The Reset Button.

It should be mandatory that all mothers get a day to themselves after the holidays are over, and perhaps two days if their children’s birthdays sandwich the holidays. There is a significant amount of damage done to the maternal figure’s inner wiring that can only be repaired by complete isolation and a significant break from the 794 questions that they are required to answer per day.

(Assuming said mother is an introvert. I don’t pretend to know what the alien species of extrovert mother needs to reboot.)

Chris provided me my first retreat four years ago when he, for my requested Christmas present, sent me off on a Mommy Retreat at a local hotel. I decided at the last minute that weekend that I didn’t want to be alone the whole time, so I invited him to take me out to dinner and stay over one night. It was productive, perfectly blissful, and the reset I needed to start the year.

Since that trip, I have done a couple variations on my January Need For Escape, including two snow-chasing adventures (one just me and the kids, and one including a babysitter), and a hybrid reboot trip. All were fun, but not quite the purity of the Mommy Retreat.

After 2016, I definitely needed a bit of a reset. I mean, who doesn’t?? But also, I had a strong urge to feel productive and get some stuff accomplished.

So I booked a hotel room in Montgomery, a smaller city a little bit over an hour south of Birmingham. It’s Alabama’s capitol, but it doesn’t exactly have the greatest reputation as a destination. However, the kids and I had taken two trips there for our Alabama History project, and I was delightfully surprised at what a pleasant city it seemed to be. Chris and I love exploring small towns, and my Marriott points could go a long way in Montgomery. So I got two nights at the Renaissance overlooking the river at a total cost of $4.15. A retreat with no spending guilt attached? I’ll take it.

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I arrived alone at 1pm on Friday, got settled in, and immediately set off for my maiden run through the city. I strongly believe that the best way to understand a city is to explore it on foot – you get acquainted with both the personality of its people and its buildings. I saw and read at least a dozen historical placards, found the church that Martin Luther King Jr. pastored, and met MANY strangers – because everyone in Montgomery will absolutely speak to you if you run by them.

Montgomery Trip 170114ALTb-Dexter-AvenueMartin Luther King Jr. was pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church from 1954-1960. You can see the state capitol from the beautiful little church…

Montgomery Trip 170114e-First-Baptist-Church-MontgomeryThis is the First Baptist Church. Never have I ever seen a more castular church in Alabama.
p.s. I know castular isn’t a word.

Montgomery Trip FullSizeRender 61This fountain features ladies bathing themselves and others. It was a hot day in January. I totally got it.

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Montgomery Trip IMG_3609Montgomery is officially smarter than Birmingham: They didn’t tear down their beautiful historic train station.

I vowed then and there that next time my kids and I visited a city for history-learning purposes, I would make them walk it – we had missed so much on our two trips!

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That afternoon, I set off into a frenzy of blissful productivity. For five and a quarter hours – until 10pm, I Excel Spreadsheeted and Quickbooksed and Crunched Numbers and made journal entries. I worked on all the year-end stuff that had to be done for Chris’ company, and adored every minute of it.

I’d forgotten how much of an accountant I am at heart – it’s just that it’s not nearly as much fun when you’re being interrupted every five minutes with a request for another snack or an extra show or to please come play a game. But give me an isolated hotel room and a spreadsheet that needs creating and I. Am. In. Heaven.

It nearly made me miss my full time accounting manager days of yore, but not quite.

The next morning, I focused on writing productivity, getting a couple blog posts organized and composed. Meanwhile, in Birmingham, Chris dropped our kids off at Noah’s wonderful godparents and drove down to Montgomery to join me. I took him back on my running route to show off the city, the river, the capitol, and the fountains. He also was charmed by the city and repented of misjudging it. We’ve driven much farther in the past to have a weekend getaway in less charming southern cities, and were happy to add Montgomery to our repertoire.

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After our run, we headed out onto the rooftop pool deck – in January – a week after a “snow” storm – because Alabama. It was well over 70 degrees and perfectly lovely for sitting and soaking up some winter rays.

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Then he took me out for a sunset drive, of course.

