Venice, Italy

Tuesday.

I was supposed to go to London for fashion week. But I can’t seem to say “no” to beer, brats and bread. Actually, I’m gluten free – like the trendy hipster I am – so more likely it’s wine, veal sausages and Italian olive oil. Either way, the closest I was getting to a cat walk was the carpet runner from the sofa to the wine fridge. To keep myself in the game, I took a small modeling job in Venice, Italy. I convinced one of my besties and her two tiny tots to join me and mine on a 48 hour adventure to the amazing world of canals and bridges and masks because it’s

VENICE DURING CARNIVAL!

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Let me admit that I had never heard of Venice Carnival. Thanks to wikipedia, my image of it was much more Mardi Gras than 19th century masquerade ball. In truth it was somewhere in between. People were dressed in outlandish costumes that ran in the thousands of dollars, being followed by flocks of hungry pigeons eyeing the feathers and camera totting tourists with the same enthusiasm. We liked the birds better.

One of the advantages of living in Europe is it’s very economical to fly from city to city. We found flights for less than 50 Euro per person round trip for our quick stay. However, everything is extra. Luggage, for instance, can easily cost twice the ticket value. So we packed light. It was only 48 hours after all. How much do we really need?

Upon landing, I received the following email…..

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SHIT.

We immediately squatted in the baggage terminal logging on to book a return ticket before the other 100+ passengers realized their predicament only to find out the next flight off the island wasn’t until Saturday. It’s Tuesday. We were screwed.

We gathered our gaggle of children, bundled up and headed for the 50 minute water taxi. Water taxi = boat. Of course because we’re traveling to a city half under water. This is the part of the story where I tell you I get seasick in the shower.

It gets worse.

Wednesday morning, our only full day in the city (before the baggage strike that stranded us and our 2 pair of underwear for an additional 3 days), my 5 year old wakes up with a fever. In a hotel. In Italy. We hunkered down in bed in our only pair of pajamas for 24 teary, traumatic hours. My friend and her kids dressed up in their fasching finest and headed out to see the sights. I’ll share their photos as mine were of the hotel ceiling and black out drapes.

The next morning everyone was healthy and I had a photo shoot to rush to. Not having an Italian make up artist, my dear friend watched a herculean amount of Youtube videos and was able to transform me from soccer mom to Carnival Queen.

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To my dear friend who turned me into a Kardashian with half a suitcase of make up and false eyelashes, thank you.  To the creator of photo editing, God bless you. You make my eye bags less depressing. To the photographer and the male model on the gondola, thank you for not making us actually leave the pier. It’s hard to maintain a classic red lip while hurling over the side of a canoe.

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Venice itself is an amazing city. You’ll need your weight in gold to afford a cup of coffee but that coffee, with its delicate notes of expresso, will taste like it was poured by Sofia Lauren in a silk neglige at sunset.

Of course we couldn’t afford said coffee because Venice during Carnival is 100x more expensive than Venice in May and by Friday at noon, our budget was blown.

We checked out of our luxurious fabric walled hotel (I became intimately involved in the details of the room as I spent my first 24 full hours in its loving care) and headed for the pier.

Not having the combined cash to take a $150 taxi off the island, we took a water taxi to the main side then hauled our children and luggage on to the city bus.  Our “luggage” now included grocery store bags of juice boxes, restaurant bread sticks and every bit of hotel shampoo which, thanks to desperate ingenuity, made great sink laundry soap. We sat among local Italians, immigrants and the occasional chicken for the 50km ride to the countryside where we’d spend our final romanesque nights.

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Agriturismo.

There’s an amazing movement across Europe – giving families, millenials and busy city dwellers the opportunity to participate in working farms – milk the cows, feed the goats, churn the butter – in exchange for a less expensive stay on the property. There’s something humbling about feeding the birds in Louboutin heels because you couldn’t spring for an international credit card.

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We made it home hungry and humbled.

