Thursday, June 25, 2015

Concrete Jungle Where Dreams are Made Of

Everyone loves New York, but if you're a city lover New York is the exemplar of cities. New York and I are crazy in love, and no matter how long since our last rendezvous (2011 in this instance), our chemistry comes back instantly. We're amazing together like that. 

I had an inauspicious start to my trip to New York when my connecting flight to LaGuardia was canceled. I found this out as I was pulling into the Detroit airport. The only flight I could get on to get to NYC on Tuesday evening was to fly into Long Island. I found a shuttle and got to my hotel around 1:45 am, the late hour thwarting my plans to run before my workshop's 8:30 am start.

This week I was fortunate to attend a workshop at Foundation Center, a great organization that has already proven to be a valuable resource in my new job. I booked a hotel near Central Park for running purposes, and it was just over two miles to the training. I woke up on Wednesday morning and gleefully walked into the throng of people commuting on foot in the country's most fabulous city. I am sure I smiled the entire way (enough so that several people I passed randomly commented on my smile).  Being in love makes me smile. I can't hide it.
Who wouldn't love this on their daily commute?
The workshop was a busy, full day. During the lunch hour I walked around the neighborhood and encountered pop-up street cafes and a huge farmers market. I fit in a little shopping (shocking news). At the end of the day I felt ready to conquer the philanthropic world. It was either the training or the heady intoxication of New York City that had me in a good mood, but either way I was happy.

Lunchtime sights in the city

The walk back to the hotel took longer with more people on the streets. I took a wrong turn but ended up by Bryant Park and the stunning New York Public Library, so it was a wrong turn worth taking.
My husband and I are huge fans of the Food Network Show Chopped, and my goal this year is to eat at several restaurants owned by Chopped judges. After a sojourn at the hotel I decided to go to Tribeca to eat at Landmarc owned by Chef Marc Murphy. I took a taxi so I could make my reservation, but that was a huge mistake. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything other than walk or take the subway in New York, and the streets were gridlocked. It took more than 45 minutes to go just under 4 miles, and I would’ve been better off walking. 

Landmarc, however, was worth the trip.  I’m obsessed with pasta, so it seemed the pasta special was the way to go. It was delicious, and I enjoyed my food and a cocktail on the patio. It was my first time in Tribeca, and I discovered a charming neighborhood. After dinner I decided to forego the taxi and walk back to the hotel. I needed to burn off the pasta calories anyway.

Delicious, delicious carbs.

A huge part of New York’s strength is its vibrant neighborhoods. I loved walking through Greenwich Village and Chelsea on my walk back downtown. On a Wednesday evening patios were packed. People were everywhere. I love the feeling of being one person among so many enjoying a great city. As I neared Times Square the streets became more crowded. Times Square is a touristy disaster, but it’s the best kind of touristy disaster. It’s an assault on the senses with people everywhere, music, and bright lights. It’s not my favorite spot in the city, but there’s something magical about seeing so many people enthralled by New York.

On Thursday morning I booked a guided run with City Running Tours. I’d used them before in Chicago and San Francisco, and I was excited to run in the park. I met my guide at the USS Maine monument in Columbus Circle at the entrance to the park, and we went on a great 4-mile run.  I’ve been to Central Park every time I’ve been to New York, yet every time I see it with fresh eyes. It’s where the New York Marathon finishes in November, and it’s a bit hilly. I realized that will be an interesting topographical finish to the race, and I know I’ll need some hill training. 

Feathered friends at the USS Maine monument
I was sad to leave the city but excited to head home to my family. Being away from my son for work trips in two consecutive weeks was challenging, and I’m looking forward to spending some quality family time next week on vacation.

New York’s urban beauty makes my heart hurt a little bit, and just being there makes me realize how smitten I still am after all this time. I’ve still got it bad for you, NYC. 

Also this should be in your head now. Seriously:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thank You for Being a Friend

I generally prefer being a solitary runner. Running is my relaxation, my deep breath, my alone time. But every now and then I need some company, and I need someone to kick my tail. Enter my friend Nikki.

