Going longer… Getting stronger….

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This weekend had a little bit of everything in it. I spent Friday evening with friends at two different art exhibit openings, Saturday with my spiritual community and Sunday out in nature. I even got a chance to cook some nice meals for myself and get enough sleep. While my house is not spic ‘n span, it is not too shabby. I can rest well tonight and go to work feeling caught up. Now, if I could just have several more 3-day work weeks, I’d be golden.

July 4 Long Run….

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My running training is going along swimmingly…. swimmingly in sweat that is. But I’ve been waiting and waiting for it to get warmer, and now it’s here. Unfortunately, we are having a lot of Louisiana-style heat and humidity up here, and it’s making long runs in particular, brutal. For the second time in the last few weeks, I started my long run at 4:30 AM so I could get it in before the heat index started rising. Jessica is doing the same thing in Tulsa as she is at the peak of her marathon training. It’s even hotter there. We laughed that we waited forever for the cold weather to go away, and now we have to hide from the sun and run under cover of darkness.

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The last three days were pretty nice, though. Friday and Saturday in particular were amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to run either of those days. So, this morning I drove to the woods near Lansing to do a short trail run. I’ve added a trail half marathon to my training schedule, and I wanted to check out the course at Sleepy Hollow State Park.

Since it was a shorter run, I took Ashok. She was really happy to get out. For the last six weeks, I’ve had lots of guests, and we haven’t really been doing dog-friendly activities. Besides, it’s been so hot, she’d be miserable. But today we’d be in the shade and would get started before the heat really set in.

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This little park was lovely, and its main feature was a big fishing lake. We were almost the only people on the trails, and we knocked out the four miles at right about an hour. We hiked the rest of the way back, and it was so relaxing to walk in the woods without having to rush. I think we both needed it.

After our run, I changed clothes and we headed home. Since we were so close to Lansing, I decided to drive in and see our state capitol. I’ve never been to Lansing, and a friend of mine wasn’t too complimentary of it. I managed to find Old Town, and it had a nice little park by the river and some interesting restaurants. I sat outside of Punk Taco with Ashok, and I ordered the “Trust Us” tacos which turned out to be fabulous. (You get what they bring ya, get it?) The corn tortilla was obviously home-made, and the pork, sauce and cheese were delicious. I had planned to eat at the BBQ place next door, but I think I made the better decision getting the tacos. It was just enough, and the flavors were extraordinary.

They even had a fish ladder to help salmon over the waterful in Old Town!

I run the trail half marathon in a month. After running 4 miles today (about 1/3 the distance), I see that running that trail half is going to be brutal. I’m going to have to wrap my mind around the effort. At this point in the training – above 10-mile runs – the mental effort of running starts to get difficult. The physical gets tougher, too, but it’s my mind that starts asking “what’s the point of doing this?” I had forgotten about this part of it. At least in the trail run, I’ll have nature around as a distraction, and my mind will be occupied looking for roots and holes that could trip me up.

Well, y’all have a good week. If Jessica increases me again this week, I’ll be at half marathon distance. I’m trying to think cool to drum up some cooler temps on long run day!

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I Would Have Missed This

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I’m on my way up! This week I had to increase my long run to 10 miles. In last weekend’s hot and muggy weather, I ran 9 in Chicago. No, I did not enjoy it although I did enjoy having my friend Sally with me. It’s not often I get running partners these days. The hot, sweaty miles dripped off much faster with good conversation and a few laughs.

So Jessica challenged me with 10-miles this week. However …. I’m going backpacking this weekend. I do not want to run 10 miles on Saturday morning and then go hiking, so I decided I might try a long run before work. Nine miles took a little over 2 hours, so 10 would take even longer. The math told me I’d need to start no later than 4:30 AM to get it done and get ready for work.

I went to bed at 8:30 last night determined to get a good night’s sleep. But first I googled to see if any other idiots ever attempted a long run before work. Sure enough, several bloggers had written about it, so I fell asleep with the confidence that it was doable. I even gave myself permission to split it in two if I desired.

