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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Night Before Your Race

It’s the night before I run my leg of the FedEx Ground Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, and I’m anxious. I can’t sit still but I know I need to rest. I’m drinking water and I know I should eat, but I’m a little nervous. I just don’t feel that hungry. I’m excited about tomorrow, but also edgy. What if something unexpected happens? Will I be strong enough to get through the day? I think about the people who love me and will cheer for me, and I feel better.

This feeling is familiar to runners and to moms who have given birth. That’s because nesting and tapering are the same thing.

For some reason when I was pregnant, it irked me when people accused me of nesting. I am not obsessive about cleaning, but I do like to organize whether I’m pregnant or not. But when a pregnant woman goes about organizing baby’s items, the cans and spices in the kitchen, her home office, the books in her library, the tools in the garage, the magazines in the bathroom…maybe that was nesting.

Nesting for runners is called tapering. Don’t try to deny it, it’s the same thing. (Do you think it's just a weird coincidence runners wear bibs??)

OK, there are some small differences. Pregnancy lasts around forty weeks but many women don’t know they are pregnant until they are six to eight weeks along, so on average women experience about 32 weeks of pregnancy. Training for a marathon can take up to twenty weeks, especially for newbies who want to actually enjoy the experience. Since most people don’t (usually) start training for marathon without knowing it, but may be thinking about it for a long time (pre-contemplation stage), it’s not too crazy to argue that pregnancy and marathon training can last a similar amount of time.

The last two weeks of being pregnant involves a lot of sitting around, feeling restless, getting spurts of energy and making sure everything is ready, and waiting for the Big Day. And the last two weeks of training involve a lot of sitting around, feeling restless, getting spurts of energy to make sure everything is ready, and waiting for the Big Day.

Nesting for me involved packing my hospital bag and laying out exactly what I wanted. I’d need a headband, lip balm, comfortable socks, my favorite water bottle, the right top for nursing, my favorite pajama pants, and a camera to capture those special moments. Tapering for me involves packing my race bag and laying out exactly what I want. I need a headband, sunglasses, lip balm, comfortable socks, my water bottle, the right top and shorts, and a camera to capture those special moments.

Nesting meant making sure the house was tidy so when I came home with my new baby I could rest and not stress about clutter. Tapering meant making sure the house was tidy so when I came home with my new medal I could rest and not stress about clutter.

Nesting involved prepping my favorite foods to enjoy in the first few days home. Tapering involves picking a fun restaurant for my post-race meal and making sure I bring home leftovers.

Nesting involved buying a celebratory bottle of wine! Tapering involves deciding on my celebratory cocktail!

Nesting involved reassuring myself I had done everything I needed to do during pregnancy. I’d read all the books, did my Kegels and stretches and exercises, talked to experienced friends and nurses, gotten enough rest and visualized how I hoped my day would go. Tapering involves reassuring myself I’ve done everything I needed to do during training. I’d read all the books, done the strength work and distance work and speed work, talked to experienced friends and coaches, gotten enough rest and visualized how I hoped my day would go.

Nesting also involved snapping at people who cared about me, then crying about it. Tapering can involve snapping at people who care about me, then crying about it.

Nesting involved some moments of fear and doubt. Tapering involved some moments of fear and doubt. And I know when it's all over I won't look as good in the photos as I feel.

It’s almost show time. Do I have what it takes to deliver?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Try It: Nemacolin Winter Weekend

This winter, we were so lucky to escape the freezing cold in Pittsburgh and head south to the freezing cold at Nemacolin. Our little winter weekend was an amazing family escape that gave each of us the chance to try some new adventures!

We fought our way through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic and finally arrived at Falling Rock in the late evening. The butlers at Falling Rock were an incredible surprise. They treated our tired family with a little celebratory bubbly to start the weekend right.

The main reason for our trip was to try dog sledding. No one in the family has ever done this activity, so we were all curious and excited about how it would go. Books play a big role in our household, and we caught the dog sledding bug after reading a book in the Puppy Place series. Saturday morning we were up early and layered on our warm clothes. The temps were close to zero, but nothing was going to keep us from those husky pups.

