Return to Minimalism

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As the snow flies, life seems to slow down. My fall was busy preparing for winter. I had put minimalism on hold. Since winter equates to being stuck inside the house, I have the opportunity to return to my minimalism journey again. I had put things on hold briefly trying to get settled into the house for the past year and half.

Everyone’s minimalist journey looks different and may change over time. My current location on this journey is that I am trying to get as much of my belongings on the first floor of my house as possible, as I have difficulty doing stairs. In the upstairs of my house is the bathroom and the spare bedroom. Aside from those two spaces, my goal is to have everything downstairs on the first floor so that it is easily accessible to me.

I currently have one closet of items upstairs to go through to achieve this goal. I have about 3 boxes of items to leave the house and go to donation centers as soon as the weather clears. It amazes me that no matter how much I remove and donate, I still come up with more items to leave the house each year.

Of course, the number of items coming into the house has decreased, so that is helpful. There is no area in the house that feels particularly cluttered or overwhelming. I am trying to make things as easy for myself as possible.

Even though the house is about twice as large as my former apartment, square footage wise, most of the largese is on the second floor of the house. The first floor of the house is in fact 100 square feet smaller than the apartment we previously occupied. So I am technically trying to get rid of 100 square feet worth of stuff in order to fit everything on the first floor. Of course, some of that 100 square feet of stuff is in the spare bedroom on the second floor. I just need to be sure that it actually is set up as a spare bedroom and that there is not anything in there that I need on a daily basis. 

Typically, when I go about minimalism, I do one room or one area at a time. For example, I recently went through the closet in the spare bedroom. I emptied the entire closet, then I only put things back in there that I knew I was keeping and would not need on a daily basis. The closet in the spare bedroom now contains the Christmas tree and Christmas box, the summer/camping boxes, and the upstairs vacuum cleaner. 

My goal this winter is to get the closet in the third bedroom up there completely empty. That could mean that the items in that closet completely leave or it could mean that the items in that closet find a place somewhere else in the house. Once I achieve the goal of emptying that closet, then I will work on the downstairs of the house one room at a time. The downstairs is my main living area.

Downsizing the upstairs is practical in that I cannot do the stairs well to get up there. If I have so many things that I need to have daily items upstairs, then I have way too many items. Everything needs to be downstairs with me, so I need to make it work down here. If my upstairs is relatively empty, then I do not have to worry about going up the stairs to take care of anything. If something ever happens to me, then it is less for other people to have to deal with as well.

For me, minimalism has practical applications in that I am using it to enhance my functioning. Having clear floor space downstairs is an accessibility issue for me. I need the space to be able to get around and the cats need space to play.

Do you have minimalism goals for the winter? This seems to be the time of year I work more on inside projects and save the outside projects for better weather. 

Stay warm.

Goals of Life and Good Death

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With everything that has happened the past few years, I am a little behind on goals. I finally completed a New Year’s resolution that I had back in 2016. I have read the Bible in it’s entirety this year. It had been awhile since I have read the Bible completely.

Following the Our Daily Bread plan, I read a passage from the Old Testament and from the New Testament each day. Breaking it up into chunks with passages from both Old and New made it much more manageable, especially when going through books such as Numbers. Numbers basically consists of long lists of incomprehensible names. 

I have yet to meet a person whose favorite book of the Bible is Numbers. However, if your favorite book is Numbers, let me know. I would like to know why and to hear your viewpoint so that I can learn something. 

Reading through the Bible in its entirety again was calming yet challenging. We all have our favorite books to which we gravitate and return to again and again. Some books like Numbers were more challenging. 

For the record, I would say that Nehemiah is my favorite book of the Bible. Although, my favorite verses, that are my life verses and will be read at my funeral,  are 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT). 

In 2020, I am hoping to accomplish a goal that I had set for myself last year and did not yet achieve. Since buying the house and turning 40, I decided I need to be a responsible adult and plan my funeral. Well, I should at least have a Will. I now have a significant asset, so decisions should be made. Yes, I know it sounds morbid, but hear me out. 

First, I have no family. This means that when I die, my body and possessions would become a ward of the state. Since I spent about half of my childhood as a ward of the state, I have no desire for my dead body to become one as well. I know someone else who died with no family and saw what that looks like. It is the most undignified and disrespectful way to die. I am appalled at what happens to dead bodies that are wards of the state in New York State. 

Given that I have no family, there is no one to carry the burden to make arrangements and decisions when I am gone. There are no friends close enough that I would ask to bear the burden that should be carried by a spouse or child. If I pre-plan everything, then the only thing that would need to be asked of a friend would be final signing of paperwork to carry out my pre-planned wishes.

Second, I have discovered that a pre-planned and pre-paid funeral is exempt from both asset calculations and from all legal proceedings that may take something from you. As an example, if I end up in need of Medicaid in the future, a pre-planned and pre-paid funeral would not be considered an asset for Medicaid determination purposes. Also, when I die, all my assets would currently be seized by the federal government to be put towards my student loan debt. Nothing would be able to be sold or saved to put towards my funeral; it would all go to student loans. A pre-planned and pre-paid funeral would be exempt from seizure to satisfy my student loan debt.

