Monday, July 25, 2016

Alien Invaders

Having an autoimmune disease is weird. It's weird for all the reasons you'd expect, but it's really weird because it feels like aliens have invaded your body. Granted I've never had aliens invade my body nor do I really believe in aliens, but I imagine if aliens do exist and they did invade your body it wouldn't feel dissimilar from Crohn's Disease (or Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis or any of the other atrocious autoimmune diseases with which people struggle). 

After my wake-up call hospital stay in May I've really cut back on running and exercising. It's been hard for me, but the steroids necessitated it. In those first few weeks when I was taking the maximum dose of Prednisone it hurt to walk much less run. My skin hurt to the touch for weeks. It hurt to do random things like weeding my flower beds (it hurt to bend my knees). But I knew the steroids would help with my flare. I knew they'd kick whatever infection I'd been dealt. They're pretty much like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black taking on my body's alien invaders. They're the first, last and only line of defense against the worst scum of the universe.

Last Saturday was my last day of Prednisone. As I tapered off the medication I noticed my joints gradually feeling less puffy. I noticed it hurt less to run and I began logging more miles and cross training. And I noticed my every day Crohn's symptoms imperceptibly coming back. My stomach has been more upset. Foods I've been able to eat over the last few months started bothering me again. I'm waking up at night with fevers and chills. As much as I hated the steroids they kept the aliens at bay (my galaxy defenders if you will). It's really a challenge to hate the steroids and hate the side effects but feel better at the same time. It's hard to appreciate that in the moment when all I want to do is go back to running and feeling "normal" even if normal is my crummy Crohn's normal. 

This week my goal is to get back into my intense running and cross training schedule. I started with a crazy core cardio workout this morning that I'm pretty sure I'll feel for several days. It feels good to get back into my workout routine. I registered for a 5k last weekend but decided to go out drinking and dancing with my girlfriends the night before. It didn't exactly bode well for getting up early and running a race. But this week is a new week. This week my focus is back. Even though the aliens have decided to return, they don't get to win. We will co-exist nicely. 


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Portland is Not Overrated

I have a tendency to be *slightly* antagonistic at times when it comes to cities. Ones that have it all on paper tend to not resonate to me (San Francisco comes to mind). They can seem too done. Too plastic. Too perfect. The cities toward which I gravitate are grittier, flawed, need work. That's my version of perfect. When visiting Portland, Oregon for the first time last week I didn't have high expectations. Everyone loves Portland. It's at or near the top of the list on everything: public transportation, walkability, green space, density. After spending four days there I have to admit Portland is nearly flawless, and I absolutely loved it.

It was my son's first trip to the west coast, and my little 19-month-old traveler's 15th U.S. state he's visited. At first my husband questioned whether we should take a toddler across the country, but I'm a twisted person and enjoy these types of parenting challenges. I contend the only way he'll be a good traveler is if we just do it knowing it's going to be challenging at times. Thus far it's worked for us.

We left the Lansing airport in the evening and hopped two flights: a quick one to Minneapolis and a longer flight to PDX. Our son did great on both flights. We arrived in Portland around 9:30 PST which made it past midnight for us. We found an awesome car service, TJW Transportation, that offers car seats. We didn't want to deal with the hassle of taking one, and Travis came through for us. He was prompt, professional, all around awesome. If you're traveling to Portland with a child I could not more highly recommend him. Even if you're traveling without a child - he's great. 

Our son has been waking up around 5 am eastern time, so we were really wondering what the change to the west coast would do. Fortunately he slept until around 5 am pacific time which was much more doable. On our first early morning we took a walk around the city. The beauty of having a toddler that wakes up early is we had the city to ourselves. We grabbed coffee and walked right by a running store where of course I did some damage later in the week.

