Urban Bourbon Half Marathon – Louisville, KY (October 22, 2016)

Me crossing the finish line of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon - Louisville, KY
Me crossing the finish line of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon – Louisville, KY

Race: Urban Bourbon Half Marathon

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: October 22, 2016

Time: 1:44:47

It was the weekend before Halloween…and after a few long runs with my running partner, Matthew, he and I had come up with some fun ideas should he choose to run the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon with me.  Like…at one point we were going to dress as Batman & Robin…and then, at the halfway point, we were going to switch out so the other person was Batman and the other was Robin.  When we couldn’t find Robin outfits, it changed to Superman & Wonder Woman.  I had the Wonder Woman running costume…but as I said…this race was the weekend before Halloween.  Superman was a bit difficult to come by.  What he did end up with was a great brown cotton shirt.  YES!  We were SO ready for this!

My biggest concern that morning was the chilly air.  My body doesn’t do well in cooler temperatures. Once it gets under the 60s…it’s iffy.  When it hits the 40s, like it did that morning, my body sometimes doesn’t want to function at all.  So, I had to decide if I was going to do a singlet with arm warmers…or just short sleeves.  I went back and forth on it, but totally ended up going with the arm warmers and singlet.  It was a decision I immediately began questioning my decision.

I headed downstairs at my apartment that morning in my outfit choice to see if I could take the cold air.  I did all my physical therapy stretches, warmup moves, and plyometrics and figured…I’d probably warm up when running the half…I’d stick with it.  I’d just wear warm things before the race.  I also donned my KDF Marathon Ambassador shirt for the group picture prior to the race start.  My foot was NOT loving the cold air though, so I knew that this race was going to be about feeling that out and seeing how it did as the miles began to wrack up!  I’ve learned to really listen to my body…so I knew I’d be hyper aware of it as the morning went on.  That being said, I headed back upstairs to eat some cereal and finish up pre-race prep.

Kat and I the morning of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon. Next time she's in town, we are so racing together!
Kat and I the morning of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon. Next time she’s in town, we are so racing together!

My good friend, Kat, who ran the KDF Half Marathon in 2014 with me…and who I paced the Buffalo Marathon with the same spring, was in town and staying with me.  Poor thing probably had to get up way earlier than she intended that morning, but she was a good sport.  I wished she could have run it too…but another time, for sure!  My roomie, Cathy, and I saw her off (with a vegan and gluten-free breakfast from Annie May’s…and some additional road eats) and then hopped into the car for the dash over the river to Louisville.  Parking wasn’t too much of a problem.  And…to keep me warm on the hike from the car to the photo op, I donned the warm poncho I got at the NYC Marathon in 2014.

I had messaged the other Ambassadors to warn them that I was running a little late, and, I was the last one to show up, but a couple of others had just gotten there as well.  I shed the poncho and set up for the photo op.  I love my Ambassador family and love these little photo op moments together.  Seriously, I want to hang out with them for the rest of my life.  After the photo, I put the poncho back on and texted my running partner, Matthew, to see if he was there yet.  He was…and I told him to stay put…because I was incoming.

My KDF Marathon Ambassador team!! We all ran really good races that day!
My KDF Marathon Ambassador team!! We all ran really good races that day!

Just as I spotted him, my friend, Katie, spotted me.  There were hugs…and photos…and some chatting.  Katie and I have been trying to meet up at races for awhile now.  It finally happened.  YAY!!  Now to find a time to have her over for a run and dinner.  That also must happen.  Maybe sometime during the holidays.  I love hosting people for the holidays.  What do you think, Katie?

Matthew was in the best outfit for running.  A brown cotton shirt and shorts.  He also had a white long sleeve shirt under it because, as I mentioned, it was freakin’ cold that morning.  His girlfriend, Dawn, made sure she got some pictures before wishing him luck.  She and Cathy went to find a good spot at the start line while he and I started to walk down the line to the corrals.  The opening to get into them was a good ways down.  We were back with some over 2 hour pacers, so we did our best to work our way up a bit more.  We were treating this as a fun training run…but we wanted to be somewhere near our normal pace, for sure.  We got as far as we could before the National Anthem…and then…the gun to send us off.

Me and Matt (and Creepy Cathy, HAHA) before the start of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon (photo courtesy of Dawn Johnson)
Me and Matt (and Creepy Cathy, HAHA) before the start of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon (photo courtesy of Dawn Johnson)

We gave a wave to Dawn & Cathy as we crossed the start line and passed them.  We ran down West Main and made the turn onto 2nd Street and then onto E Muhammad Ali Blvd.  The first mile clicked over and we were off to the training (races).  In fact, Matthew and I just settled in and sort of just started talking.   It was great.  In fact, we actually paced the first 4 miles rather quickly and then, slowed it down on the hills of Cherokee Park.  In doing so, we were able to take on the hills and still feel strong at the top.  Of course, once we climbed to the top at Hogan’s Fountain, I told Matthew that we were hitting my favorite speed…DOWNHILL!!

The next three miles were back up in pace as we came out of Cherokee Park and made our way down Cherokee Parkway to Cherokee Road to Baxter Avenue.  I got a lot…and I mean a lot of Wonder Woman shout-outs.  It made me smile.  I’d wave and smile and pump my fist at anyone who shouted out at me.  But my favorite, I think, came around Mile 9, when a woman shouted, “IT’S WONDER WOMAN!” She turned to her companion and said, “She was always my favorite superhero.”  It’s little things like that, people!!

Matthew and I just after finishing the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon - Louisville, KY
Matthew and I just after finishing the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon – Louisville, KY

The sun was out and while the air was still cold, the runners were definitely warm at this point.  Matthew said he was glad he wasn’t running a marathon, because we were 10 miles in and he was struggling a bit.  He took in some fuel and we moved into our final three miles.  As we got into the last mile, my legs were ready to move, so I settled into a bit of a faster pace and began to make the dash back down East Main toward the finish line.  I could hear a crowd and an announcer, so I knew it was close.

And then I saw Dawn and Cathy…and they were yelling and shouting.  And I crossed the finish line, foot twinging, but not hurting bad, hip feeling good, and just…glad to be done.  It was a good run.  Matthew came across momentarily after me!

Ron Steve and Me in the After Party area after the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon
Ron Steve and Me in the After Party area after the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon

We received our medal (hey…a training run with bling…LOVE that!), and it made my race to have Chris from the KDF Ambassadors put my medal around my neck.  Seriously, that meant so much to me.  Then, Matthew and I went to do the photo ops.  Afterwards, I spotted a good friend, Ron Steve, who had a brilliant race that day, beating his goal by 2 minutes!!  THAT was very good news.  I wanted him to have a good race and he certainly did!!  We all moved through the chute, getting our water, snacks, bananas, and chocolate milks…and went to the after party setting.  Runners got to have like 8 bourbon shots if they wanted…and got soup and pizza as well.  Because of my food allergies, I didn’t partake, but Cathy did eat my slice of pizza.  It was, apparently, really good pizza.  Dawn and Matthew came to sit with us in the sun and I did get up to do a few leg swings to keep the hip loose.

Me being serenaded by the lead singer of The Louisville Crashers...HAHA!
Me being serenaded by the lead singer of The Louisville Crashers…HAHA!

After getting serenaded by the lead singer of The Louisville Crashers…it was time to get going.  Lots to do that day…and some brunch and grocery shopping was going to start it off.  I said goodbye to Ron, Matthew and Dawn, and went to accomplish the rest of the tasks that needed to be done that day, before heading to the Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular later that night with my friend Amanda!

It was quite a day.

So, my official results of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon is that I finished in 1:44:47, which is a 3 minute improvement from the Indy Women’s Half Marathon.  No rain…just cold.  And I wasn’t even pushing it.  I’ll take that!  I was the 249/2508 finishers overall.  I was 52/1406 women to finish this race.  And in the 45-59 age division, I came in 5/154.  Not bad at all.  I was very happy with the way I ran this race, given some aches and pains, and the cold weather, which never helps.  Yep…definitely a worthwhile training run (race).

Going (Head) Long Into The Wall

So, I was fortunate enough to not have to do my entire long run on my own today.  I had great company for the first 7 miles of my run.  So, big shout out to Ron, who was a key part of keeping me on pace for the early half.

Let’s face it…it’s miserable out there.

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Seriously, I’m not much of a sweater, but I had sweat pooling in my belly button.  That is NOT an exaggeration.  I was drenched.  Another day of that good ol’ swimming pool feeling.  Look, if I wanted to be soaked to the skin, I’ll hop in the pool…but I’m trying to run here.

Needless today…the first climb up Iroquois Park was tolerable.  I was running with Rob, a meteorologist, and learning that lightning causes thunder…not the other way around.  I love learning new things.  So…for about 13 miles of my planned 24-miler…I was feeling good.  So, I turned around at my 13 mile point to head back up to the top of the park again…and then…it all started to fall apart.

Only one word can describe how the rest of the run went…and it isn’t “RUBBISH” this time.  Nope…

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I don’t know if I should be blaming the new fuel I was trying, the heat, the humidity, or what.  I usually do really well in the heat.  But this humidity…it’s been insanely bad this summer.  I’ve never sweat like this.  I mean…my sports bra was a nice light lavender color at the start of my run.  By the time I was done…purple.  A jeweled purple of sorts.  Like I said…I had sweat pooling in my belly button.  WHO HAS THAT HAPPEN??!!

Needless to say, my second climb was less than stellar.  It was just…awful.  I wasn’t hurting…but I was struggling.  I was thankful for some of the shade through that portion.  I managed to get up the hill…around the top…and back down the hill with only a few stops to attempt to gather myself and find a second wind of sorts.  I was downing water (once again) like crazy.  And nothing…nothing was helping.

By Mile 21…I was done.

HIT…THE…DAMN…WALL.

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I have NEVER hit the wall before.  Not in a race…not in a training run.  But this…this was one of the worst feelings in the world.  My legs didn’t want to press on.  My body didn’t want to go anywhere.  I was just…done.

HIT. THE. WALL. HARD.

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I was a mess.  I was falling apart.  And my shoes were squishy.  YES!  My shoes were squishy.  Swampy shoes…for the humidity and heat and the sweat that I was apparently raining down over my entire body.  I was just…DONE!

In fact, after my Garmin beeped over to 21 miles…I stopped.  I stopped and drank the rest of my water (that wasn’t helping!)…and dug my cell phone out of my fuel belt and dialed my roommate.

And I just started to cry…

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This is not an exaggeration.  I actually used those two words…which I hate using…especially in regards to running.

The conversation went like this…

Me: “Where are you?”
Roomie: “On 264…because things took longer than expected…”
Me: “I am done.  I can’t…I can’t go any further.  I’m out of water…I’m dying.  I’m dead.”
Roomie: “Where are you?”
Me: “Somewhere in Iroquois…I don’t know…but I’m dying.”  *bursting into an ugly cry*
Roomie: “I’m going to stop at a Kroger and get you some water and then come get you, okay?”
Me: “How am I supposed to run a marathon when I can’t even do my long runs without dying?”
Roomie: “These are horrible weather conditions.”
Me: *more tears* “These are the conditions I’m probably going to be running in.”
Roomie: “You don’t know that.”
Me: *more ugly cry* “I do…I know…Can you grab me a Sprite Zero too?  I really just want to throw up.”
Roomie: “See you in 15 minutes.”

And then…

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And then I realized…I needed to get back to the amphitheater to meet her because…I was…as I said…somewhere in Iroquois.  So…somehow…I managed to convince myself to suck it up (gluten free) cupcake and get back to the amphitheater at least.  So…I did.  2 miles more and I called it quits.  I felt horrible.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pass out or throw up.  I managed not to do either…because I’m awesome like that…but it was just…it was bad.  I looked bad.  I felt bad.  That last mile I had intended to run…wasn’t worth it.  I had no desire to even attempt it.  I walked around, hoping that would help a little…but ended up sitting down at a picnic table and doing my best to cool off.

The roomie got there soon after, and brought me the Sprite Zero.  A few small sips was where I started because…liquids were not sitting well.  Not even my water.  So…yeah…I was in bad shape.  She had water and coffee for me in the car for when I was ready for it.

Once I was certain I wasn’t going to get sick or die…I managed to snap a few photos…one badass pose and one with a Wrong Way sign…because this was the WRONG WAY to prepare for a marathon.  My 18 miler, my 20 miler, and my 23 (should have been 24) miler…all sucked.  Every single one of them.  And this does not mentally help me prepare for the difficult race course awaiting me in 3 weeks.

panic

Wrong way to train…or badass…the fact of the matter is…it’s not going as planned.  Nowhere near.  But, I guess when push comes to shove…at least I’m out there.  At least I’m training.  Slow.  Fast.  Hot.  Face melting humidity.  Sweaty-wet shoes and all.  So…I hit a wall…time to learn how to bust through it and get to that finish line.

The taper starts this week…and my confidence isn’t there.  I will get through this.  I have 3 weeks to figure it all out.  Fueling…running…heat…humidity…everything.  And that wall.  I never want to run into that again.  SUCK!  I’ve put in all the time and effort I possibly could…working through injury…and learning new limits because of it.  Yep…time to get this body rested and ready.

Join me, won’t you?

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail – Don’t Be Afraid to Fly

So…this is it!  The last long run before the big day.  This is the make or break point.  And, I’m really, really nervous about it.  Every single one of my 20 milers (the 2 prior to this one), I have gutted out…alone.  On my very own.  And while this is nothing new to me, there is something magical about running WITH people.  It just makes the miles seem a little less daunting…and even make them go by a little faster.