Nikki and I have worked together for seven and a half years. We've run probably 4-5 half marathons together, at least one ten-miler (that I can recall) and dozens upon dozens of training runs. I can't tell you the number of times I've said to her, "Thanks for being patient. I'm struggling."

I run my best first thing in the morning, but Nikki and I have mastered the running meeting where we run at the end of the day. We talk about work, we work through problems, and in general she keeps me going when I'm (often) struggling.

Last week our work had its annual board retreat on Mackinac Island. Mackinac is a picturesque island in northern Michigan. There are no cars on the Island, and it's designed for people. Houses and businesses front the street. People, bikes and horse-drawn carriages share the street in a way that makes it more public space than thoroughfare.

I needed to do a 12-mile run while we were there, and like a good running friend Nikki had my back. I woke up on Friday morning, and my first thought was 'the sun hurts my eyes'. I had stayed out drinking and dancing for just a bit the night before, and running 12 miles seemed like the worst idea ever. I headed downstairs in the Grand Hotel (where we were staying) to mainline some coffee before our run. 

We started out running through the quaint downtown. The Island is 8.4 miles around, and I'd never been past downtown. We found ourselves leaving the resort area of the Island and heading into the state park. The back side of the Island is beautiful - tree lined and quiet with breathtaking views. As we got near the halfway mark of the run we had beautiful views of the Mackinac Bridge. At the early hour of the morning we basically had the trail to ourselves.

A view of the bridge from teh back side of the Island
After we circled the Island we had a few more miles to add. We headed back through downtown to iconic Arch Rock. At Arch Rock we (sort of) ran the 206 stairs to the top. The views were breathtaking. It was worth every shaky step.

Arch Rock is gorgeous
A selfie at Arch Rock
On the way back through town we took advantage of free doughnuts at a hotel downtown. I hadn't eaten anything before our run, and I was starving. The chocolate and peanut covered doughnut I ate was the best thing that's ever happened to me...or the best thing that happened to me on that run.

We ran the hill to the Grand, and I was amazed at my ability to pull out that run. I knew the only reason I'd pushed through it was a good running friend. The New York Marathon is a mere four months away, and there will be a lot of ugly runs before it arrives. 

I should mention that Friday was also Nikki's birthday, so she ran 12 miles with me on her birthday. THAT is a good friend. I am grateful to have a friend to push me through the hard ones!       

Also this should be in your head the rest of the day:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Normal is Overrated

I've gotten an IV infusion of medicine for my Crohn's every six weeks for the last 13 years. It's become totally routine, and I don't even think about it other than its inconvenience of setting aside half a day. In the age of smart phones and WiFi everywhere I can still get a lot of work done, and I don't miss a beat. Sometimes I'll tell people that I'm away from the office for an IV infusion, and I get this shocked/worried look. I have to quickly reassure them that it's a normal thing and no big deal.

My mobile office every six weeks

I realize that for most people getting an IV isn't a routine part of life. Having lab work done regularly, invasive tests, CT scans...most people don't have these on a regular basis. I've had so many CT scans that my doctor won't order them anymore because of the large amount of radiation I've been exposed to. This is my normal.

A few years ago I wrote one of my favorite blogs ever that running makes me feel normal. For the miles that I'm running I feel like everybody else. My legs hurt like every other runner's. I love being in that zone where I don't feel sick. I feel strong. When I shattered my half marathon PR a few weeks ago I felt so strong. What I didn't blog about was how I was sick the rest of the day. Long runs have started to really wreak havoc on my stomach. For the rest of the day (sometimes for a few days) after a long run everything makes me sick. This makes marathon training very challenging. The actual act of running makes me feel normal. The aftermath makes me feel like a Crohn's patient. It's a tough dichotomy, but not running is not an option.

There are certain things I can't eat, but that's the case with lots of people. And when I say "can't" eat I mean I know it will make me sick and sometimes I eat it anyway consequences be damned. That generally doesn't go well (sort of like the apple I ate this morning...that's gonna leave a mark.)  

My life feels normal, and every now and then I realize Crohn's has given me a skewed view of normalcy. I know last summer's hospital stay was not normal, and it probably wasn't normal to go back to work right away.  It's not normal to push myself constantly because I don't ever want my illness to be an excuse. I refuse to let Crohn's be in charge (although I realize how naive that statement really is). 

