Small Steps

I ran Friday.  2 miles.  Slow.

It was my first run since my Achilles Tendon Time Out.  12 days off.  I have switched from training to rebuilding.

I realize that I have not detailed the injuries that have plagued me since December.  To be honest, I really did not take them seriously.  In the past, a day or two of rest was enough to banish the pain and regain my form.  I’ve never pushed myself to the breaking point.

But its been four months now, and I still can’t get back to my Happy Place.  I’ve had to cancel two races that I was really excited to run, and a third (NF Endurance 50K) is pretty much a lost cause.

So this blog is going to switch gears for a bit, because it’s important for me to chronicle these feelings and take notes during this time of rebuilding.

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I first noticed that something was wrong on November 26, 2011.  I had run the Turkey Trot 10K on Thanksgiving Day.  With my marathon base, I was happy to PR on an exceptionally hilly, difficult course.  I should not have been racing on legs that were still in recovery, but overall I felt strong.  Two days later, however, Jimmy and I went for a 9-mile run on the Appalachian Trail.  My knees, right hip, and ankle were all painful, and I had to walk a large portion of the route.  The next day, I stubbornly insisted on an 8-mile run up and over the hilly terrain of Western MD.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I went for my standard runs.  5-6 miles at a time, but my legs just felt dead.  I was slower.  I hurt more.  The joy was gone.  I managed a few long runs before Christmas.  The last, an 18-miler, was torture for the final four miles.  The pain centered on my right hip and ankle.   Femoral Stress Fracture?  Anemia?  Lyme Disease?  My doctors ran series of tests.  They ruled out fractures, iron deficiency, and illness and gave me my diagnosis – Piriformis Syndrome.

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I’d dealt with this when training for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2001.  A few PT sessions, and I was good to go.  My doctor referred me to a well know PT, who told me that I had overstretched my Piriformis muscle.  He told me to stop stretching, analyzed my gait and recommend a few changes.  It didn’t help.  A friend referred me to her guy, who had helped her get over a similar problem the summer before.  I started PT with him on February 5, just days before Holiday Lake.

Andy gave me the once over and determined that it wasn’t just my Piriformis that was acting up.  My pelvis was misaligned, my lower back had slipped out, and my glute medius was aggravated.  Over the next month, we worked twice a week to massage out the knots, heal the muscles, and strengthen my core.  And it was working.  Until we added lunges.

For some reason, as soon as I tried to do a left-side lunge, I felt a weakness in my left knee and left Achilles Tendon.  I’m not sure what happened, but the previous week (March 7th) I took a nasty spill during a trail run.  A few days later we took the girls hiking in Shenandoah National Park and I ended carrying 30 lbs of SweetBabyJ a mile & 1/2 up the side of the mountain.

The knee pain really didn’t bother me, but I started to notice a creakiness in my AT.  It was worst when I flexed my ankle, but it didn’t hurt when I was running.  I continued to train, with fair warning from my PT that I was on the edge of full-on tendonitis.

To be safe, I backed out of the Instant Classic Trail Marathon.  But a week later, as I posted, a triple-dose of runs caused the tendon to swell, and the rest is history….

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So here I am, in recovery mode.  After the 2 mile run Friday, I iced and wrapped my ankle.  I tried to stay off it for the rest of the day.  No major swelling.  Small Steps…

Saturday, I got on my bike for a hilly 6 mile loop.  My AT felt very similar to my run the previous day.  So I repeated the icing.

Today I’m resting.  The AT remains creaky with just a hint of tenderness.  I’ll run again tomorrow and see how it goes.

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I continue to do my core-strengthening routine every other day.  Crunches (2 x 50 each:  center, left, and right), Flutter Kicks (2 x 50), Atomic Situps (2 x 25), Back Extensions (3 x 30).  Plank leg lifts (2 x 10), Planks (1 min hold).  I also do leg strengthening:  25 forward lunges (both sides), 25 side lunges (both sides), Side leg lifts (w/ resistance band): 3 x 15 (both sides).  Eccentric Calf Raises (3 x 15, each side).   I feel like I need to up these numbers, as I don’t quite reach failure.  But it is so hard to motivate.