That being said…tomorrow…I once again am heading out without a training partner or running buddy…to do this one last long distance run before I start the taper…

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And while I can only hope this last run will look and feel this smooth and effortless, the fact of the matter is…my long runs, as of late, anything over 13 miles, have been rubbish.  And I’m not talking pace.  I run these slower than my regular race pace…I’m talking about how I feel.  Maybe it’s the heat and humidity.  Maybe it’s the fuel (which I have started to change and experiment with as…my stomach cramps the last 18 miler and 20 miler were enough to tell me to quit).  Maybe…it’s just me.  I don’t know.  But more than likely, my run tomorrow will feel more like some kind of combination of the following…

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Seriously…those have been my feels for the last few long runs.  I know some of it has to be the humidity.  For real.  At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.  It makes me feel better about feeling like crap at the end of it.  Or feeling sick…ill…and just plain…BLAH!  I mean, after my 20 miler 2 weeks ago, I almost passed out in the shower.  So…my problem is 1 of 2 things (or more)…

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OR…

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I wish I could pinpoint it for sure.  My nutrition has been on point for the most part…but I am in the process of trying new fuel for while I am running.  GU started to give me issues.  I don’t like chewing much while running…so beans were out of the question…and I tried Tailwind for awhile, but it started giving me stomach cramps.  Like…horrible stomach cramps.  Went to a running store and had Skratch recommended to me…problem is, it’s more for electrolytes than full-out fuel.  So…it’s a version of NUUN.  I tried it at the Minnesota Half Marathon and knew it wasn’t going to work for any sort of long-distance fueling.  So, I’m going to give Generation UCAN a try.  I have heard good and bad things.  Don’t worry, I have a backup fuel just in case things go horribly wrong.  We shall see.  Here’s hoping.  I have four weeks…FOUR WEEKS…to figure this all out.

I am FREAKING OUT!

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MUST. REMEMBER. TO. BREATHE.

Sort of important to the whole…running thing, yes?

I am hoping, simply, to survive the humidity out there tomorrow.  This past week had runs between 6-7 miles for 3 days of the week…wherein I ran well…really well…but when I stopped moving, I was soaked.  Seriously, it looked like I had just climbed out of a swimming pool, I was that drenched in sweat.  And I am NOT a big sweater.  Yeah…that’s pretty damn humid.  Swimming pool humid.  BLECH.

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Needless to say, physically, I rested today…I ate right…I hydrated.  Physically…I’m ready.  It’s the mental aspect that I’m struggling with more and more as my race gets closer.  I start to doubt myself and when my last few runs have been anything but stellar…well…it just gets hard to believe you can really go the distance.

Really…I just need one…ONE…really good long run.

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Tomorrow…I’m going to give it my best.  Slow…steady…and climbing.  If you see me out there on the hills…give me a wave and a word of encouragement, could you?  I might need it.

Let’s climb.  Let’s get it done.  Let’s hope it all goes according to plan.

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See you at the top!  I hope!  Ready or not (and I don’t feel ready)…the taper starts next week…so this has to happen…whether I finish it running, walking of crawling.  Hitting the hills to mimic some of my marathon course.

Embrace the suck.  Sweat it out.  Push through it.  Run. Rest. Repeat.

Be safe out there if your weather is like mine.  Hydrate and take it slow and steady.  If I can do it…you can too.

Have a great long run.  Who knows…it may go better than expected.

For the record, track and field starts up tonight…use that for motivation and inspiration!

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“Fear is gradually replaced by excitement and a simple desire to see what you can do on the day.”
-Lauren Fleshman

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Foam Glow 5K – Birmingham, AL (August 8, 2015)

Me (on the left) and Karla (on the right) crossing the finish line at the Foam Glow 5K - Birmingham, AL
Me (on the left) and Karla (on the right) crossing the finish line at the Foam Glow 5K – Birmingham, AL

Race: Foam Glow 5K

Place: Birmingham, Alabama

Date: August 8, 2015

Time: 39:51

Everyone remembers their first 5K…or their first race for that matter.  It’s special.  You go in with your own goals and expectations, not exactly sure what to expect, and not exactly sure how you’ll do when all is said and done.  The first race is an important one, I believe – no matter what distance it is.

Just before I got my go-ahead to return to running, I found out via a phone call that my sister had taken up running.  She goes out a couple times a week with her Couch25K program and her group of ladies…and runs.  She will tell you she’s not fast…and she struggles…but she loves the company and the way she feels (despite some knee issues, which I helped clear up with KT Tape and getting her into proper shoes!) after she runs.  She was training for a 5K with her friends.  YAY!  The only thing that was difficult for her was that she’d be pretty much running it on her own.  Her pace is a little more deliberate than the girls she runs with, so she is often left to run on her own on training runs, and the race night would be the same.

When I got cleared to run, it also turned out the race coincided with a weekend where I had nothing else planned.  And so…I talked it over with her, signed up for the race, and made arrangements to be in Birmingham to run WITH her at the race.  I gave her the rules…her race, her pace.  I’d stick by her side the entire time.  She was more than okay with this.  And, just to be cutesy, we started working on matching running outfits so we could be twinsies too!  She ordered the shirt and I picked up matching shorts, knee-high socks, and said she had to have pigtails in, as that is the hairstyle I am best known for when I run.  HA!

So, in the weeks leading up to the 5K, I was slowly adding on the minutes, then the miles to my runs.  I had topped out at 7 miles in my friend’s very flat neighborhood the weekend before, and was a little sore afterwards, but nothing that really slowed me down.  After work on Friday, I grabbed dinner (gluten-free peanut butter & jelly with grapes and a piece of dark chocolate) to eat on the road, and the roomie and I piled into the car (which was stuffed with my mountain bike that was just sitting on my balcony and that my sister could get some use out of) and made the trek down to Birmingham, Alabama…arriving a little later than planned (it took the roomie 30 minutes to use the bathroom at a gas station, I kid you not!), but getting in.  Of course, I was up late just getting caught up with my parents (my mom had just recently broken her hand), but we were all winding down regardless.  I climbed into bed around 11 p.m. CST (that’s midnight my time!) and set an alarm on my phone to wake me up at 5 a.m. so that I could get dressed, stretch, eat a little something and then get outside as it was getting light out to fit in the 8 miles ahead of the 5K that my coach had me scheduled to run.

I did just that…and it wasn’t easy.  My parents’ neighborhood is just…HILLS!!  So, I ran the first two miles easy and got warmed up, then wound my way through their neighborhood up to the walking trail.  And there was where a majority of the run took place.  Just as I was cresting the top of the start point, I heard a rumble, which, I thought might be thunder, but I was so close to the road, it could have been a car too.  I figured it was a car…and I was off.

I was also wrong.  It was thunder.  And rain soon followed.  And I was, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere, on this paved path that ran through Helena, Alabama.  There is something about me running at my parents house and having it rain on me.  It happens…all the time.  Must be the Frankfort (Kentucky) affect.  And if you don’t get that reference, you haven’t been reading my blog long enough (it storms/rains/precipitates every time I run in Frankfort, KY).  So, I kept going, made it back to the start, and was greeted with a gorgeous rainbow flying high over a church.  It was awesome.  And I took a picture before winding my way back to their house for the last mile of my run.  I ducked inside, took a shower, ate some breakfast, stretched…and then my sister came over with her kiddliewinks.

And it all got chaotic and fun.  Karla (that’s my sis, btw) and her boys all tried the gluten-free strawberry breakfast cake I brought with me (my parents devoured it too!)…then we made a run to the grocery store for some necessities for the race and for lunch.  Back home, where we got everyone ready to go and eat lunch at my roommate’s favorite spot, The Depot, in Pelham, Alabama.  My mom and I had veggie burgers we prepared at home with some gluten-free pretzels.  It was the big meal of the day as the race was at night and I didn’t want to run on a full belly.  After lunch, my dad, Cathy and I hit up 2nd & Charles (bookstore), then made our way back to the house so that Karla and I could start getting dressed.

And that’s when the rain returned.  Big monsoon as she and I climbed upstairs to my room to get into our matching running outfits.  We checked the weather and it looked like it was going to pass…so that was good.  After we got dressed, I put her hair in these tiny little pigtails, then did my own, strapped my Garmin onto my wrist, and we went downstairs so that Cathy could work some KT Tape magic on Karla’s troublesome knee.  This was where I got to play with the cutest baby girl…as my sister’s youngest isn’t quite 1 yet.

With everything in order, and Karla’s hubby (that’s Bryan…who once ran a 5K with me) told me he approved of the tight running pants I selected for his wife to wear, we were climbing into their car (as in Bryan, Karla, Cathy, the two boys, and me) to make the over an hour drive to Talladega Speedway, which is where the race was actually being held.  Well, we were dropping off vehicles at Cracker Barrel and then carpooling to Talladega.  The boys needed some dinner, so it was Happy Meals at McDonalds (Cathy got one too!), and then…to the parking area of the race.

The Sole Sisters...and no, we didn't actually plan to line up by shirt color. That just sort of happened!
The Sole Sisters…and no, we didn’t actually plan to line up by shirt color. That just sort of happened!

Parking was super-easy, but expensive.  A whole $10.  Really?!  Cathy footed the bill and Bryan got us parked right on the end of one of the rows.  It would make finding the car in the dark a whole lot easier, for sure.  We were some of the first ones here, as in of the group of ladies running, all of whom my sister trains with at some point.  Two others were there before us, and Karla got us to where they were and introduced me to them.  So, now I knew Margie and Lauren…(and yes, we were asked if we were twins!) and the rest were all a blur as they all began to arrive prior to the start.  My sister and I decided to eat our protein bars early (that was our dinner), and split one if we got hungry between then and race time.  After I devoured my bar, I actually got to meet up with a friend of mine (who I used to work with), Julie Hayes, who was walking the 5K with a friend of hers.

As the rest of the group arrived, along with the ring leader, Jenn, we departed for group shots and then…the most important part…hitting up the big foam pit.

Yep…after all…this was the Foam Glow 5K.  And you can’t have a Foam Glow 5K without foam and blacklights.  The sun was only just beginning to set, so the blacklights weren’t on yet…but the foam was being shot out these giant cannons.  It was a lot of fun, stepping inside the staging area and just getting blasted with this soapy, foamy mess.  The kids (most of the ladies brought their families!) absolutely LOVED it.  I loved it.  What a blast.  After getting foamed up pretty good, it was back out to the group to get any last minute touches to our outfits.  Jenn gave each of us the little bright yellow stripes under our eyes.  We were now ready…for the race.

Until my sister’s 8 year old son went missing.  YIKES!!  He separated from the rest of the kids, who had all come running back to where we were from the foam.  Karla was, naturally, in a panic so I went to the foam pit to find him.  And I did, relatively quickly, getting him back over to his parents and saving the day!  With that bit of hysteria out of the way, Karla was now in a good place to enjoy her first 5K and her first race.  Whew.

And that was that…the sun had gone down…the wind had gone away, and the ladies in the crazy bright tank tops with the words, “We Don’t Sweat, We Glow!” on them all started toward the start area.  The race was going off in waves, it it felt like only 20 people were going at a time.  Once we got closer, we realized that wasn’t the case, but at least 10 waves went off ahead of us, and we were relatively close to the front.  Karla, myself and Margie were actually corralled ahead of the rest of our group, so we ducked under the rope and rejoined our group.  The group ahead of us was off…and we moved forward.

Karla looked so calm.  She was smiling.  She was joking around.  She was relaxed.  That was awesome.  And, then, with a small countdown…the emcees at the race sent off our wave.  And Karla was leading us off.  She fell right into the pace, getting a little sucked into a first start with all the excitement, but that’s fine.  That’s okay.  We hit the dark course and she looked like a pro, already dodging and weaving through any more deliberate runners or the walkers that went ahead of us.  I even told her she was already running like a pro.  And, to take her mind off of the task at hand, I would frequently bother her with inane questions about how she felt, how her pace felt, how her knee felt…

At one point, I thought that the race people were sending us up the stairs to the speedway itself, but it was just people doing photo-ops.  Karla kept us on course and we headed into what was going to be the first (of three) Foam Zones.  This was a bit refreshing as the night had grown humid and the wind had died.  So, the first one, we bounded through together and kept on trekking.  Karla asked about distance and my 1 mile beep went off on my watch.  I let her know that the beeps meant we hit a mile, so she had 2 more of them.  She didn’t look amused.

Me and Karla in the big Foam Pit following the Foam Glow 5K - Birmingham, AL
Me and Karla in the big Foam Pit following the Foam Glow 5K – Birmingham, AL

This course was not easy.  You pretty much get sent up a hill near the start, which is fine, but when it’s dark and you’re not expecting it…yeah.  Well, I was there with Karla to give her some hints about how to properly run hills (Lord knows I’ve run my share of them!), such as push off on your toes, power up them with your arms, and take shorter steps.  She listened and did really well.  And when we got to the top, I congratulated her on a job well done.  As we headed toward Mile 2, I hear “GO KAREN AND KARLA!” and it’s Julie!  We threw our hands up in the same way (not planned…twinsies, you know!)…and continued on.  At the halfway point, they were handing out water bottles.  I asked Karla if she wanted water and she shook her head and said she just wanted to keep going.  I snagged one just in case and we were back to bobbing and weaving and avoiding treacherous pavement on the dark path (seriously…some lights on the course would have been nice!).  We hit the second Foam Zone and Karla, putting safety above all, decided to walk through the soapy sludge.  Good call.  The instant she was through, she picked her pace back up and we continued on.  We were coming around the back part of the speedway, I think, and she slowed a little just to catch her breath.  I handed her the bottle of water and she took a sip.  Then, she passed it back, took a few breaths and picked her walk back up into a run.  She was really making me proud.  The second mile beeped on my watch.

One more mile.  I told her as much.  And the path seemed to be getting more treacherous.  Karla twisted her ankle twice, but kept on going.  I tripped on uneven pavement…but somehow, we were managing to stay on our feet.  We were hitting up the final Foam Zone, which we walked through again, and when she picked back up to her run, I knew we had to be getting close.  I checked my watch…and I figured from the pace she had been running that she had about six minutes left of the race.

“Six minutes,” I told her.  “You can do anything for six minutes, right?”

“YES!” she said.

I taught all the girls my Power Pose for the end of the race!  Foam Glow 5K...DONE!
I taught all the girls my Power Pose for the end of the race! Foam Glow 5K…DONE!

Jenn caught up to us as we were nearing the Mile 3 mark, giving Karla a firm smack on the ass.  We were so close.  I would give Karla minute increments on how much longer she had…and I heard some walkers repeat it.  They’d be out there a bit longer since they were walking (hehe).  I told Karla that when we saw the finish line, we were going to sprint for it and cross it together.  Well, I could hear the music at the finish, so we were definitely getting close.  With encouragement, Karla lifted her head and put on her game face, focusing on her form and getting to that finish line.  The blacklights were in view.  The music was pumping…and I reached out and took her hand.  For the last .1 miles, we ran together, holding hands, until we crossed that finish line.  I paused my Garmin and there it was…Karla’s first 5K race…her pace…DONE…in a fantastic 39:15.

