Last Chance to Register for KDFMarathon/miniMarathon!!

There are only EIGHT (8) more days until the start gun goes off at the #KDFMarathon & miniMarathon!

This journey, for me, has been quite the ride this year!  For many reasons…

1. Being chosen as a #KDFMarathon Ambassador

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Honestly, this has been such a fun journey where I not only gained new friends, but a whole new family!  I can’t express enough what a difference being a part of this fantastic group of individuals has done for me.  When bad stuff happens, they got your back.  When you need help, they back you up.  When you can’t run, they walk with you.  When you are down, they text or message you with funny and uplifting words and images.  I didn’t know how important these people were going to be when this picture was taken, but, let me tell you this…my life is forever richer because of every single one of them!

2.  A Different Hip Injury on a Different Hip

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It was January 1st when it struck.  My “good” hip…the one without the labrum tear…started to act up.  To the point that I was limping.  Running was out of the question.  My doctor couldn’t see me before my trip to California to run the Disneyland Star Wars Rebel Challenge (10K & Half Marathon), so I hobbled through those races held together by KT Tape, ACE Bandages, and the knowledge that if I stopped running…I probably wouldn’t start again.  Soon after, I was able to see my doctor, where I was told I had a hip flexor strain, and sent to physical therapy.  It was a long road…but I was finally back to running (slowly and with a little pain)…until the pain became less…and the miles were able to increase.  So, my bad hip (the right one with the labrum tear) feels good…and my left hip (paralyzed hip flexor)…now is functioning and moving pain-free.  And I finally was able to start running at the #KDFMarathon training runs, and not just walking in the face-numbing cold.  I, did, however, make a point to show up to every single one of the training runs…even though I couldn’t run.

3. Seeing others do what they thought was impossible…

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I see it every day…via social media…friends, friends of friends, family…whoever it is and whatever journey or goal they have set…watching people I know (and sometimes don’t know) push through what they once thought was impossible has been an uplifting and motivating experience.  My friend, Natalie, is running her first marathon at KDF.  When she did her 20 mile run, her post made me smile…and reminds me that any goal can be achieved if you set your mind to it…and never give up.  Same goes for my fellow Ambassador, and friend, Melissa.  She’s been dealing with knee a knee injury since January as well…but she has shown up and done her damn best to get out there and at least get her miles in…even if she walked them all and froze her face off.  Natalie…if you’re reading this…enjoy your first marathon next weekend!  Melissa…you’re so ready and you are going to kill it out there!

Whatever your story…wherever you started…whatever your goal…chase it down.  It’s yours for the taking.

And with all of that mess out of the way, I am here to remind you that today, APRIL 20, 2017 is the LAST DAY to register for the #KDFMarathon & miniMarathon!  AND…in case you have been procrastinating or on the fence…I have one last DISCOUNT CODE that will save you $15 off your registration!  As a reminder, today is also the last day to make any changes to your current registration, be it moving up to the full or dropping to the half or transferring your bib.

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The discount code is: KDFSUNSHINE.  As always, please select me, Karen Brady, as your race ambassador.  This offer ends TONIGHT at MIDNIGHT!

For any of my friends who are doing this race, I am also working at the Race Expo on Thursday from 3-8 pm.  So come on down and see me!!

And for the rest of you…I hope to see you on race day…before, during, or after.  High fives and hugs all around!

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Comeback Kid…Again! Weeks #7 – #10

Wow, I’m behind on posts in the weeks leading up to the races I have coming up.  Trust me when I say…I’ve been busy!

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When I left you about a month ago…I was getting back to running, easing my mileage back up, adding in some speed work and hills, etc.  Right?  Right.  Not all at once, mind you.  That would be Looney Tunes.

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So…basically my easing back into things started with a race weekend.  As you know from the previous blog, I ran (not raced) the Rodes City Run 10K with my friend Matthew.  It was a good way to train, and I learned that small, climbing hills and even the 10K distance were a challenge for this now endurance-less distance runner.  My endurance was shot.  Gone.  Kaput.

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I knew this needed to change.  I just wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it, especially on my own. That being said…I made a promise to not give up and to keep on going!

The following weekend, after Rodes, I was up to 7 miles for my long run (my PT wanted me to increase my long run each week by 1 mile).  Not only was I the milk maid for the #KDFMarathon training run (this simply means I provide the bottles of TruMoo in coolers for those doing the training run.  As we know, chocolate milk has been proven to be one of the most amazing recovery drinks around due to the protein:carb ratio).  I’m lactose intolerant and don’t handle dairy well at all, so I can’t use this method…but a lot of these runners look forward to that little reward at the end.  The run, however, was starting at SWAGS South.  And this meant…we were running Iroquois.  I guess I was about to test this hip flexor out against the hills of Iroquois Park.  It was an all-female cast of characters for the KDF Race Ambassadors that day too!

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Talk about trial-by-fire.  My running partner, Matthew, joined me and while everyone else was going 10 that day…we were hitting up 7.  It was nice to have company, because…once again…I had to do my own thing.  I just hoped no one followed me as I did it, because that would really screw up the mileage.  There were 2 options that day for those doing the entire 10.  Run to the top of the park (recommended for the marathon runners) or run past that hill and go around the base to some other road.  I didn’t pay that close of attention because Matthew and I were doing neither.  We ended up running to the water stop at the base of the giant hill leading to the top of Iroquois.  We grabbed some water…and then continued on around the base, turning the opposite way of the half marathon runners and going more toward the amphitheater.  We didn’t quite make it there before needing to turn around, so we just sort of turned into a lot, found a path, and ended up way off where we needed to be to get back.  Garmins paused and we crossed through the grass to the main road and got back to the run.  The hills did slow me down, but it was probably the best way to get back to running on hills.  There is no getting around them in Iroquois.  I was tired as we finished up…but as I was the Milk Maid…I needed to wait around for the chocolate milk to be gone.