I took a Power Yoga class Tuesday and loved it.  It did a better job of working my core & legs, and I was sore afterwards – what a good feeling!

I’m trying out some supplements:  Glycine, Lysine, Creatine, Glucosamie Sulfate, and Vitamin E.

I have backed off the Ibuprofen.

I’m trying to drink more water.

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If all goes well, I will continue to run 2-3 miles every 2nd or third day.  I will only increase this mileage as my AT can tolerate it.  I hope to maintain my cardio base with spin classes, bike rides, and swimming.  I’ll do Power Yoga 1-2 times per week, as well as core & strengthening 3 times per week.

I want to give myself enough time to properly train for JFK, which means I have about 6-8 weeks to turn this around.

Wish me luck!

Not Running – Week 2

Short post today.  Saw my PT this morning.  Swelling in Achilles is gone, but creaking (aka crepitus) and pain are still present.

No running for another 3-7 days.

Tomorrow, I get on the bike.  The bike will be my new friend until I can get back on the roads.

JFK training begins May 14th.  I will get there.

Time Out

I’ll be honest.   My three darling girls are rarely angelic.

Don’t get me wrong – they are good kids.  The are bright and caring, and I am SO proud to be their mama. But……..

They inherited my stubborn streak.

No matter how many times I tell them:

  • Don’t run in the parking lot
  • Stay in your seat
  • Be quiet
  • Respect adults when they’re talking
  • Don’t scratch out your sister’s eyes

They’ll ignore me when the desire to do what they WANT to do outweighs the punishment they KNOW they’ll receive.

When that happens, we simply remove them from the fun.  A well-played “Time Out” does wonders to calm the terror and restore order in our house.   It’s like they need to be alone to find their center, calm the storm inside their head, and return to the land of Normal.

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At 36 years old, I got put in Time Out today.

I ran 5 miles on Friday, and hit a 7:15 pace before running into a friend and slowing down for the finish….

….I ran 6.5 miles Saturday, on the trails.  My achilles was a bit tight, but loosened up after 20 minutes.  I ran fast and hit an 8:00 pace on the trails for the first time since September.  I felt GREAT!….

…I ran 11 miles Sunday.  Wanted to get in 15, but we had a showing on our house and I needed to be there.  I ran a comfortable 8:00 pace, but 6 miles in, my right hip started to spasm.  My achilles was also talking to me.  Since I couldn’t get Jimmy on the phone, I ran it home, stopping to stretch every mile or so.  Still, as soon as I stopped, I knew I had done something wrong…

Three days of running was more than this injured girl could handle.  While I felt good to OK during each run, the cumulative effect was to send my flirtation with Achilles Tendonitis into a full-blow love affair.  It swelled up, and was quite apparent when I went in for Physical Therapy on Monday.

My PT doesn’t mince words, and he told me what I knew, and what I needed to hear:  No running for 7-10 days (best case).  Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation – I’ll be RICE-ing like a champ.  Slow return to the road.  Buh-Bye Speedwork, Buh-Bye Hills.  If I want to do JFK in the fall, I must listen.

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But Monument  is this weekend.  It’s not a Runner’s Race, which is why I love it.  All of Richmond comes out.  40,000 people take to the prettiest stretch of the city.  Last year, when VCU was in the Final Four, it was a sea of black and gold.  This year, the azaleas and dogwood are so beautiful they’ll make you weep.  Bands, cheerleaders, costumes…it’s just fantastic.

My crazyily-gifted-talented-runner-friend-and-neighbor (aka Kate) is running it, and I’m actually able to keep up with her this year.  I know scores of other friends and acquaintances that will be out there.  And I promise to be on the sidelines, cheering them on.

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I have no idea how long this Time-Out will last, but I hope I learn my lesson and listen to my legs.  My goal for 2012 is endurance, and I will be starting to rebuild myself soon, a more humble runner than when I started.

If only it was that easy with my girls….

#10: Doucument the Journey

At long last, almost three months after starting, I’ve come to my final 2012 resolution. Clearly, I could be doing a better job documenting the journey!

