Alabama

May 12, 2014

I miss running. I miss it like the vacation that dunks you in a happiness you didn’t know existed. I miss it like the comfort of hosting an old friend. When the friend leaves, you wander around the apartment washing sheets and taking out recycling, wondering what to do next. I miss it like the guy that turned on you, thinking back to that last great dinner, never knowing it would be your last.

After spraining my ankle almost two weeks ago I have all the energy to run and none for optimism for when I’ll be able to again. I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone this long without running. It’s been years, maybe a decade? Clean running clothes overflow onto the floor; usually half of them are in the laundry basket. I don’t know when to shower because I’m used to showering after running. I feel sort of…too clean all the time because I can’t get sweaty. Last night I sat, sat, on the exercise bike watching Waiting to Exhale, clutching my heart, not because the movie was moving or the workout was strenuous but because I was waiting for an elevated heart rate to kick in. It doesn’t. I just push and pedal and hope and nothing, just a bead of sweat on the brow. Then I lie on the floor of my apartment hoping that my ab work will pay off later. I flip over to do leg lifts, fire hydrant, a moment of down dog before it’s too painful. And then I collapse, still on the floor, to power through the new Joan Didion biography, the Navy Seal tips for resilient living, the photo book of great railways of the world, Eric Jong’s new novel, the history of British India. Literary Cardio. There are moments of wordplay and story twists which leave me almost as breathless as running did. Almost.

Sometimes I walk at lunch while listening to jazz, big band and Gershwin from Woody Allen films. If I keep walking will something kick in? A heart rate? An experience? A little story? But it’s not Manhattan. It’s South Lake Union, Seattle. It’s my work neighborhood that just over two weeks ago I ran away from, literally, at the end of the day. I had a 4.5 mile, almost an hour-long, run home through three different neighborhoods. The other day a man in my office I had never spoken to asked: “Don’t I usually see you running at this time?” “Yes,” I answered, “but I sprained my ankle.” I looked down at the ankle stabilizer crammed in running shoes I had bought just days before I hurt my ankle, still not having run in them. This man doesn’t know my name. He doesn’t know what I do. All he knows is that I run—ran.

Here’s what happened in Alabama. I went to Dauphin Island Beach with some of my best girls in the world. I ran alone for 3.1 miles in the quiet, white sand. It was tough, hot, sunny, and sweaty. When I finished the run I saw my friends laying out and laughing in the sand on four beach towels: pink, yellow, red and blue. I stood among the group for a moment, panting, soaked in sweat, heat, friendship and color. Then I removed my watch, shoes and socks, and set them in the sand with my phone. I walked to the shore and in full running gear stepped into the Gulf of Mexico. I sat in the blue water and let it swirl around me, rush in and out, cooling and equilibrating.

Dear running, come back to me. I know like the waves on that hot day in Alabama, you will. I know that it only takes time to heal and all we can count on is change. I know this post is whiny, long and longing. I know that, today, I never knew I could miss you so much.

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Louisiana

May 10, 2014

I’ve been thinking about “the story.” Not the story of running in Louisiana but how to tell a story. Specifically, how to tell a story of 5K in 50 States when the story isn’t yet clear to me. What I know of the Louisiana story is what I posted on Facebook a year and a half ago: “Then there was that time Rachel dropped me off at the Mississippi-Louisiana state line to run 3.1 miles in the swamp.”

It sounds like the beginning to a good story: “Wisconsin/Seattle girl travels to the bayou and encounters…..” But what happened is less than that. Rachel did drop me off to run in the swamp but that’s about all there is to it. I remember feeling like I was the only runner zipping through the small town of Slidell, running past an empty bar of broken windows, a water tank with a faded painting of a rose, and a willow tree roped off by a metal chain and a ‘no trespassing’ sign. There were stories but they weren’t happening to me. I remember a manhole warning of the sewer underneath, half hoping I would trip and fall in the swamp sewage water, not for the experience but for the story. Instead, the story lies only in the fact that after Louisiana I could say I had run in twenty states. I was two-fifths there.