Which I ended up icing the last 5 bottles because it was after noon…and I had a 2:30 pm Louisville City FC match to get to.  First kick.  And it was a draw.  No purple smoke that day.  But we had gorgeous weather.  And I got a sunburn.  Life was good.  Well, maybe not the sunburn part…

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Well, that following weekend would be my first real test.  And here’s why.  I wasn’t allowed to jump from 7 miles up to 10 because…well…obviously injuries happen to me.  A lot.  And the whole point was to ease the mileage back up there.  The challenge, however, was that there was no training run on tap.  Why not?  Well…two reasons…


Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington, Ky, and the Papa John’s 10 Miler in Louisville, Ky.  Most of my fellow local runners and ambassadors were taking part in either RTB (and my coach was providing the pacers), or doing the last leg of the Triple Crown of Running with the Papa John’s 10 Miler (aka: my favorite local race…and I couldn’t do it this year  BOO!).  My running partner, Matthew, was out of town on a family trip.  So…there was me, myself, and I.

And on a morning in the low 40s…it was not easy for me to haul my butt out of my nice warm bed, do all my physical therapy exercises and stretching and get myself out the door to run by myself for 8 miles.  I don’t mind running alone.  I don’t.  I do it all the time.  I just prefer to run with people.  It takes my mind off all the mental stuff.  And it’s that mental stuff that tends to mess with me.  So the sun was long up before I finished up the stretches and stuff and made myself get out on the road.

The first three miles were awful…and that was the flat part of the course I was running.  All that being said, I found my stride when the hills came into play.  And these are some pretty tough hills.  I wasn’t worried about speed or time…just the miles…but I felt so amazing for those last five miles.  And when all was said and done, I finished up in just over an hour.  And I felt good at the end.  I showered.  My roommate made an great recovery breakfast for me.  And the weekend was now officially on.

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Did I happen to mention that a few other things happened that weekend that sort of altered the way my weekends as of late were rolling?  As a side…I started prepping healthy and vegan meals for friends of mine.  I love doing this stuff.  The problem was, my little side business was growing faster than I could keep up with.  I was spending Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday morning in my tiny little kitchen.  And there was more stress than letting the cooking relax me like it had been.  So, due to upcoming races and out-of-town trips, I cancelled service through May so that I could come up with a better way of doing this for people, that wouldn’t take up all of my spare time and still allow me the opportunity to help others.  I’m still working on that.  But for the first time in 2 months, I didn’t have to jump right into the kitchen to meal prep meals that I wasn’t going to even eat.  That was also part of the issue.  I was cooking for everyone else and letting my own food prep and nutrition slide.  That wasn’t the point of this.  So I needed to take a step back and figure it all out.  It’s a work in progress.

My roommate and I did FINALLY get patio furniture for the balcony.  She hung up some lights and now…I just want to have people over to kick back outside, eat some food, drink some wine, relax, and just talk.

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Doesn’t it look amazing?  I’m so happy with it.  Since putting it all up, we’ve been dining al fresco pretty much every night for dinner.  When it hasn’t been too chilly out.  And I think that only happened once.

Let me fan-girl rave here, as well, about something I found and wanted to share with all you ice cream lovers.

Nada Moo.

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That’s a coconut milk ice cream. It’s completely dairy free.  And it is made from real ingredients.  None of that low calorie, low nutrition, chemical-laden crap (Halo Top and Arctic Zero, I’m looking at you) that people actually buy.  If you’re worried about calories to that extent, maybe you just shouldn’t eat ice cream.  If you’ve found a happy, balanced lifestyle…a serving (1/2 cup) of Nada Moo will astound you.  It’s the creamiest, most amazing non-dairy ice cream I have ever had.  And I’ve pretty much had them all.  Locally, I’ve only been able to find a few of the flavors.  Vanilla…Ahhh is the only one I can find that I have yet to try.  Otherwise I have indulged in, and enjoyed, Gotta Do Chocolate, Lotta Mint Chip, Cookies and Crème, That Snickerdoodle Dough, and Mmm…Maple Pecan.  If you live in the Louisville area and spot any other flavor…please alert me!

Which now brings us to this past week.  I got up to meet at Senaca Park for the training run for the half marathon.  I was supposed to do 9.  The group for th half was doing 10.  I figured, if I felt good, and the hills didn’t kill me, I could do my first double-digit run since the Disneyland Light Side Half Marathon (which I did injured, as you recall).  The running gods were with me.  Matthew and I took on the hills of Cherokee Park and did, for me, the entire route as it was mapped out ahead of time for the training run.  And these runs have been going on since Rebel Challenge weekend when I was in California.  I walked around for most of these runs, showing up in the cold just to suffer longer than most as I was not allowed to run.  This run felt so good and gave me the mental boost I needed.  Double digits.  And now…taper.

It was an all-female cast of KDF Ambassador characters that morning too.  And I also ended up being overdressed, despite the 39° start.  When I finished about an hour and a half later…I was dying in the sunlight.  It heated up quickly.  I was wishing I had gone with shorts at that point.