I started this blog for my daughters.  I hope to have some record of the thoughts and philosophies that bounce around in my head.  I want them to understand the connection between me as an individual (i.e. runner) and me as a mother.  And I want them to see how vitally interconnected these two personas are.

I could not be the runner I am today without first being a mother.  Motherhood has given me strength, grit, and endurance that I utterly lacked.  Since becoming a mom, I’ve stopped expecting much in the way of physical comfort (try saying ‘no’ to three little munchkins that all want to sit on the same lap at the same time!).  I’ve stopped expecting solid, long periods of sleep.  I do not rest.  I clean the same messes and wipe away the same tears – hour after hour, day after day.  I am a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a counselor, a guardian, a disciplinarian, a spoiler, a chef, a recycler, a housemaid, a laundress, and the biggest cheerleader these girls will ever have.

But I could not be a good mom without my running.  It’s in those runs that I find my rest.  In the miles and the footfalls, I find my peace.  It is in the hills and across the streams that I find my soul.  I return to the chaos ready, and thrilled, to tackle the day

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I am really, really bad about taking pictures.  Even worse about organizing them.  The girls’ baby books gather dust, incomplete.  But when I open the images saved on the computer and scroll through the last six years, I see how far we’ve come.  This little, srawny infant:

is now in kindergarten.

This heartbreakingly young couple:

have 15 years under their belts, have built a home, a business, and family of five.

It’s in this reflection that I can see what we have done.

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I must admit I am a bit down today.  Last weekend’s race, which I scrapped in deference to my aching achilles, still chafes a bit.  I wanted to be there, on the trails, having fun.  Instead I sat on the sidelines.  Promised Land, a gorgeous 50K, is coming up next month.  I know I can’t run it.  Aside from my aches and pains, there are several family obligations that take precedence.  But it still rankles me to think about missing the fun.

But there is a blessing in these missed opportunities. The chance to rebuild, to make myself stronger.  I’ll take a deep breath, and know that there will be other races, other adventures.

And if I keep my resolution to document the journey, through words and pictures, maybe I can look back at the trail this time next year and see how far we have come.

#9: Stretch it Out

I’ve struggled writing this post for several weeks now.  When I made my resolutions in January, I intended this one to be literal:  “Annie needs to stretch more”.  Duh.  It’s no secret that I’ve been off form since December, struggling with a right hip and glute that need much more than I’ve been willing to give them.  I  resolved to give stretching the attention it deserved…

This is what I should be doing....

…so I could heal and get back to running hard and fast – where the endorphins kick in and I feel like I can handle anything.

So I can feel like this...

I started Physical Therapy, and while my right side is finally feeling better, my left knee and (more seriously) my left Achilles have started to complain.  My core is stronger, but now my back grumbles when I spend too much time carrying SweetBabyJ.  At 36, I wonder:  Are the wheels coming off…am I a totally washed up train wreck?

Of course with motherhood – my alternate identity – the wheels come off daily!  The girls lolly gag in the morning, and I lose my temper.  BabyJ draws all over her face 5 minutes before school, and I lose it again.  I spend an hour fixing a balanced, healthy, organic, veggie-rich dinner and am told “This is disgusting!”, so I pour myself a sippy-cup…

Whine = Wine. Now.

But in motherhood, I rebound.  Again and again.  Because I have to.  Being a mom is not a 5K.  It’s not a 10K or even a marathon.  Motherhood is 15 hours of running.  Each day, every day.  And when your temper frays or your heart hurts, you just keep going.  One foot in front of the other.  Relentless Forward Progress.

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When someone asks me who my idols are in the running community, its not the Usual Suspects.  I think it is awesome that Kara Goucher landed a place on the US Olympic Team after having a baby, but I could never BE her.

I look to the women who are 40,  50, and even 60+ that are ultra runners and triathletes.  They have not slowed or surrendered to the expectations of time.  They have balanced the demands of family with the demands of training and they are out there showing us all that IT CAN BE DONE.  I am proud to run alongside them (or, in many cases, behind them) and I hope and pray that I can be on the trails for the next 36 years (I’ll be the baddest 72 year old granny, for sure!!)

