Making It Count

At the end of 2016, I was very sick. In an effort to cheer myself up and not be too down on the fact that the past few months of the year hadn’t shaped up the way I would’ve wanted them to, I decided to go through all my photos from the past year (and, since that was our first full year with Ellie, there were thousands) and make a Facebook album of all the best ones.

By the time I posted the photos, I was back to my perky old self. I felt grateful for all the great memories I’d made and experiences I’d had throughout the year, and I knew there had been more wonderful than crappy. My experiment worked!

This was a good, very picturesque day, but I’m pretty sure I had a roll of toilet paper in my pocket — and had to use it in the woods at one point…

Now, here we are at the end of 2017, and the majority of this year hasn’t gone as hoped. (I didn’t say going as planned, because after last year, I knew not to make too many plans. But still…)

So in a similar effort, last week I decided to bust out my nearly decrepit phone (seriously, they design iPhones so they die just before you’re due for an upgrade, right?), scroll back to January 1, 2017, and start selecting favorites. I would make another album and it would be great! I’d feel joyous again, in spite of all the challenges this year threw my way.

Running with friends in Central Park! This was February 11, one of my favorite days of the entire year. My podcast had just officially launched that morning!

January was pretty bleak. By February, things got good again, though, and March and April were just lovely. But by May, the photo stream started to dwindle. I wasn’t just selecting fewer photos — I didn’t have many to choose from. By the time my scrolling reached November, I was unimpressed. In the end, all I had to show for this year seemed like a bunch of pajama-clad, braless selfies with Ellie (which, I mean, are adorable) and a handful of victorious jumping shots from the few runs I went on (which were amazing).

Running in Central Park in November. Another day, another run, another jump shot — same outfit.

My newly selected crop of favorites left me feeling sad and unaccomplished. There were of course moments this year that went mostly undocumented and unphotographed: A few long walks with Ellie. All the great podcasts I recorded with old friends, new friends, internet friends, Natalie Morales, and Kimmy Gibbler. The night I saw Dear Evan Hansen and then cried for three days straight. (I swear that’s a happy memory.) The FaceTime sessions with my niece and nephew, where Tyler just wanted to talk to Ellie while Abby would scream for “Uncle Briaaaaaaaaan,” hoping he’d be able to hear after I explained that he was still at work.

That little face! That big smile! (This is my niece, Abby. She’s amazing.)

But ultimately, it was a tough year.

I’ve forced a lot of smiles over the past few months. There were lots of earned smiles, like seeing Celiné Dion in Las Vegas, running some strong races in the spring (and landing on a podium — even though there was never an actual podium — twice), somehow running a 5K PR in October, and enjoying my many little victories at Orangetheory this fall. But those were fewer and further between than the tough times.

Vegas, baby! I was actually super sick during this trip, but still had the best time ever.

I spent a lot of the year feeling sick, sad, and frustrated. I was depressed for almost all of it. And I was lonely almost every day.

People don’t talk much about being lonely. But I felt that feeling so strongly this year. The truth is, I don’t have a ton of close friends in New Jersey. I have lots of friends in the city, which isn’t far away, but being sick kept me homebound and unable and unwilling to visit them, go out, or be social. I work from home — a lifestyle that yes, I chose — and don’t have much opportunity for collaborating or creative brainstorming in my current role. I miss that. Add the fact that my entrepreneur husband has been quite literally working around the clock, and you have a solid recipe for a sad and lonely Ali.

Visiting the big guy at the office! I also remember being really sick that day, but apparently I also had some fun!

It’s weird to admit being lonely because my life is filled with meaningful relationships. But I’m learning how much I thrive off in-person communication. How much an actual hug can change my entire day. How important it is to actually laugh with someone instead of typing “LOL.” (Yes, I still write LOL.)