Normal is boring. If I didn't have Crohn's I wouldn't appreciate my life in the same way. I wouldn't appreciate how hard I have to work to push through the bad days. I wouldn't appreciate the easy days. Whatever it is that makes you abnormal welcome it. Celebrate it. It is part of what makes you fabulous.    

Monday, June 15, 2015

Caught Up in my Detroit Love Affair

When I moved here nine years ago it didn't take me long to fall in love with the City of Detroit. I met my husband, a Detroit lover, and we spent a lot of time in the city. Our first date was at the Traffic Jam & Snug in midtown. At the time it was one of the only things on the block, and now It's part of a thriving neighborhood.

We spent our second date at the Detroit Zoo (technically in Royal Oak). We used to head to the D often for sporting events, to visit the Detroit Institute of Art or just to visit friends. That was our life before we had dogs and now a child, but Detroit is a place that has always captured both of our hearts.

Detroit has its challenges, and it's by no means perfect. But perfect is so boring! Its gritty resiliency is inspiring. Its spirit is contagious. We go to Detroit and daydream about what it would be like to live there. We love it, and if our professional lives allowed we'd move there in a minute.

Our son turned six months old last weekend, and in all that time my husband and I had not gone on a date by ourselves. We've gone out with friends, but mostly we just take our little dude with us. He's portable like that. For my husband's birthday I got him tickets to a Tigers game and the promise of a day together in one of our favorite cities.

A rainy walk through Capitol Park, my fav park in the city
We headed downtown early for brunch at Cliff Bell's. It's a phenomenal jazz club that has a great brunch with endless bloody mary's. Sold. It's a stunning art deco era establishment that makes you realize why people fell in love with Detroit in the 20s and 30s. It made me fall in love with it all over again.

Bloody's and brunch at Cliff Bell's

As we walked around downtown we were both struck by our extraordinary draw to the city. My husband said he recently heard a quote that Detroit is like jazz: you either get it or wish you did. We get it, and we love it. I started setting up the soft sell. I can work from anywhere. My office has its headquarters in Ann Arbor, so Detroit is definitely workable. Detroit is an hour closer to my family in West Virginia. Of course there's that little matter of having purchased a house last year, but houses are sellable.

At Comerica Park before the heavens opened
Living in Detroit is a dream of ours, and who knows if it will come true. On days like yesterday when we're wandering one of our favorite cities dreaming aloud, it feels like anything is possible.   

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summer Lovin'

I adore summer.  The hotter and more humid it is the better. I want to wake up every day to sunshine and warm breezes. In the alternative I want warm thunderstorms. Anything less than 60 (at night!) in between June and August is absolutely unacceptable. 

Summers in Michigan can be challenging for me because it's often just not hot enough. But on the days that it warm I want to stretch out in the sunshine like a cat. This week the weather is impeccable: high 70s/low 80s every day, mostly sunny, humid. The weather could not be more perfect if I'd designed it myself.

This afternoon I was able to go to our daycare for "Water Wednesday" for my son's first time in the baby pool. Of course as I walked closer in 4-inch heels and a cute dress I realized I wasn't quite dressed for Water Wednesday. Then I thought screw often is my son going to be in the baby pool for the first time? I kicked off my heels and got on the ground in my dress. I was splashed and hugged by wet kids, and I didn't care. It was so worth it. That is what summer is all about - hot days in the water. For 30 minutes I didn't even care about the fate of my Kate Spade bag. Okay...I at least cared about it less than usual. 

My super cute kid in the pool
The only time I don't love the hot weather is while I'm running, but there's something to be said for gutting it out during a really warm run. It may not feel great at the time, but there's an accomplished feeling at the end of a run on a hot day. It's a struggle, but you feel like you've done more than on an easy weather day.

We love to travel, and one of my husband's general criteria is that we don't go somewhere warm in the summer. I've talked him into all-inclusive resorts in the summer only because we're always on the beach or in the pool. Typically, though, it's going somewhere north: Yellowstone, Montreal, Quebec City, Maine. You get the idea. 

