Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Great Shoes, Just Around the Corner

 My old running shoes have seen better days. I picked them up at DSW a few years ago, a cheap pair of Reebok's that fit in my college student budget. All of the padding and support features have started to looked smushed and crumpled. On top of that, I put new shingles on a house in them, so they're covered in black tar that hasn't come off after two cycles in the washing machine.

So when I signed up for the Brooksie Way, I decided it was time for a new pair. I read that wearing worn-out shoes when training for a long race can result in shin splints or other injuries. Plus, my birthday is just a couple weeks away, so I figured I'd be safe to splurge a little, anticipating checks from my generous grandparents coming in the mail.

Initially, I figured I'd check out a few running stores in the area, find a pair that fit well, and then buy them online. I was talking to a few friends who work in retail, and no sooner had those words come out of my mouth than I realized that this mindset is exactly what is troubling many Michigan businesses. If I'm going to be serious about supporting my local economy, I need to put my money where my mouth is. My friend, who manages a local clothing store, even offered to pay me the extra few bucks it I would save in order to encourage me to buy them from the store.

I decided to visit Runnin' Gear in Waterford. The store has been around for over 30 years, sponsors several local events, and has a reputation for helping customers find the right shoe for their foot. Most of the cross country team in high school shopped there, and my mom bought a pair of shoes there when she ran a half-marathon a few years back. I remembered her talking about how she'd brought in her old pair of shoes to show the salesperson, and how they'd analyzed her wear patterns to find her the best fit in a new shoe.

I did the same, bringing in my old, tar-covered shoes. I was the only person in the store at the time and  was blessed with the undivided attention of owner Paul Coughlin, who I found out is also the co-chair of the Brooksie! I knew right away I was in good hands.

Paul examined my old shoes, and I explained all of my personal podiatric problems: overpronating, narrow ankles, wide toes, and landing hard on my heels. On pavement, I sound like a small elephant. One of my high school coaches tried to cure me of it, encouraging me to think about landing on the center of my foot rather than the heel, but it just never stuck.

Paul disappeared into the back room and returned with four boxes. One at a time, he pulled out the shoes, tied them on my feet, and explained the features of each and how they'd help with my issues. One had a marshmellow fluff-like substance in the heel for extra cushion. Another had a heel especially designed for over-pronators. Another had an orthodic footbed built right in. Four pairs might not seem like a lot of options, but being a person with very specific footwear needs and a penchant for indecisiveness, I was totally content.

Paul explained that while I might feel like I land square in the center of my heal, most people actually land on the outside corner. Lo and behold, my old shoes were worn thin in that exact spot. He also explained - taking out a plastic foot skeleton and bending it like it was running - that it makes good, anatomical sense for us to land mostly on the back of our foot. We have more bones back there for shock absorption. Trying to land farther forward puts a lot of pressure on smaller, more fragile bones.

After talking each pair for a little jog around the parking lot, I settled on the Asics Gel 3010. They're cushy in the back, wide in the front, and to top it all off, they're my favorite color - purple. A good omen, I think.

Plus, they were on sale from $120 to $99. A little pricey maybe, but considering the mileage I'm planning on getting, the great fit and excellent service (complete with mini anatomy lesson), I am one happy camper. This experience definitely beats getting a pair in the mail, only to find out they don't fit and having to send them back, and I'm pleased to be supporting a local business that really believes in good-old-fashioned customer service.

I ran five miles in my new kicks today. It was hot, and I had to work hard to resist the urge to walk, but my feet were in their own cushy, well-supported heaven. I'm pretty sure I ran faster. Thanks Paul!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Blogger on the Run

Dear readers,

I'm back! As some of you already know, I spent a big chunk of the beginning of this summer doing volunteer work in Haiti (if you'd like to read about my experiences, visit After a couple weeks of recovery, I'm ready to regale you with tales of Oakland County's fine, funky, fascinating folks once again!

 For starters, I'd like to highlight what is, in my humble opinion, one of the best things to happen to Oakland County in years: the Brooksie Way 5K and Half Marathon. The race began in 2008 to promote healthy and active living in Oakland County, and the proceeds benefit programs that do the same. The event is named after Oakland County Executive L. Brook's Patterson's late son, who was an "avid sportsman."

I'm not sure if it was post-runner's high or just a desire for challenge, but after my morning run yesterday, I signed up for the half marathon. I ran cross-country in high school, and have kept myself in decent running shape, although I've only run one or two races since then. I've always thought that running is mostly a mind game, and while the training regimen for a full marathon always sounded liked an excessive amount of time to dedicate to running, a half always seemed more reasonable.

Earlier this week, I did a little research on the Brooksie and the Detroit Free Press marathon. Both looked fun, but registration for the Brooksie was cheaper, and I wanted to support my home event! The race takes participants through Rochester and Rochester Hills, including stretches along the Paint Creek and Clinton River Trails. In our three years of living in Rochester, my husband and I spent many hours of walking, running and biking on those trails. They're well-maintained and particularly beautiful in the fall, and I'm thrilled that the race is bringing attention to them.

