Tobacco Road Marathon Recap

Don’t start crying now — you’ll hyperventilate!

This is literally what I had to tell myself a mile from the finish line of the Tobacco Road Marathon. I tried to maintain my composure while also allowing myself to bask in the achievement of a major life goal – qualifying for the Boston Marathon – which I’d pursued with varying degrees of dedication since 2008. Finally!

I finished in 3:36:56, a 9+ minute PR and a very comfortable 8+ minute BQ. It’s not an overstatement to call this a peak experience of life.

Peak-experience-of-life face

Whether it’s a PR or a PW, every single race has lessons to offer. Here are ten things I learned this past Sunday.

  1. When the starting line gets fenced off (about ten minutes before the race), don’t hop the fence to get to your desired starting spot. It’s a great way to tweak something. Find an open spot and walk through it like a normal person. You have plenty of time.
  2. If you’re debating whether or not you’re overdressed, you are.
  3. A great audiobook will help you happily pass the early miles, when you might just want to be distracted from the enormity of your task. Then, when you switch to your music later in the race, it’ll provide much more of a jump-start. (For me, the formula was: loud music for the first two miles, until the cacophony died down, then Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which never fails to crack me up — and in this context, surely made me look crazy — then my Hamilton/Rush/Dear Evan Hansen/In the Heights/Queen/Lady Gaga/etc. mix from mile 16 to the end).
  4. If strawberry-banana flavored anything is unappealing to you, then condensed, thick strawberry-banana Power Gel will be nothing short of revolting when offered to you at mile 22. You will be tempted to take this gel because it is free, and gels can cost two whole dollars, and lookit you sticking it to the man and getting your money’s worth. Don’t do it.
  5. Core work is absolutely key for maintaining stability in those last miles. Thanks to CXWORX at ACAC, my hips didn’t hurt nearly as much as usual, I felt less fatigued, and I was able to keep decent form.
  6. Smiling and thanking volunteers helps you feel like a human being. And those small moments of connection might just keep you going.
  7. Pouring water over your head – even when it’s not that warm out – feels amazing and gives you such a rush! Just make sure there’s enough water to go around, and also make sure that it’s not Gatorade.
  8. Consider not running with a pace group leader. They can go out way too fast. (The 3:40 pacer started out at sub-8:10 pace with about 15 people following him. By mile 24, there were two left.) Trust yourself. And know that passing your goal-time pacer in those last miles feels amazing. Especially when he calls out, “Go get it, girl.” And you say, “Hell YES I will!” And then you do.
  9. You are not too old.  Many studies find that marathon performance peaks in one’s late-20s. But, for many of us,  we more than make up for the slow slide into decrepitude with grit, smarts, and strength training. (See?) At 39, I feel faster and stronger than ever. (Well, not today. Today I can barely walk. And forget stairs. But, usually.)
  10. Find people who push you, who inspire you, who make this whole crazy endeavor fun. I wouldn’t have achieved this huge goal without these amazing, fast, hilarious ladies who made getting up at 5:30 am on Saturdays in the winter something I actually looked forward to.

This race was fantastic, with our group picking up BQs, PRs, and age group awards right and left.

Next up, maybe Copenhagen in late May, which feels crazy right now, but also too cool to pass up. Then Chicago in October. And (how much do I love saying this??) BOSTON in 2018!!

My Top Five Hygge Spots around Charlottesville

As the days get colder and shorter, I’m thinking more and more about the Danish concept of hygge: hard to translate, but basically meaning cozy, comfortable, unpretentious, and lacking in anything unpleasant. Think candles or fireplaces, soft blankets, warm lighting, cherished friends, and good conversation. A safe haven.

I’ve been trying to make my home more hygge–putting away reminders of work and chores, lighting more candles, sporting sweatpants, and so on–but I’ve also vowed to not spend my winter house-bound, in a Netflix-and-popcorn-induced coma.

So, when I want to venture out but still want a strong dose of hygge, this is where I’m going to go:

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Fellini’s – a Charlottesville institution, Fellini’s exudes a casual and unpretentious coziness. On any given evening, you might happen upon some jazz, blues, or maybe even live-band karaoke, performed in an intimate setting to a hodgepodge of  locals. Dimly lit and snug, I’m lucky that this place is just two blocks from home, that I feel no pressure to fancy-up to go inside, and that there’s always a nice bourbon there, ready to warm my spirits. (A close downtown bar runner-up: C&O.)

The Pie Chest  – what’s more hygge than pie and coffee? This newish spot off the Downtown Mall delivers both sweet and savory pies and a world of hot beverages. How about a steaming turkey, cranberry, and brie potpie? Or maybe a slice of bourbon pecan or brown butter pumpkin with a mug of dark roast? I encourage you to take a seat by the big front window on a cold day, sip your coffee, and be happy you’re not one of the unfortunate souls enduring the weather, shivering and pieless.