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And this past month, I’ve gotten back into a training plan using my coach, incorporated strides after my easy paces, stuck to my assigned paces, and yes…have done 1 round of fartleks, and 2 rounds of 4x400s as far as my speed work goes.  So, yes…I am incorporating it.  Speed work and I are still…not friends.  In fact, I normally wake up those days not feeling well because it does just wind me up.  And I have yet to have speed work day go smoothly.  But, at least I’m out there getting it done, right?

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Oh…and with the free time I have at the moment…I also snuck in a bit more “ME TIME” by going to the movie theater to see Beauty & The Beast.  And it was a beautiful, amazing movie.  And I’m glad, after putting it on the back burner and never having a moment to just go see it…that I finally made time.

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Tapering because I have 2 weekends in a row of half marathons coming up.  I think I’m running 8 with the group this weekend.  And that’s it.  That’s what I’ve been up to.  Pretty boring, right?

Stay tuned…I’m sure there is more to come.  But I need to foam roll and get some sleep…because it’s another wake up at the ass crack of dawn morning with body pump and some cardio after.  But, hey, I’m getting stronger and faster and better…and that’s only for the better.

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I’ve got one week…

ONE WEEK.

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SEVEN DAYS.

And guess what??!!

There’s a Tropical Storm brewing in the pacific and heading straight for Hawaii.  Um?  Yay?

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So, while this is almost what happened last year…when three…YES…THREE…hurricanes were spinning the the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and bringing unseasonable humidity and general muckiness…this year…there is one.  One.

Her name is Madeleine.

What does this mean?  Well, as of right now…the storm’s track is heading north and is supposed to turn west.  They’re predicting it turns west early, so Madeleine will primarily impact the Big Island.  Oahu and Kauai are farther north, so unless she grows substantially, all they’re calling for is 20% for rain and some wind (about 20mph) on Thursday in Honolulu.  Do I really have to run in really windy weather?  AGAIN??!!

Damn you Mother Nature…AGAIN!!

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Needless to say…the forecasts for while I am island hopping around Hawaii looks rather wet, windy and rainy.  Um?  YAY?!  Seriously…I have some adorable bathing suits I’d like to wear…on sunny beaches…poolside…wherever.  So…let’s not take that away from me shall we?

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Aside from that, as of now, I physically am as ready as I can be for this trip.  Mentally, I’m struggling.  It’s not easy, sometimes, putting those demons inside your head to rest.  And these past few weeks have definitely brought them out more than I’d like.  But, the advice given to me by a good friend, Derek, was simple…

RUN THE DAY.

And as I have one goal for this race…TO LIVE THROUGH IT…

Okay…maybe two goals…TO FINISH…

…then I say to simply run the day is some great advice.  Humid…hot…windy…rainy…whatever the case…I’m going to enjoy the fact that I can be out there…going the distance again.  It might get hard.  I might struggle.  I might even cry.  But, once I start, one thing is for certain…I won’t give up.

Now, to get packing because I’m pretty certain the rest of this week is going to be crazy!  I think everyone going with me is ready…and I’m not ready.  So they are all…

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…and I’m all…

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I leave in 3 days.  I’m more than a little broke.  And…stressing.  A little.  Maybe a lot.  But…this time…this time it’s actually happening.

Ready…or not…

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.

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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?

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!


Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, IL (October 13, 2013)

Me at Mile 3 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Chicago, Illinois

Me at Mile 3 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, Illinois

Race: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Place: Chicago, Illinois

Date: October 13, 2013

Time: 3:28:28

I just ran my first marathon!  My first 26.2 miles.  I ran it through 29 neighborhoods in Chicago.  I ran it strong.  I never hit a wall.  I had a plan.  I stuck with it.  And I had some of the best support on the ground I could have ever asked for at a race.  The weather was perfect.  And I, honestly, had the time of my life.

How many people can say that when they’re running 26.2 miles, eh?

But this post doesn’t start at the race.  This post started 18 weeks ago when I not only began a challenging training program, but also took it upon myself to find a sports nutritionist because I wanted to be sure that I got to this race and was able to run this race in the best shape possible…and ready.  There are so many times before where I did so many things wrong…especially when it came to fueling and hydrating during races.  I didn’t want that to happen here.  You only get your first marathon once.  I wanted it to be a good and happy memory.  So, Donna, if you are reading this, all your advice and help really, really paid off.  I listened to you about how to fuel properly for a marathon, how to hydrate properly for a marathon, what to eat, what to avoid, and how to figure out what worked best for me.  Some weeks were better than others…but that’s why we have those 18 weeks of training.  You figure it all out.

So, as the taper kicked in and my mood shifted from runner’s high to evil step-runner mode (I do NOT handle taper well.  Let this be my PSA to all of you), I had to really trust my body and try not to let the mental game of…running less = poor performance get to me.  Mind games.  They happen.  I was very respectful of my taper, doing exactly as my plan called for.  That meant the week leading into my marathon, I didn’t run much.  For three days, I ran 4 miles each morning.  Two of them were at marathon pace.  One was more speed work and pacing related.  Then…two full days off.  No running.  No morning walks.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Rest the legs.  Get them ready.  I wanted to run so bad during those days…but I didn’t.  I made myself rest.  It was two of the hardest days of my life.

