Confessions of a (Not So) Average Runner

I am a runner.  An average middle-of-the-pack runner.

Or so I thought.

That is…until I got deeper into the running community.  And I realized…I’m a bit of an anomaly in this particular fellowship.  Maybe I’m not so average.

Maybe I am actually a black sheep.  A unicorn.  I’m feeling more and more like a star trying to fit into a round hole (as my roommate so blatantly put it awhile back when I took a moment to whine about this very subject).

I am a runner…that didn’t run as a child.  No cross country or track in high school.  Basically my running in my non-adult years was the bases of a softball field.  IF I was fortunate enough to hit the ball.  I wasn’t much good at hitting.  I was a damn good catcher though.  Maybe squatting was more my thing.

I’m digressing.  Back on track…

I am a runner…that will never have some inspirational Transformation Tuesday photos.  If anything, my pictures tell a very different story.  I started running just after being diagnosed with Celiac.  My body was depleted of essential nutrients that it stopped absorbing.  My pictures show someone going from being tiny and maybe fitting that “fit” standard all social media aspires to…to someone with a little bit of meat on her bones and muscle tone that isn’t as defined because my body is healthy.  Maybe the scale tells me things I don’t like…but I feel strong and I feel healthy…and that beats a number on the scale anytime.

I am a runner…that didn’t start running to lose weight, maintain a certain lower weight, or to make my body smaller.  In fact…the more years I’ve run, the more I’ve weighed.  I keep hoping it’s muscle and not the desserts I love so much.  HA. (It’s okay, though, if it actually is the desserts because we all need to live a little!)

I am a runner…who didn’t take up running in place of other habits such as smoking or drinking.  I never took up this sport to replace some demon I was battling or some habit I was dispensing of at the time.  It was never my rehab.

Nope.  Much like Forrest Gump…one day, I just felt like running.

But what I have discovered is that this isn’t your typical running story…and in a sense, it has left me feeling like quite the outsider in a truly diverse community.  And it’s perplexing how I can be surrounded by great people…and yet still find myself running alone more times than not.  How is it that in a community that has every shape and size of person…I just don’t fit?

I think social media recently illuminated this light bulb and got me thinking on this particular subject.  Good or bad…the gears started turning in my head.

Awhile back…when lots of Transformation Tuesday posts were still fresh in my head…my local MRTT/SRTT social media post showed a pic of two of the chapter leaders and invited everyone to tag their BRFs (Best Running Friends).  And this is where it all clicked with me.  I have this great community all around me…and yet…I do 90% of my runs alone.

And this wasn’t always the case.  When I first started running, and after a big bridge repair happened and made going over to Louisville a lot easier, I started running Monday nights from a new running store in the Highlands of Louisville.  It was the Monday Fun Run and I showed up, the girl from Indiana, who didn’t know anyone there…and afraid I’d be running alone and get lost…had people to run with for the first time.  My first run, I met Courtney, who was kind enough to run with me and guide me around the Loop at Cherokee Park, because I was certain I’d get lost as I didn’t run in Louisville unless it was a race…and that’s marked out…and…and…she was awesome.  And she put up with my RunKeeper clicking off my pace and miles from my pocket…because I didn’t own a Garmin yet.  Courtney and I are still friends…and this store brought so many more people into my life.  Especially when I started training for marathons in 2013.  That Monday group invited me to come and join them on their weekly long runs as I dove into marathon training for the first time.  A large group of people met up at the running store (the store is gone now) every Saturday morning for long runs.  All paces.  All levels.  Everyone welcome.  As someone who met this group by taking a chance, I decided it would be a much more fun way to train.  I love running with people.  And from there…I gained a lot of friendships and running buddies.  I ran fast…I ran slow…but I always had someone to guide me through the process and take me the next mile week after week after week.

And keep me from getting lost in Louisville. (I actually do get lost…a lot).

But…these days I feel like I’ve lost all of that.  Many members of that group no longer run together.  Some have health issues that prevent them from participating in the sport anymore or for right now.  Some have just taken to training solo.  Some have outgrown the group because they’ve gotten superhuman speed or are doing triathlons so their focus has to be on other aspects.  Some are battling injuries.  Some are taking time away…for no other reason except that they want to explore other hobbies that they enjoy and need time to do.

And all of that is fair.  And fine.  We all have our own goals and aspirations and restrictions and limitations.

I am always game to run with people, but as someone who is known as one of the “fast” runners (I’m really not…but thank you!), I feel like everyone feels intimidated and doesn’t want to slow me down.

Insert my coach saying, “PLEASE…SLOW HER DOWN!”

The great thing about running is that it can be an individual sport, but it can also be a team sport or a sport that you can buddy up or form groups and make the miles tick away as you please.  Where I see so many groups out there running together, I feel like my training and my so called “speed” have left me more isolated than ever before.  And it sucks.  It sucks, because I am such a social person, and I love the social aspect of training with people and running with people, because that can be far more entertaining than waiting on the next beep from the Garmin watch, or simply getting lost in the sound of my footfalls on another empty road or my breathing as I run, perhaps, a little harder than I need to be for a training run…because my mind is now focused on nothing more than finishing another solo run.  It’s definitely more rewarding.

I probably sound like I’m whining…

I guess…being someone without a past in running, or someone who has dropped weight, or someone who has overcome addiction…I guess it just makes me a bit more of an outsider.  And, yeah, sometimes I’m jealous.  People with stories are the people who inspire others.  No one gets inspired by the girl who just one day decided to run instead of walk…and has had to battle back after some pretty bad (and always poorly timed) injuries…time and time again…because people usually give you the, “Oh…I’m sorry you got injured…again.” look or tone or whatever.  I don’t like being the person who gets told, “you’re so injury prone,” or that “You shouldn’t do that because it will make you get injured again.  You’re always getting injured.”  There was a time where that didn’t matter…but now it’s so ingrained in my head that I feel like pushing the limits in running will just lead to injury.  Funny how people can change your way of thinking…and make you feel like less of a person, even if that isn’t their intention.

Yep…I have been injured.  What runner hasn’t?  But, it seems that in the time I have had to take off from running was when my community crumbled and scattered and all that’s left are a few bits of the foundation…and, God, am I ever thankful for them.  Because, I’ve not had an easy time of it, regardless of what people think.  When you’re told by both your orthopedic doctor and your physical therapist that your body just isn’t built for running…but this is the one sport that you’ve actually been able to show up for, enjoy, and, sometimes, even be good at…well, stopping is not an option.

Not yet, anyway!

Through all of this…the very struggles that make elite runners feel human…is where I have felt the most lonely.  My comebacks have been slow, steady, and silent.  My setbacks have been disappointing to myself and to those I felt were counting on me to show up every weekend and run some miles with them.  It’s all a very internalized struggle that just recently showed me how very different I am from most people I know who are runners.

But I’m not an outsider.  I’m one of them.  I just came to it differently.  I fight for it differently.  I do it for different reasons.  And sometimes…when I’m digging into another mile on a long training run, I need to remember MY WHY.

It’s not always easy being an average girl, with an average build, who runs a rather average speed, an average amount of times a week, who has been pretty basic her entire life…with an average story…feeling anything but average in this life these days.

I’m okay with being average.  Just…tell me there are more out there like me.  Because I’m looking for you!

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Papa John’s 10 Miler – Louisville, KY (April 7, 2018)

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Me after finishing the SNOWY Papa John’s 10 Miler – Louisville, KY

Race: Papa John’s 10 Miler

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: April 7, 2018

Time: 1:23:33

I don’t even know where to start with this one.  And that’s rare for me, because finding words has never been a problem.

Normally, the Papa John’s 10 Miler would be considered my top and favorite race that Louisville has…every year…hands down.  But this year…it just wasn’t what I remember it being.

And that’s sad.

First of all…yes…I am very aware that my time is 7 minutes slower than my 2016 time (I didn’t run it last year because my hip flexor had flared back up and I wasn’t allowed to run double digits yet…)  This was by design…as this is a training run and not to be treated as a race for my training purposes.  Is this hard for me to come to terms with.  Yep.  Not going to lie.  My brain has a hard time wrapping around this style of training more often than not.

Second of all…going into this, the weather was predicted to be…unpredictable.  At first, it was we were in a Winter Storm Watch…5-6 inches of snow.  Then it was 1 inch of snow…alert lifted.  Then the alert came back…and, honestly, I am just so DONE with this winter weather.  It’s spring.  It’s April.  Winter needs to move along.  Needless to say, a very small part of me (or maybe not so small) was sort of hoping that the weather would happen and the race would cancel, because, honestly, I wasn’t feeling it.slimer

Thirdly…what the hell happened with the shirts this year?  Usually the Papa John’s 10 Miler has really nice shirts…great colors (usually red and black), great logo…all the things.  This year, the shirt was bright neon green with this year’s logo in solid black on the front.  I hated it.  AND…they ran out of female smalls.  Never mind that I’ve been registered for awhile and specifically noted the shirt size I wanted was a women’s small.  NOPE.  In fact, my running coach signed up last minute for it and went to the expo early and the women’s smalls were GONE.  So, now I have an ill-fitting race shirt that makes me feel like Slimer from the Ghostbusters with pizza on hand for a snack.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much the shirt let me down this year.  There was no thought put into them.  And that just…sucks!