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Montgomery Trip 170114g-Alabama-River

Montgomery Trip 170114b-The-Capitol-of-Alabama

Our hotel was in the restaurant/nightlife section of Montgomery, so we walked across the street to SaZa Italian for dinner. It was one of those places that made you immediately wish it were in your city, and was such potent pasta that Chris came back to the hotel room and passed out for two hours – I forced him to wake up and watch SNL with me.

We got up early Sunday and had our long run – 9.5 miles around Montgomery, focusing on the beautiful historical residential areas, and going through two college campuses – Huntingdon College and Alabama State University. I learned that people don’t talk to you nearly as much if you’re not a single girl running through the city. Huh.

Montgomery Trip IMG_3730Huntingdon College looked more than a little like Alabama Hogwarts.

Montgomery Trip FullSizeRender 63We even passed our sadly sleazy Governor’s house. But that’s another story for another day.

It seemed that running as a pasttime has not really “made” it to Montgomery. In our 9.5 miles, we counted five other runners. In Birmingham, we would’ve lost count before the first mile was done.

(Of those five, two were a couple running together. As they passed us, the man said, “I have 17.6. What do you have?” and the woman answered, “I’m showing 19.1 miles.” I was convinced they were just trolling us, and I SO BADLY wanted to pass them again and say to Chris, “I’m showing 35.4. What do you have?”)

We had the most lovely guilt-free breakfast buffet at the hotel following our run (bacon never tasted so good),

Montgomery Trip IMG_3658where our water wore granny panties

then laid around for a bit, after which Chris headed out to go get our children, leaving me for the last three hours for a bit more productivity and silence to finish the rebooting process.

Every time I get away like this I remember the incalculable value in a reset, and vow to make it happen more often. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by life and kids and responsibilities and maybe even want to work on an Excel spreadsheet for 5 hours, I highly recommend raising a white flag and yelling “Reset, reboot, RETREAT!!”

Alabama, The Hunger Games Arena.

For the first time in my life, it has recently been pointed out to me that Alabama is an unsafe place to live. And also for the second time in my life, less than a month later.

I really had no idea. I was in denial. It’s so beautiful…It has to be perfect! All places have these things…right??

The first time it was pointed out, it was by a brand new Alabama resident who grabbed my arm and said with a horrified voice, “Someone told me there were VENOMOUS SNAKES here. That’s not true, is it??”

“Well yeah, sure. We mostly have Copperheads and Rattlesnakes and Cottonmouths, all of which I’ve seen in the last year. There are some others too, I think. But it’s not a big deal.”

She gasped in horror and said, “THEN DOES THAT MEAN THAT THE SCORPIONS ARE TRUE, TOO??”

“Sure, I mean, I’ve seen two in my life, but yeah – we have scorpions.”

I was confused. Didn’t all of America have the same basic set of “Nature to Avoid”?

I moved on. Until I wrote my boob/Cottonmouth post a couple of weeks ago and one of my blog readers came ALL UNDONE.

(Bethany. You know you did.)

She went on and on about how in her state, they don’t deal with wildlife, and this is just BIZARRE, and how is it that everyone in the Horror-Filled State of Alabama doesn’t band together to fight against the treachery of our nature??

Again. I was stumped. I don’t find my state treacherous. I’ve lived here all my life and have never thought any of it was unusual.

But then I began making a list.

We have venomous snakes and spiders (some even like to bite the nether regions of toddlers.) Mosquitoes. Horse flies and the angry Yellow Fly down south. Chiggers (okay they’re the worst.) Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac, plants that regularly tried to ruin my summers as an awkward middle schooler. Lots of fire ants. The dreaded Cow Ant. Bees. Wasps. Hornets. Yellowjackets. Dirt Daubers. Ticks. Snapping Turtles. Flying cockroaches. Stinging Ladybugs. Poisonous Caterpillars that send the strongest of grandmothers to the ER. Bats that cause confusion and delay. Tornadoes. Hurricanes down south. Triple digit heat. Alligators down south but slowly encroaching north. Coyotes. Armadillos that can do a NUMBER to a car tire if you hit one.