Friday night, my friend Jenn from Ohio rolled into town.  She has been to quite a few of my races and is such a huge support.  She wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to come to Chicago to see me run.  Nope.  So, she headed this way and got in as I was still trying to make myself pack for the race.  I was distracting myself.  With everything.  Including organizing my BondiBand’s by color.  Packing…yeah…focus.  She and Cathy got me on task, and once my running bag and my regular duffel bag were packed with what I could pack that night…the three of us headed out to grab some dinner.

Since it had been way too long since Jenn had come into the area, I had her pick a place where we could eat dinner.  I sent her places that had options for everyone, including me.  And she surprised me when she chose Dakshin, a local and amazing Indian restaurant.  I threw it on the list because I knew it had good food.  Never did I expect Jenn to pick it.  But she did.  And I was proud of her for branching out.  So, we made the drive over to Dakshin and settled in for some crazy-good Indian food.  If you live in Louisville and haven’t tried this place…DO IT!  Since it was only two days to my marathon, I was being extra cautious about my food.  Being a Celiac means being so careful when it comes to eating out.  I wanted carbs and protein…so I ordered the Dal Tadke Wali…which is home style yellow lentils which are tempered with Indian spices.  YUMMY!  It was served with this delicious basmati rice that has coriander seeds and various Indian spices cooked in with it.  Keep that in mind as you scoop it onto your plate…FYI!  Needless to say…the food was delicious and Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines anyway.  I don’t get the authentic stuff often…so this really made me happy.  Cathy, in case you were wondering, chose the Goat Korma…which was apparently spicy.  Jenn went with the safe, but still off the beaten path for her, Tandoori Chicken.  It was spicy for her too.  So, with me being the one who loves spice…I got the mildest meal of all three of us.  Go figure.  Anyway…after our amazing food, we went to celebrate the upcoming race with some ice cream from The Comfy Cow.  I was a Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice scooper.  Hey…marathon training means ice cream.  This was Jenn’s first taste of Comfy Cow ice cream, so she went with the Bonjour Toast offering.  Cathy went with Vermont Maple Walnut.  With full bellies…we headed back to the apartment to settle in for the evening and watch Spirit of the Marathon to get keyed up for Sunday…and followed it up with Marathon Thoughts…which if you haven’t pulled that up on YouTube…shame on you.  Do so now!

We crashed out that evening at a decent time.  The people downstairs were having a party, so sleep wasn’t easy and I didn’t get much of it.  My alarm went off early…because my training plan called for me to do 3 miles or 30 minutes of running that day.  Since we had a drive to Chicago ahead of us, I got out of bed, put on my running clothes, my reflective gear, and headed out to run.  The rest days were good for me…and my legs felt good as I pushed through three very early miles.  I came back and snuck inside so as not to wake anyone yet.  Went to shower and finish packing.  Then, Jenn was up.  And soon Cathy was as well.  We ate a quick breakfast (cereal and some gluten-free French toast sticks…which…eh…) before packing up the car with all of our stuff, a cooler of drinks and snacks, and hit the road to Chicago.  We had to detour around Indianapolis due to Highway 65 being shut down going through downtown, so this tacked on some time.  My friend Heather, like one of my best friends who I have known since third grade!, was in Chicago to see me run.  She flew in from Minnesota for the occasion and texted to let me know she was there and grabbing some breakfast.  We had hoped to get in around 10 a.m.  We got there around 11 a.m.  We met up with Heather at the Hilton Chicago, the host hotel, and the hotel we were staying in for the weekend.  We valeted the car, put our luggage on a cart to be delivered, and I got us checked into the hotel.  We were up on the 8th Floor…which just happened to be the floor where many of the elites were staying.  The luggage would be up shortly, but the four of us headed up to the room.  The first set of keys I was given, didn’t work…so I headed back down to the lobby to get that fixed.  There was a much longer line now and more of a wait.  But, I just let it roll off my back.  These things happen.  No sense getting worked up over it, right?  The key situation was fixed and we got some commemorative keys to boot.  LOVE them.  Back up to the room and my friends were already inside.  I closed myself out just to make sure the keys worked this time.  They did.  And soon after…luggage was delivered.

This is how I know my friends are totally amazing.  The guy bringing in our luggage carried in the famous Donkey sign first, saying the most important thing had to come in first.  He immediately put it up in the window facing the lake.  It made me smile…a lot.  As he was bringing in our bags and cooler, he was asking questions about the race…and I mentioned it was my first marathon.  He said to my friends that they had a long day ahead of them tomorrow…at least a 4 hour or 4-1/2 hour wait for me to come in.  To which, Heather chimes…”Nope.  She’ll run it in 3:30.”  Cathy and Jenn totally ran with that as well and I just nervously laughed.  He asked what my number was because he’d have his eye on me.  So, we told him, tipped him, and he was gone.  With that bit of business taken care of…and bathroom breaks made, we hurried downstairs to 8th Street entrance of the Hilton and got in line for the shuttle buses to take us over to McCormick Place, where the expo was awaiting us.  The first bus that arrived filled up fast…but we got on the next one and soon were on our way to the expo.

