How To Get A Life Out In The Sticks

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One of the many reasons why I had two jobs for 20 years was that if there was drama or problems at one job, usually the other job was fine, so I still had something to look forward to. It was a kind of balancing act. Since having one job, I have learned to achieve that balance with work and home instead of between two jobs.

Last year, when Kitty passed away and my world shattered, home pretty much sucked. Luckily, I absolutely loved my job and was able to draw strength from that. I have learned that the opposite holds true as well, when you don’t like your job, home life better be stellar to counteract that.

I am very fortunate right now in that my home life is amazing. My home life is definitely the most positive aspect of my life right now and I am very grateful. At the same time, I am missing the support of having a job I loved, and am looking to recreate that somehow by trying to “get a life” out in the community.

Trying to get a life in a small town is hard. First, there aren’t very many opportunities. Second, small towns tend to be quite clique-y, so trying to infiltrate the ranks can be challenging. Honestly, I miss the city. I also miss freedom to move around. My medical issues have been clipping my wings quite a bit for the past year or so. Since I no longer have the ability to take off to who knows where on a whim, I need to make do with this small town I’m in.

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is partially contingent on age. This is what I’ve learned so far:

Bonfire

This strategy works well in your teens. When I was young in a small town and you wanted to find people, look for a bonfire. That’s where everyone hangs out to talk, listen to music, and roast marshmellows.

Bonfires typically follow other events like the Friday night high school football game, which was the hottest ticket in town. Ok, it was the only thing to do on a Friday night when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. If you are a teenager who wants to get a life out in the sticks, find a bonfire. Or, make your own. If you start a bonfire, they will come.

Alcohol

Bonfire experiences in your teens typically evolve to include alcohol in your 20s. Actually, in your 20s, you don’t even necessarily need the bonfire anymore. You show up somewhere with a 6-pack or a bottle of vodka and Boom! Instant party.

If you want to get a life out in the sticks in your 20s, all you need to do is add alcohol. It’s very simple.

30s & 40s

This is where I am at a complete loss. For most of my 30s, I was in school working on my degrees. Meeting people is easy when you are a college student. At 39, I’m stuck in a small town and no longer in school.

People my age don’t seem to exist. I’m sure that they do, but I don’t see them. I imagine that everyone my age is happily coupled and spends their evenings at home cooking fresh, organic, vegetarian dinners followed by family board games with their 2.5 kids while the dog snores in front of the fireplace. They are just so blissfully happy, they have no need to go out and meet people.

More likely, everyone my age was smart enough to get out of rural USA while they could and are off living in the cities. I’m not sure where I missed the boat on social and geographic mobility in America, but that ship has defininitely sailed, and I was not on it. I didn’t even hear the boarding call.

Bars

Let’s not go there. If you’re still on the “bottle of vodka creates a party” kick past your 20s, you have a problem, and I am NOT your therapist. In my small town, bars are filled with young college students and meth heads. I do, after all, live in the county that is considered the meth capitol of NYS.

This is not a scene that I am in or want to enter. So we will just leave the bars alone in this little experiment, mm’kay?

How To Get A Life

Well, this sounds dismal. You thought I was going to have some great ideas on how to solve this little problem, didn’t you? Well, I do have some ideas. They are still in progress. Some have pros and cons. We’ll go through them.

Volunteer

So far, I have found this strategy to be helpful, but it is a little early yet for definitive data. My strategy for volunteering is to choose only one or two organizations. This way, I am able to participate fully without overwhelming myself. It gets me out in the community networking and meeting people. A con to this strategy so far is that I have not met any people my age. Although the people I have met so far are fascinating. I am also learning new things and I like that.

When choosing volunteer work, it is helpful to choose an area in which you are passionate. Passion will get you through the rough times. For example, everyone around me seems to find fault with me right now, so I am starting to think that animals are better than people. But since the point is to try to meet people my own age, I guess I need to put up with the jerks. And come home to cuddle with my cats. A lot.

Events

What’s the hottest gig in town? As a teen, it was the aforementioned high school football game. In this small town, it is the public library. Our library posts a calendar of events each month offering a wide range of activities. I’m trying them. Some I like better than others. The good thing with events is that there is no commitment. If you don’t like something, then you just don’t go when it is offered again.

The event I attended that I liked the most was an educational workshop put on by the NYS Bluebird Society. It was awesome. This was one of the best lectures I have attended since grad school. (I told you small town – so yes, that makes bluebirds wicked exciting.) I haven’t really met any new people as the result of the workshop, but the NYS Bluebird Society gives me a whole new field of interesting information to learn when I’m bored or can’t find people to hang out. I have plenty of things I like to do on my own, but finding friends is kind of hard.

Organize! Or, “old habits die hard”

If you can’t find something to join that interests you or fuels your passion, start it. Organize. I’m doing that now with one of my volunteer opportunities. I want something that is not there, so I am helping to organize things to make it happen.