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My shirt for this year’s Papa John’s 10 Miler – a size too big (but doesn’t this scream Slimer?)

The rest will be mentioned as this race report goes on.  My friend Melissa was a doll and went to pick up my race bib and shirt and deliver it to me, since she was already over in Louisville that day.  She had Cathy tape her Achilles while there.  After she left, I finished baking up some Lemon Blossoms, did the rest of my stretches, and hauled myself to bed, because rest is ultimately the most important thing going into race morning, even on mornings where you aren’t giving it your all.

I woke up the next morning around 5 am to fit in my stretches and figure out what I, ultimately, wanted to wear to the race.  I glanced out my bedroom window and everything looked very underwhelming as far as the weather went.  There was some snow in the air, and the grass was white…but the sidewalks and pavement just looked wet.  Not icy.  Not slippery.

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I was dreaming of being in shorts and a tank top…but on April 7, 2018…we had snow and 20 mph winds…and temps in the high 20s.

This, obviously, boded well for the race director as the race was definitely a go.  But I just wasn’t feeling it.  I did my push-ups and my stretches prior to eating something small for breakfast while home.  I went to get dressed, opting for layers this time around.  I wore some fleece-lined running tights to keep my legs warm (and we all know that I already hate wearing pants when running).  I put on a base layer top, followed by one of my warmer running tops (lined) and then my Saucony reflective vest to help with the gusting winds that morning.  I originally had on some warm running socks and compression sleeves, but ultimately changed into a pair of my ProCompression socks to keep my ankles warm.  I was so unenthusiastic about the race and the weather that I opted to not put my hair in pigtails…and braided it again.  my Run The Bluegrass Ponya Band went on over my ears and my Dunkin’ Donuts hat I got at the start of the 2014 NYC Marathon went on to keep my head warm.  Despite knowing I wouldn’t need them, my sunglasses were put on atop my head (I feel better when I have them).  And that was that.  I was as ready as I was going to be for the race.

Cathy had brought the sign with her to the car, but the wet rain was still happening, and that, sadly, would ruin the marker on the poster board.  So the sign stayed in the car.  We got down to the stadium and parked.  Linda and Suzane were parked just a few cars up so I headed over that way…waved at the stranger (I hadn’t met Suzane yet) in the driver’s seat and greeted Linda when the door opened.  The plan today was to run at a 9 min/mile (technically it was supposed to be slower).  At this point, the wet snow was coming down hard and we were all still trying to figure out what we wanted to keep on for the race or shed.  Ultimately, the three of us all decided to keep all our layers.

It was already close to the start time of the race, so we made our way up and over the bridge and toward Third Street.  Along the way, Manivannan caught up to us and joined us in the trek.  Linda and Suzane decided to take advantage of the plentiful and large line of port-a-potties near the start.  The lines moved quickly and that is a good thing.  Despite some killer hydration on my part…I was fine and didn’t need to worry about it.  Probably good too, because there was, apparently, no toilet paper in the port-a-potties at the start line.  Ummm…that’s sort of important.  Just sayin’.

After a photo near the port-a-potties, we decided to head into the crowd of runners and find a good spot where to start.  We inched our way forward…and then forward some more…because we saw a lot of the green WALKER stickers and wanted to at least get in front of that.  Despite running this at an easier pace than usual for me…we at least wanted a good point from which to start.

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Suzane, me and Linda starting the snowy, cold, wet, and windy Papa John’s 10 Miler – Louisville, KY

And after the wheelchair racers were sent off…the start of the Papa John’s snowy 10 Miler…was off and running.  I started my watch as we crossed over the mats and waved at Cathy, who looked miserable, standing on the sideline.  And fell into an easy pace, dodging some people here and there just to find the space I needed to stretch out.

Apparently before she went to head to the finish and the (hopeful) shelter of Papa John’s Stadium, Cathy stumbled upon Paul and Melissa at the start.  This is always exciting…especially since we were hanging out later that night for Wino & Dino (wine & dine, but with vegan foods, wine, and Jurassic Park).  Melissa passed her NYC Half Marathon Mylar to Cathy to hold for her while they headed out.   Talk about really good timing.  Now she can use this one another day!  Cathy tucked it into her backpack to make the trek to the stadium.

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Melissa and Paul at the start of the Papa John’s 10 Miler – Louisville, KY

Once we found some open space, it was time to focus on the miles ahead.  Linda’s watch was still set wrong for racing, so, just like in Run The Bluegrass, our run was serenaded by the constant chiming of her watch telling her that her pace was wrong.  Not being able to change it…it was just how it was going to be.  Good thing I tune things out and after awhile stopped hearing it.

We hit the first mile marker a full 0.1 miles ahead of my Garmin watch.  I checked with Linda…she had the same.  Hmm…this isn’t a new course…so it should be measured properly, in my opinion.  We kept on, hoping that it would right itself as we got further into the race.  Suzane wanted to shed her vest with a friend at the water stop after Mile 2…but it turns out he was, in fact, standing at Mile 2, which wasn’t Mile 2…because it was 0.25 miles off where it was supposed to be.  Um…that’s a problem!!  Having missed that opportunity Linda and Suzane decided to make use of the water stop just after the mile marker.  They thanked the volunteers and hydrated before we stopped walking and went back to running.

Linda says I need to be kept on a retractable leash.  HA!!  We were definitely over the pace we were supposed to/trying to keep on this race.  But, in the end, she’d thank both me and Suzan for it.  We made the turn onto New Cut Road from Southern Parkway, and Suzan ran over to the First Aid tent to drop off her vest so she could pick it up on our way out of the park and wear it back in.  We paused while she did this and then continued on.  We passed the Mile 3 marker, now 0.3 miles off the actual distance (as in short) and a lot of runners were starting to take notice and complain about this while out on the course.  The entrance to the park was different than I recall from 2016 and the other years I ran prior…and we ended up making some weird cut through a parking lot, back down, and then starting into the park.  It was weird, I thought…because we always went in that first entrance and started up the hills.  Not this time.

But this is where the hills basically get to play with your speed.  Mile 4 ticked off, still before where it should have at this point in the race.  I stopped looking down to see how much it was off.  I was done.  I know they have no power over the weather, but the mile markers being off were just as annoying.  And I usually LOVE this race.  I wasn’t loving any of it.

As we came up the climb at Mile 5, the halfway point, we actually hit the mile marker right on.  That was exciting.  Perhaps it would all be back on and correct.  YAY!  It was in here that another water stop was around and Linda and Suzan went to grab bottles and I said I wasn’t stopping…it was a downhill and I needed to fly.  They grabbed and came with me, cracking their bottles when things leveled out.  Just after Mile 6 we exit back out of the park and run back the way we came, so super flat…but as we were heading into that last hill, a woman asked, “Do you run Iroquios Park often?”  I said, “Yeah.”  And she said, “Are we almost out?”  I nodded. “Just up this hill…down the other side, and out.  Then you just have to worry about the hill over the bridge at Mile 9 heading toward the stadium.”  She thanked me…and Linda called me back because I had gotten too far ahead.

We came down the hill and exited the park, stopping for probably a minute or slightly longer for Linda to take a salt tablet, drink some water, and for Suzan to grab her vest from the First Aid tent and put it back on.  Suzan commented that I had white eyelashes.  That’s how heavy and wet the falling snow was.  When everything was situated, we headed back out down the road.

Mile markers were off…again.  And I wasn’t going to even worry over by how much.  It was by a good amount.  And I just gave up on looking.  While running, in an attempt to keep me slower, I was asked about my job, what I love doing, and all this.  And then…at Mile 8 (on her watch)…Linda let me go.  I think my watch was now ahead of the mile markers, but at this point, I was just happy to attempt to pick up my pace.  The problem is…when I start slow…I don’t seem to be able to find my speed so picking it up isn’t easy.  I’m not a finishing kick person and that makes the 2 mile push I was given feel like a slog.  I also hate running on wet pavement…so there’s that.

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Cathy shows her own discontent with the new finish OUTSIDE of the stadium…

Mile 9 came and eventually I made the turn back onto Central Avenue to climb up and over the bridge.  I felt like I took on the bridge quite strong and my legs felt good as I battled up and over and took the downhill in stride.  My training plan wanted me to kick it in at a 7:45-ish pace…and I was pushing as much as I could at this point given the weather and circumstances.  I hit the turn and the flat road toward the stadium.  I made the turn…and this is when I saw the finish line.

Outside.  Of.  The.  Stadium.

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Me crossing the finish line of the Papa John’s 10 Miler…in the snow and wind and misery!

I had looked at the race course map…and everything had the race finishing INSIDE the stadium.  It has ALWAYS finished INSIDE the stadium.  Apparently last year it didn’t, but again, I didn’t run it last year and most of my friends did Run The Bluegrass instead of the 10 Miler.  I glanced at my watch and knew that the course was going to be short.

I wasn’t wrong.  I crossed the finish line and stopped my Garmin, making a point this time to do it immediately instead of throwing my hands up in elation as I finish like I normally do.  I wasn’t feeling happy at this point.  I was wet, cold, and the course was wrong.  I wasn’t amused at all.  My watch showed 9.95 miles…so did Linda’s.  And Paul’s had the course at 9.92.