I started thinking about the story this weekend after a talk given by Drew Barrymore to promote her new book of personal essays. As Drew told her tales I was reminded that she is an actress, not a story teller. When everything is dramatic nothing is dramatic. When the F word is an every other adjective, meaning is lost. Drew’s brand is the free-spirited flower child, not storyteller. If a person can be emancipated from their parents at age fourteen, flash Dave Letterman on live TV and still not be able to tell a good story, what did it take to tell one?

And then I had a blind date at 9:30 at night on a Sunday for a screening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Manhattan was my gateway Woody, before I shifted from identifying with young, hopeful Tracy to kooky Annie Hall. At intermission my photographer date turned to me in the dark, eyes lit up, the most at ease I’d seen him, and said: “I love the wide angle shots.” From then on I switched from studying the storyline to the cinematography. I watched where the light came from. I watched Woody and Diane converse in the dark planetarium scene, shadows outlined by artificial moon glow. I watched them argue in his living room, illuminated by a glowing, white table lamp. I studied Tracy reading on the sofa, spot lit by a floor lamp. And of course the famous bridge scene, a wash of gray sky, diamond lights draped across the Queensboro Bridge, the backs of our two leads like black cardboard cutouts. I thought about all of those little stories told in blackness, almost in the dark. I thought about the sweeping skyline scenes synced to the Gershwin score like a fireworks show. Maybe to tell a story you don’t need the whole story. You don’t need to fall in a sewer pit or put dramatic emphasis on every twist. Maybe you just need a lot of Gershwin and little hope. Maybe, as Tracy says in one of my favorite last lines to a movie, “you have to have a little faith in people.” Have faith in the story. Step into the dark room and turn on the light.

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Mississippi

May 9, 2014

Mississippi was the first state I ran in with my friends Kathleen and Rebecca, which means it’s also the first state I ran in with two people. The first full day of our girls’ trip in Gulf Port, Mississippi, we walked out the front door, turned a couple corners and faced an empty sidewalk. The adjacent wide but uncrowded Beach Blvd., redone after hurricane Katrina, faded into the distance. After we got going I observed that to make room on the sidewalk one of us had to run in front or behind. I didn’t mind bringing up the rear. It gave me space to consider the difference between running with two people compared to one. With three the group must balance each other out rather than defer to the pace of one person. We had to create a new pace as a team. I don’t remember what we talked about but I do remember that because not one but two friends had joined me for a run, maybe I was doing something cool. Maybe for them it was something cool too. It wasn’t a Forrest Gump-like band of followers trailing behind on the open road but it was still a group: a small, trusted, trusting, supportive group.

This week, because my healing ankle, I’ve been thinking about support. I chose an ankle stabilizer that was snug and supported my ankle from all sides. The first straps come up from the bottom of the foot. The second set circle above the ankle. The third set crisscross over the top of the foot and ankle. When I put on the stabilizer in the morning I think about how each of these layers of support is doing its part.

Now, I think about the support of friends. I think about the friends I’ve known for so long that I can sing along to Michael Bolton and still feel respected. I smile reflecting on the college friends I’ve reunited with, joining the lightness and whimsy of college days with the reality of adulthood. I think of the friends I’ve made in Seattle–the ones who’ve formed lives and loves and families but still make time for brunches and dinners to support each other as ladies. The friends who have stuck by my sense of humor for years of giggly laps around Green Lake. The friends who let me collapse on their couch, bubbly in hand, when it’s all too much. The friends who volley with my crass wit in our cozy, red-lit, dive bar. The friends who are new and yet feel familiar. For peace of mind and peace for my ankle, I will think of this support when I wrap the stabilizer–because maybe we all need not one but many layers of support to get back out there. Let’s run together soon.

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Illinois

October 29, 2013

Illinois/ A Love Letter to My Left Ankle

Running in Illinois was one of the simplest runs I’ve done. Not simple in the fact that I made my dad drive us an hour to cross the Illinois/Wisconsin border and wait while I ran a 5K. Simple in the fact that once we got to South Beloit Municipal Park the run itself took very little effort. I looped a city park, ran through the sleepy suburb and met my dad back at the car.

“How was it?” he asked.

“Fine. Easy,” I answered.

I ate a banana as he drove us home. There had been no beautiful scenery, no revelations, no runner’s high and for that day that was just fine. It was one of those runs that was merely checking a state off the list. Even then I understood it hadn’t been and wouldn’t always be that easy.