Travinia – Chain restaurants don’t usually scream cozy charm, but this Italian restaurant manages to feel inviting and non-generic. Maybe it’s the warm lighting and big couches. Maybe it’s the comforting pastas or the Italian nachos. Maybe it’s just a pleasant diversion from the Stonefield parking lot. Or maybe it’s the fact that my boyfriend and I had our first date here in the middle of a snowstorm. Whatever the reason, for me, Travinia gets a surprising number of hygge points.

Outside of Charlottesville and Albemarle, we also have:

fourcp.org

from fourcp.org

Four County Players – Twenty minutes north in Barboursville, the Four County Players have been bringing fun, family-friendly, high-quality theatre to the area for over 40 years. Their converted old schoolhouse features an intimate performance space and a cozy bistro where you can sip some local wine and have a yummy snack. FCP never ceases to be welcoming, charming, and unpretentious. I’ve performed here on and off since 2002 and every time I walk in the building, I see an old friend and feel like I’m at home.

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Veritas – At the base of Afton Mountain, Veritas winery is an area hotspot during all four seasons, but winter is my favorite time to be there. With its big leather couches and massive stone fireplace, there are few places I’d rather spend a chilly day, sipping some red. Don’t miss their spectacular Christmas tree!

While it can be hard to shake off my favorite fuzzy robe and slippers when the temperature starts to resemble my shoe size, it’s also nice to know that hygge can be found outside the predictable comforts of home.

 

And you? Where’s your favorite wintertime cozy spot? Leave a comment and spread some winter joy!

Why I’m Not Sad about Winter This Year

I typically get a little down every year, right around this time. The days are getting dramatically shorter, the windows are soon to be sealed shut, and my bright summer dresses have been relegated to the back of the closet. To pass the time between November and March, I’d binge-watch and binge-read and count the days until my self-imposed hibernation ends and the warm Virginia weather returns.

What changed? Well, a couple of years ago I learned about the Danish concept of hygge, and this winter, I vow to bring more of it into my life.

Hygge (pronounced – kind of – like HOO-ga) is one of those untranslatable foreign words that suggests a way of thinking that we Americans just don’t quite grasp (but a fun attempt to define it is here). It roughly translates to coziness, contentment, and lack of anything unpleasant. It can be found in quiet conversations with friends, in candles, fireplaces, snuggly robes, a glass of wine, warm blankets, or steaming coffee. A hyggeligt (the adjective form of hygge) environment is your safe haven.

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In Denmark, hygge is practically a survival strategy in the long, cold, and very dark winters. The sun goes down around 4 p.m. and doesn’t rise again until mid-morning. That means that anyone who is employed in the traditional working hours has little opportunity to experience daylight. And this deprivation drags on for months.

This sounds like a recipe for depression, yet Danes are constantly rated among the world’s happiest people. As many have suggested, hygge may play a key role.  And, unlike universal health care, generous parental leave, and subsidized college education, the beauty of hygge is that it’s something we can easily import to States.

Creating Hygge at Home

Want to have a more hyggeligt winter? Want to transform the dark, cold months into something to anticipate and savor rather than something to grimly endure? Here are some tips:

Start with a little self-experimentation. Look around your home and note what spaces and items make you feel content and at peace. What is it about these spaces? And what spaces make you feel tense or unhappy? Those might need some addressing. (Right now, there is a huge stack of books and papers under my coffee table. Every time I see them, I feel a little tense as I’m reminded of the work I’m not doing. Definitely not hygge!)

What does make me feel warm, safe, and snug are these slippers (seriously worth the splurge), these candles (not a splurge at all!), watching reruns of Gilmore Girls, looking through old photos, or reading a good novel with a lot of lights turned on. Even better if I can smell something yummy cooking. (Slow-cooker meals, therefore, are very hygge.) And that pile of books and papers? That has got to go.

Start by checking in with yourself and coming up with your personal definition of hygge. And get your family in on the discussion too! Here are some great tips for working hygge into family life.

Think carefully about the spaces you inhabit. Is your home welcoming? Warm? Cozy? Danes generally don’t go for big, sprawling spaces but instead pay thoughtful attention to details: lighting, books, meaningful possessions. Less clutter. There are no hard-and-fast rules here (but if you want some ideas, just type “hygge” into Pinterest, or check out this piece). Hyggifying your home is possible at any income level and, at most, may require purchasing a new lamp or two. You don’t need to get fancy. In fact…

Hygge is most definitely not fancy. It’s not pretentious or status-conscious. No judgment, no posturing. Cast aside your need for perfection. Don’t put off inviting people over because you still have to replace those broken kitchen tiles or perfect your recipe for coq au vin. Sharmi Albrechtsen, who frequently blogs about Danish happiness, once told me that trying to one-up or impress your friends and family with fancy food and drink is pretty much the opposite of hygge, as it doesn’t foster warm feelings at all. Instead, hygge is modest, comforting, and familiar. This recent trend, then, might just be perfect.