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I woke up on my own at 3:30 AM and considered it a gift. I had time to drink a cup of coffee and leave at 4 AM, giving me a little more time to get ready for work. Ashok and I took off in complete darkness. I ran a 5.5 mile circle and dropped my girl off at home so I could finish the rest on my own. After a quick restroom break, I started out again, and my body was begging me to go back home. But I remembered from my past running career that this feeling would pass. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The sun was just starting to come up, and I ran down to the beach. A great blue heron waded in the lake. As a little blessing it started sprinkling, and I was thinking how nice it was to feel cool raindrops on my skin. It wasn’t too hot, but it was hot enough with all the running. I rounded the corner by the fountain, and I noticed a faint rainbow over Lake Michigan. With only a hint of color, it was perfect and whole. It framed the path ahead of me. Wow…. I thought to myself. If I had not done this, I would have missed it.

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The rainbow got a bit brighter as I felt a happy burst of energy. Two deer headed out on the beach at the park. I’d never seen deer on the beach although I assumed they probably drank there. They looked at me as I came closer, and they headed down toward the water. The sand sloped into the lake, and I could only see their faces and ears as they watched my every move. I stopped to take a picture, and a fellow runner said, “Are you taking a picture of the rainbow or the deer?”

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You can see a little set of ears over the hill.

“Both,” I answered back with a smile on my face. And just think, if I had turned back toward home, I would have missed this.

I almost ran over a bunny in my subdivision who waited too long to run away. We startled each other as it leaped out in front of me. Orange exploded into the sky as the sun began its ascent. Other runners began to pass me as it got later in the morning. Traffic picked up, and by the time I got home, my neighbor was out walking his dog.

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Had I decided to run on the treadmill instead, I would have missed that lovely little rainbow. If I had only run 5 miles, I would have never seen the bunny or the deer. If I had decided to let backpacking derail my training, I would not have felt the sense of accomplishment of seeing 10 miles click off on my Runkeeper app… or at least not today.

Sometimes running is not so fun. At times it’s like checking the box. Other times it takes everything I have to get out and do it. And frequently it feels good physically but I’m distracted by other stuff. But this morning I was reminded of the gift of running that always inspires me to come back for more. For, if it wasn’t for running this morning, I would’ve missed this. And that would have been a huge loss.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed. I’m exhausted for some reason.

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Treasures in the Sand

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For my second run this week, Jessica told me to run 30 minutes and then run some dunes or stairs. Luckily I had taken today off, so I decided to go to Grand Mere State Park and run the trails and dunes. I’m always afraid to do it before work even though daylight comes really early now. There are trails all over the place, and I just know I’ll get lost and wander into work late.

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I loaded up Ashok, and she was very excited to see that we turned into a green, wooded area rather than downtown. Several deer were at the trailhead, but they ran away before I could snap a picture. I knew immediately this was a great idea, and I decided right then and there that I will go even earlier next time so I can catch the soft dawn light settling over the wildflowers and dunes.

At about the same time, I realized most of this run was going to be in sand. Runner’s World had a feature last month that raved about the benefits of running in sand. So I knew it would be good for me even though it would be a challenge. We ran through the woods on the edge of the dunes for about 20 minutes before heading toward the lake.

We were all alone except for the animals and the rising sun. The beach was deserted for as far as I could see, so I let Ashok off leash, and we ran a long, slow beach run. Little baby waves lapped at the shore. I remembered a story one of my friends had shared about Grand Mere. A few years ago around this very bend, an ancient shipwreck emerged. People flocked around and looked at it for weeks before it disappeared back into its watery grave. Wouldn’t it be fun if I found a treasure this morning?

All I found was a lovely seascape, some bonfires ready to be lit, an enormous amount of sand and one very happy dog. While the treasures may seem small in comparison to an ancient gem, the moment and the effort was worth every breath. I am not disappointed at all with my bounty.

Have a great weekend, y’all! And get off your ass, will ya? It’s good for you, and you never know what might find along the way.

Michigan asparagus….

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Unleashed

 

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I’ve lost some steam on my running. I had that great day in Saugatuck, and then I had the Memorial Day Holiday come up. My friend Alisa from Louisiana was up, and, although I ran a little, we mostly walked and visited beach towns. Admittedly, we walked a LOT. Poor girl, I think I wore her out. But I didn’t run a whole lot that weekend. On Tuesday a cold started clogging up my head. I didn’t feel like running, and I couldn’t breathe very well when I did.