A shuttle took us from Fallingrock to the Wildlife Center where we met a few other animals like a giant tortoise and a guinea pig (which also connected well with the new book we were reading, Guinea Dog!)

One sled could not carry our entire family, so we split the ride. I went first with the middle and the little. Even though our youngest is nervous around dogs, he was still excited to jump into the sled.

We cruised over the sparkling snow, up and down hills, and even with the icy wind hitting our faces the ride was a delight. Halfway through the ride my husband jumped into the sled with our oldest. I told my boys we were super lucky to go on this adventure, and I knew they loved it when my youngest said he couldn't wait to bring his kids!

After the ride we headed back to Fallingrock to warm up in a bath drawn by the butlers. The boys loved the warm, lavender scented water and then they settled in with their dad to watch some soccer while I enjoyed a fantastic 90 minute massage at the Woodlands Spa.

Our late afternoon activity involved more snowy adrenaline: twilight snow tubing! The older boys had snow tubed here a few years ago, but this was the first time for the youngest. I admit I was a little nervous sending the five year old down the hill, but he did amazing! My husband decided not to ride, but me and the boys had some seriously fun runs with lots of shouts and yells.

The boys were wiped out after the day full of activities. We ordered room service for dinner and settled them in front of the television to watch some episodes of Treehouse Masters (getting ready for our April adventure). A sitter stayed with the boys while my husband and I headed out to a grown-ups dinner at Lautrec.

Oh Lautrec. We dined there several years ago and had an incredible meal with fantastic company, my husband's brother and his wife. It was just me and my best friend this time, and we decided to indulge in the caviar. Best decision ever.

This wasn't my first time eating caviar, but it was my first time enjoying it in this presentation. I'm going to sound like I'm gushing here, but I adored this dish. I adored the teeny tiny blinis and the little potato cakes and the pumpernickel toasts. I adored topping the caviar with egg and sour cream and chives and red onions. Each bite was a mini-sparkler burst of flavor. The elements of color, savory, delicate tastes, and the excellent company made this the most enjoyable part of dinner. I know I ate other things that night, but the caviar dish was unforgettable.

Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast at Fallingrock and checked out of our room with a little bag full of bubble bath as a gift from our butlers. We spent a little time at the arcade and then headed back to regular life in Pittsburgh. But this weekend getaway recharged us all and gave us fantastic family memories.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Race Review: 2015 Creduit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

This year's Cherry Blossom race is done! I've been thinking about it for a long time and now that it's come and gone I admit I'm missing it already. Things were a bit of a blur on race weekend. We had two events for my middle son, a soccer game and sleep over for my older son, a four hour drive down and back, the pre-race dinner and a lot of rushing around. I wasn't sleeping that great leading up to the race, and things didn't go as I planned on race day. But I have a lot to be grateful for and I'm a natural optimist. So here are ten great things about the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.

1. The start line. I lined up injury-free this year. That hasn't happened in awhile and I counted myself very lucky to be there. Especially after learning that there was an accident impacting the original route and that we would have to run a half-mile less, I took a moment to follow my coach's advice and be grateful for my own safety and the chance to be able to start this race.

2. Blossoms. For the first time in eight years, the blossoms were in bloom during this year's race. I remember standing on the starting line and trying to imagine what it would be like to run under the trees in bloom instead of "in twig." It was gorgeous. Incredibly, satisfyingly gorgeous. Turning down into Haines Point was like turning into a tunnel of spring glory.

3. The bright side. The weather was perfect. After an icy, grey winter I couldn't ask for a better race day weather forecast. About halfway through the race I remember seeing the sun sparkle on the Potomac and being so grateful for spring. At just about that point in the race, things started to get a little tough for me. My lower back started to ache. My stomach felt off. My cadence fell off and my mental attitude slipped from positive to negative. I was not going to make my goal finish time. But around the 8 mile mark I made a decision to focus on the bright side. I was healthy. I was going to finish. So I paused and took some photos so I could remember and focus on the bright side.

