walk with Jack

Life, in a Blink

My son is six months old. People said blink and he’ll be in kindergarten, but I didn’t believe them.

It’s true.

six months photo

Somehow, five seconds after the hospital gave us our discharge papers and sent us on our way, I have a 19-pound ball of love who joins me for runs and smiles on command. Jack’s eyes are the color of blueberries, and his fuzzy, reddish hair shines like gold in the sunlight. He goes to all of my book signings (he’s my biggest fan). He has a favorite toy and a best friend at school. I look around my house, with its white furniture, china and glass, and kick myself because I haven’t started childproofing yet. I see parents kicking a soccer ball with their kids and imagine teaching mine how to dribble and pass and make overlapping runs.

book signing Quail Ridge Books

I’m a creative and a planner — an odd blend of sketchpads and poetry, Excel spreadsheets and productivity apps. I view life as one long story, and I’m always writing a couple of chapters at a time. I want to be ready for the next milestone, the next first, the next step in the journey.

But I also want to live in the now. I want to see it and hear it and smell it and feel it. I want to hold my son and feel the soft, warm puffs on my collarbone when he snuggles up to me long after we should both be in bed. I want to talk to him about things he learns at school — alligators and the color green, triangles and the number three. I want to take him on walks and leave my earbuds and my phone at home and tell him about the clouds and the trees and the birds and watch his face light up with each new sight and sound, all so exciting and wondrous because he’s seeing and hearing them for the first time.

I have three manuscripts in my head and a five-month-old published book to promote. (Still don’t have your copy of “Run to the Light?” Get it here.Twenty-nine states and a rare disease charity to run. I can’t get to it all, even though I sleep just five hours a night and work through lunch most days.

But I want to live guilt-free, even if I don’t clean my house or run 15 miles or write 1,000 words a day. I want to look at my son and succumb to that smile. I want to give him the mother he needs, even if I can’t always be the writer and runner and rare disease advocate I want to be. And if I succeed, real life may be my best story of all.

the road ahead

19 Goals for a Joyful 2019

It’s 62 degrees outdoors, and a high, thin fog hugs naked branches painted on a flat, gray sky. Though unseasonably warm, the gloomy weather feels appropriate in this moment, on the last day of 2018. The gifts once nestled beneath my Christmas tree have been unwrapped, the plaid tree skirt left bare, and while the tree’s white lights still twinkle, they’ll soon be extinguished, too.

I’ve never really made New Year’s resolutions, at least not the classic, eat-better-and-exercise-more variety that pack gyms throughout the first few weeks of January. Instead, I view the holiday as a chance to reflect on the past 12 months and set goals for the next 12 and beyond.

In some ways, my own 2018 will be difficult to beat. I ran four races in three states. I took a top-three finish in a 10K and wore a blindfold in a half marathon. I landed national coverage in Runner’s World.

CLT Marathon 2018

My sweet son, Jack, made me a mom in September.

newborn Jack

I appeared in a short film, “At the Edge of Hope,” highlighting inspiring stories in the fight against rare disease. I spoke at TEDxCharlotte again, this time as a special guest. I published my first book, “Run to the Light,” a true story of what it means to believe. My peers at the agency where I work in content marketing named me employee of the year. I also said goodbye to my sister, Taylor, a true hero and the inspiration for everything I do. Taylor died following her long battle with Batten disease just six days after my son was born.

When I look back at 2018 years from now, I think I’ll remember it as a rare collision of indescribable pain and immense joy. There won’t be another one like it, yet I’m excited to look forward and make the best of this next trip around the sun. So, without further ado, here’s a quick look at 19 goals I hope to accomplish in 2019.