Me at the Nike booth at the expo for the Chicago Marathon

Me at the Nike booth at the expo for the Chicago Marathon

Lately, my race expos have been tiny and rather…disappointing.  Utica…was probably the best one I had been to all year…and I’m not counting Disney races in this.  Disney is a monster all its own.  But this expo…was HUGE!!  We walked into McCormick Place and just followed the sea of runners…which guided us to the monstrous exhibit hall where all things running related were happening.  First things first, however…and that was getting my packet.  I headed over to where this BIG sign declared PACKET PICK-UP, and stepped up to this little table where they scanned my participant guide and sent me over to Booth 5 to retrieve my bib number and packet.  I headed that way, and my information was already pulled up and waiting on me.  I was handed my bib, an envelope of information, and told where to go in order to get my race t-shirt.  I grabbed some Chicago Runs For Boston bracelets for me and my friends and went to head to get my t-shirt.  But…got waylaid by this awesome wall where people were able to remove a magnet and sign their name.  We all did it…writing messages and the like…and keeping our magnets as mementos.  Then, we got to battle the crowds.  I was ready…and as we made our way up the first row of exhibitors…I just casually glanced at the booths.  I was hoping to make it out of the expo without spending too much money, so the less time I looked at things, the more likely that was going to happen.  I managed to get up to the tables in the back that had the t-shirts and bags for the participants.  I retrieved mine…and, as I learned my lesson from Disneyland, immediately pulled out the t-shirt to make sure it was a proper fit.  It was.  So now…we were loose to check out the exhibitors and try to make it out with as much of my wallet in tact as possible.

It was a valiant effort…but an ultimate fail in the end.  I found CEP’s booth and picked up some compression sleeves for my friend Natalie.  She wanted the blue ones I wore once to the fun run…and I promised if I spotted them at the expo in Chicago in her size, I would buy them.  Well…it happened.  And they were now hers.  Not far from there was the BondiBand booth.  And my friends and I set out on a mission to find a 26.2 BondiBand.  We found SO many good ones, just not 26.2.  Then…we started finding them…in hideous colors.  With some luck…I found two that were okay.  One in blue with pink numbers, and a red and black one.  I asked my friends which I should get, and since my uniform for the race was red and black…that was what we went with.  I purchased two other BondiBands as well…

Oh…I also got to meet Hal Higdon.  Like…THE Hal Higdon.  How amazing is that? I bought his new book, 4:09:43 – The Boston Marathon Bombings, and was able to have it autographed.  This happened because I get a call from Cathy saying…”I’m standing next to Hal Higdon.  You better get over here!”  And with some direction…yep…it happened.  And I was this little fangirling runner trying not to squee and make a fool of myself.  Because…DUDE…it’s Hal Higdon.  AND while Hal was signing my book, right behind me on the main programming stage…Deena Kastor.  DEENA KASTOR!!  One of my running idles.  I was…in runner heaven, I think.

But…there was much to do that day so lingering too long was not going to be an option.  We were just scraping the surface of the expo.  So…we made our way past booths…in which I ignored the Newton booth…because I couldn’t afford more shoes at the moment as much as I wanted another pair.  We sampled different NUUN flavors.  We tried some protein bars (gluten-free, of course), we walked past Scott Jurek, the vegan ultramarathoner…and I once again had to attempt not to squee!!  I was doing good…not spending any more money…and we were making lots of progress through the expo.

Then, lo and behold, I hear someone calling my name.  It’s Matthew and Dawn, who I run with on Saturday mornings with my group.  They were up in Chicago as spectators, not runners, in this marathon and saw me walk by.  In that mass of people…they spotted me.  We hugged…we talked…they asked how I was feeling.  I said the nerves were gone, now I was just excited.  So…I was already feeling better.  Lots of people I knew were here…they were going to be cheering…it was going to be a good time.  They told me to have my bib scanned at the Nike booth…so I took that advice and headed that way.  Bib scanned and the screen read, “Karen Owns Chicago.”  SWEET!  I was about to leave, after getting a free poster, when I spotted the official merchandise.  No shirts though…but we were directed over to the Nike booth.  UH OH!!  Yeah…might as well have just drained my wallet when I walked in there.  Needless to say…a jacket and a shirt later…I was now leaving the expo…because I was running out of money.

We returned to the Hilton and took things up to the room.  We had a small amount of downtime to sit and chat.  Heather did some foam rolling and I started to get my race outfit out and laid on the table so it was ready for the morning.  We called down to valet after that to have the car brought around because now…it was time to feed our faces.  I had discovered what sounded like an amazing place to get a gluten-free pizza.  The place: Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta and Catering.  It was located in River Grove, so it was about a 20 minute drive.  We got there…went inside…and was asked if anyone needed a gluten-free menu.  I was feeling good about this already.  We were seated and left to look at the menus.  While all the pastas sounded awesome, my pre-race tradition is gluten-free pizza.  I wasn’t changing that up.  Nope.  So, we all placed our orders…and I got my gluten-free pizza with mushrooms, onion, and roasted red peppers.  YUMMY!  Food came out and I devoured my entire pizza and even ordered a gluten-free cannoli for dessert.  That, BTW…was super-duper delish.  The pizza was really good too.  It hit the spot.  And I was now properly fed (carbs!).  We dropped Heather off at a train stop so she could head back to her hotel…and then we were headed back to the Hilton.  We all changed, brushed our teeth, and…climbed into bed around 8:30 p.m.

Da Luciano's Gluten-Free Pizza and Gluten-Free Cannoli

Da Luciano’s Gluten-Free Pizza and Gluten-Free Cannoli

This was early for me.  This never happens.  I always try to get to bed early on race night, but it never seems to work out.  So, I immediately figured that I’d have trouble falling asleep.  WRONG.  I was out.  And I only woke up, briefly, twice during the night with the, “What if I didn’t set my alarm?” panic I always have.  I rested…and rested well.