For me, this situation also falls under “old habits die hard.” The activity I am helping to organize is an event I miss attending when I was in Boston. If you want to do something and it does not exist, make it happen. I physically can’t go back to the city right now, so I’m making the city come to me. You can do it.

Forward & Onward

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is wicked hard. I’m not going to lie. Even when you try to do something positive, people are going to judge you. Well, they’re going to judge you whether you just sit there and do nothing or if you act and organize, so you might as well do something.

Life was a lot easier last year when I had a job I loved and all this friendship and fulfillment was automatically built into my work experience. It’s harder when you have to search for those things outside of work. My job already exhausts me; it makes getting a life outside of work just that much more difficult.

This year I am starting the slow process of getting a life out in the sticks. Of course, the ultimate goal, which has been the goal for over 20 years now, is to return to Boston. I don’t see that happening, as Boston housing is way out of my price league, and I can’t logistically figure out how to make it work. Also, my home life is the most positive thing in my life right now, so I am not about to rock that boat.

This spring and summer is going to be about getting a life. It is also going to be about recreating equilibrium. The stability I worked so hard to create in life fell apart last year when the place I was working for closed. Hopefully by getting a life, I can regain my footing and get some of that stability back.

I am fortunate in that I have spent years slowing down my life so that when this tragedy happened last year, I did not completely fall apart. I was knocked down a little, but not completely demolished. I am able to stand up again, brush myself off, and move forward.

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

 

 

 

 

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

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Two Years Without Facebook

I’ve seen articles about social detoxes, digital sabbaticals, and other experiments that people undertake to curtail their use of social media, especially facebook. They will write about how they went a year without it, how great it was, and now that they have re-entered the digital world, it is like water in the dessert quenching their thirst. Most people consider these detoxes and experiments as novelty, simply to return to their online obsession after the blackout period has concluded.

It’s now been two years since I deleted my facebook account, and I still say that it is the best decision I have ever made in my life. I am exponentially happier without facebook  in my life. I have real conversations with the people around me and actually enjoy moments as I experience them.

In fact, I never even think about facebook unless someone around me brings it up. The challenging part is that it is used at work and I have absolutely no desire to have any part of it. There are people around me who are constantly taking pictures or saying post that, and I laugh inside, because I don’t really care. I am so glad that social media no longer rules my life and I don’t think like that.

I have heard people say they buy things on facebook. I would rather go to a store, and if all else fails, Amazon. For me, facebook is way too sketchy to even think about buying anything on there. I have heard other people talk about applying for jobs on facebook. As a former human resource professional, I cringe at this. There’s a reason why social media is called social media – there’s nothing professional about it.

After two years, I am happier not being ruled by my phone or the Internet. Sure, I see the Internet – twice a month at the library. I spend my workday at a computer. The last thing I want to do when I am home is be in front of a computer some more. That is far from relaxing to me. I would rather spend time with my family than ignore them by sitting in front of a screen (which is what I did all day anyway).

I am still fully communicating with people by phone, text message, in-person, and by US postal mail. It’s great. I’m maintaining all the really important relationships in my life. The best part about a life without facebook is that when I spend time with someone, they really get my full attention.

I have been running full steam ahead for about 20 years, so it is nice to have a break and actually enjoy the moments of my life. I know some people have the need to be constantly “on” and connected. I’ve lived that life, and it burned me out to the point of no return.

It’s been so long since I’ve been on facebook that I cannot even imagine wanting it back in my life. There is no reason. All my memories of my facebook years are full of drama and stress.

So, I don’t have that much to say, other than completely breaking up with facebook is not only possible, but also glorious. The only reason why I thought to write this post is because people at work talk about facebook all the time. On the inside, I laugh like I know something they don’t. Maybe I do. Without facebook, I’m finally happy.

 

Kitchen Minimalism

2018 is the year that I aim to minimize my kitchen. First, I am making the transition from plastic to glass. Second, I am trying to eat up the food I have in my house so that I don’t have a bunch hoarded. Third, I am focusing on nutrition and health both for running and for life.

The first thing I did this month was to replace plastic with glass. I now have 5 glass Pyrex dishes to use for work lunches. I figure since I have made the change from 70-hour workweeks to 40-hour workweeks, that I actually have time to cook at least one meal a day at home now, so I no longer need to stuff the freezer with individually portioned meals.

There are 37 sets of plastic wear in a box s as a result of my switch. 37 sets. This includes the plastic dish plus the lid as a set. I kept two sets of plastic wear for use when traveling, as it is typically easier to travel with plastic than glass. There is now significantly more space in my cupboards.

Not only is there physically more cupboard space, there are also fewer dishes to wash. Out of all household chores, I despise washing dishes. While I am sure it is some sort of illusion, it feels like I am using fewer dishes as well. Instead of grabbing a plastic dish for whatever, I am now using my glass dishware and being more mindful. I have actually been eating off my plates instead of just throwing something in a plastic bowl and microwaving it.

