and weepier than ever. Putting his newborn clothes in the basement was heart wrenching. Every time he reaches a milestone I'm so thrilled he's on target and immediately sad that's he's growing up so fast. It's made me more reflective and appreciative of life in general.

Last night I was walking home from a dinner just before 8 pm. It rained while I was at the Lansing Center, and the air smelled like spring. I immediately flashed back to the first spring I lived in Michigan. I was newly in love and a new runner, and that spring held more promise than any has before or since. I lived in a great apartment in downtown Grand Ledge, and I would head out after work in the spring rain and log 2-3 miles. At that time it was the most I'd ever run. I'd feel so tired and accomplished, and at that time I had no idea that I'd marry the new boyfriend and be a dedicated (mostly) runner nearly a decade later. Last night walking home in the beautiful rays of the setting sun feeling the crisp spring air made me wistful for the spring of 2006, a time I didn't realize would hold such a powerful connection to where my life is now.

A beautiful, rainy spring evening

When I returned from maternity leave in February I moved from lobbying to take over as president of our foundation. I always loved the game of lobbying, and I was pretty good at it. But the opportunity to really focus on what I love about communities was too compelling, and I'm so happy I made this change. I haven't really thought about lobbying or missed it (mostly because I've been so busy). Last week, on one of my rare days in the office, I walked downtown to grab something for lunch. It was a legislative session day, and there were people everywhere. I saw several legislators and lobbyists I know, and I felt this pang of nostalgia. I realized how disconnected I was from the legislature, and in the age of term limits it won't be long before many of the connections I have move on to other positions. I felt my heart be clutched by nostalgia, a surprising kind of feeling to blindside you walking to lunch on an idle Thursday afternoon.

I am not the kind of person who has regrets or spends time on what could have been, so this intense nostalgia can be challenging for me to process. The incomparable fashion maven Miuccia Prada said, "Nostalgia is a very complicated subject for me. I'm attracted by nostalgia, but I refuse it intellectually." This resonates with me - my nostalgic feelings are attractive, but they don't make sense or have a place for me intellectually. Yet fighting it doesn't seem to work either. 

I've learned that sometimes waxing nostalgic is good for the psyche. It's good to be reminded of the events in life that make us who we are. Becoming a runner, being a lobbyist, falling in love are all things that have shaped who I am. You never know at the time when what moments will become treasured memories. I guess it's best to soak them all in.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Feeding the Soul

Last weekend my 4-month old son was baptized. Baptism is a spiritual rebirth for my son, but during a weekend of celebration and rebirth, my soul was the one that ended up being rejuvenated by time with my best friend and my family. Today my heart is full.

I met my best friend in Texas in 2002, and we hit it off immediately. Fast forward thirteen years and we've been through a lot - marriages, children, a long distance friendship (she lived overseas for a good portion of that time). But every time we get together it's like no time has passed. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders during our struggle to have a family. She's been there to support me during my darkest times and kick me in the tail when I don't want to admit I'm wrong (which is never...obviously). Everyone should have a friend like her. I am the godmother to her oldest daughter. There was never a question she would be our first child's godmother as well. She hadn't been to Michigan since our engagement party in 2008, and it was so wonderful to have her here. 

With my BF in Detroit before a Tigers game in 2006

After the baptism

My sister flew up from Virginia, and my parents were here from West Virginia. I love having my family here, and every time I wonder how I can continue to live so far from them. My niece and nephew are growing up without me there, and my son is growing up without them here. Quality time together makes my heart so happy. Will loves his aunt, and I love seeing them together. We had gorgeous weather all weekend, and it could not have been a more perfect time.

With my fam after the baptism. We're all looking at different cameras.
On the day of the baptism my husband's family came from Southeast Michigan, and we had a big group at church. I looked at my husband at one point during mass and choked up with tears for the awesome support we have. Our little guy was diagnosed with a respiratory virus last week, and he's been very unhappy. Despite that he was so content in church and even smiled during his actual baptism. I think he also knows how blessed he is to have so much love in his life. 

During the baptism
I dropped my sister and best friend off at the airport and cried the entire way home. I love our life here, but leaving them is the hardest. My parents stayed another night, and I cried when they left our house too. This weekend was food for my soul, and it was just what I needed. 

My gorgeous pup during a walk around the Capitol Building
The only thing this weekend was missing was running, and you know what? I didn't even care. It was so much more important to spend time with my loved ones. The River Bank Run in Grand Rapids is less than three weeks away. I haven't run more than 7 miles since the Ann Arbor Half Marathon a few weeks ago, but I'm not worried. Slow and steady gets me back into the racing mindset. These races are all the prelude for the New York Marathon this fall.