(I actually have no factual evidence regarding that last statement but their armor does seem intense.)

Alabama even had a bear run out in front of a car recently, totaling the car and killing the bear.

(My kids were fascinated by this story and said “ARE THERE PICTURES??” I responded with “Y’all don’t need to see a picture of a dead bear.” Ali’s face clouded over with disappointment and said, “Oh. So there’s not a picture of the bear actually getting whacked by the car?”)

(Clearly they’re as deranged as their mother.)

But I digress. After I made The Alabama Danger List, it did seem like a lot.

Maybe Bethany was right.

Maybe Alabama was The Hunger Games.

And maybe, just maybe, I was Katniss. I mean I do hike around with a giant (camera) backpack and a side braid, all the while with sweat dripping off of me from the inhumane heat.

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And aside from the occasional tick and regular mosquito bite, I do a good job of winding my way through the perils of my surroundings, despite my constant outdoorsiness.

(Okay but I did suffer an impressive allergic reaction while I was in Mexico – to a wasp sting that I had received the week before near home. I thought surely I had contracted the Zika Virus. But nope. Just the results of Alabama Wildlife following me out of the country.)

But overall, I am a pretty DANG GOOD Tribute.

However. As soon as I began making this list of vile dangers that I so expertly avoid, The Gamemakers at the Capitol felt it best to throw me a few unexpected challenges.

First there was runch on Thursday with my friend Tanya. We run, then we get a smoothie. It’s what we do.

IMG_8127(I promise I eat way more lunch later. And so does Tanya.)

On last week’s particular run, we each ordered the Strawberry-Peach Smoothie from our favorite local smoothie maker. And then, two hours later, were both simultaneously and violently overcome with food poisoning.

Oh, the gut pain. It reached all the way up to my boobs. And lasted. And lasted. And lasted.

Clearly we must have been slipped Nightlock in our smoothies. It’s the only explanation.

But I am an AMAZING Tribute. And I recovered. Just in time to go away, out into nature, for my annual small group girl’s retreat.

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We left 30 out of 32 of our children at home with the daddies. So of course, it seemed only right that on Saturday, I should lead a hike on a trail I had never taken. There would be no whining! No “I need to potty”s! No “I’m tooo hooooooot”s!!

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The State Park office warned us that it would be treacherous, but we knew we could handle it. And handle it we did.

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We climbed that boulderous trail with grace and Woman Power, all while having deep and completely unladylike conversations.

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We. Were. Amazing.

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After our hike, three of us wanted to go on a trail run. We took the trail that the State Park rep had suggested as the “better choice” for running.

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It was lovely, but not easy. The trail was not smooth, and had generous amounts of curves and hills and roots and branches and boulders and low trees.

A mile into our run and just a few minutes after telling my friends about Tanya’s very true blog post that runners can’t just become trail runners because trail running is freaking hard, an angry root caught my shoe, tore a hole through it, curled its tentacles around the inside of my shoe, and turned me into an involuntary missile.

I propelled forward, nearly caught myself, but then a boulder said nope.

I flailed forward again, this time headed straight for a broken face against three more boulders who were itching for a human sacrifice, but I threw out my left hand just in time.

I saved face, but not elbow.

I landed, in a wash of pain, knowing I had just ended our delightful trail run with some sort of wretched injury.

And then I began to pass out.

Nurse friend Lydia took my dropping pulse and made me sit, then tried to lift my feet up over my head as I screamed at her as to why she thought this was a good idea.

She’s a pretty DANG GOOD Tribute as well, because she crafted me a sling out of the long-sleeved(?!?!) shirt she had been wearing around her waist to cover the backside of her leggings-as-pants. I might’ve thought her modesty was silly, but I did appreciate the sling. So tip: always have a modest friend in the Arena with you.

I stood up again, then went right back to passing out.

After a minute of sitting, I decided. it was only a mile back. I could power through this.

I stood up again, began to walk, and Lydia decided from my paling face that she’d leave me with Ashley to go “get help.” I wasn’t sure what that meant but didn’t care because I was passing out again. I reasoned that the only way through this was through it and kept walking, and I am here to testify – that is sound medical decision making. The passing out faded, and I slowly made the mile trek back, trying desperately to ignore the pain of every wiggle in my arm.