The kitchen cupboards are full of dishware. I have a separate stand-alone “cupboard” for food. I have more cupboard space where I live now than any other place I have lived. If I can declutter the cupboards to the point where I could fit some food in them too, that would be ideal. If I were to ever move someplace, I am more than 90% certain I would have less cupboard space than I have now. Decluttering cupboards makes sense as a long-term goal.

Cupboards are almost like the Narnia of kitchen clutter. As long as everything fits, people don’t tend to pay much attention to what is in the cupboards, especially those that are above the stove or refrigerator. Not only am I trying to clean out my cupboards, but also I am trying to eat healthier by switching from plastic to glass.

Second, I am trying to eat up the food that is in my house so that I can meal plan better. This is most definitely a work in progress. I did go to the grocery store recently. Mostly, I need things to go with what I already have in this effort to eat up the food. I’m sure everyone has a shelf in their pantry or food cupboard where you find a random can of fruit or soup way in the back. Eat it or donate it.

Third, I am focusing on nutrition. I have been trying to be sure to eat more fruits and vegetables this year. This will actually necessitate more trips to the grocery store. I kind of got away from fresh food in the year I was recovering from my stroke, as it was easier to make other things. Beanie weenies, anyone?

There are still moments when I have symptoms and difficulties from my stroke. While I know that nutrition was not the cause (that’s what they say), I definitely need good nutrition to run my marathon this year. I’m hoping that by minimizing my kitchen I can be in more control of food and meals.

What are some other tips for kitchen minimalism?

  • Remove duplicates. I am not one of these people that can survive with just one of everything in the kitchen. I like (and have) to cook. Be smart about this one. Do you need two stovetop saucepans? Yes, when making both potatoes and green beans for Thanksgiving. Do you need five saucepans? Not when there are only 4 burners on the stove. Sometimes you need duplicates, but most times you don’t.
  • Remove items not in use. Again, be smart about this. The turkey baster may not be in use now, but it will be come November. If you have a bunch of cake decorating equipment and haven’t had time to bake in years, do you need to hold onto that, or would someone else enjoy using it?
  • How much dishware do you need? I am a one-person household and downsized from service for 8 down to service for 4. If you are a family of 3 or 4, I understand having service for 8 for when there is company. How much do you entertain? It all depends on lifestyle.
  • The silverware drawer. In most kitchens, this is one of the most cluttered drawers beside the junk drawer. Be sure to apply the above rules to silverware and utensils. When I went through my utensils, I discovered I have 11 spatulas. Do I need 11 spatulas? Nope. Maybe you do. Again, it all depends on lifestyle. You don’t want to purge the spatulas and then find yourself without one. Be realistic.
  • Box it up. The kitchen is the one area where I highly recommend boxing items for a period of time before donating just to be sure that you do not need any of those items. If you have 11 spatulas and box 7 of them, can you survive with 4? Try it and find out. I bet you can survive with 4.

Have any more tips for kitchen minimalism?

Peace, Love & 2018

Peace

Sometimes you need a change of scenery. Sometimes you just need to change your point of view. I recently changed clubs for my gym membership. It was a great choice. In this instance, I definitely needed a change of scenery.

Mostly, the new club is easier to drive to, has more parking available, and better hours to accommodate my bizarre schedule. I typically rename the treadmill “the freak mill” because I hate being on it and the people at the gym are a little crazy. However, this year, I am just happy to be running. I’ve also changed my point of view. I am so thankful to be running again after my lost season due to stroke.

My 2018 running season is planned. I start training for my marathon the first week of June. That means that the first six months of 2018 are all about building base and preparing to implement my new training program. Running brings a lot of peace to my life, and I am definitely in a good place right now with my running schedule.

Love

Introducing … Simon.  (Photo above.) Simon has been apart of our lives for about two months now. I know I said I would not adopt again and that Jude was going to be an only child. Except Jude was quite vocal about being alone (and he is typically the shyest cat EVER). I was apprehensive about adopting again. I was not sure if I was ready. I actually visited and played with Simon for about three weeks in the shelter before adopting him.

I’m glad we did. Simon is 1 ½ and has a lot of energy. He is bringing Jude out of his shell and keeping me on my toes. He behaves like a little demon, but he is so darn cute that it’s hard to be mad when he’s acting his age.

Simon has brought the love and a sense of normalcy back to our household. Looking back, I can see that not only was I super depressed (and still sad) about Kitty dying, but I was depressed before Kitty died. I took care of him and did his cancer medication for over a year. Our entire household felt like death for about a year and a half.

Simon has brought the love and sun back for Jude and me.

2018

While minimizing my life and living simply is an ongoing journey, my major goal for 2018 is my kitchen. With kitchen changes, come food and nutrition changes, so this will hopefully be a positive for both my running and management of my food allergies.

I now have five glass Pyrex bowls for work lunches. My goal is to get rid of all the plastic in the kitchen and use glass only.

