Monday, May 25, 2015

I Hear Voices

I've been rather vocal about how important it is for me to run naked. Running is my alone time. It's my time to meditate. It's my time to sort through the myriad thoughts in my head and make sense of them. Music is a great distraction, but it clutters my mind. There is very little time in life when it's just me and the wind whistling in my ears.

Most runners I know listen to music while they're running. Not only is the quiet time really important for me, but headphones are so annoying. I feel like I should be able to take a few hours of my week and enjoy the silence. My other runner friends often ask me how I stay focused and what I think about. It's easy...I listen to the voices in my head.

Okay I guess I just hear one voice - my own. Today, for example, I was thinking of a work project I'm pulling together. I ran through my to do list for the week. I thought about how to strengthen the connection between Downtown and Old Town Lansing. It was sunny and warm, and I started thinking about how warm it'll likely be during the 10k I'm running in Nashville on the 4th of July. My thoughts meandered to how much I love warm weather (except when I'm running) and when I'll be able to go the pool with Will. I wonder when the new bathing suit I ordered will be arriving, and added checking on its status to my list of things to do. 

Have you ever had an encounter with someone, and later you've thought "ugh I wish I'd said ____"? I work through those imaginary conversations in my head while I'm running. When I start to lose motivation I start thinking about why I run. I run to stay healthy. I run to be in shape. I run so the new bathing suit I just ordered looks awesome. Today I thought about walking, and the thought of how I want to look in that bathing suit kept me going.

Before we bought our current house I redecorated it in my mind while running. I've decompressed after an argument with my husband or a particularly tough day at work. It helped me through nearly six years of trying to have a baby. Now it helps me shake it out when I've been carrying around my 15-pound love bug all day.

In order to be sane, I have to listen to the voices in my head. It turns out they're pretty wise. I'd recommend leaving the music at home and trying it sometime. 

(Also now this song has been in my head all day). 



Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Long (or Mostly Short) of Flats

Contrary to popular belief I am not opposed to flat shoes. I don't prefer them, but I'm definitely not opposed. But just like other articles of clothing and accessories (ahem yoga pants and other workout attire), there is definitely a time and a place.

In April The Atlantic did a piece about how wearing a suit changes one's thought process. A direct quote from the article: “Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world” (from Abraham Rutchick, an author of the study and a professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge). I could not agree more that wearing something formal makes me feel more powerful. When I am wearing a cocktail dress I feel like I can conquer the world. Actually I feel like that all the time, so I'm pretty lethal in a cocktail dress and heels.

My wardrobe is filled with flattering dresses and high heels. If I have a meeting or a day where I'm meeting new people I feel the need to impress, there is a 100% certainty I will be wearing one of those dresses and killer shoes. I love the look of a casual dress with flats or a skinny jean and flats, but that look is inherently more casual. I think flats work better with pants or a-line skirts. But if someone shows up trying to impress me in a pencil skirt (the working woman's second most powerful weapon) and flats, I immediately take them less seriously.

I often see college aged or women newly out of college wearing flats with formal workwear. I think it makes them look like a child playing dressup. A few months ago I went to a presentation done by two University of Michigan graduate students. The room was full of lobbyists and policy makers, and these women (in their early 20s) were wearing pencil skirts, blazers and flats. I immediately thought them less influential. Woman up and put on some big girl shoes. You'd be amazed at how it feels.

There are lots of times when flats are more practical. While I'm rarely going to wear them in a formal work setting, I know it's because I'm stubborn. I think they work on a long legislative session night or when you're walking a lot. But when you're presenting or meeting new people or looking to really make an impression, you've got to be REALLY impressive to pull off flats. How you feel about yourself is part of what makes a strong impression. If the Atlantic study is any indication, women who wear more formal clothing (I would include heels in that) feel more powerful.

It's hard enough being a woman in the workplace, and in particular it's tough being a young woman. I remember being 25 and getting the feeling I was being patted on the head and placated. What helped get me through that was the confidence that I both looked and felt amazing. I felt powerful and smart. The popularity of the show What Not to Wear shows that people do judge you by how you look. Whether they should or not, they do. So swing for the fences.