I woke up this morning feeling bittersweet after a wonderful weekend and already missing my family. I've also got a nasty cold likely having caught my son's virus, but my heart - my heart is full and happy. Despite time and distance and all of life's curve balls, I have an amazing support system. I hope this spring, in the season of renewal, you'll all take the time to do the things and spend time with the people that feed your soul.     

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sometimes Hard is Just Hard

I am generally a very motivated person, and I love to write posts about pushing myself and making the most of life even with the challenges the universe throws your way. One of my favorite blogs I've ever written is that the hard is what makes it great. It's true. The hard is what makes it great, but sometimes the hard is just hard. Motivation is hard. Balance is hard. And sometimes great feels unattainable.

The life/work/running/parent balance is brutal. I feel like I'm putting the bulk of my energy into being a good mom (which is of course most important) while focusing just enough energy on everything else to keep it going. Great is not in my vocabulary right now. I feel like I'm just keeping the balls in the air.

I've got a couple of races on the schedule to keep me motivated. Thank goodness that I do, or I wouldn't be running at all. I ran last weekend on a gorgeous sunny morning, and most of it was a struggle. One of my favorite things about running has always been getting in that running groove where I work through everything in life - work, personal life, writing blogs in my head. Right now the running groove alludes me. I realized this weekend that right now the life groove is alluding me a little bit too. I'm still pushing myself at a level that I always have, but it feels like life is pushing back. No matter how efficient I'm being, I feel like there are still 100 things to do. Some days it's just daunting.

This week I'm traveling every day for work: Flint today, Benton Harbor tomorrow, Ann Arbor/Detroit on Wednesday and Ann Arbor both Thursday and Friday. It's a lot. I control my own schedule, so there's really only one person to blame. But I expect a level of professional excellence from myself that means pushing my limits. Starting a new job when my son was two months old was overwhelming, but I feel like I'm starting to settle into a rhythm. That rhythm, however, requires a lot of travel, networking and focus. 

Fitting in running right now is extraordinarily difficult. I travel most days, and when I'm home I want/need to just be home with the baby. He goes to bed at 8 pm, and then it's cleaning, washing bottles, getting ready for bed to do it all over again. And the kicker is that it's amazing. That little guy smiles at me, and that's better for my soul than any run or work project ever will be. The balance continues to be tricky, and I'm sure I'm going to figure it out. I have to.

On Friday I went to a work event in the evening and then hung out with some colleagues afterward. I got home and in bed around 2 am, and Will was up and ready to go at 6:30 am. I was so groggy and exhausted. My feet were killing me from about 17 straight hours in heels. But my exhaustion/discomfort is irrelevant when it comes to spending time with my little man. It does, however, make it extremely difficult to productively log running miles.
The best wake up call ever.

My son is four months old today, and it's gotten easier every day. This week I feel like I'm in a pretty decent work/mom groove. Running is going to be tough with my travel schedule, but I think I can fit in some good cross training workouts to fill the void. The life equilibrium is still a little off, but it's nothing sheer determination and drive can't fix. If the running has to suffer for a bit, I've got to learn to let myself off the hook. The New York Marathon is seven months away. Let's hope my balance returns enough to get through my training program and a huge bucket list race. The hard is what makes it great, and sometimes the hard is just that: hard. I'll be back to inspiring next week.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

All About that Bass

It's probably not a surprise that I'm all about that bass. I remember in high school one of my male friends telling me my butt was similar to Jennifer Lopez's. This was before J. Lo was cool. I think her credits included being a fly girl on In Living Color and Selena. I was pretty offended at the time because having a booty in the late 90s wasn't cool. In the years since it's become fashionable to have a curvy bum, and I've learned to embrace it. Today, while wearing a clingy dress that shows I've got curves in all the right places, I'm thankful to the booty pioneers like J. Lo and Beyoncé for making the rest of our curvy selves cool.

I started thinking about this blog while wearing new running shorts that are huge in the waist but tight in the butt. It's a girl with a bubble butt's cross to bear. Everything is tight in the butt and loose in the waist. Why do you think I'm always wearing dresses? Pants and I are not often friends.

It's nearly bathing suit season, a time that makes women cringe. While I certainly have a plethora of body image issues that won't go away even with tons of therapy, I've generally become okay with having more curves. I know I'm small, and my curves are proportionate. But it took me a long time to be okay with skinny jeans hugging this runner's hips and thighs. That's where the muscle's at!