We also happened upon Voodoo Doughnut which I did not realize was a thing. There was a very short line, so we grabbed doughnuts and let our son play in the outdoor tables. Of course Portland is awesome so they just closed off an alley with tables, strung lights across and made a cool public outdoor space. On the walk back to our hotel we passed food trucks everywhere. I'd love to know the food truck/brick and mortar restaurant ratio because there are so many food trucks in Portland. I don't even know how one could choose which one to go to!

My husband was in Portland for a conference and had a lot of work to do, so my son and I got to explore toddler style. After a long nap we took light rail to Washington Park. Portland's public transportation system is comprehensive and fantastic. Once I figured out how to navigate it we hopped a train to the park, home of the Oregon Zoo. My husband is always our vacation planner, and I headed to the park with very little idea of what we'd do. It turns out Washington Park is enormous. We had to take a 20-minute shuttle to the playground, the largest in Portland. It only took about 30 minutes for said playground to wear out my son, and we headed back for our second nap of the day. 

We walked all over downtown, and my little dude was a champion. Unfortunately the time change meant an early night and room service, but room service is one of my favorite traveling guilty pleasures. 

On Friday morning we were up early again and walked down the river front trail among runners and bikers. We walked to Old Town to get a photo of the famous White Stag sign. It turns out Old Town is slightly sketchy (let's nicely say in transition) particularly at 6 am. We rather quickly took our photo and headed back toward the hotel.

You don't get shots like this by sleeping in.
I had a friend from Lansing in Portland for a different conference, and we met for lunch at Raven & Rose near my hotel. While my son is a fantastic traveler, 19 months is not the ideal time for dining with a toddler. My friend also has a little guy (a few months younger) and was thankfully patient with my kid's antics. 

While walking on Saturday I discovered a beautiful park stretching several blocks in the cultural district. We had a delicious breakfast at Swank (I highly recommend the eggs benedict) and my son got to play in the park. Saturday morning was also the Portland Saturday Market which is huge and awesome. It takes up two large areas of the city: along the river and across the street in Old Town. It's almost overwhelmingly large with so many vendors. My son and I perused the crowded market checking out local art, t-shirts and street performers. It's a fantastic use of public space.

Cultural district

Crowds at the Saturday market
In the afternoon we visited Powell's City of Books. I love books and reading, and this store is colossal. It's the largest new and used bookstore in the world occupying an entire city block. I was in heaven. We bought a few book for our son and let him run around the children's reading area for a while. Definitely a highlight of the trip. We followed the book store with drinks and dinner at Deschutes Brewery, another beautiful space. 

As I look back on the trip I can't entirely remember how we filled all of our time, but such is life with a toddler. My only regret is that I only got in one run on Sunday morning. The baby's schedule and my husband's conference schedule made it too challenging. Portland is a really hilly city, so I look forward to visiting again and running those hills.

My happy guy playing in a fountain downtown
I've thought a lot about why I loved Portland so much, and I think there are two reasons: street design and green space. Portland has trees everywhere. There are trees along busy city streets. There are parks, both small and large, everywhere. For a city with well over half a million people the streets are narrow and designed for multi modal transportation. Portland is clearly not designed for cars. The streets are designed for transit, bikes and people. The narrow streets feel intimate. The trees almost feel like they're hugging you. I've never really loved the west coast, but Portland doesn't feel like the typical west coast. It feels like an old friend.

Street design porn 
Portland is a vibrant city that has it all, and I loved everything about it. I'm trying to think of a criticism and I can't. I'm looking forward to exploring it again and spending more time in my running shoes. It turns out Portland is not overrated.   

Maybe this is why Portland feels like an old friend? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Running vs. Snuggling

Running is hard. If it was easy everyone would do it right? Remember the hard is what makes it great. I've been in a real running funk lately. It's easy to blame it on the steroids, and they have certainly wreaked havoc on my body. It's easy to blame it on a hospital stay two months ago. In reality this funk started after the New York Marathon now eight months ago. Maybe it started as part of some kind of post marathon blues. But it has decided to dig in. With only a week and a half (yay!) left on steroids my excuses are becoming thin. I have to get back at it.

