Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

I'm not a very still person; quiet introspection isn't really my thing. If you ask someone to describe me the chances that they would ever use the words calm, relaxed or peaceful are probably nonexistent. That's why running is so important for me - it's the only time when my world feels still (which is ironic given that it's not a calm activity). My mind feels at peace, and my body gets into a rhythm. Running is my quiet time.

Last weekend I left my house at 5:30 in the morning to meet my friend for a race. There's something peaceful about being out and about so early. I love driving in the dark, windows down, feeling like I have the world all to myself.

This is why I love running early in the morning, and I haven't been able to figure out how to schedule it in regularly since the baby was born. I love the pre-dawn quiet where all I can hear is my footsteps on the pavement and my own breathing. The dim glow of the streetlights is the only interruption to the dark. The air is cooler, the morning is calm, and I am at peace. At that moment the world belongs to me.

I've been asked if I'm scared to run in the dark, and I had a police officer friend warn me about the dangers of it. I'm aware of the risks, and I'm careful. But the reward makes it worth it. Last fall at my work's convention in Marquette, Michigan (one of my favorite places), I went for a very early five mile run on a dimly lit trail. It was so quiet and beautiful. It was one of the best runs I have had in months (which is probably why I'm bringing it up again ten months later).  I felt content listening to the still morning and felt grateful for the calm.
An early run in Marquette
I've always been a morning person, and my favorite memories of last winter when my son was a newborn are sitting in our parlor looking out onto the beautiful downtown buildings with a cup of coffee and a sleeping baby. The world is a different place before the sun comes up, and it's then that I believe anything is possible.

These days running has turned into more of logging miles whenever I can instead of enjoying the pre-dawn quiet. I've logged miles on the treadmill, after meetings and any place I can fit them in. I can't remember the last time I ran early in the morning, and I miss it. I miss that time where the world belongs to me, the possibilities are endless, and life is serene. Ultimately this is why I run, and I need to remember it. I learned from Batman that the night is darkest just before the dawn. It's time to get reacquainted with the pre-dawn quiet. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Second Chance

There are many races to be run, and they aren't free. It's hard for me to justify running a race more than once unless I really love it. Case in point this year will be my fifth running of the Capital City River Run in Lansing. It's one of my favorites, and if possible I run it every year. If I didn't like the race I generally write it off as miles logged and never consider running it again.

Last weekend I did something unprecedented and ran a race I didn't enjoy the first time - The Crim 10-miler (I also ran the 5k to log some extra miles) in Flint. I ran the Crim in 2011 on a steamy August day, and I didn't love it. Interestingly my blog is not too scathing, although I did later rank it as my third least favorite race I'd ever run. In 2011 I found it too congested at the start and didn't enjoy the race much at all. 

I've been open about my motivation struggles on the road to the New York Marathon. One way I've been addressing it is to register for races to keep me going. I love a 10-miler and think it's the best distance ever. I've done several other 10-milers (including the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in DC and the Papa John's 10-miler in Louisville). It's a fabulous distance. Despite my first experience with the Crim, I decided to give it another shot.

Something else has happened in the last four years...something that won't surprise you: I've fallen in love. When I ran the Crim for the first time in August of 2011 I'd never been to Flint. Now it's emerged as one of my favorite places in Michigan. Despite its struggles Flint is a city with charm and character. It's got whatever it is...that certain something that makes me fall in love with a city. Part of my interest in running the Crim again was because it's in Flint. Flint and I are kind of into one another. It's turning into a whole thing.

My friend and I met at the crack of dawn to carpool to Flint on Saturday morning. Getting into the city and finding parking was seamless. We were about three-quarters of a mile from the start, so we walked downtown. We had plenty of time to use the bathroom (an indoor bathroom at the University of Michigan-Flint student center - a luxury!) and mentally prepare for the race.