All the plastic is going into a box for a year. Typically, I put donation items in a box and get rid of the box as soon as it’s full. Most people will suggest putting things in a box and saving the box for three months. If after three months you have not opened the box and don’t need anything in it, then get rid of the stuff. With the plastic items, I am boxing them for a year.

The reason why I am boxing kitchen plastic for a year is that even though I am confident that I can go glass only in the kitchen, plastic is useful when I am traveling. It is lighter weight and won’t break. So I am boxing the plastic for a year and only taking out what I absolutely need for travel this year, which will include my usual camping trip and marathon trip. This way, when I completely get rid of kitchen plastic next year, I will only keep enough plastic pieces absolutely necessary for travel. I figure this is better than trying to guess or choosing an arbitrary number, like keep 5 plastic containers.

I am also going to be menu planning this year to be sure that I am managing my food allergies well, getting all my nutrients, and using up food. I have a lot of food in my house. Part of it is the multiple food allergies – I stockpile because it is challenging to find things I can eat.

This year, I have made a 5-day emergency food kit. The recommendation is 3 days, but I am going for a 5-day due to the food allergies and the fact that during the blizzard of 2017, I was literally snowed in my house for four days. The snowplow was stuck at the end of my road, so we could not go anywhere if we wanted.  This way, even if I eat all the food in the house (unlikely), I have a 5-day supply emergency supply.

Now that I have the 5-day emergency kit, my goal is to eat the food in the house so that there is not so much of it and so that I can do a better job of food planning instead of just having a bunch of random things everywhere. For example, in addition to the food cupboard, I also have two storage racks of food. My goal is to just have the food in the cupboard. As long as we are not snowed in, I can get to the store at least once a week, so there is no reason for all this food. Time to focus on nutrition and planning.

Peace, love, and running for 2018. Happy New Year!

 

 

Bucking The Norm

Life is dynamic and ever changing. There is no point in which we have “arrived” and that is it. Well, we may have moments when we feel like we have arrived, but those moments typically last for a blink to five minutes before something changes again. Minimalism is the same. There is rarely a moment when we are done downsizing or making life more minimal because life is always changing. Also, we are human.

This weekend, I made some changes in life that may come as a surprise. At this point in my minimalist journey, one would think I have already addressed these issues. I have, but sometimes you need to address them again. Life changes. I also did a few things that may seem to counter minimalism, but I’m going to argue they don’t. Here is what I did.

I reclaimed the spare bedroom as a spare bedroom.

I’ve been working for about 6 months to make the spare bedroom homey and comfortable again. Earlier, I did a post about how I dismantled the spare bedroom because it represented my fantasy self <insert link here>. At that point in time, it was true.

I dismantled the spare bedroom because my fantasy self was this uber-popular person who had frequent soirees and overnight houseguests. I say fantasy self because in reality, typically my mom is the only one who visits and stays in the spare bedroom. I’m not as popular in real life as I am in my dreams. I had this grand idea of doing something else in the spare bedroom – installing a treadmill, for example. I did install a treadmill. Then, I realized I’m happier running outside and away from home. I like the freedom of putting on shoes and just going.

There were logistic problems with the treadmill as well. Like how you should really bolt treadmills to the floor if you plan to run on them without tipping them over. Plus, I was competing with Jude for treadmill time, who thought the treadmill was simply the best perch ever for bird watching out the window.

I’ve decided to reclaim the spare bedroom because even though I am not this popular person hosting house parties, I like the fact that my mom can visit and have a comfortable place to spend the night. I may not have loads of people sleeping over, but my family is an area of life that I want to prioritize. Even if the spare bedroom only gets used a few times a year, I want it to be there so I can foster the relationships most important to me.

Dealing with paperwork

I thought I was so minimalist a few years ago when I was able to clean out two filing cabinets and downsize everything to fit into one milk crate. That’s right, one milk crate. When I went through that purge, I took roughly 50 pounds of paper to shredding. My one milk crate holds my important papers like insurance policies (house, car, health, life), tax paperwork for my entire working life, and anything else “important” that is supposed to be hard copy. I go through the milk crate once a year just to be sure it only holds the essentials and nothing extraneous.

One milk crate sounds great. It’s oh-so-minimalist.

To be honest, in addition to the one milk crate, I also had nine binders of “important” paperwork. Yes, nine binders. You see, I was trying to justify keeping all that extra stuff by being super organized about it.

Nine binders = ridiculous.

This weekend, I downsized from nine binders to three. I generated one paper grocery bag of recyclables and one paper grocery bag of shredding.

What’s left?

My three binders now include: binder one for vehicle related purposes. I am one of those anal people who keep records of car repairs so I have a complete record of my vehicle. This means that I only need a record for the vehicle I currently own.