I recently bought two new pairs of flats and flat sandals to wear when walking downtown from my house. My feet can handle heels for a mile walk, but I realize during casual occasions that I need to compromise. Professionally, however, I will not settle for anything less than what makes me feel the most authoritative and commanding self. That, my friends, means high heels.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Celebrating Tuesday

Life is meant for celebrating. Sure there are the obvious big life events, but I'm a fan of celebrating every single day. I don't always do it, but today I am reminding myself to take advantage of and appreciate the magic of every day.

Last weekend I had a bridal shower to attend and a wedding later that same day. During my long run on Saturday morning I was thinking about those large events in life that we celebrate. But then I was also thinking about the smaller events that deserve celebration. This inner dialogue was occurring as I was rocking out a particularly great long run on the Lansing River Trail. We were expecting rain later in the day, and the weather was cloudy and cool. The only sound was my breathing and my feet hitting the pavement. In just the last few weeks the trees have bloomed brilliantly, and I found myself running under a brilliant green canopy. I celebrated that run like it was the last one I'd ever have. 

In 2014 my husband and I decided with a few dear friends that it would be the year of celebration. We got derailed a bit by my month long hospital stay, but 2014 was a year where we partied every Thursday. We traveled a lot, I ran a lot, and life was generally fabulous. The arrival of our son changed our world, but it was one of the best reasons to celebrate. As we inch into summer I'm reminding myself of the need to celebrate often. Drink the good champagne on a Tuesday. Ignore the house work and go out to dinner. Sit on the front porch and enjoy the summer breeze. There is a gorgeous lilac bush at the end of our driveway, and every time I walk by it I stop to smell it. Take time to smell the lilacs (or the peonies that will bloom soon).

Our summer calendar is filling like it always does with travel, races, time at the lake, and Friday evenings drinking on our porch. All of those events are worthy of celebration. We were in Detroit on Saturday attending a beautiful wedding, and I was appreciating how fun it is to have a night out in a cocktail dress with some champagne. While a special occasion is an obvious reason to celebrate, I will remind myself to celebrate cooking dinner in my beautiful kitchen. I'll celebrate walking my dogs on a quiet, warm evening. I'll celebrate the view from my living room of sun rising behind the Capitol building. I'll celebrate the adorable way my son curls up when he smiles and puts his little hands in his mouth. I'll celebrate those moments that seem taxing but really are blessings (although I may celebrate those in retrospect.) 
Celebrating a wedding and Saturday

Open the good wine because the 2014 celebration is spilling into 2015 and beyond. Every run, every trip, every baby milestone will be celebrated. We'll attend several more weddings and showers this summer, so life's big events will get the appropriate attention too. But I will make a conscious effort to appreciate life's regular events. It's Tuesday, so let's pop the cork!
Pre-wedding reception champagne

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What's Love Got to do With it?

The answer is everything. I've spent four years writing this blog and talking about all of the things that make cities great. This includes important assets like transit, walkable downtowns, small businesses, cultural institutions, and more. These are and will remain important pieces of the placemaking puzzle. There is one thing that doesn't fit into a neat category and isn't quantifiable: love.

Last year I visited San Francisco for the second time. This city has it all. It's vibrant, walkable, lots of shops, restaurants, bars, museums. There's easily accessible and convenient public transit. The weather is lovely. It checks all the boxes. But for me there's something missing. It's great, but it's just not for me. I don't really love California in general. There's something about the vibe I don't really get. Even I can't put my finger on it, so how can anyone else? Love (or lack thereof in this case) plays a huge part in what attracts people to a place. Obviously given its success lots of people love San Francisco, and they should. For me there just isn't a love connection.
On a City Running Tour in San Francisco

Let's contrast that with my favorite city: Portland, Maine. I fell in love with Portland in about 10 minutes. Its dense, walkable downtown stole my heart immediately. There were beautiful original storefronts hosting almost solely local businesses. The food is phenomenal. It's a city that feels intimate and feels like home. I honestly didn't spend enough time there to know if it checked the boxes, but I didn't need to. Love at first sight is enough for me.

A photo I took in Portland, ME in 2012

I love lots of cities that check all of the placemaking boxes: Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC. But what I really love are the underdogs. Show me a city with large wealthy benefactors who have paid for everything to happen, and I'll begrudgingly tip my hat. Show me a city that has all of the odds against it and yet is still making it happen? That place will immediately get my attention. To me part of what makes a place great is its grit and determination. This is part of what makes me love Detroit so much. It has this organic spirit that makes the placemaking authentic and true to Detroit. This is a city that has hit rock bottom and yet those who love it have never lost hope. That to me is what makes a city great, and it's hard to quantify.