Do I love being silly and sassy on my Instagram Stories? (I’m @aliontherun1 if you’re into that sort of thing.) You bet I do. (SORRY THAT I OFFENDED SOME PEOPLE WITH MY COMMENTARY ABOUT THE CRAPPY CHALK ART IN THE TENNIS COURTS.) But I bet I’d chime in a whole lot less if I had more human interaction in my life. Ellie is a fantastic coworker and buddy, my girlfriends and our group texts have been literal lifesavers this year, and a quick FaceTime session with my mom or my niece and nephew can temporarily cure any bout of sickness or sadness, but I miss the real thing, and I’m finding myself at the end of the year feeling like I missed out on a lot of living in 2017.

Now, I could wallow in all that. And trust me, I have. I cried a lot this year. Some tears were warranted; others were slightly hysterical. I complained a lot, too. For lack of a less straight-outta-therapy phrase, I spent a lot of time and energy this year “feeling my feelings.” And there were so many feelings.


But with just a few weeks left in the year — and with a bit more pep back in my step — I’m ready to finish 2017 strong.

And, rather than just saying that and hoping for the best, I have a plan. I will make these last weeks count, damnit.

First, I’m spending this week doing a full-time thing with Well+Good — most likely including a few office visits with actual humans. On top of that, I have social activities planned for four nights this week. (That might be my social record since, IDK, college?)

A few weeks ago, I went to a cooking class for my friend Lucy’s birthday — and I didn’t use the bathroom the entire time! Look at me! Hero!

Then, I’m getting on a plane.

Last week I booked a one-way flight to California with the sole intention of seeing pretty things. I am flying into San Francisco, where I’ll spend a few days before picking up my dope car rental and taking myself on a leisurely solo road trip down the California coast.

I want to surround myself with positivity, good vibes, and beautiful scenery. I want to see the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, the Hearst Castle, and the Getty Museum. I want to stay at the Madonna Inn, and I want to meet (from afar) as many seals and sea lions as I can. I want to see the Golden Gate Bridge from as many angles as possible. And if I’m really lucky, I want to run from one end of it to the other.

I’m taking this trip because I need some Ali time, oddly enough. I know I said I’ve been lonely, but I also spent a lot of this year feeling completely lost and clueless. (I also just need to get out of this apartment for a while. I have spent a lot of time within these walls this year.)

Good sunrises, though.

I had my whole life figured out by the time I was 16, and thanks to a lot of hard work, I was able to make my dream life a reality by 25. Now, at 32, I feel a little directionless. I have lost touch with what I really want — what kind of impact I want to have, how I want to spend my days, where I want to focus my energy. I don’t expect to have it all figured out by the time I return my rental, but I know some scenery and a fresh perspective won’t hurt.

Finally, I came to an interesting-to-me-so-I’ll-share-it-with-you revelation the other night. I realized, if nothing else, how strong this year has made me, and how little credit I give myself for getting through difficult and challenging times. I berate myself for not being healthier, not trying harder, not understanding my body better, or not fighting more. And some of that may be true at times, but I rarely reflect on the strength I summon and gain during the tough times.

The day I earned my Hell Week shirt at Orangetheory. I felt indestructible that day. It was awesome.

As I reflected on the things that got me through this year, I credited everyone and everything — except myself. I credited my doctor for finally thinking to prescribe me the Uceris that seemed to calm this flare a bit. I credited my friends, my family (including my internet family!), and Ellie for forcing me to stay sane when all I had energy for was crying on the bathroom floor. I credited Ambien and my beloved substance-filled vaporizer. But I never said, “You know what, Ali? You got yourself through this shit.” I had help, and plenty of it, and for that I am eternally grateful. But I did this. I survived. I powered through, even when powering through meant running back and forth to the toilet 40 times a day. I persevered because somewhere deep inside my swollen, inflamed intestines, I could.

(Why am I crying? How, at the end of an entire year of Crohnsing and crying, am I not just completely dried up and dehydrated? Where do these tears come from? How does science work?)

Down with the sickness!