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 So, my resolution is no longer just about Stretching.  Stretch it Out is about longevity.  About making this last as long as I can.  To keep this resolution, I’ve had to do some things that are not easy or comfortable.  For starters, I dropped out of a race this weekend.  A beautifully organized trail marathon that I ached to run.  But I knew, deep down, that my achilles couldn’t handle it.  So I prioritized the future over the present.

Which is why I became a mom in the first place.

#7 & #8: Get Outside and Go Long (Holiday Lake 50K++ Race Report)

Last fall, while tapering for the Richmond Marathon, I laid out my 2012 goals.  Among them was this line:

February 2012:  First Ultra.  With a friend.  Awesome.

And it was, even when the pain and the doubt and the tears crept over me, it was a truly awesome day.

But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

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I planned to run Holiday Lake with my friend Kelly and her husband Matt.  Jimmy agreed to “crew” for us.  Give the ample aid stations and mid-point drop bags, his was a pretty light work load (Case in point, after the race started, he took a long shower, ate breakfast, caught a movie, took a bike ride, made some phone calls, and met up with us for the last five mile stretch — lucky man).

We left Richmond Friday afternoon, and got to the 4H Center in time to eat dinner and secure a heated bunk.  Thoroughly enjoyed hearing Dr. Horton’s tips & tricks for surviving one’s first ultra and seeing all the college kids ready to tackle such a run.  When I was in college, I ran sporadically, usually in March as a futile attempt to get in shape for Spring Break.  Only later did I become a Runner.  If I had been exposed to this lifestyle when I was in school, would I have had the discipline and maturity to endure?  I wonder.

The four of us turned in early, and after a lot of tossing and turning and precious little sleep, we awoke and got ready for the start.  It was dark and cold, but dry when we started at 6:30 a.m

Everyone gathered under the banner, sang the National Anthem, and locked in their satellites…

and we were off….

The course is a 16+ mile loop, run clockwise to start, and counter clockwise to finish. Our plan was to go out slow and easy, keeping our pace in check and walking any daunting incline.  Aid Stations are set every 4 miles, with ample food, water, and cheering volunteers.  I’ve been nursing an injury since December, and was hoping and praying that I could get at least 20 miles under my belt before my right hip and ankle realized what I was doing to them.

The first loop was a blast.  The aid stations appeared just when they should, and we clocked along in the 9 min/mi range.  When I felt tired, I took a gel and bounced right back.  My ankle hurt, but not terribly.  My trail shoes (Brooks Pure Grit) were a dream, and handled the stream crossings and slick spots with ease.  We chatted with friends and new acquaintances and rolled into the 1/2 way point around 2:40 – perfect.  I felt great, and couldn’t believe that I had 16 miles on my legs.  Now turn around and do it all again…

Halfway!

Things were OK for the next 8 miles.  I was tiring, but holding my pace.  I left my water bottle at the turn around, but a quick pit stop assured me that I was properly hydrated.  I borrowed Matt’s bottle and was able to roll on.  At one point I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe that we’d been running for 4 hours – it did not seem that long.  I noted to the group when we hit 26.2 miles and took our first steps into ultra territory.

But between miles 24 and 28 the wheels started to come off.  I slowed a bit, and my injured right leg was weakening quickly.  As a result, I kept hitting my toes on roots and rocks and tumbling down.  I fell three times hard.  I was still running with Kelly and Matt when Jimmy found us about mile 27.  We stuck together for another mile or so, but soon after leaving the last aid station, I lost it.  The magnitude of the day and the distance overwhelmed me.  I thought of Jimmy’s dad, and how much he would have wanted to be a part of this day,  and I wept.  I decided to drop back and walk a bit.  I pulled myself together, but no sooner had a started to run when I kicked another rock.  This time, instead of tripping forward, I twisted.  My knee immediately seized up, and I couldn’t run another step.  Heck, I almost couldn’t walk.  And I still had 3 1/2 miles to go.

I hobbled along for 10 minutes, crying and muttering to Jimmy that this was not how it was supposed to end.  Through it all, I remembered Dr. Horton’s words from the night before.  Just keep moving forward.  The important thing is finishing.  I kept walking.

