Saturday, October 15, 2016

Towpath Half Race Report

Guys, I think I might be ready to start writing about running again. It's been a long hiatus, which vaguely started due to injury, then persisted I've been running pretty regularly for a few months and so, so much about life has changed in the past 8 months. It's a new world.

As to running, I crossed some milestones I thought about writing up, then didn't. First, there was the regular running. But this didn't seem noteworthy to me (note to self: it was!). Then, my first 100-mile month in who knows how long (actually, I do know: 16 months. Sixteen flipping months!). And finally, a race. And you know, races get us runners right in the feelings, and then I can't resist returning here to write about it. Welcome to the race report.

I'm gonna back up a bit from the race itself, back to about February or March when I told my friend Jodi I was moving to CLE. She immediately added me to a Facebook page for a free running group called MRTT (Moms Run This Town). I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I have been for this group. This is how I've met several of my new friends, who have graciously invited me on social outings and shown me the running paths around here. The group has over 1000 members, and we're everywhere. You go to a race, you're going to see MRTTers. A lot of us have magnets on our cars that say MRTT. Another MRTTer is going to see it eventually and flip it upside down--our way of saying hi.

The MRTT, in fact, was how I learned about the Towpath Half in the first place.

The race was last Sunday. On Saturday I headed out to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with my family, to the Boston Mills Ski Area, where the expo was being held. Two things on this: 1) I'm really happy to have skiing so convenient. 2) it's adorable. Their website boasts a 270" vertical drop, which, Utah would eat for breakfast. But honestly it's probably grade-appropriate for my family right now, so, winning.

I chatted with my friend Shannon (MRTT) at the expo, who I planned to race with. I snapped a few pictures near the finish line, ran around with the kiddos a bit, and got some ice cream from the general store. Beautiful day.

The surface we'd be running on--a tightly packed, crushed limestone
That night I couldn't decide what to wear. It would feel like 40 degrees at the start line, and warm up to around 50 or 52 by the end of the race. My long/short sleeve cut-off is somewhere between 50 and 55, but in a race I thought I might be warmer than usual. But that start would be cold. I couldn't decide. Finally I put out my trusty old Brooks skirt and a long-sleeved top. I stashed a short-sleeved shirt in my drop bag just in case, and called it a night.

Early Sunday morning I got up and went through the motions: get dressed, eat some toast and jam, double check my bag drop situation, plug in directions on the GPS, head out. Half an hour later I pulled into Brandywine Ski Area (near Boston Mills), parked, and went to find Shannon. We sat in my warm car as long as we dared before heading to the port-a-potty line. We waited too long. The line wasn't moving fast enough to make the start gun, but the guy on the bullhorn told us not to jump out of line about it. Enough people made use of the two-ply leaves in the woods, I got through the port-a-potty line just in time.  The sun came up--glorious--while we waited. 

Sunrise over Brandywine
We crept up about as far as we could in the start area before the gun went off, trying to avoid getting caught behind walkers and slower runners. We still did some weaving in the first mile, but pretty minimal. Shannon ran right in front of me, leading us along the shoulder for a while, and only lowering a shoulder once.

We got to the Towpath itself about half a mile in, and settled in. Our plan was to start around 8:45 and drop to an 8:15 or 8:20 by the half-way point, then decide what the endgame would be. You learn a lot about people when you race with them. I learned, among other things, that Shannon goes out fast. I kept pulling her back, and together I think we made a good team.

Mile 1: 8:42
Mile 2: 8:26
Mile 3: 8:29

Somewhere around here, we're running along when another runner looks at me and says, "Are you Joanna?" She was another MRTTer, and recognized me from a Facebook post. It definitely put a big smile on my face!

Mile 4: 8:17
Mile 5: 8:29
Mile 6: 8:19

Usually when race directors tell you a course is flat, at some point you want to choke them. Not here. It is actually, for real, flat. There is the tiniest of a false-flat-down on the way out, and false-flat-up on the way back, but really truly tiny. And the course is beautiful.

At the half way point we talked strategy. She wanted to speed up. I didn't have faster, so I sent her on ahead. This is where, frankly, if I'd trained, I could have recouped some time. But I didn't really train. Yes, I ran 101 miles in September, but zero speed work, zero tempo runs, nothing. Just miles. And, that's fine. The whole point of this race was to get back out there!

I got a little down for a few miles, sort of hating life a little. Then at some point I thought, I'm supposed to be enjoying this. Look up! Look around! Take it in! Control your breathing and just run.

Mile 7: 8:26
Mile 8: 8:24
Mile 9: 8:32
Mile 10: 8:39

I had something happen at a water stop around this point that I'd never seen before. For a while, I'd been trying to pass a guy. For a while, oncoming runners prevented this. A time or two I thought maybe he just didn't see that I was trying to get around him. Then at a water stop, he took water while staying smack in the middle of the course, and audibly cussed when I squeezed my way around him. What the hell?!? Has anyone ever seen that??

Shannon was still in my sights at this point, and with just a 5k to go I was pretty head-down to get it done.

Mile 11: 8:45
Mile 12: 8:49
Mile 13: 8:29

Coming in the home stretch I got into a race with a guy. We were plainly racing each other, and we were plainly both enjoying it. I honestly think he let me win. I don't care. He pushed me to go faster than I might have otherwise as we came into the last turn.

