Virtually Unstoppable

I’ve often lamented, in recent years, that when life got really busy – too busy, really – running took a backseat or even dropped off the agenda completely.  In a life that was packed with constant rushing – rushing to pack lunches and get two dawdling kids out the door to school each morning; rushing to work; rushing to meetings; rushing home; rushing to cram in all of the little life things that have to get done in order to make the days happen – in all that rushing, running just felt impossible.  It was one more thing to think about and plan for, or maybe wake up early for.  It was just… not doable.  Okay, I could have made it work if it was important enough to me; I recognize that.  And I also knew objectively that if I took that time for myself I would be happier and would have more energy and patience for the day-to-day slog.  There are a lot of excuses, and certainly the clamoring demands of clients, colleagues, school administrators and kids were louder and more insistent than the little voice in my head that said “You’re important, too.”  But ultimately I chose not to prioritize myself.

Enter COVID-19.  The last “normal” day, at least in our family, was Friday, March 13 – pretty appropriate, huh?  The kids came home from school that day loaded up with their distance learning packets “just in case” and we prepared for what we figured would be a few weeks of hunkering down at home through the tail end of winter and early spring.  Those first couple of weeks were focused on figuring out how to make this social distancing thing work for our family – balancing parents’ work schedules with kiddo needs.  Then on March 23, the Governor announced that all Virginia schools would be closed through the end of the school year – and suddenly, we were confronted with a surreal situation that was going to stretch much, much longer.

I wouldn’t say the routine got easier, but somewhere in there, I started feeling an itch to run again.  Part of it was needing to feel like I had something reserved for me, and with a reading slump (pandemic-induced, and ongoing) books weren’t fitting the bill.  I pulled out my running shoes and started hitting the bike path a few times a week, running a neighborhood loop that kept me close to home.  The running itself didn’t feel great – comebacks never do – but it felt wonderful to be carving out a time and space for myself.

After a few weeks of casually running, I opened up my inbox to an email from Another Mother Runner, one of my favorite running-focused online spaces, advertising a virtual race series, complete with training program, coaching, and a private Facebook community in which participants could exchange messages and encouragement.  Like everything AMR stands for, the program was flexible, designed to fit into a mom’s busy life, and promised a warm and welcoming atmosphere.  I knew instantly that it was what I needed.  I signed up right then and there.

And it has been exactly what I needed.  There’s been a lot of conversation in the private Facebook group about the training plan.  Some of the participants abandoned it quickly, preferring to run by feel – many of them felt even more overwhelmed by the training plan; to them it was yet another thing that “had” to be done in days that already felt too burdensome.  Others – and I fall into this second group – have found the training plan to be a lifeline.  Each morning, I pull up the calendar to see what I am doing, and it’s a decision I don’t have to make.  It’s one thing that is simple.  If it says intervals, I do intervals.  If it says cross-training, I do barre.  The training plan, and the virtual races, have given me something solid to hang onto when the foundations of the world are shifting.

I’m not a very good self-motivated runner.  Every so often, I’ll head out on the trails just for the joy of the experience, the fresh air, the movement and the peace.  But that’s rare.  To stick to a training plan long-term, I need to be working toward something – which is why, when I was running consistently, I kept up a steady schedule of races from local 5Ks to half marathons.  Training for races fell by the wayside after Nugget came along, which is a huge part of why running fell by the wayside.  I need the motivation of knowing there is a start line and – even more important – a finish line, ideally with a shiny medal I can hang on my wall to remind me of my achievement.  Everyone is motivated by something; as I told my neighbor Zoya (motivated by ice cream), I am motivated by shiny things.

Clearly, the future of running races is pretty up in the air at the moment.  I’m hoping things will start up again in the fall; if they do, now that I am back in my running shoes I have a goal for next fall.  (Summer isn’t a big race season in DC anyway – too hot.  Once spring races are over here, things quiet down substantially until the weather begins to cool off.)  Enter: virtual races.