Last summer we drove 13 hours north to Quebec City and found ourselves in the midst of the hottest summer on record. Temperatures were near 100 degrees which is even hot for me. Our attempt to beat the heat in northern Canada was foiled. This year my husband agreed to a week in Tennessee relatively readily after I pointed out that it couldn't be any hotter than Quebec City.

We're heading to the Nashville area in 2½ weeks, and the temperatures there are already in the 90s all this week. It's going to be hot. It's going to be humid. It's going to be fabulous. I'm registered for the Music City 10k the morning of July 4, and I'm excited to run what I'm sure will be a warm race. I can't believe I talked the hubs into the south in the summer. I'm an amazing lobbyist.

Summer is (un)officially here, and I'm ready for it. Bring on the heat, the humidity, the pool and tough running. Pass me a gin and tonic while you're at it. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Running Through (Almost) Heaven

When I was growing up in West Virginia, the summers were idyllic. My brother and I spent hours playing in the woods behind my grandparents' home with the neighbor kids or at the community pool. Summer was lazy and hot and perfect. Who knew I could resurrect the way those summers felt by running 13.1 miles in the beautiful WV mountains?

Last weekend we had a quick weekend in West Virginia visiting my parents, and I snuck in a quick half marathon too. I've been eyeing the Deckers Creek Trail Half Marathon for a few years, and it just never worked in our schedule. This year I made a point to register early, and we headed down for less than 48 hours for a quick visit and run.

The race actually starts relatively late (I was in the first wave at 8:30), so it was odd to get up and take my time in the morning. I was up with the baby at 4 am and then tossed fitfully for the next hour or so. I walked out onto my parents' deck at 6 am with a cup of coffee, and it smelled like the summers of my childhood: humid, hot, fresh. I knew it was going to be a great day.

I stopped on the way to the race for a second cup of coffee (parent of a six month old problem), and I easily parked at the Wharf District. When I was finishing law school in Morgantown in 2003, the Wharf District was relatively new. Now it is a little cluster of some great restaurants right on the Mon River Trail. It is home to Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park in downtown Morgantown where packet pick-up occurred.

It was such a beautiful morning, and I felt emotional as I walked on the trail to pick up my packet. It was foggy, and the fog embraced the top of the trees daring the sun to take it on. I love Morgantown so much, and I honestly could not have had a conversation with someone at that moment for the tears stuck in my throat.   

I rarely appreciate a non-tech shirt, but I love the cotton t-shirt with my home state on the front. I have a new favorite shirt for sleeping. I easily grabbed my race bib and shirt and dropped them in the car before boarding the bus to the start.  The race began in Masontown, WV in Preston County and ran into downtown Morgantown.

Despite having grown up in northern WV, I'd never been to Masontown. The ride there in a school bus felt much like field trips or football games growing up: twisty two-lane roads up steep hills surrounded by trees. It was gorgeous.

I was in the first of two waves at 8:30, and I exited the bus right into the bathroom line. If I have a criticism of the race (and let's be honest no race is perfect) it is that they needed more bathrooms. I also quickly discovered I was behind a number of runners who were in the second wave at 8:45, so it was frustrating to wait while my start was 15 minutes sooner. I got in line at 8:05 and was still in line at 8:20. I finally asked some runners in the second wave if I could skip them, and thankfully they were cool with it.

The start was 1/3 mile down the trail, and you couldn't see it from the bus drop off. I walked/jogged down to the start where a throng of people were nestled on the narrow trail. The Deckers Creek Trail is part of a 48 mile trail network that joins the Mon River and Caperton Trails at various points. My parents used to live near the north end of the Mon River Trail, and last summer they moved closer to the Deckers Creek Trail in Sabraton (an unincorporated Morgantown suburb). I am familiar with the downtown portions of the trail but had never been to the Masontown trail head.

It was hard to know where to position myself in the crowd, and I inched forward without getting too close to the front. There may have been pre-race announcements, but I couldn't hear them. The gun went off right on time, and we were on our way.

This was my 16th half marathon, and it was unequivocally the most beautiful. It had rained earlier in the morning, and the trail (unpaved packed limestone) was encompassed by a stunning canopy of lush green trees and foliage. Despite my concern that the race would be crowded, runners quickly dispersed leaving me to enjoy the stunning scenery on my own.