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I snuck out of bed, hoping not to disturb Cathy and Jenn as I fumbled around in the dark, grabbing my outfit for the race and heading into the bathroom.  I dressed.  I did my hair.  I came out as Jenn was heading into the other bathroom.  Cathy finally dragged herself out of bed too.  We all had a quick bite to eat and I was texted by Heather to say she was on her way.  I wasn’t sure cereal would be enough on a marathon race morning, but was told to stick with what I knew.  So that morning, I ate a serving of Chocolate Chex cereal…no milk…slowly and leisurely, as I checked my e-mail and Facebook on my phone.  I had so many people wishing me luck.  Text messages were coming.  And just as I finished eating and went to brush my teeth, Heather texted to say she was at the hotel and heading up.

I got my fuel belt ready with my hydration needs, tucked my GU packets into my skirt pockets…and when Heather arrived…we were all set to head down to the lobby.  And…with perfect timing my friend Cheryl texted to ask if I was at the Hilton.  I said I was and she said her gear check was right there and she wanted to come over and see me.  We made plans to meet in the lobby…which was bustling with runners.  But…she found me.  And we hugged and talked about the race…and took pictures…because that’s what we do.  Time was nearing for me to head to the gate that would take me to my corral.  So…with us each wishing each other luck and telling each other to have a good run…we parted ways.  She was in the 2nd wave of runners to go out…and I was in the 1st.  In fact, my corral, Corral C, was only accessible through Gate #1.  Heather lead the way there…and we just talked a lot about anything but racing.  We even took selfies on her phone while walking.  HA!  We paused at the corner and took photos with each other…rotating through and then crossed the street to Gate #1.  This was as far as they were allowed to go.  The security checkpoint was right there…so…they wished me luck…Jenn sent me off with her usual sayings, which are magic, I swear…and I went to get in line for the no-bag security check.  One more wave…and they were off to find a spot near the start…and I was off to get to my corral.

My friends are awesome - Me and Cheryl; Jenn, Me, and Cathy; Me and Heather

My friends are awesome – Me and Cheryl; Jenn, Me, and Cathy; Me and Heather

It was still dark out, but I just sort of followed the signs to get me to Corral C.  It was a bit of a hike, but not bad.  Not really.  I was clinging to my banana for all it was worth and trying to get the butterflies in my stomach to settle.  Not nervous butterflies.  The excitement was starting to build.  And I was just…wanting to settle in and zen.  So, I found the entrance to my corral, but didn’t go right in.  I stood on the side and did some stretching…some walking…some pacing.  I wanted to be loose.  I wanted to clear my mind.  And the moment I stepped into that corral…I wanted to be focused.  So…I just paced the sidewalk for about 30 minutes, stopping to stretch out my legs every now and again.  At 6:55 a.m., I peeled my banana and sent to get into Corral C.  Security checked my bib number, I entered and moved up to a spot where I remained for the rest of the time.  I ate my banana quicker than I intended to…but I think that was just me needing something to do.  I just hoped it would stick with me long enough to get me to the point I chose to be my first fuel point.  I packed an extra GU pack though, just in case I needed it.  I was taking no chances.  But…I was fine.  The corral filled up quickly.  I had to help the guy behind me start his iPod.  His daughter loaded up a playlist for him, but he had no idea how to work the player.  I helped him out and he thanked me.  I talked to some people around me, making friends, and hearing from others about their experiences with the Chicago Marathon.  Exciting!  The announcer had everyone remove their hats and the National Anthem played.  Runners shed clothes they wore to keep warm, and we all shivered in crisp 45 degree air.  At 7:20 a.m., the wheelchair start headed out.  Then, at 7:21 a.m., the handcycle racers got underway.  It was 7:30 a.m. when the start officially happened…with the elites up front…and the corrals behind them.  We were slowly moved up as each corral was sent off.  It was so comical when those holding the rope to the corral tried to clear out as those of us in Corral C were turned loose to head to the Start.  I stuck to the left of the course, because Cathy said she’d be aiming for the left side of the road…I trotted to the start…crossed the line…and was off.

Chicago Marathon!!

This marathon runs through 29 neighborhoods of Chicago.  It kicks off in Grant Park, which is beautiful, by the way.  I took off from that start line, heading for the underpass we go through.  The crowd was already prominent and loud.  It was awesome.  I started off smiling and I don’t think that grin ever left my face for one moment.  Soon, I found myself in the Streeterville neighborhood, home of the Magnificent Mile, lots of luxury hotels, great shopping district, and Navy Pier.  People were lined up 5 deep on the side of the road, making as much noise as possible…and just being loud.  I wasn’t sure where I was going to see my friends…but I was through the first mile and didn’t see them at all.  Onward.

The Loop was up next…with all the gorgeous architecture it brings to Chicago.  I was heading up LaSalle Street…and just before Mile 3…I see the Donkey sign.  There are Heather, Cathy, and Jenn and they are making some noise!!  I think my smile grew even more.  I waved as I ran by.  Jenn yelled, “RUN DONKEY!  RUN LIKE A PRETTY PONY!”  Um…this is becoming a new mantra I think.  I LOVE that.  It was awesome seeing my friends as I neared the 5K mark.  Pressing on, I entered Near North Side, where the streets were lined with trees, offering some shade from the sun, and residential areas as well.  Then it was into Lincoln Park…then Wrigleyville (yes…Wrigley Field!)…then Lakeview East.  And in Lakeview East…Boystown!  Boystown is the first officially recognized gay village in the United States, and is also the cultural center of one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the nation.  This is immediately evident in the race because, aside from the rainbow flags, runners are greeted by a stage full of drag queens.  It was really awesome and definitely a change in the usual mix.  It made me smile!  It was a party right on the course.  This was one of my favorite neighborhoods to run through.  The vibe was awesome.