I have three takeaways from my grand Italian adventure:

  1. Shit happens. Sometimes the plane gets canceled. Sometime people get sick. Sometimes the pigeon poops on your head. You can’t prepare for everything. You’ve got to learn to roll with it.
  2. If anyone tells you to “roll with it” when you’re vomiting over the side of a boat, punch them in the face.
  3. Travel with friends. Good friends. Friends that will help you when your kid gets sick, will paint your eyebrows on when you over pluck, will delete the pictures from their phone when you’re laying on the floor of the city bus singing “Amazing Grace” while Giuseppe chain smokes and tries to grab your ass.

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And, wherever you go, Run to Win.

 

 

 

 

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I’m on a mission to run in every European country to raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease which has sidelined my super athletic father. In the process, I’ve found my mission isn’t just to support PD sideliners but to encourage everyone to Run to Win – to lace up your sneakers and go for it – whatever that is, whatever the obstacles. And this blog is where I share my adventures along the way.

Czechia – the Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia. Ancestral home of Ivana Trump and Madeleine Albright. (Take a moment to process that…)

There are three distinct take-aways from my time in the Czech Republic.

  1. Everyone smokes. The lady bagging her fresh vegetables at the market, the man opening his store front on the street corner, the woman walking her dog. It’s like a giant Marlboro commercial.
  2. Everyone wears fur. The lady bagging her fresh vegetables at the market, the man opening his store front on the street corner, the woman walking her dog. It’s like a giant PETA protest.
  3. It’s cold. It’s the kind of cold that makes you want to light up a Virginia Slim, pour yourself a glass of Bozkov Vodka and surround yourself in the warm embrace of the neighbors golden retriever.

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Prague is a magnificent city. If you haven’t been there yet, put it on your “to do” list.

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The architecture is inspiring, the history harrowing, the beer overflowing. Friends traveling with me went to a “beer spa” where they literally soaked, nude, in a barrel full of beer.

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I left my friends to marinate in their Michelob and I went for a run.

Large cities like Prague, Vegas, NYC, have an active, vibrant nightlife. I enjoy running early in the morning when you see men doing the walk-of-shame from red light districts across town and woman closing up shop for a well deserved rest. The streets are dirty and smelly – a filth you don’t see late at night with the bright overhead lights holding your gaze. The city looked different in the morning, littered with remnants of fireworks, butts of cigarettes and broken bottles from a previous night’s celebration. The tourists hauling cameras with tri pods and massive North Face coats outnumbered those of us running that morning. I was passed by a few men, lean and fast, running over the Charles River Bridge on the way up the massive hill to the iconic castle overlooking all of Prague. The view at the top worth the agony of the climb, as it always is, in life and in sport.

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The Czech people are very unique. I read someone’s list of three ways to be Czech:

  1. To be a Czech you must smoke cigarettes, especially as you walk down the street so all other pedestrians have to keep you in their sights at all times so as to not burn their coats.
  2. To be a true Czech, have “I am Sceptical” as your default facial expression.
  3. To be a true Czech, don’t be too optimistic. It means you haven’t done all of your research.

I found the people of Prague to be kind, though not terribly warm. They did however take pride in themselves. The ladies were always well dressed – though the skirt hems were significantly shorter than a Vegas strip club. The men were stern and confident. I blinked first every time.

In the morning I went for a run. Then I went to the spa.

Baden Baden in Germany hosts my favorite spa – a series of Roman Baths and saunas. Karlovy Vary is a med-spa town in the Czech Republic with a series of these ancient mineral therms as well as clinics and recovery hotels where the world’s rich and famous go for a nip, tuck and recovery. There is something intimidating and liberating about being completely naked with a group of very large, very confident Eastern European men soaking in an ancient mineral bath. First, you’re so glad to be thawing out from the freezing cold, you don’t care that you haven’t shaved in a day, or two, or that last nights make up is sweating down to your knees. Second, as you find yourself mere inches from a gaggle of Russian senior citizens, you start to have a real appreciation for American’s obsession with circumcision.

The bath houses are filled with old Roman statues, tiles and art. Nearby was the location of the oldest ceramic piece in the world, the Venus of Dolni Vestonice.

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Now we know why the Czech’s created a med spa town known for breast implants and tummy tucks. No need to belt your boobs, ladies. There’s a spa for that.

