Monday, November 30, 2020

3 Merry and Bright Gift Ideas for 2020

Merry and Bright in our Synergy Hats,Three-in-One Mittens
Tahoe Performance FleeceSquall Jacket
I cannot believe tomorrow is the first day of December. Already! The year has felt like the longest year ever, but somehow it'll be over before we know it...well, okay, we know it will be over in 31 days. But do you know what that means? With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday season is in full effect and I haven't even started my Christmas decorating or shopping yet! Yikes!

I don't know about you, but this year's holiday season has given me a bit of anxiety and sadness. It's still not safe to gather indoors, and the weather has turned grey and cold here in New England. But as I mentioned in my last post, Creating Joy During Stressful Times, it's important to focus on what brings us joy. There will be future holidays to celebrate indoors with family and friends. In the meantime, this holiday season can still be merry and bright. We just have to think more creatively about how to celebrate. Here are a few gift categories that are sure to brighten this holiday season.

Virtual Races

You can donate to Safe Passage through my race page
Just because the days are shorter, colder, and darker (if you live in New England) doesn't mean you can't stay active. There are so many virtual race options, and many of them donate to various charities so your gift keeps on giving. Virtual races are a fun, healthy way to stay connected with family and friends while keeping your head clear and your body moving. There are races for every athletic ability, including races that count walking  toward your team's goals. The more the merrier! Sign the whole family up! Gift a virtual race to your friends! Celebrate your "wins" with a post-race Zoom party!

Mike and I have already signed up for the Hot Chocolate Challenge, which supports Safe Passage (donate here!) and the Hartford Marathon Foundation's 12ks of Christmas, which supports Foodshare. Check out my Instagram for #HMF12ks tags each day from December 1-12 if you want to follow along! There's still time to register (11/30 deadline!). Check out details at HMF 12ks of Christmas. And if you'd like to join our team, we're the Delicate Freaking Flowers!

Virtual Events

Hawks & Reed Performance Arts Center, Oct 2019
As society adjusted to the national shutdown due to the pandemic, more and more events have turned virtual. While virtual events aren't quite the same as in-person, there are many perks to attending them. For example, they often cost less (especially when the whole household can watch on one screen), you can attend any virtual event anywhere in the country (world, actually), and you can enjoy them from the comfort of your own home. There are so many options: musical concerts, theatrical plays, and college events, story slams, museum tours, and more!

I've already attended a few prerecorded virtual writing workshops and live mingles for writers. I've also attended live virtual story slams. 

Don't know which virtual event to choose? I'd love to see you at mine! I'm actually performing in a live virtual event on January 16 for the Best of Valley Voices Story Slam, hosted by the Academy of Music and NEPR, where virtual audience members can choose their top storyteller! Who will be the Best of the Best? Buy your ticket here to watch and participate! The storyteller lineup is phenomenal! You won't want to miss it!

Winter Clothing and Accessories

Early Riser for this early hike! 
Make sure your loved ones are properly dressed for the holidays! Since outdoor activities are the safest way to socialize right now, check out IllumiNITE's new winter clothing line for warm, comfortable winter clothing that protects against the elements and looks fashionable. IllumiNITE uses reflective ink technology that lights up as bright as a Christmas tree in the dark when light shines upon it. If you shop on Cyber Monday, use code 20CYBERMONDAY for 20% off. But if you don't have time to shop on 11/30, don't worry. You can use my discount code RUNBRIGHTLY for 15% off your order at anytime! 

Our winter favorites include:

Long Sleeve Reflective Women's Piper Tee—This has become my go-to shirt for every day comfort. It's so soft and cozy! And I love the pop of color! Whether I'm watching one of my virtual events or heading outdoors for a run, this is my fave thing to wear! 

Early Riser Reflective Men's Pullover—As much as I love my long sleeve tee, Mike loves his Early Riser! It's perfect for any occasion, and keeps him warm and bright outside. Plus, the Hawaiian Blue looks absolutely amazing on him!
All bundled up on this cold
but bright day

Satellite Reflective Women's Running Tight—What are jeans these days? I'm all about comfort. These are my go-to pants, whether I'm at home, running errands, or staying active outside. Plus, they look great paired with my Piper Tee or a nicer sweater when I want to look good but stay cozy for one of my virtual events!

Women's Reflective Windbrite Pant
—Not only do these pants have fleece lining for extra comfort, their outer shell protects me from the coldest, windiest conditions. They've saved me too many times to count!