It was so quiet and peaceful. Deckers Creek ran alongside the trail, and in some parts I could see the rocks at the bottom of the crystal clear water. I was reminded of playing in the creek at my grandparents' when I was a kid. As the race grew more humid, I daydreamed about jumping into the water.  At times an imperceptible breeze would shake the tree canopy sprinkling us with fat drops of water, a welcome respite from the humidity.

I could smell honeysuckle and lilac. I am quite certain I smiled the entire way. The trail loses about 800 feet of elevation on the course, and I felt light, happy and in love. There were very few spectators, but there were always runners nearby so I felt support. The volunteers at the water stops were cheerful and boisterous. I found myself getting back to what I love most about running: being in the moment, thanking volunteers, feeling so, so grateful that I am able to do something I love so much. For the first time since my hospital stay last summer I felt like myself, and it turns out that feels incredible.

The first 10.4 miles of the trail were limestone, and as we headed into Sabraton for the last few miles it was paved. Often when I get to around the 11th mile of a half marathon I feel the struggle, but I felt amazing. I had a smile on my face the entire time. 

The race was perfectly marked at each mile, and at mile 13 I heard and saw the finish. I sprinted - hard. I set my half marathon PR in the Kalamazoo half last year at 1:58:12. At that time I had only broken two hours twice (both times within a month). I saw the finishing clock, and the tears in my throat were back. I crossed the finish line in 1:53:10, five minutes off my PR. I stopped, put my hands on my knees and choked up. For 113 minutes everything was right with the world. I was so happy to have pushed myself, but I was even happier to have been so smitten and happy during that time. 

My husband, son and mom were there to greet me at the end, and I was all smiles to see them. The only thing better than running the race of my life was having them there to share it.

My little family after the race

With my mom facing the riverfront park

Baby's first half marathon!

I could not more highly recommend this race. I rarely say I'll do a race more than once (if I have to travel) even if I like it...there are too many races to run. I may just have to put a recurring appointment on my calendar for this one. Running is a fickle mistress, and that day she was on her best behavior, reminding me why I fell in love with her in the first place.        

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Being Who You Are

This week the interwebs are buzzing with news of Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover. I think it's hard to argue anything other than she looks amazing. I won't pretend to understand the emotional complexity of being transgender. I can't imagine spending 65 years as one gender while secretly identifying as another. It's got to be agonizing. While I'm sure there are a lot of people don't understand what Caitlyn has and is going through, I don't understand why we can't just all be who we are without people being jerks about it.

I have a large number of Facebook friends who are pretty religious. They post Bible verses, talk a lot about going to church and openly preach. It's not my thing, but I'm fine with them doing it because it's important to them. I'm sure I get eye rolls with my latest post about running or cities. We don't all have the same interests or focuses, and that's what makes people interesting.

What I REALLY don't understand, however, is that these are the same people vilifying Caitlyn Jenner on Facebook. This same population defended Josh Duggar who a police report now reveals was 15 when he molested some girls including his sister. If we can digress for a minute - come on. I actually saw posts on social media defending him because he apologized. He prayed about it and said he's sorry guys! If he had murdered someone at 15 he would have been tried as an adult. You don't get to just apologize and pray your way out of murder. If he molests someone at 15 (INCLUDING HIS SISTER) and just says a few prayers and he's sorry, it's all better. I'm pretty sure being a child molester isn't something that just goes away during your teenage years like acne. 

So when defenders of Josh Duggar post blogs saying that Catilyn Duggar is "disgusting" I guess I'm really confused by this. I grew up in a pretty religious household, but we were taught to love our neighbors are ourselves. I wasn't taught to love my neighbor if they believe the same things I do and have the same life experiences. Even if you don't morally agree with someone, you're supposed to be tolerant and let them be who they are. I would love for the Caitlyn Jenner haters to show me that passage of the Bible where it says God will only love us if we all think/feel/believe the same way. I can't seem to find it. 