The hurt began fading as we marched on, taking orange then red then blue then boardwalk trails, carefully retracing our steps.

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As we approached the last trail, Lydia met us with water, an apple, a blood pressure cuff, more of our friends, and a state park official, who was pleasantly surprised that I’d done the hard work of removing myself from a mile of woods without his help.

He filed an “incident report”, taking my name and address and driver’s license number, while I nervously asked if I was getting banned from state parks and begged him not to prohibit trail running because half my friends would hate me. He told me to go to the ER and I nodded promisingly.

He left, and Lydia asked, “What’s the plan?”

I said, “Let’s go back to the house and chill.”

After all, it’s just an arm. There are way worse things to be without. It is my left arm and I’m left-handed, but still. Just an arm.

(I did get a phone consult from my Miracle Max Physical Therapist and a text consult from our shared Pediatrician, and they agreed that I’d probably live without an ER visit.)

(I did indeed live but also totally got stuck in my sports bra for about 20 minutes, but because I’m a DANG GOOD TRIBUTE, I fought that sports bra and I WON.)

We came home on Sunday, so I made a stop by Urgent Care. Turns out, my elbow, although swollen and oddly shaped, was not broken. But my index finger, which I didn’t even realize was hurt until hours after the fall, was indeed broken.

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(Luckily I typed most of this post the night before. Broken fingers are WAY easier to type with than metal splints.)

(Apparently my high threshold for pain is detrimental to my health.)

But I can now add two new treacheries to the long list of Alabama Hunger Games Hazards.

Venomous snakes and spiders. Mosquitoes. Horse flies and Yellow Flies. Chiggers. Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac. Lots of fire ants. The dreaded Cow Ant. Bees. Wasps. Hornets. Yellowjackets. Dirt Daubers. Ticks. Snapping Turtles. Flying cockroaches. Stinging Ladybugs. Poisonous Caterpillars. Bats. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Alligators. Coyotes. Armadillos. Post-Running Smoothies. And Shoe-Trapping Roots.

How many of these things do you have in your area? Surely we all equally live in The Hunger Games. Right?

Redefining Hard.

A Guest Post by Chief Editor and Baby Daddy, Chris.

I’ve written about running before, several times. Running tourism, my first half, my first marathon, my second marathon. A central theme in all my running blogs is accessibility. As in, you can do this. You, the reader, if you are in reasonably decent health, can train and accomplish these things. I still think this is true.

I recently ran my first ultramarathon, the 27 mile option at the Lake Martin 100/50/27 mile endurance event on the trails at Russell Lands at Lake Martin. It was, by far, the most difficult athletic thing I have done. It was just a bit longer than a marathon by distance, but trail miles are very different from road miles. The terrain was at times technical, steep, slippery, sticky, and/or wet. The trails were full of roots, rocks, mud, clay, stream crossings, leaves, and pine straw. At times it was a 30 foot wide dirt road. At times it was a 12” wide single track ditch. As advertised, the rolling hills are relentless.

IMG_1069I was still feeling great after 90 minutes. {Photo Credit: Tanya Sylvan}

That said, I think for most of you, even an ultramarathon is achievable. It may seem crazy, but this is the heart of new, first time accomplishment – it redefines hard. You move the standard for what is physically and mentally possible.

So whether you are looking at a Couch to 5K program, 10k, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, 27 mile or 50K Ultra, 50 mile, 100 mile, or or a 150 mile race that starts with jumping out of an airplane and falling the first 2 miles (this does exist), that feeling of impossibility is just that – a feeling. It is not reality.

The truth is that with a realistic training schedule, a little knowledge about gear and injury prevention, some practice at hydration and exercise-related nutrition, and the support of your local running community (in my case, the BTC and the BUTS), you can do this.

FullSizeRender-3Rocking my BUTS gear after the race.

So, with all of that heady stuff aside, I’ll get practical. As are all first-time endeavors, it was a learning experience. So I will let you benefit from the wisdom of my experience.