The different neighborhoods continued…Park West, Old Town…and then…around Mile 12…River North.  What made Mile 12 so damn special was that this was where Cathy and Jenn found me again on the course.  Somehow I missed them.  I didn’t know they were going to be there…but my eyes were always searching that crowd for my friends and my sign.  How I missed it…I don’t know…but they were there and have pictures to prove it.  Regardless…I must have felt them in spirit because I was still going strong!  My friends are awesome.  From there it was through some more of the city’s amazing neighborhoods…West Loop Gate, Greektown, and the West Loop.

I bet you’re wondering where Heather went then.  Well, she already had a place in mind for where she could see me again on the course.  After Mile 3…she hopped a train and found me again right around Mile 14…in front of Soul City Church.  And…WOW…was she loud and cheering as I came through.  I heard her above the roar of everyone else in the crowd.  She wanted to be at Mile 14 because it marked the furthest I had ever gone in an official race.  With 10 half marathons under my belt…13.1 miles has been the standard.  She wanted to see me into that next step.  And she did it with perfect Heather style!!  And even got the pastor of the church to scream right along with her.  What a way to take on the second half!

Near West Side was next…then Little Italy (aka: University Village).  The smell of Italian food was prominent.  And it smelled really good.  From there it was into the Illinois Medical District.  And then, as we come around toward Mile 20…the Pilsen neighborhood.  Mile 20…is usually where The Wall hits.  But I never even hit it.  The Wall was not even a force to be reckoned with.  It was dead to me.  And I powered through this difficult part of the race without even slowing down.  I was feeling good.  My race plan for fuel and hydration was working…and fatigue wasn’t even hitting me.  There was no stopping me…not here.

East Pilsen was next…followed by Chinatown.  I loved Chinatown.  I rounded the corner into this neighborhood and was greeted by a big, silver Chinese Dragon.  The atmosphere was uplifting and awesome.  And the area smelled ethnic and awesome.  And it really made me want Chinese food.  I haven’t had Chinese food in forever due to my food allergies.  I miss it.  A lot.  Chinatown was SO awesome.  The crowd here was massive and loud.  Uplifting for sure!

Which was good because heading into Mile 23 was the hardest to contend with…because the crowds faded as we hit the industrial area.  There was very little crowd support.  It was only for a little over a mile though…the crowds did come back.

Bridgeport was next…then came the turn to “head home” and through the Park Boulevard neighborhood.  It was straight up Michigan Avenue from that point on.  The final 3 miles were upon me.  And this was where I started to slow down.  I felt strong, but the sun was up and the temperature was nearing 70 degrees.  I was hot.  But with only a 5K remaining, I was ready to give it all I had.  Bronzeville…The Gap…South Commons…Prairie District…

At around Mile 26…South Loop and Central Station…where the crowd gave runners a much needed lift as all of us tackled the one hill on the course.  And it was NOT nice having us run up a hill at the very end.  Let me tell you though…they did their job.  I slowed down just slightly as my legs really didn’t want to run up that hill, but the crowd got me there.  And so did my friends, who I heard screaming for me.  This was the last point they could see me at before the finish line.  I was going to reunite with them in the runner reunion area afterwards.  So, they were loud and awesome and I was on my way to the finish.

Me...the marathoner...after the Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Chicago, Illinois

Me…the marathoner…after the Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, Illinois

The Finish Line came into view and I kept smiling.  I think I was smiling the entire time I was running, but that Finish line just went to show how tough I was…how far I’d come.  It was beautiful.  I gave my final push to cross the line and threw my arms up in victory.  I finished strong.  I finished feeling good.  I got past the photographers and paused my Garmin.  Then…immediately started crying.  I didn’t hurt.  I wasn’t tired.  It was just I had so many doubts coming into this marathon, and then I went and did something extraordinary.  I finished it far faster than I anticipated or even dreamed.  Everything felt like a blur.  I took a few deep breaths and kept moving…getting some water…and then receiving my finisher’s medal.  Bananas…snack boxes…more water…and finisher’s photos…that all followed.  I downed some Gatorade as I moved…then had some water.  I made my way through the finish area toward the runner’s reunion, where I was to meet Cathy, Jenn and Heather under the letter V…because it would be less crowded than the beginning of the alphabet.  I saw the sign…and my friends…and went running toward them.  Cathy came up and gave me a tight hug, immediately telling me my official time.  I cried some more.  I cried more as Heather gave me a hug and then some more when Jenn gave me a hug.  We were just…so happy!  I was so FREAKIN’ happy.  I made sure I drank some more water and I laid down to put my feet up while I called my parents in Birmingham, Alabama to tell them about my race and my finish.  They were so thrilled and proud of me.  I only wish they could have been there to share the moment as well.