Hanging out with a colleague on the Detroit Riverfront

Love, it turns out, has everything to do with it. Those baseline assets are critical, but there also has to be that certain something to make people fall in love. I've fallen in love a lot, and I've fallen hard. Sometimes it's been unexpected (like Marquette, Michigan in the winter or Knoxville, TN), and sometimes it's the recurring love affair that makes sense (Washington, DC).  Love doesn't always make sense, and that is what makes it incredible.
Downtown Knoxville, a surprise love affair

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Running Cityphile's Perfect First Mother's Day

In general I'm not a huge celebrator of holidays. Obviously I appreciate dinner or a card, but we don't go crazy for holidays. My first Mother's Day, however, felt different. I was almost embarrassingly thrilled to be able to celebrate this day. I let my husband pamper me. I slept in, he made me breakfast, my son* bought me a gorgeous new watch. 

I had so many wonderful family and friends who reached out to wish me a happy Mother's Day. I've been so open about our struggle to have a family, and I've been annoyingly joyful in sharing photos of our beautiful boy. My friends and family were amazingly supportive on my first Mother's Day, and it makes my heart happy.

We focused the weekend doing what I love doing best: running a race in a downtown. There could not be a more perfect way to spend the day. I registered for the 5/3 River Bank Run in Grand Rapids. Initially I registered for the 25k, but I realized that I really just hadn't trained to run 15+ miles. All roads lead to the New York Marathon this year for me, and I didn't want to risk being injured.

I thought of switching to the 10k, but that didn't seem challenging enough. Then I discovered that I could run both the 5k and 10k, totaling 9.3 miles of racing fun. I've also never run a race in Grand Rapids, so I thought that would be a fun new challenge. The only time I've ever run in GR was during my work's convention in 2011, so I was excited to check out more miles of the city.

We got to GR on Friday evening and headed to packet pick-up. The multiple races made parking for pick-up a little nuts, but the expo was impeccably organized. We headed in and grabbed my stuff including the super cute shirt. It is, after all, all about the shirt.

Our hotel was a few miles out of downtown because I booked it a little late, so we headed to the hotel with a hungry baby near his bedtime. Stellar parenting planning. We fed the baby and then headed to a random Italian restaurant a few miles from our hotel. One thing I really appreciate about Grand Rapids is its neighborhood development. Its downtown has redeveloped nicely, but its neighborhoods also have businesses and commercial development. Apparently this includes a gentlemen's club I saw during the race the next day right next to houses.  But hey, I'm not judging.

I was up at 4:45 on race day to feed the baby. Race day is different than it used to be. My focus was 1) feed baby, 2) drink coffee, 3) prepare for the race (in that order). We walked outside the hotel into a torrential downpour. It didn't seem like the best day for either running or spectating (in particular for my husband with the baby).

Race day provisions.
We arrived downtown, and I left my boys at a restaurant to get breakfast. I headed to the 5k start with several thousand of my closest friends. The 5k course looped through downtown, and the weather stayed relatively dry. I crossed the finish line just as the rain started in 25:29. It was a relatively fast 5k for me given than I had 6.2 miles left to run.

The rain began pouring in earnest during the 15 minutes between races. I really didn't notice because the race was so well organized. We all know I'm a sucker for organization. Volunteers had the spot for combo runners to exit well marked, and I grabbed a water and went to wait for my next race.

The 10k was a soggy mess. It was raining so hard, and I'd forgotten to bring a hat (rookie mistake). As I ran under overpasses I attempted to wipe the rain from my face with my sopping wet hands. The effort was futile. My shoes were squishy from the rain, and I really just wanted it to be over by about mile 4 of the 10k. I walked through the water stations and felt myself slowing down with a few miles to go.

As I rounded the corner to the finish I could hear spectators cheering. Even in the pouring rain there were people everywhere (take note Ann Arbor Half). I saw my husband and son near the finish, and tears filled my eyes. Since the baby arrived it's harder for my superstar spectator husband to be at all of my races, and I've missed having him there. Seeing them gave me the final kick to push hard to the finish in 57:42. It was about 4 minutes slower than my PR, but I didn't run these races thinking I'd PR. Plus racing three weekends in a row is a little tough on my legs. I'm glad to have a break.