Don’t hibernate. Stay social. Winter can foster a real sense of isolation as we hunker down and close the world out. But Danes stay social in the winter, having small gatherings, going to snug cafes, and getting really, really psyched for Christmas. Christmas is huge in Denmark. It seems as if all of December is spent gearing up – preparing food, decorating, visiting friends. And the big event? With the lighting, music, family, friends, and traditional foods, you might say it’s hygge at its finest.

Want to read more about hygge and related concepts? Here’s a fascinating take on how people can thrive in harsh winters around the Arctic Circle (in Norway, but still). Author and reluctant Denmark transplant Helen Russell explores hygge and Danish happiness in The Year of Living Danishly. And I can’t wait to see what Danish happiness researcher Meik Wiking has to say in the forthcoming Little Book of Hygge.

 

Running’s Peaks, Ends, and Mindgames

Two weeks ago, I was crippled by a pretty trivial decision: run Huntington Beach, CA’s Surf City 10 Miler, the distance I had signed up for, or heed the warnings of both my physical therapist and my aching Achilles and drop down to the event’s 10K.

The two courses were pretty much identical – both out-and-backs along the scenic, flat Pacific Coast Highway. The 10K just turned back a little sooner. As I pondered this decision: to drop down to the 10K or not to drop down, I went into full-on nerd mode as the concept of duration neglect popped into my head. Based on this well-established psychological principle, if I wanted to have good memories of this race, the total distance or time spent running mattered less than did the emotional peak and the way in which it ended!

So, what did I want from this race? I certainly wasn’t running it for a prize. I wasn’t in competition with anyone. I just wanted to run strong, have fun, and not get hurt. So, I decided to downplay the distance, or the duration, and opted to ensure a solid peak and a strong end. That way, I would have good memories of this special seaside race. The 10K it was.

Looking back two weeks later, I DO have a positive memory of this event. I felt fit and strong the entire time. I ran a negative split and a big PR of 45:06: good for fourth place overall and third in my age group (a shout-out to the dominant 30-39 year-old ladies, eh??).

But, beyond these more objective markers of success are my memories of pride and exuberance: Getting faster as time went on. Passing person after person, without pain or fatigue. And then crossing the finish line, shocked that my sixteenth 10K was, unexpectedly, my fastest one ever.

Did I wish for a second that I had run 10 miles? No way! Distance had become way less meaningful than I’d expected. Duration neglect was alive and well on the PCH. I had a solid peak and a strong end. The miles I’d logged were unimportant.

But sometimes duration neglect can work against us.

Another decision I’m grappling with is whether or not to run the Richmond Marathon in a mere two weeks, given my Achilles pain and other mysterious and enduring foot aches. Here, duration neglect takes center stage again. When I look back on previous marathons, even recent ones, details of the multi-hour slog are all but gone from memory. What remains is that peak – the realization that I am going to do it. That singular sense of badassery and pride as the miles tick by. And then the end – the triumph of crossing the finish line, getting my medal, and maybe eating a massive burger.

I truly want to respect the distance, but it’s awfully hard to do that when my psychological makeup is designed to work against me. 26.2 is a vague notion, manageable – no, conquerable – in the abstract. (And maybe this is a good thing. Would anyone choose to repeat this experience if they could mentally recreate each and every painful step?)

So, to run the marathon or not to run the marathon? As it unfolds over three-plus hours, it will be so much more than a peak and an end. It will be 26.2 miles, a distance that is just plain hard to get my mind around in any kind of real way.

In trying to make a decision that does respect the distance, I consulted the race map, trying to imagine myself at each and every mile. Maybe this could undo duration neglect just a bit. Here goes:

marathon-map

Mile 1-3 – navigate the crowd, try to resist the urge to go out too fast.

Miles 4-8 – a nice straightaway, settle in to a comfortable pace. Enjoy some downhill. Have a gel around 8. Don’t speed up too much.

Miles 9-12 – Cross the James, go through some woods, hit a gradual uphill. Don’t even think about being done yet.

Mile 13.1 – Halfway…only halfway. Be happy-sad about that.

Miles 14-16 – Approach the windy, gradually uphill bridge I’ve heard about. Try not to get psyched out. Fight through. This might be the worst of it. Maybe switch from podcasts to Hamilton. Have another gel.

Mile 17 – Back to downtown, optional bail-out point. Don’t do it! (Unless your Achilles is sending you an unmistakable QUIT message. Then do it.) See Mark. Don’t do the math. Don’t kill people with cowbells.