Virtual races are nothing new for me!  I even ran a virtual half marathon, on packed snow and in sub-zero temperatures, back in 2014.  (What was I thinking?)  So it seemed like a no-brainer to sign up, not only for the AMR virtual race series, but for a virtual 5K (“Rock Your Block”) hosted by Potomac River Running, a local chain of running stories in the DC area.

It was already warming up when I headed out at around 9:00 in the morning; note to self – get out the door earlier next time.  I wore the race shirt and stuck the bib on with my DC flag racedots, and people shouted encouragement at me all along the bike path.  It wasn’t quite the same scene as a race with thousands of other runners and spectators, and bands and bananas at the finish line, but it was plenty good enough for me to remember how good it feels to chase my own goals for a change.  And after all, I don’t really need spectators and finish line bananas, as long as I get something shiny.

(If you couldn’t tell, I’ve quit being embarrassed about liking race bling and am leaning into it hardcore.)  This is a hard time for everybody.  We’re all coping in our own ways.  If you’d asked me back in March whether I thought it was likely that the thing that would hold my sanity together would be running virtual races, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy – but here we are, in June, and my key rack is sagging with the weight of medals from virtual running events.  I’m waiting to see if a local trail race that I’m tentatively registered for ends up going forward in September; I hope it does.  But I kind of already feel like I’ve won.  I have running back, and I had no idea how much I needed that.

What are you doing to stay sane in these uncertain times?

Marine Corps Marathon 10K 2017

Whew!  It’s been awhile since I put up a race recap, hasn’t it?  I can’t even remember the last time.  The past year or two, it’s been hard to run and train for races – I’m sure I make lots of excuses, but there it is.  I don’t love being away from Nugget for long stretches, even now – I figure there’ll be plenty of time for half marathons (and maybe longer races?) when he’s older.  And between job-hunting, planning a move, and then trying to get used to a new job (I’ve been at my current job for over a year, and I still feel like I’m learning the ropes) something had to give, and it’s been running.  But I miss the feeling of accomplishment that I used to get from training for and running races, so I have very gradually been dipping my toes back into the local running scene.  I’m not doing anything too crazy right now, which was why my “big” race of the year was a 10K – but what a 10K!

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The day before the MCM10K, I drove over to National Harbor to pick up my packet.  It was a total zoo, but somehow I made it in and out with my bib and mock-turtleneck (#RockTheMock).  Loud singing along to The Book of Mormon soundtrack on the way there and back was a big help.  Back at home, I laid out my “flat runner” – we’d gotten a heat advisory email from the race organizers, so I planned accordingly with a tank top that weighs less than a sheet of tissue paper.

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Race morning dawned clear and sunny.  It was actually a little bit brisk, and I was chilly as I waited at the start line, but I knew I’d be glad I had the lightweight tank on later (spoiler alert: I was).  Eventually, the gun sounded and we were off!  I got chills as I ran under the “Marine Corps Marathon” starting arch.  Maybe someday I’ll run through this arch on my way to 26.2.

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The full marathon course starts over by Iwo Jima, but the 10K starts on the National Mall – which is very nice, because the scenery begins immediately.  We ran past a line of Smithsonian museums, and before long, I could see the Capitol over my left shoulder.  (I hummed “dark as a tomb where it happens” as I ran past.)

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Rounded the corner, and headed down past the Smithsonian Castle and toward the Washington Monument.  I have really missed running local races around these streets.  It’s SO nice to be home.

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Hello, George!  I put my camera away and before I knew it, we were crossing the bridge into Arlington.  I didn’t get too excited at that point, because most of the 10K is run in Arlington.  We still had a long way to go.

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A good portion of the race (10K and I think marathon, too) is run on highways in full sun – hence the heat advisory and the warning to dress appropriately for the weather.  I was glad that I made the apparel choices I had – I was always comfortable and didn’t really feel like I was baking in the sun (I did hear later that a few people were taken off the course in ambulances due to the heat, so it was no joke).  There was also a fair amount of shade on the 10K course, which provided relief, and even when we were in full sun we could count on cool scenery – like the Pentagon.