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The first bath house I went to had a series of steps that you had to follow in order. First, the shower. Second, a warm room. Third, a very hot room. Then you had the choice to sit in a steam spa or get a scrub down from a young pool boy named Petr. I chose the scrub down. It’s a mix of insane insecurity, a tad bit of arousal mixed with more insecurity. Nudity + warm steam + warm gentle pools + hot tiled aroma therapy + LARGE, HAIRY RUSSIAN MEN.

I’ve since returned to the mineral baths in various parts of central europe and I am a believer. Europeans know how to relax. My skin is cleaner, my mind is clearer and I care just a little bit less about what people think of me.

Body image is tough. I’ve modeled on and off for years and one thing remains true – everyone is insecure about something. Dimples on the thighs, the roll over your skinny jeans, a receding hair-line, wrinkles that seem to multiply overnight…. everyone has something. It’s a great equalizer, actually.

Like the confident Czechs and the men strutting their stuff in the Roman Bath houses, we all need to stand up straight and own it. Own where we are right now. Embrace the dimples and folds. That doesn’t mean we get complacent. We can’t get lazy. There’s too much at stake. We have to keep pushing – keep working towards something – faster, stronger, fitter, healthier, smarter, better at our craft, better as a partner, parent, friend. But love where you are in this moment.

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Run to win. Fur optional.

 

 

 

 

What does a motivational running blog have to do with an election?

Regardless of what side you fall on, a new era is before us. I, in my 30’s, can not think of another time when we have been so hopeless about our future and each other. Like the last quarter of a 5k or the 22nd mile of a marathon, when our muscles have depleted their resources and our motivation is waning, we have to engage that spiritual muscle of hope in our training and faith in our body to cross the finish line. It’s the muscles we need to reach the end of the race, finish the match, to compete when the game is on the line.

Cliff McCrath, 1978 NSCAA Coach of the Year who retired second on the all time collegiate coaching wins list, talked about the political protesting of the inauguration almost like a game. He said, “But, just as I felt bad about other losses, I buckled down and threw myself into the process…” Imagine if he had let his players walk off the field, game half over. Imagine if the striker or point guard or quarterback decided not to play the game because he didn’t like the opponent. Would we support them?

As for me, I don’t see this election as a game-ender. If you have deleted friends over this or they have deleted you, well, then they weren’t very good friends. The sun will still rise in the morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that. But the world seems pretty pissed off.

Good friends, spouses, roommates, teammates, should always come ready to play, ready to win.

Election Day 2017.

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Screw the stick figures. Be like LaToya and Kathy….

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Two Americans in Europe.

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One of us is a registered Republican, one a Democrat. One of us was active duty, one of us opposed the second gulf war. One of us experienced the raw hatred of racism, one of us has only known the white bubble of privilege. Despite it all we have laughed together, wept together, shared our hopes for the future as our young daughters braided each others hair.

You can decide to disappear when things get tough.

We’ve decided to show up.

Be the change you want in your leaders.

It’s our right to show up and protest. Protest cyber bullies by supporting each other on social media. Protest loneliness by getting to know your neighbors. Protest hatred by practicing empathy. Protest extremism by seeing another’s point of view.

Play fair. Be humble. Practice equality. Above all, be kind! Kindness has a ripple effect that will have more impact on the world than any protest, law or lawmaker.

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Get in the game! It’s not over yet. In fact, it’s not even half time.

Play hard – give it everything you’ve got. Don’t get lazy with your body, mind, spirit. Athletes exercise their bodies to stay fit, stay competitive, stay in top form. It’s how we win the game. We have to exercise our spiritual muscles to be competitive in our every day lives so when the hard times come – and they always come – we’re in top shape! Strengthen the muscles of kindness, empathy, compassion.

You’ve all gone to the inauguration, um, stadium to see the runners race. Everyone runs, one wins. Run to win. They’re after a personal fortune, err, prize that tarnishes and fades. You’re after a gold that’s eternal. 1 Corinthians 9:24 (kind of…)

Exercise the spiritual muscle of HOPE. Run to win.

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When my father turned 80 this past month, I racked my brain to come up with the perfect gift. A new book? A sweater? A fabulous dinner out?