Binder two is academic related. I previously had four binders of school related stuff. It made sense – I have four degrees. I was keeping things from school that I thought would be useful for the future for work related purposes. Have I ever used any of my school materials? Rarely. Everything I have written is saved on a labeled flash drive. My one binder now simply contains syllabi – if I want to refer to something from when I was in school, I can use a syllabus to reference the article or book I want. Depending on the degree, some people may not even have one binder. I am actually finding things I learned in school applicable to my paid employment, so I like keeping some of this information without completely getting rid of it.

Binder three is running related. I had kept everything from prior races. Everything. Every handout, advertisement, brochures from the swag bag, everything. Now, some information related to races, I need. For example, I need my training logs and training plans for analysis purposes. I also like to keep a record of where I stayed in certain cities in case I return there so that I have a home base of sorts. I had three binders of race related information for the past 11 years of running. I now have only one binder – basic information for each city, plus training plans and notes. I do refer back to previous races sometimes, depending on how training is going for a current race. For example, when I had an injury in 2015, how did I adjust for the injury in 2010? That information from 2010 helped me to navigate 2015. Some of this information is useful.

Don’t buy storage

Don’t buy storage seems to be one of the basic tenets of minimalism. If you buy storage, you are not really downsizing. Out of sight is out of mind. If you put things in a pretty package, container, or storage bin, you will forge that you have it, and the clutter “disappears.” The goal is to downsize your stuff to the point that the storage container is not necessary.

I agree with this idea to a point. I have gotten rid of so many things that I have also gotten rid of a great many storage bins that are now empty.

However, I am deviating from this tenet for two instances.

First, I bought a plastic bin for under-bed storage. This is not so I can own or store more things. That plastic under-bed bin is replacing a piece of furniture. That’s right. A complete piece of furniture is leaving. I no longer need a chest at the foot of the bed holding the extra blankets. I have donated many blankets to CNY SNAP (local cat shelter). The remaining blankets that I kept do not need an entire piece of furniture for storage. They are going in the plastic bin and sliding under the bed. The result is more floor space.

Second, I bought a storage system for photos. Yes, I know, store photos digitally. I do. However, I still like prints for some things. Some photos, I only have in print because I did not have digital (like back in the mid-90s). Instead of having photos displayed in eight photo albums, I am keeping a photo album for the cats. Why yes, I do show pictures of all my fur-children to visitors, and the rest are going in this plastic storage unit I bought that is itself the size of one photo album. So, I am essentially going from eight photo albums down to two. The physical number of photos is the same, but the way they are stored is more efficient.

All of my photos are now digital. While I have not ordered print photos in awhile, I cannot bring myself to just throw out photos that are already in print. Now I can store them all more efficiently. I did buy storage. I did not buy storage to store more things or to forget, but to store what I already have in a more space-saving way.

Sentimental stuff and changing minimalism

You don’t just get rid of a bunch of stuff and then poof you’re a minimalist. Minimalism is a journey. Especially when it comes to sentimental items, you need to make multiple sweeps when getting rid of things. I had two filing cabinets of stuff. Going from two filing cabinets to one milk crate and nine binders was a big deal. Going from one milk crate and nine binders to one milk crate and three binders was a big deal. My goal is to get to one binder and then eventually, just the milk crate.

It’s a process. I can tell you that if I just tried to go from two full filing cabinets to one milk crate and no binders, that I would have been a mess. Downsizing sentimental stuff is hard emotionally. Sometimes you have to make several sweeps over a period of time. There may never be a time when you have arrived.

My goal is to get rid of all the baggage so that I can enjoy the now.

Not only do I want to enjoy the now, but also when I’m gone, someone will have to deal with my stuff. I’m hoping only to have the minimum of belongings to make it easier on the person who has to deal with what’s left after I’m dead. As long as I have enough things so that they are useful and I am happy, I don’t need anything more.

Life is about experiences and the people we love. I try to manipulate my environment and the stuff in it to maximize the amount of time I have with the people I love and to do the things I love doing.  How do you buck the norm?

 

Hidden Gems

I was going to title this post “The Comeback Kid Runs Again,” but then I realized I would have to flashback to 2009 to explain that. To keep a long story short, Running Legend Bill Rodgers (4 time winner of the Boston Marathon AND 4 time winner of the New York Marathon) gave me the nickname of “The Comeback Kid” after hearing the story of how I ran a half marathon in Ottawa  only days after having my casts sawed off when I had broken both arms at the same time.

I overcame many challenges to run that race, and I have done it again. Only 10 months after being hospitalized for stroke, I finished another half marathon. It is my second worst half marathon time ever, but it was the sweetest finish line I’ve had in a long time.

This year I signed up for a small, local race trying to keep it real given the obstacles I have overcome in reaching the start line. All I wanted to do was prove to myself that I can still run distance and cross the finish line. I wasn’t expecting a medal and there was none advertised. But, surprise, surprise, not only was there a medal at the finish line, but friends too, and it was the best feeling!