This is in marked contrast to a life insurance policy. One of my friends suggested just getting a life insurance policy that would pay for everything. Well, a life insurance policy is considered an asset and would disqualify me from receiving Medicaid if I should need that in the future. A life insurance policy would also be seized to fulfill my student loan requirement in the event of my death, with none of the money going to my funeral or anything else. My house would be seized for student loans also.

You know, I keep saying student loans in America are a form of indentured servitude. Student loans are a rant for another day. Or, you can check out my slam poetry piece from #Occupy to jog your memory on student loans. I digress.

It is my goal in 2020 to pre-plan and pre-pay my funeral, so that when I die, I just need a person to sign off on all my arrangements. For example, I want to be cremated. You cannot sign the paperwork to be cremated until you have a dead body. If you are dead, you cannot sign for yourself, so someone will have to sign for me.

As gloom and doom as this may sound, the planning I have started has actually been quite fun and exciting. For some reason, I attended a few funerals in 2019, and while each was beautiful in its own way and befitting the deceased, none of them are what I want. 

In the words of Monty Python, I want “one mother of a blowout.”

I am planning a 2 hour celebration of life party. Instead of everyone singing church hymns and sitting through a service that may have meaning to me, but not to them, I am designing a play list. I have chosen 26.2 songs that have multiple meanings in my life. 26.2 is the length of a marathon. There are 26 songs, one by a different artist. The point 2 portion are my two favorite Christmas songs. 

It has been so much fun working on my funeral play list. I am going through songs and very carefully choosing ones that have had significant meaning for my life for decades. 

There is the play list of songs in the key of life, then there is the annotated play list. The annotated play list is basically the Celebration of Life program. In the annotation, I have 2-3 sentences that explain why the chosen song was so significant in my life. 

This way, people can listen to the play list and maybe learn things about me in death that they did not know in life. They can also listen to songs from the play list whenever they miss me and want to remember me after I’m gone (if there is anyone who misses me like that). 

Some people have asked what is the purpose in pre-planning one’s funeral ? You will be dead, who cares? For me, the purpose in pre-planning my own funeral is so that hopefully I can have in death what I never got in life.

And that there is another story entirely.

But I think even without giving you the back story, simply stating that I want to pre-plan my funeral so that I can have in death what I do not have in life to be impactful and meaningful enough. 

Given that I am now a home owner, creating a Will, doing legal paperwork and all of this pre-planning is the “responsible adult” thing to do. With my disability, I want to be sure that I put these provisions in place now while I am of sound mind and body. No one knows the course this disability takes. I have good days and bad days. I may be with it today, and completely gone tomorrow. I want to make my own choices while I have the ability to make them.

With 2020 coming, the year is going to be about life and the good death. On a less morbid note, I am in the process of planning my 2020 running season and am looking forward to my next race and to achieving medal #18 in 2020. Every step I run is a celebration of the beauty of life and makes me so grateful to be on the planet. Running = Life. 

 

Four Coffee Dates

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Whether you love or hate the 12 Days of Christmas song, most everyone knows it and will belt out “Five golden rings.” I like to think of the 12 days of Christmas in terms of Christmas vacation. Those are 12 days when I get a little bit of respite from some of the enormous amount of responsibility I shoulder.

When I was a student, I would try to cram as much leisure time into Christmas break as possible. It was the only time when I had the time to read a novel not associated with my degree field. I would schedule game nights, soirees with wine and food, coffee dates, movie dates, and would pretty much say yes to any party to which I was invited. Spending 20 years working 2 or 3 jobs while being a full time student on the Dean’s List left little time for socialization, so I lived Christmas break to the fullest. Even though I still had work and home obligations, at least I had a break from school.

We have had about a week and a half holiday break from my work, and it has been awesome. It is nice to be home and not have to worry about work. I have time to rest, time to read, run, and attempt some of the items on my to-do list. I just wish it would snow. Of course, when I have off from work the roads are bare. Mother Nature waits until work days to make the roads impassable, causing me to use all my vacation time on snow days.

However, with the nice weather, I have had the opportunity to connect in ways that I usually do not have energy for given my disability. I have been on two coffee/tea dates so far with two more scheduled. I am scheduling my coffee dates around my running schedule to reduce the amount of driving I am doing into town. I have had at least three days this week that have been completely home days and it has been awesome.

So while I may not be living it up with house parties, game nights, and nights out dancing like I was ten or more years ago, I am making meaningful connections. Coffee dates allow me to spend an hour with a person in meaningful conversation. Or, sometimes just silently enjoying someone else’s company while people watching out the coffee house window. 

As I get older, I am discovering that spending quality time with people is more important than the quantity of time you spend with them. I may be spending an hour with someone. That hour of quality time sustains me through three subsequent days alone with the cats. I have to admit, I am thoroughly looking forward to the time when I can finally retire completely (not just from my career as a student) and my time is my own. 