A huge part of my running lethargy has been my son's sleep schedule. He's been waking up around 5 am every day for a few months. My husband and I alternate mornings, and I promise myself on his mornings I'll get up and run. Then those days come and sleep, precious sleep, wins. Again this a total excuse - one makes time for what's important. That means right now sleep is more important than running.

I'm the kind of person who needs to burn off excess energy, so I know I'll get back into it. I talked to my best friend a few weeks ago, and she told me she was doing a running streak. I did one a few years ago and loved it. I decided I'd do a 4th of July to Labor Day running streak. Since July 4th I've run about four times. Worst streak ever!

This morning at 5 am my husband brought our son into our room in hopes that he'd go back to sleep for an hour or so (which rarely happens). It was my husband's morning to get up with the baby, and I should've been up working out. My son snuggled into the crook of my arm as close as he could possibly get to me. At that beautiful moment running didn't stand a chance. I'll always have running. I won't always have my toddler. So first thing this morning snuggles beat running. Tomorrow snuggles may win again. And right now that's okay. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

I'm about to make a statement that will be controversial here in Michigan: I can take or leave lakes. They're lovely, and I have certainly enjoyed time I've spent on lakes since I've lived here, but give me a wooded hiking trail in the mountains any day. Last week I got my mountain fix, and as I sit here writing this blog my husband is sitting next to me researching vacation homes in the mountains of my stunning home state of West Virginia. This mountain mama needs a mountain home.

Two weekends ago we spent the weekend in Boyne City. I love the city, and we had a nice time on Lake Charlevoix. I left there thinking maybe I could do it; maybe I could be one of those people who has a place in Northern Michigan and goes there all the time. Fast forward less than one week and Northern Michigan is all but forgotten, left behind in the shadows of the West Virginia hills. 

We met my family in Davis, West Virginia near the Canaan Valley ski resort where we rented a house for the holiday weekend. Friday evening was relaxed, and we grilled out for dinner, cracked open a few bottles of wine and spent some time in the hot tub. The house we rented backed up to a bubbling creek and towering trees. Even though there were other houses around, it felt private. I felt relaxed as soon as I arrived.

In the hot tub with my sister and niece
On Saturday morning I got up early for a run. I ran down the hill and stopped in my tracks at the view. Fog kissed the top of the mountains as the sun threatened to burn through it. There was a beautiful house at the end of the road where we were staying, and a horse grazed leisurely in the foreground. The view was nothing short of breathtaking. 

We headed out to Thomas, WV for the 4th of July celebration. It was my son's first parade, and he helped his 11-year-old cousin catch candy. Thomas is a charming town with quaint stores, galleries and restaurants. We had lunch after the parade before heading back so my son could nap.

In the late afternoon we walked down the hill to a ski lodge and took the ski lift up the mountain. We hiked the few miles down, my son's first hike. He was a champion, even yelling "Go go go!" at the end of the hike. 

On Sunday we left early to hike to the top of Seneca Rocks. I hadn't done that hike since college and was looking forward to it. It was an ambitious 1.5 mile hike on a really steep trail with a 23 pound child strapped to my bike, but it was worth it. The views were amazing. 

I promised myself I'd start a running streak on the 4th of July, but my hips were killing me from hiking and it was pouring rain when we woke up. I decided I could start a streak any time I wanted right? We braved the rain to go to Blackwater Falls. It was relatively deserted in the crazy rain, and it was so beautiful. My son continued to insist I let him down to go look at the falls more closely by continually screaming "I want!" at the falls. At least I've got a kid who knows what he wants.

I was sad to leave Canaan but loved spending the weekend there. I only ran once, but I got three solid hikes in which I take as a good trade. I used muscles I don't usually use, and I relaxed in the process. Bonus. Now if I can talk the hubs into a house at Canaan I'll be able to get my mountain fix any time I want.