So my math is all blown to hell. Remember in Going Local, I was gushing over the plan for Philly 2018 to be my 15th medal and blah, blah … well, I got my 15th medal this year. I couldn’t be happier. My math for the 2018 running season is totally screwed and I am completely fine with that. The medal I got for this 2017 race is one of my top 3 medals in terms of what it means to me. I was seriously facing a running career ending health condition last year when I could not drive or run after having my stroke. I cannot begin to describe how much this medal means to me.

When I got that medal in Ottawa, it was shaped like a maple leaf. The medal I got this year is shaped like a maple leaf also. Must be a theme with maple leaf medals when I make an epic comeback.

While I talk extensively about races I have ran, I have never outright endorsed a race. *spoiler alert* I’m going to do so now. Please note I was not asked to do this and am receiving nothing for doing so. I’m just that impressed with this race that I want everyone to know about it. If you’re ever in the Central New York area at the end of September, there is this tiny race called the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon that is put on by the Cortland YMCA in Cortland, NY. It’s amazing in so many ways.

The Leaf Peeper was my 15th race overall. It was also the smallest. It is extremely well planned. Arrive an hour early on race day to pick up your bib and t-shirt. There is plenty of parking, plenty of rest rooms, and super nice people. The race fee is a complete steal, especially for someone like me who is used to the big city races with 30,000+ runners. All the money benefits the local YMCA and is completely worth it. It doesn’t get any better than race for a good cause.

The course is well marked and there is plenty of support. The volunteers at the road crossings are friendly. There is not a lot of traffic on the route. The route is a very gorgeous run through the rolling hills of Central New York. You can, indeed, see the leaves peeping across farm fields and streams. The race is aptly named. The scenery is spectacular in the morning as the fog is burning off at the beginning of the race.

The volunteers at the water and Gatorade stations are so polite. Some aid stations even had real food like m&m’s and bananas. I will take a banana in a race over a gel any day! Leaf Peeper rocks for best volunteers at a half marathon. There was also bicycle support, which I was not expecting for such a small race (very impressed), and each mile was clearly marked!

At the finish line, there was great crowd support. There was plenty of water, Gatorade and snacks at the finish. The race was professionally timed with the timing chips built right into the bibs. This race is a hidden gem, and I highly recommend it to anyone. It’s great for a first half marathon. It’s also great for more experienced runners like myself.

I actually made a challenge for myself with this race – I ran without my iPod even though I knew there was minimal crowd support on the rolling country miles. I survived. I went into this race treating it like just another 13.1 mile run, but by the time I finished, I realized this is truly a race, and an excellent one at that. I completely underestimated the Leaf Peeper.

It’s too late for you to run this hidden gem in 2017. Now is the perfect time to put it on your bucket list for 2018. I will definitely be back to run the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. Maybe not next year, as I already have a race planned, and my body is only capable of one long distance race per year, but I will be back for the Leaf Peeper again.

That was another huge plus – I finished the Leaf Peeper uninjured. After the significant injury to my hip in 2015, I was worried when I saw hills in the Leaf Peeper. I listened to my body and navigated them fine. My finish time may have been slower, but I ran a good race and finished uninjured. It was a great experience in my book.

I am officially in my off-season now for running, as my race is complete for the year. I am going to have a short rest. One day off for each mile raced, you know! Then, I’ll be back at it getting ready for 2018. If you are still in the planning stages for your 2018 race season, consider the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. I highly recommend it!

Canadian Style

Since this year’s race is a small, local run with no medal, I’ve decided to play around with my training schedule a bit. I’m throwing it back and going Canadian style. Toronto is the city in which I ran my second marathon and it is hands down my all-time best time. I can no longer call it a PR, as it has been longer than two years since I’ve done Toronto, but it is the best experience.

What made Toronto unique was that I ran with pace bunnies from John Stanton’s Running Room using the 10:1 run/walk method.  Especially in America, many marathoners and spectators think that being able to run the complete marathon without stopping or walking is how to get all the glory. Spectators always cheer with added enthusiasm when you slow down for a walk break in a marathon; the crowd tries to will you to keep moving.

As I get older, I am starting to appreciate the run/walk method more. The word on the street is that run/walk methods are great for older runners (40+) and those with injuries or who are prone to injury. While I am not yet 40, I am feeling the effects of some injuries wearing me down. I’m not sure how many marathons I still have in me. As the popular saying goes, “there will come a day I can no longer do this. Today is not that day.” Not only has the run/walk method resulted in my most successful race times; I came through with minimal to no injuries in those races.

I researched a few different run/walk training methods. In the United States, the Jeff Galloway method is quite popular. With all due respect, the Galloway method is way too complicated for me, and when trying it, I did not see any of the benefits I see with Canadian style. I love math when I’m standing still, but when I’m running, I just can’t math. You know, that moment when you get “in the zone” and your brain turns off because you’re running on autopilot. If you’re the type that loves doing hard math while you are running, definitely look into the Galloway method. For me, Canadian style goes by 5s and 10s, so the math is a lot easier for me to handle when running.