If I take a giant leap for a minute and assume Josh Duggar has reformed, I think there are a lot of people don't understand the Duggar family's choices. But it's their choice to have tons of kids, home school, and not kiss until they are married. I think it's unusual, but hey it's their thing. Until this molestation thing I'd never really thought much of them one way or the other. I certainly wasn't judging them for making choices that I would not make. They are being true to who they are and what they believe.

Similarly Caitlyn Jenner is being who she is. There are people who can not like it, and that's totally their prerogative. But if you're one of my Bible thumping Facebook friends, can you please not defend Josh Duggar in one breath and denigrate Caitlyn Jenner in the next? One of these two has committed a crime. One of these two is being herself, and those two things are very different. Comparing the Duggars and Caitlyn Jenner isn't really a fair comparison, but given that these two huge stories are taking over social media, I find the hypocrisy of supporting Josh Duggar and denouncing Caitlyn Jenner too much to bear.

I have friends and family members who make decisions and I might think 'huh...not the choice I would've made'. But it's their life and their choice to be who they are. There are a lot of people struggling in this world with gender identity, and Caitlyn Jenner's transition gives them hope that they can be who they are. I think that's amazing.

We all struggle with different things in our life. Whatever you're struggling with I hope you have the courage to be yourself and the support system to help you rock it out. I hope we can all appreciate what other people are going through even if we don't understand it.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Make Me Lose Control

My biggest fear in life is failure. It's followed closely by losing control. I am generally so tightly wound and moving so quickly that it's very difficult to relax. Control does not generally beget relaxation, and that is a continual issue for me.  A few months ago I discussed my inability to relax, and it hasn't gotten much better although I am continually working on it.

I've been struggling with my motivation in training for the New York Marathon. Last weekend I realized I need to let go of control and try to relax. I got up early on Saturday and took my dogs for a walk in the rain. Warm rainy days are my favorite. It was raining hard when I got back home, and I decided to do my long run on the treadmill. I don't love running inside, but I was really not in the mood to chance getting stuck in a thunderstorm. 

I needed a solid long run, and I started out slowly. I felt great about 30 minutes in, and I decided to incorporate sprint intervals into the last part of my run. I finished my run sprinting the last two minutes. It felt incredible...and somehow sprinting felt relaxing. 

On Sunday morning I was sluggish after having friends over the night before and enjoying several gin and tonics. I'd registered for the Quaker Dash 5k, a race organized by a friend that thankfully didn't start until 10 am. The weather had turned, and it was in the high 40s and rainy. While I love a warm rainy morning, a rainy morning in the 40s at the end of May is not exactly my thing.

It was my friend's first time organizing this race, but it was perfect. I've done a series of relatively small races this year, and this was the most well organized. This year I've decided to focus on speed and control, and that means running hard. It sometimes makes me forget what I love about running - the most relaxing parts.

I knew I wasn't going to break my PR in a 5k fueled by gin, so I decided to run hard but enjoy it. I thanked all of the volunteers. I enjoyed my surroundings and appreciated the quaint neighborhood we ran through at the end. It was nearly a minute slower than my PR, but I was still happy with my time of 24:49. Until last year I could not break 26 minutes in the 5k, and this year I've done it in every race except the one I ran in a snowstorm in February. I've placed in the top two in my age group in all but one 5k, and I won my age group in this race.  It was the most relaxed I've been during a race all year.

Struggling but still smiling at the end of the 5k

This afternoon when I arrived home from a doctor's appointment it was beautiful and sunny. I had a conference call and returned some emails, and then I decided to walk my dogs. I could finish my email later in the evening, but I couldn't harness the sunshine at 9 pm. 

There is a school that has closed a few blocks from my house, and a few weeks ago I discovered that the playground is fully fenced. We walked there, and I let the dogs off leash. There is a pretty new play structure, and the swings caught my eye. I can't remember the last time I played on the swings, and I spent probably 15 minutes or so swinging while the dogs ran around. Do you remember that feeling of  swinging too high? My stomach flipped as the swing went higher. I felt free and light and dare I say it...relaxed.

Losing control is hard. Letting it go voluntarily is nearly impossible. But sometimes it's nice to have those reminders of why I started running. it's nice to be reminded of how it feels to let everything go even if just for a few moments.