This year there were well marked corrals, and we squeezed our way into coral C. It was packed at the start, but at least it was organized by time. We kept the 8:30/mile pacer in sight as we started off. I honestly don't remember anything about the Crim from the last time I ran it other than it being crowded, running around walkers, and it being hot. It turns out it's a really great course with a TON of energy. The entire community is out cheering on runners. People are out on street corners, in driveways, in front lawns...everywhere. Fraternity boys were wearing costumes and handing out beer. I was reminded of the Ann Arbor races I've run and been disappointed because there's no community support. While Flint may not have the resources Ann Arbor has, it has community spirit and heart. I'll take it.

We had a goal of faster than 1:30, and we hit the brick pavers on Saginaw Street well ahead of that time. I finished the 10-miler in 1:26:08, just a few seconds behind my friend. I felt like I was going to throw up...it's the closest I've ever come to it after a race. But we did it, and we beat our goal. It was awesome. 
All smiles post race!
I had about a half an hour before the 5k started, and I honestly didn't know how I was going to make my legs move again. We stretched, drank water, and I slowly made my way to the 5k start. It was a jog at best - I was using it to get in miles not be fast. 

Unlike the relatively well organized 10-miler, the 5k was a sh*t show. There was a separate start for runners and walkers, but people clearly ignored it. As soon as I took off I was dodging walkers all over the crowded course. About halfway in I realized the course was partially a loop as I saw the fast runners coming toward us. We switched sides of the street, and runners were running at each other from each direction. It was so confusing. I was very irritated and tired, but I kept telling myself I wasn't running it for time...just log the miles. I finished in a slow (for me) 28:46, but it was 13.1 on the books. 

The Crim was much better, and Flint...well I adore it. The Crim was totally worth the redo, and it has redeemed itself. I may even run this race again in a few years...we'll see. I think I'll skip the 5k next time though.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I'll Have the Food, Hold the Delicious.

I like food. A lot. I like to be able to eat whatever I want whether I choose to do so in moderation or excess. There are some foods that I am smart to avoid with my Crohns (mostly seeds and certain raw fruits/veggies), but I've fought hard against being on some sort of restrictive diet because if I'm being honest I don't want to be one of those people. If you're not one of them, you know who I'm talking about.

There's a stomach issue diet fad every few years. I've been told I should definitely give up gluten because apparently everyone has a gluten sensitivity (spoiler alert: they do not). I've been told to give up dairy. I've tried it for several months with no noticable positive health impact. For the 18 years that I've had Crohns I've found in general that the best approach for me is to eat smaller portions of whatever I want (aforementioned seeds/fruits/veggies excluded). On occasion I come to a point where everything I eat makes me sick without exception, and that becomes difficult to manage. I'm at that point right now. 

I went to see a dietitian, and I started a new, rather restrictive diet last week. I'm less surly about it than I was last week, but I still don't love it. I'm hungry all the time.  Also I love pasta, and I can't have pasta during this elimination phase. I love onions and garlic both of which are off the table. I love gin, and thankfully I can have all the gin I want because that's what will carry me through.

One of my biggest hangups with being on a restrictive diet is that I don't want to be one of those people - you know the ones who order with 50 exceptions to the food. It's so annoying. Let me clarify by saying that for people who have legit health issues or food allergies that's one thing. For the population who has adopted some special diet on their own choice and continue to talk about it constantly so EVERYONE knows you're gluten free/vegan/vegetarian/Paleo...we get it. Your diet is special, and the rest of us are terrible gluttons. (This isn't every person on the diet. But if you're talking about it all the time...well you probably don't know who you are.) Please watch this brilliant Amy Schumer piece for perfect context:




The best quote ever: "If I eat this chocolate torte that would be like my AIDS." 

A few years ago I wrote a Facebook post about how I love tator tots, and I got scathing comments from the super healthy, judgey, gluten free crowd on my Facebook friend list. I was told I ate like a child, and tator tots are disgusting. I refrained from pointing out that tempeh and tofu are ACTUALLY disgusting, but they can eat whatever they want.  Just stop talking about it already.