I’ve always inadvertently incorporated some style of run/walk into my runs. My training runs are primarily on a trail. I typically walk the footbridges (usually people are fishing there, and I don’t want my pounding feet to scatter their dinner), and in races, I walk the water stops. I have ran some races in below freezing weather, and water stops can be quite slippery, not to mention there are potential tripping hazards in water stops such as discarded cups lying about.

This is the first time that I am purposely using the run/walk method to train in a distinctive pattern as well as planning on using it in a race. The hard part is going to be listening to the crowd for those 1-minute increments when I’m walking. In Toronto, we were all using the 10:1 method en masse, so the crowds were used to seeing large groups of runners slow for a 1-minute walk every 10 minutes. Those 1-minute walk breaks help your endurance so you can go the distance as well as recharge your muscles and reduce the chance of injury. I’ve officially been a distance racer for 10 years now, and as I am approaching 40 (but not quite there yet), I am all about preventing injury so that I can be a distance runner and distance racer for as long as humanly possible. Life is the ultimate marathon and I want to be doing this running thing as long as I can.

Incorporating the 10:1 program into my training has been beneficial so far. I have had two 12-mile longs runs now, and they seem easier. I’m not as worn out after the run, and my results show that I’m running each mile an average of 20-30 seconds faster. We will see how those results bare out when I actually run my race on September 23.

I’m going back to the Canadian style of running that I found so helpful in my early races. I’m not sure how I got away from that. I can definitely pinpoint when. Using data from my own races over the past 10 years, there is a definite difference in performance when I was running Canadian style compared to when I started going all out “run the entire thing no matter what” American style. The person who crosses the finish line in a marathon is not the same person who crosses the start line in a marathon. It is everything in between those two lines that makes the type of person and runner you are. The journey defines you.

If my race goes well this month, then I intend on using the 10:1 method from the very beginning when I train for the 2018 running season and for Philly. Historically, I have my own race data to back up the claim that I should be running my races Canadian style. That’s not to say that this method is for everyone, but it looks to be the best choice for me.

It is also important to learn to not get discouraged when spectators are urging walkers to start running again. Hey, I’m running for 10 minutes, and then walking for 1 minute. Nowhere in that equation do I see the word “stop.” I’m a marathoner. Run, walk, crawl, dragged, (or when in Philly, in drag), I cross the finish line. There is no shame in taking walk breaks as long as you cross the finish line. Less than 10% of the American population will ever finish a marathon. I have 14 medals doing this. I’m way ahead of the curve. Just keep moving.

Speaking of moving, my theme song has changed yet again. I’m not sure if it was bad juju or what, but I had changed my running theme song in 2015. For 13 medals, that old Eminem song from 8-mile was my groove. I changed to a different Eminem song in 2015, which is when I had that tear in my hip. That race was bad news. Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself again. If this race goes poorly this year with my new theme song, I’ll have to go back to my “Lose Yourself” days. But, I’m hoping this tune is a lucky one. My new theme song is below. Happy running, eh?

 

Going Local

After the disappointment of having to forfeit the entire 2016 running season and having it be the first lost year of my running career, the 2017 running season is on, if with a somewhat quiet whimper. I’m going local this year.

Being that I was hospitalized last year for stroke symptoms, I decided to keep 2017 low-key. I’m running a half marathon in September. It is going to be the first time I have ran a race where there is no medal involved. I’m doing this one not for the competition, but rather for the accomplishment. After surviving a stroke and losing an entire season, I just want to cross the finish line to be able to say, “I did it. I can still run.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Not only will I be running a local race this year, it will be my first time running a distance event that is on a Saturday as opposed to a Sunday. In my geographic area, 5ks are traditionally on Saturdays, while half and full marathons are traditionally on Sundays. Running a half marathon on a Saturday is going to be a new experience. It has totally given me a new training schedule than normal this summer.

I will be running a race where I can sleep in my own bed both the night before the race and then return home within 30 minutes after it ends. The race is a fundraiser for the local YMCA a worthy cause in my own backyard. You know if I’m not running for a medal, I better be running for charity. There is also that whole “for the love of running concept” that was the slogan of the 2013 Philly Marathon as well.

Speaking of Philly, my second reason for a toned down 2017 running season is to hopefully be able to gear up for a spectacular 2018. 2018 is going to be a huge year in my running career, quite possibly the biggest one yet.

Here’s what’s in store for 2018: I’ll be 39 and plan to fun the full marathon in Philadelphia. It will be the 10 year anniversary of my first full marathon (which was Philly), it will be my 15th medal overall, it will be the 5th medal I receive from Philly, and it will be the 25 year Anniversary of the Philadelphia Marathon. 2018 is going to be a huge year. A quiet 2017 running season is just what I need to be able to get back in the game and prepare to go full force into a glorious 2018.

I’m hoping to have a positive experience at this local race in September. I have so many races in my backyard, its probably time I have checked some out. I have been hitting the race circuit pretty hard the past decade. It was only a matter of time before I was knocked on my ass.