Afterwards, I decided I wanted my full 10 miles (dammit!), so I jogged to the end of the parking lot and hit it.  Then I snagged a banana, some mini KIND Bars, and a water.  Cathy hadn’t eaten, so she nibbled on my free pizza (since I can’t eat Papa John’s pizza…and why let that go to waste, right).  I walked back to where she was with Linda and Suzan and they went to go to get their own pizza and celebrate their finish.

It was cold and miserable and we decided to call it a morning and leave.  We had invited them to brunch, but Suzan needed to get back to Frankfort…but I supplied them with some Lemon Blossoms for the ride home.  As we were walking back toward the cars, we noted the computers where we could pull up results so we braved a few more moments in the cold to check them out.

Glad we did too…because Linda came in second in her age group!  Bet she’s glad that I pushed the pace a little now (even though, ultimately, I wasn’t consciously doing this.  I just have a high cadence so my pace is faster without me feeling like I’m pushing my limits).

So…the official results of the 2018 Papa John’s 10 Miler were that I finished in 1:23:33, which I already explained why this was kept slower than I raced it in 2016. I was 391/2890 overall, the 101/1573 females to cross the finish line, and I was 24/242 in my age division. It occurs to me more and more that I’m not big on training in races because, ultimately, I compare past results (if I have run it in the past) and then feel like a failure when everyone I know is hitting new PRs and I wasn’t even able to try for one.  It just messes with my delicate runner’s psyche.  HA!

Needless to say, this year’s Papa John’s 10 Miler, what I used to tote as my FAVORITE local race…let me down.  And I just didn’t love it this year.  Weather wasn’t their fault, but the rest just felt like it was disjointed and…honestly…disorganized.  And that’s a bit of a letdown.

I don’t know if I’ll come back to it.  I need to let it sit for awhile.

Thank God I went to North End Cafe afterwards, was able to change into warm, dry clothes, and drink a lot of nice hot coffee and feel human again.  No less angry.  But human.  I felt a lot better after settling in at Melissa & Paul’s house that night for some wine and food and dinosaurs and exploding kittens.  Sometimes the best therapy is friend therapy!

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Linda, Suzan, Me, and Mani at the start line of the Papa John’s 10 Miler

 

Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon – Lexington, KY (March 31, 2018)

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Me coming into the finish of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon – Lexington, KY

Race: Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon

Place: Lexington, Kentucky

Date: March 31, 2018

Time: 2:04:43

There is something to be said about not coming into a race wanting to smash it.  Pressure can be a friend or foe, and with me, more often than not…it’s foe.

There is also something to be said about choosing an almost local half marathon to run…one that you’ve wanted to run for a couple of years but have always been riding the injury train…and spending it with important people in your life.  Not fussing over all the minutiae…stressing over goal times…all the stuff that comes with races.

There is something to be said about running the race that is billed as “America’s Prettiest Half Marathon.”  Running it, my friends, but really taking it in.  Drinking in the gorgeous horse farms, and the running horses by the roads you are running, taking selfies with strangers and friends alike.

Yeah…it’s something I rarely get to experience because I do get wrapped up in finish times more than finish lines sometimes.  That was a lot of “-imes and -ines” all at once, yeah?

I registered for the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon after being encouraged by my enabler…er…friend…Melissa.  I knew this one was going to be a tough course, as I heard about the, anywhere from 33-40 hills (it’s all in who you ask and talk to!).  We all know, my broken down hips love the downhill and flat spaces.  The uphills…well…let’s just say I’m working on that.

My coach, Linda, actually provides her runners as pacers for this race.  No…I did not sign up to be a pacer.  She and her local and amazing Frankfort pack were going to see runners to their goals on race day.  Linda was going to be pacing the 2:10 group, fresh off of the Chattanooga Marathon where she punched her ticket to the Boston Marathon next year.  I was told to line up with her and to stick with her.  And while, for a brief moment, I felt like I was wasting an opportunity to race…it turned out this was a blessing in disguise (and maybe it was all part of her plan from the start…Melissa is convinced that it was!).

The Friday before the race just happened to be Good Friday.  So, my office gave all employees a half day.  This meant that Cathy and I could hit the road to Lexington early and get to the expo and have some time to look around.  I had packed some Asian soup for us to eat before we hit the road, and we had dinner plans that night with Melissa and Paul at the BEST place to get pasta in Lexington – Bella Notte.

The drive down was easy and uneventful.  We were pumping ourselves up for the race, so I put in the Britney Spears Greatest Hits album (don’t judge!) and played it all the way through.  Then, my Garmin GPS in the car took us some weird route toward the race expo, where we were driving on narrow back roads.  It was wet and rainy and beautiful.  We passed a chicken farm…where I declared, “That there is a chicken farm!”  Because, I wanted to talk in a hick-deep-South accent, I guess.

It was at that turn, however, that Cathy made note of the signs marking the Run the Bluegrass route.  As we turned and took the road toward Keeneland, where the race expo and the start of the race would happen, we wound through the beautiful horse country.  And as Cathy pointed out the course signs, she literally turned her head and said…

“You’re going to die tomorrow.”

I am still laughing over this…because she knows my hatred of uphills.  And there were going to be 30 something uphills to conquer.  She probably wasn’t wrong.  My saving grace was going to be running with Linda…my coach…the 2:10 pacer.  Linda and I have run in the same races before, but never together.  So, I was pretty stoked about it.  Linda was too.  And that helped.

Walking into the expo at Keeneland in Lexington, KY

We arrived to the expo and parked the car.  Keeneland is gorgeous and we walked into the main building of the expo where you are immediately greeted, handed info books and catalogs and directed to the packet pickup area.  This is done by bib number, which is corresponding with the corral/wave that you are in.  My bib was 1052…first corral…but I was falling back to wherever Linda was going to be stationed.  I texted Linda as I got there and then went to get my bib.  A lot of the Frankfort runners were manning packet pick-up and when I gave my bib number, I was given a long look, the bib was flipped over to get my name info, and she said, “I though that was you, Karen.  You’re just not in running clothes.”  That must be one of those #runnerproblems.

Linda caught up with me just as I was entering the expo space to look at all the things for sale and really just wanting to buy everything.  We hugged and she showed me all the great things I should by.  In the end, I ended up with one of the Run The Bluegrass Ponya Bands (I was going to get a Bondi Band, but was literally seconds too late as the woman at the table and grabbed the last two), and the official Run The Bluegrass jacket, which is gorgeous and I love it and want to wear it all the time.  It has, actually, come in handy with the crazy rainy days we’ve had since the race.  I also had Cathy buy me some of the special popcorn from Popcorn Paradise.

Photos, Packet Pickup, Shopping…Run The Bluegrass Expo has it all!!

Melissa and Paul were on their way in, so we made the rounds through the rest of the expo and checked out all the vendors.  I’m still searching for some shoes that I can simply train in (so I don’t wear out those hard-to-find Newton’s that I race in), but none of the ones for sale at the expo spoke to me.  Ah well.  I did finally get to try Sword.  It was pretty good…but I’m still doing well with my combo of Hammer gels and Nuun Performance.  When my stomach is happy…I stick with it.

At the very back of the space, you get to pick up your race shirt.  In this case, it’s this t-shirt hoodie thing.  Which, honestly, has become my favorite thing to wear at the moment.  Just slip it over my workout clothes and good to go.  They also had out next year’s gear and…the hoodie shirts aren’t coming back.  They are bringing in long sleeve and short sleeve tech shirt options, and the upgrade jacket has omni heat lining.

I ran into Tammy and Dean back here and we got to talk for a little bit.  This was also their first time running Run The Bluegrass…so we were all pretty excited to be taking part in it this year.  They were catching dinner at BJ’s…and we were hoping to squeak in as walk-ins at Belle Notte eventually.  They went to head out and we turned around to go back toward the front of the expo.

Melissa and Paul texted to say they were parking so Cathy and I maneuvered back up to the entrance area.  Twenty minutes later and we were wondering if they got lost in the parking lot.  But, they did eventually come through the doors, hit up the bourbon table, got their bibs and texted to see where we were.  I texted back to turn around.

And we were reunited.  We all made our way back through the shopping, vendors, and races that were there to hopefully catch your eye.  Many of them did…so…who knows.  Paul replaced his sunglasses as his old pair went missing on the NYC trip.  And they got their shirts/jackets.  Melissa stayed with the hoodie…but Paul had upgraded to the men’s jacket.  It was NICE!

As we were standing around about to try more Sword, I got a text from my friends Ron and Shawn, and they came on back to where we were so we could talk for a moment.  Ron was going for a race PR the following day and he looked relaxed and ready.  They would be heading to Bella Notte for dinner as well later that evening.

Bella Notte Gluten Free House Salad

With all the expo excitement done, the four of us split up to make the trek to Belle Notte for our pre-race dinner.  Bella Notte has an amazing gluten-free menu and knowledgeable staff.  I have never had issues at this restaurant, and I make sure I eat here every time I’m in Lexington.  I often contemplate trying something else…but in the end…I always end up getting the same thing: Gluten-Free Pasta Arrabiata with a Salad (no croutons; no cheese) with their balsamic dressing.  Melissa got the Caesar Salad (no croutons) and the Bella Original Rigatoni Crema (which actually comes out as Fusiili pasta).  Cathy got the Tomato Basil Soup and the Bella Origina Rigatoni Crema, and Paul got Salad and got the Baked Rigatoni Romano.  There was a lot of food…but it was all fantastic, good…and we ate it all.  I was on the right amount of full.  And afterwards, we went to walk it all off for a bit at the Half Price Books nearby and then hit Kroger up for some bananas, waters, and whatever else we needed for the hotel room.