Miles 18-20 –  Enter potential slog territory. Try to catch up to people ahead of you. Smile when hitting the 20 mile mark. Stop worrying that your toenail fell off. It probably didn’t, and who cares if it does?

Miles 20-23. Enter that boring section of flat and ugly. Just think about anything else. Crank Hamilton. You are not throwing away your shot.

Miles 24-25. You should know at this point if your BQ is likely. And if it is, you will feel so freakin’ amazing. Remember last year’s half, when you hit this section and felt so happy knowing you were going to finally break 1:45? Like that, but better. This is your peak. Bask in it.

Enjoy the massive downhill and cross the finish line!

So, does this pull focus from the peaks and ends from marathons past and give me a sense of the distance and challenge I’m up against? Yes. So why do I feel pumped up instead of intimidated??

Maybe that’s my answer. Bring it, Richmond!

Fresh Air, Lifetime, and a Shower Cap: What a Traveling Happiness Speaker Needs in a Hotel.

As an itinerant speaker for IBP, there are always a few weeks out of every year that I spend on the road teaching day-long seminars to a large audience of health-care professionals. Whether I’m in Maine, Arkansas, or California, the routine is the same: get up early, exercise, shower, and make myself presentable. Scarf down some breakfast, and get to my presentation site by 8:20 a.m. I talk from 9:00 to 3:30, usually to very nice people on some topic I love, but it’s still exhausting. I have yet to find a pair of shoes that looks professional while also keeping my feet from throbbing by 2 p.m. (these are my current faves, if I can get away with them. Otherwise, Dansko boots or Clarks won’t kill me).img_2453

After the talk ends, I hightail it. I drive at least an hour to my next location, zoning out to the sounds of a podcast while crossing my fingers for minimal traffic. I eat a really early, Yelp-recommended dinner, usually nice, always with wine, and then retreat to the quiet oasis of my hotel room, hoping to go to bed early so I’m fully charged for the next day. This is some of the hardest work I do, but also some of the most gratifying.

After 5 years of this gig, there are certain things I have come to value tremendously in my hotels, which are usually mid-range chains, like the Doubletree, Marriott, or Hampton Inn.

These things include:

  • a phone charger right by my bed (often built into the lamp) (yes, I look at my phone in the middle of the night.)
  • a king-sized bed. I am one person, averaged-sized, and this is totally unnecessary, but MAN, it is a treat!
  • Lifetime Movie Network. This is a rarity, but nothing makes me happier than unwinding to the histronics of a former Charlie’s Angel with amnesia, or the saga of a girl locked in a box.
  • a TV with a sleep timer, because I love to fall asleep to the frenzied sounds of the above (or, if not that, then some Criminal Minds or Law and Order). It’s some kind of antidote to the long days of talking about hope and happiness.
  • a shower cap. Because you sometimes want to skip a day of hair-washing.
  • a quiet HVAC system. No one wants to hear that thing turning on and off all night.
  • a window or sliding door that will let in some fresh air. So long as the temperature is above 50 and below 95, I firmly believe that natural, non-filtered air is a fundamental human right. I promise, I will not jump. I will not fall out and sue. I will close and lock the window when I leave. Just let me open my window and have my air.
  • a solid breakfast, which includes some high-protein options. Omelet bar is the best. No breakfast is the worst. A sad array of sweet breads is almost as bad.
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    No.

  • a real bar. JUST in case I’d like to take a glass of wine or bourbon up with me to my room. These are some long days, friends, and there are still emails to answer and clothes to iron before bed. Bonus if there’s a free happy hour (this happened twice this week!)
  • a Keurig coffee maker. I know, I know. They are terrible for the environment. But, when I wake up bleary-eyed and in need of immediate caffeine, they are just so easy.
  • a gym with a stability ball and a medicine ball. Because core.
  • a decent place to pop out in the morning for a run even when it’s still dark out. It needs to be well-lit, flat, and safe. I try my best to scout this out online, but there’s always a sense of the unknown when booking a room somewhere unknown.
  • legit blackout curtains. For early bedtimes much more so than late, lazy mornings.
  • I seldom expect this but am thrilled when it materializes: a robe!

    A nice, too quick stay at Temecula’s South Coast Winery.

Things that actually annoy me or that I care nothing about on these short stays: a pool, a concierge, valet parking, laundry, and free cookies (stop it, Doubletree!).

After a week on tour, I’m happy to say that many of these places hit the mark. The Embassy Suites in Valencia was a nice surprise. And I certainly cannot complain about Pasadena’s Langham Huntington, where I’m spending my last two nights. Treat yo’self!

Next week – lobster and coastline in Maine!
What do you want in your hotel?