  1. Eat clean. Not a diet, this is more of a lifelong commitment to eating whole, minimally processed, satisfying foods. I cook from “Run Fast Eat Slow” and its sequel, penned by American distance running icon Shalane Flanagan and chef Elyse Kopecky, almost every day of the week. Following the principles outlined in these books gives me more energy and happiness as well as fewer migraines and burnouts.
  2. Save more. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see and experience some of the most beautiful places on this beautiful planet, from the blue glaciers of Montana to the green fins of Kauai. By finding creative ways to save, I can ensure my son grows up experiencing the world’s wonders, too.
  3. Choose time over money. This may seem like it contradicts the previous goal, but in those instances where spending a little more money gives me more time with the people I love, I’ll always spend more. This may mean using a grocery delivery service or ordering my clothes online.
  4. Get more sleep. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to sleep with a newborn. Caring for my son, especially now that I’m back at work full-time, makes me so tired that I’m more than happy to turn out the lights at 11 p.m. (early in this house).
  5. Try new things. Whether it’s a new restaurant or a new trail, I’ll welcome new experiences and treat each one like an adventure.
  6. Get back on the trails. I was pregnant for 75 percent of 2018, so I didn’t get to spend much time hiking or running trails. In 2019, I want to get back to getting lost in nature, and this time, I’ll get to take my son along for some of the ride.
  7. Run in at least three states. With 21 states in the books, I’m almost halfway to my goal of running in all 50 to honor Taylor’s legacy and raise awareness of Batten disease. Those daycare tuition bills may make it tougher to hop on a plane in 2019, but I’d like to aim for at least three states. California and Wyoming are already on the books. Where else should I go?
  8. Set a new PR. I have almost all of my pre-baby fitness back, and I’d love to set a new personal record (PR) for at least one of three distances – 10K, 10 miler and half marathon – in 2019.
  9. Make more music. I inherited a grand piano in 2010. I grew up playing this piano when I visited my grandmother, and I can’t wait to teach Jack to make music with it.
  10. Start book number two. Whether I finish the young adult (YA) novel I drafted in college, start writing the YA fantasy idea I’ve been chewing on for months or pick up something entirely new, I need a project.
  11. Dabble in a new book genre. I studied fiction writing in college, and my first book is a memoir. Having a small human under my roof has rekindled my love for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I’d love to start writing (and illustrating) stories for kids again.
  12. Keep showing book number one the love. I like to tell Jack thanks for making me a mommy. Well, “Run to the Light” made me an author, and though it hit shelves in November, I know I have to work hard to keep it in the eyes and minds and hearts of readers. I’ll get started with a book signing and reading at Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books on January 5. Want to hear about other upcoming events? Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
  13. Grow as a pro. I’d love to write books all day, but I’m blessed to have a job that allows me to write about different things all day. I’m committed to building and developing my content marketing career in 2019, especially on the strategy side as well as mentoring younger writers.
  14. Be a good mother to my son. Becoming a mommy is the best thing I’ve ever done. And no matter what goals or challenges I take on in 2019 and beyond, raising Jack is my most important job.
  15. Be a good wife. This may mean something different for everyone. For me, I married my best friend and won’t let that change, even as we tackle new stressors like parenthood.
  16. Have fun. I’m hyper focused, but I still like to have fun. In 2019, I’m giving myself an unlimited free pass to eat ice cream, play games or do nothing at all – whatever I need in that moment to relieve stress and be happy.
  17. Be present. I’m not sure real balance exists, especially for working moms. But if I can’t be all things to all people, and if I can’t be everywhere at once, I can at least commit to being present and focused on the moment at all times, whether I’m working on the computer, running in the woods or having dinner with my family.
  18.  Choose joy. Confronted with terrible loss and great pain, my sister always chose joy. And living as she did is one of the best ways to honor Taylor’s legacy.
  19. Don’t forget to look backward. I think people celebrate the New Year as a fresh start and a chance to move forward. But I’ll never forget where I’ve been – the pain or the joy.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? What are your goals for 2019?

Run to the Light: Cover Reveal

Almost any author will tell you that the road to book publication is arduous and long, like a marathon course that scales high mountain peaks and snakes through twisted canyons. Maybe that’s why, for so many of us, the book doesn’t feel real until we see the final cover.

My beta readers, editors, family and friends know that I wrote Run to the Light in a 10-month whirlwind of intense late nights and weekday lunches and early weekend mornings. In fact, the actual writing happened so quickly that when I completed a first draft of the final chapter, I cried a little at the kitchen table of a friend hosting me for a race in Fargo, North Dakota. As much as I wanted to watch those pages become a real book, I didn’t want the writing to end.

I can’t capture the book writing process in a single blog post, but I thought it would be fun to share the story behind the cover scheduled to hit shelves in November 2018.

I always knew that I wanted one moment from the book’s final chapter to figure into the cover. In it, I’m running alone up a tree-lined street, leading thousands of other runners in a half marathon for which I received a 30-minute head start for safety reasons.

I asked my friend and colleague, photographer Rusty Williams, to help me bring the scene to life.

Rusty scouted the area several times. He wanted to understand not only how the morning light interacted with the thick canopy of trees and the pavement, but also how much traffic we’d have to contend with as I ran up and down the road, again and again, to make sure my photographer captured the perfect shot. (My husband, John, attended the shoot to help make sure Rusty and I didn’t get hit by a car).

The scene Rusty and I reenacted that day happened on one of the most beautiful streets in my hometown, but that isn’t why I chose it.

Here’s the thing: in real life, I couldn’t actually see the tree canopy or November sky above me or the ground beneath my feet, because I was blindfolded. When I ran through that tunnel of trees without the tether that had connected me to my guide for most of 13.1 miles, I saw my sister’s life and my own with perfect clarity. After years of suffering, I finally understood I’d received a great gift, no matter how much pain came with that gift. And since that moment, nothing has been quite the same.

I was alone in the tunnel of trees. My gait felt smooth, my body weightless, my breathing effortless. I thought maybe I could run forever. I touched the only photo that existed of Taylor finishing her first race, attached to my armband. It felt both heavy and light on my arm.”

Originally, I’d envisioned the cover with a photo of me running alone beneath the trees, just as I’d done on race day, so Rusty and I focused on capturing those shots.

We spent the better part of the shoot waiting for the morning light to look just right as it soaked through the leaves and shone on the pavement.

cover 1

This was our favorite from the bunch:

Laura running

For the heck of it, Rusty also took a few photos of my blindfold lying in the road. We thought we might get an interesting image for the back cover or for marketing the book.

blindfold photo

But when I shared Rusty’s work with my publisher, they preferred the blindfold concept for the front cover. They felt it was more unique and also more striking than the shot of me running, especially as a thumbnail image online.

When I saw the final result, I knew they were right.

Run to the Light book cover

While I didn’t have total control over the cover design (authors rarely do, except for those who self-publish), I appreciated that my publisher gave me a say in the process and allowed me to work with a photographer I know and trust. Run to the Light won’t be the last book I write, but it will almost certainly be the most personal.

This entire journey has been a blessing, from the earliest outline to the completed manuscript and finished cover art. I can’t wait to share the result with the world in November.

If you live in or near Charlotte, I hope you’ll join me at Park Road Books on Saturday, November 10, at 2 p.m., when I’ll sign copies of Run to the Light and read from the book. Subscribe to this blog for news about additional events. If you want to suggest a location, feel free to contact me