So it may sound cheesy or silly, and it may even sound totally selfish and narcissistic, but I am spending these remaining days of 2017 celebrating and honoring ME.

I’m happy and excited. A little nervous about getting lost, but I think if I just head south and keep the ocean on my right (right?), I’ll be OK.

Bye for now!

CALIFORNIA RECOMMENDATIONS WELCOME! I have a rough outline of where I want to go and what I want to see, but favorite running routes, scenic viewing spots, and best places to get acai bowls would be lovely!



36 Responses

  1. I loved following your Instagram Cali adventures. I’m so glad you had such a fantastic trip and that you were symptom free. Would love to see a blog post about the trip and your take away from the experience. I’ve always wanted to visit the west coast and your trip has just amplified that desire.

  2. Ali, I can relate so much. I also have Crohns and have been reading your blog on and off for about 5 years now. I started reading in the middle of my own flare from hell situation. If it means anything at all, just knowing there was someone else out there dealing with the same feelings as I was, really helped me get through those hard times – made me feel less lonely. I know how hard it can be living with this disease, and I agree that you should give yourself more credit. I wish you well and hope 2018 will bring you the health and happiness you deserve. 🙂

  3. I hope you’re having an amazing time here! I’m local – in San Jose – so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything at all.

  4. Make sure you check out Monterey! The Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf is adorable, Clam Chowder is delicious, Aquarium is sooo incredible. I also recommend checking out some ‘inland’ sights, like Tahoe, Yosemite and Joshua Tree.

  5. My #1 recommendation would be Alcatraz! It was awesome and not even something I looked forward to prior to doing it (my husband loved it and wanted me to experience it). I was floored by how much I loved it.

  6. Have an awesome time, and remember to book a return flight. Also I can so totally relate to the feeling of having your career figured out and then taking a different direction and feeling a little directionless. The book Leap by Tess Vigeland is a really nice read on this very topic (good SF read?). I can say that personally I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea of defining success in chunks versus my whole life. Like you I had achieved the top goal early, and then felt a bit aimless when I made a change. I don’t really have any amazing sage advice having come through it. I can say I now focus on smaller goals and try to be comfortable in being flexible to change and revision. So hopefully that helps (shoulder shrug). I can say the feeling doesn’t last forever. Also yay new meds!

  7. I did the drive from SF to San Diego a few years ago and it was so much fun. Looking forward to hearing about your trip so I can vicariously experience it again. The Blue Hawaii Acai Cafe in San Francisco is great. It’s an unassuming little place located in the Embarcadero Center. The farmers market on Saturday mornings at the Ferry Terminal is fantastic.
    Carmel has one of the most beautiful and dog friendly beaches you’ll ever see and the town itself is adorable.
    Solvang is a fun stop, I mean there are windmills.

  8. Getty VIlla! It’s still under some renovations but it’s stunning. One or more of the California Missions (there’s a great one just south of Hearst Castle in Solvang. My personal favorite is Santa Barbara).
    Gorgeous sunrise above.

  9. Oh my, this hit home. I just said the other day, I’m lonely but can’t muster the energy to do anything about it. Trying to remember what it feels like to be happy. I’m thrilled for you to be going on this trip! Get outta dodge and regroup and reassess. I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures. Safe travels Ali!

  10. Ali, thank you for writing this. I’ve had what sounds like a pretty similar year – health problems, loneliness, and feeling pretty directionless. I hope California is everything you need and more. <3

  11. Ali, have an amazing time on your trip, it sounds like a great plan for yourself! And thanks for always being so open and vulnerable on here. As you can see from all the comments, it seems there are many of us who are always kind of lost. Hopefully you can figure it out and tell us what the trick is 😉

  12. Seriously. You go to SF when I’ve moved away? Have an amazing time, I’ll be so achey at the photos you post. If you’re able to run, the one place I’d recommend would be Mt Tam (the Coastal Trail from the Pantoll Ranger Station). And at Big Sur, I’d recommend Nepenthe, which is on a bend somewhere (google it). The terrace cafe is affordable and the view is amazing. Have a wonderful time.