4. Signage. I wish I could have taken photos of my favorite signs during the race, but I'm not that quick on the draw. I'd like to say very kindly that we're all done with the "this is a lot of work for the free banana" sign and anything featuring Ryan Gosling. But I want to give props to the signs that made me laugh. Near the finish I saw one that said "I thought they said RUM" and that actually made me laugh out loud despite my frustration. Another good one featured Dory from Finding Nemo. No, not "Just keep running." This one said, "I'm never doing another race. Oh, look! A race!" Runners do that for realz. Going under some bridges I spotted one that said "Keep smiling and perspiring" and while the rhyme was a little forced but I actually did smile.  

5. Strength. Sunday morning my husband and I slipped our neon green anklets on to remember some special loved ones as we ran. It takes a lot of strength to train during cold winters. It takes strength to get out there and challenge yourself to run ten miles. People we love very much have had to be strong and our anklets were a reminder to think about them when things got tough during the race. 

6. Inspiration. As the blog editor, I'm so fortunate to be able to attend the pre-race dinner. I was extra lucky this year to snag a photo with Joan Benoit Samuelson. Talk about inspiring! She won gold in the first ever Olympic Women's Marathon.

7. Friends. The first five miles of the race went as planned, but by midway I knew I was off pace to finish like I wanted. It's always a good strategy to have more than one goal so that when the race is done you can celebrate some aspect of your hard work. I admit I got pretty frustrated that I wasn't going to make my running goal. But then I thought about my fundraising goal to support Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and how so many amazing friends and family members helped me not only reach but beat that goal. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. That feeling helped me keep moving and cross the line. 

8. Family. I think about my family a lot when I'm running and my family played a big role in my race. Family took care of my two youngest so my husband and I could race. I wore my green anklet to remember how strong my family is and how much we love each other. And my kids inspired me, too, especially my middle. He performed on stage in his first talent show Saturday morning. He told us that climbing the stairs to the stage he was nervous and his legs were shaking, but he got up there and did his routine. I was so proud to hear how he handled his fear. That same morning, my middle son played his first soccer game of the season and lost 15-0. It was humiliating and a terribly muddy game. My son cried and cried, but he kept playing. Seeing his success in the talent show and his struggles on the soccer field were really important to me during the toughest moments of my race. 

9. Those drummers. Right by mile 9, drumming their hearts out. If you've run this race (or other big DC races) you know who I mean. I almost cried when I heard those pounding beats. How do those women manage to fill wordless drumbeats with encouragement and support? It's magic.

10. The finish line. I'll admit I was happy to see it! I knew I'd get there. And I knew I wouldn't cross the finish line alone. My husband didn't have a flawless race either. In fact, we both struggled. But the best part about being married to him is knowing that we support each other when things are going great and when things aren't going the way we planned. It's pretty amazing to be married to your best friend who agrees to a crazy weekend and drive four hours to run a ten mile race when he's honestly been too busy to put in any real training. It stinks that he can still kick my butt in any race, but I think could take him in a spelling bee. But it's not a competition. It's a celebration. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Strength Moves for Runners

This post is about my butt.

My butt muscles, specifically. Butt muscles are super important for runners. When they are weak, runners can experience some injuries in their IT bands, hips and lower back. And those butt muscles are crucial for running hills. So when I went to have a functional movement assessment, I wasn't too surprised to learn I needed to do some work in this area.

I met with Ron DeAngelo, Director of Sports Performance Training at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

Ron is a nice guy. I could tell because he forgave me for arriving late. When I finally got there, we jumped right in with pointing out all my flaws. I walked up and down the floor in my bare feet. I walked regular, then I took tiny steps, then big steps. I did a squat walk, a duck walk, and a pigeon toe walk.

Ron was still nice as he pointed out things like unequal quad development, my total lack of arches, and significant internal rotation of my hips. The hip rotation is really visible in any photo of me running. Just look at my foot in the back stroke, how the toe points inward.

See that hip rotation?
I popped my shoes back on and did mini-runs for Ron outside in the parking lot and on the best treadmill ever. This treadmill had the tank treads and as soon as I took those first few strides I felt like I could run on it forever. It was truly the Cadillac of treadmills. I can't remember the brand.