I decided I’d better get a plan in place to build some momentum. “A 10K!!” popped into my head Friday morning. I finally found one for this weekend. I didn’t really want to do something this weekend, but it looked like a fun race, and it was in Ann Arbor. In 10 seconds, I was signed up! Yay! Instant motivation.

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Ann Arbor – University of Michigan Stadium

 

It was a bit too far to drive in on Sunday, so I booked a hotel, packed up Ashok and headed east to that sweet little college town Saturday evening. I got a good night’s rest, and Ashok and I were up at 5 AM to pick up my race packet. After being one of the first customers at packet pickup, I headed over to Starbucks for a green tea latte and some breakfast. I had plenty of time, so Ashok and I people-watched and enjoyed the nice weather. It was supposed to rain, but you’d have never known it at 6:30 AM.

I pulled up the Weather Channel radar to see if rain was really likely during my race, and I saw just a few little bluish spots around Ann Arbor. No big deal. I zoomed out, and I saw this.

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Uh oh. Unless we got really lucky, it was going to be bad. The ETA was right in the middle of the race. I decided to leave my phone in the car, skip the rain jacket and not bring anything except my car key and an energy bar. I was going to be soaked, and I didn’t want to chance ruining my phone. There would be no Runkeeper tracking for run data this morning.

It wasn’t raining when the race started. It started sprinkling at mile 1. For about a minute, we all sort of moaned a little and said a group OH NO. Then the bottom fell out. It wasn’t Louisiana pouring, but it was definitely more than a normal Michigan pouring. It poured, and it poured, and it poured. My socks and shoes were soaked, my hair looked like a wet mop, and my clothes were “unspinned washing machine” wet.

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As the weather unleashed itself on me, I started to feel unleashed myself. It felt great to be untethered to my phone. I had no camera for pictures. I didn’t have to worry about my dog since she wasn’t allowed in the race. Race pace didn’t matter because I had nothing to track it with. And, once I got used to the rain and decided I was just going to get wet, it was pretty freeing. Splash… splash… squish .. squish... everybody was in an even better mood BECAUSE of the downpour. My nose was running horribly, and I just blew it out on the street. I didn’t even have to have manners! I used the excess as hand cream. (Just kidding, but that grossed you out, didn’t it?)

I realized about halfway in that the 3 min/30 sec interval I had set was a bit too aggressive for me. I was getting tired, so I backed it up to 3 min/1 min intervals. That was much better. I love running with walk breaks. I feel good the whole time, and when I have such short intervals, I can run really hard. It helps to pump up my endorphin rush much better than a long, slow interval. My time is usually better with walk breaks because I feel much stronger and more refreshed. After I switched, I got my energy back and squished down the road even faster.

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You look like a drowned rat. #karma #doglessrunning

My finishing time was 1:09:18 – slow by anybody’s standards, but I felt great. People were literally dancing in the rain afterward. As I walked back to my car with a big smile on my face, I realized how great it felt to be free of technology and pressure to meet a time goal. I think I’d like to do that more often. I answered that age-old question “if you run without tracking it electronically and posting it on social media, did it really happen?” I can emphatically say yes, it happened. And I have a pile of soaking wet clothes to prove it.

Oh, yeah… and when I drove out of the parking garage, it had stopped raining. It literally ONLY rained on my race. Go figure.

The Beast, the B*tch and the Badass

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Last weekend I realized that I hadn’t actually registered for the Mount Baldhead Challenge (The Beast) in September. So I (The Badass) went to the website, and read the announcement that the 15K had now become a 12-miler and some change. “Well that’s not a 15K then,” Jessica (aka The B*tch) said when I texted her. I’m going to do it. I have my heart set on running this multi-terrain race, but this means that the distance has increased, and when I checked the map, the amount of trail running has increased as well.

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Now this race was already hard. The first time I ever ran it, I had just started back running that year. I was choosing races that would help me increase my distance. I didn’t know enough to look at elevation or terrain or anything else. While standing in line at the porta-potty, I asked a fellow racer if he had ever run it before. “Yes!” he said. “This is my favorite race. It’s supposed to be the toughest 15k in the country! (or did he say Michigan?).” I was shaking in my running shoes.