I gave her a huge hug and told her how proud I was of her.  Those of us who were done stood around and took some fun pictures, drank lukewarm water, and just had a jolly good time.  We were waiting on the remainder of the group, and once they crossed…it was after party time.

The husbands and kids were already living it up at the after party.  Bryan was covered in foam when I saw him next.  And that was exactly where the rest of us were heading.  It was humid and hot and sticky, and the foam pit was cooling, a bit messy, a lot wet, and a whole lot of fun.  I have never been so soapy in my life…and I love a good lather as much as the next girl.  I hurt from smiling and laughing so much.  I’d get all this foam sprayed all over me…manage to shake it off and wipe it away, only to get plastered from another canon on the other side of the staging area.

Honestly…it was a blast.

And afterwards, as things were wrapping up, the ladies returned to the cooler where I had packed Pink Salad for everyone to enjoy as a treat post-race.  We were messy, soapy, and happy.  We enjoyed our refreshing treat, which Karla graciously scooped up for everyone, and then…we all departed to head home.  I had so much fun meeting these wonderful ladies who have drawn my sister into my world of running.

And I felt incredibly special to have been able to run her very first 5K with her.

Karla’s eldest son was spent, and he fell asleep on the way home, just after our gas station stop for some cold water.  Her youngest was playing his Nintendo DS, but he was fading.  As we pulled into Cracker Barrel, we said our goodbyes…and I once again told Karla how proud I was of her and how much fun I had.  I was leaving early Sunday morning to head back to Louisville…so this was our goodbye.

I have to say…despite the path not being lit, the crush of walkers with the runners, and the uneven pavement…despite all of that, I had such a great time.  Being able to run with my sister in her first race meant the world to me.  She told me, “I’m slow.”  And I told her…it didn’t matter.  All-in-all, she had a great pace, and looked like a natural out there.  I was truly blessed with the opportunity to see her through this run, meet the ladies who she goes out and runs with, and just have a fun experience that didn’t have me freaking out or tense prior to the start.  There is something to be said about doing things with people you love.

Karla…Thank you for letting me take part in the Foam Glow 5K with you and allowing me to accompany you on your very first 3.1 mile run.  Keep on running.  I am so proud of you and can’t wait to see how you improve and where this road takes you!!

Sunset, foam, and blacklights - FOAM GLOW 5K - Birmingham, AL
Sunset, foam, and blacklights – FOAM GLOW 5K – Birmingham, AL

Urban Bourbon Half Marathon – Louisville, KY (October 25, 2014)

Me crossing the finish line with Natalie at the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon, Louisville, Kentucky
Me crossing the finish line with Natalie at the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon, Louisville, Kentucky

Race: Urban Bourbon Half Marathon

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: October 25, 2014

Time: 2:00:21

It was the weekend before the New York City Marathon…and I had not run over 2 miles.  At all.  Nope.  Coming back after Twin Cities was a struggle.  When you run a marathon you don’t train for…you hurt.  When your foot already hurts…you hurt longer and more than you thought was humanly possible.  I took a full two weeks off after Twin Cities…no nothing.  Just recovery.  And then, because of inflammation and a bit of lingering soreness in the foot…I picked up some light cardio on the machines, but still hesitated to get out there and pound the pavement.  After one more week of cautionary workouts…I decided to try 1 mile.  I did this every morning…and I felt like some progress was being made.

The problem with the foot meant that I was out of the Black Cat Chase 5K in Frankfort, Kentucky.  I was bummed, because that is a great 5K to run.  It’s at night.  It’s usually cold.  It’s fun.  And I always duck into the coffee shop afterwards for apple cider to warm up.  It wasn’t happening this year…not with this foot.  The people in Frankfort were gracious enough to allow me to use the free entry I won towards next year.  So…there it is.

I knew that New York City was looming.  It was just…there.  And I knew I needed to go for an easy double-digit run…working in some walking because you just don’t go from 1 mile to double digits right away.  You just…don’t.

Awhile back, a friend of mine said she was training for the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon…and as I was out all summer, my intention was to show up…with signs…and cheer for her.  I wasn’t going to tell her I was doing it.  Just show up and surprise her.  But…things sort of unraveled the week or so before the race.  Needless to say…I ended up scrapping the plans this time.

But then, my friend Natalie, who swore off the Urban Bourbon (because this half marathon meant the end of the Big Hit Quarter and Half Marathons) was suddenly running it because our friend, and fellow runner, Terry, gave her a free entry.  She, like me, has been dealing with injuries this year, and she decided since she hadn’t trained for it, she’d just go out there and run what she feels and it would all be grand.  She told me, after I teased her about signing up for a race she said she’d never run, that she was going to do a run/walk method.

Which got me thinking about how necessary running over 1 mile a day was for me in order to prepare for New York City.  After I texted her to make sure she wasn’t running for time (let’s face it…speed is not something I have right now)…and she confirmed…and that she would do a run/walk method…I said I’d like to run it with her, as a good gauge for how New York City would go.  And…she even had a free entry code for me…so…free race.  How could I say no?

Answer: I would have been stupid to turn it down.

Unexpected half marathon…registered.

So, after attending the Halloween Party at Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, Kentucky (I went dressed as a “jogger”), where I got my gluten-free pizza (required!!), I went home and had to decide on something to wear.  Natalie, in protest, was wearing one of her Big Hit shirts.  Long sleeve.  I wanted to dress the same as her…but the weather was saying 50 degrees that morning, and I didn’t think, from the picture, that I had that shirt (I do…I pulled it out even, but in my mind, as she had arm warmers with it, I thought it was a short sleeve shirt and the Big Hit short sleeve shirts were tents on me!), so I opted to be Natalie’s Tinkerbell.  In other words…GREEN!  I pulled out my new running skirt I got on sale at Nike and my bright green BlueMile t-shirt.  That would work.  I planned on testing out the Adidas Adizero Boston 5 shoes that my friend, and shoe guru, Jackson, put me in the weekend before when I limped into Fleet Feet.  I had worn them on a couple of my little 1 mile jaunts…and loved them.  They weren’t Newtons…but they do give me a comfortable ride.  Adidas seems to be the other shoe I love.  Go figure.  Anyway, Jackson swore by them and I tested them out with a jog around the building.  Foot felt good and comfortable in them.  SOLD.  They came home with me and that week I spent breaking them in properly…by wearing them everywhere.  When the free entry to the Urban Bourbon came around…great way to test them in a race environment, even if I wasn’t racing this half marathon.

So, morning came around and I got dressed up and ate my breakfast – my usual bowl of cereal.  Whatever gluten-free kind I have open.  I did that…had a spot of coffee…drank some water…and got ready to go.  The only thing I needed now was my BondiBand.  It’s part of my race uniform.  So I ended up going with a green one that said “Marathon Maniacs” on it.  It worked.  After a quick brush of my teeth, my extra clothes were grabbed and my banana for the start was picked up…I filled up my fuel belt with water and a new flavor of Gu (Vanilla Bean) to take halfway through…to practice some fueling.  And then, Cathy and I headed for the car.

Surprisingly, parking was not an issue for this race.  We picked the parking garage we parked in when I ran the Sports Commission Half Marathon two years ago, as it is right near the finish line for the race…and also very close to the start.  So, it’s ideal, really.  We got parked, gathered up everything and headed down to the staging area, in front of the KFC Yum Center.  As we were crossing the street to go near the fountain, Natalie and Harry spotted us and yelled at us.  We finished crossing and waited for them on the other side.  They joined in and hugs were given.  It feels like I lifetime since I had seen these two.

We all stood around for a little while…just talking and catching up.  We spotted a woman dressed as a flapper (running gear style) and I thought it was fantastic.  Then, to avoid port-a-potties…Harry, Natalie and I ducked over to the nearby Marriott to use their bathroom.  I told you…I.AM.A.PRINCESS.  Anyway…flushing toilets win every time.  We met back where Cathy was holding down the fort and I snagged my banana to fuel…as we were 30 minutes out from the start of the race.  Natalie had forgotten hers, but Cathy offered hers as she had other snacks for the day.  We ate…we stretched…and eventually Harry and Natalie got out of their layers and just in their running gear.  I was not wearing layers, LOL.  So…I just had to hand over my hoodie.

Gear check was up next for them, so I wandered that way and while Natalie was in line, Harry and I stood to the side to chat a little.  I was having a good time.  The foot was a little…eh…but not bad.  Taking it easy and just having a good run was all I wanted to do.  It was all I needed to do.  As Harry and I were turning to move onto the sidewalk, my friend who had been training for it was there.  Just…there.  She said a quick, quiet, “Hi” and turned away before I could utter anything other than “Hi” back.  I wanted to at least wish her luck…didn’t have the chance.

From there….it was time to hit that starting corral.  I stretched a little more, got a hug from Cathy as she was going to go get positioned at the start line to see us off, and then we stepped inside.  The corral system has no system other than everyone gets inside.  No pace groups.  Nothing.  Just find a spot and keep moving.  I did a couple more stretches, was found by running friend Dennis (who I knew I couldn’t hang with because he all-out runs everything!), but we talked, waved to other people we knew, and then the National Anthem was played, beautifully, on a horn.  I mean…beautiful.  And with that…the starting gun went off…and so did we.

We made our way toward the start line before the initial jog started…then after we crossed…it was on.  Cathy was on the sideline making noise and we waved as we passed…and immediately went around a turn.  I wasn’t expecting that.  HA!  Usually these races that start in front of the Yum Center go straight down Main Street.  Nope…the immediate turn onto 2nd Street sort of threw me for a loop.  But…you just move with the crowd and go.  We also dodged a police car and ended up hopping up on the sidewalk for some of that first mile.  This is typical.  The course is always crowded at the start and we just wanted to get into the groove.  I let Natalie set the pace and off we went.  The foot twinged only a couple of times.  But I was laughing and having some fun.  That was the point.

We made another turn onto E Mohammad Ali Blvd and the course opened up…a little.  This was going to take us over to Lexington Road, sort of on the back side of Cave Hill Cemetery.  I never really ran over there that much, so as we are going, I can’t help but comment about how I had no idea where we were, except that we were near Cave Hill.  Once the wall disappeared from the scenery, I was totally lost. But, I subscribe to the “just run where everyone else is going” method of racing (I am NEVER the person in the lead!), and that’s always worked out well for me.  I knew that at some point we hit Cherokee Park, so I figured things would start to look familiar soon enough.

I was right.  We were coming up the Beargrass Creek Greenway…and ahead was the entrance to Cherokee Park, which I have actually run a couple times.  Hitting the park was like finally getting back in familiar territory, despite the fact that we run the Scenic Loop backwards.  I hate doing the Scenic Loop backwards…but…eh…whatever.  So, together we made our way through Mile 4, and then diverge off the Scenic Loop briefly to run to a turn-around spot.  Natalie wasn’t carrying a fuel belt, so we were doing water stops for her.  She grabbed water at Mile 5 and we continued on.  What I didn’t realize was that after we got back onto the normal course, we were sent up Barret Hill Road.  I have never run this road.  It has the word hill in it…so…heh…you know…

I did not know what I was getting myself into.  I hadn’t run hills since Twin Cities (and I walked most of those to save my foot).  I told Natalie she was going to have to get me through it.  And she was behind me the entire time, telling me to keep going, that I was almost there.  This climb was crazy.  I didn’t think it was going to end.  But when I reached the top, I put my hands up in victory, and she came up a moment later and we were back on track.  I was surprised how well I handled the hill, honestly.  We eventually were led back to the Scenic Loop and as we followed it around, up the hill toward Hogan’s Fountain…things started to get a little rough for Natalie.  She began to have some problems with her hips.  Not sure if was a cramping issue or just the whole…battle she has waged this past year…we eased the pace.  She was hoping for some Gatorade at the water stop ahead, but they had only water.  Because it sounded like she needed electrolytes and stat…I gave her the bottle on my fuel belt with my Nuun in it.  We kept on moving, trolling the hills of the park…partying at the top of Dog Hill and curving off, hitting Alexander Road and Mile 7.  I hadn’t fueled yet and Natalie needed to fuel…so, I grabbed my Gu pack and my water.  I downed my gel as if it were going out of style.  Vanilla Bean.  Yuck.  Too sweet.  Glad I discovered that then.  Natalie has to take hers in slowly, so we jogged while she took it in doses so as not to upset her stomach.  We polished off the fuel and headed out onto Cherokee Parkway.

She was really starting to hurt now.  I could tell.  We eased the pace some more and kept on pushing.  Near the area where Cherokee Parkway meets Grinstead, I spotted Laura.  I ran up to her and could see she wasn’t feeling all that well.  I asked how she was and she said she was a little lightheaded, so she slowed her pace and took some of her chews to see if that would help.  She was hoping to see Michael soon…(he was in 3 different places on the course!)…and would figure things out from there.  After making sure she didn’t need anything, Natalie and I turned onto Grinstead and started down the other side of Cave Hill Cemetery.

Then…came her knee pain.  It was enough to bring her to a walk.  So…we walked a little bit, giving her some time to ease up on the impact, pressure, and allowing a bit of recovery.  She chose a sign to pick up the pace again, and we did for as long as she could.  She told me to go on without her, but I never leave a runner behind and I was going to see her to that finish line.  I wasn’t running this for time…I was running this for distance.  So, whatever the clock said was not important to me.  Seeing my friend finish…that was important.

We kept this run walk method going throughout much of the last five miles.  I would find myself getting ahead of her and I would double back and pick her up…keep moving with her…let her know she was doing well.  Focus on anything else but what was bothering her.  She had put her headphones in.  I think her music was on.  I didn’t care.  I was going to get her to that finish line.  As we rounded onto Baxter Avenue, you would think a party was going on.  Mony Mony was blaring, runners were having a blast dancing to it…and we joined in.  It was a great pump-you-up song and perfect timing as we were heading toward Mile 10…and the last 5K of the race.  Natalie had said if she could get to Mile 10, she knew she could finish.  I knew she would finish even if she walked there.  But we hit Mile 10 (she was behaving and not looking at timing clocks or her watch the entire time!) and I told her…we were almost home.