My husband capture this great action shot. These arms are from toting around a heavy baby.
After I met up with my boys we headed back to the hotel so I could take the longest shower ever. Then we headed to the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. This market opened last year, and it's phenomenal. Farmers markets are all the rage right now, and this market is beautiful. It's got every vendor one can possibly imagine, and it felt great to walk around the gorgeous space and stretch my legs while taking it all in. We had lunch at a Mexican place in the market, and it was delicious. I allowed myself the rare indulgence of a Mexican Coca-Cola which is the best caffeinated beverage on the planet. We then had ice cream before heading home. 

The 5/3 River Bank Run was one of the most well organized races I've ever done. I'm already planning to do the 25k next year and make my hotel reservation sooner so we're within walking distance. Grand Rapids is by all accounts one of Michigan's best downtowns, and we had a lovely time there. It's a race I will definitely run again.

As for Mother's Day...well, it could not have been better. My husband knocked it out of the park, and I sometimes want to pinch myself that this beautiful little family is mine. Running, a great downtown and a day that's all about me? Best weekend ever.    

*Watch was really purchased by husband. Five month old does not have a credit card. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Holy Crap I'm Someone's Mom

Two years ago I wrote a heartfelt blog lamenting what was at that point a year-long wait in the adoption process. For the last few years Mother's Day has been a day that makes my heart ache and my cheeks hurt from the fake smiling. I desperately wanted a child. This day to celebrate becoming a mother, something that has come so easily for so many women, has been a day of sadness for me for the last few years. This year it's actually snuck up on me because it turns out having a baby makes one busy and forgetful.

I've gotten a lot of annoying advice about how to be a parent, and I'll be honest: I've ignored 100 percent of the unsolicited advice. I don't read parenting books because they stress me out. Lots of smart (and not so smart) people have figured out how to be a parent. I'll figure it out too. 

One thing I was told, however, continues to resonate: it's hardest and most wonderful job you'll ever have. Truer words have never been spoken. The exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and delirium are legitimate. I had no idea I could function so well on so little sleep. The love, though, makes it all worth it. I had no idea I had the capacity to love a little human like this. Even when he's fussy or angry or not sleeping - I have so much more patience than I ever thought I'd have. Sometimes I feel like my heart may explode with love for him.
The best.
In this crazy ride that includes projectile vomit one minute and baby giggles the next, I'm thankful for our struggle to have a family. That struggle has allowed me to be more patient. I'm more grateful for every minute in a way I wouldn't have been otherwise. In the middle of the night, when my eyes finally start working properly, I look down at the baby in my arms and marvel that he's mine. 

I would be remiss while reflecting on this day to not express my extraordinary love and gratitude for the woman who gave birth to our son. I love her so much. What a selfless and amazing gesture to trust us to be his parents. I am eternally grateful to her in a way that words cannot adequately describe. 

When he was only a month old. Sleep deprived and still in love.
I have a new appreciation for the women in my life who are amazing examples of the extraordinary life balance it takes to be a mom. My son is 5 months old, and I feel like I have yet to master the balance. It's hard, and maybe I'll never really figure it out. But every moment I feel disheveled or unorganized or frazzled is worth it. This is the best and hardest thing I've ever done, and I have a new appreciation for all of the moms who've done this before me. Happy Mother's Day, my friends. Thank you for the inspiration!       

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No Regrets

I hate regret. I find it to be a useless emotion, and rarely indulge myself to feel it. All of the decisions I've made in my life, even the bad ones, have gotten me to where I am today. How can I possibly regret any of them?

Despite the fact that I try to be pragmatic about life (even the emotional parts), I've still followed my heart a lot. I've followed love to two different states, although I did so with clearly defined school or career plans. (One has to be practical even in love.) I moved to Texas at age 23 with applications submitted to both Baylor University and the University of Texas to visit for my third year of law school. I was accepted to both, and I chose Baylor because it was an easy commute. At the time I felt very bitter about the impending demise of the relationship that took me to the Lone Star State and missing my third year of law school with my friends. But if I didn't have that experience I wouldn't have met my best friend, and I wouldn't have come to the realization that I am stronger than I ever imagined. I wouldn't have met the boy I was dating when I moved to Michigan, and I wouldn't have moved here at all. I wouldn't have then met my husband, and I wouldn't have these friends, this career, this life. I wouldn't have my son. All of these decisions, some of which were suspect at the time (and still are in retrospect), have led me to where I am today. 