    On another note…I get you on the loneliness and I think it’s brave to admit it. People never admit it until it’s better, and actually it’s more important to acknowledge it when you’re still lonely. I feel the same way – we just moved here, we are making friends but this week in particularly I’m missing those deep friendships that only time will give me. Keep on keeping on, eh?

  13. You won’t get lost! That’s what iphones are for, even when they’re on their last leg, promise. I appreciate your realistic perspective as you figure out what works for you in life (and through illness). There’s enough of the fluffy “my life is perfect” out there in the world. Enjoy your California adventure!

  14. Ali, I love your blog & podcast! I’ve read your blog since the beginning and think you are such a strong, inspiring, and REAL person. Also, I live in the Bay Area and 1.) have recommendations for you and 2.) would love to go on a run // get coffee // drink wine if you’re looking for someone to show you around the city or the East Bay! But onto recs — def get to the east bay and go to one of the regional parks, they’re incredible. Redwood Regional is my favorite, and this time of year it’s so beautiful. Also, walk around the mission & the castro, go to Jane on Fillmore for brunch & coffee, take the ferry to sausalito or to jack london sq…too many to list. It’s a great place to explore! & please email me if you have more questions // want other options or wanna meet up for a hike / walk / run with me and my 4 year old doberman pup WHO IS THE CUTEST.


  15. I don’t think I’ve ever posted here before but I’ve been an avid reader for years. This post is lovely and real (especially during a time when people are mean and fake). This part “Now, at 32, I feel a little directionless. I have lost touch with what I really want — what kind of impact I want to have, how I want to spend my days, where I want to focus my energy” made my heart break. I’m totally feeling the same exact way and couldn’t have said it better. I don’t know where I’m going with but I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for writing. Thanks for podcasting. Thanks for it all!

  16. I, too, really thought I had life figured out at 18. Like, go to college, become a doctor, get married by late 20s and have kids (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA), buy house, work, raise children…LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH. Now, at 31, I am like “what is the meaning of life?” At 18, there seemed to be so many “right” answers. At 31, you realize there really are no right answers.

    I often wonder, “will I spend life alone? Will I get married? How do you know someone is Mr. Right? Can I live my life in a Hallmark Movie?”

    Anyways, all that being said, I’ve only lived in California for 4 months, but I have some ideas:
    1) CHIRSTMAS TREE LANE. We can go to it and then play “Santa Claus Lane” by Hillar Duff because, close enough…
    2) We can go on a hike (it is such a thing here, and its not entirely glorified walking) and see tons and tons of dogs.
    3) Ok, I forgot my other ideas

    Have a wonderful trip 🙂

  17. Loved reading your recap of this year, even though it wasn’t all happy thoughts…

    As for CA, no, you can’t get lost on Highway 1 (there is only one way down ;)) and as for recommendations, definitely go see the Golden Gate from Baker Beach, definitely run the bridge (it’s an amazing experience!) and get some seafood at Sam’s Chowder House (Half Moon Bay).

    Also: post pictures. A lot.

  18. you will definitely lose GPS/satellite/cell service along PCH as you travel from SF to Big Sur/Bixby etc. But you are right…..ocean to your right and you’re fine 🙂 Stop at Pismo Beach and try to catch a sunset. Definitely spend time enjoying the seals. They are so cute. Take the ferry from San Francisco ferry building out to Sausalito. My friend lived on a house boat in Sausalito and I enjoyed the views and some great running routes. Also run across the Golden Gate if you’ve never done that before. But go early before the ridiculous crowds. Have a great time alone and not worryin about hubby or puppy. Keep in touch with us via Instagram so we can keep you company.

  19. Chronic illness/injury can be very lonely and isolating. People don’t understand, even if they care about you and want you to be better. When it comes to depression, a lot of people can’t relate to that either. They think you just “snap out of it.”