© Matt Francis Photos
Men's Reflective Mercury Running Tight—These tights keep Mike dry and visible during cold night runs, and also are great for layering under a more technical pant for hiking. They wick moisture away while keeping him warm.

Tahoe Performance Women's Softshell Fleece Reflective Jacket—I swear by this jacket no matter what activity I'm doing: running to the grocery store, hiking up mountains, or running 10 miles on a ten degree day/night. This jacket keeps me warm, comfortable, and bright—and also is quite stylish, if I do say so myself!

Men's Reflective Squall Jacket—Not only is this jacket warm and bright, it's waterproof. Mike throws this wherever we go to keep him warm, dry, and bright all day and night.

HoodieTahoe Performance Fleece
 and Squall Jacket for the win!
Three-in-One Mitten with Removable Glove Liner—What we love most about these is they can be used together or separately. Plus, there is enough room to throw in a hand warmer when you want extended heat on those longer runs or hikes. When not wearing them, we store the gloves inside their mitten for easy storage.

Cold Weather Unisex Reflective Hood—The fabric is versatile enough that you can wear it as a full face covering, or lower the face mask when you get too hot. It's also a quick way to mask up when passing by other runners or walkers.

What are you must-have gifts year? I'd love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment below!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Creating Joy During Stressful Times

Let's get moving! We lift each other up when feeling down
IllumiNITE Featherlite Packable Jacket & Men's Endeavor Tank
Last week, I popped a blood vessel in my eye. I have no idea how. I just looked in the mirror one morning and noticed the red blotch near my cornea. Stress, so many people said. And I agree. 

The world is definitely on shaky ground these days. Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, one-by-one, the schools in my area are going fully remote, the election coverage is nonstop, and the high anxiety and anger and sadness emanating out of social media feeds feels rampant. 

And the holidays are fast approaching, which means, cold weather and dark days are also fast approaching. 

To destress, laughter is the best medicine
IllumiNITE Waterproof Colorado Jacket & WindBrite Pant
Matt Francis Photos

This year has been far from normal, but it's important now more than ever to manage stress levels and find the calm, find the joy, find the peace every way we can. Mike recently finished the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee. It's one of those books you read for a bit, then put down, then pick back up again after pondering its philosophy. 

With stress levels on the rise, we're doing our best to implement most of Lee's advice. Some of it seems like common sense, but when times are tough it can be easy to forget that the little things in life really do bring a great sense of calmness and joy. So, we looked into what we have right in front of us that can utilize. Here's what we've come up with, and it's working1 

To destress, we:

He lights up my life...and my tee
IllumiNITE Vision Pullover & Love Tee 

1. Add bright colors to our wardrobe to brighten our mood

2. Move our bodies every single day (even a 15-minute walk around our neighborhood on our most busiest days helps)

3. Run in the rain 

4. Run in the dark 

 When it run!
IllumiNITE Savannah Tee &
Jammer Running Short 
5. Take long walks through the woods and point out all the animals we see

6. Go for a hike on a mountain

7. Visit with family outside and socially-distanced

8. Plant flowers and trees and spruce up our backyard

9. Physically put away our phones, computers, TV for much needed breaks from the outside world

10. Play a board game or cards 

11. Cook flavorful, healthy meals together (usually also full of color!)

It's all about perspective

12. Sit quietly on the couch or outside with our favorite mugs or glasses filled with coffee, tea, or wine (okay, sometimes bourbon too), and just be in the moment

13. Read uplifting books about the underdog winning

14. Journal for ten-minutes a day (writing prompts from The Creative Wave Facebook group by author Lisa Papademetriou)

15. Watch our favorite sitcoms and funny movies and laugh, laugh, laugh

16. Go to sleep at the same time every night in a quiet, dark room (no electronics allowed)

Game night...healthy snacks
& strategic sneak attacks

17. Surprise each other with love notes or small gifts "just because"

18. Be spontaneous and throw our routine to the wind for an impromptu activity, like getting takeout from our favorite restaurant, going for a long drive, or even just opening that specialty chocolate we've been saving for a rainy day

19. Put on music from "the good old days" and dance, dance, dance in the living room

20. Name five things that bring us joy each, even if it's something minor like enjoying a sunny day, spotting a woodpecker, or saying hello to a neighbor  

I'm sure I could go on and on, but really, these 20 things have become our go-to ways to destress, unwind, and find joy. Implementing little bits of happiness into our lives each day helps us remember that everything is temporary, including these uncertain times, and having a positive attitude eases stress and anxiety. 