And like a miracle, my knee eased up.  I started to run again, and was able to go on with a run/walk combo until we hit the road.  1/2 mile and I would be at the finish.  Jimmy stayed by my side, and we traded running quotes to keep the motivation high.  I let gravity pull me down the hill the to finish.  Dr. Horton gave me a hug, and just like that, I was an official ultra-marathoner.

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One day later, my knee and ankle are more swollen than I’ve ever seen them.  I can’t really walk with bended joints.  And yet, I’m already counting the days of recovery before I can do this again.

It took me 5 hours and 40 minutes to run Holiday Lake.  I came into the day injured, which kept me from running to my potential, but in the end that did not prevent me from enjoying the experience.  My father-in-law passed away four days before the race – I ran for him.  I ran for my daughters, who will grow up with the legend of their grandfather and know that anything is possible.

I run, not for fitness, but for serenity.  In the miles and hours on the road (or trail), I go into myself and find a greater understanding.  What did I learn from Holiday Lake?

I learned that I can run far, and I can run through injury and pain.

I learned that ultras attract a great group of people.

I learned that a good conversation can make the miles melt away.

Looking at my fellow runners, I learned this is a lifestyle, and one that I want to (and can be) living for the next 30 years

Thank you to everyone for making this such a special day!

#6: Wander

I’ve been gone from the blog for a couple of weeks.  A lot of things have gotten in the way of life.  An invasion of germs left 80% of our family under the weather.  (LittleMissMouse was the lone survivor).  My right side, from hip to ankle, continues to sap my running mojo.  And, most sadly, we are witnessing the end of my father-in-law’s struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.

I really want to dedicate this post to him, because I can think of no one who better exemplifies the Wanderlust way.  It’s ironic that he began and is ending his life in the same city, since he covered so much ground in his 73 years.  From New England boarding schools and Harvard University, he canoed the fjords of Norway, hitch-hiked across the USA as a folk-singer in the 1960s.  With his bride and toddler son, he drove to Alaska in 1972, where he staked a claim on 10 acres and built a cabin with his bare hands (and the help of some friends).

Upon returning to Virginia, he rode the running wave, finishing the Richmond Marathon among other races.  I’ve been privileged to read the his running journals from the 1970s and 80s, where he logged splits, routes, his heart rate, and philosophies.  In 1987 he climbed atop North America with a successful summit of Denali.  Shortly after, he journeyed to the base of the Himalayas, hiking in the shadow of Everest.

A trip to Thailand in 2003, a final pilgrimage to the cabin in Alaska in 2005, and a return to Denmark in 2006 were his last  voyages.  Until now.  I know he’ll explore the afterlife, mining it for its secrets and wonders.  The song he shared with us all will carry on the wind, falling on our ears when we least expect it, and reminding us that he is still about.

Safe journeys and happy trails, my dear man.

#5 – Embrace the Mud

No better way to embrace this resolution than by running the 2012 Willis River Trail Run!

I first heard about this race from a friend in the fall, shortly after finishing the Maymont X-Country Festival’s 8 miler.  That was my first trail run in several years, and while I ran hard and finished well, I was amazed at how much harder it was to run trails.  I went out fast, and for the first 3 miles was in first place.  But, while 7:30/mi would have been a conservative pace for the road, it was way too aggressive for the trail.  My whole body hurt, and I started to bonk big-time around mile 7.  I ended 5th among women, and realized that if I could actually build some core strength and train off-road, I might score a podium spot in 2012.

Since that race in September, I’ve only been on the trails a few times…while I never hesitate to go for a run on the road, a solo trail run is beyond my comfort zone.  Despite my lack of training and string of recent injuries, I decided to go out and run the 35K race on Saturday. I was running with my friend and her husband, both of whom have signed up to run Holiday Lake 50K++ in February.

It was a CHILLY 28 degrees at the start.  I wore long pants and a double layer of long-sleeves on top.  I decided to forgo my new trail shoes (not enough training miles in them yet) and put on an old pair of my tried-and-true Adidas Supernova Glide’s.  I was a bit worried by their lack of traction, but knew my feet would stay happy in them.  As it turned out, they held the ground just fine.