The most important part of Christmas is the gift of time, which you cannot buy in a store. I have been enjoying taking time to see people outside of work. I am looking forward to more positive, relaxed interactions. 

How are you spending time with people this holiday season? 

Unplowed Side of the Street

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We’ve all heard the phrase “the wrong side of the tracks.” It is usually used to indicate that a person has grown up in a rough part of town – typically one that is high in poverty, and sometimes high in crime. I have no problem owning the fact that I am one who definitely grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

Now, as a homeowner, I apparently live on the unplowed side of the street. We had a snowstorm last week that dumped about a foot or so of snow. What made the storm even more challenging was that I was home sick at the moment with a fever and a few other nasty symptoms. Spending an hour or more outside trying to shovel 12 inches of wet, heavy snow was challenging to say the least. 

I used the snow sleigh that I got last winter, which is way easier than a normal shovel. With the snow sleigh, I only have to push the snow. I do not have to pick the snow up and throw it as you do with a shovel. The only challenge is that the snow sleigh is rough on my knees. After pushing the snow, I have to get it off the snow sleigh. Both knees were bruised on both sides of each knee and I had trouble walking the week after. Not great for an athlete that is a runner.

I will admit I am missing my neighbor who helped me last year with the snowblower. They moved, so I am on my own.

Shoveling the sidewalk and the driveway are not too awful bad. The biggest problem is that I also have to shovel the road.

Yes, you read that right. I had to shovel the road.

Welcome to America, where I live on the unplowed side of the street. 

Even though the village snowplow has to drive both up the street and down the street, they have decided to only plow one side of the road, and it is not the side I live on. So not only does the mail carrier and the newspaper carrier have to try to get through half a street’s worth of snow to get to my mailbox, but I have to try to get through half a street’s worth of snow to get to my driveway.

This happened last year. The village had me in tears. When I called to complain, they said they would come out and plow my side of the street, but if they had to do it again, they would charge me. Charge me to plow the street? I’m a homeowner! Isn’t this why I pay taxes?

This fight is not over, as I will be attending a village board meeting and doing everything possible to become a major pain in the ass until my side of the street is plowed.

Hey, just because I am low income, does not mean I should have to live on the unplowed side of the street. In fact, I need to be able to get to work more than some of the higher income people on the plowed side of the street. I need the income! But, I supposed that people in American society who earn more money must do more meaningful work, so even though we pay the same taxes, they must be more deserving of snow plowing. 

Right?

That’s how the village seems to think.

I thought that by purchasing a home when I have never even lived in a house before was a sign that I was moving up in the world. I guess the only place I moved was from the wrong side of the tracks to the unplowed side of the street.

For the record, I have also now contracted someone to plow my driveway this winter. I cannot physically take care of the snow. I thought that snow was easier than grass/lawn maintenance. I was wrong. I am not cut out for homeownership, but it is better than being homeless. Owning a home is definitely cheaper than rent in my area.

Anyone else live on the the unplowed side of the street? Welcome to the neighborhood. 

Hopefully by the end of this winter, I will be able to convince the village that my side of the road is as worthy of snow plowing as the opposite side. 

 

Magic Wands

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There are times in life when we all just wish we could wave a magic wand and make something better. Times when we all want a fairy godmother a la Cinderella to bippity boppity boo something to smithereens. I’ve had the magic wand moment this whole week.

My neurological condition is still pending an official diagnosis. I am being referred to a MS clinic in a nearby larger city. In the meantime, my doctor this week gave me a MS medication to help alleviate some of my symptoms as a trial. If I have MS, this drug will help me. If I don’t then it won’t do anything.

I have not felt this good in years and I am insanely happy. I feel like I want to do as much as I possibly can this week. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good, and when I finish the medication, I’m sure that I will never feel this good again.

Once the medication is out of my system, I’ll go back to how I was. But for right now, my symptoms are reduced and manageable. The symptoms are not gone. Their severity is lessened.

I didn’t realize how impaired my functioning has become until I entered this period of respite that the medication has afforded me.

It’s like someone has waived a magic wand and made me almost normal again for a week. How many people ever get a chance to say they have had a magic wand moment in life?

I still don’t have an official diagnosis. However, three different doctors all think the same thing. I’m pretty sure if the MS drug is acting like a magic wand … it might be MS. I’m no doctor, but …

I’m going to enjoy my magic wand moment for as long as I can. I want to cram as much life and living into these moments as possible.

I’m just hoping that when my magic wand moment is over that I do not completely crash down into reality.

For right now, I’m just going to say thank you for giving me my life back. Even if it’s only temporary.

Unfortunately, the drug trial I am on is not something that can be sustained long term. But I’ll take the week of respite. It’s the best week I’ve had in years. Sure, the cooling vest gives me moments of normalcy too, but those typically only last minutes or hours. This is an entire week of my life in which I feel amazing.

The weather outside is indeed frightful. We have a few inches of snow and a layer of ice. I wish I could take advantage of this situation and do something fun like surfing. I have been running, of course. Running is awesome. 