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I ended that race dead last. The cop car with lights flashing followed me across the finish line. And I was hooked. I ran that race 3 more times – once in a pouring thunderstorm. The course takes you through scenic Douglas and Saugatuck, along country roads, up, over and through the beautifully wooded dunes of Lake Michigan, and just about the time you get really tired, you climb 302 steps to the top of the dune called Mount Baldhead.

So now it’s two miles longer. And I’m quite a bit older. Jessica has increased my mileage and the elevation of my runs. The bluff in Saint Joseph features a staircase that climbs about 75 steps from the beach into town. For the past two weeks, I’ve been adding a hill running/stair climbing training run. And, I’ve been running trails. This week, she told me I should come to Saugatuck and start practicing on the race course.

The Goal: Run for 75 minutes and then climb Mount Baldhead 4 times. (I’m sure that Okie B*tch is thinking of wimpy Florida dunes. She has no idea that Lake Michigan dunes are beasts.)

The Reality: Ashok and I took off and discovered that even the elevation of the roads in this area is very hilly. In town, it’s pretty flat, but when you get to the dunes, it’s like running in East Tennessee. I’ll be climbing that beast twice. Maybe I’ll work up to four in the next month. Maybe ….

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I was surprised at how strong I was running the roads. Even though they were hilly, I kept up pretty well. Ashok did great, too and enjoyed playing in the ditches to cool off between intervals. Deer and squirrels kept her prey instinct occupied. It rained on and off, and the temp was a comfortable 50 degrees. I felt like I was on vacation with all the woods and water areas.

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No dogs were allowed on the stairs, so I tucked her away in the car and started my climb. No way I was going to run them. Even walking, I had to stop and catch my breath several times. But I got up to the top, caught my breath, took the long walk down and did it again. I told myself I could try 3 if I thought I could make it, but my legs were so wobbly after 2 ascents, I thought I’d better call it a day. There will be plenty of time for stair climbing in the next three months.

Now I’m really excited. I hope to be in better shape for this race than any of the previous ones. I always trained on roads and hoped for the best. I never trained on the course ahead of time. And I look forward to spending more beautiful Sunday mornings atop Mount Baldhead while the view – and the climb – literally takes my breath away.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to take a nap.

 

Running Season, More Coffeehouses and Sunshine

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On Friday someone mentioned it was supposed to be sunny all weekend. I checked my weather app, and they were right. It’s hardly spring with temps in the 20s-40s and snow in the forecast, but the sun shining in the sky is a reason to celebrate.

I got up Saturday morning early to get a cup of coffee before my hair appointment. None of the local coffeehouses were open, so I decided to stop by Plank’s at the local inn. I was really pleased at their brunch offering and got an amazing breakfast of avocado, eggs and sweet potato hash. My table was right in front of the fireplace with a lovely view of the river. It was a great, cozy, tasty way to start the weekend.

 

My internet has been out so I had to go home to wait for AT&T while I cleaned house, worked out on my TRX and cooked dinner. The guy was really nice, and I was very pleasantly surprised that he fixed it with no issues, and it didn’t cost me a dime. I went to bed early with my book club book, The Great Alone. A family in the 70s moved to rural Alaska on a whim, and I can’t wait to see if they will get eaten by a bear. There’s a lot of foreboding about danger and trouble going on. If the bears don’t get them, I expect the Daddy might go off his rocker and anger the locals. I’ll keep you posted.

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I had to do a long run this morning, so I packed up Ashok, and we headed to Kalamazoo to a nature preserve on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. It was a beautiful day although it was a tad colder than I expected. I’m lucky my technical shirt had some cuffs I could roll up over my hands. I planned on running 5 miles, but I felt so good at 2.5, I decided to go to 3 and double back for a total of 6. It felt amazing to be out and about and running on a day like today. And I noticed the Kalamazoo Nature Center is hosting a Maple Sugar Festival next weekend. That might be worth a trip!