I’m also toying with the idea of retiring from the full marathon distance. I want to do at least 3 more full marathons before I decide for definite. I’m going to do Philly in 2018, then 2 more yet to be determined. I will still keep running half marathons, but I think I might be near the end for the full marathon distance. The half marathon is actually my best distance competitively, although I love the challenge of full marathons. Full marathons will always be my first love. Depending on how next year goes, I may only have a few more full marathons left in me. We will see what the future holds. My health situation seems to have other ideas.

For 2017, I am staying local running a tiny half marathon that is raising money for a great community organization. Sometimes when you are knocked down, like I was with the stroke last year, you are forced to realize what is all around you instead of continually reaching for something farther away.

Based on my training so far, I’m a little worried that my half marathon next month is going to be slow and not the sub-2:00 times I am used to running normally in the half marathon distance. I’m okay with that. After the year I have had, I just want to be able to say, “I’ve still got it.”  Then I have an entire year to work on preparing for a huge 2018.

What I do know is that whether competitively on the race circuit or locally in my own backyard, I won’t stop running. When I was down with stroke symptoms last year that was what I cried about the most. If I couldn’t run, I at least needed to walk. This has been a long year for me. I may be downgrading by going local with no medals, but the real reward is that I am still able to do what I love doing the most. That’s what matters.

 

 

Never Say Never

All through this minimalist/simplifying process, the one thing I said I would not touch is my CD music collection. Typically, every person has that one thing that they will not touch, and for me, that was music. For some, books are hard to declutter, for others, their closet, and for others still, the boxes of artwork their children made.

This week, I actually got rid of a shoebox full of CDs.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I was only listening to some of my CDs. There are many CDs that I have not bothered to listen to quite literally in years. Similar to how we wear 20% of our wardrobes 80% of the time, I realized that I was doing the same thing with my CD collection.

I have also come to the point where my collection is so massive that it is overwhelming. I have two containers of CDs stored in a closet. I physically do not have enough space in my living room to display the entire collection of CDs. The idea behind storing some in the closet was that I would be inclined to listen to the CDs physically displayed in the living room more often. This has not happened.

I’ve decided to cull the CDs.

Decluttering my music collection is one of the most challenging categories to declutter in my home. Like many others, I thought books would be the hardest to downsize. Books were surprisingly easy. As with DVDs, I only keep books that I have read more than once. There is no point in keeping a book if I do not intend on reading it again.

Sidebar: my library has begun printing how much money you have saved each year by using the library. They use list prices to ascertain that if you had gone out and bought the book/DVD/CD new instead of borrowing from the library, you would have spent so much money. I have saved over $400 so far by using my library this year.

What makes CDs challenging is the fact that I have listened to them all multiple times. Yet the collection is so massive that it is overwhelming. The very first CD that left the house was one that I listened to in college back in the 1990s. I put it in the CD player and could not for the life of me figure out why I had the CD or why I had listened to it so much 20 years ago. That album is crap. I suppose that music tends to just fit depending on the points we were at in life. Yet this “crap” album had no memories associated with it, other than I remember listening to it back in the day.

The albums in the shoebox that left are all albums that either holds no meaning, or when I listen to the CD, I only really like one or two songs on the album. I do not think one song is worth it to hold onto an entire CD. If I want to hear that one song that badly, I’m sure I can find it someplace online when I need a “quick fix” of listening to one particular song.

Getting rid of one shoebox of CDs is huge for me. Music is the one category I said I would not touch in the process of simplifying my life. However, I am learning the economic theory of diminishing returns and that you can have too much of a good thing. When your music collection is so large that it is overwhelming and no longer enjoyable, then it is time to curate that collection.

In the grand scheme of things, one shoebox of CDs is very small. There is still 1 and ¾ of a container of CDs stored in the closet. I’m sure this is going to be a slow journey, as music is my most challenging category, but the ultimate goal is to get down to the amount of CDs that can be displayed in the living room without having any stored in the closet.

Before anyone says to just digitize everything, keep in mind that digital clutter is still clutter. I’m not about to make the conversion from physical clutter to digital clutter. Not to mention, I’m not a huge digital person anyways. Especially with music, I like to have the physical product for the experience. Remember things called concept albums? How album covers, art, and packaging all contributed and added to the music inside to create a story? I’m really into that experience.

As we move to simplify our lives to focus more on what’s important, we all have that one category that we won’t touch. That’s ok. If decluttering your home and purging items is painful, then you won’t stick with it because it feels like punishment. For me decluttering my home is not punishment, it is a sort of freedom in that the less items I have to clean and maintain, the more time I have to spend with the people who matter the most. The only reason why I am finally touching that one “never declutter” category is that it has become so overwhelming that it no longer brings joy.

What is your “never” category? Is it still sacred and untouched? Or, have you started to downsize that category? What strategies did you use to attack the most challenging category to simplify?