Pot Brownies.

But then I remembered it’s still illegal in Florida so we went to the Netherlands.

My folks came to Europe to visit and we decided to drive up to Holland to visit my father’s ancestral home in the Friesland area of Holland.

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There are 3 notable things about the northern most provence:

  1. There are more cows than people.
  2. It’s flatter than Kansas after a tornado
  3. “The Dutch are Very Practical People.” Famke Jannsen

I tried to find an organized road race where I could talk about Parkinsons, EU Parkinsons Foundation, about my family, about my adventure and about fitness in that part of the world. But I couldn’t find one. So, I just went for an un organized 5k run. It was… practical. I wandered a bit too far down the road and interrupted a city hall meeting with almost the entire town. Despite their physical cues against it, I managed a quick selfie.

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We stayed on a working dairy farm a stones throw from the farm of my forefathers. Farming is no joke – but they’ve mastered it. The barns are functional but not completely mechanical. The houses are built for the strong North Sea winds but not too comfy that you get lazy. The food is good but not that good…  My daughter loved exploring the farm. She pet every cow and calf, every barn cat, every goat, every flea. By day three everything we owned smelled like cow.

Our second night  on the farm one of the cows went into labor. My fabulous farm night sleep was interrupted with horrific sounds coming from the barn. Having had a natural birth, and with my body shivering in sympathy, I leaned out the window and shouted, “HANG IN THERE SISTER!”

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The next day, I made it known that all I wanted out of my Big Dutch Adventure was a photo in front of a windmill. So classic – so Dutch – so perfect! My parents were resting so I grabbed my 4 year old and declared,

“WE WILL NOT RETURN UNTIL WE HAVE FOUND A WINDMILL!”

After an afternoon driving through flat farms, passing cow, sheep, goats, more cows, dodging small bicycles, tandem bicycles, cows riding bicycles? bicycles leaving pot cafes riding two feet per hour….  we found it. WE FOUND A WINDMILL! The clouds parted, the sun shown down upon us and my sidekick took the photo. We climbed back in our car and drove home, triumphant! I finally had my windmill photo!

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Back together again, we explored the downtown and the family butcher shop which, turns out, is still family owned. My father connected with family he hasn’t seen since 1949 and we replicated a family photo 50 years later.

One afternoon we explored the nearest college town called Leeuwarden. I thought about grabbing my father a robust brownie to take the edge off his Parkinsons but that’s just not his style. We enjoyed the view. Canals, house boats, steep pitched roofs and tiny doorways. We ate some marzipan.

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Then we ate some more marzipan.

I’m asked a lot about my diet and lifestyle. It’s become very practical – very Dutch. Drink a glass, not the bottle. Eat a chocolate square, not a chocolate bar. Lean protein, fruits, veggies, nuts seeds, fresh air, a daily sweat, a daily sweet, family, friends, laughter, prayer, contemplation, meditation, forgiveness and thankfulness.

As this election cycle comes to a much needed end, (WTF is going on over there? I leave for 3 months and the whole country goes to hell in a handbasket.) I’m going to focus less on addressing negativity and more on being an encourager, a joy-giver. As the holiday season comes racing towards us like a rabid bull, I’m going to focus less on living a lavish lifestyle of presents and parties and more on living a thankful life.

imgres.png“Theres always something to be grateful for.”

I’m going to be thankful for five things every single day. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s healing. It’s as good for the heart as a long run, takes half the time and you can do it in yoga pants at the grocery store check out or while on a bicycle – in the Netherlands – playing chicken – with a cow.

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I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for the rare opportunity to learn about our shared history. I’m thankful for travel, good food, and windmills.  I loved the Netherlands and I can’t wait to go back.

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It’s fashion week in Milan, Italy. That means 3 things for me.

  1. I wish I was still young and thin and wrinkle free enough to walk a runway or pose outside Jimmy Choo with a pair of shoes three times my income.
  2. I wish I were wealthy enough to buy said pair of shoes
  3. I wish I had picked a different week to visit the city – because at this time in this city, I had to stay…

IN A YOUTH HOSTEL.