    I think the solo trip sounds AMAZING! I am so jealous. 🙂

    Years ago I took a solo road trip from Portland, OR to Montana to spend a week with my best friend and it was one of the most amazing, empowering, fun experiences I’ve ever had.

  20. Ali, I love your blog because of raw, honest posts like these. I’m sorry you’ve been feeling lonely. I can relate—I too have a workaholic husband with a demanding career. I would encourage you to really work to carve out time together and prioritize your marriage. I wish I had done this sooner—I kind of dealt with the loneliness for a long time and it always felt like I was just waiting and waiting on my husband to find some free time for me. Things are a lot better now because I finally told him something had to change ( we had a baby and I was not interested in feeling like a single mother) and he has found good balance. Anyway, just wanted to say I can relate to having not a lot of friends nearby and a husband who was gone a lot. I really hope your solo trip is awesome!!!

  21. I think being able to say “aloud” what many people feel but never say is amazing. It’s easy to become rudderless but really hard to recognize it and get on track. Way to go on putting this out there and taking time for yourself to get back in touch with what you want. There are so many awesome things to see and do in CA. Some SF recommendations for eats: Liho Liho Yacht Club
    Burma Superstar- Little Star (shorter line same food), Happy Hour at Bar Crudo- (a friend says it will change your life), Foreign Cinema, Devil’s Teeth for breakfast, Equator Coffee (on way to Muir Woods), Little Skillet, Live Sushi, Sushirito, Plant and GL Alfieri Nuts at the Ferry Building. I love to run on the Embarcadero toward the Golden Gate Bridge, too! Have a great trip and a healthy 2018!!

  22. It’s refreshing seeing (reading about) other people experiencing loneliness at this age. 1) because I feel like nobody ever talks about feelings/real life anymore and it’s all masked behind social media which is mostly fake and 2) who would have thought friendships would become completely void and meaningless after college? Now people just form friendships out of convenience rather than putting any effort into old friendships. And husbands/boyfriends/children take priority one. Anyways rant over – living in a city where you don’t know anyone is the worst. Hope this trip gives you everything you’re looking for and more.

  23. Dear Ali, what a wonderful way to end the year! I did a solo trip when I was in my twenties. I suffered from tinnitus and was crazy busy and stressed at the time, so I went to Spain for two weeks. It was glorious and so rewarding. I can definitely relate to the feeling of loneliness. I work as a doctor for an NGO in the Central African Republic and got engaged right before I left for the six months mission. I’m incredibly lucky to have a solid internet connection most of the time but I can’t help feeling lonely sonetimes. Fortunately I’ve got a lovely co-workers who wakes me up bringing baby bunnies and coffee to my bed when she knows that I’ve had a rough night being on call. So hurray for all the little gestures and caring people that enrich our lives every day. I hope you’ll have a lovely time in California. Much love!

  24. This is amazing! Thank you for being so open and honest. I’m really glad you are realizing now how strong you are. I think the rest of us have seen it for a long time, but I know it’s really hard to give yourself credit. It sounds like a Cali road trip is just what the doctor ordered (and Uceris). Here’s to coming back refreshed, revitalized, and ready to rock 2018!

  25. LOVE this. Loneliness hits everyone, and I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to combat feeling lonely. I, unlike you, am single and do not have a chronic illness, but I have struggled with purpose/meaning as all my friends have gotten married, had babies, etc. I am working on my PhD because of it-> because I have time and the finances, so why not?! Probably not the best reason to do it, but it has been a very growing experience. But I do think we need to talk about loneliness more and really be there for each other physically.

    I am envious of your trip! I have debated a solo trip for a long time, so please document and give tips!

  26. I love this. I’ve been feeling lonely this year too. My husband and I moved across the country so I can attend medical school (yay!) but i left all of my friends and family at home. Making new friends as an adult is hard.
    Also we have some crazy similarities. Sometimes people call me Ali – usually my nickname is Al though. I’m a May 6 birthday AND we got engaged two years apart.