Bella Notte’s Gluten Free Pasta Arrabiata

The plan was to play some games (it’s been awhile since game night and that was the never-ending game of Stranger Things Monopoly).  But instead, we ended up watching a few YouTube Videos (one a comedian doing a bit about fitness trackers and joggers…and triathletes.  It was funny…and of course…Marathon Thoughts).  And then Melissa had us watch the episode of The Office where they run a 5K for rabies awareness.  It was so funny.  So…the games didn’t happen..but we were chill and relaxed and got our stuff laid out for the following morning to help make life easier. Cathy made up my Nuun Performance to go in my water bottle for fuel and then we did a Shaun T stretching video to realign, relax, and prepare ourselves for some sleep and hopefully get out the door on time to head to the start the next morning.

I heard some horror stories about the traffic going into Keeneland on race day.

I actually slept really well.  My alarm went off at the same time as theirs.  And, much like when we shared the Suede Tomb in NYC…we just sort of went in rounds through the bathroom.  I snagged my race clothing (I started in a tank top and running skirt…and of course had my sports bra) to change into while I used the bathroom and brushed my teeth.  I came out of the bathroom to let whoever was next go in and do their thing.  And while that was going on…I put on my compression sleeves, my anklet, my earrings, put my hair extensions in and put my hair in pigtails…

My 2nd outfit that morning…and even this got to be too hot early in the race. How do you dress for freezing at the start and 50 degrees at the finish?

…and then Melissa checked the weather again.  And everything needed to change.  It was about 30 degrees at the start of the race with a decent wind going on.  I changed my entire outfit to a totally different tank top (which I added arm warmers to), bright capri’s…changed my compression sleeves and then put on a jacket and my pants over it to stay warm.  It was going to be close to 50 by the time I would be finishing the race…but we were starting in the freezing temps.  This is why I don’t know how to dress in spring.

To top everything off…I donned my “Hills Suck” Bondi Band.  It was perfect for this race.

Cathy headed down to the restaurant to snag some real food from the complimentary breakfast.  Apparently runners had this plan too because she texted that she was in a line.  She grabbed an English Muffin (line too long to toast it), potatoes, eggs, and bacon and gobbled it down while the runners of the group got their shit together and headed down.  Melissa wasn’t sure how the race would go, so she and Paul went ahead and loaded their stuff up into their car instead of bothering with late checkout.  I went to find Cathy and she casually finished her breakfast, got her coffee to go, and we were all out the door and en route to Keeneland.  Cathy took the first gate (despite instructions to take Gate 2) and we got stuck in a bit of a line waiting to get parking.  Melissa and Paul took Gate 2 and got in and parked in a prime spot without a wait.  Naturally.

Cathy’s Embassy Suites breakfast…don’t know what was in the bowl if anything…

We ended up being directed up a hill with every other vehicle coming in at that point and parking in the grass in the middle of a field.  Thankfully the grass wasn’t too soft from all the rain we’ve been getting or I fear my little Toyota Corolla would have had some problems getting out.  We sat in the warm car until I heard from Melissa and Paul that they were heading to the RunDisney tent for the meetup photo there.  Cathy made me get out into the cold, but we decided to wander into the expo building.  I figured I could use a flushing toilet while there…but then I saw the line and, since I really didn’t have to go…I really didn’t bother to wait in the slow moving ladies room line.  Hey…the port-a-potty lines were just as long.  We eventually did make our way out to the muddy tent area, found Melissa and Paul and then went on a Linda h

Cathy and I before heading to the start line of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon.

unt.  Since she and her runners were pacers, it was no surprise that they weren’t at the tent.  Cathy decided we needed to head down to the start line anyway.

And on the way, I did fuel up with my Banana Bread Lärabar.  The bar worked for New York, even though I definitely used more energy there.  Actually, with all the hills…I figured it would probably be comparable effort.  Maybe?

Ron and I at the start line of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon

At the start line…I saw no one.  No one that I recognized.  No pacers yet.  So I devoured my breakfast and then finally saw a smiling, happy face.  Ron!!  He was hoping to run a RTB (Run The Bluegrass) PR (he has been saying if he can sub-1:45 he’d burn a couch) and he looked good and strong  and we had perfect weather.  I told him I knew he was going to do it and wished him luck and let him go and get lined up where he needed to achieve his goals.  Then, I saw Tim walk by with the 1:45 pacer sign.  AH…the pacers were here…which meant Linda would be here.  Which meant, I needed to head back in the corrals and find her.

On the way, I spotted Greg, who was a 2:00 pacer and stopped to give him a hug and talk to him.  He told me Linda was the next corral back to lead Wave 3 out…so I told him to have a good race and skipped back to where I saw the next pacer sign.  YES!  There was Linda and her pacing partner, Mark!  I had never met Mark, but I had seen him earlier, because he was wearing a kilt.  I notice kilts!

Me, Linda and Mark leading Wave 3 and the 2:10 hopefuls!

The start of the race was actually delayed by about 15 minutes because the ambulances were stuck in traffic and not at their stations on the course.  So, I got to know some of the people around me.  I had this couple asking me questions about my Newton running shoes…we talked about half marathons…and then…finally…go-time!!!

Except…I was in Wave 3…so it was walk up with the 2nd wave and wait…and then finally move to the front.  I think Linda said there was supposed to be 2 minutes between waves, but as we got to the front of the line for Wave 3, I heard the announcer say 40 seconds before Wave 3’s start.  Two minutes my runner’s booty!

And just like that…I was off…running my very first Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon.  So many of the runners I know continue to return to this race, so I knew I was in for something special.  I also knew that I could really take in the experience, which was both frustrating and amazing all at once.  My legs like to run…and I was moving at a trot (horse reference, get it?).  I knew that hills awaited and, honestly, this was probably the best way for this race to be approached.  Linda had the breakdown specific to this race on how each mile needed to be run and I’m not used to checking my watch, but I figured I could at least help with that.  Maybe?

First hill…of so many!

We headed up Keeneland’s Back Gate Drive – the first hill…and I felt strong and my legs really wanted to push and power up…but more hills awaited and Linda was keeping me right where I needed to be.  She’s good at that.  HA!

I knew this was going to be a good run when I saw horses within the first couple of miles.  Seriously.  Horses that were in one of their fields.  They were running away from the big group of humans that were running and we all joked that the horses were thinking, “Well, all the people are running…we should too.”  HA!!  It was…SO amazing.  We were still ahead of pace, and Linda said that worked to our advantage because that meant we could walk some of the bigger hills.  I was totally okay with that.

There were definitely a couple of selfie-stops along the way.  And when we hit the split for the 7 Milers and Half Marathoners (which also happened to be that Chicken Farm) and said to Linda to take note to tell Cathy…because I promised her I’d say it.  And then I let go with my “That there is a chicken farm!”  I had so much fun running with Linda and the group of runners that she and Mark were leading.  I got to talk to a few of them about Disney races, Dopey, New York City, and Linda let me in on a secret…it’s good luck to throw your hands up in the air when you run across railroad tracks.  So, the three sets that we crossed during this race, I did that and let out an enthusiastic, “WOOOOO!” at the same time.  I mean, if you’re going to do something…do it with gusto!

It was also around the second or third water stop that we realized that, unlike it was stated in the race guide, Sword was not at every water stop.  And this concerned a lot of runners who had planned to use this as their fuel on the course and didn’t bring their own.  Every water stop we would ask for the Sword…and were told they just had water.  A few runners were already starting to panic as the day was heating up (I shed my arm warmers and was comfortable in a tank), the sun was up, and electrolytes were needed.  I always carry my own fuel regardless, so I said I had Nuun Performance if needed…and Linda had salt tabs to offer if needed as well.  We FINALLY ran across a stop with Sword at the halfway point.  That came as a relief…but the rest of the way…Sword was only in one or two other water stops.  That would be my only compliant…mostly from other runners standpoints.  I have never trained with Sword and am kind of in love with my Nuun, but I could see the frustration and worry of those I was running with who were looking for Sword at every stop.

That being said, the various farms that we came across were stunning.  I particularly liked the one near the end that had spires and is just absolutely stunning.  The fact that that is a BARN and not a house still baffles me!  Honestly!

Going into this race, I was warned about the hill at Mile 9…the dreaded S-Curve.  You start up…it levels out, you round a corner…you go back up.  I was prepping for this and the drums pretty much the entire way.  This hill is, apparently, notorious!  As we were heading toward this hill though, we were coming up another one and had caught up with the wheelchair racer.  He was blind as well and had his helper.  The runners did good to get over at this point, but Linda said to me…”they will fly past us on the downhill in a few minutes.

She heard them too…and started to shout to the runners to GET TO THE RIGHT!  Of course, most did, except those with headphones on.  One woman almost got completely taken out because she couldn’t hear the TEN times Linda had shouted at her to move over for the wheelchairs.  And then…The hill leading into Mile 10.  The dreaded hill I heard so much about.