For those of you who have never back packed across Europe, visited NYC on NYE or ran out of money a week before pay day, let me enlighten you to the realities of hostels.

  1. You’re sharing a kitchen, living area, bathroom and sometimes bedroom with complete strangers who sometimes lack the finances (and possibly hygiene) to stay at the Four Seasons or even the local HOJO.
  2. Strangers can be a gift from God. They can also be s&m dungeon masters who rock the bed from 11pm – 12am, 2:15 – 3am, 4 – 5am? pausing for a smoke break on the shared terrace 2 feet from your bunk bed.
  3. see “bunk bed.”

Thankfully, I was traveling with a good friend and 3 children so we had a private room and I had someone to commiserate with at 1130pm, 230am, 430am….

Italian drivers are insane. Mopeds will hit a pedestrian for sport. But I take my hat off to this local. Because the birthplace of modern fashion means getting home from the runway …. on a bike …. at night … in 3 inch pink heels.

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Italy is beautiful. The architecture on the main roads is lovely but most captivating are the tiny archways tucked between store fronts that expose incredibly beautiful courtyards – hidden gems that are mostly missed by the greedy millennials racing around looking for the best bargain Prada to impress their friends back home.

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The expresso was invigorating but the cup so small I felt less glam drinking it and more like I had taken the blue pill and gone down the wrong rabbit hole. The food was incredible. Smoked meats, artesian cheeses, crisp, local vegetables soaked in home grown olive oil plucked by Sophia Lauren. Heaven.

I didn’t run in Italy. Partly because I couldn’t find a race in the area and partly because I was so sleep deprived I would have finished some time the following day.

Enter Switzerland.

First, I have been shocked by how close the countries are. I drove from Germany to Italy in less than 5 hours and went back to Germany via Switzerland in the same amount of time. The Alps are incredible. St. Moritz is probably the most beautiful part of the world I’ve seen thus far. The mountains climb so high they disappear into the soft, fluffy clouds. The alpine water below is the most captivating color of blue/green I’ve ever seen up close.

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The villages are full of stone and plaster cottages heavily adorned with detailed mosaics harking a time of skilled artists and craftsmen. Every mile was a chapter from a fairy tale and the children were awe struck at every mountain switchback turn.

On Sunday I ran. It was less than 3k but it felt like a marathon. Partly because I was exhausted, partly because it was all hills – IN THE ALPS. My friend and I were trying to find any excuse why it was so difficult. Altitude? Only 5,000 feet. Distance? Ridiculously short. Sometimes I run and finish first, other times my legs feel like lead and I think back to all my past sins for fear of an impending stroke. I do it all to raise awareness for Parkinsons Disease but sometimes it sucks.

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I was completely alone after the first 400 meters. The cobblestone hurt my knees and I was grateful when I got onto the trail up the mountain. Then the fear set in. The fog was thick and the rain started to fall. Mist – Rain – Huge mountains – Quiet – Hillside… Lions? Tigers? Bears? Loch-Ness Monster? SHIT. I’m totally going to die up here.

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Then a thin elderly man wearing a grey hat with a green feather (can’t make this stuff up) ran past me. THANK YOU JESUS! As soon as he appeared he was gone into the mist but I instantly felt better. Sometimes a good friend calls just when we needed to hear their voice. Sometimes it’s the break we need at work or the cash you find in an old pair of jeans. Sometimes the serial killer runs past you with a stupid feather in his hat because it’s just not your day today.

Sometimes, God shows himself right when we need a reminder that we’re not alone. Maybe it’s a friend that grabs her kids and sleeping bags and says, “hell yes i’ll road trip with you!” Maybe it’s the accolade that comes when you were feeling unappreciated at home, a hug from a partner you felt drifted, a note from an old friend. We all need to be reminded to keep the faith, keep on keeping on, Run to Win.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121.

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Ah, Paris! The city of love and lust, home of fashion, art and culture. I went to the famous French city to run La Parisienne – a 40,000 woman only road race under the Eiffel Tower and around the ancient city.