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I could tell we were getting close to the end when I ran through this row of American and Marine flags, and I started to get a little misty-eyed.  I made sure to thank every Marine I saw on the course for their service – others were doing so, as well.

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Soon we found ourselves running past the marathon starting corrals – all empty.  It was surreal to see the corrals silent, with all the runners gone.  Maybe someday I’ll be standing in one, ready to race the full.

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And before I knew it – the end!  The last little bit of the course was an evil, heinous – extremely steep – uphill, so no pictures from that part.  I went through the finishers’ corrals, collected my medal, and found my cheering squad – Steve, the kids, and my mom.  It was hot, exhausting, and completely exhilarating and inspiring.

Are you a runner?  What’s your favorite race?

A Sightseeing Run Around Chicago

As much as I am admittedly a homebody, I don’t mind a bit of business travel – especially business travel of the low pressure, conference-attending-and-networking variety, which I had last week.  I spent Thursday and Friday in Chicago, where my firm has their home office, attending a multi-office practice group meeting.  The meeting was great – there were interesting and informative workshops, and I also got to meet colleagues from other offices, some of them for the first time (and I’m hoping that leads to some good projects).  The one drawback to business travel?  Being stuck in a conference room.  Especially when you know what you’re missing, because the view from reception is…

Oof.  It was tough to sit still, knowing that was outside.  Even amidst the fun of hearing everyone’s favorite labor relations war stories (#nerdalert) I found myself fidgeting and glancing toward the window a few times.  Knowing that Friday would be a busy day of meetings right up until I had to head to the airport, I decided I was going to get up early and take a sightseeing run around all that good stuff right outside my hotel.

Started at the hotel front entrance, and a mere two blocks later, I was at the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).  No need to stop and gawk, since I was there on Thursday and would be heading back up those high speed elevators on Friday – that’s where our office is.

Next sight: the Chicago River.  Someday, I want to take one of the architecture boat tours that wend their way down this waterway.  Maybe next year.

For this year, I contented myself with a quick breather on the bridge, and a selfie.  (Alert: more selfies ahead.)

Headed down Monroe Street, and totally unexpectedly, spotted…

HAMILTON!  (I may have come to a screeching halt and shouted “THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS!” right there on the sidewalk.  Fortunately, it was very early, and not many people were out.)

My plan was to run to Millennium Park, since I’ve never been there, and then see how I was feeling – and continue on if I still felt good.  I had a specific destination within the park in mind…

Do you see what I see?  A BIG SHINY LEGUME.

Got a little closer…

I call this Red Face With Bean.

Since I was still feeling good (that red face notwithstanding) I continued through the park and headed down to that beautiful lake I’d been staring at all the previous afternoon from the conference room window.

Gorgeous.

The sun was still coming up and there were some really cool cloud formations overhead.  It actually sprinkled a bit while I was on the lakeside trail, but nothing too bad – mostly just refreshing.

Happy runner!  (That’s Shedd Aquarium and the planetarium in the far, far background.  I thought about running all the way to the planetarium, since I was feeling so great, but decided I really needed to get back to the hotel and get ready for work.)

Fortunately, the views on the way back were fabulous, too.

I had time for a few more sights on my route back to the hotel!  Buckingham Fountain…

So, so beautiful.

And finally, the Art Institute of Chicago.  I’d love to get a closer look at all of these sights – not just fly past them on a run.  But it was better than nothing!

I thought I’d probably run about two miles.  Imagine my surprise later, when I mapped it out and it was closer to four!  I felt fantastic the whole time, and could have gone much further if I didn’t have to get showered and fancy for another day of meetings (and then travel).  I’m sure it helped that I took a lot of breaks – as you can tell from all of the pictures.  But I still felt darn proud that I got up early (after a long night of cocktails and bocce with colleagues) and got some miles in.  Plus, on foot is the best way to sightsee, right?

Thanks for a great run, Chicago!  Hope to see you again for more miles one of these days…