I’ve started thinking about a running “season” this year now that the snow is melted and we seem to be on the back side of winter. I texted Jessica and hired her to coach me to run two specific races this fall. I want to run my favorite trail/road race of all time, the Mount Baldhead Challenge in September. And I signed up to run the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon in October. I even had to use my passport to sign up since the race course goes into Canada. Woohoo!!! Now, I just need to train and get in shape. I haven’t run a half marathon since February 2013 in Austin. We’ll see if I can get this body in shape again!

I visited two coffeehouses this weekend. My friend Donna had told me about The Full Circle coffee house (#9) in Stevensville so I stopped there on Saturday. It was a cute little cafe that serves a full breakfast as well as bakery goods and coffee. I opted for a chocolate scone which melted in my mouth. It had the texture of a flaky southern biscuit with a light drizzle of chocolate on top and a spattering of chocolate chips. They serve Infusco coffee, and I grabbed a latte to go. The manager told me it was called Full Circle because it is owned by three friends who grew up together, went on with their lives and then came “full circle” and opened a restaurant  together. The story is almost as cute as the furnishings and the setting in the cafe.

 

On Sunday, I stopped at Water Street Coffee (#10) in Kalamazoo. It is one of my favorite coffeehouses in that area. I had just run, so I got a Denver omelette strata and a latte made from their own roasted beans. The small place was packed, so I didn’t hang around too long. I noticed they have their own line of teas as well as coffee, local artisan-designed t-shirts and some really amazing coffee mugs. When I have time to browse, I’ll go back for another cup.

I’ve cooked up some beans for meals this week and am going to head to bed to read some more tonight. Now I’ve got races to motivate my running, a blog project that encourages me to explore my area, and a book club to motivate me to read. What’s motivating you to do what you know you want to do? Maybe it’s time you put something in place!

Have a great week, y’all!

 

My Complicated Relationship: Running

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This month, Runner’s World features a story called “The Love of My Life” by Marc Parent. It is, of course, about running. My running coach and soulmate Jessica has always said she has a relationship with running. It made me think about my own relationship with running that has – over the years – become more complicated and much more committed.

I remember when Parent started running. I was a new runner, and he wrote a series that began with him lacing up his running shoes for the first time. He was overweight, out of breath and not necessarily inclined to make running a habit. Every month I couldn’t wait for his dose of humor that more often than not mirrored my own path with running. I remember feeling like a kindred spirit as I watched him do his first 5K, half-marathon and then the beast – the full. I also remember when I started to wonder if he would stop writing the Newbie Chronicles as it was obvious he was a full-fledged, card-carrying runner.

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I’ve been running fairly steadily since 2003. In fact, my first short runs were run in February of 2003 on snowy roads in frigid temperatures about 3 miles from where I sit. My ex subscribed to Runner’s World, and I got hooked on the magazine. I had been a runner in my college days but had long since given up the ghost. I finally decided I was going to run when I read a piece about a 60-year-old woman who ran her first marathon. If that old woman can do it, so can I!

My path has had its ups and downs. I got in shape that February by running short intervals that got longer each run. I ran my first non-stop 30 minutes on a path in Maui on vacation that year. A 5K race in 2004 still stands as my 5K personal record. After a move to Memphis in 2006 and a failed attempt at training for a marathon, I sort of gave up on running. I was getting divorced, there was a lot of stress and my body seemed to hate running.

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But my love for running haunted me. I longed to be out on a beautiful day, and I hungered for that exhausted feeling after a good effort. A post-divorce depression intensified, and I sought out help from an acupuncturist. The acupuncture sparked my energy, and I started to run again. Luckily for me I found an amazing group called Memphis in Motion, and that is where I trained for my first full marathon surrounded by like-minded and tenacious beginner runners. I was introduced to the run/walk method which transformed my relationship with running.

I’ve been fairly consistent with running since then except for a hiatus in Louisiana. I kept getting injured, and I finally just quit for awhile. It was too hot. I didn’t enjoy it there, and I could never find a running group that worked. Looking back, I think I was under a lot of stress, and, given the fact that my body hated running when I was going through my divorce, running may not work for me when I’m in extreme stress. That’s okay. I now know the problem, and I can work with that.