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I took the train from Germany – a very fast, very cool, very comfortable multi-hour train ride through the countryside. I read French Vogue to get me in the mood for my big city adventure. I packed leather pants, cropped jackets and my favorite black heels. The Parisian ladies did not disappoint. I rarely saw locals in pants or shorts. They were decked out in summer dresses, sandals, kitten heels and wide-brimmed hats. On the subway in every direction were lovely ladies who looked like they walked right out off the runway with Chanel bags and red soled heels. The cafe lined streets had well positioned chairs to take in the sights and smells of the French women walking by – their floral perfumes lingering just for a minute behind their freshly combed hair. In the morning I had an espresso (in the worlds tiniest cup) among handsome men with pressed shirts and women with cigarettes dangling from their thin, manicured hands.

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And then there was me. Those poor leather pants never saw the light of day. It was hot and walking a large city with my 4-year-old side kick meant two things: shorts with pockets stuffed with crayons and very comfortable shoes. While the locals pulled out jewel encrusted mirrors from their Chloé handbags, I pulled out day-old juice boxes and antibacterial wipes out of my TJ Maxx travelers pouch. Sexy.

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Sunday morning was the big event – the road race. Everyone runs for a different reason. Some for time, for cancer, for spite, for revenge, for health, for camaraderie. I run for Parkinson’s and for my dad so he knows (right around mile 4) that he’s not suffering alone – I’m pretty miserable too.

The race was advertised as beginning at 945am. That might have been true, had you gone through security at 5am. I woke up at 7, got ready, walked the 2.5 miles to the race site and proceeded to spend 30 minutes in the security line only to be escorted to the chute – a half mile long gated area where we were corralled like cows to the slaughter. They released a few hundred women across the starting line every 7 minutes which meant they’d get to my group around Christmas. As luck would have it, my heat went at about 12:15pm. I had been walking, jogging or standing for over four hours and the race hadn’t even begun yet.

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Around 11am, with my phone about to die and the 1pm apartment check-out looming in front of me, I started to panic. I legitimately tried to bail and leave the corral but I could not. There was no exit, no gate I could sneak through and no personnel to recruit for my great escape. I had no way out. I thought of two things in that moment. First, I thought of yelling “BOMB!” and the ensuing stampede but I had blown my budget the day before and didn’t have enough left to post bail. My next thought was of was my father. I know there are times in his battle with Parkinson’s where he wants to escape his body but there’s no place to go. There are plenty of people who have illnesses, depression, jobs they don’t like, marriages they don’t like, with no escape. So I kept going. I ran for them.

The race itself was really fantastic – probably the greatest display of pageantry of any race to date – and I’ve run a lot of races. About every 500 meters there was entertainment of some kind. Several amazing percussion groups, singers, dancers, I’m pretty sure the entire cast of La Cage aux Folles and a drag queen or two. (or six.) My favorite was a small orchestra dressed as chickens playing the theme song to The Muppet Show. It was fantastic.

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Around mile three, my left foot started to ache, my phone’s battery died and my tampon reached max capacity. (Did I make you wince? It gets worse.) I finish the race at around 1245. (I’m sure someone kept time but it was a giant party so no one seemed to care.) I made it back to the apartment 30 minutes late and my host (though I’d rather not call him something so inviting) had already cleaned the bathroom and would not allow me to shower. So here I am, having walked a collective five miles, ran five miles and was probably covered in more blood than an amateur boxing ring. And I had to ride on a train like this for the next five hours.

Paris has a motto – Fluctuat Nec Mergitur – Latin for

“She is tossed by the waves but does not sink.”

I thought about bailing on the run but I didn’t. I thought about bailing on this entire expensive, exhausting, navigationally insane endeavor to run Europe for EU Parkinson’s but I can’t quit. You can’t quit. We have to keep going – keep being intentional in our lives and relationships – keep going no matter the obstacles – keeping encouraging each other to Run to Win.

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It’s been a while, race fans. Pour yourself a cold glass of Chardonnay and let’s recap.