Ron took lots of videos of me running and then we sat around for a few minutes analyzing my flawed running form. No one likes to have their flaws pointed out, but Ron does it in the nicest possible way. My hips rotate. I run too upright. My foot lands too far forward, my heel hits first, and I barely bend my knees. Part of me wonders how I've been able to run at all with these problems. But Ron had a lot of hope for me and told me to come back in a week where he would wave a magic wand and fix everything.

He didn't say that, because runners know there is no magic wand. There is only hard work.

At my next appointment, Ron introduced me to my new dynamic warm-up routine: a series of six exercises designed to loosen up my hips and strengthen my butt. Let's call them my Super Six. (I wanted a phrase that included the word "butt" but can't think of one. Any ideas?) Each move involves a stretch portion and a strength portion, and each move is balanced by an opposite move. I step forward and stretch my arms up, I step back and reach my arms down and under. I open my hips to the side and close them. I swivel my hips open and back then swivel them closed again. Six simple moves but when I push myself to get deep into the stretch and add just that little 5 lb weight, it burns.

It's a little early to know how these moves are going to impact me as a runner, but I do feel loosened up after my Super Six. I feel relaxed in the hips and powerful in my backside and a little bouncy, peppy and ready to go. I do them every other day before my run. Ron also suggested I add a 5 degree forward lean to my running form to improve my foot landing.

That evening, I couldn't wait to tell my family about what I had learned. They know how important running is to me.

"Where are you glutes?" asked the middle guy.

"In your butt," I answered.

"Just run like this!" he shouted and ran around the dining room shaking his butt with real fervor.

I knew I'd have their full support.

I have a lot of work to do. But I've been dealing with hip and lower back problems long enough now. I'm the kind of person who looks for a solution to things that bother me. I chose to get surgery for my SUI. I pursued every possible solution for my inflamed eyes. And I love running and want to be able to run for a long time, so I decided it was time to see how I could improve my running form so I could rack up miles for years to come.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Try It: Glamping at White Oak Treehouse

Raise your hand if you've always wanted to spend the night in a treehouse.

I'm no camping expert, but I love the idea of spending time in the wilderness ever since I read My Side of the Mountain (Puffin Modern Classics). So when our first camping trips with the boys went well last summer, we decided to up our game a little and try glamping. (For those who don't know that's a portmanteau of "camping" and "glamour.")

Our first choice was The Mohicans in Ohio because of their incredible treehouses. As soon as I saw the images online of Little Red and White Oak, I knew we had to do this. We made our reservations and in early April we left Pittsburgh on a rainy afternoon for our first night in the treehouse.

White Oak is one of the treehouses featured on Tree House Masters.

It was a smart decision to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle on the recommendation of the owners because the roads to the property are unpaved and rough. After a seriously bumpy, muddy ride we pulled up in the late evening and the boys leapt out of the SUV and rushed down the path. Any nearby wildlife were surely scared away by their screams of delight.

We entered White Oak by the back doors and the boys scrambled around the treehouse exploring every nook and cranny and climbing the ladder to their sleeping loft a minimum of ten times each.

Going Up

Chilling in the treehouse 

After a picnic-style dinner we somehow got them settled into bed and asleep. My husband and I relaxed on the enormous queen bed in the first floor bedroom and prepared for an early morning. Our kids are never late sleepers but we knew the excitement of the treehouse would have them up extra early. We weren't wrong. They tried to be quiet and whisper but there is no way three boys can be that quiet in a wooden treehouse.
Sunrise over the Mohican Valley
We were up in time to see the sunrise! It really was magical. Note the gorgeously twisted grapevine railing that surrounds the wrap-around deck of White Oak. The rain of the day before was gone and Saturday started gorgeously clear. The boys could not wait to go outside and explore so while we made breakfast in the kitchenette, they tromped through the woods. This early in spring, nothing was really growing so it was easy to keep an eye on them. They were dressed warm and I loved hearing them shout and laugh as I sipped my morning coffee. Again, magical. I joined them for a little exploring and snapped this photo from the hillside.