We were now running toward downtown now.  I knew this course well.  I’d done this part a dozen times on training runs.  I was bursting with the energy of the race and I found myself up ahead.  I would turn my head and locate Natalie.  If she had fallen behind…I would loop around…if she was just a bit behind me…I’d jog in place or slow down until she got back to where I was.  And this was how it worked for the last 3 miles.  She was a trooper.  We wanted to cross that finish line together, so it was my duty to make that happen.  Run…walk…run…walk…all the way through the turns for Mile 12.  One mile to go.  I held up 1 finger as encouragement…and we went…down Main Street.  I ran…I stopped to wait for her…I got her going.  We were close.  The crowd was getting louder.  The finish line was ahead.  I could see it.  I could see it.  She was struggling, so I reached back and took her hand.  And together…we headed to that finish line, one step at a time…and crossed at the same time.

It was the perfect ending to the race.  Natalie and I hugged.  She stopped her watch and I stopped mine.  And she said she PR’d by 5 minutes.  Holy freakin’ cow!!  I told her, “See what happens when you stop worrying about time and just go out and enjoy the run?”  She nodded.  She was hurting, but we moved through the finish area, collecting our medals and our foils.  More hugs.  I dropped her off at the First Aid tent…as she needed some ice for her knee.  I continued on to meet up with Cathy, collecting some grapes, water, and chocolate milk along the way.

Harry, Me, and Natalie showing off our bling after running the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon, Louisville, Kentucky
Harry, Me, and Natalie showing off our bling after running the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon, Louisville, Kentucky

I was so damn proud of Natalie.  She really just pushed through and managed to achieve a new personal best without even trying.  This is why I run every race for fun.  Anything can happen on race day…so going in without high expectations means that I enjoy it and often do better than anticipated.  I met up with Cathy and did a bit of stretching.  I had the opportunity to talk with my friend Brant (who was pacing a friend of his through his first half marathon!) for a bit…and then we went to find Natalie and Harry for pictures.  They were going for pizza afterwards for their recovery lunch.  Cathy and I hit up Whole Foods for soup…keeping it light because that evening we were meeting up with her sister, Amanda, to eat Indian food at Shalimar and then go on the Pumpkin Walk at Iroquois Park (which was AMAZING and I want to do it again next year!).

So, as it stands, I finished the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon in 2:00:21, crossing that finish line hand-in-hand with Natalie.  Honestly…I still smile.  I was 837/2777 finishers.  I was 283/1553 women to cross the finish line.  And I was 59/298 in my division.  I’ll take it.  Because this was not a run for time.  This was a run to just enjoy…train…see how the foot would hold up.  And I ended up helping my friend to an amazing finish.  I wouldn’t have traded that for the world.

Buffalo Marathon – Buffalo, NY (May 25, 2014)

Me and Kat crossing the finish line at the Buffalo Marathon - Buffalo, New York.  This picture encapsulates everything about the marathon.  (Photo Credit: Diane Sardes)
Me and Kat crossing the finish line at the Buffalo Marathon – Buffalo, New York. This picture encapsulates everything about the marathon. (Photo Credit: Diane Sardes)

Race: Buffalo Marathon

Place: Buffalo, New York

Date: May 25, 2014

Time: 4:32:44*

“When you cross the finish line, no matter how slow or fast, it will change your life forever.” – Spirit of the Marathon


I want to point out the asterisks above, as this race was not one that I was running at my normal marathon pace.  Nope.  I agreed back in March to pace two of my friends, Kat and Janelle, to their hopes of a sub-4 finish in the Buffalo Marathon.  This race was not about me or my goals…this was all about them.  And I took this responsibility very seriously, mind you!  I trained as I would if I were going to be the one racing…meaning all of my training runs I did as though I were running this race at my pace.  I didn’t want to over-train or get cocky and think that I could run more because this race wasn’t going to be done at my “normal” pace.  Nope.  Like I said…I take my job as a pacer very, very seriously.

I know what you’re doing.  You’re looking at that finish time and wondering what went wrong.

Well…I will get to that.  And then I will reflect on what this race has taught me, in general, about the human spirit and the spirit of the marathon.  But…let me start at the very beginning.

Fridays are usually hectic as it is, but this Friday just put me out-of-my-mind.  I had tried to do most of my packing on Thursday, but I still had plenty to do that morning…plus a date with my spinning class at 5:30 a.m.  Go figure.  As I was racing on Sunday, I went to class, but kept the heavy down and just did what I was comfortable with.  I didn’t want to wear out these legs.  I had two people counting on me and I wasn’t about to let them down.  I thought about skipping my class, but I figured I’d be in a car most of Saturday, so as long as I didn’t put too much resistance on the bike…I’d be fine.

I did manage to get everything packed up and loaded into the car.  But I wasn’t Buffalo bound yet.  New York was going to have to wait.  I had to go to work for the entire day first.  Then…then I could start my journey toward my sixth marathon this year.  Whew.  I headed into the office and made little to no use of my standing desk, once again, trying to keep as much pressure off these legs as possible.  I wanted to get to that start line feeling ready and relaxed.  It worked.  I got through the entire work day without any issues, then packed up and headed out at 4:30 p.m. to head up to Columbus, Ohio.  Jenn was going to make this journey with us for the marathon, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  YAY!  But…this meant enduring the ride up to Columbus.  But first…I stopped off at my local gluten-free bakery to pick up a pizza crust.  I promised Kat, back when she was in town for the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon that I’d bring her one of Annie May’s Sweet Café’s amazing gluten-free pizza crusts.  And…while we were there, Cathy and I each ordered a sandwich to go to eat in the car on the way up to Jenn’s.  We might have also picked up one of her vegan and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies too.  Maybe.  Anyway, this plan to grab dinner worked out perfectly.  An Annie May’s sandwich might be a new travel after work tradition.

Soon, we were on the road and making good time up to Columbus, Ohio.  As we came through Cincinnati, Ohio, I asked Cathy if we were going to stop soon because the unsweetened iced tea and the water I had with dinner had gone right through me and I “really needed to pee.”  TMI?  Nah.  Anyway, she said we’d stop at somewhere up the road…which turned into about an hour wait.  Seriously.  The information center she had wanted to stop at was closed…and already way further than I had hoped to go before I got my break.  So…I was not happy.  We finally pulled over at a gas station on the exit you would take if you were going to the Ohio Renaissance Festival.  I went inside the BP and took care of business, only to be interrupted by a woman pounding on the door, declaring she had an emergency.  Um…yeah…kinda busy…gotta wait.  I peed as fast as I could…but she kept pounding and pissing me off.  Do NOT piss off a runner who has been tapering.  I washed my hands and hurried out of the bathroom, having her blow past me like I was doing it on purpose.  UGH!!  People suck.

Back on the road…and no more stops until we hit Jenn’s house somewhere around 9 p.m.  Cathy and I changed out into more comfortable clothes and then we settled in to talk a bit and eat Jenn’s infamous (but to me it’s famous) Pink Salad.  Mmmmm…just what I needed.  Hit the freakin’ spot.  I knew I needed to get up around 4 a.m. to do a shakeout run, stretch, shower, eat breakfast, and get out of the door in a timely manner to continue the journey up to Buffalo, New York on Saturday morning…so we were turning in earlier than normal.

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I immediately dropped my iPhone before I could turn it off.  Whoops.  I got up and got changed into my running clothes and headed out Jenn’s garage to do 3 very easy miles as a shakeout before my drive up for the marathon.  I forgot that Jenn’s roads have storm drains in the center of the road, so those were some fun obstacles at first.  HAHA!  I finally just got off to the side, and ran a loop around her inner circle until I hit my miles for the day.  I actually did it faster than I intended or felt like I was running…so my legs were definitely feeling good.  I ducked back inside, shed the reflective gear and went to do my stretching.  Jenn came down as I was finishing that up.  And soon I was headed up to shower, wake up Cathy, and we were settling in for some gluten-free bagels for breakfast.  Topped off with a Garlic and Herb cream cheese of deliciousness.  It was like eating garlic bread.  The car was loaded back up and we piled in…heading out for the long road to Buffalo, New York.

I was already tired from not sleeping much, so Jenn passed my pillow up and I dozed up until we made our first stop to put in some gas.  There was a nice Starbucks attached to the gas station, so we all got one of their refreshers…mine…the Cool Lime (YUMMY!) before piling back into the car and making our way up to Erie, Pennsylvania.  That was going to be our stop for lunch.  Back when I ran the Hershey Half Marathon, we found a place called Picasso’s to eat dinner at on our way back to Jenn’s.  They specialize in very unique sandwiches…and we fell in love with them.  This was our lunch destination…and we got there just after they opened.  We each got a sandwich and drink and settled in at a table.  My Gluten-Free Venus de Milo Sandwich was fantastic.  It was a combination of hummus, onions, baby spinach, tomato, muffaletta spread, carrots, avocado, and a roasted red pepper mayo, toasted on gluten-free bread (in the oven to keep it from being cross-contaminated).  Seriously…delicious.  Then, we ducked over to Wegmans (an awesome grocery store for those not familiar) to grab a few necessities for Sunday…like bananas and water and watermelon.  Then…back on the road.  Next stop…the Hyatt Regency Buffalo (the host hotel) where we were staying.

I had hoped to meet up with both Kat and Janelle at the the expo, but Kat was there earlier in the day and Janelle, honestly, was leaving as I was pulling in.  Dang it.  I was seeing Kat later that evening for dinner, but Janelle was not going to be able to make it.  So, we all planned to meet up on Sunday morning with the 4 hour pace group.  Deal.  We pulled into the hotel and valet parked the car, hauling our stuff inside.  I went to check in, and as I was running the marathon was gifted with a bottle of Gatorade.  I signed a sneaker with how many marathons I had run and my best finishing time, was given two keys to the room (I gave them to Jenn and Cathy to handle…I am a zen runner on race weekends and want no responsibilities).  We took our stuff up to the hotel room to drop it off and then headed out to walk through the walkways from the hotel to the expo center.  Weirdly enough, there were no signs really directing anyone to where to find the expo…so we randomly followed some people and ended up making our way there.  Let’s hear it for the blind leading the visually challenged!

Bart Yasso and me at the Buffalo Marathon Expo - Buffalo, New York
Bart Yasso and me at the Buffalo Marathon Expo – Buffalo, New York

The expo was small.  We stepped inside and I got in line to get a plastic bag that contained some race information and my safety pins.  From there, I had to wind my way through the vendors and other races there to find the tables in the back where packet pickup was happening.  I went over to the side for the marathon (there is also a 5K and a half marathon), and gave my name.  The teenager behind the table looked me up, grabbed my race bib and race shirt and passed it over to me.  I thanked him, tucked it into the plastic bag and went to meet Jenn and Cathy over at the BondiBand table.  HA!  They knew I’d want to make a stop there.  We didn’t spend too long digging through the BondiBands as I own most of them (it’s a sickness…I know!)…but I found two that fit my personality and I ended up getting those.  It’s tradition!  You never break tradition.  We wound our way back through, stopping off at a few interesting sounding races…all of which are on weekends that don’t work for me…this year…and ended up at Bart Yasso’s talk.

I LOVE Bart Yasso and really want to incorporate the Yasso 800’s into my training…eventually.  We listened to him talk, and when he finished up, I went to see if he would sign my book (I brought it with me!) and maybe get a picture with him.  There wasn’t a long line…and before long I was up there and talking with him.  He remembered me from Facebook (HA!) and just asked if I spelled Karen with a “K.”  That was awesome.  He was very kind and wrote me a nice message before taking a picture with me and wishing me luck on Sunday.  With that…we made our way out of the expo and back to our hotel room, where we crashed until about 4:15 p.m., watching Food Network (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was on, followed by Guy’s Grocery Games).  I took the time to do my evening stretches and some foam rolling so I wouldn’t have to worry about it after dinner and could focus more on getting race morning stuff together and getting to bed at a decent time.

All that did get accomplished before we headed back out to the streets of Buffalo and walked to our dinner destination, Merge, located on Delaware Avenue.  We were early.  The restaurant hadn’t even opened yet.  But, we knew that would probably be the case.  We left early to give us time to get lost and all.  But at the first sense of us not knowing which way to go, Cathy asked the valet guys and we were immediately on track without the whole wander around town mess.  Love nipping something in the bud.  At 5 p.m., Kat and Adam (Kat’s boyfriend) arrived and we went inside for our dinner reservation.  We were immediately seated and asked if we wanted something other than water to drink.  I don’t do anything but water these days as it is…so I stuck with that.  Then…it was menu time.  I had looked at this menu DOZENS of times before…and I knew there was a gluten-free and vegan pizza option.  That’s my traditional food before a race…but there were so many enticing dishes on this menu that I couldn’t get anywhere else…and I get good gluten-free pizza in Louisville.  SO…now I was waffling on what I wanted for dinner and everyone else was ready.  With the assistance of the waiter, I bucked tradition again and went with the Gluten-Free and Vegan Arugula Pesto Pasta, which was a basic brown rice fusilli pasta with local tomato, red onion, spinach and tossed with toasted walnuts.  It was as amazing as it looked.  Got a Gluten-Free and Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Spiced Berry Compote for dessert, which I split with Cathy.  All of us talked for awhile, not much about running but about other stuff, until we were told they needed the table.  So, with that, we parted ways.  Cathy, Jenn and I walked back to the hotel room. and I changed into my pajamas, brushed my teeth, put out my race clothes for the morning, plugged in my Garmin to charge, set the two wake-up alarms, and then…went to bed.

My first alarm got me up and I went through my routine before hitting the sack again for another hour.  The second alarm rang and I was up and into the bathroom to change into my race gear.  I had opted for a tank top, despite the 47 degree weather that morning.  I had my homemade arm warmers for the start, figuring I’d shed them sometime in the race.  My running skirt, my CEP calf sleeves, my Newton’s.  I was ready to run.  I put on my sunscreen and got my “epic race hair” done up before stretching.  Jenn woke up just before I was to wake up both her and Cathy to get ready…so I just needed to worry about getting Cathy moving.  I woke her up and then settled in to eat my cereal (a pre-race tradition for EVERY race).  I took my time, relaxed, and occupied my mind with things other than the race.  Both Cathy and Jenn grabbed the free granola from the expo and got something in their stomachs and soon, I was grabbing my banana and we were heading down to the lobby and outside to the starting area.