Five days ago I sprained my left ankle. In a moment of sheer exuberance, running down a hilly trail to the tune of The Moody Blues’ “Wildest Dreams,” my ankle rolled. I immediately shifted to my right foot, trying to process what happened. When I limped back to the car I thought, “You’re a runner now. It was just matter of time.” As I sat on my shag rug icing the ankle I thought about how this sprain was hopefully the last in a series of minor physical ailments. When I had it looked at by my doctor the next morning, as she cradled the puffed, smooth ankle bone, a more serious long-term effect began to sink in: “I need to run a 5K, 5 days in a row in three weeks.” Although she was confident I could achieve my goal, I crawled back into my car both hopeful and dejected. Three weeks seemed like a long enough time to heal but the process was one I’d never gone through before. In five days the process has become both physical and mental.

Lying on my friend’s new couch the day after the sprain, ankle properly propped and iced, I explained how strange it was that I had sprained my left ankle and not my right. That just the night before after a frustrating workout of planks and sit-ups I’d done yoga poses on my left foot simply to feel strong and graceful. I’d moved from tree to dancer to warrior three to bring back confidence and grace as I finished the workout. My left ankle is stronger than my over-pronating right. I do balance exercises on the right to achieve, well, balance between the sides, but the left is my happy place.

I turned to my friend, “Isn’t it ironic that this happened on my left?”

“So use this time to strengthen your right,” he said.

I went home with an ankle brace he lent me and started to really think about this as an opportunity with a few positives. First, it’s a minor sprain. I’m fortunate it wasn’t more severe. Second, it’s better to have three weeks rather than two or one to heal before a running trip. In a sense, time was on my side. Third, isn’t it lucky that I had sprained the left and not the right? My weak right ankle may have caused me to collapse into the dirt. Instead, the strength I had from my left gave me a moment of balance and the ability to quickly shift to the right side. The strength of my left ankle had protected me, not hurt me and it was time to start seeing it that way.

My friend Katherine, who happens to be from Illinois, wrote after her second marathon: “Any day your body lets you run 26.2 miles is an amazing day.” Those words impressed me two years ago and now I’m beginning to understand why. I usually think of running as something I do for my body. I run to make my body stronger, thinner, lighter, and more balanced. Katherine’s words helped me to understand that maybe all this time my body was doing something for me, not the other way around. My body let me run and in turn let me have all the joy that comes with the run.

So now I’m wearing an ankle stabilizer, writing the alphabet on the floor with my big toe, and doing resistance exercises with a rubber tube while watching “Dancing with the Stars” instead of freestyling samba. I’m reading a book called “Resilience” by a Navy Seal while plopped on an exercise bike, trying to wrangle up some bit of cardio. Left ankle, this is what I do for you. I will rest, ice, elevate and compress you tightly. I will wrap you with care and flex you with gratitude. I will do these things for you because you have let me run.

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Vermont

July 9, 2013

My last run of the New England trip was in Brattleboro, Vermont. I’d chosen Brattleboro because it was on the southern loop back to Hartford and I thought it would give me the hippie Vermont flavor. Brattleboro would also be my first overnight in a home which wasn’t a friend’s. I’d found an Airbnb listing just outside of the town center. The photograph showed a private room with two tall windows covered by lace curtains and two twin cherry wood beds. Each bed was covered with quilt and piles of blankets at the end. It looked like the perfect place to rest after a week of full days. My host exported craft beers online, or something like that, and her kitchen was packed with unique pottery and posters of the scientific classifications of mushrooms. When her friend who worked at the local college specializing in global education came by for tea and freshly picked blueberries, they welcomed me into the conversation and offered suggestions for dinner in Brattleboro and tomorrow’s final run. I went to bed exhausted. I chose the bed against the window and peered through the lace curtains to the trees and streetlight outside. Then something what I call “magical” happened. It started to rain–thick, heavy East Coast rain with drops like miniature water balloons bursting as they hit the pavement. After the week of stifling heat it was a welcome finale. The rain kept on ‘til morning, waking me for the last run on the last day of the trip.