Sound too simple? Don't believe me? Give it a try for a week, and then let me know how it went.

Give a smile, receive a smile! No matter what's going on in life right now,
a smile always helps. 

IllumiNITE Waterproof Colorado Jacket & Sentinel Longsleeve Shirt
© Matt Francis Photos

And don't forget, adding bright colors into your life is easier now more than ever. Just use my discount code RunBrightly for 15% off your order at IlllumiNITE.

What do you do to destress? Please share in a comment below. I'd love to add more joy into my life! 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Gearing Up for Colder Months in Quarantine

Trying out hiking poles for the first time
Wearing IllumiNITE Ambition Hoodie
Ponyband HeadbandVelocity Mittens

Brrr. It's getting cold out there! Where has summer gone? It's getting harder to wake up early now that it's darker and colder in the mornings. But I can't deny how good it feels to breathe in the brisk air and stare at the colorful trees against the bright blue backdrop of the sky once I motivate myself to get up and get moving. Staying active during the colder months is like going to the gym after the shininess of New Year's resolutions wears off. It takes a lot to get yourself out there, but once you do, you wonder why you hesitated in the first place. 

Since we're still in a pandemic, Mike and I talked about the importance of not staying cooped up inside all winter. In normal years, I always sign up for a few fall and winter races to keep me motivated to run, including trail and mountain races (like the Ghost Train Ultramarathon, or the "Movember on Mt. Tom Fun Run" to raise awareness for men's health). But all races have been discontinued. Likewise, we won't be able to socialize indoors at theaters or restaurants or gatherings with friends. What do we do? 

We decided to stick with what we do best: hiking and running. We also agreed to try snowshoeing come winter to spice things up. We went through our colder weather inventory to see what we already own. Then we went on a five-and-a-half hour hike on Mount Race, my favorite mountain in the Berkshires, to figure out what we still need to stay dry, warm, and safe outside during the fall and winter months.

Crossing Race Brook Falls; Velocity Mittens 
help me get a better grip my trekking poles

While hiking, we paid attention to the changing landscape. Fallen leaves and muddy terrain after the previous night's rainfall made the trek slipperier than usual. Fortunately, Mike's aunt lent us her trekking poles to see how we liked them. Why have I never used trekking pokes before? Wow! They truly gave me "extra legs" as I maneuvered up and down muddy terrain, crossed rivers, and navigated boulders. I have terrible balance, so I will definitely be getting myself a pair of these. Once winter sets in, I'll be adding MICROspikes so I don't slip when walking and climbing on sheets of ice. 

As for clothing, here is what we decided works best for the fall and winter months:  

Layering is Key

I'm all layered up from head to toe;
can you see my Velocity Mitten
making a cameo?

New England weather is finicky. The temperature can go from 48°F to 72° to 30° all in one day. It can be sunny, then cloudy, then windy with hail, then calm and balmy. Yes, we often have the four seasons all in one day. Weather definitely keeps things exiting. But no matter where you live, it's important to be prepared for the elements, especially on mountains. Mountains don't care if it's January or July; they have their own climate.

Packable Jacket is lightweight,
and keeps me warm and dry
in cold, wet weather

One thing I love about IllumiNITE clothing is that they're easily packable and lightweight. Even their warmer clothing doesn't feel bulky. Therefore, I love to layer a shortsleeve like their Mockingbird or Savannah Shirt underneath a warmer shell like the Ambition Hoodie or Packable Jacket for the fall months. 

Once that bitter winter weather sets in, I exchange my Packable Jacket for the Tahoe Performance Softshell Fleece. It protects me against the elements while still allowing me to move freely, whether I'm running on the road or climbing up the boulders of a mountain. 

Sera in Powerstretch Pant
(bootcut pairs well with hiking boots)
Mike in Mercury Running Tights

The women's Satellite Running Tights and men's Mercury Running Tights keep us dry and warm during the early autumn months. I love how IllumiNITE tights can be layered beneath hiking pants, running shorts, or sweatpants for added warmth and protection. They also prevent chafing and wick away moisture. I also recommend wearing wicking underwear made specifically for running or hiking. It makes a world of difference in comfort level. 

There's really nothing worse than sweating through your layered clothing only to become chilled to the bone. That's the type of bitter cold that sits inside you for hours. So, when the weather turns damp and cold, the Windbrite Pant, which is windproof, prevents windchill from settling in.