What I did right:

Read. I read bunches of blogs about trail running, ultra running, gear, all of it. I read every line of every page of the Lake Martin 100 website, which is really thorough about all things course, preparation, and survival. (Gaiters For The Win!!)

Listen. I picked all the trail runner brains in my orbit. I did what they said. I like to benefit from the wisdom of everyone else’s experience. Because of others, I had all sorts of goodies like a blister kit, wet wipes, and super greasy feet impervious to water.

IMG_1065 copyI was still feeling good at the Heaven Hill aid station. {Photo Credit: Random Dude.}

Train. I asked a 100 mile vet what trails I should train on. She sent me to harder ones than I planned on, but I am so glad I listened and did what she said.

Overprepare. I had about 500 miles worth of Tailwind (advanced Powerade), snacks, sunscreen, bugspray, and socks in my drop box at the main aid station. Extra everything.

IMG_1063Ahhhhh, downhill. {Photo Credit: Tanya Sylvan}

What I did wrong:

Under hydrate. I drank approximately 5 liters of fluid, but I was on the course (including resting on benches and at aid station stops) over 8 hours.

Around mile 22, my legs began teetering on the brink of charley horses, twinging with every little trip, giving that moment of panic when you feel the muscles begin to tighten and curl.

At one point I intentionally fell down to immediately relieve the tension before it could tighten any further. By the time the race ended, I was walking all the hills, even the tiniest 1% grades, because even a minor incline was inducing the beginnings of Nightmare on Cramp Street.

Most of my trail training just happened to be on cold & dry days. The day of the race was humid, at times sunny, & after awhile, hot.

TMI, but after a final 6:35am pre-race port-a-potty stop, I didn’t pee until 4:30pm, long after finishing, rehydrating, and showering. Bottom line: under those conditions, 5 liters wasn’t near enough.

Not long enough training runs. My longest trail training run several weeks before Lake Martin was 16 miles. Since I had run a full road marathon 5 weeks prior to this race, I didn’t feel like a 20+ mile long trail run was necessary. Oops.

I felt great for about 20 miles. The last 7 were so much harder than they had to be. I wish I had done a 22 mile training run before I tapered down for the race. The single track inclines felt steeper and steeper as I went along, until I looked like I was sneaking up the secret path to Mordor, crawling with my weary hobbit legs at a 22:00/mile pace.

IMG_0992Mile 23. No comment.

What else:

When I got to Mile 23, the trail was named Rock Bottom. I sat on a bench. I took off my pack. I texted with friends. I just chilled. I did not see one other human for that entire section of the course, a 7 mile loop between aid stations. I assumed I was last, and I was just fine with it.

IMG_0993Rock Bottom wasn’t so bad.

I only got off track once for about 100 yards, but quickly retraced my steps and got back on the well-marked course. This is not unusual, but you can’t be lost for long. There are blue flags EVERYWHERE on the route, and signs marking every turn.

As it turned out, I wasn’t last. The last 2 miles of the 27 were an out-and-back to a spool of plastic tape to prove you made it to the turnaround. After I got my blessed piece of blue tape, I turned around for the last mile victory lap, and passed about 5 or 6 people. They looked just as tired as me.

IMG_1062-2The final stretch – I didn’t die! {Photo Credit: Tanya Sylvan}

But all of that eventually ended in a glorious wave of cheering, high-fives, a medal, pictures, fluids, potato chips, delicious soup, flip-flops, and later a giant cheeseburger.

FullSizeRender-4Kowaliga Restaurant. A+.

All together, it was a fantastic experience. The every-flavor forest was so many different kinds of beautiful. The lake itself was a frequent canvas behind the rustling trees. The birds and frogs and babbling streams provided the background music. The camaraderie of crews, pacers, and fellow racers – both old friends and people I met during the race – was worth the price of admission. The aid station volunteers were aggressively helpful and sincerely compassionate.

I definitely plan to do another ultra. Maybe a 50K.

And I will benefit from the wisdom of my own experience the next time I redefine hard.