White Oak
We went on two more hikes that day, exploring the area around White Oak treehouse and then visiting some of the highlights of the Mohican Valley. We visited the nearby covered bridge and Lyons Falls in the state park. There were numerous other outdoor activity businesses, but we were there too early in the season to enjoy them. Next time we visit the treehouses, I'm sure the canoeing and canopy zip-lines would be top choices.

The treehouse had a television for playing DVDs, but instead of vegging out with a movie we finished Saturday evening with a family board game marathon. We started with Chicks Go Boom for some excitement then moved on to a few rounds of Zingo. Next came LCR and then the cooperative game Forbidden Island. They had so much fun that when we woke up the next morning the older boys had Settlers of Catan all ready to go!

It was wonderful to have the indoor bathroom and the kitchenette. The beds were so comfortable and the radiant heat floors and space heaters kept the treehouse at a perfect temperature. It was also incredibly clean in the treehouse. Not that I can't handle a little dirt when we're out in the wilderness, but this was a glamping experience and it really felt like the best of both worlds. It felt glamourous.

We took our time on the way home and explored a little bit of Amish country. The amazing cheese place we wanted to visit was closed but we enjoyed a surprise stop at the Swiss/Austrian/German themed Chalet in the Valley for Easter Brunch. After brunch we took a swing by the World's Largest Cuckoo Clock in "Little Switzerland in Ohio." All in all the visit was incredible. It was relaxing, fun, exciting, and absolutely memorable. The boys did not want to leave and my husband and I agree!

Treehouse Master ;)
If you want to live in a treehouse for a few nights, make your plans early! They get booked up really, really fast.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Runner's Guide to Parenting: The Playlist

Everything is Awesome (after a run)

Below is a list of ten songs that make an excellent soundtrack for your next run or the rest of your life as a parent.

  1. Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" just reminds me of all of the gaping holes in my memory that have developed since becoming a parent, when I actually remember that I have forgotten things. 
  2. "All of the Lights" by Kanye is perfect when I have to go around the house and turn of ALL OF THE LIGHTS that the kids leave on. Every day. In broad daylight.  
  3. My kids could sing "That's Not My Name" if they wanted to get sarcastic every time I can't remember their names. It's so weird when I forget their names, because I named my children. But it seems I can't remember the names I picked. (See #1.)
  4. The Kooks offer a great beat in "Bad Habit" and when this comes on during a run I think of all the bad habits my children like to pull out in public. Like nose-picking. And eating it. Don't claim your kid never did it.
  5. Nothing describes parenting better than "Where Do I Begin" by the Chemical Brothers. The husky voice of Beth Orton perfectly describes those days of zombie parenthood that follow nights without enough sleep. 
  6. Gnarls Barkley kind of nailed how I felt as a new mom with "Crazy." Can't tell you how many times I've asked myself why I think I'm in control. Also, I feel parents are the masters of rhetorical questions that make up this song.
  7. I'm pretty sure Usher didn't write "More" with a toddler having a temper tantrum in mind. But if you listen to the lyrics really carefully you can hear him egging on your impatient kid to "scream it out louder."
  8. Ever tried to use the bathroom alone? Or sneak into the closet to eat chocolate without sharing? The Fugees capture that exact moment when your child realizes you're missing in "Ready or Not." You can't hide. 
  9. Kids don't care that you have a race tomorrow. "No Sleep 'til Brooklyn" is their anthem. The Beastie Boys is also a great moniker for my boys when they get up early on weekends and eat candy for breakfast. 
  10. Running is not always going to be easy. And it's not always going to perfect. Neither is parenting. But they aren't all bad, either. There are some amazing moments of pride and happiness when you're both a runner and a parent. And you know what? You can do it. You can be a great mom, or a great dad, and a great runner. You can do this. "Carry On," friends. Have some Fun. 
What would you add to this playlist?

Review: First Day Back Podcast


I've been listening to a few podcasts lately and have found some I really enjoy. Some of my favorites are Sawbones, The Sporkful, Another Mother Runner and BookRiot.  They all cover topics I'm interested in: health, eating, running and reading. 