I don't know what I would do if I didn't have my go-to IllumiNITE accessories. They all make my life so much easier because they prepare me for anything. 

A super fun accessory that is also practical is my pair of IllumiNITE Sleeves. When it's a tad chilly, but I know I'll heat up as I run, I wear a shortsleeved tee with my detachable sleeves. They easily stow away in a pocket if I get too hot, but add just the right amount of warmth and brightness on chilly and/or damp days.

And I'm totally obsessed with accessories for my head! My Multi-Wrap has multi-purposes. I can use it as a hat, double it up to create a face mask for when we're passing people on the road or trail, or use it as a buff to keep sweat out of my eyes and bugs out of my ears (especially during pesky spring and fall months when the insects are especially buggy!). 

Mike wears his Multi-Wrap
like a

I cover my whole head

When I don't want full coverage, I really love the thicker IllumiNITE headbands because they still keep sweat out of my eyes and bugs out of my ears. Some even come equipped for ponytails (the Ambition Hoodie is also perfect for ponytails!) 

Shining bright on
our morning walks—Synergy!

For our early morning walks, I switch out the elaborate head coverings for my Synergy Hat. I can keep my hair down while wearing it, and it keeps my head warm—and visible!—while we walk through our neighborhood. 

But as the months get colder, I exchange these head coverings for the Cold Weather Unisex Hood. It's so versatile! You can rearrange it to either cover your head, mouth and nose, and neck; Or, your head and neck; Or, just your neck, depending on how hot or cold you get. It's especially easy to pull down the face covering for a quick snack break without any complications.

IllumiNITE's Velocity Mittens keep my hands dry and warm while also allowing me to use my phone—gotta capture our amazing adventures on camera. Though, come winter months, I will need warmer gloves such as their Second Skin Gloves or Three-In-One Mitten.

Ready for outdoor activities
this fall and winter!
I spoke with our friends at IllumiNITE to see what they recommended for warmer gear for the colder months, and they gathered some of their best products for us. Our shipment just came in, and I can't wait to see what we got! Stay tuned for more. In the meantime, check out IllumiNITE for all your reflective athletic wear needs, and use my discount code Sera15 for 15% off your order!

I'd love to hear your must-have gear for fall and winter! Please share in a comment below!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Virtual Races: A Reminder I Didn't Know I Needed

IllumiNITE reflective packable jacket
Cape Cod Marathon Start Line
Oct. 2019
Every year, I plan out my races to keep myself motivated and moving. I sign up for my fave (fun!) races, such as The Westfield Flat Fast 5k and the Hot Chocolate Run 5k for Safe Passage, and I choose one or two favorite long distance races, such as the Cape Cod Marathon or Ghost Train Ultra Marathon, and then I sprinkle in a few races I've not tried before to spice things up. Destination races are my favorite, so I try to incorporate those when possible.

But this year, all races were cancelled due to the pandemic. I had signed up for the Green River Marathon, a one-way marathon from Vermont to Greenfield with a 1,450 foot overall drop in elevation (to make up for making Mike run his first marathon ever in Greece where the elevation gain was 1,150 feet!). And I had also signed up for the Ghost Train Ultra Marathon again, where I planned on running 45 miles in two days (30 Saturday; 15 Sunday). I told Mike that we should just train anyway, do the miles on our own, but it's been a real struggle getting high mileage in. 

Yes, we've been active every day, especially since we created our accountability schedule. But our long runs have plateaued at about ten miles...wah, wah, wah! And here it is October already, and I haven't run one marathon yet. I'm usually on marathon number two (or even three!) for the year by now. I feel the negative difference in my body and my mood, and I don't like it!

So the other week, I told Mike that we had to run a half marathon. No matter how long it took, we were

Unofficial Half-Marathon Complete
IllumiNITE MultiWrapEarly Riser
Ambition Hoodie, and Velocity Mitten
not stopping until we hit 13.1 miles. I was slow, real slow, but I just kept moving one foot in front of the other, and before I knew it, we were finished! It definitely helped that the sky was blue because it was cold! A mere 41 degrees. Thank god we wore our IllumiNITE pullovers AND gloves to keep us warm. But it gave me a sense of accomplishment. We may not be marathon ready, but we're halfway there.