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Once again last year I longed for the sound of my feet hitting the pavement, and I hired Jessica to slowly coach me back to running the 5K distance. I took it long and slow, and, with her guidance and support, I got back in the game. I started signing up for 5ks once a month, and since August I’ve only missed December. The winter admittedly is causing me issues, but I’m persevering. I plan to run today. I’m allowing myself to keep it short and to dress as warm as I like, but I’m going to get out. Spring awaits, and before you know it, I can run swiftly – for me – on roads unencumbered by ice and snow. This spring, like many before, will include running through the daffodils.

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Now that I’m pretty close to that “old woman’s” age, I appreciate the fact that I’ve chosen running as my drug of choice. It has prevented depression, given me reason to vacation, provided a means of touring new places and is a veritable fountain of youth. I know the hunger of not running, and I know the exhilaration of completing a marathon. Running is a gift that keeps on giving. It teaches me about perseverance and commitment and defeat. And while it is a backdrop in the drama I call my life, running gives me wings.

On a Cold Day in Chicago: We Run

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I packed my running clothes for the trip to Chicago. The last time I was here, I had a blast running downtown Michigan Avenue. The forecast was cold, but it’s almost never TOO COLD. I just have to dress for it. Last night I looked at the forecasted temps with wind chills below zero. Hmmmm … perhaps that is too cold, I thought. I decided to wait until this morning to make up my mind.

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I took Ashok out to do her business right before bedtime, and we walked down on the Riverwalk next to the Chicago River. We had not explored it last time I was here, and I was surprised at how long it was. Bundled up, I felt fine. It made me feel a little less worried about a run this morning. And, I could always turn around and come back if I got too cold. It’s not like I’d be doing a 20-miler anyway.

The temperature shot up to a balmy 12 degrees around 9:30 AM, and I decided to go for it. I bundled Ashok up in her new parka, and I put on 4 layers on top and two layers on bottom. I added a headband, a knit hat, a pair of gloves and some technical mittens over them. I was good to go. I told the doorman goodbye as he opened the doors for us, and we took off on our first Riverwalk run. (So, this is my something new for today!)

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The shattered ice in the river sparkled in the sunshine. Glass puzzle pieces bumped up against each other amid the current below. Items like trash, a life preserver ring and even a frozen dead duck were lodged in the frozen soup. Live ducks and geese paddled furiously below the surface keeping some areas liquid. I thought fondly about my days as a birdkeeper in Knoxville when we’d free ducks from the ice when it had frozen around their feet. One of the poor ducks was not so lucky here. He was frozen right as he lay. It made me sad.

We ran out to Navy Pier and then turned back toward the city. Several runners ran past us. It’s Chicago in January. It’s supposed to be cold. I imagine they would have thought it was funny that I even worried about it being too cold this morning. I broke into a sweat beneath my layers, but I didn’t get too overheated. I’d say my layering was just right for the run this morning.

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Ashok and I are perched in the window seat of this lovely suite overlooking the Chicago River. The hotel staff here upgraded my room as a birthday present. I had a fabulous hot shower in a shower big enough for four, ate a little after-run snack, and I’m about to head down for a coffeehouse recommendation. Chicago would be a great place to get another coffeehouse or two on my list. One down – 56 to go! I also think I might check out that new movie “The Post”. I plan to keep today somewhat simple. Walk around, enjoy the city, have a few warm drinks, chat with my new friends here at the hotel and sit by the fireplace. I may even snag a bag of Garrett’s popcorn.

Have a great Sunday, y’all! Bundle up. It’s cold everywhere.

Fiction: Almost Given Up

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Tara looked at her running shoes on the other side of the room. They look like new but had been in her possession for many months. “There’s nothing like the feel of a new running shoe under my feet,” she thought. It made her smile. She glanced out the window at the road that she had run so many times. Running was freedom. It was a longing and an attempt to maintain forward motion. She loved it.

The Chicago Marathon was less than an hour from starting. Even with the warmth of the 70,000 people around her and the buzz of excitement, she was cold. But she had waited a long time for this. She had trained a long time and through a lot of humid, hot miles. It was her first event of this magnitude, and it would be the highlight of her 40s to finish it.