I’d planned my 3.1 mile route before stepping out the front door of the house but I couldn’t have imagined what it would feel like to take that run. I didn’t mind the rain on my wicking running clothes. It pelted me as I ran along a winding, country road to a farmer’s market and a red, covered bridge. As the rain pounded on memories from the trip reverberated in the air. For thirty minutes in that shaded grove of clouds, rain and trees, clouds in my head began to clear, circling around this thought: There are so many ways to live a life. I’d visited and met friends who were engaged, newly married, newly divorced, parents, cohabitating without kids, and caring for soon-to-be step kids. Some of them had full-time office jobs but others were working part-time, starting their own business, working from home, in school for a career change or charting their own course built on connections and a dream.

Then M83’s “Midnight City” starting to play. Hearing the yelps and beats, like the pounding of my own heart, I was elevated to clarity: My life could be different. I could actually believe and behave my way to different. The rain broke the spell.

That trip introduced the idea that my friends, relationships, travels, career, and home could be other than what they’d been, that it was actually possible to change who I was by doing and trying. I had come face to face with so much spectacle and sheer joy, my face at times aching from smiling, I started to believe in change again. With resources, courage and generosity of spirit I could do what I wanted. I had to do what I wanted.

Over two years later, I look back on that morning in Brattleboro having not moved to New England. At the time I couldn’t have imagined that move wouldn’t happen. I also couldn’t have imagined that my sister would move to that very same town to attend that very same college specializing in global education and walk through that very same farmer’s market to buy apples on a Saturday. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it amazing to know that our dream can fade away and a whole new dream can live on its place? I think it is.

Did my life dramatically change when I returned to Seattle from New England? Not completely. But running in Vermont made me believe it could.

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New Hampshire

July 7, 2013

My visit to New Hampshire began with a slow, hazy drive out of Portland, Maine. Portland–what reminded me of Oz in my last entry–was so full of life, color and stimuli that I was content to stay on the backroads to let it all sink in. Fittingly, no major highway went from Portland to my destination of Castle in Clouds, New Hampshire. Just as Maine was like Technicolor Oz, New Hampshire was, despite the green hills, like a black-and-white Kansas. The pace felt slower. Maine’s coastal roadside attractions of lobster shacks and lighthouses had been replaced by antique shops and empty gas stations. Businesses were manned by elderly characters filled with, I imagined, years of stories I didn’t know how to ask to hear. There was a haunting, days-gone-by quality, witching and autumn-like, that rang through the otherwise quiet hills. I wanted to understand the libertarian billboards, the New Hampshire dialect, how life could feel so different from trendy, foodie Portland, yet be so close on the map.

Castle in the Clouds was a further step back in time. Named for majestic structure rising into the mountains, Castle in the Clouds is glimpse of what fortune used to look like. The “castle” or mansion was erected after Thomas Gustave Plant made his fortune in shoe manufacturing. Plant sold his business and settled down to build his new bride a majestic home. I toured the castle’s many nooks: dressing tables with pewter hairbrushes seemingly untouched since the bride, reading alcoves carved under stairways, and offices decorated with a suit of armor and justice scales. I let myself sink into a forgotten time, wondering what the shoe tycoon and his bride were like. Plants’ ghosts led me down the hallways of their romance and the corridors of my own. Ghosts of the past and future floated by, guiding me away from a relationship that wasn’t working toward one that might. To clear the cobwebs, I needed to run.

When I finished touring the castle I wound down to Portsmouth, an old seaport town and I was sure would be classic New England. I dove into the experience full force. I decided if was going to run with my ghosts I had to get a little tough. I covertly and quickly changed into my running clothes inside my car at the docks, lacing up my sneakers for the sixth run in New England, ready to take on those ghosts. First, I looped past the Point of Graves Burial Ground. Gravestones from the 16 to 1800s were marked with names like “LEAR” and “PITT.” Angels, skulls and crossbones merely whispered as I ran past. In adjacent Prescott Park a community production of Annie was underway. I wondered if kids today knew about Orphan Annie. Despite the cheerful din of the surrounding crowds, something about the play and that curly-haired girl in the little red dress felt antiquated and eerie. I followed a bridge to tiny Pierce Island and another to Four Tree Island. Along the banks of the Piscataqua River furry creatures (possibly beavers?) popped up from behind the rocks. They were swift flashes of brown, disappearing and then reappearing as if to say: “We see you. You are not unnoticed.” I did feel seen. That eighth day in New England I had been seen by ghosts of my past and future. I had seen them too. That beautiful, clarifying force of running had once again startled me awake.