As we started the climb, a runner started up it with us and said, “This isn’t so bad.”  I laughed and said, “Those might be famous last words.”  She shook her head.  “Nah.  I’m from Cincinnati…I run Mount Adams.”  And then she picked it up and powered on up the hill

I did hear the drums that I had heard so much about.  I was told to put my head down and ignore everything and to just get up the hill.  We climbed, turned…and climbed some more.  That being said…the hill after that one is probably the one that you’ll hate more than anything.

Linda did pass me her pacer sign at this point to run fast downhill to hit use the bathroom near Mile 10.  Mark had me back off the downhill pace (downhill is my favorite speed…this was hard to do, LOL!) and he let Linda know we were going past as we rounded the corner at the water stop and continued onward.  Linda is amazing and caught up with us not much longer…on an uphill.  We like to make her work for it.  After all, running slower than my norm is not easy for me and she had to keep calling me back if I would get too far ahead on the course.  Around Mile 10 I had to take a gel.  My stomach was rumbling (I was usually done with half marathons at this point and I still had three miles to go) and drank some water with it.  It didn’t really do much for the hunger, but my energy was picking back up.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! I’M FREE!

Near the start of the race, Linda had told me that she was going to let me go at Mile 12.1 to spring into the finish line.  Just after we passed Mile 11…she said, “You can go.”  I looked at her.  “Really?”  She nodded.  “Yes…you can go.”  I threw my hands up in the air in a kermit flail and yelled, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY” as I took off.  And trust me, despite the hills, I had energy to burn at this point.  I know I was probably getting the stink eye from some runners at this point.  Pretty much legs are done by this point, but the course only has some small rollers with the long not-steep climb at the end to the finish line.  So, I’m surging.  But, more often than not, what I got was, “You go girl!”  “That’s how you finish!” “Looking strong.” “Get it girl!”  I loved that.  I wasn’t even moving up to race pace at this point, because hills, even at a slower pace, are still hills and my legs weren’t accustomed to running fast.  They adjusted.

The final two miles flew by and when I hit the timing mat at Mile 12.1, I tried to pick it up just a little more.  They record your final furlong (last mile) and I really hoped to pour on the power and speed.  I think I managed to pick it up slightly more, but not where I would feel like I was just…flying.  But I felt good.  I was having fun.  I was smiling.  I looked good.  And I made the turn to come into the finish line and put on that final push and crossed.

That. Was. Fun.

Ron flying into the finish line of Run The Bluegrass

I had a medal put around my neck and I made my way through the finisher’s chute.  The entire time I was heading into the finish, I was looking for Cathy and the sign, but never saw her.  Never heard her either (which is weird, because she is always screaming at me at the finish line!).  I stopped near the end of the chute, across from the donuts and just…kept raising up on tiptoes expecting to see the sign walking toward me.  It never happened.

Ron found me. He had a fantastic race…and there will be couch burning because he ran a 1:40.  Totally flew on this course.  I was so excited for him.  I asked him if he had seen Cathy and he hadn’t.  Soon after that, I spotted Linda coming down the chute.  She came over to me and asked me my finish time.  I said it was 2:04 something…and she said she was in the 2:09’s…right on target for that 2:10 pacer!  She’s amazing.  I asked if she had seen Cathy and she hadn’t…so…we figured she might be at the ForWord Running tent so we headed that way.

She wasn’t.  I told Linda to try calling her, which she did, but Cathy didn’t answer.  So, she tried my phone.  This time she got her.  Cathy had been in a panic for about 20 minutes because she had gotten the time I crossed the mat for 12.1 miles, but never received notification that I had finished.  She never saw me sprinting it in.  She thought maybe something had happened to me, and of course, having Linda call her didn’t make her feel any better.  Linda assured her I was fine and we were at the tent.  She came over and looked so relieved.

I ate a few grapes and drank my water, but I knew Cathy and I had a Louisville City soccer match to hit up at 3 pm.  With it coming up on noon-ish at this point…Cathy was ready to get back to the hotel so I could shower and we could get on the road back to Louisville.  I gave Linda a hug and we started through the masses.

Me in the Keeneland Starting Gates after the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon

But I did make Cathy stop, even though she didn’t want to at the time, so I could get the infamous Keeneland Starting Gate photo.  It had to happen and I was going to be stubborn about this one.  I managed to find a short line and pulled myself up to stand in the gate.  I felt amazing.  Cathy snapped some photos and then had to lift me down because that gate is pretty high up.  HA!

Later, when I sent the photo to Melissa, she texted me back and said that was the most genuine smile she had seen on me after a race/run in a long time.  She wasn’t lying.  I felt amazing.  I had so much fun.  I could have cared less about my time.  Genuine.  You better believe it.

So…the official results of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon are that I finished it in 2:04:43, running with the 2:10 pacers for the first 11 miles and then being turned loose for the final 2.1. I was 743/3163 finishers overall. I was the 283/1989 for women finishers. And I was 65/388 in my age division. I’m really happy with this. I averaged a 9:32 pace for the race, none of which ever left me feeling like I was dying or about to die.  The hardest thing was suddenly being hungry.  That never happens.  LOL!  But this race now holds a near and dear place in my heart…and yeah…I’ve already registered for next year!  Can’t wait to smile all over again.

2018 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NY (March 18, 2018)

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Me after finishing the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NYC

Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Place: New York, NY

Date: March 18, 2018

Time: 1:41:29

I love running NYC.  I loved running the full marathon in 2014 and then the half in 2016.  And, by some luck of the NYRR lottery draw, I got the chance to run the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon again this year.

Two things though:

  1. New course…starting in Brooklyn and finishing in Central Park (which meant a whole LOT of hills on your tired legs for the last 4 miles)
  2. I had two friends (Paul & Melissa) coming along for the run as well…which was exciting because Melissa had barely spent sufficient time in NYC and Paul never had been there before!

I was so excited.  Friends…fun…and NYC!

We had plenty of time to plan this trip as the lottery draw happens early.  So over many bowls of pho and lots of text messages and dinner/game night evenings at each other’s homes…we purchased airplane tickets and Cathy had her mom take care of the room…because she has a time share vacation club thing there.  Unfortunately…the race was on St. Patrick’s Day weekend this year which meant…EVENT WEEKEND…on top of everyone coming in for the half marathon itself.  So, instead of staying at the nice Manhattan Club that we had come to love in NYC…we were booted over to the Shoreham through the travel agency that is used.  Cathy called numerous times to ensure that we would have two beds because we were a party of 4, not 2…and was told when the reservation transferred over…it would be taken care of.

Guess what.  The room transferred…and Cathy checked and it was listed with one bed.  One bed.  Four people.  She called the travel agency and they were very unhelpful and it was a task and a half to even get the agent on the phone or to call back.

NOT IMPRESSED!

Cathy then tried calling the hotel directly.  They were sold out of rooms and fully booked and couldn’t change the reservation either.  In fact, the travel agent never changed the request to four people.  So…we were kinda stuck.  Through e-mails, Cathy asked if we could bring an airbed and was told no extra bedding could be brought in…BUT…if they had any, they could provide a roll-away.

Insert me being overly stressed out about this turn of events.  I hate being stressed out over shit that shouldn’t be an issue in the first place but now it is.  These are the things I focus on and, when it happens prior to the trip, it’s all I focus on.

That and the shift in weather that went from lows in the 40s and highs in the high 50s…to COLD AS SHIT!  Seriously.  The weather shifted with some nor’easters that decided that New York needed some snow and ice and cold wind and all that.  MEH.  I don’t like running in the cold at all.  And now…I would be.  This also meant running a half marathon in layers, which is something else that I despise doing.  Cathy had to pack my luggage because I needed to stretch and roll and try to be in a better place with all of this.

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We love flight delays…NOT!

Friday afternoon, Cathy and I left work early and were picked up at our apartment by Paul. We were chauffeured over to his and Melissa’s house where Melissa’s mom was waiting with her van to take us all to the airport.  We packed our luggage and carry-on into the vehicle and got ready to get underway.  After (briefly) getting locked into the van, we set out to the airport, where Cathy and I were checking our baggage (Melissa and Paul were carrying on) and got our seating assignments taken care of.  This was perfect because we were all clumped together.  Cathy and I were behind them on our flights out of Louisville and then out of Atlanta.

Let’s pause for a moment to talk about Atlanta.  We were delayed going out of Louisville and now our connection was going to be very tight.  VERY TIGHT.  In fact, when we landed, supposedly passengers were supposed to let those with a tight connection off first (which would have  benefited us since we were seated pretty much in the back of the plane.  I literally could look out my window and see only the engine.  No joke.  I had no view.

Of course, everyone had a tight flight to catch so everyone (tight connection or not) disembarked as usual.  We decided to have Paul run ahead and see if he could catch the gate agent for our flight and have them hold the plane for us as we all made our way that way.  He is very good at sprinting with a suitcase.  I am not good at running with a backpack on.  And Melissa was in winter boots and Cathy is not a runner.  One train ride and an elevator climb later, and we managed to be near the back of the line for boarding.  But we got on the plane and were NYC bound.

Baggage claim was easy at La Guardia and Cathy put in the call to the car service we always use in NYC to take us to the hotel.  The van arrived to pick us up and we loaded in, somewhere near midnight or 1 am…and made our way to Manhattan and the Shoreham.