In fact, her 40s seemed like a marathon. The death of her best friend, a divorce and the loss of the job that she had loved for 15 years knocked her off her pedestal of success. But inside, she felt that she was a better person for it. She’d learned how to ride the waves of grief, reinvent herself and ask for what she wanted. The muscle of her soul felt stronger. She’d chosen the marathon as a way to help her outsides match the badass strength of her insides. Every mile gave her the confidence that she was gaining ground.

Looking up at the condominiums on the other side of the park, she wondered what it was like to live there. Would she want to lug her stuff down 15 floors every morning to go to work? Slogging through snow and ice to catch a train could be an adventure if you looked at it that way. She thought of the empty space in her future where her dreams used to live. Could this be a future she’d love? Her heart jumped a little at the thought of it. She could see herself as a city girl.

The miles slogged on the roads through weather of all kinds was just a metaphor for her life journey. And her shoes lay on the other side of the room, discarded… a reminder of what she hadn’t done more than what she’d accomplished. After the marathon, she’d almost given up on herself. It was a great accomplishment, but it somehow brought on a pause instead of a celebration … a depression instead of joy.

She had wanted that 26-mile journey to be the start of something new. Instead it felt like an ending. It was the hard stop of the life that she had known before with a fist shaken in the face of defeat. The energy it had taken to get there – physically and emotionally – left her depleted. Her much-needed physical rest turned into a surrender to life. The grief was gone, but the hole left by her dreams seemed bottomless. Those almost like-new running shoes lay right where she had left them that day 6 months ago. When you don’t know the next step, who needs shoes?

She looked at the road again. The sound of her footfalls and the sight of her frosty breath on a cold day seemed like a gift. She thought about that morning in Chicago when she was so hopeful and inquisitive about her next steps. “Every journey begins with a single  step,” she whispered. She breathed in a big breath shifting the weight of the depression weighing in on her chest. “Maybe I could start with a walk,” she bargained. “Yes, I think a walk would be good.”

 

The Underdog: Base Layers of Merino Wool

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You can’t see it, but I have my Smartwool base layer on!

The Daily Prompt today is underdog. For some weird reason, the only thing I can wrap my mind around is underwear. Is there an underdog of underwear? Honestly, my base layer I wear when I’m running is sort of like the underdog of my wardrobe. It may not get the audience or attention that my outer layer gets, but it is definitely an unsung hero. With out it, I would freeze. (How’d you like that transition?)

When I took a job as a bird keeper at the Knoxville Zoo, I had to learn how to dress for winter. Much of my day would be spent outside raking up bird poop, washing water bowls and checking on the health of our bird collection. My supervisor told me to get lots of long underwear, and I ordered it from Land’s End. I was astounded at how much difference it made to wear a base layer. I was always toasty warm. But the long underwear in those days was thick cotton or silk. While both had advantages, they are not nearly as nice as the base layers we have today.

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I have a hard time convincing my friends in Louisiana that I don’t get really cold up here.  I dress in layers. These days, I almost always have a merino wool layer next to my skin which keeps me toasty even when wearing skirts. Smartwool makes tights that are cute, soft, warm and very durable. I wore one of about 4 pair almost every day last winter. I’d throw them in the washer and dryer, and they still look great even after a year of constant use. I bought three more pair at the end of the season on clearance.

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I bought Smartwool base layers two years ago for backpacking. Our backpacking teacher said they were the best for sleeping and for wicking moisture on hikes. I wear those things on runs and even for sitting around the house. Occasionally I wear them for sleeping. I could easily use another 2 or 3 pair, but they, too, are expensive. And now I’m salivating about some Smartwool running tights. If I could wear that stuff year round from head to toe, I’d be thrilled. I even have a Smartwool balaclava and neck gaiter!

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Yesterday I ran upon a blog claiming that Merino wool is the hot new technical wear for athletes of all kinds.  Those sheep live in very cold climates but have to suffer through pretty warm summers. So, the wool is very warm but is breathable enough that it’s not too hot when temps rise. This stuff is like a miracle. And, another blogger I follow was laughing at himself because he has never been happier since he paid $25 for a pair of Merino wool cycling socks. Who knew wool was the workhorse of the underwear business?

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