My decision-making hasn't always been happy or emotionally healthy, but it made sense at the time. I remember moving to Michigan from Norfolk, Virginia and driving the moving truck into a snowstorm so severe that the Ohio Turnpike was closed. I recall getting to Michigan on a 7 degree February day. I remember the first time my fabulous heels were ruined by stepping in a melty snow puddle. I've second guessed the decision to move to Michigan dozens of times in the last decade.

On the other hand living here is where I've come into my own. I met this man at work who was old fashioned and charming and hilarious. I figured I'd better marry someone who made me laugh like that. We got our precious dogs. We've developed a network of amazing friends that I can't imagine not having in my life. I have a job doing something I'm passionate about. I'm living in a place with a great running climate that allows me to enjoy it most of the time (although I do miss super hot weather). We have adopted the most wonderful little boy who immediately captured our hearts.

Sure, some of my decisions have been questionable, but the end result has shaped who I am. Sometimes I feel the tentacles of regret threatening to pervade my spirit, and it takes all of my resolve to chase them away. Regret is sort of an odd cousin to my nostalgic nature, and if I wanted to it could move in and make a nice home in my head. There's just no place for it.

Life is a series of decisions, and they're not always going to be great. Learning from those choices has made me a stronger person. That leaves regret out in the cold.        

Monday, May 4, 2015

It's PR season y'all!

I imagine there comes a time in every runner's life when the spark dies a little bit. The motivation wans, and you find yourself wondering what was so great about this whole running thing to begin with. It's much like a relationship: it's great at the beginning when everything is shiny and new. You can't get enough of it. Then comes the inevitable shift from brand new and exciting to comfortable and familiar. I've always had a hard time with that transition in the romantic sense, and the transition in running is surprisingly similar. 

When you're training for your first race you're simply looking for that sense of accomplishing whatever the distance may be. Time is less of a factor. You're looking to finish. I've done that with half marathons and marathons and dozens of 5ks and 10ks. I did it last year with my first triathlon. But then comes the moment...the "what's next" moment. You know...the "where is this relationships going" conversation. I've run all these races. Sure it's fun and it's challenging. But now what?

That's when I decided running itself wasn't enough. This is the year I'm going to be fast. I've never been a fast runner, and it was never a goal of mine to beat anyone but myself. This year that changed with my public proclamation to break 21 minutes in the 5k. This year I've got a goal, and that goal will keep me motivated throughout the summer on the road to the New York Marathon in November.

Last weekend I ran the St. Gerard 5k at my church. It was an impeccably organized small race. I saw friends I knew from church, the community and even my next door neighbor happened to be there. I picked up my packet and started near the front of the pack.  It was a warmer day than I expected, and I was pushing too hard to appreciate the sun on my face.

The race ran through subdivisions in Lansing's neighboring Delta Township. There weren't timers at each mile which is really a blessing for me. Sometimes those clocks get in my head and affect my pace. I knew I was pushing hard, but I wasn't sure if it was that or the heat making my breathing shallow and my head pounding.

I rounded the corner to the finish hearing one of my friends in the small crowd cheering for me. I saw the clock and knew I could break my PR. I crossed in 23:50, five seconds off my 5k PR but still 2 minutes and 50 seconds from my goal time. I've run four 5ks this year, and I've finished in the top two in my age group in 3 out of those 4 races. I'm getting somewhere.

I sat on the curb catching my breath. It was a minute and a half faster than my time the week before in the Race for the Cure. This upcoming weekend I'm running the Grand Rapids River Bank double: the 5k followed by the 10k. I had originally registered for the 25k, but I haven't been training for 15 miles. I knew that wasn't a good idea. Hey look at me knowing my limits! Someone please write down this momentous occasion.

I've moved from the shiny new stage of running to where it's a comfortable, familiar relationship. Now it takes working harder and challenging myself to stay fresh. Two minutes and 50 seconds is a lifetime in a 5k, but I took more than two minutes off my PR last year. It can be done. This summer running is going to feel like a new lover, and I'm excited to rekindle the flame.