Finish time: 1:51:34.

I'm pleased with this. It's a little faster than I ran Salt Lake in 2015, and I did it without any structured training. This race got me back to racing.

With such a gorgeous day, I decided to wander and hang out a bit. The beer tent, though very popular, just wasn't calling my name. At 10am. On a Sunday. After a race. (Seriously people, what am I missing about this? I just can't do it.) But there was live music, lots of people, and beautiful weather. I ended up running into 2 co-workers, then randomly meeting 2 MRTT ladies back at the parking lot.

Walking to the shuttle back to the parking lot

All in all, this was a spectacular race weekend. Beautiful weather, mission get-back-to-racing accomplished, and got to do it with friends.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Reveal: Dining Room

After moving to Ohio in June, to a house we bought sight unseen, I jumped head first into making the house our home. And I've loved it. I've spent entire days going from lighting stores, to carpet stores, to furniture stores, to Bed Bath and Beyond. I've sketched and searched and laid awake at night imagining rooms that could be. And today, my friends, I get to share one completed project, our dining room.

When we arrived, the room was painted dark olive green below the chair rail and a lighter shade above. The white doors in the far corner of the above photo go to a charming built-in deep china cabinet. It's like the 1930s builders knew I was coming. This is the listing photo.

The large light fixture featured smoky glass and about 10 small light bulbs, which, when paired together, left a less inviting feel to the room after dark. And, regardless of time of day, the smoky glass made it nearly impossible to tell what various color palettes might look like in the room.

Our first impulse was wallpaper. We found beautiful papers, which would truly have been elegant. Ultimately, the wallpaper shop I was working with was having a difficult time processing orders, and I grew concerned that the eventual process of removing the wallpaper would leave me wishing I'd never put it up.
I really liked this wallpaper
After that, I got on Houzz, got out a notebook, and started brainstorming new ideas. The room had to harmonize with the adjacent living room (behind me as I took the photo below). It had to be elegant. It had to make a statement, but in neutrals due to the adjacent room's plans (the red you see in the background will be gone soon). Finally, it had to honor the 1930s vintage of the home. Ready for it?

To accomplish this look, every non-floor surface was painted. We hired a great contractor who painted the ceiling, trim, and lower wall all the same color--Behr's Decorator White. (Aside: Interior designers rarely use Behr, because it's less expensive, and because it's sold at Home Depot. But me? I'm a Behr girl for life. Consumer Reports ranks them strongly and the paints have always performed well for me. And, fyi, you can have colors from the more expensive brands mixed in Behr paint.) The choice of Decorator White endured a painfully drawn-out back and forth with my father, who just insists it isn't really white. It was a whole thing. 

For the rug, I knew I wanted a pattern that would harmonize with the rugs in the adjacent living room and give the room elegance. And, I love a damask but knew I wasn't putting it on the walls. Additionally, this particular rug needed to have a short nap, as it's a dining room and will get food in it, and needed to be relatively inexpensive given the near certainty my children will destroy it eventually. I got a great deal on this hand-tufted wool rug.  

Above the chair rail then. That's not wallpaper (click on the picture to see it larger). Nope. I stenciled that. I stenciled that. Only a very few people knew what I was up to and their response was universally, "Have you lost your mind?" Maybe. But I'd do it again. Why? No one ever has to remove wallpaper. I got to customize my color selections. And my favorite part? The whole thing cost $77. The beige background color (Behr: Sandy Clay)) was $31. The stencil was $48. The brush I applied it with was $8. Done. 

I'd never stenciled, and welcomed the chance to learn. Well, sort of. Ok fine, I called a local artist who does some related work and asked if she could do this. She wasn't available, and encouraged me to try it myself. I was hesitant. I'd had a friend nearly lose her mind handing wallpaper a year prior. I accepted the challenge anyway. I figured, I'm crafty. How hard could it be?

At first it was slow going. This took at least 2 hours, maybe more. And those first diamonds, over the door, are the worst in the whole room. But I kept at it. I have "in progress" photos taken after I stopped each night, showing how far I'd gotten. I listened a lot of The Moth, This American Life, Serial Season 2, and iTunes. I enjoyed my evenings with podcasts and visible progress on a project. I came to find it rewarding. 

The windows are treated in layers: a layer of cool white sheers, and one panel on each window in inky navy silk, on a pullback. My Mom was my hero here. I needed a between-size length, so I ordered up and she shortened them for me. She's sewn all kinds of stuff for my kids' rooms, too, and I truly cannot thank her enough. 

And finally, that chandelier. A huge thank you to Cleveland Lighting on this one. The sales associate was so patient with me while I went through book after book of fixtures, looked at the ones in their showroom about 4 times, and asked questions about how finishes looked in person. I ended up very pleased with this Feiss fixture, up close below. I love how the shape complements the wall pattern, and how the crystal helps to lighten up the room.

I truly enjoyed this process, as I'm enjoying working on the other rooms in our house. I promise to share a bit more in the future. 

In other news, I've been running! I think I'm ready to start writing about that again, too. I may or may not be running a half-marathon this weekend....