I have mostly been spending this week getting everything done that I have been behind on. In a way, I feel like it’s kind of a waste. I really want to do something fun, but other life circumstances are not cooperating right now no matter how good I feel. At least I can check a bunch of things off from the never ending to-do list so I can have a moment to say “it’s done” before everything in life becomes so much harder to do again. 

Now if only this magic wand thing could also result in the entire house being clean without me cleaning it …even for Cinderella, midnight has to strike eventually. 

Nights at CC Cafe

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On a chilly Sunday November morning, I sit in the window at the local coffee house sipping on peppermint tea and working on my online class through UC Berkeley. The coffee house has some memorable and remarkable mix of popular 90s tunes on heavy rotation that instantly take me back to the days of my freshman year of college. Suddenly, I remember what it’s like to be 17 in all it’s glory yet complete with challenges.

Part of these memories include nights at a place called CC Cafe. This was an on campus coffee house type atmosphere. I remember sitting in very dim lighting on an extremely comfortable couch with some band or comedian in the background that I had been there to hear but was unable to pay attention to over the easy-going banter of my crowd of friends. 

Whether an attempt to reclaim my 20 years as a college student or simply out of boredom, I decided to take a class this fall. I know, I know. I’m supposed to be retired from the whole college student gig. I couldn’t help myself. I love to learn and needed an intellectual challenge.

Taking an online course provides other challenges. I do not have internet access at home, so I am constantly trying to find places in the community with free wifi. That was part of the point in taking a class this fall. I am trying to meet new people. I figured an online class would force me out into the community more, which would result in meeting people. I have met a few people in passing. I know none of their names and have not had more than two or three interactions with the same individual.

The exception is the woman who works the counter at the coffee house who always smiles when I ask for my order and seems to know that I will always ask for the internet password as I slip a dollar into the tip jar. 

While I may not be meeting my goal of meeting new people, there are morning such as these that allow me to relive some pretty awesome memories of being a student. That alone, is worth the frustration. It has been hard doing an online class – always trying to find internet, taking time away from my house, my cats, my life to work on this. However, I will readily admit that I need a break from the overwhelming responsibilities I carry, and so, this online class has at least provided me with respite from some of my obligations. 

Challenges in life do not seem to change. It doesn’t matter if I am 17 or 40, I’m still dealing with the same crap no matter what my age. I am trying to work, pay the bills, and somehow find a way not only to survive but to thrive.

I think back to all those nights at CC Cafe and realize that, really, I do have the ability to thrive. Now, all I have to do is figure out how to do that again in real life today. 

Unmentionables

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There is a lot out there about minimalism wardrobes, capsule wardrobes and how to downsize your closet. Almost all the advice and recommendations focus on what we wear every day. Underclothes (unmentionables), pajamas, and workout gear are all exempt. That is, all workout gear, that you actually wear to workout, like the time my yoga pants actually went to yoga. 

There are many different recommendations and formulas such as number of items, quality of items, etc. However, today I’m going to focus on the unmentionables section, since I have spent the past several weeks updating that section of my wardrobe. Keep in mind, that reducing your wardrobe and decluttering is not an excuse to go out and by a whole new wardrobe. The trick is generally keeping a high quality stock of functional clothing that is rotated in and out as it serves its purpose or wears out. The exception to this rule, is underclothes.

Taking a top down approach to “unmentionables,” let’s start with most female’s least favorite clothing item: bras.

Bras are uncomfortable. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that they are my least favorite wardrobe item to shop for and wear. According to research, most women in America are not even properly sized and are wearing bras that are simply ill-fitting. Bras are one of the first items we put on every day, and very rarely seen by anyone other than ourselves. So, it’s no wonder if we tend to overlook such a hardworking piece of our wardrobe.

I recently came to this realization that none of my bras were properly sized for my body type. They are extremely uncomfortable, and are one of the first clothing items I remove when I return home each day. When I really looked at the state of all my underclothes, I realized I had completely ignored this category of clothing in my minimalist efforts.

I started by being properly sized for bras. This is for both cup size and inches. I can tell you it made a world of difference. Once I was properly sized, I purchased new bras. The fit is much better and my new bras are more comfortable. Not only were my old bras improperly sized, but the elastic was worn out, the fabric on the sides worn almost threadbare, and they had basically served their time.

Now, as a minimalist, when downsizing any piece of my wardrobe, I try to donate clothing items as much as possible to reduce the amount of textile waste in our garbage system. What to do with old, worn out bras? Turtle rehabilitation.

Yes, you read that correctly. Turtle rehabilitation. There are sanctuaries that care for turtles who have injuries to their shells – whether they were caught by a boat propeller that cracked their shells, or were caught in some plastic polluting our oceans, the cup part of bras are used to help turtles shells heal. Even if your old bra is so worn out that it’s not supportive for your breasts, the cup portion can help a turtle in need. Goggle bras for turtle shells to find information on a turtle sanctuary near you where you can send your old bras to help with turtle rehabilitation. They need and take all sizes. 

By the way, we are still at the end of October. This is also a reminder to have your mammogram. 

By purchasing new bras, my clothes fit better as well. I honestly don’t remember when the last time was that I updated my underwear drawer. It was definitely years ago and long overdue.