When I started talking about it more seriously, a friend said he was going to run the Brooksie and encouraged me to try. Yesterday morning, I got up and ran a mile farther than I normally do. I few clicks later, I was signed up.

I found a free 9-week training plan on the website for Runner's World magazine. For now, my goal is just to finish the race in under three hours. Training officially starts Monday. I plan to keep the blog posted with brief updates along the way. Today, I'm headed to Runnin' Gear in Waterford to check out some new shoes. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


We did it! Sunday afternoon Jon, myself, and our friend Alex packed up our swim suits and headed to my parents' in Waterford for an afternoon of paddleboard fun.

In the paddleboard industry, lakes and rivers are known as "flat water," Eric explained, meaning there are no waves, but none of the boards out of California are made for that. "So we’ve introduced flat water specific boards," he said.

Before I could even get my suit on, the boys were in, or rather, on, the water, paddling like pros. Getting on and balancing were way easier than I expected — I had anticipated a lot more splashing around in the cold lake. Maybe it's because we have some experience balancing on things in the water, but we basically just walked onto the boards and paddled out.

The Zecks brought four boards for  us to try — one wide "recreational" board and two narrow, sportier boards, all of which they'd made for a summer camp (read: extra durable), as well as one new, shiny one they'd just finished over the weekend. The boards are made of epoxy and fiberglass.

Here are the paddles we used.

I tried the wide board first, and it was a blast! It was relaxing gliding across the calm water, but it felt a bit more adventurous than canoeing or kayaking, since there was always a chance that a misstep would send me tumbling into the cold water! Overall I felt pretty secure though — like an ancient Hawaiian, on a mission to spear some fish or swim with wales.

The narrow board was a lot of fun too — faster and easier to navigate than the large one, but a little bit more challenging to keep balanced.

Jon and Alex tried doubling up on the wide board, and miraculously ...

managed to stay dry!

Even my parents gave the boards a go, wearing sweatshirts and shoes, and didn't get wet.


Even Max, the Zeck's Yorkie, likes paddleboarding!

You can feel good about buying a board from Dan and Eric, because they're not only locally manufactured, but are made almost entirely with Michigan materials.

"I really just tried to source every single product we manufacture in state, and if not in state, in the U.S.," Eric said.

Here's Eric showing Jon his wakeskate.

Dan (right) and my Dad checking out the newest board.

For more information or to purchase a board, contact Dan at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Surf's Up!

I am so stoked for this.

My parents have been telling me about some friends of theirs, a father and son, who are building paddleboards, which are kind of like a cross between a kayak and a surfboard, as far as I can tell.

I recently had a chance to talk to the son, Eric, about his creations, and Sunday afternoon I get to try one.

"They’re basically big surfboards that you’re able to stand up on," Eric said, "but they displace a little more water and they’re a lot thicker than a regular surf board."

Paddleboards are native to places like Hawaii, and were originally intended for catching big waves, but they've started to migrate to the Midwest.

Northerners are discovering that the boards are "good for cross-training workouts," Eric said, because standing on the board "activates your core muscles or stabilizer muscles because you’re not on a stable platform."

Similar to a pilates workout, Eric said, "it's one of those things you can do for fun that hones in on those muscle groups."

Boards can now be spotted on lakes and rivers far, far from the Big Water, partly because of Eric.

Eric owns his own fiberglass company, mostly making parts for airplanes. He grew up on a lake and started making his own wakeskates - like a skateboard without trucks that's pulled behind a boat like a wakeboard - in the mid-'90s.

When Eric's dad, Dan, was looking at "one of his old man outdoor magazines," as Eric so gently put it, he spotted a paddleboard and asked Eric to build him one. The construction for a paddleboard is very similar to a wakeskate, Eric said, just a few feet longer.

"He’s retired and he got talking to his buddies about how I was going to build him this paddleboard, and it was going to be awesome, and it started generating a lot of interest," said Eric.

"We looked into it, and it wound up being easier to buy everything in bulk and build a bunch of them at one time instead of one or two."

Since then, Eric's built nine boards, and he's got requests for another dozen. Bad economy or not, us Michiganders are still dedicated to our toys, particularly the lake-going variety.

I, for one, do not intend to miss out on the action.

My husband and I will be meeting up with Eric on Williams Lake in Waterford this Sunday to give paddleboarding our best shot. We've both got wakeboarding experience, but I imagine it will feel pretty different without the pull of the boat. Oh yeah, and there's that fear of falling into the pre-July Michigan lake water ...