The course was an out-and-back, with aid stations about every five miles.  35K should = about 22 miles, so we were expecting the turn around mile 11.  We started at a conservative pace for the first 10 minutes, and when my hip felt OK, I decided to go on when my friends picked up the pace.  Of course, it was a wilderness trail, so the pace was a blazing 10:30/mile.  It takes a lot for a road girl like me to get used to the “slowness” of trail running, but having my HRM show me how hard I was working, I quickly made peace with it.

We hit the first aid station about an hour after starting, not before hitting what would truly be the most maddeningly difficult obstacle:  MUD.  Early week rain showers and balmy temps had turned much of the trail into a swamp.  The race director had a few detours in place, but none of the runners escaped with clean shoes!

We left the station, and ran to the second section…looking out for the blessed turn-around.  It seemed like forever, but we finally saw the first two guys run by – they were smoking!  The first woman passed us maybe 1/2 mile before the turn-around, and by the time we pulled out of the aid station, we knew we were the 4th and 5th females on the course.  Mercifully, we also knew the top 3 were essentially out of reach, so there was no need to push the pace and try for the podium.

I felt tired leaving the first aid station, but caught a second wind during that second section.  I knew it would be a long road back, but I just needed to keep pace with my group and endure.  I stayed on top of hydration, and ate three gels over the course (along with one chocolate chip cookie!).

We made it back to the aid station, topped off our water and set out on the last section – about 5.5 miles.  I started to get really tired, and we walked a lot of the hills.  Even so, we maintained our placement and crossed the finish line in 3:29.

All told, the race took me as long as my marathon, and the effort felt similar.  Mentally, it was much more enjoyable, as the uneven terrain and obstacles kept me on my toes!  It was a huge confidence boost to get 3 1/2 hours on my feet, and I hope this signals a return to form.  I start PT today.  This, along with my cross-training will strengthen my legs and get them ready for the 32+ miles Holiday Lake will throw at me.

One step at a time…

#4 – Be Strong

OK,  this is a good resolution to remember tomorrow.  I’ll make it my mantra.

Be Strong, Mommy…Be Strong, Mommy….Be Strong!

I’m running the Willis River Trail Run (35K).  22 miles of trail, which for effort and duration will match up to a marathon.  Problem is, I am a) seriously undertrained and b) injured.  I could fake my way through the training part.  I still have a solid base from November’s marathon and I did manage an 18 mile training run three weeks ago.  But my aching glutes, hammies, and piriformis have kept me off the road since then.  I have no idea how they will react to 4 hours of running tomorrow.

i.am.scared

Be Strong, Mommy…Be Strong, Mommy….Be Strong!

 But let’s think on the positive side.  12 hours from now, I’ll be running this:

Second of all, I get to run it with 150 other crazies like me who are willing to wake up at the crack of dawn and run in the freezing cold.  Souls like that are my kind of folks!

Finally, and most importantly, it’s something new!  I’ve never run this distance on the trail, and it get’s me closer to my 2012 goals (50K Ultra in Feb., 50 Miler in Nov.).  I’ll run alongside two friends, and meet up with Jimmy and the girls afterwards to enjoy the long weekend.

Assuming I stay on course and don’t wander off into oblivion….

Be Strong, Mommy, and Carry On!

#3 – Be Joyful

Because that’s what its all about, isn’t it?

–I take joy in every day, because it is such an awesome world.

–I take joy in my children, because every day they are growing bigger and more independent.  And, despite how much I sometime SUCK at motherhood, they still love me and think I know everything.   All too soon, they are going to be teenagers and figure out that I don’t know anything.

–I take joy in my husband, because after 11 years of marriage  (and three years of dating), he is still my best friend.

–I take joy in my family, because they are my foundation.

–I take joy in my friendships, because my gals have been through it all with me.

–I take joy in the run, because it is a celebration of nature and humanity.  It is my way of praising God’s creation.

Last Saturday, we got a babysitter and had a “date night” Saturday morning. Seven-ish mile trail run on the Buttermilk with the RRRC.  What a fantastic way to start of the weekend full of joy.

It’s one of the things I love most about Richmond — that you can have a trail like this, running through the woods and by the river, in the middle of the city.

Another reason to be joyful, my friends.