I was holding out hope that our hotel mishap was being taken care of, but when Cathy checked us in, the guy behind the desk didn’t even bat an eyelash at the fact that they were giving us a 1 bed, 141 sq food room…to four people.  Nope.  He passed us the keys and played it off like it was nothing.

Guess what.  It’s something.  The room was SO small that after we rearranged it to hopefully fit a roll-away in, which Cathy had to call down to the desk to have brought up, and had the guy who brought it up look around and go, “I have NO idea where we can put this” (NO SHIT, SHERLOCK!), we ended up pushing the actual bed all the way across the room to rest against the window.  The roll-away was set up right next to that, and then, we sort of put a bench and chair together and made an extra bit of bed.

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A view of the Suede Tomb the four of us squeezed into for 4 days in NYC. Cathy is against the wall…the frosty glass is the bathroom, which took up a over 1/4 of the space.  That’s the door right behind Paul.

Paul took the bench/chair and Melissa was on the cot.  Paul was, actually, halfway onto the cot too.  It was a mess.  And it was crowded.  And it was uncomfortable.  But we made it work.  And we were never really falling over each other when we were in the room.  No waiting on the bathroom…we just sort of worked it out without even saying anything.

Welcome, friends…to the Suede Tomb.  Thankfully, we packed our days and nights in NYC and the room would basically just be used for sleeping.  It was close to 2 am and we were setting our phones for a morning wake-up to get up, get breakfast, and head to the race expo.  It wasn’t going to be a night for lots of sleep, but at least we could get some.

The following morning meant showers (which we managed without ever hogging the bathroom too much or too long) and then we were off to breakfast at the local Fresh & Co after grabbing coffee at our favorite coffee shop in all of NYC…Tisserie.  We all got the Nutella Mocha and snagged whatever sounded good for breakfast.  I got a gluten-free bagel that had delicious avocado in it and some other stuff.  It was delicious…and I wanted it again on our last day there…but that didn’t work out as we hit Fresh & Co as they switched to lunch that day.  MEH.

But I digress…

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Race Expo time!!

It was race expo time.  And I love me some race expo experiences.  New York never disappoints.  The United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Expo is held at the Metropolitan Pavilion, and is easy to spot with all the race flags standing outside.  You feel so welcome and get all the excitement upon entering.  For this race in particular, they assign bib numbers on demand, which means you don’t get assigned your bib number until you get there.  And it’s random.  You do know what wave you are in and what corral though…the rest of it just depends on where you stand in line to get a bib.

I was Wave 1 and Corral E and my bib number ended up being 1956.  They stuck on the sticker to my Wave 1 yellow-green bib (Wave 2 was a blue) for my corral (E) and sent me on my way to get my t-shirts and get any photos taken that I wanted in front of the race backdrops.  The race shirts were running smaller than I expected, but mine seemed to just fit, so I kept it.  Melissa and Paul got their numbers and shirts as well and we went to get photos taken before hitting up the rest of the expo…which was basically shopping.

Thankfully…I bought my swag ahead of time because they always run out of my sizes.  Cathy got me a finisher’s shirt.  The only thing I really wanted was the best winter hat to ever exist, but they sold out of that quick.  Probably because it was soul-crushingly cold that weekend and everyone wanted hats.  Melissa had snagged one prior to the race online.  As in…the last one.  It wasn’t meant to be.  I was bummed, but I have plenty of hats as it is.  We took photos with our names on the wall…snagged some free United Airlines buffs that were being handed out…and got on our way to explore some of NYC before heading to dinner that night.

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Pre-Race Gluten Free Marinra Pizza from Don Antonio’s (as always) in NYC!  Also Vegan!

As with every pre-race meal in NYC…it was pizza night, and of course we went to Don Antonio’s is my go-to place for both gluten-free and vegan pizza.  They have a regular menu and a gluten-free menu and take very good care to keep everything safe for you to eat.  Melissa and I split the Senza Glutine Marinara Pizza.  Melissa also snagged a couple of gluten-free appetizers to share.  Cathy and Paul split a regular pizza and each got one of their signature dough puffs to eat.  The food was plentiful and we were definitely full and ready to hike back to the hotel to get everything ready for the following morning. And, yes, we managed to do this and schedule alarms so that we could all function and get what we needed done in the morning.

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We look like we’re going to a slumber party…but really we’re heading to Brooklyn

With the first alarm early in the morning, I was up and at them first to put on my winter tights, an undershirt, my fleece lined tech-top I love wearing due to the collar…and then brushed my teeth and went to step out of the bathroom for the next person to do what they needed to do.  While Melissa, Paul, and Cathy took their turns in the bathroom, I did up my hair, put on my socks and compression sleeves, put on my winged anklet, got my Dunkin Donuts winter hat (the one I got from the 2014 NYC Marathon) on my head, snagged my gloves, and opted to give the buff we got for free at the expo a chance.  I had nothing really to eat in the room, but I brought a Larabar to the start line to eat in the corrals prior to the race.  That went into my fuel belt to stay close to my body to keep it from getting rock hard in the cold.  We headed out the door to get to the train station and take the subway to Brooklyn.  We had to wait in the station for awhile, and when the train did arrive, it was already packed.  We managed to squeak our way in…and with each additional stop…every car just kept getting fuller.  And despite the driver announcing that the train was full and to wait for the train behind us…we kept having people push their way into our car.  Now I was suffocating and dying, especially when the air conditioning would cut off.

But we made it to the Prospect Park stop and disembarked and began to make our way to the starting area, where we would have to go through security.  This was where we had to split from Cathy.  She was going to get back on a train and go to Mile 3 (just after the runners come over the Manhattan Bridge) to hopefully catch me there.

At the start line…we had very little time to hang around and talk.  After getting through security, I needed to drink my pre-workout drink and eat my Larabar so I wasn’t running a half marathon on an empty tank.  I ate my Larabar while Melissa and Paul fueled up as well…and then I needed to get into my corral in Wave 1.  They were in Wave 2, and apparently had to hunker down in the cold shade and try not to freeze for over an hour.  YUCK!

As for me…I started drinking my water and making my way up to Corral E.  There were going to be quite a few starts, so I was NOT shedding my toss-away clothes (yep…I hit Goodwill the day before and picked up clothes to shed since it was going to be freezing at the start line) until I absolutely had to.

The National Anthem was sung…and the wheelchairs and elites were sent off.  It took a long while for me to get up close enough to shed clothing, but I finally did.  And soon, it was my corral’s turn to get ready to go.  As we were standing in the cold wind, the woman behind me pointed to one of the free United Airlines buffs that was shed by runners before us and said, “Not going to lie…I’m tempted to pick that up.” I told her I wouldn’t judge.  HA!  But soon, we were sent off…and it was time to run through the streets of Brooklyn.

The first 2 miles are spent running the streets of Brooklyn.  And then, the first climb happens as you start up the Manhattan Bridge.  I know that the bridges in NYC are beasts, but this actually slowed me down more than I would have liked.  But, as this was being treated as a training run, I wasn’t really focusing on my pace.  This would turn out to be a very good thing as the race continued.  Crossing the bridge was great.  You could see the Statue of Liberty from there…and it was clear and beautiful and COLD that morning.  I put my head down and came down the other side of the bridge, feeling like a rockstar for sure.

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Me coming off the Manhattan Bridge and heading toward the 5K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Cathy was near the turn before heading into the 5K and I waved and smiled as I ran through and began to take in the miles before Times Square.  Times Square was such a highlight for me in 2016 when I ran the old course.  This course was definitely tougher, as when we started in Central Park…we got the hills out of the way early.  Now…now they were at the end.  So these were the flat miles in between.  Miles 3-7 are downhill to flat and I loved them.  It just felt good to run, and have the spectators that were out braving the cold yell motivation to you.  I was crossing a bridge near the 10K mark when I spotted Lottie (aka: runningonveggies) doing her thing.  I wanted to shout-out to her, but I wasn’t sure she’d hear me and I am…nobody…and she’s like…super amazing.  She looked strong.

Coming into Central Park, I knew there was a chance that Cathy wouldn’t make it to see me there.  It all depends on the trains.  Apparently she got out of the subway about 45 seconds before I was supposed to hit Times Square based on the tracker.  She at first decided she wasn’t going to make it, but then changed her mind and did the “Sixth Avenue Sprint” to Times Square, where she did actually catch me and I could hear her shouting and waving at me from the other side of the barricades.  Just the uplift I needed at that point, because we were heading up toward Central Park, which meant some minor rollers until hitting the park just before Mile 9.  For a few moments in Times Squre, however, I was running next to former NYC Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg, which was super cool.  She was getting a lot of shout-outs from volunteers and NYRR…but I turned my attention back to the entrance to Central Park. Here come the hills.

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Running through Times Square during the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

This is also where my watch got WAY off on the mileage and pace due to the buildings in Manhattan…and the rest of the race was just guess work at this point.

My friend Michael told me he would be at Mile 10 near Cat Hill in Central Park with his friends cheering on runners.  So I had that to look forward to.  And, sure enough, as I was making the ugly climb up Cat Hill…I heard him shout my name, I turned and managed to wave before continuing to die a little on that hill.  Somewhere around Mile 11, a woman decided she would cross the road with her dog while texting on her phone right in front of me and a few other runners.  She got yelled at by quite a few people who she disrupted.  I mean…come on!