One Small Thing That Makes Air Travel So Much Better

Like so many of us, I don’t particularly like flying. At best, it’s a necessary evil made bearable with a novel, a glass of wine, and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. At worst, it’s utter misery, as evidenced by stories like these.

But, really, when you think about it, flying is actually pretty amazing. Remember Louis C. K.’s epic rant? “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky,” he exclaims. Indeed, we are many miles in the air, traveling to another state, another country, or halfway around the world in mere hours. And we get to see some amazing things from up there. I’m always surprised when people in the window seat draw the shade, never to open it again. Why miss out on the sunrises and sunsets? The landscape of the place you’re leaving or the place you’re going?

One of my favorite things is to fly in and out of my hometown of Charlottesville. One flight path takes you right over Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Once, I was able to find my house. Sometimes, I try to pick out certain mansions that I know only by their imposing gates and fancy-schmancy names. For the few minutes it takes to take off or land, I am both creeping on and savoring my town with every ounce of my being.

But many times, I don’t know much about the places I’m traveling in and out of. Or flying over. So, the experience is made so much more interesting and meaningful when I’m told what the heck I’m looking at.

Where was this? Wish I’d known!

I recently flew from Fresno to Phoenix on a cloudless day at a fairly low altitude. For much of the flight, what I saw out the window was otherworldly. Brown and barren yet incredibly dramatic, with very few roads. But every so often, I’d see a lone house, or something vaguely industrial, or something that might qualify as a town in the middle of all the nothingness. What was it? Where was I? I guessed Nevada or very eastern California, but I would have loved to have known for sure.

Yesterday, on the other hand, I flew from Charlotte to L.A., and before we even took off, the pilot told us, “Today we’ll be flying over the Great Smoky Mountains (where we might hit a couple of bumps), then into Kansas (just south of Wichita), then over the southern part of Colorado, where you’ll start to see the Rockies. Those on the left will see the Grand Canyon as we get closer to the end of the flight.”

I count three natural wonders in that announcement (four if you count Wichita). Three chances to glimpse what people center entire vacations around, in the space of five hours. Given this, should we be so quick to conclude that flying sucks?

The Grand Canyon

As a further courtesy, this pilot (who I’ve decided loves his job and is just all-around awesome) would pop onto the P.A. every now and then to tell us to look out the window. “Those on the right can see Lake Tahoe right now, and those on the left can see the Grand Canyon,” he said, pulling my eye from my novel to the landscape below. A bit later, he was back: “Right now, those on the left will see Palm Springs and the Salton Sea,” he said, as we started our descent into LAX. I have to go to Palm Springs in a few days, so it was especially interesting to glimpse it from above, and I was grateful to be oriented to where we were.

If I had my way, these announcements would be a requirement on every flight (those lucky souls who can sleep on planes may disagree with me).

Is your pilot not sharing? Then maybe you’re lucky enough to have a built-in seat screen with a map option, so you can click away from your 25th viewing of The Notebook for quick checks of where you are in time and space. I recently had one of these on a SAS flight to Copenhagen, and even though much of the flight was spent over the Atlantic, way too high up to see anything, it still added to my experience to be able to tell myself, “Wow, I’m flying over Newfoundland right now.”

Even better: there’s a new app called Flyover Country, which uses GPS technology (not wi-fi) to tell you exactly what you’re flying over. It also links to related Wikipedia articles if you want to learn more. You need to be at a relatively low altitude and cloud cover must be minimal, of course, for you to be able to see and for the app to function optimally, but still – very cool. I hope to try it out on my way home next weekend!

The World’s Best Bagels…and So Much More

“Arriving in Charlottesville from the lush, rural Virginia countryside, you almost feel like you’ve stepped back into ancient Rome.” – The New York Times

“Just two hours from Washington DC, C-ville (as the locals call it) offers quiet country retreats and horseback rides in nearby Shenandoah National Park, the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains, as well as a wealth of history that includes the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Its array of restaurants offer exceptional gastronomic variety.” – The Guardian

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Photo: static1.squarespace.com

Not to brag or anything, but my adopted hometown of Charlottesville regularly tops all the charts: “Healthiest small towns.” “Best college towns.” “Top places to retire.” “Best tennis towns.” “Best places for book lovers.” And even “America’s happiest city.”

Locals outwardly scoff and grumble about how each new accolade will bring even more people and more traffic to our ever-expanding town. But, deep down, I think we all like knowing that we’re spending our lives in a place that doesn’t suck. Hey, if Southern Living, Travel and Leisure, CNN Traveler, and so many others think my town is the greatest, I’ll happily use that knowledge to validate my life choices.