But about a week ago, a friend from my college years (we didn't actually go to college together, he went to school with my husband, but we did attend a rave and several Terps basketball games together) sent me a podcast recommendation. I started listening to First Day Back today and it already has my brain working on overdrive. In fact, something in the second episode quite literally made me stand stock still in shock.

The narrator of First Day Back is Tally, a mom and freelance filmmaker. In the podcast, she very honestly shares her struggles with being a woman with children in today's society, how we define and value work, what is expected of mothers and what mothers expect of ourselves. Since she's not an American woman, she clearly explains her "mat leave" was a year long.

A year long. 

What was that like? For my first child I had a luxurious six weeks of unpaid leave. Then my baby son, like so many other American babies, started daycare. My husband and I were lucky to have the opportunity to each stay home with him one day a week. We worked from home, but at least we were home with him. He went full time to daycare when the second baby arrived, and again we stayed home with Baby #2 for two days a week. By the time Baby #3 arrived, we could not stay home two days a week. When Baby #3 was a year old, I quit my full time job and became a freelancer. 

Back to Tally. She says she didn't plan to stay home with her kids, it just happened. But her boys are now 6 and 3 (I believe) and she's trying to get back to work. Her podcast covers the anxiety of submitting a grant proposal and her idea for a new documentary film. 

But she also interviews family and friends about their views of motherhood. Sometimes I feel like she's trying to justify her own views, sometimes I think she's looking for new ways to view motherhood and womanhood. 

She covers the topics many mothers are familiar with: why is only work outside the home referred to as work? Why do more women stay home than men? Do men ever worry about the schedules and tasks as much as women? 


In addition to those questions, since Tally is a freelancer like me, she thinks about things I do. She worries about the momentum that seems to be required for freelancer success. If you disappear from 'the game' because of maternity leave, is that a less valid reason to be gone than traveling the world?

I recently struggled with a decision to reduce a certain kind of freelance work because I wanted to free up more time for my own fiction writing. But right now my fiction writing doesn't pay. But I wasn't enjoying the client work at all. Was it selfish of me to just stop doing paying work because I didn't enjoy it? Did choosing to work on writing that didn't pay (now) mean I wasn't really a freelancer? It's hard to validate your efforts to be a writer when none of your fiction work is published yet. 

Those are some of my personal struggles. But like I said, in the second podcast, I heard something that truly shocked me into a standstill. 

One of Tally's friends, a single mom, said something that made me freeze and thorough search my brain.  This mom told her nine year-old daughter that she cannot have a successful career and a family.

Here's a pretty close transcript of the mom's quote:
"It's not equal. Just so you know from the beginning, you can have a career and have a family, but you can't have it all...You may have to make a choice between having a super career and having a super family."

She tells her daughter this. Her nine year-old daughter. I can't imagine ever saying this to my children. Is it because I have boys? Is it because I'm a freelancer and I'm not a single mom that has to rely on my own income? Am I deluding my children? Am I not expecting them to face the same family and career challenges that girls and women will face? Am I deluding myself that I somehow have both the career I want (or almost have it) and a successful family?

This statement threw me for a serious, serious loop. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop wondering if I am living in an ignorant, delusional bubble about either my career or my family. Because I feel very happy right now with both, but I'm wondering if other people would look at me and say, "You've done a fine job with the family, but let's face it, your career isn't worth much right now. It's more like a hobby."

There. That's it. I've admitted it. I'm worried people will think I write as a hobby and not as a career because I haven't reached some arbitrary level of income that proves this is a real career. 

Is it weird I'm worried that I'm less successful as a writer than as a mother? Is this mother-hubris?

I fully intend to be a writer for as long as I am able. The line between career, calling and activity I love is so blurred. What is that income level that validates my career choice? If I took on a different job that paid a little better than my current writing income I still wouldn't identify that job as my career. 

Tally's podcast is often about motherhood, but it's really about identity. I love podcasts, books, articles and conversations that make me think. And I'm looking forward to future episodes and to standing perfectly still thinking about something shocking and profound.