There seemed like more uphills than downhills for that last 5K…and my watch was beeping with the distance about .9 miles off of what it was supposed to be.  I’m not lying. I was pretty much a mile ahead of myself via my GPS…which was not making me happy, despite not being one who glances at my watch during the race.  I don’t like to put any pressure on myself, but now I was questioning if my GPS was off or the course was long.  There was no way to really know.  The GPS was off (thanks Times Square and Manhattan)…so when I took that downhill toward the finish line…I crossed with 14.02 miles on my watch and crazy fast splits showing me running a mile in under 6 minutes.  HA!!  I wish!!  So, that was the disappointing part if I had to pick one.  Because I love reviewing my actual splits to see what I need to work on after a race.  It was fun though…and, despite never being warm during the entire run…I was elated to be done.  And super surprised with my time.

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Me sitting in Tisserie, post-race, just trying to get warm

After finishing and getting my race medal and a mylar blanket, we were loaded down with snacks and sent hiking out of the park.  This walk takes a good 30 minutes to accomplish.  I made friends with a nice lady named Wendy and we talked until she had to veer off to bag check to get her stuff.  I finally could see the statue marking Columbus Circle, which was where runners were exiting and were spectators were told would be the best spot to reunite with their runners.  I spotted Cathy immediately and she came over to give me a hug.  I desperately needed coffee, and she had suffered through McDonald’s coffee and wanted good coffee…so we made our way to Tisserie (which was on the race course) and each got a drink.  I got a Café Au Lait with Almond Milk and it was one of the best things I had ever drank.  I needed that to start to warm myself up.  But after checking the app to check in on Melissa and Paul (they were Wave 2 and started about an hour after me) we saw they were coming up to the area we were drinking our coffee.  So, we stepped outside and found a spot on the rail to watch for them.

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Melissa and Paul running toward Central Park!

At one point, a guy from Norway ran over to me and took a picture with me.  Random.  But amusing.  And then…we saw them coming.  Cathy and I shouted to them about how they were killing it, and while Melissa didn’t believe me…she was running NYC.  How cool is that?!

As they headed toward the park, Cathy and I hightailed it back to the hotel so I could shower and change and head back out to meet up with them after the race.  We got to Columbus Circle as they were nearing the finish line.  And when they crossed, I let them know, via text, that we were waiting for them there.  Their phone was almost dead, but Melissa was able to fire a response back.  We waited until we spotted them and flagged them down.  The hills had definitely taken their toll on Melissa’s Achilles, so we got her settled for a moment to rest and rant all she needed.  Paul dug food out of the snack pack for the two of them.  Once they had rested, we took them back to the hotel to shower and chill before we went out to our celebratory dinner at Red Rooster that night.

THAT. WAS. FUN.  And the food was amazing.

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Celebrating finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon at Red Rooster Harlem

The new NYC course is definitely much harder than the old one…but I ended up running this one 2 minutes faster.  So…I count that as a win.  A course PR and a race PR.  WOOT!

So…the official results of the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon was that I finished with an official time of 1:41:29…and that was closer to the 13.1 than the 14.02 my watch showed.  I swear.  I was 2773/21,995 finishers this year.  I was 557/11,075 female finishers.  And I was 86/1847 finishers in my age division.  I couldn’t be happier with these results considering how much stress I went into NYC with and how cold weather affects my body.  I had a blast and would love to do this again.

Or at least get a cute winter hat.

The remaining days in NYC were spent exploring and eating.  And the best of the best was going up to the top of the Empire State Building at night, freezing, and taking pictures and just living life.

And that’s what this was all about.  Fun, friends…and finish lines.

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On top of the world (aka: The Empire State Building) with friends…last night of such a fun adventure!

Product Review: Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Cinnamon Sugar Bagels

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Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Cinnamon Sugar Bagel

Product: Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Cinnamon Sugar Bagels – $11/pack; $3/bagel

Last one.  This is the final flavor that Annie May’s Sweet Cafe has put out in bagels.  Four very amazing flavors.  And the last one down the pipe…was one of my favorites…

Cinnamon Sugar!

First of all…you give me anything cinnamon and I’m going to be in love with it.  Pure, real cinnamon is one of God’s little gifts to everyone…sweet and a little spicy.  It’s perfect.  Add sugar to the mix and throw it on top of something edible…and you’ve won me over for life.

Cinnamon Rolls…Soft Pretzels…Cinnamon Rolls…Snickerdoodles…Cinnamon Rolls…(can you tell my favorite cinnamon treat?)…and now…

BAGELS!!

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So…in the weeks leading up to this…the culmination of all things Allergen Free Bagel-y…I have reviewed Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Everything, Onion, and Plain Bagels.  All of which have been amazing.  But for the record…the Everything ones are off the chain!!

To kick this blog off…let me say that the Cinnamon Sugar flavor is my second favorite that Annie May’s offers.  For real!

For one thing…hello…it has two of my favorite words in the name…CINNAMON and SUGAR!  So, while bagels are normally viewed as a savory treat…there are sweet variations on them as well.  This is the only sweet option currently offered by Annie May’s…but she hits it out of the ballpark.

I may have mentioned a few times before that I grew up in the great land of New York.

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New Yorkers LOVE their bagels.  It’s…like the state’s native food.  Or something.  It’s close enough to being the state’s native food.  Let’s roll with it, okay?  So, I grew up on bagels.  You can probably call me an expert on bagels.  Professor Bagel.

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Alright…enough fun with the gifs…time to get serious about some serious eats.

Annie May’s Cinnamon Sugar Bagel is the epitome of the sweet bagel.  Honestly.  Back when her soft pretzels first hit on Wednesdays, the Cinnamon Sugar was my jam.  I love a good sugar rush as much as the next person.  But, the key here is balance and Annie May’s definitely strikes it with just the right amount of cinnamon sugar topping off these new bakery offerings.

LOVE.  LOVE is what goes into these.  Simple.  True.  Passionate.  Love of all things that the gluten-free community SHOULD have in their life…and not simply from a big corporation in the local freezer section of another big chain store.

I mean…these are kept frozen since no preservatives and all that…but…they are nothing like the big box stuff you can pretty much buy anywhere now.  I know for a fact that Annie May puts a lot of hard work into any new product she is thinking about offering.  I also know, because I’ve done this a few times, that bagels are a pain the ass to make.  So, the fact that she has added these to her bakery menu has me dancing with joy.  My freezer will never be without.  I will purchase one of each whenever I am running low.  Mark my words.

And if that isn’t a good enough testament to how good these are…let me specifically focus on the Cinnamon Sugar flavor so it gets it’s moment to shine.

I went a bit off the script with these bagels today.  Usually, plain cream cheese with my own smattering of cinnamon sugar on top would have happened.  But…I didn’t want to pay for really good vegan cream cheese (that stuff is expensive)…but I did have a little bit of my Boar’s Head Dark Chocolate Hummus left in the container…so I chose that for my topping this time.  My roommate’s version was topped with Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Spread and then some Crofters Organic Strawberry Spread. Both options worked beautifully with the bagel at hand.

This bagel is everything.  Toasty on the outside.  Chewy on the inside.  Sweet to the taste.  Yet still gives that whole bagel vibe…so it’s not just a confused doughnut.  It’s basically cinnamon toast taken to the next level.  Because…cinnamon toast is one of the best things to eat in the history of ever.  And these…these are just like biting into that.  Topped off however you like, these make a delicious addition to any breakfast table.  Mine toasted up beautifully and I LOVED the dessert hummus smothered on top.  It brought an extra added kick of goodness to an already perfect bite.  Cinnamon…sugar…chocolate.  I see nothing wrong with this picture.

Have you been intrigued yet following these blogs on these bagels?  Have I mentioned that all four varieties are FREE of the TOP 9 FOOD ALLERGIES??!!  How about that?  Don’t you want to try them for yourself?

Trust me.  You really need to.

Remember, if you aren’t lucky enough to live in Louisville, Kentucky (like I am…because this bakery has been with me for ALL of my Celiac journey…we’ve grown together), have no fear…Annie May’s Sweet Cafe does ship…and yes…they are shipping the bagels.

Follow this link!!  And be sure to check out all the other stuff they offer as well!

But, I highly encourage you…get the bagels!

As I stated before, they do offer them at the bakery as well…and if you don’t want to buy a pack of four…you can buy them individually there and get them topped with Earth Balance, jam (raspberry or strawberry), or plain cream cheese.  I think they are currently offering them in-house on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So, you may want to call ahead and make sure they have them.  But…you can just go and hope for the best.  If nothing else, you’ll walk out of there with something tasty.

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Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Cinnamon Sugar Bagel topped with Boar’s Head Dark Chocolate Hummus

Product Review: Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Plain Bagels

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Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Plain Bagel

Product: Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Plain Bagels – $11/pack; $3/bagel

The ultimate test of anything…is to test the standard.  In the case of bagels…PLAIN.  It doesn’t get any easier or normal than the every day, run-of-the-mill plain bagel.  And, as one of the four flavors that Annie May’s Sweet Cafe now offers…Plain is, as it should be, one of them.

I have previously blogged about the Everything Bagels and the Onion Bagels.  So, if you missed those…check them out.