I had planned on signing up for the Womxn Run the Vote relay race, where proceeds went to Black Voters Matter, but time got away from me. By the time I went to registered, they had hit their 10,000 athletes capacity! Whoa! I had no idea virtual races capped participation. Mike and I still logged about 35 miles that week, and I am still donating money to Black Voters Matter because it's such an important cause! But missing the sign-up bummed me out! I didn't realize how much I missed my running community until I missed out on an amazing race opportunity for a charitable organization.

Vision Men's Pullover
Endeavor Shorts

So, to keep our momentum going, Mike signed us up for the Running from 2020 virtual race. The finisher shirt definitely captures how we feel about this year. Then, on October 3, Mike asked me what day it was. Okay, okay, he didn't ask; he told me: Race Day! But I needed my total Mean Girls moment! Don't judge! Anyway, I was not feeling the race whatsoever! But I knew I couldn't let him down, and I also wanted that shirt! So I pushed my grumbling deep down, and we set off. Once Mike passed me, my racing instincts kicked in and I ran harder than I've been running most days. I'm so proud to say that I ran nonstop. I even sped up with each mile. 


10: 25...



I tried my hardest to catch Mike, but he's just too fast for me. He won by four minutes! Yowza he's fast! But it was so much fun, and it made me realize how much I love racing. 

Feeling accomplished after our 5k
IllumiNITE Synergy Headband,
Packable Jacket, Savannah Women's Tee;
Vision Men's Pullover

So, what's next?

I truly believe in races that raise money for charitable organizations, so that's priority for me right now. I may not get my marathon in this year, but I plan on staying active throughout the winter. I'm hoping that the annual Hot Chocolate Run that I run every year goes virtual this year. Proceeds go to Safe Passage, an organization that helps "families achieve safety, build justice and rebuild their lives in the wake of domestic's violence."

What virtual races have you done this year? 

What virtual events are you looking forward to? 

Leave a comment below.

Perhaps we can run one together in the virtual world.

Check out the styles we're wearing and use my discount code Sera15 for 15% off your entire IllumiNITE order.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 195: Love on Lockdown

Masks on!
Sera in IllumiNITE Ambition Reflective Hoodie 
Today is day 195 of quarantine, and while I still refuse to accept that this is the “new normal,” I can’t dispute the fact that other than my eight-day solo writing retreat, Mike and I have been together 24 hours a day, every day, since the pandemic started.

That’s 27 weeks of social isolation. In other words, six months—half-a-year!—trapped (ahem, blessed) together.

When the pandemic hit and we both transitioned to working from home, the days and nights blurred together (they still do!). Mike and I learned that creating an accountability schedule was key to giving us a routine and keeping us active—it’s worked wonders!

Still, when I watched Mike change the quarantine day on our whiteboard to 190 last Friday, it shocked me. On our morning walk, I presented our current situation. 
Accountability Schedule and
Quarantine Day Tracker
“How are we not sick of each other?" I asked.

Mike, being the methodical, list-making, strategizing side of our relationship, had us review the past six months; then, we made a list of all the things that work for us:


Every morning, Mike and I start our day on the couch with our cups of coffee. We compare our workday schedules so we can plan meals/domestic duties/errands accordingly. Once I’ve woken up completely—which often takes at least thirty minutes for caffeine to work its way through my veins—we venture outside.

Since we no longer commute to/from work, our morning walk/run now
Cold 13.1 miles on our morning run
Grateful for warm IllumiNITE Multi-Wraps,
Early Riser, Ambition Hoodie
and Velocity Mittens 
serves as that transition. To keep us motivated, we challenge each other to go faster or father; sometimes, we take detours, and we often take pictures to capture special (and silly) moments.

When we get back, we make breakfast together before. Some mornings, we even have enough time to eat together before work begins—added bonus.

I love our morning routine; it allows us to connect first thing.


Burgers w portabello "buns" and
fresh zucchini and tomatoes

Last year, Mike and I tried Whole30, which taught us a lot about ingredient labels and healthy eating habits. We learned how to cook fun, new recipes that were both nutritional and delicious. So, when everything shut down, eating every meal at home didn’t phase us.

We make our staple go-to meals, but we also like to experiment with spices and cooking methods we’ve never tried before. We cook together as often as we can. It’s a fun way to connect, and it also serves as a transition from “work to home” as we share about our workdays.


In addition to keeping active during the week, we plan our weekends to include hiking and other outdoor adventures. We research which mountains we’d like to hike, which trails to wander, or which
Capital "A" in its natural state
bodies of water we want to visit. Then we plan how many miles/hours we want to explore and what supplies/food to bring. This always gives us something to look forward to during the week. We have so much fun exploring different places, some practically in our backyard!