  27. SO MANY CA RECS!!!!! You’ll have the best trip. This is amazing. Get the pink champagne and the toffee cake at the Madonna Inn. If you feel like a hike (2 hrs round trip) with good views, hike Bishops in San Luis Obispo! You can see the ocean from there. Go to Avila Beach, get an Acai bowl there (the place is like right by the beach) and then go sit on the beach and eat it. If you feel like running, head back into the Poly Canyon hills behind the Cal Poly campus! It is beautiful, especially if it’s green. Good coffee and breakfast sandwiches: Nautical Bean. Best sandwich in San Luis Obispo: High St Deli. Best basic but amazing breakfast/lunch, Sally Loos. If your stomach is up for it, tri tip and amazing French fried from Firestone! If you are there on a Thursday, there is a farmers market every week. OMG and wine. Edna Valley. Chamisal. There is a lovely French man who pours. Find him!!! San Luis Obispo is so charming and beautiful. Hit Montana De Oro before you leave for some reflection and solitude 🙂
    Also p.s. Really enjoyed your reflections and so glad you’re taking time for you!!!

  28. I love that you’re doing this for yourself and desperately wish I had the same freedom. You deserve this period of solitude and I hope this solo trip brings you levity and strength. I’ve driven the PCH but can’t pinpoint the best places to stop—honestly, I feel like you could stop anywhere and be happy. Enjoy. ❤️

  29. Good for you, Ali. Do you! Your schedule, your sights, your time. Can’t wait to hear about your adventures along the road.

  30. You should spend a couple days camping in big sur – you can do it in a yurt and it’s definitely glamping! I’ve done the drive down highway 1 and it’s unreal. Stop in solvang (closer to LA) for amazing Dutch pastries.

  31. Hearst Castle! Just north of SLO/the Madonna Inn! Stop for gas in King City (because everyone does), and watch the sunset from Santa Barbara County. (I’m SB, so I am partial to it.)

  32. Solo trips are the best! I finally took myself on one last month and it was so rejuvenating. Treat yourself and do exactly what you want and only what you want. And when what you want changes in the moment, go with it. Seriously the best thing I’ve done for myself in a while. Enjoy.

    Also- in the San Diego area- I got some FAB acai bowls from a place called beaming organic–delish!!!

  33. I did a similar thing this year.. grabbed one of my dogs and hit the road for a 2 week solo road trip through the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier and the Canadian Rockies. It was wonderful. I live in San Diego and have done my fair share of California Coast road tripping, including a lot of Big Sur-ing, which is my favorite place! Happy to share recommendations! Linking to my overview guide here.

  34. This was entirely too perfect timing. I feel like I’ve spent the better of the past 5 years really sick and hopeless and as the years passed it only continued to get worse. I’ve hit rock bottom more times than I can even remember. Summers are crazy busy for me (owning 2 seasonal businesses) and I usually just try to survive those and hope my body doesn’t completely collapse. This past September things started to look up. I had my best 3 weeks (illness-wise) in YEARS, and I GOT ENGAGED right in the middle of those weeks. I’ve since still had a lot of ups and downs but can finally say I have my hope back. I actually just cried earlier today happy tears because I haven’t felt this good mentally in so long and it’s been an incredible struggle and (as I know you can understand) have had several instances of just completely wanting to give up. I can say today I feel so proud of myself for how strong I am. I know at times I didn’t handle things well but I also know that not many people could handle what I’ve been through and still come out the other side. I don’t know how long this *good* will last but I am forever grateful that I have it right now and I never would be able to appreciate the little things without these experiences. I couldn’t be happier that you are feeling better and that you can appreciate the little things as well. Although I’m further from the city than your city friends are I’m in NJ and happy to be your friend 🙂 NJ haters have clearly never seen the shore 😉 Again just so happy to read this post and cheers to good days ahead!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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