Speaking of underwear drawer, that is the next item of unmentionables that I updated.

I am not sure how I have been overlooking this clothing item, but if you have not updated your underwear drawer in awhile, do it now. I hear that some people do this annually at Christmas. People may loathe receiving underwear for Christmas, but it is definitely a wardrobe item you need to keep up to date. 

When I was growing up, Christmas stockings usually included a new toothbrush, some fun kid’s toothpaste that was normally “too expensive” to obtain, and an orange. Underwear is rarely ever on my radar. Yes, I wear it, but be mindful of replacing it. If you are one of those families who gifts underwear and socks for Christmas, be thankful.

I was lucky in that when I replaced my underwear, there was some sort of special sale pricing. I now have 10 new pairs. As far of disposing of old underwear, I do not have any suggestions for that. Unfortunately, the old underwear went in the trash.

This brings us down to socks. Socks are pretty obvious in that when they have a hole, you either repair them, which happened more frequently back in the day, or you get rid of them, which happens more frequently today.

When I really analyzed my sock drawer, I realized that although they did not have holes, I had worn out the elastic, and the white was just not bright anymore. It was rather shocking when I did buy new socks and saw the new socks next to the old socks. The old white socks looked rather grey. That was gross.

As far as recycling or re-purposing old socks, they are great for cleaning. I put one on the end of my broom handle and use it to dust the blades of my ceiling fan. You can also just put an old sock on your hand and use it to dust your whole house. Not only can you do this with old socks that are no longer useful, but if you have the type of household where you have a sock that has lost it’s “mate,” you can just use the sock for dusting. I have also taken old socks and turned them into cat or dog toys. 

My next project I am working on is my pajama drawer. It’s been about five years since I have bought pajamas and all my sleep shirts are pretty threadbare. These are just some of the hardworking clothing items we wear every single day and rarely think about when doing a wardrobe overhaul. Other people may not see us wear these items, but updating them can still make you feel good about yourself and loved. Have you updated your “unmentionables” recently? 

 

Medal # 17

Last weekend, I participated in my first 5k in about a decade. I started out running 5ks back in the early 2000s, and when it got to the point that I was running over 30 races per year, I figured that I needed to run longer. I have been running half and full marathons for the past 12 years.

The 5k last weekend was a fundraiser for a program very near and dear to me, given my educational and professional background. The 5k raised funds for our local community policing initiative. Having completed the Run to Remember half marathon a few times, and numerous other races that support our emergency responders, I was totally on board to do a 5k for community policing after a 10-year hiatus from the shorter distances. Plus, this one supports our local community police officer, who is an all-around amazing person.

I just ran the 1812 Challenge half marathon a few weeks ago, and signed up for this race totally in support of the cause. I did my Canadian 10:1 run:walk method that I instituted this year. This meant I had two walk breaks for a 5k. I also had an unanticipated third walk break in this race, as there was a hill on one of the streets. I don’t do well with hills, so I walked up it. In total, I had 3 walk breaks over a 3.1 mile run.

The weather was perfect. It was 55 degrees at the start, which is my favorite temperature in all of life, and also optimal race weather. Given my hiatus from the 5k distance, I was just treating this as another 3 mile run. I was not expecting any certain time or accolades. The only expectation I had for myself was to finish in under 30 minutes. Based on my race pace a few weeks ago in my half marathon, I was hoping for about 27 minutes, but I figured under 30 minutes was a reasonable expectation.

My fastest 5k time back in my 20s was 25:10. Now at age 40, I knew I would not get near that. I just wanted to run a decent 3 miles. 

I crossed the finish line in 26:17, far exceeding even my wildest expectation of 27 minutes. 

When checking the boards for race times, which were marked “unofficial,” I was surprised to notice that I had placed 2nd in my age group!

I was surprised and elated! While I consistently perform in the top 10% of runners in half marathons, this was the first time I have ever placed in my age group in any race ever. Well, not in the top 10 anyway. 

At age 40, a 5k time of 26:17 is a new PR (personal record) race for me. Placing in my age group was the icing on the cake. When I turned 40 this year, I have now entered the Masters category of running, and I finally feel like I am coming into my own. I may not be as fast as I was in my 20s, but I am a well-seasoned, experienced runner, and to place in my age group felt amazing. I was so excited. I could not wait to tell everyone.

Running awards were announced at the end of the race. The first place finisher in each category received a prize. As second in my age group, I knew I was not going to receive anything, and I was totally okay with that. I was so happy to place second and have bragging rights. I ran a good 5k and then stayed near the finish line to cheer for everyone who came in after me. It was a great race and just a happy day to be part of the running community.

Imagine my surprise, when the female age 40-49 age group first place finisher was announced and it was me! Apparently, the other woman in my age group was the first overall female finisher, which bumped me up in the standings to be the first finisher in my age group. When I looked online later this week, I also noted that I was the third overall female finisher for the race! 