We started a game to find all the letters of the alphabet in nature. The one rule is the letter cannot have any man-made aspect to it. We’ve found most letters, but we’re still searching for capital “Q” and a few others.

I’ve also discovered that eating a picnic comprised of fruit, mixed nuts, and the occasional Lara bar on top of a mountain overlooking a vast valley below is far more romantic than eating at a fancy restaurant. Who knew?


Mike and I both love to read, and we often snuggle on the couch reading our own books, each in our
Listening to Wild via AirPods on a morning walk
Sera in IllumiNITE Mockingbird Shirt (final sale)
Mike in IllumiNITE Sentinel Shirt
own world. We always share about what we read and discuss the various topics we learn about. Recently, we’ve begun listening to audiobooks together. We just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed; it spawned so much conversation about solo-hiking and thru-hikers and about our own traveling goals. When we finished the book, we watched the movie and then compared the two.

Now, we’re listening to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. We’re only an hour in, but it’s brought us quite a chuckle…especially as we compare our own relationship (and personal) habits to the main character’s.


When you’re together all day, every day, what is there to talk about?

Surprisingly, Mike and I never run out of topics. In analyzing our conversations, we realize we always have things to discuss because we spend a good amount of time doing our own thing. During the workweek, we
Mike drops off grapes to
my office, with a side of love
work in different parts of the house and do not physically see each other all day—except for the occasional snack or lunch drop-off to each other’s office (Thanks, Mike!).

We also make sure to schedule alone time outside of work hours as well. Whether I’m in my office
Snuck a pic of Mike enjoying
Joyful on a sunny day
writing (like now) while Mike’s outside gardening, or one of us visits with a friend/family member on the phone (or Zoom!), or we read different books, we acknowledge the importance alone time plays into our relationship. It gives us the space we need to explore our own interests and stay in touch with our own selves. And it broadens our topics of conversation.


While having a routine has kept us sane through this pandemic, we also recognize the importance of adaptability and spontaneity. For example, now that the days are getting shorter (and colder!), we’re discovering that it’s getting harder to motivate ourselves to get outside in the early morning. But we also recognize how much better we feel when we move first thing. So, we’re switching up our schedule to include a shorter walk in the morning (about 20 minutes) and then our longer walk or run after work. We’ve also decided to add some more core training into our schedule, so we’ve implemented squats, sit-ups, and pushups on

our walk days. This minor adaptation keeps our daily routine feeling fresh and fun.

We also find so much joy in spontaneity. “Wait, you finished work early? I just wrapped up my day!
Mike surprised me with peonies
from our garden!
Impromptu date night! You get the wine; I’ll get the cards! Hooray!”

It’s fun to switch things up on a dime every now and then. Mike and I look for these special impromptu moments to do something out of the ordinary, like go for a drive and pick up our favorite Mexican food, discover a new movie we both haven’t watched (that’s a tough one), or surprise each other with a gift “just because.”

It doesn’t seem like much, but Mike and I recognize that we’ve managed through this pandemic because we openly communicate about what’s working and what’s not. We respect each other’s perspectives and support each other’s needs. We check in with each other to see where we’re at— Sera’s at 40% capacity; Mike, can you cover that extra 10%
Much needed apple and kiss after a grueling
hike on Cannon Mountain
Sera in IllumiNITE Multi-Wrap; Vigor Singlet
today?—and we adapt accordingly (Thanks, BrenĂ© Brown for the family gap plan!).

We actively work at keeping our romance fresh and exciting while also stable and comforting. Love may be on lockdown, but it doesn’t have to feel like punishment! 

I’d love to hear what you’re doing to keep sane through this pandemic! 

Please share in the comments below.

Like our style? Check out IllumiNITE and use my discount code RUNBRIGHTLY15 for 15% off
IllumiNITE Synergy Headband;
Savannah ShirtSentinel Shirt;
your order!

Friday, September 4, 2020

Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 2

Do I go in the cave?
Sera in IllumiNITE Eclipse Headband,
Vigor Bling Singlet, and Reflective Shortie
Like most children, I had a favorite stuffed animal—a teddy bear named Theodore Bear, or Teddy for short. Teddy went everywhere with me; every night, I read him stories under my blankets with a flashlight long after bedtime, and I told him all my secrets.