After I hung up the phone, I stood up and went to get in line for a stretch and massage.  The line was long, but I knew this would help in the end.  While I was waiting, Cathy went off to see if she could find any official finisher’s gear.  She returned about 10 minutes later (the line hadn’t moved) and handed me a gorgeous red rose and a bear wearing a Chicago 2013 26.2 t-shirt.  Ironically, the bear’s name was Dean, which was a sign…had to be…since the captain of the charity (Action for Healthy Kids) that I was running for is none other than Dean Karnazes.  Eventually, it was my turn for a stretch and massage.  That was the best thing ever.  It helped get those muscles loose.  The therapist working on me mentioned how flexible I was…and I told her it was from years of yoga.  After a good stretching…we decided to make our way back to The Hilton so I could get showered and changed.  My intention, even though I wasn’t sore, was to take a cold shower.  I turned the water on, stuck my hand in…and totally nixed that plan.  I’ve never taken an ice bath or ice shower after a run, why start now?  Especially when I didn’t feel I needed one.  I bounce back really well from long distances on my own.  Never change up the routine.  Anyway…I was clean.  I foam rolled.  It was time to go see some sites around Chicago.

Our plan for the day was to hit up Garrett’s Popcorn for amazing popcorn of awesomesauce.  Cathy promised me a gallon tin of the Cashew Caramel Crisp.  We also got a small bag of the Chicago Mix…because we needed something to snack on.  All of us bought our share of popcorn to enjoy…and we went walking the Miracle Mile.  With Nike being one of the sponsors, they had all the official Finisher’s merchandise.  So after a stop by The Bean…and The Chicago Tribune building…Nike was next.  As we neared the building, employees were out cheering on everyone who was wearing one of the finisher’s medals.  It really made it SO special.  We ducked inside…and Cathy purchased two shirts for me…and Heather put money toward a nice pull-over (in Heather gray).  After that…a walk back to the hotel.  Heather needed to meet up with our friend Janet to go to church and Jenn, Cathy and I were going to grab some dinner.  Instead of the Mexican place we had reservations for that night, we ended up sticking to the hotel and eating at the pub that was connected.  I had a salad.  They had fish and chips.  From there…back up to the room to relax a little while and wait for Heather and Janet.  Because gelato was on the menu for dessert.  Well earned…and dessert is best when done with friends.  I didn’t want the evening to end…but, much like my little cup of gelato…it did.

Sadly, it was time to say goodbye.  Janet was going to get Heather to the airport, as she had to fly back to Minnesota that night.  So, lots of hugs and promises to get together again soon…we parted ways.  I walked Janet and Heather to the elevators and gave hugs and said goodbye…for the time being.  I returned to the room and got changed into pajamas.  Foam rolling was next.  And then…we were all ready to settle in, watch some television, and then get some sleep.

The problem was…I couldn’t fall asleep.  I was tired, but sleep just wasn’t going to come.  So, all night I tossed and turned and watched the clock.  I finally got out of bed…and went to change.  Soon, Jenn woke up and then Cathy.  Cathy and I went to walk a bit around the track at the fitness center before we finished packing everything up and getting ready to check out.  Chicago was a blast…but we had a long drive ahead of us.  So…after a quick jaunt to Caribou Coffee…we had our luggage loaded up, my car brought around…and we hit the road.

I am very, very proud of my accomplishment…and I know a lot of this was made possible by the people who have helped me along the way.  First of all…major huge props, hugs, love, and appreciation go out to my sports nutritionist.  Donna…without your advice, guidance, and all-over support and enthusiasm…I don’t think I would have made it through that distance without hitting The Wall.  As The Wall and I are still perfect strangers…I hope to continue this trend.  You are awesome and I’m so glad we are working together.  Your advice and your help have, definitely, made me a better, stronger, and faster runner.  You helped me develop a plan to go the distance and feel good at the end of said mileage.  Guess what?  It worked!  Tons of praise, love, hugs, and cowbell jingles go out to my family (who couldn’t be in Chicago), my friends, my co-workers, my runners, and the strangers who got me to that finish line.  This has been a long journey…and you’ve seen me through all of the insanity.

To Cathy…who saw me try and fail, try and succeed, rode 18 miles on a bike one Sunday with me to keep me company on a miserably hot day, who has seen me through injuries, seen me struggle, seen me overcome, and just continued to be the best damn crew a runner could ever have.  To Jenn…who coined my new favorite phrase when it comes to running, who always tells me not to pants my poop…and who compels me with the power of Dean…who shares my love of all things chocolate, ice cream, and delicious…and who never judges me when I get up early when I visit and go for crazy long runs.  Even if it’s in the kitchen during a snowstorm.  Next time, I promise not to slam into the island.  And to Heather…who I have known since 3rd grade…and despite your move to Minnesota as we were heading to middle school, kept in touch and still, to this day, is the best damn friend this girl could have asked for.  Your amazing belief in me and my abilities is unstoppable.  You teach me to reach for the stars and go beyond even what I think I am capable of achieving.  Your drive is contagious.  It always has been.

So…my official results of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:28:28.  I am still shocked with my time and blown away by what that time means.  I was 3,897/39,122 finishers overall.  I was the 592/17,527 female to cross the finish line.  And I was 154/3,274 in my division.  You cannot believe how thrilled I am with these results.  I felt so good about this run.  I conserved energy…even though I took that first mile fast.  I knew to ease up and let my body find it’s rhythm and its pace.  I ran strong.  And with that…achieved more than I ever thought possible.  This past week has been dedicated to recovery…although my body hasn’t really felt like it needed it.  Like I said…I bounce back.  This was such an amazing experience.  I never stopped smiling during the race…and it’s been hard to get me to stop smiling since then as well.

I ran this town...and owned it!

I ran this town…and owned it!