Welcome to medal # 17! This is my first 5k medal and the only medal that is for a distance shorter than a half marathon. However, I am so honored to have placed first in my age group! I am so proud of this 5k! I had a great time and a great run on an awesome course with amazing people! 

I will now officially say that my 2019 running season is over and I am in the off-season. Medal # 17 was a complete surprise, but definitely one of my most favorite medals. I am so looking forward to planning the 2020 race season over this winter and to resume “recreational running” for the duration of the off-season.

Thank you so much to all the volunteers, the spectators, and every one who has supported me in the 2019 race season. This is the best race season I have had in 5 years and I am so grateful to be able to continue to compete in this sport. I truly consider my ability to run to be a gift from God and every step I take is a blessing. I love all my medals and consider it an honor and a privilege to have earned each one. I’m so happy! Medal # 17 rocks!

Five Reasons the 1812 Challenge Rocks!

So if you haven’t heard, I ran the 1812 Challenge half marathon on September 1, 2019. It was my comeback race. It was amazing. This race is so awesome, I decided it needs its own “Rocks!” post similar to the Garmin one. In random order, here are the five reasons why the 1812 Challenge is my new favorite race. 

  1. Volunteers

Any runner from 1 mile to a full marathon will tell you that every race is about volunteers. We cannot run without them. No volunteers, no race. Kind of like mornings – no coffee, no workee. Yeah, yeah, we hear it all the time. 

Seriously, this race has the best volunteers. It has an army of volunteers. The race field was 1,200 runners. There were 200 volunteers. Our every need was taken care of in every way possible. Not only were the volunteers plentiful, but they were insanely happy. You could tell they genuinely wanted to be there and cared that we had a great race. 

These volunteers did not need coaching to smile, cheer, or encourage us on our way. They just did it and it was genuine. They wanted to be there and the runners were the center of the universe. I have never before gotten that vibe from race volunteers before. 

By the way, have you ever volunteered for a race? If you haven’t, then you should. Don’t be that runner that just races all the time without giving back by volunteering for someone else’s race. We’re the ones that know all the little tricks like how the person with the box of kleenex is an angel because when your legs run, your nose does too. If you are racing, you should be volunteering too. Give back. Pay it forward.

  1. Spectators

This course has the best spectators. It was the first time I ever had people say “good morning” to me on a race course. There were people outside in their yards with a mug of coffee (as in the ceramic 12 oz mug from your kitchen, not a travel mug) enjoying watching us go by. People turned up their stereos for us. 

One person was playing violin on course. Another person played the bag pipes. None of these people needed to be outside. But they were. They were cheering us on. They were awesome. I especially enjoyed all the Disney characters at mile 12. There were people of all ages from children to adult, and everyone was happy to be there. It wasn’t like in the big cities when you get the feeling that the spectators are just there to party. These people were spectating the 1812 race for us. Now, its possible some of those coffee mugs held vodka, but I don’t think so. 

This course was pretty rural. If it wasn’t for the spectators, it would have been lonely and boring. Thank you to everyone who came out to sit in their yard and watch us. You’re awesome. 

  1. Organization

The 1812 Challenge has flawless organization. From the expo to the finish line, everything went off without a hitch. I’m sure there was a lot going on behind the scenes, but from the runner’s perspective, this was a perfect race. 

First, the Expo was held on Saturday at the same location as the start/finish for the race. I’m so glad this was the case. I probably would have gotten lost on race morning if I had not been to the Expo the day before. The Expo had plenty of things to do and was not boring like some other expos. There was swag, music, and running gear sales. 

Parking was surprisingly easy, free, and did I say easy? For both race start and also for leaving the race location afterwards. One of the most stressful moments of race weekend is getting to the starting line on time. It can also be stressful trying to leave a race to get back to shower, rest, and have a full meal. The parking for this race was amazing. It was easy in, easy out. A big part of why race day went so well was that I was not stressed and frustrated trying to get to the start line. Finding the start line was easy, so I could relax and focus on my race.

Another impeccable part of organization with this race was directions. You would not believe how many marathons I have been in and the runners are frustrated because we get confused on turns and where we should go. This course was very well marked and very well staffed. There was no question at any point in time regarding where we should be. We knew at all times that we were on course and were well aware of turns. 

Especially for a race with multiple distances where the 13.1 runners sometimes diverged from the 18.12 runners, there was no question about who was supposed to be where. This is in marked contrast to large races I have ran where we get confused on where the full marathon splits from the half marathon. If it’s not organized well, that’s a horrible mistake to make. Luckily, the 1812 Challenge is organized with precision at every aspect.

Another thing that was impressive was porta potties. Porta potties were plentiful and had short to no lines. I used a porta potty at mile 5 and really appreciated it. This was one of the very few races where I did not just run behind a tree somewhere and squat. I am super impressed with the porta potty situation for this race. 

  1. The Course

When they say this course is flat and fast, they mean the course is flat and fast. I have ran races listed as “flat and fast” only to have the huge hill from miles 10-13 completely slow me down and cramp up my legs. The course map was also posted well in advance of the race. I often use course maps when considering a race to decide if it is something I can do based on elevation. 