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Maine

July 6, 2013

Maine was another idyllic run. Looking back on it now it’s almost too perfect a story, without a dramatic arc, to warrant a description. The perfection sounds made up. And yet I can’t stop from transporting myself back to that sunny morning in Maine. I was staying with my friend Larisa in coastal South Portland. We walked out her front door, ran past mansions and hopped on a cliff trail that looped a lighthouse. Larisa had alerted me that we would stop at a donut shop, The Cookie Jar, on our way home so I’d wadded up a few ones in my running pants. Bursting into the air-conditioned Cookie Jar at the end of that run was like arriving in Technicolor Oz. With the wonder of Dorothy but none of the trepidation, I gobbled up every crumbling, sticky pastry sample in sight.  A caramel-colored iced-coffee dispenser beading with perspiration was a cool oasis. I took more than my share. After calculating my donut and pastry purchase to acquire as many goodies as I could with limited cash, I handed the clerk my bills damped with perspiration. He gave me a knowing look that I was a stranger in his land.

Reflecting on running in Maine makes me wonder if “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is an apt comparison to 5Kin50 States. There’s the common instigator of being propelled into new territory. There’s the beautiful, haunting, diverse landscapes along the way. The Glinda the Good, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion in the kind companions who hosted and ran with me. There’s the antagonistic forces of the Wicked Witches. The Wicked Witch of the East, my fear of owning a running and writing project, squashed in the first quarter of the story. The Wicked Witch of the West, the opposing forces of time, inclement weather, limited funds, limited travel time and loss of direction. And don’t forget those ominous flying monkeys hovering like my hip pain and creaky knee that won’t stop squeaking. There’s also the common goal of “home.” Dorothy seeks home in a return to Kansas. I’m looking for a home I don’t yet know: running down this yellow brick road not hoping to get back to where I started, but with the fragile dream that somewhere I’ll run in a place that will show me where to go next. That some land, some person, some mileage point under 3.1 in any of our 50 states will have a clear sign of what’s next. Yet thus far it’s just like the movie. State after state, friend after friend, remind me that “it’s pleasant down that way too.” And so, maybe the all too obvious truth is that there is no place like home– the exact place I started from– which is Seattle, ironically nicknamed “The Emerald City.” If I ever meet a humbug of a wizard I hope I remember that he is like so many of us, thrust into a tricky situation, doing the best he can, trying to earn a little prestige before he can move on.  With 35 states after Maine there are sure to be plenty more adventures.

Maine, thank you for showing me your magical beauty of beaches, lighthouses, lobsters and donuts. The journey to, from, and within you is a dream I cannot forget.

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Massachusetts

July 4, 2013

Running in Plum Island, Massachusetts on the fourth of July was a series of gifts. The first being that my friend Lia had connected me with a charming beach house to stay in. I woke up happy to be in a new place which, thanks to a friend, also felt like home. That day was also hot and sticky so I hit the roads by 8 a.m. I let the heat and colors soak in, feeling like a small figure in a landscape painting. The bright blues of the sky and Atlantic Ocean wrapped around the brilliant greens of the island marshes. I was in an idyllic setting in Massachusetts on our country’s birthday, awake with gratitude.

I ran down the main island road as cars packed with fireworks, hot dogs and beer whizzed by. The whole island was jazzed for the day’s celebration; I was just happy to be there. Then I hopped onto the gravel streets of beach houses. American flags flapped in the breeze waving me to the beach. At the beach I thought about how much brighter the colors of the East Coast felt than the West Coast, or maybe it was just my Seattle West Coast. Everything seemed more amped up: the heat, the humidity, the people energized for the evening festivities. I kept running, letting it all soak in.