The start area hadn’t been opened to the runners in the full or half marathon yet…so everyone was sort of behind a barrier on the other side of the street.  I saw pacers walk by and really wanted to go find my girls, but Cathy was like…”Um…good luck with that!”  Which, sort of annoyed me so I was in a huff when the starting area was finally opened.  But, she called me back and I settled down.  I got hugs and was told to have a good race.  Jenn told me that “The Power of Dean [Karnazes] Compelled Me” and not to “pants my poop.”  This is tradition.  It has to happen.  With that, I left them to go find a spot near the start line and I went to hopefully find Janelle (who I hadn’t met yet in person) and Kat.

Kat (green arm warmers), me, and Janelle (pink shirt) heading out at the start of the Buffalo Marathon - Buffalo, New York
Kat (green arm warmers), Me, and Janelle (pink shirt) heading out at the start of the Buffalo Marathon – Buffalo, New York (Photo Credit: Jennifer Mariani)

Janelle found me, actually…which was awesome.  We were about 15 minutes away from race time.  I was so happy to see her.  She looked rested and ready to run.  Perfect.  I asked if she had seen Kat…and she hadn’t.  But a few minutes later, miss Bright Green Arm Warmers was at our sides.  We attempted to do some stretching in the start area but it was really crowded and moving around was not much of an option.  Kat was talking to pretty much everyone…because I really think she knows everyone in Buffalo…and we did our best to keep our legs loose and limber in the chilly morning air.  I pointed out that the girl in front of me had her shirt on inside out and we agreed that if it wasn’t three minutes to start time, we might have informed her…but it was too late now.  The National Anthem was sung…and we were right in line with the 4-hour pace group.  Right where I wanted to start.  One moment later…runners were off.  And we were making the march toward the start line.  Kat doesn’t like to start running until she crosses that mat, so we kept a fast walk until we hit that start gate…and we were off.  I spotted Cathy and Jenn immediately, flashed a peace sign…and fell into pace.

Janelle, me, and Kat love seeing familiar faces around Mile 6.3 in the Buffalo Marathon - Buffalo, New York
Janelle, Me, and Kat love seeing familiar faces around Mile 6.3 in the Buffalo Marathon – Buffalo, New York

We stayed behind the pace group for the first mile, wanting to make sure we didn’t have the “fly and die” technique…wanting to go into this easy and work our way up.  Kat and Janelle both liked this plan and that was what we worked at doing.  But somewhere before we hit Mile 2, we got ahead of the pace group.  I asked my girls how they felt about pace, and both agreed it was good.  I told them that whenever they wanted to back off, just to say the word and we would.  So, Kat did that every now and again, terrified of going out too fast and wanting to have that 4 hour pace group not too much behind or ahead of us at any time.  As both seemed comfortable…we continued on.  We hit that 5K mark feeling strong, and I once again checked on the pace.  We backed it off a little per Kat’s request and continued on.  I ditched my arm warmers somewhere around here as well.  HA!  Looking at my Garmin…we actually were keeping a very level, even pace for a good stretch of this race.  It was awesome.  It felt good.  We all felt good.  Kat gave me a bit of a tour as we were running, as this is where she grew up.  I’m a history buff, so I found every bit of this fascinating.  And…it made the miles fly by without us really paying attention to them at all.  Before we knew it, we were at the 10K mark…feeling good.  We rounded a corner, and Kat spotted Adam and went over to see him, but he told her to keep going as she was right on pace.  And just a few feet up…was Cathy and Jenn.  I spotted the donkey sign!  I gave a big wave and a smile.  It’s always nice to see familiar faces during a race…and we were only 1/4 of the way done.  But…we were feeling amazing.  So, on we went.

We kept this great pace (just under sub-9) up through the LaSalle Park area.  We hit the waterfront, where the road narrowed quite a bit.  The slow-up was welcome though…so we took the break and eased our way through the crowds.  The waterfront was gorgeous!  Honestly.  I loved running this part of the race.   Great breeze.  Great views.  The lake was stunning.  We knew as we were going to be leaving the waterfront that photographers were stationed.  And we spotted them up ahead.  The three of us raised our arms for the shot…and that was when some jackass pushed Kat.  Like…literally pushed her.  RUDE!  So, not sure how that shot is going to turn out.  Asshat.  We had now hit the 15K mark…and all of us were still feeling good and strong.  My girls were rockstars!  I asked about pace every now and again, wanting them to feel comfortable with it…and so far, they were.

Janelle, Me, and Kat at the 13.1 mile point of the Buffalo Marathon!  Feeling strong.  Looking strong!
Janelle, Me, and Kat at the 13.1 mile point of the Buffalo Marathon! Feeling strong. Looking strong!

Kat continued her guided tour as we ran around the Erie Basin Marina and back into town.  She was elated when she noticed the course was going to take us past the First Niagara Center, where the Buffalo Sabers play hockey.  She has season tickets…so she was glad the new course still ran past there.  The sun was up now and there were no clouds in the sky.  None.  So it was warming up fast.  We came through town, loving the shade that the buildings provided, but the heat was there.  We hit the halfway point…and were pleasantly surprised to see both Jenn and Cathy standing right at the 13.1 marker to cheer us on.  We were powering through that first half, maintaining a relatively even pace…backing off where necessary…and feeling awesome.  We were just where we needed to be…right in between the 3:50:00 pacers and the 4-hour pace group.  We were right on target.

But as we headed a few miles further in, the heat started to really affect Kat.  She came to a walk on a hill around Mile 15, taking out her inhaler.  We were ahead of schedule and the walk break was a welcome one on the hill, and once she fueled and took in some liquid, we were back on our way.  We knocked out another mile back on our pace, but the 4-hour pace group had caught up to us.  We decided to run just behind them for a little while.  Good strategy.  But as we came into Mile 16, going into 17…Kat slowed again and the pace group moved ahead.  She was getting angry and frustrated with herself, but we were still ahead of the pace group so that was of some help to get her focused again.  The fuel belt she was wearing wasn’t sitting right on her body, so Janelle asked if she wanted to try holding her bottle with Nuun in it and ditching the belt with her husband at Mile 17.  Kat agreed so Janelle ran up ahead to find her husband, dump water out of one of her bottles, and get one ready for Kat.  Kat was really struggling here and as we walked a bit through Mile 16.55, with her in tears and angry at having to walk, one of the volunteers checked to make sure she was okay, letting us know where we were in the race and asking if she needed any sort of attention.  She waved him off and we both thanked him, and when we hit some road signs, we started to pick up the pace again, maintaining that until we met up with Janelle and her husband near Mile 17.  We changed out the fuel pack for the handheld water and we were back on our way.

We were now in Delaware Park, which would last for a mile, where we then would enter back onto the streets and re-enter the park around Mile 20.5.  As we were heading up the hill, Kat went to fuel with her Craisins.  But they didn’t stay down.  The heat was really getting to her…as she hadn’t had warm weather this year to train in.  Buffalo was 40 degrees all day on Friday…and Saturday was slightly warmer, but with a cool breeze that made it feel cooler.  We had a slight breeze, but the air was hot and the sun was relentless.  Kat handed me the handheld bottle and tried to fuel again, this time to keep it down.  I gave her one of my bottles on my fuel belt that had water inside.  She took it…and this time…it all stayed down.  She asked if I was okay holding onto the handheld bottle for her…and I said that was fine.  Mind you, I hate running with things in my hands, but this was definitely more important.  And…it would help me keep a steadier pace for Kat.  But then the 4:10 pace group past and I saw that fight go out of her.  She felt defeated, but I did what I could to get her to press on.  We could at least try for her next goal of a PR.  We came out of the park and it was a run walk method, with Janelle and I just wanting to keep Kat going.  Finally, Janelle said she was starting to hurt, so she was going to put on her headphones and head for the finish line.  We had tried to get her to do that earlier…but she stuck it out with us for some of it, even giving up her sub-4 finish to make sure Kat was okay.  But we wished her luck and sent her on, telling her to let Cathy and Jenn know that we would be behind her.

I did my best to keep Kat going.  The heat was really doing a number on her.  She was getting dizzy and suffering from a headache.  In addition, she said at some points she felt like she was going to pass out.  I didn’t want that to happen, so I told her to walk when she needed.  We were coming up around Mile 20 when one lone woman was standing on the road, shouting support to everyone.  She saw Kat, who was crying, and honed in on her.  It made me smile when I heard her say to Kat…”I see you, 890!  You look so strong.  Come on 890…you can do this.  Push through, 890!  I know you can do this.  I know you want to run.”  Kat started crying more, but this time tears of happiness, and her pace…picked up.  It was the push she needed…from a random stranger.  And as she ran up the hill…the woman said, “That’s it 890!  Keep going!!” and other inspiring and motivating words.  She was a rockstar.  And, honestly, was able to do what I couldn’t.  As we came back into Delaware Park, Kat said she had to use the bathroom and maybe that would help.  The problem was…there were no port-a-potties on the course winding through the park.  So, it was run, walk, run…until we were heading out of the park where there were some port-a-potties.  Luckily one was not in use.  I waited on the corner while she ducked into one.  A minute later, we were back on the road and back to running.  She felt better.  And we now had just over 4 more miles to go.  We were getting there.  When the 4:20 pace group passed, she started crying again.  And…she handed over her Garmin, saying she didn’t want it on anymore.  Is trapped it onto my wrist and we moved on.  It was better this way.  She had been so focused on that pace and now…her disappointment was setting in.  I kept assuring her that her primary goal was to finish…and I was going to get her to that line.

With only a few miles left, we were determined to go without stopping.  Kat was determined now, despite the heat.  She was sweating out salt, so I was trying to get her to take in as much water and electrolytes as possible.  Her compression socks were starting to bother her, so she stopped to roll them down.  Only, that felt worse as we started up again, so she pulled them back up.  We ran and walked for the next few miles, doing what she needed.  I pushed her here and there, telling her what landmarks we would hit and start jogging and picking up the pace…easing back into it.  She listened to me…and did as I said…and she’d slow and walk when she needed to.  Around Mile 24, she was done with the compression socks.  So she pulled over to the side of the road and sat down, taking off her shoes and removing the socks.  I ended up tying them to my fuel belt and she put her shoes back on and decided to finish the race without socks on.  I told her she’d blister…and she said blisters already happened.  Might as well be comfortable.  A woman who was cheering on runners across the street asked if she was okay…and we said she was…and within moments, she was back on her feet and we were heading down into the next mile…slapping hands with college boys at the water stop.  We walked a bit coming into Mile 25 and I could hear that crowd ahead.  The finish line was getting closer.  We picked it up…we backed it off…we walked when she needed it.  She finished off her Nuun…she took in one last water stop…and we pressed on…walking to the edge of a building I pointed out…and then picking up that pace.  We were in the home stretch and she was going to run it in.

We had made a deal to cross that finish line together.  I was wrapped up in the excitement and my finisher’s kick was already there.  She called me back, saying she wasn’t ready yet.  She wanted to see that finish line.  So…I fell back and we rounded through Niagara Square.  And then…there it was…the finisher’s chute!  We picked up our pace and sprinted…as fast as our legs could go.  As we neared that finish line, we took each other’s hands…and crossed together.  It was…by far…one of the most rewarding and memorable finishes I have had in my life.  We hugged tightly and I told her how proud I was of her.  And we moved out of the way so that she could try to catch her breath, regain her strength…get her medal…and get some ice from the medical tent.

Kat, Me, and Janelle proudly displaying our finisher's medals at the finish of the Buffalo Marathon - Buffalo, New York.  So proud of these ladies!
Kat, Me, and Janelle proudly displaying our finisher’s medals at the finish of the Buffalo Marathon – Buffalo, New York. So proud of these ladies!

After snagging an ice pack to put on the back of her neck, we headed back out, retrieving Mylar blankets and started down the chute.  She spotted Adam and her mom and went to talk to them for a moment.  And then…we went to get our picture taken for finishing.  We moved further down the chute, retrieving water bottles and any snacks needed.  She snagged an orange…good choice.  And then we met up with Janelle, Cathy, Jenn, Janelle’s husband, Janelle’s dog (Domino), and Adam and Kat’s mom at the very end.  We stood around talking for a little while and snapped a picture of the three of us with our medals.  But then I needed to get up to the hotel room to shower off and change (as they were not allowing any late check-outs.  Nope.  Not at the host hotel!).  Kat came with us because I forgot to give her the pizza the night before…and she changed while I went to shower.  Cathy and Jenn packed everything up and when I stepped out of the shower…we were ready to head out.

Hugs all around and we were off.

So…my official results for the Buffalo Marathon are that I finished in a time of 4:32:44 (gun time) and 4:31: 36 (chip time) (for 26.49 miles).  I was 832/1287 finishers overall.  I was the 311/548 women to cross the finish line.  And I was 64/108 in my age division.  I can honestly say that this was the first time I ever crossed the finish line carrying more gear than I left with.  HA!  First time for everything!

Yes…there was a twinge of disappointment that came with this finish.  But it wasn’t with the finishing time.  It was watching a goal slip away from a good friend of mine, who worked her ass off to achieve it.  Her body wasn’t ready for the heat, as she hadn’t trained in it yet.  There were a few other factors as well.  And the relentless sun did her in that day.  But…she was not defeated.  No matter how she felt, no matter how much she wanted to collapse and give up…she didn’t.  Kat is a fighter.  She’s strong and determined and stubborn as hell.  And every time she fell back…I saw that flame in her eyes spark up…and she’d start to move again.  There were plenty of tears shed at goals that weren’t reached, but ultimately, she proved not only her strength and her determination, but her worth out there on that course.  I was so proud of her at that finish line.  There was nowhere else I wanted to be than at her side that entire race, seeing her push through her own doubts.  She is a fighter and she fought for this finish.  She gave everything she had to reach that finish line.  She finished strong.  And every ounce of me has been inspired by her sheer determination and will to push through and see herself to that finish line.  Her original goals fell to the wayside…but she finished.  And ultimately...it’s not about finish times…it’s about finish lines.  So often, as runners, we put so much emphasis on a new PR, a better time, faster, better, perfection.  Those are all nice to accomplish and to have as goals, but we get so focused on that and sometimes we lose the actual joy of the run.  We forget to have some fun.  To enjoy it.  To just take it in.  When Kat crossed her finish line that morning…and when I gave her a tight hug, I told her just how proud I was of her.  I still am.  Best finish for me…ever.