I don't see myself the way I actually look, and that's a constant struggle. But every little bit of body acceptance feels like a victory to me. Nearly 20 years after being told I look like J. Lo (Selena version), I'm (mostly) okay with it. All of this is being said before I've gone bathing suit shopping. Someone remind me of this post then, okay?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Winning The Wars

As a new mom I hear a lot about the "mommy wars" where everyone is judging everyone else for the choices they make or don't make. Before you think, "I'm not judging anyone", just stop it. We all are, and we all know it. The mommy wars, however, have led me to start thinking about all of the wars in life. In particular in my life there are the running and city wars. The struggle is real.

I'm a pretty lazy runner. I run the absolute bare minimum that I can to still meet my goals. When I'm training for a marathon I run 3-4 miles two days a week and a long run on the weekends. That's it. No 90 mile weeks for this girl. If I run too many miles my IT band can't cut it. Plus - let's face it - I want to have a life outside of running. I remember training for my first marathon (Detroit) during football season. I ran 16 miles on a Saturday morning, sat in a chair listlessly drinking Gatorade during a tailgate in East Lansing and fell asleep in the stadium during a night game. There was nothing fun about that. Now I work my long runs in around the other fun things in my life. If running starts to take away the fun, what's the point? 

When I ran the Ann Arbor Half Marathon last week runners in the pace group were trying to one up each other with training stories. One guy "hadn't trained at all" even though he'd just completed a half Ironman. Another guy was "only" running 70 miles a week. I loudly proclaimed that I hadn't run more than 5 miles at a time while training. I wasn't trying to prove anything; it was true. The looks of disdain I received were hilarious. I clearly wasn't a serious runner. I would only keep up with them for a minute. I REALLY wish I had trained more for the race, but even without a stronger training program I did okay (even though I could barely walk for three days). 

Everybody posts online the links to their Nike or MapMyRun accounts when they complete a run. My training runs are often terrible. Last weekend I sluggishly pushed through four miles and then came home and scarfed down a bunch of gummy worms. Runner of the year. But you know what? Run accomplished. It wasn't fast; it wasn't pretty. It certainly wasn't worth bragging about on Facebook. But I logged a few miles, and my legs felt less terrible than earlier in the week. Winning.

In my world the city wars are also very real. I won't name names because that could get ugly, but every place in Michigan is better has reasons why they're better than every other place. I have heard people brag about how their town is the best, and they have the advantage of a ton of private money to complete projects. I've had people brag about how their community is getting everything done, and they've gotten large federal grants. The truth is every community has to work hard to create vibrant places, and some have unique advantages. It always takes vision and a community effort to create great places. Take advantage of the advantages, but recognize that they don't exist for everyone. Maybe cut the latter some slack?

I have to admit I'm always going to root for the underdog. The community that has the advantage of large community patrons will always be less interesting to me than the one that has to scratch and claw for every single thing it gets. This is what I love about living in Lansing. Lansing doesn't get everything handed on a silver platter. People with school age children leave because the schools are a challenge.  The city is good enough for everybody to work here, but they leave as soon as the workday is over. It's getting better, but the superior attitude is enough to make me be a dogged Lansing advocate. I live in Lansing. I work in Lansing. I play in Lansing. You want to meet me somewhere? It'll have to be in Lansing. My city may be an underdog, but I'm always going to put money on it.

The running/city/mommy/etc. wars are all a constant, and for me the dark horse is always the way to go. Do what you've gotta do peops. Run or don't run. Live in the city or in the suburbs. Bottle or breast feed and know that people are judging you either way. Accept that the choices you make will always be unpopular to someone, and that's really okay. Be comfortable with what you believe and own it. That's how you win the wars.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Morning in the Life of a Crazy Person

Recently I came across a Runner's World article from 1995 that I'd saved in my senior memory book. The article talked about how people think runners are crazy, and the author was embracing the crazy. This piece inspired the copy I wrote for the track page in my senior year book (I was copy editor for my high school yearbook...I'm sure this is shocking news if you didn't know). On Sunday morning as I was driving to Ann Arbor to run the Ann Arbor Half Marathon I was thinking for the first time in a while that being a runner makes one a little bit insane. It's a strange dichotomy because running makes me insane but is also my sanity. How does that work? Just for fun I thought I'd give you a glimpse into my crazy mind for a few hours last Sunday morning. I hope you're ready for this.