I have photographs of me at eleven years old camping with my dad, happy as can be in the woods, with Teddy in tow of course. Yet, everyone who knows me now knows I am terrified of bears, the real ones. I don't know when this phobia began, but it's kept me out of the woods for most of my adult life. Until one day, I decided I had to face my fears. I started trail running and fell in love with the woods and the mountains all over again. This brings me to the second part of my two-week respite from the world: my White Mountains escapade with Mike (Missed Part 1? Read it here).

Date night
on the screened-in porch
After eight days alone on the Cape, I was ecstatic to get back home to Mike. I quickly did all my laundry (IllumiNITE athletic wear hang-dries so quickly, it's amazing!), packed our suitcase with hiking essentials, games, and new books, and pre-packed my hiking backpack—including bear spray and a knife! The next day, we set off.

Sunday was our travel day, so we checked into our cabin before heading out to find dinner. The one-room Pemi Cabin we stayed in was so adorable, perfect for a couple. Due to COVID-19, they also had contactless check-in as well, so we didn't have to interact with anyone. At dinner, we analyzed the mountains' weather patterns and decided that Monday was our best bet for our long hike: Mt. Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop.

Climbing the waterfalls was so fun!
The 9-mile loop included hiking up alongside a waterfall, climbing up boulders and tree roots, and walking up-down-up-down a ridge over three four-thousand-foot mountain peaks.

Being so deep in the heart of the mountain felt magical—like I was a kid exploring mystical lands in an imaginary faraway kingdom.

The only world that existed was one of massive entities: trees that stretched to the heavens, boulders stacked so high they created caves between them; waterfalls so powerful, they carved rivers into rocks.
This picture doesn't do this tree justice!
Sera in IllumiNITE Mockingbird Shirt
When we arrived at the top, our view was obliterated by the whiteout of the fog. Mike was disappointed because he really wanted me to see the view, but I enjoyed the drama it created. People faded into the mist. Entire mountains evaporated into thin air. Miraculously, the fog dissipated just as we began our descent back down, revealing magnificent views of the Ridgeline we ascended as well as a view of Cannon, the next mountain on our agenda.
Reaching for my IllumiNITE Packable Jacket
while resting after a vigorous hike
to the windy mountaintop;
Sun came out as we hiked back down;
so thankful for my IllumiNITE Multi-Wrap
to protect my head from the sun and pesky bugs!

We saw enough people on the trail it curbed my anxiety about bears. The sheer beauty of the natural world around me truly made me forget all about my everyday life. Nine hours later, we made it back down to our car. I was exhausted yet invigorated.

The next day was a rest day, but we wanted to explore! We happened upon the Franconia Falls Trail in Franconia State park, a flat trail that used to be a railroad track (you could see the ties!). I'm so glad we hiked the 3.6 miles out to the promised Falls. The trail opened up to a swimming hole that gushed water through boulders, creating natural waterslides and surging waterfalls.

Enjoying the numbingly cold water of Franconia Falls;
love how quick-drying IllumiNITE athletic wear is;
made for a comfortable hike back
The water was so crystal clear it looked blue, and its numbingly cold temperature felt really good after the previous day's hike.

Walking back made for a total of seven-point-two miles, but we weren't done with our "rest day" just yet. We headed over to the Flume Gorge and walked the three-mile loop, marveling at the sites. Though, my anxiety came flooding back when I saw the Bear Cave. Mike laughed at the sign and suggested I go inside the cave so he could take my picture.

Don't let my smile fool you;
I hide my anxiety well

ME: Is there a bear in there?

MIKE: I'm positive there's no bears.

ME: Why deny you sit in there first?

MIKE: I'm pretty sure there's no bears.

Logically, I knew Mike was right. There were no bears. But Anxiety is so exhausting! Sometimes, I just have to prove Her wrong with real proof. I'm not ashamed to say I made Mike go all the way in the cave to scope it out first. In my defense, Mike knows I'll "leave you for dead" if a bear comes along. Being the greatest boyfriend in the world, he obliged me. Once he came back out of the cave in tact (as my logical self knew he would), I shakily walked into the darkness, sat on the cold rocks, and smiled for the camera, despite my fear. 

As we walked away unscathed, I laughed at the ridiculousness of my anxiety. But Mike stopped me, held me close, let me have a moment to recover. Before I met Mike, I always thought I had to manage my anxiety on my own. I am so grateful to have such a supportive, understanding, patient partner. We don't have to suffer alone. That's truly freeing to learn.