Thank you, Kat…for inspiring me to push on when my self-doubts want me to stop.  You are stronger than you give yourself credit for.  This is one race I will always point to and say…”She wanted to give up…but she never did.”  For that…you are more than an inspiration.  You’re my hero!

When you can't walk, you crawl.  When you can't do that, you find someone to carry you. - Firefly
When you can’t walk, you crawl. When you can’t do that, you find someone to carry you. – Firefly


Geist Half Marathon – Fishers, IN (May 17, 2014)

Me sprinting to the finish line at the Geist Half Marathon - Fishers, Indiana
Me sprinting to the finish line at the Geist Half Marathon – Fishers, Indiana

Race: Geist Half Marathon

Place: Fishers, Indiana

Date: May 17, 2014

Time: 1:38:52

NEW. HALF. MARATHON. PR.

F*CK YEAH!

Okay…so it was a PR by 8 seconds, but that’s still a PR.  And given the fact that I wasn’t pushing or truly giving my all on this race and course since I’m racing again next weekend…well…this was a surprise.  A very happy, welcome, great surprise.  Especially since this course was quite hilly.  Hilly enough that my calf muscles protested every single one of them.

Note to self…hill work is a must!!

But, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me start at the beginning of this journey…

Friday.  I did a short shake-out run that morning…1 mile…in the pouring rain…because…it rained on me after I headed out on the run and at that point…I was out and wet.  I then…stupidly…went to my spin class.  I did not put on my heavy heavy when we were told to take it to heavy…so, that counted for something, yes?  After that…a long day at the office…and finally got let loose a little early…just past 3:30 to start on the journey up to Fishers, IN…north of Indianapolis.

The car ride took forever!  Seriously.  First…storms.  Dark clouds…rain…apparently Indianapolis had hail.  The area the race was happening on Saturday morning was getting marble size hail.  Because when I race…I bring the storms.  Every…freakin’…time!  Anyway…the weather put us a little behind…but so did the traffic!  GOD…the traffic!  Apparently people panic when it rains up there because we saw so many accidents.  Some were roll-overs.  Some were just one-car things.  Some two-car things.  All of them…pissing me off because it was keeping me from picking up my packet and getting to food and my friend Julia…who was meeting up with us for dinner.

UGH!  But, we made it to St. Vincent Fishers Hospital.  The packet pickup was being held in the visitor’s waiting area near the food court.  I posed for a picture by the banner outside and then headed in.  This race never has much of an expo…so this was going to be a quick stop.  I think we were there for a grand total of 5 minutes.  Just long enough for me to walk up to a table, get my bib and long sleeve tech shirt, check my timing chip, pick up a poster (that has my name on it!), and leave.  The rain cleared up for a moment, but it was definitely chilly out.  I already knew from checking the weather that race morning was getting an unseasonably cold 39°F temperature.  Usually this race has killer heat…so this was different.

So…it was off to dinner.  Julia was already at the restaurant with a table…and we were 10 minutes away.  Except 10 minutes took 30 minutes because of traffic issues and accidents on I-69.  We learned…never take I-69.  HAHA!!  Thanks for the tip, Julia!  But…we arrived at Rockstone Pizzeria and Pub in Fishers and found Julia at the table in the bar.  As we settled in, a table in the back stood up and I spotted Laura, Tammy, and Mike from my running group!!  YAY!!  We talked for a moment…and they headed out.  It was now 7 p.m…a full hour after I would normally have wanted to eat…but that’s life for you.  We placed our orders, all getting the Vava Veggie Pizza (mine was gluten-free…hers was not).  The pizza was good.  Cathy and I split mine because I really wanted some gelato for dessert…but in the end, as it was now past 8 p.m…decided against it.  I was bummed.  But…race was important.  We talked some more with Julia, but around 8:30 p.m…we headed out.  I needed to pick up a banana for race morning and get to the hotel to get stuff ready.  And I was hoping to be in bed by 9 p.m. that night, but with all the delays…I hit the bed around 10:30 p.m.  And then slept like hell.

My first alarm went off and I got up to shut it off and do my first morning ritual on race day.  Then, back to bed for an hour.  The second alarm went off and I was up to get changed, put on some sunscreen, and get my stretching in.  At 5:30 a.m., I woke up Cathy and finished up with doing my traditional race hair and eating some gluten-free cereal for breakfast.  I took in some water, took my vitamins, and then got pinned up and ready to run.  We left the hotel room…and went back for the bananas…then left again and headed out to the high school where we chose to park the car.

Chris and me at the start line of the Geist Half Marathon - Fishers, Indiana
Chris and me at the start line of the Geist Half Marathon – Fishers, Indiana

On the way, I was messaging back and forth with my friend Chris from a running group I belong to.  He and his girlfriend, Becca, were running Geist on a last-minute decision.  Awesome.  We were planning on meeting up.  He said he’d look for my “race hair” (HAHA!) and I told him that I was dressed as Wonder Woman…so he said he’d look for a superhero.  Chris is truly this awesome.

Cathy and I parked and started the mile walk from the parking lot to the starting line.  I kept looking in the groups of runners walking that way for Chris…but never spotted him.  At 7 a.m., I broke out my second breakfast…my pre-race banana…and that was when he found me.  HUGS ALL AROUND!  And photos.  We talked for a few minutes and then he and Becca headed back further in the corral line-up.  The announcement was made that the start of the race was delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, which turned out to be a woman who was running the half marathon and on her way to the start, running in a crosswalk…when she was struck by one of the buses that was acting as a shuttle that morning.  It happened at 6 a.m….and the race course hadn’t been cleared yet.

But, once the go-ahead was given, opening ceremonies began.  The national anthem was sung beautifully and really set the tone of the race.  I shed my hoodie and passed it off to Cathy, who went to find a spot on the other side of the start line…and I shivered for a little while and made new friends, as I always do.  Everyone was so nice!

And…a moment later…we were off to the races!!  Instead of a staggered start time for the half marathon and the 5K, this year, the Geist races began at the same time…on different sides of the road.  I headed out, crossing the start mat and getting into a groove.    I saw Cathy, waiving my sign and cheering me on, so I flashed a peace sign…and carried on.  The first mile had a lot of people…but not too bad since I was up near the front.  This was the first trip across the bridge…and I had two children running the half (boys!) who were trash talking their 5K friends.  Acting all tough.  And then I hear, “I have a cramp.”  Followed by “Let’s not talk as much…”  And then I moved past that disaster waiting to happen.  Mile 1…and I feel a tap…and turn to find Tammy!!  TAMMY!!  Tammy is awesome…fresh off a fast (and Boston Qualifying) marathon in Fargo the weekend before.  She ran with me for a mile before she said she was dropping off the pace because she said she wasn’t going to race this one.  Crazy girl still came in 3rd in her division…and not long after I finished either.  Drop off the pace, my booty!  I want to be Tammy when I grow up!

So, I was out on the course now on my own, runners beside me, runners in front of me, and runners behind me.  I was taking it all in.  We were now in a small neighborhood and people, despite the cold air, came out to cheer at the end of their driveways.  As I rounded the corner, I got my first WONDER WOMAN shout out…and then the woman started doing the Batman music.  That made me giggle.  I knew this part of the course.  It was the 5K course all the other times I ran this race (I did the 5K twice before…but not the half marathon.  Nice change!).  So, as we headed across the reservoir, I got a shout out from the photographer.  Also was told I had the best running outfit ever.  HA!

So…the race turned out to be a challenging one.  This was a brand new course for the Geist Half Marathon, making the 5K and the half marathon an out and back instead of a point-to-point as it had been in the past.  NICE!  But, with this new course came some new challenges.  Those are called hills.  And those hills are what I need to really work on this coming summer.  And not just talk about it…do it.

The first part of the race had some minor climbs…but after I hit the halfway point, that’s where the challenging hills really came into play.  I took in some fuel, even though I didn’t think I needed it (trying to get back into good habits!), at the halfway mark and continued on.  My legs were really fighting the hills.  They slowed me down because my calf muscles wanted to protest every climb.  But…I had a goal…and that was to try to keep as even a pace as possible on this run…even with all the hills.

TONS more shout outs for my Wonder Woman outfit happened along the way, and I soaked up the atmosphere, the beautiful surroundings, and just the feel of the race.  My hands were so cold that it was hard for me to hang onto the water bottles from my fuel belt, but…again…trying to get back into good habits…I made sure to hydrate throughout.  Even if it took some effort to get the bottles back into my fuel belt.  My hands don’t work well when they are cold.  In fact…they don’t work at all.  And I didn’t think to pack gloves…because…it’s May…

Mile 10 came into view and I was still feeling good.  The legs were still feeling strong.  And I knew I was a 5K away from my finish.  I was happy with the way I was feeling…challenged for one thing…but not tired.  I came into a turn at Mile 11 and was sent up a hill in through another neighborhood.  That hill slowed me down a little, but I powered up it, feeling it in my calf muscles.  But as I crested it and hit a flat road, the legs adjusted and I kept on.  Mile 12….another trek over the reservoir.  I had been hearing tales of the “hill at the end” and wasn’t sure what to expect.

It was…KILLER!  I thought Chicago was evil for putting a hill at Mile 26 of the marathon.  This was the half marathon equivelent.  Not only do you climb this hill…you then round a corner and the finish line is right ahead.  So, with legs screaming at me…I got up the incline and took the turn…and there it was…the finish.

With no clock.  I had no idea what my time was.  Not at all.  Yes…I know I was wearing a watch…but I never glance at it.  If I pay attention to my pace, I struggle.  When I am a zen runner…I do better.  That’s just how it works for me.  I saw Cathy screaming at me and I put on my barely-there kick to get across that finish line.  I passed the photographers (who were all shouting WONDER WOMAN!) and paused my Garmin.  Since there was no race clock, I glanced down…and saw 1:38:and change!

Cathy came over to the rail and I said, “Um…I PR’d.” She didn’t seem surprised at all.  This was the second time in as many weeks to PR in a race.  And both times, I wasn’t trying.  I wasn’t setting out to PR.  I was just running.  I do better when I “just run” for enjoyment and all.  Seriously.  It’s when I start to put pressure on myself that things go to hell.  I should really focus on the joy of the run more often than the competitive part.

So…I headed into the recovery area.  There was a power outage at the results tent, so it wasn’t going to be set up.  We meandered about for a moment, and as we turned around, I saw Laura, who had just finished up.  We talked about the run…and the evil hills…and took a picture together.  Then, she and Mike went to walk around and Cathy and I went to do the same.  We were waiting on result times so I could get an official time.  But it was taking awhile.  So…I got a post-race massage!  And it was awesome.  My massage therapist was a really nice guy who thought I had a fantastic time for the half marathon.  He asked about my upcoming races…and I told him about them and he said that if I wanted a traveling personal massage therapist…he’d love for me to hire him.  HA!  After my massage, I hopped down and went to find Cathy again before we wandered off for a little more.  I did notice that the jeweler in the recovery area was doing medal engraving for $9,95…so we thought we’d do that when they opened.  Why not?

Me striking a pose with my finisher's medal after a fantastic race at the Geist Half Marathon - Fishers, Indiana
Me striking a pose with my finisher’s medal after a fantastic race at the Geist Half Marathon – Fishers, Indiana

Results finally posted after many times of scanning my bib. It showed my official time and I was THRILLED!  A new PR!!  The jewelry store opened early and we went in to see about getting my medal done.  They asked for my results, and I said the results tent was down and no slips were printed.  This was aggravating…so he went to pull the results up online.  It took some time to find the page, but he did…and found me.  The race was still running, so my overall status would stand, but the number of finishers was still unknown at this time.  He said that he could at least engrave my name and finishing time…and he’d do it for free.  AWESOME!  He said to give him 15 minutes, so we went to walk around a little bit more and stretch out the legs.  We picked up my medal and took the hike back to the car…then…drove back to the hotel so I could take a nice hot shower.  We left the hotel and went to my required stop for lunch…Cheeseburger in Paradise…because I can get a gluten-free veggie burger on a gluten-free bun…with gluten-free fries.  I devoured the entire plate.  HA!

So, the official results of the Geist Half Marathon was that I finished in 1:38:52, setting a new half marathon PR for myself.  Thrilled!  I was 87/1506 finishers overall.  That’s amazing!  I was 14/703 women to cross the finish line.  And I was 4/??? (the race results don’t have the divisions for female up…just division female) in my age division.  If they ever get that posted, I’ll put in the number.  FOURTH!  That’s fantastic, I think.  I was beyond proud of these results.  I mean…it was hilly and cold (two of my least favorite things!), and I was focused more on keeping an even pace (THAT…was a success) than my finish time.  And BAM…magic!  Even better…my distance was actually 13.24…which means I PR’d running past the half marathon mileage.  I need to take corners tighter!  So happy!

I am starting to feel so much more confident and better about my running after these last two weekends of running.  I’m coming back…and coming back strong.

I definitely would love to run this race again!  I love running Geist.  Third year back…first time doing the half.  BOOM!


Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon – Louisville, KY (April 19, 2014)

Silvia, Aaron, Andrea, Me, Kat, and Colleen after finishing the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Mini Marathon
Silvia, Aaron, Andrea, Me, Kat, and Colleen after finishing the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Mini Marathon – Louisville, Kentucky

Race: Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: April 19, 2014

Time: 4:13:01*

Ahhh…where to start?  Where do I even begin to start?!  There was so much excitement coming into this race because there were people I knew who were flying or driving in to run either the full or the half marathon.  And if that wasn’t enough excitement…I was asked by one of them to pace her to a sub-4 marathon finish.  I didn’t have to think about this at all.  I was more than happy to assist my friend, Colleen, in attempting to meet her goal.  And that…my friends…is the reason for the asterisk on this post.  I wasn’t running this race to race it for me.  I was running it to help a friend…and come what may, I was staying by her side the entire time.  I take my “job” as a pacer very seriously…and I trained to run at an easier pace than I normally would for a marathon.

But…I might be getting ahead of myself a little.