Now I'm one of those people scouring a menu trying to figure out what I can eat for the next few weeks as I'm eliminating a lot of things on the low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs (an acronym nobody cares about) are sugars in some foods that your body can't digest. I know...I'm bored with it too. And now I have the potential to be that orderer...without onions, wheat, etc. I just turned down a bread basket at lunch today. Who turns away a bread basket? It's tragic. 

I hope this diet will have a positive impact, at which point it will be worth it find myself so annoying. Maybe I'll lose a few pounds which I never hate. I'll promise not to be annoying or preachy while this is happening. I may complain a lot, but I'll do my best to keep my complaining to myself (after everyone reads this complaining post of course). But a life without mac 'n cheese? Worth complaining about.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Where is the Fun?

Ideally the purpose of a recreational activity one spends a lot of time pursuing should include fun. In the nearly decade I've been a runner I've loved it. Even when it's a hard run (which is not an infrequent occasion), I've loved it. I've loved the challenge, the runner's high, and the sacrifice of time and sore hips/knees. Running is my lover, and we've had a good thing going for quite a while.

Right now we're going through a rocky patch. It's not you, running. It's definitely me. I've lost my focus. I want to love you the way I used to, but I can't seem to find my way back to you. Instead of feeling joyful, tacking on extra miles just feels like work. Every step feels labored instead of feeling triumphant.  Even those brief moments where you give me what I need just aren't enough anymore.

I hate that I feel this way about running right now. Let's be honest - I'm entirely too goal oriented and focused to stop training for the New York Marathon. I made a commitment, and even if I struggle through every single training mile between now and November, I will run that race. 

Having a baby is one surprise source of exhaustion. I'm not being sarcastic; I really didn't expect I'd still be so tired. He's sleeping through the night pretty regularly, but I underestimated 1) how sleep deprivation would sneak up on me months after his birth like a ninja and 2) how I would actually go to sleep later in order to catch up on chores, read or do work. My son is in bed by 7:30-8 pm. For years I've had a solid 10 pm-6 am sleep cycle, and now if I'm in bed before 11 pm on a regular basis it's surprising. There's just so much to do, and if I go to sleep it means those tasks don't get accomplished. 

My health is a second surprise source of exhaustion (again denial that Crohn's is actually an issue that affects me.) My stored iron (ferritin) level is a touch low. My doctor told me ideally my ferritin level should be around 100 nanograms per millimeter of blood (the measurement doesn't matter except for the number 100.) My ferritin level in June was 5. that's gonna leave a mark. Now it's around 10, and my doctor is ordering iron infusions. I have a medical reason for exhaustion, but I keep trying to ignore it and hope it'll get better. That strategy has surprisingly not been effective.

It might take a little time and effort, but I know running and I will get back to where we used to be. Relationships take work, and I know I'm high maintenance. It takes a lot of work to be enough for me, but running ultimately knows I'm worth it. He'll be there when I'm ready to come crawling back.     

Monday, August 10, 2015

Get the Door? It's Domino's?

I've been known to be a touch hard on my adopted hometown of Lansing. There's a lot of potential here, and it's come a long way in the near decade since I moved here. Last year I wrote a love(?) letter to my adopted hometown with some constructive criticism/suggestions on ways to make downtown better. The list included the street design and the growing collection of unnecessary sub shops littering downtown's busiest street. 

The street design piece is really coming along. As part of our Convert Capitol Avenue project a few weeks ago I got to get to know and love the city traffic engineer. This dude is amazing. I cannot possibly say enough positive things about his forward thinking view on street design and how downtown can be more vibrant. I am confident that with a bus rapid transit system possibly in Lansing's future the city streets will be reviewed and changed/narrowed. I'm confident that Lansing's streets will be safer and more pedestrian focused as we move forward.  

In the last decade Michigan has been battered by the recession harder than many states. I know the result is a "take any business you can get" economic development strategy in some cases. In the last few months three local downtown Lansing restaurants/bars have closed. On one premiere corner across from the renovated Knapps Building a former bookstore has sat vacant for years. I noticed activity in the former bookstore and eagerly awaited the news of what would fill that space.