So accidentally, our rest day turned into a ten-mile hiking day. And while the terrain was relatively flat with little elevation gain, it definitely took its toll on our bodies....

Despite my misery, I smiled all the way up;
check out the video of my ladder climb
and more White Mountain adventures
on my Instagram
...which might explain why our third day on Cannon Mountain, a six-mile hike with just 2,400 foot elevation gain, made me so miserable I couldn't even stand my miserable self! My anxiety tested me on that mountain more than I could have anticipated. Besides the steep ascend 2,400 feet straight up a darkly-shadowed mountain that loomed over me, the trail was so narrow in places I feared I'd fall off the edge. Oh, and then there was that ladder bolted into the side of the rock-face I had to climb, followed by the narrowest trail that dropped off the edge of the cliff. There were the boulders that were so steep I had to  scale them with my hands and feet, and the ones even steeper Mike had to hoist me up. I cut my knee, cut my ankle, and bruised my shins. We were the only people on the trail, and that amped my anxiety even more. Not a single soul in sight the entire way up. 

The terrain would have been magical if I wasn't so scared. It reminded me of my childhood fairytales: The Labyrinth, Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland—a place where mystical and mythical creatures safely hid away from the world; a place where ominous monsters lurked, waiting to capture their next victims. There were mossy carpets so lush with green that sprouted tiny red mushroom houses, and forests so dense shadows danced ominously around me on all sides. 

The silence and shadows
made for a dream-like state
I wondered if I'd see
a caterpillar smoking 

I am not amused...

On our way back down, the boulders were so big and spread so far apart, they created caverns in between them. As I stepped down, I wondered what creatures might snatch me. When we ran into our first humans, two women climbing up as we climbed down, one of them said, "Be careful. We heard a growl a short way down, the direction you're heading, but we didn't see anything."

Did she say a growl? As in a BEAR? When we were out of earshot, Mike said, "Bears don't growl. They grunt." 

"They growl!" I said. "When they feel threatened...Or, hungry!" I shouted back. "I know. I've seen it before!"

Despite my growing fear, I couldn't hasten my pace. The descent was just as steep as our climb up.

By the time we got to ground level, I was so miserable I refused to walk around the beautiful landscape of Lonesome Lake. I wondered if it got its name from the number of break-ups that occurred after climbing Cannon. "You better ply me with drinks tonight," I told Mike. "Or we're through." 

The best thing about this miserable hike
was knowing if we got lost in the dark, my
IllumiNITE would shine like a beacon
so the rescuers could locate me

Don't worry, don't worry. I was totally joking. As we sat on a log recovering from our exertion, we laughed about my misery together. But in all honesty, Cannon Mountain truly slayed me. I'm determined to go back next year and conquer it. In hindsight, I was in a real-life fairytale, but I couldn't appreciate it until after the fact.

This picture captures my inner child;
exploring with no cares in the world...
dreaming of endless possibilities
After three days of hiking with a total mileage of 26 miles (that's a marathon!) and almost eight thousand feet elevation gain, we did reward ourselves with drinks that night! The next day, we lounged by The Basin, reading books in the sun before heading back home. It was a nice to get away, to push myself physically and mentally, and enjoy the natural world around me like I used to do as a child.

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe in exposure therapy. I won't let anxiety rule my decisions. But just because I face my phobias head-on doesn't mean I do so gracefully. And I'm okay with that. I've accepted that my anxiety is a part of me, lingering in the background, making me slightly on edge at all times. But our quirks are what makes us who we are, and I love the woman I am. It took me a long time to love me for me, but it's a beautiful discovery. 

When I set off on my sixteen-day respite from the world, all I knew was that I needed to escape everything and everyone so the loudest voice I heard was my own. I knew there'd be introspection, but I didn't expect to discover my inner child; the girl who loved her Teddy more than anything; my purest self before world experiences influenced me. When is the last time you've been alone with your thoughts? Maybe now is the time to listen again. 

I'm alive! I shouted inside my head;
Every nerve of my being on fire;
I'm alive!

So I ask you...

What do you fear? 
How do you cope with that fear? 
What do you do to face that fear? 

Please share in a comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts and advice.

Check out the clothes I'm wearing (and more!) at Use my discount code RunBrightly15 for 15% off your order.

3 Merry and Bright Gift Ideas for 2020

Merry and Bright in our Synergy Hats , Three-in-One Mittens ,  Tahoe Performance Fleece ,  Squall Jacket I cannot believe tomorrow is the fi...