Bagels, to this former New Yorker…are the ultimate food.  Breakfast…lunch…dinner.  I could eat them all day.  First of all…MMMM…CARBS.  Second of all, for the most part, they are pretty versatile.  You can eat them with Earth Balance, or Cream Cheese, make them into a sandwich…or a pizza…

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That’s the great thing about bagels.  ESPECIALLY…Plain Bagels.  It’s like staring down a blank canvas.  You can go sweet or savory with it…and that’s why they are magical.  And wonderful.

And, when you get one of the NEW Plain Bagels at Annie May’s Sweet Cafe…you are also getting one that is Top 9 Allergen Free.  How about that?!  So before any further discussion…let me reiterate one little thing…

Annie May’s bagels are not pre-cut.  Never fear…this is nothing that a good serrated knife can’t fix.  Slicing a bagel isn’t hard.  Make sure, if you’re starting from frozen, thaw the bagels out and then slice through them.  As a pro bagel slicer…start where the bagel is a little bit thinner and slice through that end first.  It makes for a much cleaner and even cut.  Pro tip!

Now…let’s dig in…

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The plain bagel is the simplest of pleasures when it comes to the bagel.  You can’t go wrong with it.  But it has to be made well.  That’s the one caveat I have.  Call me a bagel snob if you must…but a bagel must not just look like a bagel…but taste like a bagel.  And if you can’t do a simple plain bagel…well…just stop trying to make them.

Annie May is fantastic when it comes to the products she serves because if she doesn’t like it or if she isn’t happy with it…it’s not going in the bakery case or freezer or up on the Web site for order.  Talk about good quality control.  As a consumer, I appreciate that as it means I am guaranteed a tried and true product.  YAY!

I eat breakfast at work…because it keeps me from snacking so much if I have a later breakfast.  Seriously, I used to have 3 snacks a day…so shifting meals worked for me.  I have to take a few precautionary measures to ensure I still eat safely…but I’ve manged so far.  My office has a toaster oven in the kitchen and I bring my own aluminum foil to use since I avoid the communal toaster completely, because…well…cross-contamination.

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As was true with the Everything Bagel and the Onion Bagel…the Plain Bagel toasted up to a golden perfection.  I could tell as I pulled the foil that cradled these little babies from the toaster oven that they weren’t going to disappoint.  The outside toasted up to get a little crispy…and the surface got that gorgeous golden color and crispy…but it still had the fluffy, chewy middle, which is definitely what makes a bagel so…incredible.  It’s not just bread…it’s so much more than bread.

As a traditionalist, I schmeared this bagel with the new Kite Hill Jalapeno Cream Cheese.  I love Kite Hill because it has a whipped texture, but packs amazing traditional flavor.  It is almond milk based, so if nuts, specifically almonds, are a problem…try other options on the market.  Thankfully, we live in a time where the market is inundated with dairy-free products so there are numerous options to fit your dietary needs.  And…if dairy isn’t an issue for you or if you aren’t vegan…well…grab yourself some of that Philadelphia Cream Cheese and go to town.  But…it’s Kite Hill in my home.  Because YUMMY!

So now that we’re properly dressed…let’s take a bite, shall we?

Sometimes bagels can just feel heavy.  These are perfect.  Just the right amount of bread to get you to that right level of fullness.  These toasted up beautifully.  If you have had the chance to taste and partake of Annie May’s dinner rolls, sandwich buns or soft pretzels…these are very reminiscent of those.  And Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, to this day, has my heart when it comes to gluten free (and vegan) breads!  The same is holding true with their new bagels.  Plain bagels…they are simple…but delightful and perfect to fit whatever you’re feeling when it comes to breakfast.  OR…make it a sandwich.  If you’re not a vegan, put an egg in between it with some greens.  Or…top it with marinara and vegan mozzarella cheese shreds.  Bagel pizzas really are life.

Plain bagels can satisfy any desire or crave…and these are no exception.  I probably ate mine way too fast…but I was enamored with it.  I was dreaming up other ways to eat them…rather than the standard way.  Why not?  I do my best thinking when I’m eating delicious food!  If you haven’t gotten yourself around to purchasing these bagels…get on it.  Now.

And, remember, if you aren’t lucky enough to live in Louisville, Kentucky (like I am…because this bakery has been with me for ALL of my Celiac journey…we’ve grown together), have no fear…Annie May’s Sweet Cafe does ship…and yes…they are shipping the bagels.

Follow this link!!  And be sure to check out all the other stuff they offer as well!

But, I highly encourage you…get the bagels!

As I stated before, they do offer them at the bakery as well…and if you don’t want to buy a pack of four…you can buy them individually there and get them topped with Earth Balance, jam (raspberry or strawberry), or plain cream cheese.  I think they are currently offering them in-house on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So, you may want to call ahead and make sure they have them.  But…you can just go and hope for the best.  If nothing else, you’ll walk out of there with something tasty.

Stay tuned…because next week…I will delve into their sweeter version of their bagels…the Cinnamon Sugar.  But…today…it’s all about plain.  But there is nothing ordinary about these.  They are definitely extraordinary.

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Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Plain Bagels schmeared with Kite Hill Jalapeno Cream Cheese

Product Review: Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Onion Bagels

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Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Onion Bagel

Product: Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Onion Bagels – $11/pack; $3/bagel

Remember last week when I shared that Annie May’s Sweet Cafe is now making bagels?  You know…bagels that are Top 9 Allergen Free?  Remember?  You should, because I did an extensive review of one of the four flavors that they offer – the Everything Bagel.

I’ve mentioned numerous times that I grew up in New York, so the bagel was a breakfast staple in my home.  And when I was diagnosed with Celiac…it took forever to find a bagel that actually felt like a bagel to me.  It’s been a long journey.  And while some have exceeded the bar, others have fallen short.

Well, those didn’t last long in my freezer, so today I prepped the Onion Bagel for a try.

For those of you who haven’t tried one yet or didn’t make note…Annie May’s bagels are not pre-cut.  Never fear…this is nothing that a good serrated knife can’t fix.  Slicing a bagel isn’t hard.  Make sure, if you’re starting from frozen, thaw the bagels out and then slice through them.  As a pro bagel slicer…start where the bagel is a little bit thinner and slice through that end first.  It makes for a much cleaner and even cut.  Pro tip!

Now…let’s dig in…

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I used to hate onion.  Hate it.  Until I was a teenager and I realized that the bite actually brought great flavor to thing.  Guess my pallet turned on around the age of 13.  But after that, my life was filled with onion.  Onions aren’t for everyone…but I am a believer in the power of the onion.

And the power of the bagel.

Especially an onion bagel!

So, per the usual routine…this morning I sliced the bagel I thawed in half and brought it to work with me.  I bring my own aluminum foil and use the toaster oven (not the toaster) to avoid cross-contamination.  So…these toast in the toaster oven in the kitchen.  It also makes the office smell really good anytime I toast up bagels in there.  Especially flavored bagels.  Mmmm.  (No joke…I just had three people walk into the kitchen while I was waiting for them to finish and commented on how good they smelled and warned me not to turn my back!)

Once toasted…cream cheese had to happen.  A proper bagel has a healthy schmear of cream cheese or Earth Balance (or butter if you aren’t dairy-free).

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Actually, Scully, it was VEGAN cream cheese.  I really like Kite Hill because it has SUCh good flavor and is almost whipped in texture.  Love a light (get it) and airy texture to my cream cheese.  Not traditional, I know…but when you can’t do dairy…you do vegan cream cheese.  Kite Hill is by far the best, but it is made from almond milk…so if you can’t do almonds…you must find a different path.  But there are lots of options out there these days!

I happen to have (and love) the new Kite Hill Jalapeno Cream Cheese.  It’s delightful.

Okay now.  Settle in.  Take a deep breath.  Savor the aroma….and then take a bite.

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LOTS of flavor!  The onion is there, but it won’t overpower the bagel itself.  It’s got just enough punch to let you know that it’s there, but not enough to make you reach for the breath mint afterwards.  I loved how well these bagels toasted up…browning up on the outside and on the sliced part…but remaining soft and chewy in the center.  It made it the perfect vehicle for the cream cheese.  Sometime bagels fall apart when you go to schmear them.  Not these.  Let me tell you, I also love the way the onion is incorporated, because it didn’t burn in the toaster oven and become bitter.  It toasted and became sweet and savory all at once.  Simply delicious.  Down to the last bite.

Remember, if you aren’t lucky enough to live in Louisville, Kentucky (like I am…because this bakery has been with me for ALL of my Celiac journey…we’ve grown together), have no fear…Annie May’s Sweet Cafe does ship…and yes…they are shipping the bagels.

Follow this link!!  And be sure to check out all the other stuff they offer as well!

But, I highly encourage you…get the bagels!

As I stated before, they do offer them at the bakery as well…and if you don’t want to buy a pack of four…you can buy them individually there and get them topped with Earth Balance, jam (raspberry or strawberry), or plain cream cheese.  I think they are currently offering them in-house on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So, you may want to call ahead and make sure they have them.  But…you can just go and hope for the best.  If nothing else, you’ll walk out of there with something tasty.

Onion bagels…you’re my jam.  Or my cream cheese.  Or my breakfast.

Annie May’s Sweet Cafe continues to make my gluten-free world a happier and more local place!

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Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Onion Bagels schmeared with Kite Hill Jalapeno Cream Cheese