The course was also well laid out. I was not bored. I had plenty to look at. I enjoyed having multiple turns. I tend to get bored if I’m just running a straight-away for 4 or 5 miles. We were able to see the beauty of Lake Ontario, the tranquility of cows on a farm, and the gorgeously quaint main street of Sackets Harbor. One of my favorite activities is learning about a new place by running their race. This course definitely allows you to see the sights.

  1. Timing

Apparently, this race used to be at the end of August and was moved to Labor Day weekend this year. Some people have complained about the change, but personally. I love it. Even though the change is only one week, pushing it a little into the fall brings me hopes of lower temperatures. My optimal race temperature is about 55 degrees. If it is 70 degrees or above, then I need to use my MS cooling vest and we may be looking at physical problems/symptoms.

The weather was perfect for this race with 56 degrees at the start and a high of about 72 for the day. I liked having it Labor Day weekend because the end of August tends to be feast or famine – everyone is either running around trying to get ready for back to school or every one is on vacation. For me, Labor Day weekend was perfect because I had the time to enjoy the race without needing to worry about idiots around me. 

I was really happy with the 7:30 am race start time. Again, this is for temperature reasons related to my functioning. Some half marathons start later in the morning and it is too damn hot! The 1812 Challenge has nailed the timing aspect. 

I was also impressed with the on the course race timing. When finished, I was able to punch my bib number into a little machine, and it printed me a slip of paper with all my race stats. This is one of the most incredible pieces of technology I have seen in the course of my running career. I love it! No more standing in front of boards and saying excuse me to the group of people around you trying to find your bib number and times. Then try to find a pen to write it down because who carries a pen to a marathon? I love the new timing technology. That race stat slip is my favorite piece of paper.

Bonus Reason why the 1812 Challenge Rocks! Because I could not stop at just 5 …

Bonus = Theme/Swag

I love how this race commemorates the 1812 theme. From the medals to the race swag, the theme is just awesome. The visuals are great. I love the artistry of a patriot from that time period. 

This race also ties in with the 1812 beer and has pint glasses and other swag that goes with the theme. Not to mention, an 1812 beer is included with the race. The beer ticket is attached to the bib. 

The challenge theme is awesome because 18.12 is an unusual distance. It’s more than a half marathon, but less than a full marathon. It’s the perfect way to challenge yourself for those scared to make the jump between distances. While everyone else has stickers that say 26.2 or 13.1, you can have one that says 18.12. Just so that people are like what? And it will be cool. Do the 1812 Challenge. Put the 18.12 sticker on your car. You will start a thing. You’ll see. 

I am so looking forward to returning to the 1812 Challenge in 2020. I can’t wait to figure out which challenge is in store for me next year – 13.1 or 18.12! 

The Comeback Kid Runs Again

A half marathon is just a 5k with a 10 mile warm up. 2008 was a rough year. In February of that year, I broke both arms at the same time in 4 places. I spent the winter training for a spring race in casts. In May, they sawed my casts off on a Tuesday, and I ran a half marathon that Sunday. Little did I know at the time, but my race in Ottawa qualified me for Boston. When I finally figured that out, I did indeed run Boston – in 2010.

In the fall of 2008, I ran my first full marathon in Philly. It was my third medal. The day of the race, it was 23 degrees for the entire event. It was so cold, the air horn would not work to start the race. At every water stop, as soon as liquid hit the pavement, it was instantly ice. Shortly after I crossed the finish line in Philly, my running coach passed away from cancer. Since then, I have trained myself.

When I ran Toronto in 2009, I was stoked. Toronto had perfect weather and I had a great training season. Even though PRs (personal records) are technically only good for two years, my time in the Toronto Marathon is the PR of my entire running career. It was my best race ever for the full marathon distance.

While in Toronto, I was fortunate enough to meet and have deeply personal conversations with some of my running heroes. I had the privilege of spending quality time with Roger Robinson, Kathrine Switzer, and “Boston Billy” – Bill Rodgers. Kathrine Switzer was the woman in the iconic Boston Marathon photos that the race director was trying to pull off the course because there “wasn’t supposed to be women in the marathon.” Bill Rodgers won the Boston Marathon four times. He also won the New York City Marathon four times.

In my conversations with Bill, I learned a little about running and a lot about life. I told him of the challenges I had in the 2008 running season and how I was so happy and excited to be running in Toronto. The race was bittersweet, as it would be my first full marathon without my running coach. Bill gave me great advice, words of encouragement, and called me “The Comeback Kid.” I definitely came back. Toronto was my best race ever.

Fast forward a few years.

My 2015 running season was okay. I did a half marathon in the spring. Everything went normal. I ran the half marathon in under 2 hours (typical for me). I ran a full marathon in the fall of 2015. It was my worst marathon ever. It was my slowest time and I was starting to have physical issues.

Those physical issues would persist into 2016. I ended up in the hospital. The 2016 running season was completely lost. They thought I had a stroke.

I struggled through 2017. I did a small, local half marathon with about 100 runners. I was happy to get a medal, as it was unexpected for such a small race. My time was well over the 2 hour mark. It was one of my slowest half marathons, but I did it.

