The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

August 31, 2011

How to have a successful staycation

Plan your three days off work during a week in which it will be sunny and breezy, with highs in the upper 70s and lower 80s, every single day.

If you feel just a wee bit guilty when you wake up at 8:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and proceed to leisurely drink coffee on the deck with the newspaper, get over it.

Virtuously write up a list of chores, but flagrantly disregard all of them.

Do as much as you can outside. This includes all meals, reading, guitar playing, and daydreaming.

Spend at least two afternoons at the beach. Read, doze, swim, drink Coronas, and watch your dog leap and bound with joy in the waves.

Devour the second book in the Game of Thrones series for two-hour stretches at a time. Do this on the deck if possible, with a few breaks for a slight doze in the sunshine.

Never get up before 8 a.m.

Have breakfast with a friend at a neighborhood café that always reminds you of cafés in Europe. However, unlike Europeans, order scrambled eggs and tortillas and fruit and big mugs of black coffee.

Enjoy shopping in the empty H&M store downtown. Admire your husband in a new tweed jacket with elbow patches and yourself in three fun fall sweaters.

Lazily make your way through the September issue of InStyle magazine, cold beer(s) and pita chips and goat cheese at your side.

Have your world thoroughly rocked during a small concert given by a hugely talented alt-bluegrass band.

Easily get a table at an always-crowded tapas restaurant. Go for the pitcher of sangria, the sausages, the stuffed mushrooms.

Sit out on the deck late on a weeknight. Savor the warm breeze on your skin, drink wine and listen to quiet music, and talk about everything and nothing with the one you love, as your dog sleeps at your feet.

Stay out late on a school night at the awesome Frightened Rabbits/Death Cab for Cutie concert.

See an amazing documentary that you probably wouldn’t make time for otherwise.

Get your name in early for an always insanely crowded taco joint. Kill time with drinks and aimless ambling and hipster watching. (Count the mustaches and hats.)

Do a photo walk downtown, exploring nooks and crannies in the city you’ve lived in for 10 years—but in which there’s always something new to discover, if you just keep your eyes open.

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August 15, 2011

15 minutes

My second half-marathon: It went so, so well. That’s what I've been thinking since I crossed the finish line at around 8:40 yesterday morning. The weather, the energy, the course, the crowds, the music, and me. It all went just as well as it could have.

This entry is about running, and about me preserving the memory of this race. I did my first half last September, with a primary goal of finishing without walking and a secondary goal of doing it in two hours and 15 minutes. I achieved both, but when I finished, I had this nagging feeling that I could have run faster. I hadn’t left it all on the course. It was my first big race, and I tended toward the conservative; I was afraid of flaming out halfway through and having to walk. I didn’t trust my training or myself as well as I should have.

I wanted this year to be different. During my three months of training, I did long runs with “fast finishes.” I did six- and seven-mile pace runs. My race goals were (1) to finish faster than two hours and 15 minutes and, hopefully, (2) to finish in two hours. I succeeded at both. I shaved 15 minutes off last year’s time. I did that. Me.

Nothing else in my life gives me that kind of high.

I am not a morning person, but on Sunday I woke up before my alarm at 4:45 a.m. The wind was blowing steadily, pushing cobalt-blue clouds across the dark sky. John and I were downtown in less than 20 minutes, flying down Lake Shore Drive with a smattering of other cars, some of them taxis carrying runners. We found parking on State Street and were at the start area with half-hour to spare. I warmed up, milled around, strapped on my Garmin, adjusted my visor about 16 times.

After the anthem, the waves broke quickly—I was in corral 12—and just a few minutes after the starting horn, I was moving through the start line, feeling a little choked up with excitement, that thrill of being one in a crowd of thousands of other runners, that thrill of starting.

The weather was—cool. Yes, on August 14. There was a refreshing breeze, never any real sunshine, the lightest drizzle for a few minutes at one point, and beautifully dramatic dark-gray clouds for the first few miles. No humidity. On August 14.

I liked the course much better than last year’s half, which was primarily on Lake Shore Drive. I love the lake as much as the next Chicagoan, but I run alongside it all the time. This course wound through downtown: River North, Greektown, the South Loop. I ran under the el tracks, by buildings and on blocks I’ve never seen before, up and down a few slight hills that revealed the giant pack of runners owning the street ahead of me. Best of all, the downtown location made it much, much easier for spectators to congregate along the sidewalks. The energy from the crowds was just unbelievable; sometimes I felt like they were buoying me along: musicians, cheerleaders, babies, grandparents, dogs, dancers, people with bells and drums, in costumes and wigs, and so very many signs.

I wore a paper wristband (covered in clear tape) that listed my goal times for each mile to get me to a two-hour finish. I also wrote the four locations where friends would be waiting to see me, so I didn’t have to memorize them. As each mile went by, I realized, almost in shock, that I was meeting each goal. I was on track for two hours. I was doing it!

And I just kept going. I was working hard, but I could do it. My right knee acted up, as it’s wont to do around mile 7 or 8, but I did some high marches at the next two water stops, and that took care of it. I just kept going: miles 9, 10, 11, they slid by under my feet. Just after mile 12, during a stretch where there weren’t many spectators, a friendly-looking man held a homemade sign that proclaimed, “YOU GOT THIS.” It was the exact right thing for me to read at that moment. I knew that I did have it, that I was going to do it. I ran as hard as I could through that finish line, official time of 2:00:26. I did it.

The one other sign that I remember from the race was held by a woman standing on a bridge. It’s a quote I’ve heard before but never chosen as a mantra; I tend to think things like “Believe in your training,” “Your only competitor is yourself,” “I’m 35, I’m strong, and I can run.” Her sign read, “There will come a day when you can no longer do this. Today is not that day.” I thought about that as the miles went by, and especially at the end. There will come a day when I can no longer run. Man, will I miss it. Even when it’s the very last thing I feel like doing, when it hurts or feels like a long dull slog, deep down inside I am so, so glad that I run. Now is the time in my life when I can, and when I can still keep getting faster. What else can I do?

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