First of all, there was the expo.  As I am local to the area, I figured it would be much better for me to hit up the expo on Thursday, before the mad crush on Friday set in.  So, after work, I headed over the river to the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown, Louisville, Kentucky.  There weren’t a lot of signs that directed people to where the expo was, so Cathy and I simply followed the crowds, figuring someone had to have an idea of where they were going.  This did pay off, and soon we were on an escalator heading up to where the expo was being held.

Most expos in Louisville are small matters.  And while this one was not huge…it wasn’t just a couple of tables and Fleet Feet either.  In fact, walking in, I ended up going to the table for the mini marathon (actually a half marathon…as there are different definitions of what a mini marathon is)…and then had to slide over to the full marathon where I picked up my race packet (which included a woman’s tech shirt, a hat, and other goodies).  I was complimented on already having my wallet out and ready…the volunteer going, “Well, you’ve done this before, I see.”  Oh yeah…a few times.  *WINK*

After receiving my packet, Cathy and I turned to see about walking through the actual expo part.  But first, we both stopped to sign the “I run because…” wall.  Cathy put up something about not being a runner, but being great at ringing a cowbell (AWESOME!), and I wrote a tribute to my grandpa.  It was fitting.  We hit up the official merchandise first, where my phone rang.  I answered it, and unfortunately, it was a friend of mine giving me some horrible news about her sister.  Her sister was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and she asked that I do something for her sister during my race.  I wasn’t going to say no to that.  At all.  I was more than happy to help.  After I hung up, I ran into Harry and Tammy, two people I often run with, and we stood around and talked for a little while.  Cathy spotted the official Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon BondiBand…and I knew I was making that purchase.  But then I spotted these bright lime green arm warmers.  Upon trying on the smallest size, I found that they actually fit my little noodle-y arms.  That doesn’t happen often.  So…I ended up with those as well.  I immediately said I was not allowed to buy anything else.  So, I spent the rest of the time winding my way through the expo and trying not to get too caught up in it where I end up buying more stuff.  I managed.

I knew my friend Kat and her boyfriend, Adam, were at the expo as well, so I gave a quick text to find out where she was.  She was in from Buffalo, New York and I was really looking forward to seeing her.  She had already made her way through the expo and they were sitting outside the entrance.  I exited…and my bib was activated as I did so…and spotted her immediately.  We ran up and gave each other a hug.  Kat was going to run the half marathon with our friend Andrea.  Andrea’s husband and our friend Silvia was doing the full with Colleen and I.  And our entire group was getting together Friday night at Martini’s in Louisville for pre-race food.  But, I got some time to chat with Kat and discuss where she was eating Thursday night (she wanted local breweries…and found one!).  We said good-bye for the time being as it was getting late and I still needed my customary night before the night before a marathon meal – Indian food.  It was off to Shalimar where I got a the vegan Yellow Dahl…spicy of course…and everything seemed right with the world.  Got home around 8:30 p.m. where I got things ready for work in the morning and went to bed.

Friday morning came and I got up to do my shakeout run per my training program.  Three  miles.  Race pace.  Or 25 minutes of running.  Whichever came first.  I did an easy run for three miles and then went inside to get ready for work.  Normally I would go to spin class on Friday…but not this time.  I needed fresh legs for Saturday’s race.  That threw me off, by the way…having a marathon on a Saturday.  I’m so used to Sunday races.  All I needed to do was get through the workday and then it was fun times at Martini’s with my racing friends.

The workday did go by relatively fast.  There was some discussion about the upcoming race as the receptionist wanted to know where Cathy was going to be as one of her son’s and her husband were running.  Her son was doing the full; her husband was taking on the half marathon.  In fact, her husband came in to take her to lunch and we talked a little bit about the course and how the events were going to unfold that following morning.  But when 4:30 p.m. hit, I was out the door with Cathy and we were winging our way to Martini’s in Louisville.

We arrived just as Kat and Adam were arriving.  Imagine that.  The rest of the crew, Andrea, Aaron, and Silvia were there.  We were simply waiting on Colleen…who flew in from Chicago and was taking a taxi to the restaurant.  If I had thought about it beforehand, I would have offered to pick her up on the way from her hotel.  Anyway…it was taking awhile to get there…traffic was insane.  So, we all just made small chat and browsed the menu on occasion.  We had plenty to talk about and most of it had to do with racing.  Well…that and acquaintances and life and everything else.  In fact…there wasn’t too much discussion about the race going on at all.  Rather, we discussed previous races we had done…and how we were feeling…and what we might like to eat that night.  Some ordered wine.  I stuck with water.  Bread was brought to the table.  I’m gluten-free and didn’t touch it.  Kat, who has a dairy allergy, was brought a dairy-free ciabatta bread to enjoy.  That was very nice of the chef and the restaurant to do.

Me and my gang at Martini's the night before the race! (L-R: Adam, Colleen, Me, Cathy, Silvia, Aaron, Andrea, Kat)
Me and my gang at Martini’s in Louisville, Kentucky, the night before the race! (L-R: Adam, Colleen, Me, Cathy, Silvia, Aaron, Andrea, Kat)

And…then Colleen appeared.  And we all greeted her happily and let her get settled in.  I wanted to sit next to her so we could discuss her race strategy if needed.  The waitress who was tending to us was kind enough to take a picture of our group.  And with that, we were ready to get to the business of pre-race fueling the night before.  And I actually had to do something different this time.  Every race prior to this, gluten-free pizza is a must for me.  I always have gluten-free pizza.  It works.  Martini’s has gluten-free pasta…but not pizza.  So…I changed it up.  I altered my usual plan.  I had…the Gluten-Free Pomodoro, which was gluten-free fusilli pasta (brown rice) that was topped light garlic tomato sauce, a basil chiffonade, and I asked them to leave the mozzarella off…due to my lactose intolerance.  I don’t play around before a marathon.  Nope.  Everyone else put in their orders and we were left to return to our various conversations.  I was jumping back and forth on topics with a variety of people…which is how I roll.  And after a little bit of a wait, our food began arriving.  My order was perfect…no cheese…gluten-free…and it looked amazing.  It smelled good too.  Everyone else received their plates…but the kitchen forgot to do Kat’s dairy-free pasta with the brown rice pasta as requested.  Hers was sent back but she told us to go ahead and start while she waited on her replacement dish.  After a small wait…her food was served and we all were digging in.

Another thing I did differently…I didn’t have dessert.  I have always treated myself to a dessert the night before a marathon.  And while Martini’s did have some gluten-free options…they weren’t dairy free.  So, alas…I went without.  It was strange…not having that little sweet treat at the end of the celebratory meal.  A few of my peeps enjoyed either a drink or dessert…but then…we all agreed it was time to head back to our respective hotels or homes…because it was going to be an early morning.  Cathy and I volunteered to take Colleen back down to her hotel near the convention center…and we ended up doing a scenic tour because I-71 was backed up.  Taking the long way around gave us some more time to chat with her though…and we soon got her to her hotel and we headed home ourselves.

I made some tea…did my physical therapy stretches…and foam rolled.  I had every intention of getting to bed early, but by the time we got home and by the time I was done doing my necessary stretching…it was a normal bedtime.  Ah well.  I never get to bed early on race nights, even when I make every attempt to do just that.  Nothing new here.  The only part that concerned me was that the downstairs neighbors were having a rowdy party.  Seriously.  I turned on the fan in my room and turned up the sound machine.  Thankfully…this drowned out all the noise.  I was not, however, afraid to be that neighbor who called the cops.

My first alarm of two (my usual race morning routine) went off at 3 a.m.  I got out of bed and did the first part of my race morning routine…then went back to bed for about an hour.  The second alarm went off and I was so tempted to stay curled up in bed.  But I knew Cathy would be getting up in another hour and I had to get on my race gear, get some coffee, get some breakfast, and do my physical therapy stretches as well.  So…I reluctantly got out of my cozy bed and went to pour myself some coffee (which I set to automatically brew, giving me time to drink it and pee before I left the apartment…no such thing as TMI, folks!).  I had my outfit laid out the night before, so I put on a coat of Body Glide, eased into my race day clothes, put on my Newton’s (the first time I was running a marathon in this particular pair…the new pair…which I bought in Atlanta).  I did my stretches for my ankle and legs and then heard Cathy come out of her room.  So…I got up to pour her coffee and get our cereal bowls down and filled.  We tried to have a relaxing morning, but I was just…everywhere.  I put my water and Nuun into their bottles then attached them to my fuel belt.  I stashed my GU packets in my pockets where I could easily get to them…and stocked a few extra in my fuel belt…just in case.  I slipped into my hoodie.  I brushed my teeth and put my hair in pigtails with my colors of choice…rainbow…and pink.  I don’t know why…it just seemed right.  And then…Cathy grabbed her bag, stashed with more Nuun, more water, and my protein shake, a towel, med kit…and other items…grabbed how cow bell…and grabbed my sign.  And we were out the door.

Our first stop was the Sheraton in Jeffersonville to pick up Andrea, Aaron and Silvia.  They were providing me with a (big) race day banana so I wouldn’t have to swing by the grocery store the night before.  We made plenty of big banana jokes because we are totally awesome like that.  It was just a short drive over the bridge and into parking at the KFC YUM! Center.  No problems at all.  We stashed what we didn’t need in the car and began to hike down the sidewalk toward the start line.

Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics.  I'm in the Wonder Woman shirt (the red) right there in the middle!
Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics before the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Mini Marathon in Louisville, Kentucky. I’m in the Wonder Woman shirt (the red) right there in the middle!

We were quite a few blocks away, but it did allow us to see the start line and walk past the corral system.  Originally I was placed in Corral B…but everyone else was in Corral C…so I decided to hop back to where all the cool kids were.  But…first…I had a 7 a.m. photo to be present for.  The Marathon Maniacs were meeting near bag check…in front of Slugger Field…to have our group photo taken.  That wasn’t happening yet…so I figured I’d not be a princess for a moment and go use one of the port-o-potties.  I was the first person in mine…and had to figure out how to get the paper wrapper of the toilet paper.  Thankfully this one had the antibacterial lotion to put on your hands afterwards.  Afterwards, Silvia (also a Marathon Maniac) and I went over to Slugger Field and got with the gathered Maniacs and Half Fanatics.  This was where I found Harry.  YAY!  I gave him a hug and we chatted for a little bit before the photo op.  And then…photo madness.  I was asked if I could squat down some because “you’re really tall.”  I thanked the girl for saying that…as I’ve never been called “very tall” before in my life.  I’ll take it!  Cathy ended up on photo duty for a lot of people and she did it with style.  And then…we all dispersed.  Silvia and I went back to where we left Aaron and Andrea…who were waiting on Kat and Colleen.  Kat showed up across the street and we went to go meet up with her.  Except as Andrea forged ahead, I met up with my running buddy, Patrick.  He was also in Corral C…so we hugged and I told him I’d see him in the corral.  I never saw him again…

I made it through the stream of people and got up to where Kat and Andrea were waiting.  Adam came to take a picture of the three of us.  And Aaron made his way over as well.  Kat and Andrea were doing the mini…so they were in Corral A.  WOOHOO!!  The rest of us fell into Corral C…where I was in search of my race buddy for the next 26.2 miles.  And, thankfully…we did find Colleen…whew.  I wasn’t sure what I would do if I didn’t find the person I promised to pace.  We moved up a little…I searched for Patrick…but with no luck.  And we eagerly awaited the start.

It was actually a cool morning with a wind.  I was shivering a little in my short sleeves and skirt, but I know I warm up fast…so this was actually not a bad idea.  As the race progressed, I was kind of wishing I had on a tank.  If my number had been attached to my fuel belt (which I normally do, but changed that up too, pinning it to my shirt) and not my Wonder Woman tech shirt…than I probably would have shed the shirt and just gone in the sports bra…about the time we got through Churchill Downs.  Just saying.  When it warmed up…it warmed up quickly.

Again…I’m getting ahead of myself…

The wheelchair racers were sent off and the elites and first corral eagerly anticipated their start.  We heard the countdown…and the start.  And we stood as our corral wasn’t going anywhere yet.  In fact…even as the different corrals were brought up to the start, this was the first time I was pretty much on top of the start line before I even started to jog.  Everyone was just meandering.  I’m used to a warm-up jog over the start mat at least 20 feet away.  Not here.  I even commented to Aaron and Colleen that it felt weird to still be walking.

But we were soon over the start mat and we were off…hitting the streets of Louisville, Kentucky for 26.2 miles.  I was super excited and feeling really good.

So was Colleen.  The brisk morning was perfect for running.  She had an old running jacket on, which she did shed around Mile 2…but we decided to start conservatively.  In fact, we lined up just behind the 4 hour pace group.  And we stayed there…for about the first three miles.  It was as they went through a turn that Colleen and I passed them and stayed ahead of them.  That was a good feeling.  In fact, we put some distance between us and the pacers…and all the while I would talk to my runner…and ask how the pace felt…how she felt…and told her that we would do what she needed…just to let me know.

It was nice to run with someone.  The miles just ticked by.  We talked about our jobs, our families, what we liked, what we disliked, how she and I are in the minority…as in we love to eat after running and always get the “runchies” and “runger.”  Ah…it’s nice to not be the only one ready to eat after a run.  Our miles were coming along great.   We both were feeling good.  We were actually surprised there was no 5K mat down as we ran past that point.  No matter.  On with the run.  And the morning was absolutely stunning too.  We kept on going, loving the people who came out to cheer, taking advantage of their motivation and their funny signs.  We passed a runner wearing a birthday balloon.  Moments later, the group behind her started to sing happy birthday to her.  It was awesome!  Before we knew it, we were hitting the 10K mark.  As I was acting as a pacer, I actually looked at my watch during this race…and we were making perfect time.  In fact, as we came into Mile 8…just before heading into Churchill Downs, we had time to spare.  Just in case.  As we made the turn to head into Churchill Downs, I turned to Colleen and said, “Now we get to run like pretty ponies.”