But it’s more than just validation I seek; it’s appreciation. Because as I sit in traffic, buy my groceries, and navigate my to-do lists, it’s so easy to forget that I live in a special place. So, for all of the cynicism that might accompany them, our “best-of” lists can really serve as a nice reminder of what we have going for us.

Just now, as I did my morning Facebook scroll, I came across yet another Charlottesville superlative. “The best bagels in the world are in Charlottesville, Virginia,” the piece began. True or not, I was reminded of how lucky I am to live within walking distance of some pretty spectacular carb-bombs.

I also love reading other people’s impressions of the area, for example, this piece from the Packed Suitcase blog. It’s fun to think, “People come to my hometown for their vacation.”

Need other reminders of Charlottesville’s awesomeness? For just a few, check out:

Now all this place really needs is a Wegman’s. Oh, but wait!

Rangeland: Off the Beaten Path in Paso Robles

Last month, Joe and I spent a few days in Central California’s Paso Robles wine region. Located halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, near the coast and close to cool places like San Luis Obispo and Cambria, it’s definitely gaining popularity, but still manages to hold onto to its laid-back feel.

We started at Tobin James, on the eastern edge of the region. I’d been there about ten years ago, and I remember it being unpretentious and fun, with free tastings and amazing  zinfandel to boot. It was early – after noon but just barely – and we had a cool and attentive pourer, Jill, all to ourselves. After a very generous tasting (and, as a result, a new wine club membership), we asked her: “Which other wineries would you go to?”

Boom. Out came a map and a pen. “You should definitely check out Rangeland,” Jill said, circling a spot in the remote northwestern part of the wine region. “You’ll need to make an appointment. The owner might be able to take you on a personal tour of his ranch, and then you taste wines in his living room.” Sold.

We contacted the owner, Laird Foshay, to try and arrange a tour, and he responded within a few hours. In his email, he suggested we print out or write down the directions, because cell reception might be spotty. He wasn’t kiddin’.

11 a.m. the next morning, we’re driving down a quiet, windy country road to another, more deserted country road, until we eventually get to a gated driveway. We punched in the code Laird provided, entered the ranch, and…kept on driving. (And, yes, cell reception was most definitely spotty.)

2016-08-13-10-52-50Another mile or so in, we approached a sprawling hilltop home, and there was Laird, cowboy hat and all. He welcomed us inside, and we soon learned that he was a former Silicon Valley tech guy who had moved his family down to the ranch in 2001. Since then, he’d taken up raising grass-fed cattle, sheep, and maintaining a vineyard. Like ya do.

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Laird took us all around the 1500 acre ranch — which we’d since learned was named Adelaida Springs — occasionally stopping to let his dog Arrow hop out to hunt for squirrels (he had just one confirmed kill on our tour; his all-time record on a ranch tour was seven).

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It was impossible to imagine Laird staring at a computer screen, writing code. While we were fascinated by how a former tech guy decides to become a serious rancher, he was far more interested in teaching us about the soil, trees, and Native American artifacts he occasionally unearths. (But you can get his story here and here.)

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Partway through the hour-long tour, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what this was going to cost. This busy and important guy – the owner of the property – was personally driving the two of us around in a gas-guzzling pickup truck, and teaching us more than I’ve learned in some earth science courses. This could run us a hundred bucks or more! Oh well…we were committed. And whatever it would cost would be worth it.

We returned to his living room and onto the wine-tasting portion of our visit. Drinking at noon was becoming a theme of this trip.

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The wines were wonderful; we bought two bottles of the zinfandel to bring home with us. And the tour price? A cool ten bucks each.

This success called for some pizza. And, of course, some more wine.

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What’s the take-home from all of this? Three things:

  1. Paso Robles is wonderful. Less pretentious and pricey than Napa/Sonoma. Amazing wines and some real undiscovered gems.
  2. Ask a local, particularly one who knows the ins and outs of an industry, for advice on what to see and do. We never would have sought out Rangeland without Jill’s expert advice, and it was definitely a trip highlight.
  3. If you want to transform your life, Laird Foshay is proof-positive that you can make it happen!

 

 

The Pepsi 10K, one year later.

Late last summer, my angry low lumbar spine was soaking up the sweet, sweet goodness of a series of epidural steroid shots. I was told that the benefits, if any, would be gradual, but I woke up the day after my first shot feeling fresh and new and pain-free for the first time in years. Gone was my morning hobble and its accompanying grumpiness. Gone was the pain that shot down my right leg after driving for more than 10 minutes, which left a series of doctors, chiropractors, and physical therapists baffled. 

This was great, but how would running be? Tentatively, I went out to try the Pepsi 10K, a local favorite that benefits Special Olympics. It was one year ago this week. 12047030_10102333139441666_3143013651970462020_n

Mile 1 was downhill and adrenaline-charged. Hard to gauge what was happening. But by mile 2 and 3, I was sure: the pain was gone! I welled up. Running had suddenly been transformed from a painful slog (yet a habit I stubbornly refused to give up) into a source of joy again. I was ecstatic. It was like Christmas.