I’m a hiker, skier, drinker, runner, ENFP on the Myers-Briggs Personality Test.  I’m running road races around the world – All 50 states (for me) and Europe (for EU Parkinsons) to raise awareness for the disease which has sidelined my awesome, athletic father. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/08/21/daughter-honors-former-west-point-chaplain-father-after-parkinsons.html

I’ve been in Europe now for exactly 8 weeks today. They were rough weeks. Hotels, laundry at friends houses, walking in a jet-lagged induced haze from scary-as-hell German playground to Biergartens featuring… scary-as-hell German playgrounds. Here are a few unique things I’ve learned about Germany (and most of southern Europe in general.)

German Fact #1: Everyone drinks. Want to give your 9 year old their first taste of beer? The waiter will bring you a sippy cup. Want to take your glass of Hefeweisen for a walk downtown? Go for it! And pass some around to others. Just don’t try to drink water – it’s all bubbly and sometimes so packed with magnesium it takes your colon a week to adjust.

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German Fact #2: Everyone smokes. Non-smoking section? There isn’t such a thing. From the kids sand pit to the ladies bathroom someone is smoking. And there are cigarette vending machines all around to enable your desire to smoke with every breath. Everywhere. From the gates of an 11th century castle to the edge of the black forrest – a dozen kilometers from civilization – you will find a cigarette vending machine.

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Germany Fact #3: Sunday is a day of rest. You can not shop – everything is closed. You can not go out to eat – they’re resting too. You can not mow the lawn, paint the house, wash your car or blink. And the old folks around you will call the cops if you do. So best you get your food the day before, hunker down and light up a pack of Marlboros. Because it’s Sunday. It took me a few weeks to adjust. I’m an all-american consumer and I can’t comprehend not being able to buy milk or eggs or zip ties anytime I want. But it’s a good discipline. We should go to church! Read, rest, stop and smell the roses.

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It’s hard to slow down. Hard to switch gears. This adventure has forced me to completely change course. I’ve felt depressed a few times in my life. First, during those awkward teenage years when your hormones are raging and you feel like THE SKY IS FALLING EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE SOMEBODY HUG ME! The second time was right after my daughter was born and suddenly I was responsible for keeping another human being alive. None of that prepared me for putting my entire DC life on hold and uprooting myself and my 4 year old sidekick to another part of the world where we didn’t speak the language and hadn’t prepared our colons for the perpetual onslaught of sparkling beverages. But we survived. How? Because part of this journey is about building spiritual muscle so when the hard times come – and they always come – we can not just handle it but conquer it. I spent a lot of time in prayer. I highly encourage it, whatever you believe. Have a conversation with your creator. Tell him you love him, you believe him, you’re mad at him – doubting him – tell him you feel abandoned or lost or scared. Just like in our everyday relationships, communication is key. And He will respond. It’s not always with the answer we want or when we want. He’s not into instant gratification and he’s not our cosmic cash machine. But prayer works. Try it. God is good, even when the sky is falling.

I’ve run two races here. The first run is always the hardest. I haven’t been training much and the hills are are no joke.  The first one was at the tip of the black forrest with magnificent mountain views. I didn’t do well. It was hard and I wasn’t motivated. But I did it.

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Lesson from Germany: Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and jump. For some of us, especially perfectionists, people who never fail or people who are afraid of failing, that fear will keep us from doing it. DO IT. Engage that muscle of faith and go. Jump. Run. Failing sucks but character is developed in the struggle.

The second run was a lot more fun. A dirndl 5k. I learned two things about dirndls. First, they are hot as balls. Second, only touristing Americans wear them. My German neighbors thought I had been sniffing schnitzel when I walked out the door.  I didn’t win but my time improved. I came in 3rd place… of the women wearing outfits… had there been such a category…

I’ve referenced before one of my favorite sermons my father would preach at the Academy, around graduation time, about life’s mountain peaks and valleys. The mountain peaks are joyful, celebrations of accomplishments. Life’s BIG DEALS. Graduations, weddings, births, reunions, promotions. But we don’t live on the mountain top. We live in the valley. And to get to the top we have to climb, fall back, get up and keep going. The struggle makes the top more gratifying; the view more satisfying. These first few months represented my climb up and having two races and one country down is my mountain top. It’s all down here from here.

Until the next mountain: France.

Good news, that mountain has wine.

Run to win.

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