While we're not getting another sub shop, the future tenant isn't much better. We're getting a Domino's...formerly Domino's Pizza although the name change is really superfluous. Technically it's a "pizza theatre" but that's a fancy way of saying another pizza shop. If you're not familiar with downtown Lansing there is another pizza shop, Cottage Inn, kitty-corner from the new Domino's location. I'm psyched to have two pizza places across the street from one another (that sarcasm is coming through, right?)

You might ask, "Would you rather have a vacant building than a tax paying tenant in that space?" If I'm being honest the answer is yes. The recession is over, friends. It's time to stop taking the best we think can get and be strategic about economic development. My husband and I sat downtown on the patio at Henry's on the Square (conversely a great local addition to downtown) last week across from where the new Domino's will go and discussed what we, downtown Lansing residents, need downtown. 

A pharmacy. There was a local pharmacy when I first moved here, and it closed a few years ago. I'm not generally a huge chain person, but I'd take a Walgreen's or CVS as an anchor tenant to attract other development. We need a bookstore. The last local bookstore didn't work, so what about a Barnes & Noble or a Schuler's?  I worked closely in economic development in my first job working with a city. I have worked with communities my entire career. I know economic development isn't easy. It takes courting and charm and tenacity. It takes patience. It takes saying no to the wrong opportunity even when you don't have something to come in behind it just yet. It isn't easy, but lots of other communities do it. You keep your eye on the prize and refuse to give in when the next sub shop knocks on your door.

We've doubled down on downtown Lansing because we think it's worth it. We could easily move to where development has already taken off, we have transit and there's little left to do in the community other than enjoy its vibrant downtown. We want to be part of making a place great, and I'm fortunate to get to do that personally and professionally. It's not my intention to be critical of downtown, but a Domino's? That can't be left without comment. We can do better. We should expect better next to a historically renovated downtown building with a fabulous fashion incubator and store. We should stop taking what we think is the best we can get and expect more.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Do You Look Like a Runner?

I was first talked into running nearly a decade ago by a friend who looks like a gazelle. No seriously - she's tall, thin, beautiful. Her legs are longer than my legs and torso combined (or really pretty close). If you imagine what a runner should look like I think it would be a lot like her. When I started telling people I was running with her I'd often get a surprised, "Oh, you're a runner too? She looks like a runner." Of course I took this to imply that I didn't. It used to offend me until I realized that you don't have to be a size two with long legs to look like a runner. 

My build is more gymnast than runner. I'm short and very muscular. I had someone recently tell me that my arms are so muscular I look like a bodybuilder. I was annoyed because that's not the look I'm going for, but strong IS the new skinny. I don't think I look like a runner. I'm fit, but you won't mistake me for a human gazelle.

I lift cars in my spare time.

When I first started running I'd look at others in races to determine who I could beat. If someone was heavier or older or had a weird running style I would immediately think I could beat them. Looks can be deceiving. As soon as I size someone up for "looking" slower than me, that's when said person leaves me in their dust. Last weekend is a great example. I was lining up by time at the start of trail half marathon and chatting with a girl who was heavier than me. She seemed pretty shy and didn't appear to be in fantastic shape. She blew by me about a mile in and I never saw her again. She was a rock star, and way faster than me even even though she also did not appear to be a human gazelle.

Running is a funny thing. There is an older man who runs a lot of 5ks in the Lansing area. He wears a headband, has crazy long grey hair and the weirdest running gait I've ever seen. He holds his arm at this weird angle and it looks almost painful to see him run. That dude beats me every. single. race.  If you were to describe how you think a runner looks I bet he wouldn't meet the description, but dude rocks it out. 

Last month runner's world did a feature on Mirna Valerio, a 250 pound ultra runner. She has a body mass index (BMI) nine points higher than the standard for obesity, but she's running ultra marathons. I am sure a lot of people have looked at her at the starting line and written her off because she doesn't look like a runner, but she's running 50k trail races. I'm not running that kind of distance. 