4:22 a.m. Wake up with a start realizing the baby has slept all night. Lie awake thinking about random things...things that come together to become a whole thing and keep you awake. Fitfully fall back to sleep.

4:53 a.m. Wake up and realize it's just easier to get up than wait seven minutes for the alarm. Groggily walk to the closet and put on my running clothes. Put in contacts, brush my teeth, amble downstairs to let the dogs out.

5:15-5:45 a.m. Attempt to actually wake up. Eat breakfast (English muffin with Trader Joe's cocoa almond spread) and have cup of coffee #1. Snuggle the dogs. Wake my husband up to tell him I'm leaving, and then I'm out the door with cup of coffee #2.

5:50 a.m. Everything on the radio sucks. Plug in my phone while weaving all over the dark highway to listen to a Spotify playlist instead. Thank you Drake and R. Kelly for keeping me awake.

6:49 a.m. Arrive at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. Pay $5 to park. Not amused. Sit in the car for a few minutes before jogging to the bathroom. Regretting cup of coffee #2.

7:05 a.m. Back in the car. It's cold (about 16 degrees). Listen to more music and play on Twitter. Attempt to relax. 

7:15 a.m. Emerge from the warm confines of my car and walk to the finish line. The sun is starting to rise, but there's only shade behind the monstrosity that is the University of Michigan's football stadium.

7:30 a.m. Race starts perfectly on time. I align myself with the 8:58 pacer. I am a pretty solitary runner and am generally annoyed by pace groups, but I need to figure out how to handle my first half marathon in almost a year.

7:39 a.m.(approximately) One mile in. The pace group is running in downtown Ann Arbor. You can hear runners talking and the drum beat of our feet. Spectators? None. It is a ghost town.

7:57 a.m. Nearing the 5k mark running on Geddes Road. It's quiet (why aren't people out on their lawns?!?) It's legit hilly. That part I dig.

8:42 a.m. Miles 3-8 are mostly a blur. We run on roads with little crowd support. The pace group is getting smaller. I walk through the mile 8 water station and realize I can't stick with the pace group. The guy talking about how he "didn't train but just did a half Ironman" is annoying me anyway.

8:50something a.m. The sun is really bright, and it feels great. Crap. I forgot to put on sunscreen. Great. Now I'll have a sunburn and wrinkles. Rookie mistake. Shoot I also forgot to put Body Glide under my sports bra. That's gonna leave a mark.

9:00 a.m. Mile 10 is up the hill near the medical center. This hill is serious business. Oh I need to make an appointment with my GI doctor at U-M medical center. I wonder if other people around me have Crohn's? Doubtful. Lucky bastards.

9:02 a.m. We run into the Arboretum. The asphalt turns to gravel. I read this in the course description. It didn't prepare me for how annoying it would be to run on the gravel. Screw it. I'm walking. When's the last time I walked in a half marathon other than through water stations? It's been a while. My goal is 2:10. I'm still good right? My stupid watch battery died. Killing me.

9:10ish a.m.  The hill in the arboretum is rough. I count to 60 in my head as I walk up the hill. I love hills, but this is too much. Quads screaming. Oh my goodness there's the water station. It's probably just easier to keep walking until it's I get some water. Maybe I need Gatorade too. Yup...definitely need Gatorade.

9:20 a.m. Ooh we're running through campus. It's so pretty and relatively flat at this point. I hear a voice behind me. Is that a pacer? (Glance back). Crap that's definitely the 9:10 pacer. His voice is loud. Is a loud voice a requirement for a pacer? He sounds pretty engaging actually. They're definitely going to pass me. 

9:27 a.m. Running past what appear to be vacant frat houses, and I hear nothing. I listen for noise from the finish line maybe half a mile away. Nothing. Where are the people? Where is the noise? 

9:31 a.m. Oh my God there's the finish. Hurts. Hurts. Hurts. Keep running. Done! Now where's my medal? Wait THIS is my medal? Come on. 

9:35 a.m. Drink water. Stretch. I've got to walk back to my car. Is there a shuttle or something? I don't see anything. It'll be good to walk it out.

9:45 a.m. My hands are free-zing. Why is this water so cold? The wind is brutal. Why didn't I sleep in this morning? Oh right. Because I'm a bad ass.

9:55 a.m. Heat in the car as high as it will go. Frozen. Now I've got to drive home. My hands won't work to turn on my Spotify list. I guess Sirius has to do.

As I do a play by play of what race day is like, I definitely sound crazy. Wasn't it Einstein who said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? In that case runners are nuts. But come on...you all know I'm a little crazy. That's part of my charm, right?