In 2018, I had more set-backs. My 2018 running season was completely lost. Between 2016 and 2018, that is now two years where my running season was just plain gone and I was not liking the pattern. I changed doctors and have been pushing them for answers. Why is my body betraying me? I have 15 medals – 10 half marathons and 5 full marathons. Something is definitely wrong here. 

In 2019, I have found out that the stroke diagnosis was wrong. I have a neurological disability. They are looking at MS. I am still technically “pending diagnosis,” but after having three different doctors tell me they all suspect MS and “failing” all the MS tests, getting confirmation from the neurologist is almost just a technicality at this point.

With MS in mind, I got a cooling vest to help with my symptoms – which was actually prescribed by one of the doctors who thinks I have MS. It helped with my physical symptoms enough for me to train. Previously, it would take me 9 weeks to train for a half marathon. With my new neurological problems, it has taken me 4 months to train for a half marathon. I also changed my training plan for the first time in my career. I now use Canadian John Stanton’s 10:1 method for both training and racing. 

On September 1, 2019, the Comeback Kid Runs Again. 

Given that my neurological condition (lets just go with the MS thing, since I see the neuro in October, mmkay?) affects my vision and my driving, I took a short trip north to the Watertown, NY area. I needed a “big” race that was close and easy for me to get to. I also needed one with a medal, because we all know, it’s all about the bling. 

I ran the 1812 Challenge Half Marathon, which was my biggest race in four years, and my first “official race” back on the race circuit. In the words of Neil Diamond, it felt “so good, so good.” I love being an athlete. I love being a runner. Most importantly, I love being a marathon runner. I do not remember the last time I was as happy as I was during 1812 race weekend. It has literally been years since I have been this happy.

First off, the people are amazing. I even met the race director. The 1812 Challenge is only in its 8th year, but it is run with a level of organization, thoughtfulness, and love, that I am sure this is a race we will see going for 40 or 50 years like the big ones in the cities. As a comparison, the 1812 Challenge allows 1,200 runners. Philly allows 40,000 runners the last time I ran it. I am used to big races. Not only does the 1812 Challenge rival the big cities, but it has a lot of extras that big races don’t have. I never would have guessed a smaller race could be so beautifully done. 

Hands down, the 1812 Challenge is the friendliest race I have ever completed. Keep in mind, this was medal # 16, so this is saying a lot. There was so much support and everyone was happy to be there. Even the NYS Trooper who was stopping traffic for us at one of the intersections was in a great mood. There was a violin and bag pipes on course. 

I even saw Cinderella and a bunch of other Disney characters at about mile 12. They completely rival the Scream Tunnel at the Boston Marathon. Sorry, Wellesley, Sacket’s Harbor has you beat on this one now. 

There were people standing in the front yards of their homes cheering us on. This was the first time I have ever ran a race and had people say “good morning” to me as I ran past them.

Not only are all the staff, volunteers, and spectators friendly, but somehow this race draws the best of the running community. I don’t understand how that is possible, since runners are a pretty great bunch of people to begin with, but the people who ran the race with me exceptional. I had conversations with other runners while we were on the course. It was awesome.

Even though this race is in a rural area, I did not miss the crowds of spectators in the cities. There was so much hometown pride in the people who were spectating from their front yards. I did not go a single mile without seeing someone. The water stops were plentiful and well staffed. 

Yes, I did run by a barn full of cows and it was awesome. I would much rather run past cows then spend 3 miles running on a lonely bridge in a city with no spectators. I was a little worried at the start about not running with music, as I usually use the city crowds to “carry” me through the race. Races are so exciting that I never run them with headphones because I do not want to miss a single moment. I have had times at larger races when I wanted my headphones because there would be stretches that were so lonely. 

I had no need and no desire for headphones in this race. I always had either something to look at, someone to talk to, or people cheering for me. It was amazing. I ran my race. I ran a good race.

This is the first race I have completed in a long time that reminds me why I love to run. I know I love to run. Sometimes I get caught up in the competition, trying to beat the clock and get the PR. This race I just ran for the love of running and what made it better was that you could tell that everything about this race was designed with love. The staff, volunteers, and spectators were all there because they loved being there. This was not just another race or a notch in the running belt. 

My goal next year is to return to run the 18.12 portion. It will depend on how my doctor appointments go and how I’m feeling through the winter on whether I do the 13.1 or the 18.12. I had some troubles in the morning with the shaking (I have tremors came up in my last doctor appointment) and my right side was having troubles about mile 11 (my right side overcompensates for the left side that is being attacked by the MS). One thing is for sure, I am definitely running this race again.

The weather was perfect. The finish line was beautiful. I love the theme and the medal is one of my personal favorites. I feel so honored I get to wear my medal this week. I can’t wait to show it to everyone. 

The Comeback Kid ran again. I cannot wait to do it again next year. The 1812 Challenge is my new favorite race, and you will see me again at their race in 2020. I’m not sure if I will be in the 13.1 or the 18.12, but I will be up for A challenge and toeing the line.