So pray for warm weather, and keep an eye out for an update with photos, hopefully a few of them with me actually standing on this thing!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Going to Haiti

Dear World Wide Web,

I'm going to Haiti.
More to come later.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Change for Detroit

As some of you may already know, I’m pretty passionate about my generation — the Gen-X/Y’ers, the iPod generation, the Millennials, whatever you want to call them — and what I believe they can accomplish with a little help from those that went before them.

Last weekend, I was given further evidence of their incredible potential.

I work with the youth ministry at my church, and the leaders there are just as passionate—if not more—about the difference they believe these kids can make in their families, their communities and the world. They’ve got some pretty incredible vision for this area specifically, and right now it’s manifested itself as Reverse — a historic week of community service built on the idea of unifying the suburbs and the city.

Reverse will involve 250 students from churches and organizations in suburban Metro Detroit and another 250 from the churches and organizations in Detroit spending a week this summer living together on the campus of Wayne State University. They’ll eat, sleep, play, worship and work together, doing community service projects both in the city and in the suburbs (yes, poverty and struggle exist in the suburbs too, if you care to look close enough). The idea is to bridge the historic, cultural, ethnic, and denominational lines that divide the two sides of the I-75 corridor through students’ relationships with each other. Pretty high aspirations, eh?

Last weekend, hundreds of students from Troy, Birmingham, Lake Orion, Rochester and Clinton Township converged with students and families from Detroit at Second Ebenezer church to kick off the project. City kids and suburban kids sat side by side in a huge auditorium and listened to speakers their parents’ age talk about how they can be the catalyst for a great movement in Metro Detroit. The energy was incredible.

I know there will be naysayers. There will be parents from Rochester who tell their kids that Detroit isn’t safe. There will be elders from the Detroit community who say the motives of people from the suburbs aren’t to be trusted. There will be people who leave comments on this blog telling me that I’m foolish to believe that things can change, that this generation is too focused on themselves to help anyone else. But honestly, I don’t think it matters. The students believe that they can make things better, and there are adults who believe in them too.

And more importantly, they believe that change matters. To them, Detroit is not just a place to check out Tiger’s games during the summer and avoid the rest of the year. It’s not just a dark blemish on an otherwise picturesque Mitten. They feel deep down that if this doesn’t change by the time their lives come to an end, they will have done something terribly wrong. They will have missed a monumental opportunity.

They feel responsible — not in the sense of pointing fingers and laying blame, but in the sense that they have the power to make things right, and to leave things as they are would be simply unthinkable.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Blight to Blossoms

Last night my husband and I were having dinner with my in-laws, who live in the Seminole Hills historic area in Pontiac, and we decided we had better get outside and enjoy the nice weather before we blinked and it was gone. We planned to go for a walk, but we didn't get any farther than across the street. The neighbors were outside working on their beautiful garden, and we had to stop and see the progress.

The garden is somewhat infamous in the area, and it was the subject of an article in the Oakland Press last summer. Two couples, Renee Voit-Porath and her husband, David Porath, along with neighbors Tina Graham and her husband, Bill Graham, lived on either side of a foreclosed home on my in-laws street, and after two years with no one living in it, the house was becoming an eyesore. The roof was leaking and the hole was barely covered with an ugly blue tarp, and pieces of the tarp were flying into the neighboring yards. It was an unfortunate spot of blight on an otherwise picturesque street.

The couples joked over dinner one night that they ought to buy the house and knock it down. When it looked like someone else might actually buy it and try to rent it out, they knew it was time to get serious. When the price was right, the couples bought the house and had it bulldozed.

Since then, the lot has been transformed into a beautiful garden. Each of the neighbors owns half, and they treat it like an extended backyard. One of the wives calls it her "Up North property."

There is clearly a green thumb or two between them. The garden is bursting with shrubs, trees and flowers - including a hedge and a tree transplanted from the old house's landscaping and grass from their own yards - and there was an asparagus planting-project underway just before our visit. Raspberry plants were beginning to creep up twisting stakes, and daffodils and some small, feathery orange flowers provided a flash of summery color here and there. There are plans for two small patios for enjoying tea in the sunshine. The Pontiac Garden Club has asked the couples to be the first stop on their annual garden tour.

The landscaping in the neighbor's own yards offer a glimpse of what could be. A paverbrick path winds around bright green hostas and a sea lily-of-the-vallies; a dreamy wisteria vine hangs heavy with delicate purple clusters. Last summer, my mother-in-law drooled over a clematis vine covered in blossoms (her own clematis has yielded about four blooms in the last few years) that climbs up the side of one of the houses.

The couples are clearly dedicated to their mutual project. "I haven't even gone inside since I got home from work," Tina said.

"If you ever see someone out here with miner's lamp on in the dark, it's me," said Renee, who bought a headlamp for nighttime gardening, with a clump of weeds in her hand.

The dirt seems to be honoring their hard work.

The moral of the story: with a little dedication, a little pride, and a little community spirit, Pontiac can be known for its blossoms, rather than its blight.