I did not run my best race that day. But my love of running was back. My optimism was back. And I was so grateful.

And my next few weeks of running remained full of gratitude. I kept expecting the pain to return, as these spinal shots don’t work their mysterious magic forever, so I thought of each run as a gift. My back was like Charlie’s brain in Flowers for Algernon: Enjoy it while you can! But…the pain never did return. So I kept running. And added in some other good stuff like planks and squats and a foam roller. And I kept getting faster. I broke 1:45 in a half marathon in Richmond in November. I ran a 5K PR (22:28) the next month. I broke 80 minutes in the Ten Miler in March and 1:42 at the Park to Park half in April. Sub-8 minute miles no longer felt like an all-out sprint but like something I could sustain for over an hour.

Then, simply because it lined up with my travel schedule, I dared to sign up for the Stockholm Marathon in June. I ran a 3 minute PR there in June (3:45), no wall-hitting, no death wishes. Just some backlogged podcasts and then the Hamilton soundtrack, plus sun, sea, smiles, and Swedes. What was happening?!  13307481_10208563860747915_5672304648203809910_n

I was proud and feeling quite the badass. But somewhere in all of these successes, my gratitude for the simple act of running started playing second fiddle to my competitive nature, while basking in my pain-free glory was supplanted by concern for new, minor aches and pains (Achilles, feet, blah blah, boring).

Anyway, today, I ran the Pepsi 10K again, and was suddenly reminded of the wonder and appreciation I felt a year ago, as well as all of the progress I’ve made since. (And, ok, I ran a PR, too: 46:56.)  I didn’t feel that teary, awed gratitude nearly as deeply this time – maybe that would be impossible – but the rolling hills of Owensville Road were a strong reminder. It’s so easy to forget what a gift running is, you guys. And what a gift the steroid shot can be, too.

I highly recommend both.

Charlottesville: 10 Ways to Put a Ring on It

After almost two months of traveling around Europe, I picked up a new book on my last rainy weekend here in Budapest. It’s called This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, by a fellow transplanted Virginian, Melody Warnick.

The initial draw was that I wanted some inspiration for my final book chapter (“how to craft a great staycation”). But This Is Where You Belong immediately hit a nerve on a much deeper and more personal level. Because I miss home. I’m romanticizing home. Want proof? I went on and on about it just the other day!

I want to be more engaged, to make home feel like HOME. Like, where the heart is. So I ended that post with a challenge: “What are you going to do about it?” Honestly, my fear is: Nothing. Nada. I’ll fall back into my old habits as soon as the joy of being home again dissipates.

So, to help move me from big talk to action, I thought I’d apply Warnick’s 10 place attachment behaviors to help me zero in on what, specifically, I might be able to do more of to build my attachment to Charlottesville. I even gave myself a report card.

Let’s break it down. The 10 behaviors are:

  1. The wonders of walking Charlottesville in spring

    The wonders of walking Charlottesville in spring

    Walk more. I’m very fortunate to live in one of the most walkable parts of Charlottesville. On a scale from 0-100, North Downtown gets a Walk Score of 85 (Charlottesville in general is a 58). 85 translates to “very walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.” Yep. I’m three blocks from the Downtown Mall. I can walk to countless bars and restaurants, my gym, a small grocery store, a great wine shop, the post office, the library, four theatres, an arts center, two weekly farmers markets, and more. Walking just makes sense; driving does not. (And FWIW, I usually rock my 10,000 steps-per-day Fitbit goal.) Certainly, I cannot walk to work, but on days I don’t drive to Harrisonburg, I usually get in my car only if I need to go to Trader Joe’s. GRADE: A- . But this brings me to…


  2. Buy local. I love my Trader Joe’s. I love my Target. Lululemon. Anthropologie. BAY-SIC! Why do I love these generic chain stores? Fear of awkward interactions. While many people seem to be deterred from buying local because they equate “local” with “expensive,” my problem is that I fear the social interactions that can occur when people care. I can go into Target, look around, and buy nothing (err, hypothetically). The clerk doesn’t take it personally! The clerk doesn’t give a rip! It takes the pressure off. But in a local business, where I could easily be interacting with the person who carefully selected and artfully arranged the merchandise, to me it feels hugely insulting to walk out without buying something. Like, I’m entering someone’s home, sizing it up with impunity, and saying to their face, “No, I really don’t like what you’ve done with the place.” I’m probably overthinking it. I realize that Charlottesville has some amazing local businesses (I mean, hello!) and I do need to get over this weird thought process and start patronizing them more. GRADE: C