I've learned at the starting line to put away any misconceptions and focus on my own run. We're all out there competing against ourselves (except for those who are seriously competitive at the race...I am not). We are all there running, pushing ourselves, and doing the best we can do. It turns out we all look like runners.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Legend in my Own Mind

I hate trail running. I don't want to. I really, really want to like it. Unfortunately every time I sign up for a trail race my excitement is dashed by tree roots and bugs and being smacked in the face by branches. I'm entirely too much of a diva to really enjoy trail running.

Despite my general aversion to trails last weekend I ran the Legend Half Marathon at Sleepy Hollow State Park just north of Lansing. My main motivation for running the race was to keep myself on track while training for the New York Marathon. The race was nearby, and I ran the 10 mile version five years ago while training for my first marathon. I was miserable at the finish of the 2010 Legend 10-miler, but somehow I seemed to have forgotten that. It seemed like a good idea to try it again.

At the finish of the 2010 Legend 10-miler. My face says it all.

I haven't been in the best running shape the last month or so.  I had my first DNF (did not finish) at a 10k in Nashville on the 4th of July. I've been anemic and light headed, and it's made running a challenge (particularly in the heat and humidity). On Friday my colleagues and I participated in 90 minutes of Pound and Pilates as part of Fitness Friday hosted by the downtown Lansing YMCA (part of a work project we were doing), so I woke up Saturday morning with my body sore in places it isn't quite used to. Seriously...how does your spine become sore? Ouch.

The race started at 8:30 am, relatively late for a summer half marathon. I made it to the park about 30 minutes before the race and seamlessly picked up my packet. The race started on time, and my achy muscles and I ran into the crowded start. 

This is where I'd love to regale you with a tale of my overcoming soreness, rocking out this half marathon and regaining my marathon training confidence. That would be a lie. I started off strong, and for the first few miles I felt okay. The trail was surprisingly not congested. Around mile three I fell pretty hard. Thankfully my hands braced the fall, so other than my bruised ego I was okay.

It started to get really hot around mile 6. By that point the only thing going through my mind was "get to the finish" on repeat. The race was mostly on shaded, forest trails, but every now and then we'd run out into a sunny open field. I came to dread the sunlight. Aid stations were not as plentiful as I would've liked, but I understand how difficult it would be to have more of them on that course.

At the aid station just before the 8 mile marker I may have traumatized a young boy (maybe 7 or 8?) by taking a handful of ice from him and shoving it into my sports bra. He loudly whispered, "Dad! That lady put ice down her shirt!" The melting ice kept my core cooler, and it helped get me through the next few miles.

By mile 11 I was really running out of steam. I counted to 60 in my head as I took a short walk break and reluctantly started running again. Then just past mile 12 I watched the runner in front of me take a rolling tumble. I stopped and asked him if he was okay. Another runner said, "Be careful - I run here a lot and this part can be treacherous." I thanked him and started running before taking my own rolling tumble. This time my hands didn't break the fall, and I could feel my stinging knees. I walked it off for just a second before pushing myself to finish the last mile. As I came across the finish line I was just glad to be done. That race wasn't about speed but about endurance and pushing myself. I did push myself, and my 2:13:31 time was faster than I expected (and good enough for 3rd in my age group). 

The things I'll do for hardware.

After I got home and showered my husband and I walked downtown for lunch. I was sore, but it felt good to walk it out. I've learned as a parent that race day no longer means getting home and lazing about. I have a baby, and I don't get to stop unless he stops. Thankfully we both got a two hour nap that afternoon. The next day I hurt everywhere. It was brutal. I wore heels to work today, two days later, and my shins were screaming with every step.

It's a well documented fact that I don't know my limits. I feel like I'm on the road to back on track with marathon training even though I've got a lot of work to do. Despite the end result being okay, I realize definitively that I really don't enjoy trail running. Every time I get the itch and want to jump into a trail race I need to be reminded I don't think it's fun. I'll take a boring old road race, please. The Legend was a good challenge, but I think I'll stick to the pavement from here on out.