For those of you wondering…no…we don’t run on the track.  They did have horses out though, so that was cool.  We entered the infield and made our way around the paved portion of it.  As we came into a turn, I spotted Andrea (I couldn’t miss her in her pink socks).  I told Colleen we should try to catch up to her…and we did.  I didn’t see Kat…but it turns out Andrea’s IT Band was acting up…and she told Kat to go on without her.  Instead, Colleen and I fell into step with her and we ran with her the rest of the way through Churchill Downs…and only parted ways when the split for the mini and the full came up.  Colleen and I were to stay to the right…Andrea had to go left.  We said goodbye and wished her well…telling her to be careful.  And we were now on our way to the challenging part of the run – Iroquois Park.

But there were still a few miles to chase down before we entered the park.  I was talking to her, letting her know that while this was a hilly park and there would be some climbs…it wasn’t going to be too bad.  And, with the removal of the hill at Mile 23…these would be our only hills this race.  YAY!  She did make a mention that she was getting a side stitch, so we eased the pace back just slightly to allow her to breathe deeper and see about ridding herself of the cramp.  She said she ate way too much for breakfast before the race.  But, soon she said it was easing and we kept on and kept easy conversation.  We were so busy talking that somehow I missed seeing Mile 10.  We were reaching Mile 11…and the park was just head.  We came into it…and immediately were sent up our first hill.  Colleen wanted to attack the hills and ease up on the downhills…so that was the strategy we were going with.  And she really did so well on those hills.  Honestly.  But the day was heating up…and it was about to take it’s toll on my runner.

She made it through the park in good shape.  I pulled ahead of her for a few moments, but would find myself glancing back and seeing her behind me.  I’d pull off to the side and wait for her.  And we’d continue on.  I leapfrogged like this all the way up our final hill in the park and through the downhill that carried us then past the amphitheater and then…back out.  A glance over my shoulder and Colleen wasn’t with me again.  I got past the crowd and pulled over to the side, keeping my legs moving to prevent cramping.  And a moment later, I saw her making her way toward me.  I rejoined her again, and we pressed on.  I asked how she was feeling…and she said she was definitely feeling it.  To make matters worse, she said she had this hard lump (probably her breakfast) in her stomach…and it was just sitting there.  It was definitely not making her feel better.  And now that we were out of the park, we were out of the shade as well.  The sun was high in the sky and the heat was getting to my friend from Chicago…who was not prepared nor acclimated to this sort of weather yet.  She was sweating out salt, so I encouraged her to take in some of her electrolyte drink.  While her stomach wasn’t feeling well…she did this and…then we had our first walk break.

She was definitely not doing well at all.  My job, however, as her pacer, was to get her to that finish line.  And I was going to make sure I did just that.  She glanced over at me.  “I hate that I’m walking right now.”  I told her not to worry about it.  We would just readjust our goals.  She said she still wanted her sub-4…and I said I would do my best to see her there.  She started to jog…and then we were off again.  Between the heat from the sun and her stomach, she really wasn’t doing well and every mile from here on out was a struggle.  But…I was doing my best to keep her mind off of her pain…and into the race.  Anything and everything I could think of to keep her moving forward.  Even if that forward movement was a walk.  And…it was that for some of it.  That’s okay.  Walk breaks are necessary.  At one point, I pulled ahead of her again…and as I glanced back, I slowed down and let her catch up.  She was definitely not feeling good at all.  I asked how she was doing, and she said she got dizzy back there.  So…I told her we’d ease off the pace and at the next water station, she was to take in the Powerade (for the sodium!) and some water.  She agreed…and we walked and jogged our way to that next water stop.  And she did just as I asked her to!

Colleen was pushing through it…taking breaks where she needed.  I told her I wasn’t going to leave her behind, so we stuck together and I helped her tough it out.  And when it really got rough, I did everything I could to get her head back into the race.  I think the biggest mental break for her, however, was when the 4 hour pace team passed us up.  She pushed to stay ahead of them, but when she needed another walk break, they went on ahead.  This wasn’t easy for her…as she really, really wanted that sub-4…and was well on her way to that until the race turned ugly for her.  I could almost see the defeat in her eyes.  So…I told her to set a secondary goal.  About six miles out, she said…4:10.  I told her it was doable…but we’d take it mile-for-mile.

I talked to a bunch of other runners along the way as we made our way through the streets of Louisville.  Things were starting to look familiar again, and I kept pointing ahead and saying, “See that?  That’s the skyline…that’s downtown…we’re almost there.”  Anything just to get her through this wall and on her way to that finish line.  The morning sun was getting warmer and she was really fighting for each stride.  We walked more when she needed it, and then I’d get her moving again, telling her to at least jog to the next water stop.  Which was a great idea…until there wasn’t  a water stop anywhere near us.  We did eventually find one…and we walked through it, giving her some time to recover and assess how she felt.

I gotta hand it to Colleen…she is a fighter.  And when we came into those last three miles, I said, “It’s just a 5K race now.  That’s all.  You got this.”  And with each mile…I would tell her it was just like being out on an easy training run.  She still had a few more walk breaks, but at Mile 25…right at Mile 25…her watched showed 4 hours exactly.  It was now my job to see her into her final 1.2 (or in our case 1.42) miles.  Every chance I would get I would say something encouraging and really try to drive her home.  She felt a little better…and I said we were going to sprint to that finish.  We had to go down a stretch of road first before making that turn to the finishing chute.  But…I talked her through it, telling her that the finish was right ahead…all that noise…that was her goal.

Me crossing the finish line of the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon - Louisville, Kentucky
Me crossing the finish line of the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon – Louisville, Kentucky

And we made the turn and we turned on those afterburners.  I had a lot of extra energy left, as I wasn’t running this race at pace.  In fact…I felt awesome.  I found myself flying past people at the finish line.  I know the runners I passed were probably wondering what the hell got into me that I could have such a strong finishing kick.  But, honestly, my legs felt strong and I was just unstoppable at that point.  I crossed the line and moved out of the way.  Colleen was just behind me…and when she crossed that finish line, she burst into tears.  Not tears of sadness for not hitting that sub-4 goal.  You see…she accomplished something far better.  She finished her second marathon.  She finished strong.  She fought through moments of wanting to stop and quit.  She proved she was stronger than the course.  And…she now had a 17 minute PR for the marathon distance.  I pulled her into a hug and we both celebrated our finish.

Afterwards, we made our way through the path, getting handed the Mylar blanket to wrap around us.  Kat spotted us from the fence and said that Aaron and Andrea and Silvia were waiting in the recovery area.  Colleen and I walked that way, getting our finisher’s medals, some chocolate milk, and desperately seeking out some kind of food.  Near where our group had assembled was a table full of bananas.  We grabbed one and went to join everyone.

Natalie was there.  My sole sister…Natalie.  We hugged and just talked and talked and talked.  I put my feet up and just joined into the race talk with my friends.  I drank down the rest of my Nuun and then started in on my Smart Water.  We knew that people had planes to catch and cars to climb back into to head back home…so we didn’t linger for too long.  We gave Kat, Adam, and Colleen hugs and wished them safe journeys.  They had hotels to return to downtown.  The rest of us hiked back to where Cathy parked the car and all climbed in.  The drive didn’t take long and soon Andrea, Aaron and Silvia were being dropped off at the hotel.  We gave each other hugs and wished safe travels.

And then…that was it.  I returned to my apartment to shower.  I went out for good gluten-free pizza at Annie May’s Sweet Café.  I did some grocery shopping.  I kept moving and felt really good all day.  But I really missed having everyone around.

I loved acting as Colleen’s pacer.  And while she didn’t meet her initial goal, she fought through every bit of pain, self-doubt, and sickness to get herself across that finish line.  I am so damn proud of her.  And I hope I get the chance to pace her again another time.  She’s one tough lady for sure.

Very proud of everyone and how they did in their races.  PRs were set.  Deeper friendships were forged.  And this…was an event I’ll never forget.

So…my official results for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon are that I finished in a time of 4:13:01 (for 26.42 miles).  While Colleen didn’t get her sub-4…she did cut 17 minutes off her last marathon, setting a new PR.  I am so happy for her.  I was 859/2029 finishers overall.  I was the 226/807 women to cross the finish line.  And I was 49/160 in my age division.  I felt so good after this and I enjoyed helping my friend through this distance and getting her to the finish line.  This wasn’t the race she hoped for, but she battled it out and conquered it in the end.  I learned a lot from her…and I know she’ll meet her sub-4 goal very soon.


Marathon Training Week #2 – From speed work to slowing down…

Chicago Marathon Training Week #2
Chicago Marathon Training Week #2

It’s amazing the lessons you learn through life.  Every day brings a new discovery, a new chance to improve on something, a lesson that needed to be learned, and everything in between.

Last week, I revealed that I was diagnosed with (granted) the most common form of skin cancer.  And while it is “common”…the fact that I had a nurse tell me I had any form of cancer broke my spirit.  It hurt.  It bothered me.  I didn’t let on…but when the reality of it struck…it really threw me off my game.  I no longer felt centered.  I was no longer focused.

What I had to do was strive to regain my equilibrium.  And I worked on doing that, staying positive, and focusing on something that truly made me happy.  My running.  Thank goodness for my training plan because it is keeping me accountable and keeping my mind off of things.

This was my second official week of marathon training and I was already looking forward to some of the scheduled days I had in front of me.

Sunday I went out for an easy run.  It was Father’s Day, so I dedicated 7 miles to my dad.  I called him later to tell him that, and that, ironically, I managed my fastest 7 miles to date without even trying.  And that the last mile of it was spent carrying a bag that had some almonds and an avocado in it, as I stopped by the grocery store while I was out.  Yes…I am that runner.

Monday morning meant I was back to the running in the dark.  I am continuing to fuel and hydrate according to the instructions that my sports nutritionist laid out for me and have been quite successful with that.  I have, however, discovered that I hate my hand-held water bottle.  I carried it with me on the shorter runs and just found it annoying.  But I don’t feel like wearing my fuel belt with water bottles on the shorter distances either.  But I need the hydration in order to follow the plan that she has laid out for me to guarantee my body will function right and properly under race conditions when I get to my marathon.  So…I carry the handheld bottle.  And hate it.  Monday morning was a scheduled 5 miles at an easy pace.  I keep reminding myself that I don’t have to race every run I do, which is a huge problem for me.  So, I often have to remind myself to slow down and take it easy.  It really is important.  So, I did the scheduled miles…then later that evening did an even easier run through the hills of Cherokee Park with my Monday fun run group.  It was good.  And I had a great conversation about my marathon from someone who has run it 6 times as well as other marathons I might want to look at in the future.  It was a good Monday.

Tuesday was the scheduled cross training day.  I’m so not used to waking up without going running, so this day usually throws me off.  I did 45 minutes on the Arc Trainer with hill intervals and on Level 5 and really rocked it out.  I was proud of myself.  Then I hit up the Cardio Wave machine for 10 minutes, which is like an elliptical machine, except that your feet move from side-to-side and instead of moving forward and back.  It is a welcome change for the legs.  While it is only 10 minutes, I worked it hard, upping my resistance and speed every minute.  It really works up a sweat.

Wednesday is the speed work and pacing day.  And this week was fartlek week.  Five miles worth.  Now, I attempted fartleks once before…but didn’t properly warm up and ended up with a nagging pain in my ankle/calf muscle for about 2 weeks.  This time, I used my first mile as a warm up and ran the fartleks the remaining 4 miles.  For those of you not familiar with the term, fartleks are where you alternate irregular fast and slow intervals, either by time or by markers on the course you choose to run.  As I run in the early morning when it is dark out, I couldn’t really keep track on my watch, so I chose different places to speed up and run through and then other places to ease back into an easy pace.  I ended up breaking a 5 mile PR by an entire minute.  Maybe there is something to this speed play stuff.  I had a great and fun run that morning.  It was nice to change things up.

Thursday rolled around and that was another easy run day.  This time it called for 6 miles.  So, I went out and logged those, once again reminding myself that I don’t need to race on these runs.  I took it easy, and ran at a decent pace for me…and finished strong.  I’m trying to work on that finishing kick…but I still usually don’t have the ooomph at the end of a run, no matter the distance, to really kick it into high gear.  I’m hoping my speed work days will help with that in the end.  After that, I hit up the gym for some cardio and strength training.  I felt strong that morning.  It was a good feeling.

Friday…the day of rest.  I dread Friday for this reason.  It is not easy for me to take a day off of running.  I get antsy and fidgety.  But, rest days are important for the muslces, the body, and the soul.  Honestly, it gives the body a chance to repair itself.  These days are vital when in training because these days help the muscles build up strength.  I know that sounds weird, but with each workout you fatigue your muscles and giving them a day off means they repair themselves and grow stronger.  And I definitely want to be a stronger runner.  So, once again, I respected the rest day and kept it holy.  I did opt for an easy walk at the gym on my lunch hour.  Nothing strenuous.

Saturday is the day of the long run at the Long Slow Distance (LSD) pace.  I am so lucky to have fallen in with a group of runners who have taken me in and are able to take me on new routes and new runs on these longer running days.  I was really getting tired of looping my neighborhood.  BORING!  I met up with a great group of people on Saturday morning and we logged my 11 mile training run in 1:36:10.  I was talking with one of the runners, someone who has just logged his 32nd marathon in his life, and he was telling me the importance of these runs being taken at a slower, easier pace.  It does help build up strength and speed in the end.  Just like rest days.  There will be those days where my training calls for Marathon Pace…but on these LSD days…I try to honor that longer slower distance.  I was so happy to have the company and the conversation on the long run.  It made the time fly by and the effort feel effortless.  Loving it.  I finished strong too.  Already looking forward to doing it again next weekend.

So, overall, not a bad training week at all.  I already see in the next few weeks, due to events and appointments, where I will need to tweak my training schedule, but I’m so happy with how this week went.  I am definitely focusing more on feel and my body.  I used to put so much emphasis on time, and a part of me still does, but through the training and through learning from other seasoned runners, I am discovering that the pace will find you at the race itself…you train right, and you’ll be ready to run one of the best races of your life.  Train too hard…and you get burnt out or injured.  And that is the last thing I want to have happen.  So, training smart and keeping my mileage and my pace in proper check.

Loving every run.  So that means I must be doing something right.

I am not sure if or how my procedure will affect my program, but I will find out on Wednesday when I go in.  The most important thing right now is to remain positive and do what is right for me and my body.  And right now…it’s getting rid of the basal cell carcinoma, healing, and having that weight lifted off my shoulders.  I’m going to keep on smiling.