  3. Get to know my neighbors. This one is always high on my list of How to Make My Life Better. I know it would make a huge difference. And, maybe because the opportunity exists every single day, it’s something I can easily put off until tomorrow. Plus, for all of its walkability and easy contact, I swear, my neighborhood is just not social. Even the people in the five other units in my house are strangers to me. Except for the nice couple next door, no one says hello, smiles, or talks to one another. I truly don’t know why. Is it me? I need a burst of motivation here. Or something to facilitate contact. A neighborhood block party? A puppy? GRADE: D

  4. Do fun stuff. Here, I’m pretty good. Local theatre, Fridays After Five, local races, the occasional Tom Sox game. I could always do more – maybe taking advantage of all the stuff popping up at IX – but I have my share of fun. Walkability helps, for sure. GRADE: B
    Wine and music at Jefferson Vineyards.

    Wine and music at Jefferson Vineyards. Fun stuff.


  5. Explore nature. Within the immediate Charlottesville/Albemarle area, I’m getting out there. Running on the Rivanna Trail, walking the Monticello Trail, SUPing on Beaver Creek Lake, biking around the county (although less so lately; I’ve gotten scared of cars). Even yoga on Carter’s Mountain a couple of times. My commute takes me over Afton Mountain, where I get a scenic view of the Rockfish Valley. BUT: the nearby Shenandoah National Park and trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway are virtually uncharted territory for me, wonderful as they are. Yet another thing on my list that is always being put off until later. GRADE: B

  6. Volunteer. I know this research and I’ve felt the good-feels during and after volunteering. I have the time to do it. But I don’t do it nearly enough. Why? There’s the confidence problem – what could I bring to an organization? Plus, I’m often unsure how to start getting involved. Given all of that, it’s far too easy to just do nothing. These are lame excuses. (And I’d say that musical theatre is technically volunteer work, but – let’s face it – I pretty much do that for myself.)  GRADE: D

  7. Eat local. I eat out a lot and at chain restaurants very infrequently. I preemptively pine for img_5991certain Charlottesville dishes and restaurants even in advance of a trip, and I’m already agonizing over what my first meal back will be. But I can’t take too much credit: eating local in Charlottesville is easy. Toss an heirloom tomato in any direction and you’ll hit some locally-sourced something-or-other. (Now, if drink local is in this category, my grade is bumped up significantly. Local wineries are one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon and brewpubs are a close second.) I do love my Trader Joe’s standbys and I could go to the farmers markets more often and buy more local food to cook at home. But sometimes you just need your Cookie Butter and Three Buck Chuck. GRADE: B+

  8. Become more political. I vote in all the elections. I watch the local news a few times a week. I went to see Obama when he was here a few years ago. That’s about it. My politics mesh well with the majority of Charlottesvillians. I have no major gripes, apart from the notable absence of water fountains at Riverview Park. (Right?) Until something (volunteer work?) shakes me from my blissful ignorance, I’m not sure this one will change anytime soon. #notproud  GRADE: D

  9. Create something new. I have friends who create and innovate: Staff and volunteers at arts organizations. Tireless fundraisers. Small business owners. Architects. Can I bask in their glory on this one? No? Fine. The closest I’ve come is working to create a local musical theatre production or concert. And I’ve created new courses and research projects at work, but that’s an hour away, not in my immediate community. This counts for something. But without kids, and knowing that generativity (passing something on for the future; leaving a legacy) is a primary challenge of middle adulthood, this is one worth thinking about. GRADE: C

  10. Stay loyal through hard times. To my knowledge, Charlottesville hasn’t really had hard times since I’ve arrived. I mean, there’s been stuff. But it’s mostly a wonderful place to live. See this, this, and this. So, I’m happy to say I have no data on this one! GRADE – ??

Looking at this list, I see some themes: I’m very tied to the physical and material aspects of home. Nature. Activities. Food and wine. But, my overall engagement-GPA sucks. Why? Several major deficits jump out, and they all have to do with people. I don’t know my neighbors. I don’t volunteer. I’m not involved in politics, and I seldom collaborate to create something new. Why? Honestly? Introversion. Okay, mild social anxiety. Saying hi to neighbors is kinda scary. Asking “how can I help?” might result in the realization that…I really can’t help: I have no useful skills. Awkward! It’s not time, energy, or lack of interest holding me back; it’s just straight up fear that keeps me from building a greater bond with home. A pretty useful realization, actually. Something I can work with.

I’ve lived in four states on two coasts. After grad school, I felt pulled back to Charlottesville even while living in two decidedly fantastic places, Santa Monica, CA and Portland, OR. And now I choose to live an hour from my job just so I can be there. Time to get over myself and start making the most of it!

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