I spent the balmy evening on the deck with Lia’s brother-in-law and his partner. They grilled burgers and made the tastiest Dark n’ Stormys before we kicked back and shared our stories of my travels and their life in Boston. A few houses over, “Get Lucky” blasted from the roof as teenagers shot off fireworks. In those moments of lights zipping across the sky I looked back to the inlet piecing together how I’d gotten there. I’d had the opportunity to meet wonderful new people (who happened to be great cooks!), explore a completely different coast, soak up the sun and run. “Get Lucky” is an overplayed song but I still love it. I’ve danced to it at weddings and goofing around with friends but I’ll always remember sitting outside that 4th of July on Plum Island, amazed that with all the interruptions and hiccups, efforts and fails, sometimes in a perfect serendipity of travel and friends, we do get lucky.

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Rhode Island

July 3, 2013

Rhode Island is the smallest state and yet the day I ran in Rhode Island couldn’t have been fuller. It began in in New Canaan with a simple mission, drive down the Connecticut coast, run on the beach in Rhode Island, eat lobster, see the sights and arrive at my friend’s sister’s house in Plum Island, Massachusetts by dinner. I’d planned according and wore my running clothes under a perfectly New England navy, t-shirt dress. With a scarf in my hair and tortoiseshell sunglasses I hopped in the Impala and headed out from New Canaan. I stopped in Katherine Hepburn’s hometown of Saybrook, Connecticut just to say that I had done it. By lunch time I’d arrived in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

The main street of Watch Hill was packed with tourist shops selling signs such as “wanted: a buoy toy” and “it’s a shore thing.” I passed those up but did pick up a mesh toiletries travel bag with an embroidered corvette to remind me of the packed day of travel that lay ahead. After I’d shopped I went back to my car, stripped off my dress right there in the road, hopped out of my red wedge espadrilles into running shoes, tied the car key to my shoe and headed to the beach.

Running on the beach is tough. I don’t usually seek it out but for 3.1 miles I knew I could handle it. What I couldn’t handle was the midday full sun. I foolishly neglected to put sunscreen on and quickly realized that while I was tackling running in my 13th state I was also getting a sunburn. No matter. In the journey of 5K in 50 States I was learning to press on and be flexible. After the run I went back to the Impala, grabbed my clothes and headed to the beach’s public restroom at which I peeled out of my sweaty running clothes and into fresh underthings and the navy shirtdress. That restroom change was one of the most uncomfortable, stuffy, stifling situations I found myself in on that trip and yet I was still pleased with myself for picking a place to run that had a public restroom and for having the foresight to bring fresh underthings. I treated myself to a lobster roll, stopped at a Dunkin Donuts, drove up to Walden Pond, got out, reflected and cooled my feet in the water, got back in the car, fought July third Boston traffic and made it to Plum Island Mass. by dinner. Dinner was a lobster salad from a coastal shack: another lobster for a lobster. All in a day’s work, Rhode Island.

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New York

July 2, 2013

Two days later I’d rolled down from West Hartford to New Canaan, Connecticut to stay with my friends Laura and Kevin. I hadn’t seen them in years and showing up at their house that warm day as Laura greeted me with toddler in tow brought me so much joy. Laura showed me around the charming, wealthy town of New Canaan with the understanding of both a resident and a tourist. We poked around the shops selling Lilly Pulitzer dresses and sweaters printed with anchors and whales. We ate lunch in a charming sidewalk café as she greeted her Pilates clients passing by. We finished the day playing with her daughter on the living room floor. We also talked about all the places to visit in New England. I was filled with the exuberance of travel that comes a couple days into a vacation. Laura also helped me plan my first “border crossing” of 5K in 50 states.

Having already run in the state of Connecticut, I’d planned my run while staying in New Canaan to be in New York State since I could cross the border in under 30 minutes. Laura recommended nearby Pound Ridge State Park and in under two hours I had driven to, from, and run in another state. It was a quiet park with lush, green trees, a pond and a bit of construction nearby. Pairing the construction with the continued humidity, the run wasn’t as peaceful as I’d hoped, but it was thoughtful. I reflected on the fact that just by staying in nearby New Canaan I was able to “do New York.” I thought about how different New York would have been if it had been the New York City Marathon I’d planned to run over a year before. I thought about how even though it was hot and sticky this New York run was comparably so much easier than a marathon. I reflected on how lucky I was to run Santa Barbara with friends and to be in the great state of New York today, ending the run at my trusted Chevy Impala rental, and, in a mere 30 minutes, my friends’ home. In a way I’d come so far to run New York. In another it was just across the state line.

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